Someone from Eagle River AK who goes by the name of ‘aramis’ submitted a hit-and-run comment on our post from five years ago (!) on the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Rite Catholic Church. We wondered what to do and decided after reading the series of comments on our post on the Byzantine Catholic Forum to make the following reply.
First let us post the original comment by ‘desertman’ on the Forum:
[link by ‘desertman’ to Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Rite Catholic Church]
I'm looking for some Eastern Catholic responses to this article. It is from an Orthodox blog, which questions the possibility of a Catholic truly embracing the serious practice of the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm without creating serious tension with his Catholic identity.
I'd like to think the author is wrong, but he makes some interesting points.
Someone named ‘aramis’ replied as follows. ‘Aramis’ is the person who wished to comment directly on our blog:
Thing is, it's possible to embrace the
Jesus prayer without full-blown hesychasm. Just like one can embrace the Hail Mary without embracing the full cultus of the Dominican Rosary*.
Mind-altering extended prayer (like hesychasts do) can be done with just about any repetitive prayer.
Even the Dominican Rosary can become a mind-altering system of prayer.
The monk writing this is engaging in polemic, as well, intentional or otherwise.
is on the calendar of several Eastern Catholic churches. St. Gregory
*The Dominican Rosary is the proper term for the Rosary as commonly used in the
; it was introduced in its present form by Roman Church for his friars. St. Dominic
Let’s take the first point that ‘aramis’ makes, ‘it's possible to embrace the
Jesus prayer without full-blown hesychasm. … Mind-altering extended prayer (like hesychasts do) can be done with just about any repetitive prayer.”
Correct us if we are wrong, but what we understand ‘aramis’ to be saying here is that:
1. The Jesus Prayer is not intrinsically linked to Hesychasm;
2. The Jesus Prayer can be practised without the practice of Hesychasm; and
3. ‘Mind-altering extended prayer (like hesychasts do) can be done with just about any repetitive prayer’.
Let us look at the historical record.
The first recorded reference to the use of the Jesus Prayer is given in a text dated c.450 AD. This text is the Gnostic Chapters, written by
St of Photiki, who was a contemporary of Diadochos . We have posted a complete translation of the original Greek of this text, with commentary, from the sources chrétiennes critical edition. In this text St. Augustine describes the practice of the Jesus Prayer 24 hours a day, even in sleep, through the St. Diadochos Grace of the Holy Spirit. (For our translation go to the archives for August, 2008, and for our commentary go to the archives starting in March, 2009 and ending in May, 2009.)
In one of his articles, the late
discusses archaeological evidence for the use of the Jesus Prayer in 4th or 5th Century Professor Antoine Guillaumont (i.e. among the Fathers of the Egypt ). Egyptian Desert
This archaeological evidence is borne out by the Conferences of St John Cassian (c. 420), where Cassian describes the practice he learned in
of the repetition of a passage from the Psalms. It is clear that St. John Cassian is describing a practice that is set into the context of late 4th Century Egyptian monasticism in Skete, where he was based during his stay in Egypt . Egypt
The lives of the 4th Century Egyptian
St. Pachomios (see the Cistercian Studies edition) provide oblique evidence for the practice described by St. John Cassian.
The next explicit reference to the Jesus Prayer is to be found in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai (7th Century). While that work is largely aimed at coenobites, it has a few sections on Hesychasm. St John of Sinai was himself a Hesychast for 40 years. St John of Sinai clearly treats the Jesus Prayer as a part of the practice of Hesychasm.
There is the work, sometimes called On Sobriety, of
St of the Burning Bush (8th C.?). This work bases itself on the Ladder, Hesychios and on a number of other early ascetical authors to describe a method of Hesychasm which integrates the use of the Jesus Prayer into the practice of mental ascesis in the tradition deriving from the 4th Egyptian desert. Evagrius Ponticus
So the first point that ‘aramis’ is making is nonsense. All the historical evidence available shows that the Jesus Prayer started out integrated into the practice of mental ascesis formulated in the 4th Century Egyptian desert. That is what Hesychasm is—a tradition of mental ascesis. The practice of the Jesus Prayer in this context was largely for hermits and semi-hermits. It did not start out as a separate devotion later to be integrated into a method of ‘mind-altering extended prayer’ as ‘aramis’ puts it. If ‘aramis’ has documentary evidence for his assertions that is unavailable to us in our ignorance, we will be happy to follow up on his citations. If he doesn’t, perhaps he could justify on a reasoned basis his implicit assertion that the Jesus Prayer is not intrinsically linked to Hesychasm.
Let us turn the second point of ‘aramis’, that the Jesus Prayer can be practiced without the practice of Hesychasm. Well, it is true that you can do anything you want. If you want to repeat the Jesus Prayer orally 40 times a minute for 20 minutes, or whatever, who is going to stop you? However, the original setting of the Jesus Prayer is the Orthodox Hesychastic tradition briefly sketched above. A witness to that tradition is the Philokalia as collected by
St of Makarios in the late 18th Century and published at the same time through the good offices of his friend, Corinth St the Athonite. Nikodemos
We wrote in our original post:
Basically, the Eastern Rite Catholic has these three options open to him: He can pursue Hesychasm and the full form of the Jesus Prayer in an Orthodox way… Or, he can attempt to reinterpret the
Jesus Prayer in a Catholic way—most likely by turning it into a Catholic devotion… Or he can drop the Jesus Prayer and Hesychasm, and turn to an essentially Western Catholic spirituality. Historically, very few people have chosen the first alternative; more have chosen the second; and most have chosen the third.
It seems to us that ‘aramis’ is advancing the second option as a considered response to ‘desertman’. If he isn’t, then perhaps he could give us a reasoned explanation as to what he is doing. What would the practice of the Jesus Prayer without Hesychasm look like, ‘aramis’?
Let us turn to the third point of ‘aramis’, that ‘mind-altering extended prayer (like hesychasts do) can be done with just about any repetitive prayer’. It seems to us that the strategy of ‘aramis’ is here to dismiss Hesychasm as some sort of yoga that isn’t actually Christian—in other words to make it something that is not only non-essential to the practice of the Jesus Prayer but perhaps even suspect. Proof, ‘aramis’?
We would recommend that interested readers refer to the Gnostic Chapters of
of Photiki. There, St. Diadochos explicitly integrates into baptismal theology the practice in a Hesychastic context of the Jesus Prayer. He ties the continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer to the grace of the Holy Spirit. St. Diadochos
It is true that there is nothing ‘sacred’ about the particular formula, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’
St used a completely different formula, as did Ioannikios St. . But these saints were integrated into the Orthodox monastic and ascetical tradition. St Nicholas Velimirovich used to visit Nicholas Velimirovich the Athonite at the Russian monastery on Athos. They were contemporaries. However, ‘aramis’ is saying something quite different. He is saying, virtually, that Hesychasm is an abuse of the use of the Jesus Prayer. St. Silouan
Let us turn to the next point of ‘aramis’: ‘
is on the calendar of several Eastern Catholic churches.’ This was the substance of the comment that ‘aramis’ wished to add to our post. This may be so, ‘aramis’. The question is whether from within a Roman Catholic context St. Gregory St is legitimately on those calendars. We will return to this. Gregory Palamas
We will continue with the comments of ‘StuartK’ from
: Falls Church, VA
…As with many Orthodox polemicists, the author operates under the assumption that Latin Catholicism is normative for all Catholics (something not true since at least Vatican II), and that there is some inherent dichotomy between Latin spirituality and the concept of uncreated energy. Needless to say, his assumptions are wrong and his understanding of Catholic ecclesiology and doctrine hopelessly out of date. It would not surprise me in the least if Orthodox Monk was a recent convert to Orthodoxy from one of the Protestant denominations.
Let us look at these assertions:
the author operates under the assumption that Latin Catholicism is normative for all Catholics (something not true since at least Vatican II)
‘StuartK’, could you argue this with citations from the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, one of the documents of Vatican II? Or even the decree on the Eastern-Rite Catholic Churches of the same Council? While Latin Catholicism is not per se normative for Eastern-rite Catholics, Eastern-rite Catholics are still, within the Roman Catholic context, subject to the magisterium of
and to the immediate ordinary jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. Hence you just can’t grab anything you like from Orthodoxy (except the ‘mind-altering extended prayer’ of Hesychasm, it seems) without reference to what Rome teaches. Rome
the author operates under the assumption … that there is some inherent dichotomy between Latin spirituality and the concept of uncreated energy.
Since the Roman Catholic Church has officially taught that Thomism is a normative interpretation of Roman Catholicism, since Eastern-Rite Catholics are subject to the magisterium of
and since Thomism teaches that all grace (‘energies of God’) is created, could you argue this point in more fullness on the basis of authoritative Roman Catholic documents and theologians? Rome
Needless to say, his assumptions are wrong and his understanding of Catholic ecclesiology and doctrine hopelessly out of date.
Could you argue this on the basis of the documents of Vatican II cited above, or even other authoritative pronouncements of the Pope?
It would not surprise me in the least if Orthodox Monk was a recent convert to Orthodoxy from one of the Protestant denominations.
We’re not going to take the Fifth. You’re wrong on both counts.
We glanced at our post from five years ago in the context of the remarks on the Byzantine Catholic forum. It struck us that our article was much deeper than the remarks were allowing for. Perhaps the posters and others should read the article more carefully and respond to the article in good Catholic argumentative fashion on the basis of reasoned arguments that explicitly cite authoritative pronouncements. Otherwise, we’re just fooling ourselves, kids.
: See also this post on Pentecostalism and the Jesus Prayer and this second post with further comments on the Byzantine Catholic Forum thread. August 10, 2010