"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Problems with Orthodox Mysticism

I've just received The Rise of Scripture, and sent to its author, the long-time Orthodox biblical scholar Paul Nadimi Tarazi, some questions for an interview I'll be glad to run as soon as he gets back to me. Tarazi has written many books about the Bible, as you can see here. This one takes a more comprehensive and far-reaching approach than some of his more tightly tailored commentaries.

The Rise of Scripture is a wide-ranging book that does not pull its punches in places, and I'm looking forward to having the author unpack his thoughts about many things, including his clear disdain for "mysticism," a problematic notion, you will have noted, I've been exploring on here with the help of Maggie Ross's fine book, Silence: A User's Guide, to which I shall be returning presently

"Mysticism" is one of those things one endlessly hears about from apologists for the East, perhaps most famously in that dreary book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Lossky that at one point it seems everyone was required to read--before, that is, the explosion in Eastern Christian scholarship of the last three decades, which has had the welcome effect, inter alia, of dethroning Lossky.

Just to give you a taste, with more to come: Tarazi repeatedly decries the "perversion" that theology--East and West, Jewish and Christian--has wrought to the scripturally revealed God, introducing terminology that is not just unhelpful but unscriptural (ousia, physis, etc). Worse, we go from theology to "mysticism," about which Tarazi inveighs thus:
As for us Orthodox, we shall continue to approach scripture from the sacred theology of the 'tradition of man' established by our church fathers, and the closer to our own times the 'father' is, the more authoritative he is.....It is no wonder that Orthodox seminary students take a short cut by reading as authoritative Vladimir Lossky's twentieth-century The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church and live in the mystical clouds of their imaginations instead of listening repeatedly until the end of days--and teaching others to do (Mt 5:17-20)--to the words of the scroll written by the hand of the One who alone speaks out of his scriptural, not mystical, cloud (Ezek 1-2). 
Lest any Eastern apologist still try to insist that our mysticism is somehow different, unique, true, and untainted by that so-called pan-heresy of ecumemism, Tarazi says this ignores "my repeated insistence that mysticism is a (fourth monotheistic) religion of its own besides Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the proof thereof being that Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics speak the exact same language, and even refer to, if not even quote, one another" (437).

I've asked him to comment further in our interview on this and other wonderfully bracing arguments in his The Rise of Scripture. Stay tuned!

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