Theirry Jolif, “An Interview with James L. Kelley” Tropinka (2011), English version

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): James, to the French readers who are not familiar to the work of Father J. S. Romanidès, could you, please expose the main lines of his positions?

James L. Kelley: Since all tasks and employments should begin with praise to God, I will begin with a prayer: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

There are a number of suitable jumping-off points for introducing Fr. John, but since I am addressing a French audience, I think it best to begin with Fr. John’s unique insights into the teaching of Blessed Augustine of Hippo. Fr. Patric (Ranson) was perhaps the most important Romanidesian theologian in France before his passing, and it is no accident that his translation into French of a portion of Fr. John’s Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine appeared in a collection entitled Dossier H Saint Augustin (J. Romanides, “Le Filioque,” in Dossier H Saint Augustin. L’Age d’Homme, 1988). Fr. John points out that Bl. Augustine, in his De Trinitate and in other writings, spoke of the Old Testament theophanies–the burning bush, the appearance of the Three Angels to Abraham, etc.–as created images that were delivered by angels and which beamed dogmatic concepts directly into the minds of their recipients (J. Romanides, “The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness…,” avail. online at: http://romanity.org/htm/rom.02.en.the_cure_of_the_neurobiological_sickness_of_rel.01.htm). This teaching was an innovation by the Bishop of Hippo, since all of the earlier Fathers taught that Moses and Abraham (and the other OT prophets and patriarchs) were visited by the uncreated energy or glory of the Holy Trinity, and not “ephemeral created symbols and concepts about [God]” (ibid.). Why is this important? 1) A central teaching of Christ’s Church from the first century to the present is that God saves, not through creatures, but through His own Trinitarian Life and Love, which transcends Augustinian concepts. 2) All non-Orthodox Christian theology follows the misunderstandings of Bl. Augustine. Because Augustine misunderstood, or was simply ignorant of, the Church’s teaching about God’s union with man through His uncreated energies, the African Bishop extended his errors into other areas of Church teaching, “double predestination” and “inherited original sin” being just a couple of the unfortunate consequences of his unparalleled infuence upon Western theology (see J. Romanides, Ancestral Sin. Zephyr, 2002; and my A Realism of Glory. Orthodox Research Institute, 2009). Fr. John also was the first to connect the anti-Orthodox theology of the 14th century Calabrian monk Barlaam to specific positions of Bl. Augustine. This means that the Orthodox Church condemned the teachings of Bl. Augustine about the Trinity and about the Old Testament theophanies when She condemned Barlaam’s identical teachings at the Palamite Councils in the 14the century.

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): Again, for the «profanes» what could you say about the reception of his works within the Orthodox Church?

James L. Kelley: It is sad to see that so many supposedly Orthodox theologians in the English-speaking world either ignore Fr. John’s work, or attempt to dismiss it. A recent book called Orthodox Readings of Augustine included an introduction by George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou called “Augustine and the Orthodox: ‘The West’ in the East.” In this piece, the authors accuse Fr. John of misquoting Bl. Augustine, but offer no references to support their position. Also, Fr. John’s seminal work Ancestral Sin is disparaged because it “read the Augustinian material on grace and free will through the lens of the fourteenth-century Palamite distinction between God’s essance and his energies” (32). However, these “Palamite Councils” are the 14th century Constantinopolitan Church Councils that are binding on all Orthodox Christians, and which put forth that all Orthodox must agree with St. Gregory Palamas that the essence and energies of God are not to be identified, and that the whole Tradition of the Church is represented in the correct teaching about God’s energies. Given this fact, any approach to the Fathers of the Church that is not a view through this “Palamite lens” is by definition false. The authors hope to chide at Fr. John for saying that Augustine was a “poor hesychast” (ibid.). However, hesychasm is as old as the Church, and it is the foundation of the Orthodox Faith from the Church’s beginnings. The truth is, Augustine’s writings reflect an erroneous teaching about God, man, and salvation. Though the sanctity of Bl. Augustine is not in question here, his writings are indeed inadequate expresstions of the Orthodox teachings on the spiritual life. Therefore, Augustine, in this regard, is not a good hesychast! So, it is important to remember that many writing as “Orthodox” today do not have the background or the insight to distinguish what is Orthodox from what is not. This is unfortunate indeed.

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): Fr. Romanides was very «original» when he states that the way of Christ is not a religion but the cure to the illness of religion (which he compares with the perpetual hapiness-seeking of mankind…). Could you tell us more about this point? And how Fr. Romanidès come to this statement?

James L. Kelley: Well, the Old Testament shows us that God came to man and proclaimed “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” This was truly revolutionary, since God was revealing that the other “gods” were actually demons, and that He was the only true God. The disease that causes people to believe that demons are gods is identical to all other organized forms of worship that existed other than that of the Israelites, the Church that worshipped Christ, though in an anticipatory manner. So, Fr. John used the word “religion“ in exactly the manner that he found it being used in the modern world, as an abstraction, like “politics” or “society.” Fr. John was saying that there are many religious people in the world, and they are ruled by delusions of the mind into believing that a demonic force is a god. However, Orthodoxy offers the cure of this diseased mode of life, and thus it is anti-religious! Many other implications flow from these points, but we lack the time, unfortunately…

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): Could you explain to us very clearly how father Romanidès links the political of Charlemagne and the Franks with the failure of this cure in Occident?

James L. Kelley: Charlemagne and the Frankish court culture in general based their theology mainly on the teachings of Bl. Augustine. Since Augustine did not teach the correct therapeutic method of cure—that is, he did not teach hesychasm—the Frankish theological ediface was built upon marshy land. For instance, at the Frankish National Church Council at Frankfurt (794), Charlemagne and his bishops had the unbelievable gall to suggest that all of the Romans in the Eastern Empire were not Romans, but a bunch of heretical Greeks who abandoned the true Christian theology. For the Franks, any theology which lacked their Filioque (a theological error supported in Augustine’s De Trinitate) was by definition heretical and “un-Roman.” Fr. John forcefully argued that “Romanness,” or “Romeosyne” resides with the Church that continues the spiritual therapy of Christ and His Apostles. For him, and for me as well, this “Roman” Church is none other than the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church. Thank you for this opportunity to speak about Fr. John of Blessed Memory, and may God be praised, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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