The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 2

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

[CHAPTER 18]
Vladimir Nikolaievich Lossky (1903–1958)

SELECTED AND EDITED BY MIKHAIL KULAKOV

Vladimir Lossky is probably the best known and most widely followed modern Orthodox theologian. His classic work The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, first published in Paris in 1944, is a milestone in the ongoing dialogue between Eastern and Western Christianity. Lossky’s brilliant critique of “Catholic essentialism” and “Protestant existentialism” has had a profound impact on both Western European and Eastern theology, and his portrayal of Orthodoxy as that which mediates between the two Western traditions continues to attract attention in both camps. Pope John Paul II expressed his admiration of the “courageous research” of Vladimir Lossky and compared his work in its speculative value and spiritual significance to the contributions of Jacque Maritain and étienne Gilson in the West and Vladimir Soloviev and Pavel Florensky in the East.1 Lossky’s “originality and imagination in interpreting the Eastern fathers” wrote the Anglican theologian Rowan Williams, “should secure him a firm place among twentieth century theologians, and practically all Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology in the past few decades has taken his scheme as a starting-point’.12 Emphasizing the principal “dogmatic dissimilarity between the Christian East and the Christian West,”3 he focused on the apophatic (negative) foundations of theology understood as a “personal encounter with God in silence” Building on this contemplative foundation Lossky called for a radical deconceptualization of personhood both in Trinitarian theology and in anthropology. He incorporated into his creative synthesis the insights of the Cappadocian fathers, Symeon the New Theologian, Maximus the Confessor, the spiritual masters of the Greek Philokalia, and Gregory Palamas. Lossky insisted that a person cannot be reduced to his nature or expressed in concepts. Nature can only be described as the “content of the person and not as the person’.’4 There is an ethical depth in Lossky’s ascetic teaching on personhood. The drive for self-transcendence and kenotic “self-forgetting” is the primordial foundation and the nerve of authentic personhood.

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