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Introduction - Part 2b

Let us now look at the usages of epinoia in Passage A, the remaining 4 usages.

The holy disciples of our Saviour, coming beyond contemplation as it is possible to men, and having been purified by the word, seek the end, and desire to know the final blessedness, of which very thing our Lord declared both the angels and himself to be ignorant. On the one hand, he called ‘day’ the exact apprehension of the conceptions (epinoiai) of God; on the other hand, ‘hour’ the contemplation of the Monad and Unity, the notification of which things he granted only to the Father.[1]

Here we see a completely different use of epinoiai. Here epinoiai seems to have the sense of the reasons or essences (logoi) which God has implanted in Creation as the essences of created objects. We have come to this conclusion about the meaning of epinoiai in this passage on account of the analogy between the exact apprehension of the epinoiai of God, and natural contemplation, which is defined by Evagrius precisely as the contemplation of the reasons or essences (logoi) of created things, just as Passage A itself develops a little further on. This analogy is so strong that we wonder if there is perhaps not a copyist’s error here. To suggest that what the author means here is that the preliminary stage of contemplation is the exact apprehension of the conceptions of God in his contingent relationships with his creatures both rational and otherwise is to advance an interpretation that is not otherwise to be found in the works of Evagrius that we are aware of. Neither is it to be found in the Theological Orations.

Let us take the next use:

If, therefore, whatever God is, is said to be known by God of himself and that which he is not, not to be known—then our Lord, according to the notion (kata ten … epinoian) of the Incarnation and the grosser teaching, is not the final object of desire; and therefore our Saviour did not know the end and the final blessedness.[2]

Here, it is clear that we cannot impose on epinoia the model of the ‘title’ of Christ or God; or the mode of relationship of God with his rational creature perhaps through Christ or through a concrete or abstract concept. Here, the proper interpretation of epinoia is the basic meaning given in Liddell-Scott: ‘notion’. What the author here seems to mean is that ‘from the point of view’ of the ‘Incarnation and the grosser teaching’, our Lord—i.e. the Christ as understood by the author—is not the final object of desire. Before we continue, let us introduce the corresponding passage, a little further on in Passage A:

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. [23] Our Lord, however, is himself the end and final blessedness according to the notion (kata ten epinoian) of the Word.[3]

First of all, here we see the analogous passage which led us to interpret the ‘the exact apprehension of the conceptions (epinoiai) of God’ as natural contemplation: this is ‘all the knowledge (gnosis) implicated in material objects’, the Kingdom of Christ.

To continue with the matter at hand, we see that just as the author has earlier written ‘according to the notion of the Incarnation and the grosser teaching’, here he has written ‘according to the notion of the Word’. What he seems to be saying is this: When the Christ is considered from the point of view of the Incarnation and the ‘grosser teaching’, then he is not the final object of desire. When, however, the Christ is considered from the point of view of the Word, then he is the final object of desire.

Let us take the next passage:

it understands the operations (energeies) of the Creator, and in the beginning it understands these from the results (apotelesmata), so that, thus having increased little by little, it might have the strength at some time to advance even to the naked Divinity itself. [24] I think that the following has been said according to this conception (kata tauten … ten epinoian): ‘My Father is greater than I’, and ‘It is not mine to give but to those for whom it is prepared by the Father.’[4]

The author is here saying something like this: ‘The Kingdom of Christ is natural contemplation. The Kingdom of God is the contemplation of God. In the sense that natural contemplation is less than the contemplation of God, the Christ says: “My Father is greater than I.”’

It is clear that the author is here using epinoia in its classical sense of ‘notion’.

We can see that in Passage A, the author does not use epinoia in the sense that we started with, the sense taken from Origen: the titles of Christ in the economy of salvation. Although he does use epinoia to refer to the Christ as seen from the point of view of the Incarnation and the grosser teaching, and from the point of view of the Word, there is a subtle difference in the use of epinoia. Moreover, the author of Passage A does not use the word in any of Evagrius’ other late senses, of the modes of relation of God to his creature. But immediately after Passage A, the author does use the word in a clearly Origenist sense used by the late Evagrius.

What are we to make of this—given that five of the approximately 12 uses of the word epinoia in the works ascribed to Evagrius are to be found in To the Caesareans…?

The first remark is that M. Géhin’s analysis of the Evagrian meaning of epinoia is incomplete.

Next, epinoia is used five times in To the Caesareans…. By contrast, St Gregory uses the word three times in the much longer Theological Orations.

Next, epinoia is not used again in Evagrius until two very late works, his Scholia on Proverbs and Scholia on Psalms. This gives a very unusual distribution of the word in his works, even with some allowance being given for those works for which we do not have all of the original Greek.

To continue with this philological analysis of Passage A, the author of passage A emphasizes the recognition of God in second natural contemplation through God’s ‘operations (energeies)’ and ‘results (apotelesmata)’ in Creation.[5] In the other works of Evagrius that we have studied, Evagrius does not discuss the role in second natural contemplation of the ‘operations (energeies)’ and ‘results (apotelesmata)’ of God in Creation. In the indices to Greek words in the critical editions that we referenced above for epinoia, this is confirmed: these words are not used. If they are used they are used in a completely ordinary way. Unfortunately, we do not have a critical edition of Evagrius’ Scholia on Psalms, and since those who have been working on the critical edition have not written anything that we are aware of on the use of the words ‘operations (energeies)’ and ‘results (apotelesmata)’ in the Scholia on Psalms, our analysis is necessarily incomplete.

St Gregory the Theologian does not use this language in the Theological Orations, although it might be argued that he does use related concepts.

When discussing second natural contemplation in his other works Evagrius discusses the ‘reasons (logoi)’ of created objects. These reasons (logoi) are the essences of created objects embedded in the material created object and accessible to the mystic through the mystic’s contemplation of the material object itself in second natural contemplation. As we have pointed out elsewhere, this is not a discursive meditation on the ‘meaning’ of the object, but a direct encounter by the intuitive spiritual eye of the mind (nous) with the reason or essence (logos) embedded in the object—to the extent that this is possible to a created mind (nous) and to the degree of the spiritual purity of the contemplator.[6]

The concepts of ‘results (apotelesmata)’ and ‘reasons (logoi)’ are clearly related, but if we identify them here, then the author appears to be distinguishing ‘results (apotelesmata)’ or ‘reasons (logoi)’ from ‘operations (energeies)’. Of course it may be that we are to identify ‘operations (energeies)’ with ‘reasons (logoi)’ and to distinguish them from ‘results (apotelesmata)’. But in that case, the author would be distinguishing between ‘reasons (logoi)’ and ‘results (apotelesmata)’, unless we were to assume that he was engaging in pleonasm.

The obvious remark to be made is that a case can be made that the author of passage A is not Evagrius: he is not using words as the late Evagrius used them. There is an inconsistency in the diction of To the Caesareans…. There is clearly a difference in Passage A from the way that Evagrius normally writes.

Finally, more generally, the passages that constitute Layer 3 of the letter are somewhat imprecise as concerns the stages of Evagrian contemplation. For example, in the conclusion of the letter we see this:

and by means of the bee hints at natural contemplation, in which also is mixed the reason (logos) concerning the Holy Trinity, if indeed from the beauty of creatures the Generator is proportionately seen. (¶12 [37].)

In Evagrius’ other writings, there is no concept of the intermixture of the ‘reason concerning the Holy Trinity (o peri tes hagias triados logos)’ with the material creation. St Gregory also does not use this language in the Theological Orations. The ‘reason concerning the Holy Trinity’, if there is such a concept in Evagrius, refers to the mystic’s experience of union with God. On this, see, for example, Peri Logismon 41, where the experience of union is spoken of as the ‘mental representation (noema) of God’.[7]

As concerns the expression ‘from the beauty of creatures the Generator is proportionately seen’, a quotation from Wisdom,[8] there is no use of this concept in other works of Evagrius that we are aware of. St Gregory does use a similar expression in the Theological Orations, although not so highly developed.

The one reference in the Kephalaia Gnostica to God the Father as Generator is this:

VI, 28 The Father is the generator of essential gnosis.

But ‘essential gnosis’ is the mystic’s intuitive apprehension or sight of the Holy Trinity without discursive reason. Moreover, in the Kephalaia Gnostica it is the Christ who is the creator of the material world, not the Father. That is, second natural contemplation, in which we contemplate the essences (logoi) of material objects, is the province of the Christ. Even To the Caesareansclearly teaches this. Moreover, that is the sense of scholium 4 on Psalm 135, 23, which we quoted earlier.

A little earlier in the conclusion to To the Caesareans, the author has just spoken this way:

And concerning the Trinity Holy and Worthy of Worship, for the present let so much be said to us. For it is not now possible to examine more extensively the reason (logos) concerning it. (12 [36].)

Here, the ‘reason concerning the Holy Trinity’ really has the nature of a discursive argument or discursive contemplation. But this usage is just a little different than the one we have just been discussing, which usage occurs just a little further on in the text of the letter. This imprecision of diction is again not typical of Evagrius.

There are at least two passages in the Kephalaia Gnostica which seem to warrant this use of ‘the reason concerning the Holy Trinity’:

I, 10 Among the demons, some are opposed to the practice of the commandments, others are opposed to the mental representations of nature, and others are opposed to the logoi which concern the Divinity, because the gnosis of our salvation also is composed of these things.[9]

IV, 40 The ‘key of the Kingdom of the Heavens’ [Matt. 16, 19] is the spiritual gift which partially reveals the mental representations of praktiki and of nature, and those of the logoi which concern God.[10]

However, in other parts of the Evagrian corpus, including the Kephalaia Gnostica, we see that the logoi which concern the divinity’ that constitute a part of the gnosis that is our salvation are not discursive in nature. While an interpretation of the ‘logoi which concern the divinity’ or ‘God’ as sound Trinitarian doctrine seems plausible, that is not the nature of Evagrian mysticism: the gnosis of the Trinity that Evagrius foresees in the Kephalaia Gnostica is direct intuitive intellectual union with the Trinity:

I, 19 The gnosis which is in the four is the gnosis of the mental representations of creatures, and the gnosis of the One is the gnosis of him who alone is.[11]

The problematical part of the logoi which concern the divinity’ is here:

V, 55 The Holy Trinity is not a thing which might be mixed with the contemplation; that, indeed, does not occur except with created beings. The former will also be named, in a holy way, essential gnosis.

This passage depends on the notion in Evagrius that the knowledge (gnosis) of the Holy Trinity is not like the knowledge (gnosis) of a created object. Hence, it is impossible to know the Holy Trinity in the same way that a creature is known.[12]

However, even more importantly, there seems to be some confusion in the author’s mind here about the nature of the presence of the Holy Trinity in Creation. The author has begun by referring to the ‘reason concerning the Holy Trinity’ in a discursive sense and very soon proceeded to discuss how the reason (logos) concerning the Holy Trinity is mixed into natural contemplation, if indeed from the beauty of creatures the Generator is proportionately seen. Moreover, he emphasizes the ‘beauty’ of creatures, whereas Evagrius emphasizes as a part of second natural contemplation the reason or essence (logos) of creatures.

There is a doctrine in the Kephalaia Gnostica of the presence of God in Creation the way that an artist is present in his work of art. Evagrius is explicit that this does not entail the actual presence of God in Creation, and, as far as we know, he never describes that presence of God in Creation as the ‘reason (logos) concerning the Holy Trinity’. Moreover, he never states in the Kephalaia Gnostica—or anywhere else that we are aware of—that the presence of God in his creation the way an artist is present in his work of art allows the contemplator to perceive the reason (logos) concerning the Holy Trinity in natural contemplation—or even God proportionately.

The difference seems to be this: On the one hand, the late Evagrius wants us to engage in second natural contemplation because the spiritual knowledge (gnosis) that we receive from it nourishes our soul and purifies our mind (nous). On the other hand, he is adamant that we do not know God himself in second natural contemplation. At most, it would appear, in second natural contemplation we know God the way we know an artist by viewing a sculpture that the artist has done. And moreover, in his later thought at least, Evagrius is clear that once we have progressed beyond second natural contemplation, especially to the stage of union with God, then second natural contemplation is seen to be nothing. This doctrine seems far from the notion that in natural contemplation we perceive the reason (logos) concerning the Holy Trinity or the Generator proportionately:

II, 21 All that has been produced proclaims ‘the most various wisdom of God’ [Eph. 3, 10], but there is nothing among all the beings which teaches us concerning his nature.

Or again:

VI, 82 It is said that God is in the corporeal nature as the architect is in the things which have been made by him, and it is said that, like the architect, God is as in the statue, if he should happen to make for himself a statue of wood.

Evagrius teaches in the Kephalaia Gnostica that God is ‘essential gnosis’. That would seem to preclude the notion that the ‘reason concerning the Holy Trinity’ is something that might be cognized by the mystic about God, or even that it could be an argument concerning the nature of the Holy Trinity that might be formulated by him.

Consider for example:

V, 51 It is not that which is his nature that he knows who sees the Creator after the harmony of beings, but he knows his wisdom, that with which he has made everything; and I wish to say not the essential wisdom [= essential gnosis, the godhead], but that which appears in the beings, that which those who are experts in these things are wont to call natural contemplation. And if that is so, what folly is it that those have who say that they know the nature of God![13]

This wisdom in the harmony of beings is the reason (logos) of each created being that the mystic contemplates in natural contemplation.

Layer 3 thus seems to have a somewhat imprecise presentation of the stages of contemplation as compared to other known works of Evagrius. However, when compared to the Theological Orations, the presentation in To the Caesareans… of the stages of contemplation is far more articulated and definite than we would expect from a student of St Gregory writing within a year of the Orations. For the letter delineates a progression from second natural contemplation as the contemplation which is ‘implicated in objects’ to first natural contemplation as the contemplation both of the angels and of their reasons—an explanation of first natural contemplation is developed at great length in On the Thoughts—to the contemplation of the Godhead expressed as contemplation of the Monad and Unity, terms used in the Kephalaia Gnostica, although certainly not in the Theological Orations.

It might be wondered if the letter’s problems with diction constitute immature foreshadowings of a later mature mystical doctrine. It seems to us no: the presentation in Layer 3 of the letter is quite sophisticated and definite, as if the author knows the system quite well, not as if he is yet to think it through. We will see this when we discuss the content of the letter, especially Layer 3, in comparison with the Theological Orations. It is just that the author of Layer 3 understands the Evagrian system a little differently from Evagrius in the genuine works that we know of Evagrius, and perhaps in a somewhat less mystically accomplished way.



[1] Migne 32 col. 256C (Letter 8, ¶ 7, l. 7). Οί γιοι μαθητα το Σωτρος μν πένεικα θεωρίας, ς νι νθρώπους, λθόντες, κα καθαρθέντες π το λόγου, τ τέλος πιζητοσι, κα τν σχτην μακαριότητα γνναι ποθοσιν, περ γνοεν κα τος γγέλους ατο κα ατόν Κύριος μν πεφήνατο· μέραν μν λέγων πσαν τν κριβ κατάληψιν τν πινοιν το Θεο· ραν δ τν νάδος κα μονάδος θεωρίαν, ν τν εδησιν μόν προσένεμε τ Πατρί.

[2] Migne 32 col. 256C Col. 257A (¶ 7, l. 16). Ε τοίνυν κενο λέγεται περ αυτο εδέναι Θεός περ στί, κκενο μ ιδέναι περ οκ στιν, οκ στι δ Κύριος μν κατ τν τς νανθρωπήσεως πίνοιαν, κα παχυτέραν διδασκαλίαν, τ σχατον ρεκτόν· οκ ρα οδεν Σωτρ μν τ τέλος κα τν σχάτην μακάριοτητα.

[3] Migne 32 col. 256C Col. 257B (¶ 7, l. 30). Χριστο γρ βασιλείαν φασν εναι πσαν τν νυλον γνσιν· το δ Θεο και Πατρός τν ϋλον, κα ς ν εποι τίς, ατς τς θεότητος θεωρίαν. στι δ κα Κύριος μν κα ατός τ τέλος, κα σχάτη μακαριότης, κατ τν το Λόγου πίνοιαν.

[4] Migne 32 Col. 257C (¶ 7, l. 44). τς νεργείες το κτίστου κατανοε, κα τατα κ τν αποτελεσμάτων τέως πιγινώσκει, νοτω κατ μικρν αξηθες σχύσ ποτ κα ατ γυμν προσελθεν τ θεότητι. Κατ ταύτην δ ομαι τν πίνοιαν ερσθαι κα τ Πατήρ μου μείζων μου στί, κα τ υκ στιν μν δοναι λλος τοίμασται π το Πατρός.

[5] ¶7 [23]. See below for the full excerpt.

[6] Cf. Gnostic 40, quoted above.

[8] Wisdom 13, 5. Thanks to Dr Kalvesmaki for pointing this out.

[9] Constantine Vol II p. 367.

[10] Constantine Vol II p. 394.

[11] Op cit. p. 368. Cf. KG I, 38, loc. cit. p. 369.

[12] This is the basis of Skemmata 18, On the Thoughts 41, and these two passages of the Kephalaia Gnostica:

V, 62 The nature of the Trinity is not known with ascents and descents; there are not there, indeed, any underlying objects, and its nature does not admit of analysis, because he who resolves the nature of bodies makes it consist absolutely in matter and form; and if one resolves the incorporeal nature, one brings it to the common contemplation and to the substance susceptible of an opposition. But it is not thus that it is possible to know the nature of the Holy Trinity.

V, 63 The analysis makes us re-ascend to the commencement of the objects, and the gnosis which is according to measure makes seen the wisdom of the Creator; but it is not according to these signs that we see the Holy Trinity. It has not, indeed, commencement, and we do not say to any further extent that the wisdom which is in these objects is God, if the commencements agree, in the theory of nature, with the things of which they are the commencements. Indeed, such a wisdom is a gnosis without substance, which appears only in the objects.

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