Institute of Theology

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The Ethos of Orthodoxy
( summary )

Dr. Constantine Scouteris
University of Athens


The Question

Does theology have the necessary attributes to answer question which are regularly posed by contemporary scientific research? Are the ethics of theology perhaps old-fashioned and ineffective, incapable of facing the new information and the great bounds of development which refer to the biological existence and function of man? Bioethics arose from the need to face the ethical questions linked to the progress of medical science, as well as those that followed from the experiments associated with mans biological existence.



The term ethics has its starting-point in classical Greek thought. Etymologically it comes from the term ethos which is another spelling and interpretation of the term Hthos. Aristotle considers ethics to be the second branch of virtue, after intellectual virtue, he believes that it is the result of habit, from which gets its name being a slight modification of the word ethos. Ethics denotes mans conduct, which is formed accordingly within time. Heraclitus would say Morals (Ethos) make man a deity Here human ethos is something beyond a way in which habit is formed, it is the result of a relationship with the divine. However, the terms ethos and ethics were never in wide circulation amongst the Fathers. There use was always occasional and limited. It was clearly distinct from the legal language of ethics, as developed in subsequent eras

Bioethics has appeared today as a new branch of the study of ethics or even as an academic subject in its own right, yet correspondent with ethics. Bioethics is called to face the new ethical issues that were and are created by research in the fields of Biology and Medicine. The accomplishments related to mans biological existence are frequently outside the sphere even of our boldest imaginings. Consequently, Bioethics has a mission to evaluate this bold progress and to see if, and to what degree, it is compatible with the generally accepted values which govern human life. That is to say, there are ethical consequences which accompany mans presumably noble attempt to extend his knowledge, to make life easier and to carry out research within the field of biological inquiry.


Creativity and Research are gifts from God

Man, as a free person, is obliged to function discerningly. Man is not an autonomous and free-moving machine, but he can create precisely because he is a living image of God. In essence mans ability to enquire and to discover has a divine origin. the Fathers of the Church used the concept of synergy to demonstrate that man, as a creative being, can be a fellow labourer with God.

The body is the temple of mans soul. Throughout the history of each human person the body has to execute a unique task, it is the area where life is sanctified and the plane where mans future immortality is prepared. There is no human person without a body. Thus, Medicine and Biology, sciences whose subject matter is human life, and more particularly the workings of the body, are seen to be effecting a divine task Absolute respect for the human person, not as an fleeting biological existence, but as an eternal and immortal being is a presupposition for a kind of medicine which will make a beneficial and helpful contribution to life. For example, medical intervention to halt pregnancy militates against the right of the embryo to life , which is equally alive and valid as any mature human being whatsoever. Indeed, the embryo or foetus as a living being, which already has the characteristics of a new human life, has even more need of medical protection. The embryo, the new-born baby, the young, the mature, and the old man or woman are all stations in the same human life. The responsibility of Medicine and Biology lies in protecting the priceless gift of life, with their new discoveries and progress, at whatever phase at all that gift is found at

Developments in the field of Biotechnology and the Dilemmas produced

Certain biologists, doctors, legal experts, and even theologians suppose that Bioethics will solve all the problems created by research and discovery in the field of Biotechnology. They consider it to be some deus ex machina. is something that causes revulsion in common man. This is obviously a groundless hope simply because the biotechnological developments are in the main uncontrolled and they cannot be confronted with moral decrees and exhortations.

There are some proposals of Biotechnology which common opinion finds abhorrent and human conscience, quite independently of it moral convictions, reacts against. Some examples of these are the debate about male pregnancy, or the creation of headless frogs opening the door to the prospect of the headless humans for the production of human body parts, or even the problems associated with infertility treatment and sperm donation.The question is why copies of humans, and who will judge genetic manipulation and its aims? Who decides the value of these hings?


Descriptive and Prescriptive Bioethics

According to D.Macer there are two types of Bioethics. The first type is descriptive Bioethics. This type concerns the way in which people see life and the ethical interactions and their responsibilities with regard to the living organisms of life. The second type is prescriptive Bioethics. The same scientist says that Bioethics means the study of issues arising from life, it is the result of what we call love of life. Nevertheless it may still serve a society that is selfish and man-centred. However, for love to be authentic it must see every human person not just within the limits of his biological life, but within the perspective of his eternal existence.


The eschatological attitude to life or the proposal of Orthodox Theology

Human life is not determined by mans biological behaviour or his biological extension, but is rather that which he can reach through ascetic practice and its demonstration within Christian society. The major problem of Bioethics today is that it tries to give answers to questions of the present, for a man who will die, enclosed within the human dimension and within the limits of worldly material reality. Biotechnology and accordingly Bioethics to a greater degree serve the material, and therefore the corrupt, needs of man. The endeavour to serve the needs of biological existence, frequently ignoring mans spiritual dimension. It seems that contemporary Bioethics ignores the eternal, i.e. mans divine potentiality. If anyone evaluates biological life solely on the basis of physical death, he will reach a completely different conclusion from that dictated by an evaluation which is founded on the belief that man exists in order not to die. If someone sees biological life as a boundless gift from God for the preparation of spiritual life, then his estimation of things in the world will be evaluated differently.


The mind-set of the Church a foundation for authentic Bioethics

Bioethics can really work for mans redemption when it is established upon the Christian mind-set and denotes the ethos of theosis. Man, who lives within the spectrum of technology and progress, should have the mind (nous) of Christ, so that he can discern matters. Man is not just a material - physical being. Orthodoxy with its ascetic mind-set and hesychastic tradition does not look at man within the dry limits of his earthly life, but in his final glory. The Orthodox tradition steadfastly promises that greater value than what it is, has that what man can become, god by grace. If we look at the life of man within this theological and Church-centred expanse, the consideration of the dilemmas created by biomedical methods takes on a different character. Then we can understand that each new medical method and every advance of biology is blessed, if it regards the whole man, who lives in the present age, but is journeying towards the age to come. Conversely, every discovery in the field of biotechnology that encloses man within the dry limits of his biological life, however much it makes earthly life easier,conceals something tragic. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

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