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Saint Maximus 1

Saint Maximus 1

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The Christian Neoplatonism of St. Maximusthe Confessor 
Author: Edward MooreQuodlibet Journal: Volume 6 Number 3, July - September 2004ISSN: 1526-6575
‘Oneself’ is not the subject isolating itself from the world, but a place of communication,of fusion of the subject and the object.
– Georges BatailleIn this paper 
[1]
I will examine an aspect of Maximus’ doctrine where theNeoplatonic influence is most evident, namely, eschatology. First, I willfocus on his cosmology, specifically the eschatological implicationsof thedoctrine of the creation of the cosmos in time. Secondly, I will examinesome key aspects of Maximus’ eschatology, particularly asceticism. Finally,this discussion will allow me to demonstrate Maximus’ role in thedevelopment of Neoplatonic philosophy, and to address the major difficultythat his speculative theology introduced into Eastern Christian thought.
I.
Simplicius, in his rebuttal to Philoponus, remarked that “the whole intentionof [the Christians’] piety is to show that both the heavens and the heavens’creator do not differ from them in any respect.”
[2]
Maximus, however, wenteven further, and taught that humanity is actually superior to the cosmos inwhich it temporarily resides. According to Maximus, all things are in motiontoward God, their prime mover and creator; and this motion is the source of their differentiation and discontinuity.
[3]
However, these beings in motionare also understood as
logoi 
or “energies” proceeding from God.
[4]
Whentheir motion ceases and they reach their end and repose in God, they willno longer bedif ferentiated beings comprising a
kosmos
, but united in thedivine Logos.
[5]
Finally, since all beings obtain their essence from Godand not through their own act, all must be regarded, according to Maximus’explication,
[6]
as ontologically equal.This presents a problem. The philosophical conclusion that all createdbeings are ontologically equal does not support the Christian theologicaldogma that only humanity – to the exclusion of other species and things –has been created in the image of God. It was Maximus’ task to harmonizethe philosophical conclusion with the theological dogma.
 
Maximus went on to interpret the “image of God” not in terms of essence,but of 
function
, i.e., the biblical reference to humanity’s creation in God’simage cannot mean that humanity shares in the
essence
of God, which isbeyond being,
[7]
but rather participates in God’s energies (
energeiai 
). Thisparticipation enables the soul to serve as a mediator between the divinityand the rest of creation.
[8]
As Maximus explains, “the soul is a middlebeing between God and matter and has powers that can unite it with both,that is, it has a mind that links it with God and senses that link it withmatter” (
 Amb
. 10, 1193D).
[9]
This means that human beings, whileontologically equal to all the divine
logoi 
, are given the task of unitingcreation with the creator; it does not imply that humanity has a monopolyon reason, or on God’s providential care. Regarding animals, for example,Maximus writes:[I]f we approach [animals] in a rational way we shall find a trace of theintelligible in them which is a not unworthy imitation of what is abovereason. For if we look at those beings that naturally care for their offspring,we are encouraged to define for ourselves reverently and with godlyboldness that God exercises providence in his sovereign uniqueness over all beings ...” (
 Amb
. 10, 1189B-C, tr. Louth)The human being’s status as an “image of God” means that he or she is apartner or co-operator with God, for the purpose of uniting the creation withthe creator, and achieving the divine end. Other beings, like animals, arepursuing their own
telos
, and are equally
logoi 
of God.So how, then, can the human soul possibly be understood as superior tothe cosmos, if it is ontologically equal to the existents comprising thecosmos? Maximus’ answer is elegantly simple. Beings in motion, heargues, are not existing according to their nature, but to their 
hupostasis
;therefore, they are not perfected and, for that reason, are equally imperfect.The cosmos is the “empty space” in which this motion toward perfection of natures occurs;
[10]
whenthis motion ceases, and all existents return toGod as unified
logoi 
, they will have transcended this place of motion andtemporality and will be equal not in their mutual
im
perfection, but in theperfection of their unique natures. As Basil Tatakis has adequately andsuccinctly explained:Maximos’ philosophical and theological analysis reduces itself to thefollowing: The principle of operation belongs to one’s nature and not toone’s person. This Aristotelian concept is not the only one in his work.
[11]
 
Indeed, Maximus understood created beings as in motion from their veryinception,
[12]
and recognized the attainment of their fulfilled nature only inthe eschatological state of rest within God.Tatakis goes on to state that:[T]he fundamental theme that commands and explicates Maximos’thinking ... is the image of a life of the universe that alternates betweenemanation from God and reabsorption into God, an image which is verycommon to the Greek spirit after the Stoics.
[13]
Like Proclus and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus viewedcosmic reality as consisting of a hierarchy of existents emanating from, andreturning to, God.
[14]
However, the Christian heritage of Maximus is,expectedly, given primacy in his thought. Drawing upon the doctrines of the Areopagite,Maximus posits the Church as a spiritual cosmos, an idealantitype of the imper fect, divided material realm.
[15]
The physical cosmos,or place of motion, is transcended and abandoned in salvation, while theChurch is fulfilled, in its nature, as the collectivity of divine
logoi 
in mutualperfection, according to individual natures.Salvation is the union of creatures with God; the world thus annihilatesitself or, rather, the world, together with human bodies, is transformed intospirit. Up to this point Maximos follows Dionysius, but when he senses thatthe substance of Christianity, its truth as well as its grandeur, liespreponderantly in its historicity, he defends the historicity with all his might,with his very life.
[16]
To summarize: Maximus’ eschatology is to be understood as the finalexpression of anhistorical process – carried out by created beings – of fulfilling the possibilities for creation conceived by and in the mind or 
logos
 of God. The “historicity” or historical aspect of this co-operativeparticipation in the divine will is the asceticdiscipline of human beingsseeking to align themselves – and all of creation– fully and clearly with thedivine energies.I will now discuss Maximus’ teaching regarding the ascetic disciplinenecessary to achieve the aptitude (
epitêdeiotês
) to act as a co-operator with God.
II.

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