April 12, 2021

The Mystical Journey of the Christian, Through the Desert, Towards the Resurrection and Pentecost (2 of 5)


2. "On the Development of Intrusive Thoughts"

Intrusive thoughts [logismoi] are the initial suggestions that develop into a sin and passion, which is why an ascetic gives great importance in not developing intrusive thoughts.

"The first stage [of intrusive thoughts] is when some spiritual influence approaches from without, which may, to begin with, be quite vague and shapeless. The initial stage in formation is the appearance in the field of man's inner vision of an image - and as this does not depend on one's will, it is not regarded as a sin. Images in some cases appear to take on visible form, while others are mostly products of the mind, but more often it is a combination of the two. As visible images also generate some thought or other, ascetics label all images 'intrusive thoughts' [logismoi].

The man who is not in thrall to the passions can recognize the force of an intrusive thought and yet remain completely free from its power. But if there is some 'place' in one - some suitable soil for the development of the intrusive thought the thought will strive to take possession of one's psychic being - of the heart, the soul. It achieves this because it prompts a feeling of the delight to be afforded by one or another passion. The delight figures 'temptation'. But even the fleeting pleasure, though it testifies to man's imperfection, is not yet to be reckoned as sin. It is only a 'proposal' for sin.

The further development of a sinful intrusive thought can be portrayed roughly as follows: the mind is attracted by the delectation to be afforded by the passion, and this is an extremely important and crucial moment because the fusion of mind with tempting ideas provides fertile soil for passion. If the mind does not by an exercise of the will tear itself away from the suggested delights but continues to dwell on them, it will find itself pleasantly attracted, then involved and finally positively acquiescent. After that, the ever-increasing delight in the passion may take possession of - make captive - mind and will. Lastly, the whole strength of the one enslaved by passion is directed to a more or less determined actualization of sin, if there are no outside impediments or, where there are, to seeking ways of getting round them.

Such captivity may happen once only and never recur if it had come about because of the inexperience of someone engaged in the ascetic struggle. But if the enchantment repeats itself, passion becomes second nature, and then all man's natural forces are at its service."

One observes here the subtle analysis that takes place in the development of intrusive thoughts in combination with images, the imagination, pleasure, the mind, sympathy, consent, and this analysis shows an experienced man in this subtle internal struggle, a great ascetic theologian.

Because this is the development of an intrusive thought that becomes sin and passion, the ascetic must face it at the stage he comes to understand this developmental course. In order to avoid sin "it is essential to stay the mind in prayer in the heart."

"Shutting the doors of his heart, stationing his mind on guard like a sentinel, unfettered by imagination and cogitation but armed with prayer and the Name of Jesus Christ, the ascetic striver embarks on the struggle against all external influence, all thoughts from without. This is the essence of mental vigilance. Its purpose is to contend against the passions."

This analysis shows not only the knowledge of the development of intrusive thoughts, but also the knowledge of its treatment.

3. "The Start of Spiritual Life - Struggle Against the Passions"

"When he succumbs to satanic influence man suffers the loss of his godlike freedom and falls away from divine life. The ascetic label for this state is 'passion'. The term implies, on the one hand the idea of passiveness and servitude, and, on the other, that of suffering in the sense of disentegration and death."

The deprivation of the divine life is what is characterized as passion, which in reality is the unnatural movement of the energies of the soul. Thus, passions are not interpreted externally and morally, but theologically, it is when the ascetic is defeated in his movement towards the being in the likeness of God, that is, in deification, and this means that he is deprived of a share in the divine life.

"The passions possess a power of attraction but no passionate image or thought can ever enter and take root in the soul without man's consent." All matters, both in the unnatural state of man and in his supernatural state, presuppose the synergy of man, in the first case the synergy of man under the influence of the devil and the intrusive thought, in the second case the synergy of man with the Grace of God.

"The starting-point of spiritual life is the struggle against the passions. If this struggle only meant renouncing worldly pleasures, it would be easy. The second stage in the struggle is more difficult - when passion, unsatisfied, starts to torment one with all kinds of infirmity. Here the ascetic needs great and continuous patience, since the salutary consequences of resistance to the passions are not quick to ensue."

Apart from the passions, which are the development of intrusive thoughts and torment man, there are also the so called "blameless passions", which are various needs such as food, sleep and so on, "that left unsatisfied curtail life." "For brief periods the ascetic may ignore these needs, and if they start to threaten with illness and the ascetic is ready to face death rather than give in, God takes even more care of him. This courageous determination is imperative." It is like a flame of fire which an ascetic keeps within his soul without showing all of its power.

"Plunged deep in the heart, the mind by being absorbed in prayer detaches itself from every image, not only visual but mental, too, and in this state of purity is deemed worthy to stand before God... When the soul is deemed worthy of the coming of divine light, she then genuinely lives life eternal - that is, God Himself. And where God is, there is a freedom impossible to describe in words, because man is then beyond death and fear... All weep and lament who have known in Christ the primordial fairness of man when they return from the ineffable spiritual banquet in the deep recesses of the heart, and see the world bereft of beauty and glory." So repentance develops naturally as a gift.

The whole development that takes place in this book about the passions presupposes the great spiritual experience of the author in the knowledge of the internal processes, not only of the passions, but also of their treatment. This is a work of highly knowledgeable spiritual surgery.