The Philosophy and Relevance of
Ancient Christian Asceticism

crosslisted as DS9164C

Dr Cullan Joyce
Not offered in 2020

Early Christianity has many recognised masters of the spiritual life. The unit may draw on material from: Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor and others. Often, key practices, beliefs and conceptual structures that inform their thought and spiritual practice are deeply influenced by philosophical thinking. This unit investigates the philosophical, spiritual and psychological structures evident in the writings and practices of some key ascetic thinkers. It reflects on their thought in light of contemporary approaches to spirituality and philosophical reflection. These may include: mindfulness meditation, interreligious philosophies and philosophy of life. In doing so, the unit attempts to articulate the contribution made by early Christian thought to ascetic philosophy and practice today.  


two foundational units in philosophy or spirituality


face-to-face 3-hour weekly classes in semester


  • one 6,000-word essay 90%
  • one 1,000-word skeleton argument 10%
  • one 4,000-word essay 60%
  • one 1,000-word skeleton argument 10%
  • one 2,000-word essay 30% 


  • Augustine. On the Free Choice of the Will, On Grace and Free Choice, and Other Writings. Edited and translated by Peter King. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • ———. The Confessions of St. Augustine
  • ———. The Trinity
  • Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976.
  • Maximus the Confessor. Maximus the Confessor: Selected Writings. Translated by George C. Berthold. New York: Paulist, 1985.
  • ———. On The Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua. Edited and translated by Nicholas Constas. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 
  • Gregory of Nyssa. From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings. Selected and with an introduction by Jean Danielou. Translated and edited by Herbert Musurillo. London: John Murray, 1962.
  • Pelikán, Jaroslav. Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism. Gilford Lectures at Aberdeen. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993. 
  • Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite. The Complete Works. Translated by Colm Luibheid. Foreword, notes, and translation collaboration by Paul Rorem. Preface by Rene Rocques. Introductions by Jaroslav Pelikán, Jean Leclercq, and Karlfried Froehlich. Mahwah: Paulist, 1987.
  • von Balthasar, Hans Urs. Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor. Translated by Brian E. Daley. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2003.