Umberto Eco, Evagrius Ponticus and the noonday demon

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To international journalist

Spiritual Warfare
Umberto Eco, Evagrius and the Noonday Demon
9 Sep. 2012

Saturday, May the 7th, 2011, I received from @umbertoeco_ an open tweet: “ Can I finally hide from myself the fact even today my old age is still stirred by the noonday demon?”

Suddenly I recalled: “ Since I wrote ‘The Name of the Rose’, I received many letters from readers asking me the meaning of the final Latin hehameter, and why the title was inspired by it (…) The narrator should not facilitate interpretations of his work; if so, why would I have written a novel, which is a mechanism for generating interpretations?” (The Name of the Rose and Annotations to The Name of the Rose, Barcelona: Lumen, 2005, p. 9).

The Spiritual tradition has often compared ascetic life to a struggle, to a war against the enemies of the soul. Spiritual warfare occupies an important place in the entire world. Some spiritual writers say: “The enemies who incite this war have already been unmasked in Scripture: Satan, the world and the flesh” (Rom 7-8, 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).

The struggle cannot be avoided, whether one has reached perfect charity or not (Pseudomacarius). For Christians, the spiritual life is essentially warfare against demons (Eph 6:12)

Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) was a disciple of the two Macarius´s  He was the first monk to write several texts; he also was the founder of monastic mysticism. Before Twitter, he expounded his doctrine in the form of aphorisms (gnomic literature of philosophers); he was the creator of Evagrius´s Gnostic Centuries. He emphasized that the essential function of spiritual beeings is to experience union with God, the trascendent One, expressed as pure light.

Evagrius points out that demon does not directly reach our intelect: he can only present images to us.  The struggle against demons, therefore, takes place only in the imaginary world of illusions.

The demons do not know our heart; only through observation do the demons learn to know us; in this art, Evagrius assures us that they have great skill. All demonic thoughts carry into the soul notions of sensible things.

Evagrius followed Antony´s great discourse, the golden rule of discernment, simplified later into an axiom: Quidquid inquietat est diabolo (Anything disquieting comes from the devil). The devil is a deceiver. Evagrius´s  teaching is condensed in chapter VI of Praktikos. This reflection led Evagrius to the theory of the “Eight Evil Thoughts” (gluttony, fornication, love of money, discontentment, anger, despondency (acedia), vainglory and pride).

Of the eight vices, the one which Evagrius´originality highlights is the sixth on the list: acedia (despondency), the preeminent temptation of the solitary person.

Up to now, I have referred to Umberto Eco and Evagrius; but what about the noonday demon? I have previously attempted a brief explanation, with a little salgarism or thomasmannism…Eco has said: «first build a universe; grasp the subject, the words will follow: rem tene, verba sequentur» (The Name of the Rose and Annotations to the Name of the Rose, Barcelona: Lumen, 2005, p. 43).

I now focus on Evagrius´s sense of Acedia: cowardice (deilia), dejection (Katepheia), and sadness (lype)… For Evagrius was the first to identify the demon of Acedia–despondency–with the noonday demon of Psalm 91 (90): 6*

Evagrius sometimes abandons a sententious style for a more discursive one. For instance “The demon of acedia–alsa called the noonday demon–is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour (about ten in the mourning) and besieges the soul until the eight hour ( two o´clock en the afternoon).  First of all, he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the window, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour (three pm, was the usual hour for dinner)…Then, too, he instills in the heart of the monk, a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself a hatred for manual labor…He depicts life as stretching out for a long period of time…No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated), but rather a state of deep peace and  inexpressible joy arise from this struggle” (Praktikos 12, Source Chretiennes, Paris, 1941-, 171:521ff).

J.A. Fortea (1968-), Spanish exorcist, indicated that during an exorcism, a demon revealed the names of the five most powerful demons: hierarchically they are: Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Belial and Meridian (it is possible that the former devil may have been a gossiper named Asmodeus).(Summa daemoniaca, México: Nueva Evangelización, 2004, pp. 31-33).

In the year of 2001, I received a very interesting letter from an extrenely gentle exorcist–very close to the exorcist-in-chief Gabrielle Amorth, from Rome´s Diocesis–. He worried stated: “ I received a letter recently with a photograph of a girl from Sardinia, whom is dirtubed by apparitions of devils. One is called Asmodeus, and the other Meridian. The 23 year old girl greatly suffers. The family is upset because even the glass windows are reduced to splinters. The Prior and the Archbishop of Caglari do not care about it” .

There is a great struggle between good and evil…and those reponsible do not fight appropriately. Is Meridian the demon who possesses the young Sicilian girl? Is the same devil mentioned by Evagrius or Umberto Eco, as the noonday demon? Can Umberto Eco finally hide himself from the fact that even today in his old age he is bothered by the noonday demon?…

I like to recall some passages from Umberto eco in a Postscript to ‘The Name of the Rose: “I remember the satement which inspired Abelardo, nulla rose, to demonstrate that language can speak of things missing as well as of those non-existent. And now the reader must draw his own conclusions”. (The Name of the Rose and Annotations to The Name of the Rose, Barcelona: Lumen, 2005, p. 9).

And what can I say about Meridian, the noonday demon?…He is still working hard, with a gossiper partner!- M.G.

Apostille: For John Climacus, the must efficient cure for despondency (acedia: noonday demon: Meridian) is the cure for sadness, penthos (Scala Paradisi 13; PG 88:860D).

*[I sense, perceive, the presence of Asmodeus in Ps 91 (90): 5]

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