“Pneuma” Became “Nous”

Sometime around Constantine the Christian writers on the spiritual life adopted Greek Terminology to describe spiritual events, and in the process imbibed Greek metaphysics and corrupted native biblical anthropology. For example, “Nous” was substituted for the NT “pneuma”, because the nous, in late Greek anthropology, was the seat of the soul and the noblest part of the person. (The villians here would have to be the neo-platonist flavored Maximus Confessor, Evagrius Ponticus, and my beloved Diadochus Photiki from the Philokalia. Could it be there is a semitic strain in the Philokalia, say, the Macarian strain, and a hellenic strain, called the Evagrian? And this anthropological error entered spiritual literature from the latter?)

This substitution corrupted subsequent Christian discussion in both East and West. The nous, or mind, is a natural faculty and as such is ill-equipped to receive and understand supernatural graces. It can appreciate and describe the residue of an influx of grace but not the direct force, and thus if it is the main faculty responsible for processing grace it will lose or misappropriate the lion’s share of divine help. The practical result is a shift of proportion in the spiritual life, from the NT norm of dominant Light with an occasional discussion of darkness, to the present experience of dominant darkness, occasionally punctuated by light.

In the literature of penance there are distinct but easily confused experiences :

  • *sinfulness: “…have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is not humility.
  • *creatureliness: contingent being, calls for humility, or the recognition of one’s place in the heirarchy. The heirachy is simply the chronological order when nothing else confuses it. All beings are contingent before those who came before them, as John the Baptist describes his relation to Christ.
  • *kenosis, as mode of all healthy hypostases (see Archimandrite Sophrony). This is neither sinfulness nor humility. But note that Sophrony links kenosis with repentance, as a recovery from the Adamic curse. (see page 106 “I love Therefore I Am”, and contrast with p. 108…106 says kenosis is repentance, while 108 looks to the example of Christ for the pattern of kenosis — did Christ need to repent?)

The similarity in these states is their experience of lowliness, or being beneath the Creator. This similarity is enough to confuse the soul into interpreting them all as sinfulness. It is a potentially demonic confusion, since it plays into Satan’s grievance that the heirarchy intrinsically oppresses all who are not at the top.

In both West and East all of these experiences or states have been mixed into an ambiguous constant state of the soul, where repentance never reaches a conclusion. Christians feel much more and much less guilt than they need to.

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