"The Duty to Learn"
- St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, vol.2, no. 1, 1953, pp.2-4
The Duty To Learn
OUR "QUARTERLY" is entering its second year of publication.
We are still in the period of experimentation and the editors are fully conscious of the double purpose they have to pursue.
On one hand, St. Vladimir's, as well as any other graduate school, must have its own academic publication. Especially so with St. Vladimir's because, by its charter, it is not only a ateaching institution, but also a study center. It has to serve the Church precisely in the field of theological research. On the other hand, one ghould not ignore the needs and interests of those Church members, who may require a more elementary instruction. It is not easy to combine both objectives and keep an adequate proportion in selecting topics and methods of presentation.
Some of the articles recently published were probably disavowed by certain readers as "heavy" and even forbidding, The editors cannot, however, promise much material for "easy readlng" in .the future. The greatest danger for the Church, and especially in our country at the present moment, is precisely the "elementarism."
Metropolitan Philaret used to stress in his sermons, preached as they were just to an average congregation, that nobody in the Church had a right to be ignorant on the basic issues of Faith and Order. All Christians are, he reminded, first of all "disciples," and Christ is the Teacher. All Christians have a bounden duty to learn.
If we turn to the records of the catechetical instruction, as it had been given in the first centuries of Christian history to the "catechumens" i.e. to the candidates for baptism, we may be astonished by the amount of doctrinal or theological instruction, which was offered even at this early stage. In no sense was it elementary, if measured by our contemporary current standards. It is enough to mention the admirable "Catechetical Orations," preached by St. Cyril of Jerusalem to the candidates for baptism, and his "Mystagogical Orations," preached immediately after the baptismal initiation (IV c.). Many laymen in our day may find them "heavy" and probably even sophisticated. In the "Golden Age" of the Church, as the IVth century is justly described, they were regarded as a "primer" of faith, just milk for children.
The lowering of standards is a very recent development. In Russia, as in other Orthodox countries, the secondary schools at least offered a very extensive course of religious instruction, and the programme included, in the upper forms, a very serious course in Christian doctrine and ethics. High school boys and girls were expected to be well acquainted with the Scriptures, or at least with the New Testament in full, which had to be interpreted in class.
The underlying conviction was, obviously, that lay youngsters had to be at home in the realm of Christian knowledge, regardless of the kind of work for which they might have been preparing. Nobody could be allowed to be "ignorant" in faith. It is true that this training in religion was not always successful, and sometimes the work had been done negligently for many reasons. In the age of a growing unbelief and secularism in society, it was not easy to integrate religion in the curriculum of the schools. In the present context it is important, however, to emphasize that the aim had been clearly visualized: all members of the society, which nominally at least was co-extensive with the Church, were expected to receive an advanced and inclusive training in Christianity.
Now when we discover that textbooks which were two generations ago intended for general instruction of lay youngsters are now regarded by many as satisfactory manuals for clergy, and are often even abridged and elementarized, we cannot escape the impression that standards had been not only lowered, but obscured and confused. It is imperative that we re-emphasize the integral role of sound doctrine in the Christian living. Christian doctrine is not just an intellectual theory, but the guide to the Divine truth.
Some teachings of the Church may seem to be "heavy" and require an unwelcome strain of reasoning and understanding, and yet they are "necessary for salvation", for the formation of Christian man. Among the laymen, and unfortunately even among the clergy, there are many who would regard the Christological doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon or the teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Procession of the Holy Spirit as "heavy" and incomprehensible, and would perhaps suggest that they deal with "mysteries" that pass understanding and knowledge, and therefore an "ordinary" man may well dispense with them. The Church obviously was of another mind, when it commended these doctrines to the body of believers for keeping, and of course not only for memorizing, but for spiritual appropriation. The standards can be raised in our day only if we are truly faithful to the great heritage of the Orthodox Church and remain aware of the great responsibility which membership in the Church,
as "the pillar and foundation of the Truth," implies.
Every one in the Church, including the lay people, must recognize and assume wholeheartedly the duty to learn.
V. REV. GEORGE FLOROVSKY
JULIA D. MALINCHOC
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