Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 10 - 15

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

When the temper is set in motion against the passions, it must be known that it is the hour of silence. When one sees that confusion coming to serenity either through the prayer or through almsgiving let him set the wing of the mind in motion in the love of the sayings of God, being secured with the bond of humility. For if one does not humiliate oneself greatly, one is not able to speak concerning the grandeur of God.
The situation being described here is the active war that the ascetic is waging against a passion that is strongly tempting him or her to sin. We might say today, a carnal temptation. So, here, the author foresees is that the ascetic has set his temper in motion against a carnal temptation, let us say. It is characteristic of this school of mysticism that the temper is considered to be given by God to man for him to use against temptation. It is important to understand how this is to be done: a man or woman who flies into a blind rage against a temptation is headed for the mental hospital. The temper must be used coolly, with measure.
As we have discussed elsewhere in the blog, there are eight passions, and the temper can be used against a temptation by any of them. Hence it doesn’t really have to be a matter of a carnal temptation, but that is the most common example we can give. It does matter if the tempted person has learned how to use the temper against the temptation in a way which will defeat the temptation without disturbing his spiritual and psychological equilibrium.
The eight passions are: gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, anger, accidie (sloth), vainglory and pride.
What the author is saying is that in such a case, it is not the time for the ascetic to be spending time on speaking, writing or teaching. It is the time for silence.
The author continues: ‘When one sees that confusion coming to serenity either through the prayer or through almsgiving…’ What he means is that there are two possible roads that the ascetic might follow to overcome this temptation—apart from the use of the temper. This is the Jesus Prayer or almsgiving. We would take this reference to ‘the prayer’ with the definite article as a reference to the Jesus Prayer. Hence what the author foresees is the practice of the Jesus Prayer joined to the temper in order to defeat the demon that is tempting the ascetic. This is advanced stuff. It is possible, but you have to be trained.
Almsgiving seems a little difficult for an ascetic in the desert. On the one hand, however, the author clearly foresees in this text an urban monasticism (within the context of his age, surely). On the other hand, ‘almsgiving’ might be taken in the broad sense of acts of charity. Perhaps caring for the sick in the skete or monastery—or in the case of a person living in the world, in the neighbourhood.
The next thing that the author foresees is that there will be a victorious end to the battle and that the person will be restored to serenity. In that case, he says, it is possible to set the mind in motion in the love of the words of God—note the emphasis on love as a motivation—for the sake of teaching others. He emphasizes that this must be done in great humility. So he foresees a situation where the person emerges victorious from the battle and with great love and humility proceeds to teach others the word of God. The author then emphasizes the necessity for the person to humble him- or herself in order to be able to speak of the grandeur of God. In other words, God gives grace to the humble and sets his face in opposition to the proud-hearted, especially when it is a matter of discoursing or writing on the grandeur of God.
Spiritual discourse ever preserves the soul free from vainglory; for benefiting all the parts of the soul in a [spiritual] perception[1] of light it makes the soul not to have need of honour from men. And for that very reason spiritual discourse ever preserves the intellect free from fantasy, transforming it wholly into the love of God. The discourse of the wisdom of the world, however, ever provokes a man to ambition. Because it is not able to benefit through experience of the [spiritual] sense,[2] this discourse grants to its familiars the love of praises, as being itself the creature of vainglorious men. Therefore, we will know without deception the disposition of divine discourse if in a silence without care we consume the hours of not speaking in the warm remembrance of God.
The heart of this chapter is how to discern between spiritual discourse which is of God and spiritual discourse which is of the flesh. When we discourse from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the author is saying, we are free from any trace of vainglory. The reason he gives is that the Holy Spirit illuminates all the parts of the soul in a spiritual perception of light that makes the soul free from any need for honour from men. This is a very important criterion to allow us to assess when we are speaking with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and when we are not. If we are completely free of vainglory in all its forms in the hour we speak, instead being illuminated (perhaps without any sensible experience) in all the parts of our soul with the light of the Holy Spirit, then we are speaking from God. Moreover, in such a case, the spiritual discourse preserves the person’s mind free from fantasy—daydreaming of various kinds prompted by one or another of our passions. In the case of wisdom of this world, or wisdom of the flesh, the characteristic is our ambition. We want to make a name for ourselves. The reason the author gives is that worldly wisdom, being bereft of divine illumination, encourages vainglory in its practitioners, since it is the offspring of vainglory. Hence, the author says, if when we are not speaking we proceed in the warm remembrance of God, then we know that we are speaking from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
It is important to understand what the author means by the remembrance of God here. This is not a matter of remembering benefits that God has granted to us; it is not a matter of fantasizing scenes from Jesus’ life; it is a matter of paying attention to God. In beginners, this is a matter of paying attention to our religious obligations and affairs when we are not discoursing on God; in the more advanced, it is a matter of a spiritual turning to God, that attentiveness that Jesus counsels in the Gospel:
‘You do not know the hour in which the Master is coming. What I say to you I say to all: be attentive.’
He who loves himself is not able to love God. He who does not love himself on account of the surpassing wealth of the love of God, this one loves God. He who loves God loves the glory of him who made him. The characteristic[3] of the soul which has the spiritual sense[4] and which is loving of God is to seek the glory of God in all the commandments which it fulfils, yet to delight in its own humility, because glory for the sake of grandeur is proper to God whereas humility is proper to man, so that through it we become intimate with God. Whatever we might do, as we rejoice unceasingly in the glory of the Lord let us also begin to say according to St John the Baptist: ‘He must be increased but we must be decreased.’
The author now provides a criterion for the discernment of the love of God that excludes everyone in the world except the occasional saint. The proper love of God is a love which forgets itself on account of the love of God. This ‘love of God’ should be understood as the love which proceeds from God, not the love the person has for God. So the one who forgets himself on account of the great love which is in God, this one loves God. This person loves the glory of his Creator with a love that makes him forget himself. Moreover, if a person has the spiritual sense—here it might be taken to be the conscious presence in himself of the Holy Spirit—and loves God, then in fulfilling the commandments of God, that person seeks only the glory of God, delighting only in his own humility. For glory is proper to God but humility is proper to man, so that through humility man might be intimate with God. This is quite true, but who is at this stage?
I know someone who loves God so much, and who still mourns that he does not love as he wants, that unceasingly his soul is in a certain warm desire such that God be glorified in him and his own self be as not existing. This man does not know just what he is, not even in the midst of the actual praises that come from words. In the great desire for humility he does not think himself worthy but on the one hand serves[5] God according to the law for priests, and on the other hand in a certain great disposition of love for God steals his own memory of his rank, in a spirit of humility hiding the boast that comes from this rank somewhere in the depth of love for God, so that estranged from his own rank in the desire for humility, in his intellect he always seem to himself an unworthy servant. And we, doing the very same thing, must avoid every honour and glory for the sake of the surpassing wealth of the love of the Lord who loves us thus.
This is with reason taken as referring to the author himself, St Diadochos, Bishop of Photiki. The man loves God so much that he wants to empty himself not so that he be filled with God for his own sake or for the sake of a religious experience, but so that God might be glorified in him. The author then goes on to describe how the person in question, himself, has an ecclesiastical rank which is quite high but which the person manages to ‘forget’ so as to remain in the humility of the ‘unworthy servant’. This is a person who loves God.
It should be noted here that St Diadochos knows what he’s doing in practising humility and indeed knows who he is. While he says that the man he knows does not know who he is, since he is referring to himself, he knows quite well who he is, since he realizes that the man in question is practising humility in hiding his rank from himself. That is, it is mistaken to think that such a saint doesn’t understand ‘what’s going on around him’. The Saint understands himself quite well, so well that he can speak about how he practises his humility. This is an example of a saint exercising the Gospel adage to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In one sense we know what our right hand is doing—we’re doing it, and not unconsciously, but in full consciousness with charismatic discernment. In another sense, we don’t know what our right hand is doing: we have buried our rank in our humility and as it were pretend to ourselves that we are nothing.
He who loves the Lord in [spiritual] perception of heart[6] is known by him. As much as someone accepts the love of God in [spiritual] perception of heart, that much he comes to be in the love of God. Therefore, henceforward such a person exists in a certain intense Eros[7] for the illumination of gnosis until he might perceive the very sense of his bones,[8] no longer knowing himself but wholly transformed by the love of God. Such a person is both present in this life and not present; still sojourning in his own body, in the movement of the soul he departs unceasingly towards God through love. For, unwavering, he henceforward adheres to God, burning the heart through the fire of love with a certain necessity of desire, once and for all having stood outside of friendship for himself in the love of God. For he says: ‘Whether we are beside ourselves, for God; whether we are of sound mind, for you.’
The Saint first asserts that he who has reached the stage of loving God in spiritual perception is known by God. He is attempting to express the condition of a union with God. What the Saint is saying is that in this condition, the person wishes to empty himself more and more in a spiritual kenosis so that he might be filled more and more with the love of God—or if you wish with God himself. That is what it means to ‘perceive the very sense of his bones’: it means that the person is emptying himself more and more so that he might experience God more and more in an insatiable longing for his Beloved. Such a person has one foot in Heaven and is not really on earth like the rest of us.
When a person begins richly to perceive [spiritually] the love of God then he begins to love his neighbour in [spiritual] perception of spirit.[9] This is the love concerning which all the Scriptures speak. For friendship according to the flesh is dissolved quite easily, there having been found some slight cause; it is not bound by the [spiritual] perception of the spirit. For this reason, therefore, even if there should occur some irritation to a soul set into activity by God, the bond of love is not loosed by it. For again setting fire to itself by the warmth of the love of God, it is recalled to the good and quickly seeks the love of the neighbour with great joy even if it should be greatly insulted or damaged by him. For in the sweetness of God it completely consumes the bitterness of the quarrel.
The Saint now proceeds to discuss the effect of this condition on relations with other people. The main point is that the Gospel love is not the same as a carnal love (a love from the flesh which may or may not be explicitly sexual). This is a love which is noble; a love which is not humiliated by the scorn of the other; a love which cherishes the other despite the other’s actions. The Saint then proceeds to discuss how we reach this stage, in the next chapter.

[1] This would be with the spiritual sense.
[2] What St Diadochos means is that the wisdom of the world is not able to benefit through real spiritual experience consciously experienced with the spiritual sense.
[3] Greek: idion. This is a philosophical term. It means the characteristic that belongs to something as part of its nature.
[4] The author treats attainment to the spiritual sense as a certain level of spiritual attainment. Given that the author is considered to be of the school of Evagrius, we would treat this as dispassion. See Kephalaia Gnostica I, 37.
[5] Greek: leitourgei. I.e. serves as a priest. It appears that the author is speaking of himself, so, here, ‘serves as a bishop’.
[6] See our remarks on the spiritual sense. The same thing is intended.
[7] Greek: eros. This is the word used of marital love. What the author is saying is that the person who has reached this stage henceforth has a burning, ardent desire for the illumination of gnosis.
[8] The author means that this burning, ardent desire for gnosis is such that the person wishes, if he could, to know God consciously even in his bones.
[9] This would be yet another phase of the spiritual sense. What is important is that St Diadochos means that these things happen as conscious spiritual phenomena and not with the bodily senses.

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