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

TPL (Commentary) -- 3

On the Eight Thoughts

6 The most general thoughts are eight in all, in which is contained every thought. First, the thought of gluttony; and, after it, the thought of fornication; third, that of avarice; fourth, that of sorrow; fifth, that of anger; sixth, that of accidie; seventh, that of vainglory; eighth, that of pride.

‘Thought (logismos)’ taken as an idea that is thought in the mind is a very important concept. Rather than anticipate the whole argument, let us take it for the moment simply as an idea in the mind. There are eight types of such ideas and this typology exhausts all such ideas. The significance of this will become clear.

The assertion that all such ideas or thoughts in the mind fit into one of these eight categories is fundamental to Evagrius’ psychology. Moreover, it should be apparent that such ideas have some connection to the passions that St Macrina was speaking about in Chapter II of Volume I, those passions taken as impulses that man inherited from the animals when he inherited from them sense-perception. Let us recall Chapter 4, above, where Evagrius establishes an intimate connection among passionate love, desire, passion and sense-perception. Here, he is establishing the kinds of passionate love that a man or woman might have. Why he calls them ‘thoughts’ will become clear.

It is well to remark, however, that in both St Macrina and Evagrius Pontikos, the impulses taken per se that man inherited from the animals are not in themselves vicious. It is the use that man makes of those impulses that is either virtuous or vicious.

It is also well to recall our discussion in Section 13, Chapter III, of Volume I, of the Evagrian typology of the passions. The reader who feels that we are here simplifying somewhat should not worry. As we go on, we will introduce all the nuances that Evagrius applies to the concept and typology of the passions.

Whether all these thoughts trouble the soul or do not trouble the soul is among the things which are not within our power;

This is very important. It establishes both the inevitability and, by implication, the guiltlessness (at the primary stage) of having had such a thought. These thoughts occur to us; they pass through our consciousness or mind. At the stage that the thought first appears, we are guiltless and, moreover, there is nothing we can do to prevent the thought from passing through our mind.

for these to persist or not to persist, or to set passions in motion or not to set in motion, is among the things which are within our power.

While the thought or idea might occur to us without its being in our power to prevent the thought or idea from occurring, whether the thought or idea persists or not is within our power. We can choose. This is fundamental. This choice is moral—we spoke of moral choice in Volume I; we are beginning to see the application of our ideas and comments; indeed, that is why we introduced those ideas there, so as to set the stage. For a thought to persist means that I revolve it, as it were, in my mind; I think about it, consider it—without acting on it. Evagrius now lists another stage that is within our power: that of setting a passion in motion. This means that we begin to think the thought intensely, ‘with passion’. Whether Evagrius here also means ‘acting on the idea’ is ambiguous. Certainly the notion includes a certain progress towards actualizing the idea in our actions and behaviour. That also is within our power.

So simply having the thought or idea occur to us or not having it occur to us is not within our power. Thinking about it for a long time is within our power. Thinking about it with passion is within our power. Acting on it (to what degree is ambiguous at this point) is within our power. The last three stages bear moral responsibility. They involve moral choice. We are here at the heart of Evagrian ascetical psychology.

Evagrius now begins a detailed description of each of the eight thoughts. Note that he is addressing monks. He is not addressing laymen. In fact, Evagrius is addressing advanced monks, with experience. This should alert us that this is an ascetical psychology. Evagrius’ use of the word ‘suggests’ should also alert us, this time to the notion of temptation.

7 The thought of gluttony suggests to the monk the quick fall from his ascetical endeavours,

Since an important part of the ascetical endeavour is continence, especially in the matter of food and water.

portraying the stomach, liver, spleen and dropsy, and a long illness, and the rarity of necessary things and the lack of doctors.

That is, the thought brings to mind these things: various organs as subject to damage from the ascesis; the illness of dropsy—œdema, the collection of watery fluid in the cavities or tissues of the body, evidently a common and serious illness in Egypt in Evagrius’ time—; a long illness; the rarity of necessary things; the lack of doctors.

When Evagrius is portraying the thoughts, he uses an elliptical non-syntactical approach. He reports the thoughts as they occur in the mind without attempting to polish his syntax or, more generally, his literary style. All the more remarkable in such a studied rhetorician.

It often brings the monk also to the remembrance of certain brothers who have fallen into these passions.

Passions here means ‘afflictions’.

Sometimes this thought persuades

Again the notion of succumbing to suggestion and temptation.

those very persons who have suffered such things to meet the continent

‘The continent’: Those who are maintaining the ascetical endeavour as regards the body.

and to narrate their own misfortunes, as though those things had happened on account of their ascesis.

Recall that in Chapter 5, above, the demon was described as using the more negligent brother against the monk in the cœnobium or entourage. Here is an example, although it applies more to one hermit visiting another to narrate his misfortunes as though those things had happened on account of his own ascesis. Evagrius does not believe it; hence the irony.

8 The demon of fornication forces [the monk] to desire various bodies;

There is no Victorian squeamishness here: the demon is indiscriminate.

and it attacks with greater fierceness those who are continent, so that they stop their continence as leading to nothing;

Instead of ‘thought’, Evagrius uses ‘demon’. Why? First, as will become clear, the thought is sown by the demon, and each demon sows one type of thought. Hence the typology of the thoughts is also a typology of demons.

Next, Evagrius uses a strong verb, forces. There is a pressure here. Evagrius is obliged by this sense of pressure to use the word ‘demon’, so that this pressure makes sense. An external intelligence—malicious and dedicated to evil—is forcing the monk. When we say that Evagrius is obliged to use the word ‘demon’, we mean that not as a matter of style but as a matter of clarity: he must point to the intelligent external origin of the thought. Is this prescientific psychology? The Fathers universally accept this analysis. Evagrius continues: ‘and it attacks with greater fierceness … those who are continent, so that they stop their continence as leading to nothing’. One might argue that this is a sort of subconscious reaction on the part of the ascetic against the continence. However, the Patristic approach is precisely that given: a malicious external intelligence makes hard efforts to break the monk.

and, polluting the soul, it bends it towards those works;

The demon fills the soul with the air or sense of the act, forcing the soul towards the act.

This can be quite intense, morally or psychologically painful, disturbing to the monk—and unwanted.

and it makes the soul speak certain words and also hear, as if the object were present and seen.

This can be very unpleasant.

We can now see what the last part of Chapter 6 means. The thoughts are sown by the demons, which are independent, external, malicious intelligences, and it is not within the power of the monk to prevent the demon from sowing the thought. This is important, for a man can be quite distressed at some of the thoughts that come to him, especially when he feels guilty that he has somehow caused them. The thoughts are guiltless at this stage. Eve was not at fault when the Devil through the instrumentality of the serpent approached her in Eden and sowed the thought of disobedience to God. However, for the thought to persist or not, or to set the passions in motion or not, is within our power. Here Eve should have done differently than she did. We will spend much time on a refined analysis of the thoughts, especially, in respect to prayer in the heart, when St Hesychios ties Evagrius’ present analysis to the Jesus Prayer prayed in the heart.

9 Avarice suggests a long old age and the weakness of the hands for work,

This does not seem to be such a money-grubbing thought. After all, old age is serious; the hands are weak.

famines which will be and illnesses which will occur and the bitter things of poverty and as shameful to accept from others those things which are necessary.

The demons are very sophisticated. They work, as we shall see, from the reasonable (old age, the hands weak) to the loss of the wits.

The next chapter is a masterpiece of psychological analysis:

10 Sorrow, then, sometimes occurs as a result of the deprivation of desires and sometimes follows on anger.

Recall that St Macrina said much the same thing.[1]

As a result of the deprivation of desires, it occurs in this way: certain thoughts by anticipation lead the soul to remembrance of home and parents and the former way of life.

‘Deprivation of desires’: Recall that St Macrina distinguished between the non-attainment of what was desired and the deprivation of what was loved or cherished. We must include both here, although here the example is of the deprivation of what is loved or cherished.

‘By anticipation’ seems to indicate what we have just said: the demons are sophisticated.

The ‘remembrance of home and parents and the former way of life’ is an important factor in the monk’s psychology. What Evagrius says is quite important.

And when they see the soul not resisting

This is the first indication by Evagrius of the proper attitude of all men to the thoughts: what Eve should have done in Paradise; what Adam should have done when Eve offered him the fruit. Evagrius will refine this analysis of resistance to temptation. Here, however, the proper attitude to the apparently innocuous recollection of our mother is to resist from the outset. Note that we are dealing with an advanced monk, one who has taken up the anchoretic life and who is seeking the God of his Fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

What Evagrius is referring to, however, is the opposite of resistance, and his phrasing seems to indicate a thinking about, a fantasizing. Here is where Evagrius’ remark takes its force that it is within our power whether the thoughts persist or not.

but following and dissipating itself in pleasures which occur in the intellect,

Several points here. First, ‘dissipating’: These thoughts tire the monk; his mind is washed out after indulging in these thoughts or fantasies. Second, ‘in the intellect’: The intellect (dianoia) is an operation of the mind (nous), itself a substance, albeit immaterial. Next, ‘in the intellect’ conveys the idea of thought, not action. However, here it does not yet convey the idea of the monk’s reasoning how to visit his family.

then taking the soul, they immerse it in sorrow as though the former things were no longer existent

Recall that the thought began with pleasure, a pleasure in the mind, that of recollecting family, friends and former way of life. Now the demons, having caught the monk with the pleasure, immerse his soul in sorrow. It is an undeniable fact that if the monk rejects the initial pleasure—here, fantasizing about home, parents and former way of life—, then he is immune to the sorrow. For the moment, of course, since the temptation might repeat itself another day; and if the monk indulges himself then, then he will find himself immersed in the sorrow that follows the foolish pleasure.

‘As though the former things were no longer existent’: ‘I’ve lost them.’

and neither able to exist any more because of the present way of life.

This can be a serious matter indeed, for the goal of the demon is to destroy the vocation and even the monk himself. Having committed himself to the ascetic life, the monk is not able to go back to his old way of life without spiritual and psychological damage, sometimes very serious.

And the wretched soul, as much as it dissipated itself in the former thoughts, being humiliated, that much contracts itself on account of the latter thoughts.

The former thoughts dissipate and tire the soul with the pleasure of reminiscences about the past life and former acquaintances and family. The thoughts of sorrow contract the soul. ‘Contraction’ is used by the author, Evagrius, as the exact opposite of the previous ‘dissipation’. The humiliation seems to arise in part from a sense of the foolishness and guilt of the former pleasure and in part from a sense of dejection that the pleasure itself creates: it is an empty thing, this pleasure, that greatly tires the mind of the man who indulges in it.

Evagrius has here portrayed sorrow as it follows on the deprivation of the loved or cherished one. He handles the non-attainment of that which is desired under other types of thoughts. He refers to the case where, as St Macrina also remarks, sorrow can follow anger, under anger, to which he now proceeds:

11 Anger is a very quick passion; it is said to be a boiling and a movement of the temper against him who has committed an injustice [against the monk] or who is thought to have committed an injustice.

‘Anger’ here translates Evagrius’ orge’; ‘temper’ translates Evagrius’ thumos’. St Macrina referred to anger (she said ‘thumos’) as a ‘boiling round the heart’. When we render the Greek text of Evagrius by ‘anger’, we are indicating that what is in question is an operation of a part of the soul; when we render his Greek text by ‘temper’, we are indicating that what is in question is a part of the soul, not its operation.

Evagrius here refers neither to a thought nor to a demon. He refers to a passion. Why? It is evident that the phrase ‘a boiling and a movement of the temper’ refers to a disturbance or movement of the soul-body complex. As is well known, there is an endocrine reaction which results in the release of adrenaline, a heart stimulant, in cases of anger or fear.[2]

Hence, Evagrius refers to ‘passion’ because he wants to emphasize the soul-body complex. St Macrina essentially was referring to the passions in this sense when she developed her theory of the passions and the gift of sense-perception as connate.

Now we have a problem: We talked about thoughts; we talked about demons; we said that thoughts and demons had the same typology. Where do the passions fit in? They too have the same typology, but they are aspects of the soul-body complex. Hence, we always find triplets: thought – demon – passion. And there are eight most general thoughts, eight most general demons and eight most general passions.

These are the counters that we, as it were, are going to play with in our psychology. Since this is an ascetical psychology, our goal is to get rid of the passions (since, as St Macrina said, they are ‘warts’ on the soul)—or, more carefully stated, to bring the parts of the soul subject to the passions to their state according to the design of the Creator when man was created, and woman too, in Paradise. Moreover, it should be understood that the passion of fornication is only one of eight passions: the ascetical program looks to the restoration of the parts of the soul to their operation according to nature in regard to all the eight passions, as was the case with Adam and Eve in Paradise before the Fall.

Moreover, this psychology is soteriological: it is not something over and apart from our salvation, but the working out of our salvation in completeness and fullness. This means on the one hand that our psychology is based on our anthropology[3] and on the other hand that it conveys value judgements: it is intimately bound up with Orthodox Christian dogmatic positions. It is not a doctrinally neutral psychology.[4]

It is clear that Evagrius is sceptical about the justice of being angered. He is very strong on the dangers of anger and on the necessity of meekness and charity, and on the consequences of a temper that is not according to nature.

This very thing, anger, the whole day makes the soul savage,

This might seem a little extreme. However, the monk, especially one living in quiet and solitude, is rather like water which has settled—his soul is rather more clear—, and an event which causes an episode of anger can make his soul turbulent for days. Hence, for the monk, Evagrius is speaking with exactness.

and, moreover, during the prayers, it seizes the mind, mirroring the face of the person who has grieved [the monk].

During prayer, especially of the mind (nous) in the heart, the mind (nous) must be empty of agitated recollections; otherwise the monk simply does not pray. He revolves the thoughts in his mind (nous) in an agitated way. In the case at hand, the monk remembers the face—the person, the episode, what he said, what I said, what I should have done, what I should have said—in the hour that he has decided to pray. Needless to say, he is not praying.

Moreover, even if the monk wants, he cannot avoid these thoughts until his agitated mind recollects its peace, which can take hours or days. Better to avoid occasions of anger. Evagrius goes on:

It happens that when anger persists for a long time

Recall that whether a thought persists or not is within our power: we have moral responsibility if we do not forgive from the heart. Recall also that anger indulged is a pleasure: in forgiving, we are giving up a pleasure, that of hatred.

and is transformed into wrath,

Wrath should here be taken to be an intensification of anger and also its transformation from an impulse arising relatively spontaneously into an habitual and intentional attitude towards the other, an attitude for which we bear moral responsibility.

it provides disturbances by night,

Evagrius will later analyse these disturbances minutely, especially in OTT but also in this work. These disturbances can be pathological by any criterion: the monk is playing with fire when he harbours in himself hatred, rancour, or bitterness against a presumed or even real injustice suffered.

Note that the Gospel forbids this and that the monk is leading a special life: he is subject to rather different consequences if he indulges in aspects of human nature that might be less dangerous in a layman—at least, less evidently dangerous. This is a moral matter: the monk is a moral man who has committed himself to find God and who has given vows to God. It is also, however, a psychological matter: the monk is a different sort of man: unmarried, celibate, living alone (if he is a hermit), praying several hours before daybreak. He does not have the experiential inputs into his soul that a layman might have or want and which might either displace or obscure the wrath: the layman might forget the episode in his busy stream of affairs, while the monk might remember. It is altogether dangerous for the monk to act like a layman in the matter of rancour and bitterness; he is a different man and must act differently—as a moral matter and as a psychological matter.

wasting away of the body,

Evagrius is not joking. He is an expert psychologist with remarkable observational powers. These things have their consequences even on the bodily health of the monk.


This would suggest a psychological wasting.

and attacks by venomous beasts.

We do not know what Evagrius means. Is he suggesting that such monks get bitten by vipers?

In Chapter 54, he will describe disturbances by night that are due to a temper that is ill, and he refers there to dreams or apparitions of venomous beasts that bite the monk. Perhaps he means that. We do not know. We do know that some people believe that people can attract danger (objective danger) to themselves. But we do not know if Evagrius intends to convey that here.

One could find these four things which occur after wrath to follow many thoughts.

It is not a neutral affair—and it is an affair bearing with it moral responsibility in addition to the practical considerations arising from the monk’s way of life—to allow thoughts to persist. They can damage the monk, even gravely.

12 The demon of accidie, which is also called ‘the noonday demon’ [Ps. 90, 6], is the heaviest of all the demons. It appears to the monk around the fourth hour and it circles about his soul until the eighth hour.

The ‘noonday demon’ is referred to in Psalm 90, 6. The period of time from the fourth to the eighth hour corresponds to noonday. The symptoms (given below) appear more intensely during that time; hence, the nomenclature of Psalm 90 has been applied to this demon. It is the heaviest of all the demons. This indeed is the characteristic of accidie: this heaviness.

At first, it makes the sun appear slow to move or motionless,

A cliché of the Western melodrama.

showing the day to have fifty hours.


Then it presses

Again, a sense that the demon presses the monk to do something, coerces him.

to look continually towards the doors and to leap out of his cell, to stare at the sun to see how far it is away from the ninth hour,

When the monk will eat.

and to look around here and there, perhaps one of the brothers.

We have removed here the interpolations that we put into the translation to complete the sense, so that Evagrius’ rather elliptical phrasing should shine forth. He has nothing on Joyce; Joyce was far better. But for a hermit, he’s pretty good for stream-of-consciousness writing.

It is clear that Joyce was a writer. Evagrius is a psychologist who is portraying with accuracy the psychological condition of a monk suffering from accidie, boredom, being fed up with the place and the way of life.

Moreover, it presents a hatred for the place and towards this way of life

The monastic life, not the mere fact of being alive. As Evagrius will develop his doctrine, it is the demon of sorrow that works suicide—see Chapter 7 of OTT.[5]

and towards the labour of the hands,

Humble work, tiring and without interest.

and that charity has gone from the brothers;

The community that Evagrius was a part of was semi-eremitic: the monks were hermits who on the one hand visited each other and who on the other hand collected themselves together on Saturdays and Sundays for common services.[6]

and that there is no one who consoles,

The monk has to find in himself the Source of Consolation, Christ the King and our Lord.

and if, then, during those days, there might be someone who has sorrowed the monk,

See above under sorrow, Chapter 10, and anger, Chapter 11, where one of the causes of sorrow is an injustice.

the demon adds that to the increase of hatred.

The demon makes the monk—if the monk does not fight against the demon—fed up.

It leads the monk also towards the desire for other places in which he can easily find the necessary things

The monk is in the desert.

and exercise an art or trade which is rather easier

And more lucrative.

and more advanced; and, it adds, pleasing the Lord does not depend on being in a place; but, it says,

This can be taken to mean that the demon says that Scripture says, or simply that the demon says.

everywhere the Divine is to be worshipped [cf. John 4, 21–4].

Anything to get the monk out of there.

It joins to these things also the remembrance of familiars and of the former way of life;

Evagrius will elsewhere adamantly assert that only one demon or thought at a time can trouble the monk. Hence, we must conclude that this is different from sorrow.

it shows the time of life to be long,

St John of Sinai in the Ladder will recommend the memory of death against this demon.

bringing the pains of asceticism before the eyes; and, as one says, it sets in motion every mechanism

This is the heaviest demon, by far heavier than all the others.

so that the monk, abandoning his cell, leaves the arena. Another demon does not follow immediately on this demon; a peaceful condition and an unspeakable joy succeed to the soul after the struggle.

If he struggles. It is well to remember that life is an arena and that the monk, the true monk, has chosen the heavier war.

It is not simply a matter of reminding the would-be novice that all days are different, that some days are slow in the monastery. What is involved here is a typology of temptation, and accidie is one of the most serious temptations. If the monk resists the temptation, then when the demon—an external intelligence and not a subconscious tendency—gives up, a peaceful condition and an unspeakable joy succeed to his soul.

St Athanasios of Athos (930–1001), the founder of the Great Laura, for a year suffered gravely from the attack of this demon, before he conquered it through the intervention of the grace of God.

13 The thought of vainglory is a very subtle sort of thought

Here, it is a matter of the ideas in the intellect[7] and indeed of very subtle ideas: the thought of vainglory is very subtle, able to thwart the monk’s own thought.

and it occurs alongside those who have accomplishments, wishing easily to publish their struggles

The elliptical syntax conveys the idea that the thought of vainglory prompts the monk with accomplishments readily to publish abroad his accomplishments.

and hunting after the glories which are from men [cf. 1 Thess. 2, 6]: figuring demons crying out

Recall that when Christ came near to men and women possessed by demons, the men and women cried out under the pressure of the demon.

and women being cured

Recall the cure of the woman with the flow of blood.[8]

and some sort of crowd touching the monk’s garments.

This is both from the episode of the cure of the woman with the flow of blood and from other Gospel passages, where as many as touched the hem of Christ’s garment were healed.

These images are images of Christ himself; hence, it is clear that if unchecked, vainglory can lead to serious disturbances in the man.

It then prophesies to the monk the priesthood

A higher rank.

and it presents those seeking him at the doors,

Since, in his fantasy, the monk is too humble to ask.

and how, if he does not wish, he will be led away bound.

On account of his great humility.

And thus making the monk exalted in these vain hopes

This phrase conveys a lack of reality, a lifting up into the air in vain hopes.

it flies away

Having done its job quite well.

leaving it either to the demon of pride to tempt him,

The next and last temptation, below.

or else to the demon of sorrow, which brings to him thoughts opposed to these vain hopes;

This seems to be virtually a manic-depressive cycle: here the psychological cause is identified as the acceptance of thoughts of vainglory: they are seen as issuing in pride or sorrow.[9] The point is that if the monk does not accept the initial thought of vainglory, then he will be free of the further evolution of the thought. With all these thoughts, the key is to resist the temptation, the thought—here taken literally as a thought in the mind—at the beginning.

it also sometimes happens that it gives over to the demon of fornication

Depending on the state and experience of the monk, this can vary from simple temptation to the worst of sin.

the just-now bound

That is, the just-now in fantasy humble and holy monk being led away bound against his will to his ordination to the priesthood.

and sacred

The sarcasm—directed most likely against himself; see OTT 28—is heavy and evident. The sacredness of the monk is phoney; it is a false image sown by a demon.


These thoughts are bubbles that tire the soul.

This discussion of the demon of vainglory presents a very important aspect of Evagrian psychology: the chaining of temptations and the cutting off of the temptation at the root or beginning so as to avoid the subsequent stages. St John of Sinai will in the Ladder of Divine Ascent present a somewhat more refined and developed analysis of the causal connections among the various sorts of temptations, without for all that departing from Evagrius’ own analysis.

In general, as we remarked, these thoughts can be dangerous if left unchecked by the monk.

The interesting thing is that there is a clear implication here that if a healthy monk allows (moral choice) such a temptation to proceed, he could suffer a psychotic episode, and that without his having a clinical predisposition to manic depression. And, of course, we are here merely using manic depression as an arbitrary example, based on Evagrius’ own text. What we are saying would apply to any psychological disorder which had a genetically-based biochemical cause: letting a thought develop without cutting it off could precipitate a psychotic episode not only in persons with such genetically-based disorders but even in healthy men and women. The problem of course in such genetically-based disorders is that an afflicted person would not be able to control the evolution of the thought even if he tried. However, what is important for us to understand is that even in cases where the monk does not have such a genetically-based disorder, allowing the thought to proceed unchecked could lead to a psychotic episode of one sort or another, depending on the particular thought that the monk left unchecked.

We do not address here the general issue of psychological disturbances arising from genetically-based biochemical disorders; we imagine that persons with such conditions would not be selected for monastic struggles, at least not at the level that Evagrius is here discussing. Let us say, then, that we are here dealing with persons in whom there is no underlying clinical entity, with basically healthy men and women.

The problem of the connection between modern psychology and what Evagrius is discussing is difficult. In OTT, Evagrius will present a more detailed analysis and we will return to the matter in more detail there.[10]

Let us now turn to pride:

14 The demon of pride becomes the purveyor to the soul of the most severe fall.

Evagrius means it, as will be seen below and, especially, in the parallel passages of OTT.

It seduces

This is a word proper to the temptation of Eve by the Devil himself in Paradise.

the soul not to confess

The phrasing is very important here. The problem is the refusal to confess, in the sense of admit or profess humbly—

that God is its helper,

This demon can attack even those who believe in God.

to think that it itself is the cause of its accomplishments,

Even those, especially those, who profess religion can succumb to this demon: an active life full of accomplishments in the name of religion, whether among men or ascetically, can lead the monk to believe that he himself is the cause of his own accomplishments, whatever small things they might be such as cleaning a toilet.

In Skemmata 57, Evagrius makes clear the connection between ascetical accomplishments and both vainglory and pride:

57 Alone among the thoughts, the thoughts of vainglory and pride occur after the defeat of the remaining thoughts.[11]

and to be puffed up against the brothers as ignorant because they do not all know this very thing concerning it.

The proud monk is inflated against his fellow monks because they are too stupid to recognize his own worth and importance.


Because of the injustice on the part of the brethren just mentioned in not recognizing the monk’s worth.

and sorrow

For the same reason. It seems that it would depend on the ‘manliness’ of the aggrieved monk whether he was the more prone to anger or to sorrow.

follow this demon and, the last evil,

The last in a series of disasters.

an ecstasy of the mental faculties,

‘Ecstasy’ has the extremely negative sense of the loss of our possession of ourselves; hence, here, of the loss of our wits.


We might render ‘frenzy’ by ‘mania’, which is a cognate of the Greek mania of the text. The basic meaning is ‘madness’.

and a multitude of demons seen in the air.

The monk in the final stages of this catastrophe sees a multitude of demons in the air. In OTT 21 and 23, Evagrius will return to this same topic in greater detail. As he points out in OTT 23, sometimes the monk can by the prayers of others be brought back to his senses, God and man; sometimes, not.

In any case, it is humanly impossible to cure a man in this condition; only God can; and, in cases where a man has been cured, it has been through the prayers of the saints.

What are we to make of all this?

We started off wondering about the Orthodox doctrine of the person in Volume I, and we proceeded to develop an anthropology based on several works by St Gregory of Nyssa. Where St Gregory’s sister, St Macrina, broke off her discussion of the origin of the human passions to develop her doctrine of the Resurrection, we broke off too. We then entered into the world of Evagrius Pontikos, and used it to develop further our anthropology. We then discussed Western Christian anthropologies and tied everything together in the final chapter.

Now we have entered into an eremitical world (Evagrius was a hermit) where Evagrius posits that the spiritual ascent has three stages: the practical, the natural and the theological stages.[12] What connection has this ascent to anthropology?

The basic structure of Orthodox anthropology is the likeness to God, lost in the Fall and restored through a lifelong effort at acquiring the virtues, taken ultimately in a mystical sense that involves union even in this life with God in Jesus Christ. We discussed this in Chapter V of Volume I.

Now, here, what we are doing to this anthropology is attaching Evagrius’ ascetical psychology. The spiritual ascent, the lifelong effort at acquiring the virtues, is analysed by Evagrius into the tripartite schema of the practical, natural and theological stages of the spiritual life. Moreover, the acquisition of the virtues is placed in the psychological framework that Evagrius has just outlined of the eight most general thoughts, to each of which, we discovered, there correspond a demon and a passion.

We remarked that Orthodox asceticism has a fundamentally moral character structurally identical to the temptation of Eve in Paradise. Hence, what Evagrius has just outlined is a typology of temptations, and, given the moral structure of Orthodox asceticism, he has outlined, in brief, a model of Orthodox asceticism.

(Properly speaking, Evagrius has outlined the structure of the first stage of the mystical ascent, the practical life (praktike). The stages of natural contemplation and theology come later and have a different structure. But let us leave these matters for the moment; we will come to these refinements of the basic model when the texts of Evagrius introduce the relevant concepts.)

The goal is to restore the likeness to God in ourselves, to pass, as St Diadochos of Photike put it, from the kat’ eikona to the kath’ homoiosin, from the ‘in the image’ to the ‘in the likeness’.[13] The means is what Evagrius has begun to outline: The road has three stages, the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive. The eight most general temptations that a man or woman must fight in proceeding on this road, especially in the purgative stage, he has just outlined. Most of the work of Evagrius that we are now commenting on is about the first stage, the purgative, but by the time we have finished this volume, the reader will have a clear idea, or overview, of the whole path to God as it is conceived by Evagrius. This is not to say that this author himself has trodden every step: we clean footpaths and are not mystical adepts of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, in some cases we ourselves do lack sufficient spiritual experience to explain with certainty what is meant by the authors discussed. We hope, however, that the reader will forgive this and find the overview we provide to be useful and well-intentioned.

How important is Evagrius?

The material that we are here presenting was transmitted to the West soon after Evagrius’ death by St John Cassian, the reading of whose works is explicitly recommended by St Benedict of Nursia (c.480–c.550) in his Rule. It is undeniable that St John Cassian’s works are fundamental to Benedictine spirituality and its variants.

Evagrius is treated as a saint by the Monophysites and the Nestorians, and he certainly influenced St Isaac the Syrian (7th C.?–8th C.?), whose works in Greek translation have had a great influence on Orthodox asceticism.[14]

Although St John of Sinai bitterly criticizes Evagrius, calling him ‘damned’—if in fact this is not an interpolation by another hand—it is astonishing just how much of St John’s Ladder of Divine Ascent is a paraphrase (with outright quotations), a commentary and a correction, often sound, of the two works that we are here presenting, Treatise on the Practical Life and On the Thoughts; of another work, Pros Eulogion (Towards Eulogios), that we mentioned earlier but do not discuss; and even of other works of Evagrius.[15]

Of course, it is now well known that St Maximos the Confessor himself was heavily influenced by Evagrius.

Much of the Philokalia bases itself on the Evagrian system directly. Certainly, in On Sobriety, St Hesychios both directly and indirectly bases himself very heavily on the Evagrian material that we are presenting: directly through quotations and paraphrases of Evagrius himself; indirectly through influences from St John of Sinai and through quotations from St Maximos the Confessor that contain clearly Evagrian material.

Evagrius now turns to his teaching on how to combat the eight thoughts, beginning with some general prescriptions.

previous | Table of Contents | next

[1] See Chapter II of Volume I.

[2] Psychologically speaking. We are using the terminology of medicine here.

[3] See Volume I.

[4] This accords with the best modern philosophy of the social sciences, which recognizes that value-free science does not exist in the social sciences.

[5] Henceforth: OTT 7.

[6] The exact program for Saturday and Sunday is presented somewhat ambiguously in the primary sources, and the secondary sources interpret the data variously, but it is clear that the monks gathered at least for the Sunday Divine Liturgy, which itself followed a vigil in the central church of the Cells.

[7] Our terminology will be rendered precise as we proceed.

[8] Cf. Luke 8, 42–50; etc.

[9] We have no remark here on the undeniably genetically-based biochemical origin of manic depression.

[10] See OTT 12, and, concerning the Evagrian interpretation of dreams, OTT 27–9.

[11] See Appendix 3.

[12] In the West, the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive stages.

[13] We discussed this in Chapter V of Volume I.

[14] For an English translation of St Isaac’s works, see Isaac.

[15] It should be remarked, however, that the spiritual atmosphere of the Ladder is quite different from that of Evagrius: St John of Sinai is by no means a slavish imitator of Evagrius.


Post a Comment

<< Home