Date of Award
Master of Arts in Monastic Studies
School of Theology • Seminary
Columba Stewart, OSB
William J. Cahoy
Origen and Evagrius present a theology of prayer that provided the spiritual foundation for later monasticism, both in the East and in the West. Indeed, the influence of Origen and Evagrius on Christian spirituality is perceptible even today. Yet the works of both writers were repeatedly condemned by ecumenical councils, beginning with the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. In this thesis, I attempt to shed light on this paradox by setting the spiritual works of each writer within the context of the theological controversies of his time. When Origen’s works are seen in relation to the Church’s third-century effort to refute the theologies of Marcion and the Gnostic schools, such aspects of his thought as Platonic mythic cosmology, the pre-existence of souls and subordination within the Trinity come into clearer focus as aspects of his insistence on the importance of freedom against the determinism of the Gnostics. For Origen, God’s grace works with human freedom, and God’s providence allows for human freedom. In On First Principles and in his Commentary on Romans, Origen explores the moral responsibility of the individual soul to make the right choices; these are a challenge even with the help of God. Yet, God is always present, working through Christ and the angels to help the Christian return to holiness. Prayer is a key strategy for the Christian who wants to make progress, as well as the place of meeting for the human spirit with God. Thus, against the Gnostics, Origen is really a de-mythologizer. We also see that his allegorical approach to Scripture exposes the shallowness of the exegesis of Marcion, who sought to cut the Old Testament and much of the New from the Christian canon.
Writing a century and a half later, Evagrius systematizes Origen’s cosmology, as well as his concept of freedom and grace. At the same time, against the Eunomian Arians of his day, he reinterprets the Trinity, following his friends and mentors, the Cappadocian Fathers, in his stress on an apophatic approach to the One and the Three. In the trajectory of Origen’s Commentary on Romans, Evagrius further analyzes the machinations of the demons, seriously-fallen spirits who hate and envy both human beings and God, hence work with human cognition and the human heart to prevent the process of prayer and the learning of good moral habits. For Evagrius too, prayer is the meeting “place” between God and the human spirit and finally, the only lens through which created reality can be truly seen.
With this theological background in mind, we can see that the points which the Church later judged to be heterodox do not outweigh each writer’s deeply Christian spirituality.
Case, Hilary OSB, "Becoming One Spirit: Origen and Evagrius Ponticus on Prayer" (2006). School of Theology and Seminary Graduate Papers/Theses. 6.
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