||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (April 2012)|
Evagrius Ponticus (Greek: Εὐάγριος ὁ Ποντικός, "Evagrius of Pontus"), also called Evagrius the Solitary (345-399 AD) was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the rising stars in the late fourth-century church, he was well known as a keen thinker, a polished speaker, and a gifted writer. He left a promising ecclesiastical career in Constantinople, traveled to Jerusalem, and there in 383 became a monk at the monastery of Rufinus and Melania the Elder. He then went to Egypt and spent the remaining years of his life in Nitria and Kellia, marked by years of asceticism and writing. He was a disciple of several influential contemporary church leaders, including Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Macarius of Egypt. He was teacher of others, including John Cassian and Palladius.
He was born into a Christian family in the small town of Iberia, in the Roman province of Pontus. He was educated in Neocaesarea, where he began his career in the church as a lector under Basil. Around 380 he joined Gregory of Nazianzus in Constantinople, where he was promoted to deacon and eventually to archdeacon. When Emperor Theodosius I convened the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD, Evagrius was present, despite Gregory's premature departure.
According to the biography written by Palladius, Constantinople offered many worldly attractions, and Evagrius's vanity was aroused by the high praise of his peers. Eventually, he became infatuated with a married woman. Amid this temptation, he is said to have had a vision in which he was imprisoned by the soldiers of the governor at the request of the woman's husband. This vision, and the warning of an attendant angel, made him flee from the capital and head for Jerusalem.
For a short time, he stayed with Melania the Elder and Tyrannius Rufinus in a monastery near Jerusalem, but even there he could not forsake his vainglory and pride. He fell gravely ill and only after he resolved to become a monk was he restored to health. After being made a monk at Jerusalem in 383, he joined a cenobitic community of monks in Nitria, but after some years moved to Kellia. There he spent the last fourteen years of his life pursuing studies under Macarios the Great and Macarius of Alexandria.
The following are Evagrian works which are most certainly authentic (Bamberger 1972:lix-lxvii).
- The Praktikos
- The Gnostikos
- Kephalaia Gnostica (Problemata Gnostica)
- Chapters on Prayer (consists of a prologue and 153 chapters)
- The Antirrhetikos
- Sentences for Monks
- Exhortation to a Virgin
- To Eulogius (Treatise to the Monk Eulogius)
- Treatise on Various Evil Thoughts (Capita Cognoscitiva)
- 62 letters
- Scriptural commentaries
- Commentary on the Psalms
- De Seraphim (deals with the vision of Isaiah)
- De Cherubim (deals with the vision of Ezekiel)
- Commentary on the Pater Noster
- Various ascetic treatises: De Justis et Perfectis
Although ascribed to Evagrius, these two works are considered to be of doubtful authenticity (Bamberger 1972:lxvi-lxvii).
- De Malignis Cogitationibus
- Collections of Sentences
Most Egyptian monks of that time were illiterate. Evagrius, a highly-educated classical scholar, is believed to be one of the first people to begin recording and systematizing the erstwhile oral teachings of the monastic authorities known as the Desert Fathers. Eventually, he also became regarded as a Desert Father, and several of his apothegms appear in the 'Vitae Patrum' (a collection of sayings from early Christian monks).
Evagrius rigorously tried to avoid teaching beyond the spiritual maturity of his audiences. When addressing novices, he carefully stuck to concrete, practical issues (which he called praktike). For example, in Peri Logismon 16, he includes this disclaimer:
I cannot write about all the villainies of the demons; and I feel ashamed to speak about them at length and in detail, for fear of harming the more simple-minded among my readers.
His more advanced students enjoyed more theoretical, contemplative material (gnostike).
The most prominent feature of his research was a system of categorizing various forms of temptation. He developed a comprehensive list in AD 375 of eight evil thoughts (λογισμοι), or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs. This list was intended to serve a diagnostic purpose: to help readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation.
Evagrius stated, "The first thought of all is that of love of self; after this, the eight"
The eight patterns of evil thought are gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory, and pride. While he did not create the list from scratch, he did refine it. Some two centuries later in 590 AD, Pope Gregory I, "Pope Gregory The Great" would revise this list to form the more commonly known Seven Deadly Sins, where Pope Gregory the Great combined acedia (discouragement) with tristitia (sorrow), calling the combination the sin of sloth; vainglory with pride; and added envy to the list of "Seven Deadly Sins".
In Evagrius' time, the Greek word apatheia was used to refer to a state of being without passion. Evagrius wrote (p. 516): "A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil".
Evagrius taught that tears were the utmost sign of true repentance and that weeping, even for days at a time, opened one up to God.
Later accusations of heresy
Like the other Cappadocian fathers Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, Evagrius was an avid student of Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-250 AD), and he further developed certain esoteric speculations regarding the pre-existence of human souls, the Origenist account of apocatastasis, and certain teachings about the natures of God and Christ. These speculative teachings were declared heretical by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 AD. When subsequent ecumenical councils sought to clarify these anathemas, Origen along with Evagrius and a few other theologians were condemned as well.
Despite the accusations of heresy, Evagrius exerted a tremendous influence on the church through his practical writings. Though most of his writings were destroyed, many survived simply because they were so helpful. Some of his books were attributed to other writers, such as Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, and Saint Nilus. One of his key disciples, John Cassian, established a few monasteries in southern France and effectively adapted key Evagrian works for his Western audiences.
- Evagrius. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Translated by Robert E. Sinkewicz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 2003, p. xvii.
- Ibid. p. xviii.
- Harmless, W.; Fitzgerald (2001). "The Sapphire Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus". Theological Studies 6: 498–529.
- Harmless & Fitzgerald
- Ford, Marcia, Traditions of the Ancients, Broadman & Holman, 2006, p 8
- Driscoll, Jeremy. Evagrius Ponticus: Ad Monachos. Translation and Commentary, ACW 59. Paulist Press, 2003.
- Evagrius. Evagrius Ponticus. Translated by Augustine Casiday. New York: Routledge, 2006.
- Evagrius. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Translated by Robert E. Sinkewicz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Evagrius. The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer. Cistercian Studies Series, vol. 4. Translated by John Eudes Bamberger OCSO. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1972.
- Cassian, John. The Institutes of John Cassian. A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and Pre-Nicene Fathers (Second Series), vol. XI: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian. Translated by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1887.
- Cassian, John. The Conferences of John Cassian. A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and Pre-Nicene Fathers (Second Series), vol. XI: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian. Translated by Edgar C. S. Gibson. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1894.
- Guillaumont, Antoine: "Les 'kephalaia gnostica' d'Evagre le Pontique et l'histoire de l'origénisme chez les Grecs et chez les Syriens", Paris: Cerf (Patristica Sorbonensia 5), 1972.
- Guillaumont, Antoine"Un philosophe au désert", Paris: Vrin, 2004.
- Harmless, W. & Fitzgerald, R.R. (2001). The Sapphire Light of the Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus. Theological Studies, 62, pp. 498–529.
- Palmer, G. E. H., Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, ed./trans. The Philokalia: The Complete Text. 5 vols. Compiled by St. Nikodimos and St. Makarios. London: Faber and Faber, 1979.
- Tsakiridis, George. Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010.
- Ward, Benedicta, trans. The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. London: Penguis Books, 2003.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Evagrius Ponticus|
- Guide to Evagrius Ponticus, authoritative reference work; includes exhaustive list of writings, extensive bibliography, checklist of images, and sourcebook of testimonia
- St. Evagrius Ponticus—A collection of many Evagrian works in a Greek/English parallel format
- Evagrian Scholarship Forum, a web-based discussion group
- Orthodox Wiki article
- Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Graeca with analytical indexes