Revista Studii Teologice


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"Dinamica îndrumării spirituale în tradiţia pustiei egiptene din secolul al IV-lea"

The Dynamics of spiritual guidance in the 4th-century desert tradition

Autor(i): Daniel LEMENI

Summary: The Dynamics of spiritual guidance in the 4th-century desert tradition
In the present study, we approach the issue of spiritual fatherhood in Eastern Christian spirituality. Our first, major premise has been the archetypal figure of the spiritual father in the Christian East is epitomized by the Desert Fathers of the 4th-5th centuries. From this perspective, our investigation into the classical texts of early monasticism (especially, Apophtegmata Patrum) has allowed us to remove certain clichées concerning the role of a spiritual director. By this we mean delimiting the spiritual father’s role from other roles that are related by not identical, such as those of teacher (didaskalos), spiritual mentor or even confessor-priest. The peculiarity of a pater pneumatikos is that he does not convey a doctrine in an abstract, discursive manner, but rather he proposes to his disciple a living assimilation of a spiritual teaching. It is in this perspective of spiritual expericence that we must raise the issue of the spiritual father and this is also our tenet in the present chapter: the abba is mainly defined as an anthropos pneumatikos, that is, a man who by his long experience in the desert, has learned the skills of spiritual life. And, indeed, a spiritual father’ s authority is not identical to a teacher’s, because what a senex conveys through his word is not a doctrine, but his personal experience concerning spiritual life. Generally, Apophtegmata Patrum consider spiritual expertise as one of the specific criteria of the „elders”, since they were not sought for theoretical teachings, but mainly for their practical spiritual knowledge. Through his lifestyle, the spiritual father tacitly provides a model to his disciple, as often show the Paterikon’s accounts of the Desert Fathers. Thus is configured the essential role of any genuine spiritual father, namely his endeavour to guide his disciple’s inner spiritual life.
On the other hand, I have found that the authority of a spiritual father is not confined to that auctoritas claimed by the priest or celebrant, as one might think. Whereas the confessor-priest and the bishop exert an authority delegated by an „institution”, thus an officially conferred one (de jure authority) a spiritual father’s authority is, a contrario, based on his personal charisma (de facto authority). We understand that the two types of authority, the „administrative and charismatic” one (F. Neyt) or the „institutional and practical” one (K. Ware) are not mutually exclusive. They are to a certain extent compatible and they can intersect, since a bishop or a priest can assume the role of spiritual fathers. Our conclusion is reaching a via media between the two dimensions of the Church, because due to its charismatic character the practice of spiritual guidance provided by the desert Fathers complement the Church’s institutional character. This twofold character of the Church, defined by both the ecclesial side (bishop and priest), and the charismatic one (abba or „elder”) actually achieve the communitarian dimension of the Church.
Thus, although in approaching this (ir)reconcilable tension between pneumatic asceticism and hierarchical authority, we have opted for a mediating solution, believing that the issue of charismatic authority versus instituţional authority is still an object of theological reflection in the Christian East. By placing the practice of spiritual guidance in the realm of spiritual expertise, the tenet we support is that an abba is stricto sensu an anthropos pneumatikós. Thus, spiritual expertise is the distinctive characterisic of a spiritual father in Eastern Christian spirituality. From this perspective, by looking into the ascetical texts of early monasticism, especially Apophtegmata Patrum which is the main source for the identity of Eastern asceticism – we have been able to render the dynamics of spiritual guidance in its depth.
Our conclusion is that a patèr pneumatikós does not simply convey spiritual expertise theoretically, but rather embodies by his very lifestyle. We understand, thus, that a spiritual father will irradiate through his mere presence and not his discourse, which means the practice of spiritual guidance is placed in sight, it is shown to us. In other words, if the abba exerts his influence on his disciple by his mere presence, this means he tacitly provides the disciple with a role model, as generally proved by Paterikon sentences with ostensive significance. Thus, we conclude that the tradition of spiritual fatherhood is based on a personal, rather than institutional, model.

Pagini: 19-28