#profile-container h2.sidebar-title {display:none;}

OTT (Commentary) -- 12

30 Of the unclean thoughts, some are seen in the road of virtue, and some next to the road. And as many as prevent the commandments of God from being kept—these sojourn next to the road. As many, again, as do not persuade us not to keep the commandments, but suggest that they be kept in such a way as to appear to men—all of these are seen in the road, since they corrupt our goal or the manner in which the commandment must be kept. Wherefore it is necessary that he who keeps the commandment keep it for the Lord and work it cheerfully. He said: ‘He who does acts of mercy, in cheerfulness.’ [Rom. 12, 8.] What is the benefit if I unclothe myself of the thought of avarice through beneficence and that of gluttony by continence, but I then clothe myself with other thoughts of vainglory or sullen discontent?

We ourselves might add, following St John of Sinai: or with any other impassioned thought that corrupts my goal or the manner in which the commandment must be kept?. One type of such temptation is the temptation to do necessary things without good order, the demon wishing to cause disputes in the Church for the destruction of souls; another is the temptation to an excessive and rigid piety that separates the monk from communion with the hierarchy; another is the use of unscrupulous means to accomplish a goal that ostensibly is just. Recall Evagrius’ analysis of how one (bad) thought displaces another (good) thought in his analysis of motive in OTT 7. In the cases being discussed, the unwary man is snared by the demon when the demon, appealing to his vainglory, pride, anger or fear, brings forth a new thought which corrupts the man’s goal or the manner in which the goal is to be accomplished. This new, corrupting thought then displaces, when the man accepts it or allows it to persist, the former thought, which is in itself virtuous. Recall that in OTT 7, the bad thought which cut off the good thought of hospitality did not prevent the offering of hospitality—it did not prevent the keeping of the commandment—but it corrupted the keeping of the commandment by introducing the element of vainglory. Being unwary, the man accepts the second thought, which does not appear to be harmful since it ostensibly is not opposed to the goal, and acts on it, the man being unconscious or only dimly aware that his goal has been corrupted by it. An example might be this: I have the thought to arrange the ordination of a subordinate. This in itself is good. However, because of some passion I have, I succumb to a thought that would have me arrange the ordination in a way contrary to good order: perhaps pride is involved. I have the original thought, and the original goal, and by hypothesis it is good. A second thought comes and cuts off the first, not to change the goal, but to pervert the way in which the goal is to be attained: I arrange the ordination, in itself good, contrary to good order in the Church and thereby commit a sin. These thoughts often arise when we begin to think: well, how am I going to accomplish this goal? The demon sows thoughts which corrupt the goal by corrupting the manner in which the goal is to be accomplished.

At all events, I will rely to an extent on this,

Not completely: Evagrius’ reliance is qualified: his point is not always valid.

that during the time of prayer I will suffer from these latter thoughts whatever would have occurred to me on account of those former thoughts,

That is, when I am praying, I will suffer from the intrusive presence of the thoughts of the vainglory with which I gave away my possessions, whatever I would have suffered from the intrusive thoughts of avarice had I not given away my possessions. This applies to all such thoughts that corrupt our goal or the manner in which we should accomplish our goal.

namely to fall from the light which shines around the mind during the time of prayer.

We will leave Evagrius’ doctrine of prayer until we reach OTT 40.

Concerning these very thoughts, the blessed David also writes: ‘In this very road in which I was going they hid a snare for me.’ [Ps. 141, 4.] And, again: ‘They have extended ropes as snares for my feet. Near the path they placed a stumbling block for me.’ [Ps. 139, 6.] For the [Greek] word, echomena, appears to me to mean ‘near the path’.

This chapter does not correspond to any chapter of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter, very important, is a continuation of OTT 7. The reader will find it useful to reread that chapter and the commentary on it, before commencing the next chapter, which completes Evagrius’ psychological analysis of which thoughts can displace others in our intellect as the basis for our actions. That is, the next chapter completes Evagrius’ analysis of motive and how it can change.

31 To the demonic thought are opposed three thoughts which, when it persists in the intellect, cut it off.

OTT 7 and the commentary on it address the concept of one thought’s cutting off—displacing—another thought and the significance of the persistence of a demonic thought for the assessment of one’s motive. What Evagrius is now going to do is to explain what thoughts can displace the demonic thought on the basis of which we are acting, so as to signal a change of our motive for the better. This is quite important: the ascetic will occasionally recognize that in the matter of an act which is itself ostensibly good he is in fact acting or has acted in an impassioned way, on the basis of a demonic thought.[1]

These are: the angelic thought,

This is the inverse, as it were, of a demonic thought: an angel—our guardian angel, say—approaches and sows a good, virtuous thought.

the thought which comes from our own will inclining to the better,

This is extremely important. It establishes the central role of the will in the establishment of motive. Moreover, it recognizes that our will can incline to the better: we have the freedom to choose the better; we are not merely at the mercy of thoughts coming from angels or from demons.

and the thought which springs up out of human nature, being moved according to which, even the pagans love their own children and honour their own parents.

This also is extremely important. It establishes that by nature all men have the seeds of virtue in them, even though they participate in the Fall of Adam. We are not depraved. This might be construed to be the germ of a doctrine of natural law. Note, however, that these seeds are considered to be innate tendencies, not the result of a process of ratiocination.

To the good thought, only two thoughts are opposed:

As OTT 7 made clear, this cutting off of one thought by another, and the consequent change of motive, works both ways: from the bad to the good, and from the good to the bad.

the demonic thought

This should be clear: this is the thought which occurs when the demon approaches; it has been studied minutely in these two works of Evagrius.

and the thought which comes from our own will deviating to the worse.

Our will is free: it can incline either to the better or to the worse. There is no doctrine here that every man does what appears to him to be good, as Aristotle and especially St Thomas Aquinas teach.[2]

OTT 31 from the beginning up to this point parallels the content of Skemmata 46.

Out of nature

Evagrius is referring to the third case, where pagans love their children on account of human nature. As we have noted in discussing Evagrius’ doctrine of God,[3] Evagrius is at pains to deny any substantial principle of evil, any Manichæan dualism of good and evil.

no evil thought comes. For we have not become evil from the beginning,

Evagrius is hinting at his own cosmological doctrines. Let us take this in an Orthodox way: from the creation of man. Evagrius is saying that there is no innate principle of evil in man. Hence, although a good thought, a virtuous thought, might arise from the natural seeds of virtue in man, according to which even the pagans love their own children and parents, it is impossible that a bad thought should spring up in the same way: there are no natural seeds of evil in man.

if, indeed, the Lord has sown good seed in his own field [cf. Matt. 13, 24].

As Gehin et al. point out,[4] OTT 31 from the beginning up to here corresponds to the opening of Evagrius’ Epistle 18.

Evagrius is adapting the Gospel narrative of the wheat and the tares to the creation—let us take this in an Orthodox fashion—of Adam and Eve. ‘And God saw all things, as many as he had made, and Behold! they were exceedingly good.’[5]

The next sentence is a piece of Aristotelian philosophy, the gist of which is this: we are receptive of evil since we can do evil, but we do not have the power of evil intrinsically in us (we are not intrinsically, by nature, evil), and for this reason: we are able not to exist, but we do not have non-existence in us intrinsically, by nature, as a potential, because potentialities are qualities or predicates of a substance, and non-existence is not such a quality or predicate, since it cannot be predicated of a substance. The sense is that evil is a deprivation of the good, just as non-existence is a deprivation of existence. Evil is not a substance or quality of a substance, just as non-existence is not a substance or quality of a substance. It seems clear that the origin of evil both in Evagrius and in Orthodox Christian doctrine is in the freedom of the will: the reasonable being can choose to do evil.

For we do not, if we are receptive of something, at all events have the power of this thing—since also potentially able not to be, we do not have the power of the non-existent, if, indeed, powers are qualities whereas the non-existent is not a quality.

This sentence is repeated verbatim in KG I, 39.

To take this chapter as a whole, how sound is Evagrius’ analysis? Elsewhere, in TPL 30, he has spoken as follows: ‘The demons do not oppose themselves to each one of our correct thoughts, but to some of those correct thoughts are also opposed those very vices according to which we have been conformed.’ This is more than a matter of the inclination of the will, for then every passion would be defined as an inclination of the will, something that Evagrius refrains from doing.

Let us recall how Evagrius has defined passion. In TPL 4, in a very elliptical discussion, he has connected Eros (eros), aspiration and struggle; then desire, pleasure and sense-perception. In OTT 19, speaking of the passion, he has said that it is a ‘pleasure … which has been given birth by the free will and which obliges the mind to use evilly the things created by God, to circumcise which pleasure has been entrusted to the Law of God.’

What is missing from the present chapter of OTT is a discussion of such things as habit: St John of Sinai in the Ladder emphasizes this Aristotelian concept, calling habit a ‘second nature’. It seems that Evagrius, anxious to avoid any trace of assigning a substantial existence to evil, vice and the passion, has gone to an extreme.

St Paul writes the following in a very famous and difficult passage of Romans:

For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. For to will lies close at hand to me; to work the good, however, I do not find. For the good that I will [or, intend] I do not do, but the evil that I do not will [or, intend], this I do. If, then, what I do not will [or, intend], this I myself do, no longer do I work it, but the sin which is dwelling in me. I therefore find the Law in myself who wish to do the good, for evil lies close at hand to me. For I concur with the Law of God according to the inner man. I see, however, another law in my members making war against the law of my mind (nous) and taking me prisoner in the law of sin which exists in my members. I am a wretched man! Who will free me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, on the one hand, with the mind (nous)[6] serve the Law of God, in the flesh, the law of sin.

The very fact that this passage is so difficult to interpret indicates how deep the problem is in human nature.

We think that the ‘law of sin which exists in my members’ is the passions. What St Paul—in our truly humble opinion—is describing is the difficulty, when the passions are strong in us, of putting into practice what we know ‘in our mind (nous)’, ‘according to the inner man’, to be good, to be the Law of God. This is precisely the case with an impassioned act that we want to do—for the pleasure of the senses, Evagrius would say—but that we know to be against the Law of God: against the Commandments, the keeping of which is the fundamental schema, as we have many times remarked, of Christian asceticism, especially in the purgative stage. It is also the case with an impassioned thought or even, at the level we have been discussing them in OTT 27–9, with the demonic imaginations that occur in sleep.

Now it seems to us that St Paul recognizes what Evagrius finds difficult, that the passion, although it has no substantial existence—evil has no eternal or even substantial existence—can be a more powerful factor, enslaving a man in some cases, than can be accounted for merely by the free operation of the will. Moreover, habit can enter in, as it also does in the virtues, making the situation very difficult indeed. Certainly, Grace is needed—‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord’ has that import here—but, what is more important for our assessment of Evagrius, we must accept that Evagrius is being too narrow in his view of the thoughts that can cut off a good thought. Recall the passage that we just quoted from TPL 30. That is a more nuanced presentation of the fact that the passions in us—‘the law of sin which exists in my flesh’—can press upon the good thought even with or without the excitation of the passion by a demon, and this apart from the inclination of the will, which, according to St Paul, in the inner man inclines to the Law of God. This seems to be much Evagrius’ sense in Skemmata 48:

48 Of the thoughts, some are given birth from the soul when it is set in motion; others, however, come to occur from without, by the agency of the demons.

Here we understand that even without the agency of a demon, our habitual vice can give birth to a bad thought when it sets our soul in motion, and following TPL 30, that this bad thought can be opposed to our good thought.

To go on, in our own view consent must enter in at some point for the bad thought completely to cut off the good thought and become the basis for our subsequent actions, even when the passion is strong and pressing on us to act towards the pleasure of the senses to which that passion calls us. Enslavement to a passion can be defined, however, as precisely that point at which the passion has the upper hand: consent becomes as it were a mere formality. As we have already seen, however, Evagrius takes the view that the mere chronological persistence of a thought can take the place of consent, and is in any event damaging.

In the text of Evagrius which follows, the angle brackets enclose a restoration of the text by Gehin et al. on the basis of the Kephalaia Gnostica and Evagrius’ Scholia on Proverbs. The square brackets enclose our own insertions of words implied by the text but necessary to be inserted for clarity in English.

For there was a time when there was not vice and there will be a time when there will not be [vice].

This clearly has its source in Evagrius’ heterodox cosmology that we discussed in detail in Chapter III of Volume I. Let us here give the passage an Orthodox interpretation. Before the Fall of Adam in Paradise—or, even prior to Adam’s Fall, before the fall through pride of the Devil in Heaven—there was no evil, but only the potential for evil through free will. This (even on Evagrius’ own heterodox part) is a rejection of the Manichæan dualist doctrine that evil is an eternally existent substance.

After the General Resurrection, there will be no evil in operation (this is an Orthodox reinterpretation of the Evagrius’ text), since all the devils, demons and unrepentant sinners will be harmlessly—for the saved—in the lake of fire. Of course, Evagrius himself is hinting at the doctrine of the Restoration of All Things, condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod.[7]

<There was not a time when there was not virtue

Since God, who is Virtue, has always existed: ‘In the beginning was the Word… All things came to be through him, and without him not one thing came to be which came to be.’[8] Moreover, ‘And God saw all things, as many as he had made, and, Behold! they were exceedingly good.’[9] Among those things which were created were angels and man (in the Orthodox interpretation). Before the fall of the Devil and the Fall of Adam and Eve, all the angels and all men were virtuous.[10] Hence, there was never a time when there virtue did not exist.

nor will there be a time when there will not be [virtue].>

Since God is eternal. Moreover, Evagrius is saying, all that God created was good, including—let us give this an Orthodox interpretation—the angels and man. Not all the angels fell; some have remained virtuous; and men are not depraved; by nature, men have the seeds of virtue in them even if they sin. God’s created beings that have mind (nous) and that are either virtuous angels or men with the seeds of the virtues will never all disappear. Evagrius continues:

For the seeds of the virtues are indelible. And that rich man in the Gospels persuades me who, having been condemned to Hades,

This is the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man from the Gospel of Luke.

felt mercy for his brothers [cf. Luke 16, 19–31].

He asked Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to warn his brothers what risk they were running of going to Hades.

To show mercy is the most beautiful seed of virtue.

The passage from ‘For there was a time when there was not vice’ to here is repeated verbatim in KG I, 40, Scholia on Proverbs 62,[11] and, according to Gehin et al.,[12] in Epistles 43 and 59.

Evagrius himself had this seed. And he himself, the condemned heretic with a deep sense of pity, is a proof of the indelibility of the seed of this virtue.

Of course, with his heterodox doctrine of the Restoration of All Things, Evagrius foresees—and implies in this passage—the ultimate salvation of the Devil and his demons. This is not Orthodox: we Orthodox consider that the Devil and the demons are lost, and that the ferocity with which they attack man, and through him, as by proxy, Christ, is due both to their knowing that they are condemned and to their wilful despair.

It should be remarked that Buddhism—especially Tibetan Buddhism, being the amalgam it is of shamanism, tantrism, and Mahayana Buddhist doctrine—has a far more positive attitude towards the demons than the Orthodox Church. This should give members of the Orthodox Church who feel attracted to Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, occasion for serious reflection on the road on which they might be embarking.

As for the man who sins: only after the General Resurrection is his fate sealed. Those who have died are assisted by the prayers and acts of mercy on their behalf by those members of the Orthodox Church who are still alive.

This chapter does not correspond to any chapter of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

OTT 32–7 turn to the subject of demons, to a large extent as special cases which an advanced ascetic—a gnostic, in fact—will confront; to the foibles of monks; and to general, theoretical considerations on the behaviour of demons. After that, Evagrius turns to close OTT with an advanced discussion of prayer. That discussion is very important but very terse, and just before it we will interrupt this commentary on OTT for the Digression on Evagrius’ doctrine of contemplation, based on texts from the Kephalaia Gnostica. That Digression will enable us the better to understand what Evagrius is saying in the final chapters of OTT, to which we shall return after the Digression.

32 If one aspires after pure prayer and to lead a mind free of thoughts to God,

The ascetical program of the monk is soteriological: he is working out his salvation, his Christian salvation, in fear and trembling, in the fullness that only a monk can. Hence, here, to aspire after pure prayer and to lead a mind free of thoughts to God has a soteriological sense:[13] Evagrius is speaking of a quite purified monk, and that monk will want to complete his salvation by pure prayer and by leading his mind before God. Evagrius has often emphasized that the mind (nous) must be free of thoughts—here we understand ‘thoughts’ to be synonymous with ‘mental representations’ and to include not only demonically sown mental representations but also unimpassioned mental representations of objects of sense, and even the higher intelligible mental representations of natural contemplation—for the mind (nous) to engage in pure prayer and to stand before God; he will explain why in OTT 38–43. Recall that pure prayer is synonymous with Theology, mystical union with God. We take ‘to lead a mind free of thoughts to God’ to be pleonastic here.

let him become master of his temper

Recall TPL 73:

[T]o prudence has been entrusted the work of standing against the temper of the demons, prudence forcing the powers of the soul to operate according to nature and preparing in advance the road of wisdom.[14]

and let him keep watch over those thoughts which are born of it—I mean, those thoughts which occur to us from suspicion and hatred and rancour, which very thoughts, especially, blind the mind

This is the mind (nous) that will see God.

and utterly destroy its heavenly condition.

We have already remarked that the monk’s spiritual condition is his habitual experience of the presence of Grace. Here, Evagrius means more especially the higher forms of contemplation, which are experienced as an exalted[15] presence of the Holy Spirit.

And the holy Paul has exhorted us to this, saying: ‘to raise up towards the Lord holy hands without anger and quarrels’ [1 Tim. 2, 8].

The next section of this chapter is a digression on the foibles of monks who go to law over their inheritance so as to give it to the poor. Evagrius disagrees. Moreover, let us remark, he does not even consider the case that a monk might go to law to get and keep for himself his inheritance. This going to law is a temptation even today. It is an example of the thought mentioned in OTT 30 which corrupts our goal: it is a good thing to give one’s inheritance to the poor; the thought—the demonic temptation—to go to law over one’s inheritance corrupts that goal.

But an evil custom has followed those who have renounced the world and, often entering into lawsuits with members of their own families, they battle for the sake of money or property which ought to be distributed to the poor. These persons, according to our reasoning, are being mocked at by the demons and they are making for themselves more strait the road of the monastic life, igniting the temper in defence of money, then seeking, again, to extinguish the fire with money,

These monks ignite their own temper by going to court over their inheritance and then seek to extinguish their temper by distributing to the poor all or part of the inheritance that they have recovered through a bitter court case.

as if one were to prick his eyeball with a needle

Very, very painful.

so as to apply a collyrium.

A salve for the eye. St John of Sinai uses the same image. Perhaps the image was in common use; perhaps its use by St John of Sinai indicates that he had read in some form or other this work by Evagrius.

For our Lord ordered us to sell our possessions and give to the poor [cf. Matt. 19, 21],

Ostensibly, we are going to law over our inheritance to sell it and give the proceeds to the poor.

but certainly not with a battle and a trial in court.

Although Evagrius is emphasizing the disturbance that occurs to the monk’s temper from such a court case, in our own view, there is also the factor of the public scandal that such a trial causes.

‘It is necessary that a servant of the Lord not do battle,’ [2 Tim. 2, 24] but, also, to him who wishes to go to law with him over the tunic to add also the cloak [cf. Matt. 5, 40];

We have seen this interpretation of the meaning of this passage of the Gospel also in the answers of St Barsanuphios.[16] It seems that this was the common interpretation of the epoch, that the Lord is referring specifically to court cases in this passage of the Gospel—or at least, that the passage of the Gospel can be construed in that fashion. Indeed, it is also the interpretation of the RSV.[17]

to him who strikes the right cheek to offer also the other [cf. Matt. 5, 39]; and to be zealous, further, not to depart having received the money,

From the court-house, after having won the court case.

but lest, having fallen into thoughts of rancour,

Such court cases cause much bitterness and rancour, even for him who wins the case, here the monk. Needless to say, if he loses the case, then he will be the more embittered.

we die, if, indeed, ‘The ways of the rancorous’ lead ‘to death,’ [Prov. 12, 28], according to the wise Solomon.

Having persuaded the monk to suffer the injustice meekly—an admonition that he repeats in Gnostic 8—Evagrius now turns to admonish those who have unlawfully kept back the monk’s inheritance:

However, let him who possesses such money know that he has seized the food and shelter of the blind, the lame and the leper,

That is how the monk would have spent the proceeds from the sale of his inheritance.

and that he owes an accounting to the Lord in a day of judgement.

We have preferred ‘a day of judgement’ to ‘The Day of Judgement’ first, since the definite article necessary for the second rendition is lacking, and, more fundamentally, because in this life their are many days of judgement: it is not only on the Last Day that our injustices are requited by the just judgement of the Lord.

The sense of the passage is that he who has kept back the inheritance owes an accounting to God for what he did with it, since it really belongs to the blind, the lame and the leper to whom the monk would have given the proceeds.

This chapter does not correspond to any chapter of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter, OTT 33, is reminiscent of Evagrius’ odd description in OTT 9, above, of the demon called the ‘wanderer’. This chapter might be called, after Freud, the ‘Demonology of Everyday Life’ in the hermitage. However, the reader should understand that all four cases discussed below occur while the ascetic is reading, even Scripture.

33 There are certain of the unclean demons, which very ones ever sit beside those who are reading and endeavour to seize their mind, many times taking starting-points from the very Holy Scriptures themselves and ending in evil thoughts.

This is the first case. Despite his facetious remark above, the author of this work has experienced this first case many a time, and he is certain that his readers have, too. Our mind (nous) wanders from the text, taking its starting-point from a word or passage in the text, and ends up in shameful thoughts. Evagrius continues with the second case:

There are also the times when they coerce us to yawn contrary to custom,

This is the second case. Yawning was a serious topic in late Classical Greece. St Gregory of Nyssa discusses it in On the Making of Man. Perhaps this is another place where Evagrius shows his Cappadocian roots.

when they impose a very heavy sleep quite foreign to the usual—as certain of the brothers imagined as being according to an unfathomable natural opposition; thus I, having often observed this phenomenon, understood it—

This is the third case. Certain heavy sleeps ‘quite foreign to the usual’ occur. Some of the brothers believe that these sleeps are some inscrutable natural phenomenon. We ourselves have the thought that some of the things that Evagrius has experienced and is about to describe must have been due to a physical ailment. Evagrius, however, having often studied the phenomenon, has concluded that such unusual deep sleeps are the work of demons. He may well be right.

and when, laying hold on the eyelashes and on the whole head, they freeze it by means of their own body—for the bodies of demons are extremely cold and similar to ice.

This is the fourth case. The demon approaches and embraces the head of the monk with its ice-cold fallen-angel’s body. In later Patristic thought, angels are considered semi-material, since only God is truly immaterial; demons are fallen angels; hence, they too, would have a semi-material body.[18] This embracing of the ascetic’s head and eyelashes by an ice-cold demon freezes the head of the ascetic. Evagrius undoubtedly experienced this himself, as he now makes clear:

Wherefore we feel the head to be drawn with a grinding as by a cupping glass.

A cupping glass is a thick, shallow glass cup that is heated so as to create a partial vacuum when it is physically applied, with the cavity of the cup towards the body, to a part of the body. As the glass cools, a partial vacuum is created inside the cup pressed against the flesh, and this ‘bleeds’ the person at the point of contact: the partial vacuum draws blood from the skin. Evagrius considers that the demon is ‘bleeding’ the spiritual, and animal, warmth from the head of the ascetic, making the same sound that a cupping glass makes when that cupping glass is in operation.

They do this so that, when they have drawn off to themselves the warmth which lies within the skull, then, further, the eyelashes, slackened by the dampness and coldness, slip round the pupils of the eyes.

The eyes slip shut. The significance of this is that the reading stops: the demon has put the ascetic into an unnatural sleep.

At any rate, many times, touching, I have laid hold on the eyelashes frozen as if with ice and the whole face deadened and shivering.

We ourselves wonder to what extent this is not a pathological chill due to a physical ailment.

And, further, natural sleep by nature warms the bodies and fills the face of those who are healthy with a blooming colour, as can be learned by experience itself.

KG VI, 25 reads as follows:

VI, 25 When the demons have not been able to put into motion the bad thoughts in the gnostic, then they close his eyes by means of a great cold and they draw them towards a heavy sleep; for the bodies of demons are very cold, similar to ice.

The version commune (S1) adds: ‘and thus they make him cease from (his) good activity’. Two things stand out: There is nothing here about reading, the sense is more general; and this is said to happen to the gnostic. From the first point we can conclude that Evagrius has here fit a number of independent episodes or cases into the framework of reading (see his conclusion to the chapter, below). From the second point, we can conclude that Evagrius conceived OTT as a number of layers, with each successive layer pitched to a higher stage of the spiritual life. Here, in this layer, OTT 30–7, Evagrius is addressing the gnostic. In OTT 38, he will make a transition to the gnostic in the natural contemplation of angels and heading towards Theology. We do not take the position that OTT is a uniform work aimed at the gnostic per se. We think that it spans the spectrum from the ascetic on the borders of dispassion to the gnostic in the stages just described.

Evagrius returns to the topic of yawns:

The demons, however, make those yawns which are contrary to nature and stretched to the utmost

Evagrius is talking not about all yawns but about certain exaggerated yawns that he thinks are unusual.

by making themselves small and fine and attaching themselves to the inside of the mouth. But this up to today I have not perceived,

Evagrius is careful: what he knows he says.

even if I have often suffered it.

He has experienced this.

I heard this when the holy Makarios

The Alexandrian.

was speaking to me and when he brought forth, as proof, the fact that those who yawn seal their mouths [with the sign of the cross] according to an ancient unspoken tradition.

This tradition of making the sign of the cross over the mouth during or after a yawn is alive today, 1600 years after St Makarios and Evagrius Pontikos died, in Greece and on Mount Athos.

Evagrius now draws his conclusion:

We suffer all of these things because we do not pay attention with soberness

Again, soberness.

to the reading,

It appears that all these three cases occur while the ascetic is reading. But see our remarks, on the basis of KG VI, 25, on the third case above.

nor do we remember that we reading the holy words of the Living God.

This chapter does not correspond to any chapter of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter is very important. It is parallel to TPL 59.

previous | Table of Contents | next

[1] See the previous chapter and the analysis of Evagrius in OTT 7 of the offering of hospitality.

[2] See Chapter IV of Volume I.

[3] Section 1, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[4] OTT G p. 260, fn. 1.

[5] Gen. 1, 31.

[6] Rom. 7, 18–25.

[7] See Sections 9 and 11, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[8] John 1, 1, 3.

[9] Gen. 1, 31.

[10] For Evagrius, quite soundly, virtue can only apply to a being with mind (nous); it cannot apply to an object such as a tree. See Section 5, Chapter III, of Volume I.

[11] Proverbs pp. 152–4.

[12] OTT G p. 263, fn. 8.

[13] We are again ignoring the Evagrian cosmological aspects and giving the passage an Orthodox interpretation.

[14] Emphasis added.

[15] In the positive sense.

[16] Barsanuphios.

[17] RSV.

[18] See Chapter V, and also Section 8, Chapter III, of Volume I.


Post a Comment

<< Home