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16.12.03, Kalvesmaki and Young, eds., Evagrius and His Legacy

16.12.03, Kalvesmaki and Young, eds., Evagrius and His Legacy

In the fourth century, Christian monks upheld Evagrius of Pontus as an exemplary ascetic. Yet, two centuries later, after being condemned as a supporter of Origenism by the Second Council of Constantinople, Evagrius' works suffered the fate of a heretic's writings, getting destroyed or neglected, or circulating in fragmentary and imperfect translations. This bifurcated reception of Evagrius has resulted in a very black-or-white characterization of his influence and importance by scholars: researchers tend to either interpret Evagrius as a monk (and thereby ignore his inheritance from and contributions to the wider world outside monasticism), or they judge him as a heretic (focusing primarily on the writings in his corpus that either refute or affirm his orthodoxy).

The editors and authors of Evagrius and His Legacy, however, seek to redirect the scholarly discussion of Evagrius "towards a richer appreciation of the influence, despite his condemnation and misinterpretation, of Evagrius the Christian thinker" (3). And indeed they do so successfully in this volume, both shedding new light on Evagrius' heretofore neglected intellectual fullness, and indicating the multiplicity of avenues where effective further research could be pursued. In fact, the volume is almost a starter-kit for Evagrius scholars, making further research or teaching on Evagrius quite easy: in addition to twelve stimulating essays on aspects of Evagrius' life, work, and reception, the editors also include a select list of Evagrius' works (noting both editions and translations), and an extensive bibliography of secondary studies and comparative primary works (ready-made for a syllabus).

Some of the essays included in the book engage directly with the traditional monk/heretic scholarly narrative outlined above in order to dismantle or nuance it. Brian E. Daley, for instance, traces the similarities and differences between Evagrius' theology and that of his mentors Basil of Caesaraea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa; by highlighting the ways in which all three of these men held intellectual positions akin to Origen's, Daley reveals a more precise picture of how Evagrius actually deviated from Cappadocian orthodoxy. Blossom Stefaniw shows how Evagrius' "Origenism" was not the only (or even the chief) reason for his condemnation, explaining that his real threat lay in his authority as a powerful and influential teacher of ascetics, monks, and anchorites. By comparing the writings of Philoxenos of Mabbug to those of Evagrius, David A. Michelson observes that Evagrius' sixth-century condemnation might not have been about Origenism so much as it was about his "hermeneutic of simplicity" and the "ineffability of contemplation" that seemed to trump theological speculation in his works (176). Analyzing treatises from Pamphilus, Leontius of Jerusalem, Maximus the Confessor, and anonymous Nestorians, Dirk Krausmüller interrogates the complex nature of Origenism and Anti-Origenism among late sixth- and seventh-century Chalcedonian Christians. By nuancing our understanding of what precisely Evagrius' condemners found threatening about his work, each of these authors in turn allows us to diversify our interpretation of the Evagrian tradition.

Many of the essays in the collection, however, explore Evagrius' writings without any acknowledgment of the narrow historiography that has come before them. Kevin Corrigan's essay, for instance, explores the use of "cutting" images in Evagrius' Thoughts, ultimately allowing him to assess Evagrius' supposed Platonism and Neoplatonism. Robin Darling Young's presentation of Evagrius' letters exposes their usefulness in understanding his persona as a teacher and the way his theological ideas developed through the interrogations of his correspondents. The strongest of these essays work either to connect Evagrius' works to his wider context or interpret his texts in an innovative way. Luke Dysinger connects Evagrius' approach to biblical exegesis with his ideas on spiritual progress. Julia Konstantinovsky traces how Evagrius, and Maximus the Confessor in turn, understand the "growth of the inner self in God" (128) through contemplation; Konstantinovsky's analysis is informed by philosophical and theological readings, and also by modern ideas from cognitive therapy, extending Evagrius' relevance beyond the fourth century and to the longer history of the individual. Tracing his survival both in manuscript and in influence, Columba Stewart discusses the Latin and Syriac receptions of Evagrius' thought and writings, and Anthony J. Watson discusses his reception east of the Euphrates in Persia and Central Asia. Joel Kalvesmaki discusses Evagrius as the father of the Byzantine literary form of chapters (kephalaia), thus characterizing him as a catalyst for new Byzantine genres, ways of reading, and methods of thought. And Gregory Collins delves into Evagrius' influence on late Byzantine monastics through the intermediary of St. Gregory Palamas.

Revising generalizations about the nature of Evagrius' heresy and refreshing our understanding of the value of his work, Evagrius and His Legacy is a call to disrupt the standard historiography and a model of the promisingly fruitful scholarly avenues that lie in wait.