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Chapter III -- 28

6 The Evagrian Anthropology

From the angelic and archangelic states come the soul state; from the soul state come the demonic and the human states; from the human state again come angels and demons [to here, following the Greek fragment], if a demon is he who, on account of the abundance of anger (thumos), has fallen from praktike and has been joined with a dark and attenuated body (V, 11). This is a very important chapter, the first part of which, combined with KG II, 78, is quoted verbatim by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in Anathema 5.[1] The importance of the chapter lies first in its clear enunciation of a doctrine of the mobility of the minds (noes) among the orders of archangels, angels, men and demons. In both Evagrius’ and Origen’s systems, as we have already indicated, the mind (nous) is subject to repeated incarnations in various bodies according to its merit in its previous life: this is the basis of the mobility of the minds (noes) among the orders. This is not an Orthodox doctrine. However, this chapter contains a concept which is crucial to an understanding of Evagrius’ anthropology. This is the concept of the order of souls. This chapter and the next two presented are the only three chapters in the Kephalaia Gnostica that enunciate this doctrine. However, that the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod went to the trouble of anathematizing the doctrine verbatim indicates that the doctrine was among the most important of the doctrines that the Origenist movement held that they were combating. Moreover, the doctrine is very clearly enunciated in Peri Archon even in Rufinus’ translation:

All these considerations seem to me to show that when the mind departed from its original condition and dignity it became or was termed a soul, and if ever it is restored and corrected it returns to the condition of being a mind.[2]

Evagrius’ doctrine seems to have this sense: When the mind (nous) is judged in such a fashion as to be given a praktike body,[3] then, it appears, it does not enter directly into the order of men by being born, but enters into the order of souls.[4] This order of souls is not clearly defined by Evagrius, but seems to be an order of unembodied souls, where the soul (psuche) is treated by Evagrius as an inferior sort of angelic body for the mind (nous). For us, the importance of this concept is that it affords us an approach to the Evagrian (and Origenist) distinction between mind (nous) and soul (psuche). These are not the same thing in Evagrius, and in reading Evagrius, we must be careful not to treat ‘mind (nous)’ and ‘soul (psuche)’ as synonymous; otherwise we will come to mistaken conclusions about the content of Evagrius’ doctrine. We can now see the significance of the next chapter, which we originally cited and discussed in connection with the Evagrian Christology:

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). Here, we are interested in this chapter solely from the point of view of the Evagrian anthropology. As we have already remarked, we think that Evagrius poses rhetorical questions when the content of his teaching is too dangerous to state openly. Here, what is in question is the status of Christ’s immediate disciples, especially the Apostles. Where did they come from? Were they simply common fishermen who happened to be living by the side of Lake Tiberias? Evagrius seems to be suggesting that they were not, that they came from other worlds, and not all of them from the same world. To dispose of the last point first, we imagine that Evagrius wants to say that Judas came from a demonic world, and that he was born a man for the occasion, as it were, of Christ’s incarnation, to be his disciple. This of course is not in the least an Orthodox doctrine. However, we think that the import of this chapter is also that the other immediate disciples of Christ came not from the world of men in the ordinary sense, but were born into the world of men for the occasion of Christ’s incarnation either from the order of souls, the most probable interpretation, or from even higher worlds. Moreover, Evagrius seems to be saying, the Apostles, or at least some of them, did not become the disciples of Christ just on earth, but had already been disciples of Christ when the Christ himself was in the soul or other higher state before incarnating into the womb of Mary. This is again not an Orthodox doctrine. But it helps us to understand Evagrius’ thought. It also helps us to understand how Evagrius conceives the relation between the mind (nous) and the soul (psuche), so that we can correctly interpret his texts. The next chapter makes the matter clear:

The soul (psuche) is the mind (nous) which because of negligence has fallen from the Unity and which by consequence of its non-vigilance has descended to the rank of praktike (III, 28). As we have already learned, in the Evagrian system, only the Christ was free of negligence in the Movement, and all the other minds (noes) were subject to the subsequent judgement by the Christ and to the receiving of a body and a world. Therefore we are now looking at a subclass of those minds (noes). These are the minds (noes) which had sufficient negligence to be given a soul that had the rank of praktike, which we shall explain, but not so much negligence as to be given a demonic body. As we have already seen, the Evagrian soteriological program for the mind (nous), in whatever world it might find itself with its body in the rank that it has been given by the Christ, is to turn to the upward mystical ascent. The mind (nous) which finds itself in the human state can either ascend to the angelic state or descend to the demonic state. As the first chapter presented indicates, interposed between the angelic state and the human state is the soul state.

In our understanding, Evagrius is teaching that in the Movement, some souls had sufficient negligence to be given the rank of praktike, and that they were therefore given souls. It is only their later behaviour, in the soul state, that leads, in a further judgement, to their being given a human body.[5]

Professor Guillaumont quotes the Letter to Melania to say: ‘The mind (nous) fell from its first rank and was called soul … and it descended again and was called body.’[6] It is because of this passage that Professor Guillaumont remarks that the Letter to Melania appears to be rather hastily composed, since, he believes, the Kephalaia Gnostica does not contain such a doctrine.[7] We disagree. We think that the Kephalaia Gnostica does show the same doctrine that Professor Guillaumont quotes from the Letter. That doctrine is contained in precisely the chapters that we have quoted above concerning the soul state and its relation to the state of man in the body. As we remarked above, that this was an important doctrine of the Origenists, and not merely a chance remark of Evagrius in the Kephalaia Gnostica, or even, perhaps, in the Letter to Melania, can be discerned from the fact that the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod went to the trouble of quoting and anathematizing the relevant passage of the Kephalaia Gnostica verbatim. Professor Guillaumont adduces as an argument KG I, 47, which we will present in a page or so. That chapter says that the soul is naturally made to be in the body. If this is not to be taken as an inconsistency in Evagrius’ thought, then it must be understood in the sense that the soul is naturally made to be in a body, even though it can exist outside the body in the soul state. Even St Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae says the same thing about the human soul: the soul is naturally made to be in the body, but it can exist (in Heaven, after death, until the Resurrection) outside the body.[8] It seems to us that it is necessary to accept that Evagrius, following Peri Archon, makes a distinction between mind (nous) and soul (psuche), and soul (psuche) and body, so that we properly understand the Evagrian concept of praktike as the healing of the soul (psuche).

These things having been said, we are reserved about the Evagrianness of the extended doctrine of the Letter to Melania concerning the relations among the body, soul (psuche) and mind (nous) in the context of their relations with the Persons of the Trinity: this is the doctrine that the human mind (nous) is the body of the soul (psuche) of God, which soul (psuche) of God is the Persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit; and that that soul (psuche) of God is itself the soul (psuche) of the mind (nous) of God, which is the Father.[9] There is no evidence of such a Neoplatonic doctrine in the Kephalaia Gnostica.

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[1] However, the fragment used is taken from St Maximos the Confessor.

[2] Peri Archon II, VIII, 3, p. 125.

[3] See below.

[4] Here, with regard to the French text of the Kephalaia Gnostica, it should be understood that the French word, psychique, is directly related etymologically to the Greek word for soul, psuche.

[5] There are many judgements subsequent to the first.

[6] Guillaumont p. 108, fn. 124. Cf. Melania 1 190 or Melania E ll. 193–5.

[7] Loc. cit.

[8] ST Ia, 76, 1 ad 6—see Chapter IV, below.

[9] Melania 1 189–189 or Melania E ll. 113–24.


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