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Chapter III -- 8

2 The Evagrian Doctrine of the Movement

If time is considered in regard to genesis and destruction, then the genesis of the incorporeals is timeless, because a destruction is not anterior to this genesis (VI, 9). Evagrius means that the genesis of the minds (noes), which we might crudely say was God’s first act, occurred outside time, since time did not yet exist.

Before turning to the topic of time, let us point out that for Evagrius, this genesis of the minds (noes) comprises all the minds (noes) that ever have been or will be. These are all the minds (noes) that subsequently became angels, demons or men. There are no other categories of minds (noes), and all the minds (noes) had their genesis in this single act of God.

As for time, what Evagrius seems to have in mind is the philosophical, and probably Aristotelian, notion that time does not exist without change, in particular without generation and destruction.[1] Since, however, Evagrius seems to be thinking, there was no destruction before the genesis of the minds (noes), there could not have existed time. This use of the concept of destruction must be considered in view of Evagrius’ doctrine, to be discussed under the heading of eschatology, that in the Restoration of all Things, all the worlds will be destroyed and then all the minds (noes) will return to the state of contemplation that they had just after their genesis.

It should be understood that while for Evagrius all the minds (noes) had their genesis in the same act of God, they do not all appear to be equivalent. This is important, for we shall see in Evagrius’ eschatology that according to Evagrius, in the Restoration all the minds (noes) will lose their individuality and become an henad (enas)[2] without personal differentiation, an henad which enjoys the contemplation of the Monad or Unity which is God. However, we shall see in Evagrius’ Christology that the mind (nous) which is the Christ has the Word of God in him from the moment of his genesis. This seems to be a special characteristic of the mind (nous) which is the Christ. Moreover, in Evagrius’ demonology we shall see that the mind (nous) which became the Devil, that mind (nous) which took the initiative of the Movement now being explained, is a specific mind (nous): ‘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)? The Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod that we shall study take the position that the Origenist system they are condemning posits that all the minds (noes) were united to the Word of God before the Movement (Anathema 2). The Fathers of the Synod, however, do not go into detail and do not address the question whether all the minds (noes) were equivalent in the contemplation of the Unity before the Movement, or whether the Evagrian Christ was united to the Word of God in a distinctive way.

In Peri Archon, Rufinus presents Origen’s views on the matter as follows:

…that soul of which Jesus said, ‘No man taketh from me my soul’ [John 10, 18], clinging to God from the beginning of creation and ever after in a union inseparable and indissoluble, as being the soul of the wisdom and word of God and of the truth and the true light, and receiving him wholly, and itself entering into his light and splendour, was made with him in a pre-eminent degree one spirit, just as the apostle promises to them whose duty it is to imitate Jesus, that ‘he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit’ [1 Cor. 6, 17].[3]

This suggests to us that in Origen, at least as Rufinus wishes to present him, the mind (nous) that became the Christ was distinguished from all the other minds (noes) in a special way.[4]

The first Movement of the reasonable beings is the separation of the mind (nous) from being with the Unity which is in it (III, 22). After their genesis, the minds (noes) contemplate the Unity outside time. Then the mind (nous) that is to become the Devil takes the initiative of the Movement; that initiative is the separation of the mind (nous) from being with the Unity which is in it. All the other minds (noes), with the exception of the mind (nous) which is to become the Christ, to a greater or lesser extent follow the initiative of the mind (nous) that is to become the Devil. The broad outlines of this doctrine of the Movement are to be found in Peri Archon, but there the Movement does not seem to be a single act as it is in Evagrius: in Peri Archon the minds (noes) seem to commit acts of negligence individually and, so to say, at various times.[5]

It is not the Unity which on its own part has set itself in motion; but it was set in motion by the receptivity of the nous, which, by its negligence, turned its face away from the Unity and by the fact of being deprived of the Unity engendered ignorance (I, 49). This is the Evagrian version of Original Sin. This act of negligence was a single act initiated by the mind (nous) which became the Devil. The Evagrian doctrine of the Movement is more highly articulated than we find in Peri Archon and set more clearly into a framework of the experience of contemplation.

All that which has been produced has been produced for the gnosis of God, but among the beings some are first while others are second. Gnosis is more ancient than the first beings, the reasonable beings that were created before the Movement, and the Movement is more ancient than the second beings, the bodies and worlds that the reasonable beings were given after the Movement (I, 50). We now begin to consider the consequences of the Movement. First, note that Evagrius states that gnosis is more ancient than the first beings, which are precisely the minds (noes) whose genesis we have just described. This passage seems to indicate, then, that gnosis can exist without a mind (nous) which experiences it, and this accords with our hypothesis that for Evagrius gnosis is a substance. Recall that the Holy Trinity is essential gnosis.

The second beings referred to are the bodies and worlds that are given to the minds (noes) after the Movement according to their degree of negligence in turning their face away from the Unity, that is, according to the degree of ignorance they engendered in themselves. These bodies are of various types.

The phrase that all that has been produced has been produced for the gnosis of God, cannot be interpreted to mean that all creation has the potential to know God. For Evagrius is elsewhere quite clear that only minds (noes) can know God. The creation that is without mind (nous) can only manifest the wisdom of God, just as the lifeless object created by an artist can only manifest the art of the artist, without itself knowing the artist.

Just as one cannot say that there might be a mind (nous) more ancient that another mind (nous), so also the spiritual bodies are not more ancient that the praktika bodies, if the change which is the cause of the two organa, or bodies, is unique (III, 45). The spiritual bodies are the bodies of angels. The praktika[6] bodies are the bodies of men, although as we shall see it might be more accurate to say that the praktika bodies are the souls of men. The unique change being referred to is the Movement and its result. We can now introduce the idea of the judgement of God after the Movement:

The first gnosis which is in the reasonable beings is that of the Holy Trinity; then there was the movement of liberty, the providence helping and not abandoning, and then the judgement and, anew, the movement of liberty, the providence, the judgement and that up to the Holy Trinity. Thus a judgement is interposed between the movement of liberty and the providence of God (VI, 75). After the Movement, God—in his Christ, as we shall see in the next section—judges the minds (noes) and gives to each of them a body according to its degree of negligence. The angels have less negligence; men, more; the demons, still more; and the Devil, the most of all. This First Judgement is a single act of the Christ; it is the unique change referred to in the previous chapter. There are many subsequent judgements, reincarnations, movements and acts of divine providence, until finally all minds (noes) are returned to the contemplation of the Unity in the Restoration of All Things; that is the significance of the phrase ‘and that up to the Holy Trinity’. However, there is a judgement interposed between each movement and each act of God’s providence. This is largely a faithful rendition of Peri Archon, with the exception that, as Rufinus presents him, Origen does not seem to conceive of the First Judgement as a single act, just as he does not seem to conceive of the Movement as a single act. Evagrius is in this chapter vague about the role of divine providence after the judgement; he has in mind that God’s ultimate purpose is to return all the minds (noes) to the contemplation of the Unity, not merely to punish each mind (nous) for its negligence. Implicit in this chapter is Evagrius’ doctrine of reincarnation, which he has taken from Peri Archon and developed: after each life there is a judgement, the granting of a body and a world, and then the application of providence to help the newly reincarnated mind (nous) return to the Holy Trinity.

In the Evagrian cosmology, a world is created for each type of body. That is, the First Judgement does not result just in the creation of a body for each mind (nous), but also in the creation of a world appropriate to that body. Thus, in Evagrius’ system, the creation of a world is a consequence of his version of Original Sin, for before the Movement all the minds (noes) were engaged in direct contemplation of the Unity as naked minds (noes) without bodies and without worlds. That is why, when in the Restoration of All Things all the minds (noes) will return to the contemplation of the Unity, all the worlds will be destroyed. This is one of the propositions that was explicitly condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, in Anathema 14.

Although Origen certainly agrees with the doctrine that the position of a mind (nous) after the Movement and the First Judgement depends on that mind’s (nous’) degree of negligence in the Movement,[7] he does not have a doctrine of the creation after the Movement, in the First Judgement, of a world for each body. Origen seems in Peri Archon to attempt to combine the Stoic concept of a never-ending succession of identical worlds towards the past and towards the future with the Platonic doctrine of the eternal act of creation of the one world and the fall of the souls into bodies; with the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection; and with his own doctrine of the Restoration of All Things. Needless to say, the result is far from perspicuous! But it is on this foundation that Evagrius builds his own more highly articulated system. Moreover, the doctrine of successive judgements, incarnations and providences is the foundation of the doctrine, found in both Peri Archon and the Kephalaia Gnostica, of the mobility of the minds (noes) among the various orders of angels, men and demons that was condemned in extenso by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod (Anathemas 4, 5, 6, and 12).

The Movement is the cause of vice and virtue is destructive of vice, but virtue is the daughter of names and of modes and the cause of these latter things is the Movement (I, 51). This should now be clear: the Movement introduced negligence and ignorance, and is therefore the cause of vice. Virtue is destructive of vice but conceptually, virtue only exists in the worlds which were created after the Movement, in which worlds things exist contingently: this is the significance of ‘names and modes’.

When that in which we must be was separated, it engendered that in which we are; and when that which is in us is mixed, it will lift up that which will be lifted up with number (I, 8). We have placed this chapter here to indicate the relation of Evagrius’ doctrine of the Restoration to his doctrine of the Movement. What Evagrius means here is that when we, the minds (noes), through negligence separated ourselves from the Unity, our bodies and the worlds in which we have our bodies were engendered. (‘That in which we must be’ is the Unity; it was separated by our negligence.) When, however, in the Restoration of All Things we return to the contemplation of the Unity, not as individual minds (noes) but as an henad of minds (noes) without individual distinction (this is the significance of the lifting up of number), then our bodies will also taken from us (our bodies are what will be lifted up with number). This is another proposition that was explicitly condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, in Anathema 14.

We now turn to Evagrius’ Christology.

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[1] We suspect that here the underlying Greek word for ‘destruction’ must have been phthora, which might also be translated ‘corruption’.

[2] ‘Henad’ is a synonym for ‘monad’ or ‘unity’. It is used in this way: it refers to the condition of the minds (noes) after the Restoration, or even before the Movement, when they are, or were, united the one to the other in the contemplation of God without individual or personal distinctions. ‘Monad’ (capitalized) refers, as a synonym for ‘Unity’, to God the Father.

[3] Peri Archon II, VI, 3 p. 110.

[4] We need not be detained here by the difference in terminology between Evagrius’ ‘mind (nous)’ and Origen’s ‘soul’.

[5] Peri Archon II, IX, 1–2, pp. 129–30.

[6] Literally, ‘practical’.

[7] Indeed, he even uses the word ‘negligence’: loc. cit.


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