Christian Contemplation

Christianity took up the use of both the Greek (theoria) and Latin (contemplatio, contemplation) terminology to describe various forms of prayer and the process of coming to know God. Eastern and Western traditions of Christianity grew apart as they incorporated the general notion of theoria into their respective teachings.

Christian contemplation, from contemplatio (θεωρία, Theoria[1]), refers to several Christian practices which aim at “looking at”, “gazing at”, “being aware of” God or the Divine.[2][3][4] It includes several practices and theological concepts, and until the sixth century the practice of what is now called mysticism was referred to by the term contemplatio, c.q. theoria.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “the Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart.”[5] Three stages are discerned in contemplative practice, namely purgative contemplation,[6][7] contemplation proper, and the vision of God.

Etymology

Russian Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration (Theophanes the Greek, ca. 1408)

The Greek theoria (θεωρία), from which the English word “theory” (and “theatre”) is derived, meant “contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at”, from theorein (θεωρεῖν) “to consider, speculate, look at”, from theoros (θεωρός) “spectator”, from thea (θέα) “a view” + horan (ὁρᾶν) “to see”.[8] It expressed the state of being a spectator. Both Greek θεωρία and Latin contemplatio primarily meant looking at things, whether with the eyes or with the mind.[9]

Commenting on Aristotle’s view of the lack of practical usefulness of the contemplation of theoria, Orthodox theologian Fr. Andrew Louth said:

The word theoria is derived from a verb meaning to look, or to see: for the Greeks, knowing was a kind of seeing, a sort of intellectual seeing. Contemplation is, then, knowledge, knowledge of reality itself, as opposed to knowing how: the kind of know-how involved in getting things done. To this contrast between the active life and contemplation there corresponds a distinction in our understanding of what it is to be human between reason conceived as puzzling things out, solving problems, calculating and making decisions – referred to by the Greek words phronesis and dianoia, or in Latin by ratio – and reason conceived as receptive of truth, beholding, looking – referred to by the Greek words theoria or sophia (wisdom) or nous (intellect), or in Latin intellectus. Augustine expressed this distinction by using scientia for the kind of knowledge attained by ratio, and sapientia, wisdom, for the kind of knowledge received by intellectus. Human intelligence operates at two levels: a basic level concerned with doing things, and another level concerned with simply beholding, contemplating, knowing reality.[10]

According to William Johnston, until the sixth century the practice of what is now called mysticism was referred to by the term contemplatio, c.q. theoria.[2] According to Johnston, “[b]oth contemplation and mysticism speak of the eye of love which is looking at, gazing at, aware of divine realities.”[2]

Several scholars have demonstrated similarities between the Greek idea of theoria and the Indian idea of darśana (darshan), including Ian Rutherford[11] and Gregory Grieve.[12]

Greek philosophy

The term theoria was used by the ancient Greeks to refer to the act of experiencing or observing, and then comprehending through nous.

Plato

Plato (Πλάτων)

For Plato, what the contemplative (theoros) contemplates (theorei) are the Forms, the realities underlying the individual appearances, and one who contemplates these atemporal and aspatial realities is enriched with a perspective on ordinary things superior to that of ordinary people.[13] Philip of Opus viewed theoria as contemplation of the stars, with practical effects in everyday life similar to those that Plato saw as following from contemplation of the Forms.[13]

Aristotle

Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης)

Aristotle, on the other hand, separated the spectating of theoria from practical purposes, and saw it as an end in itself, the highest activity of man.[13] To indicate that it is the philosopher who devotes himself to pursuits most worthy of a free man, Heraclides of Pontus compared him to a spectator (theoros) at the Olympic spectacle: unlike the other participants, he does not seek either glory, as does the competitor, or money, as does the businessman. Aristotle used the same image:

As we go to the Olympian festival for the sake of the spectacle (θεᾶς), even if nothing more should come of it – for the theoria (θεωρία) itself is more precious than money; and just as we go to theorize (θεωροῦμεν) at the festival of Dionysus not so that we will gain anything from the actors (indeed we pay to see them) … so too the theoria (θεωρία) of the universe must be honoured above all things that are considered to be useful. For surely we would not go to such trouble to see men imitating women and slaves, or athletes fighting and running, and not consider it right to theorize without payment (θεωρεῖν ἀμισθί) the nature and truth of reality.[14]

Indeed, Andrea Wilson Nightingale says that Aristotle considers that those who, instead of pursuing theoria for its own sake, would put it to useful ends would be engaging in theoria in the wrong way,[15] and Richard Kraut says that, for Aristotle, theoretical activity alone has limitless value.[16] Thomas Louis Schubeck says that, in Aristotle’s view, the knowledge that guides ethical political activity does not belong to theoria.[17] “Leading a contemplative life can be considered Aristotle’s answer to the question what life humans ought to live. … The more humans engage in contemplation, the closer they are to their gods and the more perfect will be their happiness.”[18]

Aristotle’s view that the best life would be a purely contemplative (intellectual) one was disputed by the Stoics and others, such as the Epicureans, who saw speculation as inferior to practical ethics. Middle Platonism and Neoplatonismconsidered contemplation superior and saw as its goal the knowledge of God or union with him, so that a “contemplative life” was a life devoted to God rather than to any kind of activity.[9]

Plotinus

Plotinus (Πλωτίνος)

In the Enneads of Plotinus, a founder of Neoplatonism, everything is contemplation (theoria)[19] and everything is derived from contemplation.[20] The first hypostasis, the One, is contemplation[21][22] (by the nous, or second hypostasis)[not in citation given] in that “it turns to itself in the simplest regard, implying no complexity or need”; this reflecting back on itself emanated (not created)[not in citation given] the second hypostasis, Intellect (in Greek Νοῦς, Nous), Plotinus describes as “living contemplation”, being “self-reflective and contemplative activity par excellence”, and the third hypostatic level has theoria.[23] Knowledge of The One is achieved through experience of its power, an experience that is contemplation (theoria) of the source of all things.[24]

Plotinus agreed with Aristotle’s systematic distinction between contemplation (theoria) and practice (praxis): dedication to the superior life of theoria requires abstension from practical, active life. Plotinus explained: “The point of action is contemplation. … Contemplation is therefore the end of action” and “Such is the life of the divinity and of divine and blessed men: detachments from all things here below, scorn of all earthly pleasures, the flight of the lone to the Alone.”[25]

Christian contemplation

Contemplative or mystical practice is a longstanding and integral part of the life of Christian churches. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the predominant form is hesychasm (“stillness”). In both eastern and western Christianity it is part of mystical practices.

Early Christianity

Theoria

Some Neoplatonic ideas were adopted by Christianity,[26] among them the idea of theoria or contemplation, taken over by Gregory of Nyssa for example. The Brill Dictionary of Gregory of Nyssa remarks that contemplation in Gregory is described as a “loving contemplation”,[28] and, according to Thomas Keating, the Greek Fathers of the Church, in taking over from the Neoplatonists the word theoria, attached to it the idea expressed by the Hebrew word da’ath, which, though usually translated as “knowledge”, is a much stronger term, since it indicates the experiential knowledge that comes with love and that involves the whole person, not merely the mind.[29] Among the Greek Fathers, Christian theoria was not contemplation of Platonic Ideas nor of the astronomical heavens of Pontic Heraclitus, but “studying the Scriptures”, with an emphasis on the spiritual sense.[9]

Later, contemplation came to be distinguished from intellectual life, leading to the identification of θεωρία or contemplatio with a form of prayer[9] distinguished from discursive meditation in both East[30] and West.[31] Some make a further distinction, within contemplation, between contemplation acquired by human effort and infused contemplation.[31][32]

Allegorical truth

In early Christianity the term “mystikos” referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative.[33] The biblical dimension refers to “hidden” or allegorical interpretations of Scriptures.[34][33]The liturgical dimension refers to the liturgical mystery of the Eucharist, the presence of Christ at the Eucharist.[34][33] The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.[33]

Under the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite the mystical theology came to denote the investigation of the allegorical truth of the Bible,[33] and “the spiritual awareness of the ineffable Absolute beyond the theology of divine names.”[35] Pseudo-Dionysius’ Apophatic theology, or “negative theology”, exerted a great influence on medieval monastic religiosity.[36] It was influenced by Neo-Platonism, and very influential in Eastern Orthodox Christian theology. In western Christianity it was a counter-current to the prevailing Cataphatic theology or “positive theology”.

Theoria enabled the Fathers to perceive depths of meaning in the biblical writings that escape a purely scientific or empirical approach to interpretation.[37] The Antiochene Fathers, in particular, saw in every passage of Scripture a double meaning, both literal and spiritual.[38]As Frances Margaret Young notes, “Best translated in this context as a type of “insight”, theoria was the act of perceiving in the wording and “story” of Scripture a moral and spiritual meaning,”[40] and may be regarded as a form of allegory,[41]

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

According to John Romanides, in the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Christianity the quintessential purpose and goal of the Christian life is to attain theosis or ‘deification’, understood as ‘likeness to’ or ‘union with’ God. Theosis is expressed as “Being, union with God” and having a relationship or synergy between God and man. God is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Theosis or unity with God is obtained by engaging in contemplative prayer, the first stage of theoria,[50] which results from the cultivation of watchfulness (Gk: nepsis). In theoria, one comes to see or “behold” God or “uncreated light,” a grace which is “uncreated.”In the Eastern Christian traditions, theoria is the most critical component needed for a person to be considered a theologian; however it is not necessary for one’s salvation.[52] An experience of God is necessary to the spiritual and mental health of every created thing, including human beings.[53] Knowledge of God is not intellectual, but existential.[54] According to eastern theologian Andrew Louth, the purpose of theology as a science is to prepare for contemplation,[55] rather than theology being the purpose of contemplation.

Theoria is the main aim of hesychasm, which, under the influence of St. Symeon the New Theologian, developed out of the practice of quietism. Symeon believed that direct experience gave monks the authority to preach and give absolution of sins, without the need for formal ordination. While Church authorities also taught from a speculative and philosophical perspective, Symeon taught from his own direct mystical experience,[57] and met with strong resistance for his charismatic approach, and his support of individual direct experience of God’s grace.[57] According to John Romanides, this difference in teachings on the possibility to experience God or the uncreated light is at the very heart of many theological conflicts between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Western Christianity, which is seen to culminate in the conflict over hesychasm.[58]

According to John Romanides, following Vladimir Lossky[60] in his interpretation of St. Gregory Palamas, the teaching that God is transcendent (incomprehensible in ousia, essence or being), has led in the West to the (mis)understanding that God cannot be experienced in this life. Romanides states that Western theology is more dependent upon logic and reason, culminating in scholasticism used to validate truth and the existence of God, than upon establishing a relationship with God (theosis and theoria).

Latin Church

In the Latin or Western Church terms derived from the Latin word contemplatio such as, in English, “contemplation” are generally used in languages largely derived from Latin, rather than the Greek term theoria. The equivalence of the Latin and Greek terms[67]was noted by John Cassian, whose writings influenced the whole of Western monasticism,[68] in his Conferences.[69] However, Catholic writers do sometimes use the Greek term.[70]

Meditation and contemplation

See also: Meditation and Christian Meditation

In discursive meditation, mind and imagination and other faculties are actively employed in an effort to understand our relationship with God.[71][72] In contemplative prayer, this activity is curtailed, so that contemplation has been described as “a gaze of faith”, “a silent love”. There is no clear-cut boundary between Christian meditation and Christian contemplation, and they sometimes overlap. Meditation serves as a foundation on which the contemplative life stands, the practice by which someone begins the state of contemplation.[73]

John of the Cross described the difference between discursive meditation and contemplation by saying:

The difference between these two conditions of the soul is like the difference between working, and enjoyment of the fruit of our work; between receiving a gift, and profiting by it; between the toil of travelling and the rest of our journey’s end”.[74][75]

Mattá al-Miskīn, an Oriental Orthodox monk has posited:

Meditation is an activity of one’s spirit by reading or otherwise, while contemplation is a spontaneous activity of that spirit. In meditation, man’s imaginative and thinking power exert some effort. Contemplation then follows to relieve man of all effort. Contemplation is the soul’s inward vision and the heart’s simple repose in God.[73]

Contemplative prayer

John Cassian (Ioannes Cassianus)

See also: Jesus prayer

An exercise long used among Christians for acquiring contemplation, one that is “available to everyone, whether he be of the clergy or of any secular occupation”,[76] is that of focusing the mind by constant repetition a phrase or word. Saint John Cassian recommended use of the phrase “O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me”.[77][78] Another formula for repetition is the name of Jesus.[79][80] or the Jesus Prayer, which has been called “the mantra of the Orthodox Church”,[78] although the term “Jesus Prayer” is not found in the Fathers of the Church.[81] The author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommended use of a monosyllabic word, such as “God” or “Love”.[82]

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Jesus Prayer, which, for the early Fathers, was just a training for repose,[83] the later Byzantines developed into hesychasm, a spiritual work of its own, attaching to it technical requirements and various stipulations that became a matter of serious theological controversy,[83] and are still of great interest to Byzantine, Russian and other eastern churches.[83] While he maintains his practice of the Jesus Prayer, the Hesychast cultivates nepsis, watchful attention. Sobriety contributes to this mental askesis that rejects tempting thoughts; it puts a great emphasis on focus and attention. The Hesychast is to pay extreme attention to the consciousness of his inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his mind wander in any way at all. The Jesus Prayer invokes an attitude of humility essential for the attainment of theoria. The Jesus Prayer is also invoked to pacify the passions, as well as the illusions that lead a person to actively express these passions. The worldly, neurotic mind is habitually accustomed to seek perpetuation of pleasant sensations and to avoid unpleasant ones. This state of incessant agitation of the mind is attributed to the corruption of primordial knowledge and union with God (the Fall of Man and the defilement and corruption of consciousness, or nous). According to St. Theophan the Recluse, though the Jesus Prayer has long been associated with the Prayer of the Heart, they are not synonymous.[86]

Roman Catholic Church

Methods of prayer in the Roman Catholic Church include recitation of the Jesus Prayer, which “combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican (Luke 18:13) and the blind man begging for light (Mark 10:46-52). By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Saviour’s mercy”;[87] invocation of the holy name of Jesus;[88] recitation, as recommended by Saint John Cassian, of “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me” or other verses of Scripture; repetition of a single monosyllabic word, as suggested by the Cloud of Unknowing, such as “God” or “Love”;[82] the method used in Centering Prayer; the use of Lectio Divina.[89] In modern times, Centering prayer, which is also called “Prayer of the heart” and “Prayer of Simplicity,” has been popularized by Thomas Keating, drawing on Hesychasm and the Cloud of Unknowing. The practice of contemplative prayer has also been encouraged by the formation of associations like The Julian Meetings and the Fellowship of Meditation.

Stages

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa of Avila by Josefa de Óbidos (1672)

Models

Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite

According to the standard ascetic formulation of this process, as formulated by Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite,[92][93] there are three stages:[94][31][93]

  • Katharsis or purification;
  • Theoria or illumination, also called “natural” or “acquired contemplation;”
  • Union or Theosis; also called “infused” or “higher contemplation”; indwelling in God; vision of God; deification; union with God

Purification and illumination of the noetic faculty are preparations for the vision of God. Without this preparations it is impossible for man’s selfish love to be transformed into selfless love. This transformation takes place during the higher level of the stage of illumination called theoria, literally meaning vision, in this case vision by means of unceasing and uninterrupted memory of God. Those who remain selfish and self-centered with a hardened heart, closed to God’s love, will not see the glory of God in this life. However, they will see God’s glory eventually, but as an eternal and consuming fire and outer darkness.[95]

Alternative models

In the advance to contemplation Augustine spoke of seven stages:[96]

  1. the first three are merely natural preliminary stages, corresponding to the vegetative, sensitive and rational levels of human life;
  2. the fourth stage is that of virtue or purification;
  3. the fifth is that of the tranquillity attained by control of the passions;
  4. the sixth is entrance into the divine light (the illuminative stage);
  5. the seventh is the indwelling or unitive stage that is truly mystical contemplation.

Saint Teresa of Avila described four degrees or stages of mystical union:

  1. incomplete mystical union, or the prayer of quiet or supernatural recollection, when the action of God is not strong enough to prevent distractions, and the imagination still retains a certain liberty;
  2. full or semi-ecstatic union, when the strength of the divine action keeps the person fully occupied but the senses continue to act, so that by making an effort, the person can cease from prayer;
  3. ecstatic union, or ecstasy, when communications with the external world are severed or nearly so, and one can no longer at will move from that state; and
  4. transforming or deifying union, or spiritual marriage (properly) of the soul with God.

The first three are weak, medium, and the energetic states of the same grace. The transforming union differs from them specifically and not merely in intensity. It consists in the habitual consciousness of a mysterious grace which all shall possess in heaven: the anticipation of the Divine nature. The soul is conscious of the Divine assistance in its superior supernatural operations, those of the intellect and the will. Spiritual marriage differs from spiritual espousals inasmuch as the first of these states is permanent and the second only transitory.[31]

Katharsis (purification)

In the Orthodox Churches, theosis results from leading a pure life, practicing restraint and adhering to the commandments, putting the love of God before all else. This metamorphosis (transfiguration) or transformation results from a deep love of God. Saint Isaac the Syrian says that “Paradise is the love of God, in which the bliss of all the beatitudes is contained,” and that “the tree of life is the love of God” (Homily 72). Theoria is thus achieved by the pure of heart who are no longer subject to the afflictions of the passions. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit to those who, through observance of the commandments of God and ascetic practices (see praxis, kenosis, Poustinia and schema), have achieved dispassion.

Purification precedes conversion and constitutes a turning away from all that is unclean and unwholesome. This is a purification of mind and body. As preparation for theoria, however, the concept of purification in this three-part scheme refers most importantly to the purification of consciousness (nous), the faculty of discernment and knowledge (wisdom), whose awakening is essential to coming out of the state of delusion that is characteristic of the worldly-minded. After the nous has been cleansed, the faculty of wisdom may then begin to operate more consistently. With a purified nous, clear vision and understanding become possible, making one fit for contemplative prayer.

In the Eastern Orthodox ascetic tradition called hesychasm, humility, as a saintly attribute, is called Holy Wisdom or sophia. Humility is the most critical component to humanity’s salvation. Following Christ’s instruction to “go into your room or closet and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6), the hesychast withdraws into solitude in order that he or she may enter into a deeper state of contemplative stillness. By means of this stillness, the mind is calmed, and the ability to see reality is enhanced. The practitioner seeks to attain what the apostle Paul called ‘unceasing prayer’.

Some Eastern Orthodox theologians object to what they consider an overly speculative, rationalistic, and insufficiently experiential nature of Roman Catholic theology and confusion between different aspects of the Trinity.

Contemplation/theoria (illumination)

The Great Schema worn by Orthodox monks and nuns of the most advanced degree.

In the Orthodox Churches, noetic prayer is the first stage of theoria.[50]Theoria proper is the vision of God, which is beyond conceptual knowledge,[101] like the difference between reading about the experience of another, and reading about one’s own experience.[102]

In the Roman Catholic Church, in natural or acquired contemplation there is one dominant thought or sentiment which recurs constantly and easily (although with little or no development) amid many other thoughts, beneficial or otherwise. The prayer of simplicity often has a tendency to simplify itself even in respect to its object, leading one to think chiefly of God and of his presence, but in a confused manner.[31] Definitions similar to that of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori are given by Adolphe Tanquerey (“a simple gaze on God and divine things proceeding from love and tending thereto”) and Saint Francis de Sales (“a loving, simple and permanent attentiveness of the mind to divine things”).[103]

In the words of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, acquired contemplation “consists in seeing at a simple glance the truths which could previously be discovered only through prolonged discourse”: reasoning is largely replaced by intuition and affections and resolutions, though not absent, are only slightly varied and expressed in a few words. Similarly, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his 30-day retreat or Spiritual Exercises beginning in the “second week” with its focus on the life of Jesus, describes less reflection and more simple contemplation on the events of Jesus’ life. These contemplations consist mainly in a simple gaze and include an “application of the senses” to the events,[104]:121 to further one’s empathy for Jesus’ values, “to love him more and to follow him more closely.”[104]:104

Natural or acquired contemplation has been compared to the attitude of a mother watching over the cradle of her child: she thinks lovingly of the child without reflection and amid interruptions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: ‘Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.’ Contemplative prayer seeks him ‘whom my soul loves’. It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.[105]

Unity (theosis)

In the Orthodox Churches, the highest theoria, the highest consciousness that can be experienced by the whole person, is the vision of God. God is beyond being; He is a hyper-being; God is beyond nothingness. Nothingness is a gulf between God and man. God is the origin of everything, including nothingness. This experience of God in hypostasis shows God’s essence as incomprehensible, or uncreated. God is the origin, but has no origin; hence, he is apophatic and transcendent in essence or being, and cataphatic in foundational realities, immanence and energies. This ontic or ontological theoria is the observation of God.[106]

A nous in a state of ecstasy or ekstasis, called the eighth day, is not internal or external to the world, outside of time and space; it experiences the infinite and limitless God. Nous is the “eye of the soul” (Matthew 6:22–34). Insight into being and becoming (called noesis) through the intuitive truth called faith, in God (action through faith and love for God), leads to truth through our contemplative faculties. This theory, or speculation, as action in faith and love for God, is then expressed famously as “Beauty shall Save the World”. This expression comes from a mystical or gnosiological perspective, rather than a scientific, philosophical or cultural one.[109][110][111][112]

In the Roman Catholic Church, infused or higher contemplation, also called intuitive, passive or extraordinary, is a supernatural gift by which a person’s mind will become totally centered on God.[113] It is a form of mystical union with God, a union characterized by the fact that it is God, and God only, who manifests himself.[31] Under this influence of God, which assumes the free cooperation of the human will, the intellect receives special insights into things of the spirit, and the affections are extraordinarily animated with divine love.[113] This union that it entails may be linked with manifestations of a created object, as, for example, visions of the humanity of Christ or an angel or revelations of a future event, etc. They include miraculous bodily phenomena sometimes observed in ecstatics.[31]

In the Roman Catholic Church, infused contemplation, described as a “divinely originated, general, non-conceptual, loving awareness of God”, is, according to Thomas Dubay, the normal, ordinary development of discursive prayer, which it gradually replaces.[114]He writes:

It is a wordless awareness and love that we of ourselves cannot initiate or prolong. The beginnings of this contemplation are brief and frequently interrupted by distractions. The reality is so unimposing that one who lacks instruction can fail to appreciate what exactly is taking place. Initial infused prayer is so ordinary and unspectacular in the early stages that many fail to recognize it for what it is. Yet with generous people, that is, with those who try to live the whole Gospel wholeheartedly and who engage in an earnest prayer life, it is common.[114]

Dubay considers infused contemplation as common only among “those who try to live the whole Gospel wholeheartedly and who engage in an earnest prayer life”. Other writers view contemplative prayer in its infused supernatural form as far from common. John Baptist Scaramelli, reacting in the 17th century against quietism, taught that asceticism and mysticism are two distinct paths to perfection, the former being the normal, ordinary end of the Christian life, and the latter something extraordinary and very rare.[115]Jordan Aumann considered that this idea of the two paths was “an innovation in spiritual theology and a departure from the traditional Catholic teaching”.[116] And Jacques Maritain proposed that one should not say that every mystic necessarily enjoys habitual infused contemplation in the mystical state, since the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not limited to intellectual operations.[117]

False spiritual knowledge

In the Orthodox Churches, theoria is regarded to lead to true spiritual knowledge, in contrast to the false or incomplete knowledge of rational thought, c.q. conjecture, speculation, dianoiastochastic and dialectics).[118] After illumination or theoria, humanity is in union with God and can properly discern, or have holy wisdom. Hence theoria, the experience or vision of God, silences all humanity.

The most common false spiritual knowledge is derived not from an experience of God, but from reading another person’s experience of God and subsequently arriving at one’s own conclusions, believing those conclusions to be indistinguishable from the actual experienced knowledge.

False spiritual knowledge can also be iniquitous, generated from an evil rather than a holy source. The gift of the knowledge of good and evil is then required, which is given by God. Humanity, in its finite existence as created beings or creatures, can never, by its own accord, arrive at a sufficiently objective consciousness. Theosis is the gradual submission of a person to the good, who then with divine grace from the person’s relationship or union with God, attains deification. Illumination restores humanity to that state of faith existent in God, called noesis, before humanity’s consciousness and reality was changed by their fall.[119]

Spiritual somnolence

In the orthodox Churches, false spiritual knowledge is regarded as leading to spiritual delusion (Russian prelest, Greek plani), which is the opposite of sobriety. Sobriety (called nepsis) means full consciousness and self-realization (enstasis), giving true spiritual knowledge (called true gnosis).[120] Prelest or plani is the estrangement of the person to existence or objective reality, an alienation called amartía. This includes damaging or vilifying the nous, or simply having a non-functioning noetic and neptic faculty.[121]

Evil is, by definition, the act of turning humanity against its creator and existence. Misotheism, a hatred of God, is a catalyst that separates humanity from nature, or vilifies the realities of ontology, the spiritual world and the natural or material world. Reconciliation between God (the uncreated) and man is reached through submission in faith to God the eternal, i.e. transcendence rather than transgression (magic).

The Trinity as Nous, Word and Spirit (hypostasis) is, ontologically, the basis of humanity’s being or existence. The Trinity is the creator of humanity’s being via each component of humanity’s existence: origin as nous (ex nihilo), inner experience or spiritual experience, and physical experience, which is exemplified by Christ (logos or the uncreated prototype of the highest ideal) and his saints. The following of false knowledge is marked by the symptom of somnolence or “awake sleep” and, later, psychosis.[102]Theoria is opposed to allegorical or symbolic interpretations of church traditions.[122]

False asceticism or cults

In the Orthodox practice, once the stage of true discernment (diakrisis) is reached (called phronema), one is able to distinguish false gnosis from valid gnosis and has holy wisdom. The highest holy wisdom, Sophia, or Hagia Sophia, is cultivated by humility or meekness, akin to that personified by the Theotokos and all of the saints that came after her and Christ, collectively referred to as the ecclesia or church. This community of unbroken witnesses is the Orthodox Church.[123]

Wisdom is cultivated by humility (emptying of oneself) and remembrance of death against thymos (ego, greed and selfishness) and the passions.[124] Practicing asceticism is being dead to the passions and the ego, collectively known as the world.

God is beyond knowledge and the fallen human mind, and, as such, can only be experienced in his hypostases through faith (noetically). False ascetism leads not to reconciliation with God and existence, but toward a false existence based on rebellion to existence.

Scientific research

Fifteen Carmelite nuns allowed scientists to scan their brains with fMRI while they were meditating, in a state known as Unio Mystica or Theoria.[125] The results showed the regions of the brain that were activated when they considered themselves to be in mystical union with God.[125]

Modern philosophy

In modern times theoria is sometimes treated as distinct from the meaning given to it in Christianity, linking the word not with contemplation but with speculation. Boethius (c. 480–524 or 525) translated the Greek word theoria into Latin, not as contemplatio but as speculatio, and theoria is taken to mean speculative philosophy.[126] A distinction is made, more radical than in ancient philosophy, between theoria and praxis, theory and practice.[127]

References

  1.  Andrew Louth, “Theology of the Philokalia” in Abba:The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2003ISBN0-88141-248-1), p. 358
  2.  William Johnson, The Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion (HarperCollins 1997ISBN0-8232-1777-9), p. 24
  3.  Liddell and Scott: θεωρία
  4.  Lewis and Short: contemplatio
  5.  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2721).
  6.  Harvey D. Egan, Christian Mysticism: The Future of a Tradition (Wipf and Stock 1998), p. 178
  7.  Joel L. Watts, Praying in God’s Theater: Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock 2014), p. 5
  8.  Online Etymological Dictionary
  9.  Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN978-0-19-280290-3), article contemplation, contemplative life
  10.  Andrew Louth, “Theology, Contemplation and the University” in Studia Theologica, I, 2/2003, 66-67
  11.  Ian Rutherford, Theoria and Darshan: Pilgrimage as Gaze in Greece and India, Classical Quarterly, Vol. 50, 2000, pp. 133-146
  12.  Re-theorizing Politics, Culture and Religion in Nepal: A conversation with Frederick Young and Gregory Grieve
  13.  Andrea Wilson Nightingale, Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in Its Cultural Context (Cambridge University Press 2004 ISBN0-521-83825-8), p. 5
  14.  Aristotle, Protrepticus, B44, quoted in Spectacles, p. 18
  15.  Spectacles, p. 221
  16.  Richard Kraut, Aristotle on the Human Good (Princetone University Press 1991ISBN978-0-69102071-6), p. 156
  17.  Thomas Louis Schubeck, Liberation Ethics (Fortress Press 1993ISBN978-1-45141912-2), p. 41
  18.  Gerhard Schuhmacher, Why is contemplation so highly regarded by Aristotle?
  19.  “Everything is contemplation” (Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, p. 32).
  20.  “Everything comes from contemplation” (Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, p. 32).
  21.  “According to his (Plotinus) metaphysical conception, everything was endowed with this supreme activity (contemplation), beginning with the One, which turns to itself in the simplest regard, implying no complexity of need” (Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, p. 32)
  22.  “Plotinus suggests that the One subsists by thinking itself as itself” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource: Neoplatonism).
  23.  Lloyd P. Gerson, The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus (Cambridge University Press 1996ISBN0-521-47093-5), p. 32
  24.  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Plotinus
  25.  Quoted in Jorge M. Ferrer, Jacob H. Sherman (editors), The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies (State University of New York Press 2008ISBN978-0-7914-7601-7), p. 353
  26.  “From the point of view of the historian, the presence of Neoplatonic ideas in Christian thought is undeniable” (Dominic J. O’Meara (editor), Neoplatonism and Christian Thought (State University of New York Press 1982ISBN0-87395-492-0), p. x).
  27.  (Werner Jaeger, Two Rediscovered Works of Ancient Christian Literature: Gregory of Nyssa and Macarius (Brill, Leiden 1954), pp. 21-22).
  28.  The Brill Dictionary of Gregory of Nyssa (Brill, Leiden 2010 ISBN978-90-04-16965-4), p. 528
  29.  Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Continuum International 1986ISBN0-8264-0696-3), p. 19
  30.  Mattá al-Miskīn, Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2003ISBN0-88141-250-3), pp. 55-56
  31. Augustin Poulain, “Contemplation”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia 1908
  32.  Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way, pp. 57-58
  33. King 2002, p. 15.
  34.  “Gellman, Jerome, “Mysticism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)”. Plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  35.  Dupré 2005, p. 6341.
  36.  King 2002, p. 195.
  37.  John Breck, Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2001, p. 11.
  38.  Breck, Scripture in Tradition, p. 37).
  39.  Montague 2007, p. 48
  40.  Frances Margaret Young, Biblical exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture(Cambridge University Press 1997 ISBN0-521-58153-2), p. 175
  41.  John J. O’Keefe, Russell R. Reno, Sanctified Vision (JHU Press 2005 ISBN978-0-8018-8088-9), p. 15).
  42.  Henry George Liddell; Robert Scott [1940], A Greek-English Lexicon
  43.  Archimandrite George, Mount Athos, Theosis – Deification as the Purpose of Man’s Life (extract)
  44.  Translator of Kallistos Katafygiotis, On Union with God and Life of Theoria
  45.  Archimandrite George, Mount Athos, Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life, Glossary
  46.  Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (Foundations) by Normal Russell pg
  47.  Theosis as the Purpose of Mankinds existence by Archimarite George
  48.  John RomanidesSOME UNDERLYING POSITIONS OF THIS WEBSITE REFLECTING THE STUDIES HEREIN INCLUDED
  49.  The Difference Between Orthodox Spirituality and Other Traditions by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos[1]
  50.  Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, The Difference Between Orthodox Spirituality and Other Traditions
  51.  Theophan the RecluseWhat Is prayer?. Cited in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology,p.73, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, trans, E. Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer, ed. Timothy Ware, 1966, Faber & Faber, London.
  52.  The Vision of God, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN0-913836-19-2)
  53.  FRANKS, ROMANS, FEUDALISM, AND DOCTRINE/Diagnosis and Therapy Father John S. Romanides Diagnosis and Therapy [2]
  54.  [3]Archived 2009-01-05 at the Wayback Machine Orthodox Psychotherapy Section The Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN978-960-7070-27-2
  55.  Andrew Louth, Theology, Contemplation and the University (abstract)
  56.  The Catholic Encyclopedia online article Hesychasm
  57.  deCatanzaro 1980, pp. 9–10.
  58.  “FRANKS, ROMANS, FEUDALISM, AND DOCTRINE Part 2”. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
  59.  EMPIRICAL THEOLOGY VERSUS SPECULATIVE THEOLOGY John Romanides
  60.  The mystical theology of the Eastern Church By Vladimir Lossky pgs 237-238 [4]
  61.  monachos.net, Gregory Palma
  62.  FRANKS, ROMANS, FEUDALISM, AND DOCTRINE/EMPIRICAL THEOLOGY VERSUS SPECULATIVE THEOLOGY Father John S. Romanides [5]
  63.  The Difference Between Orthodox Spirituality and Other Traditions by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos [6]
  64.  “St. Nicholas Orthodox Church » Mysticism, Women and the Christian Orient”. Stnicholaspdx.org. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
  65.  The struggle between Hellenism and Frankism by George D. Metallinos
  66.  http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis-english.pdf
  67.  Cf. Josef Pieper, An Anthology (Ignatius Press 1989ISBN978-0-89870226-2), 43; Eugene Victor Walter, Placeways (UNC Press Books 1988ISBN978-0-80784200-3), p. 218; Thomas Hibbs, Aquinas, Ethics and Philosophy of Religion (Indiana University Press 2007ISBN978-0-25311676-5), pp. 8, 89; Steven Chase, Angelic Spirituality(Paulist Press 2002ISBN978-0-80913948-4), p. 63
  68.  Encyclopædia Britannica, Saint John Cassian
  69.  John Cassian, The Conferences (English translation by Boniface Ramsey, Newman Press 1997ISBN978-0-80910484-0), p. 47
  70.  Christopher A. Dustin, “The Liturgy of Theory” in Bruce T. Morrill et al. (editors),Practicing Catholic (Palgrave Macmillan 2005ISBN978-1-40398296-4), pp. 257-274; Thomas Bénatouïl, Mauro Bonazzi, Theoria, Praxis, and the Contemplative Life after Plato and Aristotle (Brill 2012ISBN978-9-00422532-9Frans Jozef van Beeck, God Encountered: A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology (Liturgical Press 2001ISBN978-0-81465877-2; and in books dealing with Antiochene exegesis
  71.  Meditation and Contemplation
  72.  “Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2723).
  73.  Mattá al-Miskīn, Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2003 ISBN0-88141-250-3), p. 56
  74.  John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, p. 125
  75.  Bede Frost, The Art of Mental Prayer, p. 209
  76.  Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way, p. 59
  77.  John Cassian, Conferences, 10, chapters 10-11
  78.  Laurence Freeman 1992
  79.  Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 19740-913836-12-5), p. 32
  80.  James W. Skehan, Place Me with Your Son (Georgetown University Press 1991ISBN0-87840-525-9), p. 89
  81.  John S. Romanides, Some Underlying Positions of This Website, 11,
  82.  The Cloud of Unknowing (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature 2005ISBN1-84022-126-7), p. 18
  83.  Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way, p. 58
  84.  The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women, By Laura Swan pg 67 Published by Paulist Press, 2001 ISBN978-0-8091-4016-9
  85.  [7] Publisher: Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN978-960-7070-18-0
  86.  “People say: attain the Jesus Prayer, for that is inner prayer. This is not correct. The Jesus Prayer is a good means to arrive at inner prayer but in itself it is not inner but outer prayer” – St Theophan the Recluse, ‘What Is Prayer?’ cited in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology p.98 by Igumen CharitonISBN978-0-571-19165-9
  87.  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2667
  88.  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2668
  89.  Thomas Keating, Prayer and the Christian Contemplative Tradition (Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, Bulletin 40, January 1991)Archived 2012-03-10 at the Wayback Machine
  90.  catholicculture.org, Catholic Dictionary: Prayer of simplicity
  91.  Thomas Keating, Centering Prayer and the Christian Contemplative Tradition
  92.  Oxford Reference, purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways
  93.  Christian Perfection, The Three Ages of the Spiritual life According to the Fathers and the Great Spiritual Writers
  94.  Arthur Devine, “State or Way” in Catholic Encyclopedia
  95.  From FRANKS, ROMANS, FEUDALISM, AND DOCTRINE/Diagnosis and Therapy Father John S. Romanides Diagnosis and Therapy [8]
  96.  Jordan Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition (Ignatius Press 1985ISBN978-0-89870068-8), p. 64
  97.  Orthodox Psychotherapy Section The Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN978-960-7070-27-2
  98.  The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women By Laura Swan pg 67 Published by Paulist Press, 2001 ISBN978-0-8091-4016-9
  99.  Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine/Empirical Theology versus Speculative Theology. Father John S. Romanides [9]
  100.  Orthodox Dogmatic Theology Michael Pomazansky[10]
  101.  V Lossky Vision of God pg 123 “Knowledge is limited to what exists: now, as the cause of all being(The Divine Names, I, 1, col.588) or rather He is superior to all oppositions between being and non-being.
  102.  Orthodox Psychotherapy by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN978-960-7070-27-2
  103.  William Johnston, The Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion (Harper Collins 2004 ISBN0-8232-1777-9), p. 24
  104.  “Louis J. Puhl, S.J. Translation – The Spiritual Exercises”Ignatian Spirituality. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  105.  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2709Archived August 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  106.  “Orthodox Psychotherapy Chapter Six”. Archived from the original on January 5, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
  107.  Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky, p. 27)
  108.  Faith And Science In Orthodox Gnosiology and Methodology by George Metallinos[11]
  109.  Saint Symeon the New Theologian On Faith Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). The Philokalia, Vol. 4
  110.  Nikitas Stithatos (Nikitas Stethatos) On the Practice of the Virtues: One Hundred Texts
  111.  Nikitas Stithatos (Nikitas Stethatos) On the Inner Nature of Things and on the Purification of the Intellect: One Hundred Texts
  112.  Nikitas Stithatos (Nikitas Stethatos) On Spiritual Knowledge, Love and the Perfection of Living: One Hundred Texts
  113.  John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary
  114.  Thomas Dubay, Fire Within (Ignatius Press 1989 ISBN0-89870-263-1), chapter 5
  115.  Jordan Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition (Sheed & Ward 1985 ISBN0-89870-068-X), p. 247 and p. 273
  116.  Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, p. 248
  117.  Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, p. 276
  118.  “Those who speak from their own thoughts, before having acquired purity, are seduced by the spirit of self-esteem.” St. Gregory of Sinai
  119.  “The Illness and Cure of the Soul” Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
  120.  *History of Russian Philosophy «История российской Философии »(1951) by N. O. Lossky section on V. Lossky pg400 Publisher: Allen & Unwin, London ASIN: B000H45QTY International Universities Press Inc NY, NY ISBN978-0-8236-8074-0sponsored by Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
  121.  Man has a malfunctioning or non-functioning noetic faculty in the heart, and it is the task especially of the clergy to apply the cure of unceasing memory of God, otherwise called unceasing prayer or illumination. “Those who have selfless love and are friends of God see God in light – divine light, while the selfish and impure see God the judge as fire – darkness”. “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2009-02-01. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
  122.  Reading scripture with the Church Fathers By Christopher A. Hall Published by InterVarsity Press, 2001 ISBN978-0-8308-1500-5[12]
  123.  THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL by Metropolitan Hierotheos of NafpaktosChapter THE CURE OF THE SOUL, The Theotokos-the perfect model of a hesychast. Publisher: Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN978-960-7070-18-0
  124.  But let him not remain in this condition. If he wishes to see Christ, then let him do what Zacchaeus did. Let him receive the Word in his home, after having previously climbed up into the sycamore tree, “mortifying his limbs on the earth and raising up the body of humility”.[13]Archived 2009-02-01 at the Wayback Machine
  125.  M. Beauregard & V. Paquette (2006). “Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns“. Neuroscience Letters. Elsevier. 405 (3): 186–90. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2006.06.060ISSN0304-3940PMID16872743.
  126.  Olga Taxidou, Tragedy, Modernity and Mourning (Edinburgh University Press 2004ISBN978-0-74861987-0), pp. 34, 79
  127.  Donald Phillip Verene, Speculative Philosophy (Lexington Books 2009ISBN978-0-73913661-4), p. 15

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