Bishop Auxentios of Etna and Portland, Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Eldress Evlampia Romanides, Logismoi, mental health, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Noetic, Noetic Faculty, Noetic Prayer, nous, Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, Protopresbyter John Romanides, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, Romanides, St. Gregory Palamas, Theoria, Theosis
THE FALL OF THE NOUS
Generally, the term “nous” speaks of the power of the soul but has also included essence (heart) and energy (thoughts and conceptual images). The Church Fathers mostly referred to the nous as the heart and/or the soul, without having excluded other designations. Moreover, the terms nous and soul — as well as nous and heart, nous and intelligence, and nous and reason (or attention, as a more subtle form of reason) — are often used interchangeably. However, the more accurate patristic definition of nous, as proffered by the early Church Fathers, is “the eye of the soul.” This means the soul’s power and purest part.
The natural state of the nous encompasses unification with the nous of Christ (which our nous pursues through constant remembrance of God) and dispassion, where the nous repels every thought that is contrary to God’s love. When sick, the nous becomes contaminated by the senses and withdraws from the heart. This demonstrates how the nous can be changed by any conceptual image that it accepts, an actuality that results in the defilement of and the leading astray of the entire soul. Thus, the nous determines our condition and when sickened the term “darkened” is used to describe its state.
There are three movements of the nous:
Natural: Where the nous gains awareness that it has been the cause of evil and confesses all sins to God.
Unnatural: When the nous forgets God and fights against others, a state in which the nous believes that it has been unjustly treated.
Supranatural: Where the nous rises and finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the nous can either be concerned with material things, or derailed by conceptual images of them, or it can identify with the divine and lose configuration and form altogether. That is, the nous is either moving toward illness or toward purification, it is never static.
Before the Fall the nous was able to clearly perceive God and the intelligent aspect of the soul expressed these experiences of the nous in comprehensible terms. The intelligent power — as logiki/logistikon, or as the Word (Christ, being the Word or Logos) — of the soul submits to the Logos, which occurs as the mind turns what the nous experiences into “thinkable” concepts (thoughts, or logismoi). This can be envisioned as God revealing to the nous and mind, which then records the revelatory experience in intelligible forms.
Tragically, after the Fall the nous became hidden by the passions, was overcome by darkness, and the intelligent aspect of the soul rose above the nous to usurp the nous’ position as the dominant inner force. The nous sickened, or darkened, and the soul’s intelligent power assumed the role as man’s source of existence. This corruption has manifested as pride, arrogance, and egoism, all of which culminate in judging the sins of others (ref., Mt. 7:1-5) as a way by which to institute the intelligent power’s pseudo-superiority.
The need to return the nous to its pre-Fall state of purity and single preoccupation with God is readily visible when distinguishing between human and divine knowledge. Human knowledge, being confined to matter, is inferior and useless. Thus, we must exchange matter for spirit through an absolute reliance on God which, in part, requires shunning the temptation to pose scientific or philosophical questions such as “what is truth” and to instead ask “Who (God) is the truth.” Consider how philosophy misbelieves that only what is uncreated can be immortal, a fallacious precept that aids in explaining philosophy’s errant view of the body as created (material) and mortal and the soul as uncreated (i.e., from the realm of ideas) and immortal. This misconception includes the Platonic theory of the soul having fallen from the world of ideas and then becoming imprisoned in the human body. According to this incorrect belief the salvation of souls occurs when an “uncreated” soul gravitates back toward God after having been eternally freed from the prison of the body. Orthodoxy espouses the authentic state of reality: humans (a soul and a body) as immortal, from God’s grace rather than as a product of nature, and created yet living eternally either in unity with or separated from God.
Obviously, care must be taken to contrast philosophy, as a product of the mind and human action, with Eastern Orthodox Christianity (revelation from God). Orthodox theology is the Word of God, as opposed to the manufactured words of one’s mind that are unable to speak to the soul. Consequently, “theology” that is taught like a science is usually only understood externally and this kind of doctrine is fraught with uncertainty and questions (since the mind is unable to grasp the divine). Conversely, the most prevalent disease of the West, the spiritual malady of rationalism, merely trusts the conclusions of one’s fallen nature and logical mind; which can be summed up by Rene Decartes’ postulate of “I think, therefore I am.” Modern rationalism results in the belief that our thoughts are who we are, that we are the sum total of our thoughts, and this compels placing an absolute trust in any and all of the mind’s imaginings — the misguided idea that since they “are us” we must take a stand for and defend them as if they were our own flesh and blood. Moreover, modern rationalism, and its devastating spiritual consequences, is the prime fallacy of today’s worldview in that it is precisely by placing absolute trust in the formulations of the fallen human nature – rather than in divine revelation — that the modern West has come to water down or abandon the once cherished Christian faith; western man has undermined the apostolic faith with his logic.
As has now been evidenced, eventually the corrupted intelligent aspect of the soul will reject God (being unable to any longer apprehend God) or will guide one into mistakenly believing they are a god. This unmasks the fatal danger of attempting to theologize via the fallen human intellect (i.e., by a philosophy and a darkened nous, see 1 Co. 2:14). To be ruled by reason exists as the very foundation of all internal and external anomalies, the soul’s intelligent power must be restored to its proper function as the interpreter of the nous. Only then can obedience to God’s will ensue, only then will the renouncing of one’s own life/will become possible, an occurrence that will then facilitate the cure of interior illness and transformation of the inner world.