Friday, March 16, 2012

Evagrius Ponticus and the Interpretation of Scripture

Evagrius’ Gnostikos establishes requirements one must fulfill for proper Biblical interpretation in chapters 16-21, 34. Gnosis cannot be acquired or passed on without the proper understanding of Scripture. Driscoll makes an interesting observation, Evagrius requires the teacher to possess the proper tools with which to undertake the interpretation for Scripture.[1] The teacher must be able to determine whether a passage speaks of praktikh, qewrhtikh or theology.[2] To do so also requires the teacher to be familiar with the varieties of literary expression found in the Bible and, as much as possible, one’s teaching, whether praktikh, qewrhtikh or theology must correspond to the literary expression.[3] Evagrius thus understands three levels of Scripture to be discerned in one's interpretation: praktikh, qewrhtikh or theology, also termed knowledge of God in Ad Monachos. Evagrius illustrates the manner in which a person is drawn to God through praktikh, qewrhtikh or theology in Ad Monachos 118-120,

            118. Flesh of Christ virtues of praktike (praktikh)
                    And he who eats is shall become passionless (ἀπαθής).

            119. Blood of Christ, contemplation (θεωρία) of created things;
                    And he who drinks it becomes wise by it.

            120. Breast of the Lord the knowledge (γνῶσις) of God;
                   He who rests upon it shall be a theologian.

Evagrius's principles of Biblical interpretation stand in profound contrast to our contemporary models and provides us with a fine exemplar for formulating a notion of "monastic" interpretation. Let us first recall the two dominant polarities today: higher criticism removed from any confession commitment and ecclesiastical interpretation, which oftentimes finds difficulty in the data derived from historical/textual criticism of the Biblical text. On the one hand, one is forced to suspend the experience of Scripture as a supernatural event. On the other hand, one is forced to suspend one's intellect when confronted with data that questions the legitimacy of a spiritual reading of the sacred text. Evagrius, I would, finds the mean between extremity and deficiency. Evagrius' Gnostikos clearly annunciates the need to approach Scripture with our intellectual faculties in full gear. We need to be aware of the literary devices at work in Scripture; we need to understand their form, function, and, finally, their intended communication. Any derived spiritual meaning should maintain a line of continuity with the initial intellectual interpretation - what we would call the critical interpretation must function as the base upon which subsequent spiritual interpretation builds. The gradual "ascent of Biblical interpretation (praktikh, qewrhtikh, γνῶσις) should lead, ultimately, to an ascent of the person, soul and intellect, to the divine.

[1] Driscoll. 190 See Gnostikos 16
[2] Driscoll. See Gnostikos. 18
[3] Gnostikos 19.