The term is derived from the (Greek) verb “dokein” (= seeming, believing) and originally, its literal meaning was “that which seems good or proper to someone”; it also pertains to belief, ideology, principle, opinion, faith, and other related meanings. (Plato’s Soph.256C: «by making use of the many dogmas and words…»).
From its original meaning of a personal opinion, the term was transposed to the field of philosophical positions; in other words, it became a knowledge belonging to a (philosophical) School. (e.g. Plutarch, Ethica 14B: “the dogmas pertaining to souls” or the Stoic philosophers’ dogmas, etc.) The transposing over to this meaning is justified, by the fact that ancient thought demanded eclecticism in philosophy.
a. Forms and character of Dogmatics
Dogmatics – as a particular ‘branch’ and ‘lesson’ of Theology – appeared in the West for the first time and was introduced in the Orthodox Theological Schools during later times. A major characteristic of this branch, as compared to other lessons of Theology, is its systematic character. While other branches of Theology are preoccupied with the dogmatic belief of the Church, Dogmatics approaches this faith by theme, and systematically expounds it.
The Church’s systematic preoccupation with the faith appears during the patristic period for the first time, especially with Origen (his work “On Principles”), and in a strictly organized way with Saint John the Damascene (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith). Ever since that time, this subject has continued to develop in the West during Medieval times (Thomas Aquinatus, SUMMA) and during the post-Reform period, with the blossoming of Confessional Theology, in which Orthodoxy (wrongly) participated (Mogila Confession, Cyril Lucareus, Dositheos etc). In later times (after Eugene Vulgaris), this phenomenon blossomed in the 19th century (Athanasios Parios “Epitome” 1806. Moschopoulos “Epitome of dogmatic and ethical theology”, 1851. Especially among the Russians, we note the Metropolitan Anthony, Makarios of Moscow – both widely acknowledged).
Modernity confronts us with many dilemmas. Man must answer challenges, and not only those for which his teachers in his educational-upbringing process prepared him, but also totally new and different problems that life places before us. And it has always been so. Still, sociologists, pedagogues and culturologists generally agree that today’s world is changing at a significantly faster pace than before. The technological progress and social innovations of the 20th century have transformed the world much faster than, for instance, the entire process of technological development during medieval times. This tempo of development has continued to this day.
The end of the second millennium of Christian history seems to coincide with decisive steps towards a new form of European unity. The final political form of that unity is not yet clear, but it is already evident that the European nations are approaching a degree of economic integration that needs some political framework beyond a mere alliance of sovereign states. This situation raises understandable anxieties. Few people would like to see a monolithic bureaucratic and political structure established at the expense of the various national cultures. But European unity in the form of some kind of confederation should not entail such a thing as its consequence. On the contrary, a confederate organization may allow for an even higher degree of regional independence than the traditional form of the nation state provided. On the other hand, a new sense of cultural identity is required, an awareness of how all those national and regional cultures belong together within the encompassing unity of one cultural tradition, however diversified. Economic integration is not enough to bring forth and nourish the continuous feeling of belonging together. Nor can any political framework by itself achieve that purpose. In fact, the process towards European integration could hardly have developed to its present stage, if there was not already throughout the nations of Europe an awareness of sharing the same cultural world - notwithstanding the particularities of the national cultures that contribute to the abundance of our cultural consciousness as Europeans.
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).