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Chapter III -- 34

If all vice has the nature to come from the rational part (logistikon), from the desire (epithumia) or from the irascible part (thumikon), and it is possible to use these powers either well or ill, then clearly the vices occur to us from the use of these parts. If this is so, then, nothing of the things which have come to be from God is evil (III, 59—Greek fragment). This should be clear. In fact, it is much the same thing that in Chapter II of the present work we found St Macrina to be saying. It is a man’s free choice and use of the powers of the soul (psuche) that determine whether their use is good or bad. With respect to the questions posed in the previous paragraphs, we see that, here at least, Evagrius restricts himself to a tripartite division of the soul, which would imply that every moral passion belongs either to the irascible part (thumos) or to the desiring part (epithumia), since only intellectual vices can belong to the rational part or mind (nous),[1] as we see in the following chapter:

To the mind (nous) are united gnosis and ignorance; the desiring part (epithumia) is receptive of chastity and lust; and to the irascible part (thumos) love and hate have the custom to occur. The first accompanies those who are first, and the second those who are second (I, 84). These are very important statements in ascetical psychology, and we shall return to them in Volume II. Here we present them as part of Evagrius’ anthropology. We are not sure what Evagrius means by the ‘first’ and the ‘second’. Perhaps he means that virtue is related to the angels, and vice to the demons. Note that here Evagrius has assigned love to what we ourselves consider to be its natural location, the irascible part (thumos), and not to the desiring part (epithumia). We will see in Volume II that, perhaps by oversight, Evagrius, following a Peripatetic prototype treatise on the virtues, in Chapter 89 of the Treatise on the Practical Life assigns love to the desiring part (epithumia). It is also worth remarking that, here, Evagrius clearly considers that the irascible part (thumos) is not merely the seat of the irrational passion of anger, but also the seat of spiritual charity; that is the meaning here of ‘love’. And it is spiritual charity that defeats vainglory, pride, envy and condemnation, the passions of man as man the Evagrius lists in Chapter 18 of On the Thoughts; hence, it cannot be considered that the irascible part is foreign to the passions—and therefore, necessarily, to the virtues—of man taken as man.

The irascible part (thumos), when it is disturbed, blinds the seer, whereas the desire (epithumia), when it is set in motion irrationally, hides the objects which are seen (V, 27—Greek fragment). This seems clear enough. We say that so-and-so was ‘blind with rage’, and the notion that desire can be moved irrationally (or, bestially) is a commonplace. That desire might hide visible objects when moved irrationally seems, however, to be Evagrius’ own contribution to psychology, for we are not otherwise aware of such an opinion. However, what he most likely means is that desire (epithumia) when it is irrationally excited blocks the contemplation of intelligibles. How this differs from being blinded by a disturbed temper (thumos) is intuitively obvious but not clear from Evagrius’ words.

Spiritual gnosis cleanses the mind (nous); love (agape) heals the irascible part (thumos); and continence stems flowing desire (epithumia). [To here: following the Greek fragment.] And the cause of the first is the second, and that of the second, the third (III, 35). This chapter provides the whole Evagrian ascetical system in a nutshell. The healing of the desiring part (epithumia) and the irascible part (thumos)—in that order!—is exactly what praktike is. The healing of the mind (nous) by gnosis is precisely the task that one begins when one has attained the goal of praktike, dispassion (apatheia). For once one has attained to dispassion (apatheia), the culmination of the practical life (praktike), then one starts on the road of natural contemplation, which is the healing of the mind (nous) by gnosis; and one completes this healing in Theology, which is the gnosis of God.

The resurrection of the soul is the return from the order of passionateness to the dispassionate state (V, 22). We can now see what this means. The mind (nous) in becoming a soul (psuche) has descended to the rank of praktike. This means that its task precisely is to return to the dispassionate state from the order of passionateness. That is the soteriological program of return to God in the upward mystical ascent that is appropriate to a mind (nous) that has been judged worthy of descent to the rank of praktike. But praktike is precisely the task of returning the desiring part (epithumia) from lust to chastity and, after that, the irascible part (thumos) from anger to love. In other words, finding itself a man, the mind (nous) has before it the task of returning from the order of passionateness to the dispassionate state, to dispassion (apatheia). But the order of passionateness is precisely the state of having the desiring part (epithumia) operating contrary to nature and the irascible part (thumos) operating contrary to nature. And dispassion (apatheia) is precisely the condition of having the desiring part (epithumia) operating according to nature and the irascible part (thumos) operating according to nature. As we have seen, above, the passage of the desiring part (epithumia) from a condition contrary to nature to a condition according to nature is precisely the passage from lust to chastity. Having accomplished that, Evagrius says, the ascetic can then work on the passage of the irascible part (thumos) from a condition contrary to nature to a condition according to nature: this is precisely the passage of the irascible part (thumos) from hatred to spiritual love. When the ascetic has accomplished that, then he has reached dispassion (apatheia), the resurrection of the soul, and he can start to work on the resurrection of the mind (nous):

The resurrection of the mind (nous) is the passage from ignorance to true gnosis (V, 25). When the ascetic has attained to the resurrection of the soul (psuche), dispassion (apatheia), then he can begin to work on the resurrection of his mind (nous), which is the passage from ignorance to true gnosis. This is accomplished in contemplation. This is the Evagrian soteriological program for minds (noes) that have been judged worthy of relegation to the rank of praktike, once they have by ascesis returned from the order of passionateness to the order of dispassion (apatheia). But those minds (noes)—ignoring here the matter of the order of souls—are precisely men. We will discuss these topics in depth in Volume II, but let us here add several more chapters of Evagrius on the topic:

Although the transformations are numerous, we have received the gnosis of four only. The first is the passage from vice to virtue; the second is that from dispassion to the second natural contemplation; the third is the passage from the second natural contemplation to the gnosis that concerns the angels; and the fourth is the passage from all to the gnosis of the Holy Trinity (II, 4). This chapter provides a summary of the soteriological program for minds (noes) that have descended to the rank of praktike. The first transformation, the passage from moral vice to moral virtue, is the practical life (praktike). The passage from moral vice to moral virtue might be taken to be a formal definition of praktike. Moreover, we have just seen that this passage from moral vice to moral virtue has a specific content: it is, first, the return of the desiring part (epithumia) of the soul from lust to chastity, and, then, building on that, the return of the irascible part (thumos) of the soul from anger to love. When that has been accomplished, then one has accomplished the first transformation, and, to use the terminology of the chapters previously presented, one has attained to dispassion (apatheia), the resurrection of the soul. There was much dispute in Evagrius’ day about what he meant by dispassion (apatheia), and about whether it was a legitimate Christian concept, and there is much dispute even today about what he meant. Here we have a clear statement of the content of the his concept of dispassion (apatheia): it is the result of the first transformation, the passage from moral vice to moral virtue. Moreover, Evagrius sees this as one transformation of four, these four transformations, as far as we have been able to understand the Kephalaia Gnostica, to be taken in a serial temporal order, and not as four transformations which occur simultaneously and partially until death of the ascetic. Moreover, this whole schema requires for its proper comprehension, the realization that in Evagrius the soul (psuche) and the mind (nous) are not the same thing. Dispassion (apatheia) heals the soul. But that is not for Evagrius the end of the human soteriological program. There are then three other transformations that heal the mind (nous).

The next transformation, the one that presupposes that one has healed the soul (psuche) and attained to dispassion (apatheia), is the transformation from dispassion (apatheia) to the second natural contemplation. The second natural contemplation is the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of sensible objects, and we have already learned that it is a characteristic of the imperfect mind (nous). However, this transformation does mark the transition in Evagrius from work on the soul (psuche) to work on the mind (nous).

The next transformation is the passage from the second natural contemplation to the first natural contemplation, the contemplation of the bodiless or reasonable powers, the angels. We have already seen that St Isaac the Syrian interprets this transformation as the passage from contemplation involving the use of the senses to contemplation which no longer involves their use. In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John of Sinai presents such a contemplation.[2]

There are in the Kephalaia Gnostica several contemplative stages related to the contemplation of angels that are not clearly defined. For example, Evagrius refers to the difference between contemplating an angel and contemplating the reason (logos) of the angel. Moreover, he refers to the contemplation of the worlds—evidently all the various worlds (angelic and perhaps otherwise) which have been created after the Movement—and to the contemplation of intelligibles. These intelligibles are never explained, but they seem to be the Platonic forms. Of course, it is possible that by the contemplation of intelligibles, Evagrius is merely referring to the contemplation of angels and their reasons (logoi).

The final transformation is the passage from the first natural contemplation—‘from all’—to the contemplation of the Holy Trinity. It is the ‘naked mind (nous)’ that contemplates the Holy Trinity. Recall, however, that St Isaac the Syrian interprets Evagrius in such a way that the mind (nous) becomes naked when it divests itself of the senses in passing from the second natural contemplation to the first natural contemplation. We have ourselves suggested that eschatologically the final vestment or garment of the mind (nous) is the soul (psuche) itself.

What would Evagrius mean by the divestiture of the soul? On the eschatological plane, this is easy to understand: as the mind (nous) makes its upward mystical ascent through the various worlds after death, it is, according to its merit, successively incarnated into various angelic worlds, and then, when it is ready to leave the angelic worlds for the ‘first world’ from which it can nakedly contemplate the Unity, it leaves its soul behind, that soul that had been given to it when it was relegated to the rank of praktike. This is hypothetical, since Evagrius never explains with such clarity the upward ascent after death but before the General Resurrection and the Restoration. However, it is quite consistent with the passage of Peri Archon that we quoted at the beginning of this section, on the relation between mind and soul.

After the General Resurrection, the doctrine of Evagrius is clear: the minds (noes), having been granted dispassion (apatheia) in the Resurrection, first receive a spiritual body as a tool for the ascent of gnosis, and then later divest themselves of that spiritual body and enter into the henad of minds (noes) which nakedly contemplate the Unity. It is not clear however, what relation the spiritual body has to the mind (nous) and to the soul (psuche). This point is as far as we know never discussed either by Evagrius or by Origen.

But what might this mean for the ascetic? We have already remarked on the structural parallel in Evagrius between the eschatological mystical ascent and the ascetical mystical ascent. We think that what is involved—since insofar as the ascetic is in the flesh he, as far as we know, must in the Evagrian system have a soul (psuche), and Evagrius emphatically condemns suicide—is the purification of the ascetic to such an extent that the mind (nous) of the ascetic possesses the soul (psuche) in power:

Just as the fire in power possesses its body, so also the mind (nous) in power will possess the soul, when it will be entirely mixed with the light of the Holy Trinity (II, 29). With the ascetic’s attainment to dispassion (apatheia), the soul (psuche) has already been separated from, or rendered autonomous of, the body.[3]

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[1] We take logistikon and nous to be synonymous here.

[2] Ladder G Step 27B, 13; = Ladder E Step 27, 47.

[3] See Chapter 52 of Treatise on the Practical Life (Volume II).


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