Demons, the Desert, and Dual-Knowledge
I’m currently taking a class in the development of monasticism. Such an exploration would be incomplete, to say the least, without an examination of Egyptian desert monasticism and the constant battle with demons that appear within it. To our contemporary eyes, such constant demonic battle seems alien and fantastic, and given that so much of what is written is hagiographic, and therefore less historical and more inspirational, perhaps it is fantastic in some measure.
Regardless, as you read through some of these battles, however, you may start to recognize an odd pattern. The desert monks began to notice that pattern as well, and it seems that they began to find it useful. The monks didn’t seem to mind the demons all that much because they found their tactics to actually help them if they were savvy enough. The demons’ constant attacks were typically variations on temptation of some sort. But no temptation was of any use unless there was something in the monk’s heart that was already prone towards giving in to that temptation. What use is a vision of silver pieces strewn outside the monk’s home if the monk really had no interest in money?
But when the temptations did draw on something in the monk, that was something worth taking notice of. It meant that there was something in the soul that was disordered somehow. It was an opportunity for sin. The smart monk took notice of this and began to pray and work over that very opportunity and disorder in the soul. It’s never said so explicitly, I don’t think, but the monks learned to use the demons’ attacks as means of seeing their own hearts and what was needed within them. This way, they could craft their disciplines to help them better deal with their hearts and escape from sin.
Dual-knowledge, knowledge of God in their drive to focus only on Him and knowledge of self in learning their own hearts, was seen as a necessity very early in Christian history. It’s still vital. Sin and temptation, whether demonic or not, can actually be strangely helpful in dealing with our own development as Christians. As the desert monks learned what was in their hearts and where they needed God, so can we. We learn who we are and present our whole selves for healing to the Father who loves us and continually draws us towards holiness.
And thankfully, you can do this even without all that desert sand getting everywhere…