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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

31 - Book Review: "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" by Vladimir Lossky


 
The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

Published by James Clark & Co., London, 1957, 252 pages.

By Vladimir Lossky

Reviewed by Georges Florovsky
The Journal of Religion, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 1958), pp. 207-208.

The author of this book died recently in Paris. One reads the book as a theological testament of the author. In fact, it is not a new book. It was first published in French in 1944 (Essai sur la thdologie mystique de l'eglise d'Orient [Paris: Aubier]) and at that time was reviewed and discussed. Yet it kept its urgency and freshness. It is a provocative and stimulating book. In a sense, it is an essay in what can be described as a "neo-patristic synthesis." The author expounds the thoughts of the Greek Fathers and wants to be faithful to their spirit, but he does it as a "modern man," who has passed through the school of modern philosophy and is well acquainted with the challenge of the "modern mind." He confines himself strictly to the Eastern tradition and probably exaggerates the tension between the East and the West even in the Patristic period. A "tension" there obviously existed, as there were "tensions" inside the "Eastern tradition" itself, e.g., between Alexandria and Antioch. But the author seems to assume that the tension between the East and the West, e.g., between the Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocians and that of Augustine, was of such a sharp and radical character as to exclude any kind of "reconciliation" and overarching synthesis. It would be more accurate to say that such a synthesis has never been accomplished or even has not been thoroughly attempted. Even if we admit, as we certainly must, that the Trinitarian theology of Augustine was not well known in the East, up to the late Middle Ages, Augustine's authority had never been seriously questioned in Byzantium even in the times of Patriarch Photius. It is therefore unsafe to exclude his contribution from the Patristic heritage of the "Undivided Church." One should be "ecumenical" rather than simply "oriental" in the field of Patristic studies. One has to take into account the whole wealth of the Patristic tradition and wrestle impartially with its intrinsic variety and tensions.