Psalmody and Prayer in the Writings of Evagrius Ponticus.








      Evagrius’ understanding of the spiritual life has been succinctly summarized as ‘the mind’s long journey to the Holy Trinity’.[1] This journey can be envisioned as a helix, a geometrical form which combines both linear direction and circular movement.[2] The linear motion consists of ‘progress’ (προκοπή) or ‘ascent’ (anabasis /ἀνάβασις) towards God which is at the same time characterized by a ‘circular’ movement between the poles of praktiké (ἡ πρακτική) and theoretiké (ἡ θεωρητική): that is, between the ascetical (‘ethical’ or ‘practical’) life and the contemplative life. Fundamental to Evagrius’ model of spiritual progress is his conviction that the Christian praktikos πρακτικός or ascetic should mature into a γνωστικός, a ‘knower’ or ‘sage’ skilled in contemplation and capable of imparting spiritual knowledge. He describes sequential levels or stages of spiritual progress, but he does not thereby imply that it is possible to completely rise above the praktiké and ‘graduate’ from the quest for virtue. As the praktikos makes progress he learns to perceive the work of asceticism from an increasingly contemplative perspective.[3] And since the struggle against certain passions continues until the very moment of death,[4] even the mature gnostikos must continually advance in virtue, practicing ascetical vigilance.[5] Thus the journey towards God is not a simply a movement beyond praktiké into theoretiké: spiritual progress includes a gentle oscillation between these two poles in such a way that continuing attention to the changing demands of praktiké yields ever greater contemplative refreshment

      This terminology was already well-established in Evagrius’ day. The distinction between βίος πρακτικός and ὁ βίος θεωρητικός stems from Plato and Aristotle,[6] and had already been used to describe monastic communities by Philo of Alexandria in the first century. [7] Similarly, the Christian gnostikos who attains charity (ἀγάπη) and ‘dispassion’ (ἀπάθεια) is a prominent theme in Clement of Alexandria’s depiction of the idealized Christian who ascends through asceticism to contemplation.[8] Thus Evagrius’ description of the ascetical praktikos and the contemplative gnostikos is not his own invention:[9] his contribution consists, rather, in his analysis of the interrelationship between the two poles of spiritual life which these titles represent, and in his augmentation of an earlier simple, bipartite model through the application to it of exegetical categories which Clement of Alexandria had described and which Origen later employed to illustrate the soul’s journey towards God.[10]

      Evagrius presents in detail his model of the spiritual life in his trilogy of Praktikos, Gnostikos, and Kephalaia Gnostica. In the Praktikos he identifies praktiké with monastic ascesis and he describes in detail both the battle against tempting thoughts (λογισμοί) and the monk’s quest for the virtues. This struggle is meant to culminate in love and apatheia, freedom from domination by the passions. In the Gnostikos Evagrius describes the Christian contemplative, who is not necessarily a monk; the gnostikos is, rather, a biblical exegete and spiritual teacher. The Kephalaia Gnostica is a spiritual workbook containing proverbs intended for meditation by the gnostikos. The divisions of the spiritual life described in these texts can be illustrated as follows:

ἡ πρακτική



γνωστική = ἡ θεωρητική

Gnostiké (= Theoretiké)



Observation and
understanding of the self:

elimination of vices
acquisition of virtues


of the scriptures
and of creation

(= ἡ θεωλογία)

 = Theologia

of God

      The praktiké is the most basic level and corresponds to ethical instruction. Evagrius refers to the contemplative level of spiritual life as either gnostiké or theoretiké, reflecting his equation of spiritual knowledge with contemplation.[11] The gnostiké is subdivided into contemplation (or knowledge) of God in creation (φυσική) and contemplation of the divine nature (θεωλογική).[12] Before describing in more detail Evagrius’ model of praktiké and gnostiké it will be helpful to consider first the psychological, anthropological, and cosmic contexts or “arenas” in which spiritual progress takes place.





 Evagrian Psychology

      Since the praktiké entails inner warfare with demonic temptations, Evagrius followed many of his predecessors and contemporaries in employing military imagery to describe the praktikos. Throughout his writings Evagrius depicts the monk as a soldier who battles the demonic enemy using weapons, tactics, and insights provided by Christ. However clearer insight into his understanding of human psychology functioning “according to nature” is afforded by a text in which he employs a more pastoral metaphor .  In Peri Logismon 17-19 he describes the soul as a shepherd in order to present the broader context in which the battles of the praktiké are waged, namely the structure of the human psyche. This text also portrays the Christian moving (presumably at regular intervals) from the struggles of the praktiké into the refreshment of contemplation:

17. Τὰ νοήματα τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ὁ Κύριος καθάπερ [p.210] πρόβατά τινα τῷ ἀγαθῷ ποιμένι τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ παρέδωκε· « Κὰι γὰρ, φησί, σὺν τὸν αἰῶνα ἔδωκεν ἐν καρδίᾳ ἀυτοῦ», συζεύξας αὐτῷ θυμὸν κὰι επιθυμίαν πρὸς βοήθειαν, ἵνα, διὰ μὲν τοῦ θυμου, φευγαδεύῃ τὰ τῶν λύκων νοήματα, διὰ δε τῆς ἐπιθυμίας στέργῃ τὰ πρόβατα, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ὑετῶν καὶ ἀνέμων πολλάκις βαλλόμενος·

17. The concepts of this present age - these the Lord gave to man, like sheep to a good shepherd: for it is written, He has placed the world in his heart; (Eccl. 3:11) yoking to him thumos (indignation) and epithumia (desire) for [his] support, so that with the first he may drive away the concepts of wolves, while with desire he may lovingly tend the sheep, assailed as he often is by the rain and winds.

ἔδωκε πρὸς τούτοις καὶ νομὸν, ὅπως ποιμαίνῃ τὰ πρόβατα, καὶ τόπον χλόης, καὶ ὕδωρ ἀναπαύσεως καὶ ψαλτήριον καὶ κιθάραν καὶ ῥάβδον καὶ βακτηρίαν, ἵν' ἐκ ταύτης τῆς ποίμνης καὶ τραφῇ καὶ ἐνδύσηται καὶ χόρτον ὀρεινὸν συναγάγῃ· « Τίς γὰρ, φησὶ, ποιμαίνει ποίμνην, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ γάλακτος τῆς ποίμνης οὐκ ἐσθίει; »[13]

[God] also gave him pasture so that he may shepherd the sheep, as well as a verdant place and refreshing water (cf. Ps. 23:2), [a] psalter[y] and a harp (kithara), a rod and a staff; so that from these sheep he is fed and clothed and gathers provender. For it is written, ‘Does anyone feed a flock and not drink its milk?’ (1Cor. 9:7)

      Here Evagrius portrays the human person as shepherd of an interior universe of νοήματα, concepts or ideas which correspond to things in ‘the present age’, that is the exterior world. As ‘fellow-workers’, literally ‘yoke-fellows’, the shepherd receives from God the two energies of ἐπιθυμία (desire) and θυμός (indignation, often translated as ‘anger’). They can either be of ‘support’ or ‘help’ (βοήθεια) to the soul if they are used according to nature, or they will overwhelm the soul as passions if they are misused or present in excess. A large part of the praktiké consists in learning how to properly use these ‘helpers’.

       Following Plato[14] and the later Aristotelian tradition,[15] Evagrius considers the soul to be tripartite, ruled (when all goes well) by the λογιστικόν or reasoning faculty,[16] which is chiefly responsible for developing the virtues of prudence, understanding and wisdom.[17] It rules over the παθητικόν, the portion of the soul subject to passion and the source of the ‘helpers’ of desire and indignation.[18] In this passage Evagrius depicts the energy of epithumia in its ideal state, ‘lovingly tending the sheep’. When exercised ‘according to nature’ the ἐπιθυμητικόν contributes the virtues of temperance, love, and continence.[19] Evagrius portrays thumos as protecting the sheep by driving away ‘wolf-like’ concepts: thus the θυμικόν should be the source of courage and patient endurance.[20]

      Although Evagrius frequently employs the term ‘soul’ (ψυχή) as a synonym for ‘individual person’ or ‘inner self’, this term does not properly describe the deepest level of human personality. The true center and deepest level of human personality is the νοῦς or intellect, created in the image of God and capable of union with God. The relationship between the soul and the nous in Evagrius’ thought is best appreciated in the context of his anthropology and cosmology. Evagrian Anthropology and Cosmology

      Evagrius believed that history and time began with the ‘movement’ (κίνησις), or fall from primordial union with God of the intellects (νοῖ) which God had brought into being before time began.[21] These noi, united to God through essential knowledge, were the ‘first beings’.[22] Evagrius distinguishes between this original creation of ‘naked intellects’ and the secondary creation of matter and the universe which came about as a consequence of the fall. In falling from union with God through inattentiveness or negligence[23] the noi became souls (ψυχαί), capable of receiving bodies provided by God in the creation of the material world,[24] which Evagrius also calls the ‘first judgment’.[25]

      The creation of the cosmos is an act of God’s compassion by means of which each fallen reasoning being (collectively called the logikoi) is provided with an environment and a body corresponding to its degree of self-willed separation from God. All ages, worlds,

 and bodies exist for the sole purpose of facilitating the return of the logikoi to union with God.[26] Together with an appropriate body blended from the four elements, each fallen logikos is given a mixture of the twin ‘helpers’ of thumos and epithumia appropriate to the world it inhabits. Thus thumos and epithumia, indignation and desire, are therapeutic remedies which, unlike ordinary medicines, remain within the soul they purify; [27] and when used ‘according to nature’, assist the fallen logikoi in their return to God.[28] Angels are less fallen than human beings and are therefore more simple (ψιλός), being composed primarily of nous and fire. Humans ‘moved’ further from God and are chiefly made of epithumia and earth. Demons fell furthest and are dark, heavy, and angry, made of thumos and cold air.[29]

      Over unimaginably long ages each logikos will undergo a series of transformations (‘changes’ or ‘judgments’) through which it will receive new bodies and environments (‘worlds and ages’) appropriate to its new, changed state. Any given change may be for the better or the worse, depending on the extent to which the logikos takes advantage of the opportunities afforded by the body and world it inhabits. By ‘world’ Evagrius means both the external environment the logikos inhabits and the inner world of temptations, thoughts, and concepts.[30] As will be described, one of the principal tasks of the gnostikos is to discover and then to exercise himself in the ‘contemplation which concerns [him]’, that is the deeper meaning and purpose of his own body and world, in order to be healed and thus to make the best use of his spiritual powers.[31]





 The Praktiké - Ascetical Practice


      Evagrius’ understanding of βίος πρακτικός differs that of most of his predecessors[32] in that he means by it, not manual labor, social activity, or external activity of any sort, but rather the inner work of moral improvement and purification of the thoughts. Evagrius’ principal treatise on this fundament of spiritual life, The Praktikos, is also subtitled The Monk, since for Evagrius the praktiké is identical with monastic ascesis. The process of spiritual purification which constitutes the praktiké entails inner warfare with the demons, which Evagrius calls ‘the opposing powers’ (αἱ ἀντικείμεναι δυνάμεις).[33] Demonic attacks usually take the form of λογισμοί, thoughts or mental images which tempt the monk to sin. Evagrius believed that demons cannot read human minds and that they therefore have no direct access to the innermost thoughts of their victims. Nevertheless, they are skilled at interpreting external expressions which reveal the inner dispositions of human beings,[34] and they are able to set the memory in motion and to form ‘strange fantasies’ in the nous. νοῦς.[35] More rarely, usually in the case of hermits and those who are spiritually advanced, the demons may attack the monk physically and cause bodily harm.

      The labors of the praktiké are rewarded by God with the birth of love and the gift of apatheia, ‘dispassion’ or ‘freedom from compulsion’. Apatheia does not mean freedom from temptation, since Evagrius emphasizes that certain temptations will continue until death.[36] Rather, it refers to freedom from the inner storm of ‘passions’,[37] irrational drives which in their extreme forms would today be called obsessions, compulsions, or addictions. According to Evagrius, apatheia will be present in varying degrees in regard to different passions. Since the art of resisting temptation must be practiced until death, that part of the praktiké which consists of this art must be regarded as continuing throughout life, as well. Thus although Evagrius often describes ‘progress’ from the praktiké to the gnostiké, he does not mean by this that the praktiké is a spiritual phase or stage which can be wholly transcended; rather, it is a training period during which essential skills are learned, skills which are necessary for spiritual growth and which must be continuously practiced throughout life. The Praktikos, Student of the Self

      As Evagrius describes in Peri Logismon 17, cited above, the inner world of νοήματα, ‘the concepts of this present age’, are not only the soul’s responsibility, its charges; they are also its source of spiritual nourishment: ‘from these sheep he is fed and clothed’.[38] The ‘shepherd’ is required to both protect and to learn from his ‘sheep’: in order to defend them he must understand the nature of the different noemata with which the mind is filled. Evagrius constantly emphasizes the need to distinguish between demonic logismoi and the noemata which come from angels or from neutral sense-perception.[39] While angels provide noemata as spiritual food, demons employ the ‘wolf-like’ logismoi to pervert the natural powers of the soul and to lead it into error:

Δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἀναχωροῦντα φυλάττειν νύκτωρ, καὶ μεθ´ η῾με´ραν τοῦτο τὸ ποίμνιον, μήτι τῶν νοημάτων γένηται θηριάλωτον, ἢ λῃσταῖς περιπέσῃ, εἰ δὲ ἄρα τι τοιοῦτο συμβαίη κατὰ τὴν νάπην, εὐθέως ἐξαρπάζειν ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦ λέοντος ἢ τῆς ἄρκτου.

Γίνεται δὲ τὸ νόημα τὸ περὶ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ θηριάλωτον, εἰ μετὰ μίσους νέμοι τὸ ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ τὸ περὶ τῆς γυναικὸς, εἰ μετ´ αἰσχρᾶς ἐπιθυμίας στρέφοιτο παρ´ η῾μι῀ν, καὶ τὸ τοῦ ἀργυρίου, καὶ τοῦ χρυσίου, εἰ μετὰ πλεονεξίας αὐλίζοιτο. Καὶ τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἁγίων χαρισμάτων, εἰ μετὰ κενοδοξίας κατὰ διάνοιαν βόσκοιτο· καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων δὲ νοημάτων ὡσαύτως συμβήσεται, κλεπτομένων τοῖς πάθεσιν.[40]

Ιτ ισ τηερεφορε προπερ φορ τηε ανξηοριτε το γυαρδ τηισ φλοξκ ατ νιγητ ανδ βψ δαψ, σο τηατ τηε ξονξεπτσ αρε νειτηερ ξαυγητ βψ ωιλδ βεαστσ νορ φαλλ ιντο τηιεῃεσ’ ηανδσ· ιφ τηισ σηουλδ ηαππεν ιν τηε ωοοδεδ ῃαλλεψ ηε μυστ ιμμεδιατελψ σνατξη [ιτ] φρομ τηε μουτη οφ τηε λιον ορ τηε βεαρ (cf. 1 Sam. 7: 35).

 It is thus that the thought of a brother is caught by wild beasts - if it pastures what is within us with hatred: with regard to a woman, if we turn aside to shameful desire; with regard to gold and silver, if we settle down with greed. And the concepts of the holy gifts [of God are caught by wild beasts] if we mentally graze on vainglory: and the same happens in the case of other concepts if they are plundered by the passions.

      Evagrius here describes different ways in which the soul can be misled. The vices of anger, lust, avarice, and vainglory are presented as the consequences of relaxed vigilance, ‘shameful fantasies’, and failure to properly employ the helpmates of epithumia and thumos. Evagrius’ underlying desire to order and explain the spiritual life is particularly evident in his use of different systems to classify the passions, exemplified here in his depiction of anger, lust, avarice, and vainglory. Of these various systems, his classification based on the eight tempting-thoughts is the most familiar and provides the structure of the Antirrhetikos, De octo spiritibus malitiae, and most of the Praktikos. In these works the λογισμοί (or the demons responsible for them) are ranked as follows: first, gluttony; second, lust; third, avarice; fourth, sadness; fifth, anger; sixth, acedia; seventh, vainglory; and eighth, pride. These roughly correspond to the divisions of the tripartite soul, beginning with the ἐπιθυμητικὸν, moving through the θυμικὸν and concluding with intellectual temptations. This forerunner of the medieval seven deadly sins is not, however, the only system Evagrius employs, nor is it fully comprehensive.[41]

      Evagrius explains these different classifications at length in order to teach the praktikos the art of discernment, the ability to understand which demon is oppressing him and which remedy he should employ. Evagrius offers a rich variety of spiritual remedies to be applied in times of temptation, most of them consisting of the ordinary tools of monastic ascesis, such as fasting, keeping vigil, intercessory prayer, psalmody, almsgiving, and deeds of compassion. The praktikos is thus both a guardian and a student of the inner world of his own thoughts. He learns to distinguish among his noemata which come from God or the angels and which represent delusions from his enemies. He learns this art from spiritual teachers, from his own experience, and above all from Christ:

νʹ Εἴ τις βούλοιτο τῶν μοναχῶν ἀγρίων πειραθῆναι δαιμόνων καὶ τῆς αὐτῶν τέχνης ἕξιν λαβεῖν, τηρείτω τοὺς λογισμούς, καὶ τὰς ἐπιτάσεις σημειούσθω τούτων, καὶ τὰς ἀνέσεις, […] καὶ ζητείτω παρὰ Χριστοῦ τούτων τοὺς λόγους.[42]

50. If any monk wishes to experience the savage demons and to become acquainted with their art, he should observe his [tempting] thoughts and note [down] their intensification and diminution […] and he should seek from Christ the logoi (inner meanings) of these things.

      The success of the praktikos is thus dependent on his relationship with Christ. It is through prayer, ‘conversation of the nous with God’,[43] that he receives aid against the enemy[44] and learns from Christ the λόγοι or inner meanings of temptations. The search for these logoi through prayer and through pondering the words and example of Christ in the Scriptures is one of the means by which the ascetical  praktikos becomes a contemplative or gnostikos. The Gnostiké - The Science of Contemplation


      The realm of contemplation and spiritual knowledge which Evagrius calls theoretiké and gnostiké extends beyond the realm of the praktiké, the inner world of thoughts and temptations, to embrace the whole of creation and even the creator himself. In the act of contemplation the nous employs ‘spiritual senses’ to apprehends intelligible realities not apparent to the physical senses.[45] This noetic vision is a participation in the realities perceived, and it has the power to effect change in the nous:

Ὥσπερ αἱ αἰσθήσεις ἀλλοιοῦται διαφόρων ἀντιλαμβανόμεναι ποιοτήτων,

οὕτω καὶ ὁ νοῦς ἀλλοιοῦται ποικίλαις θεωρίαις ἐνατενίζων ἀεί.

Just as the senses are changed through being receptive of different qualities,

so also the nous is changed, through constantly gazing at multiform contemplations. [46]

      Evagrius believed that the mind is stamped, like wax receiving an imprint, by the thoughts or images which it chooses to receive into itself. This is particularly true of logismoi, tempting thoughts of demonic origin;[47] but as this text from the Kephalaia Gnostica makes clear, it is also true of pure, elevated contemplations. The highest of the noemata, the thought of God himself, by its nature leaves the mind unstamped since God is incorporeal.[48] The Christian must exercise care and discernment in choosing subject matter for contemplation, since the change in the nous which contemplation effects is of supreme importance for the journey of the nous towards God:

III.42. Contemplation is

spiritual knowledge of the things which have been and will be:

it is this which causes the nous to ascend to its first rank.[49

      Evagrius’ gnostikos discovers that the journey towards God is actually a return of the nous to the God from whom it has fallen away. Through contemplation the nous is able to re-ascend to its original τάξις, its ‘first rank’.[50] However, as he explains elsewhere, this return of the nous to its primordial state is impossible apart from Christ. Unaided the nous cannot rise above the world of sin and death to which it is subject. Re-ascent to its first rank is only possible because of what God accomplished through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Through his incarnation we

 are brought to a new birth and freed from sin.[51] Similarly, the descent of God into death and Christ’s ascension to the Father is what makes possible our ascent:

(56) he descended (?Tk = καταβαίνω[52]) and endured all that we had acquired since we stepped out of our nature: that is, everything from conception to death […] (58) Since we have corrupted our nature by our free will, we have come to our present conception and birth which are subject to the curse. But he, remaining what he is, by his grace has taken upon himself with birth all that follows birth until death […] He frees us from them in that he who had not sinned took these things voluntarily upon himself; for we are unable to ascend (?pk = ἀναβαίνω[53]) above them by ourselves […] But not only did he not remain in [things subject to the curse], but he also enables us to ascend (?o@= ἀναβαίνω[54]) out of them; because he, as we said, descended (?Tk) to them in his love - not because of [his] sin.[55]

      In this text intended for a very advanced gnostikos,[56] Evagrius presents the soteriological basis for his theology of contemplation. Through the incarnation God has ‘taken upon himself’ human birth and death, and all that lies between them. Evagrius contrasts God’s providential and compassionate descent (κατάβασις) with the impossibility of our unaided ascent, our ἀνάβασις, a term Evagrius often employs to describe the contemplative’s ascent to lofty spiritual teaching and the vision of God.[57] Thus the contemplative ascent of the nous is predicated on the descent of God into our ‘conception, birth, and death’ followed by the ascension (ἀνάβασις) of Christ to the Father.

      Similarly Evagrius writes in Peri Logismon of the risen Christ who in his turn ‘raises up the reasoning soul’ to contemplation ‘of all the ages’.[58]    This ‘contemplation of the ages’ is the discipline of physiké, the contemplation of God in creation, ‘that which has come into being’ (θεωρία τῶν γεγονότων). By this Evagrius generally means the contemplation of created beings possessing a nous, rather than the contemplation of inanimate matter or non-rational living things.[59] It is with the origin and fate of intellects that Evagrius is chiefly concerned: his interest in non-rational creation extends chiefly to the presence within all created things of the hidden logoi, the inner ‘meanings’ or purposes of the creator which the gnostikos can learn to perceive.[60] Two of the most importantof these, the logoi of providence and judgment, will be discussed in detail in chapter 6.2

        Every hierarchy of phenomena and beings in the created order can serve as an object of contemplation by the gnostikos, depending on his level of spiritual maturity. The interior world of human psychology, understood within the framework of the Platonic tripartite soul, becomes in Evagrius’ system a reflection of the great cosmic drama. Although the nous has fallen from essential knowledge and from union with God, it nevertheless most closely resembles our unfallen state and bears the image of God. The nous interacts with the material universe by means of the soul, which Evagrius specifically identifies with τὸ παθητικὸν, the part of the self subject to passion.[61]

      Evagrius encourages the gnostikos to use the scriptures as a starting point in reflecting on the significance of natural phenomena, human relationships and history, and the various ranks of angels and demons. He encourages a progressive ascent, corresponding to one’s own inner spiritual progress, from contemplation of things perceptible by the senses to intelligible realities perceptible only by the nous. However Evagrius is not always consistent in the contemplative vocabulary he uses to describe this movement. On the one hand he encourages ascent from the contemplation of corporeal [beings] (ἡ θεωρία τῶν σωμάτων) to that of ‘incorporeals’ (τῶν ἀσωμάτων);[62] and in certain texts he makes it clear that by ‘incorporeals’ he means angels and perhaps other celestial beings such as stars.[63] Yet he also teaches that all the logikoi have been united to bodies since the fall, and that none are therefore fully incorporeal.[64] Thus in regard to the contemplation of angels Evagrius often uses the term ‘incorporeals’ in a rather loose way to refer to beings whose bodies are less coarse and material than our own.

      Even more ambiguous is Evagrius’ description of progress from ‘second’ to ‘first’ natural contemplation, terminology he employs in ten chapters of the Kephalaia Gnostica but in no other texts.[65] He associates second natural contemplation with the diversity of creation and with Christ, the author of that diversity; linking it to St. Paul’s praise of ‘the manifold wisdom of God’ in Ephesians 3:10 (ἡ πολυποίκιλος σοφία τοῦ θεου). First natural contemplation is an intermediate step between second natural contemplation and knowledge of the Blessed Trinity.[66] Evagrius does not clearly define

 the subject matter of first natural contemplation, but he appears to associate it with both ‘the knowledge concerning the logikoi, [67]) and knowledge (?sK[= γνῶσις[68]) ‘of the person of Christ’.[69]

      Four different interpretations of the ascent from second to first natural contemplation have been suggested. The first is that the distinction between these two levels corresponds to the aforementioned (inexact) distinction between corporeals and incorporeals, and thus refers to the respective contemplation of earthy and celestial beings in their current embodied state.[70] A second interpretation is that first natural contemplation refers to the perception experienced by angels; second natural contemplation is the name given to that experience when it is enjoyed by human beings.[71] A third suggestion is that second natural contemplation has as its subject matter the results of the fall, namely the second, material creation, while first natural contemplation is concerned with the first creation of incorporeals, interpreting the word ‘incorporeals’ in its strict sense as the logikoi in their original, naked state of union with God.[72] According to this third interpretation, first natural contemplation is the attempt to peer beyond the confines of time, back into the first creation and forward into its eschatological restoration.[73] A fourth interpretation is that first natural contemplation does not concern the logikoi or any other aspect of creation in itself, but is rather contemplation of their concealed logoi, the divine intentions and meanings which all created things contain.[74] Still less clearly defined are Evagrius’ occasional references to ‘third natural contemplation’.[75]


      Despite this ambiguity in Evagrius’ definitions of first and second natural contemplation, it is clear that his spiritual doctrine includes all four models of contemplative ascent described above. These different levels of contemplation reflect his conviction that the gnostikos should engage in contemplation corresponding to his level of spiritual maturity, that is to the degree to which he has begun to experience restored union with God. Evagrius describes means by which the contemplative can inwardly become more simple and immaterial, more like what he is destined to be in eternity, namely a ‘naked nous’ reunited with God. The Christian at prayer should rise from material concerns ‘towards formless and immaterial knowledge’ (πρὸς ἄϋλον καὶ ἀνείδεον γνῶσιν).[76] He should strive always to see the real purposes (logoi) of God beneath the complexity of external appearances, returning constantly to the knowledge that union with God is his origin and his destiny.

      As the nous advances in its understanding of the deeper purposes of God in ‘all that has been and will be’, it will increase in its capacity to perceive God himself and it will ultimately be rewarded with ‘knowledge of the Holy Trinity’, [77] which in the present age only Christ possesses; [78] but which he will ultimately share with all. At the summit of Evagrius’ model of Christian spirituality is theologia, contemplation of the divine nature and union with God. To describe the action of Christ in effecting this state Evagrius, like Athanasius, writes of the divinization of humankind:

(60) He, namely the ‘leaven’ of deity, who in his mercy has concealed himself in the unleavened dough of mankind, has (yet) not only not spoiled his nature and his taste and his power, but thoroughly leavened the whole mass of dough with all that is his […] (61) Thus in the same way as this one [became] human for their sake, so also those on his account [become] God.[79]

      To describe this ultimate state and the stages which precede it Evagrius attempts to formulate a vocabulary of Christian contemplation. One distinctive feature of this vocabulary is his tendency to use the terms gnosis and theoria almost interchangeably. In the Scholia on Psalms Evagrius states, ‘gnosis is contemplation of the Blessed

 Trinity.’[80] In the text from Kephalaia Gnostica III.42 cited above he turns this definition around and defines theoria (A[N?) as a particular kind of spiritual gnosis (?sK[).[81] This definition of contemplation as ‘knowledge of things which have been and will be’ had already been suggested by Clement of Alexandria in the Stromateis.[82] For Evagrius both theoria and gnosis, spiritual vision and spiritual knowledge, are terms which describe the proper activity of the nous. However, although Evagrius uses these terms interchangeably when describing the contemplation of creation, he tends to prefer gnosis to theoria when describing the highest levels of contemplation, namely the direct apprehension of God. Thus in describing Christ’s knowledge of the Father which we are destined to share he generally employs the terms ‘essential knowledge’ (γνῶσις οὐσιώδης) and ‘knowledge of the Trinity’, and less commonly ‘contemplation’ (θεωρία) of God or the Trinity.[83] The Gnostikos, Exegete and Teacher

      Evagrius believed that progress in contemplation entails responsibility for the spiritual progress of others.  The principal textbook of spiritual progress is the Bible: thus Evagrius’ gnostikos is a biblical exegete who searches the scriptures for beneficial insights. He must be able to ‘give a word to each, according to his worth’.[84] In order to do this he must become completely familiar with all the levels of meaning contained in the scriptures, from ethical instruction, through the contemplation of creation, to the mysteries of the Trinity. He must understand spiritual ‘definitions’ and the customary expressions of scripture (Gnostikos 17 and 19),

as well as the rules for allegorical exegesis (Gnostikos 18, 20, and 21). In the scriptures the gnostikos discovers a symbolic world of history and story that helps him to express both the ‘ethical’ insights he learned as a praktikos and the new mysteries of creation he is exploring as a contemplative.

      An important pattern for Evagrius’ gnostikos is the work of the angels. The angels exemplify and symbolize the gnostiké: they behold the face of God; they understand the deep logoi of God; their bodies and thoughts are simple and pure; and they mediate God’s providence, guiding those below them back towards God. Quoting Jesus’ term for the sons of the resurrection in Luke 20:36, Evagrius describes the monk who attains true prayer while yearning for the heavenly father’s face as ἰσάγγελος, ‘equal to the angels’.[85] The gnostikos who engages in ‘angelic practice’ and seeks divine gnosis[86] must also share in the angels’ work of mediation by praying for others,[87] by aiding others in their spiritual struggle[88] and by curing them.[89]

      This work of spiritual healing is facilitated as the gnostikos learns to apply to his own struggles and those of others the exegetical tools he employs in interpreting the scriptures. He learns to apply in his relations with others the insights and skills he acquires through the praktiké, especially the art of discernment. He is to become ‘salt for the impure and light

 for the pure’.[90] This allusion to the Sermon on the Mount (Mat.5:13-14) implies that the gnostikos must be aware of both the potential and the limitations of those who come to him for advice. He must therefore:

ιε´ Γνώριζε καιρῶν καὶ βίων καὶ ἐπιτηδευμάτων τοὺς λόγους καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἵνα ἔχῃς ἑκάστῳ τὰ συμφέροντα ῥᾳδίως λέγειν.[91]

15. Learn to know the logoi and the laws of circumstances, [ways of] life, and occupations, so that you can easily tell each what is useful for him.

      While the life of the angels offers a model of spiritual progress, the fate of the demons provides a stark reminder of the fate awaiting those who misuse their freedom, ignoring providence and preferring ignorance and vice, and who therefore face an upcoming judgment full of pain and darkness. Evagrius’ version of hell, however, was less threatening than that of classical Jewish and Christian orthodoxy: it resembles medieval versions of purgatory in being something like an agonizing school of correction, to be avoided at all costs,[92] but from which all who are sent there will ultimately emerge.[93] Evagrius was aware that his teaching could be misunderstood and that even if properly understood it might give scandal. He was particularly apprehensive that ‘the logos of judgment’ containing the doctrine of transformations and renewed bodies would be especially suspect. He warns his readers that the gnostikos, the ascetic progressing in contemplation who now considers himself ready to teach others, must be extremely cautious in this regard:      He was well aware that his doctrine of limited, albeit dreadful, suffering after death could have a dangerous effect on immature pupils: thus he advised the γνωστικός to be cautious in his teaching and to adapt it to the particular circumstances of his hearers.[94]

λς´ Λανθανέτω τοὺς κοσμικοὺς καὶ τοὺς νέους ὁ περὶ κρίσεως ὑψηλότερος λόγος, γεννῶν ῥᾳδίως τὴν καταφρόνησιν· οὐ γὰρ ἴσασιν ὀδύνην ψυχῆς λογικῆς καταδικασθείσης τὴν ἄγνοιαν.[95]

36. [You must] keep hidden from seculars and from the young the more exalted logos concerning judgment, for this easily engenders [their] contempt: they do not understand the suffering of the reasoning soul condemned to ignorance.

      Spiritual knowledge, Evagrius reminds his readers, entails both responsibility and risk. If the gnostikos is incautious in his teaching, and in particular if he speaks boldly and arrogantly concerning matters that are easily misunderstood, then he is guilty of abusing sacred things on the very threshold of the Temple. The careless misuse of these logoi carries grave penalties for the teacher:

 κα´ Πρόσεχε σεαυτῷ μήποτε κέρδους ἕνεκεν ἢ τοῦ εὐπαθεῖν, ἢ δόξης χάριν παρερχομένης, εἴπῃς τι τῶν ἀπορρήτων καὶ βληθῇς ἔξω τῶν ἱερῶν περιόλων, ὡς καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν τῷ ναῷ τὰ τῆς περιστερᾶς τέκνα πιπράσκων.[96]

24. Take care that you never, for the sake of profit, well-being, or fleeting glory, talk about those things which should not be revealed, and [thus] be cast out of the sacred precincts, like those selling the pigeon chicks in the temple. (cf. Mt 21, 12-13).

      Evagrius’ gnostikos must constantly exercise the virtue of prudence and the art of discernment in determining what his hearers may profitably be taught. He must maintain the broadest possible horizon in his contemplative efforts: he must strive to perceive himself and the whole of the cosmos from the perspective of a divine origin and destiny. All multiplicity is to be comprehended as pointing either back in time to the unity from which it fell, or ahead into that restored union towards which it is moving.



[1] This is the title of Jeremy Driscoll’s English translation of the Ad monachos, a text which Driscoll has shown (The ‘Ad Monachos’ of Evagrius Ponticus) to contain the essential elements of Evagrius’ spiritual doctrine arranged in sequential proverbs intended for memorization and meditation.

[2] Although Evagrius does not employ the image of the helix to describe spiritual progress it was used later by Proclus and Dionysius the Aereopagite.

[3] Evagrius, Praktikos 50, 79, and 83.

[4] Evagrius, Praktikos 36.

[5] On the persistence of anger in those who have made considerable spiritual progress: Gnostikos 10, 31, and 32.

[6] Plato extolls the mind possessing ‘magnificence’ and ‘the contemplation of all time and all being’, (ὑπάρχει διανοίᾳ μεγαλοπρέπεια καὶ θεωρία παντὸς μὲν χρόνου, πάσης δὲ οὐσίας), Republic 486A.8-10. Aristotle similarly praises the contemplative life in Nichomachean Ethics 1178B.20-22, where he identifies contemplation (θεωρία) with happiness (εὐδαιμονία).

[7] Philo contrasts the ethical life of the cenobitic essenes with the contemplative aims of the eremitic therapeutae. The Essenes are those who have zealously persued the active life, τὸν πρακτικὸν ἐζήλωσαν (De vita contemplativa 1.1), and industriously cultivated ethics, τὸ ἠθικὸν εὖ μάλα διαπονοῦσαν (Quod omnis probus liber sit, 80.4-5). The therapeutae, in contrast, ‘embrace the contemplative life’, τῶν θεωρίαν ἀσπασαμένων, and ‘live in the soul alone’, καὶ ψυχῇ μόνῃ βιωσάντων (De vita contemplativa 1.3 and 90.3).

[8] Clement Stromateis 6.8-19. The virtues of ἀγάπη and ἀπάθεια figure prominently in 6.9.

[9] Evagrius does, however, use this terminology in a characteristic way, different from that of his predecessors and contemporaries. Balthasar notes that although the contrast between βίος πρακτικὸς and ὁ βίος θεωρητικὸς can be found in Pseudo-Maximus, Albinus and Origen, Evagrius’ designation of these ways as ἡ πρακτική and ἡ θεωρητική ‘in the sense of the later monastic asceticism’ is unique and can be used to identify passages that come from the pen of Evagrius: Balthasar, ‘Die Hiera’, p. 96.

[10] Evagrius’ appropriation and modification of exegetical categories described by Clement and Origen is discussed below in Chapter 1.6.1.

[11] Exceptions to Evagrius’ usual equation of γνῶσις and θεωρία are discussed in Chapter 1.3.2 below.

[12] Evagrius’ restriction of the term θεολογία to doctrine concerning the divine nature is also found in Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 27.9 and Oration 28.1.

[13] Evagrius, Peri Logismon 17, SC 438, pp. 208-210.

[14] Plato, Republic IV.440-444; Phaedrus 246-248; Timaeus 69-73.

[15] The beginning of chapter 89 of Evagrius’ Praktikos is modelled closely on an anonymous first-century peripatetic treatise, On Virtues and Vices (ed. Bekker, Aristotelis opera, vol. 2, 1249a26-1251b37).

[16] Evagrius occasionally refers to the λογιστικόν as the διανοητικόν: scholion 14 on Psalm 72:21 (= PG 12.1528).

[17] Evagrius, Praktikos 89, SC 171, 680-684.

[18] Evagrius, scholion 2 On Psalm 107:3(1) (= Pitra 107:3(1), vol. 3, p. 220): ‘But I call “soul” the portion of the soul subject to passion, which is the thumikon and the epithumetikon,’ (ψυχὴν δὲ λέγω τὸ παθητικὸν μέρος τῆς ψυχῆς, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τὸ θυμικὸν καὶ τὸ ἐπιθυμητικόν).

[19] Evagrius, Praktikos 89, SC 171, p. 680.

[20] Evagrius, Praktikos 89, SC 171, p. 682.

[21] The creation of incorporeal beings is ‘timeless’ (- lit. ‘without time’; Frankenberg suggests the retroversion ἄχρονος for this term in Kephalaia Gnostica II.87), since time can only be reckoned from the ‘movement’, that is from ‘generation and destruction’ (): Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica VI.9, p. 221. The effects of the ‘movement’ are detailed in Kephalaia Gnostica I.49; I.50; and I.51.

[22] In Kephalaia Gnostica I.57 and II.64 Evagrius distinguishes between ‘first beings’ which existed before the kinesis and ‘second beings’ which were created afterwards. Although this terminology may simply be Evagrius’ way of emphasizing the difference between the first and second states of all beings, it could also be interpreted as suggesting that some νοῖ (human beings?) did not exist before the fall. Although it is generally presumed that Evagrius accepted the Origenist doctrine of the preexistence of souls (or νοῖ), both Driscoll (The ‘Ad monachos’, p. 7) and Bunge (Briefe, p. 156, n. 19 and p. 396, n. 52) raise the question whether Evagrius’ understanding of the participation of human beings in the kinesis, and in particular Evagrius’ understanding of time and of temporal succession, may be more subtle than is usually assumed. Bunge notes that Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, Evagrius’ revered teachers, both rejected the preexistence of souls and that Evagrius was present in Constantinople as a member of Gregory’s clergy when Gregory preached Oration 38. In this sermon Gregory employs imagery which would have been congenial to students of Origen (such as the ‘clothing of skins’ of Gen. 3:21, interpreted as ‘the coarser flesh’, τὴν παχυτέραν σάρκα, Oration 38.12; PG 36.322), while at the same time describing the fall of Adam and Eve in a way clearly not intended as an allegory of the primordial fall of preexistent beings.

[23] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.28, Guillaumont, p. 109: ‘The soul is the nous which, through negligence () has fallen from the Unity; and which, as a result of its carelessness (?), has descended to the rank of the praktike.’ The first term, , translated here as ‘negligence’, (R. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary p. 255) is also found in Kephalaia Gnostica I.49, Guillaumont, p. 41, where it describes both the ‘movement’ and the creation of ignorance ‘through negligence’ (). Frankenberg suggests the retroversion ἀμέλεια in both these instances (Frankenberg, pp. 207, 89), as well as in three other places where  occurs only in the S1 MS (II.31, p. 151; I.29, p. 285; V.63, p. 345).

[24] The quesion has been raised whether Evagrius can properly be said to have described the creation of the material world as a ‘second creation’. Driscoll, in his study of Evagrius’ Ad monachos states that Evagrius does not follow Origen in describing the creation of the material world as a ‘second creation’ (The ‘Ad Monachos’, p. 9, n. 9). The only text in which Evagrius appears to write of a “second creation”is Epistula fidei 11.3-7 (Courtonne, p. 34): ‘Three creations do we find mentioned in the Scriptures: one and the first, the passing from non-being into being; the second, the change from worse to better; third, the resurrection from the dead,’ (Τρεῖς κτίσεις εὑρήκαμεν ὀνομαζομένας ἐν τῇ Γραφῇ· μίαν μὲν καὶ πρώτην τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος εἰς τὸ εἶναι παραγωγήν, δευτέραν δὲ τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ χείρονος εἰς τὸ κρεῖττον ἀλλοίωσιν, τρίτην δὲ τὴν ἐξανάστασιν τῶν νεκρῶν). As Bunge has noted, Evagrius goes on to explain that baptism, rather than the creation of the material world, is the ‘second creation’ he has in mind (Bunge, Letter 63.33, Briefe, p. 389, n. 157).

[25] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.38, Guillaumont, p. 113: ‘The judgment of God is the creation of the world, through which he provides, proportionately measured for each of the logikoi, a body.’ The Greek text which probably underlies this passage is found in scholion 275 on Proverbs, SC 340, p. 370: ‘ […] but judgment is the creation of an age which distributes to each of the reasoning beings a body corresponding to it[‘s state],’ (κρίσις δέ ἐστιν γένεσις αἰῶνος κατ' ἀναλογίαν ἑκάστῳ τῶν λογικῶν σώματα διανέμοντος). This text may also be interpreted as referring to the subsequent judgments or ‘changes’ by which Christ provides the λογικοί with new bodies and ‘worlds’ (‘ages’) according to their improved or worsened spiritual state. Evagrius’ doctrine of successive judgments is discussed below in Chapter 6.3.1.

[26] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.7.

[27] Evagrius, Praktikos 85.

[28] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.59.

[29] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica I.68 and VI.25; scholion 60 On Proverbs 5:9. This cosmology is not unique to Evagrius: his angelology and demonology are an adaptation of the world-view expressed by Plotinus according to which, in contrast to the noetic ‘gods’ the sub-lunar ‘daemons’ have bodies of air or fire: οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι δαίμονες […] σώματα προσλαμβάνουσιν ἀέρινα ἢ πύρινα. Ennead III.5.7, li. 37-38.

[30] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica V.42: ‘The world created in the mind seems difficult to see by day, the nous being distracted by the senses and by the sensible light that shines; but at night it can be seen, luminously imprinted at the time of prayer,’ (Ὁ ἐν τῇ διανοίᾳ κόσμος κτιζόμενος μεθ' ἡμέραν μὲν δυσδιάγνωστος εἶναι δοκεῖ, τῶν αἰσθήσεων περισπωσῶν τὸν νοῦν, καὶ τοῦ αἰσθητοῦ φωτὸς περιλάμποντος· νύκτωρ δὲ ἔστιν ἰδεῖν αὐτὸν περιφανῶς κατὰ τὸν καιρὸν τῆς προσευχῆς ἐκτυπούμενον). Greek fragment ‘E-16’, Hausherr, ‘Nouveaux fragments grecs’, p. 232.

[31] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica II.15, Guillaumont, p. 67: ‘When the reasoning nature will receive the contemplation which concerns it, then also all the power of the nous will be healthy.’

[32] The ancient use of βίος πρακτικός is described by Andrew Louth (Origins, p. 102 and n. 2) and discussed in detail by A. Guillaumont (‘La Doctrine du Traité Pratique’, SC 170, pp. 38-56). Plato used it in the sense of physical activity or manual labor; Aristotle used it to refer to activity in general (Nichomachean Ethics 1095b.10-15; 1098a.30-1179a.32); and the Stoics employed it in reference to social activity. Guillaumont (n. 1, p. 43) smilarly believes that Philo in his description of the Essenes intends this term to refer to the Essenes’ diligence at manual crafts rather than their study of ethics (Philo, Quod omnis probus liber sit 76-77).

[33] This designation is also found in Origen: Hom. in Lucam 22.135, 38.214; Com. in Matt. 13.7, 13.8. Com. in Joann. 6.54.282, 10.32.208; De oratione 12.1.5, 13.3.7.

[34] Evagrius, Praktikos 47.

[35] Evagrius, De oratione 69.

[36] Evagrius, Praktikos 36.

[37] Evagrius, Praktikos prologue 8 and chapter 81.

[38] A related simile is found in Evagrius, De oratione 101, Tugwell p. 119 (cf. PG 79.1189): ‘Just as bread is nourishment for the body and virtue [is nourishment] for the soul, so spiritual prayer is the nourishment of the nous,’ (σπερ ἄρτος τροφή ἐστι τῷ σώματι καὶ ἡ ἀρετὴ τῇ ψυχῇ, οὕτως καὶ τῷ νῷ ἡ πνευματικὴ προσευχὴ τροφὴ ὑπαρχει.)

[39] Evagrius most commonly uses the term λογισμοί to designate the tempting thoughts inspired by demons and νοήματα to describe thoughts which are benign or angelic in origin. However, this distinction does not always apply; and the terms are sometimes used in the opposite sense: i.e., malignant νοήματα (Praktikos 42) and neutral or beneficial λογισμοί. (Praktikos 30; Ad Eulogium 8).

[40] Evagrius, Peri Logismon 17, SC 438, pp. 210-212.

[41] Other classifications of the vices which Evagrius employs are discussed below in Chapter 4.1.3.

[42] Evagrius, Praktikos 50, SC 171, pp. 614-616.

[43] Evagrius, De oratione 3, Tugwell, p. 3 (= PG 79.1168): ἡ προσευχὴ ὁμιλία ἐστι νοῦ πρὸς θεόν. Evagrius similarly describes prayer as ‘conversing’ with God in: De oratione 3 (συνομιλεῖν αὐτῷ); De oratione 4, Tugwell, p. 3 (συνόμιλος αὐτῷ); De oratione 34, Tugwell, p. 8 (τῷ θεῷ προσομιλεῖν); De oratione 55, Tugwell, p. 11 (ὡς Πατρὶ ἀεὶ συνομιλεῖ); scholion 1 on Psalm 140:2(1) (ὁμιλία νοῦ πρὸς θεὸν). This definition which Evagrius borrows from Clement of Alexandria is discussed below in Chapter 3.1.1.

[44] ‘Antirrhetic’ prayers of supplication during temptation are discussed below in Chapter 5.1 and 5.2.

[45] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica I.34, II.35.

[46] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica II.83; Greek fragment E-7, ed. by Hausherr, ‘Nouveaux fragments grecs’, p. 230.

[47] Evagrius, Peri Logismon 2, SC 438, p.154: ‘All the [tempting-] thoughts of demonic origin introduce into the soul concepts of sensory objects: because of this the nous, imprinted with the forms of these objects, carries them around within itself,’ (Πάντες οἱ δαιμονιώδεις λογισμοὶ νοήματα εἰς τὴν ψυχὴν αἰσθητῶν εἰσφέρουσι πραγμάτων, ἐν οἱς τυπούμενος ὁ νοῦς τὰς μορφὰς τῶν πραγμάτων ἐκείνων ἐν ἑαυτῷ περιφέρει).

[48] Evagrius, scholion 1 on Psalm 140:2(1) (= PG 12.1665 + cf. Pitra 140:2, vol. 3, p. 148): τὸ δὲ τοῦ θεοῦ νόημα διασώζει τὸν νοῦν ἀναγκαίως ἀτύπωτον· οὐ γάρ ἐστι σῶμα. Of thoughts other than the thought of God which do not stamp the nous: cf. Peri Logismon 8, 15, 16, 25, 28, 41; Skemmata 22; scholion 288 on Proverbs and scholia 1 and 27 on Ecclesiastes. Stewart discusses Evagrius’ teaching on thoughts which ‘shape’ or ‘form’ the nous in his description of Evagrius’ epistemology: ‘Approaches to Early Monastic Prayer’.

[49] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.42, Guillaumont, p. 115.

[50] The word  (tÒaksaº’) is a Syriac loan-word which transliterates the Greek τάξις, R. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary p. 173.

[51] Evagrius, Letter to Melania 57, Vitestam, p. 23, Bunge p. 324: ‘But because of his love for us, God was born of a woman […] in order to give us a second birth - a birth to which blessing and justice belong.’

[52] The verb  (nechet), ‘to go down, descend’ (R. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 336), is the Syriac equivalent of καταβαίνω: J. Payne Smith,Thesaurus Syriacus 2, col. 2343-2344.

[53] The verb  (seleq), ‘to go up, ascend’(R. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 379), is the opposite of  and is the Syriac equivalent of ἀναβαίνω: J. Payne Smith,Thesaurus Syriacus 2, col. 2343-2344.

[54]   (’aseq) is the aphel of : R. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 24.

[55] Evagrius, Letter to Melania 56 and 58, Vitestam, pp. 22-24, Bunge, pp. 323-325.

[56] Although the intended recipient is designated as Melania in the majority of Syriac manuscripts, Bunge suggests that it may actually have been intended for Rufinus: Briefe, pp. 198-200. Bunge notes that both Melania and Rufinus were venerated by Evagrius and his circle as very holy and learned gnostikoi, (cf. Palladius, Lausiac History 46, 54 and 55).

[57] Of ἀνάβασις as conversion and spiritual ascent, Kephalaia Gnostica VI.19, Guillaumont, p. 225: ‘Conversion is the ascent ( = ἀνάβασις) away from [the] movement and away from vice and ignorance towards knowledge of the Blessed Trinity.’ In the sense of lofty spiritual teaching, Gnostikos 29, SC 356, p. 142: ‘Those you teach are saying to you always: “Friend, go up higher!” (Lk. 14:10). It would, indeed, be “shameful” (cf. Lk 14:9) having [once] ascended, for you to be brought down again by your hearers, ‘(Οἱ διδασκόμενοι λεγέτωσάν σοι ἀεὶ τό· φίλε προσανάβηθι ἄνω· αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν ἀναβάντα σε πάλιν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀκουόντων κατενεχθῆναι).

[58] Evagrius, Peri Logismon 18, SC 438, p. 284: ‘Our reasoning nature, having been put to death by vice, is raised by Christ through the contemplation of all the ages; and his father raises the soul which has died the death of Christ, by means of the knowledge he gives of himself,’ (Φύσιν μὲν λογικὴν ὑπὸ κακίας θανατωθεῖσαν ἐγείρει Χριστὸς διὰ τῆς θεωρίας πάντων τῶν αἰώνων· ὁ δὲ τούτου πατὴρ την ἀποθανοῦσαν ταυτής ψυχὴν τὸν θάνατον τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἐγείρει διὰ γνώσεως τῆς ἑαυτοῦ).

[59] One of the rare instances in which Evagrius invites his reader to meditate in an extended fashion on inanimate matter is Peri Logismon 19 (SC 438, pp. 216-222) on the nature and mystical significance of gold.

[60] The notion of ‘rational principles’ or ‘inner meanings’ inherent within created things which express the purposes of God is found also in Plotinus’ explanation of Plato’s myth of Zeus’ garden, where Eros is begotten of drunken Plenty (Πόρος) and Poverty (Πενίας). Enneads III.5.9, li. 11-16: ‘What could the garden of Zeus be but his images in which he takes delight and his glories? And what could his glories and adornments be but the rational principles which flow from him? The rational principles all together are Plenty, the plenitude and wealth of beauties, already manifested; and this is the being drunk with nectar,’ ( τί ἂν εἴη ὁ κῆπος τοῦ Διὸς ἢ τὰ ἀγάλματα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ ἀγλαίσματα; Τί δ' ἂν εἴη τὰ ἀγλαίσματα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ κοσμήματα ἢ οἱ λόγοι οἱ παρ' αὐτοῦ ῥυέντες;Ὁμοῦ δὲ οἱ λόγοι ὁ Πόρος, ἡ εὐπορία καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος τῶν καλῶν, ἐν ἐκφάνσει ἤδη· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ μεθύειν τῷ νέκταρι).

[61] Evagrius, scholion 2 on Psalm 107:3, cited above, p. 7, n. Error! Bookmark not defined..

[62] Evagrius, scholion 1 on Psalm 83:3 (cf. Pitra 83:3(2), vol. 3, p. 143).

[63] There are suggestions in the Kephalia Gnostica (III.37, III.62, III.84, IV.29) that stars are quasi-angelic logikoi, a teaching Evagrius seems to have taken from Origen; and there are occasional hints elsewhere in his writings of the existence of very advanced logikoi for which there are no names in human languages: A. Guillaumont, Les ‘Kephalaia Gnostica’, pp. 252-253.

[64] In using apparently-contradictory terminology to describe angels Evagrius was following the example of other patristic authors. In Oration 28 Gregory Nazianzen discusses the permissibility of describing angels as incorporeal in an invitation to ‘step beyond the realm of sense and look into the holy [place], the noetic and heavenly [realm] (καὶ ὑπερβάντες τὴν αἴσθησιν, εἰς τὰ ἅγια παρακύψωμεν, τὴν νοητὴν φύσιν καὶ ἐπουράνιον). He first calls the angels incorporeal (ἀσώματος), then discusses their bodies of ‘fire and spirit’, and finally concludes that they are, at any rate, ‘incorporeal in comparison with us, or as nearly so as possible:’ Πλὴν ἡμῖν γε ἀσώματος ἔστω, ἢ ὅτι ἐγγύτατα. Oration 28:31 (Theol. Or. 2),SC 250, p. 172.

[65] Kephalaia Gnostica II.2, II.4, II.20, III.61, III.67, III.84, III.86, III.87, IV.19, and IV.51. First natural contemplation is explicitly named in only three of these: III.61; III.67; and III.87, although Evagrius alludes to it in II.2, II.4, and II.61.

[66] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica II.4, Guillaumont, pp. 61-63: ‘While the transformations are numerous,we have received knowledge of only four: the first, the second, the last and that which precedes it. The first, it is said, is the passage from malice to virtue; the second is that from apatheia to second natural contemplation; the third, is [the passage] from the former to the knowledge that concerns the logikoi; and the fourth is the passage of all to knowledge of the Blessed Trinity.’ Also Kephalaia Gnostica III.61, Guillaumont, p. 123: ‘Virtues cause the nous to see second natural contemplation; and the latter cause it to see first [natural contemplation]; and the first in its turn [makes it see]the Blessed Unity.‘

[67] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica II.2, Guillaumont, p. 61 and II.4, p. 63.

[68] For  as the Syriac translation of γνῶσις see footnote Error! Bookmark not defined. above.

[69] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica II.2, Guillaumont, p. 61: ’In second natural contemplation we see ‘the manifold wisdom’ (Eph. 3:10) of Christ, he who served in the creation of the worlds; but in the knowledge that concerns the logikoi, we have been instructed on the subject of his [Christ’s] person.’ , often rendered as ‘essence or substance’,probably translates ὑπόστασις (Smith Payne, Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 509), rather than οὐσία, which is usually translated as  (Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 14).

[70] O’Laughlin, Origenism in the Desert, pp. 132-152

[71] Bamberger, Evagrius Ponticus, Introduction, pp. lxxvii-lxxviii.

[72] This is clearly the meaning Evagrius assigns to the word ‘incorporeals’ in Kephalaia Gnostica VI.20, Guillaumont, p. 225.

[73] Driscoll, The ‘Ad Monachos’, pp. 16-17, also p. 7, n. 5, with reference to Bunge, Briefe, pp. 156 and 396.

[74] A. Louth, Origins, pp. 107-108; Guillaumont, Les ‘Kephalaia Gnostica’, pp. 110-111.

[75] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.20, III.21.

[76] Evagrius, De oratione 69, Tugwell, p. 13 (cf. PG 79.1181).

[77] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica II.16, Guillaumont, p. 67: ‘Such is the contemplation of all that has been and will be, that the nature that is receptive of it will be able to receive also the knowledge of the Trinity.’

[78] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica III.3.

[79] Evagrius, Letter to Melania 60 and 61, Vitestam, pp. 24-25, Bunge, pp. 325-326.

[80] Scholion 29 on Psalm 118:66(1) (cf. Pitra 118:65-66(1), vol. 3, p. 276): γνῶσις δέ ἐστιν ἡ θεωρία τῆς ἁγίας τριάδος.

[81] That these are the Greek terms Evagrius uses in this text is confirmed by the following:  , ‘knowledge, information’ (J. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary,p. 188) is used to translate γνῶσις in each of the seven instances where γνῶσις occurs in Greek fragments of the Kephalaia Gnostica; namely: I.78; I.81; II.10; III.36; VI.22; VI.48; and VI.68. The term  (te’we[r]ya’) is a Syriac loan-word which transliterates θεῶρια, and is used in Syriac with the same meaning of ‘philosophic speculation, theory’ (J. Payne Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 602).

[82] Clement vindicated the word gnosis in orthodox Christian theology by dissociating this term and its cognates from the Gnostic heresy, and he also identified the philosophical ideal of theoria with the aims of Christian spirituality. In Stromateis 6 Clement first describes Christ as wisdom (σοφία), then identifies wisdom with knowledge (γνῶσις), which he then defines as [scientific] knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) ‘and apprehension of things which are, which will be, and which are past’ (σοφία εἴη ἂν ἡ γνῶσις, ἐπιστήμη οὖσα καὶ κατάληψις τῶν ὄντων τε καὶ ἐσομένων καὶ παρῳχηκότων ), Stromateis, 6.7.61, 1, Stählin, vol. 2, p. 462. Clement then describes contemplation as the goal of the wise (τέλος τοῦ σοφοῦ ἡ θεωρία), and concludes that ‘knowledge or wisdom should be practised until [one acquires] the everlasting and unchangeable habit of contemplation ('Εντεῦθεν δὲ ἄρα γνῶσιν εἴτε σοφίαν συνασκηθῆναι χρὴ εἰς ἕξιν θεωρίας ἀίδιον καὶ ἀναλλοίωτον), Stromateis 6.7.61, 2 - 3, Stählin, vol. 2, pp. 462-463.

[83] Although there are more than seventy instances of γνῶσις θεοῦ in the Scholia on Psalms, Evagrius writes only once of θεωρία τῆς ἁγίας τριάδος as a definition of gnosis, cited above, n. Error! Bookmark not defined.: scholion 29 on Psalm 118:65-55(1) (cf. Pitra 118:65-66(1), vol. 3, p. 276).

[84] Evagrius, Gnostikos 44, SC 356, p. 174: ‘[…] Justice’s task is to give to each, according to his worth, a word,’ (δικαιοσύνης δὲ πάλιν, τὸ κατ' ἀξίαν ἑκάστῳ τοὺς λόγους ἀποδιδόναι).

[85] Evagrius, De oratione 113, Tugwell, p. 21 (cf. PG 79.1192): ‘A monk becomes the equal of the angels through true prayer, yearning to see the face of the Father who is in heaven (Matt. 18:10)( 'Ισάγγελος γίνεται μοναχὸς διὰ τῆς ἀληθοῦς προσευχῆς, 'επιποθῶν ἰδεῖν τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ Πατρὸς τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς).

[86] Evagrius, De oratione 142, Tugwell, p. 26 (cf. PG 79.1197): ‘The one longing to pray has moved from what is here, to have citizenship in heaven always (Phil. 3:20), not merely through simple word[s] but through angelic practice and divine knowledge,’ (Προσεύξασθαι ποθεῖ ὁ μεταστὰς τῶν ἐνθένδε καὶ τὸ πολίτευμα, ἔχων ἐν οὐρανοῖς διὰ παντὸς, οὐ λόγῳ ἁπλῶς ψιλῳ ἀλλὰ πράξει ἀγγελικῇ καὶ γνώσει θειοτέρᾳ).

[87] Evagrius, De oratione 40, Tugwell, p. 9 (cf. PG 79.1176): ‘ It is just to pray not only for your own purification, but especially for your own [kindred], so as to imitate the angelic mode,’ (Δίκαιον, μὴ μόνον περὶ οἰκείας καθάρσεως προσεύχεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὑπὲρ παντὸς τοῦ ὁμοφύλου, ἵνα ἀγγελικὸν μιμήσῃ τρόπον).

[88] Evagrius, Kephalaia Gnostica VI.90, Guillaumont, p. 249: ‘Whoever will have obtained spiritual knowledge will help the holy angels and will return reasoning souls from vice to virtue and from ignorance to knowledge.’

[89] Evagrius, Praktikos 100, SC 171, p. 710: ‘we are to revere the elders as the angels, for it is they who anoint us for our struggle and heal us when we are bitten by wild beasts,’ (τοὺς δὲ γέροντας ἡμῶν τιμητέον ὡς τοὺς ἀγγέλους· αὐτοὶ γάρ εἰσιν οἱ πρὸς τοὺς ἀγῶνας ἡμᾶς ἀλείφοντες καὶ τὰ τῶν ἀγρίων θηρίων δήγματα θεραπεύοντες). The gnostikos rejoices in the spiritual progress of others and learns to revere others ‘as Christ’: De oratione 117-125.

[90] Evagrius, Gnostikos 3, SC 356, p. 90: Γνωστικὸς δὲ ὁ ἁλὸς μὲν λόγον ἐπέχων τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις, φωτὸς δὲ τοῖς καθαροῖς.

[91] Evagrius, Gnostikos 15, SC 356, p. 112.

[92] Evagrius employs traditionally vivid language to warn his readers of the dangers of hell in Rerum monachalium rationes 9, PG 40.1261: ‘Consider in your mind what is now the state of those in hell. Reflect on the suffering, the silence of bitterness, the frightful moaning, the dreaded fear and torment, fear of what will come, ceaseless pain, constant weeping […] the shame before [all those in heaven and on earth], all the varieties of punishment, the undying worm, the dark abyss, the gnashing of teeth, fears and terrors […]’

[93] As regards the apokatastasis, the doctrine that all fallen beings will ultimately accept the salvation offered by Christ and thus be restored to union with God, Evagrius appears to have avoided ever stating openly that ‘all will be saved’. Instead, this teaching is implicit in his eschatological vision of the logikoi returning to their ‘original state’: Kephalaia Gnostica II,4 (the ‘last transformation’ is ‘the passage of all to knowledge of Blessed Trinity’); Letter to Melania 29-30 (like rivers flowing into the sea, once sin is removed ‘the many’ will again become ‘one’, Frankenberg, pp. 618-619, Bunge, Briefe, pp. 313-314); Letter to Melania 63 (the logikoi are to become ‘one with [God] in everything without end’, Bunge, Briefe, p. 326, Vitestam, pp. 27-28).

[94] Origen similarly recommends prudence concerning his doctrine of remedial punishment in Contra Celsum 6.26-27.

[95] Evagrius, Gnostikos 36, SC 356, p. 154.

[96] Evagrius, Gnostikos 24, SC 356, p. 122.


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