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OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES

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1 — The idea of out of body experiences is always a demonic delusion

To cause the nous to abide outside the body itself,1 so as there to chance upon noetic spectacles, is the root and source of the very worst of Hellenic [pagan] errors and of all heresies, an invention of demons, an instruction engendering folly and an offspring of senselessness…“2

With these words, St Gregory Palamas censures all those who accept or teach about “out of body experiences.”

We have read a considerable number of such teachings recently, both in popular, pseudo-scientific, occult and religious sources, and note that both the notion of “out of body experiences” and the conclusions reached from them by various authors, philosophers and theologians, are related either directly or indirectly to pagan mystery cults and to Hinduism, all of which are demonic religions.

In fact, such “out of body experiences” are not merely based in Western and Origenistic heresies, but are integral parts of not only Hinduism, but of Shamanism and other clearly pathological spiritualities, and do not depend at all upon an actual nearness to death in order to occur. So-called out of body experiences are also a symptom of florid schizophrenia and certain other psychotic conditions. This is of great importance, and we will speak of it later.

The question of “out of body experiences” has far deeper theological ramifications than might at first be surmised. In the first place, the idea that an “out of body experience” might occur presupposes the radical dualism of Origen’s teachings concerning the soul and the body (or that of Manicheanism),3 and diametrically contradicts the teachings of the fathers on the relationship of the soul to the body, the condition of the soul without the body,4 and the teachings concerning the nature of prayer. In the second place, the idea that revelations could be given to the soul outside the body, or that the soul would leave the body in order to obtain enlightenment or revelation is simply the heretical spirituality of Barlaam the Calabrian and his milieu, opposed to the whole body of the teachings of the hesychastic fathers.5

Before setting forth on an examination of the teachings of the fathers in relation to these matters, let us set forth the three basic points we wish to make:

1. All revelation or true spiritual experience takes place within the body, in the Kingdom of God which is within one. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and one seeks truth, enlightenment and revelation, not outside the body, in the realm of demonic powers and delusion, but within the temple of the Holy Spirit. A person who accepts, seeks or teaches about “out of body experiences,” has either been merely misinstructed, or is under heavy Latin-Scholastic-Hellenistic influences, in a state of spiritual delusion, a practitioner of the occult, or simply abysmally ignorant of the basic spiritual teachings of the fathers.

2. “Out of body experiences” are never real. They are either demonic hallucinations, phantasies or delusions, medical hallucinations or manifestations of mental illness. When one thinks to project the soul out of the body, what one really does is to project the imagination and emotions outward into the realm of the demonic spirits and powers of the air, who accept them and fill them with all manner of ideas, revelations and apparitions.

3. The experiences of those few, highly developed and Spirit filled fathers — including Paul — which Latins, occultists and spiritually Platonized Orthodox writers have interpreted as “out of body experiences” are precisely the opposite: they are noetic experiences which take place within the very depths of the being — where the Kingdom of God is to be found. Those complex experiences reported by various mystics as “out of body experiences” in which they reveal matt-ers concerning departed souls, or any other such things, are simply demonic delusions (plani; prelest).

2—The site of authentic spiritual experiences

“Nor shall they say `it is here!’ or `it is there!’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk.17:21).

God appears to the nous in the heart” (Saint Nikiforos the Solitary).6

We have discussed the relationship of the soul and the body in Chapter 2. From what we read there, it should be obvious that the idea that the soul can leave the body, hover around here or there and then later return to the body, is blasphemous as a concept and patently heretical as a teaching. For, it suggests (as in the KueblerRoss phenomena which we will discuss later) that God is sometimes confused and cannot make up His mind whether to take a soul or leave it, that He occasionally calls and sends the soul back and forth with fallen human indecision or accidentally removes a soul before its time and has to send it back;7 or, as a theological teaching, that the fathers of the Church were in error in their teachings of the relationship of the soul and body, the nature of prayer and delusion (plani; prelest) and the condition of the soul once it does depart the body at death.8

The soul departs the body at the moment God determines, and He sends His holy and terrible angelic powers to receive it from the body. The power of God alone can remove the soul from the body and neither the efforts of man nor demons, nor even of the angels by themselves can do this.

Our first point concerns the nature of true spiritual experiences and visions. The fathers have been so clear and explicit in this regard that there is little left to say in applying their words to the present question. Moreover, if we were to present a comprehensive survey of the fathers on the subject, we would end up with countless volumes and would quote a majority of the Philokalia itself.

Nowhere is the question more thoroughly examined than in the Palamite dialogues and councils of the 1300’s. The Palamite councils took place as a result of the visits of the Latin scholastic mystic Barlaam of Calabria to Mt Athos in the 1340’s. Here he encountered, for the first time, Orthodox Christian spiritual theology, called hesychasm. Barlaam, a disciple of Augustinian scholasticism, began a campaign against the Orthodox teachings with regard to the manner of prayer, the nature of the soul and body, divine vision and the nature of revelation and divine grace. St Gregory Palamas promptly responded to Barlaam’s heresies, and the famous “Palamite Controversy” began. We will not discuss this epic theological event here, for it is well covered in a number of books and writings already.9 Our point is to demonstrate the place of true prayer, revelation and contemplation, as opposed to the realm of demonic delusion obtained by those who advocate “out of body experiences” (and here let us point out that mind [nous] and soul are occasionally being used interchangeably, as the [nous] is the soul’s faculty of spiritual awareness).

Barlaam, along with the Western mystics, taught that the [nous] is to be sent outwards, outside the body, where it may behold visions, revelations, etc, and he was greatly scandalized by the Athonite fathers who spent their efforts trying to bring the mind into the depths of the body and keep it there, within the heart. This prompted St Gregory Palamas’ words, partially quoted before:

“However, to cause the nous to abide outside the body itself, so as there to chance upon noetic spectacles, is the root and source of the very worst of Hellenic errors and of all the heresies, an invention of demons, an instruction engendering folly and an offspring of senselessness. For those who speak by the inspirations of demons are outside themselves and do not even comprehend what they say. But we, on the contrary, not only send our nous [“mind”] within the body and the heart, but even back within itself.”10

St Gregory of Sinai was clear on the same matter, when he said:

“Take heed, therefore, O lover of God, with great care and discernment: if, when you are practising the work [of prayer], you should see…an apparent form of Christ, or an angel or of something else, do not accept it, lest you suffer injury…For everything of this sort taking form outside the body comes to pass in order to delude the soul…And even if you perceive your nous being drawn outwards or upwards by some invisible power, do not trust it, nor allow your nous to be thus drawn away, but straightaway, bring it back to its work [of prayer].11

The point is certainly obvious. The [nous], the soul’s chief faculty of noetic awareness, must remain inside the body, the temple of God in order to be delivered from the wiles of the demons and their delusions and phantasies. The revelations which the saints received, they received within, in the Kingdom of God, not without, in the realm of demons. For, the Kingdom of God and the vision, therefore, of that Kingdom is within. All these other things, “out of body experiences,” psychic phenomena, astral projection, etc, all have as their chief step, the exit of the mind from the body __ where they are subject to diverse demonic phantasies. As we have already said, the soul (or, mind, the meaning here is the same) cannot exit the body, but the imagination and emotions can be projected outward, and are easily subject to demonic influences which are then brought into the nous.

3—The actual spiritual condition of monastics and would-be elders who teach that out of body experiences are possible and desireable.

What shall we say then of those fabulous and complex revelations brought to us by certain mystics or stories of mystics, concerning things yonder, beyond death? St Isaak of Nineveh (“The Syrian”) has already answered for us, saying of those writings and revelations:

“Indeed, he wrote that he [Apostle Paul] saw divine visions and said that he heard words, but was unable to describe what were those words or the figures of those divine visions. For when the mind in the spirit of revelation sees these things in their own place, it does not receive permission to utter them in a place which is not their own. And even if it should wish, it could not speak of them, because it did not see them with the bodily senses. Whatever the mind receives through the senses of the body, this it can express in the physical realm. But whatever the mind perceptibly beholds, hears or apprehends within itself in the realm of the spirit, it has no power to express when it turns again toward the body. It merely remembers that it saw them, but how it saw them, it knows not how to express with clarity.

“This convicts the false writings called ‘revelations’ which, being composed by the originators of the corrupt heresies under the influence of demonic phantasies, describe the celestial dwelling in the sky…the pathways to Heaven, the places set apart for judgment, the manifold figures of the hosts of the sky, and their diverse activities. But all these things are shadows of a mind inebriated by conceit and deranged by the working of demons. For this very reason the blessed Paul by one word closed the door in the face of all theoria and the exclusion thereof he anchored in silence, where even if the mind were able to disclose that which belongs to the realm of the spirit, it would not receive permission to do so. For he said that all divine visions which the tongue has power to disclose in the physical realm are phantasies of the soul’s thoughts, not the working of grace.

“May your holiness, therefore, keeping these things in mind, beware of the phantasies of profound thoughts. This warfare especially assaults monks who are keen-witted, who inquire into empty opinions, yearn for novelties and are superficial.”12

Indeed, what treasures of knowledge or pathways would one seek out there, outside the body, when such great fathers of the Church have instructed us:

“Try to enter your inner treasure house and you will see the treasure house of heaven. For both the one and the other are the same, and one and the same entrance reveals them both. The ladder leading to the Kingdom is concealed within you, that is, in your soul. Wash yourself from sin and you will see the rungs of the ladder by which you can ascend thither.”13

For, “a hesychast is he who being ‘bodiless’14 strives to retain his soul within the bounds of its bodily home…close the door of your cell to the body, the door of your lips to conversation and the inner door of the soul to evil spirits,”15 because, “He who always remains in his heart is remote from this world…Truly did the holy father speak when he said that the wiles of the enemy fail as long as we abide in a certain place in the depths of our hearts, and the more so the more firmly we hold there.”16

Thus, according to the fathers, to become “bodiless” one enters into the depths of the body, of one’s being, and there, the saints experience something like what they will experience at death: that is, they are asleep and insensitive to things corporeal and free of all sensation and all sense perception, they are asleep to the flesh, but awake to God. And this is similar to what St Basil the Great tells us also, saying:

“And when discoursing of Himself, He says, `Yet a little while and the world seeth Me no more, but ye see Me;’ again, in this passage, using the name `the world’ for those who being bound down by this material and carnal life, and beholding the truth by the physical eyes alone, were through their unbelief in the resurrection no more to see the Lord with the eyes of the heart. And He said the same of the Spirit. `The Spirit of truth,’ He says, `Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him for He dwelleth in you.'”17

For, of that Spirit which is to be found not “out there” outside the body, but “dwelling in you,” the saint further says that when one beholds the light and energies of God, “the image of the invisible God…the Spirit of knowledge is somehow there inseparably present, in Himself bestowing on them that love the vision of the truth, the faculty of beholding the image, not making the exhibition from without but within, Himself leading on to full knowledge.”18

Moreover, those who would seek the vision of God, illumination, vision or participation in divine grace (the energies of God) outside the body, have departed the temple of God, entered into a place of worship foreign to the Spirit and kindled incense upon strange altars. For, St Basil the Great says:

“But concerning the Spirit, it is said, `Behold there is a place by Me, and stand upon the rock.’ What else could He mean by `place’ except divine vision in the Spirit… This is the special and peculiar place of true worship; for it is said, `Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place… but in the place the Lord God shall choose.’ Now what is a spiritual burnt offering? `The sacrifice of praise.’ And in what place do we offer it? In the Holy Spirit…So it follows that the Spirit is verily the place of the saints and the saint is a proper place for the Spirit, offering himself as he does for the indwelling of God, and called God’s temple.”19

The fathers here warn against anything which seems to be an “out of body experience,” and they censure and warn against anyone who teaches that revelation or “noetic spectacles” can be experienced in an “out of body” state, or that “out of body experiences” ought to be sought, or believed in, or indeed, that an actual one could really occur. For as we have seen already, the soul cannot remain or wander here once it is separated from the body (Saint John Chrysostom), and the soul without the body cannot speak, nor discern, nor think, nor be roused, nor see (St Anastasios of Sinai), and without the body, the soul “is found lacking in perception and knowledge” (St Ephraim the Syrian) and separated from the body, “the soul cannot enjoy anything, or possess or do anything …” and it is not even a person, but only part “of” a person (Sts Titus of Bostra and Justin the Philosopher) (see Chapter 2).

We have, therefore, learned already that experiences of the soul out of the body, “out of body experiences” are completely impossible, and everything which claims to be one is a demonic delusion, and those who claim to have had them are suffering from spiritual delusion (plani; prelest).

What, then, of those great and wondrous revelations vouchsafed through those few, rare, Spirit-filled fathers, such as St Seraphim of Sarov’s famous conversation with Motovilov,20 St Andrew the Fool’s experience of the divine light, which he described metaphorically as “three heavens,” Apostle Paul’s identical experience, as well as his earlier experience on the Damascus road? Here, too, we have not been left to idle speculation which leads to delusion, but our Saviour, in order to protect us from those who would be interpreters of such things, has given us a clear disclosure of the matter. In the Life of Our Holy and God-bearing father, St Symeon the New Theologian, by his disciple Nikitas Stethatos, we have this revelation, which refutes the absurdities engendered by those who claim that “out of body experiences” can ever really occur:

St. Symeon the New Theologian“He himself [St Symeon] also became illumined by that light, and it seemed to him that he was outside his dwelling…and he totally forgot about his own body…He was in theoria for a long time, and, as he himself said, could not perceive whether he was in the body or out of the body. Only as the light diminished little by little did he understand that he was in his body and inside his cell, and that his heart was full of joy and that his mouth was crying aloud: `Lord have mercy’.” And another time, “Being entirely in theoria, he fixed his whole mind upon that light which had appeared. This light gradually grew and made the air to appear more and more radiant, and he perceived that his whole being, body and soul, was removed from things of earth. But as this light continued to grow in brightness and intensity, shining above him like the midday sun, he perceived that he stood bodily in the midst of that light, and he was filled with tears of joy…He beheld how this same light united itself in a strange manner to the flesh and gradually entered into his members…He began to see how this light little by little was given to his entire body…As formerly with his dwelling, so now with his body, he became aware of its form, posture, density or appearance; his tears then ceased. Whereupon, there came to him a voice from that light, which said: `In this manner shall the saints which shall live and remain upon the earth at the sounding of the final trumpet be transfigured, and in this state shall they be caught up, as Paul has said’…21

.”..He [St Symeon] then began to think and say within himself, `Shall I once again return to the previous form of my body…’ No sooner had he completed this thought when suddenly, he realized that he still bore the form of his body…he perceived that he, together with his body which had remained with him, having somehow become bodiless22…”23

The experience of St Andrew the Fool of Constantinople, in his own “rapture” was clearly identical. St Andrew (like St Symeon) says that at first he did not know whether he was “in the body or out of the body,” but says that, “in appearance I was in the body …” And he says quite clearly, “But it seemed to me that with this body of mine, I was such as we shall be after the resurrection, or rather, that with this very body I had secretly slipped in among those there.”24

This description is almost identical to that of St Symeon the New Theologian, whose awareness that he was actually, fully in his body came to him gradually, from the realization that he appeared to be in the body, to the sure understanding that he in fact was and always had been “in the body.” St John Chrysostom reaches a similar conclusion concerning Apostle Paul’s experience. He asks, “What then? Was it the mind that was caught up and the soul, whilst the body remained dead? Or was the body caught up?” And further on he adds, replying to anyone who might doubt Apostle Paul’s story: “If anyone should ask, `how is it possible to be caught up without a body?’ I ask of him, `how is it possible to be caught up with a body?’ for, if you examine by reasonings and do not give place to faith this is even more inexplicable than the first.”25

If, as St John Chrysostom would have us do, we “give place to faith,” and accept that the stories of Sts Enoch and Elijah really are true, then we have two clear examples of saints being caught up in the body (but not a single example of one being caught up “out of the body”), and the explanation is clear.

4—Apostle Paul’s experience of rapture:
the Orthodox Christian explanation by the holy fathers

Why then, did Apostle Paul say, “Whether in the body or out of the body, I know not”? In the beginning, Sts Symeon and Andrew also did not know this, or rather, they were not aware of the

circumstances. But did Apostle Paul really not know? As St John Chrysostom26 and St Athanasios the Great say, in this case the Apostle was, from humility, being purposely vague. He does not say, “More than fourteen years ago, I was caught up…,” but rather, “I knew a man who, more than fourteen years ago was caught up…,” showing by such means that while he had much of which he could boast, he did not wish to boast of such things. But did he really not know “whether in the body or out of the body”? Here is what our holy and God-bearing father Athanasios the Great says:

“This is sufficient to confute them [the Arians]; but to demonstrate still further that they are hostile to the truth and enemies of Christ, I should wish to ask a question of them. The Apostle, in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians writes, `I knew a man in Christ, more than fourteen years ago, whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know; God knows…’ What do you now say? Did the Apostle know what had happened to him in the vision, though he says `I know not’ or did he not know? If [you say] he did not know, look to yourself, lest being familiar with error you err in the trespass of the Phrygians who say that the Prophets and the other ministers of the Word know neither what they do nor concerning what they announce. But if he did know though he said, `I know not’, for he had Christ within him revealing to him all things, [then] is not the heart of God’s enemies indeed perverted and `self-condemned’? …For if since Christ was within him, Paul knew that of which he says, `I know not’, does not much more Christ Himself know, though he says `I know not’? The Apostle, then, the Lord revealing it to him, knew what happened to him; for on this account he says, `I knew a man in Christ’; and knowing the man, he knew also how the man was caught away. Thus Elisha, who beheld Elijah, knew also how he was taken up; but though knowing …he was silent…Did he then not know, because he was silent? He knew indeed, but as if not knowing, he endured them, that they being convinced, might no more doubt about the taking up of Elijah. Therefore much more Paul, himself being the person caught away, knew also how he was caught up…And yet Paul himself says, `I know not’, for these two reasons, as I surmise; one, as he has said himself, lest because of the abundance of the revelations anyone should think of him beyond what he saw; the other, because, our Saviour having said `I know not’, it became him [Paul] to say, `I know not’, lest the servant should appear above his Lord, and the disciple above his Master.”27

Not only, according to the God-bearing Athanasios, did Apostle Paul know full well how he was caught up, but the holy father links this being caught up to that of Prophet Elijah who, we well know, was indeed caught up body and soul complete.

What sort of experience did Paul have then? The hesychastic fathers are in a position to know more clearly. If we study their works, we discover just how surely the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, in our very depths, and when we then read that someone was “caught up into heaven,” might we be so bold as to suggest that these people were caught up into the depths of the body, rather than out of the body? For, this is just exactly in what the hesychastic teaching consists. St Gregory Palamas, speaking especially of Apostle Paul, instructs us:

“The great Paul, being about to be found amidst invisible and celestial visions in Christ, was `caught away’ [] and transcended the heavens [lit. became supercelestial], but not in the sense that his intellect had to ascend above the heavens in a topical way __ although indeed the word `caught away’ [] indicates another mystery that is known only by those who have experienced it, and concerning which there is no need to speak…Then in very truth a man sees by the Spirit, not the intellect or the body, and he knows supernaturally that he beholds a light that transcends light. But by what means he sees this, he does not know then, nor can he investi- gate the nature of that light on account of the Spirit’s inscrutableness, by Whom he sees. And this is the same thing that Paul said when he heard ineffable things and saw invisible things. He beheld, he says, `whether out of the body I know not, or within the body I know not’. That is to say, he did not know whether it was the intellect or the body that was seeing. For he sees, but not by sense perception, and yet [he sees] like sense perception sees perceptible things, clearly and even more clearly than sense perception. And he sees himself, that, by the ineffable sweetness of that which he sees, he is apart from and caught away not only from every material and noetic thing, but even from himself. And by this theoria he even forgets his prayer to God.”28 Further, “And the recompense for this, or the earnest of the recompense, Paul called `rapture’ and `supercelestial ascent’, but Christ called it the `coming’ and `abiding’ of Himself and His Father. That these things are one and the same, though expressed differently, is not something concealed from the initiated.”29 Moreover, “The vision, therefore, of this light is a union, even though for the imperfect the union be not long-lasting. And what is union with light, if not vision? But since this comes to pass after the cessation of the noetic operations, how can it be accomplished except through the Spirit? For in the light, light is seen, and that which sees is in similar light. If that which sees has no other means of operating, since it has departed from all other things, it becomes itself wholly light and becomes like that which it sees, or rather, it is united [with it] without confusion, being light and seeing light through light. And so even if it sees itself, it sees light, and though it looks toward what it sees, that also is light, and though it looks at that by which it is able to see, that also is light. This is the union; all these things are one, such that that which sees cannot distinguish either that through which it sees, or that at which it looks, or what it is itself, but only that there is light and that it sees light which is different from all created things. Therefore the great Paul says that during that astonishing rapture he was ignorant of himself, what he was. He saw himself, however; how? Sensibly, rationally or noetically? But being caught away from these things, he left these powers behind. Through the Spirit Who wrought that rapture he saw himself. But what was he, being imperceptible to every natural faculty, or rather, being loosed from every natural faculty? He was assuredly that with which he was united, and through which he recognized himself and because of which he was divorced from all…He was at that time light and Spirit, to Whom he was united, from Whom he had the ability to be united, being separate from all things and having become Him by grace.”30

This makes it perfectly clear, as St Symeon also said of himself, that Paul saw nothing but light, his body and soul having together become a “sort of immaterial luminary,” and outside of him there was nothing but light; he was not even able to perceive what he was, except light. This is also the perfect union of God, soul, and body.31 What then was the nature of Apostle Paul’s experience, and was he actually in his body? Of course he was, and the nature of his experience was just what Sts Symeon and Andrew say, “Wherefore, there came upon me a voice from that light, which said: `In this manner shall the saints which shall live and remain upon earth at the sounding of the final trumpet be transfigured, and in this state shall they be caught up, as Paul said’,”32 and, “it seemed to me that with that body of mine, I was such as we shall be after the resurrection, or rather, that with this very body I had secretly slipped in among those there.”33 Let us surmise then that Apostle Paul was also “caught up” in the same manner and state that those who are still alive at the time of the Second Coming will be. And does one deny the resurrection and transfiguration of the body? Or the transfiguration and “catching away” of the body of those who remain?

A Further Note: Visualization and Idolatry

Our descriptive apparatus is dominated by the character of our visual experience. It is for just this reason that linguistically based assumptions lead to errors in our understanding of the Divine and the eternal, the nature of heaven, the nature of hell and the relationship between body and soul in human beings. Linguistically based assumptions are derived from the presumption of visualizability. Language develops on the matrix of vision and is a developed system of imitation of and metaphor for things heard and seen.34 Idolatry, I surmise, can arise from the impulse to linguistically describe and define the unseen. This results in metaphor or allegory. When the metaphor for the unseen is, as it must be, visualized, some form of idolatry results. In Orthodox Christian theology we are preserved from this idolatry by the concept of the apophatic. In this regard, the words of Abba Isaak the Syrian are extraordinarily important when he says: “Speech is the language of this world, but silence is the language of the world to come,” by which he also precludes the visualization of “things yonder.” We are further protected against idolatry by Abba Isaak when he says of Apostle Paul: “Indeed, he wrote that he saw divine visions and said that he heard words, but was unable to describe what were those words or the figures of those divine visions. For when the mind in the spirit of revelation sees these things in their own place, it does not receive permission to utter them in a place that is not their own. Even if it should wish, it could not speak of them, because it did not see them with the bodily senses. Whatever the mind receives through the senses of the body, this it can express in the physical realm. However, whatever the mind perceptibly beholds, hears or apprehends within itself in the realm of the spirit, it has no power to express…For this very reason the blessed Paul by one word closed the door in the face of all theoria and the exclusion thereof he anchored in silence, where even if the mind were able to disclose that which belongs to the realm of the spirit, it would not receive permission to do so. For he said that all divine visions which the tongue has power to disclose in the physical realm are phantasies of the soul’s thoughts, not the working of grace.”35

This is interesting, because it shows us that the ability to visualize in material terms and to describe in language are interrelated, and that noetic things are subject to neither. For whatever visual and concrete concepts or ideas one has about the nature of heaven, hell, the Divinity, the partial and last judgments, and all things “yonder” are without fail delusion and phantasy. According to St Gregory Palamas, this is also the mystery of Apostle Paul’s words that when he had his noetic experience, he did not know whether he was “in the body or out of the body.” St Gregory does not allow the concept of “out of body experiences” but says of Paul: “He beheld, he says, `whether out of the body I know not, or within the body I know not’. That is to say, he did not know whether it was the intellect or the body that was seeing. For he sees, but not by sense perception, and yet [he sees] like sense perception sees perceptible things, clearly and even more clearly than sense perception. And he sees himself that, by the ineffable sweetness of that which he sees, he is apart from and caught away not only from every material and noetic thing, but even from himself.”36 This is the point that neo-Gnostic writers do not grasp: “whether in the body or out of the body” does not at all indicate an “out of body experience,” but rather precludes all visualizability or language based description of the experience and the vision, and thus guards against idolatry. 

[…to be continued]

ENDNOTES:

1. The mind [nous; soul] cannot, of course, actually “abide outside the body itself.” In that case, the body would die immediately and the soul be carried away to the place of its repose. The thought and imagination can, however, be sent outward, and this is what the Latin Scholastics were practising. Thinking to project their íïõò outside the body to obtain mystic experiences, they projected their imaginations into the realm of demonic influences and, there, created the theologies of the Western Christian religions.

2. St Gregory Palamas, Response to Barlaam, para.4.

3. e.g., his Contra Celsus, 5:14; 8:49; 5:18; 7:32; 5:23; On Psalms, 1:5; The Prin. 3:6, 6 and; cp C. Celsus 3:14f; 4:56f (where he introduces the Stoic principles of energy maintained identity). Origen taught the equal opposite heresy of the Helkesaites (whose heresy he personally refuted). Where the Helkesaites taught the doctrine of belief in the “death of the soul”, Origen countered with a teaching of a completely independent existence of the soul, according to which, after death, the soul could have new experiences and make new discoveries. It exalted in the discovery that it could perceive and learn even better “freed from the prison of the body” than before. Thus, the soul itself was the actual person and could be judged, rewarded, function completely, acquire experiences and be purged, with no need of or reference to the body. Origen (as also Tertullian and Lactanius, etc) adopted a completely Hellenic view of the soul and its existence and Origen especially considered it to be the complete person in itself. He was, then, hardpressed to justify any belief in an actual resurrection of the body, and he attempted to resolve this problem by spiritualizing the resurrection and advancing his variation on the “subtle body” theory, with his own theory of “material substratum”. Ultimately, like the Latin Scholastics, he (as also Tertullian and Lactanius) ended up playing one Hellenic philosophical formula against another (especially Epicureanism and Stoicism against one another to defend their own form of Platonism). Origen’s confused dualism became a necessity for the defence of the doctrines of purgatory, whether the material purgatory of the Latin dogma or the psychological purgatory of the occult toll-house theologians.

4. see Chapter 2 of this work, and Appendix 2, “Questions and answers.”

5. While Barlaam was not the originator of his ideas, he drew them together from the deeply Platonic traditions of Latin Scholasticism, where an Origenistic dualism was current. I would like to suggest, too, that an examination of Western religious art reveals a deep current of Gnostic and Manichean ideas and even magic in Western eschatology. These, to a certain degree, spilled over into some circles of Russian thought, where they found an already existing remnant of Bogomil influence, and some writers, Brianchaninov`s grotesque eschatology for example, reveal a certain strain of this influence. The fathers of the Great Moscow Synod of 1667 seemed to have sensed these influences encroaching from Western influences in ikon painting.

6. On Sobriety, in “From the Life of Antony the Great” (in the Philokalia).

7. Evidently, this question came up during the time of St Gregory of Rome. At that time, following the best available medical science, which did not correctly define comas, catatonic states, heart seizures and the like, and which still considered that cessation of a detectable heartbeat constituted actual death, and interpreted ordinary recoveries (resuscitations) as returns from death, Gregory gave what for him seemed a logical, medically sound answer. He was asked if, on these occasions, God returned the soul to the body, having removed it accidentally. He replied that God did not remove the soul accidentally, but did it as a “warning”. Of course, the people were not actually dead. Such instances are not rare, and they constitute rather ordinary medical phenomena, not a “return from death”. evertheless, the Saint was not entirely wrong, since we naturally ought to take all such incidents as reminders of our mortality and impending demise and be corrected by such experiences.

8. e.g., St John Chrysostom, “…and it cannot be that a soul, when it is gone out from the body could wander here…” (Homily on Matthew, 28:3). The soul cannot be outside the body except at death. Theologically, the “out of body” ideas presuppose, as we said earlier, that Origen’s radical dualism was correct.

9. e.g., Papademetriou, G., Introduction to St Gregory Palamas, Philosophical Library, N.Y., 1973 (the best work we know of on the subject) and Meyendorff, J., A Study of Gregory Palamas, the Faith Press, London, 1964 (a very good historical work.

10. Response to Barlaam, para.4.

11. “On Delusion,” para.10 of On Stillness and the Two Ways of Prayer (in the Philokalia).

12. Epistle to Symeon of Caesaria.

13. St Isaak of Nineveh, quoted in St Nikiphoros the Solitary’s collection On Sobriety (in the Philokalia).

14. bodiless: that is, “outside the corporeal manner of thought” (see, e.g., Saint Gregory Palamas, Contra Barlaam, para.4.)

15. St John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Ch.27:6, 17-18.

16. St Diadochos, quoted in St Nikiphoros the Solitary’s collection On Sobriety (in the Philokalia)

17. On the Holy Spirit, para.53.

18. ibid, para.40

19. ibid, para.62

20. A Wonderful Revelation to the World, St Seraphim’s Conversation With Motovilov, Holy Trinity Monastery Press, 1972.

21. 1Ths.4:17.

22. see fn. 14 above

23. The Life of St Symeon The New Theologian, by his disciple Nikitas Stethatos. Emphases in all quotes are mine. 24. Life, p34.

25. Homily 24, On 2 Corinthians

26. loc. cit.

27. Discourse Three, Against the Arians, para.47

28. The Triads, 1.3:5; 21

29. ibid, 2.1:44

30. ibid, 2.3:36-37.

31. St Gregory Palamas, Sixth Ethical Homily, 1.130-175.

32. ibid, fn. 23.

33. ibid, fn. 24.

34. It is more complex than that since warning crys, food communications and sexual attractions are all part of the use of language and of its origins. In Cratylus Plato calls words “an imitation of that which it imitates,” and Aristotle refers to words as “imitations” (Rhet.3:1) but they had something of the concept that words conveyed essence and not simply names. There is another form of language which we must discuss later: the language of silence and of inner prayer — the language of paradise and of the world to come; the language of Rm.4:26 and 1Cor.14:15..

35. Epistle to Symeon of Caesaria

36. The Triads, 1.3:5; 21

 

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Excerpt from Empirical Dogmatics, Vol. 2

Sometimes the devil “transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Demonic light is different from the Light of God.

“The uncreated Light never comes from outside. It always comes from within. The demon is external and the light of the devil is external. When the devil reveals light to someone it comes from outside.”

“When the devil appears to man, he appears in conjunction with him, never merged with him. The created light of the devil cannot merge with man.

For that reason, when the devil appears he always appears with shape and colour, and he is always outside man. It is a light that co-exists, say the Fathers. The devil’s light exists alongside man. When it is the uncreated Light, however, it is without shape, form or colour and amorphous, and it is seen through merging.

So someone who is glorified is within the Light and everything around him is within the Light. And the Light shines from everywhere and the Light is pervasive. The devil’s light is limited to one place and is also coloured.”

Anyone who has the gift of discernment can immediately perceive delusion and is not deluded. That is why in patristic language the glorified are described as ‘unerring’, which means that they do not go astray.

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