7. EVAGRIUS 345-399

I.Scholarly monastiscism
II. Life of Evagrius
III .His works.
IV. His doctrine:
1) Asceticism: The Praktikos
2) Mysticism: On Prayer
V. Conclusion


The alphbetical series of the apohthegmata introduced us to the Desert Fathers, but without any background in either time or space. The table: "The desert stars", shows the greatest of them, with the length of their life (single line) and the length of their monastic life (double line). Below are the two authors of cenobitic rules which we have not yet studied, to show how they relate to each other. The table shows that the golden age of the Desert Fathers lasted fortwo centuries; and this has important consequences.

At the beginning recruitment was mainly local and most of the Desert Fathers were Egyptian peasants, uncultured men - but this did not stop them from loving God. Then the reputation of the ascetics spread about and people came to the desert from further away, cultivated men like Arsenius who had been an important person at the court of Constantinople. Among these were some who reflected on their life and tried to put their experience of the desert into writing so that they could tell others about the spirituality of the Desert Fathers: his gave rise to what might be called: 'scholarly monasticism'.

Another consequence: with decline in fervour because of the great number of monks, gradually the unlettered monks grew jealous of those who were learned, and they found the unlettered monks a little too simple. These all-too human emotions degenerated into quarrels which became very serious and resulted in the exclusion of a groups of monks, of which Cassian was one.

Now we will go on to study the authors who have put their experience of anahoretic monasticism in the desert into writing: Evagrius, who is rather difficult as he leans towrds intellectualism, and Cassian who is easier because he reacted against the intellectualism of Evagrius and simplified what Evagrius had made complicated so that the monks of Gaul could understand.


We know a lot about the life of Evagrius because one of his friends, Palladius, wrote about him in a book called: "The Lausiac History"; because it was written for someone called Lausius.

Evagrius was born in 345 in the province of Pont in the north of the present Turkey. This was the year that Pachomius died, seven years before Antony. Evagrius knew Basil, who ordained him reader. On the death of Basil, he took Gregory of Nazianzen as his master. He followed him to Constantinople where he became known for his ability in refuting heretics.

But he fell in love with the wife of a high official. He fought against this passion, and when he had succeeded in overcoming it, the lady fell in love with him. A dream made Evagrius realise all the troubles that would be his lot from this affair: prison or worse; so he fled to Jerusalem and took refuge in the monastery of Rufinus and Melania.

This monastery was in a town. Evagrius left and went visiting young women. Then God, who was watching over him, sent him an illness which lasted six months and exhausted him. The doctors could not understand it, but Melania, who was a saint, realised that perhaps God had a hand in it. Evagrius confided in her, and she made him promise to be a playboy no longer and go to Egypt to become a monk far away from the world. He promised, and a few days later he was healed.

So Evagrius left for Egypt and lived for two years in Nitria. Then he went deeper into the desert and lived in the Cells. He lived a very ascetic life, earning a little bread, salt and oil by working as a transcriber. He wrote for those who did not know how to write, copying manuscripts,and also writing books himself.

Among thse monks, most ofwhom did not know how to read, he seemed to be an intellectual; but he himself understood the limits of knowledge (Text 1). He tried to make himself very small before those who were not intellectuals and suffered their ill-feeling in silence.(Text 2).

Evagrius was a cultured person and a shewd psychologist; he became the leader of a group of monks whom Palladius called the 'confraternity', or the 'company' of Evagrius. These monks read and admired Origen's allegorical exegesis of Scripture. But being over-zealous disciples and not very prudent, they sometimes distorted the thought of the Master, affirming as certitudes ideas that Origen had only put forward as possible. The more simple monks, who had not read Origen and were for the most part anthropomorphists, were shocked by what they heard. All this deteriorated into violent disaggreements and gave rise to the 'Origenist controversy'. It began in the year 400 and ended when this group of monks of the Cells, who were disciples of Origen, were expelled from Egypt. Cassian was one of them, but Evagrius had died a few months beforehand.



Besides letters, Commentaries on Scripture and a treatise called Antirrheticos where scriptural texts for expelling demons are cited; Evagrius wrote some very important treatises:

There are three books which were grouped together by Evagrius himself:

1. The Praktikos, which he also called: 'The Monk'. It is a century, that is a book made up of a hundred short chapters. Evagrius created this form of literature which became well-known in the East. This book explains his ascetical doctrine.

2. The Gnostikos, following the first, is a half-century. It is a series of counsels addressed to the

'gnostic', that is, the spiritual Master.

3. The Kephalaia Gnostica, which means: "Chapters of Knowledge". This work is made up of 6 centuries, but of 90 chapters, not a hundred.

It is the great doctrinal work of Evagrius where are found out of context nearly all the theses which he took from Origen and which were anathematized in 553.

There is also the:

4. Chapters on Prayer, the most important treatise and the richest; it had the greatest influence on posterity. As Evagrius had a bad reputation because of the ideas found in the Kephalaia Gnostica, it has been preserved under the name of St Nilus. It is in the form of a letter of 153 very short chapters ( the 153 fishes in Jn. 21:11). Here we find Evagrius the mystic, and through this work he became the founder of monastic mysticism.



Evagrius is then a witness to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers. He echoes their teaching, and on one hand, by the synthesis he makes of the teaching of the desert, by the depth of his knowledge and his mystical experience, he is attractive. But on the other hand, he is not easy to understand because of his vocabulary, the care he takes not to unfold a truth too abruptly to those who cannot understand it, and sometimes because his subject matter is so profound.

We shall study the asceticism of Evagrius in the Praktikos and his mysticism in the Chapters on Prayer.


The covering letter which serves as a Prologue is important. It begins by showing the significance of the monk's clothing, its symbolism; then Evagrius summarizes the teaching of the Desert Fathers in one phrase (Text 3). In this text he divides the Christian life into three parts. It is very briefly repeated in chapter 1 (Text 4); and given again in Chapter 84 (Text 5).

The purpose of this book is praktike; a plan is given on the next page.

Evagrius defines praktike as: "The spiritual method for purifying the affective part of the soul" (78). He means asceticism, the battle against the passions.

We have seen from studying St Antony and the Apophthegmata that the monk goes to the desert to fight the demons. Origen has already told us that the spiritual combat takes place in the heart. Evagrius takes up this idea and speaks of 'interior warfare' (Text 6). When he speaks of 'thoughts', he means temptations. He numbers eight of them, always in the same order, so there are eight evil thoughts which we must fight against. (Text 7). The end of the paragraph is important; it does not depend on us whether we have evil thoughts, temptations; but what does depend on us is whether we let them enter our souls and stay there. "The temptation of the monk", he says elsewhere, "is a thought which rises from the passionate part of the soul and obscures the intellect. The sin of the monk is to consent to a forbidden pleasure which has been suggested by the thoughts".

 PLAN of the Praktikos

Its place in Christian life
The eight evil thoughts
Against the eight thoughts
On the passions Instructions
What happens in sleep
Signs of apatheia
Practical considerations
Sayings of the monks

These eight thoughts of Evagrius are taken up by Cassian and through him they pass into the tradition. Later acedia, the monk's particular sin, and its fruit of sadness, are replaced by laziness (which also comes from acedia), vainglory is joined to pride and we have the list of the seven capital sins which every Christian must avoid.

Thus Evagrius fixed the number of major temptations a teaching given by the Desert Fathers. First there are those which concern what is exterior to us: the body. These are gluttony and lust; the first two on the list in text 7. Gluttony is the avoidance of the asceticism of fasting, the desire to have a meal earlier and to eat good things, as we know only too well today.

Then there are the temptations concerning good things which are outside ourselves: those we possess. The temptation of attachment to some possession is avarice. That of wanting something we have not got is sadness. There is a sadness which afflicts a monk called acedia, which we have already met. Evagrius gives a vivid description of it, showing that it is a mixture of all the temptations (Text 8). Another consequence of sadness is anger, a vice which the Desert Fathers often condemn. For them, as for Evagrius, it is an open door to passion, the great obstacle to prayer.

Finally there are the temptations concerning good things which we have of ourselves: being or existence. These are attachments to being someone of importance; temptations to vanity and pride which the Fathers thought were the hardest ones to get rid of.

This struggle against 'thoughts', temptations, must lead, according to Evagrius, to a state in which a person dominates his passions; it is called apatheia. The passions are natural to us in the present state of our bodies, they cannot be suppressed. However one can control them by practising apatheia or impassibility. Evagrius distinguishes two kinds of impassibility (Texts 9 & 10). Impassibility consists in not being disturbed by things outside ourselves, but even more in not being troubled by their remembrance.

At the end of praktike, charity blossoms. In text 3 we have a scheme which starts with faith and comes to fulfilment in charity; and Text 11 traces the journey of the monk in the opposite direction.


TEXT 3 : FAITH fear of God abstinence perseverance hope impassibility CHARITY

TEXT 11 : CHARITY impassibility practice observing commandments fear of God FAITH



In texts 3 to 5 Evagrius explains his understanding of the spiritual life. We will try to formulate it in the form of diagrams. In text 3 he speaks of the ascetic and the contemplative life. We have studied asceticism in the Praktike Treatise, also called: "The Monk".

When writing about contemplation, he called it the "gnostic life", which means a life in which one knows God. In text 4, he divides it into two parts: contemplation of nature (phusike) and contemplation of God which is theology (theologike). In text 5 he tells us that the beginning of the gnostic life is contemplation of nature and its goal is theology. So we can draw this diagram:

Gnostic life natural knowledge = phusike


Evagrius wrote two other books in his trilogy which deals with this gnostic life: the Gnostikos and the Kephalaia Gnostika, both very difficult works, and the second contains doctrinal theses which have been condemned as heretical. We will not use them, but we shall study his very beautiful Chapters on Prayer which has come down to us under the name of the monk Nilus, where we will find his teaching on contemplation.

In order to understand it better, we will put the preceeding scheme into greater detail:

Phusike Contemplation of nature (lower) bodies and their 'logoi' = 'purposes', discovering in this way the great variety of wisdom the Creator has given them.

Contemplation of nature (higher) spiritual natures; sharing in angelic knowledge

Theologike A vision of the intellect from within Vision of the 'place of God' (ie. his presence)= 'light without form', enlightened understanding, light of the holy Trinity.


This diagram might seem very unattractive because of the complicated words that are used. We will decipher it, explaining that for Evagrius, contemplation was a combination of three stages. The first stage is the contemplation of created things perceived by our senses: 'bodies and their purposes'. The second stage is the contemplation of things not perceived by our senses: 'spiritual natures', that is angels or saints. The third stage is the contemplation of God, a unique and simple being. This contemplation comes without thought, by a simple regard or glance of the spirit.

This is the teaching found in Evagrius' book on Prayer. It has no strict plan. The author decided in advance to have 153 chapters, corresponding to the catch of 153 fish after the Resurrection.

However one can discern the line of his thought: from 1-62, there is a steady progression: he starts with praxis to arrive at the summit. But at 63, he goes down again to speak of other things, then at 113 he ascends to new heights. Then from 121- 149 one has the impression that Evagrius has no more to say, but he wants to get to 153 fish! Finally he finishes with a passage of great beauty and a splendid conclusion.

A ) Let us look at some texts from the first part (1-63) of this Treatise on Prayer where one can detect a definite progress.

a) The necessity of praxis.

From 1-27, Evagrius underlines the necessity of quietening the passions to approach God (Text 12). Humility is the foundation of prayer, so we have the theme of penthos (compunction),(Text 13); then recollection (Text 14). After having insisted, like the Desert Fathers, on the necessity of the absence of anger in order to be able to pray, Evagrius gives some definitions of prayer. (Texts 14-15).

Then (28-46), he traces the conditions of prayer: perseverance, disinterestedness, desire for renunciation (Text 17), purification of the memory (Text 18).

He warns us that the demons (47-50) will make war on one who prays.

b) To arrive at the heights.

Text 18 has shown that prayer is founded on love, and so tends to become continual, because when one loves someone, one loves all the time. Next come 3 chapters which are very important for the understanding of Evagrius' concept of prayer (Text 19).

1) Attain apatheia only simple thoughts
2) Leave aside simple thoughts objects and their 'logoi' remain
3) Leave aside objects understanding of intellible things remains
4) Leave aside intellible things reach the place of God

Then follow some very beautiful chapters (Texts 20-23).

B ) Second Part (64-120)

These chapters go over again necessity of praxis, as we have seen above, and finish with a series of Beatitudes. (Texts 24-29).

C ) Third Part (126-153)

After the heights, we go down again, and Evagrius tries to reach 153. Here are two beautiful texts (Texts 30-31).

The Chapters on Prayer end with a little gem in which Evagrius outlines the path of prayer (Text 32).




1 ) The emphasis of Evagrian monasticism.

A text from the Treatise: To Monks who live in the Cenobium sums up the spirituality of Evagrius well. (Text 33).

Through mortification in all aspects of life in the desert, the monk must strive not only to overcome his passions, but to dominate them to the extent that he even attains apatheia. Then he is set free from all that distracts and divides him. He attains a pure heart which brings him, first to the contemplation of God in his creatures, then to the spiritual contemplation of the invisible God Himself.

What is new in Evagrius' teaching, is not the idea of apatheia, but that of spiritual contemplation. Through his rather special vocabulary, he wants to say that God is beyond all image, beyond all human representation. This was before anyone used the term apophatic for this kind of theology.

This approach is not false, but it is affirmed in a somewhat nuanced or subtle way. The drama of this period is that side by side with the followers of Evagrius there were other monks who were not very learned and were not able to pray to a spiritual God; they were the anthropomorphists. On both sides there was a misunderstanding of the Incarnation. The one became bogged down in forms or representations which they tried to substitute for the reality they signified. The others thought of themselves a little like superior human beings, impassible or contemplative, whose inner attention was taken up into the divinity and who had no need of human mediation.

This misunderstanding brought about the first grave crisis in monastic spirituality, and, in a sense, this crisis was the prototype of all future crises; we find it again in the ninth century with the iconoclastic controversy.

2 ) The influence of Evagrius

Among the Greeks, his condemnation was an obstacle to the transmission of his writings. He has a notable place among the 'Neptic Fathers'. His influence is clear in Maximus the Confessor and St John Climacus. Among the Desert Fathers of Gaza, Barsanuph advised against reading him, but then allowed one of his novices to do so, provided that he chose only what was of profit to his soul. For Dorotheus the teaching of Evagrius was traditional, he knew it.

Among the Syrians he was held in great veneration; for them he is a great mystical teacher.

Among the Latins, Jerome was hostile towards him, reproaching him for his doctrine of apatheia which he poorly understood. John Cassian never mentioned his name, but borrowed a lot from him. Rufinus translated his writings. In the West he was not known as a monk but as a daring theologian.




Evagrius : The Praktikos - Chapters on Prayer. CSS 4. Translated & Introduction by John Eudes Bamberger ocso

Evagrius : Ad Monachos. The Mind's Long Journey to the Holy Trinity. Translated by Jeremy Driscoll osb. Collegeville Liturgical Press. 1994








1) What are the principal writings of Evagrius? Which are the two that are the most interesting for us?

2) What does Evagrius mean by "thoughts"? What sort of order does he give them in, and why?

3) What does he mean by impassibility?

4) What is the foundation of prayer for Evagrius?

5) Reproduce on the other side of this page the two schemes which Evagrius gives for the spiritual life: The first where he begins with faith and ends with charity; the second where he gives the different degrees of the spiritual life: from praktike (phusike) to theologike.

6) Give one text from those on prayer which you like and which you would find useful to put into practice. Explain why.






1. Arsenius 5

Abba Evagrius said to the blessed Arsenius: "How is it that we, with all our culture and our wisdom have nothing, while these uncultured Egyptians have acquired so many virtues?" Abba Arsenius told him: "We are not detached from our worldly culture, and these uncultured Egyptians have acquired virtue by their own labour".

2. Evagrius 7

One day in the Cells there was a meeting about something. Abba Evagrius spoke up. The priest said to him: Abba, we know that if you lived in your own country, you would no doubt be a bishop and a governor of many people. But here you are a stranger. Filled with compunction, he was not disturbed, but nodded his head and replied: Yes, that is true, Father. I have spoken once, but I will not speak again.

3. Letter to Anatolius

8 ...These are the realities which the habit symbolises. The Fathers repeat constantly the following words: faith, my sons, is strengthened by the fear of God, and continence strengthens this fear; through perseverance and hope continence becomes unshakeable, and from them is born freedom from passions (apatheia) which has charity (agape) for a daughter; charity is the door to natural knowledge, then theology succeeds it and finally comes beatitude.

We will say no more for the moment on the holy habit and the teaching of the ancients.

9. Now we shall explain the ascetic life and the contemplative life, not indeed all that we have seen and heard, but only that which we have learnt from them to pass on to others. We have summarised the ascetic teaching in a hundred chapters, and that on contemplation in fifty chapters and another six hundred. We have concealed certain things and alluded to others in an obscure manner so as "not to give what is holy to dogs or throw pearls to the pigs". But all will be clear for those who are following their footsteps.

4. Praktikos 1

Christianity is the teaching of Christ our Saviour. It is composed of praktike, phusike and theologike - asceticism, contemplation of the natural world and contemplation of God.

5. Praktikos 84

The goal of the ascetic life is charity; that of knowledge is theology. The beginning of the one is faith, and of the other is contemplation of nature.

6. Praktikos 48

The demons fight against people in the world chiefly through outward affairs; but with monks it is more often through their thoughts as there not many such outward affairs in solitude. It is easier to sin in thought than by deeds. Also the interior warfare is more difficult than that of outward affairs. For the understanding is something which it is difficult to keep from sliding into forbidden phantasies

7. Praktikos 6

There are eight thoughts which give birth to all the others. The first is gluttony, then comes lust, the third is avarice, the fourth sadness, the fifth anger, the sixth acedia, the seventh vainglory and the eighth pride. Whether these thoughts trouble the soul or not does not depend on us; but what does depend on us is whether they stay in the soul or not, whether they rouse our passions or not.

8. Praktikos 12

The demon of acedia which is also called the 'midday demon' is the worst of all. It attacks the monk at about the fourth hour and lays siege to the soul until the eighth hour.

First he makes it seem as though the sun hardly moves or has stopped, and the day goes on for fifty hours. Then he makes the monk fix his eyes continually on the window, to leave his cell, to watch the sun to see if it near the ninth hour, and to look about him to see if a brother is not coming. Then again he inspires in him disgust for the place where he is, for the life that he leads, for manual work. After that he puts into his head the idea that charity has disappeared from among the brethren, and there is no one to console him.

If it happens during this time that someone offends the monk, the demon uses this too to increase his distress. He prompts him to desire to live elsewhere, in a place where he can find what he needs more easily, follow a less arduous calling and one which brings greater success. He then suggests that it is not the place which pleases the Lord; according to the Bible God can be adored everywhere.

On top of all this, he recalls to the monk's memory his family and the life he led in the world. He puts into his head the idea that life lasts a long time and asceticism is very laborious. In short he does all he can to persuade the monk abandon his cell and run away from the struggle.

No other demon follows this one. If the soul triumphs a state of peace and inexpressible joy comes over him.

9. Praktikos 57

There are two peaceful states of the soul; one comes from natural causes, the other from the withdrawal of the demons. The first is accompanied by humility and compunction, tears, a deep longing for the divine and unbounded zest for work. In the second, vainglory and pride use the disappearance of the other demons to lead the monk to his downfall. The monk who observes the limits of the first state will quickly recognize the inroads of the demons.

10. Praktikos 67

The soul which possesses impassibility is not one which is not tested by any passion for things, but one which is undisturbed even by the memory of them.

11. Praktikos 81

Charity is the daughter of impassibility; impassibility is the flower of asceticism; asceticism consists in keeping the commandments; the guardian of the commandments is the fear of God which in turn comes from true faith; and faith is an interior good which exists naturally even among those who do not yet believe in God.

12.Prayer 4.

If Moses, when he tried to approach the burning bush, was prevented until he had removed his sandals, should you not free yourself from every passionate thought if you wish to see Him who is above every thought and feeling.

13. Prayer 5

Pray first to receive the gift of tears to soften the hardness of your soul with compunction, and by confessing your sin to him, obtain the pardon of the Lord.

14. Prayer 11.

Strive to make your understanding deaf and dumb at the time of prayer, and you will be able to pray.

15. Prayer 15.

Prayer is the fruit of joy and thanksgiving.

16. Prayer 36

If you long to pray, renounce all to receive All.

17. Prayer 46

The demon is terribly envious of the man who prays, and he tries every means to make him fail. He does not cease to rouse thoughts of objects in the memory and to reawaken all the passions by means of the flesh; in order to prevent such a beautiful way and his journey towards God.

18. Prayer 54

The one who loves God speaks with him as with his Father, turning away from every passionate thought.

19. Prayer 55-57

55. It is not because one has attained apatheia that one truly prays; for one can have simple thoughts and yet be so distracted meditating on them that one is far from God.

56. Even if the mind does not tarry in simple thoughts, it has not, because of this, already attained the place of prayer; for it may be contemplating objects and considering their nature which, though they may be simple concepts, nevertheless, being considerations of objects, they imprint an image on the mind and draw it away from God.

57. Even if the understanding rises above the contemplation of the created world, it still cannot see the place of God perfectly; for it may be caught up in the knowledge of intelligible things and share their multiplicity.

20. Prayer 59

The one who prays in spirit and in truth no longer draws the praise he gives the Creator from creatures, but he praises God because of God.

21. Prayer 60

If you are a theologian you will truly pray, and if you truly pray, you are a theologian.

22. Prayer 61

When your understanding, in ardent love for God, withdraws little by little, so to say, from the flesh and rejects all the thoughts which come from the senses or memory or temperament and is filled at the same time with reverence and joy, then you can consider yourself near the borders of prayer.


23. Prayer 62

The Holy Spirit having compassion on our weakness, comes to visit us even when we are not yet purified. If he finds our mind praying with the desire for true prayer, he comes down upon it and dispels the whole host of reasonings and thoughts which beset it and carries it into spiritual prayer.

24. Prayer 118.

Blessed is the mind which, praying without distraction, goes on growing in love for God.

25. Prayer 121.

Blessed is the monk who thinks of himself as the rubbish of all men.

26. Prayer 122

Blessed is the monk who considers the salvation and the progress of all as important as his own, and rejoices in it.

27. Prayer 123

Blessed is the monk who sees all people as God, after God.

28. Prayer 124

Blessed is the one who is separated from all and united with all.

29. Prayer 125

A monk is one who considers himself one with all, because he always sees himself in each one.

30. Prayer 151

The preeminence of prayer does not consist simply in quantity, but in quality. This is proved by the two men who entered the temple, and also by the words: "When you pray, do not go on repeating yourself...".

31. Prayer 153

When in your prayer you go beyond all other joy, then only will you have found prayer.

32. Prayer - Conclusion

This then is the way of prayer; it begins with tears and repentance. It continues with the practice of all the virtues, by renouncing everything, and above all oneself, by gentleness and fraternal charity, through progressives purifications of soul and mind, in complete abandonment to the will of God who is always engaged in leading us towards the goal in spite of diabolical persecutions, so that we may win through by patience, while avoiding illusion by the practice of humility, to the peace and the marvellous repose of the contemplation of God.

It is setting forth on a journey with God.

Arriving at the goal of the "completely desirable', the contemplative finds in God, through knowledge (gnosis), in an pre-eminent and spiritual manner, that which he has left behind for the sake of knowledge; he is separated from all and united to all; impassible and yet with supreme sensitivity; deified and yet he thinks of himself as the rubbish of all the world. Above all he is happy, divinely happy.

33. To Monks

The flesh of Christ is the virtues, and he who eats it will become free from passions. The blood of Christ is the contemplation of beings, and he who drinks it will be illumined by him. The breast of Christ is understanding of the vision of God, and he who rest there will be a theologian._







Here is meant a meeting (sunedrion) of those monks who are concerned with the conduct of the community and who take counsel together. The text illustrates the authority which is invested in the priest (probably Macarius in this instance), among these monks who remain laymen all their lives. However they do not seek the priesthood; they resist it strongly out of humility. We know of some who mutilated themselves in order to escape being made priests. There is the story of Abba Isaiah who, seeing that some wanted to ordain him, fled and hid in a field of lucerne. When evening came, his pursuers stopped on the edge of the field, letting their donkey loose to graze the lucerne and so Isaiah was discovered!

3 & 4

The second part of text 3 gives us Evagrius' trilogy and the two teachings of which it is composed: the ascetic or active life from praxis or action, and the 'gnostic' life which means knowledge (of God).

He then goes on to say that the ascetic teaching is found in the first book of the trilogy: the Praktikos, composed of one hundred chapters; and the 'gnostic' teaching in the two other books: the Gnosticos, a half-century of 50 chapters, and the Kephalaia Gnostika, six centuries or six hundred chapters.

Going on to text 4, we find praktike, active or ascetic; and two other words we have not yet met: phusike - physical, and theologike - theological. Both these are components of the 'gnostic' life.

Going back to the first paragraph of text 3 we find a term we know: 'theology' set beside another we do not yet know: 'natural knowledge', nature in Greek is called phusis. It is thus the same thing as 'physical'. The scheme which he has just given is his description of the active life; it proceeds from faith to charity. We find this same scheme, but in the opposite order, in text 11. In these two schemes, charity is presented as the goal of the 'active' or ascetic life; it is closely linked to apatheia.

The great divisions of the spiritual life according to Evagrius are thus set out. They can be seen in the two schemes on page 68.



We find them again in this short chapter, with their beginning and their goal, we have:
? aceticism ? charity.
contemplation of nature (or physical things)
6 knowledge (or gnosis) 6 theology.
These three stages of the spiritual life are not an invention of Evagrius, they were known before him. Among the Greeks, the pair practikos-gnosticos comes from Plato. The first term means practical knowledge, the second intellectual knowledge. Aristotle has the pair praktikos-theoricos and not gnosticos, with a wider meaning; the first has action for its goal, the second refers to truth.

With Philo we come to a moral and religious sense. He presents the life of theoretikos, referring to the vision of God, which in old age succeeds the life of praktikos = asceticism. Later the Christian authors used the term praktikos for the active life: (Martha), and theoretikos for the contemplative life (Mary).


The distinction 'seculars'-'monks' can be applied to cenobites and anchorites. To tempt cenobites the demons make use of exterior objects, the brethren, thoughts. The end of the paragraph puts one on guard against the imagination; the mind is naturally led to wander when it is attracted by exterior objects.


The word 'thoughts' is used here in a perjorative sense; these are the evil thoughts against which a monk must struggle in order to reach apatheia, and then charity. Evagrius goes on to speak of the principle temptations, those which give rise to all the others.

In the course we mention the order of 'thoughts'. Evagrius alludes to the story of the temptations of Jesus in Luke, 4. The first: "That these stones become bread" concerns eating, gluttony (which is not what we mean by the term, but rather avoiding the asceticism of fasting by advancing the hour of the meal); the second: "I will give you the kingdoms" refers to avarice; the third: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down" to vainglory. Evagrius explains elsewhere that the demons which correspond to them are the frontline soldiers behind which all the rest march.

Gluttony for him comes at the beginning, vainglory and pride at the end of the passions. He is referring to an order which is for the most part conventional; the passions are enumerated in the order of spiritual progress; the first endanger beginners, the last the monk who is on the way.

The last sentence is pointed out in the course.


We have already noticed acedia when studying the apophthegmata: a-kedos = to break off the bond with God. This what the demon of acedia wants to make us do.

He says that it is 'arduous', burdensome, because it overwhelms the soul and the body, the text shows that both are affected. It comes at the hottest time of the day; called the 'midday demon' recalling Ps. 90.6 (Others say it is because it attacks the monk in the middle of his life). Here he means the middle of the day, from the fourth hour (10am) to the eighth (2pm), that is two hours before and after midday when the heat is greatest. In the East the heat is unbearable and burdensome to the point that all the strength of the soul and body flag.

Then follows details of his action; the meal was served at the ninth hour, or 3pm. So we see the monk watching the sun to see what time it is. In this, acedia is close to gluttony. Then he "looks about him to see if a brother is coming", because solitude grows wearisome.

"Disgust for manual work" is according to Cassian one of the principle marks of acedia. Here acedia is close to laziness. Then further on there is the desire for "a less arduous calling".

"God can be worshipped in every place", see John 4:21-24.

"No one to console him" is reminiscent of Lamentations 1,2 (& 9,16,17,21)

"He does all he can to persuade the monk to run away from the struggle". This is the theme of the spiritual combat, dear to all the Fathers.

"No other demon follows this one". According to other texts from Evagrius, it is because this temptation contains all the others; here we have noted gluttony, sadness, anger. Victory over acedia brings peace and joy.



The first peaceful state comes from the 'natural' seeds of virtue; 'natural' because put in us by God at the creation so that we may develop them. The Greek Fathers are optimistic; the intellect (mind or understanding) is naturally able to be open to God, because it is in the image of God. Passion, sin, is like a foreign body coming from outside, which manifests itself by trouble and darkness. The first state is good, it belongs to the monk who has attained apatheia. Notice the signs of this apatheia given here: penthos, the desire for God, the gift of self.

This first state is thus the only true one. The second is only a pretence of the demons ('the retreat of the demons') to arouse pride.

Elsewhere (83) Evagrius makes it clear that when the monk has attained apatheia, he has learnt discernment and can easily recognize the man uvres of the enemy; which is in agreement with the end of this chapter.


According to Evagrius, apatheia is the calm of a rational soul, coming from humility and chastity. One who is apathes is one who is not is not disturbed, and not someone who does not feel. Evagrius admits that some temptations are with us until death. "It is not possible that you love all the brothers equally, but you must live with them in apatheia, free from the remembrance of injuries and of hatred."

Jerome caricatures the apatheia of Evagrius, reproaching him with the wish to make a man into a stone or a God.


Here we find the inverse of the schema in text 3.(8). Charity is at the beginning.

"Faith is an interior good" which exists even among unbelievers, because they believe nevertheless in the existence of a God. Often they rebel against the idea of God which others give them. Those who have no idea of a God are very rare.


This text refers to the episode of the burning bush in Exodus. Sandals were made from the skin of a dead animal and so are a symbol of impurity; accordingly one must be free of all passion in order to pray.


Humility, penthos (tears), are the foundation of prayer. Tears make the heart gentle and obtain pardon.


Here he speaks rather of recollection: silencing intruding thoughts ('deaf'). By adding 'dumb', Evagrius refers to prayer without words and without thoughts, which he calls 'pure prayer'.


A monk who prays is always celebrating a festival!


The passions prevent us praying.


This beautiful little chapter says the same thing. The Greek term translated by 'speak' is the verb Omile, which means: 'to be in relationship with someone, to meet them'. Omilia which comes from it, has many meanings: 'meeting, assembly' - 'family relationship' - 'familiar conversation'- 'the lesson of a master'. All these meanings are a beautiful definition of prayer.: a conversation with our Father. If we are really small, and he is really our Father, he is everything to us, and we are attached to nothing but Him! That is why Evagrius makes the condition: "turning away from every passionate thought.


These three chapters which go together refer to the schemas on page 4 of the course. Apatheia, the summit of the ascetic life, is only the door to prayer. Afterwards one must pass through the "contemplation of objects" which is nature at the first stage: contemplation of lower nature; then the "knowledge of intelligible things" which is the contemplation of higher nature; to attain finally Theologike, which is to "see the place of God perfectly".

"Their multiplicity": the God of Evagrius is the God of Plato: He is One.

This "place of prayer", "place of God" is therefore the contemplation of God who dwells in the soul. It is the luminous vision of the glory of God in the one who is purified of all passion. It is the highest form of the knowledge of God in this life, and it will come to perfection when we see him face to face, when God will be "all in all".


Behind this text we find Evagrius' idea of prayer. He says elsewhere that there are two sorts of prayer. The one where one makes use of the beauty of creatures to praise the Creator (contemplation of lower nature). The other where one's heart is silent (Theology) because the Holy Spirit comes to pray in us, praising God within us. This prayer is much the better.



Does this chapter shows a certain misunderstanding on the part of Evagrius about the body and its role in prayer? It would be better to say that contemplation assimilates us to that which we contemplate, for the nous (mind) becomes that which it knows; flesh when it allows itself to be absorbed by the passions; and God when it contemplates him. It is in any case the description of a very high state of prayer.


This action of the Holy Spirit in us happens even before we have arrived at perfect prayer; for the Holy Spirit is full of goodness towards us and knows that we are weak, so he comes to help us to pray. It is he who gives recollection to the soul.


God is infinite but man is finite. One can always grow in love. Love grows unceasingly, because its boundaries are always beyond the horizon.

Antony and other Fathers of the desert said at the moment of death: "I have not yet begun!".


Blessed because after having vanquished the other vices, they will not be overcome by vainglory.


"Blessed", because he posses humility and fraternal charity.


What does this mean? Our joy will come from humility which will convince us that everyone else is better than ourselves; then we will be protected from vainglory.

It is close to chapter 71 of the Rule: "Obedience is so great a blessing that all the brethren should obey one another".


This is a celebrated phrase of Evagrius which is often met in one's reading. "Separated from all" means asceticism, renunciation. "United with all", because united to God who becomes our charity and unites us to everyone.

This takes up what we have seen in the Life of Antony: the further Antony went into the desert, the nearer he drew to men; he became the 'Father of monks' after having withdrawn into the fort; he became 'Father of men' at the end of his life after having withdrawn into the inner desert.

This was the experience of the old monks, as it should be ours; withdrawal from the world must bring us closer to this world which suffers so much, for God is love. The nearer one comes to God who is Love, the nearer one comes to other people. Later Dorotheus of Gaza will express it through the image of the wheel. The figure at the centre is God; the nearer the spokes come to the centre, the nearer they come to each other.


Prayer, coming close to the God of love, though sometimes difficult, can also fill us with joy. "Beyond all other joy", because God is infinite and can fulfil all our desires.


This beautiful conclusion summarises the thought of Evagrius on the spiritual life very well. At the beginning of union with God, a person must be aware of his destitution; this is penthos. Then comes asceticism, renunciation, purification; then Evagrius mentions the ambience in which the quest for God is made: abandonment - the hindrances of the devil - and the goal: the marvellous repose of contemplation.

The comes a very short definition: "a journey with God".

The conclusion, by a series of 3 oxymoron (from the Greek words oksus and moron which mean: 'sharp-blunt', or two words of opposite meaning), show that one finds in God in a higher degree that which one has left for God's sake.


In this text we find under the three images of the flesh of Christ, his blood and his breast, the divisions of the spiritual life: praktike, phusike and theologike.

Why is the flesh of Christ compared to the virtues? Perhaps it is a reminiscence of Origen for whom Christ is Virtue itself. His blood is the symbol of his love. The breast of Christ refers to John the 'Theologian'.





1) What are the principal writings of Evagrius? Which are the two that are the most interesting for us?

The Praktikos, The Gnosticos, The Kephalaia Gnostica which form a whole; and the treatise on Prayer. The Praktikos and the Treatise on Prayer are the most useful for us.

 2) What does Evagrius mean by "thoughts"? What sort of order does he give them in, and why?

 By thoughts, Evagrius means temptations. He puts them into a logical order: first the more exterior ones, those which concern the body: gluttony and lust. Then those which concern possessiveness: avarice, sadness and anger. Acedia has a special place, the particular vice of a monk which contains all the others. Finally come the temptations which concern being, the hardest to root out: vainglory and pride.

3) What does he mean by impassibility?

 He does not mean the suppression of the passions, which is impossible, but a state where one dominates them.

4) What is the foundation of prayer for Evagrius?

 The domination of the passions, humility (penthos).

 5) Reproduce on the other side of this page the two schemes which Evagrius gives for the spiritual life: The first where he begins with faith and ends with charity; the second where he gives the different degrees of the spiritual life: from praktike (phusike) to theologike .

 One is at the bottom of page 3 of the course, the other on page 4.

 6) Give one text from those on prayer which you like and which you would find useful to put into practice. Explain why.

APATHEIA: 'without passion', impassibility, interor simplicity, harmonious integration of the emotional life

ordered charity, purity of heart (Cassian). spiritual freedom, detachment, but not indifference.


'intelligence' in French, intellect or mind in Philokalia spirit in Bamburger.
The highest faculty in man, through which, when it is purified, heknows God. Not the same as reason which is deductive understanding. It understands divine truth by means of inner experience or intuition. It dwells in the depths of the soul, is the innermost aspect of the heart - the 'eye of the heart' and means of contemplation (Macarian Homilies)


is the spiritual centre of man's being as he is made in the image of God.
the deepest and truest self in which the mystery of the union between the divin and the human is consummated.


The intelligence, that is: how the intellect works. Closely connected with logos: the divine intellect. Signifies one who possesses spiritual knowledge.


practice of the virtues,asceticism to purify the soul of its passions or emotions
praxis= action


the knowledge of the intellect as distinct from that of reason, Knowledge inspired by God andso linked with contemplation.


Contemplation. the perception of the intellect through which one attains spiritual knowledge.


denotes far more than learning: active and conscious participation in the realities of the divine world; ie. a realization of spiritual knowledge experiential knowledge of God through the highest form of prayer.


watchfulness, vigilance, guarding of the heart,connected with apatheia and hesychia


inner tranquillity,silence of listening and opennes to God


Mind, the conceptual and logical faculty whichdraws conclusions from data given by senses or by spiritual knowledge.


passionate thoughts


contemplation of natural world




inner essences or principles of things


man is made in the image and likeness of God, therefore the form of God must in some way be in the image and likeness of man only larger.