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on 12 April 2015
While the cover announces 'new edition', as Andrew Louth says in his new introduction, to have actually written a new edition would have been a different book, but there is an afterword 2006 and an extension to the bibliography. The book is directed towards two principle interests: that of the influence of pre-Christian philosophy - especially of Plato and Plotinus, on the development of Christian mysticism - which really, Louth suggests starts with Origen; and the separation of mystical theology from dogmatic theology, in much the way that Hadot talks about the separation of theology and philosophy whence philosophy became a handmaid to theology. The context defined is from 'Plato to Denys', and the structure of discussion is more or less chronological. The writing is crisp and very clear, and very readable, without assuming a particular familiarity with the writers being discussed.
I initially bought it on the recommendation of a Plato scholar who described it as a very succint overview of the influence of Platonic thought on Christianity. I would endorse that but the quality of the writing enabled me to read on with great interest. In between the chapters on Plato and Plotinus there is a chapter on Philo, who focused on the contemplation of scripture, and laid much of the ground for the later Origen. The chapter on Plotinus opens with the following: 'Plotinus is more than an episode in our passage from Plato to the Fathers. In him we find the supreme exponent of an abiding element in what we might call 'mystical philosophy'. He represents man's inherent desire to return to heaven at its purest and most ineffable.' The book is full of as many surprises as it is insights. The concept of 'likeness and unlikeness' in St Bernard's theology, has its source in Plotinus. The study of scripture, has its source in Philo. The use of the mirror metaphor by Athenasius is transformed by information as to how the Greeks (Plato) understood a mirror works. If we think of the Monastic tradition we think of the Desert Fathers, but I had never come across Evagrius of Pontus, before, nor realised the impact that christianisation would have had on martyristic theology. Somewhere here there is a parable for our times. One of the problems that he raises with modern readings of Denys, is that the Orthodox liturgy has changed so much, and that there have been bad translations, that comprehension from a modern perspective is difficult. 'Origins' actually ends with St John of the Cross, and another insight that just because the language and imagery are reminiscent of, say Plato, it does not mean that it's usage refers to the same understanding. Sarna makes exactly the same point in 'On the Book of Psalms' when comparing Psalmic imagery and the imagery of contemporary pagan literature. This is one of those finely written books, that you actually do get a lot more than what it just says on the cover.
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on 16 December 2012
Excellent history of the influence and adaptation of Platonism on the developing Christian mystical tradition. The 2007 afterword is necessary reading.
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on 2 December 2013
A very good book of a brilliant scholar and theologian. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the mystical life of the church and the hesychasm.
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on 14 February 2016
the best book for my theology studies
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