Agape is the Offspring of Apatheia

Most of you probably know what “agape” is. It’s a Greek word for love. But what is apatheia? Glad you asked. I’m reading Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins by Dennis Okholm and it is really good. Okholm explains that the early monastic theologians “described the health of the soul as apatheia. . .  This is not simply the leveling out of human emotions or the extirpation of the passions. Christian ascetics like Evagrius and Cassian took from the Stoics, Clement of Alexandria, and Egyptian sources such as Anthony, and put their own stamp on the concept. For them apatheia is an abiding sense of peace and joy that comes from the full harmony of the passions–an habitual state developed through discipline (ascesis), which is why we can refer to it in terms of virtue. Through various exercises a person trains herself to be in full possession of her affective faculties so that disordered desires are held in check and rightly ordered, and one can experience a state of deep calm–a ‘repose,’ as Cassian calls it.” (4-5)

He continues (and this part really made me think).

“Evagrius teaches that the offspring of apatheia is agapē. Maintaining the harmony of one’s passions enables the person fully to love others and God, because the acquisition of apatheia can stamp out anger, sulking, lust, resentment, envy, and all other impediments to self-giving love. It gets at that root of self-love. Without love for others and God apatheia alone is of little value. Evagrius reminds us that the absence of distracting thoughts itself is not true prayer: ‘It is quite possible for a man to have none but the purest thoughts and yet be so distracted mulling over them that he remains the while far removed from God.‘ (Emphasis mine. 5)

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