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From the Special Issue: The Bible, 1991 issue of Touchstone


Theology in the Russian Diaspora by John Thompson

Theology in the Russian Diaspora

Theology in the Russian Diaspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas’ev (1893-1966)
by Aidan Nichols, O.P.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989
295 pp., $49.50

reviewed by John Thompson

When Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I lifted the mutual anathemas between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches, one of the theologians present at the December 7, 1965 service in Rome was Orthodox theologian Nikolai Afanas’ev. His presence in Rome during the closing sessions of the Second Vatican Council is some measure of his contribution to ecclesiology and to the thaw in relations between Christendom Eastern and Western.

Theology in the Russian Diaspora is a fitting tribute to Fr. Afanas’ev, few of whose writings have appeared in English. It also introduces the work of the Institut de Théologie orthodoxe de Paris. Institut Saint-Serge, as it is often called, was founded by a distinguished faculty of post-Revolution Russian emigrés, many of whom, like Afanas’ev, contributed to the rapprochement between East and West.

The author of this study, Dominican Aidan Nichols, has masterfully situated Afanas’ev’s thought in its historical and theological context. He identifies as Afanas’ev’s greatest contribution his recovery of a “eucharistic ecclesiology” which derives the structure of the Church from the pattern of her eucharistic life. It is obvious that Afanas’ev’s grasp of ecclesiology, his understanding of the role of the ecumenical councils and his reflection on the Orthodox churches’ approach to the bishop of Rome all are the fruit of study and reflection by a devoted churchman. Indeed, in his later years the building of bridges between Orthodox and Catholic was a major concern of his.

Regardless of how one may assess Afanas’ev’s ecclesiology or Fr. Nichols’ attempt to use it to resolve the role of the papacy, Theology in the Russian Diaspora is a testimony to this Russian theologian whose influence is still felt more than two decades after his death. And we may hope that this work might prompt the long overdue publication of an English translation of Afanas’ev’s magnum opus, Tserkov’ Dukha Sviatogo (translated into French [1975] as L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit).

John Thompson is a librarian and professor at Waynesburg University, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania

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