The image of this perfect mind is very beautifully designated by the centurion in the Gospel. His virtue and steadfastness did not let him be led astray by the thoughts that assailed him but, in accordance with his judgment, he admitted the good ones and drove away the opposing ones without any difficulty…”I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to one: Go, and he goes; and to another: Come, and he comes; and to my slave: Do this, and he does it.” If we also, struggling manfully against disturbances and vices, are able to subject them to our authority and discretion and, warring in our flesh, can extinguish our passions, subjugate the unstable cohort of our thoughts to the rule of reason…as a reward for such triumphs we shall be promoted to the rank of this spiritual centurion…Thus, raised to the height of this dignity, we also shall have this power and strength of command, so that we may not be led astray by thoughts that we do not want but may be able to remain in and cling to those by which we are spiritually delighted, commanding evil suggestions to go, and they will go, but telling the good to come, and they will come.
~St John Cassian (Conferences 7.5 p.251)
And so it comes about that the desire of the flesh and of the spirit meeting in such a conflict and mutually contradictory, the will of the soul which is not prepared to surrender itself entirely to carnal desires nor yet to the toilsome labor of virtue, is moderated, so to say, by a just balance, while the struggle that goes on gives no place to that more dangerous free will of the soul, and puts a sort of equal weight into each of the scales which draws with accuracy a limit between flesh and spirit, and allows on the one hand the mind aflame with the spirit’s fire to have no greater weight, nor on the other the flesh stung with the goads of sin to prevail. And while this warfare is daily occurring in us for our good, we are compelled to approach that fourth thing of which we would have none, namely, that we should attain to purity of heart not by idleness of freedom from care, but by constant toil and contrition of spirit, and that we should retain chastity of the flesh by strict abstinence and fastings, temperance and watchfulness, and acquire again right purpose of heart by readings, vigils, constant prayer, and the loneliness of solitude, and get patience by endurance of hardships; that we should serve our Maker amid blasphemies and reproaches, and follow truth at the cost of the hatred of this world, and its hostility, if need be.
~St John Cassian (Conference with Abbot Daniel)
Between the two desires of the flesh and the spirit, the will of the soul stands in the middle position, not free from blame, nor delighted with the wickedness of sin, nor finding content in the pains of virtue. It seeks relief from fleshly passions, but only on the condition of not bearing the consequent pains without which it is impossible to possess what the spirit longs for. It would obtain chastity of body without punishment of the flesh, purity of heart without the toil of watchings, it would abound in spiritual virtues and yet retain fleshly ease, it would possess the grace of patience with no irksomeness of contention, practice the humility of Christ, but with no loss of worldly honor; combine the simplicity of the religious life with the following of secular ambition. It desires to serve Christ to the accompaniment of praise and the favor of men; to profess the narrow way of truth without even the least offense to anyone, in a word, its aim is so to pursue the award to come, as not to lose that which is here and now.
Such a will can never bring us on to reach true perfection,…for when yielding up our wills to this condition, we are ready to allow ourselves to fall away little by little to such remissness, at once the urging of impulses of the flesh rise up, and wounding us with their vices and passions, they refuse altogether to allow us to remain in that state of purity wherein we delight, but drag us along that cold and thorny path of pleasure which we dread.
~St John Cassian (Conference with Abbot Daniel)
You must make it your endeavor, if you wish to attain to true knowledge of the Scriptures, that first of all you acquire steadfast humility of heart to lead you to that knowledge which does not puff up, but enlightens, being made perfect in love. For it is impossible that an impure mind should acquire the gift of spiritual knowledge…
Next in every way must you strive to drive out every distraction and all earthly thoughts, and give yourself assiduously or rather constantly to sacred study until constant meditation imbues your mind and, so to say, forms you after its own likeness….wherefore the Scripture Lessons should be carefully committed to memory, and frequently repeated.
…those passages which we have run through with speedy repetition while trying to fix them in our memory, though at that time we cannot give proper attention to their meaning, afterwards when we are free from distractions of sight and of work, and especially in the quiet of our nocturnal meditations–we can see, as we think them over, their meaning more clearly, with the result that the sense of the most mysterious texts which when awake we cannot in any way understand, is revealed to us in the quiet of rest, and when we are, so to say, plunged into the depths of sleep.
And as our minds are strengthened by this kind of study, the Scriptures will present to us a new aspect, and the depth of their inner meaning will more and more be revealed to us.
~St John Cassian (Conference with Abbot Nesteros)