Research article
Issue: № 1 (8), 2013

Grushko K.A.

Master of philology, postgraduate student, assistant, Nizhny Novgorod State University named after N.I. Lobachevsky



In the article the structure of the concept “holiness” in Russian and English cognitive systems is considered, some attempts to comparison and detection of Orthodox and Catholic specific of holiness understanding are undertaken.

Keywords: cognitive layer, cognitive sign, holiness.

The present time is considered to be an age of wide cross-cultural communication, when many contrastive researches are carried out. Inspite of that the concept “holiness” hasn’t been investigated by linguists yet and moreover there hasn’t been the comparative analysis of the concept, that has some common and different in Catholic and Orthodox perception. Meanwhile this concept is fundamental in Christian religious tradition, “because it says about some radically another anthropological status, another way of spending final human life” [1]. It’s also worth mentioning, that the recent half a century in Catholic world “serious attempts to bring Christians of different confessions together are being done” and that “much for Catholics to acquaint with Orthodoxy is being done” [2]. All of that shows the topicality of the article.

We’ve explored language representations of the concept “holiness” in the hagiographical texts “Life of Kirill Belozersky” and “Life of St. Columban”. The result of the work is the description of the concept structure. The core and cognitive layers with cognitive signs in them were allotted in it. The most often used words make up kernel zone. Among them there’re characteristics of the saint, saint places, things or phenomena – all of that, where the trace of belonging to God is present.

But we’re more interested in the contents of the cognitive layers. In both sources we’ve distinguished the following layers: “General characteristic of life”, “Asceticism, spiritual life”, “Temptations, struggle with the devil and sins, victory over them”, “Prophecies, predictions of the saint”, “Activity” and “Wonders”. Beside it one more layer was allotted in “Life of St. Columban” (it’s absent in ancient Russian text) – “Outward and psychological characteristic of the saint”.

Because of saints belong to different types (if to use the Orthodox theory of holiness), there are some differences in the cognitive layer “Activity”. Contents of the cognitive layer “General characteristic of life” are obviously different, too.

Basing on the results we got it can be said, that there’re some common features in Orthodox and Catholic holiness. In the both confessions holiness is connected with such signs as “seclusion, leaving a society”, special attitude to meals” (fasting), “exhaustion of the body”, “leaving welfare”, “sufferings”, “prayer”, “labour”, “zeal”, “humility” and “relying upon God’s (or Virgin’s) will”. All of them are included in the cognitive layer “Asceticism, spiritual life”, that’s the most multicomponent and important for it’s that leads a man to holiness.

Cognitive signs “help / will of God”, “unusual phenomena” and “healing” in the layer “Wonders”, “sufferings from the devil”, “devil’s actions” and “victory over the devil” in the layer “Temptations, struggle with the devil and sins, victory over them”, “saint’s prophecies” in the layer “Prophecies, predictions of the saint” and “building of the monastery and provision of the necessary facilities in it” in the layer “Activity” are common features in the Orthodox and Catholic understanding of holiness. Presence of all of these signs reveals the fundament of the analyzed phenomenon that was formed in the period when two confessions were one whole.

But, of course, there’re some specific moments. As for peculiarities of the Orthodox holiness, they can be spoken about because they were found in the ancient Russian source only and are absent in the English text.

In Orthodoxy the way of a saint to holiness is characterized by greater exhausting of the body (keeping wake, wearing decrepit clothes), prayers about others and more reserved attitude to people (silence, being a fool in Christ). The cognitive sign “be honoured” that we can meet only in the Russian text indicates to the process of becoming close to God is going during earthly life if it’s pious.

Now let’s consider specific moments of Catholic phenomenon of holiness. “Life of St. Columban” gives us more psychological image of a saint. It’s proved by not only such cognitive signs as “grief” and “shame” in the cognitive layer “Asceticism, spiritual life”, but also by the whole cognitive layer “Outward and psychological characteristic of the saint” including two cognitive signs “character” and “appearance”. Moreover, it shows that Catholic saint has not only clear soul, but also nice appearance like in antiquity there was an idea that nice spirit can be only in a nice body.

In the layer “Wonders” there’re also signs, being only in the Catholic hagiographical text: “people’s transgressions and God’s retribution”, “God’s warning and instructing of the saint” and “mercy of God”. They indicate to the importance of more frequent meddling of God in people’s life and particularly in the saint’s life. So, in Catholic understanding of holiness it’s very important to show God to punish sinners. Maybe this fact explains that in the English source a polar side of holiness, sinfulness, is established in details that makes a greater contrast between pious and sinful way of life as though ways of life are worthy and not worthy following are shown.

Thus, it can be said, that both in Russian and in English cognitive systems the concept “holiness” has a very difficult structure, includes many cognitive signs, which are differently important. Many-sidedness of the concept reflects the complexity and inclusiveness of the phenomenon of holiness, and contents of cognitive layers are evidence of common and different in understanding of this phenomenon in Orthodoxy and Catholicism.



  1. Бубнова М. Ю. Русская святость как экзистенциальный феномен: Дис. канд. филос. наук. – http://www.disserr.ru
  2. Тышкевич С. Католичество. – http://www.apologia.ru