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TPL (Commentary) -- 6


40 It is not possible at all times to maintain the usual rule

This chapter is a brief discussion of discretion or discernment, the great virtue of the mind (nous). The rule is the personal program and the appeal is for flexibility.

and it is necessary to pay attention to the season

This means, yes, winter and summer, but more fundamentally it means unavoidable conditions.

and to make an attempt to keep the possible commandments,

Of the Gospel. Given that he is speaking to hermits, Evagrius wants to be clear that, in becoming a solitary monk in the desert, the hermit has eliminated the possibility of preaching to all nations. Evagrius wants the monk to remain a hermit, not to leave the hermitage to preach. Notably, then, Evagrius is advocating that the hermit exercise hospitality and, if he be sufficiently advanced, speak the word of God to his guest. Of course, the hermit is expected to keep the commandments of the Gospel in any situation that might arise in the hermitage.

as much as is possible, of course.

The monk has a well-stocked larder—of dry bread. When he offers to his visitor hospitality, he need not concern himself with offering to his visitor dry bread and steak. Dry bread is what the hermit has; dry bread soaked in water is what he will offer. If he can speak the word of God, he will—with discretion.

Evagrius’ work, the Gnostic, has instructions for the Elder, or Starets, as he is called on Mount Athos and elsewhere. We need not, however, concern ourselves with Evagrius’ calls for an esoteric and an exoteric doctrine, beyond the necessity for discretion according to the spiritual condition of the person who approaches. If the monk cannot speak the word of God, a smile and a heartfelt ‘God be with thee.’ suffice. The point is that the hermit should not make an effort over and above his spiritual station and circumstances of life to keep the commandments. That would be a temptation.

For the demons themselves are not ignorant of the seasons and other such things. Whence, setting themselves in motion against us, on the one hand they impede what it is possible to do, and on the other hand they try to force us to practise what it is not possible to do.

This is a classic statement of the necessity of discretion. It also provides us with the criterion of discretion as regards what is proper. Of course, the seasons of which the demons are not ignorant are the changed circumstances of the monk’s habit and way of life.

For they also impede those who are ill from giving thanks for their sufferings and pains and from exercising long-suffering in regard to those who are attending on them;

This is important. Illness is viewed even today on Mount Athos as part of God’s economy (dispensation or personal providence) for the monk, and the monk’s proper attitude is still seen as Evagrius saw it. The exercise of long-suffering by the ill hermit regarding his attendants might surprise a nurse today; usually it is seen as the other way round; clearly, however, the monk would rather be alone at his prayers in the desert.

and, on the other hand, again, they exhort those who are exhausted to keep continence

The monk relaxes his continence—his fasting and his restrictions on his intake of water—on account of illness or, more generally, weakness. Here, discretion is necessary.

and those who have been weighed down

Confined to bed, unable easily to stand.

to chant psalms in an upright position.

In general, the demons try to force us to extremes of excess—that destroys—or deficiency—that makes the man waste the life that he gave to God.

The next chapter is for hermits who have business in town:

41 When we are required to sojourn in cities or towns for a little time, then let us be together with secular persons

Men and women who have not professed religion, although, indeed, they may be devout Christians. Curiously enough, in Evagrius’ day, things were much as they are today: some people believed and practised their religion; others did not.

maintaining our continence, certainly, with a greater strictness,

Continence is a therapy of the passions of the body; hence the danger comes from there.

lest our mind, being made gross

Losing the sobriety that it had when the hermit was in the hermitage, and thus not seeing things as clearly and subtly as before.

and deprived of its customary carefulness

Not having its customary sensitivity to moral and spiritual danger.

by reason of the present circumstances,

All the more evident today when the cities are full of noise and speeding cars and immodest advertising and bad air.

do something

The subject of the sentence is the mind (nous) of the ascetic, his innermost soul; hence, the significance of this is a slip, an act of carelessness, on the part of the mind (nous), and not a gross moral act on the part of the ascetic taken as a soul-body complex.

that we would not want,

This is truly an inadvertence, a small lack of carefulness.

and become a fugitive under the blows of the demons.

The hermit hastens to his hermitage chastened and humbled by the demons, having given them their opportunity by his carelessness.

The next chapter is fundamental:

42 Tempted, do not first pray, before you say certain words with anger towards him who is afflicting you. For when your soul has been conformed by the thoughts, it happens that not even your prayer will be pure. If, however, with anger you say something towards them, then you confuse and completely obliterate the mental representations (noemata) of the enemies. For it is the nature of anger to work this very thing even on the better mental representations (noemata).

St Hesychios will make much of this.

This chapter outlines the basic method of the rebuttal of thoughts. It appears to draw on the tradition of the Fathers of the Desert in Egypt, since we encounter aspects of it in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and in other sources that arise from the Egyptian desert.[1]

We cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of a complete understanding of this chapter. It is fundamental to Evagrian spirituality.

This chapter is also fundamental to Hesychian spirituality, and St Hesychios is a witness to the spirituality of the School of Sinai.

By means of this passage, the Philokalia is rooted in the tradition of the Egyptian Desert Fathers.

Let us elaborate.

Let us first point out that Evagrius strongly emphasizes the importance of pure prayer, prayer unsullied by images provoked by demons. Let us also point out that when we originally read this passage, we thought the Evagrius had it backwards: surely, we thought, we pray to be freed of the thoughts that are tempting us; we do not say certain words with anger towards the tempting demon before beginning to pray. Surely Evagrius has got it wrong, we thought.

After studying and translating Evagrius, and, especially, St Hesychios, we came to understand that Evagrius had it right. This is the spiritual method of Egypt, and it has a very important effect on the psychology of the ascetic.

Let us look at the role of anger. As we saw in TPL 39, viewed from outside the ascetic, the temptation is the approach of a demon close to the ascetic, so that the demon’s bad odour or spiritual emanation excites that part of the soul for which the demon has its function or work (ergon). The demon sees this as tempting the ascetic. The ascetic experiences it as the commencement of a thought sown by the demon—we assume that the ascetic is not clairvoyant so as actually to see the demon approach; that is for a later stage of his spiritual growth—which thought has as its starting-point an impassioned recollection of an object of sense. We discussed this above. However, we will leave the more refined analyses of temptation to their proper places: they are addressed by Evagrius in OTT and the Skemmata, and by St Hesychios in On Sobriety.[2]

Here, Evagrius introduces for the first time the term noema (plural: noemata), which in Evagrius and in St Hesychios we have always translated ‘mental representation’. Gehin et al. have an excellent discussion of the term noema in their introduction to OTT,[3] unfortunately all too brief. As regards the difficulty that Gehin et al. discuss of finding an appropriate translation of the term, we feel that ‘mental representation’ conveys the sense properly.

Now let us leave until OTT 2 and, especially, OTT 25 the connection between the impassioned recollection of an object of sense, which announces subjectively to the ascetic that a temptation has begun, and the noema or mental representation. Let us simply say for the moment that they are connected without saying how, and for convenience let us here say that they are the same thing.

Viewing the temptation, which here and in TPL 39 we have described from outside the ascetic, now from inside the inner thought world or consciousness of the ascetic, the temptation is announced by the appearance of a mental representation in the ascetic’s consciousness, by an impassioned recollection of an object of sense. Let us suppose that I am a hermit and suddenly in my mind’s eye I remember—recall—the beloved watch. I gave it to my brother twenty-five years ago.

This image of the watch, charged with passion, signals the advent of the demon to me—of sorrow, we said. Now what Evagrius is saying is this: If you have such an impassioned mental representation—which means that you are being tempted—do not first pray. Astonishing and fundamental to Evagrian and Philokalic and Egyptian spirituality. Do not first pray.

Instead, with anger—and this is real anger, a spiritually guided, directed use of anger against the demon; we have already established that this is according to nature and pleasing to God—say ‘certain words with anger towards him who is afflicting you’. That is, against the demon. In the case of a temptation to rancour, it most certainly would not be against the brother who has aggrieved us either really or supposedly. That is a use of anger contrary to nature and it is not pleasing to God.

Those ‘certain words with anger’ are called the rebuttal. They need not be spoken; they can be thought. The effect of the rebuttal is this: the words become bearers of the ascetic’s anger; they focus and bear his anger to the target, which is the demon which is tempting him: recall that the demon has approached the ascetic and its spiritual bad odour has excited one of his passions so as to start the temptation.

The words of rebuttal have a spiritual power conferred on them by the ascetic’s anger. This is quite real; it is why we are forbidden to call our brother ‘Fool!’ and why we are forbidden to curse: these words have a spiritual power. Now Evagrius says that this rebuttal with anger will destroy the mental representations of the enemy. Recall that the mental representation is how the temptation started. It is the impassioned recollection of the object of sense, here, the watch. Recall also that we earlier observed that in the immaterial war, the ascetic had to block the evolution of the thought—in this case, of sorrow for the long-lost watch—lest it continue and disturb his prayer-life, or even, if he allow the thought to persist, disturb his mental equilibrium. Now we are providing the method how to block the thought. This is the method: this saying of certain words in anger towards the demon (not towards the mental representation), which rebuttal in anger has the power to obliterate the impassioned recollection—in this case, the sorrowful recollection of the watch. Evagrius remarks, and St Hesychios repeats, that it is the nature of anger to work this very thing even on the better mental representations. Not all mental representations in the interior subjective thought world of the ascetic are negative and demonic; some are good. Anger, however, is able to destroy them all. This causes both Evagrius and St Hesychios to issue a caution about the ascetic’s indulging in immoderate anger, especially against his brother: he will destroy everything in his own thought world, both good mental representations and bad. The same caution must be issued for the use of anger against the demon: it must be an anger just sufficient to destroy the mental representation sown by the demon, and if possible, to cause the demon to flee—after all, for the demon it is a punch to the head. Excessive anger—say, a rage against the demons—will wreak havoc, however, on all the mental representations in the mind of the ascetic. Recall that anger is a pleasure which the ascetic must forgo.

This use of anger has a very significant effect on the psychology of the ascetic. He is not namby-pamby. He keeps the Gospel, but he is vigorous and manly.

This use of anger has other aspects besides the manliness just referred to. The ascetic is a hermit. Since he is a hermit, it might be thought that psychologically speaking his ego would be weakened by the solitude. Hence, in psychological terms this use of anger has the effect of strengthening the ascetic’s ego. Since we are speaking psychologically, this is positive; it refers to the retention by the ascetic of his personal sense of identity; this use of anger helps him do that. Moreover, continuing to speak psychologically, it might be thought that the hermit might bottle up anger in himself; this method would release it ‘harmlessly’.

In spiritual language, now, the next aspect that we wish to consider is that the mental representation sown by the demon—the demon—can weigh on the ascetic. Recall the descriptions of the demon of fornication in TPL 8 and of the demon of accidie in TPL 12 as pressing on the ascetic, bending him or weighing him down. The ascetic bends under the weight of the temptation, and the only solution is the use of anger, genuine anger, against the demon, lest the demon break the man. This is true also of the demon of sorrow if the ascetic has faults, the memory of which trouble him when the demon of sorrow approaches. We cannot talk to the demons, reason with them, argue with them; that is what they want: St Hesychios will describe the use of anger as a punch to the head of the demon: that is what we must do.

Let us suppose that the reader, he or she, is an educated modern Christian, maybe Orthodox, maybe another sort of Christian. He or she thinks demons is old stuff and that they do not exist. He or she thinks that the only real model of the arousal of the passions is Evagrius’ secondary model, the one mentioned in his other works: the passion is aroused by sense-perception, and temptation is merely a matter of our own passion or vice. What should he or she make of this business of rebutting the demon with anger? We do not know. If the reader thinks that ‘demon’ is an old name in a prescientific setting for ‘subconscious impulse’, but thinks it would be wonderful to pray the Jesus Prayer in its full form with rebuttal just as outlined, we do not know what would come of the practice. We wonder, however, whether the reader might not damage him– or herself, and in the following way: As we pointed out, the rebuttal conveys a spiritual power of the rebutter: his or her anger. In the full Hesychian form, the Jesus Prayer is prayed in the heart and coupled to rebuttal. Hence, by some mysterious method—we will explain in describing the Hesychian system in detail; that is a topic for our commentary on On Sobriety—, the mind (nous) in the heart uses anger—real anger—against thoughts that we say are sown by the tempting demons. This anger has a force, power or strength in proportion to the spiritual attainment of the person doing the act of rebuttal. It is not a talking to ourselves, a consolation, the way we might say something to ourselves walking down the road on a visit to Mount Athos. There is a real power involved. Now, in our model, that power is directed at the demon, a mind (nous) standing outside the ascetic and tempting him. It has the force of a punch to the demon’s head. It is said that a certain ascetic—we know his name but we are not being precise—once was in a crowd of admirers and a woman troubled him with an insistent effort to say something to him. He turned and made a face and a noise at her—he rebutted her, just as he might a demon—and the woman fell down in an epileptic seizure—so they say; we were not there, so we did not observe the seizure ourselves; in any event, the woman fell down in a seizure. The word has power and goes somewhere. The problem is this: dear reader, if you do not believe that the demon exists, where is your power of rebuttal going to go? We think, if you believe that you are really rebutting an unconscious drive, that it might go into your subconscious, there to disturb your mind-body complex. If you used rebuttal, that is, you would be ‘shooting yourself in the foot’. This is a theory: we have never heard of anyone using this method who did not believe that the demon was real, so we do not have any idea what would happen. Moreover, if you do not believe that the demon is real, what are you doing? Are you conducting a sort of theatre in your mind? That would seem in itself to bode ill, for it would imply a psychological separation between the formal method of rebuttal and anger, and what you actually believed. You would have the psychological unity of a play-actor. Better to do something else than to play-act. Finally, if the demon does exist, it will be amused and the thought will continue.

But, the reader might respond: since demons do not exist, and it is merely a matter of my subconscious impulses—the passions and vices as you call them—I can pray the Jesus Prayer without using rebuttal.

The author has met Westerners who see matters in this light. The very least that we can say here is this: here you are diverging from the Orthodox tradition. Moreover, if the demon does exist, again it will be amused; the thought will continue; and again you will be in danger.

The next point we have is this: We have an ascetical system enunciated by a heretic, Evagrius, which system the author of this work takes to have been received by Evagrius from the non-heretical Fathers and developed. We also have the Jesus Prayer. Why do not I, the reader, simply pray the Jesus Prayer as often as I can and hope for the best from Jesus? Why do I have to connect the Jesus Prayer to this Evagrian system the way that St Hesychios did? Who is this St Hesychios? No one knows when he lived, what his sources were—maybe he was one of those Palamites of the Fourteenth Century; they’re pretty odd too.

The Orthodox Church considers St Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), the Archbishop of Thessalonika, a Father of the Church. It is true that St Gregory Palamas does not refer to St Hesychios; perhaps he had not come across his work, On Sobriety.

The question really is this: What is Hesychasm? Is it simply the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, perhaps in the heart, or does the Evagrian ascetical system enter integrally into the Hesychast method?

Certainly there is nothing in what we are saying that would disturb a St Gregory of Sinai. At least, insofar as we are not confused in our grasp of the text being translated and commented on. What we are saying is that the Hesychast method presented by St Hesychios is a very good witness to the School of Sinai, heavily Evagrian in structure. The Evagrian method is integral to the Hesychast tradition. An indication of this is that St Makarios of Corinth (1731–1805), the compiler of the Philokalia, includes only a very short selection from Abba Isaiah the Solitary, and this selection begins precisely with a passage wherein Abba Isaiah urges the use of anger against the demon.[4] Of course, it very well may be that the manuscripts that St Makarios had before him did not contain anything else by Abba Isaiah, but that in itself would indicate that the monastic tradition assigned a great weight to the use of anger according to nature in rebuttal against the demons.

It is a mistake to think that the Philokalia is merely about the repetition—perhaps twenty-four hours a day—of the Prayer of Jesus, without putting this repetition of the Prayer—in the mind, heart and soul—into the context of the Evagrian program of the rebuttal of thoughts.

Moreover, an attentive reading of St Hesychios will demonstrate that he fully accepts the Evagrian method of freeing the mind (nous) from mental representations of objects of sense so that the mind (nous) can attain to contemplation. This freeing of the mind (nous) is something that Evagrius develops in the two works that we are considering, especially the second one. This freeing is founded on the rebuttal of thoughts in the mind (nous) by the method just described. However, to discuss this matter now would be for us to get ahead of ourselves.

Half of Hesychasm is the Prayer of Jesus. The other half is the method that Evagrius developed and placed in a heretical context. In common with the Fathers of the Church, we take the method, not in itself heretical, freed of Evagrius’ heretical cosmological speculation, and restore it to its rightful place as the method of purifying the mind, soul and body for pure unitive contemplation. That is what the Philokalia is about.

Now let us return to our commentary on the text at hand.

According to Evagrius, having obliterated the mental representation sown by the demon, the ascetic will be able to pray. St Hesychios will after a fashion comment on and correct this method. For him, the rebuttal has the power to block the thought and prevent its further evolution,[5] but for its complete obliteration, the ascetic must invoke Jesus Christ: this is the Jesus Prayer. Hence, the importance of what is being described here can be inferred from the fact that it is precisely here that St Hesychios connects the Jesus Prayer, prayed in the heart, to the Evagrian method.

The system of the Prayer of Jesus prayed in the heart according to St Hesychios is precisely what is described here by Evagrius, but St Hesychios adds these two refinements (at least as regards the verbal formulation of the method; we do not know if Evagrius prayed repetitively in the heart; he does not speak of it): First, in the Hesychian system, the mind is brought into the heart; how need not concern us at the moment. This has the effect of rendering the mind (nous) more aware of these initial impassioned recollections of objects of sense, these mental representations; it has other effects that we will discuss in Volume III. Second, to the method just outlined by Evagrius, after the rebuttal which blocks the evolution of the thought St Hesychios adds the invocation of Jesus Christ, and Jesus it is who expels the demon and dissipates the mental representation or noema sown by the demon. This invocation of Jesus Christ is the Prayer of Jesus.

As we said, the present chapter of Evagrius is fundamental. We will continually return to this basic model. It is the immaterial war.

The remaining chapters in this section build on the chapter we are now discussing. They assume that the ascetic is practising this method (let us leave St Hesychios’ refinements of it until we reach On Sobriety), and they introduce refinements and precisions that arise naturally from the use of the method as here explained by Evagrius.

Note that the words that one uses in rebuttal have not been specified. We will discuss them in the commentary on the next chapter.

43 It is necessary to know well the differences among the demons and to note their seasons.

This is a call for the immaterial war to be conducted with strategy. We have been given a basic typology of the passions, thoughts and demons. Now Evagrius is saying that we must have a deep comprehension of the differences among the demons and that we must note when and in what circumstances each approaches. For example: the demon of sorrow: when does it approach? How does it differ from the demon of fornication? From the demon of vainglory? From the demon of pride? When we say, how does it differ, we mean, above all, in how we subjectively experience the approach and assault by the demon in our thoughts, and in the differences of time and circumstance associated with the approach of the demon.

We will know from the thoughts;

This is fundamental: How do I learn about the characteristics of the demon of sorrow? From the thoughts I have. I identify the demon from the thoughts it sows. Hence, the initial typology of the thoughts provided by Evagrius must be well understood, so that we can comprehend which demon is sowing what thought.

the thoughts from the objects;

This also is fundamental. The thought always commences with the impassioned recollection of an object of sense. It is the object that reveals the nature (we might say, the intent) of the thought. If I, a man, have a thought whose commencement is the impassioned recollection of a beautiful woman, I infer that the demon of fornication has approached. If I have a thought whose commencement is the impassioned recollection of him who has grieved me, I infer that the demon of anger, or else that of sorrow—one must judge—has approached. If I have a thought which commences with the impassioned recollection of some personal accomplishment, then I infer that the demon of vainglory or of pride has approached. If I have a thought which commences with the impassioned recollection of food, then the demon of gluttony has approached. However, we must be careful: A monk once approached us about a thought that was troubling him, one that seemed at first sight to be of the nature of fornication. However, it soon became apparent that the thought was one of sorrow: the demon of sorrow was bringing to the monk’s mind a certain event in his life to make him sorrowful, depressed, upset and so on.

This is the Evagrian schema of the discernment of thoughts and demons on the basis of the object recollected. Of course the object might be future: I have the impassioned ‘recollection’ of my installation as Ecumenical Patriarch: the demon of vainglory has approached and sown a thought based on the recollection of an event which has already occurred: someone, I know, has been installed as Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople—many men have over the years—and this is the basis of my ‘recollection’ of my own installation.

OTT provides much elaboration and refinement of this basic schema of the relation of the demons to the thoughts and of the thoughts to the objects of sense recollected. So does the Skemmata.

which of the demons are rare and heavier and which unintermitting and lighter and which suddenly leap upon [the man] and seize the mind towards blasphemy.

St John of Sinai is very good on this; his Ladder of Divine Ascent is renowned for this sort of analysis of the demons. But while we suggest that the reader use St John of Sinai, we want to point out that Evagrius wants us to develop a personal, experiential knowledge. It is not enough to know theoretically—but truly—these matters; it is also necessary to know how the demons act towards us: clearly, this implies a self-knowledge based on personal observation.

It is necessary to know these things so that, when the thoughts begin to put their proper materials

Those impassioned recollections of objects of sense that we spoke of.

into motion,

Here it is a matter of thoughts in the mind (nous): visions, fantasies, objects wrangled over or desired do not enter in.

then, before we have been greatly put out of our familiar condition,

The ascetic has achieved a certain equanamity and spiritual contemplation which continue throughout the day. Suddenly, thoughts begin. The ascetic may not realize for a while that they have begun, and they may begin to put him out of his usual (‘familiar’) condition of serenity and habitual contemplation or habitual remembrance of God.

we say something towards them

When the ascetic grasps that a thought has commenced, he rebuts it: this is what we just spoke of in the last chapter. What we did not discuss there was what the ascetic would say. This is a very thorny issue. Evagrius wrote a book, lost in the original Greek but preserved in the Syriac, with rebuttals classified according to the type of demon (or thought); these rebuttals were based on Scripture, according, certainly, to how Evagrius understood Scripture.[6]

The points that Evagrius is developing here are that we must have an experiential self-knowledge so as to wage the immaterial war with science and strategy and that we must tailor the word with which we rebut the demon to the type of demon and to the specific thought sown. The reader might like to read the Gospel accounts of the temptations of Christ in the desert from the point of view of the specificity of Christ’s rebuttals to the Devil in each temptation.[7] Moreover, the various passages in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai which begin ‘I said to the demon…’, ‘Let us say to that demon…’ and so on are not merely literary devices: they are examples of actual rebuttals.

There are various types of thoughts—we listed them above—but within each type, the demon sows various thoughts. There are various thoughts of fornication, of anger, of sorrow. Hence, the rebuttal appropriate to one thought of fornication may not be appropriate to another thought of fornication; and similarly for the other seven types of thought. Moreover, according to the character or nature of the person, the thoughts differ: this is why theoretical knowledge, although useful, is not enough: the ascetic must know when and in what circumstances that thought of fornication or anger or sorrow commences for him, in his mind; and this will imply a great care in self-observation. It will also mean that with the science that he will have, the ascetic will know with what words to rebut the thought.

This clearly implies a knowledge of our own thoughts—here taken in the ordinary sense—acquired by great observation.

The war of the ascetic is fought in thought. The reason is that he must have no thoughts at all so as to be able to contemplate. We will develop this point as we proceed.

and note which one is present.

This is the self-observation. We doubt that Evagrius implies that the ascetic should keep a notebook, but that would be a matter for the ascetic to discuss with his guide.

For thus we ourselves will easily make progress

We are in the practical, purificatory stage.

with the help of God

This should not be taken as a cliché. We need the help of God to wage war against demons and the thoughts sown by them. This is to be understood in two ways. First, as a member of the Orthodox Church, the ascetic attends the Orthodox mysteries or sacraments. However, second, it is generally believed that we should not undertake the ascetic struggle that is being described without a plerophoria (inner spiritual assurance) of God’s personal call to the struggle and of his personal assistance, confirmed by consultation with a clairvoyant Elder. St Seraphim of Sarov remarked of his 1000 days on the rock in the wilderness that such a feat was impossible without the help of God.

and make those [demons] fly away in pain

On account of the punch to the head given to the demon by the rebuttal spoken or thought in anger.

and full of admiration for us.

This should be taken as an exhortation to a beginning ascetic. The admiration of the demons comes from their having met an enemy who has learned their strategy and tactics by the methods discussed above.

44 When the demons, battling against the monks,

This is war.

are unable to accomplish anything,

The monk is careful.

then, withdrawing for a bit,

The demons wage war with science just as we do.

they keep watch

This theme will be developed.

which of the virtues is in the meantime neglected,

Since we have no struggle, we relax our efforts. An example of such a relaxation might be this: I eat and drink with freedom, relaxing the virtue of continence, not having war in the flesh.

The struggle against the passions corresponds by the typology passion – virtue, to a struggle for a virtue. But as Evagrius develops his theory, the virtues are classified according to the parts of the soul whose excellences they are, not according to the passions which they negate.

and, suddenly making an attack on that virtue, they tear the wretched soul to pieces.

Having neglected continence, I am suddenly assaulted by thoughts of gluttony and fornication. Or, having allowed myself to indulge in anger against the brother, I suddenly find that the demon of anger rips me to shreds.

This is an important chapter, repeated by St Hesychios. It conveys a sense that the demons work not only in the way that an unconscious prelogical drive might work, but also with intelligence and strategy. It also conveys a sense that the serious ascetic, having grasped the sense of this chapter, will not lower his guard when things are going well.

This chapter does not convey a sense of ‘The demons are watching me.’ The mature ascetic knows himself and knows the demons and is both watchful and carefully at ease. We will find in Volume III that the proper attitude is called sobriety.

The next chapter is interesting:

45 The wicked demons bring to their aid the demons which are even more wicked than they.

There is a hierarchy of demons with regard both to strength (Evagrius later will refer to this explicitly) and to wickedness. We ourselves are troubled only by trainee demons, not having been found worthy to suffer the assaults of experts: God allows each man to be tried only to the limit of his strength. Unless, of course, he abandons him because of sin. And, of course, God may have a different idea than we do of what our limits are.

And, opposed to each other in their dispositions,

This opposition of disposition can be taken in two ways: The first way, which we ourselves heard in another context from a modern Athonite Elder, is that the demons bicker among themselves. Moreover, each demon himself wants to be the victor over the ascetic. The second way, which here we think Evagrius means, is that the temptations are structurally opposed to one another. As he will develop later, in TPL 31 and 58, it is impossible for the demon of vainglory, for example, and the demon of fornication to tempt the ascetic at the same time, for the reason that vainglory is a sin that is structurally opposed to fornication, since the first promises honour while the second promises dishonour.

they agree only on the destruction of the soul.

However they may bicker, the demons have an astonishing malice, and they agree on one thing: the destruction of the servant of Christ.

The next chapter is quite important.

46 Let not the demon trouble us which seizes the mind towards blasphemy against God and towards those forbidden imaginations which I have not even dared to commit to writing, nor let this demon cut off our zeal.

St John of Sinai in the Ladder deals in detail with this demon, the demon of blasphemy, a subtype of the demon of pride. This demon works the thoughts that are the most difficult of all to confess in normal confession: the thoughts of blasphemy. Part of the character of these thoughts is the sense of utter shame and humiliation on the part of him who has had the thought, at having had such a thought. This shame and humiliation is not an incidental consequence of the thought but an actual part of the temptation: the demon sows the shame and humiliation along with the thought. Because of this shame and humiliation, such thoughts are difficult to admit even to ourselves, and certainly to the confessor: we are deeply embarrassed. The result is that they are quite disturbing to us when we have had them. Hence, Evagrius’ language: ‘trouble us’, ‘seize the mind towards’, ‘forbidden’, ‘nor let this demon cut off our willingness’. It is this demon that sows the thought that we are Judas, the traitor, or that we have committed the unpardonable sin, that is, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. However, Evagrius also indicates that this demon can sow not only blasphemous thoughts but also perverted thoughts of the flesh. It can quite dishearten the man who has suffered the thought. Hence, what Evagrius now says:

For the Lord is ‘he who knows the heart’ [Acts 1, 24] and he knows that not even when we were in the world

Laymen before professing religion as monks.

were we frenzied with such madness. The goal of this demon is to make us stop our prayer, so that we do not stand before the Lord our God nor even dare to extend our hands [in prayer towards him] against whom we have conceived of such things.

47 A certain word spoken or a movement of the body which occurs becomes a sign

An indication, an expression.

of the occurrences in the soul, through which sign the enemies perceive whether we have their thoughts within and are in travail, or whether, rejecting them, we are paying attention to our salvation. Only God, who has made us, knows the mind, and he does not require signs so as to know the things hidden in the heart.

This distinction is basic to Evagrian psychology. The demons are not clairvoyant; they do not know our thoughts. Certainly, not having the grossness of a material body, they have a certain subtlety in their perception of a man’s demeanour and behaviour and speech. However, they lack the illumination that angels possess—although angels are clairvoyant only when the Lord reveals to them what he wishes[8]—since as demons they have fallen from their angelic state and from every illumination that God gives to his creatures. They possess only that continuance in being that God grants to all his creatures whether bad or good.

God, on the other hand, ‘knows what is in men’; he does not require the demeanour, the behaviour and the speech of a man to know what is in his heart. This is the basis of what St Paul says in 1 Cor. 14, 24–5, that if an unbeliever comes into the assembly of believers and a prophet—one with the charism of prophecy—reveals to him the secrets of his heart, then the unbeliever will fall on his face and declare that God is really among the believers.

Implicit in what Evagrius is saying is this aspect of temptation: The demons do not know what the result of the temptation will be that they sow. They experiment. Hence, also, the significance in the previous chapter of their withdrawing for a bit and keeping the ascetic under surveillance. Where they see that they might have success, there they increase their efforts, as good battlers for evil.

The next chapter is a repetition.

48 The demons wrestle with seculars more by means of objects;

I wrangle with my brother over my watch, over my inheritance, over…

with monks, for the most part, by means of the thoughts.

‘For the most part’: I can wrangle over a toothpick. Cœnobitical monks are in an intermediate position, having more objects to wrangle over than hermits, and more thoughts than laymen.

For the monks are deprived of objects because of the desert. And as much as it is easier to sin in thought than in action, so much more difficult is the war in the intellect from that which is joined by means of objects.

When Evagrius first presented this material in TPL 34, he did not provide a clear explanation why the immaterial war was more difficult than the war realized in material objects. Here he provides the reason: it is easier to sin in thought than in action. And that in turn depends on the nature of the mind (nous):

For the mind is an easily moved sort of thing and hard to restrain from the lawless imaginations.

This will be clarified, especially by St Hesychios, who quotes this sentence twice in On Sobriety.

The next chapter is the manifesto of Hesychian spirituality.

49 We have not been commanded to work, to keep vigil and to fast continually, but it has been legislated for us that we ‘pray unceasingly’ [1 Thess. 5, 17].

This is astonishing. Evagrius does not often speak about prayer and his name is associated with the extreme asceticism of the type he is now assigning a secondary place in the ascetical journey of the hermit. Let us discuss this matter.

The reader will recall that in TPL 15, reading, vigil and prayer were said to stop a wandering mind, whereas hunger, toil and the anchoretic life were said to wither inflamed desire. Now Evagrius has isolated vigil, hunger and toil—clearly this could include reading—, placed them in second place, and given prayer first place as something that we ought to do unceasingly.

What is prayer to Evagrius? How does he understand the word? He went a journey of many days to that great prophet, St John of Lycopolis, to discuss whether the light he saw during prayer—Theology in our understanding; that is, unitive prayer to God—was a light of the mind (nous) itself or else given from God. Evagrius’ own description of the event is this:

Concerning this very light, then, the servant of God Ammonius and I wished to learn whence it is, and we asked the saintly John of Thebaïd if indeed the nature of the mind (nous) is bright with light and if those [who pray] emit the light from the mind (nous), or if something else appears, illuminating it. He, then, replied, saying that there is no man able to discern this, but that neither, again, is it possible without the grace of God that the mind (nous) be enlightened in prayer, having been set free from the many terrible enemies applying themselves to its destruction.[9]

Clearly, what Evagrius means by prayer is a standing before ‘the place of God’.[10]

Hence, what Evagrius is counselling is that we ever have God before our face: this is the remembrance of God, and in fact, in TPL 93, below, St Makarios the Egyptian will pose the question of the use according to nature of anger against the demons in terms of whether or not it will destroy the power of the soul to remember God.

Hence, what Evagrius is counselling is the uninterrupted memory of God. This interpretation dovetails into his mystical system, as will become evident, and means that the periods during the day of personal prayer that do seem to be envisaged in the two works of Evagrius we are studying are to be treated as intensifications of this uninterrupted memory of God, perhaps with thanksgiving, petition and intercession, to refer to some of his disciple, St John Cassian’s, language on prayer.

We say this because we have two allied concepts—first, sobriety, the guard of the mind that St Hesychios will speak of; and, second, the Jesus Prayer prayed unceasingly in the heart—, and we want to connect the Evagrian system to these two things.

As concerns sobriety, St Hesychios means something different from prayer. Evagrius has a chapter, OTT 17, that presents something similar to Hesychian sobriety and we will leave discussion of sobriety until we arrive there.

Nowadays, when an Orthodox monk, or even layman interested in spiritual things, says that one ought to pray unceasingly, he is referring to the unceasing repetition twenty-four hours a day—even in sleep—of a particular formula called the Prayer of Jesus. Does Evagrius mean this? No.

There is nothing in Evagrius’ writings that refers to this repetitive use of a formula. That is not to say that he did not use it: he may have had some reason to keep silent on the use of such a repetitive formula.

We know that Evagrius’ disciple, that great interpreter to the West of Evagrius, St John Cassian, knew of and used such a repetitive formula. However, it was not the Prayer of Jesus; it was a passage from a psalm.

The first explicit recorded reference to the Prayer of Jesus is found in the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos of Photike, a work composed c.450.[11] We discussed this work in Chapter V of Volume I and we shall have occasion to discuss it again in Volume III, in connection with the Jesus Prayer.

In the life of St Dositheos (c.510–c.535), the disciple of St Dorotheos of Gaza (c.500–c.555), after pages and pages of the humility and obedience of St Dositheos, the chronicler mentions, near the end of the life, that St Dositheos always had on his lips ‘Lord have mercy’. This is not to be taken as a mere literary device but as a report of an actual concrete practice of St Dositheos, and, by extension, of his monastic milieu, which had deep roots in the spirituality of Egypt.

There is archaeological evidence for the use of a form of the Prayer of Jesus in Egypt not long after Evagrius lived.[12]

In the life of St Ioannikios (754–846), the great Hesychast and prophet of the Ninth Century, interlocutor of St Euthymios the Younger (c.816–898),[13] contemporary of St Theodore Studite (759–826), neighbour to him on Mount Olympus in Bithynia,[14] there is a clear statement that St Ioannikios always had on his lips the ‘Prayer of St Ioannikios’ that the Orthodox recite each evening in Apodeipnon (Compline): ‘My hope is the Father; my refuge is the Son; my protection is the Holy Spirit: Holy Trinity, glory to thee.’

In modern times, St Nicholas (Velimirovich) (1880–1956) of Serbia, imprisoned in Dachau during the Second World War, had a completely different formula on his lips.

In Evagrius’ time, the use of such a repetitive formula was melete—meditation. It was coupled to work.[15] Here, Evagrius himself, it should be noted, supported himself with work that was perhaps more difficult to combine with melete: he was a calligrapher. The Egyptian Fathers preferred simple repetitive manual occupations because the mind was free for melete—before God; this is the point—and the simple, repetitive nature of the work helped stabilize the mind before God.

Now it may be the Evagrius could copy Psalters before God without any problem—using or not using melete. We do not know.

Hence, however, melete itself was not considered prayer; it was meditation. We will find that Hesychian sobriety entails saying the Prayer of Jesus undistractedly, and, it should be understood, before God. Hence, we want to say that melete was not prayer: standing before God was prayer, perhaps with entreaty or invocation, as St Hesychios will recommend, perhaps not.

Hence, in the passage that we are examining of Evagrius, the sense is that we must stand before God and beseech him, love him, ask him, be silent in his presence, weep before him for our wretched state, speak with him, love him finally in contemplation of the place which is of God, the mind (nous) being illumined by the light of the Holy Trinity. That is our goal. It is also the means of approaching the place which is of God: pray and you will receive prayer.

Now how are we to understand Evagrius’ injunction to pray unceasingly? Following St Hesychios, we ourselves will make use of the Jesus Prayer. What, however, does Evagrius, silent on prayer of the heart, mean or intend? He intends the remembrance of God. Moreover, this is the beginning of the Evagrian doctrine of sobriety. For it should be clear that to be able to maintain the uninterrupted memory of God, a man must have a clarity and stability of consciousness: this is sobriety. However, the uninterrupted memory of God requires that the man exercising sobriety in addition turn his mind (nous) towards God. In the Hesychian system this is accomplished by the repetition of the Jesus Prayer; in the Evagrian system, the matter is not so clearly put.

We will not elaborate further here on Evagrius’ doctrine of prayer; the matter will unfold naturally during the commentaries, especially in the commentary on OTT 40.

For the former, curing the passionate part of the soul,

The passionate part of the soul is the desiring part and the irascible part taken together. The remaining part of the soul is the mind (nous).

also require our body for their practice,

They are accomplished by means of the body. Evagrius is adamant in the Kephalaia Gnostica that the body be treated positively,[16] as indeed he also is in TPL 52 and 53, and for precisely the reason that the virtues and vices are worked by means of the body. Here, he is indicating that there is something even more important than this.

which body because of its own weakness is not adequate to the labours.

No one is strong enough in body to do enough.

Prayer, however, prepares the mind to be vigorous and pure for the battle, for it is the nature of the mind to pray—and without this body—and to give battle to the demons in favour of all the powers of the soul.

‘Prayer’: In the sense that we have discussed. Prayer is a virtue and an ascesis of the ruling part of the soul, the mind (nous). St Hesychios, following Evagrius both by means of quotations from St Maximos the Confessor which are Evagrian in content and by means of direct allusions to, quotations from and paraphrases of Evagrius, will make much of this doctrine—but in the broader sense of the superiority of the immaterial war over a mere bodily asceticism.

‘For it is the nature of the mind to pray’: This clearly implies that prayer is contemplation, on the basis of Evagrius’ cosmology that we discussed in Chapter III of Volume I, especially, in regard to the matter at hand, Section 5. See also the commentary on OTT 40. Given an Orthodox interpretation, it is fundamental to Orthodox anthropology: it is why St John of Damascus will say that in Paradise before the Fall, Adam and Eve were nourished exclusively by the contemplation of God.[17]

In OTT 17, Evagrius will develop the theme of natural gnosis—natural contemplation—as the food of the soul[18] and will come to imply a distinction between natural contemplation and prayer.

We will see a complete treatment of the nature of prayer in the last chapters of OTT.

What interests us at this point, however, is the primacy given to pure prayer in St John of Damascus: this is the contemplation of God himself.[19]

‘—And without this body—’: This has a specific meaning in Orthodox theology, that every man after death retains his personal identity and is capable even then of prayer. Evagrius is hinting, of course, at his own heterodox cosmology that we discussed in Chapter III of Volume I.

‘And to give battle to the demons in favour of all the powers of the soul’: The subject of the sentence is the mind (nous). This is the method we have just discussed: the rebuttal with anger of the thoughts sown by the demons.

This whole chapter off Evagrius should make us pause. It shifts the whole weight of ascesis onto prayer and onto the immaterial war, and this despite Evagrius’ insistence on the importance of bodily ascesis. A thoroughly remarkable passage.

The next chapter is a return to the matter of the ascetic’s gaining an experimental knowledge of the demons, but it presents the material somewhat more systematically than before.

50 If some one of the monks should wish to gain an experimental knowledge of the savage demons and to receive the habit of their art,

This does not mean that the monk should become a sorcerer. It means a practical knowledge, based on the monk’s own experience, of how the demons act in his case. This is equivalent to the monk’s acquiring an intimate structural knowledge of his own psychology. The structuring is that provided by Evagrius’ system, especially by its typology of the eight most general thoughts.

let him pay attention to his thoughts

We doubt, as we said earlier, that the monk would keep notes. The thoughts are clearly those which are sown by the demons and which have their starting-points in the impassioned recollections of objects of sense, as we have already discussed. This program of self-observation is introspective, but the Evagrian method of rebuttal of the thoughts is in any event fundamentally of the same introspective nature. What Evagrius is advocating in this chapter is a systematic monitoring of the thoughts that the ascetic, in order to rebut them, must pay attention to anyway.

and let him note their intensifications and their relaxations

The first variable: When are the thoughts more intense? The classic case is the sudden and unexpected and humanly inexplicable intensification of the thought of fornication. When does that occur? When is there a relaxation of the same thought of fornication? When is there a relaxation of another type of thought? There are eight thoughts and the ascetic will gain an experimental knowledge of the intensifications and relaxations of each of the eight: When? In what circumstances?

and their mutual connections

The thoughts as it were follow patterns. Which thought is connected to which?

and their times,

This is not merely the times of their intensification or relaxation, but, absolutely, when they appear at all. For example, the demon of accidie, the noonday demon, frequents the monk from the fourth to the eighth hour; another demon, at dawn.[20] But the monk must consider when these things happen to him.

and which of the demons are they who are doing this

This is according to the principle enunciated in TPL 43 that we know the demons from the thoughts and the thoughts from the objects recollected.

and which follows which demon and which does not follow the other.

An example that Evagrius has already given in TPL 12 is that no demon immediately follows the demon of accidie. Earlier, we ourselves referred several times in this commentary to an ‘Evagrian causal analysis’. What we had in mind was precisely this passage. Evagrius speaks of the demon of vainglory’s handing over the ascetic to the demon of pride or of sorrow or even of fornication.[21] This is such an ‘Evagrian causal analysis’. The context in which we ourselves referred to the analysis was the case in which the impassioned recollection of an object of sense—the watch—was connected with a passion different from the passion with which we originally accepted the sense-perception of the object. If the passion is different in the impassioned recollection, then it has to make sense from the point of view of a causal analysis of which demon follows which—for the particular ascetic in question, not in general! Now, since the ascetic is conducting a program of self-observation, his set of causal connections will be different from the next ascetic’s, precisely to the extent that they are different persons.

As for the relation between this clause and Evagrius’ category, immediately above, of the connections among the demons, we are not sure what the difference is. Perhaps mutual connections is a broader concept.

And let him ask from Christ the reasons of these things.

The ascetic commences his hermit’s life on the basis of a personal plerophoria (inner spiritual assurance) that God approves of his move to the desert; hence, this request of Christ is reasonable. The reasons (logoi) referred to are not merely propositions which analyse the matter at hand, but a supernaturally given intuitive understanding of the matter.

For the demons are altogether savage with those monks who share in the practical life

This immaterial war of the thoughts which purifies the soul, together with continence, spiritual charity and, above all, prayer.

in a more gnostic way,

Let us take ‘gnostic’ here first in its common acceptation of ‘knowing, skilled, scientific, adept’. Evagrius is referring to those who have conducted this program of self-observation leading to a deeper experimental knowledge of the demons’ arts and, following prayer, to a supernaturally given intuitive understanding. Hence, the word ‘gnostic’ also has the sense of ‘possessing supernatural intuitive knowledge’.

wishing ‘to strike down with arrows on a moonless night the upright in heart’ [Ps. 10, 2].

Here, it is no longer a matter of the demons’ flying ‘away in pain and full of admiration for us’.[22] Here, they get out their bows and lie in wait. They mean business.

The ascetic should bear this warning in mind, both before beginning the eremitic life and, having begun, when the demons might be expected to attack him savagely unawares—both after a diminution of the immaterial war due to the withdrawal of the demons to observe the ascetic’s weak points,[23] and after he has conducted this program of self-observation.

It might be remarked that the method here recommended by Evagrius does not seem to be the method referred to by St Hesychios in On Sobriety of letting the thoughts—under the conditions of observation being discussed here—one by one into the mind without rebuttal, to observe how they behave.[24] St Hesychios remarks that the practice that he is referring to is only for those who have reached the stage where they can easily catch the thought and throw it out when they want. Fr Sophrony (Sakharov) (1896–1993), quoting St Silouan the Athonite (1866–1938), comments that this game—the one to which St Hesychios refers—is a game at which the ascetic can lose: evidently, he might not be able to catch the thought and expel it.

We take Evagrius to be referring here to the practice of rebutting the thoughts in the normal way but of accompanying that practice with systematic observation of when and how the thoughts occur: this is not a contradiction since the initial impassioned recollection must present itself to the ascetic’s consciousness before he can make the rebuttal, and the ascetic will understand what thought it is, and therefore what demon it is, from the object recollected. The method referred to by St Hesychios is based on letting the thought develop by not issuing the rebuttal.

When St John of Sinai refers, as he often does in the various steps of the Ladder, to catching the thought and beating it until it reveals its father and mother[25] and its children, we ourselves understand that he is allowing the thought to enter, catching it, and whipping it until he learns what he wants to know. Needless to say, this is for experts indeed.

51 Having kept observation, you will find two of the demons to be very swift and almost to run ahead of the movement of our mind:

The ascetic living in the desert and living the way of life here being delineated has the genuine ability to monitor his actual thought processes. His thoughts work, as it were, at a slow finite speed; he (his mind or nous) can follow them, push them, obliterate them with anger by means of rebuttal. Hence, the idea is reasonable that two of the demons might be very swift and almost run ahead of our thoughts.

the demon of fornication and the demon which seizes us towards blasphemy against God.

St John of Sinai repeats this observation in the Ladder of Divine Ascent.

In the case of the demon of fornication, what seems to be involved is a thought of fornication which is too fast for us to rebut, but for which we nonetheless bear moral responsibility before God. This seems to imply an unusual sort of thought of fornication, since thoughts of fornication ordinarily have the character of a frontal assault, as hinted in TPL 8, above.

The speed with which the demon works is such that the ascetic has no time to rebut the thought: the demon has done its work before the ascetic has grasped that the demon has approached and that the initial recollection of the object of sense has begun.

But the second is but for a little time

This is the thought of blasphemy. The demon does its work and gets out, having created a sense of utter shame and humiliation on the part of the monk.

and the first, if it does not set our thoughts in motion with passion,

This is quite important, for it indicates that we can be subject to such a thought of fornication without suffering an inflaming of the passion, precisely in those cases where the ascetic has a bit of dispassion (apatheia). In the case where the soul of the ascetic remains undisturbed by the sudden thought of fornication, which judging from Evagrius’ syntax might persist, there is no problem in prayer:

will not impede us towards the gnosis which is of God.

The thought will be a pest which does no harm. The gnosis which is of God is at this stage natural contemplation, although the phrase strictly refers to Theology, unitive prayer to the Trinity.

52 To separate the body from the soul pertains only to him who joined them.

The Evagrian doctrine of the pre-existence of souls has been condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod.[26] However, if we understand this aspect of the passage in an Orthodox way—that the soul comes into existence at conception at the same time as the body[27]—then what is said is quite sound: suicide is forbidden by the law of God and by the Orthodox Church.

To separate the soul from the body is within the scope also of him who aspires to virtue. For our fathers call the life lived in solitude a meditation on death and a flight from the body.

The sense of the first sentence here is that the ascetical endeavour makes the soul autonomous of the body and that this is pleasing to God, for it brings the monk back to his condition according to nature.[28] It is quite true that underlying this chapter is the Evagrian doctrine of the pre-existence of minds (noes), of the descent of the mind (nous) to ensoulment in a soul and of the further descent of that soul to embodiment in a human body,[29] but we can take Evagrius’ statement to be valid if we discard the underlying cosmology.

The notion that the soul is to be separated from the body by ascesis is expounded with astonishing clarity in Plato’s Phaedo.[30] In general, the Phaedo, and Plato in general, is well worth reading with a view to its being one of Evagrius’ sources, perhaps indirect. The notion of the ascetical separation of the soul from the body ‘by means of philosophy’, where ‘philosophy’ is a Platonic term for ascesis, is also to be found in the Enneads of Plotinus.[31]

We think that this passage can be given an interpretation that is soundly Orthodox: the goal of ascesis is to ‘separate the soul from the body’ by making the soul free of the eight moral passions: this entails the acquisition, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the virtues of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul that correspond to the eight passions.[32] This is dispassion (apatheia).

We can therefore say that dispassion (apatheia), even with an Orthodox interpretation such as we have already given, can be considered to be the attainment of the ascetical separation of the soul from the body. We will see that this ascetical ‘separation of the soul from the body’—which by no means entails suicide—is in the Evagrian system the precondition for entering into the second natural contemplation. Hence, what Evagrius is addressing here is the necessity, as a precondition of contemplation, of making the soul autonomous of the body. Taken in this sense, and without the cosmological trappings that have indeed been condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, we think that what Evagrius is saying is capable of a perfectly Orthodox interpretation and that it is perfectly sound.

53 Let those who evilly nurture the flesh and ‘provide for it towards desire’ [Rom. 13, 14],

Those who do not keep continence, and who therefore do not cure the desiring part, but rather strengthen the passions of the body.

condemn themselves

That is, let them condemn themselves for their own moral choices in so doing. This is part of Evagrius’ adamant condemnation of suicide. He repeats such remarks in the Kephalaia Gnostica.

and not this very flesh.

Evagrius is not Manichæan. He does not condemn the body per se. He now gives his reason:

For those who have acquired dispassion of the soul by means of this very body,

The virtues and the vices are both acquired, according to man’s free choices, through the instrumentality of the body. Note that the goal of the ascetic is the acquisition of dispassion (apatheia). As we discussed in Chapter III of Volume I, in the heterodox Evagrian cosmological system, the body is given to man providentially, in order to enable him to reascend towards God. To suggest, without the Evagrian cosmological trappings, that the body is placed at the service of the soul is quite sound Orthodox anthropology. Such an understanding is found for example in the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith of St John of Damascus.[33]

and who have to an extent given their attention to the contemplation of existent things,

This is natural contemplation, the beginning of the illuminative stage. The phrase ‘to an extent’ conveys the idea that these are persons who are just passing into the illuminative stage.

know the grace of the Creator.

Evagrius means that they know by contemplation why God made us beings with material biological bodies. He is of course hinting at his own cosmological system.

We have now finished the section of Counsels, and, truly, we have considerably broadened our grasp of the Evagrian ascetical system.

In the next section, TPL 54–6, Evagrius introduces several important ideas: dreams; movements in sleep and their evaluation with regard to how dispassionate the monk is; how we judge in general how dispassionate someone is; and the definition of dispassion (apatheia).

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[1] Isaiah.

[2] Volume III.

[3] OTT G pp. 23–8.

[4] Philokalia G pp. 31–5; Philokalia E pp. 22–8; see also Isaiah.

[5] We will analyse this evolution in the commentary on On Sobriety.

[6] This book is called the Antirrheticus and it was translated from a Syriac translation back into ancient Greek—this is a retro-translation—by Frankenberg: see Frankenberg Volume II, pp. 472–545.

[7] Cf. Matt. 4, 1–11; etc.

[8] Evagrius seems to take another view; see Section 7, ‘The Evagrian Angelology’, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[9] Antirrheticus Accidie 16, p. 525.

[10] See the commentary on OTT 38–43.

[11] Diadochos.

[12] See ‘Une inscription copte sur la priere de Jesus’ in SO 30 pp. 168–83.

[13] One of the first saints of Mount Athos.

[14] That was where St Theodore’s monastery of Sakkoudion was located.

[15] One should refer to St John Cassian in the Institutions (Cassian I) for the role of manual labour in stabilizing the mind or nous.

[16] See Section 6, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[17] Damascus II, 25, p. 73, ll. 44–53, discussed in Chapter V of Volume I.

[18] We saw this in our discussion of the Kephalaia Gnostica in Sections 5, 6 and 7, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[19] See Chapter V of Volume I.

[20] See OTT 9.

[21] TPL 13.

[22] TPL 43.

[23] TPL 44, above.

[24] We will encounter this in Volume III.

[25] Progenitor thoughts; OTT 1 addresses this idea.

[26] The interested reader can refer to Chapter III of Volume I for a full discussion of this and related matters.

[27] See Section 12, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[28] As concerns the moral passions of the practical life.

[29] We have already discussed this in Chapter III of Volume I, especially Section 13.

[30] Plato Volume I, 64a4–72e2; with regard to the present chapter of Evagrius, 64e8–65a2 and, especially, 67d7–10.

[31] Plotinus I, 1 [53], ll. 17–18.

[32] We will see in TPL 89 a detailed discussion of the virtues.

[33] Damascus II, 12, p. 79, ll. 91–3; quoted in Chapter V of Volume I.


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