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In this volume, we address the ascetical system of Evagrius Pontikos.

This volume forms a sequel to Volume I of this study, The Orthodox Doctrine of the Person. There, in Volume I, we addressed the elements of Orthodox anthropology and psychology that were necessary to be understood as a presupposition of the study of the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart. In this volume, we continue, focusing on Evagrius Pontikos’ (c.345–399) theory of ascesis and contemplation. This theory of ascesis and contemplation forms the basis of the Philokalic tradition of mental prayer; we will enter into that Philokalic tradition in Volume III, Hesychian Sobriety, when we look in depth at On Sobriety of St Hesychios, a key early text of the Philokalia.[1]

In this volume, we proceed by presenting the translation of five texts of Evagrius Pontikos, commenting on two of them in their entirety and on one of them only with regard to the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation.

The five texts presented in this volume are Treatise on the Practical Life, On the Thoughts, the Gnostic, the Kephalaia Gnostica and the Skemmata. Treatise on the Practical Life, the Gnostic and the Kephalaia Gnostica were originally conceived by Evagrius Pontikos as a trilogy.

Among themselves, the texts cover the immaterial war, the war in thought against temptation and sin, from the most elementary level of a beginning hermit through to the most advanced stages of Evagrian contemplation. This aspect of the use of the Prayer of Jesus—the immaterial war—is often neglected nowadays, and this volume seeks to restore that aspect of the Prayer of Jesus to its rightful place as an integral part of the Philokalic tradition.

The texts considered do not concern themselves with basic issues that a beginning monk would want to know about: renunciation of the world, obedience in a monastery or brotherhood, the role of the Elder in forming the young monk, the role of worship and labour in the formation of the young monk. The texts are for the experienced man who is about to enter the more difficult arena of the war in thoughts against temptation, the man who has made considerable progress in the monastery in purifying his passions through obedience and humility. Hence, the beginning monk, while he might profit from a theoretical overview of the monastic journey, should consider that the material presented here constitutes a course in the Philokalia more advanced than might be suitable for him. For, as Evagrius himself emphasizes, until one acquires virtue, one cannot begin to contemplate, and to attempt to do so is wrong.

While we use the form of text and commentary, it should be understood that this volume has been conceived as a unified whole: the translations are presented in thematic order, and the commentaries are integrated thematically the one with the other.

This volume presupposes that the reader has read Volume I, The Orthodox Doctrine of the Person, especially Chapter III. In Volume I, we have discussed such issues as the existence of the soul, the relation of the Christian belief in the existence of the soul to post-Enlightenment philosophical positions in the West that deny the existence of the soul; Western Christian doctrines of the soul which might differ in some respects from the traditional Orthodox doctrine; the psychological structure of the soul in Orthodox thought; the nature of the passions; and the insertion of asceticism into the context of the soteriological program of each man based on his vocation to divinization (theosis). We do not repeat ourselves in this volume, but take for granted in our commentaries that the reader is familiar with the above material. Hence, the reader who has not read Volume I, while he might find some use in the translations, might also find that the commentaries are unhelpful, beginning in the middle as they do.

In addition, in Chapter III of Volume I we present and discuss from a dogmatic point of view Evagrius Pontikos’ doctrines in the Kephalaia Gnostica that were the subject of explicit anathematization by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in 553. The reader should be aware that in this volume we do not address such dogmatic issues, although occasionally they enter into the commentaries. In cases where they do enter into the commentaries, however, we assume that the reader is familiar with the content of Chapter III of Volume I. There, we present the Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in detail and discuss their relationship to various chapters of the Kephalaia Gnostica, so that the reader concerned with the heresies for which Evagrius Pontikos was condemned can discern clearly just which chapters of the Kephalaia Gnostica are to be treated with caution, and can indeed understand quite clearly just what the heresies were for which Evagrius Pontikos was condemned, along with Origen (c.186–253) and Didymus the Blind (c.313–c.399).

The Treatise on the Practical Life is not contained per se in the Philokalia, but the compiler of the Philokalia included, under the name of Evagrius, a small anthology of five chapters from that work—evidently not of his own selection but as he found them in the manuscript before him—under the title Ek ton Neptikon Kephalaion (From the Chapters on Sobriety).[2] The chapters of the Treatise on the Practical Life given are Chapters 29, 32, 91 (part), 94 and 15 (part). In the English translation of the Philokalia, this selection of chapters is called Extracts from the Texts on Watchfulness.[3]

In the work, Early Fathers from the Philokalia, 66 chapters from the Treatise on the Practical Life are included under the name of Evagrius in three selections under these titles: To Anatolius: Texts on Active Life;[4] Century on Active Life;[5] and To Anatolius: On Eight Thoughts.[6] In the case of To Anatolius: Texts on Active Life, the chapter numbering is not consecutive, which suggests that the selection is an extract of a longer text, but the chapter numbers given do not correspond to the chapter numbers in the critical edition of the Treatise on the Practical Life. Moreover, the last four chapters given (as Chapters 65, 69, 70 and 71) are in reality Chapters 31, 38, 39 and 40 of On the Thoughts.[7] In the other two selections, the chapter numbers given are consecutive, starting from 1. In each of the three selections, the chapters selected are given in the order of the critical edition, with omissions of course. In general, the material presented in the three selections covers most of the content of the Treatise on the Practical Life; the sense given in each chapter is quite close to the sense of the critical edition, with the exception that the concept of natural contemplation is systematically assimilated to the concept of the contemplation of God himself. However, it would be hard for a reader unfamiliar with Evagrius to discern the lineaments of the Evagrian system of contemplation in the selections as given.

The texts for Early Fathers from the Philokalia were selected and translated by the English translators, Kadloubovsky and Palmer, from the Russian version of the Philokalia, the Dobrotolubiye, prepared by St Theophan the Recluse (1815–1894) and published in Moscow, 1896–1901. We do not know the provenance of the texts of Evagrius that St Theophan used, nor whether he himself abridged them. St Theophan’s version of the Philokalia appears to be intended as an amplification of the Greek Philokalia, one taking into account the previous smaller independent compilation and translation into Slavonic of texts on prayer of the heart begun on Mount Athos by St Paisy Velichkovsky (1722–1794) and completed by him in Moldavia, but in fact it is over twice as long as the Greek Philokalia.

Much of the content of Treatise on the Practical Life is to be found in the Greek Philokalia in a work by St Theodore of Edessa (9th Century?), Kephalaia Psuchophele (Chapters Beneficial to the Soul).[8] This work is included in the English translation of the Philokalia as A Century of Spiritual Texts under the name of St Theodore the Great Ascetic.[9] This work by St Theodore is largely a free rendition of the teaching of Evagrius in the Treatise on the Practical Life and other works, including On the Thoughts, although, strikingly and curiously, St Theodore seems in places also to echo St Hesychios in On Sobriety. As the editors of the English translation point out, in his work, St Theodore also draws on St Maximos the Confessor (580–662).

In great part, On the Thoughts is contained in the Philokalia under the name of Evagrius as Peri Diakriseos Pathon kai Logismon, Kephalaia Eikosi Tria (On Discernment of the Passions and Thoughts, Twenty-Three Chapters).[10] In the English translation of the Philokalia, this is called Texts on Discrimination in Respect of Passions and Thoughts.[11] Following for the most part the Table of Concordances of Gehin et al.,[12] we have provided a brief remark at the end of the commentary on each chapter of On the Thoughts to indicate to which chapter or chapters it corresponds in the Philokalia—if it does, since many chapters of the critical edition of On the Thoughts are missing from the Philokalia. In those brief remarks at the end of each chapter in the commentary, we refer to the work in the Philokalia simply as Peri Diakriseos. The absence of a chapter of On the Thoughts from the Philokalia should not be taken as a judgement by the compiler of the Philokalia on the worth of that chapter; rather it should be seen as a matter of the manuscript that the compiler of the Philokalia, St Makarios of Corinth (1731–1805), had before him.

Extracts from On the Thoughts are included in Early Fathers from the Philokalia as follows: We have already mentioned the four chapters of On the Thoughts (Chapters 31, 38, 39 and 40) included with extracts from the Treatise on the Practical Life in To Anatolius: Texts on Active Life. In addition, the selection entitled On Various Evil Thoughts[13] contains Chapters 1, 2, 5 (abridged), 8, 9, 17, 18 (abridged), 19, 20, 22 and 37 (abridged) of On the Thoughts.[14] The chapter numbers in On Various Evil Thoughts are not consecutive, but, again, they do not correspond to the chapter numbering of the critical edition.

In general, Early Fathers from the Philokalia contains much material from the Treatise on the Practical Life and On the Thoughts, but mixed with other material under the name of Evagrius in such a way that it would be hard to grasp the Evagrian system from the material presented.

For the sake of completeness, since they form a trilogy with the Treatise on the Practical Life, we have included the Gnostic and the Kephalaia Gnostica as appendices to this work. Indeed, because of its great importance we also present the Kephalaia Gnostica from a dogmatic point of view in Chapter III of Volume I of this work and, in this volume in the Digression to the commentary on On the Thoughts, from the point of view of the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation.

Neither the Gnostic nor the Kephalaia Gnostica are represented in the Philokalia, which is reasonable given that the Greek texts of those works were lost after the Fifth Ecumenical Synod.

We have taken the text for the translation of the Gnostic given in Appendix 1 to this volume from the Guillaumonts.[15] This work by Evagrius has been saved in the Greek only in fragments. Antoine Guillaumont and Claire Guillaumont, who prepared Gnostic G, reconstituted the text of the Gnostic from the Greek fragments and from the Syriac and Armenian translations. Hence, some of the fifty chapters of the work are given in Gnostic G in Greek with French translation, those for which Greek fragments have survived, and some are given only in French translation, those which the Guillaumonts reconstituted from the oriental translations of the lost Greek text of the work. We have translated from the Greek when the Greek was present and from the French when the Greek was not. We have indicated at the end of each chapter of the Gnostic the linguistic provenance of the text translated. We have accepted the text as is, merely translating it, but, of course, we did not feel bound to follow the French rendition of the Greek when the Greek itself was present. We occasionally quote the Gnostic in our commentaries, but we do not comment on it per se in this study.

For the English translation of the Kephalaia Gnostica, given as Appendix 2 to this volume, we have used the translation into French by Antoine Guillaumont of the Syriac version intégrale (S2) of that work as given in Patrologia Orientalis.[16] We have made an effort to provide as literal a translation as possible consonant with good English style. We have not consulted the Syriac. Of course, the original Greek text is, as far as is known, lost. However, we have presented, in our English translation, in footnotes to the relevant chapters of the Kephalaia Gnostica, a number of the saved Greek fragments, the texts of which were collected by O’Laughlin or Dysinger.[17] In Chapter III of Volume I, we present with discussion our thematic selections and rearrangements of the dogmatically important chapters of the Kephalaia Gnostica in a freer English rendition of the French; in this volume in the Digression to the commentary on On the Thoughts, we do the same for the chapters relevant to the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation. In these presentations, where we have had available the parallel Greek fragment, we have used that in preference to the translation from the Syriac through the French found in Appendix 2. In these presentations also, we have ignored the many chapters dedicated to allegorical interpretations of terms of Scripture, and other such definitions, although, of course, such chapters retain their rightful places in the full translation of the Kephalaia Gnostica given as Appendix 2 to this volume.

The final work of Evagrius Pontikos that we present, in Appendix 3, is the Skemmata, a relatively short work of 62 chapters which contains the most refined aspects of Evagrius’ theory of spiritual asceticism (the immaterial war of thoughts) and of his theory of contemplation. This work in many ways both parallels On the Thoughts and the Kephalaia Gnostica and supplements them. While we do not provide a commentary on the Skemmata per se, we introduce passages from it where appropriate in our other commentaries, and because of the work’s great importance, we provide a complete translation in the appendix.

In a few cases, the Skemmata seems to diverge from Evagrius’ ascetic doctrine as found in the Kephalaia Gnostica and other works; we discuss those cases in their proper places.

The Skemmata was brought to light relatively recently, by J. Muyldermans in 1931. It is not well represented in the manuscript tradition, there being only one Greek manuscript for the work in the form that we are presenting it, although there are several partial and overlapping witnesses in Greek and other languages. The reader is referred to Muyldermans for details. The work is of course not represented in the Philokalia.

We have for the most part provided the cross-references to Scripture as established by the editors of the texts translated, but on occasion we have suppressed a cross-reference, added a new one or changed an existing one to what we thought was a better one.

We have translated scriptural citations made by Evagrius directly from the text of Evagrius with reference to the text of the Septuagint of the ‘Brotherhood of Theologians, Zoe’, for the Old Testament,[18] and to the textus receptus of the Patriarchate of Constantinople for the New Testament.[19] We have consulted the translation of Sir Lancelot Brenton[20] in cases of difficulty for the Septuagint, and the Revised Standard Version[21] and other translations in cases of difficulty for the New Testament. In cases of difficulty for quotations from the New Testament, especially in regard to the epistles of St Paul quoted in the commentary, we have depended on the commentaries of St John Chrysostom to establish the underlying meaning of the Greek text of Scripture. As is well known, one’s theological presuppositions play a very important role in the translation of Scripture, especially in the translation of the epistles of St Paul; and we have felt that it is safer to depend on the insight of St John Chrysostom. However, in the final analysis, the translations of Scripture are our own.

For the most part, we have read the notes of the editors of the texts translated, but the interpretation of the text is our own. When we draw on an insight of the editors in their notes, we make that clear.

We are not scholars and we have made no effort to assess the quality, from the point of view of textual criticism, of the texts translated and commented on. We take the texts given by the preparers of the critical editions to be a good and fair rendition of the original text that Evagrius wrote. Of course, in the case of the Kephalaia Gnostica, the very complex history of the work cannot be ignored.

Moreover, since we are not scholars, in this work we are not attempting to present a scholarly evaluation of the work of Evagrius Pontikos, but to use the works selected to throw light on the Evagrian doctrine of ascesis and contemplation that we think underlies much of the Philokalia. Hence our approach to the works of Evagrius Pontikos selected should be seen in the context of the facts that this volume is conceived as a monastic catechism and that it prepares the way for Volume III, Hesychian Sobriety, where we enter into the doctrine of prayer of St Hesychios.

When we refer to a work such as the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai, we often do not give a precise textual reference. We are quoting from memory and in these cases we felt that there was no point to chase down the reference. In certain very important cases, however, we have given the reference and even a direct quotation.

In the particular case of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, we have translated directly from the original Greek text as established by Archimandrite Ignatios[22] and with his chapter numbering. Unfortunately, the English translation of the Ladder[23] has a somewhat different system of numbering. We have provided both numbers.

References to On Sobriety by St Hesychios are to our own translation into English of that work, presented and commented on in Volume III of this study, Hesychian Sobriety. The Greek text that was used is that found in Volume I of the Greek Philokalia as Pros Theodoulon.[24] Chapter numbers given in references to On Sobriety are from the Philokalia. In the English translation of the Philokalia, On Sobriety is entitled On Watchfulness and Holiness, Written for Theodoulos, by St Hesychios the Priest.[25]

Our intention is to provide a catechism on ascetical and contemplative theology for the Orthodox monk, not to address a scholarly audience. That having been said, we occasionally address scholarly issues, possibly to the dismay of the potential reader who is a monk, but they are issues which we felt were germane to the spiritual issue at hand. We have attempted to restrict the more theoretical and scholarly issues to Volume I of this work, and, in this volume and the third, to present the more practical and spiritual aspects of the question at hand. Unfortunately, we have not always been able to do that, and in this volume we occasionally refer to theoretical issues that we would have liked to have restricted to Volume I. We sincerely ask the reader’s indulgence on the matter. Evagrius is a very difficult writer, and it is not easy to avoid difficult issues in discussing his doctrine of ascesis and contemplation.

When in the commentary we quote a work of an author who has composed his work in the chapter style, we sometimes include the chapter number as part of the quotation and sometimes not. Our rule is this: if the quotation is of the whole chapter, we include the chapter number; otherwise, not. If the work is broken up into centuries by the author, then in the quotation we include along with the chapter number the number of the century. However, in the case of On Sobriety, we follow the consecutive chapter numeration of the Philokalia.

Bibliographic references in the text and footnotes are made in the following way: A ‘label’ is provided in the text in bold-face type (e.g. Zoe) which is the same as the label, also in bold-face type, in the left hand margin of the bibliography before the entry to which reference is being made. The entries in the bibliography are sorted in order of label, not in order of author or title.

Evagrius Pontikos is a heretic. He was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod along with many of his doctrines of a dogmatic nature. We have discussed this matter in Chapter III of Volume I and we have not felt obliged to repeat ourselves in this volume. We are Orthodox monks, members of the Orthodox Church, and we accept the decisions of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, as indeed we do of all the Seven Ecumenical Synods. We have attempted to present the useful aspects of Evagrius’ doctrine of ascesis and contemplation in a way which is free of heretical contamination, but if by chance we have not succeeded, then from now we repent and ask the reader’s indulgence and prayers for our salvation. In cases where in the commentary we appear to accept doubtful definitions or positions of Evagrius, the reader should understand that the modifications that we may have made elsewhere, whether in Volume I or in this volume, to Evagrius’ doctrines to make them acceptable to the Orthodox monk are to be understood in reading the passage at hand. It is not always possible or desirable stylistically to profess one’s Orthodoxy in every chapter of a commentary. We thank the reader who is an Orthodox monk for his comprehension.

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[1] Philokalia D, E, F and G Volume I.

[2] Philokalia G Volume I, p. 57.

[3] Philokalia E Volume I, p. 53.

[4] Early pp. 98–105.

[5] Ibid. pp. 106–8.

[6] Ibid. pp. 110–12.

[7] With the numeration of the critical edition.

[8] Philokalia G Volume I, pp. 304–24.

[9] Philokalia E Volume II, pp. 14–37.

[10] Philokalia G Volume I, pp. 44–57.

[11] Philokalia E Volume I, pp. 38–52.

[12] OTT G pp. 311–12.

[13] Early pp. 117–24.

[14] Again with the numeration of the critical edition.

[15] Gnostic G.

[16] PO 28, 1.

[17] O’Laughlin and Dysinger, respectively. The footnotes to the version intégrale (S2) in PO 28, 1 contain what appears to be a set of comprehensive references to the known Greek fragments which parallel the Syriac text, without, however, providing the Greek texts themselves.

[18] Zoe.

[19] NT.

[20] Brenton.

[21] RSV.

[22] Ladder G.

[23] Ladder E.

[24] Philokalia G Volume I, pp. 141–73.

[25] Philokalia E Volume I, pp. 162–98.


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