On the Mystical Life | Alexander Golitzin

The cover of Golitzin's On the Mystical LifeSaint Symeon the New Theologian lived in and around Constantinople in the tenth and eleventh centuries. In the Popular Patristics Series volumes 14-15 Alexander Golitzin translates Symeon’s Ethical Discourses. In this sixteenth volume, Golitzin delivers a biography of the Saint.

It is difficult to write about the life of Symeon because we only have two sources to go by:

  1. The Vita his prodigee wrote. This is a hagiography, or biography of a saint, intended to praise the subject.
  2. The autobiographical details in Symeon’s own writing.

Golitzin does a good job at sorting out the inherent biases in the sources. He outlines Symeon’s life before diving into his theology. This is where the book really shines. Golitzin uses his thorough understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy to situate Symeon in the Orthodox tradition. Despite controversy over his epistemology (he believed that alongside scripture and tradition, the Holy Spirit was a source of inspiration), Golitzin demonstrates how Symeon’s theology was thoroughly orthodox.

On the Mystical Life is a good biography and an excellent study of the theology of Saint Symeon the New Theologian.

Golitzin, Alexander. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses / St. Symeon the New Theologian. Vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology. Popular Patristics Series 16. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

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