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Chapter III -- 27

The mind (nous) is in wonder when it sees the objects and it is not disturbed in their contemplation; but it runs as towards its familiars and friends (V, 73). This is an interesting remark on the psychology of contemplation.

God has planted for himself the reasonable beings; his wisdom, in its turn, has grown in them, in their reading writings of every sort (IV, 1). These writings are the reasons (logoi) of created objects which the reasonable beings contemplate in creation by means of the second natural contemplation. We shall see a parallel assertion in Chapter 94 of Treatise on the Practical Life, where St Anthony is presented by Evagrius as saying much the same thing as he says here.[1] We will even find the image of the book that is read to be used by St Hesychios, evidently for the same stage of contemplation.[2] However, this is not discursive meditation: as we have seen, the ascetic exercising second natural contemplation apprehends the reason (logos) of the created object intuitively by means of the intelligible eye, the spiritual sense which either has seen the reason (logos) from all sides or not seen it at all (cf. KG II, 28, discussed earlier).

If the mind (nous) discerns the words and if the names and the words make known the objects, then the mind (nous) discerns the objects (VI, 54). We think that this passage, quite ambiguous in its terminology, refers to the second natural contemplation. To obtain this reading, we would have to take ‘words’ to be a rendering of the Greek ‘logoi’, the reasons (logoi) of the objects of sense that are contemplated in second natural contemplation. By means of the reasons (logoi) of sensible objects, Evagrius seems to be saying, the mind (nous) with its spiritual senses truly cognizes the objects of sense. This would be the meaning of ‘discerns the objects’. The ‘names’ would be the definitions of the objects which disclose the objects’ essences. Recall that in Paradise, Adam saw things as they were. This chapter could also apply to first natural contemplation.

The more the mind (nous) divests itself of the passions, the more it approaches the objects and according to its order it also receives the gnosis; and it knows the contemplation of each order in which it stands as its very own (V, 75). Ordinarily, in the Evagrian system, the passions are associated with the soul (psuche), not with the mind (nous), and they are divested through praktike, the practical life, which pertains to the purification of the passionate part of the soul, not to the purification of the mind (nous).[3] However, the general sense of this passage is clear: the more the mind (nous) is purified, the more it approaches the objects of contemplation, and, moreover, by the principle that gnosis both changes and engenders the mind (nous), it comes to possess the contemplation related to its degree of attainment as its own inalienable possession (subject to its free choice to turn away from gnosis). Recall that the gnosis that a mind (nous) is in, is the place of that mind (nous).

The mind (nous) applies itself to the intelligible things at that very time, when it should no longer be conformed (poiotai) by the thoughts (logismoi) from the passionate part of the soul (VI, 55—Greek fragment). We will see much more of this in Volume II. It is a very important statement of the necessity of freeing the mind (nous) from attachments to sensible objects so that it might be able to receive in contemplation the mental representations of intelligibles: that freeing can only come about when the mind (nous) is freed from the thoughts (logismoi) which come from the passionate part of the soul. The passionate part of the soul is the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia) taken together. The mind (nous) can begin to contemplate intelligibles only after it has been freed from the mental representations that relate to sensible objects, and this freeing can only come about when the mind (nous) no longer unites itself to the thoughts (logismoi) which arise from the passionate part of the soul. This is at the heart of Evagrius’ ascetical psychology and psychology of contemplation. He enunciates this doctrine in Chapter 40 of On the Thoughts and also in Skemmata 2 and 23.

The true reason (logos) which concerns the intelligible objects has not been entrusted from now to all the seers of those intelligible objects; and it is no more those to whom have been entrusted their reasons (logoi), so that they see them, who see also their objects. But there are in this some who even obtain both these distinctions, those who are called ‘the first-born of their brothers’ (Rom. 8, 29) (II, 36). The distinction that Evagrius is drawing might be compared to the difference between the charism of knowledge and the charism of the word of wisdom. More Orthodox ascetical Fathers than Evagrius assert that it is only rarely that the two charisms are together given to the same person. Most often, an ascetic is given the one and not the other. Here, Evagrius is making the point that it is not the same thing to contemplate the angel and to know spiritually the reason (logos) of the angel. To most ascetics is given either the one or the other, not both. Those who are given both contemplations are distinguished from their fellow ascetics in being more eminent spiritually.

That mind (nous) is sterile which is deprived of the spiritual doctrine or which lacks the seeds sown by the Holy Spirit (VI, 60). The seeds sown by the Holy Spirit are the seeds of the virtues, which are elsewhere said by Evagrius to be imperishable. He must mean, metaphorically, that the mind (nous) incapable of virtue or incapable of attaining to spiritual doctrine is a sterile mind (nous).

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[1] See Volume II.

[2] Volume III.

[3] See Treatise on the Practical Life (Volume II).


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