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Chapter III -- 38

8 The Evagrian Demonology

The demon is the reasonable nature which has fallen from the service of God on account of an abundance of the irascible part (thumos) (III, 34). We have already seen in our discussion of the Evagrian doctrine of the angels, that the demon has a predominance of the irascible part (thumos). Here, it is used to characterize the demon, ‘which has fallen from the service of God’.

Just as it is not the fire itself which is in our bodies, but it is its quality which has been placed in them, so in the bodies of demons, it is not the earth itself nor the water itself, but their quality, which the Creator has sown there (VI, 26). This is an aspect of Evagrius’ natural philosophy, but we do not know the significance of it.

Among the demons, some have been called intelligibles which know, and others have also received the knowledge of that which is intelligible (II, 52). In the judgement that the Evagrian Christ made which resulted in the assignment of demonic bodies to the minds (noes) which became demons, some were made to be merely intelligible beings which know, but some demons in addition received knowledge of that which is intelligible.

‘He who has been created to be the mockery of the angels’ (Job 40, 19; 41, 25) of God, would he not be he who had the initiative of the Movement, and in the beginning has overstepped the borders of vice and on account of that has been called ‘the commencement of the creatures of the Lord’ (Job 40, 19) (VI, 36)? We have already seen this portrait of the Devil.

Men fear Sheol, and the demons the abyss; but there are some of them who are more wicked that these, that is to say, the serpents which do not have speech (I, 57).

Just as the cranes fly in the form of letters, even though they do not know letters, so also the demons recite the words of the fear of God, even though they do not know the fear of God (VI, 37).

The bodies of demons do not increase or decrease; and a strong bad odour accompanies them, by which they also set in motion our passions, and they are easily known by those who have received from the Lord the power to perceive this odour (V, 78). This passage is paraphrased by Evagrius himself almost in its entirety in Chapter 39 of the Treatise on the Practical Life. The important thing that he adds here is that some ascetics have received from the Christ the charism of the discernment of spirits, of the bad odour of the demons. This is a spiritual bad odour. This idea of a charism of discernment of the demons is an important concept, for St Hesychios himself will present it, in his own way, in the work, On Sobriety, that we shall analyse in Volume III.

It is said that those who possess light bodies are on high and below, those who possess heavy bodies; and above the first, those who are lighter than they; but below the second, those who are heavier than they (II, 68). This seems to refer to the various orders of angels and demons.

The bodies of the demons possess colour and form but they escape our senses because this quality does not resemble the quality of the bodies which fall under our senses. In fact, when they wish to appear to men, they transform themselves into the complete likeness of our body, without showing to us their own body (I, 22). Recall that the demons cannot alter their own body but can only imitate the colours, the forms and the size of what, including themselves, they wish to present to men.

If an essence is not said to be superior or inferior to another essence, and if a demon has been named by our Saviour worse than another demon (Luke 11, 26), it is evident that it is not by their essence that the demons are bad (IV, 59).

If many who were not of Israel have accompanied the ancient Israel, is it that, with the new Israel also, many from among the Egyptians have not gone out? (IV, 64.) This seems to suggest that many of the demons are in some fashion saved by the Church, the new Israel. This is not an Orthodox doctrine.

Just as to the sensible Israel are opposed the sensible nations, so to the intelligible Israel are opposed intelligible nations (VI, 71). We take the intelligible Israel to refer to the Church although Evagrius nowhere explains himself. But the intelligible nations which are opposed are clearly the demons.

Among the demons, some are opposed to the practice of the commandments, others are opposed to the mental representations of nature, and others are opposed to the reasons (logoi) which concern the Divinity, because the gnosis of our salvation also is composed of these things (I, 10). The different types of demons have different works or functions (erga). The demons that are opposed to the practice of the commandments are precisely those opposed to praktike, the practical life. They work by exciting the passions of man related to the irascible part (thumos) or to the desiring part (epithumia). Much of Volume II is devoted to this topic, because for Evagrius, this is precisely the work of praktike, to conquer this category of demons so as to arrive at dispassion (apatheia).

The next category of demons, mentioned only in passing in Treatise on the Practical Life, is the demons whose work (ergon) or function it is to impede the next ascetical or soteriological stage after dispassion (apatheia), the second and first natural contemplations, here treated globally as one stage—that is the import of the phrase ‘the mental representations of nature’.

The last category of demons is the category of demons whose work (ergon) it is to oppose the reasons (logoi) that concern the Divinity. Although the verbal formulation is unusual and unexpected for the stage of contemplation of the Holy Trinity, we think that what Evagrius means is that these demons are those which are opposed to the final stage of contemplation, Theology or the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.

This chapter is very important for the clear distinction it makes among the demons related to the moral vices that are combated in praktike, the demons related to natural contemplation and the demons related to Theology. It will be important for us to remember these distinctions, since Evagrius does not otherwise explain this aspect of his system.

Those who wish to sift us by means of the temptations (cf. Luke 22, 31) either question the intelligent part of the soul, the mind (nous), or exert themselves to seize the passionate part of the soul, that is, the irascible part (thumos) and the desiring part (epithumia), or to seize the body or the environs of the body (I, 25). Those demons that wish to tempt us—this is the significance of ‘to sift us’—and whose work or function (ergon) it is to disturb natural contemplation do so by questioning the intelligent part of the soul, the mind (nous). Those demons who wish to impede praktike do so by exerting themselves to seize the passionate part of the soul, the desiring part (epithumia) and irascible part (thumos) here taken as a unity. These demons do not work on any arbitrary part of the passionate part of the soul at will; they each have the specific work (ergon) of exciting a particular passion. Evagrius adds that the demons can also exert themselves to seize the body directly—for example, by directly provoking it to sexual excitement—or else the environs of the body: they may make trouble around the ascetic in his cell or cave. Recall that the demons are minds (noes) with an ability to think and decide. They are not merely blind id forces of the unconscious.

The demons that battle with the mind (nous) are called birds; those that disturb the irascible part (thumos), animals; and those that excite the desiring part (epithumia), beasts (I, 53). This is a presentation of a typology of the demons according to the tripartite division of the soul. The actual images used should not be difficult to comprehend.

In regard to the contemplation of beings and in regard to the gnosis of the Trinity, the demons and we have raised a great battle, the ones with the others, the former wishing to prevent us from knowing and we in applying ourselves to learn (III, 41). This is another statement that there are demons that impede natural contemplation, both second and first, and, here, also Theology, the contemplation of the Holy Trinity or Unity. It sheds light on the doctrine of KG I, 65.

If the gift of languages is a gift of the Spirit (cf. Acts 2, 4 ff.), and if the demons should be deprived of this gift, they do not speak in languages. But it is said that by consequence of study, they know the languages of men; and it is not surprising if they possess them by an ability to learn, because their constitution is coextensive with the constitution of the world of men. Someone has said that their languages also are varied on account even of men. There are even those who say that there exist among the demons even the ancient languages of man, so that those demons who make use of the Hebrew language are opposed to the Hebrews, and those demons who speak in the Greek language are opposed to the Greeks, and so on for the other languages and men (IV, 35). The only thing that needs clarification here is the notion that the constitution of the demons is coextensive with the constitution of the world of men. This is true because all the worlds, angelic, human and demonic, are formed by the same four elements, as we learned in discussing Evagrius’ cosmology. It does seem, however, that Evagrius is here asserting that demons have a greater kinship with the world of men than we might otherwise expect, a greater kinship than the angels, say. Recall that from the order of souls, the mind (nous) can become either a man or a demon; it may be that that is what Evagrius has in mind here.

If the Kingdom of the Heavens is the contemplation of beings and if the former, according to the word of our Saviour, ‘is within us’ (cf. Luke 17, 21), and if our interior is occupied by demons, it is proper that it is said that the Philistines occupy the Promised Land (V, 30). Among other things, this is a statement of the definition of the Kingdom of the Heavens with which Evagrius will begin the Treatise on the Practical Life. The contemplation of beings is here to be understood as second and first natural contemplation taken together. For the rest, the sense is clear.

When the demons have not been able to put into motion bad thoughts (logismoi) in the gnostic, then they close his eyes by means of a great cold and they draw them towards a heavy sleep; for the bodies of demons are very cold, similar to ice (VI, 25). Evagrius himself paraphrases this passage in Chapter 33 of On the Thoughts. It appears to be based on his own personal experience. Anathema 4 of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod refers to the cold and dark bodies of the demons, but we think that the Anathema is not condemning the notion that demons’ bodies are cold, but rather Evagrius’ account of the genesis of demons.[1]

The bread of those who are outside is not a shew bread and their drink is full of flies; but the bread of those who are inside is a shew bread and their drink is without damage (II, 86). We are not sure what this passage means, although it certainly refers to the Eucharist.

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[1] On the coldness of the demons, see Peri Archon II, VIII, 3, p. 123.


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