Father Louth concludes this essay by noting the transformation that the word theoretikos has undergone. Whereas contemporary mystical discourse seeks to highlight mysticism’s experiential nature in contrast to theoretical knowledge, which is seen as abstract and speculative, for the Fathers

Theoretikos means contemplative; that is, seeing and knowing in a deep and transforming way. The ‘practical’, praktikos (see above on Evagrios), is the personal struggle with our too often wayward drives and desires, which prepares for the exercise of contemplation, theoria; that is, a dispassionate seeing and awareness constituting genuine knowledge, a knowledge that is more than information, however accurate – a real participation in what is known, in the One whom we come to know. The word theoretikos came to be one of the most common words in Byzantine Greek for designating the deeper meaning of the Scriptures, where one found oneself caught up in contemplation, theoria, of Christ. The mystical life, the ‘theoretical’ life, is what we experience when we are caught up in the contemplation of Christ, when, in that contemplation, we come to know ‘face to face’ and, as the Apostle Paul puts it, ‘know, even as I am known’ (1 Cor. 13:12).

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 214.


I don’t think that I can add anything to this at this point! I have appreciated this essay for the light that it sheds on my frustration with much contemporary Western discourse on mysticism, which was first kindled by reading Denys Turner’s The Darkness of God several years ago. And it is not without relevance to the frustration concerning academic theology expressed in my last post!