Sunday, 13 November 2011

Three sources of Evil: Flesh, World, Devil


From Unseen Warfare edition published by St Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, USA, 1987. From Chapter 1 (emphasis added):

There are many who say that the perfection of Christian life consists in fasts, vigils, genuflections, sleeping on bare earth and other similar austerities of the body.

Others say that it consists in saying many prayers at home and in attending long services in Church.

And there are others who think that our perfection consists entirely in mental prayer, solitude, seclusion and silence.

But the majority limit perfection to a strict observance of all the rules and practices laid down by the statutes, falling into no excess or deficiency, but preserving a golden moderation.

Yet all these virtues do not by themselves constitute the Christian perfection we are seeking, but are only means and methods for acquiring it.

There is no doubt whatever that they do represent means - and effective means - for attaining perfection in Christian life.

For we see very many virtuous men, who practice these virtues as they should, to acquire strength and power against their own sinful and evil nature 

- to gain, through these practices, courage to withstand the temptations and seductions of our three main enemies: the flesh, the world, and the devil...


From The Book of Common Prayer (emphasis added):

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,

we have sinned against you
and against our fellow men,
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.


Flesh, world, devil = weakness, negligence, deliberate fault.


Flesh/ weakness = Original sin, natural passions, selfishness and short-termism.


World/ negligence = Distractions. Focusing on Life rather than reality; on status, comfort and pleasure rather than sanctification, deification, salvation.


Devil/ deliberate fault = choosing to serve as a tool of purposive evil, which is nihilism, which is denial of reality, which is practiced by

systematic destruction of The Good

(i.e. destruction of Truth, Beauty and Virtue and their Unity by denial, subversion and inversion).


Three sources of  Evil.

The Flesh is pretty much a given factor for an individual, for humanity.

The World is much more powerful in the West now than it has ever been anywhere in human history.

The Devil is an unknown quantity, but as C.S Lewis says in Screwtape Letters:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.


Of course, all these sources of Evil are linked in a unity: but modern Evil is characterized and made distinctive by an historically vast and pervasive expansion of The World - of Negligence.



Anonymous said...

Genesis, Chapter 3

It is quite plainly written that God deliberately cursed Man with weaknesses of flesh, and with subjection to the world, and allowed the devil to tempt him - when they rebelled against him.

Man could remain immortal, not need to work etc after the Original Sin - but God deliberately cast him out of paradise.

All those things are the necessary result of the original sin only because God wanted them to be so. If God had willed so, Men could remain free from the weaknesses of Flesh, and subjection to the World, and temptations of Devil, even after their rebellion.

If that is so - why God had cast out men from Paradise? Because they otherwise would live forever without any need for God's help to save them from the Flesh, and World, and Devil - and so would remain damned for ever.

If not for our obvious weakness, there would be no obvious need for God - and men have proved (through original sin) than they will not seek God without such need.

That is the primary fault of those civilizations, as India - and to a large degree, Byzantium - which try to increase the spiritual perfection of men. Spiritual perfection by itself helps nothing, except making men more similar to the Devil (the most perfect of all created beings, and suffering from no such weaknesses as men do).

In addition, men are so weak spiritually that despite most strenuous efforts, their spiritual strength is not enough to cause by itself any important results in the material world. That is why the above-mentioned spiritual civilizations were notoriously such failures.

There are various levels of goodness:
- material (wealth, health)
- beauty (which is a separate case between intellectual, material and moral).
- intellectual (knowledge)
- moral,
- spiritual.

Higher goods are more powerful than lower; and in theory should prevail. And they do prevail, but never directly. Intellectual strength cannot replace lacking food or health - directly. It can be, however, used to direct material resources so that they are increased.

Similarly, moral superiority can be used to grow the existing intellectual power, and the spiritual power can be used to increase the moral. But an attempt to use the spiritual power instead of material is doomed to fail. It must descend through proper levels of the hierarchy.

And what is most important, none of those levels of good can be used to reach God, ie salvation. Spiritual power is as futile as material wealth for that purpose.

Anonymous said...

O wojnie naszej, którą wiedziemy z szatanem, światem i ciałem

Pokój - szczęśliwość, ale bojowanie
Byt nasz podniebny. On srogi ciemności
Hetman i świata łakome marności
O nasze pilno czynią zepsowanie.

Nie dosyć na tym, o nasz możny Panie!
Ten nasz dom - ciało, dla zbiegłych lubości
Niebacznie zajźrząc duchowi zwierzchności,
Upaść na wieki żądać nie przestanie.

Cóż będę czynił w tak straszliwym boju,
Wątły, niebaczny, rozdwojony w sobie?
Królu powszechny, prawdziwy pokoju,
Zbawienia mego jest nadzieja w Tobie!

Ty mnie przy sobie postaw, a przezpiecznie
Będę wojował i wygram statecznie!


Peace be bliss, yet battle's strife
'Tis our worldly run. A grim Hetman
Of shadows and earth's sweet vanities
Strive mindful toward our destruction.

But more still, almighty Lord,
The flesh, our abode, for joys fleet,
Eying heedless the spirit's lead,
Stems not its wish for endless ruin.

Midst clash so feared, what'll I do,
Frail, unheeding, cleft within?
O King unbounded, O Peace most real,
My salvation's hope lies in Thee!

Closeby Thee place me, and secure
Then I'd I war, soundly would I win!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin -

This doesn't seem right at all: "That is the primary fault of those civilizations, as India - and to a large degree, Byzantium - which try to increase the spiritual perfection of men. Spiritual perfection by itself helps nothing, except making men more similar to the Devil (the most perfect of all created beings, and suffering from no such weaknesses as men do). "

Surely it is wrong to conflate Hinduism and Christianity under the same heading of 'spirituality'?

By doing so you set at naught the most devout and most enduring Christian civilization (Eastern Roman Empire) - Byzantium succeeded in increasing the spiritual perfection of many Men - by no means all nor even a majority, yet probably more than any other period (except for the earliest times).

Anonymous said...

I have no way to measure, or even perceive, the spiritual perfection of men. I start, however, with the assumption that you are right - that Byzantium managed to increase the spiritual perfection of men more than any other civilisation (with the possible exception of the early West).

India certainly tried to do the same; it would be my guess (but nothing more) that Byzantium succeed better in that aim.

What I wanted to say, however, that spiritual perfection by itself:
a) is not enough (that does not mean that it shouldn't be pursued - but similarly to health or wealth, it is ultimately futile),
b) is not enough to allow the man or the social organization to prosper or even survive.

There were many things in which Byzantium was superior to India - certainly.

Both proved unable to survive, however - and Byzantium even more so than India.

When a state is conquered by Turks or Mogols, it fails. When the whole civilisation is conquered by Turks or Mogols, it fails even more.

And the Byzantine type of the state organization proved itself many times - in Byzantium and in Russia - to be especially susceptible to conquest by the Turkish or Mongolian type of the state organization.

In fact, in the whole of history the Byzantine type states always became the Ottoman type states - without exception.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Byzantium; as you say, they had many accomplishments.

Byzantium was from the civilisational point of view a Christian perfected - and fossilised - version of the classical civilization. And they shared one fundamental principle of that civilisation: that the material world is necessarily corrupt and cannot be improved; it can be only kept from the ultimate collapse by the naked strength of the state. For that reason, the State enforces laws of God, of which it is the representative on Earth, but is itself beyond any laws or morality.

That is why Westerners experiencing the actual Byzantium reacted with contempt and disgust. Worship of Rome and Greece was possible, because no Westerner could actually live there.

And that is why such states proved so susceptible to conquest by the Turkish, Ottoman state system, in which everything is subject to the ruler with no limits, and with no private sphere where legality can rule left.

In Byzantium, the only improvement possible was spiritual.

West proved that the material world can and therefore should be improved; it also proved that subjecting the state to certain limitations can actually increase, not limit, its strength.

On the other hand, the Western innovations, in addition to unequalled power, provided also unequalled danger - as all good things do. Corruptio Optimi Pessima.

For that reason the Orthodox criticisms of the West are important, because West is unable to see its own faults, and how they are fundamentally connected with its strengths - so that they are nearly inseparable.

But this does not mean that we can or should return to the Byzantinian state.

No political organisation can be perfect absolutely and in all circumstances and times. Some are however on the whole good and viable, other have good aims but prove unable to function, and still others are cruel and destructive, but are able to conquer large territories and persist for a long time.

Obviously, the first necessity of any state is to survive. It can dissolve itself in some other state, if that other state is able to promote Good better. But if a state proves unable to survive aggression from an inferior state, it must be considered to fail.

What political forms are to be preferred must depend therefore on circumstances. The forms which were effective once will prove unable to function in a more developed and differentiated society.

West can either find its own way to construct a perfected, Christian version of its civilisation, or fail. There is no return to Byzantium.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin - I think I begin to understand a bit more of 'where you are coming from'.

The *primary* purpose of a society is either worldly, or other worldly - and a civilization can be judged by one or other criterion since they are incommensurable.

Mysticism is unworldly, but Christian mysticism aims at union with God (in general terms), while Hindu or Buddhist mysticism does not - (instead aiming at detachment, indifference, absorption onto nature - or something).

The Orthodox story is that Constatinople was the second Rome, Moscow was the third.

According to Fr Seraphim Rose and some other Orthodox in reading the prophecies of the Bible etc there *may* be a return of Holy Russia hence Byzantium - which would be a kind of re-born Third Rome. Maybe this would have an Empire?

The remarkable thing about Constantinople is how *long* it lasted, not that it was finally overcome by superior force. It lasted longer than any other Christian state. Perhaps if the city had not been so damaged by the Latin Christian sacking and takeover in the fourth 'crusade' it might still be going?

Kristor said...

Baduin writes, "All those things are the necessary result of the original sin only because God wanted them to be so." But if the results of sin were necessary, as indeed they were, then they were not something in respect to which God might have decided differently. This is important to remember. God is not a whimsical tyrant. Sin is what it is, and bears the consequences that it bears, by *definition.* It's a matter of logic, not policy. What God obviously wants is our salvation, our return to the Garden. But that return is not something He can make happen by waving a wand. The logic of the situation entails that the full cost of the sin must be recovered, in order for the effects of that sin to be reversed (not wiped out as if they had never been, but reversed).

Anonymous said...

There is no need to resort to Byzantium's form of society for explaining why it was conquered by the Turks. All we have to do is look at a map.

The Turks also conquered Hungary, the Middle East, the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, and so forth. What these regions have in common is that they were close to Turkey, unlike France, Italy, England, and so forth.

I feel quite comfortable predicting that, if France had shared a border with Turkey, the much larger Turkish nation would have invaded it and Turkified it also.

- bb