Nikitas Stithatos: On the Practice of the Virtues: One Hundred Texts
1. Those who have passed the mid-point of the first stage of the spiritual path, and who have attained the triad of mystical theology, are prompted to write in a profitable manner by, it seems to me, four factors inherent in the faith, hope and love that constitute the perfect triad of the virtues. The first is the freedom - that is to say, the dispassion - of soul, which as a result of ascetic practice raises the aspirant to the contemplation of the spiritual essences of the created world and then inducts him into the divine darkness of theology. The second is the purity of intellect that arises from prayer and tears, a purity that gives birth to the consciousness of grace and from which streams of intellection flow. The third is the indwelling of the Holy Trinity within us, which produces in each of those undergoing purification the bountiful illumination of the Spirit, revealing to them the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and disclosing the treasures of God hidden in the soul. The fourth is the constraint which as a result of God's threatening words is imposed upon all who have received the talent of the consciousness of spiritual knowledge; for God says, 'You wicked, slothful servant, you should have deposited My money with the bankers, and then when I came I would have received My capital with interest' (Matt. 25:26-27). It was certainly because of this that David in great fear wrote, 'Behold, I will not seal my lips, as Thou, Lord, knowest. I have not hidden Thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation; I have not concealed Thy mercy and Thy truth from the great congregation' (Ps. 40:9-10).
2. A life in harmony with God begins with complete flight from the world. 'Flight from the world' means the denial of the soul's desires and the transformation of the mundane will. Reverting in this way to the will of God, from being worldlings we become spiritual: dead to the fallen self and to the world, we are quickened in soul and spirit in Christ.
3. When a soul has true esteem for God, deeply -rooted faith combined with detachment from visible things, and an ascetic practice free from all self-love, it possesses, to use Solomon's phrase, a 'threefold cord' (Eccles. 4:12), not easily broken by the spirits of wickedness.
4. In faith we hope to receive reward for our labors, and on this account we readily endure the hardship of practicing the virtues. But when we experience the pledge of the Holy Spirit, we are winged with love towards God.
5. To be troubled by unclean thoughts does not mean that we are already of the devil's party. But when the soul becomes slack, when the intellect, because of our dissolute and unnily life, is filled with turbid and obscure images, and when our practice of the virtues lapses because of our laxity in meditation and prayer, then, even if not actively engaged in evil, we are ranked among those who deliberately crawl in sensual pleasures.
6. As soon as the bridle of the higher senses is removed, our passions at once revolt and the baser, more slavish senses are stirred into action; for when these latter in their mindlessness are loosed from the bonds of self-control, their habit is to light upon the sources of the passions and to feed on them as upon poisonous weeds. And the longer the laxity continues, the more they do this. For such being their natural appetite they cannot refrain from indulging it once they are free to do so.
7. Among the senses, sight and hearing possess a certain noetic quality and are more intelligent and masterful than the other three senses, taste, smell and touch, which are mindless and gross, and wait on the higher senses. For we first see and hear, and then, through the agency of the mind, we lay hold of what is before us and, smelling it, finally taste it. Thus taste, smell and touch are more animal-like or, quite simply, baser and more slavish than sight and hearing. The more gluttonous and rattish animals, both tame and wild, are especially afflicted by them, and day and night either fill themselves with food or indulge in copulation.
8. If you refer the activities of the outer senses back to their inner counterparts - exposing your sight to the intellect, the beholder of the light of life, your hearing to the judgment of the soul, your taste to the discrimination of the intelligence, your sense of smell to the understanding of the intellect, and relating your sense of touch to the watchfulness of the heart - you will lead an angelic life on earth; while being and appearing as a man among men, you will also be an angel coexisting with angels and spiritually conscious in the same way as they are.
9. Through the intellect, beholder of the light of divine life, we receive knowledge of God's hidden mysteries. Through the soul's faculty of judgment we winnow in the light of this knowledge the thoughts that arise within the heart, distinguishing the good from the bad. Through the discrimination of the intelligence we savor our conceptual images. Those that spring from a bitter rout we transform into sweet nourishment for the soul, or else we reject them entirely; those that spring from a virtuous and vigorous stock we accept. In this way we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ (cf 2 Cor. 10:5). Through the understanding of the intellect we smell the spiritual unguent of the grace of the Holy Spirit, our hearts filled with joy and gladness. Through the watchfulness of the' heart we consciously perceive the Spirit, who refreshes the flame of our desire for supernal blessings and warms our spiritual powers, numbed as they have been by the frost of the passions.
10. Just as in the body there are five senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch - so in the soul there are five senses: mtellect, reason, noetic perception, intuitive knowledge, and cognitive insight. These are united in three psychic activities: intellection, ratiocination, and noetic perception. By means of intellection we apprehend spiritual intentions, by means of ratiocination we interpret them, and through noetic perception we grasp the images of divine insight and spiritual knowledge.
11. If your intellect clearly distinguishes the intentions of its thoughts and in its purity gives its assent only to those that are divine; if your reason can interpret the physical movements of the whole of visible creation - that is to say, can clearly elucidate the inner essences of things; if noetically you can perceive heavenly wisdom and spiritual knowledge: then through the light of the Sun of righteousness you have transcended all sense -perception and have attained what lies beyond it, and you savor the delight of things unseen.
12. The intellect comprises four principal facilities: judgment, sagacity, noetic apprehension, perspicacity. If you conjoin these with the four principal virtues of the soul, linking restraint of soul to the judgment of the intellect, sound understanding to sagacity, righteousness to noetic apprehension, and courage to perspicacity, you build for yourself a two-fold fiery heaven-coursing chariot that will protect you against the three major principalities and powers of the mustered passions: avarice, self-indulgence and love of praise.
13. To master the mundane will of the fallen self you have to fulfill three conditions. First, you have to overcome avarice by embracing the law of righteousness, which consists in merciful compassion for one's fellow beings; second, you have to conquer self-indulgence through prudent self-restraint, that is to say, through all-inclusive self- control; and, third, you have to prevail over your love of praise through sagacity and sound understanding, in other words through exact discrimination in things human and divine, trampling such love underfoot as something cloddish and worthless. All this you have to do until the mundane will is converted into the law of the spirit of life and liberated from domination by the law of the outer fallen self. Then you can say, 'I thank God that the law of the spirit of life has freed me from the law and dominion of death' (cf. Rom. 8:2).
14. If you aspire to the spuriousness of human praise as though it were something authentic, wallow in self- indulgence because of your soul's insatiability, and through your greed entwine yourself with avarice, you will either make yourself demonic through self-conceit and arrogance, or degenerate into bestiality through the gratification of belly and genitals, or become savage to others because of your gross inhuman avarice. In this way your faith in God will lapse, as Christ said it would when you accept human praise (cf. John 5:44.); you will abandon self-restraint and purity because your lower organs are unsatedly kindled and succumb to unbridled appetence; and you will be shut out from love because you minister solely to yourself and do not succor your fellow beings when they are in need. Like some polymorphic monster compounded thus out of multifarious self-antagonistic parts, you will be the implacable enemy of God, man and the animals.
15. If when aroused and active a man's incensive, appetitive and intelligent powers spontaneously operate in accordance with nature, they make him wholly godlike and divine, sound in his actions and never in any way dislodged from nature's bedrock. But if, betraying his own nature, he follows a course that is contrary to nature, these same powers will turn him, as we have said, into a polymorphic monster, compounded of many self-antagonistic parts.
16. Our incensive power lies between the appetitive' and intelligent aspects of our soul; for both of them it serves as a weapon, whether it is acting in a way that accords with or is contrary to nature. When our desire and intelligence, in a way that accords with nature, aspire to what is divine, then our incensiveness is for both of them a weapon of righteousness wielded solely against the hissing serpent that would persuade them to indulge in fleshly pleasures and to relish men's praise. But when we fail to act according to nature and direct our desire and intelligence to what is contrary to nature, transferring attention from what is divine to purely human matters, then our incensive power becomes a weapon of iniquity in the service of sin, and we use it to attack and fight against those who would restrain the passions and appetites of the other powers of our soul. Thus, whether we are engaged in ascetic practice or are contemplatives and theologians, when we act according to nature we prove; ourselves to be among the faithful members of the Church, and when we act contrary to nature we become bestial, savage and demonic.
17. Unless through the labor of repentance and assiduous ascetic practice we first restore the soul's powers to the state in which they were when God originally formed Adam and breathed into him the breath of life (cf Gen. 2:7), we will never be able to know ourselves; nor will we be able to acquire a disposition that is master of the passions. free from arrogance, not over-curious, guileless, simple, humble, without jealousy or malice, and that takes every thought captive and makes it obey Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5). Nor will our soul be enkindled with God's love, never transgressing the bounds of self-control, but content with what is given to it and longing for the serenity of the saints. And if we do not achieve such a state we can never acquire a heart that is gentle, peaceful, free from anger, kind, uncontentious and filled with mercy and joy; for our soul will be divided against itself and because of the turbulence of its powers will remain impervious to the rays of the Spirit.
18. If we do not regain the beauty of our original high estate, continually renewing the impress of the image of Him who created us in His likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), but instead distance ourselves from Him through the disparity of our qualities, how can we ever enter into union with Him? How can we enter into union with Him who is light when we have blotted out the light and have embraced its opposite? And if we are not united to Him from whom we have received the source of our being, and through whom we have come into existence from things that are not and have been made preeminent over things that are; and if, because of our unlikeness to our Creator we are severed from Him, where will we be cast? This will be clear to those who can see, even if I am silent.
19. So long as we have the raw material of the passions within ourselves and, instead of repudiating it, deliberately nurture it, the passions will prevail over us, deriving their strength from us. But when we cast this raw material out, cleansing our hearts with the tears of repentance and abhorring the deceitfulness of visible things, then we share in the presence of the Paraclete: we see God in eternal light and are seen by Him.
20. Those who have broken the bonds of worldly sense -perception are free from all servitude to the senses: they live solely in the Spirit, communing with Him, impelled by Him, and brought through Him in some measure into union with the Father and the Logos who are one in essence with Him; and so they become a single spirit with God, as St Paul says (cf I Cor. 6:17). Not only are they exempt from the dominion of the demons but they actually fill them with terror, since they share in the divine fire and are in fact called fire.
21. Our sense of touch is not partial in the sense that its activity is restricted to one part of the body, as is that of the other senses; it is a general, all-over sense belonging to the whole body. Thus if while still addicted to the lubricity of things we touch some object unnecessarily, passion-charged thoughts perturb the intellect; but if, after renouncing such addiction and rising above the realm of sense, we touch something in accordance with a need inherent in our nature, then our sense of touch has no tendency to seduce the soul's organs of perception.
22. When the intellect is established in the realm of what is beyond nature, the senses, assuming their natural role, commune dispassionately with the springs of the passions; they seek out only their underlying essences and natures, unerringly distinguishing their activities and qualities while not being addicted to them or adventitiously attracted by them in a manner that is contrary to nature.
23. Spiritual struggles and labors generate gladness in the soul, so long, that is, as the passions have been stilled; for what is difficult for those who are still dominated by the senses is easy and even delightful for an aspiring soul that through its holly exertions has acquired a longing for God and is smitten with desire for divine knowledge. For the sense-dominated, the labors and struggles for virtue, opposed as they are to bodily ease and indulgence in sensual pleasure, are difficult and seem very harsh, for in such people the brackish taste of pleasure has not yet been washed away by the flow of tears. But the soul that abominates pain-inducing pleasure and has rejected comfort along with the self-love of the body, feels the need for and embraces such labor and struggles. One thing alone distresses it: slackness in its labors and indolence in its struggles. Thus what for those still dominated by the senses is the source of bodily content is for the soul that aspires to what is divine a cause of distress. And what for the aspiring soul is a cause of spiritual gladness is for the sense- dominated the cause of pain and anguish.
24. Ascetic toil is initially painful for all those newly engaged in spiritual warfare; but for those exercised in the growth of virtue and who have reached the mid-point of their path, such toil is pleasurable and produces a strange sense of relief. When the mortal will of the flesh is swallowed up by the immortal life (cf 2 Cor. 5:4) conferred through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in those truly striving towards the perfection of virtue, they are filled with unspeakable joy and gladness, for a pure spring of tears has opened within them, and streams of sweet compunction flow down on them from above.
25. If you wish to advance to the frontiers of virtue and to find unerringly the path that leads to God, do not allow your eyes to sleep or let your eyelids droop or give rest to your brow (cf. Ps. 132:4) until, with your soul riven by toil and tears, you have attained the land of dispassion and have entered into the sanctuary of the knowledge of God. For then, aloof from all that is below, in your great thirst you will have climbed like a stag to the high mountains of contemplation and through God's personalized Wisdom you will have descried the ultimate reaches of human life.
26. For those newly engaged in spiritual warfare the swift path to the recovery of virtue consists in the silencing of the lips, the closure of the eyes and the stopping of the ears; for once the intellect has achieved this kind of intermission and has sealed off the external entrances to itself, it begins to understand itself and its own activities.
It immediately sets about interrogating the ideas swimming in the noetic sea of its thought, trying to discern whether the concepts that irrupt into the mind's crucible are pure, alloyed with no bitter seed, and conferred by an angel of light, or whether they are tares, hybridized, trashy, emanating from the devil. Standing thus like a masterful sovereign in the midst of its thoughts, judging them and separating the better from the worse, the intellect accepts those that are well-tested in the fire of the Spirit and saturated with divine water, absorbing them into its actions and practice and storing them up in its spiritual treasure-house; for by these thoughts it is nourished, strengthened and filled with light. The other thoughts it casts into the depths of oblivion, eradicating their bitterness. This is the work only of someone who has spiritually embarked upon the path that leads unerringly to the heavens and to God, and who has stripped off the lugubrious cloak of the dark passions.
27. Once the soul has divested itself of malice and of its futile propensity to cheap arrogance, and through the indwelling of the Paraclete has adorned the heart with simplicity and innocence, it will immediately be restored to God and to itself And since it has now passed beyond the hellish pits of incredulity and malevolence, it will unhesitatingly accept what it hears and sees as trustworthy and true.
28. Deep-rooted faith is pre-eminent among the virtues, since such faith strips the soul of doubt and rids it completely of self-love. For nothing so prevents someone newly engaged in spiritual warfare from practicing the commandments as this pernicious vice of self-love. It even prevents the progress of those well advanced on the spiritual path, for it suggests illnesses to them and malignant bodily ailments, so that their ardor wanes and they are persuaded to give up ascetic toil on the grounds that in their susceptible state it is dangerous. Self-love is inane amity for the body, which ends by making the monk a lover of himself - of his own soul and body - and so estranges him from God and from God's kingdom, in accordance with the gospel phrase, 'He who loves his life will destroy it' (John 12:25).
29. He who diligently begins to practice God's commandments, and with ardent longing shoulders the light yoke of asceticism (cf Matt. I 1:30), does not spare his body's health, or flinch at virtue's harsh demands, or shrink from exertion, or heed the laziness and negligence of others. Rather, whatever the hardship, he fervently ploughs the furrow of the virtues, attending only to himself and to the commandments of God. Each day with tears he tills and sows the land of the living (cf. Ps. 126:5) until the first shoots of dispassion germinate within him, wax into divine knowledge, bear the grain of the Logos and fructify in His righteousness.
30. Nothing, I think, so promotes the soul's swift progress as faith - not just faith in God and in His only -begotten Son, but faith that is deeply rooted. With this faith we believe in the truth of Christ's promises, made and kept in readiness for those who love Him (cf. I Cor. 2:19), just as we also believe in the truth of the threats and the infernal punishments prepared for the devil and his accomplices (cf. Matt. 25:41). This faith inspires the striving soul with the hope that it will attain the state of the saints, their blessed dispassion, climbing the heights of their holiness and becoming a coheir with them of God's kingdom. With such assurance the soul assiduously and unwaveringly augments its practice of the commandments, imitating the labors of the saints and pursuing their perfection by means of similar struggles.
31. The external appearance of the face changes in accordance with the inner state of the soul: whatever the soul's noetic activity, it will be reflected in the face. Disposed and changed according to the thoughts within the soul, the face brightens when the heart rejoices in the upsurge of good thoughts and in its meditation on God, but is downcast and glum when the heart is embittered by unnatural thoughts. In both cases, what is happening is quite evident to those in whom the soul's organs of perception are well trained. Either it is a change brought about by 'the right hand of the Most High' (Ps. 77:10. LXX), and this is obvious to them because it is something familiar and dear to them whereby they are reborn in the Spirit and become light and salt to others near them (cf. Matt. 5:13-14); or else is a change brought about by the discord of evil powers and the tumult of our thoughts, and this too is evident to them, since they resist such change, the impress of the image of the Son of God within them having been burnished to the highest degree by the rays of divine grace.
32. A soul receives either blessings or penalties and punishment according to its inner activities. If it concerns itself with things divine and tills the ground of humility, tears fall on it like rain from heaven, and it cultivates love for God, faith and compassion for others. And when in this way the soul is renewed in the beauty of Christ's image, it becomes a light to others; attracting their attention with the rays of its virtue, it inspires them to glorify God. But if the soul devotes itself to mundane and merely human matters, stirring and agitating the fetid waters of sin, it nourishes hatred and repels what is good and beautiful. Deformed in this way according to the mundane, ugly image of fallen man, it becomes a thing of darkness to others; and through its evil talk and depravity it corrupts immature and fickle souls, inducing them to blaspheme God. Thus the soul receives its reward according to the state it is in when death overtakes it.
33. If you husband evil thoughts your face will be morose and sullen; your tongue will be incapable of praising God and you will be surly towards others. But if you husband in your heart what is deathless and holy, your face will radiate joy and gladness, you will lift up your voice in prayer and be most gentle in speech. Thus it will be quite clear to all whether you are still subject to unclean passions and to the law of the mundane will, or whether you are free from such servitude and live according to the law of the Spirit. In the words of Solomon, 'A glad heart makes the face radiant; but a doleful heart makes it sullen' (cf. Prov. 15:13).
34. Passions acted out can be cured by action. Dissipation, sensuality, gluttony and a dissolute, profligate life produce a passion-charged state of soul and impel it to unnatural actions. On the other hand, restraint and self- control, ascetic labor and spiritual struggle translate the soul from its passion-charged state to a state of dispassion.
35. If after strenuous ascetic labor you receive great gifts from God on account of your humility, but are then dragged down and handed over to the passions and to the chastisement of the demons, you must know that you have exalted yourself, have thought much of yourself, and have disparaged others. And you will find no cure for or release from the passions and demons that afflict you unless you make use of a good mediator and through humility and awareness of your limitations you repent and return to your original state. Such humility and self-knowledge lead all who are firmly rooted in virtue to look upon themselves as the lowest of created things.
36. In the eyes of God and of those who hve a Christ-hke life, to act with passion because of one's dissolute character and to take pride in one's virtues through a spirit of self-conceit are each as evil as the other. In the first case it is shameful even to speak of the things that those enslaved to the passions do in secret (cf Eph. 5:12); in the second case the self -vaunting of the heart is an abomination to God. The dissolute person alienates himself from God, for he is 'flesh' (cf Gen. 6:3), while the person who takes pride in his virtue is unclean in God's sight because of his self-conceit.
37. A passion is not the same thing as a sinful act: they are quite distinct. A passion operates in the soul, a sinful act involves the body. For example, love of pleasure, avarice and love of praise are three particularly noxious passions of the soul; but unchastity, greed and wrong-doing are sinful acts of the flesh. Lust anger and arrogance are passions of the soul produced when the soul's powers operate in a way that is contrary to nature. Adultery, murder, theft, drunkenness and whatever else is done through the body, are smful and noxious actions of the flesh.
38. The three most general passions are self-indulgence, avarice and love of praise; and three are the ranks of men that fight against them and overcome them: those newly embarked on the spiritual path, those in mid-course, and those who have attamed its goal.
39. The battle waged by those in the three stages of the spiritual path against these three principles and powers of the prince of this world is not one and the same, but at each stage the battle is different. At each stage there is a different way of fighting against these passions, and each way makes lawful and natural use of the power of righteous indignation.
40. If it is but recently that you have embarked on the struggle for holiness and ranked yourself against the passions, you must battle unremittingly and through every kind of ascetic hardship against the spirit of self- indulgence. You must waste your flesh through fasting, sleeping on the ground, vigils and night-long prayer; you must bring your soul into a state of contrition through thinking on the torments of hell and through meditation on death; and you must through tears of repentance purge your heart of all the defilement that comes from coupling with impure thoughts and giving your assent to them.
41. When you approach the mid-point of the initial stage of the spiritual path you will experience the first form of dispassion, and through it the strain of your exertions against the spirit of self-indulgence will be eased. Your eyes opened, you will begin to perceive the inner nature of things, and will now take up the weapons of faith against the spirit of perfidious avarice. You will exalt your intellect through meditation on things divine and quicken your thought with the inner essences of the created world, elucidating their true nature. In faith you will lead your soul from what is visible to the heights of the invisible, assured that God, who brings all things from non-existence into existence, provides for all that He has created. In this way your whole aspiration will be directed towards life in God.
42. When through contemplation and dispassion you have passed the half-way mark of the spiritual journey and have transcended the deceitfulness of worldly sense-perception, you will now enter the divine darkness of theology, guided by the consciousness of spiritual knowledge and by God's personalized Wisdom. It is at this point that with the strength of humility you raise your weapons against the spirit of self-glory and the love of praise. Your soul will be spurred by holy revelations and painlessly you will pour forth tears; you will be humbled in your will through the recognition of human weakness, and exalted by intimations of divine knowledge.
43. By means of fasting, vigils, prayer, sleeping on the ground, bodily labors and the amputation of our desires through humility of soul, we inactivate the spirit of self-indulgence. We overcome it through tears of repentance and, shackling it with self-control, render it immobile and ineffective; for we are now among those proficient in spiritual warfare.
44. Repulsing and finally slaying the spirit of avarice with the weapons of faith and 'the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God' (Eph. 6 : I 7), we now approach, thanks to the consciousness of Wisdom, the contemplation of the inner essences of created beings. Illumined with the consciousness of spiritual knowledge, we pass beyond the lowly region of visible things and attain the realms of love, rich in God-inspired hope.
45. Winged by dispassion and humility, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we enter the sphere of mystical theology and the abyss of the knowledge of God's mysteries. The spirit of self-gloiy is now consumed in the lightning of divine thought and doctrine. Weeping and filled with compunction we perceive the consummation of things human, and scatter that spirit's minions, who attack us through presumption, self-esteem and arrogance.
46. He who wholeheartedly hates and renounces 'the desire of the fallen self, the desire of the eyes, and the false pretentions of this life' (1 John 2:16) - that whole 'world of iniquity' (Jas. 3:6) through the love of which we become the enemies of God (cf Jas. 4:4) - has crucified the world to himself and himself to the world: he has destroyed in his flesh the enmity between God and his soul, and has made peace between the two (cf Eph. 2: 15). For he who has died to these things through effacing the will of the flesh has reconciled himself to God. He has eradicated the enmity of this world by obliterating sensual pleasure through a life crucified to the world, and has embraced friendship with Jesus. He is no longer God's enemy because of his love for the world, but is a friend of God, crucified to the world and able to say, 'The world is crucified to me, and I to the world' (Gal. 6:14).
47. God deserts those engaged in spiritual warfare for three reasons: because of their arrogance, because they censure others, and because they are so cock-a-hoop about their own virtue. The presence of any of these vices in the soul prompts God to withdraw; and until they are expelled and replaced by radical humility, the soul will not escape just punishment.
48. It is not only passion-charged thoughts that sully the heart and defile the soul. To be elated about one's many achievements, to be puffed up about one's virtue, to have a high idea of one's wisdom and spiritual knowledge, and to criticize those who are lazy and negligent - all this has the same effect, as is clear from the parable of the publican and the Pharisee (cf Luke 18:10-14).
49. Do not imagine that you will be delivered from your passions, or escape the defilement of the passion-charged thoughts which these generate, while your mind is still swollen with pride because of your virtues. You will not see the courts of peace, your thoughts full of loving-kindness, nor, generous and calm in heart, will you joyfully enter the temple of love, so long as you presume on yourself and on your own works.
50. If your soul is allured by comeliness of body and usurped by the passion-imbued thoughts that it seems to evoke, do not assume that such comeliness is the cause of your agitated and impassioned state. The cause lies hidden in your soul, and it is your soul's passionate disposition and evil habits that, as a magnet attracts iron, attracts to itself such impurity from the beauty it perceives. For all things are created by God and all, as He Himself says, are 'wholly good and beautiful' (Gen. 1:31), providing no ground at all for impugning His creation.
51. Just as seasickness is due, not to the sea's nature, but to the already existing disorder of the body's humors, so the soul's confusion and turmoil are due, not to the beauty of countenance in the person that it perceives, but to its pre- existing evil disposition.
52. The soul's apprehension of the nature of things changes in accordance with its own inner state. Thus when its spiritual organs of perception operate in a way that accords with nature and the intellect unerringly penetrates to the inner essences of things, clearly and cogently elucidating their nature and function, then it perceives things and persons and every material body as they are according to nature, and is aware that no seed of impurity or vitiation lies hidden within them. But when its powers operate in a way that is contrary to nature, and are in a state of self- antagonism, it perceives things likewise in a way that is not in accord with nature; their natural beauty does not exalt it to an understanding of their Maker, but because of its own impassioned proclivities engulfs it in self-destruction.
53. If while you are engaged in ascetic labor and hardship God withdraws from you because of some bodily lapse, or lapse of tongue or thought, do not take this to be strange or untoward. The lapse is yours and due to yourself. Had you not yourself first indulged in some new-fangled, overweening and obnoxious thought about yourself, or had you not in arrogance treated someone disdainfully or criticized him for his human weakness, you would have recognized your own fallibility and God in His righteous judgment would not have withdrawn from you. Learn from this not to judge (cf Matt. 7:1), not to think too highly of yourself (cf Rom. 12:3), and not to look down on others (cf. I Cor. 4:6).
54. When you have faUen into the depths of wickedness, do not despair of your recaU, even if you have been brought down to the nethermost reaches of hell. For if through the practice of the virtues you have already established your ascetic life on a firm basis, God will not forget your former labors and hardships even if the stones of virtue you have set in place should be shaken to the ground by the most impassioned of vices. Only you must bring to Him a heart full of contrition for your lapse, and you must 'remember the days of old' (cf. Ps. 143:5), recalling your fall with deep sorrow before Him. He will then swiftly visit you as you tremble at His words (cf. Isa. 66:2), and invisibly will touch the eyes of your grieving heart, recognizing the basis of virtue you have already established through your labors; and together with fervor of spirit He will give you strength that is greater and more perfect than your former strength. In this way the house of virtue, patiently built up but then destroyed through the devil's malice, will in a spirit of humility be restored more splendidly than before as His eternal dwelling-place.
55. Everything that brings disgrace upon us, whether prompted by man or demons, occurs through God's just judgment in order to humble the overweening vanity of our soul. For God, the helmsman of our lives, wishes that we should always be humble and have not an exaggerated but a modest view of ourselves (cf. Rom. 12:3); that we should not have great ideas about ourselves, but should look to Christ and imitate, so far as we can. His blessed humility; for He was 'gentle and humble in heart' (Matt. I 1:29). He who for our sake endured a disgraceful, unjust death desires us to be like this, for there is nothing so dear to Him or that in its true virtue so fully accords with Him - nothing so apt to raise us from the dunghill of the passions - as gentleness and humility and love for our fellow beings. If these are not present with us as we cultivate the virtues, all our labor is in vain and all our ascetic endeavors are useless and unacceptable.
56. Those newly embarked on the ascetic life are assisted in the practice of the commandments and in their escape from evil by fear of punishment. But in those who through virtue have advanced to the contemplation of God's glory this fear is followed by another fear - a pure fear (cf Ps. 19:9) - which, because it is caused by love, fills them with great dread. This helps them to stand unshaken in their love for God, instilling in them terror at falling away from such love. If beginners in spiritual warfare lapse, but then repent and recover, they are filled once more with the first fear, accompanied now by auspicious hope. But when those who have attained the heights of contemplation fall from them as a result of the devil's malice, they do not at once recover the second kind of fear. A grey mist and a palpable darkness (cf Exod. 10:21) envelop them, and they are filled with despondency, pain and bitterness, together with their earlier fear of punishment. And if the Lord of hosts did not curtail those days of unbearable pain, none who fall from the heights of contemplation would be rescued (cf. Matt. 24:22).
57. When our soul is freed from the persistent importunities of impassioned thoughts, and the flame that torments the flesh dies away, we should recognize that the Holy Spirit is actively present within us, disclosing that our past sins are forgiven and bestowing dispassion on us. But so long as we are still aware of the constant importunity of such thoughts and our lower organs are enkindled as a result, we may be sure that the sweet fragrance of the Spirit is far from our soul, and that our soul is wholly subject to the unbroken bonds of the passions and the senses.
58. 'I have seen under the sun', remarked the sage (cf. Eccles. 1:3; 9:11), 'a man who thought he was intelligent, who though mortal presumed on his own works and had a high opinion of his own human, worldly and psychic wisdom. Because of this not only did he look down on simple men, but he ridiculed the divinely-appointed Christian teachers and mocked them on account of their peculiar form of speech, their deliberate eschewing of the polished diction of academics, and the lack of rhythmical dexterity in their writings. To such a man, ignorant that God prefers clarity of thought to well-turned phrases or sonorous words, I would commend the maxims: 'Better a living dog than a dead lion' (Eccles. 9:4), and 'Better a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king, who no longer knows how to pay attention' ' (Eccles. 4:13. LXX).
59. Blasphemy is a frightful passion, difficult to combat, for its origin lies in the arrogant mind of Satan. It troubles all who live in virtue and in accord with God, but especially those advancing in prayer and in the contemplation of things divine. Hence we must guard the senses with great diligence, and reverence all the awe- inspiring mysteries of God, the holy images and holy words, and watch out for the attacks of this spirit. For it lies in wait for us while we pray and chant, and when we are inattentive it discharges through our lips curses against ourselves and strange blasphemies against God the Most High, introducing them into the verses of the psalms and into the words of our prayers. When it brings some such thing to our lips or sows it in our minds, we should turn against it the words of Christ and say, 'Get behind me, Satan, full of every foul odor and condemned to eternal fire; may your blasphemy fall upon your own head' (cf. Luke 4:8; Matt. 25:41). Then, concentrating our thoughts, we should at once occupy our intellect with some other matter, either divine or human, and with tears raise it towards God; and so with God's assistance we will be relieved of the burden of blasphemy.
60. Dejection is a passion that corrupts soul and body, affecting even the marrow of one's bones - I mean that cosmic dejection induced by the transitoriness of things and often resulting in death. The sorrow prompted by God, however, is extremely salutary. enabling one patiently to endure hardships and trials. It is a source of compunction for those struggling and thirsting for God's righteousness (cf. Matt. 5:6), and nourishes their heart with tears. In such people is the saying of David fulfilled, 'Thou shalt feed us with the bread of tears and give us tears to drink in great measure' (Ps. 80:5) - the wine of compunction.
61. Sorrow prompted by God is an excellent tonic for those parts of the soul corrupted by evil actions, and it restores them to their natural state. It dissolves through tears the storm-clouds of passion and sin and dispels them from the soul's spiritual firmament, so that at once a clear sky appears in the thoughts of our intellect, the sea of the mind grows calm, gladness rises in the heart and a change comes over our face. When this is now seen by those skilled in discerning our inner state from our outward appearance, they will exclaim, as did David, 'This change is from the right hand of the Most High' (Ps. 77: 10. LXX).
62. Do not keep company with those who enkindle in you suspicions about your fellow beings, for such suspicions are false, destructive and utterly deceitful. They are ploys through which the demons try to engulf the souls of those progressing in virtue. For there is only one way in which the demons can thrust them into the pit of perdition and active sin, and that is by persuading them to harbor evil suspicions about the outward behavior and inner state of their neighbor. By this means the demons contrive to have them condemned along with the world, in the manner indicated by St Paul's phrase, 'If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged; but when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned with the world' (1 Cor. I 1 :31-32).
63. When because of our laxity we allow the demons to beguile us with suspicious thoughts about other people - that is to say, when we fail to control the abduction of our eyes - then they incite us to pronounce judgment on others, sometimes even those who are perfect in virtue. If someone is affable, with a cheerful, smiling face, we think him prone to pleasure and the passions; and we assume that anyone who looks downcast and sullen is filled with arrogance and anger. But we ought not to concern ourselves with people's appearance. Everyone is likely to judge wrongly in this respect; for men have various characters, temperaments and bodily features, the true assessment and study of which pertain only to those in whom the spiritual eye of the soul has been cleansed through deep compunction, who are filled with the boundless light of divine life, and to whom it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God (cf Matt. 13:11).
64. When we act basely in obedience to our fallen self, we serve the soul's appetitive and incensive powers in a way that is contrary to nature. We defile the flesh with the noxious flux of sin, darken the soul with embittered anger and estrange ourselves from the Son of God. We should therefore cleanse the stain deriving from the body's intrinsic serosity with floods of heartfelt tears. In this way the body soiled by sensual indulgence on account of its natural serosity will, because of our remorse, in its turn be purified through the natural flow of tears; and we will dispel with the luminosity of compunction and the sweetness of a godlike love the cloud that darkens our soul because of our embittered anger. Thus we shall once again be united with Him from whom we had been estranged.
65. Just as the stain produced by sensual indulgence presupposes a satanic desire to fulfill the shabby act it involves, so the purification that comes from our remorse presupposes heartfelt longing for the grief and tears which purification demands. In accordance with God's supernal goodness and providence, we expel and purge sensual indulgence through grief, and the flesh's baneful serosity through the flow of tears. In this way we expunge the imprint of vilifying actions from the intellect and squalid images from the soul, disclosing ever more fully the splendor of its natural beauty.
66. Prompted by the devil, the libertine reaps fleshly pleasure, and his ugly actions induce self-pollution. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, the man of God reaps joy of soul, and his acts of beauty induce purification through tears, rebirth and union with God.
67. There are in us two natural fluids which come from the same source in our being: semen and our tears. Through the first we may sully our soul's garment, through the second we may cleanse it again. The stain that comes from our being has to be washed away with the tears that come from the same source. Otherwise it is impossible for us to cleanse this self-generated defilement.
68. The discordant soul, prompted by what is base, always acts in a manner that ends up in some fleeting pleasure; but the soul purged of vicious habits labors to attain enduring bliss. It is marvelous how the second form of pleasure restrains the first, mollifying the pain engendered by self-indulgence.
On the Practice of the Virtues: One Hundred Texts
69. Sometimes the How of tears produces an acrid and painful feeling in the heart's organ of spiritual perception, sometimes it induces delight and a sense of jubilation. Thus when through repentance we are in the process of cleansing ourselves from the poison and stain of sin and, enkindled by divine (ire, hot tears of repentance flow from us, and when our conscience is as it were smitten by the heart's anguish, then we experience this acrid feeling and painfulness both spiritually and perceptibly. But when we have been largely cleansed by such tears and have attained freedom from the passions, then - refreshed by the divine Spirit, our heart pure and tranquil - we are filled with inexpressible tenderness and delight by the joyous tears provoked by compunction.
70. Tears of repentance are one thing, tears that flow because of divine compunction another. The first are like a river in spate that sweeps away all the bastions of sin; the second are to the soul like rain or snow to a field, making it yield a bountiful crop of spiritual knowledge.
71. Tears are not the same thing as compunction, and there is a great difference between them. Tears come from the transformation of our manner of life and the remembrance of our past lapses, as if fire and boiling water were purifying the heart. Compunction descends from above as the divine dew of the Spirit, comforting and refreshing the soul that has but recently entered with fervor into the depths of humility and attained the contemplation of the unapproachable light, crying out with joy as David cried, 'We went through fire and water; and Thou hast brought us out into a place where the soul is refreshed' (Ps. 66: 12. LXX).
72. I have heard people say that one cannot achieve a persistent state of virtue without retreating far into the desert, and I was amazed that they should think that the unconfmable could be confined to a particular locality. For the state of virtue is the restitution of the soul's powers to their former nobility and the convergence of the principal virtues in an activity that accords with nature. Such a state is not achieved adventitiously, by external influences; it is implanted within us at our creation by virtue of our endemic divine and spiritual consciousness; and when we are impelled by this inner consciousness in accordance with our true nature we are led into the kingdom of heaven which, in our Lord's words, is 'within us' (cf. Luke 17:21). Thus the desert is in fact superfluous, since we can enter the kingdom simply through repentance and the strict keeping of God's commandments. Entry into the kingdom can occur, as David states, 'in all places of His dominion': for he says, 'In all places of His dominion bless the Lord, my soul' (Ps. 103:22).
73. If you are in the ranks of the imperial army, fighting together with others under the command of generals and captains, and yet you fail to do anything noble or bold in battle against the enemy or even put a single one of them to flight, how will you be able to fight alone among so many enemies or perform any feat of brilliant strategy, inexperienced as you are in warfare? And if this is impossible in human affairs, it is all the more so where things divine are concerned. If you flee into the desert, how will you recognize the attacks of the demons, the open and covert assaults of the passions? How will you be able to attack them yourself, unless you have first been well trained in thwarting your own will by dwelling with a group of brethren under a leader experienced in such invisible and spiritual warfare? And if you are incapable of fighting even on your own behalf, then it is clearly inconceivable that you should do so on behalf of others and teach them how to defeat their invisible enemies.
74. Expunge from yourself the disgrace of negligence and the ignominy of disdaining God's commandments. Dispel self-love and battle with your fallen self unsparingly. Seek out the judgments of the Lord and His testimonies. Scorn glory and dishonor. Hate the titillating appetites of the body. Avoid overeating, because this enkindles your lower organs. Embrace poverty and hardship. Resist the passions. Introvert your senses towards your soul. Inwardly assent to the doing of what is more noble. Be deaf to human affairs. Expend all your strength in practicing the commandments. Mourn, sleep on the ground, fast, endure hardship, be still and, last of all, know, not the things around you, but yourself. Transcend the lowly state of visible things. Open your spiritual eye to the contemplation of God and recognize the dehghtfulness of the Lord from the beauty of creation. And when you descend from these heights of contemplation, speak to your brethren about eternal life and the mysteries of God's kingdom. This is the purpose of flight from men through the strictest asceticism, and the ultimate goal of the life of solitude.
75. If you wish to see the blessings 'that God has prepared for those who love Him' ( I Cor. 2:9), then take up your abode in the desert of the renunciation of your own will and flee the world. What world? The world of the lust of the eyes, of your fallen self (cf. I John 2:16), the presumptuousness of your own thoughts, the deceit of things visible. If you flee from this world, then light will dawn for you, you will see the life that is in God, and the medicine of your soul - that is, tears - will swiftly well up in you. You will experience the change brought about by the right hand of the Most High'(Ps. 77: 10), and from that time the 'plague' of the passions will not 'come near your dwelling' (Ps. 91:10). In this way, living in the world and among people, you will be like a man living in the desert and seeing no one. If you do not flee the world in such a manner, you will gain nothing as regards the perfecting of virtue and union with God simply by flight from the visible world.
76. To become a monk does not mean to abandon men and the world, but to renounce the will of the flesh, to be destitute of the passions. If it was once said to a great spiritual master, 'Flee men and you will be saved', it was said in precisely this spirit: for even after he fled, he dwelt among men and lived in inhabited regions along with his disciples. But because he so assiduously fled in a spiritual sense at the same time as he fled visibly, he suffered no harm from being with other men. And another great monk cried as he came out of a meeting, 'Flee, my brethren!' And when asked what he meant by this, he pointed to his mouth.
77. Living together in one place is safer than living alone. The sacred words of Jesus our God bear witness to the necessity of living together; for He says, 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am in the midst of them' (Matt. 18:20). Likewise Solomon speaks about the danger of living alone when he says, 'Alas for him who is alone when he falls; for he has no one to help him up' (Eccles. 4:10). And David calls those who praise God in love and concord blessed when he says, 'Blessed is the people that sing aloud together' (Ps. 89: 15); and he commends life in community, saying: 'Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together' (Ps. 133:1). And among the disciples of our Lord there was but a single soul and a single heart (cf Acts 4:32); and even God's incarnation did not take place in the wilderness, but in inhabited areas and among sinful men. Thus we have need of the concord of communal life. Isolation is treacherous and full of danger.
78. 'Offensive provocations have to come.' said the Lord, 'but alas for him through whom such provocation comes!' (Matt. 18:7). The monk who loses his sense of reverence and behaves insolently, without awe for God, in the company of his brethren scandalizes many of the more simple among them. He does this by his acts, bearing and bad habits, and by his words and vicious talk. He corrupts their souls and undermines their probity.
79. If you keep God's commandments you will not become a stumbling-block to others, for there will be nothing offensive or provocative in you. 'Great peace have they who love Thy law, and for them there is no stumbling-block' (Ps. I 19:165. LXX). Rather they are light, salt and life, in conformity with the Lord's words, 'You are the light of the world, and the salt of the earth' (cf Matt. 5:13-14). Light, because they are virtuous in life, lucid in speech, and wise in thought; salt, because they are rich in divine knowledge and strong in the wisdom of God; life, because through their words they bring to life those slain by the passions, raising them up from the pit of despair. Through the light of their righteous works they shine before men and illumine them; with the sweet astrmgency of their words they brace those softened by sluggishness and free them from the putrescence of the passions; and by the life present in what they say they give life to souls deadened by sin.
80. The passion of self-esteem is a three -pronged barb heated and forged by the demons out of vanity, presumption and arrogance. Yet those who dwell under the protection of the God of heaven (cf. Ps. 91:1) detect it easily and shatter its prongs; for through their humility they rise above such vices and find repose in the tree of life.
81. While you are progressing in virtue this unclean and wily demon of self-esteem may attack you and predict that you will have a throne in heaven, reminding you of all your labor, extolling it above that of others, and even suggesting that you are capable of guiding souls. If this happens, and you have been given power from on high to enable you to do so, seize hold of him spiritually and do not let him escape. Once you have caught him, consider what unworthy act of yours has provoked his attack; and confronting him with this act, say to him: 'Are those who behave in this way worthy of ascending to such privileged heights, and do you regard them as qualified to guide souls and lead them to salvation in Christ? Tell me, for I shall be silent.' Since he will have nothing to say to you in reply, out of shame he will disappear like smoke and will no longer greatly trouble you. And even if you have not done or said anything unworthy of the transcendent life you have embraced, yet compare yourself with the commandments and the sufferings of the Lord, and you will find that you fall as short of perfection as a basinful of water falls short of the sea. For man's righteousness is as far from the righteousness of God as the earth is in size from the heavens or a flea from a lion.
82. He who has been deeply smitten by the love of God will find that his bodily strength is not equal to his desire, for there are no limits to the ascetic labor in which he yearns to engage. He is like someone consumed by thirst, and the fire of his desire is insatiable. He longs to labor night and day, but is thwarted by his body's lack of strength. I think that Christ's martyrs were not aware of the pain they suffered precisely because they were overpowered by such an enormous passion. Mastering themselves through their burning love for God, they could not have their fill of the torments inflicted on them, and felt that their desire to suffer was never assuaged.
83. He who in any way compares himself with his fellow ascetics or with the brethren who live with him is unaware that he deceives himself and treads a path alien to God. Either he does not know himself or he has deviated from the path that leads heavenwards. But by following this path in modesty of mind, those more spiritually advanced surmount the devil's ploys and, winged by dispassion and adorned with humility, they attain the heights of spiritual illumination.
84. If you are puffed up and full of presumption you will never be illumined by compunction or attain the grace of humility. It is through this that the light of God's wisdom is bestowed on those with contrite hearts, in accordance with the words, 'In Thy light shall we see light' (Ps. 36:9). On the contrary, you will be swaddled in the night of the passions, in which all the beasts in the forest of man's nature prowl around, and in which the clamorous whelps of presumption - by which I mean the demons of self-esteem and unchastity - seek whom they may devour and dispatch into the maw of despair (cf Ps. 104:20-21; I Pet. 5:8). 85. For the man who lives as most men, prompted by the spirit of presumption, this present life becomes a sea embroiled by the powers of evil; the noetic aspect of his soul is flooded with the brine of sensual pleasure, its triple powers assailed by the fierce waves of the passions. The ship of his soul, and its rudder, are shattered by carnal self-indulgence; the intellect, his pilot, sinks into the depths of sin and spiritual death; and he is engulfed in a slough of despondency. Only the deep calm of humility can quell those malignant waves, and only under the gentle flow of tears can the brine of sensual pleasures be changed into the luminosity of compunction.
86. If you have enslaved yourself to bodily pleasure and indulgence to the point of repletion, you will need a corresponding measure of ascetic labor and hardship. Thus one form of repletion will counter another, pain will counter pleasure, bodily labor will counter bodily ease, and you will enjoy unmeasured felicity and repose, delighting in the fragrance of purity and chastity, and relishing the indescribable savor of the deathless fruits of the Spirit. In a similar way we apply cleansing unguents to the stains on our clothing when they have penetrated so deeply that we cannot wear it any longer.
87. To those newly engaged in spiritual warfare illness is salutary, for it contributes to reducing and subduing the ebullience of the flesh. It greatly debilitates the flesh and attenuates the soul's materialistic propensities, while at the same time it invigorates and braces the soul, in accordance with St Paul's words, 'When I am weak, then I am strong' (2 Cor. 12:10). Yet the benefits that it brings to beginners are equaled by the harm that it does to those who have progressed in the labors of virtue and have now transcended the world of the senses and entered into the realm of spiritual contemplation. It hinders their devotion to things divine and coarsens their soul's consciousness with distress and affliction, darkening it with despondency and drying up its compunction in the drought of its suffering. Paul knew this well when, attentive to himself in conformity with the law of discrimination, he said, 'I discipline my body through hardship and bring it into subjection through healing remedies, lest after preaching to others I myself should be cast away' (cf I Cor. 9:27).
88. It often happens that illness occurs as a result of an irregular and unbalanced regimen, as when those proficient in spiritual warfare fast Or extend their ascetic labors excessively and indiscreetly, or when they become prone to gluttony and repletion, the enemies of nature. Thus self-control is necessary both for those who are newly embarked on the spiritual path and for those who, now beyond mid-course, aspire to the higher reaches of contemplation; for self-control
89. Dispassion is of two kinds and takes two main forms in those weU advanced on the spiritual path. They attain the first kind of dispassion when they have become adept in the practice of the virtues. This dispassion, arising in various ways as a result of their toil in practicing the commandments, at once mortifies the passions and cuts off the impulses of the fallen self; at the same time it induces the powers of the soul to act in a way that accords with nature, and restores the intellect to conscious meditation on things divine. Subsequently, when they embark on the contemplation of the inner essences of created things, they attain in their wisdom the second and more perfect kind of dispassion. Bringing inner stillness to their thoughts, this dispassion raises them to a state of intellectual peace, making their intellect visionary and prophetic to the highest degree: visionary in matters divine, in insight into supernal realities, and in the disclosure of God's mysteries; prophetic in matters human, destined to happen in the distant future. In both these forms of dispassion one and the same Spirit is at work (cf I Cor. 12:11): through the first He controls and sustains, through the second He dispenses the freedom of eternal life.
90. When you approach the frontiers of dispassion - attaining a right view of God and the nature of things, and according to your growth in purity ascending to the Creator through the beauty of His creatures - you will be illumined by the Holy Spirit. Entertaining kindly feelings about all men and always thinking good of all, you will look on all as pure and holy and will rightly esteem things both human and divine. You will desire none of the material things that men seek but, divesting yourself of worldly sense -perception by means of the intellect, you will ascend towards heaven and towards God, free from all impurity and from every form of servitude, aware in spirit only of God's blessings and His beauty. Thus, full of reverence and joy, and in indescribable silence, you will dwell in the divine realm of God's blessed glory, all your senses transformed, and at the same time you will live spiritually among men like an angel in a material body.
91. Five senses characterize the ascetic life: vigilance, meditation, prayer, self-control and stillness. Once you have linked your five outward senses to them, joining sight to vigilance, hearing to meditation, smell to prayer, taste to self-control and touch to stillness, you will swiftly purify your soul's intellect: refining it by means of them, you will make it dispassionate and visionary.
92. A dispassionate intellect is one that has gained control over its own passions and risen above both dejection and joy. It is neither subject to bouts of depression nor ebullient with high spirits, but is joyful in affliction, restrained when cheerful, and temperate in all things.
93. The demons rage violently against those who are progressing in contemplation, lying in wait for them night and day. Through fellow-ascetics they provoke formidable trials, while through their own direct action they terrify them with noises. Even when they are asleep they attack them, grudging them any rest. They harass them in various ways, even though they cannot injure those who have surrendered themselves to God. If an angel of the Lord God did not protect them, they could not escape the demons' attack and the snares of death. 94. If you are energetically struggling to practice the virtues, watch out for the ploys of the pernicious demons. The more you advance towards the heights of virtue and the more divine light increases in your prayers, and the closer you come to revelations and ineffable visions through the Spirit, the more they will gnash their teeth as they see you mounting towards heaven, and craftily spread their many nets of iniquity through the intellectual firmament. For not only will the demons of lust and anger, flesh-avid and bestial, breathe on you, but with acrid malice the demons of blasphemy will also rise up against you. In addition, the visible and invisible powers and principalities that wing through the air, in naked fancy changing themselves into strange and frightening forms, will batten on you and do you as much harm as they can. But if, with the eye of your intellect vigilant, you devote yourself to the spiritual work of prayer and to contemplation of the inner essences of God's creation, you will not be frightened by their 'arrow that flies by day' (Ps. 91:5), nor will they be able to invade your inner sanctuary; for like darkness they will be repulsed by the light that is in you and consumed in divine fire.
95. The spirits of evil are extremely frightened of the grace of the divine Spirit, especially when it is abundantly present in us or when we have been cleansed through meditation and pure prayer. Not daring to invade our inner sanctuary when we are illumined from that source, they try to alarm and trouble us by means of fantasies, fearful noises and meaningless screams, so as to divert us from vigil and prayer. They do not spare us even when we allow ourselves a little sleep on the ground: begrudging us the slightest rest from our labors, they set upon us and dash sleep from our eyes with some commotion or other, thinking by such means to make our life more difficult and painful.
96. As we can learn from experience, the spirits of darkness seem to take on a subtle bodily form. This may be an illusion that they produce by deceiving our senses, or it may be that they are condemned to take such a form as the result of their age-old fall. In any case, they impetuously intertwine themselves with the struggling soul as our servile body draws it towards sleep. This seems to me to be a kind of testing for a soul that has but recently transcended the body's low estate: it provides an opportunity for the incensive and virile aspect of the soul to prove its mettle by reacting with wrath and violence against the demons that threaten it so formidably. The soul smitten with intense love for God and braced by .the principal virtues will not only oppose the demons with righteous indignation, but will actually strike back at them - if, that is, having become so entirely earth-bound as a result of their fall from the primal divine light, they do have a perceptible appearance.
97. Before mtenneshmg with the soul and defeating it, the demons often disturb the soul's organs of perception and snatch sleep from our eyes. Yet the soul filled with manly courage by the Holy Spirit will pay no heed to the bitter fury of their attack, but will dispel their fantasies and put them to flight solely by means of the life-giving sign of the cross and the invocation of Jesus our God.
98. If you have embarked on the task of despoiling the hostile spirits through the practice of the virtues, see that you are thoroughly armed with the weapons of the Spirit. Are you aware of who it is you want to despoil? They are enemies, to be sure, but noetic and fleshless, while you are still doing battle with the body under the King of the spirits and our God. You must realize that they will fight against you more bitterly than before and that there will be many who will deploy their tricks against you. If, then, you fail to notice them and to strip them of their spoils they will take you prisoner, filling your soul with great bitterness; or else they will subject you to evil and distressing temptations, acting as a grievous thorn in your flesh (cf 2 Cor. 12:7).
99. A good spring does not produce turbid, foul-smelling water, redolent of worldly matter; nor can a heart that is outside the kingdom of heaven gush with streams of divine life, giving out the sweet savor of spiritual myrrh. 'Does a spring from the same opening gush with sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree bear olives, or an olive tree acorns?' (cf Jas. 3:11- 12). In the same way a single spring in the heart cannot produce simultaneously both good and bad images. Rather, 'a good man out of the good treasure-house of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure-house of his heart brings forth that which is evil', as the Lord has said (Luke 6:45).
100. Just as it is impossible without oil and flame for a lamp to bum and thus to give light to those in the house, so it is impossible without the divine fire and Spirit for a soul to speak clearly about divine matters and to illumine others. For every perfect gift bestowed on the devout soul 'is from above . . . from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variableness or shadow due to change' (Jas. 1:17).