Posts Tagged Vladimir Lossky
One of my main goals in writing is to discover and bring the ancient theology and doctrines of the early charismatic Christian church to the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement.
There is a clear disconnect between the doxis of Western Latin Christianity and the praxis of the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement which operates in the gifts and fruit of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Movement certainly has the basic praxis (how beliefs are practiced, embodied and realized in conduct) of the early charismatic Apostolic church, but does not have a corresponding supportive, complementary doxis (religious beliefs, worship, doctrines, and creeds) which explains and supports that praxis.
The world needs to see lives transformed, but it also needs to know why and how they have been transformed. To do this, the world must see a complementary balance of belief and action at work. But, just as vital, the world must see something else in mutual support and balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis– that is, right belief and right action.
A key essential in an orthodoxy which supports a Renewal Movement (apostolic church) orthopraxis is an understanding of the Essence and Energies of God and the distinction between them. It is only in understanding Essence (transliterated ousía in Greek) and Energies (transliterated enérgeia in Greek) of God that we can reconcile the seeming paradox of the unknowable transcendence of God with the universal, yet very personal indwelling presence and power of God in all humankind.
Throughout this discussion, I will rely heavily on the writings of 20th century theologians including Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and Fr. John Meyendorff. They, in turn, refer to the authority of many early Church Fathers including St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Macarius the Great (all 4th century); St. Dionysius the Aeropagite (5th century); St. Maximus the Confessor (7th century); St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th century); and last, but not least, St. Gregory Pálamas (14th century). I make all of these citations so that the reader may understand that the theology and doctrines on the Essence and Energies of God are both ancient and continuously attested to throughout the Patristic literature up to this day. These citations also make it clear that none of what you are about to read is my original work or thoughts.
To be continued…
“… this idea of person comes to us from Christian theology.”
In discussing the concept of “person”, I will refer to the work of the church Fathers, especially the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century, through the collective wisdom and insights of four prominent contemporary theologians and mystics: Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, John Zizioulas, and Hierotheos Vlachos.
The great twentieth-century Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958), in his seminal work, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, tells us that, “We commonly use the words ‘persons’ or ‘personal’ to mean individuals, or individual. We are in the habit of thinking of these two terms, person and individual, almost as though they were synonyms. We employ them indifferently to express the same thing. But, in a certain sense, individual and person mean opposite things, the word individual expressing a certain mixture of the person with elements which belong to the common nature, while person, on the other hand, means that which distinguishes it from nature”.
Lossky goes on to explain this distinction between “individual” and “person” in more detail: “The man who is governed by his nature and acts in the strength of his natural qualities, of his ‘character’, is the least personal. He sets himself up as an individual, proprietor of his own nature, which he pits against the natures of others and regards as his ‘me’, thereby confusing person and nature.” This is the condition of fallen man, best described in English as ‘egoism’.
Lossky continues to further contrast “individual” and “person”: “However, the idea of the person implies freedom vis-à-vis the nature. The person is free from nature, is not determined by it. The human hypostasis [person] can only realize itself by renunciation of its own will, of all that governs us, and makes us subject to natural necessity.”
Lossky goes on to tell us that the original idea of the “person” was conceived by, and can only be explained in terms of proper Christian theology: “…the theological notion of hypostasis in the thought of the eastern Fathers means not so much individual as person, in the modern sense of the word. Indeed, our ideas of human personality, of that personal quality which makes every human being unique, to be expressed only in terms of itself: this idea of person comes to us from Christian theology.”
“To help explain the difference between “individual” and “person”, the model of the Holy Trinity is useful…”
To help explain the difference between “individual” and “person”, the model of the Holy Trinity is useful because it establishes a truth beyond the regular meaning of secular philosophical concepts. Two of the key terms in trinitarian theology are ousia and hypostasis; essence (nature) and subsistence (person). Just to confuse things, even in Greek, these two terms can be used as synonyms.
In terms of trinitarian doctrine, Vladimir Lossky explains to us in his book, In the Image and Likeness of God, that “… according to the doctrine of the Fathers, there is between ousia and hypostasis the same difference as between the common and the particular…”. Lossky continues his line of thinking with a complex thought, “The hypostasis is the same as ousia; it receives all the same attributes – or all the negations – which can be formulated on the subject of “superessence”; but it nonetheless remains irreducible to the ousia.”
Lossky tells us that the church Fathers of the fourth century worked diligently to develop and articulate a complete theology of the Holy Trinity. This was especially true of three men who became known as the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa). They struggled mightily to articulate and differentiate between theological terms like hypostasis and ousia: “It was a great terminological discovery to introduce a distinction between the two synonyms, in order to express the irreducibility of the hypostasis to the ousia and of the person to the essence, without, however, opposing them as two different realities. This will enable St. Gregory of Nazianzus to say, ‘The Son is not the Father, because there is only one Father, but He is what the Father is; the Holy Spirit, although He proceeds from God, is not the Son, because there is only one Only Begotten Son, but He is what the Son is’ (Or. 31, 9)”
“…’person’ signifies the irreducibility of man to his nature…”
While Lossky warns us that we cannot make a complete and direct analogy between “hypostasis” or “person” as it applies to the Holy Trinity to the idea of “person” in humankind, some useful conclusions can be drawn. He tells us that, “Under these conditions, it will be impossible for us to form a concept of the human person, and we will have to content ourselves with saying: “person” signifies the irreducibility of man to his nature— “irreducibility” and not “something irreducible” or “something which makes man irreducible to his nature” precisely because it cannot be a question here of “something” distinct from “another nature” but of someone who is distinct from his own nature, of someone who goes beyond his nature while still containing it, who makes it exist as human nature by this overstepping and yet does not exist in himself beyond the nature which he “enhypostasizes” and which he constantly exceeds.”
O.K., so Vladimir Lossky can be a little deep and dense at times. Let’s get some help from some other very gifted contemporary theologians who can help explain and round out the concept of the “person” for us.
We’ll start with contemporary Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (1935 – ) to further explain and expand on Lossky’s thinking:
“In everyday speech, we tend to distort the meaning of the word ‘person’. What we call ‘person’ or ‘personal’ designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms “person” and “individual” as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, ‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning (see V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London, 1957), p. 121f.) The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative comparisons and analogies.”
Vladimir Lossky – (1903 – 1958) was one of the most influential Orthodox Christian theologians of the 20th century. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Orthodox Christianity.
“The man who is governed by his nature and acts in the strength of his natural qualities, of his ‘character’, is the least personal. He sets himself up as an individual, proprietor of his own nature, which he pits against the natures of others and regards as his ‘me’, thereby confusing person and nature.” ~ The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church