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TPL (Commentary) -- 9

Practical Principles

71 Demonic songs set in motion our desiring part and cast the soul into shameful imaginations.

This is clear. The passions can be set in motion by the senses, and this setting in motion can be quite complex: the demonic song contains rhythm, melody, words, gesture and movement. It is interesting that Evagrius says that these songs cast the soul into shameful imaginations, not shameful imaginations into the soul; this has to do with Evagrius’ psychology: he considers these shameful imaginations to have an objective character.

The demonic songs that Evagrius is referring to seem to be those that accompanied the pagan rituals of his time, and, especially, of the time of Clement of Alexandria: he seems to be following Clement here.

We need not belabour the obvious: that today advertising in the streets, on television and on the radio does the same. Nor need we belabour the effect of television on the children and on the atmosphere in the family home; nor the effect of movies and rock music on the adult. This is all clear.

‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ [Eph. 5, 19] ever call the mind forth to a memory of virtue, cooling our heated temper and withering the desires.

This is clear. As is its extension to today. A noted ascetic once said to a friend of ours, a monk who is a chorister: ‘Rock music is demonic. European Classical music lifts the mind to another world but, having finished, leaves the mind where it was before, unchanged. Byzantine chant alone is spiritual.’ He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The next chapter is important. We have addressed many aspects of what is being said there, but Evagrius brings home a major point that is behind much of what was being said.

72 If those who wrestle are in a state of being afflicted and afflicting in return, and if the demons are wrestling with us, then they also, afflicting us, are afflicted in return. For he says: ‘I will afflict them and they are not able to stand.’ [Ps. 17, 39.] And again: ‘Those who afflict me, and my enemies, they themselves grew weak and fell.’ [Ps. 26, 2.]

Recall that in TPL 5, above, the demons were said to wrestle with the hermits nude, as in Græco-Roman wrestling. Here, using the form of an Aristotelian syllogism, Evagrius concludes that just as we suffer blows and falls at the hands of the demons, so they do at our hands. Moreover, they ‘grow weak and fall’. Hence the significance of that punch to the head that the rebuttal with anger gives to the demon. It hurts it. Hence the significance of the demons’ withdrawing and observing where the monk is in the meantime negligent, so that they can attack his weak point. Hence the significance of their bringing up reinforcements of demons more savage and wicked than they. Hence the significance of the succession of demons stronger and more wicked than they to permanent replacement of the weaker demons. Hence also the significance of the hope that the monk will one day attain to dispassion (apatheia). But let us remember the counsel to St Anthony: the only sure way to escape the snares of the Devil is humility. And the remark of St John of Sinai: if you have seen a monk attain to dispassion (apatheia) in a short time—and for St John of Sinai this is the end of the road, the complete restoration of the likeness to God (kath' homoiosin)—then you can be sure that he travelled by the road of humility.

73 Repose is conjoined to wisdom and toil to prudence.

Repose is something that is associated with, belongs with, wisdom. Toil is something that is associated with, belongs with, prudence. These are virtues of the mind (nous). And Evagrius is beginning to define them. As we learn from the Gnostic, and even from TPL 89, below, wisdom is connected to gnosis.

For it is not possible to acquire wisdom without war

This is fundamental. As the saintly Joseph the Hesychast of Mount Athos (1898–1959) remarked, after seven years of ease after the tonsure, Grace withdraws so that the monk might learn wisdom.[1] How is wisdom acquired? By battle with the demons. Novices should be taught this, lest they become deserters at the instant the battle begins. We ourselves have learned to our cost that Grace recedes, making the free and deliberate choice of the Christian—both monk and layman—critical for the monk or layman’s eternal salvation. This is no joke; we can be lost: the critical moment is the commencement of the battle; Grace is no longer sensibly present; and the monk or layman may throw down the shield and run. It is well in preparing adults for Baptism to dwell on this; and monks in the novitiate. St Benedict in his Rule counsels us to teach the novice about the difficult parts of the monastic life.

Wisdom has the sense of the intuitive gnosis, even of spiritual things, that has been imparted to the monk by divine grace. It also means the ability to judge what is right in the circumstances—discernment or discretion. It is gained by experience in war but it is also a charism.

and it is not possible to accomplish the war without prudence. For to prudence has been entrusted the work of standing against the temper of the demons, prudence forcing the powers of the soul to operate according to nature and preparing in advance the road of wisdom.

St Hesychios repeats this. The sense seems clear enough. The Guillaumonts emphasize that in the Evagrian system being demonic is primarily a derangement of the temper.[2] The derangement of the desiring part, according to the Fathers, renders the person bestial. Hence, we here see the source of the Patristic adage that the soul that departs from God becomes either demonic or bestial: the person that departs from God gives himself over either to the passions of the irascible part or to the passions of the desiring part.

On Mount Athos today, the beginner is guided by his Elder or Confessor. The Elder or Confessor takes the place of the virtue of prudence in the as yet unformed novice or monk. The novice ‘swears’ blind obedience to the Elder or Confessor; this blind obedience enables the novice to avoid the pitfalls due to inexperience that he might otherwise fall into. Here, Evagrius is clearly speaking to the advanced monk, one, perhaps, whose Elder has passed on to the next life, and who, while he consults from time to time with a confessor, or with renowned ascetics and confessors, largely conducts the war on his own. It goes without saying that we should conduct the war ‘with counsel’ and only embark on this advanced Hesychast campaign after consultation with advanced monks, lest the demons ‘send us flying’.

The next two chapters are fundamental:

74 The temptation of the monk is the thought which ascends through the passionate part of the soul and which darkens the mind.

The passionate part of the soul is the desiring part together with the irascible part. It is in these two parts that are found the eight passions with which TPL is concerned. The thought (logismos)[3] ascends into the intellect (dianoia), which is the operation of consciousness of the mind (nous). In St Hesychios, the mind (nous) is brought down into the heart, so it is there that the thought (logismos) will first present itself to the consciousness of the ascetic.

It would be well for the reader not to make an identification between the passionate part of the soul and the subconscious or even unconscious of any of the various depth psychologies; that only will evade the issue without throwing any light on the matter. Surely there is some connection—all the systems are talking about the common experience of mankind—but the systems are different, and their philosophical bases different and various. Let us attend to what Evagrius is saying.

The thought (logismos) ascends through the passionate part of the soul and darkens the mind (nous). Recall that this is still a temptation. Up to now, the monk is free of responsibility. It is beyond his power not to be tempted. However, the logismos darkens the mind (nous). Recall that a sign of dispassion is being able to make our prayers without distraction.[4] The logismos darkens the mind (nous) because a demon is nearby, because the logismos distracts the mind (nous), especially during prayer, and because a mind (nous) which has logismoi will not be able to see its own light in prayer, that is, be illumined by God.

It is well here to recall Skemmata 59:

59 Of the passions which are set in motion, some are set in motion from the memory, some from the senses and some from the demons.

The significance of this is that the thought (logismos) which arises through the passionate part of the soul may not have been set in motion by a demon but by a movement of the ascetic’s own soul, either through the memory or through the senses. Evagrius has a number of similar remarks in the Skemmata which refine his model, but it is not necessary for us to dwell here on the distinctions that Evagrius draws in those passages.

75 The sin of the monk is the consent towards the forbidden pleasure of the thought.

Here, Evagrius specifies where the sin starts: it is in the consent of the monk to the pleasure presented by the thought. Recall TPL 4. In that very elliptical chapter, Evagrius draws connections among passionate love (eros), desire and struggle to attain the object of desire; and desire, pleasure, sense-perception and passion.

We think that what Evagrius means is the following: Pleasure is connected to sense-perception. All the pleasures of the passionate part of the soul are pleasures of sense-perception.[5] What we love passionately (eros), that is, some pleasure of the senses, we aspire to and struggle to obtain. This is clear in the behaviour of animals. Desire—this aspiration—then begets sense-perception, that is, the pleasure of the senses that occurs when the pleasure is consummated. But this habitual urge towards some pleasure of the senses is a passion, one of the eight. Its strength in a layman can be gauged by the ferocity with which he struggles to obtain the related pleasure of the senses.

He who is free of the pleasure related to sense-perception—unaffected by it, without an urge to some experience of it—is free of the passion related to that particular pleasure.

Hence, here, the sin of the monk is an acceptance of and consent to the pleasure of the senses that is presented by the impassioned recollection of an object of sense. The demon—of some passion, we have said—has drawn near and excited the passion, or else the passion has been excited in some other way admitted by Evagrius. This excitation presents itself to the consciousness of the monk as a thought (logismos) which ascends through the passionate part of the soul and which enters—initially as the impassioned recollection of an object of sense—into the intellect (dianoia), or consciousness, of the monk. This is the temptation. If the monk then consents to the pleasure of sense-perception that corresponds to the particular type of demon and to the particular passion excited and to the particular sort of object recollected, then the monk has sinned. He may not, however, have yet proceeded to sin in act.

St John of Sinai remarks in regard to a certain type of thought of fornication that, although it is too fast for us to block or rebut, nonetheless we have sin, and he wonders who can explain this—that we should have sin when the thought is too fast for us to block or rebut. The other thought which appears—and disappears—with similar rapidity was said by Evagrius and by St John of Sinai to be the thought of blasphemy. The question that is being raised by the rapidity of these demons is how we can sin when we have not had time to consent or not to the pleasure portrayed by the thought.

The opposite of consent is rebuttal, refusal or rejection. Hence, the proper course for the tempted monk is to rebut, refuse or reject the pleasure of the senses proffered by the impassioned recollection of the object of sense. This is a fundamental aspect of this ascetical psychology. However, there is an intermediate condition: the monk does not consent, but for some reason is too weak, or otherwise disinclined, to rebut or reject the thought: he dallies with it. Here it is well to consider the remarks of Evagrius in the Skemmata on the effect of allowing a thought to persist:

45 Of the thoughts, some cause damage from time; others from consent; others from sin in act. And those which cause damage solely from time: the natural thoughts. From time and from sin in act: the thoughts which are contrary to nature, the demonic thought and the thought from an evil intention.

56 Of the thoughts, some are according to nature, whereas others are contrary to nature. And contrary to nature are as many as are from desire (epithumia) and anger (thumos). But according to nature are as many as are from father or mother or wife or children.

58 A common property of all thoughts is that they are damaging from time.

Here we can see that even if the monk were to allow a natural thought—a thought according to nature of ‘father or mother or wife or children’—to persist, he could be damaged. How much more, then, the thoughts contrary to nature, those ‘from desire (epithumia) and anger (thumos)’, will damage him if he allows them to persist, even if he has not formally consented to practise the sin in act!

St Hesychios will introduce a schema of temptation and sin that is an amalgam of the schemas of temptation and sin of Evagrius and St Mark the Ascetic.[6] These schemas really are elaborations of the schema presented here in TPL 74 and 75, without the refinements of Evagrius in the Skemmata.[7]

The importance of this issue can be seen from the fact that it is in the context of the schema of temptation and sin, the most basic form of which has just been presented by Evagrius, that St Hesychios combines the Prayer of Jesus prayed in the heart with the Evagrian method of the rebuttal of the thoughts. We cannot pursue the Hesychian method of sobriety, which draws on both Evagrius and St Mark the Ascetic, without understanding Evagrius’ schema of temptation and sin, including the refinements of the Skemmata. It is an integral part of the ascetical psychology being analysed.

It is also well to remark that although Evagrius does not emphasize the role of consent in his psychological analyses in OTT, here he has here made clear that the monk’s sin derives from his consent. We should not loose sight of this. An understanding of the schema of temptation and sin presented here in TPL 74 and 75 is necessary as a preliminary to an understanding of the psychological analyses of Evagrius in OTT and the Skemmata, and of St Hesychios in On Sobriety.

76 Angels rejoice when vice is diminished; demons, however, when virtue is diminished. The former are servants of mercy and charity; the latter are subjects of anger and hatred.

This is clear. Note, however, that the virtue of mercy parallels the vice of anger and that the virtue of charity parallels the vice of hatred.

And the first, when they approach, fill us with spiritual contemplation; the second, when they draw near, cast the soul into shameful imaginations.

So it is not only a matter of the demons approaching the monk; the angels can too.

St John of Sinai remarks in the Ladder that when, in your nightly vigil, the prayers go exceedingly well, run and do not stop praying until the prayer dries up—for your guardian angel has approached you and is helping you to pray; and you do not know when he will come again. A renowned ascetic and man of prayer, since deceased, remarked in our hearing, however, that once he was in such a state and, when he refused a request of his brother for assistance, thinking ‘When the prayer dries up, then I will help him,’ then the prayer immediately dried up. Charity—and obedience—are nobler in the sight of God even than prayer.

We have already discussed the significance of the approach of the demons.

The next chapter is fundamental.

77 The virtues do not stop the attacks of the demons but they preserve us unharmed.

But not without free will: Adam had virtue and so did Eve. It was within their power to resist temptation and they did not. Before his fall, the Devil was the noblest angel, and he succumbed to pride despite the virtue he manifestly had. Now he stalks the face of the earth like a ravenous beast, looking for someone to devour.[8]

It is not within our power not to be tempted, but it is within our power, with the help of God, should we invoke it, not to sin. Sometimes the battle is easy; sometimes not; but it is never beyond our power.

78 The practical life is a spiritual method cleaning out the passionate part of the soul.

This chapter should be re-read when in Volume III we begin the first chapter of On Sobriety:

Sobriety is a spiritual method … that entirely frees the man, with the help of God, from impassioned mental representations and impassioned words and wicked works (erga) when it persists and is willingly travelled upon.

The parallel is clear.

The next chapter is also fundamental.

79 The operations of the commandments are not sufficient towards healing completely the powers of the soul, if contemplations appropriate to these commandments do not also succeed to the mind.

The word we have translated ‘operations’, energeies, is a word used by, among others, Aristotle in his Physics. It means what a thing does when it is in operation. Nowadays, it is translated ‘energies’, but we have preferred the Classical sense as being closer to Evagrius’ own thought world and cultural milieu: ‘energy’ is a concept that today is heavily influenced by Newtonian mechanics, theories of electromagnetic radiation and the special and general theories of relativity. It is not that these theories are not useful but that Evagrius was completely ignorant of the thought world and cultural milieu in which they arose.

What Evagrius means is this: I fulfil a commandment. The very act of fulfilling the commandment heals my soul in the part to which the commandment applies. This is an extremely important idea for the understanding of the connection between the practical life as a purification of the passions or healing of the soul, and as a life dedicated to the keeping of the commandments and to the acquisition of virtue; it is very important for an understanding of the immaterial war as a war against temptations not to keep the commandments; it is a very important idea for an understanding of why Christian sobriety is grounded in the fundamental model of resisting temptation to transgress the commandments. Keeping the commandments is not merely a juridical concept; keeping the commandments per se heals the soul. This is the great significance in the Gospel of the commandments, why the Lord could say:

If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come towards him and we will make a dwelling with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine, but of the Father who sent me.[9]

However, Evagrius says, the act of fulfilling the commandment, while it heals the soul, is not sufficient towards completely healing the power of the soul to which it corresponds: contemplations appropriate to the commandment must also be engaged in for the healing to be complete. Evidently, this is because of the necessity of healing the mind (nous), which is healed and nourished by contemplation.

For example, to cure the irascible part, the temper, I engage in acts of mercy. That goes a long way to cure a disturbed temper. However, I must also engage in contemplations appropriate to the commandment. For example, I might reflect on the divine dispensation of salvation, how Christ died for our sins while we were yet sinners—an eternally incomprehensible act of mercy towards me, a sinner. I might reflect on Christ’s meekness and humbleness of heart before Judas, so as meekly to wash Judas’ feet minutes before Judas would leave the meal to bring the soldiers and officers that would arrest Jesus and lead him away to his death. These are verbal sketches of contemplations. Why should these contemplations be necessary? To heal the mind (nous) which has been affected by the abiding of the thought (logismos) related to the passion or power of the soul in question—here, the temper.

Does this mean that dispassion (apatheia) only occurs after the monk has entered into second natural contemplation? For a possible interpretation of this chapter of TPL is that the contemplations referred to are of natural contemplation and that they are essential for the attainment of dispassion (apatheia). We think that this is a mistaken interpretation of Evagrius, for elsewhere he is clear that dispassion (apatheia) is the end of the practical life and the precondition of natural contemplation. Therefore, either Evagrius means that these are contemplations that one engages in as part of the practical life or he means that these are necessary contemplations of natural contemplation whose non-accomplishment nevertheless does not prevent the monk from attaining to dispassion (apatheia), the end of the practical life, before having engaged in them.

The next chapter is fundamental.

80 It is not possible to stand against all the thoughts cast into us by the angels; it is possible, however, to overthrow all the thoughts [suggested] by the demons.

It is not clear in what circumstances Evagrius envisages us standing against an angelic thought. Moreover, he appears to envisage that we can effectively oppose some but not all angelic thoughts. The second part is clear: it is the war that Evagrius calls the immaterial war. Evagrius means that we are never tempted beyond our strength: we can always resist the temptation. In OTT 8 and 31, Evagrius will analyse in detail the differences in kind and appearance—that is, as seen by the monk in his own intellect (dianoia)—among angelic, human and demonic thoughts.

A peaceful condition, on the one hand, follows the first thoughts; a disturbed condition, on the other hand, the second.

This is clear enough. It is a standard criterion in all manuals of spiritual discernment East and West up to the present day.

81 Charity is the offspring of dispassion. Dispassion is the flower of the practical life.

Dispassion (apatheia) is the goal and the necessary result of the practical life. We consummate the practical life when we attain to dispassion (apatheia). Of course, we have relativized this concept for dogmatic reasons. But the result of our dispassion (apatheia) should be charity—spiritual love. Curiously enough, the possession or practice of spiritual love is not listed by Evagrius in TPL 64 as one of his criteria for attainment to dispassion (apatheia). This is important for it indicates, just as his statement here that charity is the offspring of dispassion (apatheia), that charity is not one of the defining characteristics of dispassion (apatheia): charity is not the goal of the practical life; it is not the same thing as dispassion (apatheia): it is the major tool for attainment to dispassion (apatheia); it is one of the virtues whose acquisition is implied by attainment to dispassion (apatheia); and it is the major fruit of dispassion (apatheia).

The observance of the commandments constitutes the practical life.

The reader will recall the emphasis we placed on the refusal of temptation, especially the temptation of Eve in Eden, as the model of the spiritual battle. Here the answer to ‘Why?’ is given by Evagrius. The whole struggle of the monk in the purgative stage, the practical life, is to keep the commandments, and this at the level of the immaterial war of thoughts whose beginning is the impassioned recollection of an object of sense that rises through the passionate part of the soul into the consciousness of the monk. This whole orientation is perhaps—we do not know for sure, not being experts—the major difference between Orthodox systems of meditation and contemplation, and Far Eastern mystical or contemplative traditions based on yoga of one form or another. The Christian begins keeping first the Decalogue and then the more sublime commandments of the Gospel—first in action and then in thought.

Moreover, this orientation places the use of the Prayer of Jesus into a certain spiritual context, the keeping of the commandments. It places it into a moral and soteriological context.

This reader should grasp that the practical life includes the immaterial war, perhaps fought twenty-four hours a day in solitude. It does not mean the via activa of Roman Catholicism, although it certainly includes the keeping of the commandments in act, that is, the war waged through objects.

The guard of the commandments is the fear of God, which very thing is the offspring of correct faith.

The fundamental Christian orientation in the spiritual life is to the keeping of the commandments. This is based on the fear of God, despite the seeming refutation given by St Anthony, ‘I no longer fear God; I love him.’ That is for the perfect. The fear of God, then, is properly a gift given by the Holy Spirit to those with correct faith.

Hence, the fundamental orientation of the Hesychast when he commences the purgative way is to the keeping of the commandments, this being motivated by the humble fear of God. This should sober us. There is nothing here about visions, love, grand aspirations to the sublime and all that. Very soberly, we want to keep the commandments of the God we love because we have the fear of him.

Faith is an indwelling good which very thing exists by nature even in those who have not yet believed in God.

This seems to us quite Orthodox. We do not view man as depraved by the Fall of Adam. By nature man has the seeds of the virtues in himself and this includes the virtue of faith—as the Fathers and experience teach, even animals show virtue, having neither mind (nous) nor a Fall; and even the pagan farmer has faith that he will reap a harvest from his labours.

82 Just as the soul, acting by means of the body, perceives the members which are ailing,

I have injured my hand. How does my soul know? Acting through the bodily organs of sense, it perceives the pain.

thus so, the mind, operating its own native operation,

The mind (nous) now, not acting through the body (i.e. not acting through the bodily organs of sense), but through its own native operation. The interested reader might refer to Section 5, Chapter III, of Volume I on the matter of the spiritual senses of the mind (nous). We will also discuss them extensively in the Digression to the commentary on OTT.

This is a purely mental, interior operation of the mind (nous), just as the intellect (dianoia) is an operation of the mind (nous) and just as discursive reasoning is an operation of the mind (nous). It is not one of those operations, but another operation which is intuitive.

recognizes its own powers

We just mentioned two, the intellect (dianoia) and discursive reasoning.

and, through that which is hindering the mind (nous), finds the commandment which will heal the power.

This is not a matter of reasoning things out and it clearly is something that only someone close to dispassion (apatheia) will find easy to do. It is a discernment focused on our own interiority rather than on the other person. Something is not going quite right. The ascetic looks. He finds that what is hindering his mind (nous) is such that a certain commandment—let us say, not to be anxious for the morrow since the problem is a certain tendency to avarice which has not yet reached the stage of action—will heal the related power of his mind (nous). The ascetic can then make an effort to keep that commandment and to engage in the related contemplations.

Note that this is a native operation of the mind (nous), whereas it is the soul (psuche) that recognizes the ailing bodily member. However, given the context here of the practical life, we think that the commandments that Evagrius is referring to are the moral commandments which heal the passionate part of the soul; we do not think that he is here referring to natural contemplation.

The next chapter is important.

83 The mind that is warring the impassioned war will not contemplate the reasons of the war, for it is similar to him who battles by night. Having acquired dispassion, however, it will easily recognize the cunning devices of the enemies.

When Evagrius speaks of the mind (nous) in this way, we are immediately led to his heterodox cosmology, but it is easy for the Orthodox ascetic to accept what is here being said if he keeps in mind that in Orthodox anthropology, the mind (nous) is our innermost self, the image of God in us, the eye of our soul.

When Evagrius refers to the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the war, he clearly is intending a contemplation proper to the ascetic who has passed from the purgative stage into the illuminative stage of natural contemplation. Here, the impassioned war—the immaterial war of thoughts proper to the purgative or practical stage—is taken as an object of contemplation, a contemplation that in the Evagrian system can only properly take place once the war is over and won and the ascetic has entered into the haven of natural contemplation. Until the war is won, the ascetic battles by night in confusion and uncertainty: some of his blows fall on the foe; some, not; sometimes he blocks a blow; sometimes he takes it on the head. The battle by night: complete confusion, uncertainty and terror of the enemy.

It seems to us that this state of affairs is both inevitable and according to divine dispensation. God wants the ascetic to battle by night. Moreover, it seems to us that the starting monk must therefore have an experienced Elder. Only the elder veteran can advise the young soldier correctly, on the basis of the wisdom and even discernment that he himself has acquired in battle, what to do and what not to do in each particular case.

Let us here provide St John of Sinai’s definition of discernment from the Ladder of Divine Ascent:[10]

Discernment is, first, in the beginners, the true knowledge of those things which pertain to themselves.

That is, in the beginner, discernment is a true knowledge of his own spiritual and material affairs.

In the intermediates, then, it is the spiritual sense which discriminates faultlessly the actual good from the natural [good] and from the opposite [to the actual good].

That is, in monks in the middle stage—we need not impose on St John the Evagrian schema of the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages—discernment is a spiritual sense. Recall that in TPL 82, above, we introduced the idea of operations of the mind (nous) independent of the body and sense-perception.[11] Discernment is such a spiritual sense, a spiritual sense which requires the assistance of God, a spiritual sense which discriminates faultlessly—it is a charism of the Holy Spirit—the true good (the real good, the actual good, the spiritual good) from the natural good (say, the human good) and from the opposite.

What are the differences among the true or actual good, the natural good and the opposite? Let us suppose that I go as a layman to a confessor with a problem about my vocation to the monastic state. The natural good, the human good, the good seen on the basis of human reason, human syllogisms or human considerations, might be for me not to become a monk: I have weaknesses and I might cast the habit into disrepute. The natural good is for me to return to the world and to make my fortune as a layman. The opposite is for me to become a bad Christian. The actual, true good—which requires the illumination with which God illumines the soul of the ascetic who has the charism of discernment at this stage—may be (it depends on who I am) for me to become a monk, and this despite my weaknesses. Hence, without this charism, a monk advising someone may err even though he have a good knowledge of Patristic literature. He might stay with the natural or apparent good and, lacking the illumination of the Holy Spirit, fall into the very serious sin of giving misguidance to a soul, or even into the even more serious sin of judging and condemning that soul.

May God preserve us both from receiving such advice and from taking it, and from giving such counsel to the younger petitioners of our wisdom.

In the perfect persons, finally, discernment is the gnosis which exists within [the ascetic] through divine illumination, which very gnosis is strong enough to illuminate completely with its own lamp those things which exist darkly in the interior of others.

This is a classic definition of clairvoyance—not, however, of prevoyance, which requires a still further revelation—such as is found in the lives of such saints as Seraphim of Sarov. Notably, in our own day, the Elder Porphyrios (Baïraktares) (1906–1991) was an astonishing bearer of this charism, as also of prevoyance. We met him twice. We knew a man who lived on the shores of death, of departure for the next life, with a self-sacrifice unparalleled in our experience. We were astonished by his charism but we were moved by his self-sacrifice. Truly a noble man, one who bore a great weight for the People of God. One who in the eyes of the Body of the Church is a saint, and one of the great saints of the Church. May he rest in the glory of his Lord and may he pray for the author of this work.

These charisms, as charisms of the Holy Spirit (recall that according to Evagrius in TPL 47, above, only God, who has made us, knows our hearts), belong to the Church, and when there is genuine need, they are available through the occasional or permanent operation of the Holy Spirit in a person. In certain cases a man must make a decision fraught with fateful consequences. Then God will not abandon him—if he is good and if he turns to God—but will illumine someone to help him.

In cases of day-to-day spiritual guidance, the Fathers do not emphasize that the beginner seek for an Elder who has these charisms; they rather more emphasize the depth and breadth of theological training, the comprehension and the spiritual experience of the Elder. In the West, St Theresa of Avila has the same counsel: the educated guide is more sure than the holy but uneducated guide, for the holy but uneducated guide might try to lead you by the road he went, but that may not be your road.

St John of Sinai puts it this way:

Let us discern our obediences in accordance with the nature of the passions in us, and let us choose accordingly. If you incline to lust, let your trainer be an ascetic and one unconsoling in the matter of food, and certainly not a miracle worker and one ready to receive everyone and give them a meal. If you are stiff-necked, one who is sharp and unyielding, but not meek and kind to people.
Let us not seek those with foreknowledge nor those with prevoyance, but above all completely humble men, and those who are appropriate to the [spiritual] illnesses in us, from their way of life and from where they reside.[12]

To return to the matter at hand, Evagrius continues with the observation that the dispassionate man will easily recognize the cunning devices of the enemy. He will have developed some discernment.

The next chapter gives fundamental clarifications about the stages of the spiritual life.

84 Charity is the end of the practical life.

Here, the word translated ‘end’ means ‘limit’ or ‘border’; it does not mean ‘aim’ or ‘target’. Hence, the sense is not that charity is the aim or target of the practical life—the aim or target is dispassion (apatheia)—but that it is the border of the practical life: we have reached the border of the practical life when we have acquired charity.

Theology is the end of gnosis.

The same word for end is used; indeed, the syntax omits the word and conveys its presence with a parallel construction which requires that the word be supplied from the previous clause. We know that Theology is the unitive or third stage of the mystical ascent, and that gnosis relates both to the second stage, natural contemplation, and to the third stage, Theology. Hence, what Evagrius is saying is that when you have arrived at charity, you have completed the practical life, and when you have arrived at gnosis in its fullness, mystical union with God, you have completed the life of gnosis.

The beginning of the first is faith;

He just said this in TPL 81. The practical life, praktike, the purgative stage, the stage of the healing of the soul, the stage of the acquisition of the virtues opposed to the eight most general passions, the stage that is dedicated to the keeping of the commandments, begins with faith and ends with charity.

of the second, natural contemplation.

The beginning of gnosis is the second natural contemplation, the earlier of the two parts of natural contemplation, which two parts comprise the illuminative stage. Second natural contemplation is the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of objects of sense. We will discuss this further as we proceed, especially in the Digression to the commentary on OTT. The latter part of natural contemplation, first natural contemplation, is the contemplation of the angels and their reasons (logoi). Once we have passed through these two parts of natural contemplation, we can enter into Theology, the contemplation of the Holy Trinity, the unitive stage. The characteristic both of natural contemplation and of Theology is gnosis, which pertains par excellence to the mind (nous). Hence, in the Evagrian system, after the ascetic has acquired dispassion (apatheia)—after he has put the powers of the passionate part of the soul into their operation according to nature—, he can enter into second natural contemplation and begin to restore the powers of the mind (nous) to their operation according to nature. The culmination of this road of gnosis, which passes through the contemplation of the angels, is unitive contemplation of the Holy Trinity.

Hence, we can see the spiritual life as something which passes in the practical life from faith to charity and then, in the life of gnosis, from the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of objects of sense to the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.

And as many of the demons as assault the passionate part of the soul,

The desiring part and the irascible part.

these are said to be opposed to the practical life.

This is very important as a formal statement by Evagrius how he understands the practical life—how he understands to which passions and to which demons it applies. The demons that pertain to the practical life are precisely those demons that rule over the eight most general passions with which Evagrius commenced his analysis at the beginning of TPL; moreover, Evagrius has here stated clearly that those demons pertain to the passionate part of the soul, the desire and the temper.

As many again as trouble the rational part,

This is the mind (nous). On account of the contrast that Evagrius is drawing between them and the demons of the practical life, it is clear that the demons that trouble the rational part do not relate to such things as vainglory and pride. The demons related to such things as vainglory and pride, along with the demons related to the other passions discussed in TPL, are the demons related to the practical life; they are the demons related to the passionate part of the soul.

these are called enemies of all truth and adversaries to contemplation.

It is clear that the Evagrian eightfold typology of demons, passions and thoughts applies to the passionate part of the soul, which is the object of purification in the practical life. There are other demons which pertain to the third part of the soul, the rational part, the mind (nous); these are the ascetic’s opponents in the life of gnosis or contemplation. However, these demons have to do with ignorance and delusion—not with what we might call the moral vices but with what we might call the intellectual vices. This accords with the definitions given in Gnostic 42 and 43 of the temptation and the sin of the gnostic, the one who has completed the practical life and entered into the life of gnosis and contemplation.

However, let us recall that Evagrius introduced the important qualification in TPL 36 that those demons which rule over the passions of the soul persist until death, whereas those demons which rule over the passions of the body retire more quickly.

Hence, what Evagrius is now doing is introducing concepts applicable to the life of gnosis, which commences with second natural contemplation, passes through first natural contemplation and culminates in Theology.

It is well to recall here KG I, 10:

I, 10 Among the demons, some are opposed to the practice of the commandments, others are opposed to the mental representations of nature, and others are opposed to the logoi which concern the Divinity, because the gnosis of our salvation also is composed of these things.

Here it can be seen that not only are there distinctions to be made between the demons that pertain to the practical life and the demons that pertain to the contemplative life, but that there are even distinctions to be made between the demons that pertain to the illuminative stage, the stage of natural contemplation, and the demons that pertain to the unitive stage, the stage of Theology.

85 No one thing of those things that cleanse the body remains with the body in those that are cleansed.

Soap and water, for example.

Together, the virtues both purify the soul

Recall from TPL 79 that when they are carried out, the commandments are considered by Evagrius to be at least partly efficacious to heal the part of the soul to which they pertain. This is fundamental to the Evagrian therapy of disturbances of the soul, especially when the carrying out of the commandments is combined with suitable contemplations. And what is virtue? Is it not the habitual carrying out of the commandments?

and remain together with the purified soul.

Moreover, the virtues are also excellences of the parts of the soul; they are operations (energeies) of the Holy Spirit;[13] and, as habits, they remain with the soul.

Above, in order to make Evagrius’ point we identified the virtue allied to the commandment with the habitual carrying out of that commandment; however, the Evagrian theory of virtue does not depend on such an externalist approach either to virtue or to the keeping of the commandments.

The next chapter is fundamental.

86 The rational soul

This is not the rational part of a man’s soul, but the (rational) soul of a man, taken as a whole.

operates according to nature

This is, again, Aristotelian terminology.

when its desiring part aspires to virtue,

This is fundamental to understand: when the passions of gluttony and fornication are eradicated, then the man according to nature is not inert or a disembodied intellect, but with his desiring part he aspires to virtue, or to God as Evagrius will later say, along with St Hesychios and St John of Sinai.

the irascible part battles on behalf of virtue,

Again, the man who is according to nature is not listless, but his temper gives battle on behalf of virtue. We might call this zeal, perseverance, dedication, unwavering fidelity to and trust in the Lord. It does not necessarily mean that the man become a missionary—though it might if the Lord call him—because it might be that he remains unknown in his hermitage in prayer until he depart.

and the rational part gives its attention to the contemplation of things which have come to be.

‘Things which have come to be’: This is an English circumlocution for an Evagrian word, gegonota, with its roots in Aristotle. In Aristotle, it means things which are not eternal but which are subject to generation (becoming) and corruption (ceasing to be). In a Christian context, it means things that are created, not uncreated. Hence, what Evagrius is referring to here is the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created objects, second natural contemplation.

This chapter is a partial portrait of the dispassionate man. It also clarifies what dispassion (apatheia) is: the condition that a rational soul has when it is according to nature. Note, however, that the description of the rational part of the soul, the mind (nous), indicates that Evagrius is positioning the ascetic in the second natural contemplation: the ascetic has just finished the practical life and has entered into natural contemplation, the illuminative stage. He has by no means completed his journey. He has become what Evagrius calls a gnostic.

Hence, we see clearly what our goal is: in undertaking the practical life—in becoming monks!—we undertake to bring the three parts of our soul, with the help of Jesus Christ, into operation according to nature. Note, however, that in the Evagrian system dispassion (apatheia) is the sine qua non for commencing the illuminative stage, that of natural gnosis or natural contemplation, and of passing through that to the third stage, that of Theology or union with God. We who write have not begun.

St Hesychios adopts this model wholeheartedly, making the adaptations with the Prayer of Jesus that we have already indicated.

In the next chapter, Evagrius continues to discuss and to clarify the connections between the practical life and the life of contemplation or gnosis. In the final three chapters of this section, TPL 88, 89 and 90, he discusses the virtues, before turning to his little Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

87 He who progresses in the practical life reduces the passions;

This should now be clear to us.

he who progresses in contemplation, ignorance.

The transition from the practical life to the life of natural contemplation or gnosis is a transition from the purification of the desiring part and the irascible part of the soul to the purification of the rational part of the soul, the mind (nous). As we have already indicated, for dogmatic reasons we prefer to treat the transition as being more relative than Evagrius suggests: we would say that the weight changes from the purification of the passionate part of the soul in the practical life to the purification of the rational part in natural contemplation, without our ever having attained to perfection in any purification.

The purification of the rational part of the soul, however, is not a matter of book learning, but of the dispassionate contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created things, of angels and finally of God. This is a spiritual activity, since these reasons (logoi) are apprehended intuitively (spiritually, mentally) and not by means of ratiocination working with intellectual propositions. Hence, the great emphasis of Evagrius on the necessity of dispassion (apatheia) before entering into the stage of natural contemplation is both a matter of moral purity and a matter of contemplative psychology: the moral purity of dispassion (apatheia) is necessary in a general sense and, as we have indicated, it is also a precondition for that cessation of the remembrances of created objects that is necessary for contemplation.

And there is at some time the complete destruction of the passions;

As Orthodox, we can take this to be in Heaven and at the General Resurrection of the Dead.

of ignorance, then, they say that of one part there is an end,

In the Evagrian system, this is ignorance concerning created things. This probably hints at Evagrius’ own doctrine of the Restoration of All Things, when, according to Evagrius, all created things except the naked minds (noes) will be destroyed.[14] Since this doctrine was explicitly anathematized by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, it is well not to dwell on it.

but of the other part there is not.

This is ignorance concerning God himself, the object of contemplation in the third, unitive stage of Theology. There is no end to our ignorance of the Beloved.

88 Those things which according to their use are good or bad become constructive of the virtues and the vices.

I have a scalpel. With it, I can heal someone by doing surgery on his hand. With it, I can kill someone by sticking it into his heart. The scalpel is good or bad according to its use. Hence, it is constructive of the virtues or vices in me according to how I use it. It is a tool; my intention determines how I morally will use this tool—this scalpel.

It is the work of prudence, then, to use these things towards one or the other end.

This is a fundamental definition of prudence. It is for prudence to use the things of this world for virtue or for vice (this is the sense of ‘end’ here). This should give those who cultivate a sense of spontaneity grounds for sober thought. We have responsibility for our actions.

The next two chapters no longer need interpretation. TPL 89 is a repetition and deepened analysis of the basic schema of TPL 86 of the operation of the three parts of the soul according to nature in the dispassionate man, an analysis which lists the main virtues. The Guillaumonts make the point that the wise teacher that Evagrius refers to is St Gregory the Theologian; we have no reason to doubt this ascription, which is confirmed by a parallel passage in Gnostic 44. We ourselves presented in Chapters I and II of Volume I St Gregory of Nyssa’s discussion of Christian anthropology with his sister, St Macrina, which discussion presents the same tripartite division of the human soul. The Guillaumonts have in their notes on this chapter an interesting discussion of Evagrius’ Peripatetic source for TPL 89. However, it is clear that coming out of the circle of the Cappadocian Fathers, Evagrius was building on the formation he received at their hands.

Some small clarifications. Charity is placed in the desiring part of the soul, not in the irascible part, where we ourselves would expect to find it, as a virtue more connected to the will than to the affect. This appears to be an oversight, since KG I, 84 reads as follows:

To the nous are united gnosis and ignorance; the epithumia is susceptible of chastity and lust; and to the thumos love and hate have the custom to occur.

Meekness, strangely enough, is not referred to, although it is a central concept in Evagrian thought. We believe that that is because Evagrius treats meekness and spiritual charity as playing structurally identical roles in his system: at one time he refers to meekness, at another time to spiritual charity, but he is really saying the same thing. As we mentioned, in the quotations in On Sobriety that St Hesychios takes from St Maximos the Confessor that are based on Evagrius, St Maximos sometimes puts humility in the place occupied by meekness or spiritual charity in Evagrius’ system.

‘Understanding (sunesis) is a virtue which manages harmoniously all those things which contribute to the goal.’: The goal is set by prudence.

The work of charity is to give ourselves into the hand of each image of God—each person—almost (an important qualification) as much as we give ourselves into the hands of the God who is their Prototype (since they are in his image), even should the demons be attempting to pollute them. That is: even should the image of God not be working towards his salvation, or else even should he be struggling for virtue, falling and standing from hour to hour and from day to day. It is not only for the virtuous that we should sacrifice ourselves. We ourselves saw this charity in operation in the great Starets, Fr Paisios.

TPL 90 is based on Psalm 125, 5–6:

Those that sow in tears shall reap in exultation. Going, they went out sowing their seeds; coming, then, they shall be in exultation carrying their sheaves.

The tears are tears of repentance; the seeds are of the virtues; the sheaves are of the gnosis given by contemplation. Going out, then, we are purging ourselves of vice in the purgative stage of the practical life. Coming, then, we are reaping and carrying the sheaves of the contemplation of created things and working towards a full knowledge of our Lord in Jesus Christ. Let us work, then, at our field until the day that the Lord call us.

89 Since, according to our wise teacher, the rational soul is composed of three parts, when virtue occurs in the rational part, it is called prudence and understanding and wisdom. When it occurs in the desiring part, chastity, charity and continence. When in the temper, manliness and patient endurance. In the whole soul, justice. And the work of prudence is to conduct as general the war against the opposed powers; and to defend the virtues, to stand prepared against the vices and to administer neutral things according to the seasons. Of understanding, to manage harmoniously all those things that contribute for us to the goal. Of wisdom, to contemplate the reasons of bodies and bodiless [powers]. The work of chastity, to view dispassionately those objects which set irrational imaginations in motion in us. Of charity, to give one’s very self into the hands of each image of God, as to the Prototype, almost, even should the demons be attempting to pollute them. Of continence, to shake off from oneself with joy every pleasure of the throat. Not to dread the enemies and to persevere zealously in terrible things are of patient endurance and manliness. Of justice, to work a certain agreement and harmony of the parts of the soul.

90 The fruit of the seeds, the sheaves. Of the virtues, gnosis. And as tears follow on the seeds, thus joy follows on the sheaves.

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[1] Letters E or G.

[2] See Section 8, ‘The Evagrian Demonology’, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[3] We have always translated logismos by thought; and thought always translates logismos unless otherwise stated, or unless the context makes it clear that thought in its ordinary acceptation is intended.

[4] TPL 63, above.

[5] Recall St Macrina’s analysis (Chapter II of Volume I) of how this came to be: the animals have sense-perception and are governed by the pleasures of the senses; man received sense-perception as a basis for mind or nous in a material body; but with sense-perception he also received the pleasures of the senses. We pointed out earlier that with respect to the passions of the soul or the passions of man as man (self-love, pride, vainglory and so on), this model might seem forced unless we were to take ‘pleasures of the senses’ in a rather broad sense, or even to adopt the insights of modern psychology into the genesis of the passions of the adult in the infant or child. See Chapter III of Volume I and the discussion earlier in this commentary.

[6] See Volume III.

[7] We do not claim that St Mark has a direct dependence on Evagrius: there is nothing that St Hesychios quotes or that we are otherwise aware of in St Mark’s collected works (Mark) that would indicate that.

[8] Cf. 1 Pet. 5, 8.

[9] John 14, 23–4.

[10] Step 26, 1 in both Ladder G and Ladder E.

[11] We discussed these in Chapters III (Section 5), IV and V of Volume I; we will discuss them again in the Digression later on in this volume.

[12] Ladder G Step 4, 122–3; = Ladder E Step 4, 120 (part).

[13] See TPL 98, below.

[14] See Chapter III in Volume II.


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