Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Larchet's Review of Tatakis

Here is my translation from the French of Jean-Claude Larchet's capsule review of B. N. Tatakis, Christian Philosophy in the Patristic and Byzantine Tradition, edited, translated, and annotated by Protopresbyter George Dion. Dragas (Rollinsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute, 2007).
Basil Tatakis (1896-1987), Professor of Philosophy at the Aristotle University of Thessalonika, is well known as an historian of Byzantine thought, inasmuch as his La philosophie byzantine was included as an independent installment in Emile Brehier's famous Histoire de la philosophie. Edited, translated, and annotated by Protopresbyter George Dragas, Professor of Patrology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Boston), this book, dedicated to "Christian Philosophy in the Patristic and Byzantine Tradition," differs from its predecessor, and should not be confused with it. Made up of eighteen chapters subdivided into multiple and often very brief sections, it is intended as a textbook providing a comprehensive approach rather than in-depth analysis. The simplicity of its style, even when tackling complex questions, destines it for a large public.

Posing first of all the question of whether there is a Christian philosophy (chapter 1), he responds in the positive by showing the specifics of this philosophy – notably in relation to ancient Greek philosophy – focusing on the particular character of its conception of the relationship between faith and reason (chapters 2 and 3). It then presents the work of the first centuries and the different problems that faced Christian thinkers (chapter 4), before analysing Byzantine thought in its particularities (chapter 5). It then focuses on identifying the "meaning of Orthodoxy" (as first defined) for Christian thinkers (chapters 6 and 7), and then presents "Byzantine mysticism" through several of its great representatives: John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, and Gregory Palamas (chapters 8-10). The following several thematic chapters are dedicated to the iconoclastic debate (chapter 11), the question of predestination and self-determination (chapters 12-13), and the place of Platonism and Aristotelianism in Byzantium (chapters 14-17), and finally "Byzantine science" (chapter 18). This study is complemented by a select bibliography, an index, and biographies of the author and the editor.
Professor Tatakis' La philosophie byzantine, mentioned above, is also available in English translation (at an outrageous price).

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