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TPL (Commentary) -- 4

Against the Eight Thoughts

15 Reading, vigil and prayer stop a wandering mind.

Reading’: Spiritual books, and, above all, Scripture. Reading novels does not help and only hinders the ascetic’s spiritual endeavours—unless there be some reason. Recall that in Evagrius’ day, one read aloud, sotto voce. This in and of itself would have a calming influence on the monk, especially if he were to read the Psalter, the Psalms of David. Indeed, among some ascetics even today, part of the daily program is the reading aloud of the Psalter in a low voice, for all or part of the Psalter. St Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) in one period of his ascetical career read aloud the whole New Testament once a week in a similar manner.

‘Vigil’ means staying awake at night; it does not mean sleeplessness. As St John Cassian remarks in the Cœnobitical Institutions, if you do not get at least a little sleep, you will lose your mind.[1] Sleeplessness for a prolonged period as an ascetical feat is mentioned in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, but it is not a general rule, and by reason of the danger referred to by St John Cassian. Vigil is staying awake at night: ordinarily, as can be seen, again in the Cœnobitical Institutions and in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the monk arises in the middle of the night and says a private office, prays or even reads until dawn. In the cœnobium there is the practice of occasional all-night vigils in the church: in St John Cassian’s day, as he reports in the Cœnobitical Institutions, this was largely a matter of prayers, readings and recitation of the Psalter accompanied by handiwork to fight drowsiness. In our day, the church vigil has evolved into a solemn liturgical celebration with professional singing, as it was in great monasteries and great churches even in the Byzantine epoch.

Here, however, what Evagrius has in mind is the nightly program in the cell of prostrations, reading, prayer and perhaps a private office—essentially alone but before the Lord. This program is usually set by the monk in cooperation with his abbot or confessor: what he does and how much he does of it. Moreover, there is a great emphasis placed on a regular routine established in obedience. The monk goes to sleep each day at the same time, arises at the same time, conducts his program with the same general tone or structure. There is nothing here of staying up for days on end and then collapsing into bed for a month. That is not what is meant as a means to stop a wandering mind.

‘Prayer’: Evagrius has a doctrine of prayer embedded in the two works we will address. We do not believe that the 153 Chapters on Prayer[2] today commonly ascribed to Evagrius is in fact by him: while the Evagrian content of the work is striking, the work seems to us intellectually inferior to OTT. While it is true that every man, monk and writer has his ups and downs—not all of Shakespeare is King Lear or even Hamlet—it seems to us that the presentation of prayer in the Evagrian works we will discuss is more suitable as an introduction to St Hesychios than the 153 Chapters on Prayer.

As we will discuss in our commentary on OTT 22, just as Evagrius has in OTT 24 a reference back to OTT 17, it might very well be that his reference in OTT 22 to the ‘chapters on prayer’ where he will explain why the mind must at the time of prayer be free of all mental representations of objects has to do with his final analysis in OTT 38–43 of the relation between mental representations and prayer, there taken as the intuitive[3] cognition of God. It should be noted that when Fr Hausherr, the author of the theory that the 153 Chapters on Prayer is a work by Evagrius,[4] established the reference in OTT to the ‘chapters on prayer’ as referring to the 153 Chapters on Prayer until then ascribed to St Neilos the Ascetic, the full Evagrian text of OTT had not yet been established, including OTT 38–43. We will deal with this matter in detail in our commentary on OTT 22.

Let us here leave open what Evagrius means by prayer. Let us point out, however, that he almost certainly does not mean the Jesus Prayer. It is not that that does not still the mind (nous) but that Evagrius is silent on practices such as the repetition of a passage from the psalms, although his disciple, St John Cassian, refers to such a practice in his Conferences 10, 10 in terms remarkably similar to those of St Diadochos of Photike in discussing the Jesus Prayer in the Gnostic Chapters.[5] The practice of the repetition of a passage from the psalms seems to have been the forerunner of the Prayer of Jesus. However, in Fourth Century Egypt it was not called prayer, but meditation (Greek: melete; Latin: meditatio).

In his collection of English translations of Evagrius’ ascetical works,[6] R. E. Sinkewicz, commenting on several passages of Evagrius which prescribe how one is to pray in certain trying situations, sees in the formulas given in those passages by Evagrius this repetitive prayer. However, we are not persuaded, considering that Evagrius is in those places providing to the afflicted monk the kernel of an approach to his problem, not a specific formulaic prayer to be repeated incessantly.[7] As we point out in the commentary on OTT 24, Evagrius does not, in a place in OTT 24 where it would be natural for him to do so, discuss the use of a repetitive formula as a means to escape an oppressive thought.

But why is Evagrius silent on such a practice? No one knows. Perhaps he thought it was something that one learned practically and that the central issue lay elsewhere; perhaps he had another method; perhaps, as St John Cassian implies, it was considered an esoteric doctrine.[8] Since his disciple, St John Cassian, was using the method, Evagrius must have known about it; and it must have been in common use among the fathers with whom he weekly attended the vigil and Divine Liturgy in the common church of the Cells.

Moreover, St Diadochos of Photike refers explicitly to the Jesus Prayer in the Gnostic Chapters,[9] written c.450, not long after Evagrius’ death, and that work shows clear influences of Evagrius.

But Evagrius is silent.

Hence, prayer must here be taken in the sense of thanksgiving, petition, intercession and doxology, in much the same fashion that St John Cassian, in terms quite similar to Skemmata 28–30, works with the concept in the Conferences 9, 9 ff.[10] Not that we are bound to follow St John as an interpreter or scholar of Evagrius, his teacher. We must have a fairly informal approach at this point, until we let Evagrius say what he wants on the subject in the works we are dealing with, and then turn to St Hesychios as our final criterion of what prayer is.

Hunger, toil and the anchoretic life wither inflamed desire.

The previous triplet was a general therapy of the mind (nous). Here we have a triplet that is a general therapy of the desiring part of the soul. The third triplet will be a general therapy of the irascible part of the soul, the temper.

Evagrius maintains our anthropology.[11]

‘Hunger’: Although St John of Sinai has criticisms of Evagrius’ ascetical practice,[12] his Step 14, ‘Concerning Gluttony’[13] is essentially a paraphrase of Evagrius, especially as concerns the connection between gluttony and the passion of fornication. It should be understood that hunger here includes thirst, especially from wine and strong drink—we want to wither inflamed desire—but also from water. Evagrius will further develop this point.

‘Toil’: Hard manual labour. Monks do not jog, lift weights or do callisthenics. They do hard manual labour, prostrations and take long walks. There is a difference between a prostration, a religious act, and the same act done as callisthenics. There is a deep difference in spiritual effect between hard manual labour done out of obedience and the same bodily movements done out of self-will or as callisthenics.

‘The anchoretic life’: Solitude. The sense here is not to be alone but to lead the life of solitude. However, in Chapter VI, 41 of the Kephalaia Gnostica[14] we read:

VI, 41 Complete solitude softens the desiring part of the soul and renders hard the irascible part.

Hence, Evagrius seems to be saying, a life of moderate solitude withers inflamed desire, but complete solitude will make matters worse.

‘Wither’: These practices dry up, weaken and attenuate the aroused passion.

‘Inflamed desire’: What is involved here is a strong temptation to sexual practice. This is not merely a matter of a passing thought but of a condition in which the monk is constantly tempted by sexual desire: thoughts, dreams, fantasies, excitation of the flesh and such-like. ‘Inflamed’ indicates the strong nature of the temptation, and the treatment suggested is for such strong desire, when the monk is in danger of losing his chastity, which he has vowed to God before angels and men.

Chanting of the psalms, long-suffering and mercy put a stop to temper aroused.

‘Chanting of the psalms’: Was not David himself Saul’s Valium? In Chapter 71, below, Evagrius remarks that demonic songs arouse desire. Hence, it is not merely a matter of chanting the psalms, but of how they are chanted—both in church and by the monk alone in his cell.[15]

‘Long-suffering’: The practice of long-suffering—not arguing, not speaking, not replying, not doing anything, keeping patience with the person or situation which has aroused our temper—in and of itself works to put a stop to temper aroused: long-suffering is not merely a correct external comportment but an actual therapy of the aroused temper.

‘Mercy’: As Evagrius will develop, acts of mercy—for example, caring for the sick, helping the poor man to find his way in the forest—are a very effective therapy for the temper aroused, especially when it is seriously disturbed, and that on a long-term basis.[16]

‘Temper aroused’: This is the boiling that Evagrius mentioned in Chapter 11: the agitation, rancour and bitterness caused by the injustice or supposed injustice.

—And these things done at the appropriate times and in the appropriate measures. For the excessive and inopportune are for a little time only; and those things which last but a little time are damaging, rather, and not helpful.

St John Cassian, Evagrius’ disciple in the West, will expatiate on the virtue of discretion. This is not the same thing as moderation. It is the measure of the right amount at the right time.

Moreover, Evagrius is suggesting that going from one extreme to another will only damage the monk. A regular program is beneficial and necessary to every monk. The discretion, or discernment, enters in, whether on the part of the monk himself, if he be able to discern for himself, or on the part of his guide, if the monk not be able to discern for himself, both in the structuring of the general program—remember, the monk who is a hermit and living alone has more personal discretion in this than a cœnobitical monk—and in the increases and decreases from time to time of one or another aspect of the ascetical program, based on the principles that Evagrius has just enunciated, and based on the concrete problem that the monk is faced with at the time.

Certainly, however, an erratic hermit with his irregularity would damage his health, with serious consequences for his mind (nous), soul and body, taken as a unity, one aspect of which can influence another.

Evagrius now begins to give specific therapies for each of the eight thoughts. These are not occasional therapies, but constitute the enunciation of an ascetical program, or, if we want, the enunciation of Evagrius’ theory of ascesis.

Evagrius passes through each of the eight most general thoughts, enunciating general principles. Some of his discussions of a thought span more than one chapter.

Note that Evagrius’ typology of the eight most general thoughts constitutes the foundation of his theory of ascesis.

16 Whenever our soul aspires to various foods, then let it be reduced to bread and water, so that it becomes grateful for even that small mouthful. For satiety desires various foods; famine, however, thinks that its fill of bread is blessedness.

In a very famous passage, St John of Sinai rejects this advice.[17] He argues that one must reduce the diet gradually, especially as regards the type of food eaten. He is right. A man beginning an ascetical program would be well advised to follow St John of Sinai’s advice. An experienced monk who had already reduced his diet but who was suddenly assaulted by the demon of gluttony would do well to take St John’s advice if he had not already completed his dietary reduction, but if he had, then he would do well to follow Evagrius’ advice.

The sense of ‘our soul aspires to various foods’ is that we are tempted. ‘Satiety’ wants variety; famine is relieved to have something to eat at all.

This chapter was specifically about gluttony. The next chapter is about fornication.

17 A lack of water contributes greatly to chastity.

St John of Sinai repeats this, as he does so much else of Evagrius.

And let the three hundred of the Israelites with Gideon who conquered Midian persuade you [cf. Judg. 7, 5–7].

This is an allegorical interpretation of the passage of Scripture cited, based on the way the three hundred men were selected—by the way they drank water.

The next chapter is about avarice.

18 As life and death occurring to the same person at the same time is not among the things that are possible, so charity

Agape (love), not eleemosunin (almsgiving), is the word used by Evagrius.

existing together with avarice in a person is one of the things that are impossible.

In other words, Christian charity is opposed to avarice and vice versa.

For charity is destructive not only of money but even of this, our very temporal life.

We had the honour to know Fr Paisios (Eznepides) (1924–1994), the great Starets. One of the things that struck us about him was precisely his charity and his utter lack of possessiveness. He was a man who put this statement into practice in a living example of a love which sacrificed itself for the world, keeping nothing for itself. May he be eternally blessed in Heaven.

19 He who flees all worldly pleasures

These are pleasures which are not spiritual, and which could be called ‘carnal’ in the broad sense of ‘of this flesh, of this world’.

is an unapproachable tower to

That is, immune from.

the demon of sorrow.

And this because sorrow follows on desire which has not been attained or on the loss of that which is cherished:

For sorrow is the deprivation of pleasure either present or expected.

This covers St Macrina’s two cases of sorrow related to pleasure. It does not cover sorrow arising from the ascetic’s inability to revenge himself on the person who has angered him.

It is impossible to repel this enemy

The demon of sorrow.

when we have an attachment to something earthly.

Do you love computers? Poetry? Women? What you desire with a passionate love and cannot attain leads to sorrow, as does the loss of what you cherish.

For there it sets its trap and works sorrow, and certainly wherever it sees us to be inclined.

As Evagrius will develop in OTT, in his demonology the demons do not know our thoughts at all, only our words, our behaviour, our external expression or countenance. Hence, what Evagrius means here is: ‘wherever we demonstrate ourselves to be inclined’.

The next seven chapters are about various aspects of anger. This is an indication how serious a problem Evagrius considers anger to be if not handled correctly by the monk subject to that passion.

20 Anger and hatred increase the temper.

Here, the temper is the part of the soul that can be aroused or made to boil. It gives forth anger and hatred. In anthropological terms, the temper is the source of anger and hatred. Hence, what Evagrius means here is that if we indulge in anger and hatred we will cultivate our temper and increase it in a negative way; we will as it were feed it. It is not a neutral thing to increase your temper; it can eventually get quite large and disturbed, provoking a serious derangement of the mental faculties and even hallucinations at night, as TPL 21, below, will analyse.

Acts of mercy

Caring for the sick, helping the poor, as is in our power.

and meekness

It should be evident that Evagrian asceticism is free of sentimental meekness. What is meant is freedom from anger in our behaviour. If you want to achieve meekness, be meek and you will become meek.

reduce even what temper already exists.

This is the basic treatment for the temper, virtually a behaviouristic approach that seeks to reduce the temper by means of changes to the monk’s day-to-day behaviour. Change your behaviour in appropriate ways—even externally in the beginning—and you will reduce your temper.

21 ‘Let not the sun set on our anger,’ [Eph. 4, 26]

This is St Paul’s injunction.

so that at night the demons do not greatly frighten the soul

Evagrius will explain this, especially in OTT: how a disturbed temper can lead to demonically inspired disturbances at night, especially during sleep.

and make the mind more cowardly towards the war the next day.

The monk is engaged in battle with the demons—how will be made precise as we go on—and the nocturnal disturbances sown by the demons on the basis of the monk’s disturbed temper can frighten him, so that when he wakes up the next day he no longer has courage for the battle.

The would-be ascetic should think about what Evagrius says.

For the fearsome apparitions arise by nature from disturbances of the temper; nothing else, then, makes the mind thus a deserter as temper disturbed.

‘Fearsome apparitions’: This does not convey a sense of dreams—although such apparitions often and even usually occur in sleep, when the monk’s mind is relaxed and free—but of demonic apparitions.

‘By nature’: A modern psychologist might find Evagrius useful.

‘The mind (nous)’: Here taken to be the innermost person.

‘A deserter’: The monk is shaken.

22 When, having laid hold of a pretext,

We might say, an excuse.

the irascible part of our soul is deeply disturbed, then the demons suggest

They present, sow, thoughts.

as good our taking up the anchoretic life,

Becoming a hermit.

so that we do not, solving the causes of our sorrow, free ourselves from the disturbance.

‘So that’: The monk must be aware that behind the thought that the demon presents is a plan that the demonic intelligence has. That is why we cannot treat the demons as prelogical innate drives, although they make use of innate aspects of man.

‘Solving the causes of our sorrow’: What else could a psychologist say today?

‘Free ourselves from the disturbance’: This is very sound, balanced and prudent, even wise, advice on the part of Evagrius.

When the desiring part is greatly heated,

Here we again have a serious temptation against chastity.

then, again, they make us lovers of our fellow man, calling us hard and savage,

Living alone. The demons sow thoughts that we are heartless and cruel in our indifference to our fellow man. Note that this thought is sowed in the context of a serious temptation against chastity.

so that, since we desire bodies,

On account of the temptation which is heating the desiring part of our soul, and our body too.

we encounter bodies.

This is a very sober remark on Evagrius’ part which the monk would do well to reflect on.

One should not be persuaded by these

By these demons, the ones suggesting our departure for the anchoretic life when we are troubled by anger, the others suggesting our departure from the anchoretic life when we are troubled by an inflaming of desire, all in accordance with a destructive plan on the part of the demons.

but rather do the opposite.

It is clear that discernment as to what really is going on is needed in all such situations where a change to the monk’s way of life is involved, lest he fall into a trap.

This discernment is not human: it is a gift of the Holy Spirit to those who possess it.

23 Do not give yourself to

That is: do not surrender yourself to, do not indulge in; rather, fight against (by means that will be analysed later), reject.

the thought of anger, battling in the intellect against him who has sorrowed [you]; neither, again, to the thought of fornication, imagining the pleasure to a greater extent. For the one


darkens the soul while the other


calls it to an inflaming of the passion;

Indulging the thought feeds the passion, whether of anger or of fornication. Refusing the thought, rejecting it, battling against it, weakens it—even if it does not seem so at the moment of temptation.

each, however, makes your mind to be filthy; and, during the time of prayer, imagining these images

Either we battle in the imagination against him with whom we are angry, or we continue to imagine the carnal pleasure which we have once and for all renounced in our service of tonsure.

and not offering to God pure prayer,

The vocation of the monk is pure prayer, impossible when his mind (nous) is filthy with thoughts of anger or fornication.

you immediately fall into the hands of the demon of accidie, which very demon

Again, not an instinctual drive but a dog lying in wait.

springs upon such conditions

‘Conditions’ here refers to the spiritual condition of the monk, in this case defiled by thoughts of anger or fornication. We will again encounter this concept of the spiritual condition of the monk.

and like a dog

A house-dog? A wild animal.

tears the soul to pieces as if it were a fawn.

24 The nature of the temper is to battle against the demons

This is the use of the temper by the mind (nous) in accordance with God’s purpose in giving us the temper—the use of the temper according to nature. Recall that both St Macrina and Evagrius assert that it is not the impulse per se that man received with the animal nature when he received sense-perception that is vicious, but the use that the man makes of the impulse that is constitutive either of virtue or of vice. Here we see the first application of that principle of the use according to nature of an animal impulse that a man has, the first definition of a virtuous use of such an impulse: The virtuous use of the temper is, in the first place, to battle against the demons. When Eve was tempted by the serpent in Paradise, she should have used her temper. When Adam was presented with the fruit, he should have used his temper—but not against Eve. That is what the temper is there for.

St Makarios the Egyptian comments that anger against the demons does not disturb our relationship with God (our remembrance of God) whereas anger against men does, precisely because anger against the demons is according to nature whereas anger against men—on any pretext—is not.[18]

and to struggle in view of some pleasure or other.

The temper is neutral qua temper as to what pleasure is battled for. It is up to the general, the mind (nous), to select the objective.

Wherefore, the angels, suggesting to us our spiritual pleasure and the blessedness from this,

This is the use according to nature of the desiring part of the soul, here taken as the anthropological source of desire, as God intended it: to desire the spiritual pleasure of familiar converse with the angels and with God himself. Hence, the angels suggest to the general, the mind (nous), that the proper objective to battle for is the spiritual pleasure that comes from contemplation.

exhort [us] to turn our temper against the demons.

This is the basic schema of Christian asceticism. Hence, the angels are suggesting to us that we engage in a proper ascesis so as to progress towards the contemplation of God.

The demons, again, drawing us towards worldly pleasures,

Not only of fornication, but of all the pleasures of the world, of all the eight most general thoughts and passions.

press the temper hard to battle, contrary to nature, against men, so that our mind, darkened and falling from gnosis,

The intuitive knowledge that comes from the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of existent things, both objects and angels, from the contemplation of the angels themselves, and, finally, from the contemplation of God.

becomes a traitor to the virtues.

We stop working towards virtue and work towards worldly pleasure—vice.

This chapter is extremely important.

25 Watch yourself lest you ever drive one of the brothers to leave, having provoked him to anger, and you not be able in your life to avoid the demon of sorrow during the time of prayer, the demon having become for you ever a thorn.

I indulge my sarcasm, my arrogance; I injure and wound my brother, who leaves the monastery, the skete, Mount Athos, the monastic state, the Church, while I remain. Or I commit an actual injustice against him which does him serious harm, and so anger him and he leaves. In the hour of prayer, I remember my fallen brother.

These things are not neutral: I am not able in my lifetime to escape the thought that I caused my brother’s departure: this is the work of the demon of sorrow, who has become for me ever a thorn. In OTT 36, Evagrius will again refer to this operation of the demon of sorrow to remind us of our sins and faults and falls.

26 Gifts extinguish rancour.

Both our own rancour against the one to whom we give the gift, and the rancour against us of him to whom we give the gift.

And let Jacob persuade you, who insinuated himself into Esau’s good graces with gifts, Esau who had gone out to meet him with four hundred men [cf. Gen. 32, 7].

Esau had lost both his birthright and his blessing to Jacob.

But let us who are poor

If we are monks.

fulfil the necessity with a meal.

What counts is the heart, not the gift: you could give a chocolate bar from the heart and win the love of someone, whereas a Mercedes thrown into the face of someone might anger him.

The next three chapters are about accidie:

27 When we fall into the hands of the demon of accidie,

The heaviest demon. Hence the treatment. These treatments are for men who are tempted sorely by the demons, not for those who have a passing thought.

Then with tears let us make the soul into two parts, the one consoling and the other being consoled, sowing good hopes in ourselves and intoning this incantation of the holy David: ‘Why are your sorrowful, o my soul, and why do you trouble me? Hope in God, for I will confess myself to him, Deliverance of my face and my God.’ [Ps. 41, 6.]

We do not think that Evagrius intends that we take him literally: he provides the kernel of the consolation that one part of the soul might apply to the other. The words might be whatever the monk thinks of at the time. Of course, using melete (meditation), the monk might repeat this passage incessantly,[19] but there is no sure sign that Evagrius means that here.

Certainly the sense is that one must take action to prevent the accidie from progressing further and must bolster the good hopes, the cheer, of his soul lest it succumb to the demon.

28 One should not at the time of temptations abandon his cell, weaving supposedly reasonable pretexts,

Perhaps to venerate the icon of the Founder of the monastery, or to say something ‘important’ to so-and-so.

but rather one should sit inside the cell

This is even more difficult in an age when men drink coffee and tea and cannot sit still, but in any age it is a mark of the true monk to take it in the cell. This is a very important piece of advice from Evagrius.

and patiently endure

Like a rock, like a man being bombarded in a shelter.

and receive bravely all those [demons] that come upon him,

Recall St Anthony who was beaten nearly to death by the demons in the tomb and who then insisted on returning to the tomb as soon as possible. But even if it does not reach the stage of blows, the ascetic must endure the thoughts and even the visions with which the demons constantly bombard him.

and, most especially, the demon of accidie, which one being heaviest of all, certainly makes the soul extremely tested.

As we have pointed out, these counsels simply do not make sense if external, clever and hostile intelligences (demons) are not involved. If there are demons that are hostile minds (noes), then these counsels are the sober advice of a man who has been tested by those demons and knows what it is a matter of.

Fleeing such struggles teaches the mind to turn out to be unskilled and cowardly and a fugitive.

Stepping back for a moment, we can begin to discern the physiognomy of the accomplished ascetic. He has a toughness acquired in battle; he has a self-control that allows him to direct his thoughts, in directions that accord with good ascetic practice, against the demons that are assaulting him; he has a self-control that restrains him from indulging the passion of anger against his brother; he has an unhypocritical kindness that makes him attractive to others. A difficult man for the demons to overturn. No foolishness here. No self-indulgence. No sentimentality. The man has chosen the road—asceticism—in full knowledge of the danger, and he is travelling the road with love as a martially-guided man seeking the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

29 Our holy and most practical teacher

St Makarios the Alexandrian, although the Guillaumonts make a good case that it is the Egyptian.

used to say: ‘Thus must one ever prepare the monk, as one who will die tomorrow;

This is a treatment, repeated by St John of Sinai in the Ladder, for the thought of accidie.

and thus, again, to use the body, as living together [with the monk] for many years.’

In other words, not killing the body with immoderate asceticism.

The one cuts off the thoughts of accidie, he said, and makes the monk more zealous,

For virtue. The problem with accidie is that it tempts the monk to give up the spiritual struggle; hence, it is necessary to bolster the zeal of the monk undergoing a temptation from the thought of accidie.

while the other guards the body whole, and ever preserves the continence in equal measure to the body.

This is very sound, and extremely important as a criterion of balanced asceticism. We do not kill ourselves with an irrational asceticism that is beyond our strength. Needless to say, this requires discernment.

The next three chapters are concerned with vainglory:

30 It is difficult to elude the thought of vainglory. For what you do towards its destruction becomes for you the beginning of another [thought of] vainglory.

This is clear.

The demons do not oppose themselves to each one of our correct thoughts, but to some of those correct thoughts are also opposed those very vices according to which we have been conformed.

It is not clear why Evagrius puts this remark under vainglory. The sense is that a man or monk might have a correct thought that the demons do not oppose. However, the man’s own habitual vices might oppose that thought, with equal efficacy in ruining it. In OTT 7, Evagrius will analyse minutely how one thought displaces another thought, and the connection of this to moral responsibility. It is possible that in Evagrius’ own thinking the matter of vainglory was intimately bound up with questions of moral responsibility and motive, for in OTT 7 he also discusses vainglory: the presence of the present passage in a chapter on vainglory might reflect an association in Evagrius’ own mind between thoughts of vainglory and questions of moral responsibility and motive.

Evagrius here introduces for the first time the notion that not all of the opposition to our good thoughts (‘good intentions’) is due to the demons. We will find this point elaborated on later, in OTT 31 and Skemmata 46, but the emphasis in TPL is certainly on the bad thought whose inception is due to a demon. It is this bad thought that perverts our good intentions.

31 I knew the demon of vainglory to be harried by almost all the demons and standing insolently on the corpses of the demons which were giving chase, and manifesting to the monk the greatness of his virtues.

The demon of vainglory attacks those who have accomplishments.[20] It is opposed to the other demons, and opposed by them, since it takes its starting-point from the defeat by the monk of the other demons. But here is the problem: the defeat of the other demons is a temptation for the monk to succumb to the thought of vainglory. Those with accomplishments should study what Evagrius says.

32 He who has attained to gnosis and has harvested the pleasure which comes from it

This is the spiritual pleasure which comes from direct, intuitive knowledge of the reasons (logoi) of existent things; from direct, intuitive knowledge of the angels; and, finally, from direct, intuitive knowledge of God.

will no longer be persuaded by the demon of vainglory

‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’[21]

even should it present to him all the pleasures of the world—

Clearly an allusion to the temptation of Christ in the desert concerning the Kingdoms of the world,[22] as interpreted by Evagrius.[23]

for what could the demon even promise that would be greater than spiritual contemplation?

‘Spiritual contemplation’, which corresponds to gnosis, is the phrase actually used by Evagrius in the text. This is at the heart of Evagrian asceticism. We forgo the pleasures proffered by the demons related to the eight most general thoughts in order to attain to the pleasures of spiritual contemplation.

Insofar as we are without a taste of gnosis,

As we ourselves unfortunately are without such a taste.

let us work on the practical life

The purgation of the passions, as Evagrius will explain below.


Not half-heartedly. We wanted to become monks.

showing to God our goal, that we do everything for the sake of his gnosis.

Men who have adopted the habit in vainglorious determination will be obliged to purify their intention. This can be extremely painful and self-revealing: we can confront aspects of our own intentionality that are shocking and that have nothing to do with God—even in the context of the monastic calling and life. We can be faced with frightening choices: to change or to abandon God and the monastic state. This is uncovered in prayer. It can shake us who thought that we were doing it all for God and who learn that we were doing it for vainglory, pride or something other than God the Lord.

In such cases, the monk may remain in the monastery but cease to be a monk. He may, to pass his time, involve himself in worldly activities, even under the cloak of religion. St John of Sinai remarks in the Ladder that such monks are quite zealous in their worldly works. He considers them to have been defeated by the demon of accidie.

The next and final chapter in this outline of the monk’s ascetical program is devoted to pride. To understand what Evagrius is driving at, the reader should reread TPL 14, above, which describes those aspects of pride that are addressed by the therapy given in the next chapter.

33 Bring to remembrance your former way of life

So that you confess that it is God who has helped you.

and your ancient faults

Which you could not avoid.

and how, when you were passionate,

When you were lost.

by the mercy of Christ, you passed towards dispassion and how again you left the world which had many times humbled you in many things.

Evagrius is a profound student of human nature.

And reckon this too for me: who is it that guards you in the desert and who is it that expels the demons that gnash their teeth at you? For, on the one hand, such thoughts work humility; and, on the other hand, they do not admit the demon of pride.

The demon of pride sows proud thoughts, which are blocked by this reflection. Moreover, this reflection also works a positive virtue, humility.

We have now completed our survey.

We can see that we have defined, in broad outline, the monk’s ascetical program: it is based on the rejection of temptation, which temptation has precisely the typology of the eight most general thoughts. This final point is extremely important to understand: when we speak of a temptation, we are speaking of one of the eight most general temptations. We do not speak of temptations except for these eight temptations, unless the temptation be a subtype of one of the eight.

This ascetical program is precisely the ascetical program of St Hesychios, and a proper understanding of St Hesychios requires that the monk understand the above psychology. It is to this psychology that St Hesychios adapts the Prayer of Jesus prayed, above all, in the heart.

Let us remark that this psychology is standard in the Philokalia. We are here at the basement storey.

What Evagrius is now going to do is to refine this psychology to account for various aspects of human nature in the context of the mystical ascent towards God.

What would be remarkable in a Western writer, in what follows Evagrius is dense and his psychology very quickly takes on very deep dimensions. He first turns to discuss the passions. Recall that St Macrina offered two interpretations of what the passions were: the first, that they were warts on the mind (nous), which was the true essence of the man; the second, that during the creation of man the passions were taken up into human nature from the animal soul along with sense-perception, which sense-perception was necessary for the expression of mind (nous) in a material creature. Let us see what Evagrius has to say about the nature and functioning of what St Paul calls the ‘flesh’.

[1] Cassian I 3, 8.

[2] Philokalia D, E, F, and G Volume I.

[3] Philosophical sense.

[4] See Hausherr.

[5] For St John Cassian, see Cassian C; for St Diadochos of Photike, see below.

[6] Sinkewicz.

[7] An example can be found in Chapter 27 of Treatise on the Practical Life, below (henceforth, TPL 27).

[8] Loc. cit.

[9] Diadochos.

[10] Ibid.

[11] But see Section 13, Chapter III, Volume I and the commentary on OTT 18 in this volume.

[12] See the commentary on TPL 16, below.

[13] Ladder G, Ladder E.

[14] Henceforth: KG VI, 41.

[15] It should be noted that chanting the psalms, especially in a Byzantine tone, is a quite different practice from reciting the psalms aloud sotto voce. This is also quite true when modern Western polyphony is used instead of Byzantine chant: the music itself, whether Byzantine or Western, has quite specific effects on the disposition of the chanter.

[16] See TPL 91, below.

[17] Ladder G Step 14, 8; = Ladder E Step 14, 12.

[18] See TPL 93, below.

[19] See St John Cassian in Cassian C Conference 10, 10.

[20] See TPL 13, above.

[21] Ps. 33, 8.

[22] Cf. Luke 4, 5–7.

[23] See OTT 1.


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