Christos Yannaras

Philosophy, Theology, Culture

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Editor(s): 
Andreas Andreopoulos, Demetrios Harper
  • New York, NY: 
    Routledge
    , August
     2018.
     243 pages.
     $150.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781472472083.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture, edited by Andreas Andreopoulos and Demetrios Harper, is an important contribution to the scholarship of one of the most influential Orthodox theologians of our time, and, according to Rowan Williams, one of the most significant Christian philosophers in Europe. As Evaggelia Grigoropoulou argues, our debt to Yannaras comes from the way of thinking that he offers us, similar to a teacher who expands our horizons. Editor Andreas Andreopoulos, asserts that Yannaras’s thought “constitutes a serious attempt to dialogue with modern Western thought, employing terms and exploring directions that transcend the historical gap between the East and the West, and ultimately aiming to touch on the human condition as it is illuminated by the historical and the eternal revelation of Jesus Christ” (2).

The book is divided into three sections, each corresponding to an aspect of Yannaras’s concepts: philosophy, culture, and theology. In these sections, thewriters of this anthology place Yannaras’s views in dialogue with modern philosophers and philosophical theories such as: Jean-Luc Marion’s work about phenomenology, continental philosophy and psychoanalytic Lacanian theory, Martin Heidegger’s ontological approach, modern Existentialism and Personalism, and Alasdair MacIntyre’s ethical position. Furthermore, the writers examine the meanings of Yannaras’s central notions and ideas such as apophaticism, relational ontology of personhood, mode of existence, and freedom of ethos. They also explore the antagonistic dipoles of Yannaras’s work, such as the contrast between necessities of nature and freedom of the relation, between the rationalistic morality of law and the ethos (mode) of the existence of love, or between the individualistic religion and the prosopo-centric (communal) ecclesial event. 

It is important to clarify that it was Yannaras’s experience of living in the West, and accounts by European theologians and intellectuals such as Henri de Lubac, Marie-Dominique Chénu, Jean Daniélou, Étienne Gilson, and Jacques Le Goff (all of whom noted the errors of Western culture), that urged him to seek another mode of being. It is for this pursuit that Yannaras rediscovers the ontological liberation and salvation of the Ecclesial/Eucharistic Event. For Yannaras, Christianity is an authentic mode of existence, a prosopo-centric communion, and for that reason the individualism of religious life is a “fall,” a sin, a false mode of existence. The ecclesial event is the Christian event per se, and refers to the person who relates with others, with nature, and God in the freedom of Love. The ecclesia is a new creation and not a new religion, a new experience of being and not an ethical code of social behavior. 

Yannaras highlights the problems that have been created by the Western “religionizing” of the Church. The Eucharistic/ecclesial event is an opposing mode of existence to the rationalist, legalistic, and individualistic religiosity of the faith, which leads to the “Death of God” and as Heidegger or Friedrich Nietzsche claim to atheistic and nihilistic culture. However, Yannaras’s criticizes the “West,” not as an outsider, but as a Westerner who rediscovers the ecclesiastical event as the salvific mode of Christianity. The purpose of a human being is to become a free person, “actively engaged in communion with both the divine and the temporal other,” as editor Demetrios Harper argues (64). It is for this reason that Yannaras’s struggle against a theological scholasticism and institutionalism is expressed by insisting in the priority of the Ecclesial event.

Another important issue of Yannaras’s workis apophaticism. According to Andreopoulos we can see apophaticism “as the beginning of a different kind of Knowledge,” as “an expression of the inability of positivist thought to process what is a non-reified reality” (183). It is for thisreason that apophatic theology uses poetry and images rather than logic and notions for the interpretation of dogmas and reveals the significance of silence and prayer as experiences for manifesting the mystery of existence. Moreover, apophatic freedom expresses a dynamic for the reforming of social relationships that constitutes the common life of the polis. The apophatic prosopo-centric freedom of relational ontology which suggests the being “is not” but “becomes” sums up the theology, philosophy, and cultural mode of livingin the works of Christos Yannaras.

Finally, Yannaras uses the ontological term “freedom of relation” as the central term for the creation and manifestation of community/society. “Freedom of relation” suggests that a person finds truth not in his or her inner self, but only when he or she freely associates with others and without dogmatic prerequisites. Freedom in human relationships excludes every objectification, every axiomatic and dogmatic viewpoint, and every authoritarian use of individualistic rectitude. Furthermore, the mode of life that starts from the freedom of the Ecclesial event spreads to social, cultural, philosophical, and political life as well as to the community. 

Yannaras’s issue with individualistic religiosity and the ideologizing of faith led him to rediscover the liberating experience of the ecclesial event. He attempts to re-establish the ecumenical dialogue in a new foundation, beyond mainstream themes of Eastern and Western Christian theology. In co-ending this anthology, Andreopoulos intends to understand “the voice of Yannaras as a voice in dialogue with all Christianity” and “help situate his thought within wider Christian dialogue." It is animportant contribution to the crucial dialogue concerning post-modern Christianity and the secular world.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Angelos Gounopoulos is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political Science at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Date of Review: 
February 8, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andreas Andreopoulos is Reader in Orthodox Theology at the University of Winchester and an Orthodox priest.

Demetrios Harper is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Winchester, and an Orthodox priest.

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