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Chapter V -- 5

The next important thing for the spirituality of the Philokalia is the notion that Baptism does not prevent the Devil from tempting us. Recall that in the ascetical psychology of Evagrius Pontikos, the beginning of a temptation is the appearance in the ascetic’s field of consciousness of an image based on one of the eight passions, which image tempts the ascetic to sin. Here, St Diadochos is explicitly saying that Baptism does not prevent this. Moreover, he is saying that we retain our duality of will. In technical language, Baptism does not grant us not to be able to fall, to sin. That is granted only in Heaven and, especially, in the General Resurrection. Hence, as St Diadochos puts it, after Baptism we are to take up the arms of righteousness, we who are the runners in the sacred contests. For those who choose to take up the spirituality of the Philokalia, the arms of righteousness are the methods of bodily and spiritual ascesis that we will discuss in the rest of this work: first the primary model of Evagrius Pontikos in Volume II, then the Hesychast model, which includes the use of the Jesus Prayer, of St Hesychios in Volume III.

It is important to realize that the first recorded reference to the use of the Jesus Prayer is in the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos, the very work we are now discussing. However, we will defer until Volume III a discussion of passages of that work which are concerned with the Jesus Prayer.

In Chapter 4, St Diadochos clarifies the relationship between the kat’ eikona and the kath’ homoiosin. All men have the kat’ eikona. As we have seen however, until a man is baptized, the kat’ eikona is sullied by the transgression of Adam. Moreover, St Diadochos says, the kath’ homoiosin belongs only to those who through much love have enslaved their own freedom to God. Compare the Gospel of John:

Amen, Amen, I say to you, that every man who does sin is a slave of sin. The slave, then, does not remain in the house to the Age; the son remains to the Age. If, then, the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.[1]

What St Diadochos himself means is that since after our Baptism we retain our duality of will, we must by a free and deliberate choice subject our freedom to God. This is much the same as St Augustine’s doctrine of the superior reason, of the submission of the higher part of man’s soul to God. As St Diadochos puts it: ‘For when we are not of ourselves, then we are like (homoioi) him who reconciled us to himself by means of love.’ When we have given ourselves completely to God so that we no longer belong to ourselves but to God, who reconciled us to himself by means of love, then we are in the kath’ homoiosin. But it is impossible to achieve this unless we fearlessly put off the easy vainglory of the present life. This emptying of ourselves so that we might enslave our freedom to God is here to be understood to be the practice of the way of spirituality of the Philokalia. It is not to be thought of as something apart from, or over and above, that way of ascesis. There is one way of ascesis for each man, whatever that way of ascesis might be—we are not here asserting that every man must follow the way of the Philokalia—and the practice of that way is itself the very act of the man’s giving over of himself to God: if there is a dissonance between the method of ascesis and the self-giving to God then something is wrong either with the man’s ascesis or with his approach to God.

In Chapter 89, St Diadochos addresses the relation between the kat’ eikona and the kath’ homoiosin in more detail. After repeating his teaching concerning the acquisition of the fullness of the kat’ eikona in Baptism, he turns to the acquisition of the kath’ homoiosin. Now it must be said that we are here quoting a passage of St Diadochos in which he is discussing not the beginning of the struggle for the kath’ homoiosin but its final stages, stages to which few men or women attain even in good monasteries in this age. The beginning of the struggle we will discuss in depth in Volume II. For now, let us see what St Diadochos says. He says that when the mind (nous) of the ascetic begins to taste the goodness of the Holy Spirit in much perception (polle aisthesis), then he must know that Grace, the Holy Spirit, is beginning to fashion the kath’ homoiosin on top of the kat’ eikona, just as a painter applies his various paints to transform the sketch of a person into a full portrait. The kat’ eikona that we receive in Baptism is the sketch of the person of Christ, if it can be put that way, and the kath’ homoiosin is the fullness of the portrait of Christ that we must become. The sign of the beginning of the acquisition of the kath’ homoiosin is the ‘much perception (polle aisthesis)’ of the goodness of the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? The ascetic begins to have much spiritual perception—clear intuitive apprehension by his mind (nous)—of the presence and operation in his soul of the Holy Spirit. For the beginner, of course, there is a danger here, since he might be tempted by a false advent of the Holy Spirit. However, let us leave that matter aside, since we will discuss it in the other two volumes of this study. Once, then, the ascetic begins to have much spiritual perception of the goodness of the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit itself has begun to fashion the kath’ homoiosin in him. St Diadochos says that the Holy Spirit adorns the virtue of the ascetic with virtue and leads the ascetic up from glory to glory, thus procuring for the ascetic the stamp of the kath’ homoiosin, which is the likeness to Grace, to the Holy Spirit. However, that is not enough for the perfection of the kath’ homoiosin. To reach the fullness of the kath’ homoiosin, the ascetic must attain to ‘illumination (photismos)’.

By means of the much perception, the soul of the ascetic receives, evidently in contemplation, all the virtues but one: the fullness of spiritual love. That can only be acquired by illumination (photismos), with every inner spiritual assurance (plerophoria), by the Holy Spirit. The perfection of the kath’ homoiosin, divine love, is granted by the Holy Spirit in this illumination (photismos): ‘[T]he illumination of love once added declares the kat’ eikona to be completely in the dignity of the kath’ homoiosin.’ In a very important remark, St Diadochos observes that the much perception (polle aisthesis) grants us a taste of divine love, but that the fullness of this divine love is granted only in the illumination (photismos).

The dual concepts in St Diadochos of illumination and spiritual perception[2] are very important. They are found in Homily 7 of the Spiritual Homilies of St Makarios,[3] a source of St Diadochos.[4]

The importance of the phrase ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ can be seen in the fact that St Gregory Palamas himself uses the expression in Huper ton Hieros Hesuchazonton (In Defence of Those Keeping Stillness in a Holy Manner) when in his refutation of Barlaam he is discussing the nature of the spiritual experience of the Hesychast. R. E. Sinkewicz, the Roman Catholic student of the Hesychast controversy of the Fourteenth Century, implies that St Gregory Palamas took the phrase from earlier writers, perhaps from St Symeon the New Theologian, although the phrase itself is earlier in origin.[5] If we consider that the book that St Symeon’s teacher gave him to read when he was a beginner in the spiritual life contained the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos,[6] then the spiritual genealogy of the phrase is possibly from the Makarian homilies to St Diadochos to St Symeon to St Gregory Palamas.

Moreover, the description of the illumination (photismos) by St Diadochos is very similar to the Hesychast doctrine of the Uncreated Light. For he says: ‘For if the mind (nous) does not receive perfectly the kath’ homoiosin by means of the Divine Light…’ But that is precisely what was in question in the Hesychast controversy. Moreover, we will find in Volume III that St Hesychios has a parallel doctrine of illumination by the Holy Spirit.

We also see that St Diadochos advances a doctrine of dispassion (apatheia). Although, as we have remarked, St Diadochos is known to have been influenced by Evagrius Pontikos, his notion of dispassion (apatheia) is not the same as Evagrius’ notion. For it is clear that for St Diadochos, to attain to dispassion (apatheia) is to attain to the kath’ homoiosin. However, as we have pointed out previously and as we shall discuss in Volume II, Evagrius’ dispassion (apatheia) is an intermediate stage of the spiritual journey, not its fulfilment.

We can now see the broad outlines of man’s vocation: it is to be reconciled to God in Holy Baptism and, having received the restoration of the kat’ eikona, to work to attain the kath’ homoiosin.

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[1] John 8, 34–6.

[2] In other passages, St Diadochos does use the phrase ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’; here he is using the simpler expression ‘perception (aisthesis).

[3] Migne 34 Homily 7, Question 5, col. 525D.

[4] In the particular place of St Makarios cited, the word actually used is ‘perception (aisthesis)’, but this is a minor difference; the sense in both authors is the same.

[5] Conticello pp. 157–9.

[6] Stethatos Chapter 4, ll. 15–16.


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