Vladimir Nikolaievich Lossky (1903–1958)
MIKHAIL M. KULAKOV
Vladimir Nikolaievich Lossky was born in 1903 in St. Petersburg into the family of a well-known Russian intuitionist philosopher, Nikolay Onufriyevich Lossky. He studied briefly at the universities of Petrograd and Prague before matriculating at the University of Paris, from which he eventually graduated with a degree in medieval studies in 1927. In 1922 Vladimir was exiled from Russia with his father's family and other notable intellectuals who had refused to cooperate with the new Soviet government. After a two-year stay in Prague, the family settled in Paris, where Lossky immersed himself in study of Western theology and spirituality under the guidance of the influential Thomist scholar Etienne Gilson.
Lossky devoted a great deal of time to the study of Meister Eckhart's negative mysticism. He detected a certain affinity between this German Dominican friar and the Byzantine mystics. Eckhart rejected the earlier attempts of Western medieval mystics to encounter God with prayer, using one's rational abilities. He was convinced that it is easier to say what God is not than to attempt to formulate what God is. To seek a direct and immediate fellowship of the soul with the inexpressible and unapproachable God was, for Eckhart, a much more fruitful endeavor. Yet, Lossky did not find Eckhart (particularly Eckhart's Gottheit) to be sufficiently personalist in his negative (or apophatic, from the Greek apophasis, “denial”) approach. Nor was Eckhart able to overcome the tendency of considering “common nature” before the persons of the Trinity. Lossky's brilliant study Theologie négative et connaissance de Dieu chez Maitre Eckhart was published in Paris posthumously in 1960. The study of the Western scholastic and mystical traditions led Lossky to a thorough investigation of the roots of spiritual and doctrinal divergence between East and West and a search for points of contact and unity.