The Philokalia and the Inner Life: On Passions and Prayer is a splendid guide to one of the most important yet challenging anthologies of spiritual writing in western spirituality. The Philokalia, a multi-volume anthology of early Christian and Eastern Orthodox writings on prayer and holiness, is a treasure of the Christian contemplative tradition — and can also be daunting to the first-time reader. Christopher C. H. Cook provides a substantive introduction to The Philokalia considering it not only from a theological but also a psychological perspective. Like all great works of mystical or contemplative theology, the writings of The Philokalia address questions of mental as well as spiritual health, regarding the passions (what we might think of as unskillful thoughts and feelings, such as anger, greed or arrogance) as key challenges not which not only thwart our ability to respond to God’s grace, but also to live a good and happy life. Reminiscent of contemporary psychological interventions like cognitive therapy (which holds that changing thoughts is a key to emotional well-being), the spirituality of The Philokalia recognizes that unhealthy thoughts are the chief impediment to the quest for holiness. In other words, The Philokalia functions as a type of manual for inner well-being, although it prescribes a “praying cure” rather than a “talking cure”!
What I particularly enjoyed about The Philokalia and the Inner Life is its multiple charts and diagrams, detailing not only how different authors in the tradition understood the passions, but also in-depth ways of understanding how the passions arise within us, the role of the Beatitudes in the spiritual life, and even a thorough analysis of the language of interiority found throughout the anthology. Maybe it’s a little geeky, but if you want to truly appreciate how the riches of The Philokalia can make a practical difference in your life today, then this book is an excellent guide.