Monday, November 17, 2014

The Demonology of St. John of the Ladder (3 of 6) - The Snares of the Demons

3. The Snares of the Demons

The guiles which are used by the demons to tempts man are innumerable22 and the assaults come from all sides in a most harrowing fashion.23 Chrysostom says the demons "sweat" and "take pains" to tempt us;24 Abba Isaiah and Barsanuphios agree that they never rest from assaulting us.25 John in similar terms refers to the devil as having "ten thousand heads" (μυριοκέφαλος)26 and exclaims: "'I was amazed at the diversity of evil,'27 and 'My hair and my flesh quivered,' said Eliphaz (Job 4:15), when describing the malice of the demon."28

The struggle against the demons is complicated and made more difficult because they can actually cause good.29 So deceitful are they that it is possible to conceive good thoughts which, in reality, are demonic,30 and to receive intimations of purity which in effect are impure. They can feign virtues31 and even be transformed so as to appear as angels (2 Cor. 11:14) and saints.32 They try to "gain territory" in the soul by taking the form of angels or martyrs and even by ostensibly offering us "gifts".33 This is why the struggle against them requires the gift of discernment34 which is a fruit of the perfect,35 of those who have had experience of the unseen warfare. However, although the demons can appear as virtues, this is only "hypocrisy" on their part since their aim is always "the destruction of the soul".36 Even if one demon seems to contradict another,37 in effect they pave the way for each other and work mutually for the same destructive purpose.38 Their fight is so well planned that they collaborate also with our fellow humans.39

At times, the way in which the evil spirits tempt man appear quite absurd. They play games (αθύρματα) with us,40 enacting a kind of mad divertissement: in the First Greek Life of Pachomios, the demons try to make Pachomios laugh.41 According to the Ladder, their purpose (σκοπός) is to steal time from our prayer42 and thus divert us from looking towards God, to pilfer our good thoughts.43

The demons' methods vary with the person against whom they are fighting. Their ways with a monk would differ from those applied to people living in the world, and even within the monastic life they would discriminate between a hermit and a cenobite.44

Judging others is one of the demons' favorite attacking devises. If they cannot persuade man himself to fall into sin, they will try to make him pass judgement on others who have done so and thus ensnare us.45 If that snare is kept off, they will try to inject a dose of vainglory, especially in the intercourse with others, and keep a conversation going. This is qualified by an aside, typical of John, to the effect that: "Perhaps it is better for you to be sprinkled with a few drops of vainglory, if only you can become a channel of profit for many."46

Another trick is flattery which is said to be particularly perilous,47 and, as with those judging others, he who flatters is "a minister to the demons" leading others into many passions.48

Pride is described as a "denial of God, an invitation of the demons", and again as "the denial of God's assistance, the extolling of one's own exertions, demonic in character."49 "A proud monk," John sums up, "has no need of a demon; he has become a demon and an enemy unto himself."50 Also, those who try to enforce their opinion on other people, whether rightly or wrongly, are said to possess "the sickness of the devil".51

The demons are wicked. And John describes wickedness as "a demonic way of life", "a science, or rather a demonic deformity",52 while a wicked person is "a namesake and companion of the devil" or "food for the demons".53

Since the body greatly affects the passions of the soul,54 the demons want man to fall into carnal passions."55 This will keep man steeped in mud to enable them all the more to assail him.

One final variant of demonic subterfuge is piety: "One who had experience of this craftiness told me that the demon (of sensuality) very often hid himself completely ... and he would suggest to the monk extreme piety."56 Though the reference here as elsewhere is to personal "experience" (πεῖρα)57 it is not clear what is at stake, unless it be stark hypocrisy, which, as is known, is the compliment vice pays to virtue.58


22. Ladder 15.52-53, 55 and 67; 4.50; 7.69; 8.24; 13.5; 26.2, 14 and 66.

23. Ibid. 21.27; Cf. Ps. Athanasius, Life of Saint Synkletike 46 (PG 28.1513D)

24. Ad Theodorum lapsum 1,3 (PG 47.281).

25. Abba Isaiah, Logos 21, 7 and 23, 1; Barsanuphios 196; Cf. also Symeon the New Theologian, Cat. 7.

26. Ladder 16.1.

27. Ibid. 4.86.

28. Ibid. 20.7.

29. Ibid.26.2, 70; 19.13.

30. Ibid. 26.2, 39; 8.24.

31. Ibid. 26.56; 12.7.

32. Ibid. 3.42.

33. Ibid. 22.19.

34. Ibid. 26.2, 14.

35. Ibid. 26.2, 70; 3.42.

36. Ibid. 15.12, 78.

37. Ibid. 26.57.

38. Ibid. 27.2, 15.

39. Ibid. 21.16.

40. Ibid. 27.19; 29.1; 14.7; 7.49.

41. Vita Prima 17-19.

42. Ladder 4.80.

43. Ibid. 26.15.

44. Ibid. 10.13.

45. Ibid.12.4.

46. Ibid. 21.27; 4.86.

47. Ibid.21.9. The demons themselves often flatter us: cf. 26.6.

48. Ibid. 21.1, 2

49. Ibid. 22.25

50. Ibid. 4.41.

51. Ibid. 24.17, 19.

52. Ibid. 24.18, 21.

53. Ibid. 7.49.

54. Ibid. 15.32.

55. Ibid. 15.64.

56. Ibid. 25.12.

57. Ibid. 26.40.

58. Ibid. 8.11; 15.12.