What is Philokalia?

Philokalia directly translated means: Love of the Beautiful.

However, in the context it is written from, we should understand that it more closely means Love of the Beautiful-Holy, also Love of the Divine and Exalted.

The Beautiful-Holy is the most apt term I have found for this, though Western theologians like Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Urs Von Balthasar have begin talking in similar terms like Divine Beauty and Divine Love.

I think what we get when we think of Divine Love, or The Beautiful-Holy, is a totally new concept to many people in our world who see religious artifacts as mementos for museums and consider beauty to be whatever a trend says it is. The acts of the Philokalia challenge this in us, and ask us to reconsider for a moment what it means to be holy, and what it means to be beautiful, and says that they are in fact participants in the self-same identity.

When we learn what I’m saying, we discover a whole new Christianity for the Western world. However we discover a new Christianity that is as old as the Church herself. Christianity’s quest for justification in the West can be done away with without sacrificing discipline. To be Christian is in some sense to relearn what beauty means.

Christianity isn’t a sure-fire way to heaven, it’s a path that teaches us to see Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants. It’s a path that teaches us that the Devil is a liar, and that his ideas of beauty are not our own. I guess what I’m getting at is: Christianity is not a quest for justification, it is a path that teaches us to love what is truly beautiful. And in this love, there is all our justification and sanctification. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar said “Love Alone is Credible.”

The Love of the Beautiful-Holy, the act of Philokalia, is to perceive Holiness in looking at Beauty and to perceive Beauty when encountering Holiness.

Philokalia in its fullest sense means a love of God as the fullness of Beauty.

This has a ton of practical consequences, but I will only name three:

  • Justification becomes the act of becoming more beautiful, more human, and more holy all at once
  • We learn to love the Holy because it is in holy things that we find Beauty
  • We learn that anything truly beautiful is also participating in God’s very own holiness, and thus our imaginations conceive beauty totally differently
“Christianity is not a quest for justification, it is a path that teaches us to love what is truly beautiful.”

Understanding all that helps us understand these texts. It helps us understand that the Philokalia is not just an anthology or a collection of texts, it aims at helping the readers engage the life it presents. It seeks to cultivate love from the faithful, through their growth in relationship with God.

Ultimately, Philokalia is our action of reframing all that is beautiful around our love for God.


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