Illustrated version of Chapter 1
If anyone wishes to prepare sweet smelling incense, he will, according to the Law, mix together equal amounts of myrrh, aromatic shell, galbanum and pure frankincense. These correspond to the four virtues, for if they happen to be overflowing and in balance, the mind will not have been opened up to the enemy. Translated from the Greek by John de la Tour Davies.
Exodus 30.34; Wisdom 8.7; 4 Maccabees 1.18; Rev. 5.8 and 8.3
Evagrius is referring to the composition of incense as laid out in the Book of Exodus. Galbanum is an umbellifer, the resin being obtained from its crushed stems and roots. It is used to enhance the effect of other perfumes.The word translated 'aromatic shell' is onycha, which is actually the shell of a mollusc which, when burnt, gives off a sweet fragrance.
Incense is associated in the Bible with prayer, rising with the prayers of the saints, according to the Book of Revelation (see above). The four virtues, of course, are those classically known as the cardinal virtues, derived by Saints Ambrose and Augustine from Plato's descriptions. They are Prudence - able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time; Justice - proper moderation between the self-interest and the rights and needs of others; Restraint or Temperance - practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation; Courage or Fortitude. Evagrius as a 4th century theologian, may have known the writings of other 4th century theologians, or he may have been thinking of Plato's original writings. Interestingly, Evagrius notes the importance of 'balance', with each of the virtues having its place, being neither in excess or deficient, much as Aristotle defined the 'golden mean'; while 'overflowing' seems to indicate that the virtues are noteworthy in such a person, and that they are communicable to others.What Evagrius seems to be stressing in this his first of 153 short chapters on prayer, is that when a virtuous person prays, his or her mind is opened up to God, and not to the devil, who is the 'enemy'. Then, like Christ, such a person is able to listen to what God shows them, without being confused that such guidance may have another source.So, if we want to grow in our ability to pray, and to listen to God in prayer - to discern the voice of God in our minds, we need also to be growing in the virtues.