Join Date: Sep 2003
The Devil is in the detail ...
Logismoi (pronounced, log-is-mee), are thoughts and thought/images that come to us to lead us astray. The are distractions and a result of the fall of mankind they gain entry due to the impaired reasoning faculty that has resulted in what St Maximus the Confessor calls the gnomic or discriminating will.
In the Orthodox Tradition, such 'unnatural thoughts' are not the product of right reason or a true human nature, but are a means by which the Devil engages with us, and seeks our overthrow. Pointy-tailed, red-scaled monsters served their purpose in their time, but these are different times, and call for different measures. Man has grown subtle ... his adversary more subtle still.
Few would argue that the devil has separated them from God, and probably Old Nick knows this is a tough job, with little prospect of result. Separating us from our neighbour however, is a doddle, and once you've done that, you can separate the self from its true self.
Never has man had so much wisdom, insight and knowledge to hand, and yet never has he pursued his fantasies with so much vigour.
In his book, "The Mountain of Silence" Fr Maximos a monk of Mount Athos draws up a five-step process, based on the teachings of the Fathers.
First stage: Assault
Temptation crosses our path, and a thought enters our head. No matter how sinful it may be, at this stage we have not done anything wrong, nor are we held accountable. At this stage we have committed no sin. The holy elders throughout the ages were relentlessly tempted and assaulted by similar and even worse logismoi.
Second Stage: Interaction
Here begins the mental dialogue. 'Should I, shouldn't I?' What will happen if I do? What will happen if I don't?' The very engagement with the thought process is risky and dangerous, 'curiosity killed the cat', as they say. The risk is in the engagement, because it is a part-acceptance of the logismoi itself. At this stage however, there is still no accountability on the part of the individual, no sin committed as yet. The person can indeed examine such a logismos and consider several options without being accountable. In an ideal world, we would see it, and reject it.
Here the gnomic will of man kicks in. We discriminate in matters we are not equipped to handle, we make decisions about things we do not understand. Insisting on our own independence, self-reliance, strength of will and intellectual capacity, we assume we possess all we need to engage the 'enemy' ... which is precisely what he would want us to think.
As soon as we engage in dialogue, other logismoi accrue to the first, for indeed, their name is legion. We tell ourselves such a dialogue is valid because we are rational, thinking creatures, and already we are in the opening stages of being overthrown. Our pride and our vanity take a hand. Whilst we applaud ourselves, we are already undone. The dialogue itself is a sign of weakness (although he will see it as a strength another logismoi).
Third Stage: Consent
Having argued the point, we find all manner of reasons to consent to what the logismos urges us to do. We have made a decision. From now on we are accountable, although we have not actually done anything yet. In the sermon on the Mount, for example, Christ holds us accountable for the consent to sin, whereas the Law holds us accountable for the action. Thus, according to Jesus, if you covet a woman in your mind, you have already committed adultery in your heart. The moment this decision is allowed to take root in your heart, then you are well on the way to actually committing the act in the outer world.
Fourth Stage: Captivity
From now on, we are hostage to the logismos. The moment the person succumbs, the next time around the logismos returns with greater force. It is much more difficult to resist then. And so it is with the next time and the time after that. Now the consent becomes habitual, and we expend our efforts in justifying our habits to ourselves.
Fifth Stage: Obsession
The logismos is now an entrenched reality within the consciousness of the person, within the nous. The person becomes a captive of obsessive logismoi. The Fathers warn us that when we become dominated by such passions it is like giving the key of our heart to Satan he can get in and out any time he wishes. We see a lot of our brothers and sisters struggling desperately to overcome their obsessive passions and addictions but without much success. They are fully aware that what they do is self-destructive. They are capable of reasoning with clarity of mind, but their heart is captive. They cannot eject from themselves that negative energy that possesses and controls them.
What is worse, of course, is we seek to justify our passions it is not our fault, it is the way of the world, it is the way I am. We try to make a virtue of our condition, and we insist that we are walking the Way according to our own, unique and individual nature a complete fallacy, of course, as the Way is not determined by human individuality but human nature we are nowhere near as uniquer or original as we like to think we are. The many ways are, of course, means of accommodating ourselves, our passions, our obessions, our sin.
The answer is surprising. Ignore them. That is what the Church Fathers tell us to do, and from a neurological perspective this makes perfect sense. We don't want to think about the thought or even dialogue with it as it will grow even more. The dialogue we neglect will eventually die. When the logismoi arrives on our doorstep, we can close the door, or open a dialogue. So the naive 'spiritual warrior' opens the door and accepts the challenge (the seasoned warrior simply closes the door) ...
If one is in community, however, there is an advanced technique, and that is the telling of our thoughts. Once brought into the light, they lose their power, whilst as long as we conceal them, they gain strength and power because they separate us from our neighbour.
More advanced still, among the Desert Fathers for instance, the novice would recount every thought of the day, each day ... and the Abba would offer counsel and direction. The skill of the Abba is spotting the logismoi even in the most innocent thought.
In all traditions, the disciple is under the tutelage of a guru, who's authority is absolute. Of course, modern man in the West has replaced the guru with a therapist ...