Thursday, February 7, 2008

50 Year Anniversary: Vladimir Lossky

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the repose of Vladimir Lossky, one of the greatest Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, best known for his seminal work, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Yesterday a special commemorative Divine Liturgy was held at his home parish, Notre Dame Joie des Affligés et Sainte Geneviève in Paris.

Here is an obituary of Vladimir Nikolayevich, written by his friend Fr Alexander Schmemann:
Professor Vladimir Lossky’s sudden death deprives the Orthodox Church of one of her best theologians. The loss is all the more irreparable because his published works are so limited in number – one book, a few articles . . . This was due to his unusually developed sense of intellectual and scientific integrity, which made him spend more than twenty years on his doctoral dissertation; he completed the manuscript only a few days before he passed away. But those who knew him intimately and enjoyed theological and spiritual fellowship with him know that in his person, Orthodox theology has lost one of its most gifted and devoted servants, one of those for whom theology is a unique and a sacred "charisma" in the Church, requiring the sacrifice of their whole life.

Vladimir Lossky was the son of the famous Russian Philosopher Nicholas Lossky (Professor emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary). Born in 1904, in St. Petersburg, he received his education, first in Russia, then after the 1917 Revolution, in Prague and in Paris. It was in Paris that he spent almost all his life, teaching, writing, maintaining close contacts with the theological and intellectual circles of Western Europe. The great Russian Church historian V. V. Bolotov said once that a theologian ought to know only three itineraries: to the Church, to the classroom and to his own desk. Professor Lossky was the very type of such a theologian. Very humble in his personal life, indifferent to the vainglory of human titles, ranks and honors, he declined several offers of academic positions because he was concentrated on the "one thing necessary" and preferred his vocation of thinker and theologian to everything in this world.

Having received an excellent philosophical training, Vladimir Lossky was at home in the world of contemporary philosophy with all its problems and methods. But he was equally at home in the thought and the spirituality of the Fathers, deeply rooted in all the living sources of Orthodox theological tradition. Hence the creative, the living spirit in his own theological work. He did not simply "quote" the Fathers and tradition, his loyalty to them was not that of a blind conservative . . . In one of the forthcoming issues of our "Quarterly", Professor Verkhovsky will discuss in detail Vladimir Lossky’s contribution to contemporary Orthodox theology (cf. the review of his book on the "Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" in the book review section.) Let me say here, that on various issues of our troubled and confused Church life many of us were often in disagreement with Vladimir Lossky, but these disagreements have never had any effect on our friendship and the respect we had for his sincerity and his truly Christian Spirit. No disagreement however sharp, no discussion, however heated, would become "personal" with him, for he was not looking for personal "recognition".

It was a pleasure to know him, to visit him in his small apartment of St. Louis Island in the very heart of Paris. Once there, one would find himself immediately discussing vital issues in a noble and high spirit, for such was Vladimir Lossky’s approach to the Church, to theology, or to any aspect of life, never trivial, bitter or destructive, but always generous and deep . . . He knew that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" and he gave much to the Church and to all those who wanted to receive from him. He must have joyfully entered into the joy of his Lord. A. S.
The first chapter of Lossky's Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church can be read here; half a dozen papers and book excerpts can be found here. An essay by his son, Fr Nicolas Lossky, entitled "Theology and Spirituality in the Work of Vladimir Lossky," can be read here; another essay by his son,"Vladimir Lossky and Medieval Western Philosophy" (in French), can be read here. An excellent study of Vladimir Lossky's thought can be found in Aristotle Papanikolaou's Being With God: God, Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion.

May his memory be eternal!

The photograph above depicts the parish Vladimir Lossky attended; the icons were painted by his friend and co-author, Leonid Ouspensky.

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