St Maximus The Confessor
We are not to fight against creation, which has been created by God, but to the contrary we must fight against the disordered and unnatural movements and activities of the powers within us.
(Responses to Thalassios 51)
We are not to fight against creation, which has been created by God, but to the contrary we must fight against the disordered and unnatural movements and activities of the powers within us.
(Responses to Thalassios 51)
Maximus the Confessor and Dionysius the Areopagite are two of the most important representatives of what is often called Christian Neoplatonism, yet each made markedly different use of Neoplatonic categories and concepts. To date, there are no major studies comparing their respective responses to later Greek philosophy, which, this paper argues, are aligned with their respective responses to Origenism. To examine this phenomenon, this paper studies the Confessor’s systematic restructuring of the Neoplatonic cycle of ‘remaining, procession, and return’, which departs significantly from the forms this cycle takes in the corpus Dionysiacum. Maximus’ doctrine of the logoi, including the centrality of the incarnate Logos to his metaphysics, is at once a radical critique of Origenism, a tacit dismissal of Dionysian hierarchies, and a comprehensive rethinking of Christian Neoplatonism.
Maximus the Confessor (580–662) was active at a time when Greek patristic theology and Platonic philosophy had reached their greatest maturity, evident from the Confessor’s own writings, in which theology and philosophy are intricately intertwined in a complex and far-reaching Christian metaphysics. A highly synthetic thinker, Maximus drew freely on a diverse body of philosophical and theological sources. His anthropology, for example, was largely inspired by the writings of Gregory of Nyssa (whom he invokes as an authority).1 For his ascetic theology, he owed a tremendous debt to the work of Evagrius of Pontus (whom he never mentions by name).2 His interpretation of Scripture closely followed the hermeneutics of Philo
Cf. Ad Thalassium 1.1 (CCSG 7:47); Quaestiones et dubia 19 (CCSG 10:17–18); and I.P. Sheldon-Williams, ‘Maximus’, in The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, ed., A.H. Armstrong (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 492: ‘The universe of Maximus is that of Dionysius with a place found in it for the anthropology of Gregory of Nyssa.’ Maximus’ esteem for Nyssa did not prevent him from modifying some of the latter’s signature doctrines, on which see: Paul Blowers, ‘Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa and the concept of “Perpetual Progress”’, Vigiliae Christianae 46 (1992): 151–71; and Maximos Constas, ‘A Greater and More Hidden Word: Maximos the Confessor and the Nature of Language’, in Maximos the Confessor: A European Philosopher, ed. Sotiris Mitralexis (forthcoming).
Maximus systematically modified Evagrius’ theology, redefining, for example, the logoi of ‘judgment and providence’ (cf. Ambiguum 10.37 [DOML 1:207]), and introducing the Dionysian notion of ‘ecstasy’…
This paper investigates three types of unity between God and creation in the works of St Maximus the Confessor. Following Maximus’ claim that God is beginning as creator, middle as provider, and end as goal, this paper argues that, in each of these three stages, God forms different kinds of unity with created beings. I will show that the first type of unity, between God as creator and created beings, is based on the relationship between the Logos and the logoi of beings, in which the Logos serves as the centre of all logoi. The second kind of unity, between God as provider and created beings, is established on divine providence, which causes created beings to converge towards each other by the singular force of their relationship to God as both their origin and their final goal. Finally, the unity between God as end and created beings, based on full participation, presupposes the ceasing of the natural activities of created beings, and liberation from the constraints of their natural definition or horos.
The aim of this article is to show how Maximus perceives the unity between God and rational beings. Following Maximus’ claim that God is beginning as creator, middle as provider, and end as goal,1 I will attempt to point out the three kinds of unity between God and the world that depend on the role of God and also on the status of created beings. In the first section of my article, I will explore the unity between God as the Logos and the logoi of rational beings, as they are preconceived by the divine power. Next, I will deal with the unity between God as provider and rational beings, which are separated by time and space. In this section, I will mostly establish my argument upon Maximus’ concepts of the ‘creative and sustaining procession’ and the ‘revertive and inductive return’ (ποιητική καί συνεκτική πρόοδος καί ἐπιστρεπτική καί χειραγωγική ἀναφορά),2 as they are seen from an ontological, anthropological, and liturgical perspective. Finally, the third part of the article focuses on the unity established by God as goal and created beings after His second and glorious coming. I will argue that this unity is established on the participation of
1.10 (PG 90:1088A); The English translation of George C. Berthold in Maximus Confessor, Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 130.
Ambigua ad Ioannem 7 (PG 91:1081C); The English translation is in Maximos the Confessor, Difficulties in the Church Fathers:The Ambigua, ed. and trans. Nicholas Constas, vol.1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 101.
For Athanasius, non-being describes the original state of creatures, and the state that creatures return to when they are not sustained by God. ‘Being’ is a gift given to creatures. Sin, for Athanasius, is creaturely rejection of God and therefore rejection of being itself. This suggests that when we sin, humans fall into nothingness and cease to exist, leading to the implication that fallen human nature and personal sin should result in our immediate non-existence. In this paper, I describe Athanasius’ position on non-being and sin, and then go on to look at how the theology of Maximus the Confessor may offer a means to understanding the difficulty implied in Athanasius’ work. I look at how Maximus understands being to be transformative, and something into which humans grow. Perfect being, which is full communion with God, or absolute non-being are, through Christ, reserved for the time after this life on earth.
This paper concerns Athanasius’ understanding of non-existence and how human beings relate to it and to God. This consideration is important because it sheds light on how we understand human rejection of God. Without a definite affirmation of the reality of human rejection of God, we have very little grounds to talk about human freedom and co-operation with God. One of the things Athanasius allows us to do, is to conceive of both the moment of creation and sustaining providence as pivotal, continuous relationships between the created order and the Creator. These relationships are broken by sin. In On the Incarnation, Athanasius poses the premise that: if creatures are brought forth out of nothing by the Word and sustained by him, then when creatures break from him and withdraw themselves from him, they reject being itself. To return to non-existence, or non-being, is thus a result of sin, of choosing to reject God. This paper is about how literally we can under- stand Athanasius’ dedication to the idea that sinning returns us to a state of nothing identical to that we were first brought out of in Genesis. On the one hand, we need a strong affirmation of the reality of human choice to turn from God, but on the other, sin clearly does not result in an immediate lapse into non-being equivalent to that from which we have been brought forth, since we continue to go about our daily lives. To address this difficulty, I draw on the logic of Maximus the Confessor to think about how sense can be made of this seemingly paradoxical situation.
In the works of St Maximus the Confessor, the term ‘desire’ encompasses a number of notions, which have been studied by scholars such as Bathrellos, Blowers, Bradshaw, Gauthier, and Loudovikos. Considering Maximus’ views as part of Byzantine philosophy, my focus in this article is primarily based on the famous differentiation of philosophy as a way of life, as certain praxis, from philosophy as a thinking activity. Throughout the Middle Ages, Philosophia Christiana was regarded as a practical way of life. It subsequently became the ‘science of sciences’ and, as Jean-Luc Marion says, this itself embodies the crisis of philosophy: the divergence of these two ways of understanding philosophy. From this perspective, the text begins with the practical and theoretical differentiation inherited by Maximus from ancient philosophy describing the activities of the soul, and then moves on to the notion of desire in relation to practical reasoning or action.
Tennyson said that if we could but understand a single flower we would know who we are and what the world is. Perhaps he was trying to say that there is nothing, however humble, that does not imply the history of the world and its infinite concatenation of causes and effects. Perhaps he meant that there is no deed, however humble, that does not imply universal history and its infinite succession of effects and causes. Perhaps he meant that the visible world is complete in each representation, just as Schopenhauer tells us that the Will expresses itself entirely in every person. The Kabbalists believed that man is a microcosm, a symbolic mirror of the universe; as would everything, according to Tennyson.1
Beginning and end are terms that stand at the basis of any philosophical or theological quest. The origin and the goal of human existence have shaped, and still raise interest in, dynamic topics like the one which we are presently considering. Motion and fulfilment in search of perfection have formed anthropological views throughout the history of humanity. Wholeness is acquired at the end of experience. In other words, the possibility of becoming a human ‘being’, already incorporates a human ‘doing’.
J.L. Borges, El Aleph, trans. Anna Zlatkova, (Sofia: Colibri, 1995), 104.
The point of departure for this paper will be an explication of Maximus the Confessor’s approach to moral judgment in light of the ancient tension between Stoic and Platonic/Aristotelian threads of thought regarding moral incontinence (ἀκράτεια) and the determination of the good. This paper shall seek, on the one hand, to account for the way in which these sometimes incongruous elements are utilized by the Confessor, and, on the other, examine the consequences of his approach for moral theory at large. Of critical importance will be the attempt to understand better how Maximus would consider the determination of moral good to be epistemically possible in the face of diverse human experience and natural circumstances, as well as the various levels of moral training. As such, this essay will attempt to derive a Maximian answer to Rousseau’s dilemma regarding the apparent human tendency to know the common good and yet disregard it.
The aporia posed by the ancients regarding knowing the good and being good has remained a perennial question and has divided ethical theorists up to our current era, resonating both explicitly and implicitly throughout the centuries in ethical thought.1 I do not think it a hasty generalization to say that the early Christian tendency to rigorously emphasize some sort of unconditioned and free will in human moral agency, though at times diverse in its expression, is at least in part directed at this question.2
The origin of this debate in ancient thought surrounds the question of ἀκρασία or moral incontinence, the philosophical background of which will be covered below. The original dispute is also described concisely by Terence Irwin in his The Development of Ethics, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 43.
See also Brad Inwood, Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 14– 17, 32–34, and Michael Frede, A Free Will: Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 20–25. See generally Inwood’s Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism, Frede’s A Free Will, and Richard Sorabji’s Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) for later responses to this aporia up through Late Antiquity.
The Christian emphasis on free will and moral culpability on the part of all human agents has divided commentators. The thesis of Michael Frede’s book A Free Will is that the precedents and concepts that would be taken up by the Christian thinkers of Late Antiquity can be found already in the Stoic school of thought. This is disputed by Kyle Harper in From Shame to Sin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013), 120–27, who argues that the notion of will and emphasis on moral freedom articulated by Christian writers is the result of the uniquely Christian world view. Another example of this conflict is manifested in the interpretation of the thought of Maximus the Confessor on the question of will. In Emotion and Peace of Mind, 337, Richard Sorabji argues against René Gauthier et al., saying that Maximus’ understanding of θέλησις is not really original but is merely the recapitulation of the Stoic notion of οἰκείωσις.
The following paper seeks to demonstrate the way in which St Maximus the Confessor identifies the holy Gospel, as the eternal Word of God, with Christ himself, specifically with the great mystery of the incarnate Christ. By living a life according to the Gospel, every man recapitulates in himself this great incarnational mystery, and is thereby renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit to participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, a life of eternal deification. It is Maximus’ practical experience of the Gospel as personal participation in the Incarnation which underpins his entire theological outlook, in particular his defence of Chalcedonian Christology, and which made his own life a true continuation and ‘completion’ of the Gospel of Christ.
The Gospel is the eternal word of life (John 6:68; 1 John 1:1–2). This means that the Gospel is word, eternal, and life. It is word, because, as Saint Maximus demonstrates in his corpus, it is identified with the eternal Word of God, Christ the Word, the Son of God who made all things in the beginning and who is himself God’s Gospel to creation, to the world, and to humankind. That it is eternal is apparent in Revelation, where Saint John the Apostle saw an angel bearing the eternal Gospel (Rev 14:6).1 That the Gospel is life is self-evident because it is the eternally alive Word of God, who is eternally begotten by the Father. According to John, life was in him, and this life was manifested (1 John 1:2) in the world as the Word and Son of God, who is eternally with the Father and is the one through whom the Father created all things. And, of course, with the Father and the Son there is also the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal giver of Life. The Father is the Intellect, the Son is Word, and the Holy Spirit is Life, says Saint Maximus in his Interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, in the Chapters on Love, and in other works.2
Maximus often mentions the Gospel, refers to the Gospel, quotes the Gospel, begins with the Gospel, breathes and lives the Gospel, and thinks and theologizes through
Delivered at the International Symposium on Saint Maximus the Confessor, Belgrade, 18–21 October 2012. Translated from Greek by James W. Lillie.
‘The Eternal Gospel, [that is] the one foreordained by God from the ages’ according to Andreas of Caesarea, Commentarius in Apocalysin 14.6 (PG 106:344D).
See, for example, Capita quinquies centana 3.4 (PG 90:1177–1180).
In this article, I strive to conclude a long theological debate with modern Orthodox Personalism and show that, in the Confessor’s thought, nature is essentially dialogical. That is, I argue against the imposition upon Maximus of any abstract separation of nature from person. Person is enousion, not an abstract ecstatic detachment from nature. Will, for Maximus, is an expression of the inner life of nature, both in anthropology and Christology, and stands in opposition to any transcendental conception thereof. This article also strives to show that neither Trinitarian life nor human fulfilment can be theologically articulated without the concept of homoousion. Finally, it seeks to inaugurate a systematic discussion of these notions within the context of modern philosophy and psychology.
I think that sometimes philosophers make theologians feel happy. This is precisely the case with philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, and Richard Kearney in our era, or Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Mounier, Nikolai Berdiayev, and Maurice Blondel, amongst others, in the recent past. What do they all have in common? It is that they created philosophies partially inspired by theological concepts and sources but, at the same time, faithful to the requirements of philosophical rigour. This sort of philosophy can often speak directly to the intelligent modern but theologically uncommitted man, using his language and his ways of thinking. On the other hand, these philosophies tend to leave the historical apparatus of theology intact, since they do not claim full domination or possession of theological tradition.
The above-mentioned claim of domination or possession is usually made by theologians. However, also in order to meet the requirements of the modern mind, some theologians also use philosophy, albeit in a way that seems to be the opposite of the method espoused by the aforementioned philosophers. These theologians use some philosophical concepts or methods a priori, thus trying both to assimilate and to interpret theological tradition in a way that is existentially convincing for their epoch. Perhaps the most well-known amongst them in the twentieth century are.
In the theology of the Eastern Church, wisdom is related to divine economy, which is why, apart from the epistemic and the ethical aspect, it is concerned with the hermeneutics of divine revelation. The goal of acquiring wisdom has anthropological dimensions, since divine revelation is addressed to man, and man is in the image of God. Therefore, the criteria for perfection in terms of practical reasoning are not merely cognitive, they are anthropological. For Origen, the ways of wisdom are transcendent to the plurality of the created world and man can achieve wisdom by following the epistemic structure of unification. In the understanding of Dionysius, the recognition of the harmony of the ontological hierarchy and volitional participation in this hierarchy is the road of wisdom. Maximus introduces the dynamism of Christology into the concept of wisdom: for him wisdom is not just following the natural hierarchy, but participating in the transformation of the latter through Christ. In this participative concept of acquiring wisdom, Photius introduces existential and epistemological uncertainty as an axiomatic starting-point, which enables man to accept wisdom as a divine gift and to take responsibility for the Christological transformation of creation.
In the philosophical tradition, wisdom is normally associated with practical reasoning, i.e. with the intuitive perception of the first principles that regulate concrete human actions. It depends on the capability of man to attain knowledge of the world. In the theology of the Eastern Church, however, wisdom is related to divine economy, which is why, apart from the epistemic and the ethical aspect, it is related to the hermeneutics of divine revelation. A strong emphasis is put on the anthropological criteria of wisdom. Human powers, as well as the conditions of human existence in general, are not merely the launching pad for the search of wisdom. The goal of acquiring wisdom has anthropological dimensions, since divine revelation is addressed to man and man is in the image of God. Therefore, the criteria for perfection in terms of practical reasoning are not merely cognitive, they are anthropological.
The relationship between soul and body has been a central topic to ancient philosophy and medicine. However, it is now a generally accepted thesis that several important Patristic authors in Byzantium used to talk about the union of the two natures in Christ, divine and human, in analogy with the union of soul and body in one single human person. The aim of this paper is to contribute to this topic by proposing an unexplored link between Nemesius of Emesa and Maximus the Confessor along the same lines of inquiry. In his third chapter of On the Nature of Man, Nemesius offers us an extended discussion on the relationship between soul and body. In this work, he also talks about the ‘unconfused union’ (ἀσύγχυτος ἕνωσις) between these two substances as a model for interpreting the union between the two natures in Christ. Yet he also mentions a limit to this analogy, and this paper suggests that this could have influenced Maximus the Confessor in shaping his final arguments for the restriction of the model of the soul/ body relationship for Christology.
The relationship between soul and body has always been a central topic for ancient philosophy and medicine. The Church Fathers made no exception to this trend, but what is equally interesting in their case is that they dealt with this issue not just in their anthropological reflections, but also in their Christological arguments. It is now a generally accepted thesis that several important theologians spoke about the union of the two natures in Christ, divine and human, in analogy with the union of soul and body in one single human person.1 As Anastasius the Sinaite claimed in
This paper has been developed within the research project, ‘Eléments philosophiques et théologiques dans les traditions médicales byzantine et arabe’, generously supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, project code nr. 156439. The author would like to thank the peer reviewers of this article for their useful comments and suggestions and also express his debt to the feedback of the participants of the ‘International Workshop Philosophy and Medicine in the Byzantine and Arabic-Islamic World (600–1150)’, University of Lausanne (Switzerland) 7–9 September 2015, where this paper was first delivered as a talk.
See, for details, A. Grillmeier and Theresia Hainthaler, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 2 part 2 (London: Mowbray, 1995), 200–212, and Marie-Odile Boulnois, ‘L’union de l’âme et du corps comme modèle christologique, de Némésius d’Émèse à la controverse nestoriene’ in Les Pères de l’église face à la science médicale de leur temps, eds. V. Boudon-Millot and B. Pouderon (Paris: Beauchesne, 2005), 451–77.
Maximus the Confessor’s Ambiguum 41 contains some rather untypical observations concerning the distinction of sexes in the human person: there is a certain ambiguity as to whether the distinction of the sexes was intended by God and is ‘by nature’ (as the Book of Genesis and most Church Fathers assert) or whether it is a product of the Fall, while Christ is described thrice as ‘shaking out of nature the dis tinctive characteristics of male and female’, ‘driving out of nature the difference and division of male and female’, and ‘removing the difference between male and female’. Different readings of these passages engender important implications that can be drawn out from the Confessor’s thought, both eschatological implications and otherwise. The subject has been picked up by Cameron Partridge, Doru Costache and Karolina Kochanczyk–Boninska, amongst others, but is by no means settled, as quite different conclusions have been formulated. The noteworthy and far-reaching implications of Maximus’ theological stance, as well as its problems, are not the object of this paper. Here, I am merely trying to demonstrate what exactly Maximus says in these peculiar and much discussed passages through a close reading, in order to avoid a double-edged Maximian misunderstanding—which would either draw overly radical implications from those passages, projecting definitely non-Maximian visions on to the historical Maximus, or none at all, as if those passages represented standard Patristic positions.
Maximus the Confessor’s Ambiguum ad Ioannem 41 1 is mainly concerned with Maximus’ fivefold cosmological division to be overcome by humanity through Christ, and contains a number of quite uncommon assertions concerning sexual difference, which may not seem to be in complete harmony with other passages in the Ambigua; for example, the assertion that the human person, following Christ, ‘shakes out of nature the distinctive characteristics of male and female’,2 ‘drives out of nature the difference and division of male and female’,3 and ‘removes the differ-
Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers. The Ambigua, ed. and trans. Nicholas Constas, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 102–12. ‘The natures are innovated, and God becomes man.’
This study attempts to examine how Saint Maximus the Confessor (c. 580–662) uses terms related to the notion of κράτος (power), such as ἐπικράτεια (domination, prevalence) and ἐγκράτεια (continence), in order to denote a domination which is not free from passion. Even though terms like ἐγκράτεια might havea positive meaning, signifying for example the mastery over one’s impulses, they are inferior to ἀπάθεια, to which they might be contrasted. According to Maximus, domination (ἐπικράτεια) might also be viewed as a form of weakness, since the one who exercises domination is in turn affected by the one dominated. Conversely, true love is linked only to ἀπάθεια (impassibility), which signifies a deeper overcoming of the dominated passion. Maximus’ thought thus presents some dialectical insights, since it highlights the influence of the dominated upon the dominator and a possible shifting of roles in a vicious circle. But in its ontological and eschatological depth, it is non-dialectical since the goal is absolute freedom from the dialectic of domination (ἐπικράτεια). The study will focus particularly on the vicious circle of pleasure and pain (ἡδονή/ὀδύνη) and one significant use of the term ἐπικράτεια in this context. It will be founded on Saint Maximus’ Christology, according to which the 7th century Father emphatically rejects the notion of a Monoenergism, in which Christ would have a unique operation through the domination of his divine operation over his human one.
The thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor (c.580–662) on power might be best understood if we examine the revealing semantic nuances of terms that have κράτος (power) as their constituent. Two such significant terms are ἐπικράτεια (domination, prevalence) and ἐγκράτεια (continence). One reason to choose these two terms in order to understand the thought of Maximus on this topic is precisely because they are two rather positive terms. Ἐγκράτεια is one of the fundamental virtues of the desiring part of the soul (ἐπιθυμία). Ἐπικράτεια denotes the prevailing part in a relation or union. As they have a positive or, at least, a neutral value, it is crucial to examine the ways in which they enter paradigmatic relations with other terms in subjects pertaining to power, potency, and domination. I shall discuss these terms