Perhaps the single most all-encompassing text of Evagrius on abandonment is found in the Gnostikos. Its presence in that particular work shows that understanding the question is the special competence of the gnostic or teacher to whom this work is addressed. Evagrius speaks of it here to indicate that it is part of a father’s task to discern the causes of abandonment with a view toward helping the monk who finds himself in such conditions.
Remember the five causes of abandonment so that you can raise up again the weak souls brought down by this affliction. In fact, abandonment reveals hidden virtue. When virtue has been neglected, it reestablishes it through chastisement. And it becomes the cause of salvation for others. When virtue has reached a high degree, it teaches humility to those who have shared in it. Indeed, the one who has had an experience of evil, hates it; for experience is a flower of abandonment, and such abandonment is the child of passionlessness. (Gn 28)
Evagrius says there are five reasons for abandonment, but it is not easy to know for sure exactly where in his text to place the numbers that divide what he is speaking about. Nonetheless, we can pry open this text and the teaching that is tightly packed therein by commenting on it in reference to other of Evagrius’s writings. In the last analysis, after having situated Evagrius with as much clarity as possible in the concrete circumstances in which he taught and wrote, this is always the best method for understanding him.
We can begin with the idea of abandonment revealing hidden virtue. In Paphnutius’s teaching, Job was presented as the biblical model for this kind of abandonment. Paphnutius cited Job 40:3 and then paraphrased it to focus his point. Perhaps Evagrius learned this point from him. In any case, Evagrius uses the same scriptural citation to explain a line from the psalm in which he anticipates a legitimate objection. The psalmist says, “I have never seen a just man abandoned” (Ps 36:25). But the monks of the desert could say otherwise based on their own experience of fallen brothers. Or one could object with the biblical example of Job. Thus Evagrius explains:
“The just are subjected to abandonment for a while but for the purpose of testing. So said the Lord to Job: “Do not think that I have dealt with you in any other way than that you might appear to be just” (Job 40:3).”
Evagrius, and probably many other monks, would have meditated long and hard on the figure of Job. He represents for them the fact that not all abandonment, not every fall, is due to a moral lapse. In Proverbs 22:14 one can read, “The mouth of a transgressor is a deep pit; and he that is hated of the Lord shall fall into it.” Evagrius’ only comment is to preclude anyone from thinking that Job could be considered an example of such a one. He says, “Job fell into it not because he was hated by the Lord but with a view toward testing him”.
There are also other scriptural words to describe this same reality. Ecclesiastes says, “I have seen the just man perishing in his justice (Eccl 7:15).” Evagrius seizes this vocabulary to explain,
“Abandonment for the sake of testing is also called “perishing” , as we see in the case of Job, who said, “I have perished and have become an outcast” (Job 6:18).”
If Evagrius knows an abandonment for the sake of testing, far more frequent in his writings is the abandonment that is meant to establish humility, to combat pride. This could be said to be the major theme of all his teaching on abandonment. Pride, for Evagrius, is ultimately a form of madness, a complete misperception of the nature of things, in which the proud one is abandoned to become the plaything of the demons.