Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian


 Martyrdom, Medieval illum. MS.

WE turn now to the interrelationship between: (1) silence and speech in prayer; (2) contemplative vision and the inward struggle against thoughts; and (3) the experience of holy solitude (anachoresis) and the spiritual guidance available only in Christian koinonia.

IN conjunction with lecture § 45 please also read pp. 107-126 (“John Cassian and The Spiritual Direction of the Ascetic Community”) in our textbook by Demacopoulos.

THE second volume of Evagrius' principal spiritual trilogy is the Gnostikos, a work intended for teachers and spiritual directors. In it he emphasizes the interrelationship between biblical exegesis and the art of “reading” (or contemplating) to soul of one who seeks guidance. [In the course of this text we will briefly come across the doctrine of the apokatastasis, or “universal restoration” which was already controversial in Evagrius' day, and was formally condemned as heretical at successive Ecumenical Councils, beginning with the Council of Ephesus in 543].


WE return to Evagrius work On Tempting Thoughts to consider a case study in spiritual guidance that highlights the dangers of prematurely withdrawing into the solitude of the hermitage.  This text also emphasizes the role of the Christian community in providing both balanced guidance and means of healing.


THE interrelationship between contemplative refreshment and the inward struggle for virtue is clarified in texts from several of Evagrius' writings that also emphasize the indispensible place of liturgical prayer and psalmody for spiritual progress.


EVAGRIUS extremely-popular but easily-misunderstood work On Prayer describes prayer that delights in using words, but is willing and eager to lay aside all concepts that distract from the presence of the Loving Father.


SELECTIONS from Cassian's conferences on Discernment (Conference 2) and on Keeping/Breaking Promises (Conference 17) emphasize the necessity to open one's heart to a trusted spiritual advisor and/or community in order for real discernment to occur.  But this does not reduce, as we shall see, discernment to an act of mindless obedience.



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