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Chapter III -- 32

Being formed in the womb, we live the live of plants; being born, the life of animals; becoming adults, the life of angels or the life of demons. The cause of the first life is the ensouled substance; of the second, the senses; of the third, that we are receptive of virtue or vice (III, 76—Greek fragment as emended). This chapter is a brief presentation of the Aristotelian schema of the vegetative and animal and human souls that we have already met with in Chapter II of this work, in the dialogue between St Macrina and St Gregory of Nyssa, and that we will meet with again in Section 12, below, when we discuss another work of St Gregory. What is interesting here is Evagrius’ assertion that the fœtus in the womb exercises only the vegetative soul and that the infant or child without reason exercises only the animal soul—or, better to say, the faculties of the human soul that correspond in their nature to the vegetative and animal souls. However, Evagrius says, when we become adults, we live either an angelic life of virtue or a demonic life of vice. Recall that Evagrius has already said that if the mind (nous) proceeds on the road of the body, then it will fall on the demons. The sense is the same. That we are susceptible of virtue or vice is due in the Evagrian system to our having a reasonable nature, a mind (nous). This is one of the many places in his anthropology where Evagrius shows his Cappadocian roots.[1]

Those who have ‘participated in the flesh and blood’ (Heb. 2, 14) are ‘the children’; for whoever is young is neither good nor bad. It is therefore right that it is said that men are intermediate between angels and demons (IV, 13). We here see men treated as children; we also see a clear statement that men are intermediate between angels and demons, although the doctrine of mobility among the three orders is not here stated, nor the doctrine of moral choice of the chapter just presented.

The angels and demons draw near to our world; but we do not draw near to their worlds. Indeed, we cannot make the angels approach closer to God, nor do we dream of defiling more the demons (III, 78). That this chapter is important for Evagrian ascetical psychology can be seen from the fact that Evagrius himself quotes it in Chapter 19 of On the Thoughts, the very detailed treatise on ascetical psychology that we will analyse in Volume II.

Whoever is become susceptible of the gnosis of God and who honours ignorance more than this gnosis is said to be bad. For there is not a corporeal nature capable of gnosis. It is not appropriate therefore that any body might be said to be bad (III, 53). This chapter contains several points that Evagrius insists on. First is his definition of ‘bad’. Those who are naturally capable of the gnosis of God are the minds (noes). Therefore, that mind (nous) is bad which honours ignorance more than this gnosis, which turns towards ignorance, in whatever body and world it finds itself, rather than towards gnosis. Moreover, as we have already seen, the bodily, corporeal, sensible or material nature is not capable of gnosis: try as I might, I cannot make my computer able to know God. Therefore my computer can never be bad.

The wealth of the soul is gnosis, and its poverty, ignorance; but if ignorance is the privation of gnosis, then wealth is prior to poverty and the health of the soul prior to its illness (II, 8). This seems clear enough. It is based on the Aristotelian idea of the bad’s being a privation of the good. But if B is a privation of A, then A is prior to B: something that exists is prior to its privation. That the health of the soul (psuche) is prior to its illness has to do with the state, prior to the Movement, of the mind (nous) which became that soul (psuche). When the mind (nous) becomes a soul (psuche), it enters into the soul state and thence into the state of men in a body, unless it becomes a demon because of its further negligence in the soul state. It is curious that this chapter refers to the soul (psuche) and not directly to the mind (nous). For, as we have already seen, in Evagrian discourse, one set of things is to be said about the soul (psuche) and another set of things is to be said about the mind (nous).

Just as light and darkness are accidents of the air, so virtue and vice, and gnosis and ignorance are united to the reasonable soul (I, 59). This is a restatement of the difference between sensible objects and reasonable beings, here applied to the soul (psuche).

Among the goods and evils which are considered as without necessity, some are found in the interior of the soul and others outside it; but it is not possible that things which are said naturally to be evils might be outside it (I, 21). Virtue and vice, gnosis and ignorance are things—predicates or attributes—that have to do with the reasonable and not the corporeal, or sensible, nature. That is why they cannot exist outside the soul, although, patently, they can exist in other minds (noes) which are embodied not in human souls and bodies but in angelic or demonic bodies. The difference between the goods and evils that are without necessity and the things that are natural evils seems to be this: an object may be in a corrupt state, or it may be inappropriate to one or another use that a man wants to make of it—these are examples of evils which are without necessity—; but a natural evil—vice—can refer only to a reasonable being, not to a sensible object.

When we were produced in the beginning, the seeds of the virtues were found naturally in us, but not at all the seeds of vice. For we do not, if we are receptive of something, at all events have the power of this thing—since also potentially able not to be, we do not have the power of the non-existent, if, indeed, powers are qualities whereas the non-existent is not a quality (I, 39—for the second sentence, following the Greek of On the Thoughts). The importance of this chapter can be seen in the fact that Evagrius himself quotes the second sentence in Chapter 31 of On the Thoughts. The sense is that from our genesis before the Movement as minds (noes), we have had the seeds of the virtues in us but not the seeds of the vices. There is no eternal principle of evil. This is necessary for Evagrius to emphasize in view of his doctrine of the Restoration, when all the minds (noes) will return to the contemplation of the Unity. The second sentence is Evagrius’ proof that we can be capable of something—vice—without the power or potentiality of that something being in us absolutely—without our having an intrinsic disposition to evil because of an eternal principle or because God created the minds (noes) bad. The proof, Evagrius says, is the fact that we can cease to exist—by suicide, say, or even by a natural death—but for all that, the power of non-existence does not exist in us absolutely. It exists only in potential. Moreover, Evagrius says, any power which we might have in us is an attribute whereas non-existence is not an attribute.

For there was a time when there was not vice and there will be a time when there will not be vice. There was not a time when there was not virtue nor will there be a time when there will not be virtue. For the seeds of the virtues are indelible. And that rich man in the Gospels persuades me who, having been condemned to Hades, felt mercy for his brothers (cf. Luke 16, 19–31). To show mercy is the most beautiful seed of virtue. (I, 40—Greek text of On the Thoughts as emended). This chapter also is quoted in Chapter 31 of On the Thoughts. It is an elaboration of the thought contained in the previous chapter, and it is similar to a passage in Peri Archon.[2] Evil—vice—did not exist before the Movement and it will not exist in the Restoration. However, there was not a time when virtue did not exist—it existed from the moment of the genesis of the minds (noes) in a single act of God, by means of the seeds of virtues that, it appears, were then sown in the minds (noes) by the Holy Spirit—and there will not be a time when virtue will not exist. Elsewhere, however, Evagrius asserts that virtue is something that is properly spoken of in relation to modes, that is, in relation to the contingent life in a body and world that each mind (nous) took up after the Movement. Hence, for Evagrius to be taken in a self-consistent way, we must understand that although virtue always has existed and always will, it really only is spoken of in relation to the worlds which were created after the First Judgement and which will all be destroyed in the Restoration. Going on, Evagrius says that the seeds of the virtues are indestructible. Evagrius then uses the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man from the Gospel of Luke to explain: even the rich man condemned to Hades on account of his vice asked Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers what would befall them if they did not mend their ways.[3]

If death is second by reference to life, and sickness second by reference to health, it is evident that vice is second by reference to virtue. Indeed, the death and the sickness of the soul are vice, and virtue is also more ancient that mediateness (I, 41). We do not know what ‘mediateness’ really is here. We used this rather rare English word to translate a corresponding word (médiété) in the French translation of the Kephalaia Gnostica, which French word has in some uses the senses of ‘proportionality’ or ‘the just mean’. Here, it seems to refer to the condition of the worlds which were created by the Evagrian Christ after the Movement, to the condition of an object’s being intermediate between two other objects. For the object before us is subsequent to the object from which it was generated according to the operation of nature, and it is prior to the object which it will itself become when, as that object, it will experience corruption, decay or destruction. This is Aristotelian. Hence all natural sensible things are in a continuous process of generation and corruption, so that one can speak of a principle of mediateness, or intermediateness, a state of being transitional between one object or state and another. This of course is our conjecture what Evagrius must have had in mind when he wrote the word that we have rendered as ‘mediateness’. The rest of the chapter should be clear from the immediately preceding one.

The virtues are said to be before us, at the side where we possess senses, but behind us the bad actions, on the side where we do not possess any sense-perception. It is commanded us, in fact, to ‘flee fornication’ (1 Cor. 6, 18) and to ‘pursue hospitality’ (Rom. 12, 13) (I, 66). This does not seem to require explanation. It might be remarked that for all his heterodoxy, Evagrius was a very moral man and very insistent on the role of virtue in the ascetical life.

Just as our Saviour, by the sensible healing of the paralytic (cf. Matt. 9, 2–7; etc.), has illumined us concerning the intelligible healing, and by that which is manifest has confirmed that which is hidden, so also by the sensible departure of the sons of Israel, he has shown us the departure from vice and ignorance (VI, 64). It is worthwhile to recall the episode in the Gospel. The paralytic is let down by his friends from the roof, before Christ. Seeing their faith, Christ says to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The scribes and Pharisees are scandalized: ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Knowing their thoughts, Christ says: ‘So that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, the paralytic: take up your bed and go.’ The intelligible healing is represented, for Evagrius, by the forgiveness of sins. The healing of the physical ailment follows Christ’s statement, ‘So that you, the scribes and Pharisees, might know that the Son has authority to forgive sins…,’ and so demonstrates visibly the intelligible power of the Christ to forgive sins. ‘For which is easier to say: your sins are forgiven, or take up your bed and go?’ Evagrius then uses this passage to give an allegorical interpretation to Exodus: the sensible departure of the sons of Israel from the sensible Egypt is a type of the departure by praktike from the intelligible Egypt, which symbolizes the demons and the passions excited by them.

The irascible part (thumos) of the soul is joined with the heart where its mind (nous) is also; and its desiring part (epithumia) is joined with flesh and blood, if it is necessary for us ‘to remove from the heart anger and from the flesh, vice’ (Eccl. 11, 10) (VI, 84). This is a statement in Evagrian psychology. The irascible part of the soul (thumos)—which we take to include all the moral passions that do not pertain to the desiring part of the soul[4]—is joined to the heart, where the mind (nous) is seated. The desiring part of the soul (epithumia) is related to flesh and blood, to the body. St Gregory of Nyssa takes the position in On the Making of Man,[5] that the mind (nous) is not located in any one part of the body. We will discuss the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia) in detail in Volume II. We will see in Chapter IV, below, that St Thomas Aquinas takes the position that all the passions—under the definition he gives to the passions, surely—have a bodily substrate.

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[1] In the final sentence of this chapter, the French rendition of the Syriac (see Appendix 2 of Volume II) has ‘animated nature’ instead of ‘ensouled substance’. If that is the correct reading, it to be taken as referring to the Aristotelian vegetative soul, not to the Aristotelian animal soul: in Aristotle, characteristic of the animal soul is sense-perception, which is not yet in issue. However, the Greek fragment has ‘ensouled substance’, which could very well refer to the male sperm instead of to the vegetative soul. This would agree with the sense of St Gregory of Nyssa in a similar passage that we discuss in Section 12, below.

[2] Cf. Peri Archon IV, IV, 9, p. 327.

[3] Cf. Luke 16, 19–31.

[4] See Section 13, below.

[5] As we shall see below in Section 12.


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