Noetic Battles Revisited

In a previous post, I cited some ancient Christian teaching regarding the mind and the spiritual battle waged in the arena of thoughts. I want to return to the topic again, this time with some personal reflections.

The past three months in particular have been a rather specific engagement with the notion of spiritual warfare of the mind. Life itself, of course, for the Christian is a matter of continuous warfare, as St. Paul notes in Ephesians 6:12. And that warfare begins first in the mind. As Jesus himself notes, the sin that one does begins first with the thought of it, the dwelling on it in one’s mind (Matthew 5:28). This is why the Christian must be so very careful what he puts in front of his eyes: on the TV, books and magazines, movies; and what he listens to with his ears: talk radio, conversations and music. For what his mind is engaged with will be what he does with his mouth, his hands and his feet.

But not only must the Christian guard what goes into his eyes and ears and into this thoughts, he must also guard to what thoughts he pays attention. Memories of past sins which come to his attention, or thoughts which do not give place for God’s love and providence. The dwelling, for example, on depressive thoughts is for some a most difficult battle. (Here, of course, I am speaking strictly of thoughts of hopelessness and depression. I do not touch on the biochemical component to depression which requires a different sort of therapy.)

As Solomon exhorts (emphasis mine):

My son, give head to my word and incline your ear to my words, that your fountains may not fail you; guard them in your heart; for they are life to those who find them and healing for all their flesh. Keep your heart with all watchfulness, for from these words are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:19-22 SAAS)

Or, in the more familiar King James rendering:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

This spiritual warfare of the mind is absolutely crucial if one is going to live a mature Christian life. Nearly the entire first volume of the English translation of the Philokalia is about nepsis or watchfulness of thoughts, the guarding of one’s heart.

As Father Anthony Coniaris writes:

Logismoi, thoughts, come to us from both God and from Satan. The church fathers tell us that the best way to discern whether the thoughts come from God or from Satan is to remember that the thoughts that come from God generate peace and joy, whiile the logismoi that come from Satan cause anxiety and turmoil.

Mother Maria said once that she thought she had only one appearance of Christs in her life. It was when she was particularly depressed one day. Christ appeared to her and said, “Maria, take it easy. Relax. It ain’t what you think.” Thoughts that come from Satan cause much turmoil. Then Jesus comes sand says, “Relax. It ain’t what Satan made you think.” Satan will almost always present the worst case scenario. (Confronting and Controlling Thoughts, p. 41)

One of the problems with depressive thoughts is not simply the depths of sadness and paralysis that comes upon one, but that it diminishes one’s faith in God and his loving Providence. I can speak from personal experience here: when one posits the worst case scenario one misses the fingerprints of God that are all over one’s day to day living. A loved one will encourage one to make some connections. Those connections will open new resources and renewed ties. Suddenly what had felt as though the horizon had shrunk to the four walls of one’s room, now stretches that horizon to the immeasurable limits of the Kansas prairie. What had felt impossible to face and a foregone conclusion, now opens up many avenues of response and the realistic hopes of pragmatic and favorable ends. When the present strictures had felt confining and diminishing, now suddenly it seems an exercise, a discipline, the moments before the victory (even if that victory may not be precisely how one imagines it).

This deliverance from such thoughts is always supernatural, but it is usually a synergy. That is to say, one practices watchfulness and does not let such depressive thoughts take hold in one’s mind and heart. But it is also the case that the deliverance is always divine. And that is especially the case when such warfare feels beyond one’s capability. The rescue and relief can be as sudden as the joy on morning’s awakening, when one’s heart is filled with divine songs.

The wonderful thing about such deliverance is the seemingly limitless possibilities. All doors seem open, all bridges remain unburned, but too there are many clear pathways to the future. Even if some of them are painful, they are, too, bittersweet. The years the locust have eaten will be restored, the blessings of Job will come, that which was lost will be restored. And even if that restoration is with new goods and different ends, the joy will be as strong and real.

It is when one is free of the control of one’s thoughts, when one disciplines all thoughts by the remembrance of the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who sees all our moments, our sins and virtues, and with all he is works to draw us to himself if only we will be drawn, then one will see clearly. Then one can face whatever task is required, however impossible it seems, and know that the Resurrection follows the Cross.

Glory to God for all things.

Noetic Battles

A few days before my birthday in 2005, I purchased and received Anthony M. Coniaris, Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing 2004). It was a providential purchase. For this is a matter about which I am much concerned presently. I may offer some thoughts on it in a subsequent post. But for now, I just want to post an extended quote.

The church fathers, who spent their lives resisting the devil’s onslaughts (logismoi) have a deep understanding of how Satan attacks us through the mind. They list the following four stages of how Satan attacks us through logismoi:

1. The mind receives a suggestion or stimulation, which is another word for temptation. This is called prosbole in Greek. It is like Satan knocking on the door. If the mind is vigilant, attentive, it will notice the provocation and will close the door on temptation, or, as some church fathers say, “If the devil knocks on the door of your mind, send Jesus to the door.” By this they mean the Jesus Prayer. There is no sin involved in this first stage. Even Jesus was tempted.

2. If we do not close the door, the soul will enter into dialogue with the suggestion/temptation as Eve did with the serpent. The fathers warn us about the great danger of dialoguing with Satan, since he is far wiser than we are with countless years of experience in seducing victims. This second step is called syndiasmos or dialogue. Yet even in this second stage of tempation there is no accountability, since no sin has been commited. It is a conversation, albeit dangerous, between Satan and the soul.

3. There is a union or coupling with the thought in which the mind consents to the temptation (logismoi) and begins to dwell on it. The decision has been made. This is called synkatathesis, or consent. It is the begin of sin. It is the stage Jesus referred to when He said that if you look upon a woman lustfully and covet her in your heart, it is as if you have already committed adultery.

Yet we are still in the third stage of consent. No action has taken place. It is still possible by God’s grace to be liberated from this stage of consent. . . .

4. The fourth and last stage in the process of sin is the stage of captivity. Here we fall so completely under the power of temptation that we are no longer free to resist it. It becomes a passion, an obsession, an addiction. We become its captive. We are imprisoned by it.

St. Hesychios describes this process of temptation as follows in the Philokalia:

The provocation comes first, then our coupling with it, or the mingling of our thoughts with those of the wicked demons. Third comes our assent to the provocation, with both sets of intermingling thoughts contriving how to commit sin in practice. Fourth comes the concrete action–that is, the sin itself. If, however, the intellect is attentive and watchful, and at once repulses the provocation by counter-attacking and gainsaying it and invoking the Lord Jesus, its consequences remain inoperative; for the devil, being a bodiless intellect, can deceive our souls only by means of fantasies and thoughts. . . .

Intellect is invisibly interlocked in battle with intellect, the demonic intellect with our own. So from the depths of our heart we must at each instan[ce] call on Christ to drive the demonic intellect away from us and in His compassion give us the victory. . . .

How can we best resist the logismoi or evil thoughts that attack us? Every day we need to make a decision as to which thoughts we will allow to enter our minds. We need to screen them carefully and with great discernment: What we read, what we watch on TV; what movie we see; what company we keep. We need to “take every thuoght captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). The mind of Christ can, through the Holy Spirit, control our thoughts, our intents, and our actions, if we submit to Him daily. . . .

Because God’s help is ever just a prayer away from us, St. Philotheos of Sinai was able to say,

Be extremely strict in guarding your intellect. When you perceive an evil thought, rebut it and immediately call upon Christ to defend you; and while you are still speaking, Jesus in His gentle love will say: “Behold, I am by your side ready to help you.”

For a great audio account of the above, listen to Mother Melania in her Illumined Heart interview.

Is An Ecumenical Council Authoritative Enough? (More on Eastern and Western Papal Claims)

Well, Cathedra Unitatis, to give him credit, did take notice of the post put up by Perry taking a cite from the 5th Ecumenical Council.  The discussion there is well underway now, with about 45 responses at the time of this post.

Relative to papal claims, why is this important? 

In summary, because it establishes, unequivocally, the standard of collegiality among the bishops. And it presents the Roman Pope Vigilius as issuing a dogmatic decree, retracting it, and submitting to the decision of the council.

Continue reading “Is An Ecumenical Council Authoritative Enough? (More on Eastern and Western Papal Claims)”

Audio of His Grace, Bishop Kallistos on the Jesus Prayer and of Patristic Scholar, Fr Andrew on St Maximos the Confessor

Dan Greeson, who wrote me an email awhile back and to whom I have rudely never made reply, has posted a couple of audio lectures on his blog, The Way of a Pilgrim (which I have added to my Orthodox blogs blogroll down the right side of the page). There is some audio of Bishop Kallistos Ware on the Jesus Prayer, and some of Fr Andrew Louth, patristic scholar under whom Dr. Michael Rhodes from my own parish studied, on the relevance of the Fathers and on St. Maximos the Confessor and modern science.

[H/T: Mr. Aquilina]

Church Fathers in Greek Online

At the aforementioned site is another page devoted to writings, in Greek, of certain Fathers of the Church. Represented are: St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Macarius the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Basil, St. Athanasius, the Desert Fathers, St. Dionysius the Areopagite and Origen.

Chrysostom: “Behold, Thou Eatest Him!”

From Fr John’s blog, Chrysostom: “Behold, Thou Eatest Him!”:

Since the Word saith: This is my Body: let us be persuaded of the truth of his words; and let us believe, and look upon him with the eyes of our understanding. For Christ hath not given us a reality cognizable by the senses, but rather tokens of that reality, which same are sensible things, altogether cognizable by the understanding. For example, consider Baptism: wherein by means of a sensible thing, (to wit, water,) a gift is bestowed, but the intelligible reality which is conferred is birth and renewal. For if thou wert bodiless, he would have given thee incorporeal gifts; but inasmuch as thy soul is united to a body, he giveth thee intelligible realities under visible things which pertain to the senses. How many are there now who say, Would that I could behold his form, his face, his garments, his sandals! Behold, thou dost see him; thou touchest him; thou eatest him. Thou wouldst fain see his mere garments, but he granteth thee not merely to see him, but to eat him, to touch him, to take him within thyself.