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Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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Why did Pseudo-Symeon go to such lengths? Prayer practice in which intense imagination results in sensory experience is attested throughout the Byzantine era. In the ninth-century Life of Theophanes the Confessor by Patriarch Methodios, for example, the young saint and his bride 'pursue' Christ by focusing on their sense of smell: they imagine him as fragrance and are eventually rewarded with the miraculous manifestation of 'real' fragrance to their noses.23 In the hagiographical tradition such experiences are presented as unproblematic and the issue of discretion is hardly ever raised. This unconcern contrasts sharply with the views expressed in late antique and Byzantine spiritual literature.24 The authors of spiritual texts not only strongly discourage the use of imagination because of the danger of demonic deception but also criticise the exclusive focus on the achievement of visionary experiences and the concomitant lack of interest in moral perfection and the strategies that lead to it.25 It is evident that with his approach, which focused on visionary experience and had no room for traditional practices of soul-searching, Pseudo-Symeon found himself outside traditional spiritual discourse. With his manipulations he tried to overcome the marginal status of his own position and to make it acceptable within this discourse, represented in his text through the second prayer practice. In order to achieve his aim he pursued a complex strategy. Despite its obvious similarity with the hesychastic method he introduced the first practice as a separate approach. In agreement with the spiritual tradition, he then presented this approach as misguided and dangerous for its practitioners.26 This allowed the author to show awareness of and pay lip service to the objections against the use of imagination and thus to disguise the fact that his own position was virtually identical to those who made use of imagination in the pursuit of visionary experience.

Pseudo-Symeon's manipulations ensured hesychasm a place in the spiritual mainstream. However, it is evident that the combination ofthe two traditions remains superficial and is only possible through subversion of the conceptual framework underlying the second practice. Nikephoros in his manual makes it clear that for hesychasts immunity from demonic attacks is not achieved through sifting through thoughts and the exercise of discretion but through

23 Methodios, Life of Theophanes, 13-14, ed. V V Latyshev, Methodii Patriarchae Constanti-nopolitani Vita S. Theophanis Confessoris [Zapiski rossiiskoi akademii nauk. (po istoriko-filologicheskomuotdeleniiu), ser. viii, i3.4](Petrograd: Rossiiskaiaakademiianauk, 1918), 9.32-10.20.

24 Cf.G. Dagron, 'Rêver de Dieu et parler de soi. Le reve et son interprétation d'après les sources byzantines', in Isogni nelMedioevo (Seminario internazionale Roma 2-4 ottobre 1983, ed. T. Gregori) [Lessico intellettuale europeo 35] (Rome, 1985), 37-55.

25 Hausherr, Methode d'oraison, 142-4.

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