Faith: the beginning of love. The end of love: knowledge of God.

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Faith: the beginning of love. The end of love: knowledge of God.

EVAGRIUS PONTICUS (345CE-399CE)

EVAGRIUS PONTICUS (345CE-399CE)

Evagrius Ponticus, also called Evagrius the Solitary, was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the most influential theologians in the late fourth-century church, he was well known as a thinker, polished speaker, and gifted writer.

Evagrius Ponticus, (born 346, Ibora, Pontus—died 399, Cellia, Nitrian Desert, Egypt), Christian mystic and writer whose development of a theology of contemplative prayer and asceticism laid the groundwork for a tradition of spiritual life in both Eastern and Western churches.

Most Egyptian monks of that time were illiterate. Evagrius, a highly educated classical scholar, is believed to be one of the first people to begin recording and systematizing the erstwhile oral teachings of the monastic authorities known as the Desert Fathers. Eventually, he also became regarded as a Desert Father, and several of his apothegms appear in the ‘Vitae Patrum’ (a collection of sayings from early Christian monks).

Evagrius was a noted preacher and theological consultant in Constantinople when a personal spiritual crisis prompted him to leave for Jerusalem to become a monk. He soon withdrew into the Egyptian desert, where he spent the rest of his life evolving his mystical theology in theory and practice while he supported himself by copying manuscripts.

EVAGRIUS PONTICUS (345CE-399CE)

Most Egyptian monks of that time were illiterate. Evagrius, a highly educated classical scholar, is believed to be one of the first people to begin recording and systematizing the erstwhile oral teachings of the monastic authorities known as the Desert Fathers. Eventually, he also became regarded as a Desert Father, and several of his apothegms appear in the ‘Vitae Patrum’ (a collection of sayings from early Christian monks).

Historical research since 1920 has suggested that Evagrius produced the first major philosophical–theological exposition of monastic mysticism by developing the Neoplatonic biblical theology of the 3rd-century Christian teacher Origen. Evagrius’ Gnostic Centuries emphasized that the essential function of spiritual beings is to experience union with God, the transcendent One, expressed as pure light. Because of an original, alienating fault, the intellectual world, notably man, can find reconciliation only by an ascetical, self-mortifying process whereby the spirit regains its rule over matter and realizes its capacity to experience the divine simplicity. Evagrius’ other written works, only fragments of which are extant in the original Greek, survive mainly in Syriac and Latin translations. They include the Monachikos (“The Monastic Life”), a treatise, “On the Eight Principal Vices,” and several biblical commentaries.

EVAGRIUS PONTICUS (345CE-399CE)

His spiritual doctrine affected Christianity in the Greek tradition through the 6th-century Neoplatonic philosopher-mystic Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the 7th-century mystical theologian Maximus the Confessor, and the 14th-century Byzantine monastic centre at Mt. Athos in northeastern Greece. In the Latin culture, he inspired the 5th-century monastic writer John Cassian. Western Christianity, however, has long suspected Evagrius of heresy. His teachings were denounced by the second general Council of Constantinople in 553 as permeated with Origenist errors, viz., subordinationist views on the Trinity, and the doctrine of the preexistence of souls. Nevertheless, he is considered the great doctor of mystical theology among the Syrians and other Eastern Christians, and his philosophy is sometimes seen as the Christian analogue of Zen Buddhism.

EVAGRIUS PONTICUS (345CE-399CE)

Evagrius rigorously tried to avoid teaching beyond the spiritual maturity of his audiences. When addressing novices, he carefully stuck to concrete, practical issues (which he called praktike). For example, in Peri Logismon 16, he includes this disclaimer:
I cannot write about all the villainies of the demons; and I feel ashamed to speak about them at length and in detail, for fear of harming the more simple-minded among my readers.[15]
His more advanced students enjoyed more theoretical, contemplative material (gnostike).

The most prominent feature of his research was a system of categorizing various forms of temptation. He developed a comprehensive list in AD 375 of eight evil thoughts (λογισμοὶ), or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs. This list was intended to serve a diagnostic purpose: to help readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation.

Evagrius stated, “The first thought of all is that of love of self; after this, the eight”[16]

The eight patterns of evil thought are gluttonylustgreed, sadness, acedia [despondency], anger, vainglory, pride.[17] Some two centuries later in 590 AD, Pope Gregory I, “Pope Gregory The Great” would revise this list to form the more commonly known Seven Deadly Sins, where Pope Gregory the Great combined acedia (despondency) with tristitia (sorrow), calling the combination the sin of sloth; vainglory with pride; and added envy to the list of “Seven Deadly Sins”.

Apatheia

In Evagrius’ time, the Greek word apatheia was used to refer to a state of being without passion. Evagrius wrote: “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”[16]:516

Tears

Evagrius taught that tears were the utmost sign of true repentance and that weeping, even for days at a time, opened one up to God.[18]

Accusations of heresy

EVAGRIUS PONTICUS

Even in his own day, Evagrius’ views had been criticised. A controversy over how to conceptualise God that broke out in the Nitrian desert in 400 saw dispute in which one side was influenced by Origenist views. Although Evagrius was not mentioned in this dispute, in 415 Jerome’s Letter 133 accuses Evagrius of being a prominent Origenist, and critiques his teaching on apatheia.[3]:19[full citation needed]

The accusations with the most long-lasting influence, however, emerged in the mid-sixth century. Like the other Cappadocian fathers Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, Evagrius was an avid student of Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-250 AD), and he further developed certain esoteric speculations regarding the pre-existence of human souls, the Origenist account of apocatastasis, and certain teachings about the natures of God and Christ. Origen’s speculations on these matters were declared heretical by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 AD. Although Evagrius is not mentioned by name in the Council’s 15 anathematisms, in the eyes of most contemporaries, the 553 Council did indeed condemn the teachings of Evagrius, together with Origen and Didymus the Blind.

WE&P by: EZorrilla.

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