How Dogma is linked with Ethics and Ascetic Teaching





There is an extraordinary link between dogma and ethics. Theology and dogma can never be separated from the ethical teaching of the Church, which is ascetic.

“The strange thing is that in practice the Orthodox today separate dogmatics from ethics and we have become very much involved in moralising. There is a tendency for some people to concern themselves with ethics and others with dogmatics. They clearly separate these issues.

It is obvious from Orthodox ascetic teaching that theology can never be separated from ethics. Asceticism has purely dogmatic character, because it concerns the correct evaluation of concepts. Someone must know exactly what these concepts are, what type they are, and what relationship they bear to the reality that they symbolise or express.”

We see this in the history of the Church. Many people accept dogma in order to be saved, but they do not observe the ethical teaching connected with the dogma.

“But what connection does this dogma – the Holy trinity, the incarnation, all these things – what connection does the dogma of the Holy Trinity have with man’s therapeutic treatment?

The view prevailed that the dogma exists and we ought to believe the dogma so as not to go to Hell. God is such that, unless we accept the dogma, even though we are good people, unless we accept a particular Orthodox or Papal or some other dogma, we shall go to Hell. God punishes us for not believing in dogmas.

Here the relationship between dogma and the practice of the Church was no longer visible. Ethics was something different from dogma. There was ethics and there was dogma. What saves is ethics, but if ethics is not linked with dogma it does not save. We ought to have both ethics and dogma to be saved.”

In this context moralism develops. If dogma is separated from ethics, on the one hand speculation prevails and, on the other, moralism.

As we shall see below, Orthodox ethics is not humanistic and its effect is not limited simply to man’s outward behaviour. It is ascetic, and asceticism is clearly dogmatic in character, “because it concerns the correct evaluation of concepts”. More about this subject will be emphasised in the following section.

In conclusion, dogma, as has been stressed many times, is the fruit of an empirical revelation granted to the saints and subsequently leads human beings to glorification. Even when God reveals Himself to man, His essence remains incommunicable and therefore unknowable. With regard to His essence, He remains a mystery. It is, however, possible to share in Him and know Him according to His energies. The Godseer, when necessary, formulates dogmas to safeguard the experience and to guide the faithful without error.

(Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church, according to the spoken teaching of Fr.John Romanides, Volume 1)