Evagrius: The Seven Deadly Sins, Origins


Tilby: Angela: The Seven Deadly Sins: Their Origin in the Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius The Hermit, SPCK, 2009, ISBN 9780281056323, ppI-IX, 223

Unlike the titles of many books formulated to titillate, Angela Tilby's title is to be taken seriously; this is no titillating pot boiler so well represented by late medieval caricatures of the seven deadly sins.

Tilby has three serious purposes in this book: first, to rehabilitate the Origenic tradition so alive in Evagrius and still evident in the contemporary Greek Orthodox Church where he is nonetheless regarded as a heretic; secondly, to draw out the moral tradition of Christianity before Saint Augustine and to contrast this with the Western Augustinian tradition; and, thirdly, to point out the relevance of Evagrius and the Greek Orthodox tradition to our lives today.

To give some flavour of the book I need only summarise some of its conclusions:

The process is by no means easy both because Evagrius, like many other theologians of the early church who became mired in controversy is largely known through his detractors and because his writing was intended to inform a desert monastic community not an industrial secular society. Tilby's genius is to take the messages and relate them both to our search for God in our individual relationship but also in our liturgy. She is particularly acute on the subject of the Western vi3ew of sin and the way in which it has damaged our understanding of our relationship with God, best summed up in her final quotation from Gregory of Nazyanzus:

Yesterday I was crucified with Christ;
today I am glorified with him.
Yesterday I was dead with Christ;
today I am sharing in his resurrection.
Yesterday I was buried with him;
today I am waking with him from the sleep of death.

This is a slightly odd but very rewarding book which casts light on an increasing realisation by Christian historians (most recently Diarmid MacCulloch) of the underlying theological weakness of the Western tradition and the value of the Orthodox tradition.