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Chapter II -- 2

She, then, said: You yourself have sought this definition that has been discussed in detail by many others already, whatever it is ever necessary to think these things to be, the desiring part and the irascible part: either, united to the soul (psuche) and from the first directly existing in its construction; or, being something other than the soul and at a later time having become incident to us?

St Macrina is posing the fundamental question: are the irascible and desiring parts of the soul, the temper and the desire, intrinsic to the nature of the soul and therefore to human nature or are they something secondary that has been added to the soul? It should be borne in mind that the Orthodox answer is not the same as the modern secular Western understanding, nor the Protestant conception of man. These are basic issues in Christian anthropology, and they have a far-reaching influence on the soteriology of the Christian who believes in one or another model of man. Let us see what St Macrina is driving at:

On the one hand, that these things are to be seen in the soul is confessed by all equally; on the other hand, reason has not yet found with precision a sure understanding concerning these things, whatever it is necessary to think concerning them, but most men still hesitate over various and deluded opinions concerning these things. For us, however, it would be equally superfluous to put forward the definition concerning the soul as a topic for discussion if indeed the pagan philosophy which artfully discusses these matters were adequate for a proof of the truth. Since, however, the theory concerning the soul proceeded arbitrarily in those things which were according to the apparent chain of reasoning, and [since] we, however, are without a share in this freedom—this freedom, I say, to say whatever we wish—, having adopted Holy Scripture as the law and as the rule of every dogma, looking at this matter, we necessarily accept this alone: whatever, indeed, might be in agreement with the purpose of those things that are written.

Note that the agreement is with the purpose of Scripture. There is a certain irony in the treatment of the pagan philosophy of soul. The philosophers spoke freely according to the apparent chain of reasoning. We must turn to the purpose of Scripture.

Therefore, passing by the Platonic chariot and the pair of foals yoked to it which are not similarly disposed to each other in their impulsions, and the charioteer which is over them, by means of all of which things, he [i.e. Plato] philosophizes allegorically in regard to the things of this sort concerning the soul;

The two horses are the irascible and the desiring parts of the soul; these two parts of the soul do not have similar drives. Over them is the reason or mind. This rejection of Plato cannot be a rejection of the Platonic tripartite schema of the human soul since St Macrina retains it. It is a rejection of the non-Christian elements in Plato’s handling of it. Moreover there is a certain rhetorical device of drawing attention to something by claiming to pass over it in silence that is in operation here.

and again as much as the philosopher after that one, who following artfully in the things which appear and minutely examining with care those things which now lie before us, pronounced by means of these things the soul to be mortal,

This is Aristotle.

‘Following artfully in the things which appear’: Reasoning based on sensible phenomena, the Aristotelian philosophical method.

‘Pronounced the soul to be mortal’: This is interesting as a witness to a Fourth Century late Classical interpretation of Aristotle. St Macrina reads Aristotle to pronounce the soul to be mortal. Again, what is here rejected is whatever in St Macrina’s view is non-Christian. St Macrina’s anthropology is indebted to Aristotle’s psychology, especially as concerns the division of soul into vegetative, sensible and rational souls (plant, animal and human-angelic). What St Macrina is doing is defining an eclectic—as regards philosophical provenance—theory of the soul which in her view does justice to the revelation of Scripture concerning the soul.

and abandoning all those before these and after them who philosophized in prose or in a certain rhythm and metre, let us make the aim of our discussion divinely-inspired Scripture which legislates that we must think nothing of the soul to be special which is not also truly a property of the Divine Nature.

This is a profound statement. We might say that we are here at the heart of Macrinian anthropology. For not only does this statement provide a criterion for deciding what is natural to the soul, but it also has far-reaching consequences in any theory of virtue, in any discussion of what is according to nature and what is contrary to nature in man—that is, as a basis for the ascetical and mystical endeavour—and in human action—that is, in any theory of ethics.

We would go so far as to say that this is the anthropology of the Orthodox Church. Let us therefore look carefully at what is being asserted. St Macrina has rejected—as criteria, not as fruitful sources—pagan thinkers. She has then turned to divinely-inspired Scripture and singled out a principle and made it her own: this is the ‘according to the image (kat’ eikona)’ – ‘according to the likeness (kath’ homoiosin)’. As we have already remarked, St Gregory nowhere in any of his writings makes explicit reference to the kath’ homoiosin. However, we here have a complete statement of the principle. What belongs to human nature by nature is precisely what God has as property.[1] As we have seen, this is in accordance with the account of the creation of man in Genesis: ‘And God said, Let us make man according to our image and likeness…’[2]

St Macrina will use the principle that whatever man has by nature as the image of God, God himself has—we have already seen that in the creation of man the only difference between the human soul and God was that man was created and God uncreated—first as a criterion to establish that the mind (nous) is the image of God and that the irascible and desiring parts are not intrinsic to the nature of man, and then to discuss the operations of the parts of the soul according to nature and contrary to nature. For if what man has by nature is what is a property of God, then the program for the Christian—any Christian, but especially the ascetic—is to restore in himself the properties which he had by nature in Adam before Adam fell. To this program St Gregory makes explicit reference in On the Making of Man. Hence, here we implicitly find the distinction ‘according to the image (kat’ eikona)’ – ‘according to the likeness (kath’ homoiosin)’, for the kath’ homoiosin is precisely the condition of likeness to God, the condition of having reacquired in oneself the properties of God. The kat’ eikona is the mind (nous), the image of God, which although Adam fell retains the potentiality of a return to possessing the properties of God.[3]

There is one aspect of this theology which is ambiguous, that which St Macrina herself has pointed out: is the image of God to be found only in the mind (nous) or also in the irascible part and the desiring part when they operate according to nature? It is clear that St Macrina and St Gregory take the position that the image is only in the mind (nous). However, it is also clear that they envisage an operation according to nature for the other two parts of the soul in the living person. The only question is this: in the Resurrection, will these two parts of the soul, the temper and the desire, be present operating according to nature? Or will they have been lost, as St Gregory seems to suggest? We ourselves do not wish to dogmatize.

The principle that by nature the soul of man when it was created had those properties which God himself has gives full force to the words of our Lord: ‘Be ye therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.’[4] It turns the Sermon on the Mount, that summit of Christian perfection, into an expression of those properties of God himself, both moral and spiritual, which God himself calls on all Christians to emulate—and that not only in external behaviour but in their very being.

St Macrina can make the statement that by nature man has exactly the same properties as God because of her development of the ‘according to the image (kat’ eikona)’, where she stated that man was created identical to God with the sole exception that man had a created (and therefore finite) nature, whereas God is the uncreated and infinite Creator. Moreover, elsewhere, St Macrina remarks that the properties of God are transmitted to man. Given her emphasis on the created nature of man, this must be construed on the order of St Peter’s ‘partakers of the Divine Nature’.[5] (Remember, we are speaking of Paradise before the Fall, and of the ascetical program of return to the condition that Adam and Eve had in Paradise before the Fall.)

Now St Macrina has begun to centre her philosophy on this very likeness of man to God. This provides her with a criterion of what is proper to man, and, as we remarked and shall see, with a program of ascesis.

Let us continue:

For he who has said that the soul is a likeness of God has pronounced that everything alien to God is outside the definition of the soul. For the similarity would not be saved in those things which have been changed. Therefore, since nothing of this sort [i.e. anger and desire] is contemplated together with the Divine Nature, neither would one suggest that these things [i.e. anger and desire] are united with the soul according to its definition.

A definition is a statement of the essence of a thing; it is not merely a pointer towards a thing. Hence, for something to be excluded from the definition of the soul is for it to be excluded from its nature or essence.

This is fundamental to Christian and Orthodox anthropology. What is a property of the essence or inner nature of man is what is a property of God—except that man was created a finite being. Hence, the dignity of man is very great: he is an icon of God. He was created in the image of God. Through sin he lost the complete likeness to God. He is called to return to being a complete likeness of God. This, of course, is divinization (theosis) and this is the ascetical program.

It might again be remarked that the Gospel—and especially Christ’s death on the Cross, here taken merely in its exemplary aspect without reference to its salvific aspect—is precisely a statement of the properties of God. In other words, Christ’s actions, his words, his deeds, his miracles, his commandments all manifest the properties of God, and it is these which constitute Christian perfection, culminating in Christ’s death on the Cross: ‘Greater love than this no man has, that he lay down his life on behalf of his friends.’[6] Hence, when the non-Orthodox wonders ‘Well isn’t the concept of divinization (theosis) dangerous?’ we answer ‘No,’ because the Gospel manifests the unalterable properties of God that are the properties of the divinized man. The divinized man is precisely he who has the perfection of Christ, who laid down his life out of love. The divinized man is he who hears the parables of the Good Shepherd and of the Good Samaritan, who obeys the precepts of the Gospel, which despises self-exaltation and arrogance, that Gospel which says ‘He who exalts himself will be humbled,’[7] and ‘Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.’[8] Man never departs from his weak and finite nature. Moreover, it will be seen that, ultimately, the virtues, which are the perfections or excellences of the parts of the soul and which are the properties of God, are transmitted to man by the Grace of God, by the Holy Spirit.

Let us continue:

Let us also excuse ourselves from establishing our dogmas according to the art of dialectic by means of syllogistic and analytical science, as being rotten and suspect in the demonstration of the truth, discourse of such a sort; for it is apparent to all that the dialectical meticulousness has equal power for each thing: towards the overthrow of the truth and also towards the condemnation of the lie. Whence we often hold even the very truth to be suspect when it is brought forth with a certain skill of this sort, as if the severity in regard to these things were misleading our intellect (dianoia) and failing to reach the truth. If, then, one were to admit an uncontrived argument that was naked of every covering, we will speak, as far as it might be possible, according to the chain of the scriptural narrative, introducing the contemplation concerning these things.

What is it, therefore, that we are saying? This rational animal, man, is borne witness to even by those who are outside our doctrine, that he is receptive of perception and scientific knowledge, and this definition would not thus trace out our nature if it indeed viewed anger and desire and all the such-like as being consubstantial with our nature. For in regard to something else, one would not at all render the definition of the subject stating the common property instead of the peculiar property. For since the desiring part and the irascible part are seen in both the irrational and the rational nature equally, one would not reasonably characterize the peculiar property from the common property. What then is redundant and worthless towards the outline of the nature—how is it to have force as part of the nature towards the overthrow of the definition? For every definition of an essence looks towards the peculiar property of the subject.

This seems to be a logical fallacy. In both Platonic and Aristotelian terms, it is suspect. The Platonic and Aristotelian method of definition is essentially hierarchical: Man is an animal.[9] But in Platonic and Aristotelian definitions, what is subsumed as species under a generic category necessarily contains the properties of that generic category.[10] Hence, man has all the properties that characterize an animal, not just those which are peculiar to him, namely mind (nous) and understanding. All living beings are alive vegetatively. Hence, so is man. Some also have a sensible soul. Man is in this group, so he also has a sensible soul. A subset of the living beings with a vegetative and a sensible soul also has mind (nous). This group has one member—man. But, in both Platonic and Aristotelian terms, while it is true that mind (nous) is the peculiar property of man, it is not true that the sensible and vegetative souls are irrelevant to his essence. They are a part of man also—part of his logical pedigree. Now, it may be ontologically correct, in accordance with Revelation,[11] that men will lose in the Resurrection their sensible and vegetative souls. But one cannot construct a logical proof of this based on Platonic dialectic or Aristotelian logic.

As rendered by her brother, St Macrina views the peculiar property as an expression of the essence of the subject. This may be equivalent to the reason (logos) of the subject, the logos which in the wisdom of God is as it were the model of the subject. In this case, St Macrina would be correct: all other aspects of the subject would be incidental, contingent, accidental. In this case also, there would be no hierarchical structuring: the essences would be ontologically separate, and hierarchical relationships among them would be inferential, the work of man, and contingent. This is neither Platonic dialectic nor Aristotelian ontology. It might be a more Stoic or Neoplatonic approach to essence.

Let us continue:

Whatever might be outside that which is peculiar is disregarded as alien to the definition. But, certainly, that the operation according to anger and desire is common to all the irrational nature is admitted. Every common property is not the same as the peculiar property. It is therefore necessary by means of these arguments to consider that those things in which human nature is especially characterized are not in these things [i.e. anger and desire]. But just as, seeing the perceptive and nutritive and growing aspects in us,

These three terms refer to the quality of having sense-perception (‘perceptive’), characteristic of the animal soul, and to the quality of having nutrition and growth (‘nutritive and growing’), characteristic of the vegetative soul. St Macrina will come to ascribe anger and desire to the animal soul in man. What she is saying is that just as in man the quality of having sense-perception and the quality of having nutrition and growth do not damage the definition of the soul of man that she has given, so the existence in man of the anger and desire does not damage that definition of the soul that she has given.

one does not abolish through these things the definition concerning the soul which has been rendered—for it is not true that because this thing is in the soul, that thing is not—thus also he who comprehends the movements of our nature in regard to anger and desire would not reasonably battle against the definition [we have given], as indicating the nature [of the soul] in a defective way.

As we have said, as a Platonic or Aristotelian argument, this seems fallacious.

I said to the teacher: What therefore must be known concerning these things? For I am not yet able to perceive how it is proper to make separate those things which exist in us, as alien to our nature.

Whatever the merits of her logic, St Macrina now introduces the subject of our work:

She said: You see that it is a sort of battle of the thought against these things

This is the heart of the matter, this ascetical ‘battle of the thought against these things’; and the rest of this work is a study of how this is done, according to St Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius Pontikos and St Hesychios. As we have already seen, this ‘battle of the thought’ against anger and desire has its roots in Classical Greek philosophy, in Stoic asceticism. It even has its roots in Plato’s own asceticism. It is utterly important to grasp, however, that in the authors with which we shall deal, the basis of the ascetical ‘battle of the thought against these things’ is the tripartite soul.

However, we again encounter an ambiguity: In Evagrius and in St Hesychios, the ‘battle of the thought’ is against the operations contrary to nature of the temper and desire, taken as parts of the soul, not against the temper and desire per se. Hence, when we ourselves, as authors of this work, say that the battle is against these things in thought, we mean that the ascetical battle is against the operations contrary to nature of the temper and desire, as expressed in our thoughts. As rendered by her brother, St Macrina wants to go further, and eliminate completely from the definition—from the essence—of the soul, the temper and desire. In fact, we will find that Evagrius, despite his orientation of the return of these parts of the soul to their operation according to nature, also takes the position in his own heterodox cosmology that these two parts of the soul are not of the essence of man.[12] Moreover, St Thomas Aquinas, evidently relying on St Augustine’s Neoplatonizing anthropology, also takes the position that the temper and the desire are not the distinctly human parts of man, although he treats them in a more naturalistic way than St Macrina.[13] However, St Macrina’s own program to eliminate the temper and desire from the definition of the soul, and not merely their operations contrary to nature, proceeds somewhat ambiguously: while her theoretical discussion proceeds along the lines we have indicated, her examples are of operations of the temper and desire contrary to nature.

and exertion to isolate the soul from these things insofar as it might be possible. And there are some at least in whom this exertion is accomplished

This exertion or zeal is something that one makes an effort at; it is not something that happens by itself. That is what ascesis is.

just as we hear in regard to Moses, that that man was greater than temper (thumos) and desire (epithumia),

Note that the fundamental psychological structure of the soul is mind (nous) – temper (thumos) – desire (epithumia). We will not depart from this model. That is, the Greek Fathers maintain this model and the Philokalia is founded on it. Hence, two things are important: First, to understand this model very well—especially where we might be inclined to overlay it with a popular or received Freudian or Jungian or other depth-psychological model—so that we understand how the Fathers thought, how they grasped the human being, including the ascetical endeavour. Second, to grasp that whatever the merits of a Freudian or Jungian or similar model, the Fathers do not use such a model: we will make no endeavour to reinterpret neptic theology[14] in the light of modern psychology; we do not know what fruit, if any, such an endeavour would bear. The author of this commentary has met accomplished practitioners of mental prayer; and while they showed a willingness—sometimes moderate—to make use of modern psychiatry and its medicaments to assist troubled monks and laymen, the author has never seen an interest on their part in recasting Orthodox psychology, as it is being elaborated by St Macrina and the other authors we will discuss, so as to bring it into line with modern psychology of any school whatsoever.

The psychology we are about to elaborate places a great emphasis on the intention, or choice, of man. St Macrina has used the words, ‘battle’ and ‘endeavour’ (or, ‘zeal’). While it will be seen that the person has tendencies contrary to nature (passions), that dreams reveal the state of the person,[15] a fundamental paradigm in the psychology we are about to delineate is this: on the basis of a thought, a person has the free choice to accept to do what the thought suggests or not to accept to do it. In this psychology, man is an agent who can choose to do one of two things: he is an agent who can act on an impulse or resist it. In this, the Greek Fathers are very close both to the Gospel (‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,’[16] implies that the man being called to repentance has the capacity to choose his course of action) and to Aristotle, who sets free and deliberate action as the ground of ethical conduct. Modern psychology has bequeathed to the popular understanding a tendency to think that man is incapable, because of his unconscious drives, of free and deliberate choice. It may well be that the popular understanding—curiously fatalistic—is a misunderstanding and that in the depth-psychological systems the psychologically mature man is he who, freed from bondage to his unconscious complexes, is capable of making free and deliberate choices. We do not know. In neptic theology, however, the monk is supposed by the Fathers to be able to make a free choice: to accept a thought and to act on it, or to reject the thought and not to act on it. Only a seriously deranged man would be considered incapable, as out of his senses, of free and deliberate choice, although the Fathers certainly recognize intermediate cases where a man’s freedom of choice is strong except where one or another passion dominates his ability to make a free choice of his course of action. Moreover, where psychologists today might speak of unconscious drives, the Fathers speak of a soul that has mind (nous), temper (thumos) and desire (epithumia). They never depart from this structure; hence every unconscious drive, in modern parlance, has to be interpreted in terms of this structure: it has to belong to one of these three parts of the soul. Evagrius Pontikos spends much time discussing how what we today might call unconscious drives can be fit into a typology which is in turn dovetailed into this tripartite structure. That is what this work is about—that and how to pray, given this psychological structure and this understanding of human nature.

the [biblical] history bearing witness to him in regard to both, that he was meek more than all men (the lack of wrath and the alienation from anger are indicated by the meekness)

Note the significance of meekness: it is not sentimental, not a sweetness, but the state of being free of the passion we call anger. Let us pose the following question: does St Macrina mean here that Moses was free of the passions of anger and desire? Or that he was free of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul? What is the difference? A passion is an operation or tendency of a part of the soul contrary to nature. Hence, what we are asking is whether St Macrina means that Moses was free of operations and tendencies of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul contrary to nature or whether she means that he was free of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul, pure and simple. Given that St Macrina has insisted that the irascible and desiring parts of the soul are not part of the definition, not part of the essence, of the soul, she seems to mean the latter. In that case, meekness would be construed here to mean an absence of the irascible part of the soul. However, she will later discuss the operation of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul according to nature. Moreover, we will find in Evagrius Pontikos in Volume II that meekness is treated not as an absence of the irascible part of the soul, but both as a therapy of that part of the soul and as a virtue, as an operation of that part of the soul according to nature.

and that he did not desire any of those things in regard to which in most men we see the desiring part set in operation

Again, does St Macrina mean that Moses no longer had a desiring part of his soul or that the desiring part of his soul operated only according to nature?

which very thing would not occur if these things were nature and were to be referred to the definition of the essence [of the soul], for it is not possible for him who has come to be outside nature to remain in being.

This is very important. First, however, let us clarify the last clause. What St Macrina is saying is that if Moses alienates a property from himself without ceasing to exist, it cannot be construed to be an attribute of his essence; and since Moses himself demonstrates that he was free both of anger and of desire, without for all that ceasing to exist, then those two things cannot be construed to be essential parts of Moses’—or anyone else’s—soul. Here it seems clear that St Macrina means that the irascible and desiring parts of the soul are not part of the essence of man: it is not merely a matter of the operations contrary to nature of those parts of the soul, not merely a matter of the passions. We ourselves have some reservations about this formulation, which St Macrina herself will shortly modify. While we do not wish to dogmatize on whether the irascible and desiring parts of the soul are or are not intrinsic to the nature of man, we do take the view that the ascetical endeavour is not a matter of removing these parts of the soul, but of returning them from an operation contrary to nature to an operation according to nature: we see that there are virtues which pertain to these parts of the soul, and that the ascetical program is to remove the passions and acquire the virtues of these parts of the soul. We think that this approach is consistent with the spirituality of the Philokalia.

We are here at the heart of ascetical psychology. We have a tripartite structure of the soul; we are going to free (or, cure) the soul from being dominated by the passions of two parts, anger and desire. Evagrius will mention that the mind (nous) is subject to its own passions of ignorance and delusion, although he does not call them ‘passions’.

Now, the important thing is this: the ascetical program is being set: we are to free ourselves from anger and desire—in what sense, we will see as we proceed. It should be understood that both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment rejected this program—vehemently. They do not accept the underlying anthropology and soteriology. This is the significance of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith: a rejection of the ascetical theology that is based on the anthropology that we are discussing. The Enlightenment, of course, went further, rejecting revealed religion; we saw this in the last chapter. In the West, only the Roman Catholic Church, until our own day, maintained, in its religious orders, this understanding. Here we see a fundamental point on which the Orthodox Church maintains a stance foreign to the wisdom of the West today. It is the Orthodox Church’s understanding of human nature and of the goal of the Christian: what the Christian does from the time of his conversion to Christ, from the time of his Baptism, until he dies.

But, truly, Moses was in being (einai) and was not in these things. Therefore, these things are something other than nature, and not nature, for the true nature is identical to that in which the being (einai) of the substance is comprehended. However, alienation from these things lies within our power, as not only undamaging but as even beneficial to our nature, the disappearance of such things. It is therefore manifest that these things are among those things which are looked upon [as coming] from outside [human nature], being passions or affections (pathe) of nature and not substance (ousia)—for the substance (ousia) is whatever it is.

It seems to the many that anger is a boiling of the blood that surrounds the heart; to others it seems to be an appetite to sorrow in turn him who has previously struck one. As we might understand it, anger is an impulse to distress him who has provoked one. None of these things occur in the definition of the soul.

And if we define desire by itself, we will say that it is an appetite for what is lacking; or a yearning for the enjoyment of pleasure; or sorrow for that which satisfies us but which is not in our power; or a certain relation towards the pleasurable, the enjoyment of which is not present. For all these things and other things of the same sort manifest desire; however, they do not apply to the definition of the soul.

But also as many other things as are viewed in regard to the soul, those things which are seen in opposition to each other, such as cowardice and over-boldness, sorrow and pleasure, fear and contempt, and as many things of this sort, each of which is considered to be disposed in relation to the desiring part and the irascible part but which outlines its own nature with a proper definition. For over-boldness and contempt intimate a certain manifestation of the irascible impulse, whereas the relation which occurs in the matter of cowardice and fear intimates a reduction and diminution of this very same impulse.

Let us look at what is being said. First however, let us remark on what St Macrina appears to understand by anger and desire. Her examples here are of operations of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul contrary to nature; she even goes so far as to include examples such as cowardice and fear which intimate a deficiency in the proper exercise of the irascible part according to nature. Hence, although her theoretical exposition suggests that she is talking about the parts of the soul and not about the operations contrary to nature of the parts of the soul, her examples indicate that, in fact, she is talking about the operations contrary to nature of those parts of the soul. Let us now turn to look at what is being said.

Moses was free of anger and desire: Moses is a model of the completed ascetic, he who has arrived at the goal. Hence, the goal of every Christian—for the ascetic is merely he who dedicates himself fully to the attainment of the Christian goal—is to free himself from anger and desire. Evagrius dwells much on this, and we will see much more of it in the writings of Evagrius that we discuss in Volume II. And in Volume III we will use St Hesychios—based in great part on Evagrius—to approach this matter from the standpoint of prayer.

Now what St Macrina is asserting is that since Moses was free of anger and desire and yet did not cease to be Moses, a man, then anger and desire cannot be part of the essence of man. We might object that a man with one leg or hand is still a man, but that a normal man has two legs or hands. While it is true that this implies that in St Macrina’s view having two legs or hands is not part of the essence of man, a Christian who does not share Orthodox ascetical theology might similarly argue that anger and desire are normal parts of human nature. After all, the Orthodox Church esteems chastity freely undertaken for God whereas many Christians would view it as a unscriptural aberration. We say this to indicate the seriousness of what is here being asserted by St Macrina. Taking her to say that it is necessary for the ascetic to remove the passions of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul, to remove their operations contrary to nature, then we have a certain attitude towards those very passions, an attitude that many non-Orthodox Christians, and many non-Christians, do not share. Moreover, we view the difference between the Orthodox doctrine and the non-Orthodox doctrines that would be opposed to it as being fundamental aspects of different anthropologies, different images of the person in each of those doctrines. Moreover, those different anthropologies are tied to different soteriologies, different doctrines of what salvation is and how it is to be accomplished or attained.

We are here at the root of Orthodox anthropology, and any attempt to recast Orthodox prayer of the basis of another anthropology—perhaps a modern post-Enlightenment or post-Freudian or post-Jungian psychological system, or even a Protestant or Roman Catholic anthropology—is going to produce a man or monk quite different from the traditional Orthodox man or monk if the attempt does not respect this fundamental structure of Orthodox anthropology. In other words, an attempt to break off the methods of Hesychasm and plant them in a different philosophical or theological setting that does not respect the basic orientation of Orthodox anthropology is going to produce results quite different from those which are produced in the Orthodox ascetical tradition.

Note that nothing is said here by St Macrina about prayer, about union with the Godhead, about surrender to the Godhead, about the ‘oceanic’. The basic schema is this: image of God – Fall – return to image of God taken as freedom from anger and desire. There is more to it, as we shall see, but it is well to grasp these fundamental schematic structures; they are as it were the floor plan of the house.

One might object: ‘Is it so simple that freeing yourself from anger and desire is enough to return you to the image of God that Adam had in Paradise?’ Here, again, since we have a tripartite structure of the soul (mind – temper – desire), all psychological phenomena have to be subsumed under one or another part. There is no concept of an unconscious per se, no other part of the soul lying about that will provide a receptacle for the classification of psychological phenomena. Hence, freeing yourself from anger and desire is a very big program indeed; it does not just mean not killing your neighbour and not desiring his wife; it is a very broad endeavour.

Now the next thing that St Macrina says is that it lies within our power—she is a Christian—to alienate ourselves from these things, and that doing so not only does not do damage to human nature but is even beneficial to it. Therefore, she says, these things must be viewed as things which come from outside human nature. That is, anger and desire are extrinsic to human nature. This is a fundamental point in Christian ascetical theology when we understand by anger and desire the operations contrary to nature of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul. The passions of anger and desire, taken to be very broad categories of subjective psychological experience and motivations to action, are not part of our human nature. They come from outside. They are affections—passions (pathe). And here St Macrina has introduced a fundamental point: what a passion is. A passion (pathos) is an affection, something that occurs to one. Later, St Macrina will use the metaphor of warts. Just as someone who has a wart is disfigured—affected—by his wart, so we are affected by anger and desire. They are not part of our human nature. If this is so, and it is, then our program must be a return in Christ Jesus our Lord to our kata phusin condition—our condition according to nature—free from these affections or passions. This is our ascetical endeavour. We will see that this return is to the condition that Adam had in Paradise before the Fall—to dispassion (apatheia), here taken in a broad sense; we will see that Evagrius uses the term more restrictedly. Moreover, we will see that because of Christ’s Ascension, we are enabled to return not only to the condition that Adam had before the Fall, but to ascend with Christ to the right hand of the Father—through Christ’s own Ascension, which was the ascension of our human nature in the human nature of Jesus Christ: as God, Jesus Christ, was and is one with the Father always.

St Macrina will clarify later what the passions are. We are now, however, beginning to see the fundamental outline of the ascetical endeavour.

‘For the substance (ousia) is whatever it is.’: As St Macrina has pointed out, the soul (psuche) or mind (nous) is not susceptible of a complete definition. Being the image of God, who is unknowable in his essence, it also is unknowable in its essence.

St Macrina defines anger and desire; it is well to remember that to the Classical Greek imbued with the notions of nature, essence and truth, a definition was a characterization of the essence of the thing defined. Nowadays, we define something in any way that we find convenient, making no attempt to characterize the essence of the thing. Hence the importance for her discussion of St Macrina’s definitions of anger and desire. Moreover, that is why her statement that the definitions of anger and desire do not apply to the definition of the soul is a statement that anger and desire have nothing to do with the essence of the soul.

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[1] The notion of properties that adhere in a substance, here God, is of course Aristotelian.

[2] Gen. 1, 26–7.

[3] See Chapter V for a fuller discussion.

[4] Matt. 5, 48.

[5] 2 Pet. 1, 4.

[6] John 15, 13.

[7] Matt. 23, 12.

[8] Matt. 11, 29.

[9] Here, ‘animal’ is taken to mean ‘living being with sense-perception’, not ‘just another irrational animal’.

[10] This is logical inclusion: the species is a logical subset of the genus, and must necessarily possess all the attributes of the genus.

[11] See Luke 20, 34–6, although we would not want to insist that that passage implies or does not imply this.

[12] We will see this in Chapter III, below. Since it is known that all the Cappadocian Fathers were influenced by Origen, it is reasonable to suppose that as author St Gregory betrays in the formulation here an influence of the Origenist doctrine of the descent of the mind (nous) to being in a body.

[13] We will see this in Chapter IV, below.

[14] That is, the theology of the Philokalia; ‘neptic’ literally means ‘sober’.

[15] Evagrius, in Volume II.

[16] Matt. 4, 17.


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