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Evagrius Ponticus ( ), or Evagrius the Solitary (345-399 A.D.) was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the rising stars in the late fourth century church, he was well-known as a keen thinker, a polished speaker, and a gifted writer. Throughout his ministry, he was a trusted friend to several influential contemporary church leaders, including Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Nectarius of Constantinople, Macarius of Egypt, John Cassian, and Theophilus of Alexandria.

Life

He was born into a Christian family in the small town of Ibora, in the Roman province of Pontus. He began his career in the church as a lector under Basil before joining Gregory of Nazianzus in Constantinoplemarker, where he was promoted to deacon and eventually to archdeacon. When Emperor Theodosius I convened the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 A.D., Evagrius participated, despite Gregory's premature departure.

Constantinople offered many worldly attractions, and his vanity was aroused by the high praise of his peers, while gluttony, greed, and sloth became persistent temptations over which he despaired of ever becoming victorious. Eventually, he became infatuated with a married woman. Amid this temptation, he had—reportedly—a vision in which he was imprisoned by the soldiers of the governor at the request of the woman's husband. This vision made him flee from the capital and head for Jerusalemmarker.

For a short time, he stayed with Melania the Elder and Tyrannius Rufinus in a monastery near Jerusalem, but even there he could not forsake his vainglory and pride. He fell gravely ill and only after he resolved to move to the deserts of Egyptmarker was he restored to health. At first he joined around the year 383 a coenobitic community of monks in Nitria, but after some years moved to Kellia. There he spent last fourteen years of his life pursuing studies under Macarios the Great and Macarius of Alexandria.

Teachings

Most Egyptian monks of that time were illiterate. Evagrius, a highly-educated classical scholar, is believed to be one of the first people to begin recording and systematizing the erstwhile oral teachings of the monastic authorities known as the Desert Fathers. Eventually, he also became regarded as a Desert Father, and several of his apothegms appear in the 'Vitae Patrum' (a collection of sayings from early Christian monks).

Evagrius rigorously tried to avoid teaching beyond the spiritual maturity of his audiences. When addressing novices, he carefully stuck to concrete, practical issues (which he called praktike). For example, in Peri Logismon 16, he includes this disclaimer:

I cannot write about all the villainies of the demons; and I feel ashamed to speak about them at length and in detail, for fear of harming the more simple- minded among my readers.


His more advanced students enjoyed more theoretical, contemplative material (gnostike).

The logismoi

The most prominent feature of his research was a system of categorizing various forms of temptation. He developed a comprehensive list in 375 AD of eight evil thoughts (λογισμοι), or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs. This list was intended to serve a diagnostic purpose: to help readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation.

The eight patterns of evil thought are gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, acedia, anger, vainglory, and pride. While he did not create the list from scratch, he certainly refined it. Some two centuries later in 590 AD, Pope Gregory I, "Pope Gregory The Great" would revise this list to form the more commonly known Seven Deadly Sins, where Pope Gregory the Great rolled Acedia (discouragement) & Tristitia (sorrow) into a newly defined sin of Sloth ; Vainglory a part of Pride; and added Envy to the newly defined "Seven Deadly Sins".

Accusations of Heresy

Like the other Cappadocian fathers Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, Evagrius was an avid student of Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-250 A.D.), and he further developed certain esoteric speculations regarding the pre-existence of human souls, the final state of believers, and certain teachings about the natures of God and Christ. These speculative teachings were declared heretical by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D. When subsequent ecumenical councils sought to clarify these anathemas, Origen (along with Evagrius and a few others) were condemned as well.

Influence

Despite the accusations of heresy, Evagrius exerted a tremendous influence on the church through his practical writings. Though most of his writings were destroyed, many survived simply because they were so helpful. Some of his books were attributed to other writers, such as Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, and Saint Nilus. One of his key disciples, John Cassian, established a few monasteries in southern France and effectively adapted key Evagrian works for his Western audiences.

Other significant figures influenced by Evagrius include: John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor, Benedict (the founder of the Order of St. Benedict), and Symeon the New Theologian.

Key Writings

The Antirrhetikos, Chapters on Prayer, The Praktikos, To Eulogious, The Gnostikos, Kephalaia Gnostica.

Bibliography

  • Evagrius. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Translated by Robert E. Sinkewicz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Evagrius. The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer. Cistercian Studies Series, vol. 4. Translated by John Eudes Bamberger OCSO. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1972.
  • Palmer, G. E. H., Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, ed./trans. The Philokalia: The Complete Text. 5 vols. Compiled by St. Nikodimos and St. Makarios. London: Faber and Faber, 1979.
  • Cassian, John. The Institutes of John Cassian. A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and Pre-Nicene Fathers (Second Series), vol. XI: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian. Translated by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1887.
  • Cassian, John. The Conferences of John Cassian. A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and Pre-Nicene Fathers (Second Series), vol. XI: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian. Translated by Edgar C. S. Gibson. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1894.
  • Antoine Guillaumont: "Les 'kephalaia gnostica' d'Evagre le Pontique et l'histoire de l'origénisme chez les Grecs et chez les Syriens", Paris: Cerf (Patristica Sorbonensia 5), 1972.
  • Antoine Guillaumont, "Un philosophe au désert", Paris: Vrin, 2004.
  • Ward, Benedicta, trans. The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. London: Penguis Books, 2003.


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