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Chapter III -- 17

We now turn to the composition of the worlds. We have already seen that the worlds are created by the Evagrian Christ by his judgement after the Movement to correspond to the bodies that he has granted to the minds (noes) according to their degree of negligence in the Movement. Moreover, we have already seen that the worlds are created by the Evagrian Christ by the use of a certain contemplation, the second natural contemplation, as if that contemplation were a substance, force or power.

The world is the natural composition, or constitution, which comprises the various and different bodies of the minds (noes), for the sake of the gnosis of God (III, 36). While the judgement that the Evagrian Christ makes is a judgement, it is ultimately intended to lead the minds (noes) to the gnosis of God. It is not merely a punishment. Moreover, Evagrius is discussing the nature of the various worlds, which he further explains in the next chapter:

There is in common this, that all the worlds are constituted from the four elements, but in distinction this, that each of them has a variation of quality (III, 23). This is an important assertion by Evagrius of the unity of the whole order of creation. There are only four elements—curiously, he does not include the Aristotelian ether, and, as we have seen, he has the unusual doctrine of the living nature of fire[1]—and each world is constituted from these four elements, the differences among them lying in variations of quality. Evagrius nowhere explains what he means, but we think that he has in mind the relative proportions of each element in each of the worlds: just like the bodies, some worlds are more fiery than others, some more airy and so on. This seems to exclude the notion common in modern occultism that worlds such as these are astral: composed of a suprasensible matter in a way similar to the soul in Epicureanism. However, in contrast with Peri Archon, where there is one world which is a term in a sequence of ‘one worlds’ extending indefinitely into the past and very far into the future, in Evagrius the worlds seem to coexist simultaneously in an ontological ensemble.[2] Origen seems to posit reincarnation along the sequence of ‘one worlds’, whereas Evagrius seems to posit reincarnation among the various member-worlds of the stably existing ensemble. However Origen and Evagrius agree that there are various ranks into which one may be incarnated depending on one’s merit, whether good or bad.

Just as the nature of bodies is hidden by the attributes which abide in the bodies and make them pass from one to another without cease, so the reasonable nature is hidden by virtue and gnosis, or by vice and ignorance. And to say that one of these second things, vice or ignorance, might naturally have been made with the minds (noes) is not just, because it is with the constitution or composition of the nature that it has appeared (II, 18). The first part of this passage seems to be an Aristotelian account of being and becoming in the material creation. The second part is an application by analogy of this notion to the reasonable nature, the minds (noes). We have already seen a brief chapter which states that virtue is conceived relatively to the contingent nature of the worlds in which the minds (noes) find themselves with their bodies after the Movement and the First Judgement.[3] Here we see an application of that notion. The attributes which the reasonable nature can have are virtue and vice, or gnosis and ignorance. A reasonable nature can change along these dimensions as it were. However, Evagrius wants to say, this condition of mutability of the minds (noes) along the dimensions of virtue and vice or gnosis and ignorance is due to their being in bodies and worlds; it is not something which they had in the beginning, before the Movement. However, a qualification is in order here: Elsewhere, Evagrius states emphatically that the seeds of the virtues are from the beginning, and indeed are never lost from any mind (nous), even a demonic one. Hence what seems to be meant is that distinctions of vice and virtue, or gnosis and ignorance—these sorts of distinctions—pertain to the orders in which the minds (noes) find themselves after the Movement. If in the chapter under discussion ‘second things’ refers only to vice and ignorance, as we have taken it, then Evagrius also intends the further notion that before the Movement there was no vice or ignorance since all the minds (noes) were engaged in the contemplation of the Unity. The ‘constitution or composition of the nature’ in the chapter would then refer to the giving of worlds and bodies after the Movement.

The judgement of God is the creation of the world, to which he gives a body according to the rank of each of the minds (noes) (III, 38). As much as the judge has judged the justiciable things, so much has he also made worlds; and he who knows the number of judgements knows also the number of worlds (II, 75). We have already seen what this means. The only important thing that is new is the notion that the judgements and worlds are very, very many. However, let us remark that here Evagrius seems to assert that the world is created before the body: he seems to be saying that in the judgement a mind (nous) is given a world and then a body appropriate to that world. Elsewhere he says that the mind (nous) is given a body and then a world.

‘In the blink of an eye’ (1 Cor. 15, 52), the Cherubim have been called Cherubim; Gabriel, Gabriel; and man, man (III, 54). This is a statement of the instantaneity both of the First Judgement after the Movement and of the creation of worlds.

One question we ourselves have, a question that does not seem to be addressed in the Kephalaia Gnostica, is this: When men became men, were they all born into this world at the same time? If there is a serial order in the birth of men, in the Evagrian system what determines when a man is born into this world? We will see when we discuss the Evagrian anthropology that there is an intermediate soul state of men, men who are souls but who have not yet been born on earth. Perhaps in the Evagrian system men are held in this soul state until it is time for them to be born as men? Evagrius himself never fully addresses this point. Peri Archon indicates that men are minds (noes) that first of all became souls and then further fell into human bodies. This is, as we shall see in the section on anthropology, Evagrius’ own doctrine of the soul state.

Who has known the first division and who has seen the genesis of bodies and who has seen the genesis of these various worlds, from which certain holy powers nourish themselves and over which they have exercised a blessed royalty? (II, 74.) ‘First division’ refers to the First Judgement, the one after the Movement. This chapter appears to add the notion that the angels nourish themselves from the worlds which were created and over which they have a certain royalty. We will later see that the angels nourish themselves with the second natural contemplation of things on the earth.

The sensible nations are distinguished the one from the other by the places, by the laws, by the languages, by the clothing, and sometimes also by the qualities. The intelligible and holy nations are distinguished by the worlds, by the bodies and, it is said, by the languages also. The father of the first is Adam, and he of the second, Christ, of whom Adam is ‘the figure’ (Rom. 5, 14) (VI, 3). This a discussion of the orders of angels. The notion that the Christ is the father of the angels appears to have to do with the fact that he creates the bodies and the worlds for the angels. The only new thing in this chapter is the notion that different orders of angels have different languages in addition to different bodies and different worlds.

Each of the orders of the heavenly powers has been constituted either completely from superiors (angels) or completely from inferiors (demons) or from superiors and inferiors (angels and demons) (II, 78). This is a statement of the composition of the angelic orders. We ourselves do not understand how angels and demons can be mixed into the same order, unless, in Evagrius’ system, it is after the demons have converted and recommenced the mystical ascent. However, Evagrius nowhere says that explicitly, and this chapter, combined with KG V, 11, is quoted verbatim by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in Anathema 5.

The more the worlds increase, the more also the names and mental representations which are appropriate to them will make us know the Holy Trinity (VI, 67). This has to do with the Evagrian theory of contemplation, that we come to know the Holy Trinity through its wisdom expressed in creation, through the contemplation of the wisdom of the Holy Trinity expressed in the various worlds. The contemplation of the worlds is an advanced stage of natural contemplation, something that occurs after the ascetic begins to contemplate the angels.[4] Evagrius is not completely clear on the stages of mystical ascent after the contemplation of angels up to the contemplation of the Unity; however, it appears that in the Evagrian system, one begins to approach the contemplation of the Holy Trinity after the contemplation of angels and their reasons (logoi), by means of the contemplation of the worlds.[5]

From those who have reached the perfect accomplishment of evil, it is possible for us to comprehend the multitude of worlds which have been produced; it is not possible, really, that we should be completed all at once in ignorance, because no more is it possible in gnosis (II, 65). We take this simply to be a statement of the multiplicity of worlds.

Not one of the worlds has been above the first world; it is said, indeed, that the latter has been made from the principal quality; and an athlete and gnostic has taught us that in it will be completed all the worlds (VI, 45). It is not in all the worlds that you will find Egypt; but in the last worlds you will see Jerusalem and the Mount of Zion (V, 21). Just as those who inhabit this world receive a very small vision concerning the world to come, so those who are in the last world see certain luminous rays of the Holy Trinity (V, 3). If ‘the four arms’ (Gen. 2, 10) are divided from one sole ‘river’ (Gen. 2, 10), may one name the world in which there has been one sole river, so that the body might also comprehend the Paradise from which it will drink (V, 72). We think that these four chapters are all talking about the same thing: the first and last world, the one from which the mind (nous) contemplated, as it were, the Unity before the Movement—we say ‘as it were’ because before the Movement there were no worlds—and from which, in the mystical ascent, it will anew contemplate the Unity. This is the goal of the Evagrian ascetic, a goal which is consummated for all minds (noes) in the Restoration. The relation between this one world and the condition after the Restoration when all minds (noes) will nakedly contemplate the Holy Trinity after all the worlds have been destroyed seems to be this: this first and last world relates to the condition of the ascetic just prior to the contemplation of the Holy Trinity: in the Restoration, there will only be the contemplation of the Unity, without worlds. The first and last world thus seems to be the very last stage of natural contemplation before entry into Theology, contemplation of the Holy Trinity. In the first chapter cited, ‘athlete and gnostic’ appears to refer to Evagrius’ teacher, Didymus the Blind.

Among the animals, it is said that some take their breath from without, some from within, some from their environment, and some from all sides. And it is said that those who take their breath from outside are men and all those who have lungs; those who take it from within, the fishes and all those of whom the gullet is large; those who take it from their environment, the bees with the spathe of their wings; and those who take it from all sides, the demons and all the minds (noes) who possess bodies of air (IV, 37). This does not seem to be very important.

All that is a part of this world pertains to the corporeal nature; and all that which pertains to the corporeal nature is a part of this world (VI, 50). This passage is important, for it suggests that the world of men is unique. While Evagrius posits an ontological ensemble of worlds, only the world of men is corporeal. This would be the point at which his doctrine would articulate with Origen’s doctrine of the succession of ‘one worlds’.

Two among the worlds purify the passionate part of the soul, the one of them by praktike and the other by cruel torment (V, 5). The world that purifies the passionate part of the soul by praktike, the practical life, is the present world of men. The world that purifies by cruel torment is Hades. There, both men and demons will be purified ‘until they have paid the last copper’. As Evagrius says elsewhere, this is ‘a minimal suffering’: in Origen’s and Evagrius’ systems, such suffering is not eternal; hence the concept that Hades purifies the passionate part of the soul.

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[1] See KG I, 30 and III, 39, discussed in Section 1.

[2] Evagrius seems to hint, however, that the number of worlds can increase as time goes on. See KG VI, 67, presented below.

[3] KG I, 51, discussed at the end of Section 2.

[4] Although we have adopted this interpretation of the ‘contemplation of the worlds or Ages’, it sometimes seems that Evagrius intends by the term second natural contemplation. However, second natural contemplation is prior to first natural contemplation and Evagrius often seems to intend by the term a much higher contemplation than second natural contemplation.

[5] We will discuss this matter further, including the notion of ‘mental representation’, in Volume II, in the Digression on the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation and in the commentary on Chapters 38–43 of On the Thoughts.


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