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Introduction To Volume I


The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart is a three-volume work that addresses the psychological foundations of the Jesus Prayer as prayed in the heart. That is, viewed from inside the ascetic, how is the Jesus Prayer prayed in the heart? The psychology that is used in this study is that of St Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius Pontikos and St Hesychios, an ascetical writer of the Philokalia. The first volume of this study addresses the question of Orthodox anthropology; the second volume addresses the ascetical and contemplative psychology of Evagrius Pontikos, which ascetical and contemplative psychology we believe underlies the Philokalia;[1] and the third volume addresses the method of sobriety of St Hesychios, a sobriety which entails, in our estimation, the use of the Prayer of Jesus prayed in the heart. Hence, in discussing the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart, we are discussing an ascetical and contemplative psychology of mental prayer as defined in the tradition of the Philokalia.[2] Let us now turn to look more carefully at the contents of this, the first volume.

This is a work about what it means to be a human person. It was written with two purposes in mind: on the one hand, it is the first volume of a work on prayer; on the other hand, it is the second part of an as-yet-unfinished work on bioethics, the first part of which is The Genetic Program, A Systems Approach.[3] We have therefore approached the question of the Orthodox doctrine of the human person systematically, and from two points of view: first, as the basis for a discussion of the psychology of the Jesus Prayer; and, second, as the basis for a discussion of bioethics. This necessarily broadens our scope, and the reader can find material that addresses both issues in this book.

This volume is intended for an audience of monks with an interest either in ascetical and spiritual psychology or in bioethics, and it is also an introduction to the subsequent volumes of this work, which are more directly monastic catechisms in ascetical and spiritual psychology and theology.

The doctrine of the human person seeks to answer these questions: What is man? Is he different from the animals? How? What is his place in creation? What is his potential? How can it be realized? What is his vocation? How can it be realized?

This is a very difficult topic, and the following essay is difficult.

To make matters somewhat easier, we will proceed as follows: First, we will translate and comment extensively on part of a work by St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, written c.386.

This work has the advantage, despite its very difficult, elevated and formal style, of addressing issues, relevant today, concerning the Orthodox doctrine of the person, issues that arise from philosophical questions posed already in Antiquity. These issues and questions make a convenient structure for a discussion of contemporary issues that are relevant to the doctrine of the human person.

We will then turn to discuss certain doctrines of Evagrius Pontikos (c.345–399), condemned in 553 by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod at Constantinople, because of their relevance today, because their discussion allows us to clarify certain points in the Orthodox doctrine of the human person, and, finally, because, in our second volume, The Evagrian Ascetical System, we will discuss extensively Evagrius’ ascetical psychology. This ascetical psychology, not only never condemned but even in the matter of asceticism exerting a very great influence on Christian West and East alike, requires for its understanding a comprehension of Evagrius’ own cosmology and doctrine of the human person, although these latter certainly cannot be accepted in their entirety by a member of the Orthodox Church. In our discussion in this volume of Evagrius’ doctrines, we will draw on a second work of St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man (written c.379). This will enable us to clarify by contrast certain aspects of the Orthodox doctrine of the person.

After our discussion of Evagrius Pontikos’ cosmology, we will turn to look at doctrines of the human person found in the Christian West, notably in the Roman Catholic Church and in the person of St Thomas Aquinas, with brief glances at the prior tradition of the Roman Catholic Church arising from St Augustine and finding its consummation in St Bonaventure and St John Duns Scotus. This will enable us, again by contrast, to clarify our understanding of the Orthodox doctrine of the human person.

In the last chapter, we will discuss the vocation of man. In that chapter we will integrate the material of the preceding chapters.

Concerning biblical quotations, our quotations from the Old Testament are taken from the Septuagint, with its names of books and numbering, in the edition of the ‘Brotherhood of Theologians, Zoe’;[4] for the New Testament, they are taken from the textus receptus of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.[5] All the quotations are translated by us.

Concerning translations in general, all translations from the Greek, Latin or French are by us except where otherwise noted.

When we quote the work of an author who has composed his work in the chapter style, we sometimes include the chapter number as part of the quotation and sometimes not. Our rule is this: if the quotation is of the whole chapter, we include the chapter number; otherwise, not. If the work is broken up into centuries by the author, then in the quotation we include along with the chapter number the number of the century.

Bibliographic references in the text or footnotes are made in the following way: A ‘label’ is provided in bold-face type (e.g. Zoe) which is the same as the label, also in bold-face type, in the left hand margin of the bibliography before the entry to which reference is being made. The entries in the bibliography are sorted in order of label, not in order of author or title.

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[1] However, not all the texts of Evagrius we will consider are included in the Philokalia.

[2] Philokalia D, E, F and G.

[3] Genetic.

[4] Zoe.

[5] NT.


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