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Chapter III -- 36

7 The Evagrian Angelology

It is said that God is there where he acts, and that where he acts the more, there he is present the more; for he acts the more in natures which are reasonable and holy. Therefore he is present most of all in the celestial powers (I, 42). The importance of this chapter is for Evagrius’ theory of the gnosis of God. In the second natural contemplation we know God by contemplating his wisdom, the reasons (logoi) of existent things. This is an indirect way of knowing God, for this wisdom, as we have already seen Evagrius to say, is not an essential wisdom: it is not the nature of God, or God himself. However, the importance of the ascetical transition from the second natural to the first natural contemplation lies in what Evagrius says in this chapter. God himself is present in the angels in another way, because he acts the more in the angelic powers. Hence, the contemplation of the angels is not merely a diversion for the ascetic in the desert; it is his ascent towards God: he has attained to dispassion (apatheia), the resurrection of the soul; he has encountered the wisdom of God in the second natural contemplation; now he will proceed to encounter God in a more direct but still imperfect way in the contemplation of the angels. Only when he has been yet more purified will he be able to contemplate God directly in the contemplation of the Holy Trinity or Unity.

It should be remarked that although we here emphasize that wisdom of God is an aspect of the second natural contemplation, that of the reasons (logoi) of created objects, Evagrius is clear that the wisdom of God is manifest in all his creatures, including the reasonable creatures or angels. Indeed, this is apparent from the fact that we can also contemplate the reasons (logoi) of the angels. However, Evagrius seems to have a somewhat different sense of the first natural contemplation, the contemplation of the angels themselves. For as this chapter indicates, God is present in a different way in the angels than he is, say, in a mountain, a tree or a bird. Evagrius, however, never fully explains the matter.

Among the angels, there is a predominance of nous and of fire; among men, a predominance of desire and earth; and among the demons, a predominance of thumos and air. It is said that the third draw near to the second by means of the nostrils and that the first draw near to the second by means of the mouth (I, 68). This chapter is important. It draws several distinctions that are important to an understanding of Evagrian ascetical psychology. The angel has a predominance of mind (nous). What does this mean? We have already seen that the mind (nous), when it descends to the human condition, to praktike, obtains or becomes—Evagrius is not clear—a soul (psuche) which, when it incarnates into a human body, has three parts: mind (nous), the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia). Using this model of the human soul, Evagrius is analysing what part of the notional human soul predominates in the angel, the man and the demon. We say ‘notional’ since, as far as we know, angels, while they are minds (noes) with angelic bodies, do not have souls on the human pattern. Nor, as far as we know, do demons: we ignore here, for lack of development of the matter on the part of Evagrius, his doctrine in KG V, 11 that the demons come from the order of souls just as men do: there is simply not enough information in the Kephalaia Gnostica to discuss the demons at this level of analysis.

However, the angel has a predominance of mind (nous). This goes to say that angels, if they have desire or anger at all—Evagrius does not explicitly say that they do not—have them in some small proportions in relation to their mind (nous), which predominates. This for Evagrius is a good thing. Men, says Evagrius next, have a predominance of desire. That is, the major motive of most men is desire. This accords with what Freud had to say 1500 years after Evagrius. Demons, on the other hand, have a predominance of anger. This is a very important both for Evagrius’ demonology and for his ascetical psychology, since he insists in the works that we will analyse in Volume II that the ascetic who harbours anger is in a demonic state. Evagrius is very insistent on the need for the ascetic to put off all anger and to acquire meekness, or spiritual love. As for the predominance of one or another material element, the meaning should be clear. As for the mode of approach to men of angels or demons, Evagrius takes what he is saying seriously and he says similar things in both the Treatise on the Practical Life and On the Thoughts. In Chapter 39 of the Treatise on the Practical Life, he does speak of the spiritual bad odour that demons have, and that might be related to what he says here of their approach to men by means of the nostrils. However, we do not know the significance of his assertion that angels approach men by the medium of the mouth.

The minds (noes) of the heavenly powers are pure and full of gnosis, and their bodies are of lights which are resplendent over those who draw near to them (III, 5).

The movement of bodies is temporal, but the transformation of the bodiless powers is timeless (II, 87). Evidently, time is a quality of the sensible creation. Therefore the transformation of the bodiless powers—Evagrius is not explicit what he means; their own mystical progress seems to be the sense—would be outside time. We have already seen that before the Movement and the creation of bodies and worlds, there was no time.

There is nothing among the bodiless powers which might be in power in the bodies; indeed, our soul is bodiless (I, 45). It is not the bodies of the spiritual powers, but the bodies of the souls only, which are naturally made to nourish themselves from the world which is related to them (II, 82). We have already discussed these two chapters. We have repeated them here merely for the sake of the fullness of Evagrius’ portrait of the angelic powers.

The contemplation of this sensible world has not been given as nourishment to men only but also to the other reasonable natures (II, 88). We have already explained the central role of the world of men in the Evagrian cosmology and the fact that the angels nourish themselves by the second natural contemplation of the things in the world of man. This is a statement of that doctrine.

The angels see men and the demons; men are deprived of the sight of the angels and demons; and the demons see men only (VI, 69). This is a statement of the differences among the natural powers of the three orders of minds (noes).

All those who now possess spiritual bodies reign over the worlds which have been produced, and those who have been joined to praktike bodies or opposed will exercise the royalty of the worlds to come (I, 11). This is an important and heterodox statement of Evagrius’ eschatology. Those who possess spiritual, or angelic, bodies are the angelic powers. We have already seen this. Here Evagrius is saying that the angels rule over the various worlds which have been produced. Men are those who have been joined to praktike bodies. Note that nothing is said here about the order of souls. Those who are opposed are the demons. In the worlds to come men and the demons—who in the Evagrian system will have reformed—will exercise, evidently as angels, the royalty just as the angels do now. This appears to be prior to the Restoration, since in the Restoration all the minds (noes) will be without bodies and will have returned to the naked contemplation of the Unity.

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