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OTT (Commentary) -- 1

IV On the Thoughts (Commentary)

On the Thoughts

Chapters 1 to 37

1 Of the demons which are opposed to the practical life, the first during the war to engage in battle are those which are entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those which suggest avarice to us and those which call us out to the glory of men. All the others march behind these, receiving, in their turn, those who have been wounded by the first.

For the first time, Evagrius introduces a differentiation into his eightfold typology of the demons. There are three ‘generator’ demons, those of gluttony, avarice and vainglory. These demons must first strike and succeed before the other demons can attack. Evagrius goes on to explain why:

For it is not possible to fall into the hands of a spirit of fornication not having been thrown down by the spirit of gluttony.

This is the sense behind the Elder’s refusal to let his disciple eat with his mother and sisters.[1]

And it is not possible to disturb the temper if it is not battling for food, money or glory. It is not possible to elude the demon of sorrow having been deprived of all these things

That is, if one feels deprived of the possession of any one of the three things listed.

or not having been able to obtain them. Neither will one avoid pride, the first-born of the Devil, not having banished the root of all the vices, avarice [cf. 1 Tim. 6, 10], if, indeed, also ‘Poverty humbles the man,’ according to the wise Solomon [Prov. 10, 4]. And, to sum up, it is not possible for a man to fall into the hands of a demon, not having first been wounded by those in the front rank.

St John of Sinai enunciates this doctrine of the three generator passions in a terse comment in the Ladder of Divine Ascent.[2]

As we shall discuss in Volume III in the commentary just before On Sobriety 54, St Mark the Ascetic has a similar doctrine of the three fundamental passions of man.

A similar doctrine of the three fundamental passions of man can also be found in Plato’s Phaedo.[3]

In the Skemmata, Evagrius introduces further refinements to this doctrine:

53 The first of all the thoughts is the thought of self-love (philautia), after which the eight.

Here it can be seen that the thought (logismos) which is the generator of all the eight thoughts (logismoi) is self-love.

44 Of the thoughts, some are without material, others are of little material, while others are of much material. And without material, then, are those which are from the first pride; of little material, those which are from fornication; while of much material are those which are from vainglory.

Here it can be seen that ‘first pride’ generates its thoughts without content in terms of impassioned recollections of objects, images, fantasies and such-like. It seems to be more intellectual than, say, vainglory, which, as we shall see in OTT 14, spans the whole world. This suggests to us that first pride is as it were ‘innate’ to each man.[4]

41 Of the thoughts, some lead while others follow. And those thoughts lead which are from the <desire (epithumia)>, whereas those thoughts follow which are from the temper (thumos).

42 Of those thoughts which lead, some again go before whereas others follow. And those go before, then, which are from gluttony, whereas those follow which are from fornication.

43 Of those thoughts which follow the first thoughts, some lead whereas others follow. And those lead which are from sorrow (lupe), whereas those follow which are from wrath (orge), if indeed, according to the proverb, ‘A sorrowful word stirs up wraths.’ [Cf. Prov. 15, 1.]

These chapters of the Skemmata present a somewhat different analysis from OTT 1. Indeed, since Evagrius nowhere else in his ascetical works presents this analysis, the question arises of the consistency of the doctrine of the Skemmata with the remainder of Evagrius’ works,[5] and therefore of the authorship of the Skemmata. While we have, following general scholarly opinion, accepted the Evagrian authorship of the Skemmata, the reader should be aware of this problem. Given that the more contemplative material in the Skemmata seems definitely Evagrian, if somewhat terse, and given that the Skemmata is not well attested in the manuscript tradition, it is conceivable that the Evagrian material in the Skemmata is mixed with material from other authors.

Evagrius now applies the present doctrine of the three generator thoughts to Christ’s temptations in the desert:

That is why also, at that time, the Devil brought forth to the Saviour these three thoughts,

Gluttony, avarice and vainglory. The three temptations as given below correspond, in Evagrius’ view, to these three in that order.

first exhorting that the stones become bread; then promising the whole world if he would fall down and worship; and, third, saying that if he would hear,

And leap from the pinnacle of the Temple.

he would be glorified, having suffered nothing from such a great fall. To which things our Lord showed himself superior, and ordered the Devil to retire to the rear, teaching us also by means of these things that it is not possible to repel the Devil not having held in contempt these three thoughts. [Cf. Luke 4, 1–13.]

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 1 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.[6]

The next chapter must be studied with great care.

2 All demonic thoughts (logismoi) introduce into the soul mental representations (noemata) of sensible objects, being imprinted in which things the mind carries around in itself the forms of those objects.

Let us first point out this: logismos (plural: logismoi) is always translated by thought; noema is always translated by mental representation; tupoumenos is always translated by imprinted; morphas is always translated by forms; and the English words are used only to translate those Greek words (except in certain cases for the English word, thought). As we proceed, the reader will grasp the need for such a precise one-to-one correspondence. There are other such terms; we will note them as they arise.

In TPL, Evagrius spoke of the impassioned recollection of an object of sense and said that the demonic provocation began with that impassioned recollection. He is now, in OTT, going to discuss cognitive psychology explicitly in relation to these matters, and he is introducing a technical vocabulary, evidently drawing on Stoic sources. Hence, we must translate very carefully, and the reader must pay very close attention to—scholastically, the modern Greek might say—Evagrius’ nuances of meaning.

Let us suppose that the reader is a hermit. He has little external sensory input, so that his mind (nous) is still. Then he might observe, as Evagrius evidently did in his hermitage, the slow formation of thoughts (logismoi). He might see how the thoughts (logismoi) are formed, how they dissipate the remembrance of God, how the thoughts themselves can be dissipated with the directed use of anger—this is the rebuttal we spoke of in the commentary on TPL 42. All these things have been addressed by Evagrius already in TPL, but now he wants to discuss them with precision.

The first concept is mental representation. It might be considered an idea in the mind which is based on an image sown by a demon from outside the hermit in the way that Evagrius discussed in TPL 39. This does not mean, however, that the demon ‘casts’ a specific image or mental representation into the mind: TPL 39 is clear that the demon’s spiritual ‘bad odour’ excites the passion for which the demon has its particular work (ergon), and that this excitation leads to the formation of the thought (logismos); this does not seem to imply that a specific image is sown by the demon. Evagrius does emphasize in the present passage of OTT, however, the role of the demon, an external agency, in the generation of the image, and this exterior aspect is important, for it supports and explains the concept of imprinting. This Stoic concept, according the Gehin et al. in their able discussion, is that of the imprinting of a seal in warm wax.[7] It was originally applied by the Stoics to the ordinary sense-perception of an object of sense.

Let us suppose that the reader-hermit observes the formation of the thought (logismos). Then it might have the subjective feel in his mind’s eye, in his eyes-closed still mind (or, more precisely, intellect or dianoia), of an imprinting or shaping or moulding of his consciousness. Personally, we like moulded as a translation of tupoumenos, but we decided to retain the translation, imprinted, of Gehin et al. It is as if the reader-hermit’s consciousness were a substance that might be moulded. But if his consciousness can thus be moulded by a mental representation, then it can similarly be unmoulded. Much depends on the intensity of the original moulding. St Hesychios will refer in On Sobriety 137 to the use of the Prayer of Jesus to eradicate mental representations or thoughts that have been ‘nailed in’ to the depths of the heart. However, anger can also unmould these mental representations; the danger is that an immoderate anger will wreak havoc on all the mental representations in the mind, including the good ones.

Now let us continue with Evagrius:

Further, from the object, the mind knows the demon that has approached, as: should the face of him who has injured or dishonoured me occur in my intellect, then the thought of rancour will be convicted of having approached. If, again, a remembrance of money or glory should occur, then manifestly from the object will the thought be recognized which is oppressing us. And in the same way for the other thoughts: from the object you will find the thought which is present and making the suggestion.

I do not say that all memories of such objects occur on account of the demons—since by nature the mind itself, also, set in motion by the man, recalls the mental representations of objects which have come to be—but as many memories as draw with them, contrary to nature, temper or the desiring part.

This is Evagrius’ distinction, already made in TPL, between the ‘mere’ unimpassioned recollection of the object of sense and the impassioned recollection. But now he is speaking with great precision.

It should be noted here that Evagrius is here implicitly assigning the eight passions—including the passions of the soul such as avarice or vainglory—to either the temper or the desiring part. We ourselves understand avarice and vainglory to be passions of the temper: there is nothing in Evagrius that would indicate that they are to be identified with the desiring part, which seems to contain the passions of gluttony and fornication only.

For because of the disturbance of these powers,

The temper and the desiring part.

the mind, in the intellect,

Nous is always translated by mind and dianoia is always translated by intellect, and vice versa.

commits adultery or gives battle, being unable to receive the imagination of God who has legislated for it, if, indeed, that splendour discloses itself to the ruling part [of the soul] in the time of prayer in accordance with the deprivation of all mental representations in respect of objects.

This is an extremely important passage which summarizes Evagrius’ doctrine of prayer. St Hesychios follows it, quoting it in On Sobriety 89.

The mental representations sown by the demons prevent the mind from receiving the ‘imagination of God’. However, Evagrius is saying, even the ‘mere’ unimpassioned recollections of objects of sense, which themselves also bear a mental representation of an object of sense into the mind, prevent the mind from receiving the ‘imagination of God’.

Evagrius has a complex view of the knowability of God which we have discussed in Chapter III of Volume I and to which we shall again turn both in the Digression and in the commentary on OTT 38–43, below. Evagrius here uses the word, ‘imagination’. Elsewhere he will speak variously. Certainly his formal doctrine is that God cannot be known through the mental representations of objects of sense, the normal constituents of ‘imagination’; hence, his use of the word must here be taken as a concession to the reader who does not yet know his philosophy. We Orthodox, following St Gregory Palamas, today say that God is knowable only by his uncreated operations (energeies).

What Evagrius is saying here is that the mind in the intellect must be empty of all mental representations if God is to be encountered at all—if ‘that splendour’ is to disclose itself in prayer to the mind ‘in accordance with the deprivation of all mental representations of objects’ of sense.

Fr Hausherr, in his commentary on the 153 Chapters on Prayer,[8] which he establishes to be putatively a work by Evagrius, appears in our humble and respectful judgement, not to have understood this point in all its depth. The treatment of the stages of natural contemplation and of their role in the purification of the mind (nous) for the contemplation of the Holy Trinity is very weak in Fr Hausherr’s commentary. The Hesychast tradition, including Evagrius, aims at a more radical emptying at the time of prayer of the field of consciousness (this is the intellect or dianoia) than Fr Hausherr seems to have understood. Indeed, again in our humble and respectful judgement, this is the whole point behind St Hesychios’ doctrine of sobriety, which is Evagrius’ system adapted to the Prayer of Jesus prayed in the heart. For Evagrius will say—as he largely does here—, and St Hesychios will repeat,[9] that the light of God cannot fail to shine on the mind of the ascetic if the intellect is emptied. This emptying goes very, very deep indeed in the Hesychast tradition. The intellect (dianoia) becomes more and more empty, especially during prayer. A key element of this emptying is the descent of the mind (nous) into the heart: necessarily, this descent forces this purification of the ascetic’s intellect (dianoia) to be much more radical than Fr Hausherr, lacking experience of prayer of the heart, would have understood.

Moreover, Fr Hausherr does seem to have an orientation to ‘feeling’. His translation of ‘aisthesis’ as ‘sentiment’ and his assimilation such terms as ‘pothos (longing)’ and ‘eros (Eros)’ to ‘agape (love)’ point this out: not having the experience of mental prayer as a spiritual reality, and that in the heart, such as is given in Orthodoxy, he did not realize the spiritual dimension of the ‘aisthesis (sense)’ or of the use, say, of anger against the demon, but remained in a lower, sentimental view of the matter. We will see this spiritual dimension of things in On Sobriety in Volume III.

Skemmata 2 is similar to the present passage:

2 If anyone should wish to see the condition of the mind (nous), let him deprive himself of all mental representations (noemata), and then he will see the mind (nous) similar to sapphire or to the colour of Heaven [cf. Exod. 24, 9–11]. To do this without dispassion (apatheia) is one of those things which are impossible. For there is a need of God who works together and who breathes upon the mind (nous) the light which is related [to God].

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 2 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

3 A man could not avoid impassioned memories not having taken a care to the desiring part and temper, consuming the first in fasts, vigils and sleepings on the ground and taming completely the second with long-sufferings, avoidances of rancour and acts of mercy, for out of these two passions almost all demonic thoughts stand in battle array, those which cast the mind into ‘ruin and destruction’ [1 Tim. 6, 9]. It is impossible for someone to prevail over these passions if he does not completely despise food and money and glory—and even his own body, on account of those [demons] that make an attempt to cudgel it.

Recall St Anthony in the tomb. St Nektarios of Aegina (1846–1920) also seems to have encountered this, along with many other saints.

There is every need, therefore, to imitate those who are in danger at sea and who jettison the tackle

Gehin et al. translate this ‘cargo’, but here the word skeuos clearly means the ship’s tackle or rigging. There is also another, unrelated, meaning of the word, ‘clothing, especially of a decorative or festal nature’; hence, there is also an echo here of what Evagrius will say further on about the relation between clothing and vainglory.

on account of the violence of the winds and of the waves rising up in insurrection. But in this matter care must be taken precisely lest we jettison the tackle, doing it so as to be seen by men, since then we are far from our reward and another shipwreck worse than the first will receive us, that of the demon of vainglory blowing a contrary wind.

This is an exhortation to give up one’s possessions, one’s paraphernalia, the better to wage the war on the passions. The admonition concerning the danger of giving up one’s possessions so as to be seen by men is clear.

That is why our Lord, in the Gospels, training the pilot-mind, says: ‘Take care not to do your acts of mercy before men so as to be seen by them; if not, you do not have a reward from your Father who is in the Heavens.’ [Matt. 6, 1.]

We have translated by ‘acts of mercy’ the Greek word eleemosunin, which the Revised Standard Version[10] renders ‘alms’. In general, we have translated all passages of Scripture as we thought Evagrius himself must have understood the passages (in their plain sense, not as a matter of allegorical interpretation). Evagrius has a very broad concept of an act of charity or mercy, not restricting an act of mercy to a fellow man to the mere giving of a sum of money. He also intends such things as caring for the sick.

And, again, he says: ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the public squares so that they appear to men. Amen, I say to you, they are far from their reward.’ [Matt. 6, 5.] And, again, he says: ‘When you fast, do not become gloomy like the hypocrites for they disfigure their faces so that they appear to men to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they are far from their reward.’ [Matt. 6, 15.] But one must attend here to the Doctor of Souls, how he cures the temper by means of acts of mercy, cleanses the mind by means of prayer and, again, completely withers the desiring part by means of fasting—from which things the new man is formed who is renewed ‘according to the image of him who created him,’ [Col. 3, 10] in whom ‘there is’ because of the holy dispassion ‘neither male nor female, neither’, because of the one faith and charity, ‘Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or freeman, but all things and in all, Christ.’ [Col. 3, 11.]

With this quotation from St Paul, we close this excellent summary of TPL.

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 3 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

Evagrius now turns to dreams, and in so doing clarifies the nature of impassioned and ‘mere’ dispassionate recollections of objects of sense.

4 One must investigate how in the imaginations during sleep the demons imprint and give a form to our ruling part, for such a thing seems to occur to the mind when it sees by means of the eyes, or hears by means of the ears, or by means of some sense or other—or from the memory, which imprints the ruling part not by means of the body, except that whatever things it had by means of the body, those things it sets in motion.

Evagrius’ problem is as follows: The origin of all mental representations of objects of sense, even if they are not immediately based on sense-perception, can be traced to sense-perceptions received through the senses of the body while we are in a waking state. Recall that in TPL all impassioned recollections of objects depended on the initial impassioned acceptance of the sense-perception of the object. Here, Evagrius is thinking more broadly. All mental representations of objects of sense arise in the first instance from sense-perceptions of those objects. In the second instance, they arise from the memory. However, the memory does not imprint the ruling part (the mind or nous) by means of the body, for the memory is a mental operation with no connection to the body and its senses. The memory sets in motion by means of an act of remembrance whatever the memory has by means of the body, for the sense-perception is received by means of the body and its senses, and then stored, as it were, in the person’s memory. Hence, I have a sense-perception of a watch by means of the body; I store that sense-perception in my memory—no longer a matter of the body but of the mind (nous)—; I remember the object perceived, the watch, in a mental operation completely independent of the body and its sense organs; and the bodiless act of remembrance imprints my ruling part, my mind (nous), with the mental representation of the object, the watch, just as a bodily sense-perception of the object would.

Evagrius’ problem is this: Given all this, how do the demons imprint our ruling part, our mind (nous), with mental representations when we are asleep?

The sequel should now be clear:

The demons, in any event, seem to me to imprint the ruling part when they set in motion the memory. For the [sense] organ is held inactive by the sleep.

He is discussing dreams, remember.

How, again, the demons set the memory in motion is to be investigated. Or perhaps it is by means of the passions?

The man who wrote this died in 399. Depth psychology.

And this is apparent from the fact that the pure and dispassionate no longer suffer this sort of thing.

This is purely Evagrian and more advanced than depth psychology. For Evagrius sees from experience that the dispassionate no longer suffer from the impassioned recollections of objects, even in dreams. This should not be seen, however, as a notion that the dispassionate man cannot be tempted, although it is not clear how the dispassionate man can be tempted if the temptation always commences with the impassioned recollection of an object of sense. The sense must be that in the dispassionate man, the demon finds far less passion to set in motion, or that the demon approaches the dispassionate man in a more direct and intellectual fashion, just as the serpent approached Eve in Eden. Moreover, the meaning of this passage cannot be that the dispassionate no longer have dreams because, as we shall see in OTT 27, 28 and 29, below, Evagrius’ doctrine is clearly that the ascetic who is approaching dispassion has a different, an unimpassioned, response within the dream to the content of the dream, not that he does not have dreams. However, it seems that what Evagrius has in mind here is this: as the man approaches dispassion (apatheia), the dreams change, in the sense that the responses of the man within the dream become dispassionate. However, as entry into the harbour of dispassion (apatheia) begins to place the man in a condition of gnosis, then the dreams themselves cease to have the character of demonic temptations. Again, this must be understood from the Orthodox point of view as a relative condition.

There is also a certain movement of memory either simple, occurring through our own agency, or else occurring through the agency of the holy powers, according to which we meet with saints in our sleep and speak with them and dine with them. (However, it is to be noted that whatever images the soul receives into itself with the body, these images the memory sets in motion without the body. And this is clear from the fact that we suffer this often and in sleep, while the body is at rest.) For as it is possible to remember water with thirst and without thirst, thus it is possible to remember gold with avarice and without avarice, and so on in the same way for the other things. That the mind should find such and such varieties of imaginations is a token by which the evil arts of those [demons] can be recognized. At the same time, this also must be known, that the demons have made use of external objects for the sake of imagination, as the sound of the waves for those who are sailing.

The last sentence is Evagrius’ passing reference to a well-known phenomenon, that while we are asleep, external sense-perceptions—here, the sound of the waves—get integrated into our dreams.

This chapter does not present difficulty.

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 4 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter is about the temper. Evagrius speaks soberly; all of OTT is written in a sober, elevated and dense style. The concepts introduced in the next chapter do not appear to advance the argument beyond what we have learned in TPL—except perhaps where Evagrius introduces the idea of binding the temper by meekness, or perhaps the metaphor of the temper as a dog. In Evagrius’ typology, the Nazirite is a scriptural foreshadowing of the monk.

5 When our temper is set in motion contrary to nature, it contributes exceedingly to the goal of the demons and it becomes most useful to all of their practice of the evil arts. Whence, night and day, no one of the demons ceases to disturb the temper, but when they see the temper bound by meekness, then they loose it immediately on the basis of just pretexts so that, having become more keen, it also be of use to their savage thoughts. For that reason, it is necessary not to inflame the temper on the occasion of either just or unjust things, nor to give an evil sword to those who are making the suggestion—which very thing I know many to have done many times and to have been set on fire, more than there was need, on the basis of trivial pretexts.

Tell me, then, on account of what do you fall quickly into a battle if, indeed, you despised food and money and glory? Vowing to have nothing, why, then, do you feed the dog? If, then, that one barks and attacks people, it is clear beforehand that, within, it has acquired some things and that it wishes to guard these things.

But I am persuaded that such a person is far from pure prayer, knowing well that the temper is the destroyer of such prayer. In addition to these things, I wonder that such a person has also forgotten the saints. For David cries out: ‘Cease from anger and abandon temper.’ [Ps. 36, 8.] The Ecclesiast orders: ‘Separate temper from your heart and put off evil from your flesh.’ [Eccl. 11, 10.] And the Apostle commands: ‘Let hands be raised up in every place [in prayer] without anger and arguments.’ [1 Tim. 2, 8.] Why do we not learn from the secret and old custom of men to expel the dogs from their houses in the time of prayer, and this hinting that temper must not be present in those who are praying? And again: ‘Their wine is the anger of dragons.’ [Deut. 32, 33.] Nazirites, then, abstained from wine [cf. Num. 6, 3]. One of the wise men of the pagans judged that the gall and the loin were inedible by the gods, not knowing, I think, what he was saying. Of these things I myself think that the first is a symbol of anger and the second of irrational passion.

This chapter corresponds to the first part of Chapter 5 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter is also clear. The passage ‘so that Jesus turns aside, there being a crowd of mental representations in the place of the intellect’ is based on the healing of the paralytic at the Sheep Pool in the Gospel of John, as applied by Evagrius to his central point concerning prayer, that the mind must be empty of all mental representations of objects of sense in order to attain to pure prayer. The image of the athlete impeded by his frock is based on the custom in Classical times for the athlete, especially the Græco-Roman wrestler, to compete nude.

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[1] TPL 96.

[2] Ladder G and E Step 26, 2.

[3] Plato Volume I, 68b8–68c3.

[4] Evagrius nowhere explains the difference between ‘first’ and ‘second’ pride, with the sole exception that in Skemmata 49 he remarks that first pride shows God to be weak, whereas second pride shows God to be a regarder of persons.

[5] For ascetical works other than those presented here, see Sinkewicz.

[6] See the Introduction, above.

[7] OTT G pp. 23–8.

[8] Hausherr.

[9] In On Sobriety 104, 175 and elsewhere.

[10] RSV.


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