SYLLABUS (CRN 10330 SPIR 468 01a)
Reading the Wounded Soul: Spiritual Guidance
in Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian

 Based on: Desert Hermits
Byz. MS. illum., ca, 1081 Princ. U. Libr., image modif .


Please note that is a “dynamic syllabus”:  it will be adapted and updated as the course progresses.





AMONG the Fathers and Mothers of the Egyptian Desert a method of spiritual direction was practiced that can be best described as a kind of lectio divina. The life-story of the directee was seen as a form of salvation history in which the providential designs of God can be discerned through contemplation. The best representatives of this approach are Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian, whose writings will serve as the texts for this course.






1)     Students will develop familiarity with traditional models of spiritual progress from the patristic period, exemplified by Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian.

2)     Students will appreciate the interrelationship between spiritual (allegorical) exegesis of the scriptures and the practice of spiritual guidance as practiced by the Gnostikos (abba, amma, or “elder”) in early Christian monasticism.

3)     Students will appreciate the significance for the Christian East and West of the methods of spiritual guidance and exegesis described in Evagrius’ Gnostikos and Cassian’s fourteenth Conference.

4)     Students will develop familiarity with different methods of practicing and teaching lectio divina.





1)     This course will combine lectures and seminar-style class discussions based on assigned readings. Active participation in discussions is essential, and will figure into the final evaluation.

2)     Students must choose one of three options for final course assessment: (1) a written research project 10-15 pages in length, footnoted, with appropriate bibliography; (2) a power-point or webpage-based presentation of approximately 15-20 minutes duration intended for use in teaching spiritual formation, including clear references to all consulted works and a recorded narration; or (3) active participation in Moodle discussion forums.

3) The final course grade will be computed as follows:

Class participation


Research paper, presentation,
    or Moodle discussion forums






(All required readings may be downloaded from the Course Website)

1)     Evagrius Ponticus: Praktikos; Gnostikos; Antirrhetikos; On Prayer; On Tempting Thoughts

2)     John Cassian: Institutes; Conferences (esp. Conf. 14)

3)     Luke Dysinger, “Exegesis and Spiritual Guidance in Evagrius Ponticus” “Early Monastic Exegesis: The Basis of Spiritual Exercise and Spiritual Direction”; “Psalmody and Prayer in the Writings of Evagrius Ponticus”.

4)  Benedicta Ward, “Spiritual Direction in the Desert Fathers”

5)  Kallistos Ware, “Spiritual Direction in the Christian East”

6)  Thomas Merton, “Spiritual Direction”





Behr, John, ed., Abba, The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, (St Vladimir’s Sem., 2003).

Brown, Peter, The Body and Society, (Columbia University Pr., 1988) ISBN: 0231061013

Carmichael, Liz, Friendship, Interpreting Christian Love, by (T & T Clark England, 2004).

Chryssavgis, John, Soul Mending, The Art of Spiritual Direction, (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000).

Funk, Mary Margaret, [1Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life, (Continuum 2004) ISBN: 0826416551. [2Thoughts Matter, The Practice of the Spiritual Life,  (Continuum 1998) ISBN: 0826411649.  [3Humility Matters: The Practice of the Spiritual Life, (Continuum, 2005) ISBN 0826417280.

Hadot, Pierre, [1Plotinus, or, The Simplicity of Vision, (University of Chicago Press, 1993).  [2Philosophy as a Way of Life, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1995) ISBN 9780631180333.

Hausherr, Irénée, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East, tr. Anthony P. Gythiel, (Cistercian Publ., 1990).

Louth, Andrew,  The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition from Plato to Pseudo-Dionysius, (Clarendon, Oxford Univ. Pr., 1981), ISBN: 0198266685.

McGinn, Bernard, The Foundations of Mysticism, Origins to the Fifth Century (The Presence of God, A History of Western Christian Mysticism, vol. 1) (Crossroad, 1991).

McGuire, Brian Patrick. Friendship and Community: the Monastic Experience 350–1250 (Cistercian Publ., 1988).

Rich, Antony, Discernment in the Desert Fathers (Bletchley, Milton Keynes, 2007).

Sorabji, Richard , Emotion and Peace of Mind From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford, 2002) ISBN: 978-0-19-925660-0

Sommerfeldt, J., ed, Abba, Guides to Wholeness and Holiness, East and West, CS 36 (Cistercian, 1982).

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.

Ware, Kallistos, The Inner Kingdom: The Collected Works, vol. 1 (St Vladimir’s Sem. Pr., 2001), ISBN: 0881412090.

White, Caroline, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century, (Cambridge U. Pr, 1992).






(1) INTRODUCTION: The Life and Works of Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian.

Early monasticism in Egypt – Nitria and Kellia; Cassian in Gaul.


Activity and Receptivity; Apophatic and Kataphatic theology. The tripartite soul;  Exegesis of the scriptures, psalmody, and spiritual growth.


The early Christian tradition of lectio divina .  Spiritual exegesis as the fruit of lectio divina.


Models of spiritual guidance in the early Christian East and West (articles by Ware, Ward, and Merton).


Evagrius’ Gnostikos. “Spiritual Knowledge” in Cassian’s Conference 14.


The Praktiké: recognition and cure of logismoi and vices; practice of “excellences” (“virtues”)


The Physiké: Christ in creation (“nature”).  Psalmody, exegesis, and monologistic prayer.  The logoi of providence and judgment.


Theologiké: the Divine Nature; God beyond image and concept.  Imageless prayer and the vision of God


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