The eight stages of theoria

“O Holy Trinity, venerable and long-suffering . . . Who one day will become known to all; to some through illumination, to others by damnation” – Gregory the Theologian.

According to Peter of Damascus (Philokalia, #3108), eight degrees or stages of theoria exist, as follows:

  • First stage – knowledge of life’s afflictions and temptations. True awareness of God’s blessing amidst our trials and tribulations; 
  • Second stage – knowledge of God’s graces and beneficence toward us. True awareness of our sins and passions;
  • Third stage – knowledge of our sufferings, both before and after death;
  • Fourth stage – understanding the life of Jesus Christ before His Passion and Resurrection. True knowledge of what the ascetics, martyrs, and saints have said and done.
  • Fifth stage – knowledge of nature and its inner dynamics (logoi; Maximus the Confessor);
  • Sixth stage – knowledge of the uncreated, providential energy of God;
  • Seventh stage – understanding the angels;
  • Eighth stage – theoria of God, the vision of the uncreated Divine Light. Real knowledge of God and true theology.

Stages one to three occur to individuals who are concerned with practical virtue (praxis) in the spiritual life. This is the state of purification, a state which can be likened to that of convalescence (Met. Hierotheos, The illness and cure of the soul). Stages four to eight occur to individuals whose heart of their souls, the nous, has been cleansed and opened through illumination. These stages can be likened to those of healing. Stage eight is related to the era of the eighth day, a foretaste of which we can start enjoying from now, if we become sufficiently cleansed and purified, for “the vision of God is Paradise for the purified, but Hell for the impure” (ibid., p. 206). Stage eight was the state of Adam before the Fall.

Meanwhile, Gregory Palamas breaks down the eighth stage of theoria into three subdivisions. These are (1) illumination of the nous, the heart of the soul; (2) theoria, the vision of God; and (3) the constant vision of God.