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Chapter III -- 7

That, in essence, is Evagrius’ doctrine of God. It is a monotheistic Trinitarian doctrine with some peculiarities about the nature of the substance of the Holy Trinity and about the relations among the persons in the Trinity, which peculiarities leave us with some reservations about whether, ultimately, Evagrius had an Orthodox Trinitarian theology.

Professor Guillaumont remarks that Evagrius’ Letter to Melania,[1] which we do not discuss systematically in this work, manifests a ‘system more emanationist and pantheist than that, fundamentally creationist, which is expressed in the Kephalaia Gnostica’.[2] Professor Guillaumont also remarks that Evagrius ‘summarizes his thought rather hastily in this letter’.[3] Moreover, he asserts that Evagrius’ Trinitarian theology is perfectly orthodox.[4] We are not so sure that we agree on this last point. We think that the Kephalaia Gnostica shows a marked subordinationist tendency in Trinitarian theology, although that tendency is obscured by the peculiarities of Evagrius’ heterodox Christology and by his relative silence on the Word and the Holy Spirit.

This subordinationist tendency can be found in Evagrius’ emphasis on the contemplation of the Unity, which Unity is identified in the Kephalaia Gnostica with the Father, and in the fact that in the Restoration of All Things, then the Christ will contemplate the Father, along with all the other reasonable creatures, as the first-born among many brethren, and this although the Evagrian Christ, if we can put it that way, is united to the Word of God from his genesis.

This subordinationist tendency can also be found in the doctrine that the Holy Trinity is essential gnosis, for it is also occasionally said in the Kephalaia Gnostica that the Word of God is essential gnosis, or essential gnosis of the Unity. These seem rather odd propositions for Evagrius’ Trinitarian theology to be considered Orthodox. For the proposition that the Word of God is essential gnosis of the Unity, that is, of the Father, seems to imply a subordination of the Word to the Father greater than would be implied by the subordinate relation of Son to Father in the context of identity of substance and identity of properties except for the property of being engendered (the Son) and engendering (the Father), which is the doctrine of St John of Damascus. Of course, it is possible that Evagrius intends by ‘essential gnosis’ the substance of the Holy Trinity, and in referring to the Word of God as essential gnosis of the Unity is referring to the substance of the Word. But even then, treating the substance of God as gnosis seems un-Orthodox.

The importance of the assertion in the Kephalaia Gnostica that the Word of God is essential gnosis of the Unity can be seen in this: The Kephalaia Gnostica consistently refers to the union to the gnosis of the Unity, from the moment of its genesis, of the mind (nous) which became the Christ, and seldom to the union of that mind (nous) to the Word of God. The Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, however, consistently refer to the union to the Word of God of the mind (nous) which supposedly became the Christ, and almost not at all to the union of that mind (nous) to the gnosis of the Unity.

A subordinationist tendency in Evagrius Pontikos’ thought is consistent with what we can understand from Peri Archon of Origen’s own thought: he was taxed with subordinationism by his opponents, and this subordinationism comes through even in Rufinus’ translation.[5] An emphasis on the Father as the highest Person of the Holy Trinity is certainly consistent with Origen’s thought in Peri Archon.

Moreover, although Origen himself does not develop such a mystical doctrine in Peri Archon, Evagrius’ emphasis on the gnosis of the Unity as the end of the mystical endeavour is certainly consistent with the distinctly subordinationist thought of Plotinus in the Enneads.[6]

As concerns the Holy Spirit, we saw two chapters on the nature of fire that made us wonder about Evagrius’ pneumatology, and we saw another chapter on the symbol of the dove that made us wonder even more about that pneumatology. If the ‘living’ aspect of fire to which we saw Evagrius refer is to be understood as the Holy Spirit present in creation, then a good case could be made that Evagrius is ‘emanationist and pantheist’ in the Kephalaia Gnostica. The problem is that these aspects of his thought Evagrius does not develop at such length in the Kephalaia Gnostica that we can say just exactly what it is that he means.

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[1] Melania 1, 2 and E.

[2] Guillaumont p. 108, fn. 124.

[3] Loc. cit.

[4] Ibid. pp. 117 ff.

[5] Peri Archon I, Preface, 4, p. 3, fns. 1 and 4; I, II, 6, pp. 18–20, especially p. 20, fns. 1 and 5; in general, Bk. I, Chapters II and III, with reference to Butterworth’s remarks accompanying the Greek fragments.

[6] Plotinus.


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