Chapter IV -- 16
As has been said above, the passion of the sensitive appetite moves the will out of the fact that the will is moved by its object, as much, that is to say, as the man, disposed in some fashion by the passion, judges something to be suitable and good that he would not judge thus, being outside the passion. However, the change by the passion of the man in this way occurs in two manners. In the first case, the reason is totally bound and the man does not have the use of reason, just as occurs in those who on account of the vehemence of the anger or desire become furious or mindless, according to and on account of some one or other corporeal perturbation. However, passions of this sort do not occur without a corporeal modification, and from these sorts of things [i.e. these modifications of the body] is the explanation (ratio) [of this sort of condition], just as in the case of brute animals, which of necessity follow the impetus of the passion. In these things, therefore, there is no movement of the reason and, by consequence, neither of the will. However, in the second case, the reason is not totally absorbed by the passion, but to a certain extent there remains the free judgement of reason; and according to this there remains something of the movement of the will. As much, therefore, as the reason remains free and not subject to the passion, by that much the movement of the will which remains does not by necessity tend to that to which the passion inclines: and thus, either the movement of the will is not in the man, but he is dominated solely by the passion; or, if there should exist movement of the will, he does not by necessity follow the passion.
This is a very important passage for our grasp of how St Thomas understands the relation between reason and emotion (to use modern terms) in moral, psychological and even legal theory. This doctrine, and ones similar to it, have coloured Catholic thinking on human psychology since St Thomas. In countries which have been deeply Catholic, this doctrine has passed into pastoral psychology and even into law.
What St Thomas is saying is clear: the passion, or emotion, alters the object of the will by causing the man to evaluate the suitability or goodness of an end differently than he otherwise might. However, this influence on the will has two degrees. The first degree is the complete incapacitation of the reason, and therefore of the will, by the vehemence of the passion, which vehemence has a bodily substrate. St Thomas was writing in the Thirteenth Century, obviously from observation, but his observations have been validated even today by biology: there is an endocrine reaction of anger which alters the bodily substrate, so much so that the man may ‘lose his reason’; there are undoubtedly similar bodily reactions related to desire. The second degree is the partial incapacitation of the reason and the will in those cases where the access of passion is not so vehement as completely to incapacitate the reason. This also accords with common observation today.
The implications for the Confessor are clear; the implications for the pastoral psychologist are clear; the implications for the legal theorist are clear. For the Confessor, the issue is the extent to which the man deliberately allowed himself to lose his reason; for the pastoral psychologist, it is a matter of training the man to behave in ways that will prevent other such episodes; for the legal theorist, it is a matter of assessing the guilt of, and the penalties to be meted out to, a man who has committed a crime in either of these two conditions.
We here see the ambit within which St Thomas’ moral psychology moves: this is a psychology which deals with man in society, a society regulated by the Church and the law courts. There is nothing wrong with this; we are merely emphasizing this aspect of St Thomas’ psychology so that the reader might grasp that psychology’s full dimensions.
However, there is an aspect of this psychology we would now like to discuss. This is the relation of this psychology, at the level now being discussed by St Thomas, to the psychology underlying the ascetical models of temptation and sin of Evagrius Pontikos, St Mark the Ascetic and St Hesychios that we will discuss in Volumes II and III. We do not wish to anticipate ourselves by presenting a full discussion of the models of temptation and sin that we will discuss in the rest of this study, so let us restrict ourselves to some basic points. For convenience, we will largely restrict ourselves to the model of Evagrius Pontikos that we will discuss in Volume II.
The ascetical model of temptation and sin of Evagrius Pontikos is designed primarily for a hermit. We say this because there are some fundamental differences in assumption from St Thomas. St Thomas is discussing passion as concerns the layman who has not professed religion: rarely does the professed monk reach the stage of such an access of passion that he even partially loses his reason. Moreover, to take a simple model of the ascetical life, the professed monk lives under obedience in community among other monks eating a frugal, meatless diet for some years before becoming a hermit: this would make him somewhat more purified of the passions than one would expect of a layman.
Let us suppose now that the monk has become a hermit.
The focus of the ascetical psychology of Evagrius Pontikos is on the inception of the ‘thought (logismos)’ in the mind’s eye of the ascetic. This is the appearance in the ascetic’s field of consciousness of an image related to one of the negative passions. This is the beginning of a temptation. This image calls the ascetic to sin.
St Thomas himself refers to the appearance of such images, and, in agreement with Evagrius Pontikos, considers that they are beyond conscious control, without however elaborating on them. In the same place St Thomas also refers to movements of the sensitive appetite which are due to the disposition of a bodily organ, also treating them as beyond conscious control. Evagrius Pontikos would agree that such movements exist. Elsewhere, St Thomas refers to movements of members of the body under the control of the vegetative soul which are beyond conscious control. Evagrius Pontikos would also agree that these exist.
However, Evagrius Pontikos uses his psychological analysis of these images and their inception, of these movements of the sensitive appetite due to the disposition of a bodily organ and of these involuntary movements of members of the body due to the vegetative soul, as a basis for the articulation of a program of ascesis which is directed against the passions that are related to these involuntary images, to these involuntary movements of the sensitive appetite and to these involuntary movements of the members of the body. The goal in Evagrius’ system of ascesis is the attainment of ‘dispassion (apatheia)’, a freedom from the passions related to these images, these involuntary movements of the sensitive appetite and these involuntary movements of members of the body, and that as a preliminary to a mystical ascent of gnosis, or contemplation, to God. Let us here restrict ourselves to the ascetical struggle for dispassion (apatheia); we will later in this chapter discuss Evagrius’ theory of the mystical ascent of gnosis in relation to St Thomas’ psychology.
The ascetical psychology and ascetical program of Evagrius Pontikos address matters that St Thomas in the Summa considers to be involuntary. However, these involuntary movements are considered by Evagrius to be the beginning stages of what St Thomas is discussing in the present article of the Summa: the modification by the emotions of the apprehension of the good and of the end to be pursued.
When seen in the context of Evagrius’ psychology, St Thomas’ analysis is useful for a clearer understanding of the passion and of its operation in human psychology; however, Evagrius begins much earlier in the life cycle of the influence of the passion, or emotion, on the behaviour of the ascetic than St Thomas does.
Let us elaborate.
A situation in which a hermit reached the stage of being overwhelmed by a passion so that his reason were incapacitated would not only be very rare but also, in Evagrius’ view, a sign of serious illness. For such a loss of the reason would be a very late stage in the life cycle of the influence of a passion or emotion on the behaviour of the ascetic. Things are more subtle in Evagrius’ psychology: an image appears in the mind’s eye of the ascetic; the ascetic, paying attention as he goes through his day to his stream of consciousness, notes the image and rejects it. The image that has appeared in the mind’s eye of the ascetic is the initial stage of the determination of the ascetic’s behaviour by the passion or emotion.
The ascetic occupies himself with the degree to which he allows the image to penetrate his field of consciousness and to overwhelm him with thoughts concerning the content of the image. Action to put the temptation into practice as sin is not unheard of, but it is far down the line from the initial stages of temptation at which the hermit must habitually practise his ascesis. A loss of one’s reason on account of such an image would as we said be a sign of a serious disturbance.
The ascetic occupies himself with a typology of the images. This typology corresponds to a typology of the passions. The ascetic can assess which passion is involved in the image, its relative strength and so on. We will discuss this typology of the passions to a certain extent when we look at St Thomas’ doctrine of the passions, below.
While in the ascetical psychology of Evagrius Pontikos there is an emphasis on the mind (nous), and its role in governing the man, there is nothing of the rationalism of St Thomas.
Finally, the overt connection between Evagrius’ model of temptation and sin and St Thomas’ model of human action is this: In Evagrius’ model, the first stage of temptation is the appearance of the image in the field of consciousness. The next stage is the dwelling of the ascetic on thoughts concerning this image. The next stage is consent to the sin which was portrayed by the initial image and which has formed the basis of the subsequent thoughts. The next stage is deliberation ‘with the thought’ how to put the sin into practice. The next stage is action to put the sin into practice.
Since consent to sin, deliberation over the means to practise the sin and action to put the sin into practice are being discussed, implicitly there is a model here of human action. This model lacks both the detail of St Thomas’ model of human action and its formal precision. However, more importantly, in the ascetical model, the notion of consent is informal and common-sense: none of the ascetical theorists listed belabours himself with the nature of the will and with the nature of the act of consent: each takes it for granted that a man has free will and that he can consent or refuse to do a thing. There is no sense at all of the will as a hunger after the good and ultimately after the Beatific Vision, no Thomistic analysis of the interplay of the intellect and will in the act of assent to the sin.
The treatment of deliberation is similarly cursory: deliberation is recognized to exist but treated simply, in a common-sense way. There is no deep analysis of the relation between intellect and will in the deliberation over the means and adoption of the means, no discussion of enjoyment, consent, choice, intention and use.
The emphasis in the ascetical model is on the actual inception of the temptation as an image in the ascetic’s field of consciousness. Here Evagrius, St Mark the Ascetic and St Hesychios are very subtle, discussing aspects of the inception of the image and of the early stages of its life cycle that St Thomas ignores.
To return to the relation between this ascetical model and St Thomas own model of human action, Evagrius agrees with St Thomas that the inception of the image is involuntary. However, the ascetic is expected to reject the initial image when it appears. To the degree that the passion corresponding to the image is strong in the ascetic, this rejection is more or less difficult for the ascetic to accomplish: it may be a struggle for him to prevent the image from advancing to ‘much thought’, to use an expression of St Mark the Ascetic. However, the battle of the hermit is precisely here, in rejecting this initial image, or, if the matter has proceeded that far, in cutting off the ‘much thought’. This is the immaterial war of the thoughts.
Hence, to the extent that the passion is strong in the man, that passion increases the attractiveness of the image that has presented itself to his mind’s eye: the stronger the passion is in the man, the more he wants to do what the image suggests, the more difficult it is for him to reject the image, the more difficult it is for him to cut off the ‘much thought’ or, if matters have proceeded that far, to refuse his consent to the sin and not to do it. But this is precisely what St Thomas himself is addressing in the present article of the Summa. But the two cases St Thomas presents are for the hermit in the Evagrian tradition at the extreme end of the spectrum: in the one case, the passion is so strong that the reason is incapacitated and the man acts like a brute animal with respect to the desire or anger; in the other case, the matter has proceeded up to the stage of consent (in the Evagrian, not Thomist, sense) and the passion more or less presses the man to consent although he retains to a greater or lesser extent the use of his reason and will. Evagrius would agree that these cases exist, but as we said, they are at the far end of the spectrum of possible cases, very late stages in the life cycle of such an involuntary image.
Now the Evagrian ascetical program comprises not only the immaterial war of the thoughts, the stages of which we have just outlined, but also ascetical methods to diminish the passions, so that the battle progressively becomes easier, until such a time as the ascetic attain to dispassion (apatheia).
The ascetical theorists consider that dispassion (apatheia) is not immunity from these involuntary images but freedom from the pressure to follow them. However, they also consider that the ascetical methods they recommend reduce the movements of the sensitive appetite due to the disposition of a bodily organ and also radically transform the vegetative soul so that the involuntary movements of the bodily members are themselves reduced or eliminated, although not all of them.
What are these ascetical methods? They fit into two broad categories: bodily ascesis and spiritual ascesis.
Bodily ascesis diminishes the passions of the body and hence directly reduces the intensity and frequency of two of the involuntary movements that St Thomas has named: the involuntary movements of the sensitive appetite due to the disposition of a bodily organ and the involuntary movements of the bodily members due to movements of the vegetative appetite—although not every involuntary movement of the bodily members is affected by bodily ascesis.
Spiritual ascesis diminishes the passions of the soul and hence directly reduces the intensity and frequency of the remaining involuntary movement: the determination by the passion how the reason apprehends the good, or even the incapacitation by the passion of the reason itself. Moreover, the images which initially appear in the mind’s eye of the ascetic become less enticing; the ascetic is the more able to reject them at the instant of their inception. However, since some images are related to bodily passions, a complete treatment of the images requires both bodily and spiritual ascesis.
In the particular cases that St Thomas himself is addressing, both bodily ascesis and spiritual ascesis are recommended by Evagrius. For the bodily ascesis diminishes the strength of the bodily substrate which leads to an overwhelming by the passion of the reason and the will, while the spiritual ascesis diminishes the strength of the passion of the sensitive appetite insofar as it is to be found in the soul. This ascetical psychology and program of ascesis is delineated by Evagrius Pontikos in the Treatise on the Practical Life.
It is well to remark here on the relation between this program of ascesis and the fundamental issue in cognitive psychology between the Philokalia and the psychology of St Thomas that we will discuss below when we conduct a general assessment of St Thomas’ anthropology and psychology: This program of ascesis deals with the inception of impassioned images in the mind’s eye of the ascetic, and leads to a freedom or detachment from these images—their appearance in the mind’s eye remaining in any event involuntary—, and also to a greater freedom from passions of soul and body in the ways we have just described. But what the ascetic lives subjectively is a progressive purification or emptying of his field of consciousness, of his intellect, as habitually experienced by him. Now at the heart of this ascetical method of Evagrius Pontikos is a doctrine of the divestiture of sense-perceptions and recollections of sense-perceptions in order for the ascetic to attain to contemplation, to intuitive apprehensions of intelligible realities, something that St Thomas does not accept to be naturally possible in this life. However, it is precisely through the practice of the method of the immaterial war that we have just described, and through the practice of its attendant methods of bodily and spiritual ascesis, that the ascetic is rendered able to divest himself of these sense-perceptions and recollections of sense-perceptions, so as, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, to enter into intuitive apprehensions of intelligible realities, into contemplation. The ascetic experiences this divestiture precisely at the level of the purification of his habitual field of consciousness, precisely at level of his psychological apprehension of the involuntary image that presents itself to his mind’s eye: as he progresses in the immaterial war against these images, he is simultaneously progressing towards the possibility of divesting himself of sense-perceptions and recollections of sense-perceptions so as to enter into the contemplation of intelligible (i.e. non-sensible) realities.
The ascetical psychology of the school of Evagrius Pontikos which underlies the Philokalia constitutes both an analysis of and a therapy for just those aspects of human action that St Thomas is addressing in the present article of the Summa, and integrates that therapy into a method for disposing the ascetic to enter into the contemplation of intelligible realities, including God himself.
We will return to this matter below in our general discussion of the relation between the Philokalia and the psychology of St Thomas Aquinas. However, let us now return to St Thomas.
 ST Ia IIae, 10, 3.
 In ST Ia IIae, 17, 7, discussed below.
 In ST Ia IIae, 17, 9, quoted below.
 We are using ordinary language here; in the later volumes, we will adopt more precise terminology.
 This stage is emphasized by St Hesychios, not by Evagrius.
 In the Skemmata (see Volume II), Evagrius introduces some refinements to the model just outlined.
 See Volume II.