Archive for June, 2014
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was absolutely insistent that every believer must receive a second baptism, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not to be confused with ritual Orthodox Chrismation.
“… ‘John Baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’. If one is ignorant of the Baptism wherewith he was baptized as a child and does not even realize that he was baptized, but only accepts it by faith and then wipes it away with thousands upon thousands of sins, and if he denies the second Baptism – I mean, that which is through the Spirit, given from above by the loving-kindness of God to those who seek it by penitence – by what other means can he ever obtain salvation? By no means!” ~ The Discourses. XXXII
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) excoriates the church clergy for not personally being contemplatives and experiencing the presence of God (theoria) themselves before trying to lead and teach the laity. This criticism is just as valid for the institutional church today as it was for the Byzantine church in AD 1000. Few, if any, of the contemporary institutional clergy practice contemplative Christian prayer.
“You priests and monks teach others with vain words and think that you are rulers – but falsely! Ask your elders and high priests, gather yourselves together in the love of God, and first seek to learn and experience these things in fact, and then have the will to see this and by experience become like God. Be anxious not merely to act a play and wear the garment thereof and so to approach apostolic dignities. Otherwise, as you in your imperfection rush to rule over others, before acquiring the knowledge of the mysteries of God, you will hear these words, ‘Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who put darkness for light and light for darkness!'” ~ Discourses, XXXIII
“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.
“…the organ of contemplation…, the ‘eye of the heart’…”
The word “nous” has been translated into English as “mind”, “intellect”, and a variety of other meanings as well. The word “mind” was the choice made by Bishop Kallistos Ware (now Metropolitan Kallistos) and others in their translation of the Philokalia (the collection of Christian mystic writings from the 4th to the 15th centuries). But our modern conception of “mind” does not really capture the meaning of “nous”. Some use the word “intellect” as an equivalent. This also misses the nuanced meaning of “nous”. The problem is that we in the modern world only think of “mind” and “intellect” in terms of our rational, reasoning faculties. We can start to get a sense of the real meaning of “nous” from the definition contained in the Philokalia itself. Here, it translates “nous” as “intellect”, but you can see that it is clearly different from our contemporary idea of “intellect”:
“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).”
A lot of confusion surrounded the term “nous”, clearly. As a result, many secular philosophers have used it to refer to quite different concepts. “Nous” has been used to refer to anything from personal mental qualities or abilities all the way to qualities ascribed to God or the cosmos.
“… the noetic energy that functions in the heart of a person that is spiritually healthy.”
Originally, “nous” was understood by ancient (pre-Christian) Greek philosophers, most notably Plato and Aristotle, as man’s highest intellectual faculty. By intellectual faculty, the ancient Greeks did not mean the ability to reason things out to a logical conclusion, but rather the intuitive and immediate grasp of the reality of things. To them, “nous” was more of a direct contact between mind and truth.
The Church Fathers borrowed the term “nous” from Greek philosophy and gave it a distinctive Christian meaning. They used it to refer to the noetic energy that functions in the heart of a person that is spiritually healthy. The “nous” can be used to explain another borrowed concept from philosophy, the Logos Doctrine of the church. Second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr used the spermatikos logos (“seed” of the Word) to explain the universal indwelling presence of the Logos, the Word, or Son of God the Father within every human being (cf. the prologue to the Gospel of John, vv. 1:1-18). The idea of the “nous” also evolved over time among the Fathers. Early use of the term can be ambiguous as some early Fathers used the word “nous” when they were referring to the reasoning rational mind.
According to Orthodox theologian Fr. Michael Pomazansky (in his book, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology), it was the teaching of the overwhelming majority of the Church Fathers that the phrase ‘Image of God’ (cf. Genesis 1:26) refers to man’s soul, more precisely to the highest faculty of the soul, the “nous”. So, man is the “Image” by virtue of the spiritual nature of his “nous”. One common comparison made among patristic writers illustrates the relationship between body and the healthy “nous”. The analogy is that of the body being similar to a horse and the “nous” to the rider guiding and controlling the animal to move in the direction he would have it go.
“Do not say that it is impossible to receive the Spirit of God.
Do not say that it is possible to be made whole without Him.
Do not say that one can possess Him without knowing it.
Do not say that God does not manifest Himself to man.
Do not say that men cannot perceive the divine light, or that it is impossible in this age!
Never is it found to be impossible, my friends.
On the contrary, it is entirely possible when one desires it.”
~ Hymns of Divine Love, 27
“Woman has the same spiritual dignity as man. Both of them have the same God, the same Teacher, the same Church. They breathe, see, hear, know, hope, and love in the same way. Beings who have the same life, grace and salvation are called … to the same manner of being.” ~ Paedagogus, 1,4
” As a consequence of the “Fall”, the “nous” became dissipated and diseased…”
The “nous” in all of humankind was severely injured, diseased, and damaged in the “Adamic Fall” (The “Fall” in the Garden of Eden). The “Fall” is seen as the misuse of free will; of focusing on oneself rather than on God for guidance, wisdom and worship. Free will gave man the right to choose. And choose he did. In the “Fall”, humans shifted their focus from God to themselves (and any number of other idols). As a consequence of the “Fall”, the “nous” became dissipated and diseased, overwhelmed with increasing concerns for individual survival and the needs and desires of the body in the physical, material world. The “nous” became estranged from God’s grace and humankind’s whole nature became sick. This sickness was handed on to later descendants as the inheritance of ancestral sin.
The Orthodox do not understand the “Fall” in legal terms, as Western Christianity does, but rather in medical terms. When Paul says in Romans 5:19, “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,” it is understood in a medical sense, not a legal one. In other words, as a result of one man’s sin, human nature became sick.
The Incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ is seen as a therapeutic (Greek therapeuo) mission of love from God to humankind in order to heal and restore our fallen sick souls. The key to this is the healing and restoration of the “nous”, the “eye of the heart”. Jesus possessed a complete human nature, not only on the lower side (body) but also on the higher spiritual side, the “nous”. His perfect human nature broke the grip of sin on fallen human nature, opening the possibility of restoring the diseased “nous” of every human being to its spiritual pre-Fall state.
In his book, Orthodox Psychotherapy: the Science of the Fathers, Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos (now Metropolitan Hierotheos) quotes Saint Maximus the Confessor (7th century) as saying “The nous functions in accordance with nature when it keeps the passions under control, contemplates the inner essences of created beings, and abides with God.” The “nous” is changed by every conceptual image that it accepts. When the “nous” is in a fallen state, confusion is created in the whole of the spiritual organism of man. In this “fallen” state, the “nous” needs therapy/purification.
Isaac of Nineveh – 7th century ascetic and mystic, born in modern-day Qatar, was made Bishop of Nineveh between 660-680. Especially influential in the Syriac tradition, Isaac has had a great influence in Russian culture, impacting the works of writers like Dostoyevsky.
“As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse.” ~ Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetic Treatises, 84
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was a 10th century mystic monk. His many direct experiences of God (theoría) convinced him that all Christians must have an actual baptism of the Holy Spirit in addition to the ritualized water baptism and chrismation of the church.
His mystical experiences also taught him that God is always received in the form of divine light. Symeon wrote about that light and its power to transform:
“It shines on us without evening, without change, without alteration, without form. It speaks, works, lives, gives life, and changes into light those whom it illuminates. We bear witness that “God is light,” and those to whom it has been granted to see Him have all beheld Him as light. Those who have seen Him have received Him as light, because the light of His glory goes before Him, and it is impossible for Him to appear without light. Those who have not seen His light have not seen Him, for He is the light, and those who have not received the light have not yet received grace. Those who have received grace have received the light of God and have received God, even as Christ Himself, who is the Light, has said, “I will live in them and move among them.” (2 Cor. 6:16) ~ Discourses, No. XXVIII