#profile-container h2.sidebar-title {display:none;}

OTT (Commentary) -- 9

24 The demons do not all tempt us at once, nor do they cast thoughts into us at the same time, on account of the fact that it is not the nature of the mind to accept the mental representations of two sensible objects during the same period of time.

What Evagrius is going to say is that two demons are unable to sow mental representations—each demon its own mental representation—simultaneously. The reason he alleges is that the human mind cannot accept two mental representations at the same time. This is to be taken as a limitation on the human mind’s cognitive powers.

Gehin et al., otherwise very prudent in their assessment of Evagrius’ meaning, make a mistake here. In their notes to this chapter,[1] they confuse the thematic incompatibility of the thought of vainglory and the thought of fornication,[2] and the thematic succession or generation of the thoughts of one passion from those of another,[3] with what is being said in this chapter. In this chapter, it is not a matter of explaining a thematic structural opposition between thoughts,[4] nor a matter of the thematic succession of one thought to another.[5]

Here, in this chapter, Evagrius is addressing cognitive psychology. What he means when he says that the mind cannot accept two mental representations simultaneously (as we gloss Evagrius’ ‘during the same period of time’), is that the mind by its very nature cannot simultaneously receive two distinct mental representations of sensible objects. In this, Professor Guillaumont’s doctrinal introduction to OTT states the matter correctly.[6]

This would be true whether the mental representations were due to primary sense-perception, or, as the examples of the chapter show Evagrius’ sense to be, due to the operation of the memory through recollections of such objects of sense. Moreover, it is clear that Evagrius means this generally, whether the perception of the sense object has been charged with passion or not; and whether the recollection of the object of sense has been charged with passion or not, or is ‘mere’ or even angelic.

Evagrius wants to say this: we cannot think two things simultaneously and we cannot perceive two objects simultaneously. When I view a scene of many objects, I view the scene: when I view the ferry boat on the sea and in the foreground the birds flying, I see a single composite scene; but I cannot simultaneously view the ferry boat only and one of the birds only. Evagrius’ examples will make this clear.

For we said in Chapter 17 that an unclean thought does not occur to us without a sensible object.

As Gehin et al. point out, OTT 2, above, is a more apt reference. However, to a great extent, the present chapter is a continuation and elaboration of OTT 17 on the subject of the custody of the mental representations.

We need not point out that much of TPL is based on this very remark of Evagrius. TPL also provides an analysis.[7]

Even if our mind, being extremely quick in its movement, joins our thoughts to each other, one must not think, despite this, that all the thoughts are constituted during the same period of time.

Evagrius says that the apparent multiplicity of our thoughts masks the fact that our thoughts occur serially one by one. The apparent multiplicity is due to the rapidity of our thought processes, that is, to our native quickness of mind (nous).

A modern reader might take an example from computing. Evagrius is saying that we have one processor, very high speed, that processes our ‘thought-instructions’ one by one. We do not have multiprocessing or array processing. Now we do not want to exaggerate the parallel; we adduce this example merely to make Evagrius’ meaning clear.

We ourselves think that the reason that it is so—that we can have only one mental representation at one time—is the ‘one-pointedness’ of conscious awareness, and we think that this is due to the one-pointedness of consciousness itself (of the mind or nous, that is). The mind (nous) must be somewhere at any one time. It indeed is very quick, but it cannot be simultaneously focused on two objects or, in the intellect, on two mental representations—precisely because of its one-pointed character. Evagrius would have had experience of this one-pointedness as a hermit living under the living conditions, diet and way of life that we have already described.

For the potter’s wheel does the same sort of thing, on account of the great rapidity of rotation joining two pebbles to each other which have been fixed at the ends of one diameter of the wheel.

Evagrius’ example is this: I am a potter. To one of my wet pots, I attach two pebbles, one at each end of a diameter of the pot so that the pebbles are diametrically opposed to each other—say on the lip of the pot. The pot is on the potter’s wheel. With my foot, I crank up the wheel and, looking at the pot from above, I seem to see that the two pebbles are one: they have been ‘joined’ to each other by the rapidity of rotation of the potter’s wheel.

Evagrius wants to say that the rapidity of the mind (nous) appears to join what are actually discrete, separate thoughts.

Let us go back to OTT 17. There we discussed the Evagrian approach to sobriety, the guard of the mental representations. We remarked there that the good shepherd (the ascetic) could count one by one his sheep, the mental representations passing through his mind (nous) during the day. It is this passage that we had in mind then.

From this we can discern the unity of composition of OTT 17–25. They are concerned with the custody of the mental representations and their retrieval from the hands of the demons (OTT 17), the typology of temptations by the demons that wish to seize the mental representations (OTT 18), two methods of retrieving the mental representations from the demon (OTT 19), possible causes of ease in retrieving a mental representation (OTT 20), an example, from avarice, of an impassioned thought (OTT 21), a discussion of the consequences of not retrieving a mental representation from the demons (OTT 22), the consequences of taking up the life of solitude when we have strong, impassioned thoughts of anger, pride or sorrow (OTT 23), and, now, here in OTT 24 and 25, a closer analysis of the nature of the temporal stream of mental representations and of the nature of the unclean thought.

For the Hesychast who is living the life of solitude, these matters are important.

If we suppose that the reader has selected the life of solitude, the material in OTT 17–25 presents a serious, systematic discussion of what that life is about: what the reader will do, what he must watch out for, and what exactly he will encounter in his interiority,[8] as regards the stream of mental representations and, perhaps, thoughts that he will be guarding.

This is the ascetical program of Hesychasm that the reader, we suppose, would be wishing to undertake. Hence, although the modern reader, wishing to get on with things, might think that Evagrius is here dwelling on insignificant issues, he would do well to pay attention to what Evagrius is going to say.

It is permitted to you, having formed within you the face of your father, to test whether, while this remains, there occurs in addition also a second face, or whether once the first face has left then after that one, the second face is formed.

Evagrius wants the reader to try an experiment in visualization: first to form in his intellect the face of his father, and then to see whether he can visualize a second face before the first has left. Evagrius thinks not. While the actual form of voluntary experiment might seem to us naïve, remember that Evagrius is speaking from much personal experience. He actually thinks it to be the way he says,[9] but most likely he does not want to appeal to the recollected experience of his reader, preferring the form of experiment. Note that there is no structural opposition between the face of our father and the face of another person: the issue is cognitive.

For if it were possible in the same period of time to accept the mental representation of gold and the mental representation of him who has sorrowed [us], then, at all events, it would also occur that, at the same time, we would fall into the hands of the demon of avarice and the demon of rancour, which very thing is among those things that are impossible, on account of the fact that the mind, just as I said, cannot receive at the same time both the mental representation of gold and that of him who has sorrowed [us].

This important passage needs analysis.

Let us start from the end and proceed backwards. Evagrius says ‘on account of the fact…’. He is giving a reason. His reason is just what we have discussed, that the mind (nous) is one-pointed and cannot sense two separate things or recollect two separate objects of sense simultaneously. That was the import of the visualization experiment that the reader was asked to undertake with the face of his father, and the import of the example of the two pebbles and the potter’s wheel.

As we remarked, this has nothing to do with the thematic opposition of one to another impassioned thought, the opposition of disposition of the demons among themselves,[10] the thematic succession of the demons among themselves,[11] or even the succession of ferocity of the demons.[12] It is a matter of the one-pointedness of our consciousness, which consciousness is an operation of our mind (nous). It is the way we think, the way that our mind (nous) by nature works.

Because we cannot think two things—two mental representations—at the same time, we cannot at the same time accept the mental representations of gold and of him who has sorrowed us. This conclusion corresponds to the first part of the sentence of Evagrius being interpreted. There, in order for Evagrius not to be convicted of blatantly circular reasoning, we must understand ‘impassioned mental representations’, or even ‘impassioned recollections’, of objects of sense. Evagrius must be understood as saying ‘If it were possible simultaneously to accept the impassioned mental representation of gold and the impassioned mental representation of him who has sorrowed…’. But, Evagrius says, this is not possible, because the nature of the mind (nous) is such that it cannot think two things at the same time—what we just discussed above, the last part of Evagrius’ sentence.

So we cannot accept two impassioned mental representations at the same time since we cannot accept two mental representations of any nature whatsoever at the same time due to the cognitive structure of our mind (nous). Therefore we cannot ‘fall into the hands of the demon of avarice and the demon of rancour’ at the same time: this is the middle clause of the sentence being interpreted.

This is important for the reader who will take up the life of solitude which, we have said, is a matter of keeping guard over the stream of mental representations which pass through his intellect (dianoia) while he is going through his daily routine.

Evagrius now goes on to draw a practical consequence of the foregoing. We do not think that Evagrius has enunciated the foregoing merely as a proof of the efficacy of the practical method he is going to describe. We think that the practical consequence, while useful, is secondary. Evagrius, we think, wants to clarify his psychology both generally and as a basis for his discussion in the next chapter.

The practical method that Evagrius will now describe resembles the first method that he describes in TPL 58 (weaving in supposition the thoughts of a thematically opposed passion).[13] However, this new method is not the same. For here, the method is based on Evagrius’ assertion that we cannot simultaneously have in our mind (nous) the mental representations of any two objects of sense. Let us call this new method the ‘method of changing the subject’.

Therefore, in times of temptation, it is necessary to attempt to transfer the mind from the unclean thought onto another mental representation and from that to another, thus to escape that evil taskmaster [cf. Exod. 5, 6; etc.].

Recall that we are hermits attending to the stream of our mental representations as we go about our daily routine. A demon approaches and seizes one of the mental representations.[14] We earlier spoke of the demon’s sowing a mental representation or unclean thought; TPL 39 explains the precise mechanism by which the demon excites the passion which corresponds to its type and thus initiates the impassioned recollection of an object of sense; the next chapter, OTT 25, will give further analysis.

This is what Evagrius means by ‘in times of temptation’. Of course, in times of serious, unremitting temptation, of open battle between us and the demon—something, evidently, that Evagrius envisages even the gnostic to be subject to—the method now being described is particularly useful.

The basis of this method is simply this: With an act of my will, according to how strong I am and how determined I am, I transfer my one-pointed mind from the mental representation insistently being proffered by the demon to another mental representation[15] and from that to another. Let us say that the demon of fornication proffers to my intellect with intensity the image of a beautiful woman. With my one-pointed mind (nous) I can attend to that impassioned image[16] or else, following Evagrius’ advice here, I can transfer my one-pointed mind (nous) to any other mental representation and from that to another and to another, ‘thus to escape that evil taskmaster’—the demon of fornication which wishes to enslave me through consent.[17]

This method is particularly useful when the monk does not have the strength of will to fight the demon head-on by rebuttal with anger. For, as we shall see later, the demons change their guard and the monk is not always able to rebut the temptation: the thought may be too intense, the demon too strong, too violent, for head-on rebuttal. Recall from TPL that the demons of fornication, accidie and sorrow can assault the ascetic with great force, bending and even trying to break the monk. Hence the image of escape is apt: the monk runs—in his intellect.

Recall also that except for sorrow the passions all call us to a pleasure of the senses. Hence, to the extent that the monk is impassioned, he will be attracted to the mental representation being proffered by the demon that is exciting the relevant passion. The monk may have a serious struggle to turn his mind to another mental representation—any other mental representation—during the time that the demon is tempting him intensely. He may turn to another mental representation, then turn back for a time to the demonic mental representation, then break away again to another mental representation, then turn back again to the demonic mental representation; and this battle may go on for some time. It is in this context that the reader should recall the use of the stick by Joseph the Hesychast that we discussed in our commentary on OTT 16, above. However, this analysis applies to the thoughts of all the eight passions, as does the method described here by Evagrius, not just the thought of fornication.

Moreover, the reader considering the solitary life as a possible option should think about this: To the extent that the passions are not ‘cleaned out’ in us,[18] then the above battle is that much more difficult, even apart from any questions of motives of anger, pride or sorrow in taking up the life of solitude. Normally, in the Orthodox Church, one takes up the solitary life, the solitary war, the solitary battle, only with a plerophoria (inner spiritual assurance), that God is with him, which plerophoria is only given to those who are quite cleansed of the passions, and that for the reason that the battle is too difficult for those who are quite impassioned, precisely because of the attractiveness that the excited passion confers on the image proffered by the demon. This is fundamental to Christian asceticism.

It is well to remark that Evagrius’ analysis of the ‘method of changing the subject’ makes sense only if the proper interpretation of what he is saying in this chapter is that, as a cognitive matter, the mind (nous) cannot have two mental representations before it at the same time. For what Evagrius is counselling is for the ascetic to put his mind (nous) onto another mental representation—any other mental representation—at times of such intense temptation, since necessarily the mind will be obliged to depart from the impassioned mental representation that is being proffered so insistently by the demon. Moreover, Evagrius is counselling the monk to ‘skip around’ mental representations, so as to stay ‘one step ahead’ of the demon.

It might be remarked further that this chapter is a clear proof that Evagrius did not himself use or teach the use of melete, the repetition of a formula such as a passage from the Psalms. For in such cases of temptation the value of the repetition of the formula lies precisely in the return to the words of the formula from the mental representation that is being proffered by the demon. Surely, if Evagrius were accustomed to use and to teach the use of such a formula, this would have been an appropriate place for him to introduce the notion of turning from the tempting mental representation to the words of the formula.

Moreover, it is worthwhile to note that, today, beginners in the use of the Prayer of Jesus are taught to meet impassioned mental representations and impassioned thoughts in precisely this way: simply to return as best they can to the words of the formula.

Evagrius now explains what happens if the ascetic keeping guard over the sheep does not rescue the sheep from the wolf.

If, however, the mind, containing the object, does not change course, it is immersed in the passion; and then it is at risk, travelling towards sin in act.

That is, if the mind (nous) containing the impassioned mental representation does not by an act of will turn its one-pointed attention to another mental representation, then it becomes immersed more and more in the passion and is in danger of committing sin in act.

The reader will recall that in the commentary on TPL 75, we spoke of the Evagrian schema of temptation and sin and referred to the more elaborate schema that St Hesychios would introduce in On Sobriety. Here, in Evagrius at this place, we have a somewhat more elaborate schema that is close to the schema that we will encounter in On Sobriety. For, now, in this chapter of Evagrius, it is not merely a matter of temptation and consent—a two-part schema—but of temptation, dalliance and consent—a three-part schema. Dalliance is an intermediate stage of impassioned converse or intercourse with the impassioned mental representation, without, however, there yet entering in consent to sin in act. Evagrius clearly thinks that dalliance is far from a harmless flirtation:

And such a mind, really, stands in need of much purification and vigil and prayer.

The mind (nous) is rendered unclean and, according to Evagrius’ understanding, unfit for pure prayer. Note that while we ourselves used in our commentary the example of a temptation by the demon of fornication, we could just as well have used any of the eight thoughts as an example: what Evagrius is saying applies to all demonic thoughts.

‘Purification’: In Evagrius’ day, the Mystery of Confession was not as developed as today, so he most certainly is not referring to absolution by the priest, as today might be the case. Exteriorization of the matter to a priest or even to a spirit-bearing Elder who is not a priest, such as the great Starets, Fr Paisios, is very useful in such cases. Such a Starets will direct the monk to the priest in cases where mysterial (sacramental) absolution is a necessary aspect of the monk’s purification; it not always is, since it is often sufficient merely to speak with such an Elder for the purification to occur. Of course, the monk in the desert will purify himself with fasts with regard both to food and to water, with acts of mercy, with prostrations, tears, beatings of the breast like the tax collector in the Gospel.[19]

‘Vigils’: This should be clear. This is the nightly routine of prayer. Evagrius wants to say that the monk will undertake his vigil with renewed zeal, and, perhaps, with longer hours.

‘Prayer’: This should also be clear. This is petitionary prayer for forgiveness and purification.

It should be clear, however, that the monk who stands in need of this purification is not he who has sinned in act—surely he too will require it; see the ‘Prison’ in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai[20]—but he who has not changed course, he who has become immersed in the passion, without, however, actually having progressed to sin in act.

Recall that the man is a hermit and as a hermit particularly liable to serious consequences if he allows an unclean thought of any of the eight passions to persist. See OTT 22, above, for the general discussion, and also OTT 21, where the thought which persists is not the classic one, fornication, but one which might be thought less harmful, avarice, which, however, persisting, brings the hermit to the complete loss of his wits.

For a further discussion of this sort of battle, including, in the commentary, a passage from another work of Evagrius, Pros Eulogion (Towards Eulogios),[21] where the battle becomes a matter of the spiritual life and death of the ascetic and he responds with an extension of the present method of changing the subject, see On Sobriety 98.[22]

Skemmata 45 and 58 also deal with the issue of allowing a demonic thought to persist.

These things are not to be dallied with.

This chapter does not correspond to any chapter of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter continues the Evagrian psychological analysis. There, Evagrius wants to give a detailed and convincing analysis of the logismos, the demonically sown thought.

This next chapter is rather long. We want to interrupt it only to clarify Evagrius’ meaning: rather than use paraphrase in our translation, we have preferred to give as literal a translation as possible consistent with good English style and to explain Evagrius’ sense in the commentary. The underlying argument of Evagrius is straightforward, but on occasion the text requires clarification. Because of the length of the chapter, however, we want to minimize that.

25 As many men as have contemplated certain things in the natures on the basis of the objects themselves have also provided the proof from those things which they contemplated.

The classic case is Aristotle. This is the use of reason, or mundane, secular science, as Gehin et al. have indicated in their notes. Evagrius is engaging here in natural science and he needs to provide proof.

In most things, my proof is the heart of him who is reading

We do not think that this is a reference to prayer of the heart, about which Evagrius is silent. Elsewhere, he posits that the seat of the mind (nous) is the heart.[23]

and this if the heart is intelligent

Evidently, ‘heart’ is here a synonym for ‘mind (nous)’.

and experienced in the monastic life.

We would say today, in the eremitic life of the Hesychast.

I have said this on account of the natural principle

Scientific fact, we would say today.

which now lies before us, which is verified

To be verified.

by him who is reading on the basis of those things which occur in his intellect.

Recall that the intellect (dianoia) is an operation of the mind (nous) and that it is the field of consciousness upon which the mind (nous) perceives intellectual phenomena such as the mental representations of the previous chapter.

Here, one must commence one’s reasoning with the fact that it is the nature of the mind to accept the mental representations of all sensible objects and to be imprinted according to those sensible objects by means of this very body, taken as an instrument.

Evagrius is returning to the discussion of OTT 2. He is asserting that all mental representations of objects of sense are accepted by the mind (nous), according to its own nature, by means of the body, taken as a tool—that is, by means of the bodily sense organs. Since he will later speak of mental representations which are of intelligible objects which exist—angels, say—and which are clearly not received by the mind through the instrumentality of the bodily sense organs, it is well to emphasize that Evagrius is speaking of a subclass of mental representations: those of objects of sense. In common with philosophers such as Hume, he considers that these mental representations are received by the mind (nous) through the instrumentality of the sense organs. Of course, Hume rejected the existence of intelligibles such as mind (nous) or angel, so for Hume, these were the only mental representations. Moreover, in Chapter IV of Volume I, we have studied Western Christian psychologies of cognition in the persons of St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine. St Thomas Aquinas is closer to Hume in his restriction of cognition to the abstraction of concepts from the data of sense-perception than he is to Evagrius Pontikos; St Augustine in his own cognitive psychology is closer to Evagrius Pontikos than he is to St Thomas Aquinas.

In our commentaries, we have spoken of a mental representation which is in the first instance the sense-perception of an object of sense and in the second instance the recollection of an object of sense. What Evagrius is here talking about is the first instance. He is describing and analysing sense-perceptions. He is not dealing with memory. Moreover, at the moment, passion—the impassioned sense-perception or impassioned recollection of an object of sense—is not at issue.

Whatever might be the form of the object, it is necessary that the mind receive the image, whence the mental representations of objects are also called ‘likenesses’, by virtue of the fact that the very same form is preserved in those [mental representations].

This philosophical sentence should be quite clear by now. Evagrius is referring to the sense-perception of an object. The mind (nous) receives the likeness of an object by means of the bodily sense organs. St Thomas Aquinas called this likeness the ‘sensible species’ or ‘similitude’ of the object. This likeness is what is called by Evagrius the mental representation. However, the concept of mental representation is extended by Evagrius, first to the recollection of such an object. This is an operation of the memory and not of the bodily sense organs. The concept of mental representation is then extended by Evagrius to analogous impressions in the mind of intelligible objects which are cognized by the mind (nous) but not through the bodily sense organs. Evagrius will discuss this later in OTT. St Augustine had a similar doctrine, but St Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, dismissed the natural possibility in this life of such cognitions of intelligibles without the use of the bodily sense organs.[24]

Now, just as the mind accepts the mental representations of all sensible objects, thus also of its own organ [i.e. body]—for this also is sensible—certainly, however, without the face.

I have a mental representation, an interior, subjective image, of my own body, and since I do not have a mirror in my hermitage, this mental representation lacks the face.

For the mind cannot form this in itself, not ever having seen it.

The face, that is. I grew up without mirrors, Evagrius is saying.

Further, our mind, with this figure

The mental representation of our body sans face.

within, does everything, and sits and walks and gives and takes in the intellect.

Evagrius does not mean that our mind (nous) uses this mental representation when we are physically sitting and walking and giving and taking. He means that we can in modern parlance fantasize in the intellect the doing of these things by means of this very mental representation of our body, sans face.

And it does these things and also says as much as it wishes with the celerity of mental representations, sometimes taking up the figure of its own body and extending its hand so as to receive something of those things which are given, sometimes putting off this figure and quickly putting on the form of the neighbour as if it were giving something with its own hands.

Recall that in the preceding chapter, 24, Evagrius established that we cannot have two mental representations in our minds (noes) at the same time. That is why, here, the mind (nous) puts off the form or mental representation of its own body, sans face, and ‘quickly’ puts on the form or mental representation of its neighbour. It is as if Evagrius views the matter as a scene of a play of many characters in the intellect: the mind (nous) has to run quickly from one character to another to speak that character’s lines and do that character’s stage action.

This is the sense of ‘and quickly putting on the form of the neighbour as if it had given something with its own hands’. Evagrius wants to analyse a scene in the intellect of my receiving something from the hand of my neighbour. First, my mind (nous) has the mental representation of my body, sans face, extending its hand to receive something, and then it runs over to the place on stage of the neighbour (in the intellect) and puts on the neighbour’s mental representation, with face, ‘as if it [i.e. the neighbour whose role the mind (nous) is now playing] had given something with its own hands’. That is, I complete the transaction miming as it were in my intellect the actions of my neighbour by means of the mental representation of my neighbour.

Without the forms of this sort, the mind would not do anything, being both bodiless and deprived of every such movement.

This is a profound remark. It sets the stage for a very deep analysis of the ontological nature of temptation in St Hesychios: since the demon is a mind (nous)—a fallen one—which lacks a body and the ability to initiate physical movement, then it is only by means of sowing such mental representations that the demon can work its unmitigated evil, trying to get the ascetic to accept and act on the mental representation. Woe to mankind, St Hesychios will say, if the demons did have bodies. They would leave nothing intact.[25]

But here it is a matter of the functioning of the ascetic’s own mind (nous). Demonic temptation does not yet enter in.

This analysis might seem a bit simplistic to the modern reader, but the reader wishing to become a hermit should pay attention. This is what the immaterial war is all about; and what is being discussed is exactly what it means for a wolf to seize a sheep.

It is therefore necessary for him who is living the life of solitude to watch over his mind during the time of temptations, for the mind is going to seize the figure of its own body, as soon as the demon stands near to it,

See TPL 39. St Hesychios agrees with and follows this model.

and, within, to engage in battle with the brother or to touch a woman.

And so on for the rest of the eight passions.

This is an analysis of the onset of a demonic provocation, or assault, as seen from inside the ascetic’s intellect (recall that TPL 39 gave an analysis of the provocation as seen from outside the ascetic). This analysis is remarkable for its detailed description of what actually happens in the intellect of the ascetic in solitude. Note that ‘The mind is going to seize the figure of its own body, as soon as the demon stands near to it,’ is a very clear reference to a fact that Evagrius has observed and that St Hesychios will himself repeat in On Sobriety: our mind (nous) is very mobile and ‘hard to restrain from the lawless imaginations’.[26] This is the more true the more subject we are to the passion that is being excited by the demon.

For such a one Christ in the Gospels also called an adulterer who has already committed adultery in his heart with the wife of his neighbour [cf. Matt. 5, 28]. Without this very figure, the mind would never commit adultery, being bodiless and unable, without mental representations of this sort, to approach a sensible object. And these are the transgressions.

At the heart of this method of ascesis is the very Gospel notion of committing sin in the heart: Evagrius is providing his explanation of what that Gospel passage means in the psychology of man. As we have already pointed out, the ascetical writers we are studying believe that they are providing an authentically true interpretation of the Gospel and that their method of ascesis is a way of living the Gospel in its fullness: their methods of ascesis are not something over and above the Gospel or apart from the Gospel: they are an interpretation of what the Gospel means to each and every man on the face of the earth.

Recall TPL 74: ‘The temptation of the monk is the thought which ascends through the passionate part of the soul and which darkens the mind.’ TPL 75: ‘The sin of the monk is the consent towards the forbidden pleasure of the thought.’

Although in the above passage Evagrius is a little ambiguous just where the guilt starts, given the remarks in TPL just quoted, it seems to have to do with the consent of the ascetic to the forbidden pleasure of the thought, and this for any of the eight passions, not just fornication. However, we think that Evagrius himself would consider that ‘excessive dalliance’—that is, excessive conversation or intercourse with the demonic thought, of whatever type—would be tantamount to ‘adultery in the heart’.[27]

Let us recall, however, that St John of Sinai speaks of obscene thoughts which are too fast for the mind to intercept but which nonetheless bring to the ascetic objective guilt for sin. St John professes himself to be bemused by this phenomenon.

Using this same model even for the thought of sorrow, which intercepts and dries up ‘every pleasure of the soul’, we can see that the ascetic must not consent even to that thought, however reasonable it might seem, but use one of the methods given by Evagrius to rebut it, or even escape it by the method of changing the subject outlined in the previous chapter. And this for all the eight thoughts: each calls to pleasure; each seems to be reasonable in its own sort of way; each must be refused. To consent to the thought conveys objective guilt for sin and can lead to disastrous consequences for our mental stability. As sin, the thought clouds the mind and causes God to withdraw ever so little, little until he is gone. Even more fundamentally, however, these thoughts pave the way for other thoughts, and so on until the hermit loses his wits. Moreover, Evagrius says, even allowing a demonic thought to persist causes damage to the ascetic from that very thought.[28]

This is a very sobering chapter. It indicates that the hermit cannot fool around, playing one day, being serious the next. Recall from OTT 17 the image of Jacob serving Laban (Gen. 31, 39–40):

I did not bring to you sheep that had become the prey of wild beasts; I restored that which had been stolen by day and that which had been stolen by night and I became burned together with the heat of the day and the frost of the night, and sleep departed from my eyes.

It is a question of sin.

This chapter throws into sharp relief what Evagrius has been trying to say all along about the danger of willingly letting a thought persist: tending the sheep is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week business for the Hesychast. He does have respite, however. As Evagrius himself says in OTT 17:

If, then, something happens to us on account of the toil and the accidie, running back for a bit to the rock of gnosis, let us hold intercourse with the harp, striking with the virtues the harpstrings of gnosis. Let us then again graze the sheep below Mount Sinai, so that the God of our Fathers call to us out of the Bush and grant us also the reasons (logoi) of the signs and wonders.

We will leave other aspects of this respite for our commentary on St Hesychios.

However, pay attention in yourself how the mind clothes itself with the form of its own body without the face, while again, it models the neighbour whole in the intellect, because, encountering him entire beforehand, it has seen him thus.

Evagrius insists on this seemingly trivial point, perhaps to indicate that he is speaking from close observation of his own mental processes and those of his interlocutors. The eremitic life is a life of absolute exactness.

The preceding material will be very important for an understanding of OTT 27, 28 and 29—especially OTT 29—, on the imaginations which occur during sleep, even if Evagrius does not himself explicitly refer to this material there.

The connection is this: In this chapter, Evagrius has discussed how the mind (nous) of the ascetic is ‘going to seize’ the image of the ascetic’s own body in order to act out a scene in the intellect related to the passion that is being aroused by the demon. However, as should be clear, the force with which mind (nous) of the ascetic ‘seizes’ the image of his own body will depend on the strength of the passion in him. If he is indifferent to money, he will not when the demon of avarice approaches him ‘seize’ the image of his own body to fantasize counting stocks and bonds and so on. It is the same with the dreams that are the subject of OTT 27, 28 and 29: the response in the dream of the ascetic to the tableau presented by the demon depends on the strength in the ascetic of the passion that is related to the tableau that the demon is presenting. That is why Evagrius can say in TPL 56 that we can judge the degree of the ascetic’s dispassion (apatheia) both from his thoughts during the day and from his dreams at night: in both cases, during the day and during the night, the ascetic responds impetuously or indifferently in proportion to the strength of the passion in him, the passion that the demon is arousing.

Let us continue with the rest of the chapter:

But it is impossible that these things be seen in the temptations, how this occurs and is thus quickly accomplished in the intellect, if the Lord does not rebuke the wind and the sea and make a great calm and lead out him who is sailing upon the land to which he was hastening [cf. Matt. 8, 26].

The allusion, of course, is to the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s rebuking of the winds and the waves, and also of his walking upon the sea, for when he entered the boat, it immediately was found to be on the land to which it was going. The sense is that during active temptation, the anchorite will not have the leisure of mind to examine these matters: in the midst of battle, you do not study tactics, you fight. The emphasis that the calm required for the existential study of such matters as these requires divine grace is important. Evagrius does not often emphasize the role of grace.

It is not clear whether Evagrius intends to say that these things can only be learned once the Lord grants complete dispassion (apatheia), or whether he intends a God-given grace of suspension of the battle for a time. We think that this passage is to be considered parallel to TPL 83. There, it is clear that Evagrius means that dispassion (apatheia) is a presupposition for being able to ‘contemplate the reasons of the war’. However, even should a gnostic, one who in the Evagrian system has attained to dispassion (apatheia), fall into battle he will not be able to contemplate the reasons (logoi) of the battle until it is over.

The next passage is very important:

It is necessary, therefore, for him who is living the life of solitude to pay attention to himself ‘lest there occur a secret word in his heart, an iniquity’ [Deut. 15, 9].

In On Sobriety 2, St Hesychios uses exactly the same quotation from Deuteronomy in exactly the same form, saying that it refers to the ‘blameless and pure and encompassing and uplifting nature of this virtue [sobriety] and teach[es] us how we must begin and accomplish it’. St Hesychios then goes on, quoting St Mark the Ascetic, to say that ‘secret word’ refers to ‘the one-worded appearance in the heart of some wicked object hated by God’. Clearly, Hesychian sobriety is none other than what Evagrius has been discussing, especially since the beginning of OTT 17. However, it would take us too far afield to develop an analysis here.[29]

For at the time of temptations, once the demon has stood near, the mind is going to seize the figure of its own body.

The next passage gives a formal definition—something very important in Classical philosophy to reveal the essence of a thing—of the demonic thought, or, in modern Athonite parlance, the logismos.

When Evagrius refers to ‘contemplation’ below, we think he is referring to a contemplation of profane science, one which requires proof, not to the intuitive gnosis of natural contemplation. ‘Imperfect’ means ‘without the face’, since the image in this case is the image of the thinker of the thought.

Having been set in motion from this very contemplation, we have provided the definition (logos) of the unclean thought: for a demonic thought is an image of the sensible man composed in the intellect, imperfect, with which [image] the mind, being set in motion passionately, says or does something lawlessly in secret towards the image which is formed by the mind in succession [to the first].

This passage parallels the content of Skemmata 13.

Evidently, this should explain the connection between mental representation, and logismos or demonic thought: the logismos is composed of mental representations (‘images’) which pass in succession in the intellect (we have learned that they must pass one by one) in such a way as to enable the mind (nous) to enact in the intellect a lawless word or act. Logismoi are composed in the intellect of impassioned mental representations of objects of sense brought forward to the intellect by the memory on account of the excitation of a passion by a demon.

In this chapter, Evagrius emphasizes the mental representations of the thinker of the logismos—imperfect as regards the face—and of the ‘opposite party’, but in the case, say, of avarice, the mental representation of money or gold must also play a role.

What are we to make of this analysis?

It seems rather simplistic to us today, with its serial stream of images or mental representations, by means of each of which the mind (nous) adopts with great rapidity in the intellect the roles of actors in a play. Evagrius does not seem to envisage the possibility of the ascetic’s visualizing a single integrated tableau of many characters. But let us provisionally accept this model, and when we are in a cave and have reached the harbour of dispassion (apatheia) and can evaluate the model from our own intelligent experience—for Evagrius appeals to the experience of the intelligent, experienced monk, or hermit, in his own heart—then let us correct this model if it then appears faulty.

This chapter does not correspond to any chapter of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter, important in its own right, marks the close of the unity which began with OTT 17. It is a discussion of the acquisition of the ‘gnosis of discernment’, which seems to be gnosis or intuitive knowledge, but gnosis or intuitive knowledge applied to the matters now being discussed. After that, Evagrius has three important chapters on the imaginations that occur in sleep before he turns to discuss logismoi from a general typological point of view.

previous | Table of Contents | next

[1] OTT G p. 236, fn. 1.

[2] TPL 58.

[3] TPL 50; OTT 1, 9, 11, 14, 21 and so on.

[4] The thought of vainglory proclaims honours while the thought of fornication purveys dishonour (TPL 58).

[5] OTT 1 makes it clear that one cannot be afflicted by the thought of fornication unless one has first been defeated by, unless one has first accepted, a thought of gluttony.

[6] OTT G p. 18.

[7] TPL 34 and 37–9, inter alia.

[8] We will encounter a more precise definition of this interiority both later in OTT and, in the context of formal Hesychasm, the Prayer of Jesus, in St Hesychios in Volume III.

[9] See also OTT 25 concerning the nature of his proof.

[10] TPL 45.

[11] TPL: many chapters; OTT 1.

[12] TPL 45; OTT 34, where the change of the guard of the demons relates to the same passion.

[13] The second method there was praying for the grace to repel the thought by means of the virtue opposed to it.

[14] OTT 17, above.

[15] Here Evagrius does not insist as in TPL 58 that this be a mental representation of a passion structurally—thematically—opposed to the passion being excited by the demon.

[16] According to TPL 74, the image is the temptation and, according to TPL 75, ‘The sin of the monk is the consent towards the forbidden pleasure of the thought.’

[17] The image of the evil taskmaster, to be repeated in OTT 36, below, alludes, of course, to the Israelites in Egypt forced to make bricks by the taskmasters of Pharaoh, type of the Devil.

[18] TPL 78.

[19] St Seraphim of Sarov repeated the prayer of the tax collector standing for 1000 days on a rock in the wilderness, rain or shine, winter or summer; nights he did the same on a rock in his nearby cell.

[20] Ladder G Step 5, 5; = Ladder E Step 5, 3–26.

[21] Sinkewicz p. 329–30 (Greek); = Migne 79, col. 1132A–D.

[22] Volume III.

[23] KG VI, 84. See also Section 6, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[24] See Chapter IV of Volume I.

[25] On Sobriety 173, Volume III.

[26] TPL 48; see On Sobriety 145 and 195 in Volume III.

[27] See OTT 22 and 24, and Skemmata 45, 56 and 58.

[28] See Skemmata 45.

[29] We will do that in Volume III.


Post a Comment

<< Home