Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Evagrius on deadly thoughts

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On page 72 of his book Spiritual Theology, Diogenes Allen, gives an insightful explanation of desert father Evagrius' ideas on two of eight "deadly thoughts"--avarice and sadness.

The third deadly thought concerns avarice, and here Evagrius' comments are surprising. Our need for material goods, he writes in chapter 9 of the Praktikos, "suggests to the mind a lengthy old age, inability to perform manual labor (at some future date), famines that are sure to come, sickness that will visit us, the pinch of poverty, the great shame that comes from accepting the necessities of life from others." These thoughts fill us with anxiety and insecurity, and keep us from being generous. Our minds become so full of the desire to gain enough material goods to make ourselves secure against every possible calamity that we fail to pay sufficient attention to either our neighbor or God. Or if we do consider them, we do so largely in terms of how they may help make us financially secure. One of the fruits of the Spirit, indicative of God's activity in our lives, is that we become like God—namely, generous.

The next deadly thought, sadness, arises when we compare our achievements with those of others and find we are deeply disappointed with our lives. This sadness is a form of self-pity, which we may experience as we think about what we might have become had we not suffered from the restrictions that come with being a Christian. So rather than finding joy in following Christ's ways, we think of all the pleasures we could have enjoyed were it not for our obedience. The deadly thought of sadness also arises when we ask ourselves, "What might I have become were it not for my brothers and sisters, or my spouse, or my social background, my race, my sex?" These thoughts are frequently accompanied with anger at those whom we hold responsible for the lackluster life in which we now feel trapped, or against those who have or are what we desire. Sadness is a deadly thought, fraught with unrealistic fantasies of how much greater we might have become.

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