Economy and Theology


Spiritual Progress

In the previous post I pointed out that Julia Konstantinovsky correctly indicates that Prakitkos 2 and 3 are to be understood in terms of spiritual progress. This much holds true. Having achieved apatheia the ascetic has regained the ability to truly love. The ability to love clears the path to contemplation. The emphasis on love is significant. We find Evagrius (but also Palladius and Bishop John of Jerusalem) hinting that anger and hatred prevent contemplation and that angry ascetics (in spite of their strictness in abstinence) do not have true knowledge of created being (physike) nor have they attained true knowledge of God (theologike). The referents of this remarks were very like Epiphanius and Jerome (among others). This amounts to saying that not only do these ascetics lack spiritual knowledge, they have not even achieved praktike ! They are still beginners pretending to a knowledge they do not have because their anger prevents them to truly love and therefore truly know. It is of great importance to realize that – as far as Evagrius is concerned – he never wrote against Epiphanius, Jerome, or Theophilus. He remains silent. The controversy about Origen had been underway since 393 (originating with Epiphanius in Palastine) but Evagrius ever remained unwilling to risk disturbing his peace by allowing anger against his (human) opponents. Spiritual progress indeed.

Having learned to love

The ascetic efforts of praktike are not and end. Ascetic efforts serve it gain control over one’s inner life so that one – by the grace of God – becomes able to love. For God created the world out of love and it is by love that it can be known. This love will become deeper and more stable and as it does so it eventually opens the nous for knowledge of God. This is the progress implied when we move from Praktikos 2 (the Kingdom of Christ) to Praktikos 3 (the Kingdom of God). Lack of love prevents this progress. It is not possible to have true knowledge of creation (knowing God through his works), nor is it possible to have knowledge of God as Trinity (which is a loving union with God).

THE Kingdom of Heaven is apatheia (dispassion) of the soul together with true knowledge of beings.

Praktikos 2

The kingdom of heaven (of Christ) is dispassion insofar as the control over the passions allows love to settle in the soul. The soul must be stable and not subject to chaotic movements of the passions. This stability allows for knowledge of beings or physike. Evagrius is here saying that the ascetic starts with praktike (ascetic efforts) so that he may learn to use the grace God has given him to regain control over his inner life. Once this has been achieved in a sufficient degree the ascetic will become able to begin the hard work of contemplation of beings. Evagrius’ (in)famous Kephalaia Gnostica deals with this level of knowledge and not theology as such. What was misunderstood about Evagrius’s thought such as is reflected in Justinian’s anathemas is therefore not the most important part of Evagrius’s thought. What we are dealing with is knowledge of God through creation. This includes knowledge of the Scriptures as well as knowledge of the reasons of creation. Someone who has not learned the discipline of “Origenist” askesis (and is familiar with its grammar ) does not have any chance of understanding an “Origenist” knowledge of beings. If this holds true it could explain Justinian’s 15 anathemas as precisely what happens when beginners on the way are given what is appropriate only for the advanced on the way. The Origenist Controversies can be (partly) understood as “noobs” playing on a level they do not have the XP points to have even a hope of success (to speak in gaming terms).

Economy and Theology

In his Epistula Fidei Evagrius provides a way to understand the progress from the kingdom of heaven to the kingdom of God without the implication of a subordinationist or dualist Christology:

 Only the Father, He says, knows, since He is Himself the end and the ultimate blessedness, for when we no longer know God in mirrors and not immediately, but approach Him as one and alone, then we shall know even the ultimate end. For all material knowledge is said to be the kingdom of Christ; while immaterial knowledge, and so to say the knowledge of actual Godhead, is that of God the Father. But our Lord is also Himself the end and the ultimate blessedness according to the purpose of the Word; for what does He say in the Gospel? I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:40 He calls the transition from material knowledge to immaterial contemplation a resurrection, speaking of that knowledge after which there is no other, as the last day: for our intelligence is raised up and roused to a height of blessedness at the time when it contemplates the One-ness and Unity of the Word. But since our intelligence is made dense and bound to earth, it is both commingled with clay and incapable of gazing intently in pure contemplation, being led through adornments cognate to its own body. It considers the operations of the Creator, and judges of them meanwhile by their effects, to the end that growing little by little it may one day wax strong enough to approach even the actual unveiled Godhead. This is the meaning, I think, of the words my Father is greater than I, John 14:28 and also of the statement, It is not mine to give save to those for whom it is prepared by my Father. This too is what is meant by Christ’s delivering up the kingdom to God even the Father; 1 Corinthians 15:24 inasmuch as according to the denser doctrine which, as I said, is regarded relatively to us and not to the Son Himself, He is not the end but the first fruits.

This long passage from Epistula Fidei has been highlighted where Augustine Casiday underlined his own translation of this letter in his study on Evagrius’ theology. This passage clearly shows that the transition from the material knowledge (kingdom of heaven) to immaterial knowledge (kingdom of God) is not ontological. Considered economically the Lord is not the ultimate blessedness but considered (contemplated) theologically the Lord is the ultimate blessedness. It concerns the same Lord but contemplated or considered from different perspectives. In a similar manner the kingdom of heaven concerns economy and the kingdom of God concerns theology. This does not imply, nor does it necessitate, a Christ-Nous to incarnate instead of the Word. There is precisely one Jesus Christ and He is the incarnate Word of God.

THE Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity, coextensive with the capacity of the nous (mind/intellect) but surpassing it in incorruptibility.

Praktikos 3

The kingdom of God is knowledge of the Trinity which is theologia or the contemplative knowledge of God as Trinity. This is not knowledge attained by study but rather prayer. Knowledge of beings can be studied and to some extent is discursive. Knowledge of God as Trinity – as Evagrius uses this terminology – is an experiental, mystical knowledge and is a gift of grace. God gives Himself in prayer when He so chooses. We can prepare the Lord a place, but we cannot make Him visit us. Theology is a gift of grace.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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