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Evagre le Pontique: Scholies a l'Ecclesiaste.

The discovery of Evagrius' commentary on Ecclesiastes was announced by Paul Gehin in 1979. A Paris manuscript, Coislinianus 193, contains 73 scolia on this biblical book, interspersed with a selection of hexaplaric textual variants. The scolia are anonymous, and Gehin's attribution of them to Evagrius gave rise to a certain amount of disagreement. Scholars working on the catenae to Ecclesiastes (in which many of the scolia contained in the Paris manuscript are incorporated) had come to different conclusions about the authorship of some of them, and about the extent of Evagrius' work. Gehin himself does not claim that the 73 scholia were all that Evagrius wrote on Ecclesiastes, but he eschews acceptance of any other material from the catenae as authentic, even when it is attributed to Evagrius by name. The 73 Paris scolia form a 'pierre de touche' against which conclusions based on the catenae are to be tested.

Thus the question of the Evagrian authorship of the scolia from Coislinianus 193 is crucial not only for Evagrian studies but for the highly technical subject of patristic biblical catenae. Though the attribution of many of the scolia to Evagrius in the catenae carries some weight, the case rounded on the internal evidence of the work itself is more important. Evagrius was a remarkably systematic and self-consistent thinker and writer, and a somewhat repetitive one. Even in the course of a sequence of scolia, the essence of which consists of paraphrase of the biblical text and explanation of its difficult terms, Evagrius leaves countless traces of his distinctive thought and vocabulary. His strong impulse towards definition and the creation of a theological system asserts itself in the opening words of the text, commenting on Ecclesiastes 1: 1:

The church of pure souls is true knowledge [sic Gehin; but perhaps 'The church is pure souls' true knowledge'] of the ages and worlds and of the judgement and providence which [manifests itself] in them. The ecclesiast is Christ, the originator of this knowledge; or the ecclesiast is the one who purifies souls through moral contemplations and leads them to natural contemplation.

(Compare Praktikos, 1-3).

A pleasing feature of this edition, related to the need to establish the authenticity of the scolia, is that as much of the introduction is devoted to the subject of Evagrius' exegesis of Ecclesiastes as to the textual problem. There are two parts to this subject: how Evagrius saw the book in the context of his own theological system, and how his exegesis relates to present-day perceptions of the attitude of the biblical author. For Evagrius, as for other patristic commentators, Ecclesiastes was the book of physics, coming between the ethics of Proverbs and the theology of the Song of Songs. The corresponding sequence of stages of the spiritual life is set out in scolia 1 and 2, just as it is, though more clearly, in Praktikos 1-3. Natural [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] contemplation refers to the second stage, the morally pure soul's knowledge of the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] of the 'ages and worlds'. To paraphrase Evagrius, to see the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] of things is to see their theological and spiritual significance, their place in the redemptive process which owes its existence to the providence and judgement of God. How, in relation to the biblical text, the scolia elaborate this fundamental framework is the subject of an interpretative essay by Gehin (pp. 20-27), which deserves to be read and pondered by all Evagrian scholars.

Gehin's notes on the 'convergences et divergences' (pp. 16-19) between Evagrius and present-day understandings of Ecclesiastes also throw up some interesting points - not because it is thought that Evagrius' views of Ecclesiastes have any direct contribution to make to the formation of modern views of the book, but because his strategies are revealing of the way in which patristic authors dealt with what was a particularly difficult text, both linguistically and conceptually. One such strategy, to which the Greek text of Ecclesiastes readily lent itself, is the interpretation of the expression [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in line with the prevailing meaning of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as 'choix prealable' (p. 18). This interpretation transforms Ecclesiastes' descriptions of the futility of human action into references to the misuse of free-will in a good creation, rather than to an evil inbuilt into the nature of things. It is curious that Gehin does not include among the parallels to this passage in the scolia (p. 75) the interpretation of Gregory of Nyssa (Gregorii Nysseni Opera, v, p. 303, ll. 6-11), which seems to be closer than those of the authors who are cited to that of Evagrius.

On the text printed by Gehin there is comparatively little to be said. It is well established from as many as five independent witnesses (the Paris manuscript and the different families of catenae) and there are few significant variants (the longest in scolia 36 and 54). The epitome of each scolion found in the catena deriving from Procopius of Gaza is printed separately where it exists. This is a very usable edition, though for ease of reference to the commentary it would have benefitted from the inclusion of an index of names (both ancient and modern). It is encouraging to learn, from the bibliography, that new editions of two more of Evagrius' surviving Greek works (the De diversis malignis cogitationibus and the Scolia on the Psalms) are in preparation by Gehin, A. and C. Guillaumont, and M.-J. Rondeau.

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Author:Gould, Graham
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1995
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