The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

A little on the Trinity

I’m continuing to work through Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Chapter three focuses on the Trinity. This is a long chapter, it goes on tangents regarding the filioque, and it reiterates what seems to me to be the same themes quite strongly. The basic concepts:

  1. God is both unity and trinity.
  2. This is important because it is the most perfect and true example of how God is incomprehensible.
  3. A perfect understanding of this mystery can be found only mystically and not in understanding
  4. Understanding this mystery is a section (or perhaps the whole, and all else is a section) of the path leading to theosis.

Some of this is basic trinitarian concepts: God is both unity and trinity, and the differences between the three persons are only in their origin (that is, procession, begotten, unbegotten), and that none of this is supposed to make sense. Even the difference of the filioque is of definition of this – the East believe that each person has its own origin, where the que would contradict this, giving Son and Holy Spirit an inferior position to the Father, which, as Nazanzien suggests, “the lowering of those who are from him is no glory to the source”.

The Trinity, to Lossky, is the ‘unshakable foundation of all religious thought, of all piety, of all spiritual life, of all experience’, for in seeking the Trinity, we are seeking something that we do not understand and that we cannot understand with our own minds; it is the driver of Christians from a speculative theology to a mystical theology. In this way, he suggests that the Trinity is a cross for human thought, where we sacrifice our understanding before God; the apophatic ascent is hence in his mind a type of ascension up Calvary to the Cross.

This is obviously a simplification of something very complex and well defended. In its most complex form (as I feel about most complex forms), I find these concepts hypocritical and obtuse. At their simplest, I find them appealing, hence why I bullet-pointed them above. There is enough contradiction in the Good Book, in the Church Fathers, in the theologies of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and in reality, that mystery as a central dogma of the church – the solution, rather than a problem,is something that I feel is necessary in a true understanding of the message of Christianity.

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2 thoughts on “A little on the Trinity

  1. Jonathan says:

    While I tend to agree with you that the simplistic versions are much more appealing, I wonder if this specifically poses a problem in it’s simplest form. Honestly, “It doesn’t make sense and that’s the point.” sounds like a cop-out. More, it sounds like the silencing techniques I heard regularly in my cult-ish upbringing in fundamentalism. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does make me and a lot of people like me rather squeamish.

    While I appreciate the mysticism and mystery of something we can’t understand, the argument that the entire purpose is to not understand but believe it anyways seems like a hard pill to swallow. It also feels like an easily manipulated idea for controlling people. I’m not saying it is by nature, just that I’m not sure it can be kept from being used that way.

    Anyways, just my thoughts. I’d love to hear how you reconcile that.

    • Damian says:

      Jonathon,

      I suppose that it does sound like that. But I think the difference is the context.

      From what little I know (I am by no means an expert – much of what I’ve learnt is really just down to what I’ve written here in the past few weeks), the central tenet here seems to be that God is incomprehensible.

      So not really “It doesn’t make sense and that’s the point”, but rather, “It can never make sense because God is incomprehensible.”

      And as opposed to saying ‘shut up, just believe it’, they’re saying that the whole goal is the striving to understand it.

      And furthermore, the mysticism itself is saying that understanding it is not something that can be achieved cognitively, or intellectually, but rather through the contemplation itself; it is the end as well as the means, if that makes sense.

      So I think you make a good point: If I simplify it too much, it can be misconstrued. I suppose for me, the context is in the background, as I’m reading this book. Potentially it’s not as clear to someone not reading it!

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