ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, NUMBER SIX
The Orthodox Christian Teaching about the Nature and Activity of Satan and his Demons.
Our Responsibility for Our Choices and Actions, and How we Struggle Against "Self-temptation" and Addiction.
by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
The Canadian Orthodox Publishing House
37323 HAWKINS ROAD,
DEWDNEY, B.C., V0M-1H0, Canada.
1987; 1997, 2004
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"...and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one."
When our Saviour taught us how to pray, He did not say to ask for deliverance from evil, but specifically, "deliver us from the evil one." For, in this life we are often subjected to evil, and those who actually struggle to follow Christ and His Holy Orthodox Faith must often endure it. Indeed, in the Beatitudes, we are even assured that we must endure evil. Moreover, in this world, evil often seems to triumph over good. Christ came to earth to redeem us from our bondage to the prince of this world, to deliver us from bondage to his world of the materialism and sensuality. Our Saviour has given us His Holy Orthodox Church as the vessel of our deliverance, and this freedom awaits those who will accept it and struggle for it according to the way God has provided for us.
This work is intended as a general educational booklet for use as supplementary material for church school teachers and parents, who have to answer children's questions, and also for young people to help offset some of the popular, sectarian ideas on the subject, to which Orthodox people are exposed. It is also necessary to refute some of the coarse and nearly pagan medieval ideas being taught in some quarters as Orthodox doctrine.
It is important for us and our children to learn the correct version of the Lord's Prayer, the one which Christ Himself actually gave us, not the mistranslation which robs the prayer of the revelation God included in it. This book will help us to understand more fully the meaning and importance of our Saviour's command to pray, "deliver us from the evil one." If we will look for a moment at some of the other places in Holy Scripture where the term "evil one" has been wrongly rendered "evil" in most English translations, we will not only gain a clearer understanding of the "Lord's Prayer" and the nature of our struggle in this life, but we will also be forewarned not to listen when someone challenges Orthodox teachings, on the basis of one of the several translations of Scripture. Let us see how the Apostle understood the last line of the "Lord's Prayer":
"Our Father in the heavens, let Your name be hallowed, let Your kingdom come, let Your will come to pass on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our offences as we forgive those who offend us, and do not bring us into trials, but deliver us from the evil one"(Mt.6:913, correct translation). "But let your `yes' be `yes' and your `no' be `no'; anything more comes from the evil one"(Mt.5:37). "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from this present age of the evil one"(Gal.1: 34).
"But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one (2Ths.3:3). "The Lord will deliver me from every attack of the evil one, and will bring me safely to His Heavenly Kingdom"(2Tm.4:18). For a more complete understanding of the subject, read the lives of the saints, especially the paterikons. The saints have faced Satan, endured all his assaults and, with Christ's help and the strength of Divine Grace, have conquered him. In their lives, we truly see the meaning of Christ's command to us to pray for deliverance from the evil one.
Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
EVIL SPIRITS ARE EXISTING
INDIVIDUAL SPIRITUAL BEINGS
From the book of Deuteronomy, we see that Moses was clearly aware of the existence of evil spirits. Enumerating the sins of the Hebrews, Moses says that they "sacrificed to demons, not to God" (Dt.32:17), that is, as St John Chrysostom explains, they sacrificed to idols in which demons dwelt. The devil tormented the Righteous Job (Jb.1:622); instigated David to "number Israel" (1Chr.21:1) and an evil spirit possessed Saul (1Ki. 16:1415 Orthodox Bible).
In the book of Kings (3Ki.22:1923 Orthodox Bible) and in the book of the Prophet Zachary (3:12), the evil one is accorded the personal attributes of envy, falsehood, cunning and wickedness. In the first case, he wanted to invite the King of Israel to violate God's commandment, promising to become a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of prophets and, in the second instance, he was calumniating the people of Israel. The holy evangelist John the Theologian binds the truth of the existence of evil spirits with the coming of the Son of God into the world. "He that sins is of the devil, for the devil sins from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work" (1Jn.3:8; cp Mt.12: 2429; Js.2:19). From these words, it follows that a renunciation of belief in the devil leads us to the renunciation of the truth of the fall and, consequently, also a renunciation of the mystery of redemption. Indeed, why would Christ have come to earth if the evil one did not exist? In thus renouncing the mystery of redemption, we must reject all of Christianity. The whole Gospel history testifies that the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth in order to destroy the works of the devil, to "deliver us from the evil one."
Jesus Christ told the Jews: "You are of your father the devil, and you will also do the works of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning" (Jn.8:44). Then, in positive teaching and in the explanatory parts of parables, Christ taught about the evil one and his angels as about real, individual beings who were striving to harm humanity. Describing the last dread judgment, Christ says: "Then He shall say to those on the left hand, `depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels'." (Mt.25:41).
Christ pronounces this judgment on real, individual, totally sinful beings. It is quite clear from this that the evil one and his angels, for whom the everlasting fire is prepared, are real beings. Sinners inherit eternity in this fire by being followers of Satan. United to him, they are also united with his destiny. Christ the Saviour Himself said that Satan desired to sift the apostles like wheat (Lk.22:31). In other places of the Holy Gospel, we see cited the words of Jesus Christ about the existence of a whole kingdom of evil spirits, ruled by Satan, the malicious prince of this kingdom (Mt.12:2428), and Christ calls the evil one the "prince of this world" (Jn.12:31). How clearly did our Saviour teach about the existence of evil spirits when He healed those possessed by demons. Never did He suggest that possession by demons was a natural disorder (Mt.4:24;8:16; Mk.1:34;7:29-30, for example). The apostles, following Christ, also taught about the perniciousness of evil spirits and their ruinous influence on mankind. According to the Apostle, Christ took on our flesh so that, by His own death, He would deliver us from the power of "him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hb.2:14). The apostles also revealed that the demons are intelligent spirits (Js.3:15) but evil (Acts 19:13). Being numerous (Rev.12:7-8) they form their own dominion, at the head of which is Satan (Rm.16:20). Finally, in the "Lord's Prayer," He quite clearly taught us to pray, "deliver us from the evil one," asking for deliverance from the power and influence of a real, personal being.
The fact that evil spirits are real, individual beings is revealed to us through the lives of the great ascetics who, being illumined by the Holy Spirit, saw the true character of the evil spirits, fought with and, by their lofty, moral lives, defeated the demons and gained power to cast them out of others. This understanding is also taught by the Church's divine services and prayers. Thus, for example, in the eighth prayer before sleep, the Orthodox Christian prays to God: "Deliver me from the besetting presence of the devil.... Snatch me from the jaws of the pernicious serpent." In the Mystery of Holy Baptism, the godparents are required; on behalf of an infant being baptized, to "renounce the devil and all his works and all his pride."
The Holy Scripture, therefore, clearly teaches that the devil exists as an individual spirit. And Saint John of Kronstadt says, "Stubborn unbelief in the existence of evil spirits is in itself actual demonic possession, for it bids defiance of Divine revelation; he who denies the evil spirits is a person already swallowed up by the devil (see 1Pt.5:8) and sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, in no condition to behold the Sun of Truth."
Therefore, our Saviour commands us to pray, specifically, "and deliver us from the evil-one," and not "deliver us from evil."
OF EVIL SPIRITS
Evil spirits know themselves, of course, for if the spirit of man is conscious of what it knows, then certainly the same must be said of evil spirits. Evil spirits know the condition of the present world, as we see in the Book of the Prophet Job. The evil one traversed the world and observed all people, and spoke of this to the Lord. The Lord did not refute these observations as false (Job 1:7-12), though clearly, the devil did not know the soul of Job, just as he and his demons can never approach the nature of our souls and know them. He can only judge from our deeds, actions and inclinations what the condition of our soul is, as the holy fathers tell us. St John Cassian says, "But the demons cannot possibly come near to those thoughts which have not yet come forth from the inmost recesses of the soul. And the thoughts too, which they suggest, whether they are actually or in a kind of way embraced, are discovered by them not from the nature of the soul itself, i.e., that inner inclination which lies concealed so to speak in the very marrow, but from the motions and signs given by the outward man." (First Conference of Abba Sereneus, para. 15).
St John the Solitary also tells us, "The devil cannot touch the nature of the soul, nor can he draw nigh it at all to harm it. . ."The devil does not touch or see the soul, but the members of the body only...and by harming one of the members he disturbs the thoughts which are active within them. For indeed, if he could draw nigh the soul so as to harm it, then he would also be able to harm it after it departed from the body, but this he would have to do while being unable to see it and having no power over it, because his power extends only as far as the body." (Sixth Dialogue With Thomasos).
The fallen spirits know something of future events, but not from real knowledge or prophecy. They can surmise what will occur when it is going to take place from definite, unchanging causes. The general future is known to them from God's revelation (3Ki.22:21-22 Orthodox Bible), and also from the observation of man's character. Once, a demon drew nigh to St Andrew the Fool and told him of the moral disorder of Christians in the last days. "In those days," the demon said, "people will be more evil than I am, and little children will surpass old people in wickedness. Then, I will not teach people anything; they themselves will fulfil my will." St Andrew responded: "How do you know this, for a demon does not know anything by prophecy or forevision?" To this, the demon replied: "Our father, Satan, conjectures these things and passes it on to us."
Though they have a mind, evil spirits have distorted it so much that, instead of the basic quality of the mind striving toward truth the main characteristic of the demon's mind is hatred toward truth. For this reason, the evil one is called "father of lies" in the Gospel (Jn.8:44) and "deceiver" in the Revelation (12:9). Having hardened their will in unyielding evil, the demons now direct their activity toward evil alone, but demons also have a certain freedom, because they can select one evil out of many. Instead of love, the being of the devil is filled with irreconcilable enmity toward God and His works. We have a constant enemy in the evil one, and therefore Apostle Paul advises Christians to array themselves in complete armour for struggle against the devil (Eph.6:1217), and Christ commanded us to pray constantly to God, our Father, "...deliver us from the evil one."
THE DWELLING PLACE
OF EVIL SPIRITS
While Satan was an obedient angel of God, he dwelt in heaven. He exalted himself higher than all spirits and thought to become an independent power. Because of this, the Lord cast him down from heaven (Lk.10:18), together with the angels which had followed him in his opposition to the Creator (Eph.6: 12; Rev.12:7). Since then, the abode of the devil has been the "abyss" or "space," which, in common usage, is called "the air." The correctness of this idea is evident from the Holy Scripture. In the Book of Job, the devil himself testifies that he went round about the whole world, passing through the air (Jb.1:7;2:2). The Holy Apostle Paul speaks of the fallen spirits dwelling in the air: "For we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph.6:12). Here is how St Athanasios the Great explains this place: "The devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, roams in the space of this lower air where, ruling over other demons..., with their cooperation, he deceives people with visions and strives to hinder those who struggle higher, of which Apostle Paul says, `According to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience' (Eph.2:2)". In the interpretation of Psalm 41, St John Chrysostom says, "How many demons are borne in this air? How many adverse powers? If God were to allow them to show their countenances, we would all be driven insane" (Works, Vol. 1, p. 722). St Antony the Great says simply that "demons are borne in the air" (Works, Pt. 3, p. 22). If evil spirits fill the air, then it is clear that they surround us from all sides. St Theophan the Recluse says of this: "The usual form of translation and understanding of the word `sky' signifies that spirits fly in the air, and just as air embraces us everywhere, so also do the spirits of malice draw near us, like mosquitoes in a damp place" (Interpretation of the Epistle to Ephesians, p. 412). Thus, in the Lord's Prayer, we are taught to pray, "...deliver us from the evil one."
OF EVIL SPIRITS
"'From the beginning the devil is a manslayer and a father of vice' (Jn. 8:44); while we, though this is so, are alive, and spend our lives all the more in opposing him; it is plain that they [the demons] are powerless. For place is no hindrance to their plots, nor do they look on us as friends that they should spare us; nor are they lovers of good that they should amend. But on the contrary, they are evil, and nothing is so much sought after by them as wounding those who love virtue and fear God. But since they have no power to affect anything, they do nothing but threaten.... If they had power, they would permit none of us Christians to live .... But since they can do nothing, they inflict the greater wounds on themselves; for they can fulfil none of their threats. Next, this ought to be considered that we may be in no fear of them.... But the demons as they have no power are like actors on the stage... from which they ought rather to be despised as showing their weakness.... But if the demons had power not even against the swine, much less have they any over men formed in the image of God. So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them."
Thus we say that the demons may have influence over us, but they can have power over us only if we submit our will to them, as did Judas who became so filled with Satan's influence that while he was sorry to have betrayed Jesus, he could not repent, but committed suicide. The power of this deceit and delusion is very great, and the influence of Satan can destroy us, primarily by leading us to destroy ourselves. Satan is also able to lead not only into spiritual bondage, but into the bondage of certain types of physical, and especially psychosomatic illnesses. From here we clearly see in the Divine Scripture that the demons, which hover in the air, come down to the earth, for the Gospel tells us of their activities on earth. Demons can enter a person or animal (Lk.8:29,33), and they also inhabit the waters, as we learn from the prayers for blessing of water on the Feast of the Theophany. After they fell from heaven into the region of the air (Eph.2:2;6:12) the heavenly kingdom became inaccessible to them. Thus, they turned their attention toward the world, which is accessible to them, and here, they endeavour to sow evil among mankind. Evil comprises the daily sustenance for the devil, who thinks of nothing except evil, and finds satisfaction in nothing except evil activity. The kingdom of good, God's Kingdom, is hateful to him, and therefore, he strives to destroy God's Kingdom on earth (2Cor.4:4). According to the words of the Saviour, "the devil is the enemy" who sowed tares in the field where the Lord sowed wheat (see Mt.13:2425). In his enmity toward God, the devil led the first human away from Him, and strove to hold them in his power. He made use of people's misdirected striving to find God and, having deceived them, led them into complete ruin and idol worship. Pagans, in bringing sacrifices, bring them to demons, and not to God, as Apostle Paul says. The devil also entices people with the help of magicians (who, in modern times are often called "faith healers," etc. ) (see Acts 13:10). For his own use, Satan even takes on the appearances of an angel of light (2Cor.11:14), and in this guise, arouses people to impious thoughts and desires. Apostle Peter says to Ananias, "Why did you allow Satan to place it in your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit" (Acts 5:3). The devil can also act upon the body, creating physical sufferings in it (2Cor. 12:7).
In general, according to the teachings of the Holy Apostle, everything that is evil in the world is the work of the devil. "He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning...," says St John the Theologian (1Jn.3:8); and Apostle Paul calls a turning aside onto the path of sin a "turning aside to the footsteps of Satan" (1Tm.5:15). The Holy Scripture attributes to the devil the blinding of the minds of all those who do not accept the Gospel (2Cor.4:4); they are represented as having fallen into the devil's net, who has caught them and held them at his will (2Tm.2:26). Even the circumstances which hindered Apostle Paul's visit to Thessaloniki, are attributed to the influence of Satan (1Ths. 2:18).
Thus, there is no doubt about the influence of the evil spirits on people. It even reaches a point at which, according to the Saviour's words, the devil dwells in sinful people, as if in his own home, and he does not dwell there alone, but brings along other spirits (Mt.12:4345). Apostle Paul very clearly depicts the dependence of a sinner upon the devil. He refers to the sinner as caught by the devil and exhorts the faithful to instruct them so that they may repent and "escape from the snare of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (2Tm.2:2526). We can escape only with God's help, which is why we have been instructed by our Saviour to pray, "Our Father in the Heavens... deliver us from the evil one."
CHRIST'S COMING WEAKENS
THE POWER OF THE EVIL ONE
"Whence it is quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds..." (The Incarnation of the Word of God, para. 25).
And the Holy Apostle says: "For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1Jn.3:8). Moreover, "Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hb.2:1415).
Yet, clearly, Satan still operates among us and gains lesser or greater influence over many. As St Gregory the Theologian says: "Christ did not destroy the devil by the movement of will alone, but left the enemy a certain freedom to move among both the good and the evil, and raised between them a mutual warfare, so that just as the enemy is subjected to shame, being defeated by those who are weaker than he, so also those who struggle in virtue always receive their glory, being purified like gold in a furnace" (Works, pt. 4, p. 195).
Christ did not totally destroy the influence of Satan all at once, but destroyed his power to enslave man through fear of death, and gave us the means to turn the evil one's snares to nothing, as Apostle James says: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (4:7). We cannot consider ourselves to be free from attacks of the evil one. We have been given the weapons to defeat him: our prayers, fasting, moral struggles and, above all, Holy Communion. Let us remember that salvation consists in our union with God, effected by Christ through His Holy Church, in which the power of the evil one is being steadily and progressively destroyed by the life of mutual love and moral struggle which is fulfilled in and by the Church.
We are still subject to influences of Satan so that we may continue to exercise free will. For, where there is no free will, there is no love, only bondage. Yet, we must always take hope in the words of the Apostle: "God is faithful and will not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, but with every temptation, will give us an escape so that we may endure" (1Cor.10:13). St John Chrysostom further instructs us as to why we are yet tempted by the evil one:
"God does not prevent the devil from visiting us with temptations;
first, so that we will realize that we have become stronger than the devil
when we sign ourselves with the Life giving Cross in the name of Christ;
second, so that we abide in humility and do not exalt in the grandeur of the
Gifts; third, so that the evil one, witnessing your patience, becomes
convinced that you have renounced him; fourth, so that through this, you become
firmer and stronger and; fifth, so that you do not forget your weakness and
the power of the One Who delivers you from the evil one" (v.
31, p. 205).
TEMPTATIONS USED BY DEMONS
Satan always deceives man with pride. No matter what temptations the evil one uses, the root of all of them is pride. Dreams and visions are the most successful means of prideful delusion. Satan tempts people either by inspiring dreams and visions or by influencing people to believe coincidental dreams. The devil may lead a parish priest or abbot into delusion, and the deluded clergyman will do the work of Satan by encouraging people to believe in or take seriously their dreams or supposed visions. The greatness of this pride and delusion is shown by the fact that people will often try to justify their own trust in their dreams or dream visions by relating themselves to the holy prophets of the Old Testament, to Apostle Peter, etc., all of whom received revelations from God, according to their calling. It is obviously prideful delusion to suggest that since Holy Prophet David or some one of the great saints received a vision from God, we poor sinners can take our dreams seriously. The holy and God bearing fathers have warned us repeatedly. St John of the Ladder, for example, echoes the rest of the holy fathers when he says:
"The demons of vainglory prophesy in dreams. Being unscrupulous, they surmise the future and foretell it to us. When these visions come true, we are amazed; and we are elated with the thought that we are already near to the gift of foreknowledge. A demon is often a prophet to those who believe him.... Being a spirit, he sees what is happening near the earth, and seeing that someone is dying, he foretells it through dreams to the light minded.... Demons often transform themselves into angels of light and take on the form of martyrs, and make it appear to us during sleep that we communicate with them...." But, "He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all dreams is a wise person" (3:2829).
"Do not be astonished if the demons often suggest to us good thoughts, and intellectual arguments against themselves. The aim of the enemy in this case is to make us believe that they also know the thoughts of our hearts" (26:154). And he concludes: "He who believes in dreams is like a person running after his own shadow and trying to catch it" (3:27).
Dreams and visions are not always deceits of Satan. When a person regularly sees "visions," hears "voices," sees demons and angels or has dramatic dreams which seem to influence his life, the person may very well be seriously mentally ill, and may need medical help. A person who regularly tells of his dreams and visions is either in spiritual delusion or (more likely) suffering a mental illness. Many such dream visions, apparitions and voices can be cured by replacing a missing brain chemical or curtailing the over-activity of one which, in excess, causes hallucinations. Some of those conditions, such as schizophrenia (which is sometimes mistaken for either special holiness or demonic possession) are actually caused by a physical deformity in the brain or brain chemistry malfunctions.
Satan can lead a person into such delusion that the person actually becomes mentally ill from it.
We read in The Paradise of the Fathers of the ascetic Valentios. He lived in the wilderness as a great struggler. Nevertheless, Valent fell into pride and self esteem and began to take dreams seriously. He opened himself to spiritual delusion and "visions." The demons, seeing this, began appearing to Valent's mind as angels of God and conversing with him. Soon, his state of prideful delusion became deeper. Then, Satan appeared to the mind of the monk in the form of Christ, surrounded by holy angels. A fiery circle appeared in the midst of the vision like a circle of cherubim. One of the angels came over to the deluded monk and said, "You have pleased Christ with your struggles, and He has come to visit you. You have attained contemplation of Him, and henceforth need do nothing else but this. Stand and contemplate Him. Bow to Him now, and go to your cell." Valentios fell on his face, worshipping the false Christ. Ensnared, he carried the delusion so far that he ceased receiving daily Communion, and even announced to the brethren that he had no more need of Communion, since he had "seen Christ." The brethren realized that Valent had gone from delusion to insanity, and for a whole year, they strove with prayers and fasting to deliver him. At long last, their co-suffering love, prayers and fasting succeeded in delivering their brother from his delusion. (Ch.2 of, Paradise of The Fathers).
This same thing happened many times (see, for example the lives of Isaaky and Nikita of the KievCaves Paterikon). In the West, Francis of Assisi, a kind and gentle man, went into delusion and insanity and founded a whole school of spiritual delusion which is still followed to this day. He is considered a saint by the Latins, who esteem such delusion and heretical spirituality highly. 1 Saint Nifon, on the other hand, was tempted by a demon who appeared to his mind as an angel and said: "You have pleased the Lord. You will now receive the gift of working miracles and your name will be glorified." St Nifon realized that this was a demonic deceit and scornfully replied, "Wait a moment and I will work a miracle for you." He turned to a boulder and said, "Boulder! Move and go over to another place!" Of course, the large stone remained unmoving. Then the saint said to the "angel," "Such is your gift," and he spat at the vision. The saint prayed to God and the demonic angel disappeared.
A demon also appeared in the form of Christ to St Pakhomios the Great, and said: "Rejoice, elder, you have pleased me so much that I have come to you as to a friend." The saint was astonished, but in his wisdom and humility he reasoned, "Why would the Saviour appear to a poor sinner such as I. No, this is not Christ." Then, signing himself with the Cross, he boldly said "Depart from me, spirit of evil. May the wickedness of all your works be accursed." Such things happen often in the lives, not only of ascetics, but often, in the lives of ordinary people who allow themselves to become inclined to believing dreams and visions, as if they were equal to the prophets and apostles of the Bible, greater than the saints, who rejected all dreams and visions of this sort, or as great as those holy elders and New Testament prophets who did receive revelations.
According to the experience of the holy fathers, the variety of means which the evil spirits use to influence people depends on the variety of the demons themselves. Saint John Cassian expresses this, saying: "We must know that not all demons arouse all passions in people, but certain spirits incite each vice, that is, some arouse impure carnal desires, others dispose one toward blasphemy, some arouse anger and violence, others instill grief and despair, yet others inspire pride and vainglory; and every one of them into the human heart that passion with which the person is most ill. They do not inspire their vices all together, but by turns, depending upon how favourable are the time and place and the person's receptiveness.... Each spirit necessarily makes a separate attack upon the soul, so that when a defeated one steps aside, his place is taken by another spirit stronger than himself. If this stronger spirit is successful, then he invites another to seduce the person with yet another vice" (Philokalia, Vol. p. 58).
Can Satan take possession of our souls against our will? St Cyril of Jerusalem answers this question: "The soul is free, and although the devil can instigate something, he does not have the power to compel one to do anything against one's will" (Philokalia, 82). "Unclean spirits," says St John Cassian, "penetrate into the body...in no other way than having first gained control of the mind and thoughts. Stripping away the mind's protective attire of the fear and memory of God, evil spirits attack them, as they are unarmed and deprived of God's help, and thus easily defeated. Finally, they take up dwelling in them [the persons] as if in a domain prepared for them" (Philokalia, V. 2, p. 3). From these words, it is evident that, in order to gain possession of our souls, the devil must first gain control of our minds. Saint Neil of Sora gives an example of how this occurs: "The thought of vainglory is most complicated of all; it encompasses almost the whole universe and, like a crafty traitor betraying a beautiful city, it opens the gates of the soul to all the demons. And truly, just look with enjoyment upon your own virtues as if they were the fruits of your own toils and powers, and you will indeed see with what speed evil will rush into your soul. Self-satisfaction gives birth to condemnation of neighbours, and from that point it is not difficult to become a child of the devil, whose entire activity is directed toward the ruin of mankind."
The entry of the evil spirit into man occurs by degrees. In the case of Judas, Satan penetrated his soul by means of the passion for money (Jn.12:6), then more fully took possession of his heart (Jn.13:2), and then decisively took possession of him (Jn. 13:27).
The main distinguishing feature of diabolical warfare is adaptation. The devil sets out with amazing cunningness to encounter our desires and ambitions, even those which are evidently good and innocent, in order to turn them against us. St Gregory the Theologian warns, "The devil attacks from every direction, looking to see where to overturn, where to open a wound and to find what is undefended, and then to strike a blow. The more he sees of purity, the more he strives to defile .... The evil one takes a double image upon himself, casting out one or another net: he appears either at his darkest (obviously evil) or as a bright angel (disguising himself with an appearance of good, and seducing the mind with a meek smile). This is why it is necessary to be especially careful so that we do not think to receive light, but meet with death instead. Even bad people can avoid a depraved life, because an open vice is hateful to everyone...." (Philokalia, pp. 258, 320). In another place, the same holy father says, "The malicious enemy has thought up thousands of `stings of death' for weak mortals. They are often disguised under a mask of good which hides a pitiful ruin, in order to capture the one he is struggling against. He prepares a ruinous end for people, just as a fishhook in water brings death to a fish" (Philokalia, p. 329). The evil one cannot, however, possess us wholly by his methods, without the cooperation of the one being possessed, who does not oppose him (Js.4:7). Only he who does not oppose the influence of the spirits of evil falls under the power of the evil one. In such a case, we ourselves are at fault since we, of our own freewill, gave ourselves up to temptations and sin. "By whom a man is overcome, he is made his slave" (2Pt.2:19).
Evil spirits carry on an unceasing warfare with us, varying it with all kinds of methods. The main thing we observe in this warfare is its gradualness, a tactic used to keep us from being alert to the approach of evil. Beginning with small matters, evil spirits pass on to larger influences upon us. The various means of warfare that the evil one carries on with one who is on the narrow path, is clearly described by St Isaak the Syrian. He says:
"Our opponent, the devil, has the method with those entering the path of struggle (nothing is said of those who are not struggling for salvation, but have given themselves up into the enemy's hands) to cunningly vary his warfare: the evil one pays special attention to those who are lazy in the exercise of freewill and weak in mental activity, and attacks them with force at the very beginning. He places firm and strong temptations against them, so that they learn of his wickedness from the beginning and enter their struggles enveloped in fear. Thus, the path seems to be cruel and impossible, and they think: `If the beginning of the path is this heavy and difficult, can anyone endure to the end, through the many attacks awaiting them?' From this, the struggler is unable to arise, and once he turns back, the evil one withdraws his warfare upon him, for a season, so that he will flee from the path which leads to the heavenly kingdom. This is the first method of diabolical warfare.
"He acts differently against those who are strong and courageous, who hold death as nothing, and undertake matters with great zeal. He does not attack these suddenly, but is restrained until they cool down in their zeal. This is the second method of the devil's warfare.
"When the evil one sees that a person's outer firmness is not defeated by external things, that his mental activity does not weaken from Satan's `kindnesses' and seductions, then he strives to blind the mind of such a person with thoughts of pride. The deceiver instills in such a one the idea that his strength depends upon personal power and that he acquired his spiritual wealth by himself, that he has preserved himself from the opponent by his own strength. Sometimes the evil-one, in the guise of revelations from God, in dreams or even when the struggler is awake, appears as a bright angel and tries by every means to gradually bring the person into at least a small degree of accord with himself" (Ascetic Homilies, St Isaak the Syrian, Homily 60, pp. 392393, 399). This is the third method of diabolical warfare the one faced by the strong and brave.
"The fourth category of warfare is the most stubborn. It consists of the following: a struggler's mind is blinded by a frequent mental visit of sensual things .... The devil strives to present such things in visions or apparitions. In dreams or reveries, he shows the ascetics feminine beauty in indecent postures, attracting the mind...with behaviour or actual nudity. By means of this and similar things, the enemy defeated some immediately, while others, due to un-watchfulness over their thoughts, fell into despair, returned to the world and lost the heavenly kingdom. The enemy also presents dreams of gold, precious things, etc, in the hope that by such thoughts, he might stop anyone of them in the course of his struggles and catch him in his dragnets" (ibid, pp. 400401).
We must note that these experiences are by no means limited to monastic ascetics. All Orthodox Christians are subjected to warfare in varying degrees. Naturally, Satan hates the monastics more intensely, for by their example and prayers, we are all strengthened and nourished. Moreover, the monastic path produces the great wonder workers of the Church. St Isaak, being a man, spoke of the experiences in struggle in terms of men's monasteries, but exactly the same things apply to women's monasteries. Those living in the world are subject to yet another great warfare: namely, the concern over what various groups of people will think about us, for example, or, "Other school children will laugh at my child if he does not have meat in his lunch during lent," "Some visitor will think we are odd if we have an ikon of Christ in our house" (of course, if we had a statue of Buddha or Siva, it would be tasteful and charming). In our own time, probably as many people lose their souls through demonic suggestions about what others think of us as through the more dramatic passions. Concern over the opinions of others in such matters is evidence of deep rooted self love which often even prompts parents to knock their own children off the path of salvation. Of course, it would have been better for such parents to have had "a millstone tied about their necks, and been cast into the sea." Such deluded people also have great need to call upon God, "lead us away from temptation, and deliver us from the evil one."
CONCLUSIOND emons do not have the power to inflict death upon anyone, and their power rests mostly in the ability to deceive or to lead a person to harm himself. Saint Antony the Great informs us that, "We have among us terrible and cunning enemies, the evil spirits. As soon as the demons see that any Christian is a struggler and developing in virtue, they strive to hinder the path with temptation, inspiring evil thoughts. If they cannot seduce the heart with blatant, impure sensuality, then they attack again, trying to instill fear with dreams and visions.... But these apparitions are, in themselves, nothing, and soon disappear if one, with faith in God's help, signs himself with the sign of the Cross" (Works, p. 30).
From St Antony and the other fathers, as well as from Divine Scripture, we learn that the evil spirits do not give up their attacks on us after their own defeat. Usually, the evil one is able to take a person captive by means of a perversion of the senses or by fear. However, the twin snares of pride and falsehood are his most fruitful weapons. For, through pride, he promotes falsehood and develops heresies and false teachings, which lead great numbers of people away from Christ and His Holy Church. In this, Satan or his angels appear as Heavenly angels, or "angels of light" (2Cor.11:14; Gal.1:8). Such evil spirits often begin to seduce the careless by means of bits of truth. The demons freely confess Christ as the Son of God (Lk.4:41), and confess God (Js.2:19). They also acknowledge that the message of Salvation is carried in the teaching of the apostles (Acts 16:1618). Moreover, Satan does not always inspire outward evil in his followers. He deludes certain people and leads them to inward spiritual pride. Externally, however, he allows these people the appearance of great piety. Through these servants, the evil one introduces his heresies and false teachings. In the meanwhile, the demons set upon true believers (especially bishops, priests and monks) with the very strongest warfare. People see the apparently pious and sincere heretics and compare their lives with those of the faithful. Satan inspires this comparison and its conclusions. One must recall that the heretics are not so greatly tempted as the leaders of the faithful; the unbridled malice and hatred of Satan is unleashed primarily upon those who are struggling to keep the true faith. The others already belong to him, and so Satan can allow them to go un-tempted or with lesser temptations in order to bring them to greater pride and self-righteousness in their heresy.
Our defence against Satan is Christ and all the things which He has given us through His Holy Church. In order to preserve ourselves from the seduction of the evil one, we must learn the Scripture, the rest of the Sacred Tradition (2Ths.2:15;3:6; etc), and the Orthodox way of life. The Holy Church is our refuge and harbour, our port of safety from the storms of the evil spirits. Constantly educating ourselves mentally and spiritually in the teachings of the Faith is absolutely necessary. Moreover, one must learn to pray without ceasing, as our Saviour commanded us, calling on God in the words given us by Christ, to "deliver us from the evil one."
There is another aspect to our struggle that we must not neglect. Our Saviour gave us a parable of great importance which reveals to us our own particular responsibility in our struggle. "...when the demon goes forth from a person, it wanders in dry places, seeking rest, and cannot find it. Then, returning to its former dwelling, it finds it vacant, swept and decorated, so it takes seven demons more wicked than it is, and moves back in to dwell there. Then the final condition of that person is worse than it was before" (Mt.12:43; Lk.11:24).
What are we being taught in this parable? When one struggles against a given passion, and finally puts it forth (for a simple example, say smoking cigarettes or pot), it is necessary to close and bolt the door of the heart against the passion. However, many times, we harbour a love and desire for the passion we have put out, and we nourish that desire, sometimes even unaware of this ourselves. This secret desire or longing for the passion is the sweeping and preparation of the heart for its return. The passion (or demon behind the passion) does return, and finding such fertile soil, plants related passions in the heart. Yielding to one passion in such an addictive way makes it easy for other passions to accompany it back into our hearts. Once we have rationalized and justified accepting the one passion back into our person, it is much easier to rationalize and justify accepting others. We then come into a kind of bondage to the whole package of passions, because we have allowed passion itself to defeat us. Behind the passion and the defeat is the tempting of a "homeless demon" seeking a place for itself. In reality, however, it is our nourishing of the passion (remember, the demon went to a "dry place," that is, a place where it was not being sustained, and so when our heart was ready to sustain it, it naturally returned) that causes the defeat.
This is what we must speak of next — not only the way in which we build up a desire for the suffering of passion, but the way in which we fall even without the help of those demons we call "evil spirits."
AND SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE
The monk Abraham came to Abba Pimen from Abba Agathon. He asked the Elder, "How do the demons fight against me?" Abba Pimen replied, "The demons fight against you? Our own wills become the demons, and these attack us in order that we may fulfil them."Those fallen angels which we call demons clearly tempt us and suggest soul destroying actions to us.
We need to speak about this other kind of "demon", even though not every reader will be able to follow this discussion. The problem with our "internal demons" is usually ignored or mythologised because it is so complex. This "demon within" is an aspect of our own mind, and it is dangerous to continue overlooking this fact or attributing all our inner conflicts and struggles to fallen angels. On the one hand, when we shift responsibility for all our temptations and passions completely away from our own minds and attribute them all to external demons, we become unable to appropriately take responsibility for conditions we have more control over and deal with them effectively. On the other hand — and this is far more dangerous — when mental illnesses are attributed to demons (or to angels as they often were in 18th-19th century Russia) this can result in greater illness and even suicide in many cases.
We wish to discuss these "internal demons" in terms of the way in which the holy fathers and mothers have taught us to deal with them. I am aware that not everyone will understand or be able to easily follow this discussion, but at least every reader will be aware that this aspect of our spiritual struggle exists.
I had mentioned the "limbic region of the brain" above. The word "limbic" means a rim or a loop. It refers to — or rather, one should say it has been used to refer to— a configuration in the brain. "Limbic Region" is a term variously used to identify the most primitive part of the brain (an area common to not only mammals, but reptiles) or the loop or circuit along which a stimulus is translated into an autonomic reaction, etc.
The idea of a "limbic region" or "limbic system" in the brain may be more conceptual than concrete,2 because an emotional response is not the same thing as an emotional experience in humans — which involves several areas of the brain.3 Nevertheless, it is a particularly useful concept when studying concrete facts about the development of emotions. In my view, it is of great value when discussing the processes of self-control and self-discipline, which is what Orthodox Christian spiritual struggle (askesis; podvig) is mostly concerned with. In this context of the Orthodox concept of "struggle," and in the effort to avoid injustice on our part, the idea of the limbic system is of profound value for many reasons.
We are speaking now about the way in which we respond to things that stimulate our brains and cause us to respond. Anything we see, hear, feel or smell which causes us to react mentally and/or physically is called a stimulus. Our first responses to such things are called autonomic responses — those which occur instinctively and unconsciously in all creatures, including humans.4 These are responses which mankind has striven to comprehend, channel and control, either for good or malevolent purposes, over the millennia.5 Satan is adept at using and manipulating all this against us and our salvation, but Satan is not behind every problem, temptation or aberration humans have, even if he deceitfully uses them against us. There are other factors which have to do with our own self-mastery, and sometimes simply with mental illnesses.
This all bears a bit more discussion because it has something to say about the penetrating wisdom and grace filled understanding of the holy fathers. Let me become a bit technical at first.
In the human brain structure, which has visually based linguistic interpretive skills, while an initial emotional response to a given stimulus may arise unconsciously and elicit an instant autonomic chain of responses, a continuing aspect of the stimulus response is a cortical interpretation of its meaning, and a tertiary event is a hippocampal confluence of the two streams, with a resulting rational assessment of the stimulus and the response in the light of the rational interpretation that has taken place. At this point, the stimulus and response are "contextualized" and prepared for memory.
I am going to mention, in an over-simplified manner, the circuitry for this process, because it will help us understand better what we wish to say further on about the spiritual teaching of the holy fathers and mothers on this same subject, and so help us more firmly resist our modern Ecumenists who wish to cripple these teachings with either syncretism or negation.
We are aware that the thalamus in the brain receives any external sensual stimulus and transfers its "signals" in two directions. The first is to the amygdala, which reacts immediately and mediates autonomic physical responses; the second is to the appropriate cortical area — the visual cortex, for example. Here, the process of interpretation and reasoning is initiated. By a process of development which we will not discuss here, both "streams" end up in the hippocampus where they are set into context and the process of memory potentiation begins the complex events involved in memory.
The holy fathers and mothers, without our current technology, could not have known the technical details, but they certainly understood the ramifications of the processes. We humans, gifted by God, are able to develop considerable control over those stimuli which we call "emotions" and "temptations" entering the brain. This is so because of the bi-directional structure of neurofibres connecting the "limbic region" of the brain (the amygdala in particular) and the higher cortex, where reasoning takes place. In many ways, our struggle to shape impulses into rational, rather than irrational, responses and courses of action depends on our intentional struggle to give the neo-cortex the upper hand over the amygdala. The conscience, being a rational gift from God, is our moral guide in this process, and it leads us not only to reason about the impulses or stimuli that enter our mind, but to take decisions concerning them. We are speaking here even about the most natural impulses of self-preservation, the unconscious response to flee from danger or compromise to avoid it. The holy martyrs took careful decisions even about this because their faith was so powerful that it had control over such basic animal instincts as fear and flight or compromise. By the same token, in war, it is useful for a soldier to allow fear to grow into anger, and even into real hatred because it adds purpose and stamina to his battle. In spiritual warfare, the same development would be most negative, and undermine the struggler's battle.
I have reduced all this to the most basic, sketchy level, yet already some reader may be longing for a more familiar, mythic or spiritualistic oversimplification of human emotions and passions, even if it does lead to a Gnostic dichotomy between body and soul in the human being. Such mythic oversimplifications can be provided by either astrology, fundamentalist sects of any religion, or the Gnosticism that keeps re-appearing within Christianity, even Orthodox Christianity. It is this mythic oversimplification, however, which ultimately denies the necessity and power of Orthodox Christian concepts of guarding the mind (regulating, to the greatest degree possible, the entry of stimuli, and training oneself to rapidly assess those that do enter), prayer of the heart (purifying the conscience and gaining control of these responses) and, the use of the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope to pacify our emotional responses and further understand them.
Let us look briefly at the way the holy fathers outline the manifestation of a sinful fall (or, if you prefer, a negative response to a natural or negative stimulus). A sinful fall (and, conversely, a virtuous act) develops in stages. As we follow the pattern, we can see how guarding the mind, prayer of the heart and in particular the use of the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope, help deal with each stage.
1. Suggestion: When a stimulus, which we might want to call a temptation, first enters the mind, it does so perhaps unconsciously, and it calls for a response, but it is not a sin or a fall. It is only a natural perception which is at first sub-conscious.6
2. Acceptance: We mentioned that the stimulus (or, suggestion) enters the mind and may elicit some immediate physical response, but that it also enters into the reasoning process in the human brain. 7 In this reasoning process, we interpret the emotion or impulse and, if there is one, the autonomic response to it. Shall we accept or reject the course of action suggested by the stimulus? Should we modify the course of action or further response suggested by applying certain principles and ethical considerations? How will our spiritual and moral training impact on our considerations. Not only our conscience enters into this reasoning process, but our training and our memory come into play. Acceptance of a negative emotional impulse leads directly toward sin. Taking a positive side of an emotion might lead in the opposite direction. At this point in the process, we can still guard our minds and take control of the emotional suggestion. We can reject or accept it. If we accept it, we pass to the next crucial juncture.
2. Agreement: At this critical point, we may find ourselves struggling either for or against our own conscience. For example, the impulse may be either to steal something or to give food to a beggar. We may find reasons for resisting or agreeing with either emotion, and we might find ourselves reasoning according to our conscience or rationalizing against it. If we come into agreement with a negative impulse — a temptation — we find ourselves coming into a conscious agreement with a sinful separation from God. We may even have, in the heat of the first impact of the stimulus, physically committed the deed, and then find ourselves rationalizing against our conscience which has called us to repentance. Either way the process of reasoning has now taken place in our cortex, and we have come into a willing agreement with the action or intended action. At this point, we can struggle for repentance and cleanse our mind, restoring our agreement with our good conscience, but repentance is already necessary.
3. Enslavement: We are speaking here mostly of negative impulses and responses, so let us continue along that line. We set the impulse and response into context. The reasoning process has reached the hippocampus region of the brain and merged with the stream coming from the amygdala. We have now accepted and come to agreement with a sinful thought and brought it into action. We have rationalized against our conscience and rejected its call to turn back or to repent. Therefore, we place the matter into a certain context (a context of acceptance and agreement) and store it in our memory in such a way that we now take pleasure not only in committing the deed in response to an external stimulus, but we take pleasure in drawing it out of our memory and savouring the remembrance of it. I would like to suggest that at this point, new synaptic interchanges begin to be formed in the brain which accommodate the growing empowerment of the developing addiction, or at least, a reassignment of glucose usage develops in a related section of the brain.
4. Spiritual Sickness or Passion: The word "passion" does not mean "sin," it means "suffering." It is a spiritual bondage and illness. Our response has now passed into a consuming addiction, a sinful falling which takes place continuously in our minds and is often manifested physically, leading toward spiritual destruction and death.
At the same time, positive training and godly impulses can follow the very same path for our salvation. Prayer, acts of love and charity, can also become habitual by the same processes. Fasting, prayer and contemplation help strengthen cortical control over the "limbic region," making it possible for us to take control of our impulses and emotions at the earliest stage (which is what "guarding the mind" is really all about).
Thus, we see the complete necessity of vigilance, guarding the mind, discernment, prayer of the heart and all the other aspects aimed at developing discipline, self-control and spiritual responsibility within ourselves. As Orthodox Christians, we acknowledge the necessity of the grace of the Holy Spirit in all this, but we do not renounce our own active moral responsibility in it — grace is always available, but we must actively cooperate with it.
The mythic oversimplification we mentioned earlier often leads to cruel, brutish moralism, such as that of the inquisitions, the Talaban party in Islam, the sheer moral fascism and falsity of the American "religious right," or such attitudes as the Pharisees had when they wished to induce Christ to agreeing to stone the woman taking in adultery, or even the Communist idea of creating a homo sovieticus (Soviet man) by philosophical indoctrination and brute force.
Such moralistic oversimplification can also lead us into despair and surrender, and history has demonstrated that it can lead us to a sidestepping of the responsibility for the struggle for internal self-control (as happened with monstrous results in the Anabaptist Taborite Movement under John of Leyden), and keep us from advancing in skills to help deal with human moral, emotional and psychological problems C particularly our own. It is my view that this is why puritans and fundamentalists or "evangelicals" in every religion (including Orthodoxy) are so bigoted and self-righteous, and capable of such harsh condemnation, persecution and savage repression. Attributing every temptation, fall and aberration to Satan can be quite dangerous and I know of at least two incidents in which it was likely responsible for persons' deaths. Discounting the work of Satan and the demons is also dangerous. Discernment and humility are necessary in dealing with all such problems.
We cannot continue this discussion in more detail here, but I only want to make one more point. Some problems, such as certain phobias, for example, can result from sub-cortical fear conditioning which, for various reasons, appears inaccessible to cortical control or regulation. Some phobias (for example) may very well be genetic. A person who fancies himself a spiritual father (a newly ordained priest, for example, or someone who thinks that ordination magically makes him a spiritual father), could easily help transfer such phobias into florid neurotic conditions, while thinking that he is "exposing and curing them." The same applies to many human emotions and problems, particularly when the "spiritual father" is in such pride and delusion that he is not concerned to discover his own limitations and understand when to refer a problem to a professional in a different field.
The Power of Satan and his Demons — According to the Fathers of the Church
SAINT ATHANASIOS THE GREAT
"Whence it is quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds." (THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD OF GOD, para.25).
SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
"...a soul which departs from the body does not fall under the tyranny of the devil....For if while the soul dwells in the body the devil cannot bring violence upon it, it is obvious that when it departs he likewise cannot." (HOMILY TWO ON LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN, P.G. 48:984).
SAINT ISAAK THE SYRIAN
"The demons, though they are extremely polluted, are not concealed from one another in their orders; howbeit they do not see the two orders [human souls and angels] that are above them."
SAINT DIADOCHOS OF PHOTIKI
"The Grace of God, on the other hand, dwells in the very depths of the soul...and it is not perceptible to the demons." (ON SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE).
SAINT JOHN CASSIAN
"But the demons cannot possibly come near to those thoughts which have not yet come forth from the inmost recesses of the soul. And the thoughts too, which they suggest, whether they are actually or in a kind of way embraced, are discovered by them not from the nature of the soul itself, i.e., that inner inclination which lies concealed so to speak in the very marrow, but from the motions and signs given by the outward man." (FIRST CONFERENCE OF ABBA SERENES, para.15).
SAINT ANTONY THE GREAT
"We ought not to fear the demons or even Satan himself, for he is a liar and speaks not a word of truth...and with him are placed the demons his fellows, like serpents and scorpions to be trodden underfoot by us Christians...and let us not fear his visions seeing that they themselves are deceptive....Doubtless they appear; but in a moment disappear again, hurting none of the faithful ....Wherefore it is unfitting that we should fear them on account of these things; for through the Grace of Christ all their practices are in vain.
"`From the beginning the devil is a murderer and a father of vice' (Jn.8:44); while we, though this is so, are alive, and spend our lives all the more opposing him; it is plain that they [the demons] are powerless. For place is no hindrance to their plots, nor do they look on us as friends that they should spare us; nor are they lovers of good that they should amend. But on the contrary they are evil, and nothing is so much sought after by them as wounding them that love virtue and fear God. But since they have no power to affect anything, they do nought but threaten....If they had power, they would permit none of us Christians to live....But since they can do nothing, they inflict the greater wounds on themselves; for they can fulfil none of their threats. Next this ought to be considered that we may be in no fear of them....But the demons as they have no power are like actors on the stage...from which they ought rather to be despised as showing their weakness." (LIFE)
"But if the demons had power not even against the swine, much less have they any over men formed in the image of God. So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them."
SAINT JOHN THE SOLITARY
"The devil cannot touch the nature of the soul, nor can he draw nigh it at all to harm it.
"The devil does not touch or see the soul, but the members of the body only...and by harming one of the members he disturbs the thoughts which are active within them. For indeed, if he could draw nigh the soul so as to harm it, then he would also be able to harm it after it departed from the body, but this he would have to do while being unable to see it and having no power over it, because his power extends only as far as the body." (SIXTH DIALOGUE WITH THOMASIOS).
2 - I am using "limbic region" to refer to the stimulus/response circuit at the sub-cortical level, with a focus on the amygdala and immediate autonomic responses C those which occur instinctively and unconsciously in all creatures, including humans.
3 - A difficulty arises if one considers this "limbic region" to be a "closed system," which operates only independently and solely at a subconscious or unconscious level, without an interactive relationship with the whole brain. Such a state in humans would be classed as a severe mental illness.
4 - We do know the locus and circuitry of some, if not all, autonomic responses. For example, fear (which gives rise to anger, and also has a profound effect on sexual urgency, etc), is generated instinctively by the amygdala when it receives an uninterpreted stimulus with a "danger configuration," via the thalamus.
5 - It appears that this is understood better by the advertising industry than by most modern Christians.
6 - I once heard a most unsatisfactory "mythic" explanation of this, told in a fable that was supposed to have been true. In the fable, a young man had been in a monastic community since infancy because he was an orphan and had been left to his uncle, a monk, to be looked after. He had come into full puberty. Once, he was travelling with a group of monks somewhere and they chanced upon a caravan with some bedouin women in it. The women were, of course, practically invisible under their robes and veils, but the young man felt a strange attraction to them that gradually became stronger. He had never seen a woman, so he asked one of the older monks who they were and the reasons for his feelings. The old monk assured him that they were just a different kind of monk, and that his feelings were only a temptation from Satan that would pass in a day or two if he prayed about it. In the end, it didn't work, and he went looking for these "different kind of monks" again. Supposedly, the young man would not be able to have sexual feelings unless Satan prompted them. This is simply mythological nonsense. The pherenomes alone of the women would have been a stimulus to a youth in his puberty, as would casual eye contact with a woman. Such feelings would not constitute sin or a fall. He was not yet even able to interpret them, but if he had been taught properly by the monks about such feelings, then he would be equipped to look for marriage, not just fulfilment of the "feelings."
7 - This process takes longer than the immediate response, and in the overall need for survival, the unconscious first reaction might save our lives, while waiting for the reasoning process to complete might cost us our lives. If, for example, we were teetering on the edge of a crevasse or cliff, and we took time to assess the degree and nature of the danger, we might simply fall over before we took a decision about how to react, so our mind will react automatically, and it will take microseconds before our reasoning process catches up with the reaction.