When the Fathers speak of `thoughts’ (logismoi), they do not mean simple thoughts, but the images and representations behind which there are always appropriate thoughts. The images with the thoughts are called `logismoi’. “Images in some cases appear to take on visible form, while others are mostly products of the mind, but more often it is a combination of the two. As visible images also generate some thought or other, ascetics label all images `intrusive thoughts'” (388). The various satanic thoughts sometimes use as their vehicle what the senses bring to the nous, sometimes they mobilise fantasy and disjointed memory, and they attack the person with the ulterior aim of effecting his capture.
According to Hesychios the Priest, most people are unaware that these thoughts are nothing but “images of material and worldly things” (389). As it appears from this text, imagination plays a very important role in the formation of the image in us. Thus one can say that logismoi are painters of various images and representations in our intelligence, most of them memories of the past. One brother who was being attacked by memories of the past said: “My thoughts are old and new painters: memories are troubling me, and idols of women” (390).
All things have their inner principles (words, logoi) with which they speak and communicate with man. According to St. Gregory of Sinai, Holy Scripture also calls these `words’ of things `thoughts’. The words of things are also called conceptual images, and vice versa. Their action “is not material in itself, but it takes the form of material things, and its form changes” (391). The words of things are used by the demons and therefore they can also be called the words of the demons (392). St. Gregory of Sinai characterises evil thoughts, or rather their onslaught, as a “flowing river”, which, through assent to sin, is transformed into a deluge that drowns the heart (393).
In speaking of `thoughts’ and trying to pinpoint exactly what they are, I think that we must refer to the division made by St. Maximus. He says that some thoughts are simple, others composite. Thoughts which are not linked with passion are simple. Passion-charged thoughts are composite, consisting “of a conceptual image combined with passion” (394). The memory of a thing, when combined with passion makes the thought passion-charged or composite. I think that at this point it is well to outline the distinction between a thing, a conceptual image, and a passion as St. Maximus analyses them. Gold, a woman, a man, and so forth, are things. The simple memory of gold, a woman, or a man is a conceptual image. A passion is “mindless affection or indiscriminate hatred for one of these same things”. An impassioned conceptual image is a thought compounded of passion and a conceptual image. Therefore we must strive to separate the passion from the conceptual image so that the thought remains simple. And this separation can be made through spiritual love and self-control (395).
Impassioned thoughts either stimulate the soul’s desiring power or disturb its incensive power, or darken its intelligence (396).
Evagrius emphasises that there are thoughts which cut off and there are thoughts which are cut off. Evil thoughts cut off good ones, but also evil thoughts are cut off by good ones. He offers an example. The thought of giving hospitality for the glory of the Lord is cut off by the tempter, who suggests a thought of hospitality for the sake of appearing hospitable in the eyes of others. Likewise the thought of giving hospitality to gain human recognition is cut off “when a better thought comes” which prompts us to be hospitable for the Lord’s sake and for the sake of virtue (397). So it is possible for one thought to start off as evil, but through our own effort and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be transformed into a good one, and vice versa. However, we shall look at this more analytically later, when we speak of curing from evil thoughts. At least we see here that there are thoughts which cut off and thoughts which are cut off, good thoughts and bad thoughts.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Orthodox Psychotherapy
…to be continued