Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires (Prologue 4)

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Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires, since death hath its seat close to the entrance of delight; wherefore the Scripture commandeth us, saying: ““Go not after thy concupiscences.” Since, therefore, “The eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil,” and “The Lord is ever looking down from heaven upon the children of men, to see who hath understanding or is seeking God, and since the works of our hands are reported to Him day and night by the angels appointed to watch over us; we must be always on the watch, brethren, lest, as the prophet saith in the psalm, God should see us at any time declining to evil and become unprofitable; and lest, though He spare us now, because He is merciful and expecteth our conversion, He should say to us hereafter: “These things thou didst and I held my peace.”

What are evil desires? Saint Paul, in more than one place, identifies certain desires — one may also refer to them as concupiscences, or lusts, or drives — as things that consume our energy, leave us empty and unsatisfied, and ensnare us in a tightly woven web of inter–related vices.

You must deaden, then, those passions in you which belong to earth, fornication and impurity, lust and evil desire, and that love of money which is an idolatry. These are what bring down God’s vengeance on the unbelievers, and such was your own behaviour, too, while you lived among them. Now it is your turn to have done with it all, resentment, anger, spite, insults, foul-mouthed utterance; and do not tell lies at one another’s expense. You must be quit of the old self, and the habits that went with it; you must be clothed in the new self, that is being refitted all the time for closer knowledge, so that the image of the God who created it is its pattern. (Colossians 3:5–10)

Saint John Cassian, Saint John Climacus, Saint Gregory the Great, and Saint Thomas Aquinas, among others, offer detailed expositions of the vices that plague us. Pride is more than a capital sin; it is the root that feeds vainglory, acedia (or the perverse sadness that makes a man bitter), envy, and anger. Let us look at each of these capital sins.

Vainglory pushes a man to look for praise, endless affirmation, and reassurances: “You excel. You did very well. You stand head and shoulders above everyone else.”

Acedia is a weariness that makes one sad and despondent: “I cannot live this life. Everything is too hard for me. I just want to give up.”

Envy makes a man sad because another man succeeds, or excels, or appears happy and fulfilled: “Why is he so gifted? Does he never stumble? It is not right that he should be so happy and well–adjusted when I am so miserable and riddled with problems.”

Anger is not to be confused with a healthy indignation. Anger drives a man to lash out at the persons and things that contradict him, or offend him, or displease him. Anger gives rise to quarrels, enmity, insults, abusive words, and violent actions.

These four capital vices, all springing from pride, and especially acedia, envy, and anger, foment a pervasive and despondent sadness (not the godly sorrow of the saints) that so weigh a man down that he becomes spiritually incapacitated. This pervasive and despondent sadness is the opposite of the spiritual peace and joy, which are fruits of the Holy Ghost.

It is helpful, from time to time, to review the fifth chapter of Galatians in which the Apostle provides us with an inventory of sins and vices, and a rehearsal of the fruits of the Holy Ghost:

It is by letting the spirit lead you that you free yourselves from the yoke of the law. It is easy to see what effects proceed from corrupt nature; they are such things as adultery, impurity, incontinence, luxury, idolatry, witchcraft, feuds, quarrels, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, dissensions, factions, spite, murder, drunkenness, and debauchery. I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who live in such a way will not inherit God’s kingdom. Whereas the spirit yields a harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness, purity. (Galatians 5:18–23)

I remember very well that, over forty–five years ago, the monk to whom I remain forever indebted and grateful, my Father Master of Novices, Père Raymond C., told me that he had the practice of repeating to himself the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. The rememoration of things that are true, and good, and beautiful rejoices the heart and raises the mind to God. The Apostle affirms this when he says:

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)