Saint Evagrius Ponticus and his Kephalaia Gnostica

During my studies I have constantly come across reference to the Origenists, usually in a hushed down manner – as if the scholars really are divided whether they should tell us more. Usually they do not go into much detail, they could tell me that St.Jerome, a name which has quite an authority and grandeur attached to it, and more significantly St.Gregory of Nyssa later in their lives changed opinions of Origen and considered many of his doctrines dangerous and heretical. This information has been duplicated so many times that it is impossible to discover the nature of their relationships with Origen as well as with his teachings. A more recent moderation of the critique against Origen suggest that the Churchfather were orthodox. The criteria for this were that the “Origenists” edited his writings and while doing so contributed their own heretical views in the name of Origen. I`d say the jury is out on that verdict, but the views in question are quite fascinating for modern Gnostics to read and consider.
But alas, one of the Origenists, although seldom mentioned in that context, were Evagrius of Pontus, like his spiritual inspirer, Origen, he was a late luminary of Christian theology who also devoted most of his attention towards the practical approach towards theosis. Evagrius of Pontus lived between 345CE and 399CE, in Ibora, a modest city in Pontus, the same coastal area in Asia Minor from which Marcion two centuries earlier went to Rome and proclamated his teachings, coincidentally, the father of both were a Bishop. It was also from this area another great of the orthodox theologians, St.Basil of Caesaria, came from. Evagrius was appointed and ordained to Lector in the church, by the elderly St.Basil, it is not known precisely when, but between 370 when he was consecrated Bishop, and 379 when he died, is quite realistic.
It is also likely that it was St.Basil that introduced Evagrius to the teachings of the great Alexandrian theologian Origen, who was a very great influence on several of the fathers, who, even after several posthumous excommunications, anathemas and controversial verdicts, remained faithful in their defense of their spiritual inspirer, some would even say, master. At this time it is also not unlikely he became acquianted with Gregory of Nazianz.
Unlike the Cappadochian fathers, who moderated Origens teachings with a great dose of Nicene Orthodoxy which the great master himself had been fortunate to antedate by a significant century, Evagrius became a radical exponent of certain teachings which concerns the full consequence and thrust of Origen`s teachings concerning the Soul and its inclination towards the light, complicated not only by the compulsions towards the carnal pleasures and comfort,but also towards what I would call Archontic arrogance. While intelligent of the supernal and immortal things, and emerging with a vision of Truth, some beings, incarnate as well as unincarnate (in the sense of being spiritual beings, angels, intelligences.. archons) – could be moved by compulsions as well, such compulsions which is more dangerous and detrimental to a full developement (another Origenist doctrine) of their spiritual potentional, among these we find hatred,envy,greed for authority/influence and the inability to feel compassion for other beings in a less favorable predicament. Could it be that, apart from scriptural foundations, such as can be found in St.Paul`s letter to the Corinthians, concerning the “authorities in higher places” persecuting the disciples of Christ rather than the flesh – this doctrine emerges from a long journey into the troubled landscape.. of the Church in the fourth century?
When St.Basil his beloved mentor died, Evagrius went for solace and further instruction to the then thriving Constantinople, a newborn city of the new empire. There he were eventually consecrated Deacon by his friend in the Alexandrine orthodox Gnosis, Gregory the Theologian (also known as Nazianzen)- of whom he writes in his Epistula Fidei:
Who is to be my Laban, setting me free from Esau,
and leading me to the supreme philosophy?
By God’s help, I have, so far as in me lies,
attained my object. I have found a chosen vessel;
a deep well. I mean Gregory [of Nazianzus]: Christ’s mouth.

A letter which is styled against what he experienced as the threat of Arianism and other directions of his day, which he felt introduced alien and dangerous teachings concerning the nature of the Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit – the Trinity which were a central mystery for the emerging orthodox church tradition.
Later, St.Gregory of Nazinzus were forced to vacate Constantinople and his role as Bishop – he bid Evagrius to serve as Deacon under his successor, Nectarius, which, since he was told, Evagrius did.
Like St.Basil and St.Gregory had been mentors to Evagrius, now he found himself to serve as mentor for the new Bishop of the great city. As a consequence, Evagrius human side, as it often is wont to do, made a bid for his attention, and he became amorous with the wife of a Roman prefect in the city.
Soon after he had to flee for his life, as the womans husband planned to have him killed. Warned in a dream of this possibility and also of the error of his ways, Evagrius fled in the dead of night and ended up in the double monastery founded by Rufinus and Melania the Elder, at the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, finding his sanctuary in the monastic community of two other Origenists. From the time of his flight, his psychological constitution became troubled, suffering several nervous breakdowns and growing frail, eventually he broke out in a burning fever. Melania the Elder suspected this sickness did not have an ordinary cause and eventually got Evagrius to confess his transgressions in Constantinople, advicing him that the only way he may clense himself were to give over his life completely to God, and become a Monk.
Rufinus gave him the habit of monkhood in 383. In addition to becoming acquainted with the discipline of ascesis, Evagrius were made more acquianted with the works of Origen, Rufinus being somewhat less guarded about his teachings than his Cappadochian mentors. Evagrius now set out for the deserts of Egypt, and sat for the rest of his life at the feet of two of the greatest Origenist teachers: Macarius the Great and Didymus the Blind in the monastic settlement at Nitria, in the Egyptian desert.
Evagrius had an enormous capacity to discern spirits, and was an excellent “psychotherapist”. While a desert abba (father), Evagrius became the spiritual master of several greats,including the Tall brethren: Ammonius,Euthymius,Dioscorus and Eusebius, as well as Bishop Palladius, and John Cassian, the chronicler of the Egyptian desert fathers.
These, along with Evagrius, became very famous both for their deep knowledge of divine things and certain abilities ascribed to their persons – and the archbishops of Alexandria, among them Theophilus of Alexandria, wanted to conscript them to the offices of clergy, therefore several times Evagrius had to flee, perhaps due to having experience as Deacon in the Church under Bishop`s Gregory of Nazianzen and Nectarius, earlier in life – and also wielding a significant command of the theological and political issues which troubled Alexandria at that time. The fact of his fleeing could be construed to be profe positive he had mended his ways and were approaching things from the other end of the spectrum. A similar story, but now concerning the archbishops of Edessa, unveils in the just as dramatic life of Synesius, one of the greater exponents of the hellenistic synthesis of the Christian faith with Neo-Platonism. At one time Evagrius had to flee Egypt, and ended up in Palestine, modern biographers speculate whether he graced his old friends, Rufinus and Melania the Elder with a visit, staying at their monastery at the Mount of Olives.
At which time Evagrius wrote an apologetic letter to Theophilus, explaining why he would not again take up duty as cleric in the Church. Some commentators on Evagrius speculate upon the fact that with Evagrius, as with most of the desert fathers and early monastics, significantly little detail, if any, is given of the sacraments of the Church, and some are even moved to say that he had discovered he was better off without it. My own impression, from reading such books as Chorbishop Seely J. Beggiani`s Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality: The Syriac Tradition, which I recommend especially – is that they significantly misunderstand or are uninformed about the nature of the pre-mendicant Monastic movement: indeed some would not have access to the sacraments or even churches for years on end, but it would be part of their spirituality nevertheless, they were not attempting to better the Church, they were attempting to, from their interior, achieve such light, such vision and such healing that would allow them to inspire the Church. That was precisely the motivation for Evagrius to write his great works, among which the 6 centuries of his Kephalia Gnostica can be counted.
Evagrius writes (from Fr.Luke Dysinger`s translation, Introduction to Kephalia Gnostica, the Gnostikos) :
13. It is proper for the knower to speak to monks and seculars concerning a proper way of life, as well as to explain in part doctrines concerning physike and theologike “without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)
while:
14. To priests alone, [and only] to those who are among the best,reply if they question you what is symbolized by the mysteries they perform and which purify the interior man: the vessels which they receive designate the passionate part of the soul and the rational part; on what is the inseperable mixture, the power of each of them, and the accomplishing of the activities of each in view of a single purpose. And tell them again of what is the symbol of that which accomplishes them, and who those are that, with them repel those that establish an obstacle to pure conduct, and who, among the living beings some have the memory and some do not have it.
On the abstract treatment of deity:
27. Do not, without [careful] consideration, speak about God [in Himself]; nor should you ever define the Deity: for it is only of {things which are made or} are composite that there can be definitions.
Which is part of Ibn al-Arabi`s advice to his readers as well, indeed Evagrius appears to have the same agenda, if it is possible – let each assume an attitude which is conductive to understanding in a gentle manner.

However, modern systematic theologians would well profit from this advice of Evagrius:
34. You must not interpret spiritually everything that lends itself to allegory, but rather only that which is fiting to the subject; because if you do not act thus, you pass much time on Jonas’ boat, explaining every part of its equipment. And you will be humerous to your listeners, rather than useful to them: all of these sitting around you will remind you of this or that equipment, and by laughing [they] will remind you of what you have forgotten.

Evagrius of Pontus had during his years as a monk, and some would say, penitent – adapted for himself a very strict and severe asceticism which gradually reduced him physically. In the year he died, in 399CE, he had graced this earth his visit for a meagre 54 years. Just a few years afterwards the controversy around the chief inspirer of his tradition, Origen, grew intense and an likewise intense persecution, forcing his brethren in the Alexandrine orthodox Gnosis into diaspora/exile in the Egyptian desert.

The spiritual classic known as “The Philokalia” still contains several of his works today, and is much used in Eastern Orthodoxy still.
Evagrius, who is considered a Saint in several traditions of the Eastern Churches, has his feastday on February 11.

Fr.Luke Dysinger`s biography for Evagrius of Pontus, from his excellent homepage.

I also found these useful
Evagrius Ponticus: Monastic Theologian, online resources.
The Coptic Life of Evagrius, translated by Tim Vivian
Cure of the Distressed Soul: the Consolation of Evagrius of Pontus on the Death of Gregory Nazianzus, by Joel Kalvesmaki, at the Evagrius website.
Created and Renewed after the image of God: About the biblical-theological and sacramental Foundations of Evagrian Mysticism,
by Fr.Gabriel Bunge,OSB.

On the life and activity of Evagrius of Pontus at the Truth of Orthodoxy page on Origen and Origenism (it is actually quite symphatetic)

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