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Stylianos Harkianakis, Archbishop of Australia

Dogma and Authority in the Church

Phronema 12/1997, pp. 8-23

Dogma and Authority in the Church

IN OUR EVIL AGE which "demythologises" every institution and every notion of established authority under the pretext of course of democratic equality and "enlightenment" which from the outset claims that rational thought has absolute power over all that can be known - the notions of "dogma" and ''authority" are now considered by many to be not only inappropriate to our time and place, but also extremely provocative and even demeaning of the dignity of the human being emancipated long ago. Thus to speak today of dogma as a common and indeed regulatory point of reference for the entire people of God - especially in the strict sense of a certain supernatural authority - constitutes no doubt a great scandal, or at any rate a bold demand which continuously needs new justification before all who "ask for a reason for the hope that is in you"(( Peter 3:15).

In responding to this need and the doubts of those who in any way may have a contrary opinion, an attempt will be made to present the main things that could possibly be said on this issue, from the viewpoint of Orthodox systematic theology, during these historic times, so as to facilitate a fruitful and sincere dialogue with any person of goodwill.

First of all, it can be said that dogma and authority are considered to be notions which of themselves relate to each other as cause and causality, since authority is understood as being the power which dogma produces and directs, while dogma expresses sufficiently the nature of the authority from which it is derived. This last observation, namely that dogma expresses "sufficiently" the nature of the authority from which it comes without completely exhausting its content, and therefore without being completely identified with it, constitutes the fundamental condition for a successful characterisation of the essence of dogma, as shall be seen below.

Within the area of the Church, matters of course become more complicated. For, therein, dogma is not a notion which has a unified and unchangeably single meaning. Nor is authority understood as a compulsive force or as blind oppression. For a precise and fair evaluation of these two basic concepts it is imperative that a more thorough analysis be made of each by every impartial and thinking person of today, even if that person is not one who believes in Christ. Let us not forget that many sociologists and historians have for some time spoken about a "post-christian" period in which Christians already live.

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