Author Topic: The Will to Purity as seen in the Writings of Evangrius Ponticus  (Read 546 times)


The Will to Purity as seen in the Writings of Evangrius Ponticus
« on: December 03, 2018, 05:56:42 pm »

Category: Theology, Aphorisms, History

Hello all. I recently came across the works of an early Christian saint by the name of Evangrius Ponticus. He is often considered an ascetic today, but so far I haven't come across anything in his works that is suggestive of the kind of extreme asceticism which I'm sure we're all acquainted with. In fact it seems to me that he followed something like the Middle Way promulgated in Buddhism. The goal of his school is not to flagellate the body or to torment the mind in order to redeem the soul; rather he seeks to purify the soul of distractions and attachments in order to approach spiritual knowledge (or knowledge of that which is most fundamental).

He was a student of Origen, Gregory, and Basil the great, who became an Archdeacon of Constantinople. He was also present at the second Ecumenical council. His high position made him extremely prideful and lustful, until a crisis of faith precipitated a warning in a vision which prompted him to leave the city for Jerusalem. Only after confessing his struggles did he break from his former ways and became a cenobitic monk - who spent the last 15 years of his life engaged with studies and practice. Later on both he and his teacher Origen were condemned as heretics, and consequently many of his writings were lost. (Although some copies remained in Syriac, and others were kept in monasteries though ostensibly accredited to other authors).

On this subforum of course we do not concern ourselves with official condemnations of dedicated practitioners - especially those issued by an institution such as the church hundreds of years after his death. We do not have to believe or even agree with everything he says, but the writings of those who withdraw into themselves with determination to approach the supreme should be at least considered by us who seek to do the same. Anyone who engages in this work for a length of time cannot help but find his old ways of thinking overthrown, and new truths revealed in their place. Whether they be monastic disciples or solitary witches or more modern hermit writers like Thoreau - we Artemists are in a unique position to understand and learn from these texts.

The seminal trilogy of Evangrius is composed like so:

1. Praktikos [The Practice] - A fundamental work which lays the foundations of Ponticus' thought, and also explains the basics of ascetic life. This is material meant for novices in the great work.

2. Gnostikos [The Knower, or One who is Worthy of Knowledge] - A more advanced treatise which deals with mental and spiritual formations, as well as theoretical and contemplative material. A little more than half of the original survives, so far as I am aware.

3. Kephalaia Gnostika [The Principle Points of Knowledge] - A treatise discussing the highest and most esoteric levels of knowledge and experience, dealing with knowledge of god, the world, christ, spirits, and men. It was not made available to those who were not already highly advanced for fear of creating misunderstandings in them. This text was almost totally destroyed by those who condemned him as a heretic. Some copies remained in Syriac but were altered to remove much of the most offensive content. Only recently has an original, unexpunged Syriac manuscript been translated into English and made available to us.

There is also another work titled Sentences to A Virgin, which I am interested in acquiring and perusing, but have yet to find a copy online. The other works mentioned and much more information about Ponticus can be found here:

My research of these writings is ongoing, but I'd like to share some selections from what I've read so far.

Important Terms
Nous - The Intellect, or the Reason - though with a spiritual connotation as the highest part of man.
Apatheia - Dispassion, or Equanimity.
Logikoi - Rational beings or principles, either material or immaterial
Epithumia - Desire, Craving, Lust
Logos or Logoi - disembodied principles which govern those things which take part of them within reality. Similar to an Archetype, or a branch of Physics.
Thumos - Spiritedness, or Force of Will.

All of these quotes were selected by me, but those which I have emboldened I deem to be especially relevant to the work or especially interesting.

Quote from: Gnostikos

The ascetics will understand the deep purposes of asceticism; the knowers (gnostikoi) will behold matters of knowledge.   

The ascetic is one who is concerned solely with the achievement of perfect freedom in the portion of the soul subject to compulsions.

But the Knower [gnostikos] has the significance [logos] of salt for the impure and light for the pure.

The knowledge that reaches us from external [things] tries by means of the logoi to indirectly teach material [things]. However the [knowledge] which by God’s grace is innate [within us] directly presents matters to the mind; and in beholding them, the nous welcomes their logoi. And opposing the first is <error; against the second is> anger and indignation <and what flows from them>.

All virtues clear the road before the Knower; but superior to all other [virtues] is freedom from anger. Indeed, one who has touched knowledge yet is easily moved to anger is like a man who pierces himself in the eyes with a metal stylus.


Those things among what relates to praktike, physike, and theologike that are useful for our salvation, [we are] invited to speak about and to perform unto death. But those things that are indifferent it is not necessary to speak about or to perform, because of those who are easily scandalized.

It is proper for the knower to speak to monks and seculars concerning a proper way of life, as well as to explain in part doctrines concerning physike and theologike "without which no one will see the Lord."

Learn to know the logoi and the laws of circumstances ["fitting times"], [ways of] life, and occupations, so that you can easily tell each what is useful for him.

It is necessary that you have the matter for the explanation of what is said, and that you embrace everything, even if a part escapes you. For it is indeed proper to an angel that nothing of what is upon the earth escapes it.

It is necessary also to know the definitions of things, especially those of the virtues and vices; this, indeed, is the source [and the beginning] of knowledge and ignorance, of the kingdom of heaven and of torment.

It is necessary to know this: that all texts of an ethical character do not comprise a contemplation of an ethical character; no more does a text concerning nature [comprise] a contemplation on nature; but such as is of an ethical character comprises a contemplation of nature; and such as treat of nature comprise a contemplation of ethics, and the same for theology. What is said, in effect, of the fornication and the adultery of Jerusalem, the animals of dry land and waters, and the birds, the clean and the unclean, the sun that "rises, sets, and returns to its place," relate : in the first place to theology; in the second place to ethics; and in the third place to physics. Now the first text relates to ethics and the two others to physics.

It is necessary that the Knower be neither gloomy nor intimidating. For the first is ignorance of the logoi of things which have come into existence; the second is not desiring "that all men be saved and come to Knowledge of the truth."

It is necessary sometimes to feign ignorance because those who question are not worthy of an answer: and [in this] you will be truthful, since you are linked to a body and you [thus] do not yet possess complete knowledge.

[Concerning] those who dispute without having Knowledge: it is necessary to make them approach the truth by proceeding not from the end, but from the beginning; and it is not necessary for gnostikoi to tell the young anything, nor to let them touch books of this sort, for they are not able to resist the falls that this contemplation entails. That is why, to those who are still besieged by passions it is necessary to speak not words of peace, but how they will triumph over their adversaries: indeed, as Ecclesiastes says, "there is no discharge [from service] on the day of battle."

Do not, without [careful] consideration, speak about God [in Himself]; nor should you ever define the Deity: for it is only of {things which are made or} are composite that there can be definitions.

Close your mouth to those who slander in your hearing; and do not be amazed when you are accused by many, for this is a temptation from the demons. For it is necessary for the gnostikos to be free from hatred and memory of evil, even when this is not what he wants.

[Although] unaware of it, he is himself cured - the one healing others through the Lord. For the medicine which the gnostikos applies cures his neighbor insofar as it can, but [it cures] him of necessity.

A Bitter accuser of the gnostikos is his own conscience, and he cannot hide anything from it because it [sees] into the [secret] knowledge of the heart.

Every proposition has a predicate or a genus, or a distinction, or a species, or a property, or an accident, or that which is composed of these things. But on the subject of the Blessed Trinity, nothing of what has been said [here] is admissible. In silence let the ineffable be adored!

There are four virtues necessary for contemplation, according to the teaching of the just Gregory: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. (1) The work of prudence, it is said, is the contemplation of the holy and intelligent powers apart from their logoi; for this latter belongs to wisdom alone, according to the tradition we have received. (2) Courage is steadfast perseverance in the truth, even to the point of combat, as well as refraining from entry into that which has no existence. (3) The reception of the first sower’s seed and the rejection of what is sown secondarily - this is the proper work of continence, according to [Gregory’s] explanation. (4) Justice’s task is to give to each, according to his worth, a word: that is, proclaiming some things darkly; using parables to make other things known; and clearly explaining still others for the benefit of the simple.

That column of truth, the Cappadocian Basil has said: the Knowledge which comes from men is strengthened by careful meditation and diligent exercise; however the [knowledge] that by God’s grace has come to be within us [is strengthened] by justice, by the refusal to indulge anger, and by compassion. The first [Knowledge] can be received by those still subject to passion; the second [Knowledge] is received only by those [who have achieved] apatheia - those who are also able at the time of prayer to contemplate the illuminating gentle radiance proper to their nous.

IT was said by the angel of the church of Thumis, Serapion, that the intellect by drinking spiritual knowledge is perfectly purified; Charity heals the burning parts of the irascible self The flux of evil desiring is stanched by self-control.

The goal of the praktike is to purify the intellect and to render it free of passions; that of the gnostike is to reveal the truth hidden in all beings; but to distance the intellect from matter and to turn it towards the First Cause - this is a gift of theology.

Quote from: Kephalaia Gnostika

To the first good there is no opposition, because He is essentially [good]; thus there is no opposition as regards essence.

The opposition is in the qualities, and the qualities are in the creatures; opposition therefore is in the creatures.

Every reasoning nature is in its essence knowledge-seeking; and our God is Himself knowable: indivisibly He comes to be in those whom He has caused to be, like earthly science; but different from this in the substantial [nature of His] being is.

Principles do not engender and are not engendered, but the intermediate engenders and is engendered.

When that which is in us will be changed, those [things] in which we are will be changed, and this often to the extent that, that which is will no longer be named with modes.

The goal of the praktike and of suffering is the heritage of the saints.

The bodies of demons have color and form but they escape our senses, because the mixture is not the mixture of bodies that our senses apprehend. For when they wish to appear as persons, they transform themselves into the complete image of our body, while not showing us their bodies.

The thoughts [logoi] of things on earth are the good [things] of the earth; but if the holy angels know them, according to the word of Teqoa, the angels of God eat the goods of the earth. But it is said, Man eats the bread of angels. Thus knowledge of the thoughts[logoi] of that which is in the earth is also known by certain men.

If the sprout is in the seed with power, also perfection is in the receptive one with power. But if this is so, it is not the same as the seed and that which is in it, nor the sprout and that which is in the grain. But the seed of that which is held by the sprout and the sprout of this seed are the same. For although the seed becomes the sprout, the seed of that which is in the sprout has not yet received the sprout. But when it is liberated from sprout and seed, it will have the sprout of the first seed.

If the human body is a part of this world, but the form of this world is passing [away], it is also evident that the form of the body will pass [away].

Five are the principal contemplations under which all contemplation is placed. It is said that the first is contemplation of the adorable and holy Trinity; the second and third are the contemplation of incorporeal beings and of bodies; the fourth and the fifth are the contemplation of judgment and of providence.

Just as each of the arts needs a sharpened sense that conforms to its matter, so also the intellect needs a sharpened spiritual sense to distinguish spiritual things.

The sense, naturally by itself, senses sensory things, but the mind [nous] always stands and waits [to ascertain] which spiritual contemplation gives it vision.

We say various things about sleep while awake; but [it is] during sleep that we experience the proof. In the same in regard to all the things we hear about God while outside of him: we will experience the proof of them [once we are]within him.

We had the seeds of virtue [within us]when we were made [in the beginning] - not [the seeds] of vice. For if we were not receptive of something would we have [within us] all its power? And since we have no power to cease existing, we do not have [within us] the power of the non-existant: that is if the powers are qualities and the non-existant not is not a quality.

There was a time when evil did not exist, and there will be a time when it will no longer exist; but there was never a time when virtue did not exist, and there will never be a time when it will not exist. Indestructible, in effect, are the seeds of virtue. I am also convinced of this by the rich man who was condemned in the Shéol because of his evil and had pity for his brothers; thus to have pity is a beautiful seed of virtue

IT is said that God is [present] where he acts, and where he acts most, there he is most present; And since He acts most in the reasoning and holy planets, it is therefore in the celestial powers that he is most present.

God is in every place and he is not in a place; he is in every place for he is in all that exists by his manifold wisdom.. He is not in a place because he is not [one] among other[beings].

There is nothing among the bodiless which is in power in bodies; and bodiless is our nous, when it renders itself similar to God

Nothing in power in the soul is able to leave it through action and then to subsist independently, for [the soul] was by its nature made to exist in bodies.

It is not the Unity which apart from itself puts itself in motion; but it is put in motion by the receptivity of the nous, which, by its negligence, turns away its face and, by the fact of being deprived of it, engenders ignorance

All that was produced was produced for the knowledge of God; but among beings, some are firsts, and others seconds. Older than the first beings is (spiritual) knowledge, and (older) than the second beings is movement

Demons who fight against the nous are called birds; those who trouble indignation [are called] animals; those who move desire [are called] beasts.

Without end is the fullness of those who are first by their genesis, and within ends is the emptiness contained . The second beings are coextensive with emptiness , and they will rest when the perfect fullness will lead those who are receptive of it toward the knowledge of the Unity of the Holy Trinity.

Only those who are first in their creation will be delivered from the corruption [inherent]in action; but none among beings [will be delivered] from the corruption [inherent] in power.

Men fear Sheol, while demons fear the abyss; but there exist [beings] even more cruel, such as the indescribable [or mute?] serpents.

Whether the logikoi exist always or do not exist depends on the will of the Creator; but whether they are immortal or mortal depends on their own will, as does [the question] whether they are joined or not joined to one thing or another.

There are none of the second beings which would be susceptible of the knowledge, and none of the first beings which would be contained in a place.

Knowledge is said to be in a place, when it frequents the intellections of creatures, but in no place when it admires the Holy Trinity

In the knowledge of those who are second by to their creation various worlds are constituted and indescribable battles take place. But in the Unity nothing like this occurs: it is unspeakable peace, and there are only the naked noes that constantly quench their insatiability, if according to the word of our Savior, the Father judges no one, but he has given all judgment to Christ.

Who can know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements? And who can understand the composition of this organ of the soul? And who can investigate how one is joined to the other, in what their empire consists, and how they participate with one another in such a way that the praktike becomes a chariot for the reasoning soul, which strives to attain the knowledge of God?

In angels nous and fire predominate, but in human beings epithumia and earth, and among demons thumos and air. It is said that the third approaches intermediaries through the nostrils, while the first [approach] the second through the mouth.

The end of natural knowledge is the holy Unity, but ignorance has no end; for as it is said,there is no limit to his greatness.

With God is said to be: first, the one who knows the Holy Trinity; and next after him one who contemplates the logoi concerning the intelligible [beings]; third, then, is one who also sees the incorporeal beings; and then fourth is one who understands the contemplation of the ages; while one who has attained apatheia of his soul is justly to be accounted fifth.

The life of man consists of holy knowledge but the mercy of God is the contemplation of beings. Many of the wise of this world have promised us knowledge, but the mercies of God are better than life.

The light of the nous is divided in three, that is: in the knowledge of the adorable and holy Trinity, in bodiless and embodied nature, and in the intellection of the natures of creatures

It is not to the knowledge hidden in objects that ignorance is opposed, but rather to the knowledge of the intelligible forms of the objects. For ignorance is not naturally made so as to exist in corporeal nature.

The first renunciation is voluntary abandonment of the objects of this world for the sake of the knowledge of God.

The second renunciation is the laying aside of vice, which happens through divine grace and human diligence.

the third renunciation is separation from ignorance, which naturally becomes apparent to people according to state they have attained.

While the glory and light of the nous is knowledge, the glory and light of the soul is apatheia.

The nous of the logikoi is receptive of knowledge and ignorance, epithumia is receptive of chastity and of luxury

The nous wanders when impassioned, and is uncontrolled when it attains the elements of its epithumia, but ceases from distraction when it becomes dispassionate and attains the company of incorporeal [beings] who fulfill all its spiritual desires.

Love is the excellent state of the reasonable soul, which in this cannot love anything which is among corruptible things more than the knowledge of God.


Please feel free to pull out any of these quotes to dispute or discuss - I would be happy to engage with anyone who has considered these lines.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2018, 07:18:45 pm by Olive »
    Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,
     Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth, -
And ever-changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

-Percy Bysshe Shelley