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The Proto–Hesychasts : origins of mysticism in the Eastern church
Sabo, Theodore Edward.
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The Proto–Hesychasts suggests that the thinkers between and including Basil the Great and Symeon the New Theologian were important largely for their role in forming the fourteenth–century Hesychastic movement in the Eastern church. This conclusion is reached in part by viewing the period from an Orthodox rather than a broadly Christian perspective. Chapter Two surveys previous research on Proto–Hesychasm, and Chapter Three sets forth certain Hesychastic trends in the Proto–Hesychasts including monasticism, dark and light mysticism, an emphasis on the heart, the?sis, the humanity of Christ, penthos, and unceasing prayer. The author finds himself in agreement with Alexander Schmemann for whom Hesychasm was not a novel departure but the completion of a basic tendency of the Orthodox Church. The Hesychasts did not teach a new doctrine but continued and perfected the tradition that immediately preceded them. The thesis proper commences in Chapter Four with the fourth–century Cappadocians who established monasticism as the predominant milieu of Proto–Hesychasm and placed much emphasis on both the?sis and dark mysticism. This mysticism, codified by Gregory of Nyssa, would come into conflict with the light mysticism of their contemporary Pseudo– Macarius, but both currents would be passed on to the Hesychasts, though the latter would triumph to a degree. Macarius, affected by little besides the Bible and Syrian theology, was a seminal figure within Proto–Hesychasm, and Chapter Five shows him to be responsible not only for the stress on light mysticism but on heart mysticism in Proto–Hesychasm and Hesychasm. Mark the Monk and Diadochus of Photike were the first to recognize the vitality of his thought, and it was through them that Macarius’ spirit spread to subsequent Proto–Hesychasm, most notably that of Symeon the New Theologian. Fourteenth–century Hesychasm emerged from two main fonts, the philosophical and the ascetic. Dionysius the Pseudo–Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor, discussed in Chapter Six, were the philosophical precursors of Hesychasm, even though the former may have not been a Christian and the latter’s eschatology was characterized by a thoroughgoing Neoplatonic immanentism. The philosophers transmitted to the Hesychasts a virtually unacknowledged Platonism, but, despite their intellectualism, they exhibited typical Proto– Hesychast traits like dark and light mysticism, monasticism, the?sis, unceasing prayer, and, in Maximus, a stress on the humanity of Christ which would contribute to the Hesychasts’ distinctive refusal to disown man’s material nature. Representatives of the ascetic school of Proto–Hesychasm, covered in Chapter Seven, included Isaiah of Scetis, Dorotheus of Gaza, John Climacus, and Isaac of Nineveh. These monks, who were often abbots, concerned themselves mainly with issues like the?sis, penthos, and unceasing prayer but from a solely monastic point of view. In Chapter Eight the abbot Symeon the New Theologian is shown to be their redoubtable successor, but he was somewhat more philosophical than they were. Hesychasm has been called a recapitulation of his thought, and this is only slightly hyperbolic. Essentially the last Proto– Hesychast, Symeon took the theological elements that came before him and bequeathed these to the Hesychasts who tended to not acknowledge his influence due to his controversial career.
- Theology