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TPL (Commentary) -- 1

II Treatise on the Practical Life (Commentary)

By Evagrius the Monk

We will now enter directly into Evagrius’ ascetical psychology. Let us point out that Evagrius, a very careful architect of the word, has a hierarchy of works, and that two of his works are more elementary than Treatise on the Practical Life. The first is Bases of the Monastic Life, known in the English translation of the Philokalia as Outline Teaching on Asceticism and Stillness in the Solitary Life,[1] in Migne as Rerum monachalium rationes[2] and in the Greek versions of the Philokalia as Hupotuposis Monachike.[3] The second is Pros Eulogion (Towards Eulogios), not found in the Philokalia but present in Migne under the name of St Neilos the Ascetic.[4] These two works can be found in English translation in Sinkewicz, which also has a somewhat better Greek text than Migne of Pros Eulogion (Towards Eulogios).

These works are recommended. We ignore them, however, and enter into Evagrius with Treatise on the Practical Life. ‘Treatise on the Practical Life’ could well be rendered ‘Treatise of Praktike’. ‘Praktike’ is a technical term used by Evagrius to denote a specific stage of the spiritual and ascetical life; we have uniformly rendered it ‘the practical life’.

We will largely ignore the introductory letter.

Since, most beloved brother Anatolios, you have recently written from the Holy Mountain

The Guillaumonts and Fr Gabriel Bunge believe that this refers to Jerusalem (Mount Zion), although the former believe that Anatolios was a well-born Spaniard, while the latter believes that he was Rufinus.

to me, staying in Skete, and you have asked me to clarify the symbolic habit of the monks in Egypt—for you have thought that it is something neither without purpose nor perverse, having such a great difference from the other habits of men—well then, as much as we have learned from the holy fathers we will proclaim.

St John Cassian (?–435) in Book One of his Cœnobitical Institutions[5] follows this presentation of Evagrius concerning the monastic habit.

The cucullion, then, is a symbol of the grace of our Saviour God. It covers their ruling part and succours the infancy in Christ on account of those who ever try to strike and wound. As many as wear the cucullion on their head chant these words in power: ‘If the Lord does not build the house and guard the city, in vain has he laboured who builds and he who attempts to guard.’ [Cf. Ps. 126, 1.] Such words, on the one hand, work humility; on the other hand, they uproot pride, the ancient evil which cast down upon the earth ‘the Daystar which rises in the morning’ [Isa. 14, 12].

The denuding of the hands manifests the unhypocritical nature of this way of life. For vainglory is skilful to cover up and shadow the virtues, ever hunting glories which come from men and casting out faith. For he says: ‘How can you believe, receiving glory from one another and not seeking the glory which comes from the One God?’ [John 5, 44.] For the good must be preferable not for the sake of something else, but rather for itself. For if this is not granted, that which moves us to the work of the good will appear to be much more honourable than the work which is done, which very thing would be among the most absurd of things: that one could conceive and say that there would be something better than God.

The analabos, again, that which is woven in the form of a cross around the shoulders, is a symbol of the faith in Christ, which faith supports the meek and ever restrains the impediments and provides them with an untrammelled work.

The belt which cinctures their kidneys repels all uncleanness and proclaims this: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ [1 Cor. 7, 1.]

The myloten is worn by those who ‘always carry about the death of Jesus in their bodies’ [2 Cor. 4, 10], and who, on the one hand, put to silence all the irrational passions of the body and who, on the other hand, cut off the evils of the soul through participation in the Good; and who love poverty and flee avarice as the mother of idolatry.

The staff is ‘a tree of life to all those who clasp it and a secure [support] to all those who are supported by it, as upon the Lord.’ [Prov. 3, 18.]

And so, in brief, the habit is the symbol of these things, and these words are those which the fathers ever say to them:

The fear of God, children, renders faith sure, and continence in turn renders sure the fear of God. And patient endurance and hope render steadfast continence, from which things is born dispassion, of which the child is charity. And charity is the door of natural gnosis, to which Theology succeeds, and the ultimate blessedness.

This is a very good summary by Evagrius of his own doctrine.

And so, let so much be said for the present concerning the sacred habit and the teaching of the Elders.

Concerning, then, the practical life and the gnostic life, we are now going to narrate, not as much as we have seen and heard, but as much as we have learned from them to say to others, the practical in one hundred chapters,

This is the present Treatise on the Practical Life.

the gnostic life divided into fifty,

This is the Gnostic, which we present in translation, without commentary, as Appendix 1 of the present volume.

in addition to six hundred chapters

This is the Kephalaia Gnostica, which we present in translation, without commentary, as Appendix 2 of the present volume. However we discuss in extenso the cosmological doctrines of the Kephalaia Gnostica in Chapter III, ‘The Cosmology of Evagrius Pontikos’, of Volume I of the present study; and we discuss in extenso the doctrine of contemplation of the Kephalaia Gnostica in the Digression to the commentary on On the Thoughts, further on in this volume.

passing through in an abridged fashion;

This appears to refer both to the Gnostic and the Kephalaia Gnostica, but the Kephalaia Gnostica seems to be the more obviously abridged.

and we have hidden certain things and obscured others,

This certainly applies to the Kephalaia Gnostica. The Treatise on the Practical Life and the Gnostic seem much less deliberately obscure.

so as ‘not to give holy things to dogs and not to cast our pearls before swine’ [cf. Matt. 7, 6]. These things, however, will be clear to those who have followed in the same track as they.

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[1] Philokalia E Volume I, pp. 31 ff.

[2] Migne 40, 1252D–64C.

[3] Philokalia D or G Volume I.

[4] Migne 79, 1093D–140A.

[5] Cassian I.


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