Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church

Article excerpt

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church. By George E. Demacopoulos. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 2007. Pp. x, 275. $30.00 paperback.)

Several recent studies have analyzed the relationship among asceticism, authority, and episcopal leadership in late antiquity, but George Demacopoulos pushes the conversation a step further. Given the trend toward asceticization of the episcopate in the fourth to sixth century, he asks, "what happened when monks became bishops?" (p. 2). How did ascetic traditions of pastoral care affect the lay church? In Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church Demacopoulos examines distinctive paradigms of leadership that emerged in the writings and careers of five formative Christian thinkers: Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine of Hippo, John Cassian, and Pope Gregory I. Each struggled with the tensions between ascetic ideals and pastoral care, especially in the context of the lay church, and posed different solutions to the challenges of spiritual direction in the postConstantinian era.

After defining the parameters of the study, Demacopoulos introduces the criteria for authority and the pastoral activities that distinguished what he classifies as the clerical and ascetic traditions of leadership. In the wake of Constantine's conversion and the legalization of Christianity, he argues, approaches to pastoral care developed along different lines and occasionally came into competition. The clerical model stressed ordination as the basis of spiritual authority, emphasized education, social class, and theological orthodoxy in the selection of leaders, and regarded doctrinal instruction and preaching as the fundamental duties of the clergy. The ascetic tradition promoted an elder/disciple paradigm of leadership that focused on the spiritual father's use of such gifts as discernment (discretio) and economia (condescensio) in spiritual direction.

Demacopoulos devotes a chapter to each of his five influential authorities in their attempts to integrate these two increasingly distinct approaches to pastoral care. The nouns in the titles of the first three chapters-ambivalence, struggle, and resistance-suggest the response of each of the bishops to the use of an ascetic model in the lay community. Athanasius emphasized both ascetic experience and doctrinal orthodoxy as criteria for spiritual authority, an ambivalence, Demacopoulos suggests, which reflects "the increasing tension between ascetic and nonascetic ideals of Christian leadership" (p. …

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