Guide to Evagrius Ponticus

edited by Joel Kalvesmaki

The Life of Evagrius Ponticus

Evagrius (345–399), son of a chorbishop of Ibora in Pontus, was educated in the nearby city of Neocaesarea, near the family estates of Basil the Great, who ordained him a reader. Leaving his homeland in 379, Evagrius spent about three years in Constantinople, where he was made archdeacon by his spiritual father, Gregory of Nazianzus, and participated in ecclesiastical matters, including the Second Ecumenical Council (381). Fleeing the temptations of an affair (according to Palladius), Evagrius unexpectedly moved to Jerusalem, where he joined the monastic communities of Melania the Elder and Rufinus, taking monastic vows in 383. He migrated to Egypt, where he met and studied under many of the central figures of Egyptian monasticism, soon becoming one himself.

Ancient Testimonies

In his extant writings, Evagrius says little about himself, so we depend upon other authors to reconstruct his life. Below are the chief ancient testimonia, in English translation. Texts have been truncated, to focus on parts relevant to Evagrius and his reception.
Gregory of Nazianzus, Will and Testament ca. 381–390
To Evagrius the Deacon, who in many things toiled along, and thought out, many things with me, and who furnished prudence in an abundance of things, I confess thanks, both before God and before people. God will compensate him in greater things. But so that the smallest tokens of my friendship should not fall short, I desire that he be given one shirt, one tunic, two cloaks, and thirty gold pieces.
Joel Kalvesmaki trans. (based on Greek text in J. B. Pitra, Iuris ecclesiastici Graecorum historia et monumenta (Rome, 1868), 2:155–159.
Loukios, Abba, Epistle 390s
Catalogued in the corpus as nocpg01, this letter, preserved only in Arabic, was answered in writing by Evagrius along with the treatise Antirrhetikos (CPG 2434).
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, a single God. Letter of the holy father Loukios to the holy father Evagrius. May God grant us the blessing of their prayers doubly.
You, O father, have lived in the desert, as if at a mother's breast, for these many years, doing battle with the invisible enemies. O honored father Evagrius, you have put on the weapons of the soul's fitting labors, and you have become such an experienced combatant against the spirits of wickedness that not only have you become an object of fear among the demons, but you have also summoned others, so that they too might become combatants against the evil spirits and filthy thoughts.
Therefore, I ask your fatherhood to classify the fight against the beings of darkness, and I entreat your holiness to compose for me some clear treatise concerning it and to acquaint me with the demons' entire treachery, which by their own efforts and according to their own undertaking they produce in the path of monasticism. Send it to us, so that we, your friends, might also easily cast off from ourselves those evil suggestions of theirs. For I know that you will attend to the one who requests from you spiritual things, and therefore I have addressed this to you. Farewell in the Lord.
David Brakke, trans., Talking Back: A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons, Cistercian Studies Series 229 (Collegeville, 2009), 45
Anonymous, Historia Monachorum late 4th c.
20.15–16. We also visited Evagrius, a wise and learned man who was skilled in the discernment of thoughts, an ability he had acquired by experience. He often went down to Alexandria and refuted the pagan philosophers in disputations. This father exhorted the brothers who were with us not to satiate themselves with water. "For the demons," he said, "frequently light on well-watered places[.]" He taught us much else about ascesis, strengthening our souls.
Norman Russell, trans., The Lives of the Desert Fathers, Cistercian Studies Series 34 (Kalamazoo, 1981), 107
Jerome, Letter 133 415
3. These heretics have affinities with Gnosticism which may be traced to the impious teaching of Basilides. It is from him that you derive the assertion that without knowledge of the law it is impossible to avoid sin. But why do I speak of Priscillian who has been condemned by the whole world and put to death by the secular sword? Evagrius of Ibera in Pontus who sends letters to virgins and monks and among others to her whose name bears witness to the blackness of her perfidy, has published a book of maxims on apathy, or, as we should say, impassivity or imperturbability; a state in which the mind ceases to be agitated and—to speak simply—becomes either a stone or a God. His work is widely read, in the East in Greek and in the West in a Latin translation made by his disciple Rufinus. He has also written a book which professes to be about monks and includes in it many not monks at all whom he declares to have been Origenists, and who have certainly been condemned by the bishops. I mean Ammonius, Eusebius, Euthymius, Evagrius himself, Horus, Isidorus, and many others whom it would be tedious to enumerate.
W. H. Fremantle, trans., The Principal Works of St. Jerome, vol. 6 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 274.
Jerome, Dialogue against the Pelagians ca. 417
Pref.1. [E]very one knows what was the contention of the Stoics and Peripatetics, that is, the old Academy, some of them asserted that the πάθη, which we may call emotions, such as sorrow, joy, hope, fear, can be thoroughly eradicated from the minds of men; others that their power can be broken, that they can be governed and restrained, as unmanageable horses are held in check by peculiar kinds of bits. Their views have been explained by Tully in the "Tusculan Disputations," and Origen in his "Stromata" endeavours to blend them with ecclesiastical truth. I pass over Manichæus, Priscillianus, Evagrius of Ibora, Jovinianus, and the heretics found throughout almost the whole of Syria, who, by a perversion of the import of their name, are commonly called Massalians, in Greek, Euchites, all of whom hold that it is possible for human virtue and human knowledge to attain perfection, and arrive, I will not say merely at a likeness to, but an equality with God; and who go the length of asserting that, when once they have reached the height of perfection, even sins of thought and ignorance are impossible for them.
W. H. Fremantle trans., The Principal Works of St. Jerome, vol. 6 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 448–449
Jerome, Comm. Jer. ca. 419
4.pref. [S]uddenly Pythagoras's and Zeno's heresy of apatheia and anamartia, that is, impassability and sinlessness, which were fatal once to Origen and more recently to his disciples, grunter (grunio) Evagrius the Ponticus and Jovinian, began to revive not only in the West but in the East....
Joel Kalvesmaki trans., based on Latin text in In Hieremiam libri VI, Corpus Christianorum, series Latina 74 (Turnhout, 1960).
Palladius, Historia Lausiaca ca. 420
This, the longest account of Evagrius's life preserved in Greek, emphasizes his early formation. It is a revision: an earlier, lengthier version written by Palladius is preserved in Coptic translation (see below). The Greek version has been the most read, and subsequently most influential.
Chapter 11. Ammonius
5. ...To [Ammonius] the blessed Evagrius, an inspired and discerning man, gave testimony, saying: "never have I seen a man of more impassivity than he."
Chapter 12. Benjamin
1. ...So Dioscorus the Bishop, at that time a priest of Mount Nitria, took us—the blessed Evagrius, that is, and me—and said to us:
2. "Come, see a new Job, who with so great swelling of body and incurable suffering yet maintains "an unbounded thankfulness." So we went and saw [Benjamin's] body so greatly swollen that another man's fingers could not get round one finger of his hand. We turned our eyes away, being unable to look owing to the terrible nature of the affliction....
Chapter 23. Pachon
1. ...And I was nearly leaving the desert, passion driving me, yet I did not refer the matter to my neighbours, nor to my teacher Evagrius. But I journeyed secretly into the great desert and spent fifteen days in meeting the fathers who had grown old in the desert at Scete....
Chapter 24. Stephen
2. But the holy Ammonius and Evagrius and their companions, who met [Stephen], told me the following: "We found him suffering from an illness like this, having developed an ulcer of the sort called cancerous. We discovered him being treated by a doctor, and working with his hands and weaving palm-leaves and talking to us, while the rest of his body was being operated on. He was behaving just as if another man were being cut. Though the flesh was cut away like hair, he was insensible, thanks to the greatness of his religious preparation.
3. But while we were on the one hand grieving and on the other hand feeling disgusted that such a life had ended in such suffering and such surgical operations, he said to us: 'Children, do not be troubled by this affair. For God does nothing of what He does for malice, but for a good end. For perhaps my flesh deserves chastisement, and it is fitting that it should pay the penalty now rather than when I have quitted the arena.' So he edified us with his exhortations and encouragements...."
Chapter 26. Heron
1. THERE was a certain Heron, a neighbour of mine, an Alexandrian by race, an excellent young man, of good natural ability and pure in his life. He also after many toils was attacked by pride and flung off all restraints and cherished presumptuous sentiments against the fathers, insulting even the blessed Evagrius by saying: "Those who obey your teaching are dupes; for one should not pay heed to any teachers except Christ...."
Chapter 35. John of Lycopolis
3. When we were in the desert of Nitria—by we I mean myself and the blessed Evagrius and his companions—we were anxious to find out accurately, in what [John of Lycopolis's] virtue consisted. Then said the blessed Evagrius: "Gladly would I be learning what kind of man he is, from some one who knows how to test character and speech. For if I am unable to see him myself, but can hear accurately from another's description the details of his manner of life, then I will not go so far as the mountain." I heard, and saying nothing to anyone kept silence for one day; but the next day, having closed my cell and committed myself and it to God, I hastened away to the Thebaid.
4. And I arrived after eighteen days, having gone partly on foot, and partly by boat on the river. But it was the time of the flood, when many are ill; which was also my experience. Well, I went and found the vestibule of his cell closed; for the brethren built on later a very large vestibule holding about 100 men, and shutting it with a key they opened it on Saturday and Sunday. So, having learned the reason why it was closed, I waited quietly till the Saturday. And having come at the second hour for an interview I found him sitting by the window, through which he seemed to be exhorting his visitors.
5. So, after greeting me, he said through an interpreter: "Whence are you? and why have you come? For I conjecture that you belong to the convent of Evagrius." I said: "I am a stranger who started out from Galatia." And I confessed that I belonged to Evagrius' society....
Chapter 38. Evagrius Ponticus
1. It is not right to be silent about the story of the illustrious deacon Evagrius, a man who lived in apostolic wise; rather one ought to put it into writing for the edification of readers and the glory of the goodness of our Saviour. I have thought it worth while to relate (the story) from the beginning, how he came to his ideal, and how having pursued asceticism worthily he died in the desert at the age of fifty-four, according to the words of Scripture: "In a little time he fulfilled many years."
2. He came of a Pontic family and belonged to the city of Ibora, the son of a country-bishop. He was ordained reader by the holy Basil, the bishop of the church of Caesarea. After the death of the holy Basil, Gregory Nazianzea the bishop, that very wise and most impassive and highly cultured man, ordained him deacon. Then at the great synod of Constantinople he left him to the blessed Nectarius the bishop, since he was skilled in argument against all heresies. And he flourished in the great city, speaking with youthful zeal against every heresy.
3. Now it happened that this man, who was held in high honour by the whole city, was congealed by an image of the desire of a woman, as he himself told us at a later time, when his soul was freed from such thoughts. The woman loved him in return; now she belonged to the highest rank. So Evagrius, fearing God and respecting his own conscience, and putting before his eyes the greatness of the shame and the malicious joy of the heresies, prayed to God in supplication that he would put some obstacle in the way. Now the woman was pressing and madly excited, while he, though desiring to withdraw, had no power to, being constrained by the chains of this servitude.
4. After no long time, when his prayer had succeeded but he had not experienced the benefit of it, there appeared to him an angel vision in the shape of soldiers of the governor, and they seized him and took him apparently to the tribunal and threw him into the so-called custody, the men who had come to him, as it seemed, without giving a reason having first fastened his neck and hands with iron collars and chains. But he knew in his conscience that for the sake of the above fault he was suffering these things, and imagined that her husband had intervened.
5. So now he was extremely anxious. Another trial was going on and others were being put to torture for some accusation, so he continued to be much perturbed. And the angel who brought the vision transformed himself to represent the coming of a genuine friend and said to him, tied up as he was among forty prisoners chained together: "Why are you retained here, my lord deacon?" He said to him: "In truth I do not know, but I have a suspicion that so-and-so the ex-governor has laid a charge against me, impelled by an absurd jealousy. And I fear that the judge corrupted by bribes may inflict punishment on me."
6. He said to him: "If you will listen to your friend, it is not expedient for you to stay in this city." Evagrius said to him: "If God will release me from this misfortune and you see me in Constantinople (any more), know that I shall suffer this punishment justly." He said to him: "Let me bring the gospel, and swear to me by it that you will leave this city and care for your soul, and I will free you from this durance."
7. So he brought the gospel and he swore to him by the gospel: "Except for one day, to give me time to put my clothes on board, I certainly will not remain." So when the oath had been produced, he came back out of the trance which had come on him in the night; and he arose and argued with himself: "Even if the oath was in a trance, nevertheless I did take it." So having put all his belongings into the ship he went to Jerusalem.
8. And there he was received by the blessed Melania, the Roman lady. But once again the devil hardened his heart, as he did Pharaoh's, and since he was young and vigorous doubts beset him, and he hesitated, saying nothing to any one, and changing his clothes and his habit of speech back to his old ways, vain-glory stupefying him. But God Who wards off destruction from us all involved him in a bout of fever, and after that in a long illness lasting six months, drying up his flesh, the source of his trouble.
9. But when the physicians were at a loss and could find no way of cure, the blessed Melania said to him: "Son, your long illness does not please me. Tell me therefore what are your thoughts. For this illness of yours is not without God." Then he confessed to her the whole matter. But she said to him: "Give me your word before the Lord that you will keep to the mark of the monastic life; and, sinner though I am, I will pray that you may be granted a furlough of life." And he consented. So within a few days he got well, and he arose and received a change of clothes at the hands of the lady herself and went away and exiled himself in the mount of Nitria which is in Egypt.
10. Having lived there two years, in the third year he entered the desert. So he lived fourteen years in the place they call Cellia, and he used to eat a pound of bread, and in three months a pint of oil, though he was a man who had come from a luxurious and refined and voluptuous life. And he made prayers; and he wrote during the year only the value of what he ate—for he wrote the Oxyrhyncus characters excellently. So in the course of fifteen years having purified his mind to the utmost he was counted worthy of the gift of knowledge and wisdom and the discerning of spirits. So he composed three holy books for monks, called Antirrhetica, in which he taught the arts to be used against demons.
11. The demon of fornication troubled him grievously, as indeed he told us himself. And all night long he stood naked in the well, though it was winter, so that his flesh was frozen. On another occasion again the spirit of blasphemy troubled him. And for forty days he did not enter under a roof, as he told us himself, so that his body threw out ticks, like the bodies of irrational animals. Three demons attacked him by day disguised as clerics, questioning him on the faith. And one said he was an Arian, the other an Eunomian, the third an Apollinarian; and he vanquished these in his wisdom by means of a few words.
12. Again one day, the key of the church having been lost, having made the sign over the front of the lock and pushed with his hand, he opened it, after first calling upon Christ. So many castigations did he receive from demons and so great trial of them did he have that there is no counting the occasions. And to one of his disciples he told the things that would happen to him after eighteen years, having prophesied all to him in a vision (of the future). And he said: "From the time that I took to the desert, I have not touched lettuce nor any other green vegetable, nor any fruit, nor grapes, nor meat, nor a bath."
13. And later, in the sixteenth year of his life without cooked food, his flesh felt a need, owing to the weakness of the stomach, to partake of (something that had been) on the fire; he did not however take bread even now, but having fed on herbs or gruel or pulse for two years, in this regime he died, after communicating in church at Epiphany. Shortly before his death he told us: "For three years I have not been troubled by fleshly desire—after so long a life and toil and labour and ceaseless prayer." He was told of the death of his father, and said to his informant: "Cease blaspheming, for my father is immortal."
Chapter 47. Chronius and Paphnutius
3. ...The blessed Evagrius and Albanius and I when we met these men sought to know the causes of brothers falling away or backsliding or stumbling in the proper life.....
W. K. Lowther Clarke, trans., The Lausiac History of Palladius (London, 1918), 132–137
Palladius, Coptic Life of Evagrius ca. 420
Longer and older version of the account preserved in Palladius's History, with greater emphasis on the interior life of Evagrius and the Egyptian phase of his ministry.
1 I will now also begin to speak about Apa Evagrius, the deacon from Constantinople, upon whom the bishop Gregory laid hands. Indeed, it is right that we relate the virtues of him whom everyone praises: he lived the apostolic way of life. For it would not be just if we were silent about his progress and <works> acceptable to God; rather, it is right that we put them into writing for the edification and profit of those who read about them so they may glorify God our Savior who empowers human beings to do these things.
Palladius Testifies as an Eyewitness
2 Indeed, it was also he who taught me the way of life in Christ and he who helped me understand Holy Scripture spiritually and told me what old wives’ tales are [1 Tim. 4:7] in order that, as it is written, sin might be revealed as a sinner [Rom 7:13], for the whole time I was in that monastic settlement I was with him, each of us living enclosed and apart. I was by his side Saturday night and during the day on Sunday. In order that someone not think that I am praising him or showing favoritism towards him, as Christ is my witness I saw the majority of his virtues with my own eyes as well as the wonders that he performed. These I will write down for you for the profit of those who will read about them and for those who will hear them read so they will glorify Christ who gives power to his poor to do what is pleasing to him.
Palladius' Own Testimony
3 I myself have been deemed worthy to inform you how he lived, from the beginning of his life until he arrived at these measures and these great ascetic practices until he completed sixty years, and in this way went to his rest, as it is written, “In a short period of time he completed a multitude of years” [Wis. 4:13].
Evagrius' Origins and Early Years
4 This man of whom we speak was a citizen of Pontus, which is where his family was from. He was the son of a priest from Iberia whom the blessed Basil, bishop of Cappadocia, had made a priest for the church in Arkeus. After the death of Saint Basil the bishop, and his father in God the priest, Evagrius went to Constantinople, a city filled with learning, for he walked in the footsteps of Saint Basil. He attached himself to Gregory [of Nazianzus], the bishop of Constantinople, and when the bishop saw his learning and good intelligence, he made him a deacon, for truly he was a wise person, being in possession of himself and without passions, and was a deacon of steadfast character. Indeed, he himself attended [the Council of] Constantinople with our fathers the bishops at the time of the synod that took place in Constantinople, and he was victorious over all the heretics. Thus this evagrius and Nectarius the bishop debated with each other face to face, for truly Evagrius was very protective of the Scriptures and was well equipped to refute every heresy with his wisdom. He was therefore well known throughout Constantinople for having combated the heretics with forceful and eloquent language.
Evagrius Lusts after a Married Woman
5 The whole city praised him greatly. After all this learning [. . .] on account of his pride and arrogance, he fell into the hands of the demon who brings about lustful thoughts for women, as he told us later after he had been freed from this passion. Indeed, the woman loved him very much in return. But Evagrius was fearful before God and did not sin with her because, in fact, the woman was married and Evagrius also fallowed his conscience because her husband was a member of the nobility and greatly honored and, furthermore, Evagrius thought deeply about the magnitude of shame and sin and judgment and realized that all the <heretics> whom he had humiliated would rejoice. He beseeched God continuously, praying that he help free him from the passion and warfare that he had been subjected to, for in truth the woman persisted in <her> madness for him to the point that she made a public spectacle of herself. He wanted to flee from her but could not summon up the courage to do so for in truth his thoughts were held captive by pleasure like a child.
Angels Appear to Arrest Evagrius
6 God's mercy did not delay in coming to him but through his entreaties and prayers God came to him quickly. He comforted him through a revelation so that nothing evil could get at him with the woman. In a vision at night, the Lord sent angels to him dressed in radiant clothing who looked like soldiers of the prefect. They made him stand and seized him as though they were taking him before a judge, as though they had bound him in ropes along with other thieves, having put a collar around his neck and chains on his feet, acting as though they were arresting him but without telling him the charges or why they had seized him. But he thought in his heart that they had come after him on account of the affair with the woman, thinking that her husband had accused him before the prefect.
An Angel Visits Evagrius Disguised as a Friend
7 Afterwards he was utterly astonished, and the angel who had appeared to him changed form in front of him, taking on the appearance of one of his friends who had come to pay him a visit and comfort him. he said to Evagrius, who was bound with the thieves, "Deacon Evagrius, why have you been arrested, sir?"
Evagrius said to him, "The truth is, I don't know, but I think someone denounced me, perhaps because he was seized by ignorant jealousy. So I'm afraid that he's given money to the judge so he will quickly and violently destroy me."
The angel said to him, "If you will listen to me, who am your friend, then I will tell you: It is not good for you to stay in this city."
Evagrius said to him, "If God delivers me from this trouble and you still see me in this city of Constantinople, say 'You deserve this punishment.'"
The angel who had taken on the appearance of a friend said to him, "I will give you the Gospel; swear to me 'I will not remain in this city,' and that you will be concerned about the salvation of your soul. I will save you from this trouble."
And he swore to him upon the Gospel, "Give me one day to load my clothes on the boat and I swear to you I will leave this city."
After he had sworn, he awoke from the vision he had seen at night and said, "Even if I swore in a dream, nevertheless I have sworn this oath." He immediately got up, loaded his things and his clothes on the boat, and set sail for Jerusalem.
Evagrius goes to Melania but Lapses and Becomes Ill
8 Blessed Melania the Roman joyfully welcomed him. But once again the Devil hardened his heart as in the time of Pharaoh [Ex 7:14], and his heart doubted and became divided; and on account of his boiling youthfulness and his very learned speech, and because of his large and splendid wardrobe (he would change clothes twice a day), he fell into vain habits and bodily pleasure. But God, who always keeps destruction from his people, sent a tempest of fever and chills upon him until he contracted a grave illness that persisted until his flesh became as thin as thread.
Evagrius Confesses, Heals, and Leaves for Egypt
This illness afflicted him with every sort of hidden suffering so that the doctors were perplexed and were unable to cure him. Saint Melania said to him, "Evagrius, my child, this persistent illness does not lpease me. Do not hide your thoughts from me; perhaps I will be able to cure you. Tell me your thoughts in all honesty, for I can see by looking at you that this illness has not come over you without God's permission." The he revealed all his thoughts to her. She said to him, "Give me your word that you will take the monastic habit and, although I am a sinner, I will entreat my God through his grace to make you whole." He gave her his word and after a few days he was healthy again. He arose and took the monastic habit and left. He walked and came to the monastic settlement of Pernouj, which is in Egypt.
Evagrius Goes to the Cells and Remains There
10 And he remained there two years and the third year he left there and went to the desert of the Cells. He remained there sixteen years, undertaking there numerous ascetic practices, and he went to his rest at sixty years of age. He did not see the bitterness of the body's old age and thus went to his rest as it is written: "In a short while he completed many years and he was quickly taken ot the Lord so that evil might not alter his understanding."
Evagrius Asks abba Macarius about Fornication
11 One day he asked our father Abba Macarius, "My father, how will I be able to oppose the spirit of fornication?"
The old man said to him, "Do not eat anything in order to be filled up, neither fruit nor anything cooked over a fire."
Evagrius' Advanced Asceticism
12 He was a person to admire, having left behind a life of ease and pleasure, and he did not judge anyone, so that we recognized his maturity from the beginning. He said one hundred prayers a day, while being a very skilled scribe.
Evagrius' Strict Ascetic Regimen
13 At the end of nearly eight years of keeping a stringent regimen of ascetic practice without relaxing it at all, he managed to damage his bowels and because the food he ate was like stones his bladder hurt him. The elders had him change his ascetic regimen and thus he did not eat bread until the day he died but would eat a few herbs and a little cooked barley, which proved sufficient for him until he spent his little bit of time. As for fruit or anything else that gives the body pleasure, he did not eat them nor did he allow his servants to eat them. This was his ascetic regimen with regard to food.
Evagrius' Contemplative Practices
14 With regard to sleep, he followed a rule: he would sleep a third of the night, but during the day he would not sleep at all. He had a courtyard where he would spend the middle part of each day walking, driving away sleep from himself, training his intellect to examine his thoughts systematically. When he had finished sleeping a third of the night, he would spend the rest of the night walking in the courtyard, meditating and praying, driving sleep away from himself, training his intellect to reflect on the meaning of the Scriptures.
Evagrius' Gifts
15 He possessed a very pure intelligence and was deemed worthy to receive the gift of wisdom and knowledge and discernment, with which he categorized the works of the demons.
Evagrius' Fidelity to the Church and His Writings
16 And he was very scrupulous with regard to the Holy Scriptures and the orthodox traditions of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the books he wrote testify to his teaching and knowledge and remarkable intelligence. For he wrote three books of teaching: one concerning the cenobitic monks, another concerning the monks who lived in cells in the desert, and another concerning the priests of God in order for them to be vigilant with regard to their duties in the sanctuary. These three works teach everyone to live a good life, to possess a firm understanding, and to have an orthodox way of seeing things according to the traditions of the Church.
Evagrius the Spiritual Director
17 This was his practice: The brother would gather around him on Saturday and Sunday, discussing their thoughts with him throughout the night, listening to his words of encouragement until sunrise. And thus they would leave rejoicing and glorifying God, for Evagrius' teaching was very sweet. When they came to see him, he encouraged them, saying to them, "My brothers, if one of you has either a profound or a troubled thought, let him be silent until the brothers depart and let him reflect on it alone with me. Let us not make him speak in front of the brothers lest a little one perish on account of his thoughts and grief swallow him at a gulp."
Evagrius' Hospitality
18 Furthermore, he was so hospitable that his cell never lacked five or six visitors a day who had come from foreign lands to listen to his teaching, his intellect, and his ascetic practice. As a result, he had money because in truth large numbers of people wolud sed it to him. You would find more than two hundred coins in his possession which he would entrust to his steward who served in his house at all times.
Evagrius Refuses to be Ordained
19 Numerous times Apa Theophilus the archbishop wished to take him and make him bishop of Thmoui, but he would not agree to this and fled from the archbishop so he could not ordain him.
Demons Attack Evagrius
20 One time the demons paid him a visit and wounded him several times. We heard their voices but did not see them. They struck him at night with ox-hide whips and, as God is our witness, we saw with our own eyes the wounds they inflicted on his body.
The Book He Wrote about Them
21 If you [sing.] want to know the experiences that he underwent at the hands of the demons, read the book he wrote concerning the suggestions of the demons. You will see their full power and various temptations. Indeed, it was for this reason that he wrote about these subjects, in order that those who read about them might be comforted knowing that they are not alone in suffering such temptations, and he showed us how such thoughts could be mastered through this or that kind of practice. It is remarkable that such a person managed to escape notice from the beginning.
The Demons of Fornications Attacks Evagrius
22 One time the demons so increased in him the desire for fornication that he thought in his heart that God had abandoned him, as he told us, and he spent the whole night standing naked and praying in the cistern of water in winter until his flesh became as hard as rock.
The Spirit of Blasphemy Attacks Him
23 Another time, moreover, the spirit of blasphemy tormented him and he spent forty days without entering under the lintel of a cell until his whole body was covered with vermin like the body of an irrational animal [Dan 4:25–30].
Evagrius' Mystical Ascent
24 A few days later he told us about the revelations he had seen. He never hid anything from his disciples. "It happened, " he said, "while I was sitting in my cell at night with the lamp burning beside me, meditatively reading one of the prophets. In the middle of the night I became enraptured and I found myself as though I were in a dream in sleep and I saw myself as though I were suspended in the air up to the clouds and I looked down on the whole inhabited world. And the one who suspended me said to me, 'Do you see all these things?' He raised me up to the clouds nad I saw the whole universe at the same time. I said to him, 'Yes." He said to me, 'I am going to give you a commandment. If you keep it, you will be the ruler of all these things that you see.' He spoke to me again, 'Go, be compassionate, humble, and keep your thoughts pointed straight to God. You will rule over all these things.' Wehn he had finished saying these things ot me, I saw myself holding the book once again with the wick burning and I did not know how I had been taken up to the clouds. Whether I was in the flesh, I do not know; God knows. Or whether I was in the mind, once again I do not know" [2 Cor 12:2]. And so he contended with these two virtues [of compassion and humility] as though he possessed all the virtues.
Evagrius Teaches about Humility
25 He used to say that humility leads the intellect into right knowledge, drawing it upward, for it is written, "He shall teach the humble their paths" [Ps 24:9]. Indeed, this virtue is one the angels possess. Concerning the purity of the body, he used to say that "the monks are not alone with teh virgins in possessing it. This virtue is theirs but it is also a virtue that numerous lay persons have who maintain purity, but since not all of them possess purity of body, 'seek out,' it says, 'peace with everyone, and purity, without which no noe will see the Lord'" [Heb 12:14].
The Purity of His Language
26 It was impossible to find a worldly word in the mouth of Apa Evagrius or a mocking word, and he refused to listen to another person using such words.
Evagrius Saves a Tribun's Wife in Palestine
27 We also heard about this other wonderful matter: When he fled from Apa Theophilus, who wanted to make him bishop of Thmoui, he fled and went to Palestine and happened upon a tribune's wife who was possessed by an unclean demonic spirit. She would enjoy nothing from all of creation, for the demon taught her this practice as though this were the way the angels lived. Furthermore, she had not gone to her husband's bed for many years. When Apa Evagrius the man of God encountered her, he returned the woman's heart to God by means of a single word and a single prayer, she and her husband at the same time. For she used to repeat some things said by philosophers outside of the faith without understanding what she was saying, saying things that would have been wondeful if another person had said them. Evagrius gained her salvation in the Lord and brought about her reconciliation with her husband in peace.
Discerning Good and Evil Events
28 One time when he was in the desert, an old man who was fleeing from the presbyterate came to see him. While he was on his way, walking on the road, his bread gave out. When his disciple was about to faint from hunger, he stopped on the road and an angel placed a pair of loaves before him and put them on the road that led into the mountain. When the old man arrived at Apa Evagrius', he said to him, "When I was on my way to see you, I and my servant, we got hungry on the road. We did not find bread to eat. My servant was about to collapse from not eating and after we placed some skins down on the ground, we genuflected. While we were bent to the ground, the smell of hot bread came to us and when I got up I found two loaves of hot bread in front of me and when each of us had taken a loaf, we ate it, we recovered our strength, we started walking, and came to you." Indeed, I myself happened to be sitting there while he said these words to Apa Evagrius concerning the miracle that had happened to him. "Tell me, therefore," he said, "whether or not a demon has the power to do something like this."
Apa Evagrius said to him, "You and I have both had such events happen to us. A few days ago I too went to visit the brothers. As I was walking along, i found on the road a money purse with three solidi in it. I stopped and sat down beside it lest someone had dropped it and would not be back to search for it. Although I spent a day sitting there, no one came to look for the money. I did not know where i could send the money because in truth I did not know who it belonged to. I sent [my steward] to the villages closest to me to ask whether or not someone had lost a money purse the past few days. When I didn't find anyone, i ordered my steward to distribute the money to strangers. Whether it was an angel or whether it was a demon that had left the purpse, we distributed the money. As for you and me, whether what happened in our cases occurred on account of an angel or on account of a demon, let us give glory to God, for occurrences like these do not profit the soul at all except to purify it. Nevertheless, I give glory to you for having received food from an angel. Yes ,it is possible for demons to steal some loaves of bread and bring them to someone, but such loaves will not nourish the body because things that belong to demons stink and if something comes from the demons the soul is confused when it sees it. If, however, it comes from the angels, the soul is not confused but remains steadfast and at peace at that time. Therefore, the person who is worthy to receive food from the angels first of all possesesses discernment in thinking about the saying of the Apostle, who says, 'Solid food is for the perfect, for those whos faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish evil from good'" [Heb 5:14].
Evagrius' Encounter with Demons Disguised as Servants of the Church
29 Once again, three demons in the form of servants of the Church came to see him one day in the heat of midday, and they were dressed in such a way that they were able to prevent him from recognizing them and seeing that they were demons. On account of this, after they had left and he found the door closed, he realized that they were demons, but he did not realize it at first. They had given the appearance of discussing with him the subject of faith in the Scriptures, and each of them told him his concern and they said to him, "We have heard it said about you that you speak articulately about the orthodox faith; therefore, we have come to you so you might satisfy our concerns." He said to them, "Ask what you wish."
The first said to him, "I am a Eunomian. I have come to you so you might tell me whether the Father is begotten or unbegotten." Apa Evagrius said to him, "I will not answer you because you have asked a bad question, for it is not right to talk about the nature of the Unbegotten and to inquire whether it is begotten or unbegotten."
When the first realized that Evagrius had defeated him, he pushed his companion forward. When he had come forward, he first said [to his companion], "You've put your question badly." Apa Evagrius said to him, "And you, who are you?" He said, "I am an arian."Apa Evagrius said to him, "And you in turn, what do you seek?" He said to him, "I am asking about the Holy Spirit and about the body of Christ, whether or not it was truly him whom Mary bore." Saint Evagrius said to him, "The Holy Spirit is neither an offspring nor a creature. All creatures are limited to a place. All creatures are subject to change and are sanctified by him who is better than they."
[The third one said,] "You have defeated these two, for some [. . .] will you wish to speak to me too?" The old man said to [him], "What do you seek, you, you who pride yourself in doing battle?" The demon said to him, "Me? I'm not arguing with anyone, but my mind is not persuaded or certain that Christ received human intelligence. Rather, in place of intellect God himself was in him. Indeed, it is impossible for human intelligence to cast out the Prince of Demons from human beings and defeat him. Indeed, human intelligence can not exist in the body with God."
Apa Evagrius said to him, "If he did not receive human intelligence, he did not receive human flesh either. If, therefore, [he] received human flesh from [Mary the] holy Virgin, then [he] also [became] human, wiwh a soul [and intellect], being complete in everything human except sin alone [Heb 4:15]. For it is impossible for the body to exist [without receiving] a soul and intellect. If, therefore, he did not receive thes, then he is called Christ in vain. Therefore, the unchangeable Logos, the only-begotten Son of the Father [Jn 1:14, 3:18], received a human body and soul and intellect and everything human except sin.
"Therefore let it suffice us at the present to offer solely the apostle Paul as a witness, who, bringing together the faith in a single unity, speaks of a single divinity and a single royalty: the consubstantial and unchanging Trinity. 'For," he says, 'one is God, one is the mediator between God and humankind, Jesus Christ,' the Son of God the Father, with the one Holy Spirit, one baptism, one catholic Chruch, one resurrection of the dead at the time of [. . .] as [Paul has said] [. . .] you (pl.) deny the full mystery of the Holy Trinity. One of you has made the Logos a creature, another has made the Holy Spirit a creature and [denied] the body of Christ, and another has killed the soul and body of Christ [. . .]
Tim Vivian, Four Desert Fathers: Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt, and Macarius of Alexandria; Coptic Texts Relating to the Lausiac History of Palladius (Crestwood, NY, 2004), 72–92. Reprinted courtesy St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary Press. This transcription has suppressed pagination milestones, footnotes, and italics indicating departures from the Greek version.
Anonymous, Arabic life of Evagrius undated
Unstudied text, perhaps a paraphrase of Palladius. Not to be confused with a separate life translated from Syriac in 1732. See Khalil Samir, "Évagre le Pontique dans la tradition arabo-copte," in Actes du IVe Congrès copte: Louvain-la-Neuve, 5–10 septembre 1988, ed. Marguerite Rassart-Debergh and Julien Ries, vol. 2, Publications de l'Institut orientaliste de Louvain 40 (Louvain-la-Neue: Université catholique de Louvain, 1992), 125–153.
Socrates Scholasticus, Historia Ecclesiastica ca. 440
3.7. If we may express our own judgment concerning substance and personality, it appears to us that the Greek philosophers have given us various definitions of ousia, but have not taken the slightest notice of hypostasis.... But although the ancient philosophical writers scarcely noticed [hypostasis], the more modern ones have frequently used it instead of ousia. This term, as we before observed, has been variously defined: but can that which is capable of being circumscribed by a definition be applicable to God who is incomprehensible? Evagrius in his Monachicus, cautions us against rash and inconsiderate language in reference to God; forbidding all attempt to define the divinity, inasmuch as it is wholly simple in its nature: "for," says he, "definition belongs only to things which are compound." [= Gnostikos 27] The same author further adds, "Every proposition has either a 'genus' which is predicted, or a 'species,' or a 'differentia,' or a 'proprium,' or an 'accidens,' or that which is compounded of these: but none of these can be supposed to exist in the sacred Trinity. Let then what is inexplicable be adored in silence." [= Gnostikos 41] Such is the reasoning of Evagrius, of whom we shall again speak hereafter.
4.23. Evagrius became a disciple of these men, acquired from them the philosophy of deeds, whereas he had previously known that which consisted in words only. He was ordained deacon at Constantinople by Gregory of Nazianzus, and afterwards went with him into Egypt, where he became acquainted with these eminent persons, and emulated their course of conduct, and miracles were done by his hands as numerous and important as those of his preceptors. Books were also composed by him of very valuable nature, one of which is entitled The Monk [= CPG 2435, Ad monachos], or, On Active Virtue [= CPG 2430, Praktikos]; another The Gnostic [= CPG 2431, Gnostikos], or, To him who is deemed worthy of Knowledge: this book is divided into fifty chapters. A third is designated Antirrheticus [= CPG 2434], and contains selections from the Holy Scriptures against tempting spirits, distributed into eight parts, according to the number of the arguments. He wrote moreover Six Hundred Prognostic Problems [= CPG 2432, Kephalaia gnostika], and also two compositions in verse, one addressed To the Monks living in Communities [= CPG 2435, Chapters to Monks], and the other To the Virgin [= CPG 2436, Sentences to a Virgin]. Whoever shall read these productions will be convinced of their excellence. It will not be out of place here, I conceive, to subjoin to what has been before stated, a few things mentioned by him respecting the monks. These are his words [= Praktikos 91–95, 97–99]:
"It becomes us to enquire into the habits of the pious monks who have preceded us, in order that we may correct ourselves by their example: for undoubtedly very many excellent things have been said and done by them. One of them was accustomed to say, that 'a drier and not irregular diet combined with love, would quickly conduct a monk into the haven of tranquillity.' The same individual freed one of his brethren from being troubled by apparitions at night, by enjoining him to minister while fasting to the sick. And being asked why he prescribed this: 'Such affections,' said he, 'are by nothing so effectually dissipated as by the exercise of compassion.'
"A certain philosopher of those times coming to Anthony the Just, said to him, 'How can you endure, father, being deprived of the comfort of books?' 'My book, O philosopher,' replied Anthony, 'is the nature of things that are made, and it is present whenever I wish to read the words of God.'
"That 'chosen vessel,' the aged Egyptian Macarius, asked me, why the strength of the faculty of memory is impaired by cherishing the remembrance of injury received from men; while by remembering those done us by devils it remains uninjured? And when I hesitated, scarcely knowing what answer to make, and begged him to account for it: 'Because,' said he, 'the former is an affection contrary to nature, and the latter is conformable to the nature of the mind.'
"Going on one occasion to the holy father Macarius about mid-day, and being overcome with the heat and thirst, I begged for some water to drink: 'Content yourself with the shade,' was his reply, 'for many who are now journeying by land, or sailing on the deep, are deprived even of this.' Discussing with him afterwards the subject of abstinence, 'Take courage, my son,' said he: 'for twenty years I have neither eaten, drunk, nor slept to satiety; my bread has always been weighed, my water measured, and what little sleep I have had has been stolen by reclining myself against a wall.'
"The death of his father was announced to one of the monks: 'Cease your blasphemy,' said he to the person that told him; 'my father is immortal.'
"One of the brethren who possessed nothing but a copy of the Gospels, sold it, and distributed the price in food to the hungry, uttering this memorable saying—'I have sold the book which says, "Sell that thou hast and give to the poor."'
"There is an island about the northern part of the city of Alexandria, beyond the lake called Maria, where a monk from Parembole dwells, in high repute among the Gnostics. This person was accustomed to say, that all the deeds of the monks were done for one of these five reasons;—on account of God, nature, custom, necessity, or manual labor. The same also said that there was only one virtue in nature, but that it assumes various characteristics according to the dispositions of the soul: just as the light of the sun is itself without form, but accommodates itself to the figure of that which receives it.
"Another of the monks said, 'I withdraw myself from pleasures, in order to cut off the occasions of anger: for I know that it always contends for pleasures, disturbing my tranquillity of mind, and unfitting me for the attainment of knowledge.' One of the aged monks said that 'Love knows not how to keep a deposit either of provisions or money.' He added, 'I never remember to have been twice deceived by the devil in the same thing.'"
Thus wrote Evagrius in his book entitled Practice [= CPG 2430, Praktikos]. And in that which he called The Gnostic he says [= Gnostikos 44–48], "'We have learned from Gregory the Just, that there are four virtues, having distinct characteristics:—prudence and fortitude, temperance and justice. That it is the province of prudence to contemplate the sacred and intelligent powers apart from expression, because these are unfolded by wisdom: of fortitude to adhere to truth against all opposition, and never to turn aside to that which is unreal: of temperance to receive seed from the chief husbandman, but to repel him who would sow over it seed of another kind: and finally, of justice to adapt discourse to every one, according to their condition and capacity; stating some things obscurely, others in a figurative manner, and explaining others clearly for the instruction of the less intelligent.'
"That pillar of truth, Basil of Cappadocia, used to say that 'the knowledge which men teach is perfected by constant study and exercise; but that which proceeds from the grace of God, by the practice of justice, patience, and mercy.' That the former indeed is often developed in persons who are still subject to the passions; whereas the latter is the portion of those only who are superior to their influence, and who during the season of devotion, contemplate that peculiar light of the mind which illumines them.
"That luminary of the Egyptians, holy Athanasius, assures us 'that Moses was commanded to place the table on the north side. Let the Gnostics therefore understand what wind is contrary to them, and so nobly endure every temptation, and minister nourishment with a willing mind to those who apply to them.'
"Serapion, the angel of the church of the Thmuïtae, declared that 'the mind is completely purified by drinking in spiritual knowledge': that 'charity cures the inflammatory tendencies of the soul'; and that 'the depraved lusts which spring up in it are restrained by abstinence.'
"'Exercise thyself continually,' said the great and enlightened teacher Didymus, 'in reflecting on providence and judgment; and endeavor to bear in memory the material of whatever discourses thou mayst have heard on these topics, for almost all fail in this respect. Thou wilt find reasonings concerning judgment in the difference of created forms, and the constitution of the universe: sermons on providence comprehended in those means by which we are led from vice and ignorance to virtue and knowledge.'"
These few extracts from Evagrius we thought it would be appropriate to insert here.
7.17. About this time Chrysanthus bishop of the Novatians . . . was succeeded in the bishopric by Paul, who had formerly been a teacher of the Latin language: but afterwards, setting aside the Latin language, had devoted himself to an ascetic course of life; and having founded a monastery of religious men, he adopted a mode of living not very different from that pursued by the monks in the desert. In fact I myself found him just such a person as Evagrius says the monks dwelling in the deserts ought to be; imitating them in continued fastings, silence, abstinence from animal food, and for the most part abstaining also from the use of oil and wine.
A. C. Zenos, trans., Socrates & Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories, vol. 2 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 81–82, 107–108, 161
Anonymous, The Virtues of Saint Macarius of Egypt mid 5th c.
Abba Macarius Tells Abba Evagrius about Free Will
17 While Abba Poemen wis sitting beside him along with Abba Paphnutius, the true and faithful disciple, Abba Evagrius asked Abba Macarius about the purity of free will....
[Abbas Poemen, Paphnutius, and Evagrius] said to [Abba Macarius], "What do these words mean?"
Abba Macarius said to them, "Search and see. Examine my words."
And when they examined his words, they found them to be true, and after they asked his forgiveness, he prayed over them and dismissed them while they gave glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Abba Evagrius Speaks of Abba Macarius
39 Abba Evagrius said, "I visited Abba Macarius and said to him, 'Tell me a word so I may live.'
"He said to me, 'If I speak to you, will you listen and do it?'
"I said to him, 'My faith and my love are not hidden from you.'
"Abba Macarius said to me, 'Truly, I lack the adornment of virtue; you, however, are good. But if you cast off the pridefulness of this world's rhetoric and clothe yourself in the humility of the tax collector [Lk 18: 9–14], you will live.'
"When he said these things to me, all my thoughts dissipated, and when I asked his forgiveness he prayed over me and dismissed me. And I walked and found fault with myself, saying, 'My thoughts were not hidden from Abba Macarius, the man of God, and every time I go to meet with him I tremble on account of his ability to make me listen and it's a humbling experience for me."
Abba Macarius Teaches Abba Evagrius to Call upon the Name of Christ
42 Abba Evagrius said, "I visited Abba Macarius, distressed by my thoughts and the passions of the body. I said to him, 'My father, tell me a word so I may live.'
"Abba Macarius said to me, 'Bind the ship's cable to the mooring anvil and through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the ship will pass through the diabolical waves and tumults of this murky sea and the deep darkness of this vain world.'
"I said to him, 'What is the ship? What is the ship's cable? What is the mooring anvil?'
"Abba Macarius said to me, 'The ship is your heart. Guard it. The ship's cable is your spirit; bind it to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the mooring anvil that prevails over all teh tumults and diabolical waves that fight agains the saints...."
Abba Macarius Teaches Abba Evagrius about Evil Thoughts
77 Abba Evagrius asked Abba Macarius while he was sitting beside him with some other brothers, "How does Satan find all these evil thoughts to throw at the brothers?"
Abba Macarius said to him, "Whoever kindles a fire in an oven holds a lot of kindling in his hands and does not hesitate to throw it into the fire. So too the Devil...."
Abba Macarius Teaches Abba Evagrius about Patience and Self-Denial
78 Abba Evagrius also said, "I paid a visit to Abba Macarius at the hottest time of the day. I was burning with thirst and said to him, 'I am very thirsty, my father.'
"He said to me, 'Let the shaed suffice. There are numbers of people on the road right now who are burning who have no shade.'
"After these words I talked with him about virtue. He said to me, 'Truly my child I have spent tewnty years without filling my heart with bread or water or sleep, although I have reclined against the wall until I snatched a little sleep.'"
Abba Macarius Teaches Evagrius about Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit
82 Abba Evagrius said, "I was sitting one time with some brothers beside Abba Macarius. He was speaking to us about the sense of the Holy Scriptures and I asked the old man, 'What does this saying in the Gospels mean: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" ' [Mt 12:31–32; Mk 3:29//Lk 12:10].
[Abba Macarius responds at length]
"When Saint Abba Macarius the Righteous finished saying these things, great courage filled us and spiritual rejoicing. It was as though we had seen Christ the King standing in our midst encouraging us. After all these words that he spoke to us filled with life and healing for our souls from the mouth of the Paraclete who dwelt in Abba Macarius the Great, we threw ourselves on our faces and venerated his holy feet and he prayed over us. We left him, giving thanks and glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ."
Tim Vivian, trans., St. Maracius the Spiritbearer: Coptic Texts Relating to Saint Macarius the Great (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 2004), 100–101, 115–16, 117–18, 143–44, 147
Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica mid 5th c.
6.30 Ammon was ever after surnamed Parotes. Some time afterwards, during the ensuing reign, the wise Evagrius formed an intimacy with him. Evagrius was a wise man, powerful in thought and in word, and skillful in discerning the arguments which led to virtue and to vice, and capable in urging others to imitate the one, and to eschew the other. His eloquence is fully attested by the works he has left behind him. He was a citizen of Iberia, near the Euxine. He had philosophized and studied the Sacred Scriptures under Gregory, bishop of Nazianzen, and had filled the office of archdeacon when Gregory administered the church in Constantinople. He was handsome in person, and careful in his mode of attire; and hence an acquaintanceship he had formed with a certain lady excited the jealousy of her husband, who plotted his death. While the plot was about being carried forward into deed, God sent him while sleeping, a fearful and saving vision in a dream. It appeared to him that he had been arrested in the act of committing some crime, and that he was bound hand and foot in irons. As he was being led before the magistrates to receive the sentence of condemnation, a man who held in his hand the book of the Holy Gospels addressed him, and promised to deliver him from his bonds, and confirmed this 369 with an oath, provided he would quit the city. Evagrius touched the book, and made oath that he would do so. Immediately his chains appeared to fall off, and he awoke. He was convinced by this divine dream, and fled the danger. He resolved upon devoting himself to a life of asceticism, and proceeded from Constantinople to Jerusalem. Some time after he went to visit the philosophers of Scetis, and gladly determined to live there.
8.6 Heraclides was a native of Cyprus, and was one of the deacons under John: he had formerly joined the monks at Scetis, and had been the disciple of the monk Evagrius.
Chester D. Hartranft, trans., Socrates & Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories, vol. 2 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 368–369, 403
Gennadius, De viris illustribus late 5th c.
This is a continuation of Jerome's De viris illustribus.
11. Evagrius the monk, the intimate disciple of the above mentioned Macarius, educated in sacred and profane literature and distinguished, whom the book which is called the Lives of the fathers mentions as a most continent and erudite man, wrote many things of use to monks among which are these: Suggestions against the eight principal sins [= CPG 2434, Antirrhetikos]. He was first to mention or among the first at least to teach these setting against them eight books taken from the testimony of the Holy Scriptures only, after the example of our Lord, who always met his tempter with quotations from Scripture, so that every suggestion, whether of the devil or of depraved nature had a testimony against it. This work I have, under instructions, translated into Latin translating with the same simplicity which I found in the Greek. He composed also a book of One hundred sentiments [= CPG 2430, Praktikos] for those living simply as anchorites, arranged by chapters, and one of Fifty sentiments [= CPG 2431, Gnostikos] for the erudite and studious, which I first translated into Latin. The former one, translated before, I restored, partly by retranslating and partly by emendation, so as to represent the true meaning of the author, because I saw that the translation was vitiated and confused by time. He composed also a doctrine of the common-life suited to Cenobites and Synodites [= CPG 2435, Ad monachos], and to the virgin consecrated to God, a little book suitable to her religion and sex [= CPG 2436, Sentences to a Virgin]. He published also a few collections of opinions very obscure and, as he himself says of them, only to be understood by the hearts of monks, and these likewise I published in Latin [= CPG 2477?, Proverbs and Their Interpretation]. He lived to old age, mighty in signs and miracles.
17. Rufinus, presbyter of the church at Aquileia, was not the least among the doctors of the church and had a fine talent for elegant translation from Greek into Latin. In this way he opened to the Latin speaking church the greater part of the Greek literature; translating the works of Basil of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, Gregory Nazianzan, that most eloquent man, the Recognitions of Clement of Rome, the Church history of Eusebius of Cæsarea in Palestine, the Sentences of Xystus, the Sentences of Evagrius and the work of Pamphilus Martyr Against the mathematicians.
Ernest Cushing Richardson, trans., Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, Etc., vol. 3 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 387–389.
Anonymous, Apopthegmata, Alphabetical Collection, s.v. Compiled late 5th c.
Accepted as genuinely going back to Evagrius, so classified in his corpus as CPG 2462.
1. Abba Evagrius said, 'Sit in your cell, collecting your thoughts. Remember the day of your death. See then what the death of your body will be; let your spirit be heavy, take pains, condemn the vanity of the world, so as to be able to live always in the peace you have in view without weakening. Remember also what happens in hell and think about the state of the souls down there, their painful silence, their most bitter groanings, their fear, their strife, their waiting. Think of their grief without end and the tears their souls shed eternally. But keep the day of resurrection and of presentation to God in remembrance also. Imagine the fearful and terrible judgement. Consider the fate kept for sinners, their shame before the face of God and the angels and archangels and all men, that is to say, the punishments, the eternal fire, worms that rest not, the darkness, gnashing of teeth, fear and supplications. Consider also the good things in store for the righteous: confidence in the face of God the Father and His Son, the angels and archangels and all the people of the saints, the kingdom of heaven, and the gifts of that realm, joy and beatitude.
'Keep in mind the remembrance of these two realities. Weep for the judgement of sinners, afflict yourself for fear lest you too feel those pains. But rejoice and be glad at the lot of the righteous. Strive to obtain those joys but be a stranger to those pains. Whether you be inside or outside your cell, be careful that the remembrance of these things never leaves you, so that, thanks to their remembrance you may at least flee wrong and harmful thoughts.'
2. He also said, 'Restrain yourself from affection towards many people, for fear lest your spirit be distracted, so that your interior peace may not be disturbed.'
3. He also said, 'It is a great thing to pray without distraction but to chant psalms without distraction is even greater.'
4. He also said, 'Always keep your death in mind and do not forget the eternal judgement, then there will be no fault in your soul.'
5. He also said, 'Take away temptations and no-one will be saved.'
6. He also said that one of the Fathers used to say, 'Eat a little without irregularity; if charity is joined to this, it leads the monk rapidly to the threshhold of apatheia.'
7. One day at the Cells, there was an assembly about some matter or other and Abba Evagrius held forth. Then the priest said to him, 'Abba, we know that if you were living in your own country you would probably be a bishop and a great leader; but at present you sit here as a stranger.' He was filled with compunction, but was not at all upset and bending his head he replied, 'I have spoken once and will not answer, twice but I will proceed no further.' (Job 40.5)
Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, revised edition (Kalamazoo, 1984), 63–64


The condemnation of Evagrius was intertwined with that of Origen (ca. 185–ca. 251) and Didymus the Blind (ca. 313–ca. 398). In the twentieth century the argument was advanced that the strain of Origenism the Church condemned in the sixth was that of Evagrius, not Origen. In modern ecclesiastical circles this has moved some shadows of suspicion from the latter to the former. Not all scholars accept that Evagrius's role in the sixth-century controversies can be categorized so easily. First, it is unclear what role if any he played in the Origenistic controversy of his own day, the late 390s. Second, Evagrius's use of Origen is no more remarkable than the use made by less controversial figures such as Gregory Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea.
The Fifteen Anathemas of the 530s or 540s (when the third Origenist controversy reached its apex)—a formulation accepted as part of the Fifth Ecumenical Council by the Sixth and Seventh—show that one of Evagrius's major works, the Kephalaia Gnostica, or an adaptation of it, was the target of Orthodox polemic against Origenism. Below are early sources attesting to the condemnation or disapproval of Evagrius or certain works of his, whether directly or indirectly stated.
Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II), Fifteen Anathemas against Origen 553
I. If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.
II. If anyone shall say that the creation (τὴν παραγωγὴν) of all reasonable things includes only intelligences (νόες) without bodies and altogether immaterial, having neither number nor name, so that there is unity between them all by identity of substance, force and energy, and by their union with and knowledge of God the Word; but that no longer desiring the sight of God, they gave themselves over to worse things, each one following his own inclinations, and that they have taken bodies more or less subtile, and have received names, for among the heavenly Powers there is a difference of names as there is also a difference of bodies; and thence some became and are called Cherubims, others Seraphims, and Principalities, and Powers, and Dominations, and Thrones, and Angels, and as many other heavenly orders as there may be: let him be anathema.
III. If anyone shall say that the sun, the moon and the stars are also reasonable beings, and that they have only become what they are because they turned towards evil: let him be anathema.
IV. If anyone shall say that the reasonable creatures in whom the divine love had grown cold have been hidden in gross bodies such as ours, and have been called men, while those who have attained the lowest degree of wickedness have shared cold and obscure bodies and are become and called demons and evil spirits: let him be anathema.
V. If anyone shall say that a psychic (ψυχικὴν) condition has come from an angelic or archangelic state, and moreover that a demoniac and a human condition has come from a psychic condition, and that from a human state they may become again angels and demons, and that each order of heavenly virtues is either all from those below or from those above, or from those above and below: let him be anathema.
VI. If anyone shall say that there is a twofold race of demons, of which the one includes the souls of men and the other the superior spirits who fell to this, and that of all the number of reasonable beings there is but one which has remained unshaken in the love and contemplation of God, and that that spirit is become Christ and the king of all reasonable beings, and that he has created all the bodies which exist in heaven, on earth, and between heaven and earth; and that the world which has in itself elements more ancient than itself, and which exists by themselves, viz.: dryness, damp, heat and cold, and the image (ἰδέαν) to which it was formed, was so formed, and that the most holy and consubstantial Trinity did not create the world, but that it was created by the working intelligence (Νοῦς δημιουργός) which is more ancient than the world, and which communicates to it its being: let him be anathema.
VII. If anyone shall say that Christ, of whom it is said that he appeared in the form of God, and that he was united before all time with God the Word, and humbled himself in these last days even to humanity, had (according to their expression) pity upon the divers falls which had appeared in the spirits united in the same unity (of which he himself is part), and that to restore them he passed through divers classes, had different bodies and different names, became all to all, an Angel among Angels, a Power among Powers, has clothed himself in the different classes of reasonable beings with a form corresponding to that class, and finally has taken flesh and blood like ours and is become man for men; [if anyone says all this] and does not profess that God the Word humbled himself and became man: let him be anathema.
VIII. If anyone shall not acknowledge that God the Word, of the same substance with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and who was made flesh and became man, one of the Trinity, is Christ in every sense of the word, but [shall affirm] that he is so only in an inaccurate manner, and because of the abasement (κενώσαντα), as they call it, of the intelligence (νοῦς); if anyone shall affirm that this intelligence united (συνημμένον) to God the Word, is the Christ in the true sense of the word, while the Logos is only called Christ because of this union with the intelligence, and e converso that the intelligence is only called God because of the Logos: let him be anathema.
IX. If anyone shall say that it was not the Divine Logos made man by taking an animated body with a ψυχὴ λογικὴ and νοερὰ, that he descended into hell and ascended into heaven, but shall pretend that it is the Νοῦς which has done this, that Νοῦς of which they say (in an impious fashion) he is Christ properly so called, and that he is become so by the knowledge of the Monad: let him be anathema.
X. If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, having the form of a sphere, and that such shall be the bodies of all after the resurrection; and that after the Lord himself shall have rejected his true body and after the others who rise shall have rejected theirs, the nature of their bodies shall be annihilated: let him be anathema.
XI. If anyone shall say that the future judgment signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial φύσις, and that thereafter there will no longer be any matter, but only spirit (νοῦς): let him be anathema.
XII. If anyone shall say that the heavenly Powers and all men and the Devil and evil spirits are united with the Word of God in all respects, as the Νοῦς which is by them called Christ and which is in the form of God, and which humbled itself as they say; and [if anyone shall say] that the Kingdom of Christ shall have an end: let him be anathema.
XIII. If anyone shall say that Christ [i.e., the Νοῦς] is in no wise different from other reasonable beings, neither substantially nor by wisdom nor by his power and might over all things but that all will be placed at the right hand of God, as well as he that is called by them Christ [the Νοῦς], as also they were in the feigned pre-existence of all things: let him be anathema.
XIV. If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the γνῶσις and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.
XV. If anyone shall say that the life of the spirits (νοῶν) shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.
Henry R. Percival, ed. and trans., The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, vol. 14 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 318–319
Barsanuphius and John, Letters
600. A brother asked the holy Old Man, Abba Barsanuphius, saying: "Father, I do not know how I came upon the books of Origen and Didymus, as well as the Gnostic Chapters of Evagrius and the writing of his disciples. These books say that human souls were not created with the bodies but pre-existed them, being naked intellects or bodiless. Similarly, they say that both angels and demons were naked intellects. Human beings were condemned to the body because of their transgression, while angels became what they are by preserving their original condition. Demons, however, became what they are as a result of great evil. In fact, they say many other things of this nature, such as that the future hell must have an end and that human beings, angels, and demons can return to the state they first enjoyed as naked intellects, something they call apokatastasis.
"Therefore, my soul is afflicted, falling into doubt as to whether these things are true or not. Master, I entreat you to show me the truth so that I may hold to this and not perish. For nothing is said about these things in sacred Scripture. As Origen himself affirms in his Commentary on the Letter to Titus, this is the tradition neither of the apostles nor of the church, namely, that the soul is an older creation than the body, as if he was characterizing any person saying this as being a heretic.
"Nevertheless, Evagrius, too, bears witness to this in his Gnostic Chapters, that no one has spoken of these things, nor has the Spirit itself explained them. For in his sixty-fourth chapter of the second century of his Gnostic Chapters, he writes: 'On the former, no one has spoken to us; on the latter, only the one on Mt. Horeb has explained to us.' and again, in the sixty-ninth chapter of the same century, he likewise says: 'The Holy Spirit has not explained to us the first distinction between rational beings, nor the first essence of bodies.' That there is no apokatastasis or end to hell, the Lord himself revealed to us in the Gospel, saying: 'These will go away into eternal punishment'; and again 'Where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.'
"Therefore, master, how could these people expound such teachings, when the apostles have not passed them down to us and the Holy Spirit has not explained them to us, as they themselves bear witness and as the Gospels contradict? Be merciful, then, with my weakness, since you are a father of compassion, and show me clearly what these doctrines are about." Response by Barsanuphius[:]
Brother, woe upon and alas for our race...! Truly, brother, I have left behind my own mourning, and I mourn over your fall; I have stopped weeping over my own sins, and I weep for you as if for my own child. The heavens tremble over the preoccupations of human beings. The earth shakes over how people want to scrutinize the incomprehensible. These are the doctrines of the Greeks; they are the vain talk of people who claim to be something. Such words belong to idle people and are created through deceit....
For I bear witness before God that you have fallen into a pit of the devil and into ultimate death. Therefore, avoid these things and follow in the footsteps of the fathers. Acquire humility and obedience for yourself, as well as mourning, ascetic discipline, poverty, not reckoning yourself as anything, and other such virtues, which you will find in their Sayings and in the Lives....
601. The same brother asked the same question to the Other Old Man, Abba John. Response by John[:]
"Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is unspiritual and demonic." [James 3:15] This teaching is from the devil, leading to eternal hell those who pay attention to it. Anyone who is preoccupied with this teaching becomes a heretic; anyone who believes in it has deviated from truth; anyone who adheres to it is alienated from God's way. The workers of Christ, however, are not like this; the disciples of Christ have not taught this. Those who accept the word of truth do not accept such teachings. Brother, quickly detach yourself from these. Do not burn your heart with the fire of the devil. Do not sow thorns on your soil instead of grain; do not receive death instead of life. In short, do not receive the devil instead of Christ. Do not delay in these, and you will be saved like Lot from Sodom, through the prayers of the saints. Amen.
602. The same brother asked the same Old Man: "Should we not, then, read even the works of Evagrius?" Response by John[:]
Do not accept such doctrines from his works; but go ahead and read, if you like, those works that are beneficial for the soul, according to the parable about the net in the Gospel. For it has been written: "They placed the good into baskets, but threw out the bad." [Matt. 13:48] You, too, should do the same.
603. The same brother, who asked these questions, had doubts within himself, thinking and saying: "So how is it that some of the fathers in our time accept these teachings, and yet we regard them as being good monks and pay attention to their advice?" And some days later, it happened that this brother also asked the Great Old Man to pray for him. Then the Old Man revealed to him, of his own accord, what the brother was actually thinking in his heart, so that the latter was surprised and astounded[:]
Since you said and thought: "Why is it that some of the fathers accept the Gnostic Chapters of Evagrius?" it is true that certain brothers, who regard themselves as knowledgeable, accept these writings; but they have not asked God whether they are true. And God has left them to their own knowledge on this matter. Nevertheless, it is neither my role nor yours to pursue these matters; for our time is given us to examine our passions, as well as to weep and mourn for them.
John Chryssavgis, trans., Barsanuphius and John: Letters, volume 2, Fathers of the Church 114 (Washington, DC, 2007), 179–183
Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Sabas mid-6th c.
36. Agapetus on becoming superior of the New Laura found four monks in the community, admitted there by the simple-minded Paul out of ignorance about them, who whispered in secret the doctrines of Origen; their leader was a Palestinian called Nonnus, who, pretending to be a Christian and simulating piety, held the doctrines of the godless Greeks, Jews, and Manichees, that is, the myths concerning preexistence related by Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus. Fearing lest the corruption of heresy should spread to others, the blessed Agapetus, with the agreement of the sainted Archbishop Elias and at his bidding, expelled them from the New Laura; on being expelled they went off to the plain, to sow their pernicious weeds there.
90. When the fifth holy ecumenical council had assembled at Constantinople, a common and universal anathema was directed against Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia and against the teaching of Evagrius and Didymus on preexistence and a universal restoration, in the presence and with the approval of the four patriarchs.
R. M. Price, trans., Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Kalamazoo, 1991), 133–134, 208
Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Cyriacus mid-6th c.
13. [Cyriacus said,] 'What hell blurted out these doctrines? They have not learnt them from the God who spoke through the prophets and apostles—perish the thought—but they have revived these abominable and impious doctrines from Pythagoras and Plato, from Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus. I am amazed what vain and futile labors they have expended on such harmful and laborious vanities, and how in this way they have armed their tongues against piety.
R. M. Price, trans., Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Kalamazoo, 1991), 253
Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica ca. 593
4.38 After some other matter, [those at the holy synod] proceed to set forth fourteen chapters concerning the right and unimpeachable faith. In this manner had the transactions proceeded: but on the presentation of libels against the doctrine of Origen, named also Adamantius, and the followers of his impious error, by the monks Eulogius, Conon, Cyriacus, and Pancratius, Justinian addresses a question to the synod concerning these points, appending to it a copy of the libel, as well as the epistle of Vigilius upon the subject: from the whole of which may be gathered the attempts of Origen to fill the simplicity of the apostolic doctrine with philosophic and Manichaean tares. Accordingly, a relation was addressed to Justinian by the synod, after they had uttered exclamations against Origen and the maintainers of similar errors. A portion of it is expressed in the following terms: "O most Christian emperor, gifted with heavenly generosity of soul," and so forth. "We have shunned, accordingly, we have shunned this error; for we knew not the voice of the alien; and having bound such a one, as a thief and a robber, in the cords of our anathema, we have ejected him from the sacred precincts." And presently they proceed: "By perusal you will learn the vigour of our acts." To this they appended a statement of the heads of the matters which the followers of Origen were taught to maintain, shewing their agreements, as well as their disagreements, and their manifold errors. The fifth head contains the blasphemous expressions uttered by private individuals belonging to what is called the New Laura, as follows. Theodore, surnamed Ascidas, the Cappadocian, said "If the Apostles and Martyrs at the present time work miracles, and are already so highly honoured, unless they shall be equal with Christ in the restitution of things, in what respect is there a restitution for them?" They also reported many other blasphemies of Didymus, Evagrius, and Theodore; having with great diligence extracted whatever bore upon these points.
E. Walford, trans., A History of the Church in Six Books, from A.D. 431 to A.D. 594 (London, 1846), 240–241
John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent early 7th c.
14. I remember the case of Evagrius, whom an evil demon led to the notion that of all men he was the most sensible in all he thought and said. The poor man was quite mistaken, of course, and in this matter as in many others he proved himself outstandingly foolish. He says: "When our soul wants different foods, keep it on bread and water," (Praktikos 16) a statement that is like telling a child to climb the entire ladder in a single stride. So let us reject him and say: When our soul wants different foods, it is looking for what is proper to its nature.
Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, trans., John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Mahwah, NJ, 1982), 166
Anonymous, Chronicon Paschale 635.13 ca. 630
Olympiad 333
552 Indiction 15, year 25, the 11th post sole consulship of Basilius.
In this year 25 of the reign of Justinian, the 11th after the sole consulship of Flavius Basilius, there took place in Constantinople the 5th Synod against the impious and abominable and unclean and pagan doctrines alien from Christianity of Origen and Didymus and Evagrius, the opponents of God, and of Theodore the impious and his Jewish writings, and against the unclean letter to Maris the Persian called that of Ibas, and the foolish writings of Theodoret against the 12 Chapters of Cyril, our most holy father and teacher.
Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby, trans., Chronicon Paschale 284–628 AD, Translated Texts for Historians 7 (Liverpool, 1989), 132–133
Sixth Ecumenical Council, Acts 680–681
Session 18. Wherefore this our holy and Ecumenical Synod having driven away the impious error which had prevailed for a certain time until now, and following closely the straight path of the holy and approved Fathers, has piously given its full assent to the five holy and Ecumenical Synods (that is to say, to that of the 318 holy Fathers who assembled in Nice against the raging Arius; and the next in Constantinople of the 150 God-inspired men against Macedonius the adversary of the Spirit, and the impious Apollinaris; and also the first in Ephesus of 200 venerable men convened against Nestorius the Judaizer; and that in Chalcedon of 630 God-inspired Fathers against Eutyches and Dioscorus hated of God; and in addition to these, to the last, that is the Fifth holy Synod assembled in this place, against Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius, and the writings of Theodoret against the Twelve Chapters of the celebrated Cyril, and the Epistle which was said to be written by Ibas to Maris the Persian), renewing in all things the ancient decrees of religion, and chasing away the impious doctrines of irreligion.
Henry R. Percival, ed. and trans., The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, vol. 14 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 344
Council of Trullo, Canons 692
Canon I. Also we recognize as inspired by the Spirit the pious voices of the one hundred and sixty-five God-bearing fathers who assembled in this imperial city in the time of our Emperor Justinian of blessed memory, and we teach them to those who come after us; for these synodically anathematized and execrated Theodore of Mopsuestia (the teacher of Nestorius), and Origen, and Didymus, and Evagrius, all of whom reintroduced feigned Greek myths, and brought back again the circlings of certain bodies and souls, and deranged turnings [or transmigrations] to the wanderings or dreamings of their minds, and impiously insulting the resurrection of the dead.
Henry R. Percival, ed. and trans., The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, vol. 14 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 360
Seventh Ecumenical Council, Decree 787
Moreover, with these we anathematize the fables of Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus, in accordance with the decision of the Fifth Council held at Constantinople.
Henry R. Percival, ed. and trans., The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, vol. 14 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 549–550
Seventh Ecumenical Council, Letter to the Emperor and Empress 787
We have also anathematised the idle tales of Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius.
Henry R. Percival, ed. and trans., The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, vol. 14 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (Buffalo, 1892), 572