The 8 Passions
So now, without further ado let us look at the many numerous passions and associated sins. Let’s start off with an introduction to what the Church Fathers call the eight thoughts or eight vices. These thoughts produce all the passions and vices that so plague human nature. If you commit these to memory, and think about them when you are disturbed, you will notice that one of these is always at the inception of every sin and every disturbance you experience. Some are more associated with the body and others with the heart and mind—all involve the will. As put forth by Abba Evagrius the Monk, these eight thoughts are: gluttony, lust, avarice, acedia, anger, despondency, vain glory and pride. Let’s look at these more closely, and at the same time translate them into their modern manifestations:
Eating is natural and necessary; but when it becomes excessive, or is an uncontrollable bodily indulgence, gluttony has taken hold. This passion includes overeating and drinking too much as well as over stimulation of the senses. When thoughts of indulgence are repeatedly fulfilled and a habit or passion is formed, it manifests itself as eating disorders, obsessions with food, eating in secret and cascade of health problems. Gluttony also includes drunkenness, binge drinking, alcoholism and drug use. In the developed world this vice is entirely encouraged through big portions, salt and sugar foods, perpetual snacking, and drinking to dangerous excess. Gluttony is established as the norm. As for the spiritual effect of the lust for food, St. Neilos said, “For when the belly is inflamed by luxurious foods, the mind loses all power to conceive what is good and is paralyzed in its spiritual efforts... once it gains the upper hand, it drives out self-control, moderation, courage, fortitude and all the other virtues.”
Marital intimacy is where love is bound and family begins. Sexual pleasure with a view to procreation is something natural , however this becomes destructive when movements of the flesh lead to unchaste indulgence in sensual pleasure. Although often a henchman of gluttony, which is also of the body, lust overpowers the mind and reason by carnal desires. Lust is also the opposite of love. Where true love and compassion are manifest in self sacrifice, lust is manifest in total self will and self absorption. This passion includes adultery, promiscuity, addiction to self gratification and all sorts of creepy sexual fetishes. With the advent of modern technology, lust can take on almost any form imaginable. Pornography and similar forms of sexual exploitation, have created industries around the passion of unbridled sexual desire. Lust is often linked to low self-esteem and loneliness, which are both offshoots of self-esteem and pride. In our culture sex underlies almost everything. Sexual imagery is ubiquitous and the irrational fulfillment of one’s desires is the theme of our modern way of life.
Having possessions, money and a bank account is unavoidable. However, when money and things becomes the object of one’s desire, material wealth turns into an idol. For some people money becomes a passion out of fear of poverty and for other it is driven by irrational pride, self-esteem and love of influence. When love of money and greed worms its way into the heart one will go to any length to satisfy its needs. It should be noted that avarice is not exclusively related to wealth and money, but applies to any worldly or material attachment. St. Maximus the Confessor breaks it down:
“It is not so much because of need that gold has become an object of desire among men, as because of the power it gives most people to indulge in sensual pleasure. There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem and lack of faith. Lack of faith is more dangerous than the other two. The self-indulgent person loves wealth because it enables him to live comfortably; the person full of self-esteem loves it because through it he can gain the esteem of others; the person who lacks faith loves it because, fearful of starvation, old age, disease, or exile, he can save it and hoard it. He puts his trust in wealth rather than in God, the Creator who provides for all creation, down to the least of living things."
-- St. Maximos the Confessor
This passionate attachment happens in the inner part of the soul—the heart. The Lord said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21) signifying the deep seat of materialism in the soul. On this St. Gregory of Sinai said that when we are obsessed with finding pleasure in material things our soul becomes bestial, insensate and mindless; and this happens because the soul was created intellectual and spiritual, in the image of God . Therefore love of material things is not in our nature.
Acedia is spiritual discontent or apathy, also referred to as listlessness. This vice is not of the body but is of the soul, although its effects can produce bodily laziness. This subtle passion utilizes information and even truths to spoil the mind. This state of ungratefulness is a mental embrace of negative thoughts which can lead to grumbling, irreverence, cursing, gossip, boredom and even abusive behavior towards others. We must be very guarded against this passion, because according to St. Maximus the Confessor, “Listlessness alone seizes control of all the soul’s powers and arouses almost all the passions together.” Like spokes on a wheel, discontent can produce any passionate state.
This passion produces blindness of the mind and darkness of the heart. Wrath, which is angers physical expression, is often a reminder of hidden hatred. for someone or something, and is a desire for the injury of the one who has provoked you. It can start with bitterness, which is a movement of displeasure seated in the soul. With anger we can neither acquire right judgment and discretion because it extremely disturbs the mind. It is the friend of pride and hatred which is the absence of love. Anger can be dangerous (d-anger-ous) in that left unmanaged, can lead to injury to others, and in some cases death. The flipside of anger is that it can be the one passion of the soul that, once managed and redirected can be useful to the soul. When harnessed, it can become righteous anger, which can motivate interior change and even inspire social change.
The passion of despondency often settles in the soul once one or all the other passions have take root and instilled disease. The sorrow and self pity that accompanies despondency and dejection often convince the soul that all its woes are the cause of external events or persons. It does not allow the despondent one to understand that its sickness lies hidden within . With this self deception in place the remaining passions can appeal to the soul. It is despondency and her friendship with pride that can drive people to suicide. This too is what drove Judas to hang himself.
Vainglory is also known as self-esteem. This is the desire for worldly recognition and praise is closely linked to pride. This is the hardest of the passions to detect, because it is the most cunning and takes many subtle forms . Self-esteem is especially cunning when we do good works or make progress in our spiritual life. It makes us fantasize about success, higher positions in life, and it instills the soul ambition and the “itch for human glory”. Self-esteem will also manipulate us into doing irrational things for the purpose of people-pleasing. It whispers in our soul that we need to be accepted by others at all cost.
At last we come to pride, which is the mother of the vices. Let’s first establish the difference between vain glory (aka vanity) and pride by q quote from German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Pride works from within; it is the direct appreciation of oneself. Vanity is the desire to arrive at this appreciation indirectly, from without”. Therefore pride is self sufficient and contained in the person, which makes it less prone to correction by humbling circumstances. It is love of self, and the absence of the love of God and others. It is that which made the devil fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18) and, as the wise Solomon said, it proceeds our every fall (Proverbs 16:18). Pride a subterfuge for the soul and spiritual life as it appears in all our activities, such as talking, thinking, planning and in all ways that we view ourselves. Pride and self love is the origin of all the passions. It is said that, even if one masters all the other passions, pride is the final one that can remain undetected to destroy all the previous hard spiritual work that has been done. It has the power to bring down the greatest among people. Since pride is essentially self deception, or the manifestation of an untruth or lie, pride is a direct path to delusion.
Pride is the greatest inhibitor of purity of heart. There is a humorous story in the lives of the Desert Father from the book The Spiritual Meadow on this matter. As the story goes, there a desert father who went to Alexandria to sell his handiwork. When in town he saw a young monk enter a tavern. The father approached and beseeched him to avoid frequenting taverns as this is a great way to trip up a monk.
“Please do not go in but flee to the Wilderness where you can find the Salvation you desire. The young man answered him: ‘Away with you good elder. God requires nothing but a pure heart.’ Then the Elder raised his hands to heaven and said; ‘Glory To You, O God, that I have spent 50 years in the desert and have not acquired a pure heart, yet this man who frequents taverns, has attained pureness of heart’.”
Atheism finds its origin here. Although in modern times it is presented as an acceptable worldview, one that is in fact very popular, it is pride in its purest form. In it’s rejection of a higher power, self becomes preeminent and self becomes the deity. This results in a belief system that excludes anything except what is experienced through senses and ones own selective reason. When everything is simply meaningless matter and chemicals, the pursuit and fulfillment of the senses and self is all that is left. Life is then justly lived through the above passions in any way one so deems.
Although not a hard and fast rule, in some people these eight principle thoughts work in a succession. It’s interesting to note that they start with bodily pleasure and end in a mental disposition. St. Peter of Damascus links them together like a chain:
“gluttony, which leads to unchastity, which breeds avarice, which gives rise to anger when we failed to attain what we want--that is, fail to have our own way. This produces dejection, and dejection engenders first listlessness and then self-esteem; and self-esteem leads to pride. From these eight passions come every evil, passion and sin. Those consumed by them are lead to despair and utter destruction..."
--St. Peter of Damascus
Notice that he ends with despair. The persistent movement of these passions which cause the illness of the soul eventually lead one to dejection, unhappiness and despair. For many people the assailment of these passions and the grief that follow end is self loathing and an unnatural self absorption that end in thoughts of despair. When despair is translated into the flesh or body it can be self destruction, self mutilation and suicide. In the end the effects of the passions darken the heart or higher aspect of the soul. When reason (mind) is over powered by desire (will) the heart ultimately suffers. In the end the passion proceeds from this place inside the soul. This is why Christ said: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies…” (Matt 15:19).
Well, that’s the eight primary passions or thought in dangerously simple terms. I know from my own experience that, upon learning of these one can feel a little overwhelmed or even put off. One can come away feeling like eating, having possessions, saving money, or even feeling proud of one’s self are all bad things. I stress that this is not the case. Enjoying food, sexual intimacy, or even being angry about something—these are all important aspects of being human. However, if a passion is formed in the soul regarding any of these—this is the thing that is bad. It is the soul’s passionate attachment and addiction to these that make them destructive and evil, not the thing itself. St. Gregory Palamas has encouraging words to say about this when he says that the passions:
“…belong to us by nature, and natural things are not indictable; for they were created by God who is good, so that through them we can act in ways that are also good. Hence in themselves they do not indicate sickness of the soul, but they become evidence of such sickness when we misuse them.”
--St. Gregory Palamas
Here’s how St. Maximus the Confessor clarified this:
“It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers.”
--St. Maximus the Confessor
The passions are considered the larger categories of sin. However, there is a longer list of sins that we should look at.