Questions 600 – 603
A brother asked the holy Elder, Abba Barsanuphios, saying: I do not know, Father, how I fell upon the books of Origen and Didymus and upon the gnostic [works] of Evagrius and upon the [gnostic works] of his disciples; and they say that the souls of men were not created with the bodies, but existed before the bodies, being naked minds, that is, bodiless. Similarly, the angels also were naked minds and the demons naked minds. And on the one hand, men, transgressing, were condemned to this body; the angels on the other hand, keeping themselves, have become angels; and as many other things of this sort as they say. And again, that it is necessary that the Hell which is to come have an end and that men, angels and demons will be restored as they were, naked minds, which they call ‘Restoration (apokatastasis)’.
Since, then, my soul is crushed, falling into ambivalence of soul as concerns whether these things are true or not, I beseech you, Master, teach me the truth, so that I might thus guard myself and not be destroyed; for moreover none of these things is stated in Holy Scripture; just as Origen himself confirms in his commentary on the Epistle of Titus, that it is a tradition neither of the Apostles nor of the Church that the soul is older than the creation of the body, characterizing him who says this as heretical. But Evagrius also bears witness in his [Kephalaia] Gnostica that concerning these things no one has made anything known, neither has the Holy Spirit itself explained. For in the 64th Chapter of the 2nd Century of his [Kephalaia] Gnostica he has: ‘Concerning the first things, there is no one who makes known; concerning the second things he who was in Horeb has explained.’ And again in the 69th Chapter of the same Century, he speaks thus: ‘The Holy Spirit has explained neither the first division of the rational beings nor the first substance of the bodies.’ That there is neither a ‘Restoration (apokatastasis)’ nor an end to Hell, the Lord himself has made clear in the Gospels, saying ‘they will depart to eternal hell.’ And again: ‘Their worm will not die and the fire will not be extinguished.’ Neither the Apostles having transmitted [these things] nor the Holy Spirit explaining [these things], just as they themselves bare witness, and the Gospels speaking contrarily, whence, then, Master, have they exhibited these things?
Have the mercy of compassion, Father, with my infirmity and make evident to me what these dogmas are.
Brother, alas and alack to our generation! What did we leave and what do we investigate and in what are we zealous; in what do we grow dull! We have left the straight roads and want to tread the crooked, so that the scriptural word be fulfilled in us: ‘Woe to those who abandon the straight roads so as to travel on crooked roads.’ In truth, brother, I have left off mourning for myself and mourn for you where you have fallen; and the tears for my sins and weep for you as for my own child. The Heavens tremble, what men greatly occupy themselves with; the earth is shaken, how they wish to trace the incomprehensible. These are dogmas of the [pagan] Greeks; these are the vain theories of men conceited that they are something; these are the words of idle men; these things deception (plani) has born; for it says: ‘Saying that they are wise, they have become fools.’
And if you want to learn, be attentive. Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Light, our King, says: ‘From their fruits you shall know them.’ What fruit do they have then? Pride, contempt, slackness, negligence, scandal, alienation from the Law—rather, then, from God the Lawgiver—a dwelling-place of demons and of the Devil who rules over them. These things do not lead those who believe in them to the light but to darkness; these things do not exhort to the fear of God but rather to the progress which is according to the Devil. These things do not save from the mud but drown in the mud; these things are the weeds that the enemy sowed in the field of the Master of the House; these things are the thorns which sprout in the ground which has been cursed by the Master God; all a lie; all darkness; all alienation from God. Flee these things brother; let not their word be established in your heart: they dry up tears, they blind the heart; and, to sum up, they destroy the men who pay attention to them. Do not stand in these things; do not study them; they are full of bitterness and they bear fruit unto death.
As for the knowledge (gnosis) of the things to come, do not be deceived: What you sow here you reap there. It is not possible for anyone to make progress after the departure from the things here. God does not tire himself in creating man and his soul together.
As for the Heavenly orders [of angels], Holy Scripture refutes [them], saying everything: ‘He spoke and they came to be; he gave an order and they were created; he established them to the Age and to the Age of Ages.’ And those things which God has established—are they changed? For according to the Scripture with Him there is no change.
For where have you found that the zeal of such-and-such an angel has led him to advancement? Brother, here labour, there reward; here athletic combat, there crowns. Brother, if you wish to be saved, do not apply yourself to these things; for I bear witness to you before God that you have fallen into a cesspit of the Devil and into utter death. Well, put a distance between yourself and these things and follow in the footsteps of the Fathers: acquire for yourself humility and obedience, tears, ascesis, monastic poverty, the practice of being reckoned as inconsequential, and as many of these sorts of things as there are and you find in their words and lives. Bear fruit worthy of repentance and do not pay attention to me who speak but do not do; but pray that I also come at some time to a deep knowledge (epignosis) of the truth, to the glory of the Holy Trinity, now and to the Ages. Amen.
The same brother asked the other Elder, Abba John.
This wisdom is not from on high, but earthly (psychike), demonic. It is the teaching of the Devil; it leads those who pay attention to it to eternal Hell. He who delves into it becomes a heretic. He who believes it has fallen from the truth. He who assents to it is an alien to the way of God. The labourers of Christ did not teach these things. Those who accept the word of truth do not accept these things.
Quickly break off from those things, brother. Do not burn your heart with the fire of the Devil. Do not sow thorns in the earth instead of wheat, and instead of life you receive death. And why do I speak many words? Not instead of Christ the Devil. Do not spend time in those things and be saved as Lot from Sodom, through the prayers of the Saints. Amen.
Of the same.
Must we not therefore read the works of Evagrius?
On the one hand, do not accept the dogmas of this sort; on the other hand, read, if you wish, the works of Evagrius which are for the benefit of the soul, in accordance with the Parable in the Gospel concerning the net, as it is written: ‘The good fish they put into the baskets but the rotten ones they threw out.’ Do you likewise too.
The same brother, he who had asked these things, doubted in himself, reflecting and saying: ‘And how is it that some of the Fathers today accept these things and we take them to be good monks who have a care to themselves? And after some days it happened that the same brother asked the Great Elder [Barsanuphios] to say a prayer on his behalf. And then the Elder of himself declared to him the reflection of his heart, so that the brother was in wonder and astonishment. The answer goes this way:
Since you said and reflected, ‘Why do some of the Fathers accept the gnostic [works]1 of Evagrius?’ Some of the brothers, as gnostic (gnostikoi), accept these things and did not ask God if they were true; and God has left them in their own knowledge (gnosis) concerning these things. However, it is neither mine nor yours to seek these things but our time is to investigate our passions, and to weep and to mourn.
1The text has ‘gnostika’. In Question 600, the questioner, using the same word, is clearly referring the second time he uses this term to the Kephalaia Gnostica (he gives chapter and century for two passages which are actually there). Here it is not so clear that St Barasanuphios is referring specifically to the Kephalaia Gnostica and not to the gnostic writings of Evagrius in general, just as it is not clear the first time the questioner uses the term in Question 600 whether he is referring specifically to the Kephalaia Gnostica or to Evagrius’ gnostic writings in general.