Fourth-century monk and mystical theologian; b. Ibora in the Hellespont, 345; d. Cellia, Egypt, 399. Although exalted for a time as the equal of the great Church Fathers, he was suspected of heresy after 400, and condemned at the Council of constantinople ii (553); Evagrius's reputation darkened gradually until in 1920 scholars turned renewed attention to him.
Life. Evagrius was selected as a lector by (St.) basil, and ordained a deacon by gregory of nazianzus at Constantinople in 379; after assisting at the Council (381), he remained with the Patriarch Nectarius as theologian collaborating in the anti-Eunomian controversy (Palladius, Hist. laus. 38). After an interval, he journeyed to Jerusalem (382) and resided in the monastery founded by melania the elder on the Mount of Olives. In 383 he became a monk in Egypt, and he subsequently settled in the Nitrian Valley for two years, and spent 14 years in the Desert of Cellia, supporting himself by copying manuscripts. With Macarius and Ammonius as spiritual fathers, he gradually exercised great influence on the monks through his writings and mystical doctrine.
Works. Besides several treatises preserved in the original Greek, his writings come down in Syriac and Armenian translations or under the name of orthodox teachers such as nilus of ancyra. Palladius, Socrates (Hist. Eccl. 4:23), and Gennadius (Vir. ill. 11) mention several collections of his ascetical maxims. One of these, the Monachikos, is divided in two sections: the Praktikos for uneducated monks (100 ch.) and the Gnostikos for cultured ascetics (50 ch.). The Gnostic Centuries (Problemata gnostica ), 600 concise sentences for meditation in six books dealing with ascetic and doctrinal problems— angels, the Trinity, the restoration of all things in God—is extant in two very different versions; one corrected against Origenistic tendencies, the other apparently faithful to the original. The Antirrhetikos in eight books described the eight principal vices to be overcome by the monk, and offset them with Scriptural quotations. It is preserved in Syriac and Armenian. The Mystic Sentences or Mirror for Monks and Nuns, was translated by rufinus of aquileia into Latin (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 40:1277–86) with an introduction preserved in Evagrius's letters 19 and 20.
Sixty-seven of Evagrius's letters are preserved in Syriac and Armenian. One in Greek (Basil, Epist. 8) confutes Arian doctrine on the Trinity, consubstantiality of the Son, and divinity of the Holy Spirit. Of considerable doctrinal importance also is his Letter to Melania the Elder (the second part was edited by G. Vitestam, Lund 1964).
The manuscript tradition has preserved a Hypotyposis (Patrologia Graeca 40:1253–60), Selecta in Psalmos, and a Commentary on Proverbs culled from the catenae of Scripture and other patristic writings and reclaimed for Evagrius by U. v. Balthasar [Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 63 (1939) 86–106; 181–206] and M. Rondeau [Orientalia Christiana periodica 26 (1960) 307–40]. Four tracts on monastic perfection—Ad Eulogium monachum, De malignis cogitationibus, De octo spiritibus malignis, and De oratione (Patrologia Graeca 1093–1233)—attributed to St. Nilus have been claimed for Evagrius.
Doctrine. In theology Evagrius follows the De Principiis of origen but in more radical form, constituting the system condemned by the Council of Constantinople II in 553. In the beginning existed a henade (oneness) formed by the universe of rational beings created equal, to know God, which is "essential knowledge." Following a fault, these spirits were separated from God, each experiencing a fate in accordance with the degree of the fall. These fallen intellects are called souls and were joined to bodies. By asceticism and contemplation, these intellects can progressively return to God; and there will be a time when all make this return and the original henade will be reestablished (apocatastasis). As the body does not belong to the essence of the soul, the resurrection will be only a provisional step. Those "who see God" will be incorporeal.
In his earlier works, as in the Letter to Melania, the Christology of Evagrius is orthodox following the Cappadocian fathers; but in his later works such as the Gnostic Centuries, the Selecta in Psalmos, it has been rethought in an Origenistic sense. Christ is only an intellect, similar to those forming the original henade; but in contrast to the others he has remained united to the Oneness, and as such is inalterably united to the Word who is God. This intellect has taken a body similar to that of the fallen intellects, to reveal to them "essential knowledge" and lead them back to God.
Asceticism and Mysticism. The return to God is accomplished in two steps: the ascetical (praktikē ) way and the contemplative (gnostikē). The ascetical is the "spiritual method whose goal is to purify the passionate part of the soul"; it aims at removing obstacles to contemplation, delivering man from his passions, and purifying the intellect of sense reactions; it is directed toward apatheia or impassibility. Evagrius analyses the passions and their working with finesse. He popularizes the eight capital vices (reduced later to seven capital sins), viz, gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, anger, discouragement (acedia ), vainglory, and pride, and distributes these vices according to the tripartite schema of his psychology: the first three deal with the concupiscible appetite, anger with the irascible, and vainglory and pride are attributed to the intellect. Sorrow and discouragement are intermediary vices. Sins and passions are interwoven and follow a rigorous pattern. To overcome them, Evagrius recommends an attack on each in its proper order.
The Contemplative Life is developed in two degrees: natural contemplation (physikē ), which is subdivided into a contemplation of the body (secondary), and a contemplation of the logoi or reasons (primary); and progressive contemplation in which the intellect, by simplifying itself before the undetermined, empties itself of all forms, and comes to see in itself the light of God. "At the hour of prayer, the contemplative soul resembles the heavens where the light of the Holy Trinity shines" (Cent. suppl.4). "The naked intellect [nous] becomes that which sees the Trinity" (Cent. 3.15).
Influence. Evagrius had a profound influence as founder of monastic mysticism, which was spread among the Greeks (St. john climacus, maximus confessor, Dorotheus, and the Hesychasts); among the Latins through John cassian, who adopted his ascetic doctrine; and among the Syrians, the Nestorians and the Monophysites, who consider him their great doctor of mystical theology.
Bibliography: Évagre le pontique, Traité de l'oraison, ed. i. hausherr (Paris 1960). j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950–) 3:169–76. s. marsili, G. Cassiano e Evagrio Pontico (Rome 1936). a. guillaumont, Les "Kephalaia gnostica" d'Évagre le Pontique (Paris 1963). a. and c. guillaumont, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 4.2:1731–44. o. chadwick, John Cassian (Cambridge, Eng. 1950). f. refoulÉ, Orientalia Christiana periodica 26–27 (1960–61) 221–66; Revue de l'histoire des religions 163 (1963) 11–52.