Summary of Louth’s THE ORIGINS OF THE CHRISTIAN MYSTICAL TRADITION

Introduction

The aim of the book is the outline of mystical theology in the Patristic period as far as Pseudo-Dionysius (Denys).

Dogmatic and mystical theology are bound up together. For example, Trinity and Incarnation are mystical doctrines formulated dogmatically and worked out in these early patristic centuries.

The dynamic is like this: mystical theology provides the context for direct apprehension (in mystical experience) of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, which then in turn leads to a more cataphatic, “dogmatic” theology that attempts to “incarnate those apprehensions in objectively precise terms, which then, in their turn, inspire a mystical understanding of the God who has thus revealed himself…”

mystical dogmatic theology cycle

What was once historically bound together is now pretty much divorced – with notable exceptions like Barth and von Balthasar. But the Fathers work “embodies to a peculiar degree an integration of devotion and reason“.

Patristics students tend to be familiar with the polemical writings (the “contras” e.g. of Origin and Gregory of Nyssa) – but not with their more mystical works. And even there such writing as that of Augustine’s De Trinitate is read as speculative theology instead of the “the ascent of the soul to God” – “But in the Fathers, there is no divorce between dogmatic and mystical theology.”

This book hopes to redress that imbalance.

A fundamental problem of Patristic Theology: its relationship to its contemporary Hellenistic culture – ways of thinking rooted in Plato. (unfinished)

 

Chapter 1 – Plato

Plato’s mystical theology culminates in his “doctrine of contemplation” (“theoria”). This penetrates and informs the entirety of his philosophy.

His dialogs are meant to “awaken” an understanding that “is already there” – within the soul, which has a “syngenia” (kinship) with the eternal Forms/Ideas – which creates within us a “longing” for a return to “home”.

Yet – the state into which we are born is one where the soul has “forgotten” it’s preexistence. But (upon an awakening [putting in mid the “new birth”]) it seeks for a kind of “certainty” that can only be found in eternal, immutable realities – the Forms, like Goodness, Beauty, Truth – the One.

But this can only be realized ultimately after death – hence philosophy is a preparation for death.

For now, through theoria – one can ready one’s soul for that eventuality – by deepening our “participation” in the Ideas. And one is moved toward this end, seeking a feeling of presence – or immediacy through theoria… [A notable resonance here with C.S. Lewis and Barfield’s piquant words, that “good” poetry produces “a felt change of consciousness” – “…the aesthetic effect of “poetic” language happens because of a ‘a felt change of consciousness'”]

(to be continued)

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