CONTEMPLATION
 

and

  
ACTION
 

 

John on Patmos, Med. illum.


1) THE RHYTHM of OUR LIVES

All human experience can be conceived as a kind of alternating rhythm, a life-giving, energizing movement back and forth, between the the two poles of “activity” and “receptivity”:

ACTIVITY
speaking
searching
working

 

RECEPTIVITY
listening
perceiving
being

 



2) THE RHYTHM of OUR SOULS

From the perspective of the spiritual life these two poles have been referred to as  “action” and “contemplation”.  “Action” (praktiké), however, does NOT refer to any external activity, but rather to the inner asceticism (spiritual training) of discovering and rooting out vices, while growing in virtue. “Contemplation” means spiritual “vision”, what Plato called theoria, an inner apprehension by the nous, or deepest level of the human person.  To behold with theoria / contemplatio is to be changed by the experience of vision.

ACTIVITY
ACTIVE LIFE
PRAKTIKÉ
develop virtue
eliminate vice

  RECEPTIVITY
CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE
THEORETIKÉ
behold God

transfiguration/theosis

 



3) A BETTER-NUANCED APPRECIATION
 of our
INNER RHYTHM

In Christian antiquity it was well-understood that their are two principal kinds of “contemplation”:

first, theologia, an apprehension of God beyond all concept or even thought;

and, second, theoria physiké, the contemplation of God in and through creation (nature). In the Christian monastic tradition this was preeminently exercised through the study and spiritual interpretation of the bible. The practices of lectio divina, psalmody, and meditative recitation of bible verses while working were the core of the monastic “contemplative life”.


PRAKTIKÉ


THEORIA PHYSIKÉ


THEOLOGIKÉ

 

 

 ASCETICISM

 

CONTEMPLATION

of GOD IN CREATION

CONTEMPLATION
of
GOD
BEYOND WORD or IMAGE

 

 

 (Purgation)

(Illumination)

(Union)

The three poles of PRAKTIKÉ, THEORIA PHYSIKÉ, and THEOLOGIKÉ came in time to be associated with the triad, Purgation, Illumination, and Union: however in Christian antiquity these were NOT successive stages in spiritual development, but three movements or capacities of the innermost self, all of which are ALWAYS present, although in different combinations at different times.

 

 

IT should be added that what may appear to be a (depressingly) recurring cycle when viewed in only two dimensions, is seen to be an ascending helix when the dimension of time is added.  The inner rhythm of our spiritual life is a “spiral staircase” on which we ascend to God.

 

 

 



 

4) A LESS DYNAMIC MODEL

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the desire to systematize spiritual growth caused the aforementioned triads to be described less as notes in an ever-evolving inner symphony than as stages to be successively attained and (at least in the case of the first two) transcended. The complex “spiral staircase” is unravelled into a simple stepladder.

 

 

 

   

Unitive
Way

   

THEOLOGIKÉ,

 

Illuminative
Way

CONTEMPLATION
of
GOD
BEYOND WORD or IMAGE

 
Purgative
Way

THEORIA PHYSIKÉ,

CONTEMPLATION

of GOD IN CREATION

 
PRAKTIKÉ,

 

 

 ASCETICISM

 

 

 


The original version of this Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 1998....x....  .