Sunday, 3 May 2015

Benjamin Ekman: Weaving a garment of logoi: 'natural contemplation' in Evagrius Ponticus Scholia on Proverbs

Evagrius Ponticus (ca. 345-399) is one of the foremost teachers of monastic prayer and ascetic 'psychology' of late antiquity. He was also a writer of large amounts of scholia on biblical books, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. In one of his scholia Evagrius indicates, following Origen, that the order of Solomon's three books represent a sort of curriculum for the monk: Proverbs deals with the ethical effort of ascesis, Ecclesiastes reveals the inner truth of the created order through 'natural contemplation', and lastly the Song of Songs symbolises the 'theology' of mystical prayer.

Despite Evagrius' 'origenist' interpretation of the solomonic books these scholia are not devoted solely to one area of the monastic life at a time. In this paper I will discuss a group of scholia commenting on the 'ethical' book of Proverbs and show how they deal with the practice of 'natural contemplation'. When commenting on verses in Proverbs that use sartorial imagery Evagrius consistently associates the production and use of textiles with the process of contemplating the inner logoi of created beings. The virtuous person's mind becomes clothed in contemplations preparing her for the wedding feast of mystical prayer. The image of 'weaving' the threads of various contemplations that make up a 'garment' indicates for us the elusive nature of how natural contemplation was practiced by Evagrius. Through a close reading of Evagrius' habits of textual interpretation we get a deeper understanding of his monastic pedagogy and the manner in which he integrated ethics with contemplation.

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