“Theology, then, is located in a relationship of revelation where the initiative belongs to God, while implying a human response, the free response of faith and love.”
This statement is found in the prologue to the book “Orthodox Theology: An Introduction” by Vladimir Lossky. Within this introduction to his introduction to Orthodox theology Lossky differentiates between the ‘gnosis’ (knowledge of spiritual mysteries) and ‘epistme’ (knowledge) in regards to true knowledge of God.
“Authentic gnosis is inseperable from a charisma, an illumination by grace which transforms our intelligence. And since the object of contemplation is a personal existence, true gnosis implies encounter, reciprocity, faith as a personal adherence to the personal presence of God Who reveals Himself.”
Since God is personal in essence; and since His essence transcends unaided human rationality, all true knowledge of God comes through His own self-revelation of Himself to mankind by His immanent divine energies – His “grace”.
“Theology as word and as thought must necessarily conceal a gnostic dimension, in the sense of the theology of contemplation and silence. It is a matter of opening our thought to a reality which goes beyond it.”
All our theological language must be derived first from God’s revelation to man. Our own thoughts on their own are incapable of grasping God, rather we must become open to receiving He who is unattainable by mere thought. Lossky goes on to declare that theology finds itself situated between ‘gnosis’ and ‘episteme’.
“Theological language uses episteme, but cannot reduce itself to it without falling yet again from this world.”
Episteme – or ‘reasoning’ – on it’s own is insufficient to comprehend and express God in truth, To begin to try to think about God starting from pure reasoning, outside of revelation, produces the ‘god of the philosophers’.
“The philosophy which speculates on God starts from an idea….. The philosopher raises himself to an idea from another idea or from a group of generalized facts according to an idea. For certain philosophers, the search for God corresponds to an inherent necessity in their thought: God must exist so that their conception of the universe might be coherent.”
The philosopher begins to construct an idea of God based on his observations of the world around Him. Rather than allowing the revelation of God shape his view of reality he allows his speculations about reality shape his view on God. But if God is transcendent beyond human rationale, how can one come to a correct conclusion and understanding about God? Different philosophers see the world differently than others, hence their conceptions of God will differ from one another, but a the ‘god of philosophers’ is a god produced by intellectual exercise, it is not God. What then are we to do?
“One must therefore start from faith – and that is the only way to save philosophy.”
Faith is the starting point of true divine contemplation.
“The theological quest supposes therefore the prior coming of what is quested, or rather of Him Who has already come to us and is present in us: God was the first to love us and He sent His Son, as St. John says. This coming and his presence are seized by faith which thus underlies, with priority and all necessity, theological thought.”
To continue on this Lossky clarifies,
“God speaks to us through His Son, the Incarnation accomplishes revelation: it reveals and it constitutes revelation itself. To think theologically is not to think of this revelation, but to think by means of it.”
True knowledge of God comes by our reception that God has truly revealed Himself by means of the Incarnate Son of God, the ‘Word Who became flesh”. Only by the means of faith in Christ can we philosophize rightly in light of God’s revelation to man. But what does Lossky mean by ‘faith’? Is faith merely the intellectual assent to the existence of God? If this is the case then we can run into a problem. People can mentally affirm something as truth without fully realizing what this affirmation implies in regards to how they see or think about the world. In this case a person could affirm the Judeo-Christian God while at the same time philosophize about the world around them. This would lead to the philosopher constructing a world view based on his own rationalization while trying to fit the Judeo-Christian God into his worldview. But then this god ceases to be God; it becomes an intellectual idea fitted into an image of God, rather God is being fit into an intellectual idea. But then God becomes an idea and we are back to the ‘god of the philosophers’. What then is faith?
“[Faith is] our participatory adherence to the presence of Him who reveals Himself. Faith is therefore not a psychological attitude, a mere fidelity. It is an ontological relationship between man and God.”
Faith is our living response to God. God reveals Himself through His Son and our active response and thought to this revelation, which is personal because the revelation comes in the God-man of Jesus Christ.
“Thus faith allows us to think, it gives us true knowledge.”
Thus we can summarize: God is transcendent. He is unattainable by mere mental exercise, but He is also immanent to us through His self-revelations – His grace. God fully reveals Himself in the person of Jesus Christ; the Incarnation is the totality of revelation. As we enter into a living encounter, followed by active response to His presence we receive true knowledge of the divine and it is in this relationship that our reasoning finds itself without turning God into a mere idea.