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Chapter III -- 30

The sign of the human order is the human body, and the sign of each of the orders is the breadth, the forms, the colours, the qualities, the natural forces, the weakness, the time, the place, the parents, the increases, the modes, the life, the death and that which is connected to these things (III, 29). This seems clear enough in the beginning: the sign of the human is the human body. The orders next referred to constitute an ambiguity: are they the orders of men, and is Evagrius explaining the differences among the orders or nations of men, or is he speaking more generally about all the orders in which the minds (noes) find themselves? We cannot give a certain answer. Neither answer produces any great difficulty, and both answers are compatible the one with the other. We tend to think that Evagrius is referring to the orders of men in this chapter, but the reader may take it how he prefers.

Although Evagrius takes the human condition to be the result of a degree of a negligence in the Movement greater than that of the angelic powers, but less than that of the demons, he does not have a negative attitude towards the human body. This appears to derive from his view of the divine providence that the Evagrian Christ applied in his assignment of bodies and worlds: after the judgement, each mind (nous) finds itself, in a body and in a world, precisely where the wisdom of God has put it so that it might recommence its upward mystical ascent. Hence, Evagrius sees the human body as an instrument or tool[1] which enables man to make the upward mystical ascent. In the case of a human being, at the rank that he finds himself, that upward ascent begins with praktike. Because of this attitude towards the body, Evagrius is adamantly opposed to suicide, even at a stage when, presumably, the ascetic has made enough progress to be impeded from the higher forms of contemplation by being in the body.[2] We have ignored the chapters of the Kephalaia Gnostica concerning suicide as being largely irrelevant to our purpose, but to manifest Evagrius’ attitude towards the body we include this one:

Who will show to those who blaspheme against the Creator and speak evil of the body of our soul, the grace that they have received to have been joined to such a tool (organon) while they are passionate? Those testify in favour of my words who in the apparitions of dreams are terrified by the demons and flee to waking as into the presence of angels, when the body suddenly awakes (IV, 60).

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[1] That is the meaning of the Greek word organon.

[2] Plotinus was opposed to suicide except in certain special cases such as captivity by barbarians. One can see that suicide was a viable option in the late Classical Age. It was the Christian prohibition that eliminated it.


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