Well, on the plane rides and with the benefit of much airport terminal … time for reflection and reading. I read, or more precisely started to read some fascinating interconnected books. Just a few years ago, a man by the name of Origen following St. Paul’s advice to fearlessly put all Truth to the service of God started the East and the whole Christian Church on a program of putting philosophy to task as a tool to understand theology. This program continues apace, even if modern philosophers have set this task (by and large) to the side.
The first book, based on when it was written, was suggested by sagacious commenter jpe (who blogs too sporadically at L’esprit d’scalier). Recently a number of essays and discussions have centered around volition and free-will. A similar discussion occurred when I had encountered in a book by Vladimir Lossky the remark that modern ideas of personhood can be traced to patristic efforts in Late Aniquity to understand the Chrisitian notion of Trinity. jpe (Mr jpe?) had suggested getting Jean-Paul Satre’s Being And Nothingness. In fact, what I did read so far, has much to offer in our ongoing discussion on volition and will in the light of deterministic nature (or not) of man.
The second book, of which I spent unfortunately spent somewhat less time reading, was John D Zizioulas Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. Sartre in his book spends some efforts defining in a precise manner what is mean by one’s being (person) and the “Other”. Mr Zizioulas takes this (as well as a number of other modern philosophical efforts on being and other) ties this into the patristic thinking on the same subject. The main reason that I spent a little less time with this book, is that it became apparent that at least a conversational understanding of what Sartre was talking about was going to be necessary to not just get completely lost in my reading.
For my third book, I started reading Aristotle Papanikolaou’s Being With God: Trinity, Apophaticism, And Divine-Human Communion. Mr Papanikolaou’s project in this book is straightforward. In the 20th century the Eastern Church has had two leaders in modern theological thinking/writing, being Lossky and Zizioulas. According to this book, both start with the same premises:
- A commitment to be faithful to the patristic tradition,
- and that an ontology of divine-human communion is the basis for their understanding of theological epistemology.
Both come to different conclusions. In short, Lossky moves in the direction ala Pseudo-Dionysus and St. Gregory Palamas, that of mysticism, apophaticism, and hesychasm are the mode of that communion while Zizioulas holds that communion to be contained in the Eucharist within the divine liturgy. This book is a discussion of the arguments, differences and similarities of these two theologians in this project.
Anyhow, I’m going to be reading these books for some time as I attempt to make sense of these books and what their authors are trying to teach.