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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1992
  • Online publication date: August 2010

Visions of the Self in Late Medieval Christianity: Some Cross-Disciplinary Reflections

Summary

In a volume devoted to philosophy, religion and the spiritual life, I would like to focus the later part of my essay on a comparison of two Christian spiritual writings of the fourteenth century, the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing in the West (1981), and the Triads of Gregory Palamas in the Byzantine East (1983). Their examples, for reasons which I shall explain, seem to me rich with implications for some of our current philosophical and theological aporias on the nature of the self. Let me explain my thesis in skeletal form at the outset, for it is a complex one, and has several facets.

Outline of the thesis

First, this comparison is I believe of some interest, historically and theologically, in its own right, for it witnesses to a fascinating divergence between Western and Eastern Christendom at this point, the West driving wedges between faculties in the self, the East arriving at a remarkable new synthetic view of the person. If I am correct, The Cloud, on the one hand, is one manifestation (one amongst the range of possibilities) of an emerging sense of optionality in the West in this period about what constitutes the ultimate locus of the self; the perichoretic co-operation of memory, understanding and will authoritatively found in Augustine, is, in various ways, rent apart disjunctively in the spiritual texts of this time.