St. Evagrius of Pontus (345 – 399)
Practice of the Virtues
We practice the virtues in order to achieve contemplation of the inner essences of created things, and from this we pass to contemplation of the Logos who gives them their being, and He manifests Himself when we are in a state of prayer.
~ Philokalia Vol. 1, “On Prayer,” p. 61-62, v. 52. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
Preparation for Seeing God in Creation
Evagrius says that a sign that a person is ready to move up the ladder of spiritual formation from the first stage of praktike [practice of the virtues which purifies] to the second stage of physike, or the ability to enter into contemplation of nature, is:
“…when the spirit begins to see its own light.”
Other signs which he lists are the ability of the person to pray at length without distraction and awareness of the powers that reside in the soul.
“Only when these signs are present… can the world be seen as it truly exists — in God.”
~ The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer: Evagrius Ponticus, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 1981, pp. 33-34.
Limits to Discerning God in Creation
It is in the power of our spirit to gain a spiritual understanding of natural objects. But to understand the Holy Trinity is not only not in the power of our spirit, but it requires a superabundant grace from God.
~ Centuries 1:79, as quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 1995, p. 230
Growth in Learning from Creation Difficult
To progress in thinking about creatures is painful and wearisome. The contemplation of the Holy Trinity is ineffable peace and silence.
~ Centuries 1:66 (Frankenberg, p. 105). In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p.230.
An early monk and ascetical writer who lived near Sketis in the Egypt desert, his many texts on prayer and holiness are still used as guidance for monastic life. He lived in the harsh, hot desert and was renowned for his learning and austerity. His writing is abundant with references to nature as a storehouse of lessons which he considers crucial for the attainment of a spiritually whole life. Evagrius, following others before him, divided the spiritual journey into three stages, called theoriae: praktike, physike, and theologia. In the first stage, praktike, a person learns to practice virtue, becomes obedient to basic biblical commands, and finds purification of the passionate nature. This leads to the second stage, physike, during which a person learns a natural form of contemplation and becomes able to see created reality as it exists in God. In the final stage, theologia, the disciple is ready for contemplation of God and experiential knowledge of the Logos and the Trinity. The importance of Evagrius for modern ecology lies in his concise description of the interior attitudes necessary to achieve contemplation of nature and literacy regarding God’s lessons in creation.
Reading the Works of God
There came to St. Anthony in the desert one of the educated men of that time and he said, “Father, how can you endure to live here, deprived as you are of all consolation from books?” Anthony answered, “My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and whenever I wish, I can read in it the works of God.”
~ “Texts on Prayer,” Quoted in Sources Chretiennes, Cerf., Paris, 1971, p. 694.
Creation as a Means for Knowing God
As for those who are far from God…, God has made it possible for them to come near to the knowledge of him and his love for them through the medium of creatures. These he has produced, as the letters of the alphabet, so to speak, by his power and his wisdom, that is to say, by his Son and by his Spirit.
The whole of this ministry is performed by creatures for the benefit of those who are far from God.
~ “Letter to Melania,” (in Hausherr, p. 84). In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p. 215.