19 July 2012

The Eight Principle Vices

Abba Serapion, similar to his predecessor Evagrius, taught that there are eight principle vices (5.2-3):

1) Gluttony - natural vice committed through bodily action
2) Fornication - natural vice committed through bodily action
3) Avarice (love of money) - unnatural vice caused by external circumstances
4) Anger - natural vice caused by external circumstances
5) Sadness - unnatural vice caused by internal circumstances
6) Acedia (anxiety of heart) - unnatural vice caused by internal circumstances
7) Vainglory - unnatural vice committed in thoughts apart from bodily action
8) Pride - unnatural vice committed in thoughts apart from bodily action

 Before expounding on these eight vices Abba Serapion told how the Second Adam's defeat of Satan and these vices reversed our  demise under the First Adam (5.6.1-3).  In the Garden of Eden and in the desert, Satan tempted both Adams with the vices of gluttony, vainglory, and pride (or avarice). Adam was tempted with gluttony by taking the fruit; Christ was tempted to turn stones in to bread. Satan tempted Adam to vainglory when he said, "Your eyes shall be opened"; likewise he tempted Christ when he said, "If You are the Son of God, cast yourself down"; lastly Adam was tempted with pride when Satan told him, "You shall be gods knowing good and evil", and he also similarly tempted Christ when he showed and promised Him all the kingdoms of this world.

Each Adam brought about different outcomes by their decisions. Adam caused ruin and death, while Christ brought resurrection and life; in Adam humanity was condemned, while in Christ humanity was freed (1 Cor. 15:22). Even the nature of their births foretold these outcomes--Adam was fashioned from dust, while Christ was born of the Virgin Mary--the Theotokos.  Since Christ made victory over the vices possible in Him, we have to consider the nature of these vices and how to defeat them.

The first six vices are linked together in such a way that the overflow of the first sin causes the second sin, etc, to the sixth sin of acedia.  "From an excess of gluttony there inevitably springs fornication; from fornication, avarice; from avarice, anger; from anger, sadness; and from sadness, acedia" (5.10.2).  The vices can also be paired into four couplings, because each vice originates from the same passion as its partner.  Gluttony and fornication, anger and avarice, acedia and sadness, and pride and vainglory all share special relationships with each other (5.10.5). Therefore, these eight vices must be viewed and treated according to their root passions.

There are three kinds of gluttony and fornication. The three kinds of gluttony are eating before the appointed time, overeating, and desiring delicate foods. The first gluttony enrages the monk against his monastery, the second arouses fleshly desires, and the third produces avarice, which disallows solidarity with Christ's deprivation (5.11.2).  The three types of fornication are found in the union of the sexes, in sexual impurity, and in lust of soul and mind (5.11.4).
  
In order to defeat the bodily vices of gluttony and fornication the soul and body must respond together (5.4.3). The bodily disciplines of fasting, vigil, and works of penance must be diligently performed to overcome these sins.  Nevertheless, the soul must be involved in concert with these bodily disciplines, or they are all for naught.  As the Triodion points out during Clean Week Vespers, "True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then is our fasting true and acceptable to God. Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food, but by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions."

The importance of defeating gluttony and fornication cannot be understated. "For one who had conquered gluttony could not be tempted by fornication, which proceeds from the former's repletion and from its root" (5.6.3).  These two bodily vices must be defeated in order to defeat the rest of the vices.  Nevertheless, "it is certain that nothing has to do with utility and needs of our common nature apart from daily food and drink" (5.8.2). We will always have to do battle with gluttony in this life, because it arises out of bodily necessity (5.21.3). Even the monks who have conquered other passions by their holy lives struggle with great attentiveness of heart and abstinence of body against gluttony (5.8.4).  We must possess moderation and contentment in order to defeat gluttony.

There are three kinds of avarice and anger.  Avarice manifests itself in an inability to denounce worldly possessions, reclaiming what we already gave away in our denunciation, and longing for what we do not possess (5.11.6).  Anger is either interior anger (θυμος), external anger (οργη), or a long-term grudge (μηνις).

We must condemn all types of avarice and anger with equal horror.  In fact we must completely cut off these vices by not allowing them to linger (Col. 3:8; Heb. 13:4).  St. Maximus the Confessor in his First Century on Love understood this perfectly, "He who is not indifferent to fame and pleasure, as well as to love of riches that exists because of them and increases them, cannot cut off occasions for anger. And he who does not cut these off cannot attain perfect love."

There are two kinds of sadness and acedia (weariness or anxiety of heart).  One sadness originates when anger has ceased or from a hurt that has been suffered or from some thwarted desire, while the second comes from mental anguish or despair.  Acedia induces either an urge to sleep or a feeling of abandonment (5.11.8).  These logismoi should not be entertained in the mind; they too must be cutoff at once.

The last two vices are separated from the first six vices, because they do not originate from them.  Rather vainglory and pride attack us precisely when we conquer any of the first six vices (5.10.3-4).  There are two kinds of vainglory--being uplifted by carnally external things and desiring empty praise due to spiritual and hidden things (5.12.1).  Pride also manifests itself carnally and spiritually.  The temptation of spiritual pride occurs when one has made progress against the other vices (15.12.5).  Vainglory and pride are best countered by acquiring true humility.  All the methods prescribed by the Church aim towards acquiring grace through true humility of heart (1 Peter 5:5).

These eight vices are common to all, but they attack individuals in a variety of ways.  One Christian might be dominated by pride, while another is dominated by acedia, etc (5.13).  How do we best fight against these vices without being overwhelmed?  We must identify and attack our dominant vice with all diligence and repentance. When we desire purity of heart and intensely focus on defeating one vice, we will also be watchful and careful with regards to the other vices (15.14.1, 4).  The success of this battle belongs to the Lord "for it is impossible for a person to deserve to triumph over a passion before he has understood that he is not able to obtain victory in the struggle by his own diligence and effort, even though in order to be cleansed he must always be careful and attentive, day and night" (5.14.2).

We must work to replace vices with virtues "for virtues cannot live together with vices" (5.23.1).  Once the virtues have defeated the vices, chastity will replace fornication, patience will replace anger, beneficial sadness and joy will replace death-dealing sadness, fortitude will replace acedia, and humility will replace pride (5.23.2). Then we will regain the Lord's intention for our hearts--to be possessed not by the vices but by the virtues (5.24.2).  May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit help us in our struggles now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 


"The reason that fasting has an effect on the spirits of evil rests in its powerful effect on our own spirit. A body subdued by fasting brings the human spirit freedom, strength, sobriety, purity, and keen discernment." - St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

"A wandering mind is made stable by reading, vigil and prayer. Flaming lust is extinguished by hunger, labor and solitude. Stirrings of anger are calmed by psalmody, magnanimity and mercifulness. All this has its effect when used at its proper time and in due measure. Everything untimely or without proper measure is short-lived; and short-lived things are more harmful than useful." - Evagrius Ponticus
 
"My soul, my soul arise!  Why are you sleeping? The end is approaching and you will be confounded. Awake then, and be watchful, that you may be spared by Christ God, Who is everywhere and fills all things." - Kontakion from the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

"Vainglory, which seeks not the virtue itself but only praise of the virtue, labors diligently only that it might exhibit a mask of virtue before human eyes. Thus the hypocrite stands before humanity dressed in an outer garment of extreme deception: virtue--the essence of which he does not have at all--is seen on his exterior, while in his soul can be seen self-satisfaction and pomposity, because he first of all deceived and deluded himself." - St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (Homily on Clean Wednesday)

"To the lowly and humble God gives grace. That is, He gives them all that they need, all of that for which they pray to Him in their lowliness and in their humility. Who are they, the lowly and the humble? They are those who feel their weakness and their complete dependence on the Creator of all. They are as full as the sea and as dependent as the sea. What water is there that is fuller than the sea and what is more dependent on the rains and tributaries? The proud one is an enclosed well, closed off from heaven and earth and is self-sufficient as long as it is full. When closed off and cut off, it must quickly become emptied." - St. Nikolai Velimirovich (Homily from The Prologue of Ohrid)

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