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Chapter III -- 24

The mind (nous) which possesses the last clothing is that mind (nous) which knows only the contemplation of all the second beings (III, 8). The contemplation of all the second beings is second natural contemplation. This is a very important, although very ambiguous, chapter. What is the last clothing of the mind (nous)? We have seen someone assert that it is the passions. We do not think so. For we learn elsewhere in Evagrius that dispassion (apatheia) is the precondition for entry into the second natural contemplation, and dispassion (apatheia) is precisely the divestiture of the passions: they have been divested before the ascetic enters into second natural contemplation, not after, as Evagrius is here discussing.

For reasons we will see at the beginning of Section 6, ‘The Evagrian Anthropology’, we think that for Evagrius, eschatologically, the last clothing of the mind (nous) is the soul.

However, a passage in Homily 3 of St Isaac the Syrian provides us with another, ascetical, interpretation. It must be remarked, first, that St Isaac the Syrian undoubtedly read the Kephalaia Gnostica in the version commune (S1), so his interpretation of Evagrius, although based on mystical experience of the highest kind, cannot be considered to be absolutely reliable. However, the passage in question, contained in the Syriac of Homily 3 but omitted in the Greek translation done in the Byzantine era at the Monastery of St Savas near Jerusalem, is very important for its very clear description of the Evagrian stages of contemplation and for its discussion of the final clothing of the mind (nous), although the translation from the Syriac is rather obscure because of the English translator’s lack of familiarity with Evagrius. Because of its importance, we here quote the passage in full:

That which a material object is to the eyes of the flesh, the same is passionate behaviour to the hidden faculty of sight. And that which the murky passions are to the second mode of natural theoria [= second natural contemplation], the same the passions are to the natural settled state; and they are thus related to one another throughout the range of the diverse theorias [i.e. contemplations]. When the intellect [= nous] is fixed in the natural, settled state [= dispassion][1], it abides in angelic theoria [= contemplation of the angels], that is, primary and natural theoria [= first natural contemplation], which is also called naked intellect [= naked mind (nous)]. But when the intellect [= nous] is in the second, natural knowledge [= the gnosis related to second natural contemplation], it suckles and is sustained by milk from the breasts [cf. KG III, 67], as it were [i.e. the second natural contemplation is the contemplation of an imperfect mind (nous)]. This is called the outward garment of the degree just mentioned [i.e. the naked intellect [remark by the English translator]]. It is placed after purity [= dispassion (apatheia)], which the mind enters first. It is also prior in existence, for it is the first degree of knowledge, although it is last in honour [i.e. after dispassion (apatheia), the ascetic first attains to second natural contemplation, the lowest stage of contemplation]. For this reason it is also called secondary [i.e. second, in contradistinction to first, natural contemplation], and is like certain inscribed letters [cf. KG III, 57] whereby the intellect [= nous] is trained and cleansed for the ascent to the second degree [i.e. first natural contemplation], which is perfection of the motions of the mind [= nous] and the degree that is nigh to divine theoria [= Theology, contemplation of the Holy Trinity]. The outward garment of the intellect [mind] is the senses, but its nakedness is its being moved by immaterial divine visions.[2] [All emphasis in original.]

Here, it can be seen that ascetically, the final or outward garment of the mind (nous) is the senses: the second natural contemplation, being the contemplation of an imperfect mind (nous) still requires the senses, but the senses are divested in the transformation from second natural contemplation to first natural contemplation. Note that St Isaac states that the second natural contemplation is ‘the outward garment of the degree just mentioned’: the English translator construes ‘the degree just mentioned’ to be ‘the naked intellect’, but would it not be more precise to say that it refers to ‘the first natural contemplation’? This interpretation by St Isaac of the final clothing of the mind (nous) does seem to be a very likely explanation of what Evagrius means in the present chapter of the Kephalaia Gnostica: ascetically, the final clothing of the mind (nous) is the senses.

The notion that eschatologically—not ascetically, as St Isaac is discussing in the passage quoted—the soul is the final clothing of the mind (nous) is not so very far from the ascetical notion that the senses are final clothing of the mind (nous): to a certain extent it is being clothed with the soul that confers on the mind (nous) the possibility of sense-perception, although just as clearly the body is also necessary. However, the Evagrian doctrine of the spiritual body received in the General Resurrection, the ‘gnostic organon’ which is divested in the passage to the contemplation of the Unity in the Restoration, does not at all address the issue of the relation between that spiritual body and the soul (psuche). Hence, asserting that eschatologically the final clothing of the mind (nous) is the soul (psuche) might be incompatible with the doctrine of Evagrius concerning the spiritual body—although it might not be, given Evagrius’ silence on the matter.[3]

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[1] On the basis of a personal communication with the translator, Dr Dana Miller, presently of Fordham University, New York.

[2] Isaac p. 23, fn. 29.

[3] See Section 6, ‘The Evagrian Anthropology’, and Section 9, ‘The Evagrian Eschatology’, below.


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