This 2005 translation of 'Therapeutique des maladies mentales' (1992, Les Editions du Cerf) offers access to the well-heeled research of the author. Jean-Claude Larchet has built a steady foundation of criticism concerning so-called scientific approaches to treat mental and spiritual diseases. His thesis advances the view that ancient Fathers of the Church offer insights to treating mental and spiritual maladies, which contemporary theories of psychiatry either ignore or rebuff. Moreover, while acknowledging the gaps in source material from the Fathers, he identifies the explanatory gaps in psychiatric theories and treatment modalities all the same.
Theological anthropology, derived from the Fathers, constitutes the general theme of the first chapter. The author devotes a chapter to each grouped domain of causes for mental illness according to the Fathers: a) insanity due to somatic origins, b) insanity due to demonic origin, and c) insanity of spiritual origin. Of particular note are 24 pages devoted to acedia -- its nosology, and treatment of sadness and acedia.
The capstone of the text is a study of the fool for Christ. The goal of life in Christ is not only to be free of mental illness, but also to achieve harmony among body, mind, and spirit. Such harmony is represented by the fool for Christ, who is motivated by humility, detachment from the world, and charity.
I offer an enthusiastic recommendation to consider this text as essential reading for spiritual formation in Christ, comprehensive treatment of sadness and acedia, and reappraisal of conventional medical modalities for treatment of mental illnesses. The text appeals to scholars and many others who share interests in etiology and management of mental illnesses. There are sufficient references in the bibliography to enhance additional exploration in themes addressed by the text.
Thank God for this book. For a long time I have been looking for a book to give me insight into how the church has perceived mental illness. This was a great summary of how the church fathers in the Eastern Christianity saw mental illness and how they dealt with it. Very helpful!
Jean-Claude Larchet writes the basic facts about ancient Eastern Christian views on mental illness in 171 pages. His style of writing or better yet his translation of by Rama Coomaraswamy & G. John Champoux makes a fast easy read for the general public while expressing the basics for the professional scholar. The chapter headings are as follows:
1. Anthropological Background: The Human Composite 2. Insanity Due To Somatic Problems 3. Insanity Of Demonic Origin 4. Insanity Of Spiritual Origin 5. A Most Singular Kind Of Folly - The Fool For Christ
Each chapter goes through the fast basics with defining the meanings, forms & causes, & treatment to each type of cause. The Fool for Christ might turn a couple of modern heads but is a historical practice of some Saints to confound the wise of the world.
This is an excellent tool to locate within the writings of ancient Church writers their notations regarding psychological conditions. However it should be understood their works were written with a slant towards conditions found in the pious person or one trying to attain piety in the first millennium. A very different human being than one found in the Western world today. Apparently the 19th and 20th century psychologists didn't find anything new ,they just had to put new names on considerations and disturbances that a more comfortable society submits to. The ancients had a natural bent for understanding of the primacy of the invisible over the visible. Our society does not. It is therefore tremendous difficult to draw out comparisons between the sweet conditions observed in modern times against those of the ancients who were dealing with the "noonday devils". If the reader is to appreciate this book it helps to be trained in modern psychology, and to be pious as well. Not a big readership I daresay.