Penthos: The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East

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Press: Cistercian Publications (November 1, 1982)
Publication Date:1982-1
Author Name:Hausherr, Irenee


If joy in the resurrection is the distinguishing mark of christian faith, why have christian saints throughout the ages prayed for 'the gift of tears'? What place has penthos, heartfelt compunction, in the sure and certain hope of life in Christ?In this study of penthos in the eastern monastic tradtion, the late Irénée Hauserr makes available to western Christians some of the heart of pastric and Orthodox teaching.

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Comment List (Total:3)

  •     While I would not say that Hausherr is exactly sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this book is still a very fine study of the Orthodox understanding and practice of repentance, which means more than saying "sorry" at night as you mutter a prayer into your pillow, half awake. What needs to be understood at the outset of reading this book or approaching Orthodox "spirituality" is that the early church, as found in the scriptures and Fathers, knows repentatnce, or the 180 degree turn we must make in our lives, to be something of a process that is by grace alone through faith and works. That is, you have to "work out your salvation in fear and trembling" even though "it is God who acts through you to will and to be". To western ears this may sound like semi-Pelagianism, but you must remember that the east does not have the hang up with works, merit and supererogatory grace, but rather understands God's grace as the living presence of God within us that actually changes us ontologically, not just morally or superficially as in much of Protestant theology. As Luther put it, man is a dung heap covered in snow, with the snow being the grace of God. The bible goes further than this, as does human experience. This is the point of the book. The author writes, "Metanoia, or repentance, is that moment of grace when the truth about ourselves and God strikes us, pierces the heart, and makes new life possible."What you will find in this book is more than a technical treatise, although it could function as such, but rather a whole panoramic view of the heart's struggle to stand naked before God and the world and the ability to maintain a position, by grace, of awakening and watchfulness. Sprinkled with many scriptural and patristic quotations, and ample anecdotes from the Church's written monastic tradition (gerontikon), this book doubles as a useful devotional reading.Other books of interest may include,Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Tradition of Discipline and Inner Growthby Colliander,The Orthodox Wayby Kallistos Ware,Exploring the Inner Universeby the confessor of our times Fr. Roman Braga,The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism,The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian studies 59),The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality,Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual FatherandBeginning to Pray. Each of these books would serve as a means of grace for you. Peace.
  •     This is a very good academic text that through careful reading can help develop and understand compunction of heart.I believe this book will be most helpful and useful to people who are already strongly familiar with: The Lives of the Desert Fathers and at least familiar some other great works from the Christian East and Early Monastic literature such as The Ladder of Divine Ascent, The Conferences of Dorotheus of Gaza, The Conference of St John Cassian and the such like. The book is very helpful at explaining the context and development of the doctrine of tears and repentance. I believe that certain sections and writings of the Fathers will become clearer and have greater meaning after reading this text. The book also includes many excerpts from homilies, writings and stories that I have not seen before. One item in particular was the finding of a story of an Eastern hermit who used the discipline to foster tears, which particularly surprised me because of the hostility and suspicion that Eastern Christian have towards that particular bodily penance which was so prevalent in western spirituality until modern times. He also makes allusions to many other monastic histories, and even named authors which I was not familiar with (he seems to expect that the reader is), the work is a translation and is from the early 20th century.The study of theology, singing chant, liturgical precision, and other pious and good things are criticized (sometimes very harshly) by certain holy men that are cited throughout the text as being obstacles of compunction of heart. The author does explain why they had these attitudes and I believe he does it very well, but if you expect him to spend a lot of time defending these things (and good defenses can be made of them) that they criticized he will not.Laughing, and by that I mean all laughing even chuckling is hated and despised, and evidence is produced showing how long and wide spread hatred of laughter was among not only the monks, but even in the Church's in that section of the world. The author does not nuance, nor does he try to reconcile these ideas with the humor of Western Saints like St Phillip Neri or St Padre Pio. The author also does not explore certain theological tensions: for example the fact that tears are so often spoken of as necessary for the forgiveness of sin, but the almost neglect of mentioning the necessity of absolution from a sacramental confession.These tensions and criticisms could trouble someone who is not aware of how devotion and spirituality has grown organically in the Church, and has changed due to certain factors of setting, custom, philosophical trends etc. The preface by the translator prepares the reader for this somewhat, but even I was surprised by the degree that laughter was hated (it was even renounced at baptism in Egypt.)Occasionally the author does make a witty remark or add some dry humor here over something or another, but I found these remarks respectful and not smug and condescending. The epilogue is probably the best part of the book as he puts forth his thoughts on the true manifestations of compunction, subsequent deviations, and the need to profoundly respect the Desert Fathers. The author of the book will not lead you to believe that these men were sour faced Saints, on the contrary amidst their many tears they found their joy, peace and the Love of God.I do believe that reading this book will help a person come to a greater understanding of why Jesus said "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted" Matt 5:4So I would recommend it, but after doing some other reading first. I also wish certain tensions were more smoothly resolved (like absolution in confession). I will be holding onto my copy to provide refreshment for when I feel overwhelmed with happy clappy superficial spirituality.
  •     Penthos digs deeply into the beginnings of Christianity and describes the beginnings and path of a long forgotten concept...weeping. The book is a must for any serious Christian who wants his/her devotion to be more than a textbook sterile fad-like experience. Dig deeper with Hausherr, learn to tap into your emotions, and be comforted in the company of the Abbas and Ammas of the desert.

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