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  • What Is Orthodoxy? A Genealogy of Christian Understanding by Antoine Arjakovsky
  • Katarina Kočandrle Bauer
Antoine Arjakovsky. What Is Orthodoxy? A Genealogy of Christian Understanding. Translated by Jerry Ryan and Penelope Cavill. Foreword by John Millbank. Angelico Press, 2018. 414 pp.

French historian Antoine Arjakovsky (b. 1966) has written a penetrating book that struggles for the unity of Christians by [End Page 229] answering the fundamental question: What is Orthodoxy? (originally published in France as Qu’est-ce que l’orthodoxie? Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2013). To answer the question means to look for a broader understanding of the identity of the Orthodox Churches, which goes hand-in-hand with how “orthodox” and “orthodoxy” are defined in both theological and secular usage. Arjakovsky discovers the answer throughout the history of Christendom together with the tension between Christian East and West with the help of historiography, theology, and philosophy.

The first part deals with the Orthodox Church presented in its historical, geographical, and doctrinal dimensions. A redefinition of what orthodoxy is has importance for the whole Church and even more broadly for all people of good will, who seek to discover “the bonds between the true, the good, and the beautiful above and beyond the ruptures and innovations of modernity” (84). This accent—reminiscent of Vladimir Solovyov, of the triune character of divine reality, where none of the categories can be excluded without losing the fullness of the idea of Divinity—shows Arjakovskýs desire to find a holistic interpretation of orthodoxy. The basis for this theoretical interpretation comes out of his interest and love for the figure of Holy Wisdom and sophiology. This hermeneutical key is represented in this chapter, for example, by searching for a sophiological interpretation of history based on Nikolai Berdyaev and Sergei Bulgakov. This interpretation of history is not based on historical truth as objectified and mechanical, as a division between the past, the present, and the future (19). The sapiential interpretation of historical truth is more personal and is represented by memory as a meeting point of past and future, which enables history to be read in a symbolic way (22).

The theme of the redefinition of orthodoxy continues into the second part, where analysis turns to modern and postmodern sources, such as Michel Foucault, John Milbank, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Sergei Bulgakov, and others. Again, his desire for holistic and open interpretation of orthodoxy is visible, especially in his epistemological definition. He rehabilitates the term doxa and the mutual relationship between doxa and episteme. He is aware that the division between truth and knowledge, separated in Greek philosophy, also reflects the cosmological division between the immanent and transcendent (154).

The epistemological rehabilitation of the mutual relationship of these two means the cosmological rehabilitation and vice versa, made possible via a symbolic approach to truth and the definition of orthodoxy. It is precisely the symbol that has the semantic ability to unite what is separated (146). In order to define orthodoxy in the symbolic way that would be semantically and disciplinarily rich, he modifies Jean Borellás definition of a metaphysics of mystery based on the symbol of a cross and a pyramid (146). The vertical axis from the bottom to the top unites people with the divine referent. The horizontal axis from the left to the right unites the sensory world to the intelligible one. At the heart what unites all the axes in a semantic dynamism is the figure of Holy Wisdom that does not refer only to Christ as the wisdom of God but also addresses the whole of humanity (146).

On this basis Arkajovsky draws out four meanings of orthodoxia: as worthy glorification (where the ecclesial consciousness is magnetized by the pole of recognition of the divine), as right truth (when the organization of the sensory world becomes the universal law), as faithful memory (when the pole of memory, of identity or humanity is the predominant discourse), and as true and fair knowledge (when the poles of justice, culture, or the intelligible world become predominant over the three poles of consciousness) (147). In his view there must be an antinomic tension between all four meanings of orthodoxy, to avoid...


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