OS (Commentary) -- 18
89 Since every thought (logismos) enters into the heart through the imagination of certain sensible things,
This, in Evagrius’ language, is the impassioned mental representation of an object of sense, or the impassioned recollection of such an object.
at that time the blessed light of the Divinity dawns on it when it should be completely at leisure from all things and should become unfigured by these things, if indeed that splendour discloses itself to the pure mind (nous) in accordance with the deprivation of the mental representations of all things.
OTT 2 reads:
For because of the disturbance of these powers [i.e. the temper or the desiring part of the soul], the mind, in the intellect, commits adultery or gives battle, being unable to receive the imagination of God who has legislated for it, if, indeed, that splendour discloses itself to the ruling part [of the soul] in the time of prayer in accordance with the deprivation of all mental representations in respect of objects.
In the complex manuscript history of OTT, that work of Evagrius has been transmitted both under the name of Evagrius and under the name of St Neilos the Ascetic. Hence, it is problematical who St Hesychios thought the author was of the text that he was quoting.
For quoting it he is, or lightly paraphrasing it for his own audience, particularly in the last clause: In the original Greek, ‘if, indeed, that splendour discloses itself to the ruling part [of the soul] in the time of prayer in accordance with the deprivation of all mental representations in respect of objects’ has for the parts italicized exactly the same words in exactly the same word order in both Evagrius’ and St Hesychios’ texts. In St Hesychios’ text, Evagrius’ ‘to the ruling part in the time of prayer’ has been omitted and replaced at the end of the sentence by ‘to the pure mind’. Furthermore, ‘in accordance with the deprivation of all mental representations in respect of objects’ in Evagrius’ text has become ‘in accordance with the deprivation of mental representations of all things’ in St Hesychios’ text, in the same place in the clause and with the same words and with the same word order, with the exception of ‘of all things’ in St Hesychios’ text, which has the feel of an awkward adaptation that preserves much the same word order as Evagrius’ original text at the cost of an unidiomatic word order in St Hesychios’ derivative text.
OTT 40 reads:
40 The mind would not be able to see the place of God in itself not having become higher than all
<mental representations> which are in [sensible] objects. It will not become higher, however, if it does not unclothe itself of the passions, which are what, by means of the mental representations, bind it together with the sensible objects. And the passions it will lay aside by means of the virtues; the mere thoughts, then, by means of spiritual contemplation; and this [i.e. spiritual contemplation], again, when, during the time of prayer, that light shines upon the mind that works in relief the place which is of God.
Let us break up this chapter into two separate passages for the sake of our analysis. The first passage is this:
The mind would not be able to see the place of God in itself not having become higher than all
<mental representations> which are in [sensible] objects.… [T]he mere thoughts … [it will lay aside] by means of spiritual contemplation, and this [i.e. spiritual contemplation], again, when, during the time of prayer, that light shines upon the mind that works in relief the place which is of God.
The last part of the second sentence of this passage is very similar to the first clause of OS 89. Moreover, we again find very slight variations in diction: ‘shines upon the mind’ in Evagrius has become ‘dawns on it’ in St Hesychios; ‘that light … that works in relief the place which is of God’ in Evagrius has become ‘the blessed light of the Divinity’ in St Hesychios. Moreover ‘when it should be completely at leisure from all things and should become unfigured by these things’ in St Hesychios is conceptually very close to ‘not having become higher than all
It seems apparent that in this chapter, St Hesychios is presenting his own summary of the doctrine of the later chapters of OTT. It is clear that St Hesychios is familiar with the doctrine expressed in OTT and that he is wholeheartedly embracing it. However, as we remarked, it seems impossible to discover under whose name the manuscript was that St Hesychios was using.
This divestiture of the mental representations of sensible objects to allow the light of Divinity to shine on the mind—when Jesus Christ wants; it is neither an automatic process nor the wage of ascetical works!—, this purification of the air of the heart, this purification of the air of the intellect, is connected to praktike, the immaterial war, the keeping of the commandments in thought, the pursuit of the guard of the mind, in a way that is explained in the second passage that we have culled from OTT 40:
[The mind] will not become higher [than all
<mental representations> which are in [sensible] objects] … if it does not unclothe itself of the passions, which are what, by means of the mental representations, bind it together with the sensible objects. And the passions … it will lay aside by means of the virtues…
In OS, St Hesychios has embraced this doctrine, adapting it slightly to a Hesychasm oriented to greater solitude and to a less active typikon or rule than the rule Evagrius has in mind: that is why St Hesychios insists that his method of sobriety, which is nothing other than his adaptation of the Evagrian system to the use of a repetitive formula prayed in the heart, leads to the acquisition of every virtue and to the fulfilment of all the commandments of the Old and New Testaments; that is why he has written OS 11:
11 He says: ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, but he who does the will of my Father.’ [Matt. 7, 21.] The will of his Father is: ‘Those who love the Lord, do you hate wicked things.’ [Ps. 96, 10.] Therefore, in company with the prayer (euche) of Jesus we will also hate wicked thoughts (logismoi); and Behold! we have done the will of God.
We have remarked that OS 11 seemed a bit simple-minded but that in fact it contained the whole Hesychian system. Now we can see why. For the hatred of wicked thoughts is precisely the Evagrian practical life that leads to the divestiture of the passions by means of the virtues—by means of the keeping of the commandments, to use the language of St Mark the Ascetic. Moreover, practised in the heart in combination with the repetition of the formula of invocation, it leads to the emptying of the heart from ‘images’—impassioned and unimpassioned mental representations—which is precisely the guard of the mind, the gate to contemplation in St Hesychios, the precondition for the shining of the light of the Divinity on the Hesychast in both Evagrius and St Hesychios.
The next five chapters continue this discussion, but also introduce the concept of ‘yearning’. This is the operation according to nature of the desiring part of the soul; it is the ascetic’s aspiration towards virtue and towards God.
90 By as much as you attend extremely to the intellect (dianoia),
This is attention, the ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ (OS 7), here applied to the intellect. Note the word ‘extremely’: the Hesychast is at an advanced stage which demands extreme attention.
by that much will you pray to Jesus with yearning;
First, this is the Prayer of Jesus. Second, we now see ‘attached’ to the Prayer the desiring part of the soul operating according to nature. Earlier we discussed how the temper could be attached to the Prayer and how the heart was to be attached to the Prayer.
and, again, as much as you regard your intellect (dianoia) negligently, by that much will you also grow distant from Jesus.
St Hesychios is establishing a parallel between the operation of the mind (nous) in the intellect (dianoia) according to or contrary to nature and the operation according to or contrary to nature of the desiring part of the soul. He is stating that the operation according to nature of the mind (nous) leads to the operation according to nature of the desiring part of the soul, and similarly for the operation contrary to nature of the mind (nous). In other words, extreme attention in the intellect (dianoia) promotes the operation of the desiring part according to nature, experienced as a yearning for Jesus; and negligence in the intellect (dianoia) promotes the operation of the desiring part contrary to nature, experienced as a growing distant from Jesus. These are remarks for the Hesychast who is engaging in contemplation. While they certainly apply to the beginner, they take their full force in the practice of natural contemplation.
And just as the first
The extreme attention in the intellect.
enlightens extremely the air of the intellect (dianoia),
The air of the intellect is the field of consciousness, the texture of the field of consciousness, the texture of consciousness.
By ‘enlightens extremely’, we understand two things: one is the purification of the air of the intellect by the extreme attention coupled to rebuttal and so on; the other is the attainment in the longer run to contemplations which actually enlighten (‘extremely’) the air of the intellect. It is necessary to emphasize that St Hesychios views attention as having in itself very positive effects on the ascetic’s intellect (dianoia), precisely to the degree of its intensity, but we certainly would counsel the inexperienced Hesychast to avoid the excess of over-concentration, which will damage his mind (nous).
thus also to turn the head aside
We are always subject to our free will, and even with spiritual attainments we can fall through pride or vainglory, we can grow negligent, and so on. Recall that familiarity and idle talk lead to insensibility (lethe), from which we go downhill to negligence, indifference and so on (OS 32, above). The are real and present dangers for the Hesychast at the level of spiritual attainment that St Hesychios is discussing.
from sobriety and from the sweet invocation of Jesus by nature darkens completely the air of the intellect (dianoia), as the matter is by nature of this sort, as we have said, and it is not otherwise. And this you will receive by experience making a trial of [it] in work (ergon),
Following the reading in Alphabetic ‘A’ for ‘by experience making a trial of [it] in work (ergon)’, instead of ‘by experience in the work (ergon) of trial’. ‘In work (ergon)’ in the reading that we have adopted could be rendered ‘in act (ergon)’ or ‘in action (ergon)’, but we have left the phrase unaltered so as to avoid confusion.
for it is not in the nature of things for virtue, and certainly such a delightful labour as this that gives birth to light,
St Hesychios means sobriety as he is teaching it, not one of the moral virtues.
to be taught
Following the reading in Alphabetic ‘A’ for ‘to be taught’, which is more correct grammatically but otherwise the same as in the main text.
if not by experience.
We need not amplify this. St Hesychios is saying that the practice of sobriety, here taken as contemplation, can only be transmitted by experience. This is perhaps why he does not detail the stages of contemplation with great specificity. St Hesychios continues:
91 Continually to invoke Jesus with a certain yearning
Again the use of the desiring part according to nature. This also plays an important role in the Hesychasm of St John of Sinai.
filled with sweetness and joy <has as>
The causal direction is quite ambiguous in the original text, and the translator must make an emendation in the one direction or the other. We have preferred our reading although Philokalia E and F both have the causal arrow going in the opposite direction. On the one hand, our reading agrees with OS 90 above, and on the other hand, it is consistent with OS 94, below, which establishes that in fact the causal arrow goes in both directions. Philokalia D, which is often distinguished by the translator’s better intuitive grasp of Greek as a native speaker, has the causal arrow going in the direction that we propose. This case shows up one of the problems in translating St Hesychios: the underlying meaning of OS is not that difficult to grasp, especially if the reader has a comprehension of the Evagrian system, but, given the actual state of the text, its verbal formulations are often quite ambiguous, so that of four translators, two would elect one reading, and two the opposite reading. There are many other such examples in OS.
Our judgement in this matter was also based on the following reasoning: In OS 90, St Hesychios has said that extreme attention in the intellect is the cause of praying to Jesus with yearning. In this chapter, St Hesychios explains why. He is saying that the extreme attention leads to the heart’s being filled with joy and serenity, and that this in turn leads to the investing of the repetition of the invocation with that certain yearning filled with sweetness and joy. One might compare this interpretation to our interpretation of OS 102, below, where St Hesychios says that the ‘prayer has need of sobriety’. That the extreme attention should lead to the heart’s being filled with joy and serenity, and thence to the investing of the repetition of the formula of invocation with a certain yearning filled with sweetness and joy is a very important statement by St Hesychios about the nature and role of extreme attention in the practice of the Prayer of Jesus.
cause the air of the heart’s
Since the mind is in the heart, this is also the air of the intellect.
being filled with joy and serenity on account of the extreme attention.
Up to this point in the chapter, St Hesychios has said that the heart is filled with joy and serenity on account of the extreme attention, and that, as a result of this, the Hesychast invokes Jesus with a certain yearning filled with sweetness and joy—the desiring part acting according to nature has been attached to the invocation. Now he is going to go on to say what the cause is of extreme—complete or final—purification of the heart. Remember, this does have a moral sense, but also the sense of the divestiture of all mental representations of objects of sense (OTT 2 and 40; OS 89), the step necessary for attainment to the guard of the mind, which for St Hesychios is the gate to contemplation.
Of extreme purification of the heart, the cause is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God, the Cause and Maker of all goods, for he says: ‘I am a God who makes peace.’ [Cf. Isa. 45, 7.]
The final purification of the heart is by grace, not by the efforts of man. Moreover, it is not the wage of works.
The doctrine of St Hesychios in this passage is very similar to the doctrine of St Diadochos of Photike in GC, especially GC 28.
The next chapter continues the discussion of the use of the desiring part according to nature.
92 A soul which is shown kindness and made sweet by Jesus with a certain exultation and charity rewards the Benefactor through confession,
In the sense of David: ‘I will confess to you in the great congregation; I will praise you in a heavy-thronging people.’ (Ps. 34, 18.) That is: ‘I will give thanks in confessing publicly your benefactions towards me.’ However, here, this confession takes place in the hermitage: the Hesychast thanks the Benefactor through prayer—‘through confession’—in an effusion of divine Eros (eros):
thanking and invoking with joy of heart him who makes her peaceful, and within herself intelligibly
Note this qualification: this is not a sight with the senses, nor a fantasy: it is a spiritual sight with the mind (nous).
seeing him bring to naught the imaginations of the wicked spirits.
This means ‘purifying the heart’, as the next chapter shows. This passage shows great similarities to the doctrine of GC 28.
93 David says: ‘And my intelligible eye looked upon my intelligible enemies; and my ear will hear those who are risen up against me plotting wickedness.’ [Cf. Ps. 91, 12.] ‘And I saw from God the recompense of sinners occurring in me.’ [Cf. Ps. 90, 8.]
This chapter up to this point also shows great similarities to the doctrine of GC 28.
There not being any imaginations in the heart, the mind (nous) stands in [its condition] according to nature,
First, St Hesychios describes the final purification of the heart from ‘imaginations’—mental representations of objects of sense both impassioned and unimpassioned—using the two passages from the psalms. Moreover, implicitly, St Hesychios is saying that this purification can only be accomplished in its fullness by grace—by Jesus Christ. He then states that once the heart has been thus purified from impassioned and unimpassioned mental representations—this is the definition of the guard of the mind in OS 3, above—, then the mind (nous) stands ‘according to nature’.
This is an extremely important definition.
St Hesychios has equated the guard of the mind (nous) to the condition of the mind (nous) according to nature.
Surely this corresponds to dispassion, not in the sense, however, of St John of Sinai but in the sense of Evagrius.
From a theoretical point of view, St Hesychios could be faulted by Evagrius since the condition, in the Evagrian system, of the mind (nous) according to nature comes not at this level of dispassion, which is the condition according to nature of the passionate part of the soul, but at the level of Theology, mystical union with God. However, we think that St Hesychios is here speaking somewhat loosely.
The reason St Hesychios has made this definition is evidently this: the presence in the mind (nous) of mental representations of objects of sense, especially impassioned mental representations, is contrary to nature. Hence, for St Hesychios, the freedom of the mind (nous) from such mental representations, Evagrian dispassion, is the condition of the mind (nous) according to nature.
This passage clearly shows the extreme importance of the guard of the mind in the Hesychasm of the
being ready to be set in motion in every contemplation that is delightful, spiritual and beloved by God.
‘Beloved by God’ could well be rendered ‘pleasing to God’.
We now know how to attain to contemplation: We practise Hesychian sobriety—humility, attention, rebuttal, the continual invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the memory of death—, using the desiring part according to nature, purifying by means of the method the air of the heart and the air of the intellect from mental representations, until such a time as Jesus grants us complete purification of the heart from ‘imaginations’ (mental representations of objects of sense whether impassioned or not), and the mind stands according to nature ready to be set in motion in natural contemplation, by means of which natural contemplation the mind ascends to unitive prayer to the Holy Trinity—Theology, divinization (theosis), the adoption as son.
This is the whole Hesychian system in brief.
St Hesychios now repeats a very important aspect of his teaching:
94 So thus, as I have said, by nature these are constituents of each other: sobriety and the prayer (euche) of Jesus.
We need both. Here, however, St Hesychios wishes to emphasize the extreme attention.
For on the one hand the extreme attention [is a constituent] of continual prayer (euche); and on the other hand the prayer (euche) again [is a constituent] of extreme sobriety and attention in the mind (nous).
The one supports the other. This is the passage we had in mind when we were discussing the causal direction that had to be inferred in OS 91, above. Here, St Hesychios is stating clearly that the causal arrow goes in both directions: the extreme attention is a constituent of—supports—the Prayer of Jesus, and the Prayer is a constituent of—supports—the extreme sobriety and attention. We take ‘sobriety and attention’ to be somewhat pleonastic; however, ‘sobriety’ conveys the exercise of the immaterial war—the rebuttal of thoughts which arise—in addition to the exercise of extreme attention.
The extreme sobriety and attention support the Prayer in the way that St Hesychios has said in OS 90 and 91.
Apart from any grace that we call down by means of the invocation that helps us to keep attention, the Prayer supports the extreme sobriety and attention in this very simple, human way: it concentrates the wandering mind on the words of the prayer, and that is the beginning of the practice of the immaterial war and attention. As the ascetic progresses, this function of the Prayer keeps pace with his level of attainment: the repetition is always helping him to increase his attention; it is always helping him to focus his rebuttal; and these things are especially true if the repetition is rapid, or, to use St Hesychios’ term, ‘dense’.
St Hesychios now turns to broader issues.
 See Chapter II of OTT G.
 We ourselves added ‘[of the soul]’ to Evagrius’ text for clarity.
 Literally, ‘the heart’, but probably ‘the mind’ is to be understood.
 It should be noted that OTT 2 is similar to Skemmata 2, and OTT 40 virtually identical to Skemmata 23. Hence, it might be argued that St Hesychios is following the Skemmata in one of its original recensions, and not OTT. However, given that St Hesychios’ readings are closer to OTT than to the Skemmata, given St Hesychios’ other borrowings from OTT and given that he never refers to passages that are contained in the Skemmata—at least as we now have it—that are not also contained in OTT, it would be reasonable to infer that he is drawing on OTT and not on the Skemmata. But as late as the Fourteenth Century we find The Skemmata quoted by St Gregory Palamas as a work of St Neilos the Ascetic—see the commentary on OTT 41 in Volume II.
 Diadochos p. 99.