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OTT (Commentary) -- 2

6 Concerning that we ought not to take care on account of clothing or food, I think it is superfluous to write since the Lord himself, in the Gospels, has forbidden it: ‘Therefore do not take care in your soul what you shall eat or what you shall drink or with what you shall be clothed.’ [Matt. 6, 25; 6, 31.] For this is without disguise a thing of the pagans and of the unbelievers, those who refuse the providence of the Master and who deny the Creator. Such a thing as this is completely alien to Christians, those who have believed once and for all that the two sparrows which have been sold for a penny [cf. Matt. 10, 29] are under the husbandry of the angels.

However, there is also this custom of the demons: after the unclean thoughts, also to cast in those of anxious care, so that Jesus turns aside, there being a crowd of mental representations in the place of the intellect [cf. John 5, 13], and thus the word does not bear fruit, being strangled by the thorns of anxious care [cf. Matt. 13, 22].

Therefore, having divested ourselves of the thoughts which arise from anxious care, let us cast our anxious care upon the Lord [cf. Ps. 54, 23; 1 Pet. 5, 7], being content with what is at hand [cf. Heb. 13, 5]; and, using a poor life and clothing, let us strip ourselves in broad daylight of the fathers of vainglory. If someone believes that he behaves in an unseemly fashion wearing a poor habit, let him look at the holy Paul ‘in cold and nakedness’ [2 Cor. 11, 27] expecting the ‘crown of justice’ [2 Tim. 4, 8]. But since the Apostle called this world a theatre and a stadium, let us see whether it is possible for one having clothed himself in thoughts of anxious care to run ‘towards the prize of the higher calling of Christ’ [Phil. 3, 14] or to wrestle ‘with the principalities and the powers and the world rulers of this darkness’ [Eph. 6, 12]. I myself do not know, even instructed by this sensible inquiry itself: for that athlete will manifestly be impeded by his frock and he will easily be dragged about, just as the mind will be by thoughts of anxious care, if, indeed, the word is true which says that the mind will adhere firmly to its own treasure. He says: ‘Wherever your treasure is, there also will be your heart.’ [Matt. 6, 21.]

This chapter corresponds to the last part of Chapter 5 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

The next chapter, 7, is an extremely important discussion of how one thought relates to the next. It constitutes a serious discussion of motive and intention, and therefore of our moral responsibility in acting on a thought or not. It also addresses the question, when do our motives change? We will therefore discuss this chapter in great detail; it advances Evagrian psychology over that in TPL.

7 Of the thoughts, some cut off and some are cut off.

‘Thoughts’ here, as we have already indicated, translates logismoi. Normally, especially in modern Athonite parlance, logismos means a demonic thought, one which has commenced with the excitation of a passion by a demon which has approached the ascetic, who himself experiences the commencement of the demonic thought as the impassioned recollection of an object of sense. As the context will immediately make clear, however, in both this chapter and the next, Evagrius is using thought in its most general Classical sense of a thought of any kind. Hence, here, the reader should understand a thought to be a thought of any kind that the person might have, whether angelic, human or demonic in origin.[1]

When Evagrius says ‘Of the thoughts some cut off and some are cut off,’ he means this: I have a thought. Another thought occurs in my intellect (here it must be understood that the intellect is the field of consciousness of the person, not his capacity for discursive reason) and displaces, stops—cuts off—the first thought. Another thought—it might even be the original thought—comes and does the same. We understand Evagrius to be describing the temporal flow of thought—later he will assert that a person can have only one thought at a time—, the later thought always cutting off or displacing the earlier. We do not consider that he is developing a typology of thoughts in which one type of thought would be the cutter and the other type the being cut. What is involved is a minute analysis of the temporal flow of conscious thought.

And the evil thoughts cut off the good thoughts, while, again, the evil thoughts are cut off by the good thoughts.

First, let us remark that despite the great attention paid by him in TPL to demonically inspired thoughts, for Evagrius not all thoughts are bad. (However, during prayer, we must have no thoughts.)

Next, what Evagrius is saying is that in the temporal flow of conscious thought, I might have a good thought which is cut off by a bad thought which comes later, so that having thought a good thought, I am suddenly thinking a bad thought. However, the opposite is true too: I might be thinking a bad thought and a good thought might come and displace it—cut it off. I started off thinking a bad thought and now I am thinking a good thought.

Therefore the Holy Spirit attends to the thought which is placed first and judges us or accepts us on the basis of that one.

This is the beginning of Evagrius’ analysis of motive, of our reason for doing something. The significance of the judgement of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit assesses—judges—our moral culpability or praiseworthiness. Hence, what is at issue is our moral responsibility when we do something. What Evagrius is saying is that the Holy Spirit judges us on the basis of the first thought on which we act. This will become clear as we proceed.

What I am saying is of this sort: I have a certain thought of hospitality and I have this for the sake of the Lord, but this thought is cut off when the tempter attacks and suggests that I offer hospitality for the sake of glory.

This is clear enough. I see a fellow and I have the thought of offering hospitality for the sake of the Lord. This is a good thought. I do offer hospitality. But while I am walking across the street to accost the fellow—let us say, a stranger; I know he does not have a place to stay—the tempter attacks and suggests that I offer hospitality for the sake of glory—so that all the villagers might see what a wonderful guy I am.

And, again, I have a thought of hospitality for the sake of being seen by men, but this is cut off when a better thought insinuates itself directing our virtue towards the Lord, rather, and obliging us not to do these things for the sake of men.

This chapter up to this point corresponds to Chapter 6 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia. The remainder of this chapter is omitted from the Philokalia.

This is the second case. Another day, another stranger. This time, the first thought I have on which I act is to offer hospitality so as to be seen by the men of the village. While I am crossing the street, however, a better thought insinuates itself that I ought to do these things for the sake of the Lord.

Evagrius’ problem in these two cases is this: How does the Holy Spirit judge our intention in each of the two cases? His solution now follows:

If, therefore, through our works we further abide in the first thoughts,

If I actually act on the first thought with unwavering decisiveness.

being tempted by the second thoughts, we will have the reward only of the first-placed thoughts,

That is, in the first of the two cases given, the Holy Spirit will judge that I have offered hospitality for the Lord, since that is the first thought on which I acted, whereas in the second of the two cases, the Holy Spirit will judge that I have offered hospitality for the sake of vainglory, since that is the first thought on which I acted.

since being men and wrestling with demons we do not have the strength always to possess the correct thought uncorrupted

This is the first case. I am crossing the street because I am acting on the first thought, that of offering hospitality for the Lord, but being human, I do not have the strength to keep my intellect free of the demonic suggestion that I offer hospitality for the sake of being seen by the men of the village. The Holy Spirit, however, attends to the first thought, the good one, on which I acted.

nor the evil thought untempted, having acquired the seeds of the virtues.

This is the second case. I am crossing the street because I have decided to offer hospitality for the sake of being seen by men. This is a demonically inspired thought. However, being a man, I have the seeds of the virtues in me—in TPL, Evagrius treats these seeds as innate; here, he sees them as acquired, how he does not explain—and because of these seeds of the virtues (despite the Fall of Adam, I am not depraved) the demonic thought of vainglory on which I am actually acting is ‘tempted’ by the good thought that I ought to do this thing for the sake of God. The Holy Spirit, however, attends to the first thought, the bad one on which I acted.

This is Evagrius’ analysis of intention, motive and the concomitant moral responsibility that we bear for our actions. The Holy Spirit judges us on the basis of the first thought on which we act. Evagrius now introduces an important qualification having to do with changes of motive:

However, if one of the thoughts which cuts off remains for a long time, it is established in the place of the thought which is cut off, and, set in motion, further, according to that thought, the man acts.

What Evagrius means is this: In the first case, while I am crossing the street, the thought of offering hospitality to be seen by the men of the village persists and gets firmly installed in place of the thought of doing it for the Lord, so that by the time I actually hail the man, it is on the thought of vainglory that I am acting. In this case, the Holy Spirit judges my intention on the basis of the second thought, that which has become firmly established and on which I am now acting. My motive has changed. Here, we said that it changed while I was crossing the street. It might change even later.

The second case is similar. While I am crossing the street, the good thought cuts off or displaces the original thought of vainglory and becomes firmly established, so that when actually I hail the stranger, I am really acting on the basis of the second, virtuous thought, which is now firmly established. I have changed my mind. Of course, I might experience this change of motive or intention even later. In this second case, the Holy Spirit will judge my intention on the basis of the second good thought, now firmly established.

Several things need to be commented on. According to Evagrius’ analysis, in the cases he has given and that we have interpreted, the good, virtuous thought is a human thought, not an angelic or demonic thought. Evagrius remarks that these good thoughts can arise because we have ‘acquired’ the seeds of the virtues. Above, we mentioned that in TPL Evagrius treated the virtues as something whose seeds each man has innately. In TPL 81, he makes this point, referring just to faith. To the extent that we do in fact acquire the seeds of the virtues apart from their natural existence in us, the Orthodox view would be that they are acquired in Baptism—Baptism and Chrismation. They would be given increase by prayer; they would be sanctified and given increase by the Mysteries, by the Body and Blood of Christ, of which Christ says: ‘He who eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.’[2]

Nowadays, the Fathers will often refer to a thought—a good thought—as being due to a movement in our soul of God—the Holy Spirit. We are not aware of such language in the works of Evagrius that we are commenting on.

Next, although Evagrius himself does not say so, it is well to remark that the establishment of the second thought as the basis for our action according to which we are judged by the Holy Spirit—this is the last sentence of the chapter—requires our consent to the thought. Recall that in TPL 74 and 75, Evagrius established a two-part schema of temptation and sin in thought for the practical, moral life. The key to the sin in thought was the consent of the monk to the forbidden pleasure of the thought. In the analysis we have developed immediately above, the forbidden pleasure is the pleasure of vainglory, of being seen by the men of the village as a great guy. We remarked in our commentary on the chapters of TPL just referred to that St Hesychios would introduce a more elaborated schema of temptation and sin, which, however, had the same basic structure as the Evagrian schema. What we want to say is this: Either of the schemas, whether the two-part Evagrian schema of TPL or the more elaborated schema of St Hesychios, should be applied to the last sentence of the present chapter. That is, although Evagrius himself does not say so, we think that it is appropriate to view the establishment of the second thought as the basis of our actions not merely as a matter of the persistence of the thought—a thought may persist as temptation—but as a matter of consent. This is a central aspect of the two schemas of temptation and sin, both the Evagrian and the Hesychian: sin begins with consent. Of course, in practical terms, in the case of a persistent temptation which bit by bit gains ascendancy over the ascetic, the moment of consent may be hard to discern, although we ourselves believe that there will always be such a moment of consent. The question would in any event arise: well, why did you not rebut the thought? Why did you not pray to be delivered from the thought? Why did you dally with it? The refusal to combat the thought conveys moral responsibility, as we will see in OTT 22 and 24, below.

In Skemmata 45 and 58, however, Evagrius offers a more subtle analysis than ours. He considers the mere persistence of a demonic thought to be harmful, and it is with this perspective in mind that we must consider his remarks here and in OTT 22 and 24 concerning the danger of allowing a demonic thought to persist.

To return to our own analysis, in the first case I have decided to offer hospitality for the sake of the Lord. I am crossing the street to hail the stranger, and the thought occurs to me that I should do this so as to be seen by the men of the village. In Evagrius’ explicit analysis, this thought merely through its temporal persistence may become established and may ultimately become the true basis of my action. What we ourselves are saying is the we should apply the schemas of temptation and sin, and see the consent to this thought of vainglory as marking its establishment as the true basis of my action. I am crossing the street; I have the thought; I consent to it: my motive has become vainglory. Or I do not consent to it, and my motive remains to offer hospitality for the sake of the Lord although I am being tempted by the thought of being seen by the men of the village. Of course, we all know ourselves to begin something on the basis of one thought and to give partial consent to the second thought, without completely abandoning the first thought and without completely accepting the second thought. I start to offer hospitality for the sake of the Lord; crossing the street, I partially accept the thought of vainglory without fully abandoning the virtuous thought and without fully accepting that second thought of vainglory. I am a double-minded man of mixed motives.

Finally, while the schemas of temptation and sin of Evagrius and St Hesychios are ordinarily considered schemas of assault by a demonic thought (temptation) and consent to it (sin), these schemas are equally applicable to the case where I begin to act on a bad thought, and a human thought supervenes because I have acquired the seeds of the virtues. This is Evagrius’ second case. I have decided to offer hospitality to be seen by the men of the village. As I am crossing the street, a human thought insinuates itself—I am a baptized Orthodox Christian created in the image of God—that I ought to do this for the Lord. The schemas of temptation and sin still apply: the key is whether I consent to this new, human, virtuous thought or not. And of course I may partially consent, without completely rejecting the first thought of vainglory. I am again a double-minded man acting on mixed motives.

And is this not the key to the characterizations of Shakespeare? That his villains are never bereft of some good, nor his heroes of some bad? Is it not that they are human just as you or I?

We leave the reader to reflect on the role of consent in the establishment of moral responsibility for a thought (logismos), especially in the context of the present chapter of OTT, given Evagrius’ own doctrine in the Skemmata that the mere chronological persistence of a thought is damaging.

One very important point is implicit in what is being said both by Evagrius and by us here: the person who has moral responsibility is not the flow of his thoughts. What we mean is this: I consent to a thought or rebut it—whether the thought be human or demonic, or even angelic. This implies that I am not my thoughts: I have chosen whether to accept the thought or to reject it. Recall our model of Eve in Eden confronted with temptation. She accepted and did not refuse the temptation. She was free to choose, and she chose to accept and consent to the temptation, and with fateful consequences for the human race. But when we are presented in our mind’s eye, in our intellect, that is, with the impassioned recollection of an object of sense, we too are free to refuse or to consent to the incipient logismos. Some part of us is free to judge the logismos and either to accept it or to reject it. Hence, some part of us that chooses and decides is other than the field of consciousness that holds—is imprinted by—the mental representation. That is the part of us that will pray. St Hesychios will in On Sobriety 145 call this part of us ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’. Recall that in Chapter II of Volume I, St Macrina asserted that one attribute of the human mind (nous) which preserved the image of God in man was man’s ability to discriminate between the good and the worse. This implies that the part of man that discriminates between the good and the worse is other than the bundle of thoughts that flow through his field of consciousness. Recall that David Hume (1711–1776), the English philosopher, posited that the person was the bundle of his sense-perceptions and reflections of sense-perceptions, and that a man’s moral judgement was a matter of sentiment. What we are saying is that since we can judge the sense-perceptions and thoughts morally by means of the intuitive faculty of mind that St Macrina refers to, we are other than the bundle of sense-perceptions and thoughts that appear in our field of consciousness. This distinction is fundamental to the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart. Without grasping it experientially, the reader would be in danger in attempting to practise in solitude the Prayer of Jesus in the higher form in the mind and then in attempting to bring his mind down into his heart along with the Prayer.

Now modern urban man is a fragmented, fractured individual. His thoughts are topsy-turvy with the barrage of sense-perceptions and recollections that he experiences.

When a person prays the Jesus Prayer in the mind, some progress can be made; when the person prays in solitude in the heart much progress can be made. Progress in arresting this topsy-turvy flow of thought. This is important: as the person enters more deeply into prayer in the heart, then his thoughts become more focused and that part of him which judges the usefulness or not of the thought becomes more able to accept or refuse the thought. Thus, as the person enters more and more into the eremitic way, his thoughts more and more conform to the model given by Evagrius.

In evaluating Evagrius’ analysis, then, the reader should bear in mind that Evagrius was a hermit whose thought processes were much slower and much more focused than the thought processes of a man on Fifth Avenue in New York. And the very meagre diet of the Fourth Century hermit certainly would have contributed significantly to the slowing and focusing of Evagrius’ thought processes. Evagrius’ analysis should not be dismissed.

The next chapter discusses the types of thoughts.

8 Of the thoughts which are angelic, human or from the demons, we learned from much observation that the difference is this: First, that the angelic thoughts busy themselves with the natures of objects and trace their spiritual reasons (logoi), as: for the sake of what gold has come to be; why, having a sandy texture, it has been sown somewhere below in the parts of the earth and why it is found with much labour and pain; how, having been found, it is washed and surrendered to fire and thus is placed in the hands of the artisans who are making the lamp of the Tent and the incense burner and the censers and the bowls [cf. Exod. 25, 31; etc.], in which no longer does the Babylonian King drink [cf. Dan. 5, 1–30], on account of the grace of our Saviour. Cleopas, however, bears a heart burning from these very mysteries [cf. Luke 24, 32].

We will discuss this chapter at its end, but let us here clear up some small details. We have followed Gehin et al.’s rendering ‘the incense burner and the censers’ so as to avoid egregious pleonasm. We have not accepted their emendation that would make of Cleopas a part of the contemplation. Rather, we see Cleopas as a type of the gnostic who has the aforementioned angelic thought—or contemplation of the spiritual reason (logos) of gold.

The demonic thought neither knows nor understands these things: it insolently suggests the sole acquisition of sensible gold and it foretells the luxury and glory which will be from it.

The human thought neither quests after the acquisition nor delves into what gold is a symbol of, but it simply bears into the intellect the mere form of gold, having been separated from the passion of avarice.

Let us begin with human thoughts. Evagrius mentions here one specific human thought: the ‘mere’ mental representation, uncharged by passion, of an object of sense—gold. This type of thought is very important to Evagrius’ analysis in OTT, but before addressing it, let us mention two other types of human thought that Evagrius himself admits in other places.

The first we discussed in the previous chapter: this is the human thought to act virtuously which arises from the seeds of the virtues we have in us, whether by nature, since we are men created in the image of God, or whether acquired, by Orthodox Baptism and Chrismation.

The second Evagrius has referred to in passing in TPL and will refer to later in OTT and even in the Skemmata. This is a bad thought, similar to a demonic thought, which arises from our habitual vices. Let us suppose that I have the thought to offer hospitality for the sake of the Lord and am crossing the street to hail the stranger. In the previous chapter, Evagrius posited that a demonic thought might occur to me suggesting that I offer the hospitality for the sake of vainglory, for the sake of being seen by the men of the village. Later in OTT, however, he will say something to the effect that if I am habitually subject to the passion of vainglory, I may have a similar thought of vainglory while I am crossing the street to hail the stranger, a thought that arises not from demonic provocation but from my own habitual vice, in this case, vainglory. So this is the last type of human thought.

Let us now turn to the type of human thought that is the subject of the chapter at hand.

In former times, in parts of Africa and Southern Asia, the cowrie shell was used as money, just as gold was used in Evagrius’ day, and also today, and just as paper money is used today. We ourselves have never seen a cowrie shell; we wouldn’t know one if we saw it.

We imagine that a native of one of the societies that was wont to use the cowrie shell as a medium of exchange and measure of value, when the demon of avarice approached him or her, would have had impassioned recollections, inter alia, of much cowrie shell.

To us this seems stupid, infantile, silly. To us, whatever it is, a cowrie shell is—well, just a cowrie shell.

This is what Evagrius means when he speaks of the human thought that neither quests after the acquisition of cowrie shell nor delves into what the cowrie shell is a symbol of, but which simply bears into the intellect the mere form of the cowrie shell, having been separated from avarice.

In our culture, the human thought would view gold, money, stocks, bonds and bank accounts exactly in the same way as if—in our culture—they were cowrie shells.

We are reminded of the story—we do not know whether it is true—of the children in the diamond fields who play marbles—with diamonds. They have human thoughts about marbles.

So this is the dispassionate human thought of gold, or of any other object, the sense-perception of which might be charged with any one of the passions of man.

The next type of thought is the demonic thought. This we have adequately treated both here and in TPL.

The next type of thought, the angelic thought, is here addressed in depth for the first time. As can be seen from Evagrius’ example of an angelic thought, it is not merely an impulse or twinge of conscience, such as one might think, but a full-blown gnostic contemplation.

Let us recall that in the Evagrian system, once the ascetic has attained to dispassion (apatheia), he can enter into the life of natural contemplation and its related gnosis. This life of natural contemplation is divided temporally into two parts: the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created objects[3] and the contemplation of the angels and their reasons (logoi). Let us recall that this life of natural contemplation is succeeded by the third and final stage of the spiritual ascent, the contemplation of God himself, Theology.

The second natural contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created objects has these characteristics: In this contemplation, the mind (nous) sees intuitively the reasons (logoi) of created objects in a way similar but not identical to the way that God himself sees their reasons (logoi). We say ‘in a way similar but not identical to’ to cover Evagrius’ very important qualification in Gnostic 40:

40 Take care to the fact that, for each created thing, there is not just one reason, but a great number, and according to measure of each person. The holy powers alone attain to the true reasons of objects, but not the first, that which is known only by the Christ.

These reasons (logoi) might be considered the raisons d’être of created objects, but the raisons d’être viewed, in their highest form, from the standpoint of God. As Creator of the object, God contains in himself, in his Mind, from all eternity the raison d’être of each created object. Recall that this was St Gregory of Nyssa’s argument for the unity of the human race as the image of God: God has knowledge from all eternity of every concrete individual human who ever will be born.

These raisons d’être or reasons (logoi) might be called the purposes in the Divine Mind from all eternity for the objects of which they are the raisons d’être or reasons (logoi). Considering Evagrius’ qualification in Gnostic 40, in contemplating the reason or (logos) of the created object the ascetic attains to a partial intuitive knowledge (gnosis) of the reason (logos) of the object, which only God has in its fullness.

Moreover, as we discussed in Chapter IV of Volume I, St Augustine has a somewhat different doctrine than Evagrius of the reasons (logoi) in the Mind of God: Evagrius situates the second natural contemplation at a rather lower level of spiritual attainment than does St Augustine: for Evagrius, the reasons (logoi) are not so much in the Mind of God as in the wisdom of God expressed in creation in the way that the art of the artist is expressed in his work of art.

How are these raisons d’être or reasons (logoi) apprehended? In Section 5, Chapter III, of Volume I, by means of passages from the Kephalaia Gnostica we introduced the notion of spiritual senses of the mind (nous). It is with these spiritual senses that the ascetic intuitively apprehends the reason (logos) of the created object, evidently according to the measure of his spiritual progress. The intuitive apprehension of the reason (logos) of the created object is not the result of discursive reasoning, of Scholastic syllogism or of any such thing. It is an intuitive apprehension with a spiritual sense.

To get an idea of what is involved, and also to grasp why Evagrius included that chapter in his little Sayings of the Desert Fathers at the end of TPL, let us refer to TPL 92. There, a philosopher approaches St Anthony, the renowned and now perfect hermit, and asks: How do you do without books here in this utter desolation? St Anthony replies: ‘My book, philosopher, is the nature of things which have come to be and it is here present whenever I wish to read the words (logoi) which are of God.’

This is second natural contemplation.

Note that St Anthony says ‘…here present whenever I wish to read the words (logoi) which are of God’. This voluntary aspect of second natural contemplation is repeated by Evagrius in OTT 17, where he presents a doctrine similar to sobriety. This voluntary aspect is also implied by St Hesychios in On Sobriety 30.

Second natural contemplation is clearly something the gnostic can engage in when he wishes. It is not an involuntary encounter with Tathata, Suchness, such as an Aldous Huxley might experience.

Moreover, all the examples we have encountered in Evagrius and St Hesychios of such contemplations are, just as in the example presented by Evagrius in the chapter of OTT that we are commenting on, quite verbal. Moreover, in KG V, 63 Evagrius indicates that in a natural way ‘measure’ enters into the second natural contemplation.

Someone suggested that that was mere literary form, that the actual contemplation was rather more ‘hyper-verbal’. We do not know. We do know that spiritual senses are involved which involve the intuitive apprehension of the reason (logos) of the object: the reason (logos) is grasped in its entirety (according to the measure of the man) or not grasped at all.[4]

Now this is what an angelic thought or natural contemplation is all about, and as far as we know, such angelic thoughts or natural contemplations are Orthodox, having been accepted by St Maximos the Confessor. For example, in the Ambigua (Peri Diaphoron Aporion) 10, 17, St Maximos identifies (second) natural contemplation with the natural law, and states that it is equal in honour to the written Law of Scripture.[5]

Evagrius’ angelic thought in this chapter of OTT may have influenced St John Cassian in his own references to the Temple of God in the dedicatory prologue to the Cœnobitical Institutions.[6]

We will return to a detailed discussion of contemplation just before OTT 38 when we interrupt this commentary on OTT for the Digression on the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation, based on material on the ascetical life and contemplation in the Kephalaia Gnostica that we omitted in our discussion of that work in Chapter III of Volume I.

However, the angelic contemplation here presented by Evagrius presents us with a problem in our commentary on this chapter. The contemplation is heretical. At face value, there does not seem to be much to the contemplation: the angel suggests that the divine purpose of gold is to make utensils for the Temple of God. Nothing heretical there.

However, as Gehin et al. remark in their notes to this chapter,[7] this ‘angelic’ contemplation is really an allegorical presentation of the Evagrian system condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Synod.[8] We need not decode the allegory here. That the angelic contemplation presented is an allegory of a heretical system, however, causes us some concern. We would hope, in fact, that Evagrius constructed the contemplation himself as a representative type of such contemplations. Then we could simply throw all the responsibility onto him by taking him to be the real author of the allegory. If, in fact, however, Evagrius is recording an actual experience he received from without, we must quote two passages of Scripture:

I am astonished that you are so quickly changed from him who called you in grace, Christ, to another Gospel, which is not another; otherwise, certain ones are those who are confounding you and wishing to change the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach to you contrary to what we [ourselves] preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, even now I say again: if anyone should preach to you contrary to what you received, let him be accursed.[9]

For even Satan is transformed into an angel of light.[10]

It is fundamental to Christian asceticism that all contemplations of whatever type and source be subject to the rule of sound doctrine.

The very same word (logos) practised in a mysterious way will be spoken according to this very rule in reference to the other objects also.

On the face of it, this is an instruction to conduct the same meditation or contemplation in reference to ‘the other objects’. It is not clear whether Evagrius means, ‘in reference to the objects of the other passions’, or whether he means, ‘in reference to the other objects, say silver, of the same passion’. We think that he must mean the former. The word translated ‘mysterious’ presents a certain difficulty: Evagrius is remarkable for the precision of his diction, and the word is used primarily in reference to the mystery religions. Hence, the sense seems to be somewhat more than the mere secret practice of the contemplation—that is, the inner, mental practice of it when one is alone in the hermitage. We think that Evagrius is probably hinting at the more esoteric aspects of his own heterodox cosmology. Our remark above concerning the necessity of testing every contemplation against the rule of sound doctrine is apposite here too.

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 7 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

OTT 9–16 are a return to the subject of demons. OTT 9 and 11 speak of demons hitherto unmentioned by Evagrius: the ‘wanderer’ and the demon of insensibility. OTT 12 is a deeper discussion of the demon of sorrow, while OTT 14 and 15 are a deeper discussion of the demon of vainglory. OTT 10 and 13 are more general theoretical discussions of how we should confront the demons. OTT 17 then introduces an Evagrian doctrine similar to that of sobriety and which therefore is of the utmost importance to us in preparing for Volume III, where we discuss the Hesychian doctrine of sobriety.

In commencing OTT 9, we would like to remark that Evagrius is here sometimes ambiguous whether the interaction of the ascetic with the demon happens only in the ascetic’s imagination (intellect) or whether there is actual physical action on the part of the ascetic. Sometimes it seems apparent that fantasy in the mind is involved; sometimes the passage can be read both ways. We would also like to remind the reader of what we remarked in our commentary on TPL: in discussing a demonic fantasy or demonic stream of thoughts, or, here in OTT 9, the rebuttal, Evagrius, the careful stylist, sometimes adopts the syntactical non sequitur. We have here left such passages in their original style.

As for the demon called the ‘wanderer’, we ourselves are somewhat bemused by Evagrius’ account of it, as we are with several of the other accounts of demons yet to be presented by him in OTT. It seems that the demon called the ‘wanderer’ corresponds to the situation in which the tired ascetic ‘about dawn’—at the end of the nightly vigil of prayer and perhaps reading—falls half-asleep into a day-dream about visits to friends and acquaintances. Evagrius does not think the matter harmless.

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[1] OTT 8, below.

[2] John 6, 56.

[3] Or, objects which have come to be, our paraphrase.

[4] KG II, 28.

[5] Migne 91, col. 1128C–D.

[6] Cassian I.

[7] OTT G p. 179, fn 4.

[8] See Chapter III of Volume I.

[9] Gal. 1, 6–9.

[10] 2 Cor. 11, 14.


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