Teaching MonkIllum.MS. , Amiens 1547

WEEK_1 WEEK_2 WEEK_3;   WEEK_4;   WEEK_5;   WEEK_6;   WEEK_7 WEEK_8;
 WEEK_9 WEEK_10 WEEK_11;   WEEK_12;   WEEK_13 WEEK_14 WEEK_15


WEEK 1: January 15, 2012



1. INTRODUCTION: Models of Spiritual Direction, Ancient and Modern.


IN this first section of our course we prepare for our journey into the past by familiarizing ourselves with different models of spiritual direction employed today in the Christian East and West. After comparing and contrasting these approaches, we will note several additional hallmarks of the spiritual direction relationship that will offer focal points for our study of early Christian sources. [Remember that MS-Word versions of the following text files are available in "Course Documents": in other words, you do not need to print out or copy the webpages.]

WE will first consider an introduction to spiritual direction by Bishop Kallistos Ware, one of the foremost exponents of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality.  Bishop Kallistos is a retired Oxford professor and monk of the Greek Orthodox monastery on the island of Patmos:

(1) Ware, Spiritual Direction in the Christian East; AUDIO_LECTURE _;_ TEXT_FILE  (remember to start the audio-lecture first, then minimize the player, then click on the link to the text file and scroll down as directed.  Click on the Lectures and Assignments link to return to this “portal” page)

NEXT, we will look at a discussion of Roman Catholic spiritual direction by Thomas (“Fr. Louis”) Merton, OCSO, a Trappist spiritual writer.  There are two lecture for this text, both using the same text webpage:

(2) Merton, Spiritual Direction: AUDIO_LECTURE 1 _:_ TEXT_FILE

(3) Merton, Spiritual Direction: AUDIO_LECTURE 2 _:_ TEXT_FILE

THEN a contemporary Benedictine abbot will suggest hallmarks of spiritual direction to which we will refer throughout this course:

(4) Abbot Francis Benedict, O.S.B., Implications of Spiritual Direction:  AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

THE introduction to our textbook presents Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church.  These models will serve as reference points throughout the rest of our course.

(5) George Demacopoulos: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

When you have finished lectures § 1 - 5 , please take a little time to share your reflections with each other (and with me!) in Moodle Discussion Forum OnePlease consider (but do not restrict yourself to)  the following questions:

a) What are your general impressions of and reactions to the models of spiritual guidance we have touched on in this first week?

b) What do you think of Bishop Kallistos’ notion of the “charismatic” guide, whose unique spiritual gifts cannot be learned or taught?

c) Were you surprised at Thomas Merton’s recommendation of spiritual “self-direction”?

d) Do you find Demacopoulos’ approach overly academic, or do you think it may provide some practical insights?

Week 2


WEEK 2: January 22, 2012





IN this second section of our course we will considers models of spiritual guidance that were widespread in the Greco-Roman and Jewish philosophical traditions.  All of these would have been familiar to many early Christian writers.

FIRST, Ilsetraut Hadot, a modern philosopher and historian of philosophy describes models of spiritual guidance that were well-known and widely-practiced in classical antiquity.

(6) Hadot The Spiritual Guide: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

THEN Plato, The Book of Enoch, and Cicero provide three pre-Christian models of the “Soul-Guide” or psychopomp / ψῡχοπομπός: (1) Philosopher; (2) Angel; and (3) Ancestor.

(7) Plato (Republic), Enoch, and Cicero: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

NEXT, the Physician[/Psychiatrist-Philosopher] Galen recommends the value of a spiritual guide and offers therapeutic prescriptions for spiritual maladies: On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato and On the Passions and Errors of the Soul


PORPHYRY, the disciple of Plotinus, describes his teacher’s formation and his own experience of spiritual guidance:

(9) Porphry, The Life of Plotinus: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

THEN Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism advises his readers on the soul’s solitary journey “from the alone to the alone”: .

(10) Plotinus, Enneads: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

When you have finished lectures § 6 - 10 of Part Two, please share your reflections with each other in Moodle Discussion Forum Two.  Please consider (but do not restrict yourself) to the following questions:

a) After reading Hadot’s article, what are your reactions to the well-developed models of “classical-philosophical”spiritual guidance she describes?

b) Can you anticipate parallels in Christianity to the models of “soul-guide” we encountered in Plato, The Book of Enoch and Cicero?

c) What do you think of the emphasis Galen lays on the need for an objective advisor to help one see one’s self more clearly?  Would you describe that person’s role as “friendship” or as something else?

d) What are you reactions to Plotinus as a spiritual guide?  What in his teaching is attractive and what is problematic from the Christian perspective?

Week 3


WEEK 3: January 29, 2012





HAVING looked (all too briefly!) at several of the well-developed models and methods of spiritual guidance that existed in classical antiquity, we now turn our attention to the unique “content” Christianity was able to infuse into these “forms”.  We will consider four groups of interrelated biblical terms that will help us appreciate what Christianity contributed to, and how it necessitated the transformation of, certain aspects of these models.

FIRST, two lectures using the same web-page containing terms that describe relationships based on learning:
 TEACHER / διδάσκαλος; DISCIPLE / μαθητής ; INSTRUCTOR / παιδευτή .

(11) (Teacher and Teaching)  AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

(12) (Disciple and Instruction) AUDIO_LECTURE _:_ TEXT_FILE

SECOND, words that emphasize the offering of assistance, consolation, and interpretation:
 CONSOLER / παράκλητος; ADVISOR / σύμβουλος ; HELPER / βοηθός.


THIRD, terms that describe companionship and the recovery or discovery of a path:
SHEPHERD / ποιμήν ; GUIDE / ὁδηγός ; ANGEL / ἄγγελος


FOURTH, words that have to do with transformation and healing:
HEALER / ἰατρός; TRANSFORMATION. / μεταμορφωσις; RENEWAL / ἀνακαίνωαις; RESTORATION / ἀποκατάστασις


When you have finished lectures § 11 - 15 of Part Three, please share your reflections with each other in Moodle Discussion Forum Three.  Please consider (but do not restrict yourself) to the following questions:

a) We have considered a significant number of titles and attributes associated with Christ in His ministry and subsequently used to describe ministry in the Church.  It would be too cumbersome to attempt to reflect in detail on all of them, but I would like to know which ones struck you as most interesting, valuable, and/or surprising.

b) Were you able to reflect on ways in which the biblical and early Christian use of these terms could be of benefit to us in our own day?

Week 4


WEEK 4: February 5, 2012



Ministers of Reconciliation and Intercession


IN this fourth section of our course we will examine the lives and writings of early martyrs and visionaries who guided their fellow-Christians along a path of moral virtue through the example of their martyrdom and, in some cases, their powers of intercession and spiritual vision.

FIRST, we will set a backdrop - literally an icon - against which we will study the work of the martyrs. It is the tradition of Christ's descent into hell, a journey downward to all that has been separated from God, then upward to restore all that was lost. This is a foreshadowing of the Apokatastasis.


NEXT, St. Polycarp of Smyrna illustrates how the early martyrs were regarded as models of Christian fidelity, as intercessors, and as “passion-bearers”.


THE mysterious Shepherd of Hermas employs the medium of visions to reflect on Christian virtue, sanctification (supererogation), and post-baptismal repentance and reconciliation.


THEN the Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicity combines the example of martyrdom with the gift of spiritual vision and the power of intercession, a power that does note cease with - but is, rather, perfected in - death.


FINALLY, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, tries to explicate and coordinate the martyrs' gift of spiritual guidance and intercession, and offers his own encouragement to individual prayer and lectio divina.


When you have finished § 16 - 20  please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Four Please note that the following questions are deliberately provocative, and are intended to encourage discussion.  Feel free to disagree or to suggest other [perhaps more] profitable points for discussion.

a) It could be argued that the ministries of intercession and reconciliation we studied this week are “primitive” and thus limited in what they can teach us.  Did you sense a trajectory that leads from these sources into more familiar, modern approaches to spiritual guidance and direction?

b) It has been suggested that in late antiquity (and thus in the early church) the consciousness of social “interconnectedness” reached the point modern therapists would call “enmeshment”: that is, an awareness of community so strong that an independent “self” is almost inconceivable.  Do the themes we touched on in our readings support this?

b) What did you find unsettling, and what was wholesome in the early Christian use of “visions” in the texts we studied?



WEEK 5: February 12, 2012





WE now turn our attention to models of spiritual guidance afforded by the teaching and example of five early church leaders.  There is a certain amount of overlap between the approach we studied in our last section and the texts we will consider here; but it may help us to contrast them if we carry a question with us as we study these sources.  If you were a Christian living in the second or third century and you asked, “Where should I look for spiritual guidance?”, how would the answer given by the sources we studied last week differ from those we will consider here?

LAST week’s sources could have responded: “Look to the martyrs who are your brothers and sisters in faith. Their prayers will aid you, their words will encourage you, and their heroic example of patience in suffering will strengthen your faith.”  The answer of this week’s sources will build on that approach, but they will shift the focus subtly: “Look to the prayers and moral example provided by your parish community. The sacraments will heal and transform you, and the bishop’s wisdom will guide you.”

IN conjunction with lecture § 25 please also read pp. 21-50 (“Athanasius of Alexandria and Ambivalence Regarding Spiritual Direction”) in our textbook by Demacopoulos.

FIRST, we remind ourselves of biblical and apocryphal traditions concerning the Apostle Peter.  They offer us an example of church guidance and leadership formed in the painful crucible of divine love that was offered, accepted, misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, and repeatedly restored. Peter, model disciple and church leader, is a vivid reminder that violated covenants can be restored, and that betrayers can become humble leaders.


NEXT, Clement of Rome uses the example of the martyrs to quell dissension and rebellion in the early church, and he invokes the martyrs and apostles as the basis for a doctrine of apostolic succession. Thus both leadership and spiritual guidance are charismata [spiritual gifts] bestowed by God through the successors of the apostles.


THEN, Ignatius of Antioch also invokes the popular imagery of martyrdom: he has been condemned to public execution in Rome for his faith.  But Ignatius emphasizes his status as “matryr-elect” to emphasize the transforming power of the Eucharist, the community created by sacramental worship, and the Bishop’s role in the community.


THEN, Irenæus of Lyons introduces and develops themes that will be crucial in the developing understanding of Christian spiritual guidance: theosis (divinization); recapitulation and healing of all the stages of human growth and development; and contemplation (the “vision” of God) as the key to our spiritual journey.


FINALLY, St, Athanasius places the doctrine of theosis at the center of his theology of salvation.  He presents Antony as a model of spiritual development: Antony is an example of one guided by the Scriptures, by spiritual elders, and by the example of the local Christian community; and his theosis enables him to teach others.


When you have finished § 21 - 25, please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Five.

a) Having studied primary sources, what are your reactions at this point to Demacopoulos’ distinction between clerical models of spiritual guidance and those that arise from lay or monastic contexts? [I realize we haven’t looked at many monastic sources yet; but don’t let that inhibit your responses!]  Do you sense areas of overlap? Is there a need for integration or interaction between different models?

b) What are your reactions to Irenaeus’ and Athanasius’ emphasis on contemplation and theosis? Is “divinization” a helpful theological concept for the twenty-first century, or is it more likely to confuse than to inform? [You may wish to glance at The Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 460, 1988, & 1999]



WEEK 6: February 18, 2012





WE now turn to models of spiritual guidance that emphasize Sacred Scripture as a principal spiritual guide.  The work of exegesis, of interpreting the biblical text, becomes a practice that may be applied not only to the Bible, but also to the human heart and to the whole of human history, including especially that journey of faith which is each person's own “salvation history”.

FIRST, Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish contemporary of Jesus living in Egypt, interweaves classical  philosophical models of spiritual guidance with traditional Jewish reverence for the Torah. He describes different lifestyles devoted to discovering the hidden truths within sacred scripture, truths that transform moral life and afford a contemplative vision of God. 


THEN, Cyprian of Carthage describes and enthusiastically recommends what will eventually be called lectio divina. We will look briefly at the encouragement of this practice offered at the Second Vatican Council, and consider means by which this practice can become a way of viewing the whole of creation.


FOR Origen, study of the multiple levels of meaning in the scriptures is preparation for an eternal journey where we will discover in “the world to come” ever deeper and more wonderful purposes (logoi) of God.  The threefold levels of biblical meaning are also a key to understanding spiritual progress and the phases or stages of spiritual growth.


IN his Fourteenth Conference John Cassian synthesizes approaches drawn from Philo, Origen, and Evagrius (whom we shall study later in this course), to create a four-fold method of biblical interpretation that has also been viewed as a model of the whole of spiritual life.


FINALLY, the Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the classical medieval description of lectio divina leading into allegorical exegesis.  We will note that Guigo's praise of contemplatio is also an emphasis on the discovery of meaning, purpose and coherence within the “spousal embrace” of contemplation.  This “highest rung” and most eagerly-sought experience is depicted as: (1) the Transfiguration where the real significance of Jesus is beheld; and (2) Jacob wrestling with the Angel, where the new name (purpose/meaning) is bestowed.


When you have finished § 26 - 30 , please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Six. 

a) With a few notable exceptions, modern biblical scholars tend to be suspicious of lectio divina and the spiritual/allegorical exegesis to which it leads.   Fears of subjectivity and eisegesis (reading one's own meaning back into the text) have often been cited as concerns.  Any reactions?

b) The model of a spiritual director as one capable of “exegesis” of the human heart is one that will become progressively more significant as this course progresses.  Do you find the connection we have begun to explore between this model and the practice of lectio divina to be legitimate or contrived?



WEEK 7: February 25, 2012



EARLY Abbas and Ammas


THE traditions of spiritual vision and intercession we have already associated with the martyrs came to be regarded as the proper roles of monastic abbas and ammas following the peace of the Church under the Emperor Constantine.  Also associated with the developing monastic movement was the tradition of the scriptures as spiritual guide: many of the fathers and mothers of the desert were skilled exegetes who offered advice based on their literal and allegorical exegesis of the sacred text.

WE begin with an introduction to the origins of Christian monasticism, particularly the Egyptian communities of Nitria, Kellia, and Scetis, south of the city of Alexandria 


NEXT, the first part of The Life of St. Pelagia the Harlot offers a vivid image of how biblical lectio divina can lead to lectio on life, and thence to an experience of deep conversion.  The bishop Nonnus combines both acetical and ecclesial/episcopal models of spiritual guidance, and demonstrates how these can be effective.


THE remainder of Pelagia’s story is a carefully-edited, reworked Christian narrative intended to tell a story and offer morals at multiple levels.  It portrays how conversion and initiation into the sacramental life of the Church can result in total transformation, and create a wise and respected spiritual guide (please note that this second lecture uses the same text file as the previous lecture).


SELECTIONS from the Greek Alphabetical Collection of apophthegmata (sayings) introduce the effort to condense years of ascetical striving into brief vignettes and texts for pondering.


FINALLY, we turn to the “great discourse” Athanasius attributes to Antony the Great.  These chapters of the Life of Antony offer models and patterns of Christian virtue, definitions of virtue and vice, and rules for the discernment of spirits, visions, and thoughts.


When you have finished § 31 - 35 , please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Seven. 

a) Antony and Pelagia both represent models of holy conversion.  Did you find the description of their respective experiences intriguing (or perhaps illuminating) in terms of your own journey of faith?

b) Our readings employ three related but distinct approaches: (1) sacred biography; (2) homiletic instruction; and (3) brief aphorism (apophthegm).  Did you find any of these methods more helpful than the other(s)? Which can you envision using in your own pastoral/educational apostolate?



WEEK 8: March 3, 2012



Evagrius Ponticus


THE writings of Evagrius Ponticus include several of the most important and fundamental texts on spiritual guidance in early Christianity.  His Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer have served as guides for saints and spiritual directors in both East and West for the past 1600 years. As we shall see, they provide the basis for most of Cassian's Institutes and much of the wisdom transmitted in Cassian's Conferences. A gifted theologian and dedicated ascetic, the majority of Evagrius' literary output consisted of commentaries on the Scriptures; however we shall focus here on those texts that have been most widely-used in the practice of Christian spiritual direction.

WE begin with an introduction to the Life and thought of (Saint) Evagrius Ponticus, consisting of: a brief biography; a description of his concept of “threefold” spiritual progress; and his categorization of virtues and vices according to the Platonic/Aristotelian model of a tripartite soul.


NEXT we consider the first 39 chapters of his Praktikos, Evagrius' magisterial textbook on the inner struggle against temptation and vice.


CHAPTERS 40-100 of the Praktikos invite us to engage in the inner struggle gnostikoteros - from an increasingly contemplative perspective.  The goal is to experience temptation as “data” that reveals the inner state of the soul and invites the ascetic to practice those virtues that deepen charity and increase spiritual vision.


ONE of the texts most appreciated by his contemporaries and biographers is Evagrius' Antirrhetikos, a collection of 497 Bible-verses intended for meditation and use in "spiritual warfare".  We will look at selections from this work, noting particularly the temptations the verses were intended to counteract.


EVARIUS' On Tempting Thoughts covers the whole range of spiritual experience, from impassioned battle with temptation to tranquil contemplation.  We begin with Evagrius' presentation of the art of spiritual discernment .  We will return to this text next week, when we will reflect in more detail on Evagrius' understanding of contemplation.


When you have finished § 36 - 40 , please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Eight. 

a) Evagrius differs from his contemporaries in his insistence on the importance of systematizing Christian ascetical/mystical theology by employing  consistent terminology, and basing his conclusions on three principal sources: a received (biblical and ecclesial) Tradition; his own experience; and the experience and insights of his fellow desert abbas and ammas.  What do you think of his methodology?  Is it - and are his insights - valid today?

b) Evagrius constantly reiterates the importance of Sacred Scripture in the process of spiritual progress and the practice of spiritual guidance.  How does his approach compare and contrast with the use that is made of the Bible is spiritual guidance today?



WEEK 9: March 10, 2012



Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian


WE turn now to the interrelationship between: (1) silence and speech in prayer; (2) contemplative vision and the inward struggle against thoughts; and (3) the experience of holy solitude (anachoresis) and the spiritual guidance available only in Christian koinonia.

IN conjunction with lecture § 45 please also read pp. 107-126 (“John Cassian and The Spiritual Direction of the Ascetic Community”) in our textbook by Demacopoulos.

THE second volume of Evagrius' principal spiritual trilogy is the Gnostikos, a work intended for teachers and spiritual directors. In it he emphasizes the interrelationship between biblical exegesis and the art of “reading” (or contemplating) to soul of one who seeks guidance. [In the course of this text we will briefly come across the doctrine of the apokatastasis, or “universal restoration” which was already controversial in Evagrius' day, and was formally condemned as heretical at successive Ecumenical Councils, beginning with the Council of Ephesus in 543].


WE return to Evagrius work On Tempting Thoughts to consider a case study in spiritual guidance that highlights the dangers of prematurely withdrawing into the solitude of the hermitage.  This text also emphasizes the role of the Christian community in providing both balanced guidance and means of healing.


THE interrelationship between contemplative refreshment and the inward struggle for virtue is clarified in texts from several of Evagrius' writings that also emphasize the indispensible place of liturgical prayer and psalmody for spiritual progress.


EVAGRIUS extremely-popular but easily-misunderstood work On Prayer describes prayer that delights in using words, but is willing and eager to lay aside all concepts that distract from the presence of the Loving Father.


SELECTIONS from Cassian's conferences on Discernment (Conference 2) and on Keeping/Breaking Promises (Conference 17) emphasize the necessity to open one's heart to a trusted spiritual advisor and/or community in order for real discernment to occur.  But this does not reduce, as we shall see, discernment to an act of mindless obedience.



When you have finished § 36 - 40 , please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Nine. 

a) As a spiritual director one is often asked to recommend methods or practices of prayer.  Did you find the texts from Evagrius helpful in clarifying the need for a balanced rhythm of silence and (vocal) liturgical prayer?

b) Cassian emphasizes that discernment is not a solitary project.  How does this approach resonate with your own experience and understanding?

  WEEK 10


WEEK 10: April 15, 2012



Models of Spiritual Guidance in Ascetical Communities



THE necessity for various kinds of Christian community in the practice of spiritual direction is highlighted in three foundational sources.  The Rule of St. Basil and the Rule of St. Augustine emphasize different aspects of mutual service as modes of spiritual guidance; while the Questions and Answers of the Palestinian monks Barsanuphius and John provide examples of spiritual counsel that was was sought and offered in one sixth-century monastery.

IN conjunction with lectures § 47-49 please also read pp. 83-106 (“Augustine of Hippo and Resistance to the Ascetic Model of Spiritual Direction”) in our textbook by Demacopoulos.  [Those eager to read more on the spirituality of St. Augustine will find links to recent texts by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in Course Documents]

THE Ascetikon of Basil the Great describes forms of spiritual guidance and progress that are only possible in communities.  It may be helpful to recall that Basil expects a closer relationship between bishop and community than existed in the Egyptian desert; and it is probably significant that he does not refer to the members of his communities as “monks” or “nuns”.


THEN Augustine of Hippo describes in the Confessions his call to conversion and spiritual ascent.  We will not be able to consider the context of these lyrical hymns in detail; but it should be borne in mind that each stage of Augustine's spiritual pilgrimage entailed both a fixed circle of friends and a more fluid group of spiritual mentors, such as the Manichees during his youth and later, St. Ambrose.


NEXT, (utilizing the same webpage as in § 48) Augustine describes experiences of contemplation that were facilitated in large measure by his life in community in Cassiciacum, and more importantly, by an intense spiritual conversation with his mother, Monica, a few days before her death.  We will also consider Augustine as an example of the bishop who is also a spiritual guide, leading and directing others through his preaching.


THEN we shift our gaze to Augustine of Hippo as practical legislator, as the author of a Rule that would serve as the basis for the conventual life of canons and friars, first in the 9th century, then continuously from the middle ages down to the present. He depicts a delicate balance between superior and community in which each assists the other on the road to God.


FINALLY the Questions and Answers of Barsanuphius and John offer insight into the inner frustrations and joys of monastic life in sixth-century Palestine. These sages served as spiritual guides for members of their own community and for pilgrims who travelled to consult them


When you have finished § 46 - 50 please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Ten.

a) Basil and Augustine highlight different aspects of the role played by community in facilitating spiritual progress.  How do you react to the notions of Christian community as an “arena” (Basil,) or  the monastery as a place where “everything is the property of all” (Augustine)?

b) The issues Barsanuphius and John were asked to address are perennial.  Do some of their cases resonate with situations you have experienced or heard of? 

  WEEK 11


WEEK 11: April 22, 2012





WE now turn to three examples of texts intended to facilitate what Fr. Adrian Van Kaam has called “spiritual self-direction”.  Spiritual authors ancient and modern have often warned that the faithful cannot always rely on being able to find a competent spiritual guide: and even when one is available, distance or other complicating factors may make regular visits impossible.  What we might call “textbooks” specifically intended to provide spiritual formation and to aid those entrusted with this responsibility thus emerged over time in both the Christian East and West.

[N.B.: To some extent these may be seen as the forerunners of modern compendia such as Tanquerey and Aumann, which may be downloaded from External Links].

IN the West one of the most important of these is the Rule of St. Benedict, which provides both an enduring model for community and a guide to applying the writings of Cassian, Basil, and the Apophthegmata, which St. Benedict particularly recommends.  In the East the Ladder of St. John Climacus has for centuries formed the consciences and spirituality of Orthodox monks and nuns, who are required to read this text annually during Lent. Finally, we will briefly consider a similar manual by a Carolingian noblewoman, the Duchess Dhouda of Septimania, who wrote a spiritual Handbook for her son William. ’

WE will consider the first seven chapters of Benedict's Rule, which contain directives both for those being formed and for those responsible for their formation.  The chapters on the abbot, in particular, offer guidelines intended for the whole community, especially in interactions with one another requiring the exercise of spiritual (and temporal) authority.


THE final chapters of Benedict's Rule offer further guidelines for responsible leadership and spiritual guidance, particularly in directives concerning the abbot, novice-master, and mutual interactions among the brethren.


THE Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus, 7th-century Abbot of St. Katherine's on Mount Sinai,  is a foundational text for spiritual directors and formators in the Christian East.  His tone is noticeably harsher than that of Benedict or Cassian, and it is clear that Climacus prized forms of asceticism that would be considered excessive today.  The selections we will study exclude most of the more extreme recommendations: those who wish to research this aspect of Climacus’ approach should read the whole text of the Ladder, which may be downloaded from Course Documents.  The genre of this text is difficult to fix: it is probably best to regard it as a highly-annotated and -edited anthology, in which unacknowledged citations and adaptations from earlier authors (including Evagrius and the Apophthegmata) are interspersed with the editor’s own reflections.


CHAPTERS 26-30 of the Ladder of St. John Climacus include his reflections on discernment, hesychia (inward stillness or tranquility), prayer, and a summary-conclusion.


WE conclude with the only surviving example from the first Christian Millennium of a spiritual “manual” written by a woman.  It should be particularly noted that this precious text is written by a laywoman for a layman.  The Duchess Dhuoda of the Carolingian Duchy of Septimania (in what is today France) kept order in her husband’s domains during many years when the duke was away fighting in the wars of rebellion that followed the death of Charlemagne.  An extremely pious noblewoman, Dhuoda composed a spiritual handbook for her adolescent son William, drawing from a wide range of spiritual authors.  She thus bears witness to models of formation and methods of direction that were current in her day.


When you have finished § 51 - 55, please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Eleven

a) Benedict and John Climacus both write as abbots to their monastic communities, yet their insights have been influential in both monastic and lay contexts over the centuries.  What do you find useful and what what is less helpful in their approaches?

b) What are your impressions of the Duchess Dhuoda as spiritual ammaHer work is not well-known outside academic contexts.  Do you think it could be of value for a wider audience?



WEEK 12: April 29, 2012



Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Gregory the Great


WE return to the subject of bishops as spiritual directors, this time noting the personal, ecclesial, and political approaches of: (1) three eastern church leaders; Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, and John Chrysostom; and (2) of two western bishops, Ambrose and Gregory the Great.

IN conjunction with lectures § 56-60 please also read Chapter Two, pp. 51-82 (“Gregory Nazianzen’s Sturggle for Synthesis”) in our textbook by Demacopoulos.

IN Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, we not in his Letters 2, 72, and 173 a progression from layman, to priest to bishop; but also a movement from an early emphasis on solitude to his later praise of Christian community as the context for spiritual growth and guidance.


THEN Gregory Nazianzen discusses what he calls "the art of arts and science of sciences" (that is, spiritual guidance) in Oration 2, (in Defense of His Flight).


JOHN Chrysostom emphasizes the importance of respecting free will on his treatise on Priesthood.


ANOTHER renowned classic on the art of spiritual guidance in Ambrose's De Officiis.  His own application of these principles may be observed in his famous Letter to the Emperor Theodosius following the massacre at Thessalonica in 390.


FINALLY, we will glance briefly at Gregory the Great: his Regula Pastoralis was a textbook for spiritual guidance in the Middle Ages; and his Letter to Gregoria reveals his own approach to spiritual direction.


When you have finished § 56 - 60 please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Twelve

a) How consistently do the authors we have studied in this section appear to put into practice the principles they advocate?

b) The issue of the interrelationship between religion and politics is becoming increasingly volatile.  What insights in this realm can be gleaned from our sources?



WEEK 13: May 6, 2012



Classical, Patristic, and Medieval Models of Friendship and Spiritual Guidance


FAMILIARITY with classical and early Christian treatises on friendship is essential to any study of Christian spiritual guidance.  Directors need to be clear in regard to different nuances of friendship in the life of the Christian.  The support of friends is an incomparable blessing; but directors must always keep firmly fixed in their minds the absolute necessity for clear boundaries in professional relationships.  Many who seek spiritual aid come to regard their guide or director as a friend; but this is a metaphor, not an accurate description.  This was well-understood in Christian antiquity.  The Celtic term anamchara or soul-friend most frequently meant “father confessor”, and never implied a reciprocal relationship.  The spiritual guide is one to whom others may open their hearts; but the guide has no right to reciprocate, that is, to open his/her heart to the one who seeks aid.  Such an act would now be considered - and has always been regarded - as a violation of trust and authority. Spiritual direction has much in common with, but is NOT the same as “friendship” as it was understood and defined in classical and Christian antiquity.

WITH this caveat in mind, we turn to three classical sources on friendship, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero; and four Christian authors, Ambrose, Cassian, Gregory the Great, and Aelred of Rievaulx.  This subject is worthy of a whole course in itself; and to do it justice other patristic and medieval authors, especially Augustine and Aquinas, would have to be added to our list.  For those who wish to read more, the texts by Carmichael, McGuire, and White listed on the Course Syllabus, are a good place to start, as are the optional links that follow the questions for this section.

IN conjunction with lectures § 56-60 please also read Chapter 5, pp. 127-164 (“Pope Gregory and the Asceticizing of Spiritual Direction”) in our textbook by Demacopoulos.

THE fundamental discussion of friendship, on which all other classical treatises depend, is found in Books 8-9 of Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics. We will look only at Book 8, and also briefly at a short text on friendship from Plato’s dialogue Lysis.


THE western (Latin-speaking) world generally received Aristotles insights through their restatement and adaptation by Cicero in his treatise On Friendship, (Laelius de Amicitia). This book was widely-read in the Christian West and constantly used (as we shall see) as a source-text on friendship by patristic and medieval authors.


AMBROSE of Milan offers a very condensed summary and Christian adaptation of Cicero in his De Officiis; while John Cassian in his Sixteenth Conference particular emphasizes the dangers to friendship posed by unrestrained or inappropriately-expressed anger.


THE medieval world particularly treasured Gregory the Greats definition of a friend as custos animæ, the guardian of ones soul. He offers a vivid depiction of this role in the latter part of the Life of Benedict, recounted in Book 4 of his Dialogues.


THE most enduring medieval treatises on friendship are Aelred of Rievaulx The Mirror of Charity and On Spiritual Friendship, from which we shall study brief selections.


When you have finished § 61-65, please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Thirteen

a) Although we were not able to consider Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of friendship in the Summa, it provides an interesting vantage point from which to reflect on our sources.  In II,IIae, Q. 23 Aquinas defines Christian love (caritas) as friendship (amicitia) between God and humankind. In this notion implicit in (or opposed to) the traditional definitions and descriptions we have studied?

b) How essential is friendship to Christian life?  What about Christians who have seldom (if ever) known it, or who live in communities where friendship does not seem to be available?

For those who would like to read more on Christian friendship:

[1] Thomas Aquinas contribution is discussed in a speech by Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna .

[2] The Celtic tradition of anamchara /soul-friend is described in an article by Diarmuid O’Laoghaire, SJ



WEEK 14: May 13, 2012



Liturgy and Prayer as Bases of Spiritual Direction


IT would be a mistake to exclusively identify Christian spiritual guidance with the one-to-one encounter between seeker and abba (or amma) that has been our principal focus throughout this course.  Early Christian leaders believed that spiritual guidance should be sought and found in liturgical prayer. The readings and rituals that accompanied the Eucharistic celebration and the Sacraments of Initiation (baptism and chrismation/anointing) were regarded as opportunities for discernment, deeper understanding of the self in relation to God, and for contemplation.

WE will conclude our study with one more glance in the direction of Eastern Christianity. In the Orthodox Churches an indispensable aid in spiritual direction (and liturgical prayer) is the practice of hesychasm, which emphasizes the regular repetition of the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me[, a sinner]. It is worth noting that in the Roman Catholic tradition this prayer is recommended as one permissible form of the Prayer of the Penitent (Act of Contrition) in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  We will spend two lectures on notable figures in the development of this tradition, all of whom are revered as important models of spiritual direction in the Christian East.

[For those who wish to do further (optional) research on liturgical prayer and/or hesychasm, additional links to relevant texts and lectures will by found below]

THE Catecheses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem offer a brilliant example of the liturgical celebrations of Baptism and Eucharist interpreted and explained as occasions of ongoing spiritual guidance, even spiritual direction, offered to both neophytes and those already received into the Church.  The readings and ritual actions of the liturgy invited the participants to reappropriate and deepen their experience of prayer, their discernment of God's will, and their daily re-offering of themselves to God.


IN the writings of Dionysius the (pseudo-) Areopagite the ritual of the Church becomes a source of rich contemplative experience and an opportunity for spiritual growth.  Liturgical prayer becomes a kind of contemplative planetarium through which the whole universe is perceived as a series of cascading waterfalls of grace and transformation.  The people of God learn that they are mediators of grace to one another.  The whole of salvation history, including especially one's own spiritual journey, is understood as an interrelated movement between [1] kenotic outpouring (procession), [2] indwelling or abiding, and [3] reunion (theosis); later described as a threefold rhythm of [1] purification, [2] illumination, and [3] [re-]union.


FOR Maximus Confesor the liturgy is the chief place where we experience and apply to our own experience the threefold movement of [1] asceticism (purification); [2] beholding God in creation (theoria physiké); and [3] God contemplated beyond all word and image.  This interior threefold rhythm can be applied to every liturgical action: thus the daily or weekly experience of liturgical prayer becomes a laboratory in which we are taught about our own deepening union with God by means of symbolic rituals  The Church building is. for example, a symbol of the soul; and the unfolding of the liturgy is a mirror of our own spiritual journey.


SYMEON the New Theologian is a foundational figure in the Eastern Christian tradition of spiritual guidance.  His hymns and treatises emphasize an experience of indwelling (later called uncreated) light during prayer that he also associated with the ability to serve as abba or amma and the power to remit sins.  Although he predates the fully-developed practice of the Jesus Prayer, he is also regarded as one of the founders of hesychastic spirituality.  We will look at excerpts from his works in an article by Bishop Kallistos Ware.


OUR final glimpse of Eastern Christian models of spiritual guidance takes us to another article by Bishop Kallistos, this time on the 14th-century origins of hesychasm. 


When you have finished § 66-70, please share your reflections in Discussion Forum Fourteen

a) The sources we studied this week all believed that the microcosm of our inner spiritual journey is mirrored in the macrocosm of liturgical prayer.  Is this understanding widely-known in our churches?  Can (or should) it be revived and encouraged?

b) The hesychastic tradition of the “Jesus Prayer” is only one form of monologistic (short-phrase) prayer that has become popular in the Christian West.  What role(s) (if any) can such practices play in the practice of spiritual guidance?

The following lectures and texts are entirely optional, and are included solely for the enjoyment of any who wish to study in more detail subjects we have raised in our final week.  These lectures and texts are taken from a webcourse on Christian Spiritual Practices

1) Ambrose on Liturgical Prayer: (selections)  AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE

2) The [5th-9thCentury] Origins of the Jesus Prayer, Diadochus of Photike, Gaza, Sinai:   AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE

3) The [Modern] Hesychast Renaissance  AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE

4) Spidlik, sel. from Prayer: The Spirituality of the Christian East: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE

5) Popular (Western) forms of monologistic prayer (Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation, etc.)  AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE

6) The Development of the Rosary: AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE

7) Books of Hours: (introd.):   AUDIO_LECTURE _:_  TEXT_FILE



WEEK 15: May 5, 2008


THERE are no further texts or lectures for this course.  I very much hope you enjoyed your time interacting with each other and reflecting on the materials we studied.  I have opened a final discussion forum (Forum 15) which is entirely optional, and is intended for any thoughts, suggestions, or recommendations you may have regarding this course.  I look forward to reading your papers.


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