{NB: This is an old unedited paper from seminary. There is much I would probably change in it now that I have read more primary and secondary literature since then. However, I don’t have time to go back through and make adjustments so I am keeping it the way it was. I hope it is still of some use to someone somewhere.}


Evagrius of Pontus’ eight evil thoughts is a simple yet flexible psychology of temptation and the moral life that still offers insights for understanding the thought life of both Christians and non-Christians in the modern world. In order to understand the eight evil thoughts, one must first understand Evagrius’ anthropology, namely the tripartite division of the powers of the soul into the rational, irascible, and concupiscible.[1] Laying this foundation, one is then able to perceive better the relationships and workings of the eight evil thoughts and how the Christian can fight against them. While Evagrius does not always list the thoughts in the same order, this paper will follow the order found in the Eight Thoughts. Following this, Evagrius’ system will be critiqued, noting both the skill with which he weaves together biblical revelation, monastic experience, and philosophical insight, and the dangers of his particular pedagogical style.

Divisions of the Soul

For Evagrius, a human is an embodied mind (νοῦς, nous);[2] the mind is the principal part of the person, the body is secondary. The technicalities of Evagrius’ teaching on the preexistence and fall of the mind need not be dealt with here.[3] It is enough to know that in Evagrian anthropology, the mind, which after embodiment is also called soul (ψυχή, psyche), is primary. Evagrius divides the soul into two parts, the rational and irrational parts of the soul. These two parts are distinct, but Evagrius does not view the irrational as a burden or hindrance to the goal of the Christian life. Instead, as will be shown more clearly below, the irrational part is given by God as an aid for the Christian life.[4] It is only when used improperly that the irrational part becomes a burden. These two parts can also be divided into three powers of the soul, each with their own distinct function. The intellect (νοῦς) is the rational power (λογιστικόν, logistikon), which is the unique feature of human beings and differentiates them from animals. The irrational consists of two powers which humans share with animals: the irascible (θυμικόν, thumikon) and the concupiscible (ἐπιθυμητικόν, epithumētikon).

The Intellect or Rational Part

The intellect (νοῦς) for Evagrius is not merely reason; instead, it is the center of the human person created in the image of God.[5] The intellect is also the place of direct (or intuitive) knowledge in which one perceives truth instantly.[6] The function of the intellect is mainly twofold. First, the intellect is the highest part of the soul. As such, it images the divine nature and shares with the latter its immateriality, which allows the intellect to have direct (or intuitive) communion with God. [7] Indeed, the nature of the intellect was created for just such a purpose. It is the instrument by which a human is meant to contemplate God. The second function of the intellect is to govern the irrational parts of the soul. [8] The two irrational parts can easily become distracted by the sense perception of the material world, which drags the monk away from contemplating God. Since this is the case, though through no fault of God who created the irrational parts, the rightful order of the soul is to have the intellect trained and strengthened to reign in the other two powers. This is the struggle of the practical (πρακτική, praktike) life,[9] the entire purpose of which is to partake in pure (i.e., imageless[10] and passionless) prayer.[11]

The Irascible Part

The irascible part of the soul is an intermediate power of the soul. As such, it stands between the intellect and the concupiscible part, sharing characteristics of each. With the intellect, the irascible part is located in the heart of a person.[12] However, unlike the intellect, the irascible part is irrational. The primary function of the irascible part is one of motivation, resistance, or energy to perform an action; specifically, fighting against the demons. Evagrius says, “for the usage of irascibility lies in this, namely, in fighting against the serpent with enmity.”[13] For this reason, the irascible part is susceptible to the thought of anger. As will be discussed below, anger against the demons is appropriate, but anger against one’s brother it is not. Indeed, to allow the irascible part to dominate the soul turns one into an animal, and even worse, a demon.[14]

The Concupiscible Part

The concupiscible is the part of the soul most closely associate with the body and its desires, and thus is the lowest of the three parts. Functionally, the concupiscible part should long for virtue.[15] However, this is seldom the case. Being so closely associated with the body, the concupiscible part is often incited by sensations experienced by the body and instead of longing for virtue seek out the object of those sense perceptions. It makes sense, then, that the vices (or thoughts) most closely associated with the concupiscible part are gluttony and fornication. Yet, Evagrius never views the bodily desires or needs as bad in themselves. Instead, it is the misuse of those desires that lead to sin and death. While lower than the other powers, the concupiscible power is still important for the practical life as it is the source of the Christian’s desire for virtue.


Evagrian anthropology is important to understand prior to exploring the eight evil thoughts. It serves as the structure through which each thought is understood, especially in relation to how the Christian can overcome the thoughts.[16] Ideally, the concupiscible part produces desire for the virtues, the irascible power enables the motivation or power to perform the virtue, and the intellect guides and governs the entire process. The ultimate goal is that of impassibility, or freedom from passions. Passions (παθή, pathe) are the proposals (from images, thoughts, or memories) for the misuse of the powers of the soul. Evagrius, furthermore, distinguishes between bodily passions and passions of the soul. Bodily passions are those associated with the natural needs of the body, whereas the passions of the soul arise from within the individual or from his/her relationship to other persons.[17] It is important for Evagrius to make such a distinction for it allows him to further clarify the intended goal of specific thoughts, and thus, their appropriate remedy. When one is able to keep the powers of the soul in line, he/she has reached impassibility. Impassibility (ἀπάθεια, apatheia) is not a carelessness or indifference (as is implied by the modern English derivative “apathetic”). Instead, it is the restoration of the powers of the soul that allows for communion with the incorporeal God. As Evagrius says, “…impassibility is the health of the soul, and its nourishment is knowledge, which alone is wont to untie us to the holy powers, since union with the incorporeals naturally results from a similar disposition.”[18] Impassibility is a necessary component to achieve the goal of imageless prayer for it is the ability to remain in communion with God without being overwhelmed by temptation.

The Eight Evil Thoughts

Now that Evagrius’ anthropology has been explained, it will be easier to understand his theory of the eight evil thoughts. First, what a thought is will need defining as well as a summary of how thoughts work including his ideas about sense perception, images, assent and the role and influence of demons. Following this will be a close analysis of the eight thoughts, including their sources, effects, solutions, and interrelations with each other.

The Thought Process

For Evagrius, “thoughts” are not isolated events within one’s brain. Instead, there is a complex relationship between the external world, memory, and the influence of external rational beings, be they angels or demons. First, through sense experience, external objects in the world leave an impress on the mind. From this impress, one forms a mental representation which is stored in the memory.[19] These mental representation, also called images, have within themselves proposals for action to which the individual can either refuse or assent.[20] To make this clearer, Evagrius distinguishes between three types of thoughts: angelic, demonic, and human.[21] An angelic thought leads one from sense experience to seek the spiritual meaning of the world (i.e., its relation to God). A demonic thought, contrarily, does not seek the ends of created things (i.e., God), but seeks the things in themselves for ones own pleasure. Human thoughts stand in between, neither seeking God nor the objects themselves (that is, there is just the image and nothing else). This theory of thoughts may be easier to understand with an illustration. A man sees a woman on his way to work. Through the sense perception of sight, a visible image of the woman is impressed upon his mind.[22] This mental representation is stored in his memory throughout the day and he thinks nothing of it until it suddenly appears in his mind. Now, a neutral human thought would be just the mental representation in the mind. An angelic thought would be to contemplate the spiritual significance (or purpose) of that woman (or women in general). A demonic thought, however, would place the image of the woman before the man’s eyes in order to elicit the thought of fornication which would excite the concupiscible part of the soul to the end that he would seek to commit fornication. One of the significant problems that Evagrius has with the eight evil thoughts is there association with images. Whether it is something tangible such as ones bodily needs (i.e., gluttony), or something more abstract such as an exalted view of the self (i.e., vainglory or pride), these are all associated with images in the mind. This is a problem since the proper end of the mind is prayer to God. Since God is an immaterial being, there can be no image of him in the mind. Thus, to have any image in the mind is to be praying to something that is not God, which is idolatry. The goal, then, for the monk is to get to the point where one can prayer imagelessly, and thus without distraction.[23] When Evagrius’ examines the eight evil thoughts, he is specifically talking about the activity of demons in bringing mental representations to the mind in order to propose an action that is a misuse of the parts of the soul (i.e., a passion). There are two types of demons: the first tempts the rational part of the soul, where as the second tempts the irrational part of the soul.[24] This distinction is important because it will effect how one can then combat the specific demon for when one knows the workings and natures of the demons, one has the knowledge needed to overcome them. Such methods include quoting back appropriate scriptural passages (antirrhêsis) which cut the thought off while it is young,[25] introducing another thought to cut off the present one (since one can only maintain a single image in the mind at a time[26]), and specific virtuous actions which are directly contrary to specific thoughts (i.e., almsgiving to combat avarice or fasting to combat gluttony).[27]

Three Types of Thoughts

There are three main types of thoughts which are the basis of all the other thoughts: gluttony, avarice, and vainglory.[28] For example, Evagrius thinks that it is impossible for one to fall into the thought of fornication without first being overcome by the thought of gluttony.[29] These also might be thought of as the primary vices of the three parts of the soul: gluttony for the concupiscible, avarice for the irascible, and vainglory for the ration.[30] Evagrius sees an inherent logic in how the thoughts relate, and this relation will be briefly described as each thought is addressed below. The order below follows the order of the treatise Eight Thoughts,[31] and are as follows: gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, akedia, vainglory, and pride. For each thought, there will be a description of what the thought is, what part of the soul it affects, how it relates to the other thoughts, and specific virtues to combat the thought.


Gluttony (γαστρυμαργία, gastrimargia) is the first evil thought. It arises in connection with the concupiscible part of the soul and the natural needs of the body. While he does think that the angels are better off in that they do not need food, he does not view food in itself as a bad thing.[32] God created food and the body which needs it and thus they are both good. Gluttony is a misuse of this originally good and natural bodily function. As with all thoughts, this begins with an image in the mind, and for gluttony that image is one of food. The demons entice the monk, reasoning with him about the needs of his bodily health, the uselessness of fasting, or security for the future. Evagrius outlines the many different ways that gluttonous thoughts come in his Antirrhêtikos. A revealing one is this: “Against the thoughts that are anxious about food and clothing on the pretexts of hospitality, illnesses, and prolonged miseries of the body.”[33] Notice that gluttony is not solely concerned with food for ones bodily needs, though that is a major component. Instead, gluttony even extends beyond the objects themselves to the relationships one has with others (i.e., hospitality). The effects of gluttony are principally the clouding of the mind and fornication. To have the mind clouded is to lack mental visibility and when one is unable to think clearly, his/her prayers are hindered.[34] In Prayer 50, Evagrius likens all of the passions to a fattening of the mind,[35] which is an appropriate metaphor for gluttony. A full stomach makes for a slow mind, and the demons know how to take advantage of such states, which is why gluttony is the first evil thought. It takes hold of the natural needs of the body[36] and twists them into a vice as it is shown in the following:

Whenever the demons attempt to dislodge one’s thinking with shameful pleasures, then they introduce the warfare of gluttony, so that once they have fired the stomach beforehand they can the more effortlessly cast the soul into the pit of lust. In the laziness of the soul the demons are able to get hold of our rational mind and in the thoughts they disgorge the pleasures of evil. Sometimes the thoughts attract the passions and sometimes the passions the thoughts, and then the thoughts through the passions make war on the soul.[37]

Here one not only sees the debilitating effects of gluttony, but also its direct connection with fornication. The gluttonous mind is too weak and lazy to resist the temptations of fornication, which are likely to follow due to its close association with the natural needs of the body.[38] The direct way to combat gluttony is with abstinence.[39] A restricted diet weakens the power of the concupiscible part of the soul, effectively cutting off the demon’s power and putting the reins of the soul back into the hands of the mind. However, Evagrius is keen to recognize the temptation to jump into some form of extreme asceticism. He counsels, based on the wisdom of the desert fathers before him, that one should eat at least once a day.[40] Any less would be to weaken the body beyond what is necessary to fight the demons at all. Abstinence from food is meant to weaken the concupiscible part of the soul, not the entire body.


Fornication (πορνεία, porneia) is the second evil thought, also associated with the concupiscible part of the soul and directly connected with gluttony. Evagrius distinguishes between two types of fornication: spiritual and bodily.[41] Spiritual fornication is assenting to the images presented to the mind (often in female form) by the demons, whereas bodily fornication is the physical act of extra-marital sexual activity. It is through the habit of bowing down,[42] as Evagrius says, to the images which lead one to commit fornication. However, images of enticing women are not the only way the demons tempt the monk. Evagrius speaks of other times when, no longer able to succeed through images, the demons actually touch the body and enflame it with passion.[43] One must be careful with the thought of fornication, for it is one of the quickest of the thoughts coming upon the monk suddenly.[44] This makes speaking about the thought of fornication difficult, as speaking against it may actually stir up thoughts of it. Fornication also comes upon the monk in his dreams when the monk does not fall into cowardice at the sight of a myriad of wild beasts,[45] taking a more subtle approach. The demon may also hide the thoughts of fornication from the monk so that he will become relaxed and caught off his guard. One sees, then, that fornication is a clever thought, against which one must always be on guard. If the monk does fall into fornication (spiritual or bodily), several consequences arise. Prayers are hindered as the mind has become defiled, which can further lead to the thought of akedia.[46] That is, the mind retains the image prompted by fornication before itself, thus making it difficult to reach the state of imageless prayer. Not being able to do this then produces frustration and a sense of hopelessness that he/she will never be able to attain to true prayer and should just give up (i.e., akedia). More often, the monk is overcome by the thought of sadness when his desire for fornication is not met. In this instance, the monk will be tempted to think that God is unjust. One way to combat fornication is obviously through chastity, which is easiest if the monk limits his contact with women.[47] It must also be remembered that gluttony and fornication are closely associated, so one would also be able to control the thought of fornication with fasting, especially from moist foods.[48] Intense prayer and vigils, which train the mind to seek God and not to be distracted by the images, are also effective in combating fornication. Finally, the monk may attempt to pit one thought against another because, as mentioned above, the mind can only maintain one image before it at a time. The theory goes that one may be able to kick out the present thought with an opposing thought. For example, vainglory is an opposing thought to fornication because it strives to see itself where as fornication takes pleasure in the sight of other people. More so, vainglory seeks the honor from other people where as fornication will bring nothing but dishonor. Similarly, one may also attack the thought of fornication with the irascible part of the soul, which Evagrius sees as particularly effective knowing that the demons fear such wrath. However, one must be careful not to then fall prey to the thought of anger, which may actually be acting as the thought of fornication to entice one to anger.[49]


The third evil thought is avarice (φιλαργυπία, philarguria). Here one begins to move away from bodily needs or desires. Avarice is not just the love of money, though that is part of it, but the desire for worldly goods for their own sake. This can take many forms, which makes avarice the most deceitful of the passions.[50] In Thoughts 21, Evagrius gives some examples:

Often constrained by the most severe renunciation, he immediately pretends to be the administrator and the friend of the poor; he generously receives guests who are not yet there; he sends assistance to others who are in need; he visits the city’s prisons and he buys those who are being sold; he associates himself with wealthy women and indicates to them who should be treated well; and those who have acquired an ample purse he advises to renounce it.[51]

It is striking how avarice is often veiled as acts of mercy. The monk himself may even think he is doing all of these charitable acts with sincerity, blind to the real intention of his heart. Even worse, avarice is an insatiable vice that is never filled no matter how much it attains. There will always be the need for more things, whether to satisfy ones needs for the body in the future, or for the needs of others. In the end, the image of wealth abides constantly before the mind, and for Evagrius this is a hindrance to true prayer because any image held in the mind is the object to which one prays and to have wealth in the mind during prayer is to pray to an idol.[52] Avarice can give rise to sadness if the object one strives after is not attained or, if attained, is taken away.[53] More so, avarice leads onto vainglory by imagining all of the praise one would receive from all the virtuous acts accomplished through wealth and possessions. This vainglory will also cause the monk to connive against any threat that may take away from the praise of others. Unlike gluttony and fornication, which focus mainly on the self and its physical needs or desires, avarice begins to attack ones relationships. Friends, family, or fellow monks are no longer Christians to be loved, but objects to be used for ones own purposes. The most direct solutions to avarice are almsgiving[54] and freedom from possessions.[55] These both represent the life of poverty to which the monk should be committed. As avarice weighs the monk down, preventing him from attaining imageless prayer and being bound to the things of this world, it is only through a renunciation of the things that the monk will be able to be free to attain true prayer.[56] In addition, the thought of anger is contrary to the thought of avarice and so by imagining someone or thing that stirs up anger, one may escape the thought of avarice.


Anger (θυμός, thumos) is the fourth evil thought. As with avarice, the thought of anger is less associated with concrete pleasures than gluttony and fornication and has more to do with interpretation of images. Anger is specifically connected to the irascible part of the soul and so to understand it better, one must remember the proper role of the irascible part. As mentioned above, the irascible part of the soul is the energy or motivation to act. The proper end of the irascible part is anger against the demons and temptations,[57] and gentleness and patience with fellow monks.[58] Evagrius clearly states that there is no such thing as just anger against ones neighbor,[59] it is only to be directed against the demons. Thus, anger is the improper use of the irascible part of the soul against an improper object (i.e., anything but the demons). Anger begins with an image, often involving a perceived (or real) injustice whether verbal or physical. The demons will bring to mind the image of the offender’s face after the event throughout the day, especially during prayer. When one ruminates upon perceived or actual evils, the irascible part is excited to the point where one may lash out for vengeance. This includes, among other things, lying, slander, and a distrust of other people.[60] Anger is thus inherently destructive of relationships as it attacks other persons (instead of demons) and refuses to be reconciled with the supposed offender. Yet, not only does it destroy ones external relationships, it also harms the body often manifesting itself in terrifying visions at night and a wasting away of the body.[61] The end of anger is irrationality. Evagrius often compares the one who is overcome by anger to that of wild animals.[62] Such a person has his/her mind clouded and is unable to see things as they really are. More so, anger can never be fully satiated so that either it succeeds in attaining vengeance or it is reduced to sadness in the event that its efforts are thwarted, [63] like a person who tries to fill with water a jar full of holes. Evagrius sees anger as that which destroys rationality, the ultimate end of which is to become a demon for they are those minds which have been completely given over to anger.[64] A mind controlled by anger cannot truly pray (i.e., imagelessly) for images are constantly being brought before it.[65] Thus, by destroying prayer, the mind is lead into akedia. To combat the thought of anger, one must have patience. Since anger is quick to act, patience reigns in the irascible part which allows the monk to judge things as they truly are. In addition, because anger attacks others, one can fight against it by cultivating compassion and gentleness and even more directly by gift giving.[66] The monk should instead use anger against the demons to fight the other thoughts. By doing this, the monk destroys desire and reduces the amount of images that are present in the mind, which in turns frees him to partake in true (i.e., imageless) prayer.


The fifth evil thought is sadness (λύπη ἄρκαιρος, lupe akairos). This type of sadness is one that specifically arises in response to not having what one wants. These desires can take many forms, from the overt sin of fornication to the wish to be with one’s family. The specific desire is not the main point, but the frustration in not attaining the desire.[67] Evagrius draws specific attention to the connection between anger and sadness: “Sadness is a dejection of the soul and is constituted from thoughts of anger, for irascibility is a longing for revenge…and the frustration of revenge produces sadness.”[68] However, sadness does not follow upon anger alone, but can arise from any of the thoughts. Once sadness has come upon the monk, it perpetually pushes the monk into further sadness. One way it does this is by presenting the anchoretic life (i.e., solitary) as something to be pursued, leaving the monk alone to dwell constantly upon his unfulfilled desires, especially during the time of prayer.[69] Evagrius also addresses another kind of sadness. This one is the godly sadness that leads to repentance, which is mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10. To distinguish between the two, one must understand the source of the sadness and its products. The demonic sadness comes about either without any apparent cause or from unusual causes. In addition, it can arise from the terror induced by frightening dreams or visions of wild beasts. It will produce more sadness and hold the person in bondage unto the point of madness. Godly sadness, on the other hand, comes from a recognition of one’s sin and invites one to repentance. The former turns one inward and is self-destructive, whereas the later turns one outward to God for healing. Since sadness arises from the frustration of desires, one direct way to combat the thought is to renounce all worldly pleasures. By doing this, one effectively cuts off the source of sadness for no frustration can arise if there is no preceding desire. Ascetical labors, such as fasting and abstinence, are an important way in which the monk can root out worldly pleasures. This in turn teaches the monk to be thankful and to experience joy even in trials. Such thankfulness and joy in turn strengthen the monk against the thought of sadness. Finally, prayer also combats sadness as it not only turns ones mind towards God (and away form the self), but it also seeks God imagelessly.


Akedia (ἀκηδία, akedia) is the sixth evil thought. Akedia is a type of restlessness that comes upon the monk around noon.[70] What generally happens is this. First, the monk begins to feel that the day is just dragging along or that the task set before him is too difficult. Then, the monk searches to see if any of the other monks are coming to visit him. If not, he returns to his task. However, soon there grows dissatisfaction with where he is at in his life and that none of the other monks care about him. If anyone has done him wrong, he begins to think about that, which then leads to anger. Since where he is at now is so terrible, he dwells on thoughts of foreign places and thinks about how wonderful they would be. He then begins to rationalize the need to leave his current location, often using Scripture as a justification. This thought encompasses all the other thoughts as it draws from both the animal (i.e., irrational) and human (i.e., rational) parts of the soul.[71] That is, it can draw from a combination of any of the thoughts. For example, akedia can arise from the thought of fornication which is closely associated with the concupiscible part of the soul. It can also arise after anger, which is more closely related to the irascible part of the soul. Finally, it can also arise from the thoughts that are closer to the rational part of the soul, that is, sadness, vainglory, and pride. While sadness was the result of a frustrated desire, akedia seems to be a type of weariness with the ascetical life. It may come upon the monk in response to what appears to be the overwhelming difficulty of such a life. It also may come upon the monk after a moral failure, closely accompanied by sadness. In either case, there is a seemingly hopelessness to his situation. Like sadness, akedia begins a perpetual downward spiral into more and more sin. The irascible part has been cooled to the point where it cannot even function properly to fight against temptation. Perseverance is the most direct way to combat the thought of akedia. The key feature of akedia is best described in the English word, restlessness. If one is restless about his labors, whether they be manual or ascetical, it is important not to give in to the restlessness and go here or there to avoid ones responsibilities. Instead, perseverance does not give into those distractions but through joy and thanksgiving meditates on the cross of Christ. Reciting the psalms can also be helpful in fighting akedia. However, one must be careful not to be lead into vainglory or excessive asceticism. Vainglory comes about if the monk does persevere through the temptation of akedia and begins to think of his own accomplishments, forgetting that perseverance comes from God. Excessive asceticism arises as a way of combating akedia. If akedia is a powering down, then the monk considers that the natural solution is to power up. However, such powering up will only drain the monk of all power to the point where he is unable to combat any temptation.


Vainglory (κενοδοξία, kenodoxia) is the seventh evil thought and is less associated with the material world as were the other thoughts. Images are still necessary, but they are used as an instrument to prop up one’s own person. It seeks to publish his ascetical labors for the sake of gaining esteem from others. This is prompted by images of the monk as triumphing over the demons, or performing great miracles, or the attainment of the priesthood. The monk thinks of all the great things he has done, or will do and all of the praises that naturally accompany such a thing. Vainglory may also accompany avarice in that others may praise one for the things that one has.[72] The point is not the things (possessions or ascetical labors) in themselves, but the praise one would receive on account of them. This means that the monk is not laboring with the hopes of arriving at impassibility to partake in imageless prayer, but for the adulation of those around him. Vainglory is a particularly troubling thought for it follows upon the virtues. Any virtuous act one does can be immediately overcome by it. For example, as noted above, if one perseveres through akedia, vainglory is there to receive the praise. Not only that, but it is fiercely jealous and can lead to envy and slander of others who are succeeding in their ascetical labors because such success takes away the glory that could be coming to the other monk instead. This will also produce sadness when the desire for praise is not fulfilled. Interestingly, Evagrius notes that vainglory may lead to fornication, which is rather ironic since vainglory begins with the airs of a righteous life. Finally, vainglory is a natural companion to the thought of pride. Often these two thoughts are confused, if only for that fact that they seem to go hand-in-hand. Vainglory needs others to offer praise, but such praise puffs the monk up to the point where he no longer needs them (i.e., pride). Humility is the most direct way to counter vainglory, but it is difficult to attain in regards to vainglory since one can be vainglorious in attempting to be humble. Ascetical labors, especially prayer, help to cultivate humility, but Evagrius counsels that they should be done in secret. Vainglory needs the recognition of other people, so secrecy naturally combats it. Another important salve for vainglory is seeking knowledge. By this he does not mean mere facts, but the ability to discern the reasons for creation, i.e., the underlying spiritual significance of the creation. To be consumed with such contemplation overshadows the vainglorious thoughts that arise from the promise of pleasure inherent in the images presented by the demon. It is nice to picture that one becomes a bishop, and the pleasure derived from the admiration of the adoring crowds. However, when compared to the contemplation that seeks God, such pleasures cease to maintain their former appeal.


Pride (ὑπερηφανία, hyperephania) is the eight and final evil thought. It is important to distinguish pride from vainglory as they do have some crossover. As said above, vainglory seeks the admiration of others to puff the self up. Pride, on the other hand, has no need for the other, but instead attributes all success or virtue only to the self. Vainglory needs other people but pride disdains them. What is worse is that pride is not satisfied with only ignoring other people, but ultimately rejects God as the source of all good things in the life of the monk. Indeed, this very type of denial is actually the first of all sins[73] and the “offspring of the devil.”[74] Thus, with pride one has moved almost entirely away from material reality on which thoughts like gluttony and fornication so heavily depended. Instead, the mind turns in on itself as the sole provide of all good to the extent that it refuses to acknowledge God. Pride, like vainglory, can closely follow and ascetical work or virtue the monk performs, and closely follows after vainglory. Because pride elevates the self above all others, it easily leads on to anger or sadness when ones perceived greatness is not acknowledged by others or when one does not get the respect one thinks he/she deserves. To deny God, the creator and sustainer of all things, ultimately leads on to insanity for one is no longer in touch with reality. More so, like vainglory, pride is also associated with terrifying visions, such as demons in the air. Such a vision is an indication that the person has been abandoned by God to become a toy for the demons.[75] As has been shown with the other seven evil thoughts, a key aspect for combating them is to understand how they work. Pride works by arrogantly denying the assistance of others, even God. Thus, an immediate solution would be to think of one’s past sins. One must remember how at one point he/she was a slave to sin, weak, helpless, and pitiful. To remember this is to strip pride of all power as it shatters the illusion of the independent and autonomous self. By practicing such a remembrance, one cultivates humility. Evagrius warns that pride, along with sadness and vainglory, are dangerous for those who seek the anchoritic life. To live as an anchorite without first extinguishing pride leads one to a forgetfulness by which they make shipwreck of their faith.

Analysis and Critique

In his articulation of the eight evil thoughts, Evagrius pulled together biblical insights, monastic experience, and philosophical speculation into powerful and uniquely Christian psychology that had a significant influence on monasticism in both the East and West.[76] One of the staying powers of Evagrius’ “system” (if one can truly call it a system) is exactly in its synthesis of these three traditions. He is firmly rooted in the contemplation and exegesis of Scripture, even if some of his explanations may seem strange to modern readers. The Bible is a gift from God that not only informs the Christian about God, but also equips him/her to fight demonic temptation. This is most clearly seen in his Antirrhêtikos in which the quotation of Scripture is seen as essential to the spiritual life. Of course, this very practice is taught by the example of Jesus himself as he battled the devil in the desert. Evagrius is able to incorporate the experience of the desert fathers who came before him, and so, while many parts of his writings may sound speculative, his advice is firmly rooted in practical experience. Such practical experience allows him to nuance his descriptions of the eight evil thoughts. There is not theoretical reason why, as stated above, vainglory may lead to fornication, in the way that, for example, avarice can lead to sadness. Instead, this is an observation rooted in experience. This also allows him to make reservations about not fasting too much, as some who may be zealous for righteousness might try to do. Fasting is a tool that must be used rightly, and knowledge of how to use it comes from experience. Evagrius takes up this experience and passes it. Finally, Evagrius is able to incorporate the philosophical insights of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, into his psychology of temptation. This is not to say that he is doggedly committed to them. Instead, their insights and terminology become tools by which he is able to articulate the eight evil thoughts. In that sense, he is in good company with many of the Christian leaders of the fourth century. One thinks of, for example, the debate over the term homoousios. Here was a word, ousia, with a long philosophical history, but was tempered upon the anvil of biblical and theological reflection. Likewise, Evagrius is not averse to adopting philosophical ideas or terms to help explain something, and he is always willing to alter its meaning in light of biblical revelation. Whether is does this successfully is another question entirely. While Evagrius accomplishes much, history has not always been kind to him, especially following the Origentist controversies. One of the reasons may be his pedagogical method, which involves the use of short, pithy, sayings, as well as the slow process of teaching the practical and theoretical lives. By using short, pithy, sayings, Evagrius hopes to do two things: avoid vainglory for himself (before he became a monk, he was a well-known orator) and to stimulate contemplation among the reader. Unfortunately, such sayings can also lead to confusion being easily misunderstood and reinterpreted in unorthodox ways. There is also the slow process of teaching both the practical and theoretical lives. This means that Evagrius understood that not all knowledge is appropriate at all stages of life. Thus, a novice may be instructed to act or think in a certain way that is intended to prepare them for a fuller revelation later on. While there is much wisdom in this approach, it also means that one may take what he says for a certain stage and interpret it as some principle in a complex philosophical system. One must remember, however, that Evagrius wrote not for the joy of pure speculation, which leads to vainglory and pride, but so that his fellow monks could be trained in the life of prayer. As the above analysis of the eight evil thoughts has shown, temptation lurks around every corner, and those who wish to prevail must be rigorously trained. If one avoids seeing Evagrius as a speculative theologian, one can begin to see his wisdom as a teacher of the spiritual life, both the practical and the theoretical. Yet, as it stands, ripped from the context of the monastery and reformatted into textbook with footnotes and explanations, Evagrius will be misunderstood. This is for the simple fact that Evagrius intended to teach those who have not separated the theoretical life from the practical life, but those who recognize that the theologian is the one who prays, and the one who prays is a theologian.


Evagrius of Pontus system of eight evil thoughts represents a perceptive and articulate explanation of temptation that brings together biblical revelation, monastic experience, and philosophical insight into a sophisticated guide for the spiritual life. It begins with a concept of the human person as divided into three parts: the intellect or mind, the irascible, and the concupiscible part. The eight evil thoughts correspond to the misuse of these parts of the soul prompted by images introduced through demonic influence. Such images distract the mind from its true goal, which is imageless prayer to God. His ability to synthesize the three streams of biblical revelation, monastic experience, and philosophical reflection is only hindered by the unfortunate side effect of his pedagogical style. As such, those who seek to understand him without applying his insights will be bound to miss the wisdom that he is imparting.


Brakke, David, tr. Evagrius of Pontus. Talking Back. Antirrhêtikos: A Monastic Hanbook for Combating Demons. Cistercian Studies 229. Collegeville: Cistercian Publications/Liturgical Press, 2009.

Bunge, Gabriel. Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness. Translated by Anthony P. Gythiel. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009.

Harmless, William, S. J. and Raymond R. Fitzgerald, S. J. “The Sapphire Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus.” Theological Studies 62 (2001), 498-529.

Parmentier, M. “Evagrius of Pontus’ ‘Letter to Melania’ I.” Bijdragen, Tijdschrift voor filosofie en theologie 46 (1985), 2-38.

Sinkewicz, Robert E., ed. and tr. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Sorabji, Richard. Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.


[1] Praktikos 89; ET, Robert Sinkewicz, ed. and tr., Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Acetic Corpus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 111.

[2] Gabriel Bunge, Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2009), 15. A little lower, Bunge also notes that sometimes Evagrius uses νοῦς to refer to the rational part of the soul, translated as “intellect” in addition to the preexistent “mind.” Throughout this paper, “soul” will refer to the whole soul, whereas intellect (or mind) will refer to the rational part of the soul in contrast to the irrational parts.

[3] For an overview of the subject, cf. Sinkewicz, The Greek Ascetic Corpus, xxxvii-xl, and M. Parmentier, “Evagrius of Pontus’ ‘Letter to Melania’ I,” Bijdragen, Tijdschrift voor filosofie en theologie 46 (1985), 2-38.

[4] Thoughts 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 164.

[5] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 20.

[6] William Harmless, S. J. and Raymond R. Fitzgerald, S. J., “The Sapphire Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus,” TS 62 (2001), 513. The term “intuition” should be explained more. Intuitive knowledge is knowledge reached immediately without reasoning. For example, if one sees a tree the truth of the sense perception is known immediately. However, if one were to close his/her eyes, the knowledge of the tree is no longer immediate, but known through reason (i.e., the world still exists outside of my perception of it, therefore it is probable that the tree will still exist despite my not perceiving it). For Evagrius, since the mind intuitively knows, it cannot then know God through reason, but through direct experience in prayer. This is the primary function of the intellect.

[7] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 26. Cf. Harmless and Fitzgerald, “The Sapphire Light of the Mind,” 513.

[8] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 16.

[9] Eulogios 15; ET, Sinkewicz, 42. The practical life is distinguished from the gnostic life which is defined in this same passage as “the contemplation of superior things.” Yet, he here also maintains that these two ways of life should never be separated: “Praiseworthy is the person who has yoked the gnostic life to the practical life so that from both springs he might water unto virtue the land of the soul. For the gnostic life gives wings to the intellectual substance by the contemplation of the superior goods, and the practical life puts to death the members that are upon earth: fornication, impurity, passion, vice, evil desire. Therefore, those who through these two have put on the protection of full amour will then easily overcome the wickedness of the demons.”

[10] Evagrius’ concept of images as they relate to prayer will be discussed below.

[11] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 64.

[12] Ibid., 19.

[13] Eulogios 11.10; ET, Sinkewicz, 37.

[14] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 27.

[15] Praktikos 86; ET, Sinkewicz, 111.

[16] This will be explained in the next section as it relates to each individual thought.

[17] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 18-19.

[18] Praktikos 56; ET, Sinkewicz, 107.

[19] Ibid. 4; ET, Sinkewicz, 155-156. Cf. Prayer 46; ET, Sinkewicz, 197, “The demon…does not cease setting in motion mental representations of objects through the memory and praising loose all the passions through the flesh, so that he can impede his excellent course and his setting out towards God.”

[20] To assent to an action is to agree to the proposed action. This does not always lead to the performance of the action (e.g., an external force could prevent one from performing the action), but it is for Evagrius the point at which one is morally culpable (cf. Thoughts 7; ET, Sinkewicz, 157-158). For more on this and its relation to previous Hellenistic thought, cf. Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford: OUP, 2000), 357-371.

[21] Thoughts 8; ET, Sinkewicz, 158.

[22] For Evagrius, an impression on the mind is similar to the Stoic image of a signet ring pressed into soft wax. The impress is not the thing itself, but it carries the same shapes and contours of the ring and is called a mental representation. Likewise, in this illustration, the image of the woman is distinct from the woman herself but carries the same shape and details as she has in the external world.

[23] Prayer 113-120; ET, Sinkewicz, 205-206.

[24] Thoughts 18; ET, Sinkewicz, 165.

[25] While such a method can be seen throughout his works, the main work related to this is the Antirrhêtikos, cf. David Brakke, tr. Evagrius of Pontus, Talking Back, Antirrhêtikos: A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons, Cistercian Studies 229 (Collegeville: Cistercian Publications/Liturgical Press, 2009).

[26] Thoughts 24; ET, Sinkewicz, 169-170.

[27] More of these types of actions will be described below in dealing with each thought individually.

[28] Thoughts 1; ET, Sinkewicz, 153. In this same passage, Evagrius shows that his basis for this is in the temptation of Christ.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus, 268; cf. Thoughts 28; ET, Sinkewicz, 173.

[31] Evagrius is generally consistent when he lists the thoughts and the only difference between the Eight Thoughts and others such as the Antirrhêtikos, Vices, and Praktikos is that sadness comes before anger.

[32] It is good as far as it aids the monk in his asceticism. If the monk is too weak, he will be unable to fight the demons at all. Cf. Thoughts 35; ET, Sinkewicz, 177-178.

[33] Antirrhêtikos 1.47; ET, Brakke, 63.

[34] Eight Thoughts 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 74.

[35] ET, Sinkewicz, 198.

[36] Remember, for Evagrius, the natural needs of the body are associated with the concupiscible part of the soul, which is the lowest of the three parts. For the demons to begin here is like a big cat going after the weakest animal in the herd.

[37] Eulogios 13.12; ET, Sinkewicz, 39. Cf. Vices 1.2; ET, Sinkewicz, 62; Praktikos, 7, 16; ET, Sinkewicz, 98, 100.

[38] The other vices (avarice, anger, sadness, vainglory, and pride) are more abstract and are not dependent on bodily pleasures.

[39] Vices 1.2; ET, Sinkewicz, 62. Cf. Praktikos 16; ET, Sinkewicz, 100.

[40] Thoughts 35; ET, Sinkewicz, 178.

[41] Eulogios 18.19; ET, Sinkewicz, 45.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Antirrhêtikos 2.25, 27, 45, 55, 63; ET, Brakke, 74-75, 79, 81, 83. In 2.25, 55, and 63, Evagrius says that the demons touch the thigh, which is probably a euphemism for the genitals (cf. 2.45 where he says the “members” are touched).

[44] Praktikos 51; ET, Sinkewicz, 51. Cf. Prayer 90; ET, Sinkewicz, 202.

[45] Thoughts 27; ET, Sinkewicz, 172.

[46] Praktikos 23; ET, Sinkewicz, 102. Cf. Antirrhêtikos 12; ET, Brakke, 71.

[47] Most of the people to whom Evagrius wrote were most likely men, though his advice (with a few adjustments) would apply to women as well. Cf. Eight Thoughts 2.2, 6, 8, 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 76-77.

[48] Praktikos 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 101. Apparently, at that time, it was common to see a connection between moist foods and sexual desire, and so dry foods were often recommended as a remedy to balance out the fluids of the body. Cf. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus, 68.

[49] Thoughts 16; ET, Sinkewicz, 164.

[50] Thoughts 21; ET, Sinkewicz, 167.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Eight Thoughts 3.14; ET, Sinkewicz, 79.

[53] Eight Thoughts 3.7; ET, Sinkewicz, 79.

[54] Antirrhêtikos 3.33; ET, Brakke, 92.

[55] Vices 3.3; ET, Sinkewicz, 63.

[56] Eulogios 12.11; ET, Sinkewicz, 38.

[57] Praktikos 24; ET, Sinkewicz, 102.

[58] Eulogios 11.9-10; ET, Sinkewicz, 37.

[59] Prayer 24; ET, Sinkewicz, 195.

[60] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 40.

[61] Praktikos 11; ET, Sinkewicz, 99. Cf. Thoughts 27; ET, Sinkewicz, 172.

[62] Thoughts 5; ET, Sinkewicz, 156 Cf. Eight Thoughts 4.4, 17; ET, Sinkewicz, 80-81.

[63] Eight Thoughts 5.1, 12; ET, Sinkewicz, 81-82. Cf. Praktikos, 10; ET, Sinkewicz, 98.

[64] Bunge, Dragon’s Wine, 24.

[65] Thoughts 5; ET, Sinkewicz, 156.

[66] Praktikos 20, 26; ET, Sinkewicz, 101, 102.

[67] Praktikos 10; ET, Sinkewicz, 98.

[68] Eight Thoughts 5.1; ET, Sinkewicz, 81.

[69] Thoughts 36; ET, Sinkewicz, 178.

[70] Which is why sometimes it is referred to as the noonday demon. Cf. Praktikos 12; ET, Sinkewicz, 99.

[71] Reflections 40; ET, Sinkewicz, 214.

[72] Eulogios 23.24; ET, Sinkewicz, 50.

[73] Skemmata 44, 49; ET, Harmless and Fitzgerald, “Sapphire Light,” 527-528. On pride as the first of all sins, cf. Eight Thoughts 8.11.18; ET, Sinkewicz, 87 and note 112, Harmless and Fitzgerald, 528.

[74] Thoughts 1; ET, Sinkewicz, 153.

[75] Eight Thoughts 8.10; ET, Sinkewicz, 87.

[76] In the West, this influence passed through John Cassian and Pope Gregory the Great into the Seven Deadly Sins. As such, Evagrius’ influence has often been overlooked until recent times.


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