Lossky s great work on Eastern Orthodoxy covers the whole range of its spirituality and theology Combining careful theology with the warmth of the deep personal devotion of the Author, the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church is the best introduction to Orthodox teaching and theology available It provides a reliable and informative presentation of the theological spirit of the Eastern Church His account makes clear the profound theological differences underlying the practices of the East and West, and yet it is also an important contribution to ecumenism and to the life of Christian devotion It brings together subjects that are usually separated, asserting that there is no true mysticism that is not firmly rooted in theology, and no true theology that is not experienced, and therefore mystical The tradition of the Eastern Church is presented as a mystical theology with doctrine and experience mutually conditioning each other


9 thoughts on “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

  1. MMM MMM says:

    Although I am not Eastern Orthodox, I cannot think of a better theology book that I ve ever read And I ve read quite a lot of theology, particularly from the Reformed world This piece is spectacular It s on another level It s so hard to read at times that Lossky gives me a headache But there s soooo much substance here, it s all worth it.Obviously, it s a book all about the sum and substance of Eastern theology, which Lossky understands as true mysticism Theology and participating in God by personal experience can never be divided.Lossky begins by explaining what theology is it is apophatic, theology by negation Chapter 1 It is easy to misunderstand this Basically, apophaticism is simply making a strong assertion that theology is a means to an end The goal of all theology is to appreciate as fully as possible the completely transcendent God, whom we cannot explain but can most certainly experience Theology is not merely about cerebral concepts, but is ultimately about contemplation and being transformed into God by grace.Lossky then launches straight into that ancient subject which was so popular amongst the early Church fathers, that of God s incomprehensible essence Chapter 2 This is basically all we can ever say about God in an absolute sense God is unknowable, He is absolutely transcendent As John of Damascus put it, all we can ever really know about God is that we cannot know God at all, because He is infinite and incomprehensible Christians commonly think that they really can know God, but that they simply cannot know everything there is to know about Him The early Church, Vladimir Lossky and ultimately the Bible seem to be against this conception e.g 1 Timothy 6 16, John 1 18, Matthew 11 27 The Church today seems to have lost something of this greatly humbling and profound truth.Notwithstanding, it is not the case that we cannot know anything about God Chapter 4 We cannot know His essence, but we can most certainly know His energies, or His attributes His love, grace, power, mercy, justice, truth, etc God s energies are God they are God eternally existing in the mode of the outflow of His essence His eternal energies are therefore not His essence, but they are still truly the eternal God Moreover, these divine energies we can know fully, by grace These energies attributes are what we receive fully in Christ by the Holy Spirit s work By receiving them we are deified made God, united to His energies This is classic Eastern theology This essence energies distinction has a long history in the Church, and even some Reformed theologians agree with it such as Michael Horton and John Calvin.Lossky then delivers a powerful account of the doctrine of the Trinity Chapter 3 This he considers to be the pinnacle of all theology Amongst many other points, this wonderful theologian teaches that the knowledge of the Trinity is that which transcends all other knowledge, and it is here that our closest encounter with God is fulfilled In addition, the chapter is also highly polemical against the Western view of the Trinity, which Lossky expertly analyses and finds wanting in light of the Church fathers and the whole system of theology This chapter might have been improved by appeal to Scripture, such as for instance an exposition of John 14 16, 26 and 15 26.Next the universe and mankind are discussed Chapters 5 and 6 The chief note here is that all created being was created by God s will specifically for participating in God s nature The major Eastern and early Church doctrine of theosis deification is discussed here as it relates to human persons, and even to creation itself Human beings in particular have been created to participate in the divine nature 2 Peter 1 4, John 17 20 26 , to be God s very image and likeness Ephesians 4 24 , through the Incarnation of the Son of God.What follows is the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word, where Lossky is arguably at his very best Chapter 7 I ve never read anything like it before in my life certainly, as far as I know, there appears to be nothing of this calibre in Reformed theology Lossky ransacks the early fathers to a considerable degree here, especially Maximus the Confessor, in order to put forth in full glory the Church s understanding of the Incarnation In short, Christ s humanity shared such a perfect union with His divine nature that His divinity actually deified His humanity, by this union of the two distinct natures Therefore, Christ has a deified human nature Now because Jesus is what we are by nature human His Church now participates in His own deified humanity, as much as is possible down here, and fully in the age to come The illustration often offered is a favourite of the early Church fathers Christ s human nature is like iron heated in a fire, so that the iron glows red hot His distinct humanity remains human iron But His human nature is deified glows with divinity because of the fiery energies of His distinct divine nature In the same way, the human Church is deified by union with this deified human Christ In short, as Athanasius put it God became human, so that humanity might become God The way the Church shares in Christ s deified humanity is by the Holy Spirit s activity in the Church Chapter 8 The Spirit fills baptises each believer with Deity, deifying our humanity on the basis of Christ s Incarnation Because Jesus became what we are, we can by the Father s grace become what He is.In this way, the essence nature Greek ousia of the Church is divinised human nature, common to all believers, because this is Christ s human nature Yet every believer, individually, is actually the very fullness of that deified humanity by the Spirit s gift, so that we are real persons Greek hypostases Our union with the Church and Her Lord, therefore, most certainly does not destroy our individuality, our personhood The Church thus has two very key aspects Chapter 9 Like the Trinity, she is essence ousia and persons hypostases I disagree with Lossky that it is the sacraments the Eucharist and Baptism which are the unique way through which we enter into the Church, and into Christ Scripture, as I understand it, emphasises faith alone as the only means for getting into Christ, though obedience to the sacraments do follow true, living faith.Chapter 10 homes in on the Eastern view of prayer, with some excellent remarks on Hesychasm, which I always find rather appealing Again, I contend with Lossky on the Eastern emphasis of free will Lossky and the East uphold a very synergistic salvation Full co operation between both God and a person is absolutely essential, they say In one sense, the Reformed would not disagree with this Of course a person has to be fully responsive to God and we certainly are not just passive Let go, and just let God We really do believe, and we really do love God, freely, from the heart, as a matter of purity of choice But the question is why do some fallen sinners make good use of their sinful free wills, whereas others do not I believe Augustine and the Reformers like Martin Luther nailed it when they said that special grace is gifted to some of us, and not gifted to others In short, some are simply granted by God to make proper use of their sinful free will, and there s plenty in the Scriptures to back this up John 6 65, Philippians 1 29, 2 12 13, 1 Corinthians 15 10, Hebrews 13 20 21 On the contrary, the East deny this entirely any wise use of one s free will, they say, is explicitly not a gift of God s grace This is a major difference between the Orthodox and Reformed Churches Reformed Christians often find this aspect of Orthodoxy the biggest hurdle of all to embracing Eastern Christianity One might even argue that the East, always claiming their allegiance to the councils of the past, have perhaps failed to fully uphold some of the ancient councils against Pelagianism In any case, the latter half of Lossky s chapter was, notwithstanding, very useful.The last but one chapter 11 adds little to what has been said before, other than that it homes in once again on where the book began that theology should lead us to transformation into God s glory.The Conclusion Chapter 12 is an excellent summary of the entire book, and worth reading if you have neither the time, nor the patience, to decipher the very heavy content of the preceding chapters.All in all, this is a work of considerable brilliance from a once in a generation theologian It is flooded with quotes from figures like Basil the Great, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus and Gregory Nazianzen You re hardly likely to find a better place to study Eastern theology in all its glorious splendour than right here As has been seen, much of Lossky s work is taken up with the theme of theosis deification, and the method of theosis is explicitly trinitarian Much attention is given to the Incarnation and the work of the Holy Spirit Theosis or Glorification, as the Reformed call it is a lot at the heart of Eastern and early Church theology than it is with Reformed and Protestant theologians The Reformed and Protestant world can learn much from the Eastern way in these respects, amongst others.One last negative It s not a big book, but it s a very difficult book to read Do not underestimate that It s not accessible, and for anyone to benefit profoundly from it, I would suggest they already need some theological qualifications Lossky also uses a number of Greek words, which he does not always define For these reasons, I cannot give it 10 10, though it is most certainly 5 stars This does not mean you shouldn t buy this book By all means purchase it But perhaps you may only get round to actually reading Chapter 12 Conclusion and possibly Chapter 3 the Trinity If you only read Chapter 12, it will have been worth buying, I recommend.I don t think I ll ever become Orthodox, but boy do I like so much of what they teach I will probably rave about this book until my dying day.9 10


  2. Mr B Mr B says:

    Having read Markides beautiful The mountain of silence , and then Louth s Theology of the Orthodox church which is as easily accessible as the former, I then found myself moving on to Lossky, who Louth, along with other commentators reiterated the sense not only Lossky s mastery of his subject, but also his love for it born from experience Lossky is not something to read from beginning to end I could not put down Markides s Mountain , but Lossky is quite different It demands reflection, especially from those with a Catholic perspective It has changed my whole view of Christianity, imbibed in my neo Catholic upbringing It challenged so many misinformed ideas, and put them in a context much simpler than Catholic dogma, and put my somewhat idealistic or romantic idea of monasticism in a totally different light Henry VIII had no idea of the spiritual deprivation which followed as a consequence of the dissolution of the monasteries The recent situation of a refugee camp outside of Rome, where people have worked, and was blessed by the Pope in 2012, but has now been demolished by the local authorities because of the problem of car parking for a forthcoming celebration Communication does not seem to have been a problem with the Eastern Church in its very long history from the early Greek Fathers.There is no Pope in the Eastern Church, but there has been enquiry, and despite the apparent multiplicity of the Eastern Churches, there is unanimity of purpose and theology, and it has been consistent, free from any apparent schisms This is a far remove from Aquinas s Summa which was supposed to answer all questions, in the same way that the almost contemporary Al Ghazali s equivalent, was to lay the foundation stones for the teaching for the Islamic world Lossky does not hide the differences with Rome, which is why there is, as it were, two Christian churches apart from the others which are sectional in outlook The difference is fundamental be good and go to heaven, or be good and become united with God Theosis Why have I never become a catholic, is because I cannot accept the notion of the infallibility of the Pope, for we have had many Pope s who in retrospect have been very infallible the Eastern Church s structure if it could be called that, has no space for a Pope Lossky outlines key viewpoints, I would not say doctrines, but they are viewpoints which have been shared, and developed, enriching them I could never really understand Augustine s doctrine of the Trinity, but now I am a lot clearer as to what he might have intended, and certainly a lot clearer about the concept in terms of appreciating its manifestation, than I ever was This is not for the faint hearted Orthodox readers will be as enlightened as Catholic readers, the general reader, perhaps with a sense that they will look at Christianity, as really embodying a mystery that calls for enquiry into basic spiritual questions about who we are and what we should be doing the kind of questions we ask once, and invariably move on from And we will have to ask them again.


  3. Ron F. Ron F. says:

    The contents of this book are wonderful, fantastic 5 stars However, the physical book itself fell apart after a couple of days of reading, by chapter 3 I didn t start reading the book until the middle of May, and it came apart within a few days, making it difficult to read I tried gluing the pages back onto the binding but it did not work I recommend the contents of this book unreservedly, but the physical binding of my book seems very cheap and unreliable, unfortunately, and is why my rating is only 2 star Buyer Beware


  4. davidgrieve davidgrieve says:

    Densely written but well worth the effort of following through The author was a leading 20th century Eastern Orthodox theologian He demonstrates convincingly how the EO approach to Christian Theology diverges from the Western Catholic He shows how doctrine can never be separated from experience and vice versa It will appeal to all who are open to the insights of the eastern tradition.


  5. S.A.M. S.A.M. says:

    Wonderful.


  6. mrs e b edmunds mrs e b edmunds says:

    If you want an inspirational guide to the mutuaL tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy this is perfect for you Highly e


  7. Rev47 Rev47 says:

    Good Helpful overview,


  8. Edo Edo says:

    Si tratta di un libro affascinante e al tempo stesso complesso Lo consiglio a chi ha gi una certa conoscenza della mistica cristiana e le basi di teologia.


  9. Nfiira Nfiira says:

    This is the best resource I have ever come across with a clear, simple and excellent treatment of Eastern Orthodox Theology, and Christology and Trinitarian doctrine in particular I believe, this is a must read for any Christian What a joy