University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
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TITLE Christian Spirituality Through the Ages

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Moral Theology

DESCRIPTION A History of spirituality is a history of the human being and his efforts to live as integrally as possible the life of Jesus Christ. This course deals with Christian Spirituality in three major periods: the time of the Fathers of the Church, the Middle Ages and the Modern and Contemporary Periods.


The Instruction on the Study of the Fathers of the Church in the Formation of Priests (Rome, 1989) issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, states that: “In addition to their theological profundity, the Patristic writings are also distinguished for the great cultural, spiritual and pastoral value they contain” (par. 41). In the light of this very important official pronouncement, after a brief introduction to the Fathers, we shall move to analyse the gradual development from an evidently Judeo-Christian to a purely Christian spirituality as witnessed in the patristic writings of the first two centuries. Important aspects of Christian spirituality, found in both Eastern and Western Fathers will then be tackled, including the spirituality of martyrdom (Acts of Martyrs, Cyprian, Origen), prayer (Clement of Alexandria, Origen), path towards perfection (Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria), virginity (Methodius of Olympus), poverty and wealth (Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ambrose), Christian life as a struggle (Augustine).


Within the history of Christian spirituality in the Middle Ages, these elements will be discussed:

- Saint Gregory the Great and his times: pastors, the Roman people, the monks.
- Spirituality of the Christian East.
- The influence of Ireland: Saint Patrick, Saint Columban, prayer texts or books, moral rules and rules of penance.
- Spiritual pockets in the barbaric reigns: saints, popular spirituality, mission spirituality.
- The renewal of the Carolingian era: the spirituality of the clergy, of the monks and of the laity; the Bible and the biblical commentaries; the liturgy and the devotions; spirituality of the family.
- The crisis and the reform in the X and XI centuries: the common life of the clergy; the progress of the spirituality of the laity; the monastic reforms.
- The XII century: new spiritual environments around the schools and the laity; conjugal spirituality.
- The XIII century: the Franciscans and the Dominicans; new forms of piety.
- The end of the Middle Ages: conflicts and crises; progress and increase of mysticism.


The unit attempts to present an overview of significant spiritual movements and figures that shaped Christian Spirituality during the Modern and Contemporary period. In the introductory lectures an attempt will be made to present briefly the Sixteenth Century Catholic and Protestant attempts to renewal and reform and their impact on spirituality in the following centuries. Owing to the vastness and richness of this period, some themes and personalities listed here will only be briefly touched upon.

The Sixteenth Century: The Catholic Renewal and the Protestant Reformation; The Siglo de oro (Juan de Avila, Ignazio de Loyola, Teresa de Jesus, Juan de la Cruz); The Spirituality of Joy and Renewal (Filippo Neri, Carlo Borromeo, Achille Gagliardi, Maddalena de’ Pazzi).

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: The French School (Benoît de Canfield, François de Sales, Pierre de Bérulle, Vincent de Paul, Marie de l’Incarnation, John of Saint Samson); The Giansenist and Quietist movements; The Christocentric and Marian Devotional Mysticism (Maria Alacoque and Louis Grignon de Montfort); The Mysticism of the Passion (Paulo della Croce).

The Nineteenth Century and Twentieth Centuries: The Rediscovery of Gospel Simplicity (Thérèse of Liseux and Charles de Foucauld); Nostalgia and New Forms of Renewal (Antonio Rosmini, John Henry Newman, Giovanni Bosco); Anglican and Protestant Spirituality (establishing and discovering distinctiveness, spirituality expressed in lyric poetry); The Hesycast Revival (The Philocalia, The Way of the Pilgrim); Spirituality and Mysticism from the Fringes (Simon Weil, contemporary alternative spiritualities: feminist, ecological, etc...); Rediscovering Christian Roots (The Liturgical, Biblical, Ecumenical and Patristic Movements, Neomonasticism); The New Age of Martyrs (Maximilian Kolbe, Titus Brandsma, Edith Stein, etc...); The Mysticism of Evangelical Poverty and Forsakenness (Dorothy Day, Madeleine Delbrêl, Teresa of Calcutta, Chiara Lubich, Andrea Santoro); In search of a New Idiom: Vatican II and the following spiritual writers (Divo Barsotti, Henri Nouwen, Ronald Rolheiser).

Study-Unit Aims:

At the end of this study-unit, participants will be better equipped to:
- identify main Christian authors and their writings by means of a critical appraisal of their proper contexts;
- demonstrate that the history of spirituality is dynamic and progressive in its formulation;
- construct in contemporary language the culture of the Christian message which is both enriched by and enriches the world.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- BOUYER L., et al., A History of Christian Spirituality, New York, 1963.
- SHELDRAKE, Philip, A Brief History of Spirituality, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Supplementary Readings:

- BOKENKOTTER, Thomas, A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Revised and Expanded Edition, New York: Doubleday, 1990.
- FOSTER, Richard, J., Streams of Living Water. Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith, San Francisco: Harper, 2001.
- PADOVESE LUIGI, Introduzione alla Teologia Patristica, Casale Monferrato (AR), 1992.
- RAMSEY BONIFACE, Beginning to read the Fathers, London: Darton Longmann & Todd, 1987. Esp. Chap. VII – XI.
- Storia della spiritualità, edited by Louis Bouyer – Ermanno Ancilli – Bruno Secondin, Bologna: Edizioni Dehoniane, 1987-1993.
- SITWELL G., Spiritual Writers of the Middle Ages, New York, 1961.

A comprehensive bibliography will be distributed to the participants at the beginning of each unit.


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 33%
Assignment Yes 33%
Assignment Yes 33%

LECTURER/S Glen Attard
Charlo Camilleri
Jonathan Rev Farrugia

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.

Augustinian Institute Academic Year 2017-18

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