Evagrius and the Persons and Essence

I’ve been perusing some of Evagrius of Ponticus’ writings (as you do), and in light of our vigorous interchange in the comments of my “God and Motion” post, I thought I would add some thoughts from Evagrius. Evagrius is interesting, in part, because he was heavily influenced by the Cappadocians. In fact, the letter from which I will quote was thought to be written by Basil. You often find this letter in Basil’s works as “Letter 8″. The following are some thoughts from the letter that represent Evagrius’ trinitarian theology:

Number is a property of quantity; and quantity is linked to bodily nature; therefore, number is a property of bodily nature. We have affirmed our faith that our Lord is the fashioner [demiorges] of bodies. So every number designates those things that have been allotted a material and circumscribed nature; but ‘One and Only’ is the designation of the simple and uncircumscribed essence.”

“And yet we, in keeping with right reason, do not say the Son is either like or unlike the Father; each term is equally inapplicable. For the terms ‘like’ and ‘unlike’ are used only with respect to qualities, whereas the divine is free from quality. But as we confess the identity of their nature, we also accept the identity of their essence and disavow the idea fo a composite nature – for the Father, who is God by his essence, has begotten the Son, who is God by his essence. Thus, the identity of their essence is shown: for one who is God by essence has the same essence as another who is God by essence.”

“So, too, those who fight God seize on the verse, ‘The Son can do nothing of himself’ [Jn 5:19] in order to destroy those who listen to them. But to me even this passage attests chiefly that the Son is of the same nature as the Father. For if every rational creature with free will can do of itself what it wills and has equal inclination toward the good and the bad, whereas the Son can do nothing of himself, then the Son is no creature; and if no creature, then he is of one essence with the Father…You say that the Holy Spirit is a creature. But every creature is its creator’s slave. ‘For all things are your slaves’, he says [Ps 118:91]. If he is a slave, then he possesses holiness as an adjunct – but everything that possesses holiness as an adjunct admits of evil; whereas the Holy Spirit, being holy by essence, has been proclaimed ‘the fount of holiness’; so, then, the Holy Spirit is no creature. But if he is no creature, he is of one essence with God.”

Quoted from A.M. Casiday, Evagrius Ponticus in The Early Church Fathers Series by Routledge.

What do you think about this? Evagrius’ concern seems to be to utilize the creature/Creator distinction, in part, to highlight the essential unity of God as One. This reminds me of some of the post-Reformation anti-trinitarian polemics, where the individuality of the three are assumed, and the polemical issues revolve around unity. Any thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “Evagrius and the Persons and Essence

  1. 1) If “the son is no creature,” then how is Jesus “wholly God and wholly man”?

    2) If number is only found in the natural realm, and not in the divine essence of God, then how can a number – Trinity – exist in God?

  2. “Number is a property of quantity; and quantity is linked to bodily nature; therefore, number is a property of bodily nature”Such truth in those words!

  3. “…the essential unity of God as one…”

    Anything that can be said about God can have referrence only to God’s accidentals, for who can claim to know what divine essence is? As such, in its essence, deity is unknowable, undescribable, inscrutable, even unspeakable, and such properties as oneness, or manyness, or threeness cannot but be considered only as accidentals. If we want to speak out all the truth about the Uknowable, it can be said neither that it has anything to do with numbers, nor that it has nothing to do with them. And this principle partly agrees with the Church Fathers’ view that the Holy Trinity is uncountable.

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