Interlude: Evagrius Ponticus

Before I continue with my schematics of various theories of the Fall, I want briefly to introduce Evagrius Ponticus, whose theory regarding the Fall is the subject of my next post.  Evagrius was a monk and theologian of the late 4th Century.  He had been a deacon in Constantinople (seat of the central see of what later became Eastern Orthodoxy), and was deeply involved in ecclesiastical politics worldly concerns.  After a conversion experience, he left it all behind, ultimately joining the monastic communities that flourished at that time in the deserts of Egypt.  There he became the one of the first to transcribe the words of the Desert Fathers, and wrote many works of theology. A good resource for Evagrius is here.

I will describe Evagrius’ perspective in the same schematic form I’ve used here and here; however, I’d like to preface that with a long excerpt from the introduction to the book The Mind’s Long Journey to the Holy Trinity.   This is Jeremy Driscol’s excellent translation of Evagrius’ Ad Monachos (“To the Monks”), and contains excellent scholarly introductions and appendices.  The quote is edited slightly for length, with my insertions bracketed:

God’s first, his original creation, was of reasonable beings.  (Here “first” would be not so much a temporal term as a metaphysical and ontological term.  For Evagrius, the mind—being the icon of God—must be immaterial like God himself.)  These beings were pure minds, created to know God, to know God as non-numeric Trinity and as essential unity.  These minds were created equal among themselves in their knowledge of God and in their unity with him.

By use of their free will, these minds grew lax in their contemplation of essential knowledge, producing a rupture in the original unity and causing the minds to fall away from the essential knowledge and unity.  This movement, this misuse of free will, introduces differences in the once rational beings.  It introduces a disintegration of creation’s original oneness and a disintegration of what was originally created as a pure mind.  The pure mind disintegrates into a soul, which is joined to a body.


[T]hough the disintegration is lamentable, there is something provident about the arrangement, a providence which operates in such a way that body, soul, and mind will become once again one entity.  These fallen minds were not abandoned by God, who is merciful and provident.  In his mercy and through his logos, God undertakes to arrange what may be considered a secondary condition for the fallen mind.  He provides the rational soul as the direct extension of the fallen mind, and he arranges lower parts of the soul whereby he joins it (and the mind of which it is an extension) to a body.

A soul is joined to a body and established in a world in accordance with the degree of its fall from essential knowledge.  This assignment of a body and a world to a fallen mind is called “the judgment,” while the whole arrangement, which is designed for the mind’s reintegration, is called “providence”.  In this way there come about the bodies and the worlds of angels, humans, and demons, all of them fallen rational creatures, differing now among themselves according to the degree of their fall and according to the degree of their level of return to their original unity.  These bodies are formed of varying proportions of fire, earth, air, and water and by varying dominant proportions of the three parts of the soul [rational, irascible, concupiscible]….  Thus, angels are formed of a predominance of fire and reason, humans by a predominance of earth and concupiscence, demons by a preponderance of air and irascibility.  In the proper use of the body and by establishing health in the soul, the disintegrated mind will recover its original unity:  “…there will be a time human body, soul, and mind cease to be separate, with their own names and plurality, because the body and the soul will be raised to the rank of mind (this can be concluded from the text ‘Let them be one in us, as you and I are one…’)”  (The Letter to Melania, 5; trans. M. Parmentier, 11-12:158-161, citing John 17:22).  From our perspective, this reintegration is in the future, i.e., in time; thus, “there will be a time.…”  Yet in itself, ontologically and metaphysically, it is beyond time (cf. Kephalaia Gnostica VI:9).

I am by no means an expert on Evagrius, and I’ve not studied his (regrettably hard-to-obtain) works in any detail.  Therefore I thought it good to give a direct discussion of  his perspective from a scholar noted for studying Evagrius before going on to give my schematic of Evagrius’ thinking on this issue.  This schematic is what’s up next.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 10/05/2012, in Christianity, religion, theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

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