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Archive for the 'Demons' Category

After a brief hiatus due to illness, the group picked up with the final few pages of Conference Eight which was Abba Serenus' response to Germanus' questions as to whether demons could have had intercourse with the daughters of men and whether the devil had a father, given the words of Jn 8:44 "he is a liar and the father of it." Serenus responds to the first be asserting that a spiritual being could not have had carnal relations with a corporeal being. He explain the account in Gn 6:2, instead, in terms of the reprehensible intermarriages between the offspring of Seth and that of Cain.  When they mingled with the wicked daughters of Cain, Seth's sons "abandoned that true discipline of natural philosophy which was handed down to them by their forebears and which that first man, who was at once immersed in the study of all natural things, was able to grasp clearly and to pass on in unambiguous fashion to this descendants.  In particular, the group focused on a brief digression on how the law forbidding intermarriages such as these would have applied, since it was promulgated after the event.  The old man points out that the holy ones of the OT had a natural and spontaneous knowledge of the law.

In response to Germanus's second question, Serenus says that God himself was the devil's father, for God created him.  This issue, though perhaps not as pertinent in our day, was of great interest in Cassian's time.  It had already been raised by heretics, who asserted that the devil was the offspring of a being other than God.
The group then moved on to Conference Nine which takes up the topic of prayer: the end of every monk (and of every Christan) and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer.  This constant prayer, Cassian teaches, requires in turn perfection of heart and the the virtues that go with it.  
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about establishing such a clarity about the aims of the spiritual life and establishing not only the discipline but the simplicity of life that would foster such goals.  The pursuit of such simplicity would set a Christian apart in a culture that values and exalts busyness.  
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The group picked up with Abba Serenus' exposition of the nature and characteristics of demons - the fact that they occupy the airy void between heaven and earth, their hideous appearance, their mutual adversity (which is the result of their having befriended mutually opposed nations on earth), their titles, functions and hierarchy, and their assignment to individual human beings, such that each human being has a personal demon as well as a personal angel.  It is fortunate that human beings cannot ordinarily see them, for otherwise they would either be horrified by their aspect or seek to imitate them in their wickedness.  Finally , as aggressive as demons may be against humans, they may also obey them in one of two instances, either when rendered submissive by human holiness or when soothed by the sacrifices and incantations of the wicked.

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The group took up Cassian’s eighth conference – listening once again to the wise counsel of Abba Serenus.  This conference treats of demons in themselves and their origins.  In particular, the question is raised: “Were they created by God, in all their variety, specifically to wage war against humankind?”

Serenus begins with some lengthy preliminaries about the interpretation of Scripture and about the possibility of understanding it both historically and allegorically.  From there, he proceeds to affirm the goodness of everything that God created and hence those angelic beings that were created before the foundation of the visible world and that eventually fell came to be called demons.  As far as their variety is concerned, the demons either maintained in hell the hierarchy that they originally had in heaven or imitated those ranks after the fall.  Lucifer fell “a first time by pride, for which he deserved to be called a serpent, and a second fall followed as a result of envy.

A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the eternality of God and His foreknowledge of the Fall of angels.

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The group considered the closing sections of Conference Seven with Abba Serenus.  The Divine Physician often will allow demons to afflict souls for the purposes of correction and at times that affliction will be severe; especially among the holy ones whose sin might seem slight in the eyes of the world but yet prevents the spiritual perfection to which God calls them.  Serenus reminds Cassian and Germanus of the importance of praying ceaselessly for those who are afflicted and of encouraging frequent Communion as a means of spiritual healing.

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The elder Serenus clarifies for Cassian and Germanus that the evil spirits, although capable of working in a kind of temporary accord, do not act in harmony with each other.  Rather, a spirit must set out by itself to attack the mind in such a way that if it departs vanquished it gives it over to another spirit to be attacked more vehemently.  Not all evil spirits are as powerful or fight with the same ferocity and with beginners and the weak only the weaker spirits are paired off in battle.  The picture Serenus paints is of constant and intense warfare that only grows in its intensity with growth in virtue and holiness.  The individual must learn to fight relentlessly and seek to completely defeat the enemy; developing a hatred for sin.  If the power of demons seem blunted in our day in comparison to the early days of the anchorites it is most likely due to our negligence having made them milder and made them disdain to fight as they did against the more accomplished soldiers of Christ.  This kind of a battle is used often by God to purify the soul of even the slightest sins; he chastises the ones whom he loves and scourges every son he receives in order to perfect them.

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Germanus and Cassian continue to engage the elder Serenus about the action of evil spirits.   Serenus with great patience and eloquence shows them that evil spirits only have the power to incite and that we as human beings remain capable of either rejecting or accepting their suggestions.  We either choose to be deceived or fail quickly to oppose them.  So called "possession" is only due to the weakening of the body that comes from the acceptance and embrace of sin; much akin to the effects of wine or fever on the human person.  God alone is incorporeal and has access to the deepest part of our soul.  Evil spirits, however, discern from bodily gestures and from perceptible movements whether temptation or suggestion has taken hold of the heart: for example, when a person has been silent, or sighing with a certain indignation, or his face pale or blush and thus they have a subtle knowledge of who is given to what vice.

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The group considered the final paragraphs of Conference Six; reflecting in particular on the effects of diligence and negligence on the spiritual life.  Cassian’s elder reminds him and us that we should call no person blessed until after his or her death.  Virtue acquired by the grace of God and asceticism must be preserved with the same concern and effort with which it was obtained.  Spiritual carelessness is like a leaky roof through which there are tiny leaks of passion that penetrate the soul.  Left unattended they weaken the structure of the virtues and afterward they pour in a heavy shower of sinfulness.

As we began the introductory material of Conference Seven on Demons we considered the modern tendency to psychologize spiritual afflictions, labeling them as such, and how this weakens the soul.  It often leads one to excuse oneself (ex causa); that is, free themselves from the charge of the spiritual warfare that is necessary and from the desire and the intensity of mind that would lead them otherwise to reach out for God and His help.  Cassian reminds us that the demons’ knowledge of the secrets of the mind is not infallible; it is instead a clever deduction from our observable behaviors.

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A wonderful discussion this evening on the concluding paragraphs of the Conference and in particular on the practice of fasting.  Attention is given to the implications of Cassian's teaching for Christians living in a secular culture and in the face of the many evils therein.  How is it that one pursues a life of holiness in the modern day?  How do we engage the culture in a fashion that is not stilted or reactionary?  

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St. John then discusses more advanced forms of discernment and how such a gift may be fostered in a persons' soul. (a) He speaks of the necessity of mortifying one's will, seeking the counsel of others with humility, and abandoning attachment to everything. (b) A person must learn how to judge failures and successes in his spiritual pursuits and interpret their meaning. (c) He must also learn not to follow certain inclinations that would lead him to take upon himself tasks beyond his capabilities. (d) Such a virtue will help him to understand the meaning of the moral lapses in those who seem to be holy and blessed with many spiritual gifts. (e) Gradually he will learn not to be surprised at the unexpected actions of others, but will remain a peace even when afflicted and rebuked. (f) He will understand the need to strike down demons before giving them an opportunity to wound him. (g) His eyes will be open to how demons seek to teach us how to interpret scripture in a distorted fashion and how they seek to confuse our thoughts. (h) He will see how and in what manner he must enter into the struggle and who his enemies are.

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How many times do we struggle to know God's will for our lives. As St. John notes: There are many roads to holiness - - and to Hell. A path wrong for one will suit another, yet what each is doing is pleasing to God." How are we to live our lives? What are we to do? In a moment of crisis, when a decision has to be made and to made quickly, what does God want us to do? What will please Him? What will bring us heavenly rewards? Am I hearing the voice of God or the voice of self or worse still, the voice of Satan? How do I know? Anyone who is traveling the spiritual road knows in the depths of his being how agonizing these questions truly are. In response to this feeling, St. John offers some practical advice from his own experience.


First, he insists that "those who wish to discover the will of God must begin by mortifying their own will." St. John recognizes that it is easy for us to say that we want to know God's will when, in fact, we really only want our will. It is also easy for us to convince ourselves that what God wants is what we want, and then to imagine that our voice is the voice of God. This deception (known as "prelest" in the spiritual tradition) leads us to hell. Once we have confused our voice for God's, we are easy prey for the Devil. Humility, the recognition that our will is confused and confusing, is the necessary prelude to knowing the will of God. To keep us from playing games with ourselves and to insure that we are totally humble before God so that we can be guided by Him, St. John suggest that we make no decisions without the input and agreement of others. Do nothing without a blessing! This blessing may be obtained from one's confessor, superior, spiritual guide, the writings and examples of the saints and from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

St. John also suggest that we discover the will of God through abandoning every attachment. We human beings are impulsive; our desires are awakened and immediately we want to fulfill them. Usually, if we say "No" to our immediate desires to do something, they fade away and are replaced by desire for other things. If we detach ourselves from that which awakened our desires, they tend to go away. This is especially true if we submit ourselves during this time to a strict regiment of prayer and fasting. Human desires (even those Satanically inspired) cannot sustain themselves if they are detached from the object of their desire and if they are not fed by constant thought and imagination. However, a call from God will grow stronger during a time of prayer and fasting. The will of God is not dependent upon human impulses. The more it is nurtured and fed with prayer and fasting the stronger it grows. The more detached we are from those things which feed the flesh and its desires and the more attached we are to those things which feed our soul the more we are able to discern the will of God for our lives.

Furthermore, St. John teaches that trials and difficulties are often reliable signposts in discerning the will of God. We often start something which we think is of God and as soon as it gets difficult we grow discouraged and think that maybe we made a mistake and that maybe it really wasn't of God. How different is the reasoning of St. John. If we start something and experience tremendous troubles in the doing of it, then we probably are on the right track. Satan will only oppose something that is good; the better and purer it is, the more Satan will try to stop us at every turn.
Yet to know God's will is not easy; we often make mistakes. This should keep us humble but it should not depress us. For our encouragement, St. John writes: "God is not unjust. He will not slam the door against the man who humbly knocks. . . .And every act that is not the product of personal inclination or of impurity will be imputed to us for good, especially if it is done for the sake of God. . . . God judges us by our intentions, but because of His love for us He only demands from us such actions as lie within our power."
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