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Evagrius Ponticus, antirrhēsis, and the Stoic concept of first movements

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From:  Evagrius of Pontus: Talking Back, A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons. Translated with an Evagrius Ponticus - Antirrhetikos (Talking Back)Introduction by David Brakke.  Cistercian Publications, 2009

pp. 23-24

In the prologue to Talking Back [Antirrhêtikos] he [Evagrius Ponticus] cites Qoheleth: “No refutation [antirrhésis] comes from those who perform evil quickly; therefore, the heart of the children of humanity has become confirmed with them for the doing of evil” (8:11)  [Ecc. 8:11. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.]

Evagrius interprets this and related verses (Ezek 18:4; Prov 26:4-5) to mean that one should refute an evil thought as soon as possible after it occurs to one, before “it is firmly set in one’s thinking”; if the monk does so, “sin is easily and swiftly handled.” But if the thought is allowed to persist, it leads the soul from merely thinking about sin to actually performing sin and thus to death (Prol.2). By repelling the evil thought, antirrhēsis prevents the monk from performing the evil deed.

Evagrius inherited the idea behind this practice fiom his predecessor Origen (ca. 185-254) and his contemporary Didymus the Blind (ca. 313-98), both of whom adapted to Christian ethics the Stoic notion of a“proto-passion” (propatheia) or “first movement”58

In the Stoic view morally culpable passions such as anger or lust result from our making poor judgments and assenting to an impulse or impression beyond what is natural or reasonable. All people are subject to involuntary “first movements,” which we may either control and use to good ends or allow to develop into a morally culpable passion. For example, I may have a visceral rush of anger when I learn of some injustice (first movement), but I can control it and respond appropriately by, say, calmly rebuking the offender.  But if I assent to the impulse unreasonably and allow the full-blown passion of anger to develop, then I become guilty of the passion. First movements may come from the movements of the body (for example, the sexual urge), but they may also arise as responses to external stimuli (for example, the news of some injustice), which Stoics sometimes called “impressions” (phantasiai). The Stoics argued that we encounter a wide range of impressions, incoming images and ideas, which we must sort out as true or false, leading to virtue or vice, and the like. However a first movement arises, it is the persons rational faculty, the intellect, that forms a judgment about the movement and either arrests it or allows it to develop into a full-fledged passion.

58. On this topic see Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Margaret R. Graver, Stoicism and Emotion (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 85-108; Richard Layton,“Propatheia: Origen and Didymus on the Origin of the Passions,” Vigiliae Christiansae 54 (2000): 262-82; Brakke, Demons and the Making of the Monk, 38-41, 54-56.

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Evagrius of Pontus: Talking Back

A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons

Translated with an Introduction by David Brakke

Cistercian Publications, 2009

http://www.cistercianpublications.org/Detail.aspx?ISBN=9780879073299

In the prologue to Talking Back [Antirrhêtikos] he [Evagrius Ponticus] cites Qoheleth: “No refutation [antirrhésis] comes from those who perform evil quickly; therefore, the heart of the children of humanity has become confirmed with them for the doing of evil” (8:11)  [Ecc. 8:11. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.]

.

Evagrius interprets this and related verses (Ezek 18:4; Prov 26:4-5) to mean that one should refute an evil thought as soon as possible after it occurs to one, before “it is firmly set in one’s thinking”; if the monk does so, “sin is easily and swiftly handled.” But if the thought is allowed to persist, it leads the soul from merely thinking about sin to actually performing sin and thus to death (Prol.2). By repelling the evil thought, antirrhésis prevents the monk from performing the evil deed.

{p. 24}

Evagrius inherited the idea behind this practice fiom his predecessor Origen (ca. 185-254) and his contemporary Didymus the Blind (ca. 313-98), both of whom adapted to Christian ethics the Stoic notion of a“proto-passion” (propatheia) or “first movement”58

In the Stoic view morally culpable passions such as anger or lust result from our making poor judgments and assenting to an impulse or impression beyond what is natural or reasonable. All people are subject to involuntary “first movements,” which we may either control and use to good ends or allow to develop into a morally culpable passion. For example, I may have a visceral rush of anger when I learn of some injustice (first movement), but I can control it and respond appropriately by, say, calmly rebuking the offender.  But if I assent to the impulse unreasonably and allow the full-blown passion of anger to develop, then I become guilty of the passion. First movements may come from the movements of the body (for example, the sexual urge), but they may also arise as responses to external stimuli (for example, the news of some injustice), which Stoics sometimes called “impressions” (phantasiai). The Stoics argued that we encounter a wide range of impressions, incoming images and ideas, which we must sort out as true or false, leading to virtue or vice, and the like. However a first movement arises, it is the persons rational faculty, the intellect, that forms a judgment about the movement and either arrests it or allows it to develop into a full-fledged passion.

58.

On this topic see Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Margaret R. Graver, Stoicism and Emotion (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 85-108; Richard Layton,“Propatheia: Origen and Didymus on the Origin of the Passions,” Vigiliae Christiansae 54 (2000): 262-82; Brakke, Demons and the Making of the Monk, 38-41, 54-56.

http://books.google.com/books?id=mSxlPx7_V1QC

http://books.google.com/books?id=s14KOKLUsvUC

http://books.google.com/books?id=pLoNUFJaIHAC

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Written by John Uebersax

March 10, 2010 at 6:40 am