"...it is [discrimination] that teaches a man to walk along the royal road, swerving neither to the right through immoderate self-contol, nor to the left through indifference and laxity. Discrimination is a kind of eye and lantern of the soul. " ~ Saint Anthony the Great

 

 

Sample - Chapter I - THE SOUL

In teaching about the soul’s nature, Church Fathers differentiated between variant life forms. For example, “There are four categories of living beings: The fi rst are immortal and have souls, such as angels. The second have nous, soul, and breath, such as man. The third have breath and soul, such as animals. The fourth have only life, such as plants. The life of plants is without soul, breath, nous, or immortality” (St. Anthony the Great; On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: One Hundred and Seventy Texts) and, “Every spiritual and noetic nature, whether angelic or human, possesses life as its essence…. But the spiritual and noetic nature within us has life not only as its essence but also as its activity…. The noetic nature of angels, however, does not possess life as an activity of this sort, because it did not receive an earthly body from God…. Yet their nature can admit opposites, that is, good and evil…. The soul of each animal not imbued with intelligence is the life of the body that it animates; it does not possess life as essence, since here life is relative and not something itself. Indeed, the soul of animals consists of nothing except that which is actuated by the body. Thus, when the body dissolves, the soul inevitably dissolves as well. The soul is no less mortal than their body, since everything that it is relates and refers to what is mortal. So when the body dies the soul also dies. The soul of each man is also the life of the body that it animates…. Yet the soul has life not only as an activity but also as its essence, since it is self-existent; for it possesses a spiritual noetic life that is evidently different from the body’s and from what is actuated by the body. Hence, when the body dissolves the human soul does not perish with it; and not only does it not perish but it continues to exist immortally, since it is not manifest only in relation to something else, but possesses its own life as its essence. The spiritual and noetic soul possesses life as essence, yet it can admit contraries, that is to say, good and evil… because the soul has chosen it” (St. Gregory Palamas; Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life). 

Elsewhere Church Fathers have described the soul in other ways, such as when confessing how our soul dwells in two facets: “[The] tripartite deiform soul possesses two aspects, the one noetic and the other passible. The noetic aspect, being in the image of the soul’s Creator, is not conditioned by the senses…. The passible aspect is split up among the senses and is subject to passions and prone to self- indulgence… the passible aspect is modifi ed by what it comes into contact with, it is sometimes incited by impulses contrary to nature and develops disordered desires [while] at other times it is provoked and carried away by mindless anger” (Nikitas Stithatos; On Spiritual Knowledge, Love, and the Perfection of Living: One Hundred Texts). When in a passible state, “Our fallen self desires in a way that opposes our spiritual self…. This contrariety within us is also called ‘discord,’ ‘turning point,’ ‘balance,’ and ‘twofold struggle:’ and if the nous tips the balance towards an act of human passion the soul is split asunder” (Ibid.). 

That is, “For just as those who cleave to the perishable pleasure of the senses expend all the soul’s desire in satisfying their fl eshly proclivities and become so entirely materialistic that the Spirit of God cannot abide in them (cf., Gen. 6:3)” (St. Gregory Palamas; In Defense of Those Who Devoutly Practice a Life of Stillness). 

Additionally, “the perceptive faculty natural to our soul is single…. But this single faculty of perception is split… as a result of Adam’s disobedience…. Thus, one side of the soul is carried away by the passible part in man, and we are then captivated by the good things of this life; but the other side of the soul frequently delights in the activity of the nous and, as a result… we practice self-restraint” (St. Diadochos of Photiki; On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One  Hundred Texts). The difference, yet indivisibility, of the soul and nous (intellect) must be realized here, man “is an image of God, and possesses a nous which naturally begets consciousness…. And just as the Father, who created man, is inseparable from the other two hypostases – that is, from the Logos and the Spirit – so man’s soul is indivisible from his intellect and his consciousness” (Nikitas Stithatos; On Spiritual Knowledge). 

Church Father instruction on mystical theology speaks of the soul’s assimilation of heavenly energies as well as the soul and nous’ linkage, that is, “The nine heavenly powers sing hymns of praise that have a threefold structure, as they stand in a threefold rank before the Trinity, in awe, celebrating their liturgy and glorifying God. Those who come fi rst – immediately before Him who is the Source and Cause of all things and from whom they take their origin – are the initiators of the hymns and are named thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. They are characterized by a fi ery wisdom and a knowledge of heavenly things, and their supreme accomplishment is the godly hymn of El, as the
Divinity is called in Hebrew. Those in the middle rank, encircling God between the fi rst triad and the last, are the authorities, dominions, and powers. They are characterized by their ordering of great events, their performance of wondrous deeds and working miracles, and their supreme accomplishment is the Trisagion: Holy, Holy, Holy (cf., Isa.
6:3; Rev. 4:8). Those nearest to us, superior to us but below the more exalted ranks, are the principalities, archangels, and angels. They are characterized by their ministrative function, and their supreme accomplishment is the sacred hymn Alleluia (cf., Rev. 19:1). When our intelligence [i.e., intelligent aspect of the soul] is perfected through the practice of the virtues and is elevated through the knowledge and wisdom of the Spirit, and by the divine fi re, it is assimilated to these heavenly powers through the gifts of God, as by virtue of its purity it draws towards itself the particular characteristic of each of them. We are assimilated to the third rank through the ministration and performance of God’s commandments. We are assimilated to the second rank through our compassion and solidarity with our fellow-men, as
well as through our ordering of matters great and divine, and through the activities of the Spirit. We are assimilated to the fi rst rank through fiery wisdom of the Logos and through the knowledge of divine and human affairs. Perfected in this way, and rewarded with the gifts that belong by nature to the heavenly powers, our intelligence is united through them with the God of the Decad, for it offers to Him from its own being the fi nest of all the offerings that can be made by the tenth rank” (Ibid.).

A discourse somewhat astray from our examination of the soul, yet illuminative upon the preceding exposition, resides in commentary on this Decad : “[in] Pythagorean theory, the number ten is figurative of the Source of All. In this connection it is in the sum of the fi rst four numbers, 1+2+3+4, the Tetractys. These numbers fi rst exist as a simple
Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad. Their squares (viz., 1, 4, 9, and 16) are the foundation of form and, hence, of manifestation. In Jewish esoteric theory, as formulated in the Kabbalah, the number ten is most directly connected with the Sefi roth [Sephiroth], the metaphysical ‘numbers’ or ‘numerations’ of the ten principal aspects of God. They form a tenfold hierarchy, or concatenation, and are to the mystical tradition of Judaism what the Ten Commandments are to the Torah, as the esoteric law. In this respect they represent the spiritual archetypes not only of the Decalogue but also of all the revelations of the Torah. They are the principal determinations, or eternal causes, of all things. Thus the decad constitutes the intellections by which God, the ‘cause of causes,’ makes Himself known to Himself and operates His universal manifestation…. Nikitas Stithatos’ decad has affi nities with the decades of both the foregoing theories, although it cannot be identified with either. It has it’s roots in the conception of the celestial hierarchy, or concatenation, formulated by St. Dionysios the Areopagite.  This hierarchy constitutes a threefold structure, each level of which consists of three orders or ranks of celestial intelligence, giving a total of nine such interlocking and mutually participating orders. The functions of the lowest of these orders, that of the angels, has two aspects. The fi rst is to transmit the divine grace and illumination, which it has received from God through the mediation of the orders above it, to the order below it, the human order, that taken as a whole thus represents  the tenth order; the second is to convert the human intelligence, the ‘fi nest of all the offerings’ that can be made by the human order, so that it mounts upward and stage by stage returns, again through the mediation of the celestial hierarchy, to a state of union with it’s divine
Source, and in this way achieves divinization. This double mediation, descending and ascending, constitutes the cyclic movement” (The Philokalia, volume four; Faber and Faber Limited; London, 1995; at p. 173, n. 1).