Friday, October 21, 2005

Imagination: the "door of the demons"?

I'm not actually taking a poll as to who agrees with this idea...I'm trying to find out where it's located (!) I'm guessing it's somewhere in the Philokalia...but where?


Blogger Huw Raphael said...

WEll, I found this from Fr Alexy Young - "I asked Fr. Seraphim about meditation, which my wife and I, still under the influence of our Roman Catholic background, had made part of our regular routine of morning prayer. We did not yet realize that the Orthodox understanding of meditation is quite different from the Western Christian view. In conversation, Fr. Seraphim explained that the use of imagination in Western spiritual systems of meditation—viz., while saying the Rosary, reciting the Stations of the Cross, or doing the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, etc.—was not compatible with Orthodox spirituality and was forbidden because imagination came into use only after the fall of Adam and Eve; it is one of the lowest functions of the soul and the favorite playground of the devil, who can and does use human imagination in order to deceive and mislead even well-meaning people."

Slightly off topic of your question, but I note it cites Fr Seraphim... but no one else, and I note also he discusses the Rosary, etc - which St Saraphim of Sarov rather liked. So, we've two Seraphims pointing (not directly teaching) in different directions.

12:44 AM EDT  
Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

Raphael--I read carefully the instructions for prayer and meditation on the link you gave, but they do not advocate a vivid use of the imaginary reconstruction of biblical events, as do modern Latin instructions regarding the rosary. They say, 'Remember the Presenation of the Mother of God...' not 'Picture to yourself the Presentation as though you were there...'. Fr Seraphim's inclusion of the rosary with the 'Stations of the Cross' and 'Spiritual Exercises', plus his specific reference to the imagination, suggests that it is these instructions regarding the imagination, not present in St Seraphim of Sarov, that he is criticising and not the rosary per se.

12:22 PM EDT  
Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

I don't know about the 'door of the demons' quote in particular, although to me it sounds like St Ignatius Brianchaninov, but the necessity of admitting no images during prayer is stressed in many texts of the Philokalia as well as 'philokalic' writers like St Ignatius and St Theophan the Recluse. St Gregory of Sinai names the imagination as one of the links in the chain reaction leading to sin in 'Further Texts' (EngPh Vol IV, p 254), and in 'On Prayer' he writes, 'For the intellect itself naturally possesses an imaginative power and in those who do not keep a strict watch over it it can easily produce, to its own hurt, whatever forms and images it wants to. In this way the recollection of things good or evil can suddenly imprint images on the intellect's perceptive faculty and so induce it to entertain fantasies, thus making whoever this happens to a daydreamer rather than hesychast.' Of course, I'm aware that there are those who say, 'But I'm not a hesychast, so it doesn't matter.' But these people are idiots...

12:34 PM EDT  
Blogger Andrew Middleton said...

Now, now, Aaron, I know that Saint Gregory Palamas does allow for linguistic imprecision in the heat of battle...but let's try to keep to strict dogmatic terminology: "in delusion" is much better than "idiot"...
*Thanks* (both of you!) for the was what I was looking for!

1:35 PM EDT  
Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

Point well taken, Herman, but I felt I was more qualified to diagnose idiocy than spiritual delusion!

3:11 PM EDT  
Blogger Mark Montague said...

So are there any patristic discussions opposing this? In a recent dogmatics lecture, Prof. Stamoulis was arguing on behalf of imagination. I forget the details (sorry!), but I think it was along the lines creative problem-solving or being able to theologize at all. I took him to be advocating a "proper use". But perhaps what he was calling φαντασία in fact is better considered a different faculty altogether; I know nothing about these issues.

PS - Aaron: I appreciate your reply about St. Seraphim, but then again, what else can "remember the presentation..." mean in the context of the extended activity of repetitive prayer, if not "imagine as if you were there"? I'm unable to come up with any reasonable-sounding alternatives. Though I'd rather like to, since those instructions gave me the creeps.

3:31 PM EDT  
Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

Mark--Can't say I'm precisely certain what, in fact, it does mean. But when we're at the services for the feast of the Presentation, for instance, listening to the hymnography, I'd never understood that we were supposed to be imagining it as if we were there, though we are certainly, I would presume, supposed to be remembering it. I for one have never so imagined it, though I've certainly remembered it. Similarly, when I venerate the icon of the feast, I do not imagine the historical event in this way. So, there must be a difference, right?
As for more favourable patristic references to imagination, the only one I can think of off the top of my head, though I don't have it in front of me at the moment, is in St Gregory Palamas's 'Topics of Natural and Theological Science', in the Philokalia. St Gregory mentions that the imagination is useful for various this-worldly undertakings, but is not one of the higher, more spiritual faculties, or something to that effect.

8:51 PM EDT  

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