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Chapter II -- 8

Let us turn again to St Macrina’s argument:

Therefore, if reason (logos), which very thing is remarkable in our nature,

That is, man alone has reason.

have the rule of those things which have been introduced to us from without,

St Macrina has not completely discarded her original analysis that the passions (pathe) are like warts on the true nature of the soul, the mind (nous). We will discuss these two analyses below.

as the narrative of Scripture also suggests allegorically, ordering man to rule over all the irrational animals, not one of the movements of this sort would operate in us towards the service of evil.

We will return below to the relation of reason (logos) to deliberate moral choice, in view of St Macrina’s earlier assertion of the existence of an innate power of the mind (nous) to judge intuitively between the good and the worse.

Fear would work obedience; irascibility, manliness; timidity, safety;

‘Timidity’: Here, in the sense of prudence.

the desiring impulse, then, would provide to us the divine and undefiled pleasure.

These are fundamental assertions; we will see them right up to the last chapters of St Hesychios in Volume III. Let us look at them one by one, but let us first remark that here we see the first concrete examples of the use of the passions (pathe) according to nature, as virtues.

‘Fear would work obedience’: One obeys one’s parents; the monk obeys his abbot or elder or spiritual father; all men obey God. ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding, then, is to all those who do it.’[1] It is for this reason we have fear implanted in us, not so that we run away from the battle.

‘Irascibility would work manliness’: Manliness is out of fashion today in the West. This makes it difficult for Westerners to become Athonite monks, for great courage and strength of heart—manly courage, manliness—are needed in the Athonite monk. It is a great and difficult struggle.

‘Timidity would work safety’: We are not reckless.

‘And the desiring impulse would provide to us the divine and undefiled pleasure.’: This is fundamental to an understanding of Orthodox monasticism. We will therefore spend some time in discussing this. The reference to the ‘desiring impulse’ is to Eros (eros), which we have already encountered. We here see that Eros (eros) is the operation of the desiring part of the soul according to nature, here an aspiration to God although it is also considered to be an aspiration to virtue.

What is the ‘divine and undefiled pleasure’? It is the pleasure of the contemplation of and union with the Divine. It is the experience of the love of God of whom it is said: ‘God is love.’[2] This love is experienced by the monk both as recipient of the divine love and as giver in turn of this love to others. Based as it is on an objective experience of the Divine Other, it cannot be construed to be a sublimation of a sexual drive. The monk has an objective experience of divine love: the departure of the Beloved, as we have already said, is an important motif in the Songs of Songs; that is why the bride, the soul, searches through the streets of Jerusalem, enduring the blows of the watchmen, inconsolable at her loss.[3]

There is much pain and suffering in Orthodox monasticism: the service of tonsure says it; the Elders say it; the books say it—notably the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai, which remarks in Step 1 that if God did not conceal from the layman the difficulty of the monastic state, no one would become a monk.[4] Hence, our love is mixed with the bitter: we have the divine and undefiled pleasure of the experience of receiving the divine love and of giving it in turn to our brother and neighbour, and we have the Cross. It is a difficult vocation. One experiences the pain of a mother giving birth: she suffers for her child; if the child grows, she suffers yet more, yet she would sooner die than lose her son, her daughter—her child. Nonetheless, the mother is faced with the incomprehension of the son who commits sin without understanding what he is doing, of the daughter who is wayward. It is a difficult thing to be a father or mother, much, much more difficult to be a monk. It is in this context that the pure pleasure of the contemplation of God must be understood.

If reason (logos), however, put off the reins and, like some charioteer entangled in the chariot, be dragged behind by it, led off wherever the irrational movement of the team of foals yoked to it should lead it, then the impulses are turned into passions (pathe), as can, truly, be seen in the irrational animals. For since thought does not have charge over the movement which naturally lies in the irrational animals, the irascible sorts of animals, being commanded by anger, are destroyed by each other; the fleshly and strong animals purchase with their strength no good of their own, becoming the possession of the rational animal [i.e. man] on account of their lack of reason; the operation of desire and pleasure occupies itself concerning nothing of the higher things; neither is anything else of those things which are contemplated in the irrational animals conducted by some reason towards what is profitable. Thus also, in us, if these things not be led by means of thought towards what is proper, but, instead, the passions (pathe) prevail over the dominion of the mind (nous), then the man passes over from the intellectual and deiform towards the irrational and mindless, being made into a beast by the impulse of the emotions of this sort.

We mentioned previously that we would look at two things: first, the relation of St Macrina’s first model of the passions as warts on the true nature of the soul, the mind (nous), to her second model of the vegetative, animal and rational natures of man; and, second, the connection between reason (logos) and deliberate moral choice.

Let us take the second matter first. It should be clear that St Macrina uses ‘reason (logos)’ rather than ‘mind (nous)’ in her discourse here because she is following Plato, as her use of the image of the charioteer to depict reason (logos) shows. It should be equally clear that reason (logos) is here a Platonic synonym for mind (nous). While reason (logos) or intellect (dianoia)—ratiocination—is an operation of the mind (nous), what St Macrina and St Gregory intend here is not an intellectualistic ethic whereby one conducts an exercise in reasoning in order to control the passions, but that the mind (nous), as St Macrina and St Gregory have defined it, should be in charge of the person’s actions, and should govern the impulses of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul, the temper and the desire. This latter interpretation, that the mind (nous) should be in charge of the impulses of anger and desire, is a spiritual one, and fits well with the idea of the conscience as an intuitive discrimination of the good from the worse. The ascetical program is precisely to accomplish definitively what St Macrina is saying: to put the mind (nous) in charge of the impulses of anger and desire, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to bring the impulses of anger and desire into their operation according to nature, which is virtue—all the while in an intuitive or mystical, and not rationalistic, context.

This is Evagrius’ ascetical program, to which we will turn in Volume II, although we will discuss it in the next chapter, and it is on Evagrius’ program that the whole Philokalia builds, including St Hesychios in On Sobriety, to which we shall turn in Volume III.

Let us now turn to the first matter. We are not sure how word-for-word St Macrina would want us to take the notion that after the Fall the mind (nous) is the image of God pure and simple. As we have already pointed out, St Macrina’s presentation of the passions as warts on the true nature of the soul appears to be an influence of Plotinus. St Gregory is quite clear in On the Making of Man that because of the Fall, the Christian program of the restoration of the image is a lifelong endeavour; indeed the metaphor he uses there of the never-finished sculpture has a direct parallel in Plotinus’ Enneads: in Plotinus, it is a matter of uncovering the true nature of the soul from the mud which has covered it.

In general, Orthodox anthropology posits that the image of God has been disturbed because of the Fall, and that it is not merely a matter of uncovering the image by removing the warts of the passions, whether taken merely as the negative passions, or as the irascible and desiring parts of the soul pure and simple. We will see this clearly in Chapter V. Grace is needed, first in Baptism and Chrismation, and then later through the Mysteries or sacraments—especially the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ, but including all the Mysteries or sacraments such as Confession and Unction, and all the mysteries appropriate to the state of life to which the Christian has been called. Moreover, the Christian’s personal effort—this is what asceticism is—is also required. Nothing happens if the Christian does nothing.

Given St Gregory’s views in others of his works, the result is the same whether we take St Gregory literally on the passions as warts on the true nature of the soul or else consider the matter from the viewpoint of standard Orthodox anthropology: by means of a lifelong personal ascetical effort, the Christian works with the help of Christ to restore the likeness of God in himself. It might be remarked that there is no doctrine in the Orthodox Church that man has been ‘depraved’ by the Fall of Adam: although the image of God has been disturbed by the Fall, and subsequently by each man’s personal sin, it is never completely lost: man is not born depraved and at the mercy of an eternal election or not to salvation: he is always a person who can make a choice for or against salvation.

We are not sure about another point. This is the matter of St Macrina’s doctrine that the passions are not intrinsically part of man’s nature. We have mentioned this several times already. We mentioned, in referring to a passage of Luke, which concerns our Lord’s response to the Sadducees who asked him about the woman with seven husbands, whose would she be in the Resurrection,[5] that we would not want either to insist or not to insist that that passage indicated that the desiring and irascible parts of the soul would be absent from man in the Resurrection. It is clear from the passage of Scripture that men will be like the angels in the Resurrection and that they will not marry. But it is not evident if that means that they will only have their mind (nous) in their resurrected body, or whether they will also have the desiring and irascible parts of their souls, completely transformed or transfigured so as to operate according to nature. In other words, do angels have Eros (eros) for God? We do not know. Will man after the Resurrection have Eros (eros) for God? Will he have the manly virtues? We do not know. Certainly St Gregory’s presentation of St Macrina indicates that man will not—unless we ourselves are reading St Gregory too literally, since the examples adduced by St Macrina tend to a different point of view, that only the passions taken as vices will be absent. In the passage immediately above, St Gregory has St Macrina say that the animal impulses in a man become passions when the man allows them to dominate his behaviour: this is the correct formulation of the relation between the basic drives that a man has and the passions taken as operations of the irascible and desiring parts contrary to nature. However, this distinction is not clear in the previous formulations that St Gregory has as author given.

In any event, before the Resurrection—that is, in regard to the ascetical life—there is no difference in the two points of view. For we ourselves take the position that the ascetical life is aimed not at eradicating the desiring part and the irascible part of man—not even St Gregory presents St Macrina as saying such a thing—but at transforming in ascesis under the guidance of the mind (nous) and with the grace of God the desiring and the irascible parts so that they operate according to nature (virtuously) and not contrary to nature (viciously). Hence, whatever opinion we might have about the state of the human soul in the human body after the Resurrection, the ascetical program remains the same, and it is precisely the ascetical program that has here been delineated theoretically by St Macrina: the use of the desiring and the irascible parts of the soul according to nature by the exercise of conscious, deliberate choice. This is precisely the Evagrian ascetical system that we will discuss in Volume II. However, Evagrius uses a definition of the passions which treats them uniformly as movements of the temper and desire contrary to nature: he treats the movements of the soul according to nature as virtues.

We will see in Chapter IV that St Thomas Aquinas, who formed subsequent thinking in the Roman Catholic Church, takes the position that the passions are natural to man (this is a more strictly Aristotelian position than the one taken by St Macrina) and that they are good to the extent that they are subject to the governance of reason (taken by St Thomas strictly to be ratiocination), even though the passions are present only ‘virtually’ when the soul leaves the body at death. As St Gregory presents St Macrina, St Macrina’s position is that the passions are not part of the true nature of man; St Macrina’s is a more strictly Platonic position. However, St Thomas Aquinas and St Macrina in her second model both agree, following Aristotle, that the passions are morally neutral impulses implanted in man whose use by the reason (however that reason is interpreted by each author) makes them either good or bad.

We will, in the next three chapters, turn to several topics: The first topic is the cosmology of Evagrius Pontikos. We are very interested in Evagrius’ ascetical and contemplative psychology, to which we shall devote Volume II, and studying his cosmological theories will introduce us to that ascetical and contemplative psychology.

The next topic is certain aspects of Orthodox anthropology that we have not yet addressed. We will address those aspects in Chapter III in the context of Evagrius’ own anthropology as embedded in his cosmology, so that by its contrast with Orthodox anthropology, again drawn from a work of St Gregory of Nyssa, this time On the Making of Man, we can complete our discussion of Orthodox anthropology.

In Chapter IV, as a foil to Orthodox anthropology, we will look at Western Christian conceptions of man, notably those of the Roman Catholic Church in the person of St Thomas Aquinas. We will also raise the issue of whether St Thomas’ psychology is compatible with the Orthodox practice of mental prayer.

In the final chapter of this volume, Chapter V, we integrate the preceding material into an Orthodox image of the vocation of man, touching also on the anthropology of St John of Damascus.

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[1] Ps. 110, 10; cf. Prov. 9, 10.

[2] 1 John 4, 8.

[3] Cf. S. of S. 5, 4–7.

[4] Ladder G Step 1, 42; = Ladder E Step 1, 23.

[5] Luke 20, 34–6.


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