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Book Review

The mystical theology of the Eastern Church


This book may not have attracted much attention in 1944, when it was first published. Distracted by a world war, most people, it is safe to say, ignored a book written in Paris on Orthodox theology, Essai sur la théologie mystique de l'Église d'Orient. (Mind you, I read it in translation!)

Featuring rich and complex reflections on the Trinity, Vladimir Lossky's work is eloquent and challenging. I have been especially intrigued by one of his points. Citing the Greek Fathers of early Christianity, he defends what is called "apophatic" theology.

According to this point of view, we must remember (to quote another theologian) that "God is incomparably greater than anything we can say or think about Him." Every positive description of God should be immediately balanced with correcting statements about what He is not. Without this negative (apophatic) approach, we risk turning our limited understanding of God into an idol. Thus it is important, for example, to say that God is "of infinite power" and "without body, parts, or passions" (to use the words of one classic Protestant creed).

As a mere layman, I am probably in over my head at this point. But I like that word "apophatic." Indeed, I see a down-to-earth application to our University. The truth is, some of the most important statements we can make about Southwestern Adventist University are negations:

  • The University is not staffed by teachers who have lost faith in our mission.
  • The University does not suffer from increasing long-term debt.
  • The University has not deferred millions of dollars in maintenance.
  • The University has not raised tuition to out-of-reach levels.

Combine those negative statements, in other words, and the result is very positive. From an apophatic perspective, this University is remarkably healthy.

By Eric Anderson
Submitted: October 9, 2012