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Chapter III -- 37

A holy power is that which has been constituted of the contemplation of beings and of the incorporeal nature and of the corporeal nature (VI, 17). This is an important if obscure chapter, for it again tells us that contemplations have the nature of powers or substances. Here we learn that an angel is constituted by the contemplation of beings—we think that this means the contemplation of ‘reasonable beings, minds (noes)’—by the contemplation of the incorporeal nature—this seems to us pleonastic unless it means the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the angels[1]—and by the contemplation of the corporeal nature—the second natural contemplation. That an angel would be constituted of these contemplations implies that an angel naturally engages in these types of contemplation without any difficulty whatsoever. Note that nothing is said about sense-perception on the part of an angel. That is an attribute of the corporeal nature only, and, as we have learned, angels, although they possess angelic bodies, have no connection in their essence with the sensible creation.

The archangel is a reasonable essence to which have been entrusted the reasons (logoi) concerning providence and the judgement, and those reasons (logoi) that pertain to the worlds of angels (V, 4). The angel is a reasonable essence to which have been entrusted the reasons (logoi) concerning providence and the judgement, and those reasons (logoi) that pertain to the worlds of men (V, 7). These two chapters seem clear enough. The only ambiguity is this: when Evagrius says ‘those reasons (logoi) which pertain to the worlds…’, does he mean the reasons (logoi) of providence and the judgement only, or all the reasons (logoi) that pertain to the worlds in question? We do not know.

The Holy Powers also know the mental representations of all those things of which they have received the governance; but the governance of those of whom they know the mental representations has not been confided to them absolutely (II, 30). What this says is that the angels know many things about those of whom they have the governance, but the governance they have over them is not absolute. Evidently God himself retains a share in the governance of the worlds over which are placed the angels. We said ‘many things’ because of an ambiguity in Evagrius’ expression. Does he mean that the angels know the thoughts of those over whom they have the governance, or does he simply mean that the angels participate in the second natural contemplation of the objects in the worlds over which they preside?

The divine powers repel, not those who venerate them, but those who sacrifice to them; and that we have manifestly learned in Judges from Manoah (cf. Judg. 13, 15–21) (IV, 45). The French text of the Kephalaia Gnostica has ‘adore’ where we have put ‘venerate’ on the basis of what we think must have been the underlying Greek of Evagrius.[2] One cannot make too much here of the use of the word ‘adore’. It would be necessary to see the original Greek to see whether Evagrius means that it is permissible to worship angels or whether he simply means it is permissible to venerate them—for their virtue:

We honour the angels not on account of their nature, but on account of their virtue, and we insult the demons on account of the vice which is in them (V, 47). Both the angels and the demons are of the same essence: they are minds (noes), just as men are. This doctrine is necessary for Evagrius in view of his doctrine of the Restoration.

It is not only the holy angels who work with us on our salvation, but also the stars themselves, if in the days of Barak, from Heaven they made war with Sisara (Judg. 5, 20). (VI, 88). The doctrine that the stars are intelligences or reasonable beings is one that Evagrius has taken directly from Origen.[3] It was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, in Anathema 3.

‘The stars are superior to one another by the glory’ (1 Cor. 15, 41) and not by their bodies; but their size, their figures, their distances the one from the other and their courses are diverse. That some are in the interior of the shadow of the earth and others outside it and others at the separating limit, teaches us concerning their orders and concerning the governance which has been confided to them by God (III, 37). This seems perfectly clear, but let us point out that the visible star is the body of the mind (nous) that is the star. The glory that that star has is a matter of the glory of the mind (nous) whose body we see at night in the sky, not a matter of that body. Of course, Evagrius considers that the material out of which the body of the star is made is something quite fiery.

All of the second natural contemplation bears the sign of the stars; and the stars are those to whom it has been entrusted to illumine those who are in the night (III, 84). It should be clear that Evagrius is here not speaking metaphorically of the charge that the stars have to illumine those who are in the night of ignorance.

The judgement of the angels is the gnosis concerning the illnesses of the soul, which makes those men who have been wounded ascend to spiritual health (III, 46).

The holy angels instruct certain men by word; they recall others by means of dreams; they render others chaste by nocturnal terrors, and they make others return to virtue by blows (VI, 86).

The demons imitate only the colours, the forms and the size; but the holy powers know how to transform also the nature of the body, in disposing it for the services which are necessary. And that occurs among the composite beings; but of the incorporeal nature there are not such mental representations, according to what has been said (V, 18). The demons cannot transform their own demonic body. They can only imitate the attributes of a body when they want to appear to men. This appears to be Evagrius’ reflection on the ascetical teaching that when the demons present themselves they do so by means of fantasy. In other words, there is nothing real about the apparition of the demon as a lion, as a beautiful woman and so on. The demons have merely imitated the appearance of the object or animal or person they present, the sensible attributes that Evagrius lists. The angels on the other hand, if we understand Evagrius well, are able to transform their own bodies when they appear to men, so that they have a more ‘substantial’ presence when they appear; they are not mere fantasy. The last sentence means that what has just been said applies to minds (noes) with angelic or demonic bodies but not to minds (noes) taken as such. But the sentence is obscure.

By means of the mental representations of exhortation, the holy angels purify us of vice and render us dispassionate; and by the mental representations of nature and by the divine reasons (logoi), they liberate us from ignorance and render us sages and gnostics (VI, 35). This seems to mean that the angels assist the ascetic in the mystical ascent, in both praktike and contemplation. We find such an idea in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai, in the passage in Step 27, ‘Concerning Hesychia’, where St John describes his own converse with an angel during a contemplation.[4]

If ‘he who has ascended above all the heavens’ has ‘accomplished all’, it is evident that each of the orders of the celestial powers has truly learned the mental representations which concern providence, by which they rapidly push towards virtue and the gnosis of God those who are their inferiors (VI, 76). This is a reflection, based on the Ascension of the Christ, on the role of the angels in the providence of God, that providence which aims at the return of all the minds (noes) to the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.

Each of the orders of the heavenly powers has been constituted either completely from superiors (angels) or completely from inferiors (demons) or from superiors and inferiors (angels and demons) (II, 78). We have already presented this passage, condemned verbatim by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in Anathema 5, but it seems useful to re-present it here so that the reader might grasp the full dimensions of the Evagrian angelology.

The angels which will have had as disciples the men of the earth will establish the latter, in the world to come, as heirs of their governance (III, 65). This is parallel to the passage which we have already seen wherein Evagrius says that worldly men will be led by the demons to an immoderate vice. Man is as it were not alone in his choices either towards the ascent of virtue or towards the descent of vice; he has helping him in the one direction the angels, and in the other direction the demons. And those whom he follows will receive him when he dies into their own worlds, either angelic and virtuous, or demonic and vicious.

It is evident that those among the saints who have now been delivered from bodies and who are now mixed with the choirs of angels have also come towards our world on account of the management of God of the particular salvation of each man (IV, 74). It should be understood that this being delivered from bodies and being mixed with the angels accords with the stage to which the ascetic, or saint, has attained before his death—as we have already seen in the Evagrian doctrine of the four transformations—or even after his death. This again reflects the structural parallel in Evagrius between the ascetical mystical ascent and the eschatological mystical ascent.

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[1] There might be a problem with the chain of transmission and translation in the text here.

[2] Proskyneo.

[3] Cf. Peri Archon I, VII, 3, p. 61.

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


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