Chapter II -- 4
But I said to the virgin: But we indeed see in the virtuous not a little contribution occurring towards the better from these things [i.e. the passions]. For the praise in the case of [the Prophet] Daniel was desire [cf. Dan. 9, 23; 10, 11; 10, 19]; and Phineas appeased God with his anger [cf. Num. 25, 11]; and we have learned that fear is the beginning of wisdom [cf. Prov. 9, 10; Ps. 110, 10]; and we have heard from Paul that the end of the sorrow which is according to God is salvation [cf. 2 Cor. 7, 10]; and the Gospel legislates that we should hold dire things in contempt [cf. Luke 21, 12–19]—and not to fear terror is nothing other than the outline of courage, which very thing is reckoned by wisdom among good things. Therefore, by means of these things the argument shows that such things as these must not be deemed to be passions (pathe). For the passions would not be taken up together towards the accomplishment of virtue.
What is St Gregory advocating? Is he advocating a mean in the use of pleasure or anger or revenge? No. The Greek Fathers are universal in their condemnation of the passions taken as the operations of the irascible part and the desiring part contrary to nature; this is perhaps why the Fathers are not acceptable to the sensually minded. There is no imputed justification here, no doctrine of the mean in the use of passion as might be found in a theological approach to the passions based on Aristotelian ethics. In the case of the passion of pleasure, there is no divergence here from the Pauline doctrine: ‘It is well that a man not touch a woman,’ and ‘For I want all men to be as I also am [i.e. continent], but each one has his own proper charism from God, one, then, in this fashion, one, then, in that fashion,’ and ‘But it is better to marry than to be aflame,’ and ‘He who marries does well; but he who does not marry does better.’ This is the doctrine of the Church, and the Greek Fathers were continent and speaking to monks, who had committed themselves to the ‘good part’. They were discussing the best: the restoration of the image of God that man had in Paradise in Adam and Eve. Hence, what St Gregory is attacking in the passage above is the notion that all the passions are really warts: some of the passions evidently have a positive role to play in the accomplishment of virtue, which by St Macrina’s definition is nothing more or less than the restoration of the image of God that Adam had in Paradise. We will see that those passions which have a positive role to play are precisely the operations according to nature of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul. St Macrina will accept this analysis of the operations of the parts of the soul according to and contrary to nature immediately below, although she will continue to assert that even though the irascible and desiring parts of the soul have operations according to nature, those parts of the soul are not intrinsic to the nature of man.
And the teacher said: I suppose that I have provided the cause of this sort of confusion of thoughts, not having clarified the argument concerning this thing so that a certain attendant order be imposed on the contemplation. Now, therefore, insofar as it is possible, a certain order will be contrived for the subject of discussion, so that such oppositions might for us no longer have place, the contemplation progressing through a logical sequence.
What St Macrina is now going to say is worthy of our greatest attention and reflection.
For we say that the contemplative and discriminative and overseeing–existing–things faculty which the soul has is proper and according to nature in it, and that by means of these things the soul saves in itself the image of the deiform Grace (since reason also conjectures that the Divine, whatever it is according to its Nature, is in these things: to oversee all things and to discriminate the good from the worse).
We apologize for the unidiomatic translation of this passage, which we will now analyse minutely because of its significance. St Macrina says that the soul has a power which has three attributes: contemplative (theoretiken) and discriminating (diakritiken) and overseeing (epoptiken)–existing–things.
In accordance with the spirit of the day, the Nineteenth Century English translator, Moore, renders ‘contemplative’ as ‘speculative’, as does the modern French translator, Terrieux. This is surely an error, and the error is important. ‘Speculative’ is an intellectual idea; it refers to the formulation of ideas, thoughts, theories, the use of words and so forth. ‘Speculative’ is an intellectual concept foreign to the sense of a St Gregory or a St Macrina, who were mystics. The sense here is of an intuitive cognition of the truth, which ultimately is he who said ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ This is important, for without this correction of sense, the reader will no longer grasp the connection with what Evagrius Pontikos is going to describe when he, Evagrius, addresses the three types of contemplation: the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of existent things, the contemplation of angels, and the contemplation of God himself.
It is true that the dictionary gives ‘speculative’ as a possible meaning of theoretikos. However, let us maintain our point: what St Macrina is referring to is not the intellectual power of the soul—the intellect (dianoia), which she earlier defined as an operation (energeia) of the mind (nous) and which is the power of ratiocination—but the power of the soul to apprehend truth directly.
The second attribute that St Macrina posits for the faculty of the soul is the ‘discriminative’. As will be evident in her discourse immediately following, St Macrina here intends the ability to discern the good from the worse. This places her squarely in the camp of the intuitionists in ethics: recall that for Hume, the moral judgement was a matter of a sentiment of approval or disapproval. We remarked in our discussion of Hume that his theory was weak. This is why: St Macrina has distinguished the ability to discriminate right from wrong as an intuitive operation of the mind (nous)—not as a spontaneous operation of the irascible part or the desiring part of the soul!—and has asserted that this is one of the three things that preserve the image of God in man. Hume rejected the past in his theory of man and asserted that the mind was nothing more than a ‘bundle’ of impressions (sense-perceptions, passions and emotions) and ideas (mental images of sense-perceptions, passions and emotions connected by association in time, place or appearance). Given his impoverished theory of mind, Hume had nowhere else to go in his theory of ethics but to the emotions for a foundation of his ethics—that and the utility for man and for society of moral behaviour. Note also the difference between the tripartite model derived ultimately from Plato that St Macrina is using and the two-part model—belief versus passion, desire or sentiment—that Hume is using.
This position of St Macrina is extremely important, for it sets ethics on an intuitive foundation. There is nothing here of an intellectualistic or rationalistic theory that would posit reason in the sense of ratiocination as the foundation of moral judgement; nor is there an emotive theory such as Hume’s. This is not to say that moral judgements cannot be discussed rationally; it is to say that moral judgement is not essentially a matter of syllogistic reasoning. Nor is it to say that we do not have spontaneous emotional reactions to the behaviour of others; it is to say that those emotional reactions are not the ultimate basis of our moral judgements. Of course, a critic might disparage this intuitive moral judgement as mere emotional judgement-making, losing completely and intentionally the spiritual dimension. Here we have a faculty found in the soul that discriminates the good from the worse: moral judgement is a spiritual matter. Moreover this faculty preserves the image of God in man. We will say more about this below.
The third attribute does not translate easily. We have tortured English to come up with ‘overseeing–existing–things’. We are translating ‘ton onton epoptiken’. St Gregory is a careful stylist. He has retained an adjectival form in his phrase; he wants to convey that these are aspects of a single power of the soul, not powers in the sense of faculties. The word, epoptiken, is an adjective that means ‘overseeing’ and it conveys the experience of conscious reality. It corresponds exactly to Descartes’ revelation to himself, ‘Cogito ergo sum,’ without that ratiocinative aspect being included that forms the basis of Cartesian speculation. In other words, we start from the same experience as Descartes, self-conscious awareness of ourselves, but without proceeding in an intellectualistic and rationalistic way as did Descartes. We remain intellectually intuitive, not intellectually rationalistic: the reason is an operation of the mind (nous); what we are discussing is prior to the use of reason. This is very important, for in practising mental prayer in the heart, the ascetic will perforce enter into ‘states of consciousness’ wherein his consciousness will easily be seen by him to contain the insight that Descartes expressed so rationalistically, but, with the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, the ascetic’s consciousness will be in a condition prior to the exercise of the ratiocinative faculty of the mind (nous). This notion of the immediate experience of one’s own thought processes is also similar to St Augustine’s notion of the immediate, personal experience of one’s own consciousness or thoughts.
To return to the subject at hand, we are here discussing pure consciousness of oneself and of one’s environment: the fact of awareness.
We are not discussing reason, taken to be the ratiocinative power of the mind (nous).
Let us review these three attributes, the contemplative, the discriminative and the ‘oversee–ive’. St Macrina says that these three attributes are proper and according to nature in the soul, and that they are what preserve the image of God in man.
It is well to recall, in view of what St Macrina is about to say about God, that, for her, the essence of the soul is incomprehensible: we cannot penetrate to the depth of human existence, the human soul, the mind (nous).
Some further remarks are in order. First, against criticisms that St Macrina is an intellectualist, the very fact that for her no one can comprehend the essence of the soul of a human person means that the intellectualist charge is false: while the soul in itself is called nous, mind, that mind has such a broad content that St Macrina is far beyond any charge of intellectualism: the intellectual aspect of man is dianoia, which, as we have already remarked, is an operation (energeia) of the nous. Dianoia does not exhaust the content or substance of nous; it is an operation of the nous, not its essence.
Next, it is well to recall that systems-theoretic descriptions of mind (nous) are reducible to algorithms. Hence, we have in what St Macrina is saying a very radical break with all attempts to model or mimic the mode of functioning of the human mind (nous) with artificial intelligence systems or with systems-theoretic descriptions in the molecular biology of the brain or nervous system. For these three intuitive aspects of mind (nous) which preserve the image of God in man, the contemplative, the discriminative and the ‘oversee–ive’, precisely because they are intuitive—that is, mental operations of direct apprehension and not of ratiocination—are immune from representation with computer programs, or algorithms. Hence also, the Thomist analysis of human action that we mentioned in Chapter I is equally faulty, for it attempts an intellectualistic analysis, curiously similar to a project to reduce mind (nous) to an algorithm, of matters that we are here seeing treated as intrinsic intuitive operations (energeies) of the human mind (nous).
To return to the three attributes—contemplative, discriminative and ‘oversee–ive’—, St Macrina has defined three aspects of an intuitive power of the soul or mind: to apprehend Truth, to discriminate the good from the worse, and, let us say, to be conscious of existent things.
Above, we identified the ‘oversee–ive’ aspect of the mind (nous) with our primary experience of consciousness. Descartes himself, so it seems, identified his primary experience of consciousness with his own flow of thought. We will see, however, that we will be obliged to distinguish between the two as we proceed through Evagrius and, especially, St Hesychios. Descartes, proceeding in the way we have just said, came up with the formula, ‘Cogito ergo sum.’ He cast the primary experience of consciousness into a rationalistic, propositional form of assertion connected to his identification of his primary experience of consciousness with his own flow of thought or his own ability to reason. We ourselves separate our primary experience of consciousness from the flow of our thought—for our thoughts can stop although we are still conscious—and we avoid a rationalistic, propositional formulation.
Now the Greek Fathers nowhere discuss consciousness as a primary datum of experience per se. That is, the modern preoccupation with the nature of consciousness is found nowhere, as far as we are aware, in the Greek Fathers, unless it be here in On the Soul and the Resurrection. The Greek Fathers address the matter differently: they follow the dictum that Aristotle gives: ‘Mind sees and mind hears.’ In other words, mind (nous) is conscious and the agent of perception. But the formula goes deeper, as St Macrina was at pains to point out above: the mind (nous) interprets the data of sense-perception; it gives a sense (idea, content, interpretation) to the sense-impression: recall St Macrina’s examples from astronomy, where the primary sense impression of the solar disk had to be given sense (meaning, interpretation) by the mind (nous).
We see therefore that the Greek Fathers start with the mind (nous) and the sense impression. For them, the primary fact of conscious experience is sense impression as sensed by an agent, the soul identified with the mind (nous). By ‘agent’ we want to convey the idea of the person who sees and who hears. Hence, mind (nous) is the person who sees or hears. Is this not precisely what St Macrina has said, that one attribute of the power of the soul, which soul is unknowable in its essence but identifiable with the mind (nous), is that it is ‘oversee–ive’ of existent things? Hence, St Macrina is addressing precisely the mind (nous) part of the formula ‘Mind (nous) sees and mind (nous) hears.’ For us, consciousness is a matter of the person who sees and who hears, and we say person to take into account the fact that the mind (nous) is not an intermediate but the actual party at the end of the telephone line of sensory experience. This is different from modern analyses of consciousness that start from the raw datum of undifferentiated sense-perception.
One consequence of the approach of the Greek Fathers is that it enables them to pass from the primary fact of conscious sense-perception to the conscious experience of intelligible, non-sensible things—to pass from ‘Mind sees and mind hears,’ to ‘Mind sees intelligible, non-sensible things and mind hears intelligible, non-sensible things.’ This turning inwards to intelligible realities is found in Plato’s ascetical program, delineated, for example, in the Phaedo; it is also found in the Enneads of Plotinus. This turning inwards is adopted wholeheartedly by both Evagrius Pontikos and St Hesychios; in the form it is used by St Hesychios it forms the basis of the asceticism of the Philokalia.
Since the mind (nous) is understood to have an existence which is autonomous of sense-perception, the Greek Fathers can pass from sense-perception to the apprehension of non-sensible intelligible realities; this is the beginning of Evagrian contemplation. The modern approach to consciousness, based as it is on the primary datum of undifferentiated sense-perception, because it does not conceive of a mind autonomous of sense-perception has no way to proceed ‘inwards’ towards intelligible realities. Of course, in his own philosophy of man, Hume deliberately foreclosed this road, dismissing both mind and intelligibles as non-existent. And St Thomas Aquinas, by imposing the view that mind is only ratiocination, except for certain very limited intuitive capacities, also foreclosed this road to a much greater extent than does Orthodoxy.
Now according to St Macrina, the person is unknowable in his or her essence. But we have three attributes: contemplative (theoretikos), discriminative (diakritikos) and ‘oversee–ive’ of existent things (epoptikos ton onton). These three attributes are of a power of this person who is unknowable in his or her essence. Moreover, importantly, St Macrina adds that these three attributes are proper to and according to nature in this person. ‘Proper to’ means that these attributes belong to the nature of this person; they are not accidental. ‘According to nature’ means both ‘part of the essence’ and ‘excellent’ in Aristotle’s sense: these attributes are the excellences of the person. When a person is according to nature, rightly himself or herself, then he or she has these three attributes: he or she is contemplative, discriminative and ‘oversee–ive’ of existent things.
We can now answer the standard objection to intuitionist theories of ethics, that different people and different cultures have different moral judgements of what is right and wrong. This objection is disposed of the in the following way: If Adam and Eve had not fallen in Paradise, then all men would certainly have the same moral judgements, account being taken of differences in perspective. Moreover, both Adam and Eve knew that what they did in eating the fruit was wrong even before their eyes were opened. After the Fall, the image of God has been disturbed in man, and it is only through Baptism and then an ascetical effort that the Christian is able to restore first the image and then the likeness of God in himself. When the Christian has restored the image and likeness of God in himself, then the three attributes that we are discussing operate according to nature. The man or woman can contemplate, discriminate between good and the worse and be properly ‘oversee–ive’ of existent things. Until the image and likeness are restored, however, these attributes function more or less defectively, without for all that having been lost entirely in any man. Hence, being subject to the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall in Paradise, men have an intuitive ability to discriminate between right and wrong but that intuitive ability is disturbed to the extent that the image and likeness of God are disturbed in the man because of the Fall. Moreover, personal sin disturbs even further the image and likeness of God in a man.
We began by remarking that theoretikos was translated ‘speculative’ by others but should properly be translated ‘contemplative’. Let us add St Macrina’s final remark to see the significance of this:
…[A]nd that by means of these things it [the soul] saves in itself the image of the deiform Grace (since reason also conjectures that the Divine, whatever it is according to its Nature, is in these things: to oversee all things and to discriminate the good from the worse).
Hence, the significance of the difference between ‘speculative’ and ‘contemplative’ is precisely what it means to be in the image of God. It is the difference between a model of man that makes him essentially ratiocinative and a model of man that makes him essentially capable of intuitive apprehension of the Divine.
Let us note the repetition of the phrase ‘whatever it might be according to its Nature’. Just as the soul or mind is incomprehensible according to its nature, so God is incomprehensible according to his Nature.
Next, let us turn to the assertion ‘…[A]nd … by means of these things, it [the soul] saves in itself the image of the deiform Grace…’. It is by means of these three attributes, the contemplative, the discriminative of right and wrong and the ‘oversee–ive’, that the soul preserves in itself the image of God, since, whatever the Divine really is by nature, reason supposes that it is in these two things: to watch over all things and to discriminate between the good and the worse.
The soul has three attributes; the Divine, two. Why? God does not contemplate; he is. Whom would he contemplate? We might posit an eternal Self-contemplation, but St Macrina is far from such Scholastic nicety—although she certainly would accept that God knows himself perfectly, being God. Moreover the matter is further complicated: theoretikos and epoptikos are virtually identical in meaning. Hence, ‘contemplative’ and ‘oversee–ive of existent things’ could well be rendered ‘contemplative’ and ‘contemplative of existent things’.
Now, ‘contemplative of existent things’ will be very convenient, because Evagrius will discuss the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of existent things as a stage in the mystical ascent. And it very well may be that St Macrina ultimately has that in mind. Looked at in another way, we may here very well have the origin of the Evagrian doctrine of natural contemplation, especially second natural contemplation: Evagrius may very well have taken with him from his Cappadocian masters the doctrine that we here see St Macrina expressing and elaborated it in his own way in the desert of Egypt, with additional borrowings from Clement of Alexandria.
It is equally evident, however, that this ‘contemplative of existent things’ cannot at this stage be ripped away from its common-sense meaning of ‘conscious of oneself and one’s environment’.
God watches over all things. He sees all things as God. He sees the truth of each thing that exists, what it really is. And as God he knows what each thing was intended to be, what it really is when it has achieved its excellence. When man, then, is according to the image of God, then he too sees things as they really are.
Now St Macrina does not have a modern doctrine of consciousness. The soul is identified with mind (nous), and ‘Mind (nous) sees and mind (nous) hears.’ Moreover, we have refined this: God sees and so does the mind (nous). God is incomprehensible in his nature, and so is the mind (nous). The mind (nous) contemplates. (We leave discrimination of the good from the worse aside here.) The doctrine that ‘Mind (nous) sees and mind (nous) hears,’ from the grammatical structure alone makes an agent of the mind (nous). Hence, this thing, incomprehensible in its essence, has a power, attributes of which are that it is contemplative and contemplative of existent things.
But it is the person who contemplates. How can we pass from agent to person? Could the person be other than the agent who sees and hears? What is a person? Is he or she not that which is incomprehensible in his or her essence? Could we have two such things in one man or woman? A person different from that person’s soul? A soul that sees, contemplates, contemplates existent things and discriminates between good and evil? Surely a person contemplates (this point is more profound than it might appear; we will elaborate on this); surely a person contemplates existent things; surely a person discriminates between the good and the worse. Person is a moral idea. Hence, we have found the person: it is the moral actor or agent who sees, hears, contemplates, contemplates existent things and discriminates between the good and the worse.
The ascription by St Macrina of the three attributes (to which we have attached the Aristotelian formula she has already adopted) to the mind (nous), taken to be the real soul of a man, is profound. We here have a portrait of the human person.
In Paradise, Adam and Eve had these attributes in their fullness, although, according to St John of Damascus, they were in a state of spiritual infancy. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the fullness of these attributes (the ‘in the likeness (kath’ homoiosin)’) without, however, losing the basic qualities of these three attributes (without losing all the ‘in the image (kat’ eikona)’). When we are baptized, our sins are forgiven and we receive grace so that the kat’ eikona (the basic image of God) is restored to its fullness and so that we can struggle to restore the kath’ homoiosin (the likeness to God); this is the ascetical struggle of every Orthodox Christian in the state of life in which he or she has been called. In the full restoration of the likeness, the kath’ homoiosin, these attributes are restored in their fullness; this is the case of great saints. Earlier we remarked that the Orthodox doctrine of the nature of the soul puts asceticism into a soteriological context. This is what we had in mind. For from Orthodox Baptism all men are called to the ascent described, to the ascetical endeavour—in proportion to their strength; this is the significance of the differing vocation of each man—, to the restoration of the fullness of the likeness, the fullness of the kath’ homoiosin. For all men have the image of God, the kat’ eikona, by nature; this they have never lost, and it is this, with the assistance of the grace of Jesus Christ, that enables them to ascend mystically, once the kat’ eikona has been restored in Orthodox Baptism, to the restoration of the kath’ homoiosin.
St Macrina has posited that in its nature the soul is the image of God, and that that image is covered with the warts of the passions (pathe). This suggests that the ascetical endeavour is a matter of uncovering the soul from the warts. However, the Orthodox understanding of the matter is that in the Fall of Adam, the soul was sufficiently disturbed that it is not merely a matter of uncovering the nature of the soul from the warts of the passions; grace is necessary for the restoration of the soul to the image and likeness of God; this grace begins in Baptism, in the regeneration of the person in the water, in the restoration of the kat’ eikona, and is continued in the Mysterial or sacramental life of the Church and in the personal life of prayer and ascesis of the person, all in a context of the active acquisition of the virtues delineated in the Gospel: this is the Orthodox Christian’s work to restore the kath’ homoiosin. This is a doctrine both of the virtues and of grace. For the restoration of the likeness, the kath’ homoiosin, involves the acquisition of virtue, and virtue is acquired only by grace—with the effort of man surely, but it is the grace of Jesus Christ that instils the virtues so as to complete the likeness, the kath’ homoiosin.
As we have already remarked, the virtues are the attributes of God that are transmitted from God to his image, man, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hence, they include the three attributes which are being discussed and which are finally attributes of mystical knowledge. So we see that virtue, far from being a blind following of rules learned badly in childhood, is the restoration of the image and likeness of God in man to their fullness, including mystical knowledge of God and of existent things, both objects and angels, and the ability to discriminate between the good and the worse. However, since one of the three attributes being described is the ability to discriminate the good from the worse, the restoration of the likeness to God involves the restoration of a person who is a moral actor or agent. The Christian mystic is a moral man. He is a person who is a moral agent that contemplates God.
We mentioned that ‘The person contemplates,’ is important. Recall that we have also introduced the modern concept of consciousness. The point is that we are making an identification between soul and person, the moral actor or agent, and we are establishing that—as befits a servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—it is a moral agent who contemplates God, existent things and chooses to do good: the ability to discriminate between good and the worse implies an ability to choose to do one or the other. Hence, we do not view contemplation as a simple alteration of consciousness, although an alteration might occur—we do not exclude such a possibility. That is not the point, however. An alteration of consciousness per se has no connection to the God of Jacob who appeared to Jacob in Penuel.
We will see in St Hesychios that prayer is a moral action: the purification of the mind (nous) is a moral activity. This is characteristic of Christian mysticism: its moral orientation.
The person who contemplates will be extremely important. And this is important to the West today, now that mantras are the rage, the fashion is to meditate and to alter your consciousness in meditation. We are here far from such an understanding. St Macrina, speaking with her brother St Gregory, elaborates a doctrine different from the modern idea of consciousness.
St Macrina, in speaking with her brother, St Gregory, a Cappadocian Father, one of the theologians who was responsible for the concept of person (hypostasis), nowhere speaks of a human hypostasis, a human person. She does speak of the image of God but not as the image of one of the three Hypostases—whether the Word, or the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ our Saviour. We point this out because we have introduced the idea of ‘person’, a moral concept, in order to be able to tie Orthodox theology to bioethics, where the central question is ‘What is a person?’ together with the two related questions ‘When does a person begin?’ and ‘When does a person end?’ Despite this, our concept of person is of far wider application in Orthodox theology, especially in regard to the topic of this work, the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart, because it is a person who prays the Jesus Prayer. For person is the whole living person who prays, loves, laughs, is sorrowed, aspires to God, keeps the commandments: the depths of this person, who is an image of God, are known only to God. A person is one who can love, one who can love another person.
 1 Cor. 7, 1.
 1 Cor. 7, 7.
 1 Cor. 7, 9.
 1 Cor. 7, 38.
 Luke 10, 42.
 NF 2, V.
 Soul F.
 In the sense of scientific models.
 In the philosophical acceptation of direct, without the intermediation of theory-building.
 John 14, 6.
 See Volume II, but also Chapter III, below.
 Which agrees with the other possible meaning given in Liddell–Scott, with the sense given in Lampe and with the Latin translation in Migne.
 Philosophical acceptation.
 See Chapter IV, below.
 See Medieval p. 653, Figure 1 and the accompanying discussion by A. Donagan for a summary of
 To use Plotinus’ formulation.
 See Chapter IV.
 See Chapter V.
 See Chapter V.
 We will discuss this matter further in Chapter V.
 Cf. Gen. 33, 24–31.
 With his brother, St Basil the Great.