Evagrius Ponticus


THE writings of Evagrius Ponticus include several of the most important and fundamental texts on spiritual guidance in early Christianity.  His Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer have served as guides for saints and spiritual directors in both East and West for the past 1600 years. As we shall see, they provide the basis for most of Cassian's Institutes and much of the wisdom transmitted in Cassian's Conferences. A gifted theologian and dedicated ascetic, the majority of Evagrius' literary output consisted of commentaries on the Scriptures; however we shall focus here on those texts that have been most widely-used in the practice of Christian spiritual direction.

WE begin with an introduction to the Life and thought of (Saint) Evagrius Ponticus, consisting of: a brief biography; a description of his concept of “threefold” spiritual progress; and his categorization of virtues and vices according to the Platonic/Aristotelian model of a tripartite soul.


NEXT we consider the first 39 chapters of his Praktikos, Evagrius' magisterial textbook on the inner struggle against temptation and vice.


CHAPTERS 40-100 of the Praktikos invite us to engage in the inner struggle gnostikoteros - from an increasingly contemplative perspective.  The goal is to experience temptation as “data” that reveals the inner state of the soul and invites the ascetic to practice those virtues that deepen charity and increase spiritual vision.


ONE of the texts most appreciated by his contemporaries and biographers is Evagrius' Antirrhetikos, a collection of 497 Bible-verses intended for meditation and use in "spiritual warfare".  We will look at selections from this work, noting particularly the temptations the verses were intended to counteract.


EVARIUS' On Tempting Thoughts covers the whole range of spiritual experience, from impassioned battle with temptation to tranquil contemplation.  We begin with Evagrius' presentation of the art of spiritual discernment .  We will return to this text next week, when we will reflect in more detail on Evagrius' understanding of contemplation.


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