Obituary: Fr Dumitru Staniloae

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The Independent Online
Dumitru Staniloae, priest and theologian; born Vladeni, Romania 16 November 1903; died Bucharest 5 October 1993.

DUMITRU STANILOAE was the leading Romanian Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. Numerous theological works flowed from his pen throughout his long life, and he made the Philokalia - an important collection of Orthodox spiritual writings compiled in the 18th century - available in Romanian. He was also the author of a comprehensive three-volume work on Orthodox dogmatic theology, published in Romania in 1978.

Staniloae was born in 1903 into a peasant family in the village of Vladeni, near Brasov. He studied theology in Czernowitz, Bucharest and later in Athens, where he was awarded his doctorate. He then continued his studies in Western Europe at the universities of Munich, Berlin and Paris.

From 1927 he taught in the Theological Academy in Sibiu as Professor of Apologetics, Dogmatics and Church History. He was ordained priest soon after his marriage in 1932. Later he took over the editorship of the Orthodox paper in Transylvania, Telegraful Roman. In 1942 he published the standard work Jesus Christ and the Restoration of Man and later Orthodoxy and Romanian-ness, on the relation between Church and nation.

Staniloae then moved to Bucharest, where he taught at the Theological Faculty from 1949 until 1973. There was one long interruption from 1958: he was arrested during the harsh but relatively short-lived crackdown on the Orthodox Church. About 1,500 priests, monks and lay people were imprisoned at that time. The Philokalia, which Staniloae had begun to publish in 1947, was temporarily halted after the fourth of its 12 volumes. (He was not able to resume publication until 1976.)

But the persecution eased and Staniloae was pardoned in 1964, shortly before the rise of Nicolae Ceausescu to power. Staniloae resumed his work at the Theological Faculty, publishing works on sacramental theology. Even after his retirement in 1973, he went on helping doctoral students who came to visit him and continued to attend many gatherings abroad.

Staniloae was widely known throughout the Romanian Church. During the Ceausescu era he was spared harassment from the regime, although he was associated with intellectuals and writers who were opposed to Ceausescu. After the fall of the dictator he was involved with the movement to reform the Orthodox Church. But he maintained wide respect by his emphasis on renewal and avoiding controversy within the Romanian Church.

Staniloae's close association with the circle around Metropolitan Balan, however, did not endear him to members of the Romanian Eastern Rite Catholic Church. Metropolitan Balan was instrumental in the government- sponsored Orthodox takeover of the remnants of that Church after it had been suppressed by the Communists in 1948. Staniloae to a certain extent shared that circle's animosity towards the Eastern Rite Catholics.

Staniloae's peasant origins were apparent in his talking and writing, which was lucidly simple. Imbued with the Orthodox tradition, he always judged his writing by whether it would be comprehensible to ordinary folk. 'How would the villagers at home feel about this?' was a characteristic question of his.

In 1990 his academic achievement was recognised when he was nominated to the Academy of Sciences. But apart from scattered articles and talks, only one book appeared during his lifetime in English. In 1980 St Vladimir's Seminary Press in New York published his Theology and the Church.

(Photograph omitted)