A Letter from Evagrius Ponticus

Evagrius Ponticus

Long-time readers may recall that in the course of my “Legends of the Fall” series I discussed Evagrius Ponticus and his worldview.  Recently I’ve been perusing this fascinating website dedicated to him.  In fairness I have to point out that while the website refers to him as “Saint”, with which I’m willing to agree, I don’t know if any church ever formally canonized him, especially in light of the posthumous accusations of heresy.

In any case, the best thing about the website is that it gives online translations of Evagrius’s major works.  These translations, by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O. S. B. of St. Andrew’s Abbey of Valyermo, California, are public domain.  This is a really good thing.  Good translations of Evagrius are fiendishly difficult to get hold of.  There are several that translate part of his corpus–many such books are rather expensive, to boot.  There are some cheaper editions–you can get Jeremy Driscoll’s translation of the Ad Monachos in relatively cheap paperback editions–but they usually cover only one or two of Evagrius’s writings.  By contrast, Fr. Dysinger is gradually putting up and revising translations of all of Evagrius’s works, and they are freely available.

This is important because Evagrius is important.  His works have been enormously influential in both the East and the West of the Christian world.  He was one of the first to organize the sayings of the Desert Fathers and his ascetic, moral, and theological works were widely studied for centuries.  He also shares with his predecessor Origen (whose works influenced him, and whom I’ve also referenced) a somewhat ambiguous status in later Christianity.  Like Origen, he is enormously influential, even to the present; but also like Origen, he was accused of holding heretical beliefs after his death, and at least some of this teachings were condemned.  As with Origen, it’s rather difficult to sort out his exact beliefs and to determine whether the beliefs he was accused of holding were things he actually believed.  It is evident, though, I think, that in at least some respects his thought does push the boundaries, and it seems to have some affinities to Gnostic thought.  This is especially interesting to me, as I try to tease out the commonalities between orthodoxy and Gnosticism.

I’m interested in reading as much of Evagrius as I can, since as I’ve said before I don’t have an in-depth firsthand knowledge of his work.  There’s a book or two of translations I’m eventually going to get; but this website is a good start for now.  Unfortunately, reading HTML on a computer screen gets old fast, even on a laptop.  Therefore, I’ve done a conversion of Fr. Dysinger’s translation of “The Great Letter to Melania” to PDF format.  In such format it can be read on an iPad or Kindle Fire very easily and conveniently.  It’s not hard to do conversions of PDF’s to MOBI files (the ones Kindles use) or to EPUB formats; but that often results in other issues, so I’m sticking with the PDF format for now.  The motivation for the selection is that the “Letter to Melania” and the Kephalaia Gnostica give clearer and more systematic discussion of Evagrius’s theology than most of his other works, and in them the similarities to both orthodox and Gnostic thought are more clearly visible.

I have uploaded the “Letter to Melania” to my media library–you can find it there or go directly to it here, to read or download.  I do this to make it more widely available in a more user-friendly format; please, if you pass it on, give appropriate credit to Father Dysinger.  I hope those who are interested will find this interesting and useful.  From time to time I will be posting more of Evagrius’s works from Fr. Dysinger’s website.  I want to do the Kephalaia Gnostica next, but it may be awhile before I have time.  I will note when I do so with it and with further documents.  Meanwhile, enjoy!


Posted on 05/01/2014, in Catholicism, Christianity, Gnosticism, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Wow. That seems like a lot of work for you. Thanks for doing that. I will certainly take a look when I have time – which isn’t often.

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