I’ll be giving a virtual paper at Villanova’s Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Conference on October 16. The theme is “Thought and Prayer.” I’ll be exploring the themes described below. As usual, I’ll post notes and audio later, as possible.
Dionysius the Areopagite and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing have much to offer a conversation on thought and contemplation. In both cases, contemplation is positioned as a craft that can be taught—like woodworking or writing—and that the work of this craft is a practice of unknowing, a leaving behind of the senses, reasons, and thoughts of the intellect. And yet, in this via negativa tradition, the practitioner is also instructed in the ways of contemplative prayer, a method of using words and phrases to guide the development of the practitioner’s skill. There is, then, a relation between thought and contemplation, where the virtue of contemplative practice acts as a preparation for thought and where thought, in turn, acts a preparation for contemplative experience. In this talk, I will offer an account of the epistemological significance of this relation through a discussion of the principal (consciousness, reason, and will) and secondary (imagination, sense perception) faculties discussed in The Cloud author’s text.