In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eastern Orthodox Philosophical Thought

  • Introductions
  • General Overviews and Historical Context
  • Metaphysics and Philosophy of Language
  • Epistemology and Philosophy of Religion
  • Moral Psychology and Character Formation
  • Normative and Applied Ethics
  • Social, Cultural, and Political Philosophy
  • Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Russian Religious Philosophy

Philosophy Eastern Orthodox Philosophical Thought
Rico Vitz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0424


The Orthodox Christian Church is one of the largest religious groups within Christendom, second only to Roman Catholicism. Historically, it traces its origins to Christ and claims an unbroken line of fidelity to the teaching of the apostles and their successors. It consists of over a dozen autocephalous Churches, each of which is led by a Patriarch or Metropolitan Archbishop who together lead the Orthodox Church around the world in a conciliar ecclesial government, with the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized as the “first among equals.” The oldest among these Churches are in the Middle East (e.g., Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem) and the Mediterranean (e.g., Greece, Cyprus, Constantinople), as well as many in Central and Eastern Europe (e.g., Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Romania, Poland, as well as the Czech Lands and Slovakia). It also contains a number of autonomous, or self-governing, churches in Asia (e.g., China and Japan). Thus, the Eastern Orthodox Church is rich in ethnic and cultural diversity, while being united in doctrine and worship. To many in the West, however, and especially to those in the English-speaking world, it remains an enigma that is often confused either with Roman Catholicism or with a syncretic mixture of Christianity and Eastern religion. This article provides a brief sample of works from the Orthodox intellectual tradition that are likely to foster greater collaborative engagement with contemporary academic philosophy. As a whole, the collection attempts to help readers answer three questions. First, what are the views of the Orthodox Christian Church, especially those that are more distinctive of Orthodox Christianity? Second, how have these views been explained and defended in historical philosophical and theological discourse? Third, how have these views been explained and defended in contemporary philosophical and theological discourse? The presentation is divided into seven sections: General Overviews and Historical Context; Metaphysics and Philosophy of Language; Epistemology and Philosophy of Religion; Moral Psychology and Character Formation; Normative and Applied Ethics; Social, Cultural, and Political Philosophy; and Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Russian Religious Philosophy. The selections within each section are principally designed to be of use for contemporary English-speaking academic philosophers by providing a representative presentation not only of topics but also of eras (e.g., ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary), areas of jurisdiction (e.g., Middle Eastern, Byzantine, Slavic, etc.), and schools of thought (e.g., analytic philosophy, Continental philosophy, etc.).

General Overviews and Historical Context

This section consists of scholarly overviews of the Orthodox Christian intellectual tradition and edited collections of its primary texts. Louth 2007 presents a series of essays on a number of the key figures, including both Christian philosopher-theologians and the pagan and Jewish writers that influenced their thought. For those who are interested in reading the primary texts that shaped Orthodox philosophical thought in the ancient and medieval periods, Foltz 2019 provides a helpful set of selections from most essential texts from this period. For those who would like to dig deeper into the primary texts, Roberts and Donaldson 2001 offers a rather comprehensive collection of the essential primary texts that shaped Orthodox philosophical thought prior to the Council of Nicea in 325. Similarly, Schaff and Wace 1952–1957 offers a similar collection of the essential primary texts from the period of the Seven Councils as well as documents from the councils themselves. For those who are interested in how the more distinctive elements of Orthodox philosophical thought were considered in light of the philosophical thought developing in Western Christendom, Plested 2012 provides an interesting comparative analysis. In a similar vein, Yannaras 2015 presents a characterization of what the author takes to be fundamental differences between Hellenic and later Western philosophy. Louth 2015 consists of a series of essays on a number of the figures that developed Orthodox philosophical thought from the later medieval period until the 20th century. Lossky 1997 is a text by one such figure, which has been particularly influential. To highlight the continuing development of Orthodox philosophical thought, Vitz 2012 provides a sample of contemporary philosophers who converted to Orthodox Christianity within the past few decades. Likewise, Schneider 2019 is a collection of essays by similar figures who discuss the relationship between traditional Orthodox philosophical thought and contemporary philosophy.

  • Foltz, Bruce V., ed. Medieval Philosophy: A Multicultural Reader. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

    This work is particularly useful for three reasons. The first is that the text provides access to the primary texts that are available in Schaff’s collection, but it presents a curated selection of excerpts from these texts. So, it can be a more accessible resource for beginning to examine the primary texts that shaped the Orthodox philosophical and theological tradition. The second is that the text provides relevant selections to Jewish and Muslim philosophical texts from the same period. The third is that it includes texts that are not included in Schaff’s volumes but are critically important for understanding Orthodoxy—e.g., texts by St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and St. Gregory Palamas.

  • Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

    Contains three essays that are of particular interest for this section. The first, “Divine Darkness,” analyzes the limits of human knowledge and, consequently, of religious language. The second, “Uncreated Energies,” highlights the distinction between the divine essence (ousia) and the uncreated energies (energeiai) of God, and highlights the significance of this distinction for Orthodox metaphysics. The third, “The Way of Union,” elucidates the conception of deification, which is essential for understanding the Orthodox Christian conception of human flourishing.

  • Louth, Andrew. The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199291403.001.0001

    Presents a helpful introduction to the figures that were most influential in shaping the Orthodox philosophical and theological tradition. These include both figures that tend to be more familiar in the West—e.g., Plato, Athanasius, Augustine—and those that tend to be less familiar in the West but who were particularly influential in the East—e.g., Philo, Plotinus, Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius, St. Macarius, Denys (Pseudo-Dionysius) the Areopagite.

  • Louth, Andrew. Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.

    Opens with an overview of the Philokalia and its influence. It goes on to provide short introductions to the life and work of a number of important Orthodox figures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Of particular interest for present purposes are the chapters on those who are included in this bibliography: e.g., Vladimir Solovyov, Pavel Florensky, Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev, Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, St. Maria of Paris, and Metropolitan John Zizioulas.

  • Plested, Marcus. Orthodox Readings of Aquinas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199650651.001.0001

    Consists of three parts. Part 1 offers an overview of the philosophical thought of two of the most prominent exemplars of medieval Christian thought, East and West: St. Gregory Palamas and Thomas Aquinas, respectively. Parts 2 and 3 provide historical analyses of the extent to which the thought of Aquinas was received both in the medieval Byzantine world and in the early modern and modern periods, most notably in Greek and Russian contexts.

  • Roberts, Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. 10 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.

    Contains the first ten volumes of Philip Schaff’s indispensable collection of influential texts from the writings of the Church Fathers. Of particular interest with respect to the development of Orthodox philosophical thought are the works of, e.g., St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Originally published 1885–1887.

  • Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 28 vols. in 2 series. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1952–1957.

    Contains the remaining twenty-eight volumes of Philip Schaff’s collection. These are divided into two series. The first series, consisting of fourteen volumes, contains the works of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. The second series, which also consists of fourteen volumes, contains both works by a number of Church Fathers—e.g., St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Damascene, St. Ambrose, St. John Cassian, St. Ephraim the Syrian—as well as the documents of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Originally published 1886–1889.

  • Schneider, Christoph. Theology and Philosophy in Eastern Orthodoxy: Essays on Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2019.

    A collection of essays by contemporary philosophers and theologians from around the world. These essays address a variety of topics, including metaphysics, phenomenology, logic, philosophy of language, ethics, and political philosophy. In so doing, they present examples of how Orthodox scholars can extend the historical lineage of Orthodox philosophical thought in ways that engage contemporary issues in the field.

  • Vitz, Rico. Turning East: Contemporary Philosophers and the Ancient Christian Faith. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012.

    A collection of autobiographical essays in which sixteen contemporary philosophers describe their personal journeys to the Orthodox Church, explain their reasons for becoming Orthodox Christians, and offer a sense of how their conversions have changed their lives. Among the philosophers in the volume include are a number whose work appears in this bibliography: e.g., H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr., Richard Swinburne, Bruce Foltz, and David Bradshaw.

  • Yannaras, Christos. The Schism in Philosophy: The Hellenic Perspective and Its Western Reversal. Translated by Norman Russell. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2015.

    Yannaras presents a conception of what he takes to be fundamental differences between Eastern and Western modes of philosophizing. More specifically, he argues that the ancient Hellenic approach to philosophy is fundamentally communal, while what he calls the “Western” approach—characterized by Augustine, scholastic Aristotelianism, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Marx—is fundamentally individualistic.

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