Georges Florovsky, Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers, transl. Panayiotis K. Pallis, Pournaras, Thessaloniki, 1992, pp. 419.
In the last volume of his patristic tetralogy, professor Fr. Georges Florovsky presents Byzantine ascetics and spiritual fathers. The Dessert and spiritual life constitute an extensive chapter of Christian theology, which cannot be established beyond the assessment of philology and doctrinal history.
The ascetic ideal is at the centre of Christian thought and constitutes one of its basic ingredients as early as the time of the New Testament. This is why Fr. Georges begins this presentation from early Christianity and the experience of proto-christian societies. Perfection, philanthropy, prayer, fasting, purity, penitence, humiliation, and particularly love constitute fundamental priorities of New Testament thought. The shortcomings of N. NYGREN’s critique on love as “a re-capitulation of all ancient values” is located, according to Florovsky, in its weakness to comprehend the new, radical Christian love in the actual anthropological response to God’s call, which marks the beginning of spiritual and ascetic life.
In the substantiated historical and theological analysis of monasticism phenomenon which follows, the Orthodox researcher traces the development of Christian spirituality from Anthony the Great to anachoritic monasticism, the Cappadoceans Vassilios and Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Makarius, Evagrius Ponticus, Isidorus Pilousiotes and Diadochos Fotikes, right up to the aeropagitic Corpus.
The observations and the designation of Gregory of Nyssa as one of the “most original thinkers to ever appear in the history of the Church” is not only aimed at Nygren’s weakness to comprehend the ecclesiastical Father’s Christian spirituality, but points out the Cappadoceans’ contribution as a store of knowledge for mystical ascension to Divination.
The development of Christian spirituality cannot be a timeless, idealised and hyper-historical unfolding of the state of the heavens. It wrestles in complex ways with a variety of historical villainy, which often attempts to transform the positive and remarkable aspects it contains. For Fr. Georges Florovsky this marks the case of Makarius’ Spiritual speeches, as well as the areopagitic corpus. Whatever messalianic and stoic colouring there is to be found in the first and neo-platonic slant in the latter are dissected with the scalpel of Orthodox theology to uncover their deep roots in the solid tradition of Christian spirituality.