Monday, June 14, 2010

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing (1 of 5)

Dr Jean-Claude Larchet begins his introduction to his book Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East with a survey of the many and competing systems of etiologies and therapies that exist today for the treatment of mental illness. He states that the goal of the present book is “to offer some insight into the manner in which early Christians viewed, understood, and treated insanity, and to show the benefits, however modest, that the thought and experience of the early Christians can provide.” He writes:
While modern psychiatry by and large appears to be split up into various schools, each holding to contradictory theories and claiming exclusive value for their own point of view, it is interesting to see that Christian thought developed a complex conception which recognized three etiological origin: organic, demonic and spiritual, and that each of these were associated with different and specific forms of treatment. This allows us to state from the beginning that the widespread idea among historians, namely, that the Fathers considered all mental illness to be the result of diabolic possession, is completely false.
For mental disorders diagnosed as organic, the Fathers “recommended such appropriate medical therapy as was available in the days.” As concerns the demonic, the Fathers considered the possessed not to be accomplices of the devil, but rather victims, and as such entitled to special attention and solicitude.” However barbaric demonic possession may seem to many today, “the similarity between aspects of the pattern thus brought to light [by modern psychiatry] and those that Christianity generally attributes to demonic activity is quite striking, with an impulsive lewdness and a relentless will to do harm being the most obvious.” The third etiology, mental illness from spiritual problems, is “generally defined as one or another of the passions developed to an extreme.” The nosology and therapy of spiritual maladies by the Fathers is of special interest today for two reasons. First, “it represents the cumulative experience and fruit of many generations of ascetics who have explored the depth of human soul and have come to a knowledge of even its innermost recesses in great detail; at the same time, they have spent their entire lives in mastering and transforming the soul and have acquired a unique and remarkably efficacious experience.” Second, the Fathers “envisioned man in all his complexity, taking into account the many dimensions of his being, including the problems posed by his very existence (especially its meaning), his overall destiny and his relationship with God.”

Another aim of this book is “to present the attitude of the great saints towards ‘fools,’ an attitude animated in particular by the Christian ideal of charity. But first it is necessary “to have some idea of the anthropological bases underlying their conceptions.” The work will conclude with a treatment of the phenomenon of the “fool for Christ.”

Larchet begins his first chapter with the assertion that the Holy Fathers “often insist that the human being is neither body nor soul in isolation, but entirely and indissociably both.” The two influence each other, with the result “that every movement of the soul is accompanied by a movement of the body and every movement of the body by that of the soul.” Nonetheless, “the soul, being incorporeal, has a different nature than the body and is superior to it.”

The Fathers normally distinguish three “powers” in the human soul: the vegetative, the function of which is “nutrition growth and generation”; the animal or appetitive, which comprises two elements: irrascability or ardor (thumos) and concupiscability (epithumetikon), “which encompasses desire, affectivity, and other surge urges; and reason, the two principles faculties of which are the spirit (pneuma) and intellect (nous). (Here Larchet notes that the authors of the first centuries used the former term, while Byzantine and subsequent writers preferred the latter term.) However, it should be pointed out that “the ‘elements’ that can be distinguished in the soul do not constitute three different souls, nor three separate parts.” Some Fathers used the dichotomous body-soul model, and others the trichotomous spirit/intellect-soul-body model.

God willing, I’ll continue with chapter two tomorrow.

1 comment:

Thomas Fincher said...

The understanding of the oneness and body is essential in the study of wellness. Primarily because researches today have seen some links between the spiritual statute and that of the body. The early framework of the Early Christian East still holds ground in our contemporary times.

Aside from religious frameworks, the oneness of the body and spirit is deemed relevant in the practice of Theta healing. The major tenet of Theta healing pertains to going back to the primal energy of the creator. Through the process of Theta healing the person can be in touch with the higher being and be cured of his or her illnesses.

Indeed, there is a clear link between the body and the spirit. Looking forward to the next chapter. Thanks!