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Chapter III -- 46

It is clear that the version intégrale (S2) of the Kephalaia Gnostica is an excellent witness to the Origenism that was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod. If we accept the hypothesis of Professor Guillaumont, which we do, that the version intégrale (S2) is in fact the sole authentic witness to the original Greek text of the Kephalaia Gnostica, then it must be concluded with Professor Guillaumont that Evagrius Pontikos was the author of the Origenism condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod. For the differences that we have seen above between the Anathemas and the Kephalaia Gnostica are minor, more a matter of interpretation than of a divergence on matters of import.

It is clear that although the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod were speaking to the Origenism of their time and not to the Kephalaia Gnostica taken as a literary work, the Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod are very closely allied to the content of the Kephalaia Gnostica. In fact, literarily speaking, the Anathemas are a witness to the interpretation of the Kephalaia Gnostica, precisely in cases where the global meaning of a set of highly obscure chapters is in doubt, as we found to be the case in the matter of the Evagrian eschatology. One can use the Anathemas to sort out the temporal sequence of events in Evagrian eschatology in a way that remains problematical when one confronts only the collection of chapters on the subject. We do not think that this value is reduced by the Anathemas’ being a ‘hostile witness’. They certainly are a hostile witness, but their presentation of the doctrines they condemn is so close to the content of the Kephalaia Gnostica that they cannot be considered to be a malicious distortion of the Evagrian system; and they can therefore be used to shed light on how the more obscure passages of the Kephalaia Gnostica are to be combined into a coherent system.

In certain cases the Anathemas provide details that we did not discern in the text of the Kephalaia Gnostica, but, we think, those were probably details that the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod had learned from their immediate environment, since many of them had been living in the midst of Origenists. In fact, there is evidence that the Fathers had before them a summary of Origenist teaching prepared by Abbot Conon of the Laura of St Savas at Jerusalem.[1]

The reader will have of course noticed that the above anathemas do not mention Origen, Didymus the Blind and Evagrius Pontikos by name. Were these three men condemned by name by the Synod? It is in scholarly dispute whether Origen, Didymus the Blind and Evagrius were actually condemned by name by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod; however, the explicit reaffirmations by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Synods both of the anathemas against Origenism and of the condemnations by name of these three persons render such a scholarly dispute moot.[2]

It is useful to ask the following question: what did the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod not anathematize, and why not? Of course, this is a rhetorical question, since we will never know why the Fathers were silent about certain matters.

The Anathemas say nothing about the Trinitarian theology of Evagrius, or, more generally, of the Origenist movement. Even if the matter is left obscure in the Kephalaia Gnostica, there are quite unorthodox views expressed in the Letter to Melania. Indeed, that makes us wonder if the Letter is authentic: if it is, then it must not have played a very important role in the Origenist movement: the Anathemas do not refer to doctrines of the Letter which cannot be found in the Kephalaia Gnostica, whereas they do refer quite explicitly to doctrines of the Kephalaia Gnostica. This accords with what we already know: the Kephalaia Gnostica was in Palestine the central text of the Origenists; this can be inferred, for example, from the fact that one of St Barsanuphios’ answers is to a monk disturbed by reading the Kephalaia Gnostica.[3]

To return to the matter of Trinitarian theology, Origen’s subordinationism in Trinitarian theology was already an issue at the time of Patriarch Theophilos of Alexandria at the end of the Fourth Century. Evidently, the issue was not so clear-cut or so central to the Origenist heresy as the Fathers found it in their own time as to warrant explicit condemnation.

Nothing is said about the very strange doctrines that the Holy Trinity is essential gnosis, that God made use of a certain contemplation to create the minds (noes) and that the Evagrian Christ made use of a certain contemplation as if it were a substance or power in order to create the worlds, unless it be in the form that is given in Anathema 6. We think that the Fathers must have felt that they had covered the matter sufficiently in Anathema 6: the doctrines are very obscurely expressed, and among the Origenists the Fathers encountered in practice, they may not have been expressed with any greater clarity.

Nothing is said explicitly about the Evagrian doctrine of reincarnation, although the doctrine of the mobility of the minds (noes) among the orders of archangels, angels, men and demons is addressed. It seems that the Fathers pursued conciseness in the Anathemas; that is most likely why they quote certain key passages of Evagrius verbatim. However, the Council in Trullo explicitly interprets the Origenism condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod to include a doctrine of reincarnation.[4]

Nothing is said about Evagrius’ ascetical psychology, about the concept of dispassion (apatheia), about the reasons (logoi) of existent things that can be contemplated, about the contemplation of angels and their reasons (logoi), about spiritual senses, about the contemplation of God. The Anathemas are concerned with cosmological doctrines, not with ascetical or contemplative psychology. As we have already remarked, Evagrius’ cosmological doctrines depend directly on Origen whereas his ascetical and contemplative doctrines have their roots in Clement of Alexandria and in the Cappadocians—and, of course, in the Fathers of the Egyptian desert. However, the influence of Evagrius’ cosmology on his higher contemplative psychology cannot be ignored.

What we want to take from the Kephalaia Gnostica is the following: To understand the texts of Evagrius that we shall deal with in Volume II, we must understand the Evagrian distinction between mind (nous) and soul (psuche). We will discuss this matter further in Section 13, below.

We want to accept the Evagrian doctrine of praktike. This, in our view, is the theory of asceticism that forms the basis of the doctrine of sobriety of St Hesychios in On Sobriety, the key text for the theory of Hesychasm that we shall analyse in Volume III of this work. We shall also need to understand Evagrius’ doctrine of dispassion (apatheia), since it is so closely tied to his doctrine of praktike, although we shall have to modify it slightly to fit an Orthodox anthropology. Of course, we accept these doctrines stripped of Evagrius’ heretical cosmological speculations, treating the doctrines as matters of ascetical theory.

We want to accept Evagrius’ ascetical psychology. This is Evagrius’ great contribution to ascetical theory, a contribution that spread throughout Christendom, both East and West.

We will find that St Hesychios accepts the broad outline of the Evagrian theory of contemplation, but stripped of its heretical eschatological and cosmological trappings. We will find that this is true even of St Maximos the Confessor. This theory of contemplation is the doctrine of the four transformations that we have already seen; we will discuss these transformations in detail in Volume II in the Digression on the Evagrian doctrine of contemplation. Hence, we want to retain the broad outline of the Evagrian theory of contemplation and, especially, the Evagrian psychology of contemplation.

This psychology of contemplation, which forms the basis or presupposition of the Evagrian theory of ascesis or praktike—for if praktike is a road somewhere, the goal must be presupposed in the definition of the road—, is discussed at the end of On the Thoughts, which we analyse in Volume II. When we reach that point we will introduce, in the Digression on the Evagrian theory of contemplation, material from the Kephalaia Gnostica that concerns the Evagrian theories of praktike, contemplation and gnosis, material that for the most part we have not presented in this chapter. That material will be used to clarify the very concise presentation of the psychology of contemplation that is found in the last chapters of On the Thoughts. This presentation will set the stage for our analysis of On Sobriety in Volume III. For St Hesychios builds on the foundation of the Evagrian theory of ascesis—praktike—and on the Evagrian theory and psychology of contemplation.

We need to accept the practical aspects of the Evagrian demonology, for those are connected to Evagrius’ ascetical psychology, or psychology of praktike. Of course, we discard the condemned cosmological aspects of this demonology, those that have to do with the provenance of demons and their ultimate fate, and their potential to become angels in subsequent ‘incarnations’ or even to participate with the rest of the minds (noes) in the contemplation of the Unity in the Restoration.

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[1] Patrich pp. 339–40.

[2] The Sixth Ecumenical Synod pronounced as follows:

Wherefore this our holy and Ecumenical Synod having driven away the impious error which had prevailed for a certain time until now, and following closely the straight path of the holy and approved Fathers, has piously given its full assent to the five holy and Ecumenical Synods, that is to say, to that of … the Fifth holy Synod assembled in this place, against Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius ….
(From: Acts, Session XVIII, Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1019.
See: www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-14/Npnf2-14-128.htm#TopOfPage.)

The Decree of the Seventh:

Moreover, with these [i.e. previous Ecumenical Synods] we anathematize the fables of Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus, in accordance with the decision of the Fifth Council held at Constantinople.
(From: Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VII., col. 552.
See: www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-14/Npnf2-14-165.htm#P10287_1959698.)

Letter of the Seventh to the Emperor and Empress:

We have also anathematized the idle tales of Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius….
(From: Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VII., col. 577.
See: www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-14/Npnf2-14-135.htm#P5996_1343778.)

[3] Barsanuphios Question 600, Volume III.

[4] The Council in Trullo:

Also we recognize as inspired by the Spirit the pious voices of the one hundred and sixty-five God-bearing fathers who assembled in this imperial city in the time of our Emperor Justinian of blessed memory, and we teach them to those who come after us; for these synodically anathematized and execrated … Origen, and Didymus, and Evagrius, all of whom reintroduced feigned Greek myths, and brought back again the circlings of certain bodies and souls, and deranged turnings [or transmigrations [note in original]] to the wanderings or dreamings of their minds, and impiously insulting the resurrection of the dead.
(From: Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1135 et seqq.
See: www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-14/Npnf2-14-135.htm#P5996_1343778.)


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