The Holy Trinity as the Source of the Unity of the Church in the Creative Theological Vision of Fr Dumitru Staniloae

  • Vasile-Ciprian Burca

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this study is to offer a critical presentation of the Trinitarian ecclesiological thought of Fr Dumitru Staniloae, considered to be the most important Romanian Orthodox theologian and a prominent figure of Orthodoxy of the last century. After an overview of the significant aspects of Fr Staniloae’s life and work I investigate the way Fr Staniloae’s theology is regarded by certain representatives of contemporary Western theology in an attempt to place Fr Staniloae and his work in the wider context of the theology of the twentieth century. I argue that Fr Staniloae’s theology is deeply influenced by the theology of the Russian emigration: Florensky, Bulgakov, Florovsky and Lossky. Furthermore I show that despite this obvious influence Staniloae is an independent thinker in his own right, elaborating a personal conception of personhood in which a balance between person and nature is sought at Trinitarian and anthropological level based on a ‘Neo-patristic synthesis’. I hold that in Staniloae’s theology of personhood the person-nature balance is quite fragile because of its personalist overtone. I also make evident the fact that person-nature synthesis is pivotal for Fr Staniloae’s theology in terms of the participation of creation to the divine life. I investigate the particularities of Fr Staniloae’s conception of personhood through the lens of his apophatic theology also looking at its anthropological and cosmological implications. I also argue that in Staniloae’s cosmology the relation between man and creation is at times seen in ideal terms, not giving any practical indication of what human being should actually do in mediating creation’s fulfilment. I show that in terms of methodology Staniloae does not always have an objective and critical approach on the thought of the Fathers by simply considering their thought axiomatic and hardly questioning it.
In the third chapter I point out that Staniloae’s Trinitarian theology is the expression of an ontological communitarian personalism in which the Holy Trinity as supreme personal reality is seen as the only perfect communion and the ultimate meaning of all existence. I evaluate the influence of Russian emigration’s theology in the Staniloae’s elaboration of his Trinitarian model identifying its strong aspects but also unveiling its limits and speculative character. In connection to that I investigate the consequences of Fr Staniloae’s engagement in open dialogue with the personalist and existentialist philosophy of his time and confront his vision on the inner link between the divine and human love.
In the fourth chapter I argue that the ecclesiological conception of Fr Staniloae evinces the distinctive roles and relations of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church with an emphasis on the reciprocity between the Son and the Holy Spirit regarded simultaneously in the context of interpersonal communion and unity of divine being. Furthermore I study whether the ecclesiological vision of Fr Staniloae which seems to be centred on the image of the Church filled with the Trinitarian uncreated energies, as a permanent Trinitarian epiphany, could provide new elements which are indispensable to the contemporary theology in its quest of finding the balance between universal and local, the institutional and charismatic in the Church. I also try to critically assess the potential and ecumenical relevance of Fr Staniloae’s concept of ‘open sobornicity’ and possibility of its application in the Church.
I finally conclude with a critical evaluation of those aspects of the theology of Fr Staniloae presented throughout my thesis and an assessment of the importance of his theological legacy in addressing the problems and concerns of our times.
Date of Award15 May 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorAndreas Andreopoulos (Supervisor) & Angus Paddison (Supervisor)


  • modern theology
  • dogmatics
  • philosophy
  • ecclesiology
  • personhood
  • Staniloae
  • trinity
  • communion
  • epistemology
  • patristics

Cite this