Singing like a bird and knowledge of God: some thoughts stemming from Lossky

In his The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky says that the Trinity “is something which transcends all notion both of nature and of person” (44). The main problem with our understanding of the Trinity is the fact that we try to do so from the outside and thus objectify it. If our approach is scientific, understanding the Trinity implies that we have to give an account of the nature not only of God, but also of each of the persons from the Trinity. In doing so, we objectify them.

 

Photo by Alin Mesaros Photography (http://alinmesaros.com).

If we use, for example, the two concepts of nature and person separately, trying to establish what each is in its own right—that is, not the nature of something, but what nature in itself is; also, not a person, but what personhood is—we see that we cannot have relationships with any of them. Concepts are not among the things with which one can have a relation. We may provide more or less accurate definitions, but our logos about the nature (the essence) of each one of them does not bring us into communion with them: it only attempts to describe them.

But in this case one may ask this question: is it possible to meaningfully say something on Divine Being? The question has often been raised, in theological as well as philosophical discourses. In philosophy, it becomes this: is it possible to have logos about the Logos? Is it possible to ever understand the deep structure of reality? Is it possible to ever reach understanding of God?[1]I think that the mystery of the Trinity, the paradox of three persons of one nature, co-substantial, requires of us to give up scientific knowledge (to give up the ego) and to replace it with tasting in faith and love. What I suggest here is a difference between knowing as observers and knowing as participants. The observers contemplate their object of study and give more or less complete definitions of it. The participants cannot distinguish themselves from the object of study because there is no such object to begin with, but rather only relation in communion. Consider this example: if we were to claim that our role is to understand the Trinity and thus offer definitions of what nature and personhood are and how these definitions can be applicable to the three divine persons, then we place ourselves in the positions of researchers who, witnessing the song of birds, describe the various sounds they make, the sequence of the sounds, the movements, the relations between them, but are never able to sing with them. The birds themselves do not “understand” the Song—they are in the middle of it; they are living it. They have it in their hearts. The birds’ song is not their Song, but it is the Song that is sung in them on different voices. The Song takes place in their midst only when they are coming together with their own voices  (“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”). But one can see here that the Song is both the beginning, the source of their singing, and also the end. The Song is that which nourishes them and that which is expressed in their communion. The Song is that which lives each one of them—the Lord in their hearts. At that moment, the personal logos is nothing else than the glorification of the Logos, its joyful expression. Orthodox theology aims precisely to this: to glorify the Trinity in the union between the “knower” and Divine Being.

There are then two different joys and two different kinds of knowledge. The first one is scientific and it implies description. The biologists may come to describe the song of the birds. They rejoice in the beauty of their singing together, but this rejoicing is aesthetical. The second one is participative and it implies communion. It no longer describes, but it lives the beauty of the song.

If Orthodox theology contemplates the Triune God, this contemplation cannot be done from the outside, but from the inside. This means that the contemplation of the Trinity is not analysis of it, but its glorification: the birds sing not their song, but rather the Logos of the universe. Vladimir Lossky says that Christian apophaticism transforms rational speculation into “a contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity” (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church 50). The negative way of apophatic knowledge cannot be, though, only this, a negative way. If it is understood as a method, apophaticism inscribes itself in a list of methods from which one may choose in one’s attempt to achieve knowledge. In some respect, apophatic knowledge stems precisely from a preference for a way of approaching knowledge. However, if it is to be Christian, apophaticism begins in love. Contemplation of the Holy Trinity stems from the thirst for being, if I may use Mircea Eliade’s phrase (The Sacred and the Profane 64). If we consider the example with the birds, contemplation of their Song stems from the thirst for this Song which awaits to be born in them.


[1] I acknowledge that, taken separately, each of these questions can be understood differently in its own right. At the same time, the use of Logosis quite liberal; I do not imply here Christ, but rather the Logos used in ancient philosophy, the one of Heraclitus, which one may not utter, but may hear behind the various particular utterings of people.

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About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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2 Responses to Singing like a bird and knowledge of God: some thoughts stemming from Lossky

  1. Pingback: The icons formed by others in my soul | Tavi's Corner

  2. Pingback: Hoarders of ideas | Tavi's Corner

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