A Review of Vladimir Lossky's The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958) was one of the most influential Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. His book The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, first published in French in 1944 and translated into English in 1957, is a classic work that explores the spiritual and doctrinal heritage of Eastern Christianity. In this book, Lossky argues that theology and mysticism are not opposed to each other, but rather complement each other in the tradition of the Eastern Church. He also emphasizes the centrality of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the distinction between God's essence and energies, and the role of the sacraments and icons in the life of the faithful.
The book consists of six chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of Eastern mystical theology. The first chapter introduces the main themes and methods of Lossky's approach, which is based on the writings of the Greek Fathers and the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church. He defines mysticism as \"the direct union with God\" (p. 9) and theology as \"the expression of this union\" (p. 10). He also explains the importance of apophaticism, or negative theology, which affirms that God is beyond all human concepts and categories.
The second chapter discusses the concept of divine darkness, which is derived from the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, a mysterious author who was influential in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Lossky shows how divine darkness is not a state of ignorance or agnosticism, but rather a way of transcending rational knowledge and approaching God through faith and love. He also contrasts divine darkness with natural light, which is created by God and reveals His energies or manifestations.
The third chapter deals with the doctrine of God in Trinity, which is the foundation of all Christian theology and mysticism. Lossky explains how the Trinity is not a logical or mathematical problem, but a mystery revealed by God to His Church. He also explores how the Trinity is reflected in creation, salvation history, and human personhood.
The fourth chapter examines the distinction between God's essence and energies, which is one of the distinctive features of Eastern theology. Lossky argues that God's essence is His inner being, which is inaccessible to creatures, while His energies are His outward actions, which are communicated to creatures. He also shows how this distinction preserves both God's transcendence and immanence, and how it enables humans to participate in God's life without becoming identical with Him.
The fifth chapter focuses on the role of grace in Eastern spirituality. Lossky defines grace as \"the uncreated energy of God\" (p. 178) and distinguishes it from created gifts or natural faculties. He also explains how grace is given to humans through baptism, chrismation, eucharist, and other sacraments, which are means of deification or divinization. He also discusses how grace operates in human free will, synergy or cooperation with God, and asceticism or spiritual struggle.
The sixth and final chapter deals with the role of icons in Eastern worship and mysticism. Lossky defends icons against iconoclastic attacks by showing how they are not idols or mere representations, but sacramental signs that reveal Christ and His saints. He also demonstrates how icons are related to Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and anthropology.
In conclusion, Lossky's book is a valuable introduction to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church, which offers a rich and profound vision of God and His relation to His creation. The book is well-written and accessible to readers who are not familiar with Eastern Christianity. It also provides ample references to primary sources and secondary literature for further study. The book is available online as a PDF file at https://jbburnett.com/resources/lossky/lossky_myst1-theol-myst.pdf. aa16f39245