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Metanoia (from the Greek μετάνοια, metanoia, changing one's mind, repentance) has different meanings in different contexts.

Metanoia in the context of theological discussion, where it is used often, is usually interpreted to mean repentance. However, some people argue that the word should be interpreted more literally to denote changing one's mind, in the sense of embracing thoughts beyond its present limitations or thought patterns (an interpretation which is compatible with the denotative meaning of repentance but replaces its negative connotation with a positive one, focusing on the superior state being approached rather than the inferior prior state being departed from).

In the context of rhetoric, metanoia is a rhetorical device used to retract a statement just made, and then state it in a better way.[1] As such, metanoia is similar to correctio.

In the psychological theory of Carl Jung, metanoia denotes a process of reforming the psyche as a form of self healing, a proposed explanation for the phenomenon of psychotic breakdown. Here, metanoia is viewed as a potentially productive process, and therefore patients' psychotic episodes are not necessarily always to be thwarted, which may restabilize the patients but without resolving the underlying issues causing their psychopathology.

Contents

Theological Meaning

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Biblical references

From the Greek μετάνοια—compounded from the preposition μετά (after, with) and the verb νοέω (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing)—metanoia means "a change of mind". In Christianity, the term refers to spiritual conversion. The word appears often in the Gospels. It is usually translated into English as "repent":

and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
καὶ λέγων ὅτι πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ: μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.
(Mark [1] )

Theology

In Theology, metanoia is used to refer to the change of mind which is brought about in repentance. Repentance is necessary and valuable because it brings about change of mind or metanoia. This change of mind will result in the altered persona deprecating sin, though replicating good will, benevolence, and integration of self in relation to Universal harmony or deity. The two terms (repentance and metanoia) are often used interchangeably.

However, the prefix "meta-" carries with it other variants that are consistent with the Eastern Greek philosophical mindset, and perhaps is at odds with Western views. "Meta-" is additionally used to imply "beyond" and "outside of." E.g., metamorphosis as a beyond-change; and, metaphysics as outside the limits of physics. "Meta" also means "next to"or "after" as in metaphysics, where the books we call metaphysics were placed next to or after the books on physics.

The Greek term for repentance, metanoia, denotes a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of an individual's vision of the world and of her/himself, and a new way of loving others and the Universe. In the words of a second-century text, The Shepherd of Hermas, it implies "great understanding," discernment. It involves, that is, not mere regret of past evil but a recognition by a person of a darkened vision of her/his own condition, in which sin, by separating her/him from Deity, has reduced her/him to a divided, autonomous existence, depriving her/him of both her/his natural glory and freedom. "Repentance," says Basil the Great, "is salvation, but lack of understanding is the death of repentance." Repentance thereby acquires a different dimension to mere dwelling on human sinfulness, and becomes the realization of human insufficiency and limitation. Repentance then should not be accompanied by a paroxysm of guilt but by an awareness of one's estrangement from Deity and one's neighbor.[2]

Rhetorical Meaning as Correction

Metanoia is used in recalling a statement in two ways—-to weaken the prior declaration or to strengthen it.

Weakening

The use of metanoia to weaken a statement is effective because the original statement still stands, along with the qualifying statement.[3] For instance, when one says, "I will murder you. You shall be punished," the force of the original statement ("I will murder you") remains, while a more realistic alternative has been put forward ("you shall be punished").

Strengthening

When it is used to strengthen a statement, metanoia works to ease the reader from a moderate statement to a more radical one, as in this quote from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations

I still fall short of it through my own fault, and through not observing the admonitions of the gods, and, I may almost say, their direct instructions (Book One);[4]

Here Aurelius utilizes metanoia to move from a mild idea ("not observing the admonitions of the gods") to a more intense one ("not observing... their direct instructions"). He uses the clause "I may almost say" to introduce the metanoia.

Psychological meaning

In Carl Jung's psychology, metanoia indicates a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form. Jung believed that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as existential crises which were sometimes attempts at self-reparation. Jung's concept of metanoia influenced R. D. Laing and the therapeutic community movement which aimed, ideally, to support people whilst they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening their existing character defences and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict.

References

  • Cuddon, J.A., ed. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 3rd ed. Penguin Books: New York, 1991.

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