Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Evagrius on "Logismoi"

I came across a useful introduction to Evagrius of Pontus – Evagrius the Solitary (345-359) – by Fr Hugh Feiss OSB on the website of the Monastery of the Ascension in Idaho.

The following extract deals with the question of logismoi – a concept fundamental to the ascetical life as understood in Greek-speaking theology, and introduced into the Latin-speaking West by (most noitably) John Cassian and Pope St Gregory the Great.

Fr Feiss explains that for Evagrius:

The ascetical life is a struggle, a war, against the enemies of the soul: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil can’t reach the intellect; he can only arouse images and illusions. The devil cannot prevail against people unless they let him. Temptation becomes stronger as one grows in the spiritual life.

So how does one wage this ongoing war against the world, the flesh, and the devil? Fr Feiss offers a very clear account of the Evagrian answer to this question:

One must guard the heart. Attention is the mother of prayer. The best method of repelling the evil logismoi is antirrhesis, countering a temptation with a scripture quotation as Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert. One can also invoke the name of Jesus. One must discern the source of thoughts.

Antony [St Antony the Great] said good visions give rise to joy unspeakable and to strength and calmness of thought; others bring apprehension, confusion, dejection, sloth, hatred, fear, and instability. Whatever is disquieting comes from the devil. Each person needs to examine his conscience and manifest his thoughts to a spiritual father.

The list of the eight kinds of logismoi which Evagrius provides is the basis for (though a little different from) St Gregory the Great’s list of seven deadly sins, and is summarised by Fr Feiss with helpful explanations – taking account of the fact that logismoi are categories of thought, characteristic expecially though by no means exclusively of monks living in the desert, rather than types of action or patterns of behaviour:

1 Gluttony. Anxiety about one’s health, leading to inordinate concern about food. When Evagrius’ own diet of uncooked foods made him sick, he switched to cooked food.

2 Fornication. Desire for imaginary bodies, as unreal as the sicknesses mentioned above. This vice like the preceding tries to seduce us from orderly moral regimen.

3 Greed. Futile planning for an unreal future.

4 Sadness, which often follows from indulging in foolish wants or not getting what we want.

5 Anger. Can ruin health and cause bad dreams. Rather than brooding on our wrongs, we should go out of our way to do good to the person who wronged us.

6 Acedia (melancholy; depression). Listlessness, weariness of heart, which tempts the monk to abandon his calling.

7 Vain glory: Vain glory is daydreaming about our greatness, holiness, etc.

8 Pride: supposing we can do anything without God.

Fr Feiss notes that, according to Evagrius,

these eight all arise from self-love. They all involve the wrong notion about God. They trap us into an unreal world centered on ourselves and lead to a false God. Thus they make impossible the pure prayer which is our supreme goal.


Richard Collins said...

Oh dear! I think that all 8 strike a chord with me.
This post is a good wake up call, thank you.

Left-footer said...

Late again - sorry.

Me too. Excellent, frightening. Thank you and God bless!