Symeon the New Theologian

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Symeon the New Theologian


Born 949 in Galatia (Paphlagonia); died 1022 in Chrysopolis. Byzantine religious writer and mystical philosopher.

In his youth, Symeon studied in Constantinople and was in the imperial service; he later became a monk. His works develop the themes of deep self-examination, self-purgation, and illumination of the individual who has withdrawn into himself to cultivate spirituality. For Symeon, the authority of the church’s hierarchical institutions receded into the background before the absolute authority of the “spirit-bearing” ascetic, the bearer of personal sanctity. Symeon’s teaching concerning the personal relationship between mentor (“spiritual father”) and disciple (“spiritual son”) as the highest norm of religious life is typologically comparable to the doctrines of Islamic mysticism concerning the link between the murshid and the murid; it is precisely in such a chain of “inheritance” that “tradition” is preserved.

Symeon’s poems are important in the history of Byzantine literature because of the boldness with which the author reformed meters and brought poetic language close to the norms of living speech. Symeon’s mystical philosophy anticipated 14th-century hesychasm.


Greek text with French translation:
Catéchèses, vols. 1–3. Edited by B. Krivochéine. Translated by J. Paramelle. Paris, 1963–65.
Chapitres théologiques, gnostiques et pratiques. Edited by J. Darrouzes. Paris, 1958.
Traités théologiques et éthiques, vols. 1–2. Edited by J. Darrouzes. Paris, 1966–67.
Hymnes, vols. 1–3. Edited by J. Koder. Paris, 1969–73.
In Russian translation:
Slova, fascs. 1–2. Moscow, 1882.


Kazhdan, A. P. “Predvaritel’nye zamechaniia o mirovozzrenii vizantiiskogo mistika X-XI vv. Simeona.” Byzantinoslavica, 1967, vol. 28, no. 1.
Krivochéine, V. “The Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian.” Orientalia Christiania Periodica, 1954, vol. 20.


References in periodicals archive ?
One might quibble that the author has not done enough to present some of the later theological material, particularly from Symeon the New Theologian and especially Gregory Palamas, whose corpus is barely cited in the book but who is venerated as an important Orthodox theologian on the first Sunday of Great Lent.
Derek Krueger argues that much of the imagery of Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) is frankly homoerotic.
As an example, let me mention the "private opinion" of St Symeon the New Theologian that the power "to bind and to loose" does not pertain to all priests but only to those who "who serve in the priestly ministry of the gospel in a spirit of humility and who live a blameless life".
We should also bear in mind that Symeon the New Theologian lived in post-iconoclast times, when the authority of the hierarchical clergy among simple believers was very low; many preferred to see monks, even non-ordained, for confession.
Donatism, which goes beyond the framework of the "consensus", is a heresy, whereas the teaching of St Symeon the New Theologian on the "power to bind and to loose", which remains within that expanse, is absolutely correct--even though it is distinct from opinions expressed by other Fathers who lived in other historical contexts, wrote in other languages and emphasized other aspects of the very same truth.
Several centuries later, significant differences in the field of ascetic practices and mysticism became apparent (compare Symeon the New Theologian with Francis of Assisi, or Gregory Palamas with Ignatius Loyola).
For several years I did research on St Symeon the New Theologian.
It seems to me that in this way it proved possible to reconstruct the world in which St Symeon the New Theologian lived and worked with maximum possible accuracy.
Among later Byzantine authors, the works of St Symeon the New Theologian and the ascetic treatises from the Greek Philokalia were translated, thanks first of all to the endeavours of St Theophan the Recluse; but many other key works of later Byzantine literature remained "out of view".
One thinks of Maximus the Confessor or Symeon the New Theologian.
The most prominent monastic saint of this period, St Symeon the New Theologian, is a controversial figure (both in his own day and later), and his influence complex and still not clearly understood.
Taking as its slogan "Forward -- to the Fathers", it turned to study the heritage of the Eastern Fathers and revealed to the world the treasures of Byzantine spiritual and theological tradition (in particular, the writings of St Symeon the New Theologian and St Gregory Palamas).