… measure will be appropriately applied to a material body …
Origen On First Principles, Bk II, 9, 1.
Much has been made of Origen’s “doctrine of the preexistence of souls.” Not infrequently this is connected to a doctrine of reincarnation, though most often – it seems – by people not knowledgeable of ancient Christianity and seeking to attribute reincarnation to the original Christian teaching corrupted by the Church. The latter accusation has so little ground in any of Origen’s writings that this need not detain us here. The so-called doctrine of the preexistence of souls is a different matter.
In On First Priciples Origen asserts that only the Trinity can exist entirely bodiless. To be a creature is to be embodied whereas the Creator is without any body at all. Origen explicitly states that: “an incorporeal life will rightly be considered a prerogative of the Trinity alone (On First Principles, Bk. II, 2.2.) and statements tot this effect can be found throughout On First Principles. These are two fundamental principles in Origen’s thought. They are absolutely basic. From this fact alone the attribution to Origen of a doctrine where bare souls – souls entirely without bodies – fell from this dis-incarnate state into an incarnate state – souls imprisoned by bodies – is nothing short of ludicrous. And yet precisely such a doctrine has been attributed to Origen throughout the ages by a variety of people. Yet mere repetition of a falsity does not eventually make it true.
The only place where in Origen’s writings where such a doctrine is to be found is – (in)famously – in On First Principles of all places. How can this be? It is a matter of redaction really. Butterworth and Koetschau have done Origen (and themselves) no favours by simply assuming Origen taught such a doctrine (since everyone who is anyone said so?) and reconstructing from a variety of different (hostile) sources a text which must have belonged in On First Principles teaching precisely this doctrine. This text is known as fragment 15 and is not a text written by Origen but a pastiche from several authors who, in some cases, are not even claiming to quote from Origen but are simply repeating hearsay accusations against him! In other words: the only text where Origen actually teaches the infamous doctrine of preexistence and fall is a text not actually written by Origen. This is should be very alarming to any reader seeking to understand Origen.
What can we find in On First Principles that was not dubiously reconstructed but written by Origen himself (even if translated by Rufinus)? This post began with a citation from On First Principles. It is the context of that citation that is all important:
Moreover, as Scripture says,God has arranged all things in number and measure;and therefore number will be correctly applied to rational creatures or understandings, that they may be so numerous as to admit of being arranged, governed, and controlled by God. But measure will be appropriately applied to a material body; and this measure, we are to believe, was created by God such as He knew would be sufficient for the adorning of the world. These, then, are the things which we are to believe were created by God in the beginning, i.e., before all things. And this, we think, is indicated even in that beginning which Moses has introduced in terms somewhat ambiguous, when he says,In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.For it is certain that the firmament is not spoken of, nor the dry land, but that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth which we now see afterwards borrowed their names.
Origen On First Principles, Bk. II. 9.1.
Origen, quite unambiguously, asserts that rational creatures have been embodied from the beginning. There was never a time that rational creatures (souls) were not in bodies. This squares very well with the basic Origenist doctrines of the incorporeality of the Trinity and the corporeality of creatures. What it does not easily combine with is the doctrine of preexistence and fall mistakenly attributed to Origen. Could it be that Origen never taught such a doctrine? That Justinian – never apparently having read On First Principles – attributed to Origen doctrines he never held? It seems a distinct possibility that the able codifier of laws was enough of an amateur at theology to make such a an error.
What of Origen’s teaching of a double creation? Within the parameters as found in On First Principles we will have to make sense of it by keeping in mind that:
- only the Trinity exists without any embodiment
- to be a creature is to be embodied
- creatures have been embodied from their very first origins
- there was in fact a fall from one state to another
That leaves us with only one option. The creatures that Origen says fell from one state into another must have already been embodied from before they fell. The fall can be said to have transformed the bodies of the creatures it cannot be said to be the cause of the bodies of creatures. The transformation of those bodies was certainly for the worse and different souls find themselves in different bodies based on the degree of their fall. The glorious bodies from before the fall have become mortal, fleshly, bodies. It is also these mortal, fleshly, bodies that will become glorious bodies in the resurrection and these endure forever.
Perhaps there should be more actual reading of Origen and less gossiping about Origen and his presumed teaching. To know his teaching we had best let him teach us.
Fr. Gregory Wassen
- Be alone in a separate place near a chief city, if your conscience is not prepared to be in common with the crowd.
- Be always unadorned in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists.
- Whatsoever little or much you possess of anything, whether clothing, or food, or drink, let it be at the command of the senior and at his disposal, for it is not befitting a monastic to have any distinction of property with his own free brother.
- Let a secret place, with one door, enclose you.
- A few religious men to converse with you of God and his Testament; to visit you on days of solemnity; to strengthen you in the Testaments of God, and the narratives of the Scriptures;
- However a person who would talk with you in idle words, or of the world; or who murmurs at what he cannot remedy or prevent, but who would distress you more as a tattler between friends and foes, you shalt not admit him to you, but at once give him your blessing should he deserve it.
- Let your servant be a discreet, religious, not tale-telling man, who is to attend continually on you, with moderate labor of course, but always ready.
- Yield submission to every rule that is of devotion.
- A mind prepared for red martyrdom [that is death for the faith].
- A mind fortified and steadfast for white martyrdom. [that is ascetic practices]
- Forgiveness from the heart for every one.
- Constant prayers for those who trouble you.
- Fervor in singing the office for the dead, as if every faithful dead was a particular friend of yours.
- Hymns for souls to be sung standing.
- Let your vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person.
- Three labors in the day: prayers, work, and reading.
- The work to be divided into three parts: your own work, and the work of your place, as regards its real wants; secondly, your share of the brethen’s work; lastly, to help the neighbors, by instruction or writing, or sewing garments, or whatever labour they may be in want of as the Lord says, “You shall not appear before me empty.”
- Everything in its proper order; “For no one is crowned except he who has striven lawfully.”
- Follow alms-giving before all things.
- Take not of food till you are hungry.
- Sleep not till you feel drowsy.
- Speak not except on business.
- Every increase which comes to you in lawful meals, or in wearing apparel, in compassion give it to the brethren that need it, or to the poor in like manner.
- The love of God with all your heart and all your strength;
- The love of your neighbor as yourself
- Abide in the Testament of God throughout all times.
- Your measure of prayer shall be until your tears come;
- Or your measure of work of labor till your tears come;
- Or your measure of your work of labor, or of your bowing, until your perspiration often comes, if your tears are not free.
Gregory Wassen +
My good friend Father Anders Strindberg makes some very important observations on the way some media outlets (ab)use Christian Suffering.
The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has become a strategic asset in the confrontation with Islam. Pundits and commentators who have previously had exactly zero interest in highlighting the abuse of Christians, the desecration of Christian sites, and the expulsion of Christian populations have now discovered their plight. When the primary abusers were our allies – Israel and the oil sheikhs of the Arabian peninsula – Christians were acceptable collateral damage. Let us not kid ourselves: neither the ancient Christian communities of coastal Palestine, nor the Gulf states’ brown-skinned Christian guest workers from South Asia, were considered valuable enough to rock any of our geopolitical boats. As we speak, persecution of Christian minorities is practiced and endorsed by nationalist regimes in Central Asia, but since we need these regimes as allies and resource suppliers, we really don’t care.
Cold War intellectual warriors – like Robin Harris (author of
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Origen (in)famously wrote “On First Principles” but the text is not extant except in translation (though parts of it are preserved in Greek in the “Philacolia of Origen”). Rufinus is often said to have rendered Origen’s “On First Principles” more orthodox than it really was, whereas Jerome (and others) seem often to have rendered Origen much more heterodox (even heretical) than it really was. It has also been argued that “On First Principles” is a work of Origen’s youth and that in the works of his maturity – such as “Contra Celsum” – some of his theological thought had shifted away from what it had been in “On First Principles.” It is the opinion of the author of this blog that “On First Principles” is nonetheless a reliable text to enter into Origen’s world of thought, and that Rufinus’ rendering is in fact the most reliable for that purpose. In order to avoid some of the problems listed above one can enter the thought world of Origen via his “Contra Celsum” where we have Origen’s thoughts expressed in his own words rather than the translations which are always renderings of Origen’s thoughts in other people’s words. One problem for me continues to exist: I am unable to read Origen in Greek or in Latin translation and must therefore rely on modern English translations of him. As I proceed to read the “English Origen” this important handicap must be kept in mind so that as I journey in the great Alexandrian’s world of thought it is really Origen’s world of thought entered into but through a back door as it were rather than the front door of Origen’s own Greek.
As soon as we start reading Origen’s “Contra Celsum” we are confronted with the fact that Origen’s idea of apologetics is very different from what we might expect. We might expect that an intellectual attack on Christianity is best answered by an intellectual rebuttal. Not for Origen. In fact to Origen a mere intellectual attack could never dissuade a genuine Christian from his or her faith. To find a true rebuttal Origen turns to the example of Jesus Christ who remained silent in the face of the accusations hurled at Him at His trial shortly before His crucifixion. Jesus’ silence is the most effective apologetic because it allows the facts of His life to speak even more loudly and clearly.
It might well cause amazement among those with moderate intellectual powers that a man who was accused falsely did not defend himself and prove himself not guilty of any of the charges, although he could have done so by expatiating on the fine quality of his life and showing that his miracles were done by God, to give the judge an opportunity of giving his case a more favourable judgment.
Origen, Contra Celsum, Pref. 2., p. 3.
For Origen to provide a rebuttal in words to Celsus’ distortions of Christian Faith could possibly detract from the most powerful rebuttal of Celsus’ falsehoods as provided by the silence of true Christians. For their silence provides the most powerful way for Jesus Christ to speak:
Now Jesus is always being falsely accused, and there is never a time when he is not being accused so long as there is evil among men. He is still silent in the face of this and does not answer with his voice; but he makes his defence in the lives of his genuine disciples, for their lives cry out the real facts and defeat all false charges, refuting and overthrowing the slanders and accusations.
Origen, Contra Celus, Pref. 2., p. 4.
The false accusations are mere words not facts. The real facts are the lives of genuine Christians in the fine quality of their lives which is in fact Jesus Christ living in and through them. As Origen points out elsewhere (Comm. on Rm.) our being made righteous happens by Jesus Christ (who IS righteousness) uniting us to Himself and in that sense living in us. There is no more powerful rebuttal of false words than the facts of Christian lives manifesting forth Jesus living in and through them.
Yet because Origen received a request to provide a rebuttal in words to Celsus’ false accusations, he is willing to entertain the possibility of weak and immature Christians being confused and thrown into turmoil by reading or hearing Celsus’ false accusations. Though he, Origen himself, cannot imagine a more powerful rebuttal than living a life united with Jesus Christ, he is still willing to write a rebuttal in mere words so that the weak do not lose whatever measure of faith they do have:
This book is not written at all for true Christians, but either for those entirely without experience of faith in Christ, or for those whom the Apostle calls ‘weak in faith’; for he says this: ‘Him that is weak in faith receive ye.’
Oigen, Contra Celsum, Pref. 6., p. 6.
Experience of faith in Christ does not refer to the emotions I may or may not be able to conjure up when I read my Bible or think of Jesus. Experience in faith refers to a whole life lived in Christ which presumes the Body of Christ – the Church. Jesus Christ is objectively available in the Sacraments and the reading of Scripture in the Church is likewise sacramental. Private devotions flow forth from the ‘experience of Christ objectively’ not the other way around. Our emotions are not of primary importance here, they are to follow the objective facts of Christ in us. Feeling, no matter how strongly, accepted or loved by Jesus is a result of being united with Him in the Sacraments. The Sacraments establish Jesus’ objective presence in our lives, our feelings do not. Good feelings, if they occur, are a consequence of the objective presence of Jesus Christ. In Origenian spirituality it is not the outward things – which is what emotions and spoken words are – which speak most powerfully of the truth but rather “the real facts” of a life lived in and with Christ.
Gregory Wassen +
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. The full Lenten Propers, however, will not be in use until Sunday. The ancient use of Sarum would have us say the 15 Gradual Psalms each ordinary weekday in Lent as well as the 7 Penitential Psalms at each of the Seven Day Hours on such an ordinary weekday. That may be a feasible thing for those in need of sever penance (who isn’t ? ) and who also have no day-job and family to concern themselves with. Those of us in need of said penance but who do have day-jobs might instead give up some more time for Lent and add the following devotions:
On Monday: the Office of the Dead immediately following Vespers of the day
On Wednesday: the Gradual Psalms immediately preceding Matins
On Friday: the Seven Penitential Psalms with the Litany immediately following Lauds
Throughout the entire Lenten period. Though fasting and abstinence are important, the focus on prayer is even more so. The Roman Catholic Church has some sensible guidelines regarding fasting and abstinence here: Fasting & Abstinence. Anglican Catholics, as Catholics, have nothing to lose from looking at our Mother Church’s suggestions especially of they are good and sensible ones! So I suggest those guidelines and the devotions mentioned above for Lent.
Have a blessed Lent.
The translation is mine (Fr. Gregory) and has been an ongoing process. If you have any suggestions in correcting my English (I am not a native writer/speaker) pls do comment!
Created and Renewed after the Image of God
Concerning the Biblical-theological and Sacramental Foundations of Evagrian Mysticism
By Fr. Gabriel Bunge osb
Evagrios Pontikos (ca. 345 – 399)1 has from time to time been referred to as a “Philosopher in the Desert”2. This is certainly correct if we understand philosophy to be the “highest philosophy” as the Church historian Socrates3 thought of it. This is also how the early Church understood it, and how Evagrios himself – from before he became a monk – understood philosophy as “the highest philosophy.”4 For him it is the “doctrine of Christ our Saviour” which consists of praktike, physike and theologike, which is synonymous with “Christianity.”5 The very “wisdom” which is here said to be “loved” above all is not the “external wisdom”6, the “wisdom of the world”7, from which Evagrios expects nothing8, but the Logos of God9 the “essential wisdom.”10 To allege that Evagrian Mysticism is, despite its theology (which is admitted to be its “highest goal”) philosophical rather than theological at least in a Trinitarian sense11 and that it is neoplatonic12, is to fundamentally misunderstand the monk from Pontos. This does nothing to change the fact that such a destructive verdict on this monk who understands himself as a Christian, has been passed on him from a competent side.13
To convince oneself how ungrounded this verdict is, it is prudent to inquire into the specific theological foundations of Evagrian mysticism. According to biblical teaching human beings are “created after the Image of God”14 and in Christ are also renewed after the Image of the Creator15. This “renewal”, by which the human being becomes “a new creation in Christ”16 and is also renewed to the “knowledge of God”17, is received in holy Baptism. Therefore any mysticism which understands itself as Christian mysticism must ultimately have a sacramental foundation. Do we see this in Evagrios?
Some biographical points will first be provided here. Evagrios, when he left Constantinople was a deacon, and he remained a deacon for the remainder of his life.18 It is unlikely that he ever functioned as such in the Nitrian desert, where only the oldest of the eight priests celebrated.19 Evagrios spent the last sixteen years of his life as a monk, not as a cleric. This explains why there is so little mention of the Church, whose teaching, and above all Sacraments, practice and administration lie solely in the competence of the Priests (Bishop or Presbyter). When the Church is mentioned, it is only mentioned in a “spiritual meaning,” like one would expect of a “spiritual father.” In other words, Evagrios takes the “Catholic and Apostolic Church”20 for granted; he explains and defends her doctrine and Sacraments only when they are attacked and where their neglect automatically endangers the “spiritual life.” Such is certainly the case when the “consubstantiality” of the Holy Spirit is denied.
The way Evagrios read the Holy Scriptures of the Old Covenant in unison with the Fathers, teaches that human beings are created “after the Image of God”. Evagrios specifically applies this to man’s “intellect,”21 in so far as this is a bodiless nature,22 is like God Himself who in essence is a “Spirit,”23 and that therefore He is bodiless.24
Your hands have made me and built me: Made (pepoietai) was the soul, built (peplastai) was the body. Like it is said: Let us make men after our Image25, and also taking dust from the earth he built him.26
The Intellect, by which Evagrios means the “inner man,”27 is simply referred to as the Image of God.28 In principle this holds true even for the sinner,29 despite the fact that Evagrios, reflecting on the “fallen image”30, at one point said that man now has an “animal image”31 – in accordance with Ps 48, 13.
What we have here is of course the first of three creations known to Evagrios: creatio ex nihilo, also called the “transition from non-existence to existence”32 (ousiosis). This is a foundational act of the Creator, who makes man to be unchangeably what he is in accordance with his innermost being. The whole economy of salvation in behalf of the “fallen image” is constructed upon this original created being, while this “fallen image” is “renewed” in Christ and only in the eschaton will it be perfected in the “likeness.” But let us first once more return to creation.
From Holy Scripture and the New Covenant we know that only the Son is the “Image of God” the Father in an absolute sense.33 The biblical statement that man is created after the image of God hereby gains a precise Trinitarian sense: he is after the Image of the Father, that is to say, he is an Image of the Son. In other words man is not “Image of God”34 in the absolute sense. To make this fundamental distinction clear Evagrios sometimes uses Hebrews 1, 3 in this context to refer to both the Son and the Spirit. They are the “exact image and true radiance of the Father’s essence”35 literally the “hypostasis of the Father.”36 The intellect however is “true image and likeness of the Son and the Spirit.”37 The conclusions Evagrios draws from this twofold Archetype – Copy relationship (Father – Son and Spirit, Son and Spirit – Intellect), we will examine below. It is sufficient here to state that the intellect is as it were a created image of the Image,38 namely an image of a prototypos39 or archetypos.40
To understand this we must take a look at Evagrian “Christology,” even though at this point we can only establish the very basic outline of this fundamental theme in Evagrian thought. In his “Epistula ad Melaniam” Evagrios posits that the intellect is without mediation the image of the Son and Spirit. In the following “Kephalaion” it is said that:
In the Aeons God will change the body of our humiliation into the resemblance of the glorious body of the Lord41; and after all the Aeons he will also bring us to the resemblance of the image of His Son,42 if the image of the Son is essential knowledge of God the Father.43
Evagrios, then, distinguishes between two phases of salvation. The first phase is that of the change (metas xematizei) and bringing to resemblance (summorphon) with the “glorious Body of the Lord” which will take place within time. For indeed, the aion is the spatial dimension of the kosmos that is commensurate with the temporal dimension of the material creation.44 The second phase is that of the “bringing to the resemblance (summorphous) of His Son” which lies beyond this creation (meta ton panton ton aionon) when aion and cosmos have passed away.45 As we will see, Evagrios develops the same thought while utilizing other biblical texts.
The implications (and problematic) of the above mentioned two phases, which are decisive for Evagrian eschatology, we cannot further discuss here. Important for our purpose here is the unambiguous distinction which Evagrios makes in the second phase between “Son” and “Image of the Son.” The “Image of the Son” is, as it were, hypostatic. But who or what is meant by this? This “Image of the Son” is “Christ.”
Let Your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved:
Christ is named face here because he is ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation.’46
“Here” (entautha) and on several other occasions Evagrios understands Christ in a fashion derived and further developed47 from Origen, as ‘a certain rational and holy soul which came into the life of man48 together with the God-Logos” when He became incarnate. He is called Christos – anointed one – because He – as the only one49 – was anointed with the knowledge of the monas.50 This knowledge of “oneness” is the fruit of his original,51 essential52 and inseparable53 unity with the God-Logos. Thanks to this unity “Christ” (which here refers to a certain holy soul) is “God,” and the Logos is rightly called “Christ.”54 When Evagrios thinks about the Son in this unity with “a certain rational and holy soul” he often adds: Christon de phemi ton meta Theou Logou epidemisanta Kyrion.55
The unity between the God-Logos and a “certain holy soul” does not exist, according to Evagrios, until the humanization56 of the Son of God57 because the genesis of the asomata is timeless.58 The humanization of the Son of God is an unrepeatable event59 and is of decisive soteriological significance. Whenever God manifests himself in history – namely in the Old Covenant – He does so en Christo: the Old Testament theophanies are as a matter of fact christophanies.60 The same holds true in case of the kosmopoiia61 and the creation of the material world.62 Consequently Evagrios identifies the “whole of material (enhylos) knowledge” with the “Kingdom of Christ”63, because in Him the God-Logos is not beheld in his Divine Essence (hos pros auton) but in his actions for us (hos pros hemas).64 In all this it is of course clear that the above mentioned distinction is strictly a matter of viewpoint (kat’ epinoian): The Lord is always one and the same!65
Because it is a given that the soul of Jesus is of the same nature as ours66 the question needs to be asked what the relation of this “certain rational and holy soul” is with the other souls. Christ as the Firstborn [of all Creation] (protokos pases ktiseos)67, “before whom no others came to be and after whom others came into being”,68 “before any rational nature” (pro pases logikes physeos) was created.69 But not in a chronological sense since what is bodiless is also timeless,70 which means that one intellect is not older than another intellect.71 The genesis of the logika is, as we have seen, a timeless act. The pro should much rather be understood in an ontological sense of before. A “certain rational and holy soul” is as it were the prototypos72 or archetype73 for every rational nature. To put it differently: “Christ” is the hypostatic “Image of God” in which all the other souls participate.74 This “rational and holy soul” is in an eternal and ideal purity which cannot be lost in which all souls were intended to be as well and for this reason potentially are. Consequently Evagrios defines the Image of God as “receptivity for the monas”75, which is a state of unity between the triune God and his rational creation76 – to put it a little less cryptically – as “receptivity for God.”77
To be “receptive” (dektikos) means that one is also, in principle, receptive of the opposite,78 that means – at least practically speaking – to loose the received good and to fail one’s goal. In reality – for reasons we cannot elaborate here – the entire physis logike exists as “fallen image” with the only exception of “a certain holy soul.” This is where the Evagrian soteriology starts; after all, the Creator is also the Redeemer!
As he killed them, they sought him:
“Renewed after the Image of the Creator”, which according to what was said earlier can only mean – and Evagrios confirms it explicitly –, that God has “recreated him in Christ”81 and that he now “by grace”82 once again resembles the Image of the Creator. Only in this man who is “renewed after the Image of God” is there no more “male or female,”83 neither “Greek nor Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian nor Scythian, neither slave nor free: but Christ is all in all.”84 This is the fruit of the incarnation of the Son85, which the believers receive in the second of three creations known to Evagrios, “the change from evil to good !”
By baptism is man recreated. He is a new creature in Christ.86
Holy Baptism and its “spiritual seal”87 are a sacramental act of the “catholic and apostolic Church,” in whom we are granted “the forgiveness of sins”88 like the eagle sheds its old age89 and “ in Christ” is radically “renewed according to the Image!” Whoever denies the true divinity of the Holy Spirit empties out Baptism from its soteriological content because Baptism is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit.90 Whoever says the Holy Trinity is a creature, insofar as he says the Holy Spirit was created at a later time “blasphemes God”91 and immediately involves his own salvation. At the same time he also denies the spiritual life any ontological foundation.
As is clear from the above quoted kephalaion (KG VI 34) Evagrios sees the conformation to the Image of the Son of God as a process which – as has now become apparent – is founded in holy Baptism. Its eschatological completion is not attained “until all the aeons have passed.” This process unfolds gradually, as the following will show.
You have shortened his time:
We must first become like the “days of Heaven,”92 that is similar (homoious) to the holy Powers, and then also similar (parempherein) to the “Sun of Righteousness”93 since the prayer of our Lord must be wholly and completely fulfilled. It is after all Jesus who prays “Father that they may be one in us, as You and I are one.”94 This is how it will be with us: From then on neither increasing nor decreasing but rather living in the fullness of the Lord.95
Evagrios considers the being after the Image of God to be a natural good which has been given to us at the creation of our nature.96 The fulfilment of this being after the Image of God into the being in the likeness of God as they are indicated in Gen. 1, 26 (kat’ eikona hemeteran kai kath’ homoiosin) and in 1 John 3, 2 (homoi auto esometha) lies beyond our creaturely nature97 and is, as custom has it, supernatural. Insofar as this, in itself eschatological fulfilment, has been graciously founded in the “new creature” by Baptism, our “spiritual life” in a real sense is already a supernatural event as will now become clear.
From Kol 3, 10 Evagrios takes it that the “renewal after the Image of the Creator” takes place eis epignosin in view of the knowledge of God. He is thinking of an unmediated knowledge of God which all physis logike originally possessed98 but is at present unique to Christ.99 This is where the Evagrian doctrine of the soul as after the Image of God is fully unfolded.
Evagrian mysticism is – despite all prejudices – deeply trinitarian. In KG VI 34 it is said that in the eschaton we will become similar to “the Image of the Son” and that this “Image of the Son” in fact means the “essential knowledge of God the Father.” Because the Primal Cause100 and the Final Goal101 is strictly speaking the Person of the Father and for this reason Evagrios indicates Him to be the Producer of “essential knowledge.”102 For creatures the Father is known only – which is completely biblical103 – by means of the Son and the Spirit, in fact – so says Evagrios – because of the double relation Archetype – Copy relationship in which as the Son and the Spirit stand to the Father so stands the Intellect to the Son and the Holy Spirit.104 Due to its creaturely ‘being after the Image of God,’ the intellect is a “receiver of the knowledge of the Father,” and as Evagrios will specify more precisely, it is exclusively the intellect which has been renewed to the knowledge of the Image who also created it!”105
As we have seen we are dealing with an eschatological event. “For ever,”106 “without end,”107 “unchangeably,”108 creatures will delight in the “bottomless depth of the Father’s love,”109 without creaturely mediation, but (only) through the mediation of His Son and Spirit, once the “beloved end”110 has become full reality. Yet the faith teaches us that, because of holy Baptism, we have a foretaste of the future glory. This is where mysticism begins with the personal experience of “final blessedness”111 while yet here on earth during the time of prayer.
Because in a “true” prayer or “spiritual prayer” the prayer which is “in Spirit and in Truth” which is “the worship of the Father in His Holy Spirit and His Only-Begotten Son,”112 does the intellect “dialogue with the Father”113 “without any mediation”114 of a creature or even the thought of a creature.115 Because now “it no longer honours the Creator from His creatures, but it praises Him in hymns from itself” (ex autou auton anhymnei).116 Such a praying person has in the true sense of the word become a theologian,117 since he does not merely know something about God but he has seen Him.118 And of course, this must not be forgotten; such a person is in Christ!119
Let us sum things up. As we have remarked previously, Evagrios has been called a “philosopher in the desert,” and this is certainly correct insofar as one understands “philosophy” in an Evagrian sense. It would be more appropriate to call him “the great theologian of the desert,” and to use it in a very precise sense in which Evagrios himself uses this term. Theology is the pinnacle of a supra-rational, personal realization of unity with the triune God. Theology is ultimately reserved to the eschaton but a “pure heart” can tap into it already while yet here on earth by means of grace “at the time of prayer.”
Yet Evagrios also proves himself an excellent theologian in the modern sense of that word. His mysticism, after all, has a solid biblical and theological foundation: the doctrine that the intellect is after the Image of God, which alone makes it capax Dei. Perhaps most surprising to many is the fact that for Evagrios the “theologos” is not man in general, but only the man renewed after the Image of the “Creator” in Christ by means of holy Baptism, and who therefore is the “new man.” Put differently: Evagrian mysticism, despite its scarce references to Church and Sacraments, has an undeniable sacramental character; as one ought to expect from any mysticism which understands itself to be a Christian120 mysticism.
Evagrian Christology which fell into disrepute121 rather quickly – I think because it has been completely misunderstood122 – finds its true raison d’ être in this mysticism of the being after the Image of God. It is here that Evagrios attempts to understand the essence of the Intellect “being created after the Image of God” and the “renewal” after this Image of the intellect by “a certain and holy soul” (the latter was from the moment of its creation essentially and indivisibly united with the God-Logos, and together with the Son also has become man). This “certain and holy soul” serves as an example to what the soul essentially is, and what the soul despite its fall will potentially always remain to be, and what the soul will eternally be in the end by virtue of the saving economy of the Son and the Spirit. Evagrian Christology is therefore not merely the at the heart of soteriology, but it is also the central theme which connects protology, cosmology, soteriology, and eschatology.
We have designated “a certain and holy soul” as the hypostatized “Image of God,” as the “prototype” (or archetype), after the example of which all other souls are created and renewed. This justifies the question how Evagrios thinks of “our Saviour Jesus Christ”, the Son of God who became flesh in the human Person of Jesus. It is now clear that Evagrios develops his Christology using the Incarnate One as his basis, because without the Incarnation we know nothing about “the soul of Christ”!123 But how does he conceive of the Incarnate One Himself?
The answer to this question will not be found in the writings dedicated to physike, such as the “Kephalaia Gnostica,” but rather in writings of a more personal nature, such as the “Letters”124 or the “Exhortation to a Virgin.” Here we encounter a very intimate Christ-mysticism which – it is important to notice that the “Exhortation to a Virgin” is directed to a nun – rises to a true bridal mysticism.125 When Evagrios speaks126 of “imitation of Christ” it is precisely the human Person Jesus Christ he has in mind, despite the present metaphysical context. By means of Jesus Christ, and His Old Testament prefigurations Moses and David, Evagrios makes clear what this “imitation” which alone makes us well-pleasing to God is: “Meekness” which for him is the concrete manifestation of Christian agape. It alone makes a human being receptive of the knowledge of God and His personal Presence. Love is the quintessential point of praktike127, the practical-ascetical life which without having been completed there can be no mysticism and also no “theologia”.
Translated by Fr. Gregory Wassen
1 On the person and work of Evagrios see besides the known lexicon articles also: G. Bunge: Evagrios Pontikos. Briefe aus der Wüste, Trier 1986. 17 ff.; M. O’ Laughlin: Origenism in the Desert, Diss. Cambridge Mass. 1987. For the life of Evagrios see also G. Bunge and A. de Vogüe: Quatre ermites égyptiens d’après les fragments coptes de l’Histoire Lausiaque, Bellefontaine 1994 (SO 60), 153 ff. – Abbreviations of cited works by Evagrios: Ep.: Epistula LXII, editor by W. Frankenberg, Evagrius Ponticus, Berlin 1912. Translation G. Bunge: Evagrios Pontikos. Briefe aus der Wüste, Trier, 1986. Ep. fid.: edited by J. Gribomont, in: M. Forlin Patrucco (Publisher): Basilio di Cesarea. Le Lettere, Vol. 1, Turin 1983, 84 ff. Ep. Mel.: Epistula ad Melaniam, edited by W. Frankenberg (first part); G. Vitestam: Seconde partie du Traité, qui passé sous le nom de “La grande letter d’Evagre le Pontique á Mélanie l’Ancinenne,” Lund 1964. Translation G. Bunge: Briefe. Gn: Gnostikos edited by A. Guillamont, Evagre le Pontique. Le Gnostique ou A celui qui est devenu digne de la science, Paris 1989 (SC 356). in Eccl: Scholia in Ecclesiasten, edited by P. Géhin, Evagre le Pontique. Scholies à Ecclesiasté, Paris 1993 (SC 397). in Prov: Scholia in Proverbia, edited by P. Géhin, Evagre le Pontique. Scholies aux Proverbes, Paris 1987 (SC 340). In Ps: Scholia in Psalmos. By the kind agreement of Mlle M.-J. Rondeau we use the collation of the Vat. Gr. 754 manuscript which she has made. See also the following.: Le Comementaire sur les Psaumes d’Evagre le Pontique, in: OCP 26 (1960), 307-384. KG: Kephalaia Gnostika, edited by A. Guillamont, Les Six Centuries des Kephalaia Gnostica d’Evagre le Pontique, Paris 1958 (PO 28). M.c.: De Diversis Malignis Cogitationibus. PG 79, 1200 ff. Mn: Ad monachos, edited by H. Gressmann, Nonnenspiegel und Mönchsspiegel des Evagrios Pontikos, Leipzig 1913 (TU 39, 4). Or: De Oratione Capitula CLIII, PG 79, 1165 ff. Instead of these fragmented – and corrupted text we use the manuscript Paris, BN Coislin 109, as in the Philakolia in the Bd. 1, Athen 1957 edition, 176 ff., the numbering and chapter division of which we also use. Pr: Praktikos, edited by C. and A. Guillamont, Evagre le Pontique. Traité Pratique ou le Moine, Paris 1971 (SC 170-171). Translation: G. Bunge: Evagrios Pontikos. Praktikos oder Der Mönch, Köln 1989.
2 So for example the title of a well known article by A. Guillamont “Un philosophe au desert: Evagre le Pontique,” RHR 181, (1972), 29-56.
3 Socrates, HE IV 23 (PG 67, 516 A).
4 Ep. fid. 1, 8 ff.
5 Praktikos 1. Ep. fid. 4, 20 f.
6 Ep. fid. 2, 5.
7 KG I 73; VI 22
8 In Ps 62, 4b.
9 See Ep. fid. 4, 19.
10 Ep. fid. 6, 2; See also 7, 9.
11 I. Hausherr: Les leçon d’un contemplatif. Le Traité de l’Oraison d’Evagre le Pontique, Paris 1960, 99.
12 Ibid. 7.
13 Besides Hausherr see also H. U. von Balthasar: Metaphysik und Mystik des Evagrius Ponticus, in: ZAM 14 (1939), 31-47. A. Guillamont expresses it much more carefully: La Preghiera pura di Evagrio e l’influsso del Neoplatonismo, in: Dizionario degli Instituti di Perfezione, vol. VII, Rom 1983, 591 ff., who attributes Neoplatonic influence to the verbal formulation of Evagrian mysticism, and in my opinion he does so correctly (ibid. 593).
14 Gen 1, 27.
15 Col 3, 10.
16 2 Cor 5, 17.
17 Col 1, 17.
18 See Palladios: Historia Lausiaca 38 (Butler 116, 6 and 117, 3).
19 Ibid 7 (Butler 26, 9 ff.).
20 in Prov 24, 6 (Géhin 266, 6).
21 M.c. 19; See also KG III 32.
22 in Ps 38, 6d.
23 Joh 4, 24.
24 in Ps 140, 2a.
25 Gen 1, 26.
26 in Ps 118, 73lb. Last quotation from: Gen 2, 7.
27 See G. Bunge: Nach dem Intellekt leben. Zum sog. “Intellektualismus der evagrianischen Spiritualität,” in Festschrift W. Nyssen, Köln 1989, 95-109.
28 Ep 28, 3; 48.
29 in Ps 118, 113.
30 Gn 50.
31 Ep. Mel 46. Here Evagrios refers to the opinion of someone else.
32 Ep. fid. 11, 7; in Ps 32, 9m (genesis = ousiosis).
33 2 Cor 4, 4; see also in Ps 16, 2a.
34 See KG II 23.
35 Ep Mel 19.
36 Heb 1, 3: apaugasma tes doxes kai charakter tes hypostaseos tou Patros. See also KG II 23.
37 Ep Mel 19.
38 See Origen, Comm. in Rom. 1, 3 (Philakolia, c. 25, 2).
39 See Pr 89.
40 See Gn 50.
41 Phil 3, 21.
42 Rom 8, 29.
43 KG VI 34.
44 in Ps 138, 16m
45 According to P. Arch. II, 6. The background to KG VI, 34 Com. In Rom. 1, 3.
46 in Ps 79, 8d. Col. 1, 15: protokos pases ktiseos.
47 See Peri Archon II, 6. For the background for KG VI, 34 see Com. in Rom. I, 3 (Philakolia 25, 2).
48 in Ps 131, 7e.
49 KG III
50 in Ps 44, 8z.
51 KG VI 18.
52 KG VI 79
53 KG VI 14.
54 KG IV 18.
55 in Ps 44, 8z; 88, 9d; 104, 15i; 118, 3b; KG VI 14 (the translation needs correction) [Fr. Bunge is referring to the Syriac translation of the original Greek].
56 in Ps 109, 3a.
57 KG VI 18.
58 KG VI 9, see also Ep 49, 1. Timeless is by no means equivalent to beginningless in Evagrios! Because the intellect is created it also has a beginning: Ep. Mel. 30.
59 in Ps 113, 11e.
60 KG IV 41. 43; Ep 33, 3.
61 in Eccl 6, 10-12 (Géhin 52, 14).
62 KG 58.
63 Ep. fid. 7, 22.
64 Ep. fid. 7, 42.
65 Ep. fid. 7, 11; 25.
66 KG VI 79.
67 Kol 1, 15.
68 KG IV 20.
69 in Ps 109, 3b.
70 Ep 49, 1.
71 KG III 45.
72 Pr 89.
73 Gn 50.
74 in Ps 104, 15i: “These christoi are called christoi because they participate in Christ (metechontes); Christ on the other hand is called christos because he participates in the Father. “I call Christos the one who is the Lord who came together with the God-Logos.” The being in the image of God of the soul is ultimately grounded in the Son who is the Image of God in the absolute sense. But in the Son in his union with a “certain rational and holy soul” in and through which He works ad extra. On the position of “Christ” see also the in depth contemplations of KG VI 14 (translation in need of correction).
75 KG III, 32.
76 This concept has a protological meaning in Evagrios (Ep. fid. 10, 19; KG I 49 etc.) and an eschatological meaning (Ep. fid. 7, 55; KG I 65 etc.). Right now only Jesus Christ possesses this state of being (KG III 2.3; IV 21 = in Ps. 44, 8j). See on this subject more fully Gabriel Bunge: Henade ou Monade? Au sujet de deux notions centrals de la terminologie evagrienne, in Le Museon 102 (1989), 69-91.
77 KG VI 73.
78 KG I 4.
79 Eph 4, 22.
80 in Ps 77 id; also in Ps 95, 1a; 149, 1a. Final quote: Col 3, 10.
81 in Ps 44, 4g
82 M.c. 18
83 Gal 3, 28.
84 M.c. 3 Final quote: Kol 3, 11.
85 Ep Mel 56 ff.
86 Ep Fid 11, 9ff., 3 quoting from 2 Cor 5, 17.
87 Mn 124.
88 in Ps 31, 1a; 84, 3a.
89 in Ps 102, 5j
90 Ep fid 10, 6-14; in Prov 22, 28 (Gehin 249, 6f.).
91 Mn 134.
92 Ps. 88, 30.
93 Mal 3, 20 according to Ps. 88, 37. Sun of Righteousness is a biblical symbolism name for Christ (the Logos in union with “a certain rational and holy soul”), in whom the Father abides (in Ps 18, 6b; also 26, 5d). The goal is therefore to achieve an abiding of the triune God in the soul which is at the present the exclusive prerogative of Christ. To this theme many sections of the Epsitula ad Melaniam are dedicated without the name Christ being mentioned even once!
94 Joh 17, 21For the various meanings Evagrios attributes to this verse see: G. Bunge Mysterium Unitatis. Der Gedanke der Einheit von Schöpfer und Geschöpf in der evagrianischen Mystik, in Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 36 (1989), 449-469.
95 in Ps 88, 46im.
96 Gen 1:27.
97 Ep Mel 62. Evagrios quotes from John 10, 10 and Dan 4, 36 (Theodotion).
98 KG VI 75; also II 3.
99 KG I 77; III 3; in Ps 44, 8 z; 8, 9, 8d; 88, 43ig.
100 Ep Mel 25.
101 Ep Fid 7, 9.
102 KG VI 28.
103 Mt 11, 27 (the Son), 1 Cor 2, 10 (the Spirit).
104 Ep Mel 12. 18. 19.
105 Ep Mel 16.
106 Ep Mel 23.
107 Ep Mel 63.
108 Ep Mel 14.
109 Ep Mel 31.
110 Ep Mel 67.
111 Ep fid 7, 19; see also Pr prol 51. Also G. Bunge, Das Geistgebet. Studien zum Traktat De Oratione des Evagrios Pontikos, Köln 1987, Kap. VI: “In Geist und Wahrheit.”
112 Or 59.
113 Or. 55.
114 Or 3.
115 Or 56-58.
116 Or 60.
117 Or 61.
118 KG V 26, also Or 4.
119 KG II 90. The image of “first light” and “both lights” perhaps originates with St. Gregory of Nyssa, C. Eun 1 (PG 45, 416 BC).
120 Here I remind the reader that von Balthasar qualified this mysticism as Buddhist rather than Christian in his article Metaphysik (Anm. 13).
121 According to A. Guillaumont: Les Kephalaia Gnostica d’ Evagre le Pontique et l’Histoire de l’Origenisme chez les Grecs et les Syriens, Paris 1962, 117 f.; F. Refoule: La Christologie d’Evagre et l’Origenisme, in OCP 27 (1961), 221-266; A. Grillmeier: Jesus der Christus im Glauben der Kirche, Bd. 1, Freiburg 1982, 561 ff.
122 The misunderstanding lies in the way in which Evagrios uses the names of “Christ.” The Christology of the monk from Pontos cannot be reconstructed from the “Kephalaia Gnostica” alone. And it seems that the “Kephalaia Gnostica” was the only text available to the redactors of the 15 anathemas dating to 553. Only in the light of the “Scholias on Psalms” does it become evident that Evagrios took up Origen’s doctrine of the soul of Christ and independently developed it. Let it be noted here that Evagrios did not first develop this respective doctrine in Egypt under the influence of the Origenism of the Origenist monks. Rather, as we see in his “Epistula Fideï,” he presumes this kind of Christology to be a familiar one and completely non-offensive, and brought it with him from Cappadocia! The sources for this Christology are to be sought in the “Origenist” circle of Basil of Ceasarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, the two most prominent teachers of Evagrios.
123 From this it is possible to understand why Evagrios turns against “heretics” who “speak only of the soul of Christ” (in Ps. 108, 19 ie.). After all “he who rejects Christ cannot know God” (Mn. 134).
124 Bunge, Briefe [Anm. 1], 126 ff.
125 According to J. Driscoll: Spousal Images in Evagrius Ponticus, in SM 38 (1996), 243-256. See also P. Gehin: Evagriana d’ un manuscript basilien, in Le Museon 109 (1996), 59-85, hier: 71 ff. (A l’imitation du Cantique des cantiques).
126 M.c. 14.
127 Pr. 84.
In my research for my MDiv thesis I came across an article referenced by Fr. John Behr in his The Way to Nicea written by M. Harl. In it an interesting suggestion is made concerning Origen and the often repeated claim that he taught a preexistence of the disembodied soul and that embodiment is a result of sin in this preexistent state. My friend Fr. Christopher (a monk from St. John the Wonderworker Monastery, California) translated the passages in question and I have edited them for publication on my blog (I thought it might be interesting). The article is an older one and does not exist in an English translation (to my knowledge).
The preexistence of souls or divine foreknowledge?
What does one of the most famous texts say which Origen cites to evoke the heavenly Jerusalem, (Hebr. 12 22-23), this place where the just shall be “gathered together/assemble” (and not dispersed), to wit, “the firstborn are inscribed there ekklesia prototokon apogegramemmenon en ou ouranois? Are we dealing here with a “preexisting” Jerusalem or Church in the sense in which the expressions of late Judaism are often understood? 1 and which the Christians take up again on behalf of the Church borrowing from Psalm 73, 2 LXX according to which God “aquired for himself” his assembly “from the beginning,” ap’arches? Certainly one can say of this “heavenly Jerusalem,” which is “the City of God” (Ps. 47, 2-3 et al.), that according to the prophets, men have distanced themselves from this city and that they will be “re-established” there (apokathistamenon, in Ccels 7, 29). What is the meaning of this? Origen says that he has explained it in his commentaries on Psalms 45 and 47 (Ccel 7 31), which we do not possess. For him, if we accept the distinction between ktisis and katabole kosmou, all of the texts which say “before the constitution of the world,” or even “starting from the beginning,” can refer to the beginning of human history, to the beginning of this aion which is inscribed in time. He [Origen] uses Psalm 73 vs 2 to say that the Church did not begin with the coming of the Savior but rather that it has existed from the beginning of the human race which, however, does not refer back to a pre-cosmic or preexisting world. The Church is founded not only on the Apostles but also on the prophets and all the saints since the beginning of this world (Com. SoS p. 157, 13 s. GCS). Even though St. Paul says that God has chosen his saints “before” the katabole kosmou (Eph. 1, 4), this predetermination is not situated in a preexisting world but at the beginning of the history of the “world,” that is to say, of men. Origen places on the same level the following two expressions of Psalm 73, 2 (constitution of the Church) and Romans 8, 29 (the foreknowledge and predestination by God of those who will be in conformity with the Son’s image) (Com. SoS p. 157, 11-158, 13 and Comm. Mat. 17, 4). Does foreknowledge (or predetermination, for that is the problem) not explain that those who are destined to form the Lord’s assembly “shall be inscribed in heaven”? In his treatise On First Principles, Origen was unable to insist upon divine election, for this would offer an argument to the Gnostics in support of the determinism of natures, as one sees in P Arch II.9.7: that beings have various states not as a result of their works but “by the will of him who called them” “according to election.” In this context, Origen responds with “anterior causes,” which God knows and which direct the distribution of fates/destinies in a “just” manner; he thus touches on the theme of sins committed before birth in a way which remains in the realm of allusion and theory. In his later texts when he takes into account the theological meaning of the Epistle to the Romans which cites the example of Jacob and Esau (Rom. 9.10-13 with the citation of Ml 1.2 s.), he no longer speaks of “anterior causes,” but only – so it seems to me – of divine foreknowledge: in the large fragment on Rom. 1.1 preserved in Philokalia XXV, in Chapters 5 and 6 of the treatise On Prayer, and in the Commentary on Rom. 9, he says that “since the moment that infants come to birth” (from before they come thither) God knows the choice they shall make and organizes their fates in correspondance with these choices. “Before birth” may mean not in a previous life (which is no longer the question) but “from the maternal bosom,” as other biblical texts say. Likewise, “before the constitution of the world” (Eph. 1.4) means “since the beginning of this world (ab initio saeculi).” The “causes” that reconcile the inequality of human destinies with the affirmation of God’s “justice” are not in a pre-cosmic pre-existence, but in the foreknowledge, beyond this world, of all the history of men. I wish neither to affirm the disappearance of the thesis of the pre-existence of souls, nor its reconciliation with divine foreknowledge or election; rather, I wish to highlight two types of languag which emphasize different ideas.
1(God created the patriarchs ‘before the creation of the world,” all the souls “were prepared before the constitution of the earth”: 2 Enoch 23, 5 according to the long version[Note 13])