“Nous” (part 3 of 4)
In his book, “Orthodox Psychotherapy,” Hierotheos (Vlachos) quotes Saint Maximus the Confessor as saying “The nous functions in accordance with nature when it keeps the passions under control, contemplates the inner essences of created beings, and abides with God.”The nous is changed by every conceptual image of that which it accepts. When the nous sins through impassioned conceptual images it has the virtues of the soul to instruct it. When the nous is in a fallen state, confusion is created in the whole of the spiritual organism. The nous needs therapy/purification.
Referring again to Saint Maximus, Hierotheos divides the spiritual life into three stages. These three stages are 1.) practical philosophy, 2.) natural theoria, and 3.) mystical theology. The first stage purifies the man of passions and equips him with virtues. The second stage illuminates the mans nous with true knowledge. And the last bestows on him the highest mystical experience. Saint Maximus refers to this highest mystical experience as ecstasy. Taken together these three stages are understood as man’s path to salvation.
By purifying the soul what is principally meant is releasing it from slavery to the passions. It is though not completely understood in the negative sense but also in a positive one that involves the development of the human being and the illumination of the nous. Beginning with a quote from Saint Diadochos of Photike, Hierotheos says that “the qualities of a pure soul are intelligence, devoid of envy, ambition free from malice, and unceasing love for the Lord of Glory. “In other words, if we are motivated by envy and our ambition contains malice and our love for God is not unceasing, it means that our heart has not yet been purified.”So the purification of the nous is man’s cure, his restoration of communion with God. The cure can be said to have succeeded when he has become truly a temple of the Holy Spirit, a saint of God.
The difficult word ’soul’ is used with more than one meaning in the Holy Scriptures and Church Fathers, but primarily it is referring to the whole man as a single living hypostasis. “The soul is not the cause of life. It is rather, the bearer of life.”The spiritual element of human existence is referred to as soul, and the biological life is also called soul. Hierotheos draws a comparison between this and the fact that God’s essence is called light, and His energy is also called light. Although the soul is immortal, a concept the Church adopted and adapted from ancient Greek philosophy, it is not seen as being eternal, as the philosophers would have it, but rather created by God. Man is a psychosomatic being and it cannot be said that man simply “ is” a soul, but there is no existence of the body without a soul, and no existence of the soul without a body. Man’s immortality is not based on the immortality of the soul. It is based on the resurrection of bodies in the future.
The reflection of man’s being made in the image of God is found in the soul not the body to which it gives life. As God is nous, word and spirit, so man’s soul is nous, soul and spirit. The soul is disrupted by passions and sins and the three powers of the soul need to be reunified. When the nous lost its relationship with God and became darkened, so did the body follow it. Because of the connection between the two the soul became corrupted by the passions. “The soul acquired the qualities of the passions, or rather the demons, and the body became like irrational beasts due to the condition into which it fell and the prevalence of corruption. Since the soul and body were corrupted they formed one animal being, unreasoning and senseless, subject to anger and lust.”It is the Orthodox and therapeutic radiation offer a way to bring healing and life back to the soul that dead in sin and slavery to the passions. This therapy is to help us to free our minds from distractions so that the nous can make its appearance again.