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Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church

George E. Demacopoulos

In late antiquity the rising number of ascetics who joined the priesthood faced a pastoral dilemma. Should they follow a traditional, demonstrably administrative, approach to pastoral care, emphasizing doctrinal instruction, the care of the poor, and the celebration of the sacraments? Or should they bring to the parish the ascetic models of spiritual direction, characterized by a more personal spiritual father/spiritual disciple relationship?

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church explores the struggles of five clerics (Athanasius, Gregory Naziansen, Augustine of Hippo, John Cassian, and Pope Gregory I) to reconcile their ascetic idealism with the reality of pastoral responsibility. Through a close reading of Greek and Latin texts, George E. Demacopoulos explores each pastor’s criteria for ordination, his supervision of subordinate clergy, and his methods of spiritual direction. He argues that the evolution in spiritual direction that occurred during this period reflected and informed broader developments in religious practices.

Demacopoulos describes the way in which these authors shaped the medieval pastoral traditions of the East and the West. Each of the five struggled to balance the tension between his ascetic idealism and the realities of the lay church. Each offered distinct (and at times very different) solutions to that tension. The diversity among their models of spiritual direction demonstrates both the complexity of the problem and the variable nature of early Christianity.

“The introduction offers a masterful treatment of the growth of the ascetic movement and the growth of ecclesiastical offices, and the requirements and expectations of leadership in both contexts. It is these expectations of a leader’s responsibility for those entrusted to him that show most clearly the demands of pastoral care.” —Claudia Rapp, UCLA

ISBN: 978-0-268-06307-8
288 pages
Publication Year: 2007

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George E. Demacopoulos is professor of theology at Fordham University.

“. . . George E. Demacopoulos’s excellent scholarly study of spiritual direction in the early church sheds new light on the role of the spiritual guide. That role has deep roots in monasticism. [His book] shows how, when monks left their monasteries to become priests and bishops in the cities of the late antique world, they were able to translate their spirituality into something appropriate for those who came under their pastoral care. . . . This is an extremely interesting book with a firm grasp of the scholarly literature. . . .” — Commonweal

“. . . Using five prominent figures from the early church (Saints Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine, John Cassian, and Gregory the Great), Demacopolous crafts a nuanced study that shows how the widening gulf between monasticism and laity in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries translated into different expressions of spiritual direction.” — Cistercian Studies Quarterly

“. . . Mastery of a wide variety of sources is evident throughout Demacopolous’s study. . . . This book is solid and will be quite valuable to historical theologians, church historians, students of Christian spirituality and of the priesthood.” — Theological Studies

“The strength of this publication clearly lies in the meticulous and respectful examination of the style and policy adopted by key ecclesiastical officers as they considered methods of advocating for Christian polity. It explores spiritual direction in its wider—namely, more social and political—dimension by analyzing fundamental criteria for ordination by bishops, supervision of subordinate clergy, and ways of receiving spiritual guidance by clergy and laity alike. . . . This book is of critical importance and deserves attention. It will long appeal to scholars of late antiquity and medieval theology, to students of the history of monasticism and spirituality, as well as to those actively engaged in pastoral aspects of contemporary Christian ministry.” — Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

“George Demacopoulos . . . has rendered a stimulating investigation on spiritual direction in the early church. . . . Five Models of Spiritual Direction is a well-researched and well-written monograph on a largely neglected area of patristic studies. It should be listed as suggested reading in graduate-level patristics courses and seminars, especially for students studying early church pastoral mentoring and leadership.” — Criswell Theological Review

“The subject matter of this book is the pastoral oversight exercised by the bishop, and the increasing influence of the monastic model on Episcopal practice in the fourth to sixth centuries . . . an interesting and thought-provoking attempt to map a significant development within the life of the Church as it grappled with the pressures of mass religion on the one hand, and an individualized spirituality on the other.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“The author is to be commended for an excellent contribution to scholarship. Aside from the specific focus on spiritual direction, readers will find that each chapter also provides valuable introductions to the life and writings of the five patristic writers . . . This study will prove useful not only to the specialized researcher, but also to readers broadly interested in Late Antiquity, Patristic studies, and Pastoral Theology.” — Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

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Gregory the Great

Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome

George E. Demacopoulos

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Evagrius and His Legacy


Edited by Joel Kalvesmaki and Robin Darling Young

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Gregory the Great

Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome

George E. Demacopoulos

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Harp of Prophecy

Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms


Edited by Brian E. Daley, S.J., and Paul R. Kolbet

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church

George E. Demacopoulos

 Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church
Cloth Edition
Paper Edition

In late antiquity the rising number of ascetics who joined the priesthood faced a pastoral dilemma. Should they follow a traditional, demonstrably administrative, approach to pastoral care, emphasizing doctrinal instruction, the care of the poor, and the celebration of the sacraments? Or should they bring to the parish the ascetic models of spiritual direction, characterized by a more personal spiritual father/spiritual disciple relationship?

Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church explores the struggles of five clerics (Athanasius, Gregory Naziansen, Augustine of Hippo, John Cassian, and Pope Gregory I) to reconcile their ascetic idealism with the reality of pastoral responsibility. Through a close reading of Greek and Latin texts, George E. Demacopoulos explores each pastor’s criteria for ordination, his supervision of subordinate clergy, and his methods of spiritual direction. He argues that the evolution in spiritual direction that occurred during this period reflected and informed broader developments in religious practices.

Demacopoulos describes the way in which these authors shaped the medieval pastoral traditions of the East and the West. Each of the five struggled to balance the tension between his ascetic idealism and the realities of the lay church. Each offered distinct (and at times very different) solutions to that tension. The diversity among their models of spiritual direction demonstrates both the complexity of the problem and the variable nature of early Christianity.

“The introduction offers a masterful treatment of the growth of the ascetic movement and the growth of ecclesiastical offices, and the requirements and expectations of leadership in both contexts. It is these expectations of a leader’s responsibility for those entrusted to him that show most clearly the demands of pastoral care.” —Claudia Rapp, UCLA

ISBN: 978-0-268-06307-8

288 pages

“. . . George E. Demacopoulos’s excellent scholarly study of spiritual direction in the early church sheds new light on the role of the spiritual guide. That role has deep roots in monasticism. [His book] shows how, when monks left their monasteries to become priests and bishops in the cities of the late antique world, they were able to translate their spirituality into something appropriate for those who came under their pastoral care. . . . This is an extremely interesting book with a firm grasp of the scholarly literature. . . .” — Commonweal

“. . . Using five prominent figures from the early church (Saints Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine, John Cassian, and Gregory the Great), Demacopolous crafts a nuanced study that shows how the widening gulf between monasticism and laity in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries translated into different expressions of spiritual direction.” — Cistercian Studies Quarterly

“. . . Mastery of a wide variety of sources is evident throughout Demacopolous’s study. . . . This book is solid and will be quite valuable to historical theologians, church historians, students of Christian spirituality and of the priesthood.” — Theological Studies

“The strength of this publication clearly lies in the meticulous and respectful examination of the style and policy adopted by key ecclesiastical officers as they considered methods of advocating for Christian polity. It explores spiritual direction in its wider—namely, more social and political—dimension by analyzing fundamental criteria for ordination by bishops, supervision of subordinate clergy, and ways of receiving spiritual guidance by clergy and laity alike. . . . This book is of critical importance and deserves attention. It will long appeal to scholars of late antiquity and medieval theology, to students of the history of monasticism and spirituality, as well as to those actively engaged in pastoral aspects of contemporary Christian ministry.” — Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

“George Demacopoulos . . . has rendered a stimulating investigation on spiritual direction in the early church. . . . Five Models of Spiritual Direction is a well-researched and well-written monograph on a largely neglected area of patristic studies. It should be listed as suggested reading in graduate-level patristics courses and seminars, especially for students studying early church pastoral mentoring and leadership.” — Criswell Theological Review

“The subject matter of this book is the pastoral oversight exercised by the bishop, and the increasing influence of the monastic model on Episcopal practice in the fourth to sixth centuries . . . an interesting and thought-provoking attempt to map a significant development within the life of the Church as it grappled with the pressures of mass religion on the one hand, and an individualized spirituality on the other.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“The author is to be commended for an excellent contribution to scholarship. Aside from the specific focus on spiritual direction, readers will find that each chapter also provides valuable introductions to the life and writings of the five patristic writers . . . This study will prove useful not only to the specialized researcher, but also to readers broadly interested in Late Antiquity, Patristic studies, and Pastoral Theology.” — Journal of Eastern Christian Studies