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Chapter III -- 12

We now begin to examine further aspects of Evagrius’ soteriology:

He who has placed ‘the most varied wisdom’ (Eph. 3, 10) in the beings is he also who teaches to those who wish, the art of becoming easily a seer of this wisdom (IV, 7). This is the Christ first in his role as creator. He also, as saviour, teaches ‘to those who wish, the art of becoming a seer of this wisdom.’ In the Evagrian system, this is the beginning of natural contemplation, the second stage of the mystical ascent[1] and an important stage in the return to the contemplation of the Unity which all will have in the Restoration. Hence, this is the mercy of Christ made manifest, his providence made manifest, since he is pushing by his providence, all minds (noes), not just those of men, to return to the Unity by teaching them to enter into the second natural contemplation.

Christ has appeared creator by the multiplication of the loaves (Matt. 14, 15–21; etc.), by the wine of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2, 1–10), and by the eyes of him who was born blind (John 9, 1–7). (IV, 57). This should be clear; it is merely a reiteration of the role of the Christ as creator, this time as seen in reference to the historical Christ of the New Testament.

We now begin to enter into some of the more complex aspects of the Evagrian soteriology:

Christ, before his coming, has shown to men an angelic body; and to those men it is not the body that he has now that he has shown, but he has revealed that which they must have (IV, 41). The Christ first ‘incarnated’ from the condition of being a naked mind (nous) united to the Word of God or the gnosis of the Unity into an angelic body in the world of angels—recall that since he himself was not guilty of negligence in the Movement, he was not constrained in the judgement, which he himself executed, to adopt a body and a world. We will discuss just below what is meant by the second part of this chapter.

Is it that Gabriel has announced to Mary the going out of the Christ from the Father, or his coming from the world of angels to the world of men? Search also on the subject of the disciples who have lived with him in his corporeity, if they have come with him from the world which is seen by us or from another world or from other worlds, and if it is some of them, or else all. Moreover, search again if it is from the soul state that they had that they happened to become disciples of Christ (VI, 77). This is an important passage, especially for Evagrius’ anthropology, but we shall here concern ourselves only with its Christological aspects, returning to its anthropological aspects in Section 6. Evagrius poses a rhetorical question. This seems to be his way of introducing ideas which are quite dangerous to state openly. We do not think that he expects a negative answer; otherwise why would he bother to pose the question in so formal a work as the Kephalaia Gnostica? We think that what Evagrius wants to say in an oblique way is that the Annunciation to Mary of the birth of the Christ does not announce the incarnation of the Word of God, consubstantial with the Father, into human flesh—the Orthodox doctrine—but the descent of the mind (nous) which is the Christ and which has already ‘incarnated’ into an angelic body in the world of angels, from the world of angels to the world of men by means of its incarnation into a human body. This doctrine was condemned in extenso by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in Anathema 7.

The ‘feet’ of Christ are praktike and contemplation, and ‘if he places under his feet all his enemies’ (1 Cor. 15, 25), then all will know praktike and contemplation (VI, 15). The significance of this passage is that the two main stages of Evagrian ascesis—the practical life (praktike) and contemplation—are considered to be the ‘feet’ of Christ, and that even the demons will come to know the practical life and contemplation, that is, make the mystical ascent to the gnosis of the Unity. This is the Evagrian doctrine of the ‘salvation’ of all minds (noes) by means of the Christ. Since this includes the minds (noes) which have become men on this earth, it is a soteriological doctrine. We can see that in the Evagrian system, man’s salvation consists in the practical life (praktike) and contemplation.

Let us remark here on the characteristic evolution of Origenism from Peri Archon to the Kephalaia Gnostica: as Rufinus presents him, Origen also refers to ‘all being placed under the feet of Christ’ as meaning the ultimate salvation of all, but without a doctrine that the feet of Christ are praktike and contemplation: that seems to be Evagrius’ own elaboration of Origen, based on concepts of praktike and contemplation taken from Clement of Alexandria. However, as we shall see, Origen himself has at least a rudimentary outline of the ascent after death through natural contemplation to the contemplation of the Holy Trinity, and it seems to be partly on this foundation that Evagrius has articulated his own doctrine of the contemplative ascent: in Evagrius we see Origen’s somewhat tentative ideas elaborated and developed into an articulated ascetical and contemplative system.

Just as the Word makes known the nature of the Father, so the reasonable nature makes known that of Christ (II, 22). That which is knowable of the Christ is in those who are second by their genesis and that which is not knowable of him is in his Father (IV, 3). The first chapter of the Kephalaia Gnostica here presented depends on the fact that the reasonable nature and the Christ are all minds (noes) created in a single act of God, so that the reasonable nature[2] can make known the nature of the Christ. That the Word makes known the nature of the Father, is, of course, scriptural, referring as it does to the opening chapter of the Gospel of John. We have already seen, however, that the Word of God is identified by Evagrius with the gnosis of the Unity or Father.

The contrast here between the Word of God that makes known the nature of the Father and the reasonable nature that makes known the nature of the Christ strengthens our interpretation of Evagrius that the Christ is a created mind (nous) and not the Word of God incarnate.

The second chapter refers to the wisdom that the Christ used in making the worlds. That wisdom is knowable in the second natural contemplation, and it is what is knowable of the Christ. We have already in a more general fashion seen this doctrine of the second natural contemplation as giving to us what is knowable of God. Here, it must be recalled that according to Evagrius, God in his Christ creates the bodies and worlds, God himself before the Movement and without the Christ creating only the minds (noes).

It is possible that in this passage Evagrius means ‘the minds (noes)’ by ‘those who are second by their genesis’, in which case the passage would mean that, just as we saw in the preceding chapter, being of the same nature as the Christ, the reasonable nature makes known the created mind (nous) that is the Christ. The reasonable nature makes known the Christ by means of the first natural contemplation. We will see this later. This would be a more straightforward interpretation.

What is not knowable of the Christ is his gnosis of the Unity, the Father, and that is what is in his Father. But we have already seen Evagrius say that the other minds (noes) can attain to this gnosis by becoming coheirs with the Christ.

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[1] The first stage is praktike, the practical life. See Volume II.

[2] Here to be understood as the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the reasonable beings.


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