The Eight Thoughts (logismoi)
6. THERE are eight generic [tempting-] thoughts(logismoi), that contain within themselves every[tempting-]thought:
first is that of gluttony;
and with it, sexual immorality;
third, love of money;
Whether these thoughts are able to disturb the soul or not is not up to us; but whether they linger or not, and whether they arouse passions or not; that is up to us.
The list Evagrius gives here is not one he made up sitting behind a desk speculating about sin, demons, and other more philosophical topics. The list he gives here is based on contemplative observation of how the soul is seduced to sin. The list is based on experience in the ascetic struggle against sin and the demons. Evagrius’ concern is not to give an exhaustive list of sins, but to give a list which might be subdivided into all other kinds of sins. The list has both biblical and extra-biblical precedents and there are different ways of achieving what Evagrius seeks to achieve with his list.
Sts. John Cassian and Gregory the Great found the list useful enough, but adapted it according to their own insights and experience (which is how the list is supposed to be used anyway). St. Benedict of Nursia, in recommending Cassian for reading in his Holy Rule, was also familiar with the eight thoughts as a diagnostic tool and therefore does not repeat it in his Rule (instead – as I mentioned) he refers to Cassian’s works themselves). The eight thoughts have become part and parcel of Western Christian spirituality either as such or in Gregory’s adaptation to seven deadly sins.
Evagrius is explicit that these thoughts occur without guilt, without our seeking them, without us asking for them. They are part of our Adamic heritage. What is up to us, and therefore is our responsibility, is our reaction to them. We can either let them develop as temptations into full blown sins, or we can cut the thoughts off at their very beginning so that no sin ever comes from them. Evagrius, throughout The Praktikos is not concerned with how to stop performing the act of sin, but he is rather concerned with stopping sin at the level of our thoughts.
It is important here to mention that The Praktikos does not specify a sacramental life, or much doctrine. It is assumed throughout that the user of this treatise is a Christian in the Nicene tradition and that one is part of a sacramental life in a some Christian community. The guidance provided in the this treatise is therefore set in a doctrinally orthodox and spiritually catholic context – and was not designed for use outside such context. To use it outside such a context is a scenario never considered by Evagrius and misses a vital element for its “method” to succeed.
What Evagrius sets out to give us here is therefore a diagnostic tool to measure the severity to which we are enslaved to sinful patterns in our life by revealing where and how they are rooted in our inner being.
Fr. Gregory Wassen +