SYLLABUS (CH 599p/ThSp 592/599p)
Christian Methods and Models of Spiritual Direction

 Based on: Desert Hermits
Byz. MS. illum., ca, 1081 Princ. U. Libr., image modif .


Syllabus: MS-Word Doc





THIS course will study the early Christian theory and practice of spiritual direction, with emphasis on texts from the first through the twelfth centuries. Texts by eastern and western Christian authors will provide examples of bishops, martyrs, ascetics, and laypersons who served as spiritual guides from the age of the apostles through the early middle ages.  Their writings will afford an opportunity to study the practice of spiritual direction from a variety of perspectives, including the following models:

(1) leader; (2) intercessor; (3) reconciler; (4) spiritual physician (5) teacher; (6) ascetical guide; (7) friend.

During each class primary sources will be studied and discussed in light of their pastoral utility as guidelines for the practice of spiritual direction today.






THE student will be able to identify important persons, events, and schools of thought that contributed to the formation of early Christian models and methods of spiritual direction. The student will learn to make use of  primary and secondary sources available in both printed and electronic formats, and will become familiar with appropriate reference tools in early church history, spirituality and pastoral theology. 





1.  This course will combine lecture and class discussion. In order to maximize the effectiveness of lectures in our culturally diverse student population, representing a wide range of different linguistic experience and ability, all audio-visual materials presented in lectures will be available through the course website or on CD-ROM in the library. Lecture/discussion will be based on modern articles and early Christian primary texts which should be downloaded from the course website at the beginning of the semester.  Active participation in class discussions is essential, and will figure into the final evaluation.

2.  Both midterm and final examinations will consist of  “take-home” essay questions.  The questions will be made available on the day scheduled for the exam, and are due one week later. The exam must be typed and double-spaced.

3.  Optional “extra credit” research may be undertaken using primary sources studied in class or cited in the bibliography below.  The student may write a research paper at least eight pages in length, double-spaced and including appropriate references: it will be due on or before Wednesday, April 17, 2013. Possible topics for the paper or oral presentation include: (1) any model or method of spiritual direction found in the sources studied in class; or (2) a comparison of any theme in two or more sources.  The goal of the research is to demonstrate familiarity with the theme of spiritual direction in early Christian primary sources.

4. The final course grade will be computed as follows:

Class participation




Final Examination


5.  Late work will be accepted for a grade only if the professor grants an extension.  Out of fairness to those who submit their work on time, late work will normally be graded down by one-half letter grade for each day it is late.

6.  Students must clearly distinguish between: (a) their own work; and (b) ideas or text they have taken from other sources, including the Internet, published texts or audio-visual materials.  The requirement to distinguish clearly between one’s own work and the research of others applies equally to written and oral presentations.  Failure to give credit to cited sources constitutes plagiarism and will result in a grade of “F” for both the material presented and the course.





1. Byrne, Lavinia, ed. Traditions of Spiritual Guidance, Collected from ‘The Way’…, (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1991), ISBN: 0814620051 [This text is currently out of print: required sections will be provided on the course website].

2. Demacopoulos, George E., Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church, (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2007), ISBN: 0268025908.

3. Louf, Andre, Grace Can do More: Spiritual Accompaniment and Spiritual Growth (Cistercian, 2002), ISBN: 087907695-X.

4. Nemeck, K.N, & Coombs, M.T., The Way of Spiritual Direction (Michael Glazier, 1987), ISBN: 0894534475.

5. Rahner, Karl, “Reflections on the Problem of the Gradual Ascent to Christian Perfection”, Theological Investigations, vol. 3, pp. 3-23.





Aumann, Jordan, Spiritual Theology, (Sheed and Ward, 1980).

Behr, John, ed., Abba, The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, (St Vladimir’s Sem., 2003).

Brown, Peter, The Body and Society, (Columbia University Pr., 1988) ISBN: 0231061013

Carmichael, Liz, Friendship, Interpreting Christian Love, by (T & T Clark England, 2004).

Chryssavgis, John, Soul Mending, The Art of Spiritual Direction, (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000).

Funk, Mary Margaret, [1Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life, (Continuum 2004) ISBN: 0826416551. [2Thoughts Matter, The Practice of the Spiritual Life,  (Continuum 1998) ISBN: 0826411649.  [3Humility Matters: The Practice of the Spiritual Life, (Continuum, 2005) ISBN 0826417280.

Hadot, Pierre, [1Plotinus, or, The Simplicity of Vision, (University of Chicago Press, 1993).  [2Philosophy as a Way of Life, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1995) ISBN 9780631180333.

Hausherr, Irénée, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East, tr. Anthony P. Gythiel, (Cistercian Publ., 1990).

Inwood, Brad, Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism, (Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1985)

Louth, Andrew,  The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition from Plato to Pseudo-Dionysius, (Clarendon, Oxford Univ. Pr., 1981), ISBN: 0198266685.

McGinn, Bernard, The Foundations of Mysticism, Origins to the Fifth Century (The Presence of God, A History of Western Christian Mysticism, vol. 1) (Crossroad, 1991).

McGuire, Brian Patrick. Friendship and Community: the Monastic Experience 350–1250 (Cistercian Publ., 1988).

Rich, Antony, Discernment in the Desert Fathers (Bletchley, Milton Keynes, 2007).

Sorabji, Richard , Emotion and Peace of Mind From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford, 2002) ISBN: 978-0-19-925660-0

Spidlik Tomas, The Spirituality of the Christian East, a Systematic Handbook,  CS 79, (Cistercian, 1986).

Sommerfeldt, J., ed,  Abba, Guides to Wholeness and Holiness, East and West, CS 36 (Cistercian, 1982).

Tanquerey, Adolphe, The Spiritual Life, A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology, (Desclee, New York, 1930). Although out-of-print for many years, the first 427 pp. of this text may be downloaded form the Course Documents section of this course.

Ware, Kallistos, The Inner Kingdom: The Collected Works, vol. 1 (St Vladimir’s Sem. Pr., 2001), ISBN: 0881412090.

White, Caroline, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century, (Cambridge U. Pr, 1992).






1) [WEEK 1] INTRODUCTION: Models of Spiritual Direction, Ancient and Modern.

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Bishop Kallistos Ware, “Spiritual Direction in the Christian East;” Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O., Spiritual Direction;” Abbot Francis Benedict, O.S.B., “Implications of Spiritual Direction.”

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 1-20 (“Introduction”).


COURSE DOCUMENTS: Ilsetraut Hadot, “The Spiritual Guide”; Three pre-Christian models of the “Soul-Guide” or psychopomp: (1) (Plato) Philosopher;  (2) (The Book of Enoch) Angel;  (3) (Cicero) Ancestor. Galen, On the Traditions of Plato and Hippocrates and On the Passions and Errors of the Soul; Porphyry, The Life of Plotinus; Plotinus, Enneads.


COURSE DOCUMENTS: Kittel on five groups of related terms: (1) TEACHER / διδάσκαλος; DISCIPLE / μαθητής ; INSTRUCTOR / παιδευτή .  (2) CONSOLER / παράκλητος; ADVISOR / σύμβουλος ; HELPER / βοηθός.  (3) SHEPHERD / ποιμήν ; GUIDE / ὁδηγός ; ANGEL / ἄγγελος.  (4) HEALER / ἰατρός; TRANSFORMATION. / μεταμορφωσις; RENEWAL / ἀνακαίνωαις; RESTORATION / ἀποκατάστασις.

4) [WEEK 4] MARTYRS and VISIONARIES as SPIRITUAL GUIDES: Ministers of Reconciliation and Intercession

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Christ’s Descent into Hell;  Polycarp of Smyrna; The Shepherd of Hermas; The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity; Cyprian of Carthage.


COURSE DOCUMENTS: The Apostle Peter; Clement of Rome; Ignatius of Antioch; Irenaeus of Lyons; Athanasius.

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 21-50 (“Athanasius of Alexandria and Ambivalence Regarding Spiritual Direction”).


COURSE DOCUMENTS: Philo of Alexandria; Cyprian (Lectio Divina as a window into the soul.); Origen; Cassian; Guigo II (the Carthusian).

7a) [WEEK 7] CHRISTIAN ASCETICS as SPIRITUAL GUIDES, (Part 1): Early Abbas and Ammas

COURSE DOCUMENTS: An Introduction to Christian Monasticism; The Life of St. Pelagia; the Apophthegmata (Sayings) of the Desert Fathers [and Mothers]; Antony's “Great Discourse” on discernment.

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 51-82 (“Gregory Nazianzen’s Sturggle for Synthesis” ).

7b) [WEEK 8] CHRISTIAN ASCETICS as SPIRITUAL GUIDES, (Part 2): Evagrius Ponticus

COURSE DOCUMENTS: “Introduction to the Life and Thought of Evagrius Ponticus”; Praktikos and the spiritual journey; Antirrhesis; Discernment in On Tempting Thoughts; Psalmody and Prayer.

TEXTBOOKS: Byrne, pp. 3-15, (Benedicta Ward, S.L.G., “Spiritual Direction in the Desert Fathers”).

7c) [WEEK 9] CHRISTIAN ASCETICS as SPIRITUAL GUIDES, (Part 3): Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian

COURSE DOCUMENTS: The Gnostikos, exegete and spiritual guide; Evagrius On Prayer; John Cassian on discernment (Conference 2) and on [keeping/breaking] promises (Conference 17).

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 107-126 (“John Cassian and The Spiritual Direction of the Ascetic Community” ).

8) [WEEK 10] SPIRITUAL DIRECTION as MUTUAL SERVICE: Models of Spiritual Guidance in Ascetical Communities

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Basil the Great on lay ascetical communities; Augustine of Hippo; Barsanuphius and John.

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 83-106. (“Augustine of Hippo and Resistance to the Ascetic Model of Spiritual Direction”).


COURSE DOCUMENTS:  Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Benedict 1-7, 58-72; John Climacus, The Ladder; Dhuoda, Manual for William.


COURSE DOCUMENTS: Basil of Caesarea on Spiritual Guidance; Gregory Nazianzen on Qualities of the Spiritual Guide; John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood; Ambrose of Milan, Ecclesiastical Offices and Letter to the Emperor Theodosius; Gregory the Great, Letters, Regula Pastoralis.

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 51-82. (“Gregory Nazianzen’s Sturggle for Synthesis”).

11) [WEEK 13] FROM SECRET-KEEPER TO SOUL-FRIEND: Classical, Patristic, and Medieval Models of Friendship and Spiritual Guidance

COURSE DOCUMENTS:  Plato, Lysis; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8; Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia; Ambrose, de Officiis, on Friendship; Cassian, Conference 16; Gregory the Great, Dialogues, Aelred of Rievaulx, The Mirror of Charity and On Spiritual Friendship.

TEXTBOOKS: Demacopoulos, 127-164 (“Pope Gregory and the Asceticizing of Spiritual Direction”).

OPTIONAL READING: Byrne, pp. 30-42, (Diarmuid O’Laoghaire, S.J., “Soul-Friendship”); Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Thomas Aquinas on Friendship.

12) [WEEK 14] CHARISMATIC GUIDES and UNCREATED LIGHT, Prayer and Liturgy as Bases of Spiritual Direction

COURSE DOCUMENTS:  Symeon the New Theologian; Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, Germanus of Constantinople on divinizing liturgy; Gregory Pallamas and hesychasm.

TEXTBOOKS: Byrne, pp. 16-29 (Jean Leclercq, O.S.B.., “Spiritual Direction in the Benedictine Tradition”)

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