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Chapter III -- 51

13 The Relation Between Mind and Soul

Let us now turn to a question that we have not yet answered directly: what really is the relationship between the mind (nous) and the soul (psuche)? The reader will recall that we had left the matter somewhat ambiguous. Moreover, we had found that Evagrius had a doctrine that the soul (psuche) was a mind (nous) that had been reduced to the rank of praktike.

The answer can be put this way. For St Gregory of Nyssa, properly speaking the soul (psuche) is the mind (nous). The other parts of the soul (psuche), the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia), are improperly speaking the soul (psuche). He says this in Chapter 15 of On the Making of Man:

Therefore, since the soul has its perfection in the mental (noeron) and rational (logikon), all that which is not this may possibly have the same name as the soul (psuche), but it is not really the soul, but a certain enlivening operation which has been honoured together with the name of the soul. For that reason, he who legislated each individual thing, similarly gave the irrational animals over to the use of man, as not lying far from the vegetative life, to be instead of vegetables to those who partake of them. For he says ‘Eat all the meats, as vegetables of the plant.’ [Gen. 9, 3.] For it seems that the operation of sense-perception [in the animals] has only some small advantage over that which is nourished and which increases without it [i.e. the plants]. Let this teach those who love the flesh not to bind the intellect (dianoia) greatly to those things which appear according to the senses, but to occupy themselves instead with the advantages of the soul, the true soul being seen in these things; sense-perception, however, having its equal even in the irrational animals.[1]

The perfection of the soul (psuche) that St Gregory is referring to here, in a treatise written for a somewhat simpler audience than the treatise we looked at in Chapters I and II, is precisely the mind (nous). It is, according to St Gregory, the mind (nous) that is the soul (psuche) properly speaking. The irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia) are honoured with the name of soul, but they are not the soul properly speaking, only improperly speaking. Moreover this applies to such vegetative and other operations of the soul as might be found in man: they are a ‘certain enlivening operation which has been honoured with the name of soul’.

This might seem an unacceptable position to some. But let us recall the attributes of the mind (nous) which for St Gregory’s sister, St Macrina, constituted the image of God in man: the contemplative, the contemplative of existent things and the power of discerning the good from the worse. This is clearly more than a mere power of the intellect to reason instrumentally or rationally. It might also be remarked that implicit in this portrait of mind (nous), although unspoken, is the free will of man, his power to choose. For a man who could not choose would have no use for a power to discern the good from the worse.

In Chapter 17 of On the Making of Man, St Gregory refers to the well-known passage of Scripture wherein the Lord is asked about the Resurrection by the Sadducees, who bring forward the figure of the woman who had seven husbands—in the Resurrection, whose wife will she be? The Lord answers in this way:

The sons of this Age marry and are given in marriage. Those, however, who are found worthy to attain to that Age and to the Resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. For they are not even able to die again; for they are equal to the angels and they are sons of God, being sons of the Resurrection.[2]

St Gregory remarks in regard to this passage that the Resurrection promises us nothing other than a return to the condition that Adam and Eve had in Paradise, a return to the first life that Adam and Eve had in Paradise. As we already remarked in Chapter II, the Fathers universally interpret that life in Paradise to have been without marital relations between Adam and Eve, in sharp contrast to the Protestant doctrine found, for example, in Paradise Lost by John Milton, or even to the doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas.[3] Certainly, St Maximos the Confessor follows the point of view of St Gregory. Moreover, as we shall see in Chapter V, when we discuss the anthropology presented in the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith of St John of Damascus, St John himself asserts that in Paradise Adam and Eve were nourished not by sensible, material foods, but by the contemplation of God. Hence, while the position of St Gregory that only the mind (nous) is the soul properly speaking and that only it bears the image of God might ring hard and harsh in the ears of an Orthodox whose anthropology either formally or informally has been influenced by Protestant or even Thomist theology, it is in fact the position of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, it is even the position of St Paul: ‘For it is well that a man not touch a woman.’[4] Certainly it belongs to the common patrimony of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, whatever distortions might have crept in, in the West, as a result of the personal influence of St Augustine as interpreted by St Thomas.

But in Evagrius what exactly is the connection between mind (nous) and soul (psuche)? In KG III, 28, Evagrius says this:

III, 28 The soul (psuche) is the mind (nous) which because of negligence has fallen from the Unity and which by consequence of its non-vigilance has descended to the rank of praktike.

A mind (nous) with a certain degree of negligence in the Movement is in the First Judgement of the Christ given a soul (psuche), and after further negligence is subsequently made in another judgment of the Christ to incarnate into a human body as a man. As we have already seen, this is an element of Evagrius’ anthropology that derives not from the Cappadocian Fathers but from Origen. It is heterodox. Now whether in Evagrius the soul (psuche) is to be construed to be a kind of clothing of the mind (nous), in the same sense that an angelic mind (nous) has an angelic body, or whether the mind (nous) has been transformed, in Evagrius’ view, into a soul (psuche) is not clearly discernible in the Kephalaia Gnostica, although we have tended to the first interpretation of his thought, tending to the view that in the eschatological context the soul (psuche) is the last clothing of the mind (nous).

Here, however, we encounter the one passage of the Letter to Melania that seems to us to clarify the Kephalaia Gnostica: this is the passage which deals at length with the relations among the human body, soul (psuche) and mind (nous).[5] In this passage, it is clear that the human soul (psuche) stands in the same relation to the human mind (nous) that the material human body stands to the human soul (psuche).[6] The human soul (psuche) is an inferior sort of angelic body given to the minds (noes) which have been reduced to the rank of praktike.

In the Kephalaia Gnostica, Evagrius leaves ambiguous the condition of the mind (nous) in the soul state, or more clearly put, the state of the unembodied soul (psuche) before that soul (psuche) has become either a man or a demon. The soul state is a world or worlds in which the mind (nous) might progress or backslide, so that ascent to the rank of angel or further incarnation into a human or demonic body would be its reward or punishment, but Evagrius does not discuss this at all.

Does he posit the existence of the soul state to account for the serial nature of men’s being born in the flesh? In Peri Archon, this does not seem to be an issue: Origen’s reasoning seems to have been based on other considerations.

Do souls in the soul state have the temper (thumos) and the desire (epithumia)? To the extent that one is basing himself on Origen, the source of the doctrine of the soul state, they do not, because Origen, as we have seen, rejects the tripartite soul. However, we have seen that Evagrius took with him to Egypt the Cappadocian doctrine of the tripartite soul.

Since, in the Evagrian system, praktike corresponds absolutely to the state of having or being a soul (psuche), and praktike is the ascetical practice of bringing the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia) from their operations contrary to nature to their operations according to nature, it might be thought that the unembodied soul (psuche) would be composed of mind (nous), temper (thumos) and desire (epithumia). But that is not the case. Evagrius’ doctrine is that these parts of the soul are characteristic not of the unembodied soul (psuche) but of the soul (psuche) incarnated into a human body, as we see in KG VI, 85:

VI, 85 If all the powers which we and the beasts have in common pertain to the corporeal nature, then it is evident that the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia) do not appear to have been created with the reasonable nature before the Movement.

Note that ‘all the powers which we and the beasts have in common pertain to the corporeal nature’—that is, to the life of the soul (psuche) in the body—and that they include the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia).

One part, then, of Evagrius’ doctrine of the soul (psuche) is based on Origen and one part on the Cappadocian Fathers. That is, Evagrius discourses sometimes on the basis of the Cappadocian doctrine of the tripartite soul (psuche) and sometimes on the basis of the Origenist doctrine of the soul. We think that Evagrius is attempting to combine two incompatible anthropologies here, and that this leads to confusion in his thought.

In Chapter 35 of the Treatise on the Practical Life,[7] Evagrius states: ‘The passions of the soul have their occasions or starting-points from men; the passions of the body, from the body. And continence cuts off the passions of the body, while spiritual charity cuts off the passions of the soul.’ Since the Treatise on the Practical Life explicitly discusses the tripartite soul, we have understood Evagrius’ thought to be that passions such as vainglory and pride are passions of the irascible part of the soul (thumos) and that passions such as gluttony and fornication are passions of the desiring part of the soul (epithumia).

However, in Chapter 18 of On the Thoughts, Evagrius introduces a different typology: he implicitly includes vainglory, pride, envy and condemnation with the passions ‘of man as man’, and gluttony, fornication (both related to the desire, epithumia) and anger (related to the temper, thumos) with the passions of ‘man as irrational animal’.[8]

How are these two typologies to be reconciled?

We are not happy with the solution proposed by Professor Guillaumont in his doctrinal introduction to On the Thoughts, that the passions of man as man relate to the mind (nous) and that the passions of man as irrational animal relate to the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia).[9] For the passions of the mind (nous) are clearly stated by Evagrius to be related to ignorance and delusion, whereas vainglory, pride, envy and condemnation are moral passions. We think that there is an inconsistency in Evagrius’ own thought: in the works in question he is presenting points of view that depend both on the Cappadocians’ and on Origen’s anthropologies. For the doctrine of the tripartite soul that Evagrius espouses in the Treatise on the Practical Life reflects the point of view represented by KG VI, 85, quoted above, which itself seems to be what Evagrius learned at the feet of his Cappadocian masters—not, certainly, the part about the Movement, that is his own, but the part that the powers we have in common with the beasts pertain to the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia), and that they must therefore be connected with the corporeal nature. For in Chapter II we found the same doctrine to be espoused by St Macrina in On the Soul and the Resurrection. The doctrine in Chapter 18 of On the Thoughts seems to us to be Evagrius’ own reflection on the nature of vainglory, pride, envy and condemnation in the context of Origen’s anthropological doctrine of the descent of the mind (nous) first to become ensouled in a soul (psuche) and then through further negligence to become embodied in a human body. When Evagrius came to write the works in question, he was beginning, we think, to formulate his idea of the soul state, based on Origen, and he was beginning to view the passions of man as man as passions that could be assigned to the soul (psuche) in the soul state. In this interpretation, vainglory, pride, envy and condemnation are passions of the ensouled mind (nous), taken as a distinct state or condition of the mind (nous) apart from the embodiment of that ensouled mind (nous) in a human body. The passions of man as irrational animal would then be those additional passions that the soul (psuche) acquired when it was embodied in a human body, taking up the irrational animal nature, including, it would appear, the temper (thumos) and the desire (epithumia). But this basically Origenist typology of the passions would not easily be integrated into the typology of the passions based on the tripartite nature of the human soul that Evagrius had learned from the Cappadocians. This would lead to the inconsistencies that we perceive in Evagrius’ two accounts.

However, it should be remarked that in the Skemmata, Evagrius includes both typologies in the same relatively short work. Evidently, he did not perceive any inconsistency in his accounts.

We ourselves think that in the Kephalaia Gnostica, an underlying layer of Orthodox anthropology can be discerned, a layer which Evagrius took with him from Constantinople to Egypt and upon which he superimposed his own elaborated system based on Origen, without, however, fully resolving the inconsistencies between the two.

In the case of the distinction found in the Treatise on the Practical Life between the passions of the soul and the passions of the body, this may very well be the Origenist distinction of the passions of man as man and the passions of man as irrational animal repeated with somewhat different terminology and superimposed on the Cappadocian tripartite soul. Hence, there may be no real way to assign the passions of the soul to a part of the tripartite soul: it may be forcing Evagrius to consider the passions of the soul to be passions of the temper (thumos). However, given that there is no solution to this conundrum, we will do just that. Moreover, there are passages of Evagrius, such as Chapter 31 of the Gnostic, which do that very same thing.

We have now finished with Orthodox anthropology. In the next chapter, we will look at Roman Catholic anthropology for purposes of contrast with the Orthodox doctrine. This will have several uses. On the one hand, it will clarify by contrast just what Orthodox anthropology is; on the other hand, it will clarify the differences in presupposition between Roman Catholic ethical and bioethical doctrines and Orthodox ethical and bioethical doctrines. Unfortunately, we are not experts in Roman Catholic, and especially Thomist, theology, and so our presentation will to an extent necessarily be from secondary sources.

In the next chapter we will also look at Roman Catholic psychology. Our discussion will help to clarify for us—and especially for such readers as we might ever have who are Roman Catholic—what the differences are between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic presuppositions of ascetical and spiritual practice and doctrines, especially with regard to the practice of mental prayer in the heart. As is well known, for many years in the Twentieth Century, Roman Catholic scholars studying Hesychasm were either bemused or scandalized by this Orthodox spiritual tradition. While it goes to be said that their attitude has become somewhat more open, still that great opponent of Hesychasm in the Fourteenth Century, Barlaam, was a committed Scholastic and, even today, the notion of the ‘uncreated operations (aktistes energeies) of God’ makes, exactly on the basis of Thomist categories, Roman Catholics who have studied Orthodox Hesychast theology uneasy: these considerations make it uncertain whether a Roman Catholic who practised the Prayer of Jesus, or who would attempt to practise it, especially in its higher forms, would be able to do so consistently with his own theological presuppositions. We do not intend to reopen wounds. We are not experts in Thomism. However, we shall try to discern where Thomist psychology would from an Orthodox point of view lead to a mistaken use or practice of mental prayer in the heart. This will force us to clarify our own understanding of Orthodox ascetical psychology, which is what we want to do.

In the final chapter, we will discuss the vocation of man, turning briefly also to the anthropology presented in the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith of St John of Damascus.

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[1] Making G p. 45, ll. 16–29; = Migne 44, cols. 176D–7A.

[2] Luke 20, 34–6.

[3] See the discussion of ST Ia, 98, 2 in Chapter IV.

[4] 1 Cor. 7, 1.

[5] Melania 1 189–189 or Melania E ll. 113–29.

[6] We ignore here, for reasons we have already discussed, the doctrine of the passage concerning the relations of the human mind (nous) with the various persons of the Trinity.

[7] See Volume II.

[8] See Volume II.

[9] OTT G.


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