Preliminary Remarks on the Analysis of Internal Evidence in Basil Letter 8 for Evagrian Authorship and Dating, with reference to the Theological Orations of St Gregory the Theologian
Let us now look at the actual content of Passage A, comparing it to the Theological Orations.
Let us consider this passage from Theological Orations 2:
How did I come to be in this state, O friends and initiates and fellow-lovers of the truth? I ran, then, as one who was going to see (katalepsomenos) God and thus I ascended the Mount and penetrated the cloud, going within material and material things and having turned to myself as much as is possible. When I looked on, then, I barely saw the hind parts of God, and this having been covered by the Rock, by the Word which was incarnated for us. And having stooped and peeked a little, I saw not the first and unmixed nature and that known in itself (in the Trinity, I say), and as much as remains within the first veil and is covered by the Cherubim—but as much as at the end arrives even to us. And this is, as far as I know, the grandeur which is in the creatures and in those things which are produced and managed by him, which the divine David calls ‘magnificence’. For these things are the hind parts of God, as many things as are, in the search for him, his identifying marks, just as the shadows and images of the sun on the water show the sun to feeble visions, it not being possible to look on the sun directly, the purity of the light defeating the sense. Thus you will do theology, then, even if you should be Moses and ‘the God of Pharaoh’, even if you should reach the Third Heaven in the manner of Paul and hear ‘unspeakable words’, even if you should come to be above Paul, of some angelic or archangelic order and place. For even if something is any celestial or supracelestial thing and by nature higher than us and closer to God, it is further from God and perfect intuitive comprehension (teleias katalepseos) than as much as it exceeds our composite and lowly and weighed-down mixture.
First of all, let us note the critical editor’s remark that in this passage, St Gregory the Theologian is very close to St Gregory of Nyssa in the Life of Moses.
Let us consider the structure of the mystical ascent as presented here by St Gregory the Theologian. The seeker ascends
Let us now see how the author of Passage A handles the same theme. Let us bear in mind that these two passages, if Passage A is genuinely of Evagrius in
7  The holy disciples of our Saviour, coming beyond contemplation as it is possible to men, and having been purified by the word, seek the end, and desire to know the final blessedness, of which very thing our Lord declared both the angels and himself to be ignorant. On the one hand, he called ‘day’ the exact apprehension of the conceptions (epinoiai) of God; on the other hand, ‘hour’ the contemplation of the Monad and Unity, the notification of which things he granted only to the Father. …  If, therefore, whatever God is, is said to be known by God of himself and that which he is not, not to be known—then our Lord, according to the notion (kat’ epinoian) of the Incarnation and the grosser teaching, is not the final object of desire; and therefore our Saviour did not know the end and the final blessedness. ‘But neither the angels know,’ he said—that is, neither the contemplation which is in them nor the reasons (logoi) of their ministries are the final object of desire. For the knowledge (gnosis) of these things is gross in comparison with the ‘person to person’. The Father alone knows, he says, because he [i.e. the Father] is indeed the end and the final blessedness. For when we know God no longer in mirrors, neither by means of alien things, but we come forth to him as to ‘only’ and ‘one’, then we will see the final end. For they say that the Kingdom of Christ is all the knowledge (gnosis) that is implicated in material [objects] and that the Kingdom of the God and Father is the immaterial contemplation, and, as one might say, the contemplation of the very Divinity.
Let us briefly mention the similarities. There is first of all the notion that the person must turn away from material things. That is a very strong feature of this school of mysticism.
The most obvious difference is the treatment by St Gregory of God who is the goal the Theologian as the Trinity. The author of Passage A, on the other hand, has a somewhat more Neoplatonic view that treats the Monad and Unity, identified with the Father, as the goal. The words we have translated ‘Monad’ and ‘Unity’ are technical terms in Neoplatonic philosophy used by Proclus for the highest aspect of the Godhead, here identified with the Father. A little later the author of Passage A uses related words which we have translated ‘only’ and ‘one’.
In Passage A, the
St Gregory makes no such distinction in the passage quoted here or anywhere else in the Theological Orations, and indeed rejects the notion that there is an end to the
Moreover, St Gregory speaks of seeing the hind parts of God, that which the divine David calls the ‘magnificence’ which is to be found in the creatures, just as we see the reflections of the sun upon the waters. The author of Passage A on the other hand is explicit that when we proceed beyond seeing God in mirrors, or by means of alien things, ‘but we come forth to him as to ‘only’ and ‘one’, then we will see the final end’.
St Gregory is very diffident about the possibility of Man’s knowing the nature of God. We can see St Gregory’s diffidence in this passage:
If, then, someone should have comprehended this [i.e. God] at some time and to some extent, what is the proof? Who has thus arrived at the final wisdom? Who has ever been found worthy of such a great charism? Who has thus ‘opened’ the mouth of his intellect (dianoia) and ‘drawn spirit’ so that in the Spirit ‘which searches and knows all things, including the depths of God,’ he comprehend God and no longer be in need of anything further, already having the final desire, to which every intellect (dianoia) and way of life of the elevated make haste?
And in this:
How have you not marvelled first at Manoah the Judge and later at Peter the disciple? The first not even bearing the sight of the God which appeared and for that reason saying ‘O woman, we are lost; we have seen God,’ in the sense that not even a divine apparition is able find place in men, much less the divine nature? And the second not allowing the seen Christ to approach but sending him away? Although Peter was warmer than the others in the knowledge [epignosin] of Christ and for this reason blessed and entrusted with the greatest things?
Here it is clear that St Gregory does not consider that it is reasonable to expect to know the nature of God. While it must be taken into account that he is engaged in polemic, it seems to us that such strong statements cannot be considered rhetorical excess but must constitute a well-thought position of St Gregory.
The author of Passage A, however, is quite explicit that the contemplation of the very Divinity is the goal, a goal which is attainable. It is as if the author of Passage A is relegating St Gregory the Theologian to the rank of beginner. That is hardly consistent with his being a student of St Gregory writing a year before St Gregory spoke the Theological Orations and expecting St Gregory to review his Letter before he sends it to the brethren back home.
Let us now look at an aspect of Passage A that finds its parallel in the Theological Orations. In Passage A, the author refers to the ‘day and hour’ in this way:
On the one hand, he called ‘day’ the exact apprehension of the conceptions (epinoiai) of God; on the other hand, ‘hour’ the contemplation of the Monad and Unity, the notification of which things he granted only to the Father.
It is important to realize that this is the second interpretation in Letter 8 of ‘hour and day’. Just previously, the author has written:
6  For you he is even ignorant of the hour and the day of the Judgement; and further, nothing escapes the notice of true Wisdom; all things came to be through it. Neither, then, has any man ever been ignorant of what he has done. But this he manages for the sake of your infirmity, so that neither might sinners fall into despondency at the shortness of the delay, there not remaining a time of repentance; nor again might those who for a long time are giving battle with the opposed power desert on account of the length of time. He therefore manages both by means of the feigned ignorance; for the one, cutting short the time on account of the good struggle; for the other, storing up a season of repentance on account of the sins.  And further, in the Gospels he numbers himself together with those who are ignorant, on account of the infirmity, as I said, of the many; however, in the Acts of the Apostles, as discoursing separately with the perfect, he says, excluding himself: ‘It is not yours to know times and seasons which the Father has set by his own authority.
Here we have two interpretations of ‘hour and day’, the second introduced as a higher interpretation. How does St Gregory the Theologian treats the same theme in the Theological Orations?
15 Tenth is for them the ignorance and the fact that no one knows the last day and hour, not even the Son, only the Father. But how is Wisdom ignorant of anything of those things which exist, or the Maker of the Ages, the Perfecter and Transformer, the Limit of those things which have come to be, He who knows the things of God as the spirit of man knows the things in him? What is more perfect than this knowledge? How then does he know exactly those things which are before the hour, and, so to say, those things which are in the time of the hour, but is ignorant of the very hour? For the thing is similar to a riddle: just as one might say that he knows exactly those things which are before the wall but not the wall itself; or that knowing well the end of the day, he does not know the beginning of night, where the knowledge of the one thing necessarily introduces knowledge of the other at the same time. Or is it not clear to all that on the one hand he knows as God, that on the other hand he says as man that he is ignorant, if one should separate the visible from the intelligible? For the fact that the appellation ‘Son’ is absolute and without relational, it not being a matter of the ‘Son of someone’, gives the real meaning to us, so that considering this we construe the ignorance in a more pious way, as referring to the human and not to the divine.
First, with respect to the first, lower, interpretation of Letter 8, there is a certain commonality between the two treatments: for example both the lower interpretation of Letter 8 and St Gregory refer to Wisdom and allude to the fact that the spirit of a man knows all things in him. However, there is no suggestion in St Gregory’s own treatment of the matter that Jesus Christ is feigning ignorance of the day and hour. In St Gregory it is merely a matter of the difference between the human and divine natures of the Christ. Consistently throughout the Theological Orations, St Gregory adopts this hermeneutical schema: things which refer to the divinity of Christ – things which refer to his humanity.
Next, it can be seen that the second, higher interpretation of Letter 8 concerning Jesus Christ’s ignorance of the day and hour is completely different from anything that St Gregory says on the matter. (It is well worth referring back to the whole of Passage A on this.)
Given this commonality of the Theological Orations with the first, lower interpretation, and the complete divergence of the Orations from the second, higher interpretation, it is reasonable to ask how St Gregory would have reacted if indeed Evagrius, according to hypothesis, presented to him the whole text of Letter 8 as it has come down to us for approval before he sent it to the brethren in Cappadocia, a year before St Gregory spoke the Theological Orations. We do not know how St Gregory would have reacted to the suggestion that Jesus Christ was feigning ignorance to his disciples—it is not a point that he picks up in his own Orations—but it would seem odd to us that he would shrug over the second, higher interpretation and say, ‘Send it out.’
We asserted that Passage A, which contains the second, higher interpretation, is most likely an interpolation. We think that this comparison with the Theological Orations makes this plausible. But let us note that if Passage A is an interpolation, then the place where Letter 8 continues with the original text also contains a passage echoed in the Theological Orations. That is this passage:
8  Again, by means of the wise Solomon in Proverbs he is created. For he says: ‘The Lord created me.’ And the beginning of the evangelical ways he is called, leading us towards the Kingdom of the Heavens—not a creation according to substance, but having become a way according to dispensation. For ‘to have become’ and ‘to be created’ make known the same thing.
Here is how St Gregory handles the same passage of Scripture:
There is then among them [i.e. the Arians] that text which is very convenient: ‘The Lord created me the beginning of his ways for the sake of his works.’ How will we go about answering? We will not condemn Solomon. We will not displace those things which are before on account of a final falling away from the way. Will we not say that this statement (logos) refers to wisdom, the knowledge and constructive reason, so to say, according to which all things have been constituted? For Scripture knows how to personify many things, even among those that are soulless, as: ‘The sea said’ this and that; the Heavens ‘narrate the glory of God;’ and ‘The Abyss said, “It is not in me;”’ and, again, something is commanded by the sword; and the mountains and hills are asked why they leap. But let the statement be taken as concerning our Saviour, true Wisdom. Let us consider the matter a little together. What among those things that exist is without a cause? The Divinity. For no one is able to state the cause of God, or that thing would be more ancient than God. And what is the cause of the humanity to which God submitted for our sake? At all events, our salvation. For what else [might there be]? Therefore, since here [in the Scriptural passage in question] we clearly find both ‘created’ and ‘engenders me’, the logic is simple. On the one hand, what we find with a cause we attribute to the humanity; what, then, on the other hand is simple and without cause we reckon to the Divinity. Therefore, is not ‘created’ said with a cause? For it says: ‘The Lord created me the beginning of his ways for the sake of his works.’ ‘The work of his hands are truth and judgement,’ on account of which things he was anointed with the Divinity. For this unction is of the humanity. But ‘engenders me’ is without cause—or show what is attached to this. What reasoning then will refute that wisdom is said to be a creation according to the lower birth, a child according to the first and fully incomprehensible [birth]?
There is nothing in St Gregory’s analysis that supports the assertion of Letter 8 that ‘created’ and ‘engenders’ mean the same thing. Indeed, his very technical analysis hinges not on their meaning the same thing but on their separate application to the humanity and divinity of Christ respectively.
Moreover, we can again see a very subtle difference between Letter 8 and the Theological Orations in these two passages. St Gregory consistently uses the schema ‘divinity of Christ – humanity of Christ’ whereas the author of Letter 8 consistently refers to the dispensation. We do not think that these are precisely the same thing, as we will discuss immediately below.
We can see that in both these Layer 2 passages which find their parallel in the Theological Orations and which take a similar tack, there are actually significant differences in approach between Letter 8 and the Theological Orations. Would St Gregory the Theologian have accepted the views of these passages of Letter 8 as ‘theologoumena’ well within the pale of sound doctrine, and approved the letter for posting to
To continue, St Gregory teaches that he saw the hind parts of God while covered by the Rock which is the Incarnate Word.
The author of Passage A states that seen from the point of view of the Incarnation and the grosser teaching, ‘our Lord’—Jesus Christ—is not the end and the goal of the mystical ascent, but seen from the point of view of the Word, he is.
What does Passage A mean here? It might be thought that what the author means is that the human nature of the Christ is not our goal but his divine nature is. Even if we ignore the Kephalaia Gnostica which explicitly states that the Christ was not God in the beginning but is called so on account of his union with the Word, still, the formulation of the author of Passage A is quite unusual from an orthodox point of view. For from an orthodox point of view, the person who is Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh: there was never a time when the human nature of Christ was a person apart from the person of the Word or subsisted apart from its union with the divine nature of Christ in the Person of the Word. Hence, there would be no reason for the mystic to seek in the mystical ascent the humanity of Christ apart from his Divinity: we want to meet Jesus Christ the person, and that person was always and only the Word of God.
If we were to accept this interpretation of Passage A, we would have a situation where the humanity of Christ was not our goal but his Divinity was; and where the Kingdom of Christ is the contemplation implicated in material things, to be surpassed so as to attain to the Kingdom of the Father, which is the contemplation of the Divinity, the contemplation of the ‘Monad’ and ‘Unity’.
If we identify the
St Gregory makes no such elaborate distinctions.
The question then arises: well, if Evagrius wrote this a year before St Gregory wrote the Theological Orations, how is it that he is making these distinctions? How is it that St Gregory accepted these distinctions as being genuinely orthodox without adopting them in his own Orations?
The more natural explanation is that the author of Passage A is advancing a different Christology here, a Christology developed at great length in Evagrius’ late works, especially the Kephalaia Gnostica.
In other words, a detailed reflection on the Theological Orations of St Gregory in comparison with Passage A indicates that Passage A was not written under the watchful eye of St Gregory: if the passage is by Evagrius it was written much later, when he was working on works such as the Kephalaia Gnostica.
And here we have a modest theory what happened. Evagrius learned the mysticism of St Gregory from St Gregory and went to
 SC 250 Oration 28 (= Theological Oration 2) 3, 1 – 26, pp. 104 – 106.
 Ibid. fn. 2, pp. 106 – 107.
 In context, the author seems to mean natural contemplation.
 SC 250 Oration 28 (= Theological Oration 2) 6, 19 – 26, p. 112.
 SC 250 Oration 28 (= Theological Oration 2) 19, 6 – 14, p. 138.
 Basil Letter 8 ¶7 .
 This paragraph, with its rather straightforward interpretation of the ignorance of Christ, belongs, in our opinion, to Layer 2.
 SC 250 Oration 30 (= Theological Oration 4) 15, 1 – 20, pp. 256 – 258.
 SC 250 Oration 30 (= Theological Oration 4) 2, 1 – 30, pp. 226 – 230.
 IV 18 The intelligible unction is the spiritual gnosis of the Holy Unity, and the Christ is he who is united to this gnosis. And if that is so, the Christ is not the Word in the beginning, so that he who has been anointed is not God in the beginning, but that one on account of this one is the Christ, and this one on account of that one is God.
 Of course, it might be objected that we are presenting a Chalcedonian view in a pre-Chalcedonian setting.