Monday, 23 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 30 - 36

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

The [spiritual] sense of the mind is the exact taste of those things that are discerned. For in the way that we desire the good things when we distinguish good things from bad things with the bodily sense of taste, so in that same way our mind is able richly to perceive [spiritually] the divine consolation and never at all to be seized by its opposite, when it begins to move healthily and in great freedom from care.[1] For just as, tasting earthly sweets, the body has a faultless experience of the sense [of taste], thus also when the mind boasts [of being] above the thought of the flesh[2] it is able to taste unerringly the consolation of the Holy Spirit (for he says: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good;’) and through the activity of love to have unforgettable the memory of that taste in faultlessly testing those things which differ, according to the saint who says: ‘And I pray for this very thing, that your love be more and more abundant in knowledge and in all [spiritual] sense so that you test those things which differ.’
The definition of the spiritual sense in this chapter confirms that St Diadochos is following Evagrius’ definition of the spiritual sense, which is attained when the person attains to emotional wholeness. Given this, it is important to understand that the spiritual sense is restricted by the depth of the charism and by the spiritual attainment of its possessor. There is no man or woman which possesses the spiritual sense to the degree that God knows spiritual things. Hence, although the spiritual sense has a faultless taste of the things it assays, this faultless taste is limited by the spiritual attainment and the degree of the charism of the person tasting. This is important in the activity of Eldership, for it is by this spiritual taste that the Elder assays the heart of the person who comes to him for counsel. This is why it is impossible to fool the Elder: he hears not with the ears of flesh but with the ears given to him by the Holy Spirit; he sees not with the eyes of the flesh but with the eyes given to him by the Holy Spirit. As we said, the prerequisite of this spiritual sense is emotional health: the reintegration of the person at the emotional level to the extent that he or she is no longer ruled by the eight passions but by their corresponding virtues, as infused into him or her by the Holy Spirit. But here, in this chapter, the author is concerned not with the application of the spiritual sense to the soul of the other who has come for confession and/or counsel, but in the unerring taste of the Holy Spirit himself. Recall, however, that the road to attainment of this emotional health and the spiritual sense is through the fear of God purifying the ascetic in stillness.
Once our mind has begun to perceive the consolation of the Holy Spirit, then Satan also consoles the soul in a certain sweet-seeming sense[3] when in the night-time stillness one comes to the edge of a very light sleep. If at that time the mind be found keeping the holy name of the Lord Jesus in extremely warm remembrance and if it make use of that holy and glorious name just like a weapon against the deception,[4] then the deceiver departs from his ruse and kindles an actual war of the soul. Whence, knowing exactly the deception of the Evil One, the mind progresses further in the experience of discernment.
The author now commences to teach some basic aspects of the discernment of spirits. There is a false consolation of the Holy Spirit given by Satan which has the major characteristic that it occurs when one comes to the edge of a very light sleep. This is sometimes called hypnagogic reverie. This has nothing to do with hypnosis; it merely means being on the edge of sleep.
The next sentence is very important. The author supposes that the reader is accustomed to the uninterrupted Jesus Prayer. This in itself is no mean accomplishment, so that this work cannot be considered a beginners’ manual of the Jesus Prayer. Moreover, there is no real natural interpretation of what the author is saying except the continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer, which the author calls the name of Jesus. Does this mean that the author proposes or supposes that the reader is praying only ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus …’? We do not think so. We think that the author uses the expression ‘name of Jesus’ to refer to a form of the Jesus Prayer which he nowhere specifies. Now this might be considered a fault or a lack in the text, but perhaps it should be taken to mean that the exact form of the Jesus Prayer used is not of the essence, that given that it is clear that the active assistance of the Holy Spirit is presupposed, the actual form used is largely a matter of the action of the Holy Spirit in each person praying. However, for us beginners, it is best not to presume that we have the Holy Spirit in such a degree and to approach an Elder who is known to be a bearer of the Holy Spirit. This Elder will use his discernment, the spiritual sense that the author has been discussing, in order to assay both our heart and our practice of the Jesus Prayer counselling us both on our life and on our exact practice of the Jesus Prayer, including an assay of the Prayer as we pray it, in the formula we are accustomed to use. The Elder might suggest a change—which change he will assay the results of at another time—or he might be satisfied with things as they are.
The next thing to note is that the author believes that a person practising the Jesus Prayer ‘in extremely warm remembrance’ can direct the energy or force of the prayer to a certain object, in this case against the deception that the deceiver is providing in the hypnagogic reverie—i.e. against the tempting false consolation of Satan. But since the person is falling asleep, this means that there is a part of him or her that stays awake and is capable of doing this while the person is physically falling asleep. Moreover, the author goes on to make his main point. The demon is going to fight back in this case, and an actual spiritual war is going to occur. And you thought you were going to sleep. The author finishes by remarking that this war brings about an increase in practical discernment. While there is an important element of the spiritual sense in actual discernment, especially of the experience of the other who has come for counsel, there is also an element of having actual spiritual experience of the ruses of the Devil. The author now turns to describing the good consolation in the next chapter.
The good consolation occurs while the body is alert or at the hint of a sleep which is going to come, when in the warm remembrance of God someone has as it were adhered to his love;[5] but the consolation of deception always occurs when the ascetic has come into a certain light sleep, as I said, with moderate remembrance of God.[6] The first, clearly being from God, wishes to console the souls of the strugglers of piety in a great outpouring of the soul towards love; the second, since it has the custom to fan the soul in a certain wind of deception, attempts to steal by means of the sleep of the body the experience of the healthy mind in regard to the memory of God. Therefore, if the mind be found, as I said, to have been remembering the Lord Jesus attentively, on the one hand it disperses that seemingly sweet breeze of the Enemy and on the other hand, rejoicing, it sets itself into motion in war against the Enemy,[7] having as a second weapon with Grace the boast that comes from experience.
This seems straightforward enough. Recall that the remembrance of Jesus is the practice of the Jesus Prayer, and that the degree of attentiveness of this remembrance is the degree of attention to the words of the Prayer with the mind (since the Prayer can continue without attention being paid to the words). Also, when we say that the chapter is clear enough in the light of the preceding, we are assuming that the reader is also following the footnotes.
If the soul is kindled by a movement without doubt and without fantasy towards the love of God while it is alert or coming into a sleep activated by divine Grace in the way that I have said, drawing as it were the body to the depth of that unspeakable love, the soul thinking nothing at all else except only that into which it is being moved, it must be known that the activity is of the Holy Spirit. For being completely sweetened by that inexpressible sweetness, the soul is then unable to think anything else at all, since it rejoices with a steadfast joy. If, then, there is any doubt at all or a certain sordid thought, or if the soul makes use of the holy name as a weapon for defence and not actually only towards the love of God,[8] it must be thought that that consolation is from the deceiver in an outward appearance of joy; and that joy is without quality and completely disordered, the Enemy wishing the soul to commit adultery. For when the Enemy sees the mind boasting exactly of its own [spiritual] sense[9] then with certain good-seeming consolations, as I have said, it provokes the soul so that the soul being divided by that soft and most liquid sweetness and the Enemy being unrecognizable, there occur the intercourse of the Treacherous One [with the soul].[10] Therefore, from this we will know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deception. Nevertheless, it is impossible for one to taste the divine goodness in [spiritual] perception or to make trial sensibly[11] of the bitterness of the demons unless one gives assurance to oneself that Grace has come to dwell in the depths of the mind whereas the evil spirits linger around the members of the heart,[12] which very thing the demons never at all wish to be believed by men, so that the mind, having learned this exactly, not arm itself against them with the remembrance of God.
This doesn’t seem to require explanation if the reader has understood the preceding. But note that ‘without fantasy’ means without imagination, or without imaginative images. Note also that the dogmatic assertion that the soul of the baptized Orthodox believer does not have demons dwelling in it, but only the Holy Spirit, is not only important but discussed at great length by the Saint later in this treatise.
One thing is the love which is natural to the soul and another thing is the love which occurs to it from the Holy Spirit. For the first is set moderately into motion, when we wish, from our own will, and for that reason it is easily plundered by the demons when we do not restrain our own intention with violence[13]. The second, however, so much enkindles the soul towards the love of God that then all the parts of soul fasten on in an unutterable way to the goodness of the divine longing in a certain infinite simplicity of disposition. For having then become as it were pregnant by the spiritual activity,[14] the mind spouts a certain fountain of love and joy.
This seems clear on the basis of the preceding commentary. The love which is natural to the soul is not exactly the carnal desire that we all know, but still it is not the love that is given by the Holy Spirit. The main difference between the two loves is that the natural love of the soul still involves the will, as the Saint says, and the egoism of the person involved. That is why this love is easily plundered by the demons. This is the love of which an Athonite Elder once said, ‘Love kills.’ The divinely given love is different, as the Saint describes.
Just as the sea when it is agitated has the nature to give way to the oil poured upon it, the storm being defeated by the nature of the oil, thus also our soul gladly becomes serene when it is fattened by the goodness of the Holy Spirit. Rejoicing, it is defeated according to the saint who says: ‘Yet be submissive to God, O my soul,’ in that overshadowing, dispassionate and unutterable goodness. On account of this, therefore, as many irritations are then contrived by the demons against the soul it remains without anger and full of every joy. One comes to this very thing or remains in it if one unceasingly sweetens his soul in the fear of God. For the fear of the Lord Jesus bears a certain kind of purification to those who are engaged in ascetic struggles: ‘For the fear of the Lord is pure, remaining to the Ages of Ages.’
The only thing to understand here is that the Holy Spirit is not an abstract conception but a Person of the Holy Trinity which is sent by Jesus from the Father to the soul of believers. As the Saint develops later, we receive the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Baptism and only lose it through the denial of Christ. However, the presence of the Holy Spirit is something that the Orthodox believer can experience, by means of the preparation that the author is outlining (although it is certainly not automatic: God is not a machine but three persons with one will; to encounter the Holy Spirit is to encounter one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. Recall that the author has been discussing the role of the fear of God in the purification of the ascetic. It is this purification which makes the ascetic available as it were to the visit of the Holy Spirit. Many Elders discuss being ready and not being ready for the visitation of the Holy Spirit.
Let no one hearing ‘sense of the mind’ hope that the glory of God will be seen by him visibly. For we say that it is sensed, when the soul might be purified, in a sort of unspeakable taste of divine consolation, not that something of the invisible appears[15] to it, for now we walk by faith and not by sight[16], as says the blessed Paul. Therefore, if there should appear to one of the strugglers in asceticism a light, or figure[17] having the form of fire, let him by no means accept in any way the vision of this sort. For it is a clear deception of the Enemy, which very thing many have suffered from ignorance and departed from the road of truth. We know that insofar as we sojourn in this corruptible body we are abroad from God, that is to say, we are not able visibly[18] to see either him or one of his Heavenly wonders.
This chapter is very important. It makes the very clear point that the spiritual sense or sense of the mind is not a sensible sight, so that the spiritual perception of God or other spiritual things is in no way sensible. It is an intuitive spiritual cognition of spiritual realities given to the purified mind or spirit of man by the light of the Holy Spirit. The author is emphatic that lights, images, and so on are temptations which can destroy the ascetic. The author now goes on to discuss dreams in the next chapter.

[1] The author means that the mind must have no occupation with worldly affairs.
[2] Here and elsewhere the author uses ‘boasts’ in the good sense of ‘has attained’.
[3] I.e. a false spiritual sense.
[4] This appears to be the first recorded reference to the Jesus Prayer in history.
[5] I.e. adhered to the love of God. It is not clear to us whether or not the author is drawing a parallel with someone adhering to his loved one in the marriage bed while on the verge of sleep.
[6] This is a remark on the intensity of the practice of the Jesus Prayer at the time of the consolation. In the case of a genuine consolation, the practice is intense, but in the case of a demonic consolation it is only moderate.
[7] In this case, the Jesus Prayer as it were ‘picks up speed’ to attack the Devil with a zeal born both of Grace and personal experience.
[8] The soul praying the Jesus Prayer turns automatically and without conscious intervention from a love directed solely to God in the Prayer, to an attack focused on the interloper—still by means of the Jesus Prayer. There is no conscious intervention in this movement, it being a spiritual movement of the soul beyond our conscious intervention. When this happens, it is a sure sign that the consolation is demonic in origin.
[9] I.e. when the Devil sees that the mind possesses exact spiritual discernment.
[10] This is a spiritual intercourse of the Devil or demon with the soul—a spiritual mixing of the two.
[11] I.e. consciously, with the spiritual sense.
[12] As the author develops later, this occurs only in Baptism.
[13] This is the violence of the Gospel.
[14] I.e. the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is a metaphor: ‘as it were’.
[15] I.e. with the bodily senses.
[16] Greek: eidous.
[17] Greek: schema.
[18] I.e. with the bodily senses.

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