In yet another attempt at becoming more systematic and regular in my blogging, Monday nights, which were formerly Wing to Wing night, I’m going to attempt to begin blogging my way reading and commenting through the four volumes of the English translation of the Philokalia. This work is, to quote wiki, “Other than the Bible, and a handful of writings by early Christian Fathers, the Philokalia is by far the most influential and widely admired example of Eastern Orthodox piety in print today. It is featured prominently in another much shorter well-known book called The Way of a Pilgrim, in which a Russian traveler learns to pray from various people he meets on his travels and by reading the Philokalia.”

This work is a collection of writings from the fourth through at least the 15th centuries. The first writer quoted or excerpted in this work is by St. Isaiah the Solitary. Our redactor tells us he is attributed often as being dated at 370 but “more reliable” as a monk from the Sketis desert who died in 490. Much of the Philokalia contains methods of discourse which came from monastic traditions and are foreign to us. Instead of an expository or later scholastic rhetorical techniques the monastic methods lent itself to meditation and reflection as well as easy memorization. This method is one of short “chapters”. Each “chapter” is actually a short paragraph or less. The length is intended for ease in memorization and meditation.

  1. There is among the passions an anger of the intellect, and anger is in accordance with nature. Without anger a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy. When Job felt this anger he reviled his enemies, calling them ‘dishonorable men of no repute, lacking everything good, whom I would not consider fit to live with the dogs that guard my flocks’ (Job 30:1,4 LXX). He who wishes to acquire the anger that is in accordance with nature must uproot all self-will, until he establishes within himself the state natural to the intellect.

Apatheia from which we get the word apathy, is more properly thought of as dispassion (not disinterest) and was and is considered a virtue. So, in this work, we begin in a certain confusion for it really appears as if St. Isaiah is praising anger. But it is not the anger of the passions but an “anger of the intellect”.

A certain canny recogntion of psychology might be said to be at work here. For “intellectual anger” at perception of wrong is a strong motivator to drive change. Change of a person or group of people can be driven by such realization. This sort of anger can in fact remain “dispassionate” yet at the same time stiffen resolve.

The modern liberal (of the classical sort) would however reject his final sentence. The modern liberal prizes his independence above all. Uprooting all self-will and abandoning oneself to, well, anything does violence to that credo. Next week, we will continue to find out more about what St. Isaiah means when he says ‘the state natural to the intellect’.

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  2. […] which is included in this collection is entitled “On Guarding the Intellect.” As noted before the format of these, and indeed many if not most, of the works in the Philokalia have an expository […]