After a meeting with Dumitru Staniloae in Freiburg im Breisgau in the 1970s, Heidegger declared that he considered the Romanian theologian “the second great thinker of the twentieth century,”[1] the first being probably Karl Barth or even Heidegger himself.

But until recently, the interest in Father Staniloae’s thought was, in general, encomiastic rather than critical. The specialized reception of his ideas presented an obvious non sequitur to his work and risked to become exhausted in an infertile manner in the space of cultural and theological admiration. According to the Romanian philosopher Mihail Şora, however, the exchange of ideas must be a “generalized dialogue”.[2] In the elaboration of knowledge the decisive elements are: critical evaluation, critical interpretation, creative transmission. According to another romanian thinker H.-R. Patapievici, “any living culture is a body that functions as a market of ideas,” but all criteria for ensuring cognitive fertility depend on the “critical mass criterion[3] (the number of participants attending the exchange of ideas should be high enough). This was the very motivation of conceiving this thematic conference, namely the realization of a “critical mass” of theologians preoccupied in a creative manner by Father Staniloae’s theology.

Father Dumitru Stăniloae was a self-taught man, lacking a master-disciple relationship. His theological formation was intimately and creatively linked to the propaedeutic meditation on the writings of the Holy Fathers and the assumption as a modus vivendi of patristic myastogy: “As a student and young teacher, Father Staniloae confessed, I looked at many teachers and books. I won something from everyone, but after a while I went beyond what I thought was unable to help me in understanding and experiencing God in a convincing way. The Holy Fathers have revealed to me the depths of God’s true understanding and the warmth of life in Him. The theology and philosophy I have studied in my youth have given me the current sensitivity to express the Fathers’ way of living and understanding. With the same theology and philosophy, I became aware of the problems faced by the Christian faith today, and for which I was looking for the answers to the Fathers. I found them concentrated in an intimate and virtual way, rather than in a concrete form, on the problems of the contemporary man. I was convinced that there was organic unity between patristic thought and the thought that needs to address the current problems. Indeed, the thought of the Fathers is immortal.[4] For Father Stăniloae, therefore, language was not only the means or instrument of communicating something, but also the inner vehicle through which he expressed and even experienced the theological experience of God.

Father Staniloae’s prophetic role for romanian orthodox theology stand under the sign of Alexander Paleologu’s words: “Father Staniloae then took the scales from my eyes.”[5]


In the year 1938 Father Dumitru Stăniloae, with the help of photocopies of the manuscripts codex in Paris with the work of Saint Gregory Palamas, inaugurated the modern reception of palamite theology through the realization of the first scientific monograph about the life and teachings of the hesychast archbishop of Thessalonic in Sibiu (Romania).[6] The mystical intuition of the unity between theology and spirituality, between dogma and mysticism has a strong impact upon Father Stăniloae, resulting in the translation of the Philokalia and the synthesis of Orthodox Ascetic and Mystic in the year 1947. And through those three volumes: Dogmatic Theology (1978), Orthodox Spirituality (1981) and Spirituality and Communion in the Orthodox Liturgy (1986) our Romanian theologian compiles a trilogy, which represents a genuine neopatristical synthesis with a creative vision. Here, the abstract intellectualism in which the living revelation was obscured by intellectual schemes is opposed by the hesychast mystical experience realized by the descent of God and the personal and liturgical-communional ascent of a Christian believer advancing to the Kingdom of God.

The orientation towards the theology of Saint Gregory Palamas thus marked and meant for Father Dumitru Stăniloae his definitive return from the so-called “school theology” which wore a rational fingerprint under the western influence. In this sense, alongside his study on the Life and Teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas (1939) and the translation of Philokalia in the 1940s, Father Dumitru Stăniloae triggered, long before Meyendorff, the neo-hesichast movement in the theology of the 20th century, a movement which has important representatives in personalities such as the metropolitans Kallistos Ware or Serafim Joantă.[7] However, the most important researcher of Saint Palamas in the past decades is considered to be Father John Meyendorff, with his thesis from 1959, this study still being regarded as the “standard work about Saint Gregory Palamas”.[8] But for Fairy Lilienfeld, Father Stăniloae is the most prominent representative of contemporary Orthodox theologians who value the Palamithesychasm as an authentical Orthodox thought.[9]

Also, the decisive role of Philokalia for the entire theology of Father Dumitru Staniloae determined Benedictine father Maciej Bielawsky to speak about a “philokalistic vision about the world in the theology of Dumitru Stăniloae” and about a “theology of the Philokalia”,[10] where all ideas move within these traditions. By this he creates a special method that could be called the “philokalic argument”.

Father Stăniloae proves to be a neo-patristic theologian of the experience that gives a theological synthesis developed and argued with patristic texts, succeeding in putting into a fertile dialogue the Orthodox position with modern western approaches (Blondel, Koepgen), which offers him a terminological help (Heidegger and Binswanger with his “phenomenology of love”).

Thus, he characterizes deification not in substantial categories, but as a spiritual and transfigurative event, as a dynamic-relational relationship between subjects that give themselves to each other and not substantially-identical between mysticism and God. The world is seen as a dynamic reality, shrouded in the divine rays or in the divine energies, “and the created beings are wonderful, because they are able to receive God in fullness. God made a being capable of becoming god-by-grace, a nature capable of belonging to a divine hypostasis.”[11] This expression gives us a clue about the “theology of beauty” in Father Stăniloae’s thinking. Although the word “wonderful” does not exactly match the word “beautiful”, but the meaning is very close. Creation is beautiful because of its capacity to be in relation with God and because of God’s bond with it. Viewing this perspective, beauty has a purely theological (theocentric) nature and is not only considered an aesthetic category.

  1. THE THEOLOGICAL METHOD: the synthesis of logic with apophatic

The key to the whole theology of Father Staniloae is the person and the communion, because “in the communion between person and person lies the life of the person”.[12] Gheorghios A. Galitis places Father Staniloae’s theology in the “synthesis of the logic with the apophatic”.[13] The person cannot be conceived as a static reality, but in relation, communion being an ontological category. The theological method of Father Stăniloae is characterized by a close relationship between dogma and spirituality (a central element of the theological method of Saint Gregory Palamas likewise). Abstract metaphysics is gradually excluded from the description, by the living testimony, the mind and the Revelation are in a liturgical relationship. In this sense, Father Stăniloae’s work can be said to contain a philokalical theology that harnesses the ecclesial aspect of the orthodox mysticism as a “progress inside the Church”.

  1. A. Costa de Beauregard argues that all orthodox theologians of the twentieth century have noticed the link between Trinitarian doxology, ecclesiology and anthropology. The Holy Trinity is defined by Father Stăniloae as “the structure of supreme love”, “the arcanum of the perfect unity of the distinct Persons”, “the fullness of existence and love”. Even the divine light has a Trinitarian character for Father Stăniloae, being a reflection of the Holy Trinity. He criticizes western theology for marginalizing the role of the Holy Spirit, as if there was a rift between Christ and the Holy Spirit.

  1. FATHER STĂNILOAIE’S THEOLOGICAL LEGACY – ‘Fathers’ can still appear

A theology of mind-to-heart reconciliation becomes the way out from the captivity of the history and the Father Stăniloae’s theological thought was “an open gate to the 21st century” (I. Bria), which by its neo-patristic message continues to provoke interest. Through the three attributes – traditional, contemporary, and prophetically eschatological – the theology in Father Stăniloae’s vision must be faithful to the past, but not locked in the past, and faithful to mankind today, but with open eyesight beyond its present phase, constituting a ferment of progress in each and every time.

From this understanding of tradition, there is a conception of the Orthodox Church about the development of doctrine” as deification lived in the Church continuously (a progression in living and understanding). “Christian tradition means, in this way, Father Stăniloae’s emphasis, not only a ‘a living memory’, always relived in the Church, but a transcendence to the eschatological target, an advance in the transparency of divine reality, lived uninterrupted in the Church.[14] In the fourteenth century, Saint Gregory Palamas spoke about a progressive irradiation of divine energies (a response to both the continuous revelation and the development of doctrine), which laid a new theological basis for understanding the divine mystery of salvation, which justified the usage of some new expressions of this mystery.

The teachings of faith remain unchanged as it was revealed but she keeps “a continuing elasticity in form, expression, definition.[15] Tradition is not static, it is alive. The Church lives with the same intensity the values inherited from the Apostles. But Father Stăniloae says, “only the dogmatic tradition of the first eight centuries has a normative character of final authority. The newer theological tradition has just a secondary authority.”[16] This does not mean that the Orthodox Church do not live today up to the intensity of the apostolic and patristic periods. They live today with the same involvement and significance. Theological ‘development’ as Father Stăniloae presents it, is an organic continuity of the patristic understanding such as that revealed to Saint Simeon the New Theologian and Saint Gregory Palamas. Father Stăniloae’s last statement would be: “ ‘Fathers’ can still appear.[17]

[1] Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga, “Laudatio D. Stăniloae”, Academia Română 1992; cf. Antonie Plămădeală, „Generaţia Stăniloae” in Ioan I. Ică jr. (ed.), Persoană şi comuniune. Prinos de cinstire Pr. Prof. acad. D. Stăniloae (Editura Arhiepiscopiei: Sibiu, 1993), p. XVII.

[2] Mihail Şora, Eu, tu, el, ea… sau Dialogul generalizat (Cartea Românească: Bucureşti, 1990), p. 24.

[3] Horia-Roman Patapievici, Despre idei şi blocaje (Humanitas: Bucureşti, 2007), p. 47.

[4] F. Strazzari – L. Prezzi (ed.), “Una teologia filocalica. Intervista a padre Dumitru Stăniloae,” Il regno – attualitá 34 (1989), p. 107.

[5] Alexandru Paleologu, Moştenirea creştină a Europei (Eikon: Cluj-Napoca, 2003), p. 10.

[6] Dumitru Stăniloae, Viaţa şi învăţătura Sfântului Grigorie Palama cu trei tratate traduse (Sibiu, 1938).

[7] R. Joantă, Roumanie, tradition et culture hésychaste (Spiritualité orientale, Abbaye de Bellefontaine, 1987).

[8] R. Flogaus, Theosis bei Palamas und Luther. Ein Beitrang zum ökumenischen Gespräch (Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie 78, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), pp. 50 şi 69. Flogaus counts Father Dumitru Stăniloae among the “palamites theologians” (p. 283) and, unlike Podskalsky and Wenderbourg, he quotes from the work of Father Dumitru Stăniloae (p. 68).

[9] F. Von Lilienfeld, „Hesychasmus”, in Theologische Realenzylopädie 15 (Berlin, 1986), p. 285.

[10] Maciej Bielawsky, Părintele Dumitru Stăniloae – o viziune filocalică despre lume (Deisis: Sibiu, 1998), p. 127.

[11] D. Stăniloae, Teologia Dogmatică Ortodoxă vol. I (EIBMBOR: București, 1996), p. 219-220.

[12] D. Stăniloae, Spiritualitate şi comuniunea în Liturghia Ortodoxă (Editura Mitropoliei Olteniei: Craiova, 1986), p. 387.

[13] Γεώργιος Α. Γάλίτης, „Π. Δημήτριος Στανιλοάε: Ευλαβικό Μνημόσυνο”, in Αναπλάσις, (Άυγουστος-Οκτώβριος 1994), 110.

[14] D. Stăniloae, “Concepția ortodoxă despre Tradiție și despre dezvoltarea doctrine,” Ortodoxia 1 (1975), p. 11-13.

[15] D. Stăniloae, “Sfânta Scriptură și Tradiția Apostolică în Mărturisirea Bisericii,” Ortodoxia 2 (1980), pp. 211, 219.

[16] D. Stăniloae, “Sfânta Tradiție. Definirea noțiunii și întinderii ei,” Ortodoxia 1 (1964), p. 102.

[17] Ibidem, p. 103, 105. “Particularly, the normative authority of the Fathers is explained and consists of the following reasons: a) from the fact that their writing is perfectly covered by the dogmatic decisions of the ecumenical synods; b) from the fact that it represents the initial aspect of the form in which the Apostolic Tradition remained; c) from the fact that it is absorbed in the worship of the Church; d) It is from the beginning a good of the undivided Church. Through all this they are ‘Fathers’.” (p. 102-103).