Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Diadochos of Photiki, Gnostic Chapters 51 - 60

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

Our Lord and Teacher of this our sacred way of life, Jesus Christ, was given vinegar to drink in the Passion by the ministrants of the diabolical commands so that, it seems to me, he leave us a clear model of the [proper] disposition towards the sacred [ascetic] struggles. For those who are struggling against sin must not make use of tasty food and drink but rather sustain the bitterness of the [ascetic] struggles. Let the hyssop also be added to the sponge of contempt so that the figure of our purification might be brought into the model perfectly. For acridity is the property of struggles whereas that which purifies is at all events the property of perfection.
Let no one proclaim that going to the bath[1] is sinful or absurd; however, I say that to abstain from this is both manly and most prudent. For then neither does that pleasurable moisture render our body effeminate nor do we come into recollection of that inglorious nakedness of Adam, so that we take a care to the leaves of Adam so as to cover the second-rate excuse of shame;[2] and certainly we who have just jumped out of the utter destruction of worldly life ought to unite the purity of our body to the beauty of chastity.
There is nothing that impedes calling doctors in the time of illnesses. For since at some time the art was going to be gathered by human experience,[3] for that reason the medicines also pre-existed. Still, we must not have our hope of healing in doctors but in our true Saviour and Physician, Jesus Christ. I say these things to those who are accomplishing the goal of temperance in cÅ“nobia[4] and in cities, on account of the fact that because of conditions they are unable to have the ceaseless activity of faith [working] through love, and moreover so that they not fall into vainglory and the temptation of the Devil. For some of these proclaim among the many that they have no need of doctors. If someone should be accomplishing the life of solitude in more deserted places among two or three brothers with the same way of life, then let him bring himself in faith only to the Lord, him who heals our every illness and infirmity, whatever sort of illnesses he should fall into at all. For after the Lord, he has the wilderness as sufficient consolation of the illnesses. Whence, neither does such a person ever lack the activity of faith, and certainly since making use of the wilderness as a good screen neither does he find anywhere to exhibit his virtue of patient endurance.[5] For because of this, ‘The Lord makes solitaries to dwell in a house.’
When we are greatly disgusted with the bodily anomalies that occur to us,[6] it must be known that our soul is still enslaved to the desires of the body. For just that reason the soul, longing for material well-being, does not wish to depart from the good things of life but also considers it a great lack of leisure not to be able, on account of the illnesses, to make use of the fine things of life. But if with thanksgiving the soul accepts the troubles that arise from the illnesses, it is known not to be far from the boundaries of dispassion, whence it even then accepts death with joy, as being, rather, the occasion of true life.
The soul would not desire to depart from the body unless the disposition towards this air become without quality to it.[7] For all the senses of the body are opposed to faith, since the former occur in connection with present things while the latter proclaims only the extravagance of future goods. It therefore befits the struggler in asceticism not ever to recall certain trees with fine branches, or arbours, or fine-flowing fountains, or various meadows, or comely houses or discussions with relatives, neither then to remember honours which might have occurred in the festivals, but to make use of necessary things with thanksgiving and to consider life to be a foreign road bereft of every fleshly disposition.[8] For only thus, wholly restricting our very intellect, might we return to the trace of the eternal road.[9]
That sight and taste and the remaining senses disperse the remembrance of the heart when we make use of them beyond measure—Eve first speaks to us of such a thing. For as long she did not look with pleasure on the tree of the commandment, she kept in careful remembrance the commandment of God. For which very reason she was as it were still covered by the wings of divine Eros[10] and, because of this, ignorant of her own nakedness. But because she looked at the tree with pleasure and touched it with great desire and, further, tasted the fruit of it with a certain active pleasure, she was immediately allured to bodily intertwining, since, naked, she had been joined to the passion. She then gave her whole desire over to the enjoyment of present things and through the sweet-appearing fruit mixed Adam with her own transgression, for which very reason thenceforward the human mind is only with difficulty able to keep God and his commandments in remembrance. Therefore let us who ever look into the depths of our heart with the ceaseless remembrance of God pass this deceitful life with eyes that are as it were blind.[11] For it really is the property of spiritual philosophy ever to keep unwinged the Eros for things seen.[12]
He who ever sojourns in his own heart is in every way abroad from the fine things of life. For walking in the Spirit he is unable to know the desires of the flesh. Since henceforward such a person takes his walks in the fortress of the virtues, having those very virtues as sorts of door-keepers of the city of his purity, then henceforward the war-machines of the demons become unable to accomplish anything even should the arrows of vulgar Eros reach to a certain extent right up to the windows of nature.[13]
When our soul begins no longer to desire the fine things of the earth then a certain mind of accidie[14] usually enters into it, neither allowing it to minister willingly in the service of the word nor leaving to it the intense desire of future things, but even devaluing exceedingly this temporal life as not having a work worthy of virtue, and despising this very gnosis, either as having already been granted to many others or as promising to signify nothing perfect to us. We will escape from this tepid passion which makes us sluggish if we set up very narrow limits to our intellect, gazing only towards the remembrance of God. For only thus would the mind, running back to its own warmth, be able to depart from that irrational dispersion.[15]
When we have blocked all its exits with the memory of God, our mind at all events demands of us a work that must give assurance to its aptitude. It is therefore necessary to give it the ‘Lord Jesus’ in complete occupation towards the goal.[16] For he says: ‘No one says Lord Jesus except in the Holy Spirit.’ But in the treasuries of the self let this saying always be considered narrowly so that one not be turned aside into certain fantasies. For as many as meditate unceasingly in the depth of their heart on this holy and glorious name are able to see at some time the light of their own mind. For when this name is kept with narrow care by the intellect it burns up with sufficient perception all the filth that floats in the soul, for also: ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ Whence, henceforward the Lord calls the soul to much love of his own glory. For when that glorious and much-longed-for name becomes chronic[17] through the remembrance of the mind in the warmth of the heart, it creates in us at all events a habit of loving his goodness, henceforward there being nothing which impedes this. For this is the valuable pearl which, selling all his property, one can acquire so as to have unspeakable joy over his find.
One thing is introductory joy and another thing perfecting joy. For the former is not free of fantasy while the second has the power of humility; between these is god-loving sorrow and painless tears. For: ‘In an abundance of wisdom is really an abundance of gnosis;’ and: ‘He who has added gnosis will add pain.’ On account of this, therefore, one must first call the soul to the struggles with the introductory joy, then the soul must be cross-examined and tested henceforth by the light of the Holy Spirit concerning the evils that it has done or even concerning the vain imaginings that it still does. For he says: ‘In rebukes concerning lawlessness you have instructed a man and you have caused his soul to melt like a spider’s web;’ so that once the divine cross-examination has tried the soul, in the warm remembrance of God the soul receive the joy which is free of fantasy.

[1] While this chapter was written at a time when the baths were public—with all the potential for scandal that that entailed—it clearly applies to more modern conditions where the bath might be more private.
[2] This expression is unclear as regards ‘second-rate’.
[3] The author has in mind the plants that anciently were collected for use in medicine. He is saying that since this was going to happen, God made sure that the appropriate plants pre-existed.
[4] I.e. monasteries.
[5] I.e. the wilderness acts as a good screen between the hermit and the world, hiding him from others, and the illness allows him to exhibit his virtue of patient endurance which he would not otherwise be able to exhibit because of his isolation.
[6] I.e. in an illness, especially a terminal illness such as cancer.
[7] I.e. the soul would not wish to depart from the body unless it loses its taste for the very air of this life.
[8] I.e. every fleshly psychological orientation.
[9] This is an instruction for the advanced Hesychast to keep his mind on the contemplation of God, not letting it wander to thoughts and memories of earthly beauties.
[10] I.e. Eve’s ardent love for God hid her nakedness from her own eyes.
[11] I.e. to material beauty.
[12] This chapter is easier to understand if one considers that it is speaking to someone accustomed to practising the Jesus Prayer in the depths of his heart. The tension that it describes is between continuing to recite the prayer in the depths of the heart versus the temptation to look out at the things of physical beauty around one. This is continued in the next chapter.
[13] The controlling image of this chapter is that of the ascetic who maintains his mind within his heart. Doing so, he has the virtues as the custodians of the citadel of his chastity—that is, of his inner world where he has his mind. In such a case the arrows of the demons can do him no harm, even if they should to a certain extent reach right up to the windows of nature—that is, even should the demons, which, as the author will develop, are outside the city (i.e. outside the person) trying to get in, arrive at exciting the ascetic’s very flesh.
[14] I.e. sloth.
[15] This is an instruction for an advanced Hesychast.
[16] This very important passage establishes that because it is the nature of the mind to be occupied with something, then when we have withdrawn our mind within ourselves in the remembrance of God, we must nonetheless give the mind something to do. This something is precisely the Jesus Prayer—and only the Jesus Prayer: we must not allow the mind to wander to other thoughts and fantasies. These are instructions mainly for advanced Hesychasts.
[17] Not in a negative sense but in the sense of something that continues over a long time.

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