#profile-container h2.sidebar-title {display:none;}



This is the third volume of The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart. In this volume, we present our translation of On Sobriety by St Hesychios. The full title of On Sobriety is:

Hesychios Presbyter
Towards Theodoulos

Treatise On Sobriety and Virtue
Useful to the Soul and Which Saves
In Chapters

The Beginning of Illumination of the Soul and a True Teaching.
The So-Called Matters Pertaining to Rebuttal and Prayer.

We have taken the text from the ‘Aster’ edition of the Philokalia in ancient Greek;[1] details can be found on the title page, below, of the translation.

In making our translation of this work by St Hesychios, we have consulted extensively three different translations: the translation of Anthony G. Galites into modern Greek,[2] the English translation executed under the editorship of G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware[3] and the French translation under the name of Jacques Touraille.[4]

However, we have translated the text afresh and have not based ourselves on any of the existing translations. The underlying meaning of St Hesychios’ text is obscure unless one has a good understanding of his sources, especially Evagrius Pontikos, and the style of St Hesychios and the absence of a critical edition of the text make his text quite ambiguous: in translating difficult, obscure passages, we found it rare that all three of the above-mentioned translations agreed on the underlying meaning of the text.

We have also benefited as regards the meaning of the text from reading the unpublished commentaries on On Sobriety by Archimandrite Aimilianos (Bapheides), formerly Abbot of the Monastery of Simonos Petra, Mount Athos.

In addition, we have consulted quite closely a variant text of On Sobriety: the so‑called alphabetic version of the work. This is a work arranged in twenty-four chapters according to an acrostic based on the Greek alphabet, whereby each chapter corresponds to a letter of the Greek alphabet—‘A’, ‘B’, ‘G’ and so on—and the beginning word of each chapter has as its beginning letter, the letter of the chapter. The chapters, of course, are arranged in the order of the Greek alphabet.

Each chapter of the alphabetic version is made up of a number of extracts from the main version of On Sobriety, usually but not always whole chapters, and not in the order that the chapters appear in the main version: the redactor of the alphabetic version has arranged the material according to his judgement of the proper thematic continuity. Fewer than half of the chapters of On Sobriety are included in the alphabetic version of the work; these comprise about one half the actual text of the main version.

In working with the alphabetic version of On Sobriety, we used the critical edition prepared by M. Waegeman, who had very graciously donated to the Monastery of Simonos Petra an autograph copy of his manuscript of the critical edition.[5]

While we have no doubts about the quality of M. Waegeman’s work in preparing the critical edition of the alphabetic version of On Sobriety, we are quite reserved about the value of the alphabetic version as a witness to the original form of On Sobriety. We do not think that the main version of On Sobriety is derived from the alphabetic version, as Fr J. Kirchmeyer, SJ suggests might be the case,[6] but that the alphabetic version was created by another hand at a reasonably late period in the textual history of On Sobriety. Hence, in our view, the best that a reading in a critical edition of the alphabetic version of On Sobriety can give us is the judgement of a later redactor what, in the manuscript that he had before him, St Hesychios was saying—or even what he should have said! Nonetheless, in many cases where the main version does not give good sense, we have introduced the reading of the alphabetic version in place of the reading of the main text. We have noted those cases in the commentary at the actual line of the text involved. It should be understood that while these changes give a more fluent text, they might reflect the reading in the manuscript of the main version that the redactor of the alphabetic version had before him—which manuscript might have been itself relatively far removed from the original form of On Sobriety—or even the redactor’s own judgement what the most probable sense of the passage was or should have been. Rarely, however, are the differences crucial to the development of St Hesychios’ thought.

In translating a text such as On Sobriety, the model, or theological understanding, that the translator brings to the work is crucial: if one thinks that St Hesychios was merely a pious man who advocated extensive use of ejaculatory prayer, he will translate the text in one way; if he thinks that St Hesychios was a Fourteenth Century Palamite Hesychast, he will translate the text in another way: the text is that ambiguous.

We believe that St Hesychios was a member of the School of Sinai. We believe that the method of Hesychasm that he is discussing has much in common with the Hesychasm of that school, especially with the Hesychasm of St John of Sinai as recorded in the later chapters of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. In On Sobriety we find not only quotations from the Ladder but also positions, terms and diction that have much in common with those of the Ladder.

We think that the Hesychasm of the School of Sinai was heavily influenced both by the ascetical teachings of the Egyptian Fathers—although not completely, as the extremely small role granted to manual labour in the School of Sinai indicates—and by the ascetical doctrine of Evagrius Pontikos—and this despite St John of Sinai’s critical remarks in the Ladder concerning Evagrius. It is quite evident to us after a reading of Evagrius Pontikos that the Ladder of Divine Ascent is heavily influenced by Evagrius’ ascetical doctrine.

St Hesychios introduces Evagrian ascetical doctrine into On Sobriety not only indirectly by means of doctrinal reliance on and quotations from the Ladder of Divine Ascent, but also directly, by means of quotations from the Treatise on the Practical Life, On the Thoughts and even On the Eight Spirits of Malice, a work today attributed to Evagrius Pontikos that, however, we do not discuss in Volume II. There are also two passages in On Sobriety which are similar to passages in the Kephalaia Gnostica of Evagrius. In the complex textual history of the ascetical works of Evagrius, On the Thoughts and On the Eight Spirits of Malice have come down to us in many cases under the name of St Neilos the Ascetic, so it is not clear who St Hesychios would have thought the author was of the works he was quoting. However, in the case of the Treatise on the Practical Life, the work has, as far as we ourselves know, always been transmitted under the name of Evagrius Pontikos. If the two passages which bear similarities to the Kephalaia Gnostica are to be considered as having been borrowed from or influenced by the Kephalaia Gnostica, then this would be an indication that St Hesychios had read that work, which has always been ascribed to Evagrius Pontikos, and that St Hesychios is relatively early in date, since all the Greek manuscripts of the Kephalaia Gnostica were, as far as we know, destroyed in the period after the condemnation of Origenism, and Evagrius himself, by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in 553.[7]

St Hesychios also introduces Evagrian doctrine by means of quotations from works by St Maximos the Confessor. As we will discuss in the commentary on the chapters of On Sobriety which contain these quotations, the passages quoted by St Hesychios are quite Evagrian in their ascetical doctrine.

St Hesychios is also clearly influenced by the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos of Photike (c.400–a.486). St Diadochos is usually considered to be in the Evagrian tradition, although it seems to us that he cannot be considered to be a slavish imitator of Evagrius: he has his own ideas. We will find two direct borrowings from the Gnostic Chapters in On Sobriety, and we will discuss the extent to which St Hesychios is doctrinally indebted to St Diadochos.

St Hesychios also is clearly influenced both by St Mark the Ascetic (2nd half of 4th C.–p.431) and by the doctrine contained in the Life of Anthony, which we take, following the editor of the critical edition, Bartelink,[8] to be a work by St Athanasios of Alexandria (c.296–373). However, neither St Mark the Ascetic nor the Life of Anthony is considered to be Evagrian in orientation. Much of St Hesychios’ anthropology seems to be derived from St Diadochos, St Mark the Ascetic and the Life of Anthony. Moreover, the model of temptation and sin that St Hesychios uses is an amalgam of the models of sin and temptation of Evagrius Pontikos, St John of Sinai and St Mark the Ascetic.

We ourselves think that St Hesychios can be dated to the mid-Eighth Century on the basis of the absence of quotations from or references to works later than St John of Sinai or St Maximos the Confessor in On Sobriety, and on the basis of the close doctrinal similarities between the catechisms of St Theodore Studite and On Sobriety in the matter of the immaterial war, allowance having been made for the cœnobitical orientation of St Theodore Studite. We discuss these matters in the commentary.

We have followed the chapter numbering of the edition of On Sobriety in the Philokalia. This differs somewhat from the chapter numbering in the edition of On Sobriety in Migne 93. In any case, the division of On Sobriety into chapters seems to an extent arbitrary since the chapters often follow one another thematically.

In general, On Sobriety is not a mere anthology of Patristic quotations on prayer and ascetical theory pasted together without regard for conceptual unity. However, the conceptual unity of On Sobriety arises from the lived experience of the Jesus Prayer: On Sobriety is not an anthology based on rational, intellectual criteria, but a well-crafted study of prayer arising from the experience of the Jesus Prayer.

We view, perhaps artificially, St Hesychios’ literary method as being that of the spiral staircase: he repeats himself, each time ascending a spiritual level, so that he arrives at mystical prayer to the Holy Trinity having started from an elementary exposition of Evagrian praktike, the practical life which forms the subject of Evagrius’ Treatise on the Practical Life and On the Thoughts, which we presented and discussed in Volume II.[9]

In St Hesychios, we do not perceive a disjunction between the method of spiritual ascesis, what Evagrius called the immaterial war, and prayer: the two are integrated into a single method.

In addition to providing a translation of On Sobriety in this volume of The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart, we have provided an extensive commentary on the work, drawing heavily on the insights into asceticism provided by Evagrius Pontikos in the works that we studied in Volume II, The Evagrian Ascetical System. This commentary on On Sobriety constitutes the final instalment of our study of the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart.

Because of our close reliance in the commentary on the insights of Evagrius Pontikos into ascetical doctrine that we discuss in Volume II, we recommend that the reader read the first two volumes of The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart before commencing this volume. While we have provided many references in the commentary to specific chapters of the works by Evagrius Pontikos that we discuss in The Evagrian Ascetical System, our point of view will be much clearer if the reader begins at Volume I.

Although we have consulted other translations, especially in the case of passages from Scripture or from the Philokalia, all the translations from the Greek or French are by us, even when for the reader’s convenience we give a reference to a published English translation of a work.

In the case of the Old Testament, we have relied exclusively on the Septuagint as prepared by the ‘Brotherhood of Theologians, Zoe’,[10] but with reference both to the text and to the translation of the Septuagint by Sir Lancelot Brenton.[11] As much as we were able, working with diverse sources and citations, in the case of the Old Testament, names of books, chapter and line numbering, and the numeration of the psalms are all according to the version of the Septuagint of ‘Zoe’.

In the case of the New Testament we have relied on the textus receptus of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.[12] In the matter of translations from the New Testament, as we discussed in the introduction to Volume II, we have in the case of difficult passages consulted the commentaries of St John Chrysostom in order to establish the underlying meaning of the scriptural passage.

In the case of translations from works of Evagrius Pontikos, we have of course relied on the translations that we ourselves provide in Volume II, unless otherwise noted.

In the case of the catechisms of St Theodore Studite, while we ourselves have read the published edition of the catechisms of St Theodore Studite, we are relying on our experience of having heard the catechisms read during the services in the monastery church of Simonos Petra three times a week over years. The edition of the catechisms used in the monastery differs somewhat from any published version of the works of St Theodore Studite, and it would be misleading to give a bibliographic reference.

When in the commentary we quote a work of an author who has composed his work in the chapter style, we sometimes include the chapter number as part of the quotation and sometimes not. Our rule is this: if the quotation is of the whole chapter, we include the chapter number; otherwise not. This includes quotations from On Sobriety itself. If the work is broken up into centuries by the author, then in the quotation we include along with the chapter number the number of the century. However, in the case of On Sobriety, following the numeration of the Philokalia, we give a consecutive number between 1 and 203, not century and chapter within century.

As we remarked in the introduction to Volume II, we often do not give a specific page number for a reference to a work cited. In those cases, we are quoting from memory and did not find it worthwhile to establish the precise reference.

As we remarked in Volume II, references to the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are from memory and to a hypothetical comprehensive redaction that we have never seen; that is why there is no bibliographic reference.

In this volume we have occasionally referred to sayings of Athonite Elders with whom we ourselves spoke. Since we never kept written memoranda of our conversations, the quality of these reminiscences is strictly limited to the quality of our own memory. In certain cases, where the disciples of such an Athonite Elder have after his death prepared a book about their Elder, we have included, where we thought appropriate, material from that book. In those cases, we provide an exact reference to the work and sometimes even a quotation.

Bibliographic references in the text are made in the following way: A ‘label’ is provided in the text in bold-face type (e.g. Zoe) which is the same as the label, also in bold-face type, in the left hand margin of the bibliography before the entry to which reference is being made. The entries in the bibliography are sorted in order of label, not in order of author or title.

Certain works often referred to in the commentary are abbreviated. These abbreviations are always in regular type. They are listed at the end of the volume before the Bibliography.

We might also remark, again, that we are not scholars and that we intend this work primarily as a monastic catechism. That having been said, we again occasionally touch on scholarly issues, ones that we consider germane to the underlying spiritual or theological issues that the monk interested in the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart might wish to have discussed fully.

Finally, we close this volume with an Epilogue which summarizes the doctrine of the three volumes of this work.

previous | Table of Contents | next

[1] Philokalia G.

[2] Philokalia D.

[3] Philokalia E.

[4] Philokalia F.

[5] Alphabetic.

[6] Kirchmeyer.

[7] We ourselves wonder whether there might not still be a manuscript of the Kephalaia Gnostica in Greek extant in a Syrian Monophysite or Nestorian library or even in an Egyptian Monophysite library.

[8] Anthony.

[9] Azovkin independently comes to much the same conclusions: ‘In fact, the writing of our hesychast breathes a particularly expressive meditative atmosphere which has its own inner laws. … Only those truly seeking [a] practical guide to the land of hesychast prayer can perceive the inward beauty, harmony and logic in Hesychios’ mystical insight. Reading the Centuries [i.e. On Sobriety] from the perspective of discipleship (rather than scholarship), one can feel how the hesychast themes of the Jesus Prayer and nepsis are as carefully developed as a spiral that ever returns to the same issues, but seen in deeper perspective and revealing new aspects of spiritual growth.’ Azovkin p. 9.

[10] Zoe.

[11] Brenton.

[12] NT.


Post a Comment

<< Home