SYLLABUS: Spring, 2012.  [MS-Word doc]




THIS course will trace the history of Christian spiritual practices from their precursors in Judaism and ancient Mediterranean spirituality up to the end of the sixteenth-century.  Particular emphasis will be laid on contemporary methods of experiencing and teaching (especially in the parish setting) traditional Christian methods of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. The history, theory, and practice of the following disciplines will be studied: (1) Solitude and Community; (2) lectio divina; (3) psalmody; (4) monologistic prayer (e.g. the Jesus Prayer and the rosary); (5) liturgical prayer; (6) icons and images in prayer; (7) spiritual guidance and spiritual friendship; and (6) spiritual exercises and retreats.

THE rich ethnic and cultural diversity of Christian spirituality will be highlighted through study of primary sources from the Jewish, Roman, Greek, Celtic, Anglo-European, Slavic, Middle-Eastern (Syriac), and Egyptian (Coptic) traditions, as well as by readings from key figures in the early modern period.  In order to profit from the cultural and ethnic diversity of the student body, students are encouraged to bring to classroom discussion the spiritual insights and practices of their own cultural traditions. During each class the contemporary usefulness of specific traditions of Christian prayer, meditation, and contemplation will be studied and discussed in light of assigned readings from primary sources and classroom practice of different spiritual disciplines.



THE student will be able to identify important persons, events, and schools of thought that influenced the development of Christian spiritual practices. (2) The student will be able to describe the interrelationships and distinctions between different spiritual practices, and to teach them in the parish setting. (3) The student will learn to make use of primary and secondary sources available in both printed and electronic formats, and will become familiar with appropriate reference works in Christian spirituality.



THIS course will combine lecture and class discussion. In order to maximize the effectiveness of lectures for those of different linguistic experience and ability, audio-visual teaching materials used in class will be available on CD-rom in the reserve section of the library and on webpages accessible through the course website. Weekly discussion and practice of spiritual disciplines will be based on assigned readings from primary and secondary sources.  Readings should be viewed on (or downloaded from) the course website and read in advance. Active participation in discussions is essential, and will figure into the final evaluation.

AN electronic discussion forum will be available through Moodle if a majority of the class prefer discussion forums to a take-home midterm and final examination.

THE midterm and final examinations will consist of  “take-home” essay questions.  The questions will be made available on the day scheduled for the exam, and are due one week later: the exam must be typed and double-spaced.

IF a majority of the class prefers online discussion forums to a take-home midterm and final examination, Weekly Moodle discussions will take the place of the examinations. Discussion forums will be graded on: (1) evidence that the student has understood the lectures and assigned readings; (2) evidence that the student has reflected on how the course material may be applied personally and pastorally; (3) interactions in the discussion forum with other members of the class.

STUDENTS must clearly distinguish between: (a) their own work; and (b) ideas or text they have taken from other sources, including the Internet, published texts or audio-visual materials.  The requirement to distinguish clearly between one’s own work and the research of others applies equally to online discussions and written, take-home examinations.  Failure to give credit to cited sources constitutes plagiarism and will result in a grade of “F” for the material presented and may result in failure of the course.

THE final course grade will be computed as follows:

Class participation


Midterm (or discussion forum)


Final Examination (or discussion forum)





1. Louth, Andrew The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition from Plato to Pseudo-Dionysius, (Oxford University Press)

2. Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on Popular Piety (Available on Course Website)

3. Louf, Andre, Teach us to Pray (Franciscan Herald Press, 1975).




 THESE will be available on the course website. 



Aumann, Jordan, Spiritual Theology, (Sheed and Ward, 1980).

Bunge, Gabriel, Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition tr. Michael Miller, (Ignatius Press, March 2002) ISBN: 0898708370

Bouyer, Louis, ed., A History of Christian Spirituality, 3 vol. (Seabury, 1977),

Cross, F. L., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (Oxford University Press).

Cummings, Charles, Monastic Practices, (Cistercian, 1986) ISBN: 0879078758

Downey, Michael (ed.), The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, (Liturgical Press, 1993).

Evennett, H. Outram,  The Spirit of the Counter-Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 1968).

Funk, O.S.B., Mary Margaret, Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life, (Continuum, 2003)

McGinn, Bernard, Christian Spirituality: Origins to the Twelfth Century (World Spirituality, No 16) (Crossroad, 1987); ISBN: 0824508475.

McGinn, Bernard, Christian Spirituality : High Middle Ages and Reformation (World Spirituality, No 17) (Crossroad, 1988) ISBN: 0824507657.

McGrath, Alister E., Christian Spirituality (Blackwell, 1999).

Quasten, Johannes, Patrology (3vol.).

Tanquerey, Adolphe, The Spiritual Life, A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology, (Desclee, New York, 1930). Although out-of-print for many years, the first 427 pp. of this text may be downloaded form the Course Documents section of this course.

Ancient Christian Writers (Paulist Press); Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers (Eerdmans: download from Christian Classics Ethereal Library at <>)



LECTURES and Readings are on the course website.  


 The two complimentary poles of apophatic and kataphatic theology will be reviewed.  These will be related to the diverse Christian spiritual practices to be studied in this course, as well as to traditional models of spiritual progress.  Particular note will be taken of fundamental biblical texts used frequently in the Christian contemplative  tradition.


Website Course Documents:

1. Apophatic and Kataphatic Theology

2. Spiritual Ascent and Spiritual Practice


PART 2LECTIO DIVINA: PRAYING the SCRIPTURES: Praying the Scriptures as A Fundamental Tool in Spiritual Formation.

       The history and role of lectio divina in the Christian mystical tradition will be studied An introduction to the practice of lectio divina will be followed by study of selections from primary sources including Philo of Alexandria; St. Cyprian of Carthage; Guigo II the Carthusian; and Verbum Dei/Vatican II.  A contemporary approach to group lectio divina will be discussed and practiced.

Reading:  Louf (Teach Us to Pray), Chapter 4 (The Living Word”)

  Website Course Documents:

1. The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina

2. Philo on the Essenes and Therapeutae

3. Guigo II on Lectio Divina

4. Cyprian and Vatican II on Lectio Divina



The alternating rhythm of chanted psalmody and silent prayer in the liturgy of the hours of the early monastic tradition will be studied.  Two witnesses to the spirituality underlying this practice are John Cassian and Evagrius Ponticus.  Appropriate selections will be studied from Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences and Evagrius Ponticus’ On Prayer, Praktikos, and On Various Tempting Thoughts (“Peri Logismon”).
          Chapters 19 and 20 of Benedict’s Rule will also be studied as witnesses to the later development of this liturgical practice.

Reading: Louf, Chapter 5 (“The Psalm as Response)

  Website Course Documents:

1. Essay: The Early Monastic Tradition of Psalmody

(selections from Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences and Evagrius Ponticus’ On Prayer, and Praktikos)

2. Article: Psalmody and Prayer in Gabriel Bunge’s “Geistgebet” (“Spiritual Prayer”)

3. Monastic Authors on Psalmody (selections from Athanasius, Cassian, Evagrius, the Desert Fathers, and Benedict)

4. Basil on Psalmody (selections from the Rules)

5. Gregory of Nyssa on Psalmody (selections from On the Inscriptions of the Psalms)



Early sources concerned with the “mystical interpretation” of biblical texts will be studied in order to appreciate the traditional “four spiritual levels” of spiritual exegesis:

(1) literal/historical;

(2) moral/ethical (“tropological”);

(3) allegorical (“mystical”);

(4) anagogical/eschatological (“heavenly”).

Texts to be studied will included selections from Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Evagrius, Cassian, and Nicholas of Lyra.


Website Course Documents:

1. Clement of Alexandria (selections)

2. Origen (selections)

3. Evagrius Ponticus, Gnostikos 12-36.

4. John Cassian (Conference 14; available through <> or <> websites in HTML or text formats: e.g. <> )


PART 5THE LITURGY, A PLACE of MEETING WITH GOD: Liturgical Prayer as a Means of Spiritual Formation

The basis of liturgical prayer will be sought in the interaction between spiritual “activity” and “receptivity” already studied in the spiritual practice of psalmody.  The application to liturgical spirituality of the doctrine of theosis or “divinization” will be studied in selections from the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Gertrude the Great.  The tradition of “contemplative exegesis” of liturgical rites in Dionysius and Maximus Confessor will be considered, together with their western exponent, Abbot Suger of Cluny.

Reading: Louf, Chapter 7 ("The Offering of the Word")

Website Course Documents:

1. Athanasius of Alexandria (selections)

2. Irenaeus of Lyons (selections)

3. Ambrose of Milan, (selections)

4. Dionysius the (pseudo-) Areopagite (selections)

5. Maximos Confessor (selections)

6. CDW Directory on Popular Piety

7. Gertrude the Great (of Helfta)


PART 6MONOLOGISTIC PRAYER: Hesychasm, the Rosary, “Centering Prayer” and Related Spiritual Practices

The origins of the Christian tradition of monologistic (“short-phrase”) prayer will be studied, primarily through selections from the writings of the desert fathers, including Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian.  The origins and current practice of hesychasm (“The Jesus Prayer”) in the Eastern Church and the Rosary in the Western Church will be reviewed, together with modern forms of monogistic prayer such as “Centering Prayer”.


  Website Course Documents:

1. Evagrius Ponticus, On Prayer 1-23; 97-102.

2. John Cassian (Conferences 9-10)



The use of Christian imagery and iconography in the centuries that preceded the iconoclastic controversy will be reviewed, tracing the legend of the Icon "not made by human hands" and reviewing a summary of the development of the spirituality of icons. 


  Website Course Documents:

1. The Spirituality of Icons, and Christian Iconography After Iconoclasm, by Kallistos Ware.

2. Eastern and Western Images of the Blessed Trinity



The history of the role of the Christian Spiritual Guide (“Director”; “Soul-friend”; “Abba/Amma”) will be studied.  Special attention will be placed on similarities to and differences from this role and the model of “Spiritual Friendship” in Christian spirituality.


  Website Course Documents:

1. Spiritual Direction, by Thomas Merton.

2. Spiritual Direction in the Christian East, by Kallistos Ware

3. Spiritual Friendship (selections) by Aelred of Rievaulx



The development of the tradition of “Spiritual Exercises” and retreats will be reviewed, with special attention to the patristic and medieval precursors to the more-famous approach of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  A brief introduction to (and inductive experience of) the Nineteenth Annotation to Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises will be provided.


  Website Course Documents:

1. Spiritual Exercises, by St. Gertrude of Helfta (selections).

2. Spiritual Exercises by Abbot Garcia de Cisneros, O.S.B.

2. Spiritual Exercises, by St. Ignatius of Loyola, S.J.


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