A Byzantine Critique of Scholasticism: Hesychasm

Constantinople had become the intellectual and spiritual center of Orthodoxy by the end of the eleventh century (2.1.6). While making extensive use of theologians and spiritual writers who had no connection with the city – such as Gregory of Nazianzus and John of Damascus – Constantinople had begun to develop its own distinct approach to theology and spirituality. Especially under the leadership of its abbot in the early ninth century, Theodore of Stoudios (759–826), the monastery of Stoudios became a significant center for spiritual reflection. It was a focus for the forces opposed to iconoclasm during the bitter controversies of the late eighth and early ninth centuries.

The most significant theologian to emerge within Constantinople itself was Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022), a Byzantine nobleman who came under the influence of the monastery of Stoudios. After a brief period spent at Stoudios, Symeon moved to take charge of the renovation of the run-down monastery of St. Mammas, eventually becoming its abbot. The style of theology that he developed was mystical, placing an emphasis on the direct experience of God in the life of an individual. This was seen as a challenge to the rather more scholastic approach developed by official Byzantine theologians, such as Archbishop Stephen of Nicomedia. Yet though Symeon was a theologian on the margins of both church and society, his long-term influence on the development of Orthodox theol- ogy and spirituality was to prove enormous.

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