Lossky on Spirituality, Dogma, Mysticism, and Theology in the Life of the Church

In his introduction to The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky speaks of the inseparable link between spirituality and dogma, mysticism and theology and the life of the Church.  He explains that the Eastern Church makes no distinction between mysticism and theology, the realm of the common faith and personal experience. (11, kindle) When I reflect on his assertion, it seems clear to me that my personal experience of the faith is assuredly linked to what the Church teaches by way of tradition set down in its dogmatic constitution. The more I learn and understand, the richer my experience has been.  I find it difficult to understand what people refer to as “spirituality”, apart from religion. It seems to be an oxymoron, as you reasonably need to have a faith in something substantial and objective, for your spirituality to have legitimate meaning. Therefore, if there is no religion then you have nothing to be spiritual about. St. Thomas Aquinas states that Religion is “the virtue which prompts man to render to God the worship and reverence that is His by right.”  In Christianity, the Highest Religion, what is known about God via Divine Revelation and the study of this revelation, is Theology.  Within the Eastern Church the understanding of the connection between the personal experience of believers, both individual and communal, and dogma, is a legitimization of that experience.  Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, expressed this attitude. “We must live the dogma expressing a revealed truth, which appears to us as an unfathomable mystery, in such a fashion that instead of assimilating the mystery to our mode of understanding we should on the contrary, look for a profound change, an inner transformation of spirit, enabling us to experience it mystically….Outside the truth kept by the whole Church, personal experience would be deprived of all certainty, of all objectivity.” (6-7)   So, how is it that I, as an individual lay woman, would be able to discern the legitimacy of a personal experience without the dogma laid down by the Church?  Even St. Francis of Assisi submitted his self to the direction of the Church, as did all mystics.  Dogma is the foundation for which I can understand my personal experiences, but also by which I can understand the purpose of the life of the Church.  The development of dogma was dominated by the constant preoccupation which the Church has had to safeguard, throughout her history, for all Christians, the possibility of attaining to the fullness of the mystical union with God.  The purpose of life in the Church is the attainment of this mystical union with God.  Not just as individual, but as the Body of Christ, who made possible this mystical union.  Therefore, it is clear, that without theology, the basis of dogma, then spirituality and the mystical experience would be full of illusion and falsehood.  Mysticism is then the living out of Theology to the fullest degree possible in this life, or as Lossky puts it, “the perfecting and crown of all theology: as theology par excellence.” (7)

In The sacred and Immacualate Hearts,

Latrell Castanon

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Front Cover. Vladimir Lossky. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976


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