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Chapter III -- 23

The mind (nous) is the seer of the Holy Trinity (III, 30). This is important. It gives us a very important attribute of mind (nous). It very clearly states that in the Evagrian system God is knowable, and by intuitive knowledge.

The perfect mind (nous) is that which easily can receive the essential gnosis (III, 12). This is a definition of the perfection of the mind (nous): the perfect mind (nous) can easily enter into the gnosis of the Holy Trinity, the final stage of the mystical ascent.

Just as a magnet attracts iron to itself by its natural power, so the holy gnosis naturally attracts to itself the pure mind (nous) (II, 34). The holy gnosis is the gnosis of the Holy Trinity.

The naked mind (nous) is that which, by the contemplation which concerns it, is united to the gnosis of the Holy Trinity (III, 6). The phrase, repeated elsewhere, ‘by the contemplation which concerns it’ regarding the mind (nous) is ambiguous; we think this ambiguity is due more to the long chain of transmission and translation than to any obscurity in Evagrius’ thought. The ambiguity in this and in similar phrases is this: does Evagrius mean the contemplation which the ascetic has concerning the naked mind (nous) or the contemplation which the naked mind (nous) itself has of the Holy Trinity? We think that it is legitimate here to draw on Anathema 14 of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod for an explanation: ‘…that to the gnosis concerning the reasonable beings follow the destruction of worlds, the deposition of bodies and the <destruction> of names…’. In the Greek of the Anathema, it is quite clear that what is meant is the contemplation which the mind (nous) has concerning the reasonable beings: first natural contemplation at a particularly high level, the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the reasonable beings.[1] What Evagrius seems to have in mind is this: at a particular stage of the ascetico-mystical ascent, the ascetic enters into the contemplation concerning the reasonable beings—elsewhere Evagrius states that this contemplation reveals to the ascetic the nature of the Christ—and this contemplation, or its related gnosis, is the final preparation of the mind (nous) for mystical union with the Holy Trinity, although, from what we see elsewhere, it itself is not that mystical union.

It pertains to the naked mind (nous) to say what is its nature; and to this question there is not now a response, but at the end there will not even be the question (III, 70). There is not now a response, because the mind (nous) is not naked. The point is that the naked mind (nous) is the one whose true nature has been uncovered. There will not even be a question when the mind (nous) has become naked because it will have been completely absorbed into the contemplation of the Unity. However, just below we will see another, ascetical, interpretation of Evagrius’ ‘naked mind’, that of St Isaac the Syrian (7th C.?–8th C.?). This chapter of the Kephalaia Gnostica can be interpreted both as an ascetical doctrine and as a doctrine of the Restoration.

Gnosis has engendered gnosis, and it engenders the knower at all times (II, 81). This is important for its assertion that gnosis—which we have already seen to be treated by Evagrius as a kind of power or substance—has certain very specific effects on the mind (nous) which participates in it. That is, we interpret this passage as a matter of ascetical doctrine and not as a matter of the initial creation of the minds (noes), although it could perhaps be taken that way.

Just as the senses are changed when they apprehend diverse qualities, thus also the mind (nous) is changed when it ever gazes intently upon various contemplations (II, 83—Greek fragment). Here we see that what Evagrius means is that the contemplation that a mind (nous) engages in changes that mind (nous). We take this to be a change greater than a passing alteration of disposition and less than a complete change to the substance of the mind (nous) that would make it something other than what it is. From other passages of the Kephalaia Gnostica, we know that this change is a nourishment of the mind (nous), although Evagrius never explains how.

When the reasonable nature receives the contemplation which concerns it, then all the power of the mind (nous) will be healthy (II, 15). We take this to refer to the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the bodiless powers or minds (noes), of which the contemplating mind (nous) would be one.[2]

When the mind (nous) will receive the essential gnosis, then it will be called God, also, because it will also be able to found diverse worlds (V, 81). Here Evagrius is referring not to the contemplation concerning the reasonable nature, but to the final stage of the mystical ascent, Theology or the mind’s (nous’) mystical union with God. To say the least, this is not the Orthodox doctrine of divinization (theosis). It does seem to have a basis in Peri Archon.[3] We will discuss this chapter somewhat more extensively in Volume II, in our Digression on the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation.

Just as man after having received the insufflation ‘is become a living soul’ (Gen. 2, 7), so also the mind (nous) when it has received the Holy Trinity will become a living mind (nous) (III, 71). On the surface, and as far as it goes, this chapter does seem to contain the Orthodox doctrine of divinization (theosis). Of course, this ‘living mind (nous)’ cannot in an Orthodox sense be understood to be of the substance of God. We do not know whether Evagrius here intends to assert that, however.

The light of the mind (nous) is divided into three, that is to say: into the gnosis of the Adorable and Holy Trinity, into the incorporeal nature which has been created by the Trinity and into the contemplation of beings (I, 74). We have already seen this tripartite division of the contemplative life. The three lights are Theology, first natural contemplation and second natural contemplation. We will discuss this in great detail in Volume II, in the Digression on the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation.

Natural gnosis is the true comprehension by those reasonable beings which have been produced for the gnosis of the Holy Trinity (I, 88). Natural gnosis is defined by Evagrius to be the stage of the spiritual life below the gnosis of the Holy Trinity and above praktike, the practical life. Since this includes the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of existent objects of sense, the true comprehension that Evagrius is here referring to is not comprehension concerning reasonable beings as objects but the comprehension by reasonable beings as agents. However, the higher stage of natural contemplation, the contemplation of angels, does include the intuitive comprehension by the reasonable nature which participates in the contemplation, of the reasonable natures which are contemplated, and even of the reasons (logoi) of those reasonable natures. In regard to the present chapter, the reader should recall our discussion of Adam in Paradise, in Chapter II, above, of this work: he was able to give names to the animals because he saw them as they were.

In accordance with nature, the first contemplation of nature is done to separate itself from the mind (nous) and so as not to separate itself from it. Indeed, that which is taught is separable, but that which appears in the mind (nous) which knows something is shown to be inseparable (III, 27). This appears to be a doctrine that the object of knowledge is separable from the mind (nous), whereas, in the mind (nous) which is contemplating, the gnosis itself of the object of contemplation is inseparable from that mind (nous). We here take ‘the first contemplation of nature’ to refer to natural contemplation both first and second. Skemmata 18 and 20 have a more advanced discussion of Evagrius’ doctrine on this subject.

Just as those who come into the cities to see their beauties are given over to wonder in regarding each of their works, so also the mind (nous), when it draws near to the mental representations of beings, will be filled with spiritual desire and will not give up its wonder (V, 29). St Isaac the Syrian emphasizes this wonder. Evagrius is here placing this wonder in the first natural contemplation, the contemplation of angels.

Other is the power of the mind (nous) which sees the spiritual natures and other is that which knows the contemplation which concerns them. But one is the power which sees and comprehends and Holy Trinity (V, 60). This passage is important for the clear distinction it makes, present in many other places of the Kephalaia Gnostica but not so clearly stated, that there is a difference between the contemplation which sees the angels and the contemplation which concerns itself with the reasons (logoi) of the angels or, more generally, the minds (noes). They are two different contemplations, and here, Evagrius is saying, each contemplation involves a different faculty of the mind (nous). However, Evagrius says, the faculty with which the mind (nous) contemplates the Holy Trinity is one. A similar doctrine is found in Chapter 42 of On the Thoughts; we will discuss it in Volume II in our commentary on that work.

All that which falls under the power of the mind (nous) which sees the incorporeal beings, the angels, is also absolutely of the nature of that mind (nous), but that which is seen by the angel cannot be connatural to that mind (nous) which is contemplating the angel, if it is the same angel which knows the mental representations both of incorporeals and of the Holy Trinity (V, 79). This passage, very difficult to comprehend, seems to be based on the proposition that the mind (nous) cannot be connatural to the Holy Trinity. Hence, while in contemplating an angel, the mind (nous) contemplates what is connatural to it—the angel—what the angel contemplates in contemplating both angels and the Holy Trinity is not connatural to the mind (nous) contemplating the angel, because that mind (nous) is not connatural to the Holy Trinity.

The contemplation of the bodiless powers remains in non-abasement; as for the contemplation that concerns bodies, it appears in part capable of abasing itself and in part incapable of abasing itself (II, 71). We do not know the significance of this chapter for the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation.

It is the property of angels to nourish themselves at all times with the contemplation of beings, that of men not to nourish themselves with it at all times, and that of the demons not to nourish themselves with it either at one time or another (III, 4). This is important for its presentation of the Evagrian doctrine that the angels nourish themselves with the contemplation of beings, and not only with the contemplation of the Holy Trinity. Similarly for men. St John of Damascus asserts that in Paradise Adam and Eve were nourished with the contemplation of God; nowhere in Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith is there a doctrine that men are nourished, even after the Fall, with natural contemplation.[4] The Fathers in general, as far as we know, are silent on such a point. That the demons should not nourish themselves with natural contemplation seems clear enough. There is an ambiguity in this chapter: is the contemplation of beings both first and second natural contemplation, or only second natural contemplation? For elsewhere Evagrius says that the angels nourish themselves with second natural contemplation.

If the gnosis of those who do not empty themselves all at once is first, it is evident that the light bodies are anterior to the heavy (II, 72). We do not know precisely what this means.

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[1] Cf. Skemmata 25 (Appendix 3 of Volume II).

[2] See above.

[3] Cf. Peri Archon IV, IV, 9, p. 326, especially fn. 1.

[4] Damascus.


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