A Catholic Monthly Magazine

A School for Prayer (10) – Evagrius of Pontus (2)

By Fr Craig  Larkin SM, 1943 - 2015

‘Thoughts’ are the most significant things for Evagrius of Pontus, and he considers that these are at the beginning of difficulties for anyone on the spiritual journey. What causes us trouble is not our feelings or even our actions, but first of all our thoughts.

Evagrius of Pontus

Logismoi

Evagrius calls these ‘thoughts’ Logismoi (Greek) [singular: logismos] and we will continue to use this term.

Logismoi are like uncontrolled ideas that rise up spontaneously and without invitation, that roam around in our minds freely, and which, if encouraged, can lead us to inappropriate action. But in themselves, at the beginning, they are neither good nor bad; they are just thoughts.

Logismoi pose a potentially lethal threat to the monk because they can end up by deflecting him from his main purpose and cause him to give up his vocation.

Evagrius named eight Logismoi: Gluttony, Lust, Avarice, Anger, Sadness, Vainglory (Vanity), Pride and Listlessness (Acedia).

A simplified version of an icon often found in Orthodox monasteries. Arrows and spears directed against the monk are identified by inscriptions as various “passions”.

These are at the base of all our wayward thinking or action.

Gluttony

The logismos of Gluttony isn’t initially actual over-eating, but a thought about how a monk’s ascetical life might endanger his health. He becomes anxious, that as he gets older, he may not have the right type or the right amount of food. He becomes fastidious about his fasting. He wonders whether his health will be damaged by fasting.

He becomes obsessively concerned about how he should take care of himself. He finds ways of compensating for his ascetical life. The monk begins to dream of food and provisions.

He then starts to think that life outside the monastery might be better.

If unchecked …

If left unchecked, this logismos leads to disordered eating; either too much fasting, or too much eating. Both of these disorders lead to heaviness of body and soul, and to sexual sins of fornication and loss of purity.

I wonder if anyone breaks free of this struggle against gluttony before he dies John Climacus.

Lust

The logismos of Lust begins to trouble us from the time of our youth. This logismos attacks more strenuously those who practice continence, in the hope that they will give up their way of life, feeling that they gain nothing by it.

At the beginning this is not actual engagement in sexual relationships, but a preoccupation about the need for companionship; anxieties about being left alone, forgotten, unloved. The monk begins to fear loneliness, and becomes anxious about who might care for him in his old age.

The monk thinks that perhaps this is the time to return to where he came from and find a companion for life.

If unchecked …

If left unchecked, this logismos tempts the monk to try the experience of a sexual relationship “just once and then stop.”

But then the crafty creature, having exploited the memory of having sinned once, urges the monk to try again
John Climacus.

Do not imagine that you will overwhelm this logismos by entering into dialogue or argument with it.

Avarice

The logismos of Avarice (Greed) has been called “a spirit with countless heads”. It is insatiable and is said to be the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), because it causes hatred, theft, envy, hostility, remembrance of past wrongs, and revenge.

It begins as a thought that creeps into the monk’s mind when he looks into the future and begins to think what it might be like if he were without resources for his old age. He begins to think about gathering resources so that he will not be left alone. He starts to find ways of earning money and keeping a little private supply.

If unchecked …

If this logismos is unchecked, it leads a monk to three types of temptation, all condemned in Scripture:

1.  The temptation of someone who was poor before entering the monastery to acquire and save the things they lacked in the world (Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:27).

2.  The temptation to take back what one has given up at the beginning of the religious journey (Judas in Matthew 27:5).

3.  The temptation not to hand in things that should belong to the community (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-19).

Unchecked greed gives rise to other troubles.
Waves never leave the sea. Anger and gloom never leave the greedy person
John Climacus.

Anger

The logismos of Anger is one of the most common of the logismoi and one of the most dangerous.

Like water boiling in a pot, Anger is constantly on the point of letting off steam. For example, a monk has been injured by the words of another. He lodges this hurt in his mind and strokes it until it becomes resentment. He broods over the injury. He starts to make speeches in his mind during prayer. The thought disturbs the monk’s sleep.

If unchecked …

If this logismos is unchecked, it leads to ‘free-floating anger’, the state of someone who is touchy, irritable, always ready to be hurt, always ready for an argument, hard to get on with, suspicious of others, regarding others as ‘the enemy’, hyper-critical.   

Next month

Sadness, Vainglory (Vanity), Pride, Listlessness (Acedia), and ‘Cracks in the heart’.


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