September 27, 2014
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.
September 18, 2014
Cassian and Germanus seek out the guidance of the elder Serenus, whose name captures his character. Serenus had attained great purity of heart, peace, and freedom from the carnal desires of the flesh. Cassian and Germanus come to him in a state of despair; for although having labored for years they found their thoughts wandering and pulling them back to the things of the world and the passions. In their desolation they had begun to give up any hope of attaining such virtue and complain to Serenus that it is their nature that has prevented stability of mind and heart. Serenus in both his teaching and example is becomes the cypher though which we are meant to come to understand both the path to and nature of purity of heart. It is desire and thirst for God alone that can bring us to this freedom. Faith, Hope and Love are the weapons we use to engage in the battle (the theological virtues that have God as their end) and the depths of the heart is purified by the sharp sword of the Spirit. Once again the discussion was thoughtful and enriching and Cassian’s insights immeasurably valuable.
September 4, 2014
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.