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Analysis of Evagrius’ Eight Evil Patterns of Thought

by Ryan Clevenger

{NB: This is an old unedited paper from seminary. There is much I would
probably change in it now that I have read more primary and secondary
literature since then. However, I don’t have time to go back through and
make adjustments so I am keeping it the way it was. I hope it is still of
some use to someone somewhere.}

Evagrius of Pontus’ eight evil thoughts is a simple yet flexible psychology of
temptation and the moral life that still offers insights for understanding the
thought life of both Christians and non-Christians in the modern world. In
order to understand the eight evil thoughts, one must first understand
Evagrius’ anthropology, namely the tripartite division of the powers of the
soul into the rational, irascible, and concupiscible.[1] Laying this
foundation, one is then able to perceive better the relationships and
workings of the eight evil thoughts and how the Christian can fight against
them. While Evagrius does not always list the thoughts in the same order,
this paper will follow the order found in the Eight Thoughts. Following this,
Evagrius’ system will be critiqued, noting both the skill with which he
weaves together biblical revelation, monastic experience, and philosophical
insight, and the dangers of his particular pedagogical style.

Divisions of the Soul

For Evagrius, a human is an embodied mind (νοῦς, nous);[2] the mind is
the principal part of the person, the body is secondary. The technicalities of
Evagrius’ teaching on the preexistence and fall of the mind need not be
dealt with here.[3] It is enough to know that in Evagrian anthropology, the
mind, which after embodiment is also called soul (ψυχή, psyche), is
primary. Evagrius divides the soul into two parts, the rational and irrational
parts of the soul. These two parts are distinct, but Evagrius does not view
the irrational as a burden or hindrance to the goal of the Christian life.
Instead, as will be shown more clearly below, the irrational part is given by
God as an aid for the Christian life.[4] It is only when used improperly that
the irrational part becomes a burden. These two parts can also be divided
into three powers of the soul, each with their own distinct function. The
intellect (νοῦς) is the rational power (λογιστικόν, logistikon), which is the
unique feature of human beings and differentiates them from animals. The
irrational consists of two powers which humans share with animals: the
irascible (θυμικόν, thumikon) and the concupiscible (ἐπιθυμητικόν,

The Intellect or Rational Part

The intellect (νοῦς) for Evagrius is not merely reason; instead, it is the
center of the human person created in the image of God.[5] The intellect is
also the place of direct (or intuitive) knowledge in which one perceives
truth instantly.[6] The function of the intellect is mainly twofold. First, the
intellect is the highest part of the soul. As such, it images the divine nature
and shares with the latter its immateriality, which allows the intellect to
have direct (or intuitive) communion with God. [7] Indeed, the nature of
the intellect was created for just such a purpose. It is the instrument by
which a human is meant to contemplate God. The second function of the
intellect is to govern the irrational parts of the soul. [8] The two irrational
parts can easily become distracted by the sense perception of the material
world, which drags the monk away from contemplating God. Since this is
the case, though through no fault of God who created the irrational parts,
the rightful order of the soul is to have the intellect trained and
strengthened to reign in the other two powers. This is the struggle of the
practical (πρακτική, praktike) life,[9] the entire purpose of which is to
partake in pure (i.e., imageless[10] and passionless) prayer.[11]

The Irascible Part

The irascible part of the soul is an intermediate power of the soul. As such,
it stands between the intellect and the concupiscible part, sharing
characteristics of each. With the intellect, the irascible part is located in the
heart of a person.[12] However, unlike the intellect, the irascible part is
irrational. The primary function of the irascible part is one of motivation,
resistance, or energy to perform an action; specifically, fighting against the
demons. Evagrius says, “for the usage of irascibility lies in this, namely, in
fighting against the serpent with enmity.”[13] For this reason, the irascible
part is susceptible to the thought of anger. As will be discussed below, anger
against the demons is appropriate, but anger against one’s brother it is not.
Indeed, to allow the irascible part to dominate the soul turns one into an
animal, and even worse, a demon.[14]
The Concupiscible Part
The concupiscible is the part of the soul most closely associate with the
body and its desires, and thus is the lowest of the three parts. Functionally,
the concupiscible part should long for virtue.[15] However, this is seldom
the case. Being so closely associated with the body, the concupiscible part is
often incited by sensations experienced by the body and instead of longing
for virtue seek out the object of those sense perceptions. It makes sense,
then, that the vices (or thoughts) most closely associated with the
concupiscible part are gluttony and fornication. Yet, Evagrius never views
the bodily desires or needs as bad in themselves. Instead, it is the misuse of
those desires that lead to sin and death. While lower than the other powers,
the concupiscible power is still important for the practical life as it is the
source of the Christian’s desire for virtue.

Evagrian anthropology is important to understand prior to exploring the
eight evil thoughts. It serves as the structure through which each thought is
understood, especially in relation to how the Christian can overcome the
thoughts.[16] Ideally, the concupiscible part produces desire for the virtues,
the irascible power enables the motivation or power to perform the virtue,
and the intellect guides and governs the entire process. The ultimate goal is
that of impassibility, or freedom from passions. Passions (παθή, pathe) are
the proposals (from images, thoughts, or memories) for the misuse of the
powers of the soul. Evagrius, furthermore, distinguishes between bodily
passions and passions of the soul. Bodily passions are those associated with
the natural needs of the body, whereas the passions of the soul arise from
within the individual or from his/her relationship to other persons.[17] It is
important for Evagrius to make such a distinction for it allows him to
further clarify the intended goal of specific thoughts, and thus, their
appropriate remedy. When one is able to keep the powers of the soul in
line, he/she has reached impassibility. Impassibility (ἀπάθεια, apatheia) is
not a carelessness or indifference (as is implied by the modern English
derivative “apathetic”). Instead, it is the restoration of the powers of the
soul that allows for communion with the incorporeal God. As Evagrius says,
“…impassibility is the health of the soul, and its nourishment is knowledge,
which alone is wont to untie us to the holy powers, since union with the
incorporeals naturally results from a similar disposition.”[18] Impassibility
is a necessary component to achieve the goal of imageless prayer for it is the
ability to remain in communion with God without being overwhelmed by
The Eight Evil Thoughts

Now that Evagrius’ anthropology has been explained, it will be easier to

understand his theory of the eight evil thoughts. First, what a thought is will
need defining as well as a summary of how thoughts work including his
ideas about sense perception, images, assent and the role and influence of
demons. Following this will be a close analysis of the eight thoughts,
including their sources, effects, solutions, and interrelations with each

The Thought Process

For Evagrius, “thoughts” are not isolated events within one’s brain. Instead,
there is a complex relationship between the external world, memory, and
the influence of external rational beings, be they angels or demons. First,
through sense experience, external objects in the world leave an impress on
the mind. From this impress, one forms a mental representation which is
stored in the memory.[19] These mental representation, also called images,
have within themselves proposals for action to which the individual can
either refuse or assent.[20] To make this clearer, Evagrius distinguishes
between three types of thoughts: angelic, demonic, and human.[21] An
angelic thought leads one from sense experience to seek the spiritual
meaning of the world (i.e., its relation to God). A demonic thought,
contrarily, does not seek the ends of created things (i.e., God), but seeks the
things in themselves for ones own pleasure. Human thoughts stand in
between, neither seeking God nor the objects themselves (that is, there is
just the image and nothing else). This theory of thoughts may be easier to
understand with an illustration. A man sees a woman on his way to work.
Through the sense perception of sight, a visible image of the woman is
impressed upon his mind.[22] This mental representation is stored in his
memory throughout the day and he thinks nothing of it until it suddenly
appears in his mind. Now, a neutral human thought would be just the
mental representation in the mind. An angelic thought would be to
contemplate the spiritual significance (or purpose) of that woman (or
women in general). A demonic thought, however, would place the image of
the woman before the man’s eyes in order to elicit the thought of
fornication which would excite the concupiscible part of the soul to the end
that he would seek to commit fornication. One of the significant problems
that Evagrius has with the eight evil thoughts is there association with
images. Whether it is something tangible such as ones bodily needs (i.e.,
gluttony), or something more abstract such as an exalted view of the self
(i.e., vainglory or pride), these are all associated with images in the mind.
This is a problem since the proper end of the mind is prayer to God. Since
God is an immaterial being, there can be no image of him in the mind.
Thus, to have any image in the mind is to be praying to something that is
not God, which is idolatry. The goal, then, for the monk is to get to the point
where one can prayer imagelessly, and thus without distraction.[23] When
Evagrius’ examines the eight evil thoughts, he is specifically talking about
the activity of demons in bringing mental representations to the mind in
order to propose an action that is a misuse of the parts of the soul (i.e., a
passion). There are two types of demons: the first tempts the rational part
of the soul, where as the second tempts the irrational part of the
soul.[24] This distinction is important because it will effect how one can
then combat the specific demon for when one knows the workings and
natures of the demons, one has the knowledge needed to overcome them.
Such methods include quoting back appropriate scriptural passages
(antirrhêsis) which cut the thought off while it is young,[25]introducing
another thought to cut off the present one (since one can only maintain a
single image in the mind at a time[26]), and specific virtuous actions which
are directly contrary to specific thoughts (i.e., almsgiving to combat avarice
or fasting to combat gluttony).[27]

Three Types of Thoughts

There are three main types of thoughts which are the basis of all the other
thoughts: gluttony, avarice, and vainglory.[28] For example, Evagrius
thinks that it is impossible for one to fall into the thought of fornication
without first being overcome by the thought of gluttony.[29] These also
might be thought of as the primary vices of the three parts of the soul:
gluttony for the concupiscible, avarice for the irascible, and vainglory for
the ration.[30]Evagrius sees an inherent logic in how the thoughts relate,
and this relation will be briefly described as each thought is addressed
below. The order below follows the order of the treatise Eight
Thoughts,[31] and are as follows: gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger,
sadness, akedia, vainglory, and pride. For each thought, there will be a
description of what the thought is, what part of the soul it affects, how it
relates to the other thoughts, and specific virtues to combat the thought.
Gluttony (γαστρυμαργία, gastrimargia) is the first evil thought. It arises in
connection with the concupiscible part of the soul and the natural needs of
the body. While he does think that the angels are better off in that they do
not need food, he does not view food in itself as a bad thing.[32] God
created food and the body which needs it and thus they are both good.
Gluttony is a misuse of this originally good and natural bodily function. As
with all thoughts, this begins with an image in the mind, and for gluttony
that image is one of food. The demons entice the monk, reasoning with him
about the needs of his bodily health, the uselessness of fasting, or security
for the future. Evagrius outlines the many different ways that gluttonous
thoughts come in his Antirrhêtikos. A revealing one is this: “Against the
thoughts that are anxious about food and clothing on the pretexts of
hospitality, illnesses, and prolonged miseries of the body.”[33] Notice that
gluttony is not solely concerned with food for ones bodily needs, though
that is a major component. Instead, gluttony even extends beyond the
objects themselves to the relationships one has with others (i.e.,
hospitality). The effects of gluttony are principally the clouding of the mind
and fornication. To have the mind clouded is to lack mental visibility and
when one is unable to think clearly, his/her prayers are
hindered.[34] In Prayer 50, Evagrius likens all of the passions to a
fattening of the mind,[35] which is an appropriate metaphor for gluttony. A
full stomach makes for a slow mind, and the demons know how to take
advantage of such states, which is why gluttony is the first evil thought. It
takes hold of the natural needs of the body[36] and twists them into a vice
as it is shown in the following:
Whenever the demons attempt to dislodge one’s thinking with shameful
pleasures, then they introduce the warfare of gluttony, so that once they
have fired the stomach beforehand they can the more effortlessly cast the
soul into the pit of lust. In the laziness of the soul the demons are able to
get hold of our rational mind and in the thoughts they disgorge the
pleasures of evil. Sometimes the thoughts attract the passions and
sometimes the passions the thoughts, and then the thoughts through the
passions make war on the soul.[37]
Here one not only sees the debilitating effects of gluttony, but also its direct
connection with fornication. The gluttonous mind is too weak and lazy to
resist the temptations of fornication, which are likely to follow due to its
close association with the natural needs of the body.[38] The direct way to
combat gluttony is with abstinence.[39] A restricted diet weakens the
power of the concupiscible part of the soul, effectively cutting off the
demon’s power and putting the reins of the soul back into the hands of the
mind. However, Evagrius is keen to recognize the temptation to jump into
some form of extreme asceticism. He counsels, based on the wisdom of the
desert fathers before him, that one should eat at least once a day.[40] Any
less would be to weaken the body beyond what is necessary to fight the
demons at all. Abstinence from food is meant to weaken the concupiscible
part of the soul, not the entire body.

Fornication (πορνεία, porneia) is the second evil thought, also associated
with the concupiscible part of the soul and directly connected with gluttony.
Evagrius distinguishes between two types of fornication: spiritual and
bodily.[41] Spiritual fornication is assenting to the images presented to the
mind (often in female form) by the demons, whereas bodily fornication is
the physical act of extra-marital sexual activity. It is through the habit of
bowing down,[42] as Evagrius says, to the images which lead one to
commit fornication. However, images of enticing women are not the only
way the demons tempt the monk. Evagrius speaks of other times when, no
longer able to succeed through images, the demons actually touch the body
and enflame it with passion.[43] One must be careful with the thought of
fornication, for it is one of the quickest of the thoughts coming upon the
monk suddenly.[44]This makes speaking about the thought of fornication
difficult, as speaking against it may actually stir up thoughts of it.
Fornication also comes upon the monk in his dreams when the monk does
not fall into cowardice at the sight of a myriad of wild beasts,[45] taking a
more subtle approach. The demon may also hide the thoughts of
fornication from the monk so that he will become relaxed and caught off his
guard. One sees, then, that fornication is a clever thought, against which
one must always be on guard. If the monk does fall into fornication
(spiritual or bodily), several consequences arise. Prayers are hindered as
the mind has become defiled, which can further lead to the thought of
akedia.[46] That is, the mind retains the image prompted by fornication
before itself, thus making it difficult to reach the state of imageless prayer.
Not being able to do this then produces frustration and a sense of
hopelessness that he/she will never be able to attain to true prayer and
should just give up (i.e., akedia). More often, the monk is overcome by the
thought of sadness when his desire for fornication is not met. In this
instance, the monk will be tempted to think that God is unjust. One way to
combat fornication is obviously through chastity, which is easiest if the
monk limits his contact with women.[47] It must also be remembered that
gluttony and fornication are closely associated, so one would also be able to
control the thought of fornication with fasting, especially from moist
foods.[48] Intense prayer and vigils, which train the mind to seek God and
not to be distracted by the images, are also effective in combating
fornication. Finally, the monk may attempt to pit one thought against
another because, as mentioned above, the mind can only maintain one
image before it at a time. The theory goes that one may be able to kick out
the present thought with an opposing thought. For example, vainglory is an
opposing thought to fornication because it strives to see itself where as
fornication takes pleasure in the sight of other people. More so, vainglory
seeks the honor from other people where as fornication will bring nothing
but dishonor. Similarly, one may also attack the thought of fornication with
the irascible part of the soul, which Evagrius sees as particularly effective
knowing that the demons fear such wrath. However, one must be careful
not to then fall prey to the thought of anger, which may actually be acting as
the thought of fornication to entice one to anger.[49]

The third evil thought is avarice (φιλαργυπία, philarguria). Here one
begins to move away from bodily needs or desires. Avarice is not just the
love of money, though that is part of it, but the desire for worldly goods for
their own sake. This can take many forms, which makes avarice the most
deceitful of the passions.[50] In Thoughts 21, Evagrius gives some
Often constrained by the most severe renunciation, he immediately
pretends to be the administrator and the friend of the poor; he generously
receives guests who are not yet there; he sends assistance to others who
are in need; he visits the city’s prisons and he buys those who are being
sold; he associates himself with wealthy women and indicates to them
who should be treated well; and those who have acquired an ample purse
he advises to renounce it.[51]

It is striking how avarice is often veiled as acts of mercy. The monk himself
may even think he is doing all of these charitable acts with sincerity, blind
to the real intention of his heart. Even worse, avarice is an insatiable vice
that is never filled no matter how much it attains. There will always be the
need for more things, whether to satisfy ones needs for the body in the
future, or for the needs of others. In the end, the image of wealth abides
constantly before the mind, and for Evagrius this is a hindrance to true
prayer because any image held in the mind is the object to which one prays
and to have wealth in the mind during prayer is to pray to an
idol.[52] Avarice can give rise to sadness if the object one strives after is not
attained or, if attained, is taken away.[53] More so, avarice leads onto
vainglory by imagining all of the praise one would receive from all the
virtuous acts accomplished through wealth and possessions. This vainglory
will also cause the monk to connive against any threat that may take away
from the praise of others. Unlike gluttony and fornication, which focus
mainly on the self and its physical needs or desires, avarice begins to attack
ones relationships. Friends, family, or fellow monks are no longer
Christians to be loved, but objects to be used for ones own purposes. The
most direct solutions to avarice are almsgiving[54] and freedom from
possessions.[55] These both represent the life of poverty to which the monk
should be committed. As avarice weighs the monk down, preventing him
from attaining imageless prayer and being bound to the things of this
world, it is only through a renunciation of the things that the monk will be
able to be free to attain true prayer.[56] In addition, the thought of anger is
contrary to the thought of avarice and so by imagining someone or thing
that stirs up anger, one may escape the thought of avarice.

Anger (θυμός, thumos) is the fourth evil thought. As with avarice, the
thought of anger is less associated with concrete pleasures than gluttony
and fornication and has more to do with interpretation of images. Anger is
specifically connected to the irascible part of the soul and so to understand
it better, one must remember the proper role of the irascible part. As
mentioned above, the irascible part of the soul is the energy or motivation
to act. The proper end of the irascible part is anger against the demons and
temptations,[57] and gentleness and patience with fellow
monks.[58] Evagrius clearly states that there is no such thing as just anger
against ones neighbor,[59] it is only to be directed against the demons.
Thus, anger is the improper use of the irascible part of the soul against an
improper object (i.e., anything but the demons). Anger begins with an
image, often involving a perceived (or real) injustice whether verbal or
physical. The demons will bring to mind the image of the offender’s face
after the event throughout the day, especially during prayer. When one
ruminates upon perceived or actual evils, the irascible part is excited to the
point where one may lash out for vengeance. This includes, among other
things, lying, slander, and a distrust of other people.[60] Anger is thus
inherently destructive of relationships as it attacks other persons (instead
of demons) and refuses to be reconciled with the supposed offender. Yet,
not only does it destroy ones external relationships, it also harms the body
often manifesting itself in terrifying visions at night and a wasting away of
the body.[61] The end of anger is irrationality. Evagrius often compares the
one who is overcome by anger to that of wild animals.[62] Such a person
has his/her mind clouded and is unable to see things as they really are.
More so, anger can never be fully satiated so that either it succeeds in
attaining vengeance or it is reduced to sadness in the event that its efforts
are thwarted, [63] like a person who tries to fill with water a jar full of
holes. Evagrius sees anger as that which destroys rationality, the ultimate
end of which is to become a demon for they are those minds which have
been completely given over to anger.[64] A mind controlled by anger
cannot truly pray (i.e., imagelessly) for images are constantly being brought
before it.[65] Thus, by destroying prayer, the mind is lead into akedia. To
combat the thought of anger, one must have patience. Since anger is quick
to act, patience reigns in the irascible part which allows the monk to judge
things as they truly are. In addition, because anger attacks others, one can
fight against it by cultivating compassion and gentleness and even more
directly by gift giving.[66] The monk should instead use anger against the
demons to fight the other thoughts. By doing this, the monk destroys desire
and reduces the amount of images that are present in the mind, which in
turns frees him to partake in true (i.e., imageless) prayer.

The fifth evil thought is sadness (λύπη ἄρκαιρος, lupe akairos). This type of
sadness is one that specifically arises in response to not having what one
wants. These desires can take many forms, from the overt sin of fornication
to the wish to be with one’s family. The specific desire is not the main point,
but the frustration in not attaining the desire.[67] Evagrius draws specific
attention to the connection between anger and sadness: “Sadness is a
dejection of the soul and is constituted from thoughts of anger, for
irascibility is a longing for revenge…and the frustration of revenge produces
sadness.”[68] However, sadness does not follow upon anger alone, but can
arise from any of the thoughts. Once sadness has come upon the monk, it
perpetually pushes the monk into further sadness. One way it does this is
by presenting the anchoretic life (i.e., solitary) as something to be pursued,
leaving the monk alone to dwell constantly upon his unfulfilled desires,
especially during the time of prayer.[69] Evagrius also addresses another
kind of sadness. This one is the godly sadness that leads to repentance,
which is mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10. To distinguish between
the two, one must understand the source of the sadness and its products.
The demonic sadness comes about either without any apparent cause or
from unusual causes. In addition, it can arise from the terror induced by
frightening dreams or visions of wild beasts. It will produce more sadness
and hold the person in bondage unto the point of madness. Godly sadness,
on the other hand, comes from a recognition of one’s sin and invites one to
repentance. The former turns one inward and is self-destructive, whereas
the later turns one outward to God for healing. Since sadness arises from
the frustration of desires, one direct way to combat the thought is to
renounce all worldly pleasures. By doing this, one effectively cuts off the
source of sadness for no frustration can arise if there is no preceding desire.
Ascetical labors, such as fasting and abstinence, are an important way in
which the monk can root out worldly pleasures. This in turn teaches the
monk to be thankful and to experience joy even in trials. Such thankfulness
and joy in turn strengthen the monk against the thought of sadness. Finally,
prayer also combats sadness as it not only turns ones mind towards God
(and away form the self), but it also seeks God imagelessly.

Akedia (ἀκηδία, akedia) is the sixth evil thought. Akedia is a type of
restlessness that comes upon the monk around noon.[70] What generally
happens is this. First, the monk begins to feel that the day is just dragging
along or that the task set before him is too difficult. Then, the monk
searches to see if any of the other monks are coming to visit him. If not, he
returns to his task. However, soon there grows dissatisfaction with where
he is at in his life and that none of the other monks care about him. If
anyone has done him wrong, he begins to think about that, which then
leads to anger. Since where he is at now is so terrible, he dwells on thoughts
of foreign places and thinks about how wonderful they would be. He then
begins to rationalize the need to leave his current location, often using
Scripture as a justification. This thought encompasses all the other
thoughts as it draws from both the animal (i.e., irrational) and human (i.e.,
rational) parts of the soul.[71] That is, it can draw from a combination of
any of the thoughts. For example, akedia can arise from the thought of
fornication which is closely associated with the concupiscible part of the
soul. It can also arise after anger, which is more closely related to the
irascible part of the soul. Finally, it can also arise from the thoughts that are
closer to the rational part of the soul, that is, sadness, vainglory, and pride.
While sadness was the result of a frustrated desire, akedia seems to be a
type of weariness with the ascetical life. It may come upon the monk in
response to what appears to be the overwhelming difficulty of such a life. It
also may come upon the monk after a moral failure, closely accompanied by
sadness. In either case, there is a seemingly hopelessness to his situation.
Like sadness, akedia begins a perpetual downward spiral into more and
more sin. The irascible part has been cooled to the point where it cannot
even function properly to fight against temptation. Perseverance is the most
direct way to combat the thought of akedia. The key feature of akedia is best
described in the English word, restlessness. If one is restless about his
labors, whether they be manual or ascetical, it is important not to give in to
the restlessness and go here or there to avoid ones responsibilities. Instead,
perseverance does not give into those distractions but through joy and
thanksgiving meditates on the cross of Christ. Reciting the psalms can also
be helpful in fighting akedia. However, one must be careful not to be lead
into vainglory or excessive asceticism. Vainglory comes about if the monk
does persevere through the temptation of akedia and begins to think of his
own accomplishments, forgetting that perseverance comes from God.
Excessive asceticism arises as a way of combating akedia. If akedia is a
powering down, then the monk considers that the natural solution is to
power up. However, such powering up will only drain the monk of all power
to the point where he is unable to combat any temptation.

Vainglory (κενοδοξία, kenodoxia) is the seventh evil thought and is less
associated with the material world as were the other thoughts. Images are
still necessary, but they are used as an instrument to prop up one’s own
person. It seeks to publish his ascetical labors for the sake of gaining esteem
from others. This is prompted by images of the monk as triumphing over
the demons, or performing great miracles, or the attainment of the
priesthood. The monk thinks of all the great things he has done, or will do
and all of the praises that naturally accompany such a thing. Vainglory may
also accompany avarice in that others may praise one for the things that
one has.[72] The point is not the things (possessions or ascetical labors) in
themselves, but the praise one would receive on account of them. This
means that the monk is not laboring with the hopes of arriving at
impassibility to partake in imageless prayer, but for the adulation of those
around him. Vainglory is a particularly troubling thought for it follows
upon the virtues. Any virtuous act one does can be immediately overcome
by it. For example, as noted above, if one perseveres through akedia,
vainglory is there to receive the praise. Not only that, but it is fiercely
jealous and can lead to envy and slander of others who are succeeding in
their ascetical labors because such success takes away the glory that could
be coming to the other monk instead. This will also produce sadness when
the desire for praise is not fulfilled. Interestingly, Evagrius notes that
vainglory may lead to fornication, which is rather ironic since vainglory
begins with the airs of a righteous life. Finally, vainglory is a natural
companion to the thought of pride. Often these two thoughts are confused,
if only for that fact that they seem to go hand-in-hand. Vainglory needs
others to offer praise, but such praise puffs the monk up to the point where
he no longer needs them (i.e., pride). Humility is the most direct way to
counter vainglory, but it is difficult to attain in regards to vainglory since
one can be vainglorious in attempting to be humble. Ascetical labors,
especially prayer, help to cultivate humility, but Evagrius counsels that they
should be done in secret. Vainglory needs the recognition of other people,
so secrecy naturally combats it. Another important salve for vainglory is
seeking knowledge. By this he does not mean mere facts, but the ability to
discern the reasons for creation, i.e., the underlying spiritual significance of
the creation. To be consumed with such contemplation overshadows the
vainglorious thoughts that arise from the promise of pleasure inherent in
the images presented by the demon. It is nice to picture that one becomes a
bishop, and the pleasure derived from the admiration of the adoring
crowds. However, when compared to the contemplation that seeks God,
such pleasures cease to maintain their former appeal.

Pride (ὑπερηφανία, hyperephania) is the eight and final evil thought. It is
important to distinguish pride from vainglory as they do have some
crossover. As said above, vainglory seeks the admiration of others to puff
the self up. Pride, on the other hand, has no need for the other, but instead
attributes all success or virtue only to the self. Vainglory needs other people
but pride disdains them. What is worse is that pride is not satisfied with
only ignoring other people, but ultimately rejects God as the source of all
good things in the life of the monk. Indeed, this very type of denial is
actually the first of all sins[73] and the “offspring of the devil.”[74] Thus,
with pride one has moved almost entirely away from material reality on
which thoughts like gluttony and fornication so heavily depended. Instead,
the mind turns in on itself as the sole provide of all good to the extent that it
refuses to acknowledge God. Pride, like vainglory, can closely follow and
ascetical work or virtue the monk performs, and closely follows after
vainglory. Because pride elevates the self above all others, it easily leads on
to anger or sadness when ones perceived greatness is not acknowledged by
others or when one does not get the respect one thinks he/she deserves. To
deny God, the creator and sustainer of all things, ultimately leads on to
insanity for one is no longer in touch with reality. More so, like vainglory,
pride is also associated with terrifying visions, such as demons in the air.
Such a vision is an indication that the person has been abandoned by God
to become a toy for the demons.[75]As has been shown with the other seven
evil thoughts, a key aspect for combating them is to understand how they
work. Pride works by arrogantly denying the assistance of others, even God.
Thus, an immediate solution would be to think of one’s past sins. One must
remember how at one point he/she was a slave to sin, weak, helpless, and
pitiful. To remember this is to strip pride of all power as it shatters the
illusion of the independent and autonomous self. By practicing such a
remembrance, one cultivates humility. Evagrius warns that pride, along
with sadness and vainglory, are dangerous for those who seek the
anchoritic life. To live as an anchorite without first extinguishing pride
leads one to a forgetfulness by which they make shipwreck of their faith.

Analysis and Critique

In his articulation of the eight evil thoughts, Evagrius pulled together
biblical insights, monastic experience, and philosophical speculation into
powerful and uniquely Christian psychology that had a significant influence
on monasticism in both the East and West.[76] One of the staying powers
of Evagrius’ “system” (if one can truly call it a system) is exactly in its
synthesis of these three traditions. He is firmly rooted in the contemplation
and exegesis of Scripture, even if some of his explanations may seem
strange to modern readers. The Bible is a gift from God that not only
informs the Christian about God, but also equips him/her to fight demonic
temptation. This is most clearly seen in his Antirrhêtikos in which the
quotation of Scripture is seen as essential to the spiritual life. Of course,
this very practice is taught by the example of Jesus himself as he battled the
devil in the desert. Evagrius is able to incorporate the experience of the
desert fathers who came before him, and so, while many parts of his
writings may sound speculative, his advice is firmly rooted in practical
experience. Such practical experience allows him to nuance his descriptions
of the eight evil thoughts. There is not theoretical reason why, as stated
above, vainglory may lead to fornication, in the way that, for example,
avarice can lead to sadness. Instead, this is an observation rooted in
experience. This also allows him to make reservations about not fasting too
much, as some who may be zealous for righteousness might try to do.
Fasting is a tool that must be used rightly, and knowledge of how to use it
comes from experience. Evagrius takes up this experience and passes it.
Finally, Evagrius is able to incorporate the philosophical insights of Plato,
Aristotle, and the Stoics, into his psychology of temptation. This is not to
say that he is doggedly committed to them. Instead, their insights and
terminology become tools by which he is able to articulate the eight evil
thoughts. In that sense, he is in good company with many of the Christian
leaders of the fourth century. One thinks of, for example, the debate over
the term homoousios. Here was a word, ousia, with a long philosophical
history, but was tempered upon the anvil of biblical and theological
reflection. Likewise, Evagrius is not averse to adopting philosophical ideas
or terms to help explain something, and he is always willing to alter its
meaning in light of biblical revelation. Whether is does this successfully is
another question entirely. While Evagrius accomplishes much, history has
not always been kind to him, especially following the Origentist
controversies. One of the reasons may be his pedagogical method, which
involves the use of short, pithy, sayings, as well as the slow process of
teaching the practical and theoretical lives. By using short, pithy, sayings,
Evagrius hopes to do two things: avoid vainglory for himself (before he
became a monk, he was a well-known orator) and to stimulate
contemplation among the reader. Unfortunately, such sayings can also lead
to confusion being easily misunderstood and reinterpreted in unorthodox
ways. There is also the slow process of teaching both the practical and
theoretical lives. This means that Evagrius understood that not all
knowledge is appropriate at all stages of life. Thus, a novice may be
instructed to act or think in a certain way that is intended to prepare them
for a fuller revelation later on. While there is much wisdom in this
approach, it also means that one may take what he says for a certain stage
and interpret it as some principle in a complex philosophical system. One
must remember, however, that Evagrius wrote not for the joy of pure
speculation, which leads to vainglory and pride, but so that his fellow
monks could be trained in the life of prayer. As the above analysis of the
eight evil thoughts has shown, temptation lurks around every corner, and
those who wish to prevail must be rigorously trained. If one avoids seeing
Evagrius as a speculative theologian, one can begin to see his wisdom as a
teacher of the spiritual life, both the practical and the theoretical. Yet, as it
stands, ripped from the context of the monastery and reformatted into
textbook with footnotes and explanations, Evagrius will be misunderstood.
This is for the simple fact that Evagrius intended to teach those who have
not separated the theoretical life from the practical life, but those who
recognize that the theologian is the one who prays, and the one who prays is
a theologian.

Evagrius of Pontus system of eight evil thoughts represents a perceptive
and articulate explanation of temptation that brings together biblical
revelation, monastic experience, and philosophical insight into a
sophisticated guide for the spiritual life. It begins with a concept of the
human person as divided into three parts: the intellect or mind, the
irascible, and the concupiscible part. The eight evil thoughts correspond to
the misuse of these parts of the soul prompted by images introduced
through demonic influence. Such images distract the mind from its true
goal, which is imageless prayer to God. His ability to synthesize the three
streams of biblical revelation, monastic experience, and philosophical
reflection is only hindered by the unfortunate side effect of his pedagogical
style. As such, those who seek to understand him without applying his
insights will be bound to miss the wisdom that he is imparting.

Brakke, David, tr. Evagrius of Pontus. Talking Back. Antirrhêtikos: A

Monastic Hanbook for Combating Demons. Cistercian Studies 229.
Collegeville: Cistercian Publications/Liturgical Press, 2009.
Bunge, Gabriel. Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of
Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness. Translated by Anthony P.
Gythiel. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009.
Harmless, William, S. J. and Raymond R. Fitzgerald, S. J. “The Sapphire
Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus.” Theological
Studies 62 (2001), 498-529.
Parmentier, M. “Evagrius of Pontus’ ‘Letter to Melania’ I.” Bijdragen,
Tijdschrift voor filosofie en theologie 46 (1985), 2-38.
Sinkewicz, Robert E., ed. and tr. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic
Corpus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Sorabji, Richard. Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to
Christian Temptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[1] Praktikos 89; ET, Robert Sinkewicz, ed. and tr., Evagrius of Pontus:
The Greek Acetic Corpus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 111.
[2] Gabriel Bunge, Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of
Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2009),
15. A little lower, Bunge also notes that sometimes Evagrius uses νοῦς to
refer to the rational part of the soul, translated as “intellect” in addition to
the preexistent “mind.” Throughout this paper, “soul” will refer to the
whole soul, whereas intellect (or mind) will refer to the rational part of the
soul in contrast to the irrational parts.
[3] For an overview of the subject, cf. Sinkewicz, The Greek Ascetic Corpus,
xxxvii-xl, and M. Parmentier, “Evagrius of Pontus’ ‘Letter to Melania’
I,” Bijdragen, Tijdschrift voor filosofie en theologie 46 (1985), 2-38.
[4] Thoughts 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 164.
[5] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 20.
[6] William Harmless, S. J. and Raymond R. Fitzgerald, S. J., “The
Sapphire Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus,” TS 62
(2001), 513. The term “intuition” should be explained more. Intuitive
knowledge is knowledge reached immediately without reasoning. For
example, if one sees a tree the truth of the sense perception is known
immediately. However, if one were to close his/her eyes, the knowledge of
the tree is no longer immediate, but known through reason (i.e., the world
still exists outside of my perception of it, therefore it is probable that the
tree will still exist despite my not perceiving it). For Evagrius, since the
mind intuitively knows, it cannot then know God through reason, but
through direct experience in prayer. This is the primary function of the
[7] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 26. Cf. Harmless and Fitzgerald, “The Sapphire
Light of the Mind,” 513.
[8] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 16.
[9] Eulogios 15; ET, Sinkewicz, 42. The practical life is distinguished from
the gnostic life which is defined in this same passage as “the contemplation
of superior things.” Yet, he here also maintains that these two ways of life
should never be separated: “Praiseworthy is the person who has yoked the
gnostic life to the practical life so that from both springs he might water
unto virtue the land of the soul. For the gnostic life gives wings to the
intellectual substance by the contemplation of the superior goods, and the
practical life puts to death the members that are upon earth: fornication,
impurity, passion, vice, evil desire. Therefore, those who through these two
have put on the protection of full amour will then easily overcome the
wickedness of the demons.”
[10] Evagrius’ concept of images as they relate to prayer will be discussed
[11] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 64.
[12] Ibid., 19.
[13] Eulogios 11.10; ET, Sinkewicz, 37.
[14] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 27.
[15] Praktikos 86; ET, Sinkewicz, 111.
[16] This will be explained in the next section as it relates to each individual
[17] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 18-19.
[18] Praktikos 56; ET, Sinkewicz, 107.
[19] Ibid. 4; ET, Sinkewicz, 155-156. Cf. Prayer 46; ET, Sinkewicz, 197, “The
demon…does not cease setting in motion mental representations of objects
through the memory and praising loose all the passions through the flesh,
so that he can impede his excellent course and his setting out towards God.”
[20] To assent to an action is to agree to the proposed action. This does not
always lead to the performance of the action (e.g., an external force could
prevent one from performing the action), but it is for Evagrius the point at
which one is morally culpable (cf. Thoughts 7; ET, Sinkewicz, 157-158). For
more on this and its relation to previous Hellenistic thought, cf. Richard
Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian
Temptation(Oxford: OUP, 2000), 357-371.
[21] Thoughts 8; ET, Sinkewicz, 158.
[22] For Evagrius, an impression on the mind is similar to the Stoic image
of a signet ring pressed into soft wax. The impress is not the thing itself, but
it carries the same shapes and contours of the ring and is called a mental
representation. Likewise, in this illustration, the image of the woman is
distinct from the woman herself but carries the same shape and details as
she has in the external world.
[23] Prayer 113-120; ET, Sinkewicz, 205-206.
[24] Thoughts 18; ET, Sinkewicz, 165.
[25] While such a method can be seen throughout his works, the main work
related to this is the Antirrhêtikos, cf. David Brakke, tr. Evagrius of Pontus,
Talking Back, Antirrhêtikos: A Monastic Handbook for Combating
Demons, Cistercian Studies 229 (Collegeville: Cistercian
Publications/Liturgical Press, 2009).
[26] Thoughts 24; ET, Sinkewicz, 169-170.
[27] More of these types of actions will be described below in dealing with
each thought individually.
[28] Thoughts 1; ET, Sinkewicz, 153. In this same passage, Evagrius shows
that his basis for this is in the temptation of Christ.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus, 268; cf. Thoughts 28; ET, Sinkewicz,
[31] Evagrius is generally consistent when he lists the thoughts and the only
difference between the Eight Thoughts and others such as
the Antirrhêtikos, Vices, and Praktikos is that sadness comes before anger.
[32] It is good as far as it aids the monk in his asceticism. If the monk is too
weak, he will be unable to fight the demons at all. Cf. Thoughts 35; ET,
Sinkewicz, 177-178.
[33] Antirrhêtikos 1.47; ET, Brakke, 63.
[34] Eight Thoughts 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 74.
[35] ET, Sinkewicz, 198.
[36] Remember, for Evagrius, the natural needs of the body are associated
with the concupiscible part of the soul, which is the lowest of the three
parts. For the demons to begin here is like a big cat going after the weakest
animal in the herd.
[37] Eulogios 13.12; ET, Sinkewicz, 39. Cf. Vices 1.2; ET, Sinkewicz,
62; Praktikos, 7, 16; ET, Sinkewicz, 98, 100.
[38] The other vices (avarice, anger, sadness, vainglory, and pride) are
more abstract and are not dependent on bodily pleasures.
[39] Vices 1.2; ET, Sinkewicz, 62. Cf. Praktikos 16; ET, Sinkewicz, 100.
[40] Thoughts 35; ET, Sinkewicz, 178.
[41] Eulogios 18.19; ET, Sinkewicz, 45.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Antirrhêtikos 2.25, 27, 45, 55, 63; ET, Brakke, 74-75, 79, 81, 83. In
2.25, 55, and 63, Evagrius says that the demons touch the thigh, which is
probably a euphemism for the genitals (cf. 2.45 where he says the
“members” are touched).
[44] Praktikos 51; ET, Sinkewicz, 51. Cf. Prayer 90; ET, Sinkewicz, 202.
[45] Thoughts 27; ET, Sinkewicz, 172.
[46] Praktikos 23; ET, Sinkewicz, 102. Cf. Antirrhêtikos 12; ET, Brakke, 71.
[47] Most of the people to whom Evagrius wrote were most likely men,
though his advice (with a few adjustments) would apply to women as well.
Cf. Eight Thoughts 2.2, 6, 8, 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 76-77.
[48] Praktikos 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 101. Apparently, at that time, it was
common to see a connection between moist foods and sexual desire, and so
dry foods were often recommended as a remedy to balance out the fluids of
the body. Cf. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus, 68.
[49] Thoughts 16; ET, Sinkewicz, 164.
[50] Thoughts 21; ET, Sinkewicz, 167.
[51] Ibid.
[52] Eight Thoughts 3.14; ET, Sinkewicz, 79.
[53] Eight Thoughts 3.7; ET, Sinkewicz, 79.
[54] Antirrhêtikos 3.33; ET, Brakke, 92.
[55] Vices 3.3; ET, Sinkewicz, 63.
[56] Eulogios 12.11; ET, Sinkewicz, 38.
[57] Praktikos 24; ET, Sinkewicz, 102.
[58] Eulogios 11.9-10; ET, Sinkewicz, 37.
[59] Prayer 24; ET, Sinkewicz, 195.
[60] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 40.
[61] Praktikos 11; ET, Sinkewicz, 99. Cf. Thoughts 27; ET, Sinkewicz, 172.
[62] Thoughts 5; ET, Sinkewicz, 156 Cf. Eight Thoughts 4.4, 17; ET,
Sinkewicz, 80-81.
[63] Eight Thoughts 5.1, 12; ET, Sinkewicz, 81-82. Cf. Praktikos, 10; ET,
Sinkewicz, 98.
[64] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 24.
[65] Thoughts 5; ET, Sinkewicz, 156.
[66] Praktikos 20, 26; ET, Sinkewicz, 101, 102.
[67] Praktikos 10; ET, Sinkewicz, 98.
[68] Eight Thoughts 5.1; ET, Sinkewicz, 81.
[69] Thoughts 36; ET, Sinkewicz, 178.
[70] Which is why sometimes it is referred to as the noonday demon.
Cf. Praktikos 12; ET, Sinkewicz, 99.
[71] Reflections 40; ET, Sinkewicz, 214.
[72] Eulogios 23.24; ET, Sinkewicz, 50.
[73] Skemmata 44, 49; ET, Harmless and Fitzgerald, “Sapphire Light,” 527-
528. On pride as the first of all sins, cf. Eight Thoughts 8.11.18; ET,
Sinkewicz, 87 and note 112, Harmless and Fitzgerald, 528.
[74] Thoughts 1; ET, Sinkewicz, 153.
[75] Eight Thoughts 8.10; ET, Sinkewicz, 87.
[76] In the West, this influence passed through John Cassian and Pope
Gregory the Great into the Seven Deadly Sins. As such, Evagrius’ influence
has often been overlooked until recent times.