Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Robin Darling Young - Contemplation in the Letters of Evagrius of Pontus

The letters of Evagrius of Pontus survive as a collection in Syriac, with a partial version in Armenian.  Apart from his first letter On Faith, once ascribed to Basil of Caesarea, several letters remain in their original Greek as prefatory letters to other works, and there are fragments of others.  As with other works of Evagrius the loss of the Greek original signals a concern that the collection contained esoteric material perceived to be objectionable after the sixth-century developments in which odium became attached to the monk and his teaching.  
In the letters, Evagrius does communicate the teaching for which he was criticized after his death – teaching most completely represented in the Kephalaia Gnostika.  Particularly in his Letter to Melania, but also in letters to John of Jerusalem and Rufinus, among others, he makes reference to a type of scriptural interpretation, to a view of Christ, and to eschatological teaching that arises from his particular interpretation of scripture.
The purpose of my contribution to this workshop will be to discuss how Evagrius’ understanding of contemplation appears in the very restricted compass of letters, and how it appears as part of a dialogue among persons in his circle – and thus very differently from his ususal description of contemplation in the works organized into kephalaia in which only Evagrius’ voice is heard.  In the letters Evagrius casts himself as teacher, true – but also as a student, often a struggling student, or as a beginner obstructed by his sins.  Evagrius also casts himself in roles provided by biblical verses, and his arrangement of words and phrases from the bible will be of interest as he describes the obstacles to his contemplation.

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