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Larchet Therapeutique des maladies spirituelles

Book review by Isabel Massey

Therapeutique des maladies spirituelles

by Jean-Claude Larchet

In the summer of 2007, Fu Jen International Religious Studies opened its first issue with an article by Joseph W. Ciarrocchi of Maryland, USA entitled "The Social Aspects of Healing: Interpersonal and Spiritual Correlates of Health".  Here we see the very modern, yet very ancient, view of the complex human person: 'mind, body and soul' and concern for healing.  So this review is addressed to Ciarrocchi, and to everyone who shares this fundamental interest.

In Europe at this time, there is great interest in the whole person, body, soul and spirit as well as the vital relationship of the person to the Holy Spirit.  In Paris, the Dominican Press, Cerf, suddently discovered Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet and began publishing his work.  About eighteen books have been published in the last eighteen years or so.  Jean-Clause Larchet, Doctor in Theology and Philosophy, studied the whole tradition of the oriental Fathers, culminating is St Maximus the Confessor and St Gregory Palamas.  But undoubtedly, his major work is Therapeutic des malaies spirituelles (Therapy for spiritual maladies), now in its fifth edition in French, 2007.

In the opening chapter, Larchet sets his goal, "to show the importance of the 'medical image' of christ".  He quotes Vladimir Lossky, "If Christ appeared as a doctor and the salvation He brought as a cure (of souls and bodies), it is because humanity was ill."  The purpose of he spiritual life is the assimilation of this healing.  This takes training and effort.  It is the life-style of the Christian.  hence the chapter "Christ the Physician" is at the core of the book. (pp.287-309).

This book is organized in six parts.  Part One is entitled "Original Health and the origin of Illnesses".  Part Two reads "Disease-classification and Pathogenesis of the Spiritual Maladies, the 'Passions'." here Larchet sets forth the deep generic illnesses that have beset us from the dawn of time, right to the present day: self-love (even including bulimia and anorexia), the misuse of he gastronomical organs, the cult of sexual pleasure without love, money-loving and covetousness, sadness, inertia (today called 'depression' or melancholy), fear/wrath, vainglory and arrogance.  These are seen as maladies injurious to the health of the soul/psyche and spirit, and injurious to everyone's goal of 'divinization' in health and wholeness.  The third part "General Conditions for Therapy", the fourth "Setting to Work at Therapy", and the fifth "Therapy of the 'Passions' and the Acquisition of the Virtues" delineate the various elements in the process of healing.  The Eastern Fathers hold that the virtues simply constitute the normal and natural state of a person, and the passions are their contraries, tumultuous or simply vacuous. Askesis or 'practice' is shown to be a process of maturing, 'which causes man to pass from a state of infancy to the adult state, perfect and true, realizing the fullness of christ". (p.441)

In the sixth part, Larchet offers a description of Health Recovered, a therapy that is progressive.  Man re-orients towards God, and normalcy (virtue) is grdually recovered; knowledge and contemplation bring their enrichment; spiritual health becomes evident, and is reflected throughout the whole person.  Ultimately, man is 'divinized'.  This is the culmination of the Christian journey.

Thus Larchet has done a great service to the modern world in so thoroughly reviving this long-forgotten therapy, which reaches beyond our moralism, rationalism, mundane utilitarianism and restrictive attitudes.  With his thorough grasp of the terminology of the early Greek Fathers, Larchet has brought forward their comprehensive knowledge of the human complex and the healing dynamic.  Throughout the whole book, he offers the reader solid assurance by quoting directly from one Greek Father after another (and offering exact footnotes).  Thus we are presented with a thorough therapeutic tradition.  In Orthodoxy, this has long been viewed as the restoration of the primordial health man had in Paradise.  It is the heritage of all Christianity and of all humanity.

The great tradition of the spiritual Fathers is quietly evident throughout this book.  This is a whole-person-experiental tradition, spiritual fatherhood and motherhood at its best and deepest.  This is the context for the best and deepest healing in the quest for metamorphosis.  First comes the will to be healed.  Then the process is at once personal and social (inexorably interwoven), starting with the Baptismal seed, and developing through a multifaceted Sacramental life (pp.311-336).  The social aspect includes drawing upon the experience of all our ancestors-in-faith from Abraham and Moses onwards.  We are born of our history, and it contributes to our development.  Healing towards wholeness continues in the context of faith and prayer.  The metamorphosis culminates as we become "partakers of the Divine Nature" (II Peter 1:4).

Larches dedicates one chapter to "The role of the Spiritual Father" (pp.469-485).  here we have a vital strand of the Christina tradition, highly developed by the early Oriental Fathers, but well-nigh lost today.  How can there be therapy without therapists - spiritual therapists who know and appreciate this heritage?

Published in Fu-Jen International Religious Studies, Vol.3, No 1, (N.Summer 2009), pp.163-168.


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