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Mystical theology is the branch of theology that explains mystical practices and states, as induced by contemplative practices such as contemplative prayer.
Theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine, and more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also especially with epistemology, and asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.
Mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them. It may also refer to the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.
Christian contemplation, from contemplatio, refers to several Christian practices which aim at "looking at", "gazing at", "being aware of" God or the Divine. It includes several practices and theological concepts, and until the sixth century the practice of what is now called mysticism was referred to by the term contemplatio, c.q. theoria.
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According to Origen (184/185–253/254AD) and the Alexandrian theology, –400AD) (see Clement of Alexandria, and Evagrius Ponticus). This knowledge and contemplation leads to communion with God akin to Divine Providence.theoria is the knowledge of God in creation and of sensible things, and thus their contemplation intellectually (150
Origen of Alexandria, also known as Origen Adamantius, was an early Christian scholar, ascetic, and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics, and asceticism. He has been described as "the greatest genius the early church ever produced".
The Catechetical School of Alexandria was a school of Christian theologians and priests in Alexandria. The teachers and students of the school were influential in many of the early theological controversies of the Christian church. It was one of the two major centers of the study of biblical exegesis and theology during Late Antiquity, the other being the School of Antioch.
Contemplation is profound thinking about something. In a religious sense, contemplation is usually a type of prayer or meditation.
In the theological tradition of St. Macarius of Egypt (ca. 300–391AD), theoria is the point of interaction between God and the human in the heart of the person, manifesting spiritual gifts to the human heart.
Macarius of Egypt was a Coptic Christian monk and hermit. He is also known as Macarius the Elder, Macarius the Great and The Lamp of the Desert.
The highest form of contemplation originates in the heart (see agape), a higher form of contemplation than that of the intellect. –1022AD), that one cannot be a theologian unless one sees the hypostases of God or the uncreated light. This experience cultivates humility, meekness and the love of the human race that the Triune God has created. This invisible fire in the heart for humanity is manifest in absolute kindness and love for one's neighbor akin to selfless humility, agape or love, growing from mortification, kenosis, or epiclesis. This agape, or holy fire, is the essence of Orthodoxy.The concept that theoria is allotted to each unique individual by their capacity to comprehend God is consistent. This is also the tradition of theoria, as taught by St. Symeon the New Theologian (949
Agape is a Greco-Christian term referring to love, "the highest form of love, charity" and "the love of God for man and of man for God". The word is not to be confused with philia, brotherly love, or philautia, self-love, as it embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance. It goes beyond just the emotions to the extent of seeking the best for others. The noun form first occurs in the Septuagint, but the verb form goes as far back as Homer, translated literally as affection, as in "greet with affection" and "show affection for the dead". Other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to eros.
Symeon the New Theologian was a Byzantine Christian monk and poet who was the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church and given the title of "Theologian". "Theologian" was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study; the title was designed only to recognize someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God. One of his principal teachings was that humans could and should experience theoria.
Memento mori is the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It is related to the ars moriendi and similar Western literature. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and by turning the attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.
In the Cappadocian school of thought (Saint Basil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzus) (350–400AD), theoria is the experience of the highest or absolute truth, realized by complete union with God. It is entering the 'Cloud of Unknowing', which is beyond rational understanding, and can be embraced only in love of God (Agape or Awe). The Cappadocian fathers went beyond the intellectual contemplation of the Alexandrian fathers. This was to begin with the seminal work Philokalia, which, through hesychasm, leads to Phronema and finally theosis, which is validated by theoria. One must move beyond gnosis to faith (meta-gnosis). Through ignorance, one moves beyond knowledge and being, this contemplation being theoria. In this tradition, theoria means understanding that the Uncreated cannot be grasped by the logical or rational mind, but only by the whole person (unity of heart and mind); this perception is that of the nous. God was knowable in his manifestations, but ultimately, one must transcend knowledge or gnosis, since knowledge is based on reflection, and because gnosis is limited and can become a barrier between man and God (as an idolatry). If one wishes to commune with God, one must enter into the Divine filial relation with God the Father through Jesus Christ, one in ousia with the Father, which results in pure faith without any preconceived notions of God. At this point, one can commune with God just as Moses did. Gregory of Nyssa presented as the culmination of the Christian religion the contemplation of the divine Being and its eternal Will.
The School of Antioch was one of the two major centers of the study of biblical exegesis and theology during Late Antiquity; the other was the Catechetical School of Alexandria. This group was known by this name because the advocates of this tradition were based in the city of Antioch, one of the major cities of the ancient Roman Empire.
The Philokalia is "a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters" of the Eastern Orthodox Church mystical hesychast tradition. They were originally written for the guidance and instruction of monks in "the practice of the contemplative life." The collection was compiled in the eighteenth century by Nicodemus the Hagiorite and Macarius of Corinth.
Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based on Jesus's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray", hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th to early 6th century; writing before 532), himself influenced by the Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus, had a strong impact on Christian thought and practice, both east and west. Theoria is the main theme of Dionysius’ work called "The Mystical Theology".In chapter 1, Dionysius says that God dwells in divine darkness i.e. God is unknowable through sense and reason. Therefore, a person must leave behind the activity of sense and reason and enter into spiritual union with God. Through spiritual union with God (theosis), the mystic is granted theoria and through this vision is ultimately given knowledge of God. In the tradition of Dionysus the Areopagite, theoria is the lifting up of the individual out of time, space and created being, while the Triune God reaches down, or descends, to the hesychast. This process is also known as ekstasis ("mystical ecstasy").
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, who wrote a set of works known as the Corpus Areopagiticum or Corpus Dionysiacum.
Proclus Lycaeus, called the Successor, was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major classical philosophers. He set forth one of the most elaborate and fully developed systems of Neoplatonism. He stands near the end of the classical development of philosophy, and was very influential on Western medieval philosophy.
While theoria is possible through prayer, it is attained in a perfect way through the Eucharist. Perfect vision of the deity, perceptible in its uncreated light, is the "mystery of the eighth day".The eighth day is the day of the Eucharist but it also has an eschatological dimension as it is the day outside of the week i.e. beyond time. It is the start of a new eon in human history. Through the Eucharist people experience the eternity of God who transcends time and space.
The Dionysian writings and their mystical teaching were universally accepted throughout the East, amongst both Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. St. Gregory Palamas, for example, in referring to these writings, calls the author, "an unerring beholder of divine things".
In western Christianity Dionysius's "via negativa" was particularly influential in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, on western mystics such as Marguerite Porete, Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, Jan van Ruusbroec, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing (who made an expanded Middle English translation of Dionysius' Mystical Theology), Jean Gerson, Nicholas of Cusa, Denys the Carthusian, Julian of Norwich and Harphius Herp. His influence can also be traced in the Spanish Carmelite thought of the sixteenth century among Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.
Symeon the New Theologian (sometimes spelled "Simeon") (Greek : Συμεὼν ὁ Νέος Θεολόγος; 949–1022 AD) was a Byzantine Christian monk and poet who was the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church and given the title of "Theologian" (along with John the Apostle and Gregory of Nazianzus). "Theologian" was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study; the title was designed only to recognize someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God. One of his principal teachings was that humans could and should experience theoria (literally "contemplation," or direct experience of God).
Symeon repeatedly describes the experience of divine light in his writings, as both an inward and outward mystical experience. These experiences began in his youth, and continued all during his life. They came to him during inward prayer and contemplation, and were associated with a feeling of indescribable joy, as well as the intellectual understanding that the light was a vision of God. In his writings, he spoke directly to God about the experience variously as "the pure Light of your face" and "You deigned to reveal Your face to me like a formless sun." He also described the light as the grace of God, and taught that its experience was associated with a mind that was completely still and had transcended itself. At times he described the light speaking to him with kindness, and explaining who it was.
A central theme throughout Symeon's teachings and writings is that all Christians should aspire to have actual direct experience of God in deep contemplation, or theoria. Regarding his own mystical experiences, he presented them not as unique to himself, but as the norm for all Christians. He taught that the experience came after purification through prayer, repentance, and asceticism. He especially called on his monks to take on the traditional charismatic and prophetic role in the Church.
In his writings, Symeon emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit to transform, and the profound mystical union with God that is the end result of a holy life. Symeon referred to this as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, compared to the more ritualistic Baptism of water. Symeon believed that Christianity had descended into formulae and church ritual, which for many people replaced the earlier emphasis on actual and direct experience of God.The Discourses express Symeon's strong conviction that the life of a Christian must be much more than mere observance of rules, and must include personal experience of the presence of the living Christ. Symeon describes his own conversion and mystical experience of the divine light.
Under St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359AD), the different traditions of theoria were synthesized into an understanding of theoria that, through baptism, one receives the Holy Spirit. Through participation in the sacraments of the Church and the performance of works of faith, one cultivates a relationship with God. If one then, through willful submission to God, is devotional and becomes humble, akin to the Theotokos and the saints, and proceeds in faith past the point of rational contemplation, one can experience God. Palamas stated that this is not a mechanized process because each person is unique, but that the apodictic way that one experiences the uncreated light, or God, is through contemplative prayer called hesychasm. Theoria is cultivated through each of the steps of the growing process of theosis.
Gregory was initially asked by his fellow monks on Mount Athos to defend them from the charges of Barlaam of Calabria. Barlaam believed that philosophers had a greater knowledge of God than did the prophets, and valued education and learning more than contemplative prayer. Palamas taught that the truth is a person, Jesus Christ, a form of objective reality. In order for a Christian to be authentic, he or she must experience the Truth (i.e. Christ) as a real person (see hypostasis). Gregory further asserted that when Peter, James and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, they were seeing the uncreated light of God, and that it is possible for others to be granted to see it, using spiritual disciplines (ascetic practices) and contemplative prayer.
The only true way to experience Christ, according to Palamas, was the Eastern Orthodox faith. Once a person discovers Christ (through the Orthodox church), they begin the process of theosis, which is the gradual submission to the Truth (i.e. God) in order to be deified (theosis). Theoria is seen to be the experience of God hypostatically in person. However, since the essence of God is unknowable, it also cannot be experienced. Palamas expressed theoria as an experience of God as it happens to the whole person (soul or nous), not just the mind or body, in contrast to an experience of God that is drawn from memory, the mind, or in time.Gnosis and all knowledge are created, as they are derived or created from experience, self-awareness and spiritual knowledge. Theoria, here, is the experience of the uncreated in various degrees, i.e. the vision of God or to see God. The experience of God in the eighth day or outside of time therefore transcends the self and experiential knowledge or gnosis. Gnosis is most importantly understood as a knowledge of oneself; theoria is the experience of God, transcending the knowledge of oneself. St. Gregory Palamas died on November 14, 1359; his last words were, "To the heights! To the heights!" He is commemorated on the Second Sunday of Great Lent because Gregory's victory over Barlaam is seen as a continuation of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, i.e., the victory of the Church over heresy.
John Romanides (1927-2001) was an Orthodox Christian priest, author and professor. According to Kalaitzidis, Romanides had a strong influence on contemporary Greek Orthodoxy, to such an extent that some speak about "pre- and post-Romanidian theology."
According to Romanides, Eastern and Western Christianity diverged due to the influences of the Franks, who were culturally very different from the Romans.Romanides belonged to the "theological generation of the 1960s," which pleaded for a "return to the Fathers," and led to "the acute polarization of the East-West divide and the cultivation of an anti-Western, anti-eucumenical sentiment."
His theological works emphasize the empirical (experiential) [ citation needed ] and studied extensively the works of 14th-century Byzantine theologian St. Gregory Palamas.basis of theology called theoria or vision of God, (as opposed to a rational or reasoned understanding of theory) as the essence of Orthodox theology, setting it "apart from all other religions and traditions," especially the Frankish-dominated western Church which distorted this true spiritual path. He identified hesychasm as the core of Christian practice
According to Saint Gregory the Great there are people by whom, "while still living in this corruptible flesh, yet growing in incalculable power by a certain piercingness of contemplation, the Eternal Brightness is able to be seen."
While the direct vision of God (the Beatific Vision) can be reached only in the next life, God does give to some a very special grace, by which he becomes intimately present to the created mind even before death, enabling it to contemplate him with ineffable joy and be mystically united with him even while still alive, true mystical contemplation.Saint Augustine said that, in contemplation, man meets God face-to-face.
Inasmuch as the goal of the Christian life is the vision of God in heaven, Augustine and others maintain that the "contemplative life" is the eschatological goal of all Christians, the fruit and reward of the entire Christian life. "Contemplation" on earth can thus be seen as a foretaste of heaven.
Contemplative prayer is not the reserve of some elite: "rather it is that interior intimacy with God which is intended for all baptized people, to which Jesus wants to lead all his disciples, because it is his own intimacy with the Father".
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes contemplation as "a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. 'I look at him and he looks at me': this is what a certain peasant of Ars used to say to his holy curé about his prayer before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the 'interior knowledge of our Lord', the more to love him and follow him."
Contemplative prayer is "a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, 'to his likeness'" and in it "the Father strengthens our inner being with power through his Spirit 'that Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith' and we may be 'grounded in love' (Ephesians 3:16-17)."
Saint John Cassian the Roman, whose writings influenced the whole of Western monasticism,interpreted the Gospel episode of Martha and Mary as indicating that Jesus declared "the chief good to reside in theoria alone – that is, in divine contemplation", which is initiated by reflecting on a few holy persons and advances to being fed on the beauty and knowledge of God alone.
Saint Augustine has been cited as proving magnificently that man can only find God in the depths of his own soul: "Too late loved I Thee, O Beauty so old, yet ever new! Too late loved I Thee. And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee."The Dismissal Hymn sung in the Byzantine Rite feast of Saint Augustine, 15 June, describes him as "a wise hierarch who has received God":
O blessed Augustine, you have been proved to be a bright vessel of the divine Spirit and revealer of the city of God; you have also righteously served the Saviour as a wise hierarch who has received God. O righteous father, pray to Christ God that he may grant to us great mercy.
He is celebrated not only as a contemplative but also as a theologian and Father of the Church, a title given to him in a document of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 553, which declared that it followed his teaching on the true faith "in every way".Another document of the same ecumenical council speaks of Augustine as "of most religious memory, who shone forth resplendent among the African bishops".
Contemplation may sometimes reach a level that has been described as religious ecstasy, and non-essential phenomena, such as visions and stigmata, may sometimes though very rarely accompany it.
The writings attributed to Saint Dionysius the Areopagite were highly influential in the West, and their theses and arguments were adopted by Peter Lombard, Alexander of Hales, Saint Albert the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Bonaventure.According to these writings, mystical knowledge must be distinguished from the rational knowledge by which we know God, not in his nature, but through the wonderful order of the universe, which is a participation in the divine ideas. Through the more perfect mystical knowledge of God, a knowledge beyond the attainments of reason (even when enlightened by faith), the soul contemplates directly the mysteries of divine light.
Theoria or contemplation of God is of far higher value than reasoning about God or speculative theology,its illumination prized much more than the intellectual capacity of a theologian. "Prayer cannot be reduced to the level of a means to improved understanding". Instead, contemplation is "the normal perfection of theology".
The rational exposition and explanation of Christian doctrine is the humbler task of the theologian, while the experience of contemplatives is often of a more lofty level, beyond the power of human words to express,so that "they have had to resort to metaphors, similes, and symbols to convey the inexpressible."
Theology indeed can only focus on what God is not, for instance considering God a spirit by removing from our conception anything pertaining to the body, while mysticism, instead of trying to comprehend what God is, is able to intuit it.
Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge. The term is used in various Hellenistic religions and philosophies. It is best known from Gnosticism, where it signifies a knowledge or insight into humanity’s real nature as divine, leading to the deliverance of the divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.
In Christian theology, divinization, or theopoesis c.q. theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. Although it literally means to become divine, or to become a god, most Christian denominations do not interpret the doctrine as implying an overcoming of a fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humanity, for example John of the Cross had it: "it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before".
Barlaam of Seminara, c. 1290–1348, or Barlaam of Calabria was a southern Italian scholar and clergyman of the 14th century, as well as a Humanist, a philologist, and a theologian. When Gregory Palamas defended Hesychasm, Barlaam accused him of heresy. Three Orthodox synods ruled against him and in Palamas's favor.
Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity. Mysticism is not so much a doctrine as a method of thought. It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.
John Savvas Romanides was an Orthodox Christian priest, author and professor who had a distinctive influence on post-war Greek Orthodox theology.
The essence–energies distinction is an Eastern Orthodox theological concept that states that there is a distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God. It was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmos against the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.
Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky was an Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
In Eastern Orthodox Christian theology, the Tabor Light is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion.
Palamism or the Palamite theology comprises the teachings of Gregory Palamas (c.1296–1359), whose writings defended the Orthodox notion of Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam. Followers of Palamas are sometimes referred to as Palamites.
Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West. This was due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, as well as the works of the Christian writer Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was influenced by later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus and Damascius.
St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite or St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain is a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was an ascetic monk, mystic, theologian, and philosopher. His life's work was a revival of traditional Christian practices and patristic literature. He wrote ascetic prayer literature and influenced the rediscovery of Hesychasm, a method of contemplative prayer from the Byzantine period. He is most famous for his work with St. Macarius of Corinth on the anthology of monastic spiritual writings known as The Philokalia. He was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1955.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been in a state of official schism from one another since the East–West Schism of 1054. This schism was caused by historical and linguistic developments, and the ensuing theological differences between the Western and Eastern churches.
Theosis, or divinization, is a transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of catharsis and theoria. According to Eastern Christian teaching, theosis is very much the purpose of human life. It is considered achievable only through a synergy between human activity and God's uncreated energies.
The Triads of Gregory Palamas are a set of nine treatises entitled "Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude" written by Gregory Palamas in response to attacks made by Barlaam. The treatises are called "Triads" because they were organized as three sets of three treatises.
The Hesychast controversy was a theological dispute in the Byzantine Empire during the 14th century between supporters and opponents of Gregory Palamas. While not a primary driver of the Byzantine Civil War, it influenced and was influenced by the political forces in play during that war. The dispute concluded with the victory of the Palamists and the inclusion of Palamite doctrine as part of the dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the canonization of Palamas.
20th century Eastern Orthodox theology has been dominated by neo-Palamism, the revival of St. Palamas and hesychasm. John Behr characterizes Orthodox theology as having been "reborn in the twentieth century." Norman Russell describes Orthodox theology as having been dominated by an "arid scholasticism" for several centuries after the fall of Constantinople. Russell describes the postwar re-engagement of modern Greek theologians with the Greek Fathers, which occurred with the help of diaspora theologians and Western patristic scholars. A significant component of this re-engagement with the Greek Fathers has been a rediscovery of Palamas by Greek theologians; Palamas had previously been given less attention than the other Fathers.