Mark Sheridan, OSB
TTENTION / προσοχή
“The Spiritual and Intellectual World of Early Egyptian Monasticism”


Mark Sheridan, OSB, “The Spiritual and Intellectual World of Early Egyptian Monasticism”, From the Nile to the Rhone and Beyond, Studies in Early Monastic Literature and Scriptural Interpretation, (Sant’Anselmo, Rome, 2012).pp. 64-65. Originally published in Coptica 1 (2002), 2-51

THE verb prosechō (προσέχω), listen, pay heed, be attentive,” “be mindful,

THE  noun prosochē (προσοχή) mindfulness, attention [to oneself],” being vigilant [over oneself

ATHANASIUS description of Antony’s initial decision to follow an ascetic way of life is of particular importance for understanding his concept of monastic life. Inspired by the example of the early Christians and by the words of Jesus in the Gospel «If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you own, give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me» (Mat.19:21), Antony sold his inheritance, distributed the proceeds to the poor, and entrusted his sister to a community of virgins. Then Antony

«dedicated himself to the ascetic life within the precincts of his own home,

αὐτὸς πρὸ τῆς οἰκίας ἐσχόλαζε λοιπὸν τῇ ἀσκή σει͵

keeping watch over himself (prosechōn heautō)

προσέχων ἑαυτῷ

and subjecting himself to a demanding discipline.

καὶ καρτερικῶς ἑαυτὸν ἄγων.

For at that time, indeed, there were not yet many monasteries in Egypt and monks did not yet know the great desert: 

Οὔπω γὰρ ἦν οὕτως ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ συνεχῆ μονα στήρια͵ οὐδ΄ ὅλως ᾔδει μοναχὸς τὴν μακρὰν ἔρημον͵

whoever wanted to

ἕκαστος δὲ τῶν βουλομένων

practice mindfulness over his own life (heautō prosechein )

ἑαυτῷ προσέχειν

used to dedicate himself to ascetic practice in solitude not far from his own village »65

οὐ μακρὰν τῆς ἰδίας κώμης καταμόνας ἠσκεῖτο.

In this passage Athanasius introduces two technical terms each with a long and distinguished history in philosophical and religious usage: προσοχή (prosochē) and ἄσκησις (askēsis).

     2.1.1 Prosoche

Prosoche can be translated as « attention to oneself» or « being vigilant over oneself». It is found in the Scriptures in the form of a verbal admonition 66 Philo of Alexandria uses it to describe the ascetic practice of the patriarch Jacob. 67

For everything that relates to ascetical practice (askēseōs) is wholesome food, πάντα γὰρ τὰ τῆς ἀσκήσεως ἐδώδιμα καθέστηκεν͵

whether it be investigation,

ἡ ζήτησις͵

or consideration,

ἡ σκέψις͵

or listening,

ἡ ἀνάγνωσις͵

or reading,

ἡ ἀκρόασις͵

or attentiveness,


or self-reliance,

ἡ ἐγκράτεια͵

or an attitude of indifference to things indifferent;

ἡ ἐξαδιαφόρησις τῶν ἀδιαφόρων

        Quis rerum divinarum heres sit  253:


Mindfulness of The Present Moment

CLEMENT of Alexandria and Origen see [prosoche] as an essential element in the development of the spiritual life, a continual concentration on the present moment, which must be lived as if it were the first and the last; in this way prosoche is closely linked to mindfulness of death. In ch. 19 of the Vita Antonii Antony quotes Paul saying «I die daily» (1 Cor 15:31) and adds «If we practice in this way and live like this day by day, we shall not sin». The word also means living constantly in the presence of God with the awareness of the presence of God.

This attitude of vigilance was also the fundamentally characteristic spiritual attitude of the Stoic philosophers. One could cite numerous passages from the writings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius as well as the Platonist Porphyry, on the subject of the need to keep in mind the thought of death (as a moral incentive) and of living in the presence of God. 68

Athanasius concludes his work with the same thought. Shortly before his death, Antony exhorts his disciples:

«Live as if you were about to die each day,

καὶ ὡς καθ΄ ἡμέραν ἀποθνήσκοντες ζήσατε͵

keep watch over yourselves

προσέχοντες ἑαυτοῖς͵

and remember the instructions which you have heard from me».69

καὶ μνημονεύοντες ὧν ἠκούσατε παρ΄ ἐμοῦ παραινέσεων.

Vit. Ant. 91:


An examination of Antony’s letters, which even until very recently have not been given the attention they deserve, confirms that this was the teaching of the historical Antony and not merely an ideal attributed by his biographer.70 Among the most notable characteristics of these letters is the repetition of the counsel «know yourself» 71 [Letters 2,4,5, 6,7]

But I rejoice in you all, beloved in the Lord, holy Israelite children in your intellectual substance. Gaudeo autem in omnibus vobis, dilecti in Domino, viri lsraëlitae sancti secunduln propriam sensualem exstantiam !
For first the rational man needs Quia primum quidem decebat rationabilem virum

to know himself,

cognoscere semetipsum,

and then to know the things of God,

deinde, ut cognoscat ea, quae sunt Dei,

and all the bounties which His grace is ever showing towards him;

et universas ipsius gratias.

Antony, Letter 7. Letter 3 in the Latin Versions: Septem Epistolae quae sub Nomine Sancti Antonii Abbatis Circumferuntur,

ed. Antonio Erdinger, (Libraria Academica Wagneriana, Innsbruck, 1871) Epistola Tertia (Erdington, 1871), pp. 75-88)





This ancient Greek aphorism, originally attributed to the Delphic oracle, was already understood as equivalent to the philosophical and Biblical notion of prosoche in the writings of Philo. 72 Among the Christian writers both before and after Antony who were to make use of this theme, is Origen, who in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, distinguishes two types of knowing one-self.73 The first, on the ethical-moral plane, comes about when a person recognizes his or her own failings and the need for improvement. The second has rather to do with the realization of our true spiritual nature and of our position in the universe as created beings.74 Both aspects are found also in the letters of Antony.75


65 Vit. Ant. 3, 1-2: αὐτὸς πρὸ τῆς οἰκίας ἐσχόλαζε λοιπὸν τῇ ἀσκή σει͵ προσέχων ἑαυτῷ καὶ καρτερικῶς ἑαυτὸν ἄγων. Οὔπω γὰρ ἦν οὕτως ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ συνεχῆ μονα στήρια͵ οὐδ΄ ὅλως ᾔδει μοναχὸς τὴν μακρὰν ἔρημον͵ ἕκαστος δὲ τῶν βουλομένων ἑαυτῷ προσέχειν οὐ μα κρὰν τῆς ἰδίας κώμης καταμόνας ἠσκεῖτο.

66 E.g., Deut 4:23; 8:1; Prov 2:1; 4:1, 20. See R. VERNAY, «Attention», in Dictionnaire de la Spiritualité 1, Paris 1937, 1058-1077.

67 For Philo it is a spiritual exercise, a part of askesis: Quis heres. 253: πάντα γὰρ τὰ τῆς ἀσκήσεως ἐδώδιμα καθέστηκεν͵ ἡ ζήτησις͵ ἡ σκέψις͵ ἡ ἀνάγνωσις͵ ἡ ἀκρόασις͵ ἡ προσοχή͵ ἡ ἐγκράτεια͵ ἡ ἐξαδιαφόρησις τῶν ἀδιαφόρων

68 For a discussion of the similarities between the philosophical and monastic literature on these points and numerous references to the philosophical literature, see P. HADOT, Exercises spirituels et philosophie antique, Paris 21987, 59-74.

69 Vit. Ant. 91: καὶ ὡς καθ΄ ἡμέραν ἀποθνήσκοντες ζήσατε͵ προσέχοντες ἑαυτοῖς͵ καὶ μνημονεύοντες ὧν ἠκούσατε παρ΄ ἐμοῦ παραινέσεων.

70 The most recent and thorough study of the letters is to be found in S. RUBENSON, The Letters of St. Antony. Origenist Theology, Monastic Tradition ‘md the Making of α Sαint (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity), Minneapolis 1995. The critical edition of the Georgian version with a Latin translation may be found in G. GARITTE, Lettres de Sαint Antoine. Version géorgienne et fragments coptes (CSCO 148 - 149), Louvain 1955.

71 The injunction is found in Letters 2, 4, 5, 6, 7.

72 See Μigr.8.2.

73 The most extensive treatment of the subject is to be found in P. COURCELLE, Connais-toi toi-même 1-3 (Études Augustiniennes), Paris 1974-1975.

74 See ORIGEN, ComCt II (1,8).  [?5  p.130]

75 On the theme in Antony’s letters, see also G. COUILLEAU, «La liberté d’Antoine», in Commandements du Seigneur et libérαtion éνangeligue (SA 70), Roma 1977, 17.





NOTE Research on Attentiveness: "The Paradoxical Effects of Attentiveness"; Journal of Early Christian Studies 24/2 (2016)

The attention (προσοχή) in Evagrius of Pontus
Rubén Peretó Rivas
Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. CONICET, Mendoza, Argentina
Given at Oxford Patristics Conference (Section I led)

Basil of Caesarea gave an important place to the attention both as a way to stay faithful to the Lord’s commandment and as a barrier to prevent the assault of the demons through the evil thoughts.

Evagrius of Pontus, a disciple of Basil, is well known by his psychological approach to the Christian asceticism in which plays an important role the logismoi or wicked thoughts that are instiled by the demons in the mind. In this paper, I want to discuss the place of the attention in the Evagrius’ teachings, how it is essential for keep the soul free from the demon’s temptations and particularly the psychological meaning that the author assign to this concept.

I will specially focus in two of his main works: The Monk. A Treatise on the Practical Life and On Prayer, but taking account the whole of his writings.



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