Thoughts


We men are easily prone to sins of thought. Therefore, He who has formed each heart individually, knowing that the impulse received from the intention constitutes the major element in sin, has ordained that purity in the ruling part of our soul be our primary concern. That faculty by which we are especially prone to commit sin surely merits great care and vigilance. As the more provident physicians offset physical weakness by precautionary measures taken in advance, so the Protector of us all and the true Physician of our souls takes possession first and with stronger garrisons of that part of the soul which He knows is most liable to sin. The actions performed by the body require time, favourable opportunity, physical exertion, assistance and other accessories. The movements of the mind, however, take place independently of time; they are performed without weariness; they are accomplished effortlessly; every occassion is appropriate for them.

Saint Basil the Great, “Give Heed to Thyself,” in Saint Basil. Ascetical Works. Translated by Sister M. Monica Wagner, C.S.C. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), 432

Attention… is a lucid ‘presence to oneself’ that becomes discernment of the presence of God in the human person. Basil, commenting on the Bible verse ‘Be careful’ (Deuteronomy 15.9), writes, ‘Pay attention to yourself if you want to pay attention to God.’ This attention to ourselves means resisting the thoughts that distract us by drawing us away from our centre, and it becomes a way of guarding the heart: ‘Attention is the silence of the heart uninterrupted by thoughts’ (Hesychius of Batos). There is an aspect of struggle inherent in attention that involves keeping watch over the thoughts that appear in the heart, recognizing their nature and origin, destroying those that are harmful, and resisting the suggestion of a harmful thought before it becomes dialogue (inner conversation with the thought) and results in action, or consumption of sin. Through this process, attention purifies the heart and becomes prayer. The Greek fathers took advantage of the similarity between the words prosoche (attention) and proseuche (prayer) to demonstrate how closely the two realities are related to each other. ‘Attention that seeks prayer will find it, because prayer follows attention, and it is to the latter that we should apply ourselves’ (Evagrius Ponticus); ‘Total attention is an aspect of continuous prayer’ (Hesychius of Batos).

Enzo Bianchi,  Words of Spirituality. Towards a lexicon of the inner life. (SPCK, 2002) 35-36.

I’ve been meaning to write more about this book and will try and do so soon. But in the meantime, I may post some occasional quotations.