MERCY, and 

 Antony Tempted by a Lump of Gold
 Fra Angelico, 1436

§ 1. General Reflections on Avarice and Mercy

AS will be described below, the most common term used by Evagrius and Cassian to descibe the third logismos is φιλαργυρία /philargyria, literally “the love of silver”, in other words, “love of money”, or avarice.  It is sometimes translated as “covetousness”, which has the advantage of being a more general English term describing the desire for things: however, “covetousness” suggests something not necessarily implicit in the Greek; namely, that the object of desire belongs to someone else.

A RELATED term, πλεονεξία /pleonexia has a long history in the Greek philosophical tradition.  It is often used in the Scriptures to denote greed, acquisitiveness, the desire for possessions.

The opposite of this tempting-thought, and also its remedy, is mercy (ἔλεος /eleos), expressed as:

[1] almsgiving (ἐλεημοσύνηε /eleēmosunē); or

[2] in the monastic context as dispossession; or

[3] in its fullest form as compassionate self-emptying (κένωσις /kenōsis).  Cassian uses the expressive term nuditas to describe spiritual “nakedness” (γυμνότης /gymnotēs ).


SOURCES: 1Kittel, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Eerdmans, 2000, c1964).   2 ) H.G.Liddell, R. Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. rev. H.S.Jones & R.McKenzie, (Oxford, 1940).

§ 2. GREED πλεονεξία / pleonexia -
AVARICE φιλαργυρία / philargyria -


πλεονεξία / pleonexia

GREEDINESS, assumption, arrogance, 2. assumption, 3. advantage, 4. a larger share of a thing, 5. gain derived from a thing,  6. excess,


φιλαργυρία / philargyria

LOVE of money, avarice, literally “love of silver”.


§ 3. MERCY, COMPASSION - ἔλεος /eleos
ALMSGIVING - ἐλεημοσύνηε /eleēmosunē


Ἔλεος  / eleos

Pity, mercy, compassion,  ...an object of compassion, a piteous thing.

IN the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) ἔλεος /eleos (mercy) is normally used for, חסד/chesed, (covenant faithfulness, love) and less frequently (6 times) for רחמימ/rechamim, (loving compassion”, womb, bowels of mercy). In the Old Testament  חסד/chesed  denotes an attitude of man or God which arises out of a mutual relationship. It is the attitude which the one expects of the other in this relationship, and to which he is pledged in relation to him. Thus the relationship of mutual  חסד/chesed  arises between relatives and friends, hosts and guests, masters and subjects, or others in covenant relation.  חסד/chesed  is not primarily a disposition but a helpful act corresponding to a relationship of trust, and faithfulness as the appropriate attitude.

IN distinction from חסד/chesed רחמימ/rechamim  originally denotes emotion, or the seat of a feeling which is felt physically (i.e. womb, bowels of mercy). רחמימ/rechamim  is never phobos (fear) in the Greek sense, and it has nothing to do with phobos /fear) or lupē /gloominess . It is an original sense of oneness with another, especially between parents and children or brothers and sisters. Since it is specifically evoked when the other is in trouble, it often amounts to “pity” or “sympathy,” “Love” is a better rendering.

IN the New Testament God’s ἔλεος /eleos (“mercy”) is often thought of in the original Old Testament  sense of “faithfulness,” i.e., the gracious faithfulness of God, as in the canticles in Luke 1, which are saturated with OT themes. How the sense of grace can predominate is seen in Luke 1:58, and Eph. 2:4

Ἔλεος/ eleos can also refer in the New Testament to the divinely required attitude of man to man. [...] In a few instances ἔλεος /eleos has the original Old Testament sense of the kindness which we owe one another in mutual relationships, Hos. 6:6 being alluded to in Mt. 9:13; 12:7. The word has the same meaning in the accusation against the scribes and Pharisees in Mt. 23:23, who emphasize lesser matters while omitting mercy (ἔλεος /eleos). To show mercy (ἔλεος /eleos) describes the act of the Samaritan, and in concrete cases it denotes the showing of love and the act of mercy.


ἐλεημοσύνηε / eleēmosunē

IN the New Testament ἐλεημοσύνηε / eleēmosunē is found only in the sense of “benevolent activity,” and refers to benevolence towards the poor [i.e.]almsgiving(Mt. 6:2–4; Lk. 11:41; 12:33; Ac. 3:2 f., 10; 9:36; 10:2, 4, 31; 24:17).

IN the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament)  ἐλεημοσύνηε /eleēmosunē translates צדקה /tsedakah, which means justice or righteousness (from צדק / tsedek, “righteous one”). […]  God judges by צדקה /tsedakah (Is. 1:27; 59:16; Ps 34:24 v.l.); צדקה /tsedakah is the norm of His conduct (Is. 28:17; Ps. 32:5). The one who keeps the Law (Dt. 6:25; 24:13), the innocent person (Ps. 23:4) and one who is oppressed (Ps. 102:6) will receive צדקה /tsedakah  from Him. Since the judgment in which God’s צדקה /tsedakah is active will be in favor of His people or of the righteous, we can understand the rendering ἐλεημοσύνηε /eleēmosunē, especially when the cry for צדקה /tsedakah inspires the prayer for deliverance (Dan. 9:16). In Judaism צדקה /tsedakah has not only the sense of “righteousness” as the conduct corresponding to the norm of right, but also of “benevolent activity,” as may be seen already in Dan. 4:24, and frequently in Rabbinic usage. Greek speaking Jews can use δικαιοσύνη /dikaiosunē (righteousness, justice) in this sense. but ἐλεημοσύνηε /eleēmosunē is more common. As thus used, it is similar to ἔλεος / eleos , referring more to benevolent activity, and even almsgiving, than to the emotion of pity. That (God’s) ἐλεημοσύνηε /eleēmosunē is the same as His ἔλεος / eleos may be seen in Ps. Sol. 9:20; 15:15, cf. with 4:29; 11:2 etc.


§ 4. SELF-EMPTYING - κένωσις /kenōsis
NAKEDNESS γυμνότης /gymnotēs


κένωσις / kenōsis (verb: κενόω / ken)

TO make empty, to deprive of content or possession

IN the New Testament this sense is used only in Phil. 2:5-11.

5 HAVE this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

2.5 τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ͵ 2.6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ͵

7 but emptied (ekenōsen) himself,

2.7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν

taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

μορφὴν δούλου λαβών͵ ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος·

8 And being found in human form

καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος

he humbled himself

2.8 ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν

and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου͵ θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 2.9 διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα͵ 2.10 ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων͵ 2.11 καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομο λογήσεταιῃ ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦῃ πατρός.

WHAT  is meant is that the heavenly Christ did not selfishly exploit His divine form and mode of being but by His own decision emptied Himself of it or laid it by, taking the form of a servant by becoming man. [...] There is a strong sense of the unity of His person. The essence remains, the mode of being changes—a genuine sacrifice. [...]

THE best commentary is to be found in 2 Cor. 8:9: “he became a beggar even though (of himself, and up to this point) he was rich.”

9 FOR you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

γινώσκετε γὰρ τὴν χάριν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ͵

who for your sake became poor,

ὅτι δι΄ ὑμᾶς ἐπτώχευσεν

 though he was rich,

πλούσιος ὤν͵

 so that you might become rich

ἵνα ὑμεῖς τῇ ἐκείνου πτωχείᾳ

 by his poverty



Γυμνότης /gymnotēs  -  γυμνός /gymnos

In the New Testament γυμνότης /gymnotēs means “nakedness,” “emptiness,” “poverty” (Rom. 8:35; 2 C. 11:27; figur, in Rev. 3:18). In 1 Cor. 15:37 Paul contrasts our earthly life with the glory of the resurrected body, using the analogy of the naked (γυμνός /gymnos) seed compared with the full-grown plant.   





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