Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 1

“What’s a “nous”?” 

In the last 500 years, since about the time of the Protestant Reformation (16th century) and Enlightenment (17th century), Western culture has been obsessed with the rational, reasoning, logical mind.  It has become so dominant in our thinking, that it is now the sole measure of human intelligence.  Our fixation with the rational mind is not without foundation.  The power of the rational mind has been the engine that gave us the scientific method of inquiry; it brought us the Industrial and Scientific revolutions; the Information Age.  It has largely shaped the modern world.  So, in modern society, when we speak of “mind” or “intelligence” we mean one thing and one thing only: the rational, reasoning human mind.

For Christians trying to understand the New Testament (originally written in Greek) and other early Christian spiritual writings (also predominantly in Greek), the exclusive association of “mind” and “intelligence” with man’s rational, reasoning faculties is problematic.  In Christian spiritual tradition, the rational, reasoning faculty of man is not the only definition of “mind” and “intelligence”.  In fact, it is not even considered the highest or most developed definition of “mind” and “intelligence”.  That distinction belongs to the “nous”.

What?  What’s a “nous”?  I’ll bet most Westerners, even mature Christians, have never heard the word “nous”.  The word “nous” (pronounced “nooce”) is Greek (νοϋς) and can be found throughout the Greek New Testament (it appears explicitly 22 times in the NT) and in scores of other early Christian (Patristic) writings.

The term “nous” can be thought of as a perceptive or receptive ability to hear God’s voice and to, perhaps, experience Him in His energies. It has often been translated simply as “mind”, as in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind [nous], that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (12:2)

More next post.

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  1. #1 by Mark Downham on August 21, 2016 - 8:04 AM

    I agree that the Nous is the Communicative-Noetic Faculty of the Human Spirit (which in our pneumatological categories has two other primary faculties – the Intuitive/Wisdom or Intuition and the Virtuitive/Conscience or Virtue) and I am speaking from a Charismatic Evangelical – Pentecostal perspective but we would also say that this is not just Spiritual -Cognitive engagement with the Energies of God in the form of a Real Energetic Disruptive Pneumatological Encounter but also with the Real Super-Essential Person of the Holy Spirit as that “Another who dwells within us” – so we would disagree with the Apophatic-Patristic separation of Energies and Essence – on the strength of 2 Peter 1:4 alone.

    Where we do agree is that the Nous as the Communicative-Noetic Faculty of the Human Spirit is ‘part’ of our perceptual or “perceptive or receptive ability to hear God’s voice”.

    • #2 by Dallas Wolf on August 21, 2016 - 6:45 PM

      Excellent. What I would say is that with the “fall” the nous became dissipated and disconnected from its prelapsarian focus on, and communion with God. The East sees the Church as a hospital for humans’ diseased, dissipated and disconnected mind (nous). Once the nous is rescued from its dissipation in the sensory world with the discursive dianoia intellection and healed, it is brought back to its proper home, in the heart, where it again finds itself aligned with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (very much a “Person”), once again becoming a “partaker of the divine energies”, or God’s manifestations within creation. Make sense?

  2. #3 by Mark Downham on August 21, 2016 - 8:17 AM

    “the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles … of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason…, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect [nous] does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect [nous] dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart… The intellect [nous] is the organ of contemplation…, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Makarian Homilies).”

    This is very close to what we are saying – but I think in addition to this and in alignment with Patristic “thinking” – we further believe that the abstract rational discursive intellect “the Mind” or “the psyche” – which forms part of the human Soul (‘Mind/Emotions/Will or Volition) has to be brought into subservience to the Heart (the affective -relational properties of the Human Spirit) – as in “keeping the Mind in the Heart” – through the indwelling Person and Presence of the Holy Spirit or we end up with “Soulishness” and human rational abstract discursive thought/theory/ philosopy becoming dominant and unreceptive to Spiritual Realities and Revelation – this is clear from 1 Corinthians 2:14.

    • #4 by Dallas Wolf on August 21, 2016 - 6:29 PM

      Our differences are nits. To us, the Psyche does not carry with it the Western scientific sense, but psyche is a transliteration of the Greek word ψυχή ‘psuché’ meaning the ‘Soul’ itself. Again, the Nous (mind) is the Eye of the Kardia (heart), and the Kardia is the essence of the Psyche (soul). I think our ideas are the same however.

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