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Greek monastic spirituality owes much to Evagrios Pontikos (d. 399), despite his implication in the Second Origenist Controversy. Perhaps his most influential and best-received contribution was the system of eight ‘thoughts’ or ‘demons’ that could attack monastics, and to which a whole range of sinful behaviours was traceable. Evagrian psychology finds a particularly important reception in the Ladder of Divine Ascent, a seventh-century work of spiritual direction by John (c.579–649), abbot of St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. The Ladder is a synthetic work which weaves Evagrian ideas together with various patristic and monastic literature to present a unique, and highly influential, portrait of monastic spiritual life. Among John’s sources are reputed to be John Cassian and Pope Gregory I. This essay will demonstrate that John read only the Greek epitomes of Cassian; that these, and not Evagrios, were his primary source for ‘Evagrian’ psychology; and that the Gregory in question is not the Great, but the Theologian—Gregory Nazianzen. It will further demonstrate how John develops his own position as one of creative fidelity to tradition, by exploring the specific dynamics of his engagement with traditional authorities like Cassian and Nazianzen.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

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Journal Article

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