A Catholic Monthly Magazine

A School for Prayer (11) – Evagrius of Pontus (3)

By Fr Craig  Larkin sm, 1943 - 2015

‘Thoughts’ or logismoi 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.

Vainglory

The logismos of Vainglory or Vanity makes a person think about himself as the centre of life, and causes him to seek to be regarded as important. It plays into a person’s need to be the centre of attention, to be noticed, to be given ‘due recognition’, and to ‘show off’.

The monk begins to think of himself as a writer of spiritual books, as a personality around whom others gather, as a spiritual director, or even as a saint. He is tempted to be ordained a priest. The Desert Fathers had a piece of advice for monks: “Avoid bishops!” In this way they would avoid the temptation to be ordained a priest. 

Fantasies about being above one’s station were reflections of the logismos of Vainglory.

If unchecked

The logismos of vainglory is difficult to fight against because it has many forms and appears in all activities: in the way a person may speak, or dress, in how a person deals with people, or in how they pray, in how they put up with sickness, or in how they look after others.

“Vanity is an underwater rock; if you run against it you lose your cargo.”

Sadness

The logismos of Sadness arises when our desires are not fulfilled. Sadness is a nostalgic thought about when life was much better. The monk begins to think about what he lost in giving up everything for God. He asks, “Is this what I gave up everything for?” ”Does God care anymore?” “Does anyone care anymore?”

This sadness is different from repentance - or penthos – which leads to tranquility of mind. This sadness – regret for what one has lost – leads to disturbance of mind.

If unchecked …

The logismos of Sadness, if unchecked, prevents someone from praying gladly, from living with thankfulness and joy, from reading Scripture with any pleasure, from being gentle and compassionate towards others. It fills the soul with bitterness and tiredness. Then it suggests that the person should get away from others, withdraw from community or from others. It leads to depression and isolation.

Pride

The logismos of Pride is the culmination of all the other logismoi. It is the inevitable outcome of giving in to the others. In the end it is the temptation to deny that God is our helper, and to believe that we ourselves are the cause of our virtue.

Pride gives the monk a big head in regard to others, judging them to be stupid because they do not all think as he does. He wants to be in charge of others. He wants to control his life and the lives of others.

If unchecked …

If this logismos is not checked, it is followed by thoughts of Anger and Sadness, which eventually destroy the monk. It leads him to a kind of self-sufficiency, considering himself as not accountable to anyone but himself. It makes him blind to any of his faults, self-justifying and self-excusing. Evagrius saw Pride as one step away from madness.

Listlessness

The logismos of Listlessness or Acedia is the most common, the most oppressive of the logismoi and the one that causes most trouble. 

It begins as a thought of tiredness and boredom. It begins with the thought of “dropping out of the fight” and settling for less. It is connected with indolence and laziness, lack of reverence, impulsiveness in speech and action, and the inability to be still. A good sign of this logismos is how quickly we begin to grow tired when it is time to pray.

If unchecked …

This logismos leads a monk to settle for an easy life, to give up the hard work of asceticism, to stop reading Scripture, to stop praying, to become cynical and critical, to want to be constantly changing occupations, to want to move from one place to another.

‘Cracks in the heart’

Remember that Evagrius does not see the logismoi as sins or moral defects. They are simply thoughts which cross the mind like clouds, but which have the power to distract a person.

They are sometimes called cracks in the heart, the points in our spiritual lives where we are most vulnerable, the Achilles’ heel of a person’s spiritual life. These cracks in the heart are the starting points for what might lead to inappropriate or sinful action.

Each of us is troubled by every one of these logismoi at some stage. All of us have a tendency to be troubled by one or two of them for all of our lives.

To find out which are the most troublesome thoughts, or where the cracks in the heart are to be found, it’s useful to notice one’s thoughts: where do they come from, when do they arise, and where do they lead me.

This is why the Desert tradition insists that a disciple should reveal to his Spiritual Father all his thoughts. The wise Spiritual Father can help the disciple to interpret and deal with his logismoi.

Above all, the disciple can learn how to resist these logismoi. This is the function of the ascetical life.  


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