Origen of Alexandria came up with the idea first.
Unless you’re a Christian history geek, chances are you’ve never heard of Origen. He lived in Egypt from about 185 to 253—meaning he was a third-century Christian, who died sixty years before Constantine decriminalized the faith. In other words, he lived long before the desert fathers and mothers, before the rise of Christian monasticism, before what we now know as “Christian mysticism” or “contemplative spirituality” really took shape. Indeed, Origen’s extensive writings inspired the great desert father Evagrius, who is generally considered to be the first Christian writer to describe contemplative prayer in his work.
The “idea” that I’m referring to is the notion that Christian spirituality can be understood as involving three stages. To give this notion a bit of gravitas, Origen appealed to the Hebrew Scriptures. He saw three of the wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, which appear in consecutive order in the Christian Old Testament; as symbolic of these three stages, which he labeled (in Greek) ethike, physike, and enoptike. Translated into English, the stages involve the acquisition of virtue or ethics, which leads to a more Godly way of relating to the natural world, which in turn prepares one for the vision of God, or contemplation. Continue reading “The Three Stages of Contemplative Life – Purification, Illumination, Theosis”