Evagrius Ponticus is probably not well known of by many people in this day and age. This is sad, as he was such an important influence upon the early Church. William Harmless, in his book Mystics, tells us that Evagrius was the son of a Christian bishop and that he was well known among the more important Christian figures growing up. He would later become a lector and eventually a deacon. Eventually he would become a cenobitic monk. He did a great deal of writing and, despite eventually being condemned as a heretic, his writing survives to this day. (pgs. 137-140).
Perhaps one of the most profound and interesting thing which Evagrius Ponticus wrote about was his ideas and concepts regarding both demonology and the eight demon thoughts or attacks upon monks and man. It is not hard to understand the reasons that his thoughts and work here were so profound, as it eventually became the foundations for what is known today as the seven deadly sins. These eight thoughts or attacks have a great deal to do with the destruction of both the world and the people within the world. The eight demon thoughts, according to Evagrius and as reported by Harmless, were/are gluttony, fornication, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. (pg. 143).
Before taking a look at each of these, it is important to understand the reason why knowing about them, identifying, and overcoming them is so important. Harmless says “We tend to be uncomfortable with discussions of demonology. Some readers may accept the existence of demons, some may not. That is beside the point here. The issue is how demonology, at least in its ancient form, fits in with the mystical. For Evagrius and his contemporaries, Christianity is about journeying to God. Evagrius sought to plot out not only what moves us along the path to God, but also what diverts us from that path. This is where demons come in. They are roadblocks. They divert us. They send us on winding and potentially deadly detours. They use our own consciousness against us.” (pg. 145). By know how some of these demons/thoughts may attack, we can better equip and prepare ourselves to deal with them.
The attacks on the rational mind are pride and vainglory. (Harmless, pg. 147). According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary vainglory is “Excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one’s achievements.” Pride itself is defined as “A feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/). In a sense, what Evagrius is saying is that when we believe we are above or better than others, this is dangerous and not conductive to living a Godly life. Additionally, these behaviors hamper us from thinking clearly in any given situation.
The attacks on irascible mind are acedia, anger, and sadness. (Harmless, pg. 147) By irascible mind it appears that Evagrius meant our emotional disposition in life. We all know what anger and sadness is, but to quote Merriam-Webester again – angry is “Having a strong feeling of being upset or annoyed” while sad is “Affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/). Thus Evagrius is telling is that to allow ourselves to be strongly upset, annoyed, or unhappy is detrimental to our connection and path to God. Accedia requires special attention and boils down to what Harmless describes as boredom. (pg. 144). Evagrius is talking of a special kind of boredom. That kind were we can’t focus on our work, wish we were somewhere else, daydream, and eagerly await the clock to reach a certain time. This not only interferes with our wordily duties, but also interferes with doing what God wants us to be doing. (Harmless, pgs. 143-144). Wikipedia additionally indicates that sadness and acedia can at times fold into each other. Sadness is especially dangerous as it can lead one to willfully refuse joy in the things that God does give and eventually stop a person from loving God with their whole heart, mind, and sould. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins).
Finally we have what Evagrius calls the attacks on the concupiscible, which are avarice, fornication, and gluttony. (Harmless, pg. 147), These are, in essence, the attacks which can occur either on the body or in the physical world as opposed to the mental or emotional. Returning our attention to Merriam-Webster we see avarice (also called greed) is “A strong desire to have or get money.” Fornication is defined as “Consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.” Finally, gluttony is “The act or habit of eating or drinking too much,” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/). In essence, all three of these attacks deal with excess of all types. Wanting/desiring too much money, wanting/desiring too much sexual pleasure, and wanting/desiring too much food or other sensory indulgences. Again, Evagrius would say that resorting to any of these is to interfere with being Godly and will disrupt one’s path to God.
In reality, these are some very important things to pay attention to and be aware of within the self. You just have to watch or read the news to draw a parallel between various evil acts and the “psychological” motives or causes of them. In pretty much the majority of cases it is going to boil down to one of these eight thoughts/demons. When we are young we are lucky if we have parents that “police” us and keeps these inline – but sooner or later we have to take it upon ourselves to recognize and control the dangers that are in inherit within these eight thoughts, otherwise the impact (karma/consequences) in this life may be not only detrimental spiritually, but even physically.
Finally, if you wish to know which actual demons were eventually assigned to each thought, according to Wikipedia and Peter Binsfeld, they would be Beelzebub for gluttony, Asmodeus for lust or fornication, Mammon for greed or avarice, Satan for wrath or anger, Belphegor for sloth/laziness/boredom, Leviathan for envy, and Lucifer for pride and vainglory. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins). No direct demon appears to be associated with sadness or depression.
1. William Harmless. S.J., “Mystic as Desert Calligrapher: Evagrius Ponticus,” in Mysticis. (New York: Oxford University Press 2008).