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Introduction - Part 2a

That is the import of this excerpt from Passage A:

‘But neither the angels know,’ [Jesus] said—that is, neither the contemplation which is in them nor the reasons (logoi) of their ministries are the final object of desire.[1] For the knowledge (gnosis) of these things is gross in comparison with the ‘person to person’. The Father alone knows, he says, because he [i.e. the Father] is indeed the end and the final blessedness. For when we know God no longer in mirrors, neither by means of alien things, but we come forth to him as to ‘only’ and ‘one’, then we will see the final end. For they say that the Kingdom of Christ is all the knowledge (gnosis) that is implicated in material [objects] and that the Kingdom of the God and Father is the immaterial contemplation, and, as one might say, the contemplation of the very Divinity.[2]

Passage A ends as follows:

And I have thus approached the text in accordance with the second argument. If someone, then, might be able to speak in a better way or to correct our own [words], let him both speak and correct, and the Lord will repay [him] on our behalf. For no envy lodges with us; for we have commenced this examination of the texts for the sake of neither argumentativeness or vainglory but for the benefit of the brothers, in order that the earthenware vessels that have the treasure of God might not seem to be deceived by the stone-hearted and uncircumcised men, those armed with the foolish wisdom.[3]

Section 2 then continues without a break:

Again, by means of the wise Solomon in Proverbs he is created. For he says: ‘The Lord created me.’ And the beginning of the evangelical ways he is called, leading us towards the Kingdom of the Heavens—not a creation according to substance, but having become a way according to dispensation. For ‘to have become’ and ‘to be created’ make known the same thing.[4]

This transition is a very abrupt return to the train of thought that ended with the beginning of Passage A. However if Passage A is elided, along with the sentence just before it, then the text reads much more naturally.

The sentence just before Passage A is this:

And further, in the Gospels [Jesus] numbers himself together with those who are ignorant, on account of the infirmity, as I said, of the many; however, in the Acts of the Apostles, as discoursing separately with the perfect, he says, excluding himself: ‘It is not yours to know times and seasons which the Father has set by his own authority.’[5]

We will discuss this sentence in a note to it in the translation.

After the elision, the text of the letter reads as follows:

For you, he is even ignorant of the hour and the day of the Judgement; and further, nothing escapes the notice of true Wisdom; all things came to be through it. Neither, then, has any man ever been ignorant of what he has done. But this he manages for the sake of your infirmity, so that neither might sinners fall into despondency at the shortness of the delay, there not remaining a time of repentance; nor again might those desert who for a long time are giving battle with the opposed power, on account of the length of time. He therefore manages both by means of the feigned ignorance; for the one, cutting short the time on account of the good struggle; for the other, storing up a season of repentance on account of the sins.[6]

8 [27] Again, by means of the wise Solomon in Proverbs he is created. For he says: ‘The Lord created me.’ And the beginning of the evangelical ways he is called, leading us towards the Kingdom of the Heavens—not a creation according to substance, but having become a way according to dispensation. For ‘to have become’ and ‘to be created’ make known the same thing.[7]

This is a much more natural flow of the text. The tone is consistent and the chain of scriptural texts continues in a natural progression.

As one can see by comparing this constructed passage with the material quoted above from Passage A, there is a great difference in tone, sophistication and content between the constructed passage and Passage A.

The constructed passage is a straightforward commentary on Scripture defending the divinity of the Word; Passage A, however, is a very sophisticated presentation of mature Evagrian doctrine. In the constructed passage Jesus’ ignorance is feigned, whereas in the second passage it is ontological. The constructed passage, moreover, has much in common with Theological Oration 4—although, as we have pointed out, there are important differences.

Given this difference in tone and content between the two passages, and given the unnatural transitions into Passage A and out of Passage A, we would like to treat Passage A as an interpolation into the original text of Section 2. That would give us at least two layers of text in Section 2: the original commentary on Scripture, and Passage A, the interpolated presentation of mature Evagrian doctrine.

We do not know how the text came to be in the state it is in. Did Evagrius in a revision in Constantinople do a poor job of stitching in Passage A? Did the letter enter into the manuscript tradition from Evagrius’ own copy of it in his archives in Egypt,[8] so that he might have edited it in later life, adding passages which summarized his mature mystical theology? Did someone else, perhaps from his circle, add the interpolation? To a letter by Evagrius? To a letter not by Evagrius? Is it really a letter by Evagrius?

We do not know. There is no reference to the letter in ancient authors giving fragments of it the way we have ancient fragments attesting to the content of the Kephalaia Gnostica. So while the letter entered into the Syriac manuscript tradition quite early under the name of Evagrius, we have no idea what happened before that—from the time of the composition of the letter to its entry into the Greek and Syriac manuscript traditions.

Moreover, and this is very important, we have no written record that St Gregory the Great ever read the letter; and if he did, in what form; and, if so, what he thought of it. It is strictly inferential: one, that he read the letter; two, that he read the letter in the form that it entered into the Greek and Syriac manuscript traditions; and, three, that he approved of it in the form that we now have it. We simply do not know.

Moreover, the commonality between the letter’s commentary on Scripture and the Theological Orations cannot even be a proof that the commentary was composed before Evagrius left Constantinople. While we believe that Evagrius would have heard the Theological Orations in person, it might also be true that he took a copy of them with him to Egypt, or else obtained a copy there, so that he might have been able to refresh his memory by referring to a copy of the Orations while working on the text of his own letter in Egypt.

In general, we can hypothesize three different layers to the letter, with distinct differences in tone:

Layer 1 is Section 1, a brief apologia for someone’s absence to study with Gregory.

Layer 2 comprises those parts of Section 2 that are a straightforward commentary on a chain of Scripture passages along the lines of the Nicene School, with similarities to and differences from the Theological Orations of St Gregory the Theologian.

Layer 3 comprises a series of interpolations into Section 2 that present mature Evagrian doctrine, including additional, more Evagrian, interpretations of the Scripture passages that form the backbone of Layer 2. Layer 3 would include, as a major part, Passage A above. Layer 3 would also include the conclusion to the letter at the end of Section 2. In some cases, Layer 3 addresses in a more Evagrian way issues that are addressed in Layer 2 and that are addressed in St Gregory’s Theological Orations.

In general, the reader can spot passages in the letter which belong to Layer 3 in two ways: First, passages which begin with a phrase, clause or sentence that indicate that the author is adding another or higher interpretation should be examined for the possibility that they are providing a second, more Evagrian interpretation of the scriptural passage under consideration.

Second, passages, even without such introductory phrases, which are written in a more dense, Evagrian style and which introduce ideas associated with Evagrius’ mature thought. In this category would fit the rather long conclusion of the letter.

When we discuss the content of the letter in comparing it to the Theological Orations, we will see how the Orations provide a criterion that allows us to separate Layer 1, Layer 2 and Layer 3.

Let us return to Passage A. To our ear it sounds like Evagrius wrote it, but with several reservations: First, the author of the passage uses the Greek word epinoia repeatedly throughout Passage A, but with different meanings, so that for each instance of the word the reader or translator has to find the right sense in context. This is not like Evagrius: we do not recall him using the word epinoia in the works we have studied; moreover, he is far more careful of his diction: in a single passage he never uses the same word with different meanings, but always uses different words for different meanings, and with great precision.

The word epinoia is not to be found in the index to Greek words in the critical editions of Logos Praktikos,[9] Peri Logismon,[10] Gnostic[11] (saved Greek fragments) and Scholia on Ecclesiastes,[12] although the related verb epinoein is once used in Peri Logismon.[13] Epinoia is used once in Scholia on Proverbs[14] and at least six times in four passages in Scholia on Psalms. These two last works are considered to be late works of Evagrius.

We have not yet been able to obtain a copy of one of the passages in Scholia on Psalms,[15] but in all the other passages of works of Evagrius where it is known to be used, it is used a total of 11 times. In the comparatively short Passage A, epinoia is used four times.

Let us look more carefully at the use by Evagrius of epinoia.[16]

In his introduction to his critical edition of Scholia on Proverbs, M. Paul Géhin discusses Evagrius’ use of epinoia.[17] Basically, M. Géhin states that the epinoiai (pl. of epinoia) are the titles of the Christ in the various aspects of the economy (dispensation) of salvation. In this, says M. Géhin, Evagrius is closely following Origen, who introduced this sense of the term, especially collecting the various such titles of Christ in the beginning of his commentaries on the Gospel of John. However, it should be noted that M. Gallay remarks that there was a very old tradition in the Church of collections of the names or titles of Christ.[18] Hence, without diminishing the role of Origen in the present case, it is not merely a matter of his personal approach.

A good example of this approach can, we think, be found in the Kephalaia Gnostica:

VI, 20 Before the Movement, God [sc. the Father] was good, powerful, wise, Creator of incorporeals, Father of the logikoi, and omnipotent; after the Movement, he became Creator of bodies, Judge, Governor, Doctor, Pastor, Merciful and Long-Suffering, and even Door, Way, Lamb, High Priest, along with the other names which are said by modes. And he is Father and Principle even before the genesis of incorporeals: Father of Christ and Principle of the Holy Spirit.[19]

Some remarks here: First, in this passage of the Kephalaia Gnostica, it is God the Father, and not the Christ, who is the subject of the epinoiai: after the Movement God the Father acts through the Christ, yes, but it is God the Father who is acting. Of course, in the Kephalaia Gnostica, before the Movement God the Father acts by himself in creating the rational beings.

Next, what comes through even in M. Géhin’s analysis[20] is that for Evagrius the epinoiai are modes of relationship of the Christ (or God the Father through the Christ) to the rational beings, or, in general, to the Creation. While we did not have this discussion in mind when we originally translated KG VI, 20, we think that that is the significance of the phrase we translated ‘which are said by modes’. In the Kephalaia Gnostica, the word which has come down to us in the English translation as ‘mode’ seems to denote a contingent relationship of God with his creature. Of course, we also see in KG VI, 20 a reference to God the Father as ‘Father of Christ and Principle of the Holy Spirit’ and we would not want to suggest on the basis of Evagrius’ use of ‘mode’ here that he is advocating a modalistic Trinitarian theology. We do not think that his Trinitarian theology is modalistic, whatever other problems it might or might not have. So, to summarize, here we see that the epinoiai are contingent modes of relationship of God the Father with his creature, in particular his rational creature, perhaps through the Christ.

Let us now look at all the actual instances of epinoia that we can find in the work of Evagrius. Let us first point out that we are still missing one of the scholia on Psalms, so we do not yet have a complete analysis. We hope to remedy this in the near future.

Let us first take ‘names’ in KG VI, 20 as a presumptive translation of the Greek epinoiai, although it might be thought that the underlying Greek would have been onoma (name). We have already discussed this passage above.

Let us now take scholium 210 on Proverb 20, 9a:

Christ is able notionally (kat’ epinoian) to be both father and mother: on the one hand, father of those who have a spirit of adoption; on the other hand mother of those who need milk and not solid food. For also the Christ who spoke in Paul became a father of the Ephesians, revealing to them mysteries of wisdom, but a mother of the Corinthians, giving them milk to drink.[21]

We can see two things here: First of all, the use of the bare noun epinoia has given way to an adverbial construction kat’ epinoian. Second, the meaning of epinoia in the passage continues to be a contingent relationship of the Christ[22] to the rational creature. Here, the Christ (acting through Paul) contingently becomes a father or mother depending on the spiritual condition of the Christian.

Let us now take scholium 13 on Psalm 138, 28:

Try me, O God, and know my heart, etc. If God is a consuming fire, manifestly he tries the souls of men by means of the notion (dia tes epinoias) of fire.[23]

Here it is a matter of a relationship of God to his rational creature.[24] Moreover, we now have an instrumental construction using epinoia: dia tes epinoias. This has largely the same sense as what we have already seen: a contingent relationship of God with his creature, but here as something by means of which God relates to his rational creature. The important thing here is that there is a sense in which the rational creature experiences God as fire: epinoia here has a sense similar to Evagrius’ use of noema (mental representation) in his discussions of contemplation.[25] In Evagrian contemplation, the noema is not merely a subjective concept, state or feeling that the contemplator experiences, but an ontological reality: the noema bears into the contemplator’s mind the spiritual knowledge (gnosis) granted by the contemplation. This spiritual knowledge (gnosis) borne into the mind by the noema has an objective character, albeit partial:[26] it is only the false spiritual knowledge conferred by the demons that is illusory and not objectively real. Hence, by analogy, we here see a contingent relationship of God with his rational creature where contingently but in an ultimately objective way the rational creature experiences God as fire. Moreover, given the construction that Evagrius uses, here he seems to be implying that God elects to have the rational creature experience him as fire. By God’s choice, the rational creature experiences God as fire in an objective sense, yes, but also in a subjective sense: the rational creature feels himself to be in the midst of fire, just as Shakespeare has Lear say:

You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave:
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound

Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears

Do scald like moulten lead.
[27]

From the Evagrian point of view, the experience of God as fire is much more than a metaphor for personal anguish: God presents himself to the rational soul by means of the objective, experiential concept of fire. This is a modal relation of God to his rational creature. In later terminology, this will come to be called the energy (energeia) of God that the rational creature will experience as fire.

It is much the same with the following: we can pray to be increased in the fear of God and God might hear our prayer, so much so that we begin to experience an unbearable fear and have to ask God to take away the experience because we cannot bear it. This is much more than mere suggestibility and gullibility: God has heard our prayer and ‘projected’ himself to us in such a way that we experience overwhelming fear. Evagrius, it seems, would have called this the epinoia of fear, or, more precisely, the epinoia of the fearfulness of God. Is not God called ‘Fear’ in the Old Testament? It is in this sense that Evagrius here uses epinoia.

Whatever Shakespeare himself might have thought about Lear’s experience of fire—whether he would view it as we would today, as something subjective and ‘psychological’; or whether he would view it as a modal way of God’s relating to Lear’s spirit—, from an Evagrian point of view these things are much more than mere metaphors for subjective psychological conditions: in the example of fear just given, God is presenting himself contingently to his rational creature in a personal relationship in such a way that his creature experiences an overwhelming fear.

In regard to the connection between epinoia and noema, it should be realized that the basic meaning of epinoia is ‘notion’ or ‘conception’.[28] Hence, clearly, epinoia is etymologically related to noema. That is why we have translated kat’ epinoian as ‘notionally’ and ‘dia tes epinoias’ as ‘by means of the notion’. Epinoia is a notion with both a subjective and an objective character. This is quite different from modern ontologies. Epinoia is an objective, experiential notion or conception that God uses contingently in relating to his creature—in the cases studied, his rational creature.

Let us now take scholium 4 on Psalm 135, 23:

For he has remembered us in our lowliness, etc. On the one hand, when the Lord remembers us at a time when we are impure, he remembers us according to the notion (kata ten epinoian) of righteousness; when, on the other hand, he remembers us when we are pure, he remembers us according to the notion (kata ten epinoian) of wisdom; except that this must be known, just that these notions (epinoiai) are categorized according to the contemplation of things which have come to be [i.e. natural contemplation], which presents the Christ as creator.[29]

We now see that the contingent relationship of God with the rational creature expressed not through personal titles of the Christ, or even through concrete nouns such as ‘fire’, but through abstract nouns such as ‘justice’ and ‘wisdom’. Moreover, Evagrius here gives us some indication how he understands these epinoiai: they are modes of relationship of God to the rational creature through the Christ according to the spiritual state of the rational creature. We see that the mode of relationship can vary from personal titles of Christ to abstract nouns. Evagrius is primarily saying that to the sinner God presents himself through the Christ as justice, but to the pure he presents himself through the Christ as wisdom. Evagrius goes on to integrate this understanding of epinoia into his doctrine of the stages of mystical ascent: both the epinoia of justice and the epinoia of wisdom correspond to Christ as creator, which is, it is clear from the Kephalaia Gnostica, the realm of natural contemplation although here Evagrius also includes praktiki.

We can see this same thing in the next passage, scholium 3 on Psalm 105, 5:

To be praised with your inheritance. He is praiseworthy who inherits the nature of God. ‘In the Lord will my soul be praised,’ that is to say, in justice and in wisdom and in knowledge (gnosis) and in spiritual love (agape): these things are named according to our conception (emon kat’ epinoian).[30]

Let us now turn to the text that we are considering, To the Caesareans…. Let us first take the one use of epinoia in the letter which is not in Passage A:

Again, through the wise Solomon in Proverbs he is created. For he says: ‘The Lord created me.’ And the beginning of evangelical ways he is named, those ways which lead us towards the Kingdom of the Heavens, not a creation according to substance but having become a way according to the economy [of salvation]. For the ‘to have become’ and ‘to have been created’ declare the same thing. For as he has become ‘way’ [he has] also [become] ‘door’ and ‘shepherd’ and ‘messenger (aggelos)’, and ‘sheep’, and again ‘High Priest’ and ‘Apostle’; other things according to the other notions (kat’ allen epinoian) of the names laid down.[31]

This brings us back to KG VI, 20 and to Origen. We have wanted to treat this passage of To the Caesareans… as a return to Layer 2 in the letter, as a return to a straightforward scriptural exegesis. But here we see that the author is using a concept that Evagrius uses in his maturity, a concept taken from Origen. The question then arises—did the author Evagrius learn this from St Gregory in Constantinople, or even from St Basil in Cappadocia? Or have we erred in assigning this passage to Layer 2? Or is there here an interpolation in the return to Layer 2?

One issue here, given that Evagrius’ initial exposure to Origen would have been through St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian, is whether he would have learned this Origenist concept of the epinoiai of Christ from them before he left Constantinople for Egypt, perhaps even in Cappadocia before he even came to Constantinople. Making a judgement about this would require research into the Philokalia, the anthology of Origen’s texts that Basil and Gregory compiled, together with a thorough familiarity with their Christological writings, so as to determine whether they themselves use the concept or anthologize it anywhere.

However, as a beginning, we can reflect on the use of epinoia in the Theological Orations.

We have found at least three instances of epinoia in the Theological Orations. Two instances are quite pedestrian uses of its basic meaning, ‘notion’ or ‘conception’. However, the third instance is quite useful:

8 He might be called ‘God’ not of the Word but of that which is seen. For how could he be ‘God’ of what is properly God? Just as also ‘Father’ is not of that which is seen, but of the Word. For he [sc. Jesus Christ] was also double, so that the one thing is said properly of both, the other improperly—the opposite of that which occurs with us. For God is properly our God, improperly [our] Father. And this is what produces the delusion of the heretics: the joining of the names (onomata), the names (onomata) being changed on account of the mixture. A sign, then: Whenever the natures stand apart in the conceptions (epinoiai), the names (onomata) are also divided. Listen while Paul speaks: ‘So that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory.’ The God of Christ but the Father of Glory. For if both together are one,[32] yet they are not so in nature but in their conjunction. What could be clearer?[33]

Epinoia does seem to make sense here as meaning ‘title’, although it would be just as reasonable to restrict the word’s meaning here to ‘conception’, as the French translator does and as we ourselves have rendered the word above. In this passage, St Gregory distinguishes epinoia from onoma (name). The onomata involved are ‘God’ and ‘Father’ and the epinoiai seem to be the titles in the quotation from St Paul which contain these onomata.

As we have concluded, St Gregory spoke the Orations a year after To the Caesareans… would have been written. Even if we are wrong, the dates of composition would be close. It seems clear to us that Evagrius and St Gregory might very well have used the word epinoia in their discussions and that they each use the term in much the same way. So we can conclude that there is nothing extraordinary about Evagrius’ use of the term here.

Before we continue, let us point out that in the series of titles of Christ that St Gregory discusses in Theological Oration 4, some of the titles are given in the same order as they are given in this passage of To the Caesareans…, but a number of St Gregory’s titles are missing from this passage.

It is clear that the basic structure of Layer 1 has much in common with the basic structure of the treatment of the same issues by St Gregory. It is not clear to us, however, whether this is a matter of Evagrius’ reflection on the Theological Orations, or of there having been a specific Arian text available that both were following—perhaps in their discussions.



[1] These are the two stages of first natural contemplation, the contemplation of the angels and the contemplation of their reasons. See below. In the Kephalaia Gnostica, the Kingdom of Christ spans all of natural contemplation, both first and second, whereas the Kingdom of God is the unitive contemplation of the Holy Trinity.

[2] ¶7 [22].

[3] ¶7 [26].

[4] ¶8 [27].

[5] ¶6 [20].

[6] ¶6 [19].

[7] ¶8 [27].

[8] It does seem that when he left Constantinople, he took everything with him. See Palladius Lausiac History Chapter 86: Migne 34 col. 1193 C.

[9] SC 171 p. 752.

[10] SC 438 p. 330.

[11] SC 356 p. 198.

[12] SC 397 p. 191.

[13] Loc. cit. In the sense of ‘invent’.

[14] SC 340 p. 508.

[15] Since there is no critical edition, this is a matter of tracking passages to various published works.

[16] We are indebted to Dr Andrew Faulkner of Austin, Texas for his assistance in analyzing the meaning of epinoia.

[17] SC 340 p. 51 – 52.

[18] SC 250 p. 212 – 13, fn. 1.

[19] Our translation from the French of Guillaumont. See Constantine KG VIa.

[20] Loc. cit.

[21] SC 340 p. 306. Δύναται ατς Χριστς κατπίνοιαν κα πατρ ιναι κα μήτηρ· πατρ μν τν πνεμα χόντων υοθεθεσίας, μήτηρ δ τν δεομένων γάλακτος κα ο στερες τροφς. Κα γρ ν Παύλ λαλν Χριστς πατρ μν τών φεσίων γίνετο, σοφίας ατος ποκαλύπτων μυστήρια, μήτηρ δ Κορινθίων, γάλα ποτίζων ατούς.

[22] And, implicitly, God the Father acting through the Christ.

[23] Migne 12 Col. 1664 A. ‘Origen’ Selecta in Psalmos Psalm 138, verse 28. Δοκίμασόν με, Θεός, κα γνθι τν καρδίαν μου, κ. τ. . Ε Θεός πρ καταναλίσκον στ, δι τς πίνοιας δηλονότι το πυρς δοκιμάζει τς ψυχς τν ανθρώπων.

[24] Not necessarily the sinner as M. Géhin seems to imply in his discussion: even the just man is tried by fire.

[25] See On the Thoughts.

[26] Consider Gnostic 40: Take care to the fact that, for each created thing, there is not just one reason, but a great number, and according to the measure of each person. The holy powers alone attain to the true reasons of objects, but not the first, that which is known only by the Christ.

[27] Shakespeare, King Lear, Act IV, Scene VII.

[28] See Liddell-Scott.

[29] Migne 12 ‘Origen’ Selecta in Psalmos Col. 1657A-B. Psalm 135, verse 23: τι ν τ ταπεινώσει μν μνήσθη μν, κ. τ. . ταν μν ς καθάρτων μν μνημονεύει μν Κύριος κατά την πίνοιαν τς δικαιοσύνης μν μνημονεύει· ταν δ πάλιν ς καθαρν, κατ τν πίνοιαν τς σοφίας· πλν, τοτο στέον, τιπερ αται α πίνοιαι κατ τς τν γεγονότων θεωρίας κατηγορονται, τις ς δημουργν παρίστησι τν Χριστόν.

[30] Pitra Analecta Sacra 3, scholium 9 on Psalm 105. Note that Géhin has evidently emended Pitra’s kat’ epainon to kat’ epinoian.

[31] Col. 260C (¶ 8, l. 4). Πάλιν δι το σοφο Σολομντος έν Παροιμίαις κτισται. Κύριος γρ φησν κτισέ με. Κα ρχ δν εαγγελικν νομάζεται, γουσν μς πρς τν βασιλείαν τν ορανν, ο κατοσίαν κτίσις λλ κατ τν οκονομίαν δός γεγονώς. Τ γρ γεγονέναι κα τ κτίσθαι, ταυτόν δηλο. ς γρ δός γέγονε κα θύρα κα ποιμήν κα γγελος, κα πρόβατον, κα πάλιν ρχιερες κα πόστολος· λλων κατλλην πίνοιαν τν νομάτων κειμένων.

[32] I.e. the divinity and humanity of Christ.

[33] SC 250 Oration 30 (= Theological Oration 4), 8 pp. 240 – 42.

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