04 January 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

"Passion is an impulse of the soul contrary to nature." - St. Maximos the Confessor, Second Century on Love, #16


Eric Phillips said...

Contrary to _what_ nature?

Anonymous said...

I assume St. Maximos means contrary to human nature as God created it to be. - Weedon

Eric Phillips said...

Yeah. I don't buy it. Contrary to the nature of the future age, sure--although even that gets into some semantics. In the most technical sense of passion as "something that happens to us unbidden," I accept the idea of divine apatheia, and thus celestial apatheia also, but in the usual sense of the word, the "Holy, holy, holy" of the Seraphim certainly seems "passionate." The main difference is the extent to which the intellect is willingly involved. And God did not create Adam in a divinized state. Passion was part of original human nature, even though Adam was given the ability to rule it rather than the other way around.

Anonymous said...

There is that which is according to nature (Adam and Eve in the Garden), that which is contrary to nature (all sin), and that which is above nature (Christ, the saints, the monastics living the angelic life).

Passion is when a natural inclination (anger) is used contrary to nature. Anger is appropriate in response to sin, but not against others. Eros is the appropriatly fervent love we feel toward God, but is not appropriate towards our neighbor's wife. Passion is an ingrained, unchosen, wrongly ordered inclination that controls us, versus the other way around.

cheryl said...

Hmmmm. Maybe I'm thinking of "passion" in a different sense than Maximos, but it seems to me that passion itself is neutral. It's how it's put to use, which makes it morally culpable or not.

Personally, the idea of a "passionless" heaven is rather unappealing.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I think you are hearing passion differently than St. Maximos intended. He does not mean a heaven devoid of love and joy etc., but filled to the brim with them. He means by passion the use of an impulse of the soul contrary to the way God made us. He doesn't mean that there no impulses of the soul!

cheryl said...

Thank goodness.

I wondered, because I have often heard in the past, that God Himself is believed to be for lack of a better term, "passionless". (And therefore in heaven we will be too). In the sense I implied above. That He does not in all strictness, "feel", ie becomes sad, angry, joyful, happy ect.

I first came across this, when studying Patripassionism. It's based on the idea that God cannot change. And therefore when Scripture refers to God as being for example, "grieved", it merely means to stress God's willful opposition toward whatever particular sin is going on, and that He is not "grieved" per se.

I have long disagreed personally.

Anonymous said...

"Passion" is a technical term in Greek theology very much different than how it is used colloquially in English.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos discusses the development of sin from the first insinuation of a thought or word into our mind (logismoi) and growing from there:

"When we speak of logismoi we do not mean just simple thoughts but those rational suggestions associated with images and stimulations brought on by sight or hearing or by both together. Logismoi, therefore, are images and stimulations with an intrinsic suggestion. For instance, an image comes to our mind concerning glory, wealth or pleasure. This image is accompanied by a thought: "if you do this, you will gain glory, money -you'll be very powerful". These rationalizations are called logismoi, and through their power of suggestion can evolve into sin.

"'Coupling' is man's conversing with the logismos, yet still hesitating whether or not to act upon it. 'Assent' is a step beyond mere coupling. Man resolves now to act upon the specific logismos. Desire comes in the process and the commitment of sin is effected. Repeated acts of sin create passion. At the stage of coupling, the logismos aspires to incite pleasure so as to captivate the nous and consequently, to enslave the person.

"According to the Fathers, the logismoi are either simple or complex. A simple logismos is not obsessive, whereas a complex thought is linked with passion and a concept. St. Maximos makes the distinction among passion, concept and object. Gold is an object, just as a woman or a man. The simple memory of an object is a concept. And passion is irrational love or random hatred attached to the concept of a particular object.

"Logismoi evolve into sin and passion. And passion is not only born of logismoi but also strengthened by them. It acquires powerful roots and afterwards a person experiences great difficulty in his own transformation. One's logismoi literally makes a person decay. They poison and defile the soul. Logismoi bring turmoil to the soul's faculties. The holy Fathers not only attribute a person's downfalls to logismoi but also describe the disturbances they cause in interpersonal relationships. Moreover many physical illnesses are caused by the unrestrained presence of logismoi. Beyond all of this, however, a man possessed by logismoi loses his candour and intimate communion with God.

"Whoever follows the path of cure properly is freed from logismoi; he becomes inwardly balanced and behaves normally. He neither torments himself nor others. This is very significant for if we observe people who are psychologically imbalanced, we can see clearly that they are possessed by fixed ideas and patterns of thought and are unable to free themselves from them." ("Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction", Ch. 7: 'Neptic and Social Theology')

A good portion of this book, which goes into very technical detail on the technical uses of the Greek Fathers on this subject, can be found at http://www.pelagia.org/htm/b15.en.orthodox_spirituality.00.htm

Passion, in this sense, "is irrational love or random hatred attached to the concept of a particular object." There is also a sense in which passion is what happens when you chose to sin often enough to not have a choice anymore. It becomes an ingrained habit of sin that enslaves us. I always think of it in terms of a tire rut on a dirt road that your wheel gets caught in.

Or, as Metropolitan Hierotheos puts in the glossary of his book, 'A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain':

"Passion: The last stage of the development of sin. The stages of sin are: provocation through the thoughts, joining, assent, desire, action and passion. Passion is a repeated action which dominates man. In ascetic theology the movement of the powers of the soul contrary to nature is called passion.

"Dispassion (apatheia): The soul has three powers aspects, that is: the intelligent power, the appetitive and the irascible power. The last two constitute what is called the passible aspect of the soul. Dispassion, then, is not the mortification of the passible aspect of the soul but its transfiguration. Generally, when all the powers of the soul turn to God and are directed to Him we have the state of dispassion."

Portions of this book can be found at http://www.pelagia.org/htm/b01.en.a_night_in_the_desert_of_the_holy_mountain.00.htm#more

Eric Phillips said...

This statement: "Passion is when a natural inclination (anger) is used contrary to nature."

is not that same as this statement:

"And passion is irrational love or random hatred attached to the concept of a particular object."

It is natural for us to feel irrational love and hatred. Sin is irrational, but irrationality is not ipso facto sin. My love for fudge is irrational, and so is my dislike of cauliflower, but it is not wrong for me to revel in the taste of the former and avoid tasting the latter. These appetites need to be overseen by reason, so that I do not harm myself with excesses of fudge or refuse cauliflower when I need nourishment and it is the only good option, but there is nothing rational about the delight the one gives me, and the revulsion the other causes. That is purely random and appetitive.

Furthermore, it is quite possible to experience objectively rational desires (e.g. desire for God) in subjectively irrational ways (i.e. with strong involuntary affections). A man who is worshiping God with a pure heart may still be doing so in the grip of passion.

Anonymous said...

The marriage of the two quotes you mentioned is that a passion is the IRRATIONAL use of a NATURAL inclination. Irrationality is not the definition of passion. By definition however, one can not love God with a pure heart IF one is in the grip of a passion- this has became the irrational use of the natural love we have toward God.

Additionally, it is not "natural for us to feel irrational love and hatred" according to the quite technical Greek terminology that St. Maximus and the Greek Fathers employ. These irrational loves and hates would be considered to be "against nature". Our sin is not natural, essential, of the ousia of what it means to be human. In our post-lapsarian state irrationality is most often our "natural" state, but we are not called to be what we are now, after the Fall,

Eric Phillips said...

Just remember that by that same technical terminology, all sensual pleasures--sex, your favorite food, stretching out on clean sheets at the end of a hard day--are passions, and unnatural to us rather than good gifts from God.

Anonymous said...

More properly, these are "corruptible" things, things that change, decay, those things that are not eternal. So, sex is corrupt because it is a thing that will cease in eternity, as would a favorite food, or the need for sheets, clothing, etc. These things are not bad in themselves- in fact, marriage and sex are good, while celibacy (monasticism) is better according to St. Paul- what is bad is when they come to control us through our "attachment" to them versus to their Creator.

Pleasure in the good fits of God is not the sin, but a pleasure without reference to God to whom we are to burn with ecstatic, all-consuming (eros, erotic in Greek) love.

Much of this technical vocabulary was formulate in a monastic milieu where these spiritual atheletes sought to transcend nature and live "above nature" in an angelic state. From that perspective, any worldly, "natural" pleasure is an acceptance of the here and now, versus an anticipation now of what we will be. Not all are called to such a life, and while it is best, it is not the only good (cf. St. Paul on marriage and celibacy).

Eric Phillips said...

That's all true. Well, except for the simple equation of celibacy with monasticism. It's beside the point of the discussion we've been having, though. To prefer these pleasures to God is certainly "contrary to nature," but the passions themselves are not.