26 September 2009

Defining Logismoi—From Evagrius to Brad Pitt


In the second post I did here at Logismoi (here), I spoke briefly about the title of the blog and its meaning, quoting St Hesychius the Presbyter on the struggle to attain to a prayer free of logismoi. Think of it as a ‘dictionary definition’ of logismoi. But a few months ago or so, I noticed on StatCounter that I’d had a visitor from Newport News, VA, who arrived here through a Google search for the keywords ‘encyclopedia definition of logismoi’. Although I noted in the earlier post that logismoi was ‘the Greek word for “thoughts”, but it also carries the connotation of “temptations”’, I thought something a bit more like an ‘encyclopeia definition’ might be welcome, for myself and other readers as much as for my no doubt disappointed Virginian reader.

Fortunately, in his article, ‘Asceticism’, for the Encyclopedia of Christian Theology, Vol. 1: A-F, ed. Jean-Yves Lacoste (London: Routledge, 2004), Fr Andrew Louth has given something very like this. Summarising the seminal ascetic theology of Evagrius Ponticus, Fr Louth writes:

At this stage, Evagrius introduces a much more elaborate understanding of the temptations and propensities of the human person. Temptations play on the natural reactions, called in Greek pathè, or ‘passions’. These passions are brought into play by thoughts or images, which Evagrius calls logismoi: perhaps not so much ‘thoughts’ as ‘series of thoughts’. (p. 98)

Again though, it is perhaps a bit succinct. Columba Stewart has a paper called, ‘Evagrius Ponticus and the “Eight Generic Logismoi”’, in the volume In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages, ed. Richard Newhauser (Toronto: PIMS, 2005), where he elabourates somewhat on the information provided by Fr Louth:

Because the praktike is the groundwork for contemplative possibility, Evagrius devotes considerable attention to the logismoi and their management. The term logismos carried some negative connotations because it was used by Origen and in the Life of Antony to refer to evil thoughts. Though Evagrius typically used logismos as they did, the term was not necessarily pejorative and was certainly less judgmental than ‘sin’ or ‘vice’. Evagrius sought a certain diagnostic detachment, and using logismos as a technical term allowed him to distinguish between the source of a thought, which was often beyond human control, and its reception, which required human cooperation. Although bad thoughts are an inevitable part of human experience, the passions—understood to mean the irrational faculties of epithumia and thumos—need not engage them. Cultivating the virtues was essential for defending oneself against the unavoidable assaults by the thoughts. Evagrius maintained that despite their inevitability, demonic suggestions can be resisted, though the instability of the human mind makes prolonged dalliance with such logismoi highly dangerous. (p. 17)

But still, it seems to me worthwhile to give briefly Evagrius’s list of the logismoi themselves, quoting his initial statements about each of them. From The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, trans. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981), pp. 16-20:

6. There are eight general and basic categories of thoughts in which are included every thought. First as that of gluttony, then impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and last of all, pride. It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.

7. The thought of gluttony suggests to the monk that he give up his ascetic efforts in short order. It brings to his mind concern for his stomach, for his liver and spleen, the thought of a long illness, scarcity of the commodities of life and finally of his edematous body and the lack of care by the physicians. . . .

8. The demon of impurity impels one to lust after bodies. . . . This demon has a way of bowing the soul down to practices of an impure kind, defilint it, and causing it to speak and hear certain words almost as if the reality were actually present to be seen.

9. Avarice suggests to the mind a lengthy old age, inability to perform manual labor (at some future date), famines that are sure to come, sickness that will visit us, the pinch of poverty, the great shame that comes from accepting the necessities of life from others.

10. Sadness tends to come up at times because of the deprivations of one’s desires. On other occasions it accompanies anger. . . .

11. The most fierce passion is anger. In fact it is defined as a boiling and stirring up of wrath against one who has given injury—or is thought to have done so. . . .

12. The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon—is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. . . . [This one requires an explanation too long to fit here! See this later post.]

13. The spirit of vainglory is most subtle and it readily grows up in the souls of those who practice virtue. It leads them to desire to make their struggles known publicly, to hunt after the praise of men. . . .

14. The demon of pride is the cause of the most damaging fall for the soul. For it induces the monk to deny that God is his helper and to consider that he himself is the cause of virtuous actions. Further, he gets a big head in regard to the brethren, considering them stupid because they do not all have this same opinion of him. . . .

Of course Evagrius’s illustrious disciple, St John Cassian, even follows his master’s order—except for switching sadness and anger—when he devotes a book to each of the logismoi (Books 5-12) in The Institutes, trans. Boniface Ramsey (NY: Newman, 2000), pp. 113-279 (with the exception of the prudishly omitted Book VI ‘On the Spirit of Fornication’, the entire thing is available online here in an older translation). St Cassian refers to them as ‘the eight principle vices’, and helpfully defines acedia for us as ‘anxiety or weariness of heart’ (Inst. V.1; p. 117)—indeed, Ramsey calls St Cassian’s description of the latter in Inst. X.2 (pp. 219-20) perhaps ‘the most familiar passage in The Institutes—and, indeed, in all of Cassian’s writings’, and a ‘justly renowned chapter’ which ‘shows Cassian at his best’ (pp. 6-7). Along with a portion of the Conferences, this part of the Institutes was translated into Greek in an abbreviated form and included in the Philokalia, the only Latin works to be so honoured.

In his Moralia in Job (XXXI.lxv.87), St Gregory the Great was to take St Cassian’s ‘eight principle vices’ and revise them into a list of seven, all springing from pride—‘For pride [superbia] is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness; Pride is the beginning of all sin. But seven principle vices, as its first progeny, spring doubtless from this poisonous root, namely, vain glory [vanagloria], envy [invidia], anger [ira], melancholy [acedia], avarice [avaritia], gluttony [gula], lust [luxuria]’ (Morals on the Book of Job, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, trans. J. Bliss [Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1850], p. 490). Although, as one can see, St Gregory calls these ‘seven principle [capital] vices’, following St Cassian’s terminology, it seems that later ‘capital’ was interpreted in the sense of ‘deserving of death’. Thus, with the absorption of vainglory into pride, the change of acedia to socordia, or ‘sloth’, and the restriction of the sense of luxuria to ‘lust’, St Gregory’s list became the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’, famed in art, song, and verse, from the seven cornices of Dante’s Mt Purgatory (diagrammatically arranged here), to the movie Se7en and the Iron Maiden lyrics, ‘Seven deadly sins / seven ways to win’, and even a suggestion of correspondence between the Sins and the seven Chronicles of Narnia (see other examples listed here or on the Wikipedia page). In the Middle Ages they were often listed in a slightly modified order to yield the Latin mnemonic device, SALIGIA. Of course, as Barbara Rosenwein points out, ‘When they appear—in the Moralia in Job—they are not singled out for historical stardom; they are simply invoked to illustrate, as Gregory often did, the “thoughts”—that is, in Stoic terms, the “emotions”—that assail people’ (Emotional communities in the early Middle Ages [Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 2006], p. 81).

As for the term logismoi itself, apparently forgotten in the Western tradition of vices, and more especially, of ‘deadly sins’, it has gained a new lease on life among English-speaking Orthodox Christians, largely it seems as a result of Kyriacos Markides’s The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality (NY: Image, 2002). The teaching on the logismoi of ‘Father Maximos’ in chapter 9, especially on pp. 118-30, can be found referred to frequently on the Internet. As helpful as that teaching is, however, I thought it desireable, for a change, to go back to some of the earliest sources on the subject.

7 comments:

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Very nice, Aaron. Gold star!

aaronandbrighid said...

Why, thank you sir! I've never been given a star before. Is there some way to post it on the blog for display?

Brother Charles said...

Great post. May many search-engine using potential ascetics find their to it! Thanks for the blog, which I have been perusing for a while, but without comment until now. Peace.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

So, what does this have to do with Brad Pitt?

aaronandbrighid said...

Br Charles> Thanks! It's always nice to know when I somehow manage to attract non-Orthodox readers.

Matthew> Sorry, I realised that might be a bit obscure but I enjoy a good juxtaposition and I like to make readers think about these things. Pitt was the star of the movie, Se7en, where he played a cop investigating a series of murders based on the 7 deadly sins. I referred to it in the post.

Chadeus said...

Thanks for the post. May I ask, what is the source of the drawing (icon?) at the beginning of the post?

aaronandbrighid said...

Chadeus> I found it online somewhere, but I'm not sure where it actually originates. I will say it looks like the work of Rallis Kopsidis, who was a student of the great iconographer Photios Kontoglou and is now famous for his iconographic line drawings.