The spiritual guide: Midwife of the higher spiritual self

Donald Corcoran, Fordham University


The master-disciple relationship is one of the common features of the great religious traditions of mankind. To be a disciple of a master is the spiritual means par excellence in many traditions. This study employs several types of methodology to illumine the role and significance of such spiritual teachers. The first section of the dissertation examines one historical tradition in depth--that of the Desert Fathers of early Christian monasticism. This tradition calls the guide 'spiritual father' or 'spiritual mother' and strongly emphasizes the generativity of the spiritual guide. The historical significance of the Desert Fathers is analyzed and also the major literary witness of their lives and spirituality--the Apophthegmata Patrum. In the second section of the dissertation there is a discussion of the nature of authentic guidance by considering the guide in the context of the spiritual journey. The archetypal nature of the spiritual journey is considered both in the classic pattern of the hero myth and in studies of the pattern of initiation. From the historical and archetypal analysis, the dissertation moves to a third area of insight--that of psychology. The master-disciple relationship is an intensely interpersonal form of education. Contemporary psychology can provide much insight into the dangers and perversions of such a relationship--pathological dependency and so on. This study focuses rather on the positive psychological dynamic of the master-disciple relationship. The role of the guide is aptly expressed in the image of midwife--one who assists in the process of spiritual rebirth. The guide evokes a new spiritual identity in the disciple, therefore, the function of the guide can also be described as 'soulmaking', a term popularized by James Hillman. Drawing primarily on the insights of C. G. Jung, James Hillman and the 12th century religious psychology of William of St. Thierry, this section explores the question of how the disciple's soul is drawn to greater psychological and spiritual integration. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

Subject Area

Theology|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Corcoran, Donald, "The spiritual guide: Midwife of the higher spiritual self" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8919996.