Podcast episode

Episode 166: Joel Kalvesmaki on Evagrius’ Kephalaia Gnōstika: Philosophy, Scripture, and Apophatic Mysticism

The Kephalaia Gnōstika are written in what seems to be a deliberately ‘scattered’ way; cf. our discussion of Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis. You must read, reread, go back and make new connections, and even then you may well find yourself utterly adrift (which may be the point, or part of the point). Numbers interact in suggestive way; we find arithmological primal numbers doing mysterious things. Human history began on the noetic plane, from which the primordial proto-souls fell, having become ‘bored’ with divine existence, becoming angels, demons, and humans, among others (there are things worse than demons and better than angels!). Our world is one of many planes of existence; all of them will be restored at a certain point in future history, and everything will become divine, or even become, well, god.

Then we discuss the parameters of the tradition to which Evagrius belongs: can we draw a line from Philo to Clement to Origen of Alexandria, and then to Evagrius, and does this constitute a ‘tradition’? We can, but the roots of the approach which typifies all of these thinkers actually go back deeper, into the Hellenistic philosophical tradition.

Finally, we address the importance of the Gnostic trilogy (primarily the KG) for the tradition of Christian mysticism.

Interview Bio:

Editor in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks for more than a decade, Joel is currently an independent scholar. He holds a research fellowship at Catholic University of America, where he was a graduate student (PhD, 2006), and he maintains several editorial and advisory positions, notably with the Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative and the monograph series Christianity in Late Antiquity (University of California Press in conjunction with the North American Patristics Society). A specialist in the works and thought of Evagrius Ponticus, Joel is editor of the authoritative reference work Guide to Evagrius Ponticus, https://evagriusponticus.net and co-author with Robin Darling Young et al. of Evagrius of Pontus, The Gnostic Trilogy (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Works Cited in this Episode:


Gregory of Nazianzus in the Orations tells his opponents to shut up about god and start talking about the created world instead: Theological Orations 1-5 = Orations 27-31, esp. the first two.


Joel Kalvesmaki. Evagrius the Cappadocian: Redating the Kephalaia Gnostika. Journal of Early Christian Studies 31, no. 4 (Winter 2023). Forthcoming.

For Recommended Reading, see the notes to the previous episode.


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