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Gentiles of the Soul: Maximus the Confessor on the Substructure

and Transformation of Human Passions

Blowers, Paul M., 1955-
Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 1996,
pp. 57-85 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press
DOI: 10.1353/earl.1996.0008
For additional information about this article
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Gentiles of the Soul: Maximus
the Confessor on the Substructure
and Transformation
of the Human Passions
Maximus the Confessor, in his attempt to deal with the problems of human pas-
sion, freedom, and love in an ontological and physiological as well as moral
framework, is seen by some scholars to be adumbrating the thought of Aquinas
on these subjects. Yet the argument here is that Maximuss doctrine of the hu-
man passions is aimed not per se at a comprehensive metaphysics of human pas-
sibility or at a doctrine of supernaturally infused o, ovq, butstill very much in
a neo-Cappadocian (and to some degree neo-Areopagitic) keyat a teleology of
the passions that judges their ultimate ontological status in relation to the latent
chaotic element in bodily nature, the denition of the frontiers of human free-
dom, and the ongoing, ever-unfolding potentiality, resourcefulness, and moral-
spiritual utility of all natural human faculties. All of this belongs, moreover,
within Maximuss larger Christological perspective. As the gentiles of the
soul, to use Maximuss own analogy, the passions are a contingent presence
in the history of human nature, and despite their deviance in connection with
the abuse of free will, they still constitute a crucial vehicle by which incarnation-
al grace is embodied in the farthest reaches of the cosmic order, of which human
nature is the treasured microcosm.
In classical philosophy as well as later patristic thought, the human pas-
sions presented a moral but inevitably also an ontological, or else physi-
ological, dilemma. Plato debated in his dialogues over whether the souls
lower, passible parts had any real (eternal) existence apart from incarna-
tion and involvement with evil. But neither he, nor Aristotle after him,
could ultimately imagine the soul moving without some measure of pas-
sion, and in the Republic and the Symposium he saw desire ( .viOtio)
Journal of Early Christian Studies 4:1, 5785 1996 The Johns Hopkins University Press.
and irascibility (Ot o), right along with ruling reason, as manifestations
or functions of the souls essential energy of .c, the deep passion pro-
pelling it toward things divine.
For these classical writers, as Martha
Nussbaum suggests, the passions are not simply the blind surges of af-
fect nor equatable with appetites like hunger and thirst; they have to do
with the determination of the Good and actually embody ways of inter-
preting the world.
The Stoics, while generally convinced that pleasure,
pain, fear, desire and other passions were not rooted in parts of the soul
but were errant mental impulses ( ooi), judgments (xio.i), or opin-
ions (o ooi), perhaps associated with diseased states or dispositions of
the mind, were neither univocal nor transparently clear on the ontology
of the passions within the dominion of the mind (t`o q,.ovix ov).
Yet in
1. Cf. Rep. 485C; 490AB; Smp. 188D; 205E212B. See also F. M. Cornford, The
Doctrine of Eros in Platos Symposium, reprinted in Plato: A Collection of Critical
Essays, ed. Gregory Vlastos (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press,
1971), vol. 2, 12021; R. A. Markus, The Dialectic of Eros in Platos Symposium,
ibid., 13243. Though Aristotle certainly rejects or revamps basic elements of Platos
psychology, he still sees the souls motion as appetitive ( o.tix q) motion entailing fac-
ulties of .viOtio and Ot o, all of which stand in necessary or natural tension with
the intellect (cf. de An. 433A434A; de Mot. An. 700B701A, 703A).
2. Martha Nussbaum, The Stoics on the Extirpation of the Passions, in her The
Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton: Princeton Uni-
versity Press, 1994), 369; see also idem, Aristotle on Emotions and Ethical Health,
ibid., 78101; idem, The Therapy of Desire, ibid., esp. 50710.
3. On passions as faulty impulses, judgments, or opinions among early Stoic writ-
ers, see the reports of Stobaeus 2.88,890,6; Andronicus, De passionibus 1; Galen, De
plac. Hipp. et Plat. 4.2.16; and Plutarch, De virtute morali 446F447A, in The Hel-
lenistic Philosophers, ed. A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1987), 2.404A406D, 408G. On the connection of passions with dis-
eased mental states in Stoicism, see Stobaeus, 2.93.113 (Hellenistic Philosophers
2.415S); Diogenes Laertius 7.115 (Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta [SVF] 3.422); Ci-
cero, Tusc. disp. 4.27 et al. (SVF 3.423427); Galen, De locis affectis 1.3 (SVF 3.429).
Max Pohlenz claimed to nd a disparity between Zeno, who viewed the passions as
diseases to be eradicated, and Chrysippus, who rationalized them as judgments be-
longing to the mind. See his Zenon und Chrysippus, Nachrichten der Akademie der
Wissenschaften in Gttingen, phil.-hist. Klasse, Fach. 1, no. 2 (1938): 188ff; idem, Die
Stoa (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1948), vol. 1, 9097. John Rist has ex-
plained this apparent disparity by the fact that Zeno and Chrysippus alike saw the pas-
sions as mental judgments; they differ only in precise denition of such a judgment.
Zeno must have held that judgments qua judgments are to be viewed as free from ir-
rational colouring, that the colouring is the inevitable result of misguided judgments
which thus damage the q,.ovix ov. Chrysippus, on the other hand, held that there is
no such thing as a merely mental act and that all judgments must have some kind of
emotional colouring, correct judgmentsmade only by the wisepresumably involv-
ing . tv oO.ioi, false judgments involving some degree of v oOo (Stoic Philosophy
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969], 30). Corroborating this view is Brad
Inwood in his valuable monograph on Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism
their idealization of ov as the complete conquest of the passions,
Stoic writers retreated from a purely nihilistic position: utter destruction
of affectivity would be unwise, indeed unintelligible. The true goal of the
moral life would rather be a therapeutic affectivity, wherein certain . tv-
oO.ioinot good passions as such but trained, reasonable affective re-
sponseswould displace irrational or diseased ones and bring stability to
the soul.
In turn, the perceived latitude for interpreting the precise on-
tology of the passions inevitably opened a door for later Stoic writers like
Posidonius to platonize the passions as faculties of the soul, and
prompted a sophisticated critique from the likes of Galen.
In time it
would provide an incentive for early and medieval Christian writers to
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 13031. More recently, broaching again the
variations among early Stoic thinkers on the nature of the passions, Martha Nussbaum
(The Stoics on the Extirpation of the Passions, esp. 372 [and n. 31], 37386) argues
that Zeno saw a passion more as the uttering felt from a belief, not the belief itself;
Chrysippus opted instead to equate the belief and the accompanying pathos. He seats
these beliefs/passions squarely within the dynamic reasoning faculty because only rea-
son can fully evaluate, say, the upheaval of grief over a lost loved one; only reason can
adequately represent the core of ones personal being in spurning merely external goods
and processing judgments of ultimate moral value. As Brad Inwood explains (Ethics
and Human Action in Early Stoicism, 12932), the thrust of the arguments of Zeno
and Chrysippus for passions as a kind of rational impulse (rather than as expres-
sions of different parts or faculties of the soul) is obviously aimed at enhancing per-
sonal moral responsibility and accountability. It appears clear that ethics, not physics,
was the primary matrix of early Stoic teaching on the passions.
4. Cf. Diogenes Laertius 7.115 (Hellenistic Philosophers 2.407D), who designates
three primary . tv oO.ioi: reasonable joy (_o o) as opposed to pleasure ( qoov q);
cautiousness (. ti o|.io) as opposed to fear ( o|o); and rational wish (|o tiq-
oi) as opposed to desire ( .viOtio); Cicero Tusc. disp. 4.12 (SVF 3.438), who
speaks of the tres constantiae (5. tv oO.ioi); and among Christian writers, cf. Lactan-
tius, div. instit. 6.15 (CSEL 19.53639); Augustine, civ. Dei 14.8.1 (CCSL 48.423). In
civ. Dei 9.5 (CCSL 47.25455), Augustine credits Cicero and Epictetus among the Sto-
ics with allowing a relative value for affections even like compassion in a sage who is
already free from the vices. On the . tv oO.ioi see also Nussbaum, The Stoics on the
Extirpation of the Passions, 398401; Inwood, Ethics and Human Action in Early
Stoicism, 173175; Rist, Stoic Philosophy, 2526, 3135.
5. Posidonius, 34 (ap. Galen, De plac. Hipp. et Plat. 4.3.25, Hellenistic Philoso-
phers 2.410K). Posidonius claimed the authority of the early Stoic writer Cleanthes in
this view (Frgs. 33, 166, ap. Galen, De plac. Hipp. et Plat. 5.6.3437, Hellenistic
Philosophers, 2:413 I). On Galens own developed criticism of the Stoics, his psycho-
physiological theory of the passions, and his prescriptions for a therapeutic rechan-
neling of the passions, see James Hankinson, Actions and Passions: Affection, Emo-
tion, and Moral Self-Management in Galens Philosophical Psychology, in Passions
and Perceptions: Studies in Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind, Proceedings of the Fifth
Symposium Hellenisticum, ed. Jacques Brunschwig and Martha Nussbaum (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 184222.
make their own renements both on the morality and the physiology of
the passions.
In patristic literature, evocative discussions of the human passions as a
problem of philosophical psychology come not only in technical treatises
of theological anthropology
but in the ascetic and monastic tradition,
where doctrine and experience constantly converge.
To be sure, early
monastic writers generally begin with the properly moral or existential
dilemma of the passions, not their physiology. Evagrius sums it up this
way: the ascetic life is the spiritual method for cleansing the passible part
of the soul,
the war against the wicked and idle thoughts (io,iooi)
that induce passions and the perfection of ov in the interest of undis-
tracted prayer and contemplation of God. Even for Evagrius, however,
human sensibility and passibility belong within an economy of provi-
dence and judgment, the rehabilitative scheme of embodiment and in-
volvement in passible existence which is at the heart of the Origenist his-
tory of souls. Evagrius certainly sees bodily affections at the root of
human sin, but, recognizing the passible nature as provisionally given by
God to fallen souls, acknowledges its relative dignity and utility, howev-
er remote. Av for Evagrius begins with the reorientation and stabi-
lization of the affections, not their obliteration, since experience shows
that the passions can in some cases serve the spiritual lifethough Eva-
grius does not substantially elaborate on this prospect.
In the writings of the Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa, the
economic perspective on human passibility is more conspicuous, as
they searched to give their own answer to the persisting Origenist query
of how rational beings (io,ixoi), created and sustained by God through
his perfect and eternal Logos, could ever lapse. As Brooks Otis has shown,
since the Cappadocians overall resisted, on the one hand, the Origenist
6. E.g., Gregory of Nyssas anim. et res. and hom. opif.; Nemesius of Emesas nat.
7. Cf. Anton Vgtle, Affekt (B. christlich), RAC 1:16670; Gustave Bardy, Ap-
atheia, Dictionnaire de spiritualit 1:72746; Tomas Spidlk, The Spirituality of the
Christian East: A Systematic Handbook (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1986),
8. cap. pract. 78 (SC 171.666). (Patristic sources in this essay will be cited by vol-
ume number in series; page[s]; and where necessary, lines or sections).
9. Some examples: the utility of anger in ghting demons (cap. pract. 24, SC
171.556; ibid. 42, SC 171.596), in ghting for virtue (ibid. 86, SC 171.676), and in
engendering courage and patience (ibid. 89, SC 171.682); the utility of concupiscence
in longing for virtue (ibid. 86, SC 171.676) and in producing temperance, charity, and
continence (ibid. 89, SC 171.680682); the healthy fear of God (ibid. prologue, SC
postulate that sin arose from an intellectual negligence of preexistent souls
due to spiritual satiety (x oo),
and, on the other hand, an Augustin-
ian-type theory of conscious moral sin (Adams choice of evil qua evil),
they were forced back again to the seduction of the Devil and the passi-
bility of the body as roots of sin and fallenness.
Deviant passions (v o-
Oq), the symptoms or diseases of sin that have become virtually second
nature to fallen humanity, were a necessary disciplinary consequence of
Adams lapseyet somehow they were already a cause of the Fall. If so,
then, Adam could not be held unqualiedly responsible for sin because
his passible constitution was not his own doing; but neither of course
could the Creator be culpable.
The Cappadocians were hardly unaware
of the difculty. Gregory of Nyssa famously tries to obviate it by propos-
ing that God created the protoplasts with animal drives and sexuality only
in prevision of the Fall.
He also carefully distinguishes between the in-
nate affective powers of .viOtio and Ot o, which are appetites ( o .-
.i) or drives ( ooi) under the hegemony of reason, and the irrational
passions (pleasure, grief, fear, lust, rage, greed, etc.) that are a legacy of
human fallenness.
Yet such assertions, strictly speaking, still fail to ac-
count for the inherent inrmity of those faculties that induced Adam to
close his eyes to the Good (recalling Nyssas analogy in his De virgini-
Presumably Adam would not have turned away from the Good
had there not been an ulterior object of desire present to the soul and thus
antecedently in the souls receptivity. The problem of the latent ge-
netic instability of created passible faculties appears to be left hanging.
10. Cf. Gregory of Nyssa, v. Mos., Bk. 2 (GNO 7, pt.1.114,1719; 116,1719;
117,2024); idem, hom. 12 in Cant. (GNO 6.366,11367,1); Basil suggests x oo as
one possible cause of Adams fall (Quod deus non est auctor malorum 6, PG
31.344Cff), but it does not become denitive in his interpretation.
11. See Gregory of Nyssa, hom. opif. 20 (PG 44.200C): for humanity would
not have been deceived by patent evil (o t ,`o ov qvot qOq o ovOcvo t c voo qi c
xox c).
12. Brooks Otis, Cappadocian Thought as a Coherent System, DOP 12 (1958):
13. anim. et res. (PG 46.61A).
14. hom. opif. 17 (PG 44.189B192A); ibid. 22 (204D205B). On the wider rami-
cations of Gregorys resolution of this anthropological paradox, see Hans Urs von
Balthasar, Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of
Nyssa, trans. Mark Sebanc (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 7187.
15. Cf. virg. 12 (GNO 8, pt. 1.297,24300,2; 301,15302,4); v. Mos., Bk. 2 (GNO
7, pt. 1.62,963,9); mort. (GNO 9, pt. 1.55,1123); anim. et res. (PG 46.53C68A).
See also Verna Harrison, Grace and Human Freedom according to St. Gregory of Nys-
sa (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), 14549, 158ff.
16. virg. 12 (GNO 8, pt. 1.298,21299,12).
Brooks Otis sees here a logical aw in the coherent system of Cap-
padocian theology and anthropology. More recently, however, Rowan
Williams and Michel Barnes have in separate studies cogently argued that
with Gregory of Nyssa, the attempted philosophical solution to the prob-
lem of human passibility is more dialectical and sophisticated than was
once thought. Countering claims that Nyssas discussion of the soul and
passions in De anima et resurrectione is muddled insofar as Gregory has
Macrina denying both that the passions are extrinsic powers independent
of the soul and that they are properly native to the soul, Williams shows
how in this treatise Gregory is carefully unfolding a basic distinction be-
tween the souls o toio, as an intelligent and impassible animating power,
and its toi, as empirically linked in its history with bodily (impulsive,
passion-prone) existence.
As a Christian thinker, Gregory is committed
to a view of the soul both as a created unity and as a complex moral agent
genuinely affected by diverse internal and external circumstances, and as
recapitulating in its moral life the struggle for the good which is taking
place simultaneously at the lower and higher levels of creaturely nature.
In this case, the conict of mind and passion arises only when we are for-
getful of their continuitypassion (in the wider sense) sustaining a body
which is charged with making sense of itself, coming to mean something,
to bear the task of an intelligible communication in the world of what
Gods life is like; and reason being incapable of so moulding the bodily
life into meaning without harmony with those impulses which are its own
foundation or inchoate forms.
Michel Barnes similarly concludes that
for Gregory and Macrina, the passions are usable, if accidental, psycho-
logical elements that do not ultimately compromise the souls essential in-
tegrity. Both the teaching in Genesis about making human beings in the
image of God and the reading of the sequence of creation as showing a
hierarchy of ensouled being are meant to support the doctrine of human
moral unity.
17. See Rowan Williams, Macrinas Deathbed Revisited: Gregory of Nyssa on
Mind and Passion, in Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy in Late Antiquity: Es-
says in Tribute to George Christopher Stead, ed. L. R. Wickham and C. P. Bammel
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993), 22746. A focal point of this subtle distinction of o toio and
toi is anim. et res. (PG 46.53C56A).
18. Williams, Macrinas Deathbed Revisited, 240.
19. Michel Barnes, The Polemical Context and Content of Gregory of Nyssas Psy-
chology, Medieval Philosophy and Theology 4 (1994): 811. Barnes also notes
(1120) the different tack of Gregorys argument for the unity of the human mind and
multiplicity of its faculties (including the passible ones) in the De hominis opicio. Here
Gregory appeals to the properly theological analogy, developed in far more detail in
his Contra Eunomium, of the congruity between the one, perfectly impassible mind of
Over and beyond a philosophical solution, however, Gregory is con-
dent that genuine insight into the passible nature can and must come also
through the legacy of human, spiritual experience (v.i o) itself, especial-
ly as mediated by experienced teachers worthy of imitation.
descriptions of the Fall and of the passions appear in his ascetic works,
not just in his more speculative anthropological treatises, the De anima et
resurrectione and De hominis opicio. In the opening of the De instituto
christiano, a work ostensibly deeply inuenced by the spiritual existen-
tialism of Pseudo-Macarius,
Gregory invites his reader critically to
observe within the soul an innate impulse of desire (t q .viOtio
o q) toward Beauty and Excellence as well as an impassible and
blessed love ( ovoO` q xo`i ox oio .c) of that divine image of which
human beings are an imitation.
But coexistent with these endowments,
he adds, is
a certain illusion (viov q) about things visible and in ux, caused by irra-
tional passion and bitter pleasure (oi`o v oOot oi o,ot xo`i vix o qoov q),
an error which is always deceiving and bewitching the soul that is careless
and unguarded because of laziness ( tv` o oOtio), and dragging it toward
the terrible evil that derives from this life of pleasures and begets death for
those who pine for it.
Gregory is identifying here the ascetic struggle at the very root of hu-
man passibility (v oOo), that is, the primal human experience. In his
own words he is describing that which the rst man experienced
(v .vovO.) but which now all of us experience who sin in imitation of his
disobedience through self-interested free choice (o tOoi .tc vooi .-
The integrity of human freedom and the realization of the divine
image have always depended, not merely on decisions informed by knowl-
God and his multiple operations and acts (creating and generating without passion; so
also having anger, desire, suffering, etc., which are not passions strictly speaking, es-
pecially as evidenced in the Incarnation of the Son).
20. See virg. 23 (GNO 8, pt. 1.333,15343,19; and esp. 334,23335,21); v. Mos.,
Bk. 2 (GNO 7, pt.1.35,22ff).
21. See Reinhart Staats, Gregor von Nyssa und die Messalianer (Berlin: Walter de
Gruyter, 1968), who demonstrates, denitively it seems, that Gregorys De instituto
christiano draws upon the Great Letter and Spiritual Homilies of Ps-Macarius, not vice
22. instit. (GNO 8, pt. 1.40,110).
23. Ibid. (40,1141,2). Translations throughout are my own unless otherwise not-
24. Ibid. (44,12): o v oioi ` .v v .vovO.v o v cto viooO.i, v tv o` . v ovt. oi t`qv
to ttot vooxo qv o tOoi .t c vooi .o.i io t.voi.
edge of God, but on the right orientation of the innate human affections,
the drives at the very core of our being. The dynamic of human motion,
the drama of human, historical existence itself, is precisely the creative
tension between conscious choice (vooi.oi) and innate appetite. Will
and desire, decision and urge, must always be actively coordinated to the
same t .io for true virtue to be realized. As Nyssa explains in De vir-
ginitate, when free will cuts off the souls desire for God it diverts that nat-
ural drive toward a new object which really is no object at all (as evil is a
metaphysical non-entity). Humanity invents evil in the sense of intro-
ducing a false experience (v.i o), an anomalous v oOo in place of the
healthy one.
Thus vooi.oi, according to Gregory, is the the demi-
urge of the passions
and so also the vehicle of their redemption and
The goal set before sinful man is the purication from the passions, however
not the elimination of the drives. . . . vooi.oi either orients the drives to
their nature-given goal and limits them to it, or vooi.oi leaves the drives
to themselves against their nature-given destiny so that an apparent good of
perversion becomes their goal instead of the true good. The drives are in their
nature destined to a goal but as drives cannot discriminate between true and
false good. vooi.oi possesses the power to make the distinction; howev-
er, vooi.oi may be enslaved by habit so that it is no longer able to see the
inborn goal and orientation; for man forms himself according to his decision
and forms himself against his essential nature if he gives in to the drives; the
result is, then, that the peculiarity of man as image of God has no longer any
form (.

ioo) in him and he loses all orientation in perversion.

The postlapsarian passions have taken on an aberrant .ix cv, yet it is
always within the reach of free will to transmute each of them into a
form of virtue: anger into courage, cowardice into caution, fear into obe-
dience, hatred into aversion to vice, the faculty of love ( q o,ovqtix` q o t-
voi) into a desire ( .viOtio) for genuine beauty, haughtiness into a force
to raise the mind above deviant passionall in conformity to the true di-
vine image.
Of paramount importance to Gregory is the full integration
25. See virg. 12 (GNO 8, pt. 1.298,21299,12).
26. mort. (GNO 9, pt. 1.58,78): o t t`o o co t cv voOq otcv oitiov oii q
vooi.oi q oqiot,o too t`o v oOq. See also Harrison, Grace and Human Freedom
according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, 144, 164.
27. Ekkehard Mhlenberg, Synergism in Gregory of Nyssa, ZNW 68 (1977):
1078; cf. Albrecht Dihle, The Theory of Will in Classical Antiquity (Berkeley: Uni-
versity of California Press, 1982), 12022.
28. hom. opif. 18 (PG 44.192C193C). Jrome Gath, in his La concption de la
libert chez Grgoire de Nysse (Paris: Vrin, 1953), 6162, remarks that for Gregory,
then, the goal of ov is precisely une sublimation du pathos sensible par pathos
and use of the deep-seated human affections, aggressions, and aversions
in that perpetual spiritual striving ( .v .xtooi) wherein the whole of hu-
man nature is constantly being stretched to new perfections. One can ar-
gue, as does Brooks Otis, that this eternal spiritual progress really
amounts to a perpetual overcoming of the underlying, unresolved weak-
ness and mutability of the passible nature (the problem at the heart of any
Christian-Platonic theory of the Fall and of sin).
Gregory, however, glo-
ries in the dynamism of human nature so dened. Through eternal
choosing of the Good, mutability (tov q) becomes the wellspring of the
ever new creature in Christ.
The grace of the innite Creator acts in per-
petual cooperation (otv .,.io) with human choice, thus assisting the in-
born powers and drives of nite human beings in avoiding deceptive, ego-
istic goods and in attaining transformation and perfection in God, their
true t .io.
Gregory of Nyssas achievement was to subsume the human passions
under his doctrine of free will, to position them squarely within the realm
of graced human intentionality. Well beyond the fourth century, the
attempts to articulate a religious anthropology in response to systema-
tic Origenism assured that questions of the causality, morality, and
tractability of the passions would be integral in Byzantine ascetic the-
ology. In the early seventh century, Maximus the Confessor, the periods
most prolic monastic teacher and a careful reader of Evagrius and the
Cappadocians, received a letter from his spiritual condant, the Libyan
hegumen Thalassius, petitioning him to compose, in addition to a com-
mentary on troublesome passages of Scripture, a full Christian treatise on
the passions. An erudite spiritual writer himself, Thalassius included some
thirty-three highly nuanced questions representing a full constellation of
issues relating to human passibility. The list of themes can be condensed
as follows: What is the origin, means, and end of the passions, and from
spirituel. Lopposition se trouve rduite non par le sacrice du pathos corporel, mais
par son intgration dans le dynamisme (.c) de lesprit comme une force en-
richissante et complmentaire. Cette sublimation qui signie la fois libert et libra-
tion, Dieu la ralise, lorigine, dans lImage, en crant le corps lger, transparent et
spirituel. In this connection, see also Robin Darling Young, Gregory of Nyssas Use
of Theology and Science in Constructing Theological Anthropology, Pro Ecclesia 2
(1993): 35255. Young effectively depicts Gregory, in his analysis of bodily life and
passion, as a discreet navigator of the experience of contradiction in human life.
29. Otis, Cappadocian Thought as a Coherent System, 1089, 11314, 116ff.
30. See v. Mos., Bk. 2 (GNO 7, pt. 1.34,614), where Gregory uses the dramatic im-
age of free choice birthing the new creature from mutable human nature.
31. See Mhlenberg, Synergism in Gregory of Nyssa, 99104, 10612; Harrison,
Grace and Human Freedom according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, 21549.
which faculties of the soul or the body do they arise? How precisely do
they assail the soul and body? What is the role of the demons in unleash-
ing the passions? Do they operate by orderly sequence or merely chaoti-
cally? What is the providential purpose of the experience of the passions?
What sorts of thoughts, words, and actions lead to their abolition (sim-
ply put, what is the means to ov And once the passions are ban-
ished, how does the soul go about reorienting the passible faculties for the
How does the soul nobly reverse itself, using (_c .vq) those
things by which it formerly faltered for the purpose of propagating and
realizing virtues?
Maximus unfortunately declined in the Quaestiones ad Thalassium to
include a full treatise on the passions, and we are left to reconstruct his
theory from substantive insights in this text and elsewhere in his works.
Overall he deals with the passions from three interconnected perspec-
tivesI shall call them ontological (or physiological), existential (moral-
ascetic), and teleologicalthough not all three are always immediately in
view in his individual expositions. For him, as for Gregory of Nyssa, it is
plainly insufcient to ask where the passions originate, or what their phys-
ical or metaphysical status is, without considering at once their present
modality and moral use (_qoi) as well as their eschatological goal co-
incidental with the natural motion or appetitive drive of the soul toward
This is clear already in Maximus treatment of Adams passions, for
Adam is not just the rst human being, the father of the race, he is, like
other great biblical gures, a prototype of the monk in his or her ascetic
struggles, and his humanity is an antitype of the new eschatological hu-
manity of the Second Adam. Maximus prelapsarian Adam is a somewhat
elusive gure, more a potency than an actuality.
He bears a certain re-
semblance both to Irenaeus Adam, the innocent primed to bring his crea-
turely abilities to fruition, and to Gregory of Nyssas Adam, the sublime
adult living a life akin to the angels.
We learn from Maximus that be-
fore the Fall Adam enjoyed ov,
but it is rather a perfect state of
passibility than a sheer impassibility, for Adam had a denite intellectual
32. For the complete list of questions, see Quaestiones ad Thalassium, Intro. (CCSG
33. Ibid. (27,165167); emphasis added in translation.
34. See John Boojamra, Original Sin according to Maximus the Confessor, St.
Vladimirs Theological Quarterly 20 (1976): 1930.
35. Cf. Irenaeus, Epideixis 12; haer. 4.38.14; Gregory of Nyssa, hom. opif. 17.
36. Maximus, qu. Thal. 42 (CCSG 7.285,79). Cf. Lactantius, div. instit. 6.15
(CSEL 19.53738); Augustine, civ. Dei 14.10 (CCSL 48.43031).
desire (..oi) for God and capacity for spiritual pleasure ( qoov q) that
he chose in the Fall to squander on sensual fantasies.
As Adam was a
full human being at this point, the whole soul and body coexistent, we
can assume that the lower passible faculties, the concupiscible and irasci-
ble elements of the soul, also participated in this original ov Yet
Maximus says little of Adam in this prelapsarian stateless even than
Gregory of Nyssa, who, rather hypothetically, places Adam and Eve
before the Fall in an intermediate, quasi-angelic existence with bodily
qualities ostensibly like those in the resurrection.
Both Maximus and
Gregory are clearly anxious to correct the Origenist myth of a prehistoric
Fall and a second, corporeal creation, but Maximus asserts that Adam fell
at the instant of his creation ( oo t c ,iv .oOoi)
: the appearance of de-
viant passions (v oOq), the dysfunctional movements of the passible facul-
ties, was virtually immediate or coextensive (though not coessential) with
the creation. Maximus does not explain how such a deviation of created,
naturally implanted passible faculties could occur in the rst place, other
than mentioning occasionally the genetic mutabilitynot a aw but a
susceptibilitythat distinguishes composite, creaturely nature from
the Uncreated.
Material creation always holds within it a latent dimen-
sion of chaos or disorderliness (to` otoxtov): the instability of passion be-
gins here,
precisely where its moral potentiality also begins.
Elsewhere Maximus comes close to reproducing Gregory of Nyssas
theory of the garments of skins (Gen 3.21), whereby the irrational pas-
sions were superadded to human nature in consequence of the Fall.
ther God mingled the soul with the passible body and subjected it to bod-
ily change at the time of the Fall, on account of the transgression, or,
37. Ibid. 61 (CCSG 22.85,821). Maximuss insistence on Adams prelapsarian ca-
pacity for spiritual pleasure is analyzed in detail by Gregory Telepneff and Bishop
Chrysostomos, The Person, Pathe, Asceticism, and Spiritual Restoration in Saint
Maximos, GOTR 34 (1989): 25357.
38. Gregory of Nyssa, hom. opif. 17 (PG 44.188B189A). See also Gerhart Ladner,
The Philosophical Anthropology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, DOP 12 (1958): 8891;
Monique Alexandre, Protologie et eschatologie chez Grgoire de Nysse, in Arch e
Telos: Lanthropologia di Origene e di Gregorio di Nissa analisi storico-religiosa (Mi-
lan: Vita e pensiero, 1981), 12259.
39. Ibid. 61 (CCSG 22.85,13).
40. Cf. carit. 4.9 (PG 90.1049B); ambig. 15 (PG 91.1220C); ep. 12 (PG 91.488D).
See also Pseudo-Dionysius, div. nom. 4.24 (PG 3.728A).
41. ambig. 8 (PG 91.1101D, 1104AC, 1105B).
42. On the extensive signicance of the garments of skins in Greek patristic in-
terpretation, see Panayiotis Nellas, Deication in Christ: Orthodox Perspectives on the
Nature of the Human Person (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1987),
having foreseen the Fall, fashioned the soul this way from the very be-
ginning so that it could eventually become aware of its full dignity vis--
vis the body.
In Ad Thalassium 1where Thalassius has posed to him
the question, Are the passions (pleasure, grief, desire, fear, and the rest)
evil in themselves or only with use (vo`o t` qv _ qoiv)?Maximus re-
sponds by deferring to Gregory in the De virginitate:
These passions, like the rest, were not originally concreated with human na-
ture, for if they had been they would contribute to the denition of that na-
ture. But following what the great Gregory of Nyssa taught, I say that, on ac-
count of humanitys fall from perfection, the passions were introduced,
attaching to the more irrational part of human nature. . . . [Nonetheless] the
passions become good in those who are earnest, once they have wisely sev-
ered them from corporeal objects, and used them to gain possession of heav-
enly things.
As with Gregory, there is a potential confusion here over how passion
can be both a cause and a consequence of the Fall. Maximus, however, is
hardly equivocating. Implicit here, explicit in other texts, is the assumed
Nyssene distinction between v oOo as the natural, affective motion of the
soul under divine inuence,
and the variant v oOq which, as deviant mo-
43. ambig. 8 (PG 91.1104AB). See also Polycarp Sherwood, Maximus and Ori-
genism: APXH KA! TLAOl, Berichte zum XI. internationalen Byzantinisten-
Kongre III,1 (Munich, 1958), 1621. Sherwood argues that in this text in ambig. 8,
Maximus is not opting explicitly for either theory, the rst being Gregory of Nyssas
option, the second basically Maximus own formulation (although I would interject
that the second hypothesis may be a retort to Gregorys thesis in hom. opif. 17, that
God formed the animal and sexual nature in prevision of the Fall in order to assure the
propagation of the race once it had lost its angelic dignity). At any rate, each hy-
pothesis mentioned by Maximus has some legitimacy, Sherwood argues, for sensibili-
ty and passion are both a punishment for sin and a providential means by which hu-
man beings are to learn their created dignity.
44. qu. Thal. 1 (CCSG 7.47,510, 1820); cf. Gregory of Nyssa, virg. 12 (GNO 8,
pt. 1.297,24300,2); ibid. 18 (GNO 8, pt. 1.317,10319,25); anim. et res. (PG
46.49B68A). Cf. Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological An-
thropology of Maximus the Confessor, 2d ed. (Chicago: Open Court, 1995), 157
53. Thunberg points out that despite Maximus afrmation of Gregorys postu-
lation here of a superadded irrational passibility, he declines to see it explicitly in terms
of a physiological change: there is no reference at all to mans bodily character, nor
is the word creation used in relation to the introduction of the passions into the life of
man. Maximus plainly wants to avoid any possible implication of a kind of double
creation in the Origenist sense.
45. ambig. 7 (PG 91.1072B): This motion [consequent upon a creatures genesis
or being] they call a natural faculty, driving toward its proper end, or else passion (v o-
Oo), that is motion passing from one thing to another with the impassible (t`o ovoO .)
as the goal (t .io), or else effective operation ( .v .,.io oootix q) with the self-
perfect (t` o o ttot.i .) as end.
tions or judgments (xio.i), are functionally tantamount to vice
but still within range of redeemability. Before the Fall, in prin-
ciple at least, the passible element enjoyed pure motion; after the Fall the
passible element is providentially stunted, subjected to new movements
which, morally speaking, can go either way, incurring hardship or help-
ing us to virtue; but their deviance can become seemingly second na-
By making Adams paradisiac impassibility more a theory or a
potency than an actuality, and by making the Fall almost instantaneous
with Adams creation, Maximus indicates that humanity, historically
speaking, has known both dimensions of passibility virtually from the be-
ginning: the ambiguity of historical human life is precisely the persistence
of unnatural passion under the guise of natural passion.
There is, he be-
lieves, a generic sin (,.vix` q ootio) that has become native to human
passibility itself, and yet it is the weakened gnomic will (,v cq) which
allows the forces of evil to continue this subjugation of natural to unnat-
ural passion.
Such is precisely the situation which the incarnate Christ
came to rectify, healing the passibility associated with pleasure (t`o xoO
qoov` qv voOqt`ov ioo o.vo), and doing so by conscientious choice (xot` o
vooi.oiv) rather than by mere ,v cq.
By voluntarily submitting to
human birth, save through the virgins womb, Christ at once subjected
himself to human passibility and overcame the deviant passions associat-
ed with sexual procreation.
The spiritual life, as rebirth in Christ, is
46. See Sherwood, Maximus and Origenism, 1011.
47. Very rarely does Maximus speak of human nature in the sense of fallenness,
and when he does use the term this way (e.g., ambig. 10, PG 91.1140A), it is rather a
behavioral than an ontological meaning: second nature, or engrained habit would
be a fair rendering here. See also Polycarp Sherwood, The Earlier Ambigua of St. Max-
imus the Confessor and His Refutation of Origenism (Rome: Herder, 1955), 152 and
n. 54.
48. qu. Thal. 21 (CCSG 7.127,532). The classic case in point here is for Maximus
the subjugation of natural human origination (, .v.oi) under the law of sexual gen-
eration (, .vvqoi).
49. Ibid. (CCSG 7.127,19129,35).
50. Cf. qu. Thal. 21 (CCSG 7.129,36133,107); ibid. 42 (285,7289,90). Maximus
writes: Therefore our Lord and God, correcting this interchangeable corruption and
alteration of human nature, by assuming the whole of human nature, even himself had
in that assumed nature the passible element which he adorned with incorruption in
virtue of his free choice (xot`o vooi.oiv). Because of the passibility he assumed, he
by nature became sin (2 Cor 5.21) for our sake, yet while not knowing any inten-
tional moral sin (,vcix` qv ootiov) because of the incorruptibility of his free choice.
Because his free choice was incorruptible he rectied the passibility of human nature,
turning the end of the passiblility of human naturedeath, I meaninto the begin-
ning of the natural transformation into incorruption (ibid. 42, CCSG 7.285,1828).
51. ambig. 41 (PG 91.1309A); ibid. 42 (1316C1317B); cf. ep. 44 (PG 91.644B).
meanwhile a struggle to bring the passions to their proper goal. The pri-
mal epithymetic and thymetic drives, natural and innocent passions
that are a necessary human condition ( ovo,xoi ov vooxoio tOqo) for
which we are not intrinsically responsible ( o tx . qi v), must become
more than survival instincts; lest they fall subject to those unnatural pas-
sions for which we are morally responsible ( . qi v), they must be
pressed into the service of Christian virtue, even if in a relative capacity.
Adams experience is truly our experience. The distance between us is
thoroughly collapsed. In the introduction to the Quaestiones ad Thalas-
sium, Maximus discourses at length on the Fall of the rst human being
as the paradigmatic narrative of the monks own struggle with the pas-
sions. With certain earlier writers like Nemesius of Emesa, Maximus is
determined to hold together the rootedness of the passions at once in sub-
sidiary faculties of the soul and in the minds irrational (immoral) judg-
ments. Vice (or passion in the negative mode) is by denition an irra-
tional movement of natural faculties toward an end other than their
natural one, based on a fallacious judgment (xioi).
Elsewhere Max-
imus describes it physiologically as a state or contingent condition (v.i-
otooi) of the natural faculty,
paralleling the moral terminology of habit
52. qu. Thal. 55 (CCSG 7.487,123489,142). See also the important analyses of
Christoph Schnborn, Plaisir et douleur dans lanalyse de S. Maxime, daprs les
Quaestiones ad Thalassium, in Maximus Confessor: Actes du Symposium sur
Maxime le Confesseur, Fribourg, 25 septembre 1980, ed. F. Heinzer and C. Schn-
born (Fribourg: ditions Universitaires, 1982), 27384; Hans Urs von Balthasar, Kos-
mische Liturgie: Das Weltbild Maximus des Bekenners, 2nd ed. (Einsiedeln: Johannes-
Verlag, 1961), 19194 (Dialektik der Leidenshaft); Claire-Agns Zirnheld, Le
double visage de la passion: maldiction due au pch et/ou dynamisme de la vie:
Quaestiones ad Thalassium de S. Maxime le Confesseur XXI, XXII et XLII, in Philo-
histr: miscellanea in honorem Caroli Laga septuagenarii (Leuven: Peeters Press,
1994), 36180; and Telepneff and Chrysostomos, The Person, Pathe, Asceticism, and
Spiritual Restoration in Saint Maximos, 25661. On Maximus theory of the pas-
sions from a Jungian-psychotherapeutic perspective, see Vasiliki Eckley, Psyche and
BodyPerson and World, Religious Education 85 (1990): 35667.
53. qu. Thal. Intro. (CCSG 7.29,22031,222). Cf. carit. 1.35 (PG 90.968A); ibid.
2.1617 (988D989B); ibid. 3.42 (1029AB). Cf. Nemesius of Emesa, nat. hom. 16
(PG 40.673B676B), who carefully denes passion as a movement of the faculty of
appetite upon perceiving an image of something good or bad, or as an irrational
movement of the soul due to apprehending something good or bad. In Nemesius,
Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus alike there is a clear tendency to describe passion in
terms of the mind and the lower powers of the soul colluding in one synchronous
event. Mental misjudgment of the good and the registration of that misjudgment in
the concupiscible and irascible faculties constitute a simultaneous moment. Moral re-
sponsibility for vice thus extends at once to the whole complex of the soul and is nev-
er exclusively attached to the vot, despite its central role.
54. qu. Thal. 21 (CCSG 7.127,28).
( .i) or disposition (oi oO.oi). The originating vice of passion is a de-
viant self-love
thrusting humanity into a dialectical bouncing be-
tween sensible pleasure and pain; and there is a resultant diffusion of pas-
sions which Maximus, under Evagriuss inuence, often describes through
a hierarchy of relations.
But whatever their conguration in experience,
these deviant passions, or vices, are metaphysical non-entities and exist
only relative to human free choice. The passions, says Maximus in an ex-
egesis of II Chronicles 32.23, are the gentiles of the soul who enjoy only
a contingent existence (votv ootooi).
Describing rather technical-
ly the passion of toil, for example, he explains:
Toil is clearly a deciency ( .ii.ii) or retreat of natural habit ( .i), and a
deciency of natural habit is a passion (v oOo) of the natural faculty (o tvoi)
subject to that habit. A passion of the natural faculty subject to the habit con-
sists in the abusive functioning of its natural operation ( .v .,.io), and the
abuse (vo o_qoi) of that mode of operation consists in the movement of
the faculty toward that which arises unnaturally and does not truly exist.
The consistently most helpful distinction in Maximus understanding
of the passions seems, then, to be that between the passible faculties and
their proper use (_qoi) as leading to a perfect habit and disposition. In
Ad Thalassium 1, he heartily reafrms with Gregory of Nyssa that nega-
tive passions can still be reoriented by positive use: concupiscence ( .vi-
Otio) can be turned into the appetitive movement of the intellectual de-
sire for divine things, pleasure ( qoov q) into the minds gladness at being
lured to divine gifts; fear ( o|o) into cautious concern for retributive
punishments (or, when conditioned by love, even into that fearful rever-
ence for God of which the Bible speaks);
grief (itv q) into a corrective
55. E.g., see carit.. 2.8 (PG 90.985C); ibid. 2.5960 (1004BC); ibid. 3.8 (1020A);
ibid. 3.5657 (1033BC). See also Irne Hausherrs detailed analysis of deviant self-
love in Philautie: de la tendresse pour soi la charit selon Maxime le Confesseur
(Rome: Pont. Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1952), 4383; Thunberg, Microcosm
and Mediator, 23248.
56. See Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 24884; also Hausherr, Philautie,
57. qu. Thal. 51 (CCSG 7.405,186); cf. ibid. 58 (CCSG 22.33,9596), where
deviant sensible pleasure ( qoov q) is described as ontologically non-existent
( ovtv oototo).
58. Ibid. 58 (CCSG 22.27,1724).
59. See ibid. 10 (CCSG 7.85,4487,68). The links between Maximus and the earli-
er Christian ascetic tradition are especially evident in his teaching on godly fear. See
Paul Blowers, Exegesis and Spiritual Pedagogy in Maximus the Confessor: An Inves-
tigation of the Quaestiones ad Thalassium (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre
Dame Press, 1991), 5859, 220.
In Ambiguum 6 Maximus speaks of reason inducing the
transformation of .viOtio into charity ( o, ovq) and irascibility (Ot o)
into joy (_o o),
whereas in Ad Thalassium 55 he projects that .viOtio
can be transmuted into divine .c, and ire into spiritual fervency ( .-
oi vv.totix q), red-hot eternal movement (oi ovto o.ixivqoio), and
temperate madness (o ccv ovio).
Maximus thus commits himself
to a principle of good (or evil) use of things (v o,oto) that are in-
trinsically morally neutral, or more specically the use of the thoughts
(vo qoto) of those things.
Herein he modies a Stoic notion that is al-
ready fundamental to Cappadocian anthropology, not only with Grego-
ry of Nyssa
but also with Basil who, in his homily Against Anger, as-
serts that desire, irascibility, and other passible faculties each becomes a
good or an evil for its possessor according to the use made of it.
60. Ibid. 1 (CCSG 7.47,2526)
61. ambig. 6 (PG 91.1068A).
62. qu. Thal. 55 (CCSG 7.499,31115); cf. ep. 2 (PG 91.397B); and carit. 2.48 (PG
90.1000CD): For the mind of the one who is continually with God even his concu-
piscence abounds beyond measure into a divine desire and whose irascible element is
transformed into divine love (.c). For by an enduring participation in the divine il-
lumination it has become altogether shining bright, and having bound its passible ele-
ment to itself it, as I said, turned around to a never-ending divine desire and an un-
ceasing love, completely changing over from earthly things to divine (trans. George
Berthold, Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, CWS [Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press,
1985], 5354). Especially striking in these texts is the possibility for irascibility, not
concupiscence alone, to be transmuted into eros or at least into the fervency that sus-
tains this passionate love of the divine. Cf. orat. dom. (PG 90.896C), where Maximus
speaks of Ot o, classically a defensive drive, holding on to God and stretching the
mind like a sinew in its burning desire for God.
63. Cf. carit. 2.73 (PG 90.1008AB) on the right use (_qoi .ooi .vq) of the
thoughts (vo qoto) of things outside the mind; ibid. 2.7576 (1008B1009A); ibid.
4.91 (1069CD); also ambig. 7 (PG 91.1097C), where Maximus contrasts right use
(. t_qotio) and ill use (voo_qotio) of natural human faculties. In his XPHl!l:
Die Methode der Kirchenvter im Umgang mit der antiken Kultur (Basel: Schwabe,
1984), 96, Christian Gnilka notes Maximuss modication of the Stoic principle of
_ qoi: Was fr [der Stoiker] Epiktet der Gebrauch der Vorstellungen (_ qoi
ovtooi cv) ist, fr Maximus der Gebrauch der Gedanken (_ qoi voq otcv): das
eine wie das andere steht in der Macht der Menschen, entscheidet ber die sittliche
Qualitt einer Handlung und ber den Wert der Dinge. Nevertheless, Die Chrsis,
die der Kirchenlehrer vor Augen hat, ist in einen ganz anderen Rahmen gespannt als
die Epiktets. For Maximus _ qoi is directed, teleologically, at the realization of true
o, ovq (carit. 4.91, PG 90.1069CD); indeed, the right use of things is already an .,ov
o, ovq (ibid. 1.40, 968C).
64. virg. 18 (GNO 8, pt. 1.317,10319,25); anim. et res. (PG 46.61B, 65B68A,
88D89A); mort. (GNO 9, pt. 1, 61,1618).
65. Basil of Caesarea, Hom. adversus eos qui irascunter 6 (PG 31.365CD); cf. also
Evagrius, cap. pract. 8889 (SC 171.2.680688); keph. gnost. 1.84 (PO 28.1.56); 3.35
after Maximus too, Byzantine ascetic theologians would continue to re-
work this principle; it is basic, for example, to Gregory Palamas nuanced
conception of ov
Similarly in the Latin tradition, Lactantius had
described passion as a kind of natural richness (urbertas naturalis) in souls
useful for cultivating virtue, while Augustine vigorously defended the role
of godly emotions (fear, desire, joy, sorrow) as modeled in the Incarna-
tion, and exercised with right reason (cum rectam rationem). True ov o- for Augustine was not insensibility in this life, but related only to the
liberation from disturbance that would characterize the celestial life.
For Maximus the trichotomy of the souls faculties (reason, concupis-
cence, irascibility) is, perhaps more than the soul-body dichotomy, the
principal underlying matrix and framework of the souls disintegration
through the vices and reintegration through the virtues.
The diversity
(PO 28.1.110). On this theme in monastic thought and tradition, see also Spidlk, The
Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook, 26770. On its Stoic back-
ground, see R.-A. Gauthier, Saint Maxime le Confesseur et la psychologie de lacte
humain, RTAM 21 (1954): 7375, and Gnilka, XPHl!l: Die Methode der Kirchen-
vter im Umgang mit der antiken Kultur, 2943; for its broader patristic development
prior to Maximus, see Gnilka, ibid., 4495 (esp. 6579 on the Cappadocians).
66. Triads 2.2.19 (Greek text ed. John Meyendorff, Dfense des saints hsychastes,
2nd ed., Spicilegium sacrum Lovaniense: tudes et documents, fasc. 30 [Leuven: Spi-
cilegium sacrum Lovaniense, 1973], 361,5363,8). Having dened ov not as
sheer mortication of the passible part of the soul but its redirection from evil to the
good through virtuous habits ( ..i) and training of the irascible and concupiscible
faculties, Palamas writes: For it is the misuse (vo o_qoi) of the powers of the soul
which engenders the terrible passions, just as misuse of the knowledge of created things
engenders the wisdom which has become folly (1 Cor 1:20). But if one uses (_ cto)
these things properly, then through the knowledge of created things, spiritually un-
derstood, one will arrive at knowledge of God; and through the passionate part of the
soul which has been oriented towards the end for which God created it, one will prac-
tice the corresponding virtues: with the concupiscent appetite, one will embrace char-
ity, and with the irascible, one will practise patience. It is thus not the man who has
killed the passionate part of his soul who has the preeminence, for such a one would
have no momentum or activity to acquire a divine state and right dispositions and re-
lationship with God; but rather, the prize goes to him who has put that part of his soul
under subjection, so that by its obedience to the mind, which is by nature appointed
to rule, it may ever tend toward God, as is right, by the uninterrupted remembrance
of Him. Thanks to this remembrance, he will come to possess a divine disposition, and
cause the soul to progress towards the highest state of all, the love of God (trans.
Nicholas Gendle, Gregory Palamas: The Triads, CWS [New York: Paulist Press, 1983],
5455, emphasis added).
67. See Lactantius, div. instit. 6.15 (CSEL 19.53639); ibid. 6.16 (53941); Augus-
tine, civ. Dei (CCSL 48.42330).
68. Cf. carit. 1.6467 (PG 90.973CD); ibid. 3.3 (1017C). See also Thunbergs thor-
ough discussion in Microcosm and Mediator, 25978. Maximus rarely treats individ-
ual passions or vices apart from a broader psychological matrix or framework, be it
and society among the souls powers can lead to a spiritual battleground
or, by proper use,
a magnicent unity-in-diversity, the perfect interrela-
tion ( q oiiqio t_o o_ .oi)
reecting the natural integrity of the soul.
This is in his view one meaning of Peters vision in Acts 10 of the animals
descending from heaven on a sheet: they variously represent the three
principal powers of the soul which are good in themselves, because cre-
ated by God, but which must be tamed by sacricing their propensity
toward savage vices.
Elsewhere, in a lively allegorical interpretation of
King Hezekiah and his armies trying to keep the Assyrians out of
Jerusalem (II Chron 32.24), Maximus has Hezekiah as the mind (vot)
commanding its assistant elders and captainsreason, concupiscence,
and irascibilityto work in concert not only to guard the fortress of the
soul against vices but positively to turn it on a course to victory.
The second of the minds elders or captains is the concupiscible faculty, by
which divine love ( o, ovq) is produced. Through this love, the mind, volun-
tarily attaching itself to the desire for the undeled Godhead, has a ceaseless
longing for what it desires. Still another elder or captain is the irascible facul-
ty, by which the mind ceaselessly clings to the peace of God, drawing its
movement toward the divine passion (.c) of desire ( .viOtio).
Interestingly, while Maximus views o, ovq here as the supreme factor
in the victory, the full rallying of the passions, in particular the .c prop-
er to concupiscence, is imperative.
As an ascetic exercise, this reorientation or wise use of the passible fac-
ulties entails a healthy self-knowledge and diligent contemplation. Truly
to know oneself and ones own powers, as Basil of Caesarea had taught
in his homily On the Words Give Heed to Thyself, is tantamount to
the soul-body dichotomy, the trichotomy of the souls faculties, or the hierarchy of
vices. See also, e.g., carit. 2.7476 (PG 90.1008B1009A), where he connects the pas-
sions with these three sources: sense experience, temperament, and memory. The con-
nection of the passions with the craft of the demons is of course standard, though the
demons work is more a catalyst for deviating the passions already latent in the soul
(cf. carit. 2.31, PG 90.993BC, etc.). There are some instances where Maximus treats
an individual passion independently, in terms of its peculiar psychological and experi-
ential horizon (e.g., qu. Thal. 10 on o|o).
69. carit. 3.3 (PG 90.1017C). See also Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator,
70. qu. Thal. 39 (CCSG 7.261,53).
71. Ibid. 27 (CCSG 7.195,92197,112).
72. Ibid. 49 (CCSG 7.355,7581); cf. ibid. 39 (259,713); ep. 2 (PG 91.397AB).
73. Maximus doubtless knows Pseudo-Dionysius classic defense of the use of .-
c and erotic imagery in describing the souls passion for God, a defense which includes
scriptural and patristic references: see div. nom. 4.1115 (PG 3.708B713C).
mastering those faculties in the service of virtue. Maximus writes in Ad
Thalassium 16 of a kind of intro-circumspection leading to a new goal for
the passions. Every passion, he says, is invariably composed, in inter-
connected fashion, of a sensible object, sense itself, and a natural facul-
ty . . . irascibility or concupiscence or reason deviated from its natural
function. But if the mind assiduously contemplates the synthetic goal
(t .io) of these three things, and discriminates the natural principle of
each and their proper interrelation with each other, it can obviate their
conspiracy and bring about a more natural state of the soul, and so too
rehabilitate sense experience (oioOqoi) itself.
To know oneself is thus,
for Maximus, to learn the frontiers of ones nature, and in so doing, to
push out those frontiers in the direction of higher virtue.
Along with this deep self-contemplation, however, Maximus will also,
deferring to Evagrian wisdom, prescribe a radical denial of the vicious
passions: ov as detachment or dispassion.
Monks must always be
vigilant of the lurid thoughts and memories that induce the vices.
secret is preemptively to cleanse, or properly use, ones representations
(vo qoto) or recollections of a sensible object by stripping them of irra-
tional affection through love,
and to circumcise ones dispositions and
proclivities spiritually.
Still, monks are sure to encounter instances when
the demons so overwhelm them with temptations and evil thoughts that
contemplation will not sufce. The only course of action then is to disen-
gage from all other activity except pure and uninterrupted prayer, and to
fortify the protective virtues of self-control and patience with innate
good thoughtslest the demons steal the souls desire (..oi).
infrequently Maximus insists on the full abolition or shutting down of the
passions qua vices,
although, like Evagrius and Augustine, he admits
that they are deeply engrained or hidden in the depths of the soul.
74. qu. Thal. 16 (CCSG 7.109,7293).
75. Maximus teaching on the ascetic struggle against the passions is treated in de-
tail in Walther Vlker, Maximus Confessor als Meister des geistlichen Lebens (Wies-
baden: Franz Steiner, 1965), 174200.
76. carit. 2.74 (PG 90.1008B); ibid. 2.8485 (1009D1012C); ibid. 3.20 (1021BD).
77. Ibid. 2.15 (PG 90.988CD); ibid. 2.17 (989AB); ibid. 2.78 (1009A); ibid.
2.8285 (1009C1012C); ibid. 3.1 (1017B); ibid. 3.34 (1017CD); ibid. 3.20
(1021BC); ibid. 3.4043 (1028D1029B); see also Hausherr, Philautie, 96102.
78. qu. Thal. 65 (CCSG 22.279,460466).
79. Ibid. 49 (CCSG 7.357,120359,149; 365367); cf. also ibid. (365,256
367,288); carit. 2.6 (PG 90.985AC); ibid. 2.61 (1004CD).
80. qu. Thal. Intro. (CCSG 7.41,395404); ibid. 49 (357,131359,136); ibid. 51
(403,166405,171); carit. 1.86 (PG 90.980C); ibid. 1.94 (981BC); qu. dub. 77 [I,53]
(CCSG 10.58). See also Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 19597.
81. E.g., carit. 3.78 (PG 90.1041A).
The redirection or sedation of the passions is never a matter purely of
private asceticism and contemplation. There is always for Maximus the
larger, cosmic scheme of things, at which level it is a battle of raw will and
disciplined reversal of the effects of transgenerational vice. As he indicates
in Ambiguum 8, the provident God has a larger plan to use the things
we have done by our own impulses for our correction (_qoOoi . . . to`
vo,oto toi oix.ioi ooi v`o ocovio`ov qc v).
ingly, Maximus proposes three means for the healing treatment (ioo) of
the passions, and with them the latent disorderliness ( t`o otoxtov) of bod-
ily nature:
. . . whether unwilling or unable, because of the inbred habit of evil, we are
cleansed of the weakness [of the passions]; or else we reject the present and
indwelling evil and learn in advance to look toward restraining future evil; or
else one human being sets forth an admirable example of superior persever-
ance and pious courage for other human beings. . . .
That is to say, either God enacts the healing of the passions by external
discipline, in spite of our helplessness, or else we learn the cure on our
own, by willfully spurning evil and altering our habits, or by imitating the
virtue of one more advanced than us.
Healing or redirecting the passions is the underside of a process of spir-
itual development that centers on the positive, reintegrating power of
virtue: both the four cardinal virtues which, Maximus says, redeem our
whole sensate experience,
and the supreme, truly cosmic virtue of love:
love of self, love of neighbor, love of God, including that deep longing and
attachment that he calls the blessed passion of holy .c.
Love is
82. ambig. 8 (PG 91.1104BC). Cf. carit. 2.39 (PG 90.997BC) and 2.44
(1000AB), where Maximus appropriates classical medical imagery to depict God him-
self (and only derivatively the Christian ascetic sage) as a Physician of souls who, in
his own good timing, and by careful discipline, applies the therapy of his judgments
(xioto) to those struggling with the passions. He does not redeem everyone from
their passions right away, in the interest of their being healed through striving.
83. ambig. 8 (1104CD).
84. For an analysis of the mimetic (imitative) paradigm in Maximus under-
standing of the human fall into violent passions and of the recovery of virtue in the
ethical life of the Christian, see Michael Hardin, Mimesis and Dominion: The Dy-
namics of Violence and the Imitation of Christ in Maximus Confessor, St. Vladimirs
Theological Quarterly 36 (1992): 37385. Hardins study is limited to Maximus Capi-
ta de caritate.
85. ambig. 21 (PG 91.1248A1249C).
86. carit. 3.67. The centrality of love in Maximus anthropology has already been
extensively treated in the studies of Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 30922, and
J. M. Garrigues, Maxime le Confesseur: La charit, avenir divin de lhomme (Paris:
Beauchesne, 1976), esp. 17699. See also the annotated translations of Maximus
the offspring, as it were, of the gathering (otvo,c, q) of the souls facul-
ties for the same purpose in relation to divine realities, and of the union
( .vcoi) of those facultiesrational, irascible, and concupiscible.
It is
their best collective use. As noted earlier, Maximus projects the transfor-
mation of desire ( .viOtio) both into o, ovq and .c.
There is no in-
terest to segregate o, ovq, as self-transcending charity, and .c, as the
driving passion deeply rooted in the individual soul; both express the tru-
ly graced and indeed natural motion of the concupiscible faculty. In this
conception of love Maximus approximates what one contemporary the-
ologian has termed affective conversion, a kind of transforming pas-
sion that subsumes both falling-in-love (the unreective desire to give
oneself in which the self is experienced as passive and helpless because the
desire is experienced as originating and existing beyond . . . the reec-
tively conscious self) and deliberate or intelligent commitment. Such is a
kind of love that transforms the whole desire, and thus the whole indi-
vidual person, in relation to, and in the full interest of, the beloved.
is a love that disposes the affections while at the same time being tex-
tured by them. The ascetic goal of ov is accordingly redened for
Maximus as for Gregory of Nyssa. Detachment (or impassibility) is
scarcely adequate to describe an inward, habitual stability and reorienta-
tion of the passions sustained through imitation of divine justice, endur-
ing good choice, virtuous disposal toward ones neighbor, extraverted love
of all human beings equally, and in summary, the use of things with right
reason (t` o .t` o oOo t i o,ot _ qoooOoi toi v o,ooi).
The question could logically be posed as to whether all conceivable
functions of the passible faculties might therefore, through the reinte-
Chapters on Love by J. Pegon, Maxime le Confesseur: Centuries sur la charit, SC 9
(Paris: Cerf, 1945); Polycarp Sherwood, St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life,
The Four Centuries on Charity, ACW 21 (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1955),
136208, 24867; and Berthold, Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, 3598;
and I-H. Dalmais French trans. of Maximus, ep. 2 (PG 91.392D408B), in La vie spir-
ituelle 79 (1948): 296303.
87. qu. Thal. 49 (CCSG 7.353,5861).
88. See above, notes 6162 and related text.
89. Walter Conn, Affective Conversion: The Transformation of Desire, in Reli-
gion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., ed. Timothy Fallon and
Philip Riley (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1987), 26176, and esp. 26870. The concept
of affective conversion is Lonergans, further elaborated by Conn.
90. carit. 1.2427 (PG 90.965AC); ibid. 1.40 (968C); ibid. 1.61 (973A); ibid. 1.71
(976BC); ibid. 2.30 (993B); myst. 24 (PG 91.713AB). On Maximus more activist
notion of ov contrasted with Evagrius, see Lars Thunberg, Man and the Cos-
mos: The Vision of St. Maximus the Confessor (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimirs Sem-
inary Press, 1985), 98101.
grating power of love, be transmuted or used for divine communion
and human reconciliation. Simply put, is the full gamut of passionate
experience in human beings potentially virtuous experience? Gregory
of Nyssa had speculated about the far frontiers of the experience of vice
that still might fall within the disciplinary scope of divine providence.
Odious passions like anger, rage, even greed, he suggests as potential ser-
vants of virtue.
Pseudo-Dionysius too, in the Divine Names, surmises
that the seemingly most agrant passions are not without a relative par-
ticipation in the Good: unreasoning anger, mindless desire, headlong
fancy, . . . even if they are to be found among the demons, are not total-
ly, completely, and innately evil. For in other living beings it is not the pos-
session of such qualities but rather the loss of them which brings ruin to
a creature and is therefore evil. Possession of them can actually ensure life,
can form the nature of the living being which has them.
The Pseudo-
Areopagite is thinking here mainly of unreasoning animals, but the over-
all force of his argument is precisely that wrath, desire, and cognate pas-
sions are not intrinsically evil in created beings, the evil only lying in the
weakness and deciency of natural qualities, activities, and powers.
deed, anger in reasonable beings can be a sturdy working of reason in
them and the capacity they have to be grounded tenaciously in holy and
unchanging foundations.
Maximus for his part is cautious when spec-
ulating into the potential nobility of the passions, lest the experience of
vice be seen as quasi-necessary for the full apprehension of virtue. The
principle of utility (_ qoi) holds true enough in the case of desire when
it longs for God, ire when it unleashes against evil and guards virtue, or
grief and toil such as can serve a corrective purpose.
But, other than rea-
sonable use of the affections associated with sustaining the body,
91. virg. 18 (GNO 8, pt. 1.318,26319,4).
92. div. nom. 4.23 (PG 3.725BC); cf. idem, cael. hier. 15.8 (PG 3.337B); trans.
Colm Luibheid in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, CWS (Mahwah, N.J.:
Paulist Press, 1987), 91. See also Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 19295.
93. Ibid. 4.25 (PG 3.728B); trans. Luibheid, Pseudo-Dionysius, 92.
94. Pseudo-Dionysius, cael. hier. 2.4 (PG 3.141D), trans. Luibheid, Pseudo-Diony-
sius, 151. He also mentions that reasonable beings experience desire as a longing for
divine and immaterial realities (144A).
95. See above, notes 5963 and related text; also qu. Thal. 58 (CCSG
22.27,537,130). See also Christoph Schnborn, Plaisir et douleur dans lanalyse de
S. Maxime, 27384.
96. carit. 4.66 (PG 90.1064B): Scripture takes away none of the things given by
God for our use but it restrains immoderation and corrects unreasonableness. For ex-
ample, it does not forbid eating or begetting children or having money or managing it,
but it does forbid gluttony, fornication, and so forth. Nor does it even forbid us to think
of these things, for they were made to be thought of; what it forbids is thinking of them
can prurient carnal passions or pleasures fall within the economy of
virtue? Sense, left to itself, deliberately inclines toward carnal pleasures
unless the higher soul with its faculty for thinking pleasurable things
over ( q t cv qo .cv .vivoqtix`q o tvoi), as Maximus charily denes it,
subjects the senses to toils and pursues a course of self-control and true
In the overall scheme, the positive rather than the negative dimension
of human passibility is the salient feature in Maximus teaching. As in his
Cappadocian predecessors, no nal judgment on the ontological status
of the passions can be pronounced without considering their economy and
use in a teleological perspective. The lingering issue, however, is that
identied above by Pseudo-Dionysius: the intrinsic weakness, deciency
(and mutability) of natural passible faculties. Earlier I noted Gregory of
Nyssas resolution of this problem in the form of his doctrine of perpetu-
al striving ( .v .xtooi): the natural human powers and drives, even in the
afterlife, must constantly be stretched to new heights of perfection under
the direction of vooi.oi. Gregory glories in the affective as well as
cognitive dimensions of this eternal progress, and in the paradox of the
soul nding sublime satisfaction precisely in its insatiable yearning for
God. Maximus himself, while certainly afrming with Gregory that eter-
nal movement around the Divine ( q v.`i t`o O.i ov o.ixivqoio) is a con-
stitutive natural energy ( .v .,.io toix q) of the soul,
and that this
is an affective drive, a natural appetite or passion for God that must per-
petually stretch out along with (otvoot.iv.iv) Gods own innity,
nonetheless makes important renements of his own.
Tov q, the mu-
tability-turned-deviance of souls (the epic dilemma of Origenism), cannot
be resolved solely on the existential level of good choices, since crea-
turely choice (vooi.oi) itself is intrinsically liable to deviance.
Maximus appeals instead to an underlying plan or i o,o to.c com-
with passion (trans. Berthold, Maximus Confessor, 82); cf. also ibid. 2.17 (989AB);
qu. Thal. 55 (CCSG 7.487,123489,134); or. dom. (PG 90.900BD).
97. qu. Thal. 58 (CCSG 22.33,8698); and ibid., scholium 10 (41,4045).
98. ep. 6 (PG 91.432AB); cf. ambig. 7 (PG 91.1089B).
99. Cf. ambig. 7 (PG 91.1069B, 1089B); opusc. 1 (PG 91.9A); carit. 3.98 (PG
90.1048A); and Gregory of Nyssa, v. Mos., Bk. 1 (GNO 7, pt. 1.4,1015).
100. See Paul Blowers, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Con-
cept of Perpetual Progress, VC 46 (1992): 151171; cf. also Paul Plass, Moving
Rest in Maximus the Confessor, Classica et mediaevalia 35 (1984): 17790; Joseph
Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor (South Canaan, Penn.: St. Tikhons
Seminary Press, 1989), 145154.
101. qu. Thal. 42 (CCSG 7.287,3540).
prehending and guiding all natural human movements.
Within this
plan, reason (i o,o) properly speaking is not simply a hegemonic power
but a mediator between the mind (vot) and the affections,
a strategic
facilitator of the proper use of all the faculties in the realization of virtue.
In the same connection Maximus speaks of the natural will (O .iqo
toix ov),
which cannot be restricted to personal choice (vooi.oi)
or deep-seated desire ( .viOtio) since it comprehends both. This natural
will, modeled in the human will of Christ, in effect represents the resolve
of the whole of human nature, the full economy of faculties acting in con-
cert with each other both by ontological predisposition and by proper
moral use. Indeed, in Maximus technical description of human will-
ing, use (_qoi) is the summary volitional stage, the rallying-point of
the natural powers, the nal conjunction of impulsive desire and reasoned
personal choice that results in concrete action.
Maximus teleology is a careful revision of Nyssas perspective. Re-
casting the paradox of desire and satisfaction, eternal motion and eternal
repose, in the afterlife, Maximus projects a gradual sabbatical transfor-
mation of the human faculties (affections included) that brings their nat-
ural motion to rest or completion precisely as it raises their activity be-
yond their normal scope.
J. M. Garrigues suggests that il ny a pas
pour Maxime dpectase innie dun dsir compris comme linstabilit du
libre-arbitre, mais une monte sereine et sre vers la plnitude et le repos
du port cleste. Appropriating certain metaphysical axioms from Pseu-
do-Dionysius, Maximus thereby corrects la radicalit de lexistential-
isme and le personnalisme radicale of Gregory of Nyssa by integrat-
ing lconomie dramatique de la libert dans une ontologie fondamentale
de la participation.
Accordingly, Garrigues and others have argued
102. orat. dom. (PG 90.901BD, 904D905A).
103. See I.-H. Dalmais, Le vocabulaire des activits intellectuelles, volontaires, et
spirituelles dans lanthropologie de saint Maxime le Confesseur, in Mlanges offerts
M.-D. Chenu (Paris: Vrin, 1967), 190ff.
104. See opusc. 1 (PG 91.12C); ibid. 26 (280A); also Thunberg, Microcosm and Me-
diator, 211ff; Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, 115130.
105. Opusc. 1 (PG 91.21D); cf. also Gauthier, Saint Maxime le Confesseur et la
psychologie de lacte humaine, 7377; Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 226.
106. qu. Thal. 65 (CCSG 22.279,466468); ibid. 22 (CCSG 7.141,8298); cap. the-
ol. 1.54 (PG 90.1104AB). See also Blowers, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of
Nyssa, and the Concept of Perpetual Progress, 16165; Plass, Moving Rest in
Maximus the Confessor, 18385.
107. Garrigues, Maxime le Confesseur, 85, 91, 92. Cf. Alain Riou, Le monde et
lglise selon Maxime le Confesseur (Paris: Beauchesne, 1973), 43: A lpectase innie
du dsir, saint Maxime substitue la progression . . . elle-mme de la nature se fait sous
la conduite dun pasteur-higoumne, dun guide, dun gouvernail.
that with Maximus we are well on our way to Aquinas doctrine of the
causality of grace and the notion of a supernatural habitus of love ele-
vating created nature to a higher stature.
Though legitimate parallels
can be drawn between Maximus and Thomas (both of whom depend on
Nemesius of Emesa) from the standpoint of the economy of psychologi-
cal faculties, the hegemony of reason and will, and the potential moral
agency of the passions,
such comparisons take us beyond the subtle nu-
ances in Maximus treatment of the human will and passions in a neo-
Cappadocian (and neo-Areopagitic) context.
Maximus effectively deepens the Cappadocian insight into the unlimit-
ed resourcefulness of natural human powers directed, in communion with
divine grace, toward their proper t .io, which for Maximus is ultimate-
ly God himself but, mediately, the multiplicity of i o,oieternal princi-
ples of virtue, beauty, and so too reasonthat constitute the frontier be-
tween God and creation. The enjoyment ( ov oiotoi) of these diverse
i o,oi is never purely a function of intellect or of analytic reason. It en-
tails the continuing exercise or use of the affections which drive the mind
and the whole human being, teleologically, toward God. As Lars Thun-
berg remarks, it is simply insufcient for Maximus to say that anger and
concupiscence are to be logicized and at last transcended, when the
journey of the soul demands the use of these faculties. Intellect and will
are basic, but so too emotion and temper are integral to the realization of
virtue and the engagement of the whole human being in communion with
If passion (v oOo) bespeaks the primal Adamic and historic experience,
the tragic loss of integrity suffered within the differentiated levels and as-
108. See J. M. Garrigues, Lnergie divine et la grce chez Maxime le Confesseur,
Istina 19 (1974): 27296; idem, Maxime le Confesseur, 92 (n. 7), 95, 133; cf. the prefa-
tory remarks of M.-J. le Guillou, ibid., 8. I would concur with Lars Thunbergs criti-
cism of this Thomistic reading of Maximus in Man and the Cosmos, 5253, 102. Thun-
berg rightly notes that for Maximus, love is not a supernaturally infused habitus ( .i)
as such; rather, it represents primarily the reciprocal theandric communion of the
whole of human nature with God.
109. On Aquinas doctrine of the passions (Summa theologiae I-II.2248), see
most recently Simon Harak, Virtuous Passions: The Formation of Christian Charac-
ter (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 7198; also Mark Jordan, Aquinass Construc-
tion of a Moral Account of the Passions, FZPhTh 33 (1986): 7193, and esp. 8793.
Jordan notes that Aquinas principal sources concerning the passions include John
Damascene, Nemesius of Emesa (whose De natura hominis medieval writers attrib-
uted to Gregory of Nyssa), and Augustine. Maximus does not gure among Thomas
cited sources.
110. Microcosm and Mediator, 207; similarly, cf. Telepneff and Chrysostomos,
The Person, Pathe, Asceticism, and Spiritual Restoration in Saint Maximos, 261.
pects of human nature, so ultimately will passion bespeak the profound
experience in which that nature regains its wholeness in Christ and re-
ceives its full share in the divine life. Not surprisingly, Maximus describes
deication in terms not only of perfected spiritual knowledge and
virtue, or as the christlike exercise of free choice by the saints in the es-
but also, dramatically, as a sublime experience (v.i o),
pleasurable suffering (v.ioi),
a supernatural passion ( tv` . toiv
t`o v oOo) wherein the creatures utter passivity to divine grace is but a
consummation of the active powers in human nature.
The importance of Maximus constructive theory of the human pas-
sions in its broader context should not be underestimated, to the extent
that he grapples with a historic problem of Christian anthropology and
ethics. In the postscript to his book The Education of Desire: Plato and
the Philosophy of Religion, Michel Despland suggests that Christianity
marked itself out from classical pagan piety by claiming to be a religion
that educated the human will over the human desires. Historically, how-
ever, this led, in some theological systems to an exaltation of the will be-
yond everything else created, to the denition of the will in opposition to
reason and to desire; or else (and here Despland cites certain medieval
scholastics, and all other Christian theologians overly dependent on Aris-
totelianism) to the ontologizing of the freedom of desire wherein all hu-
man subjectivity would be t into the metaphysical equivalent of par-
liamentary closure . . . (providing) a denite framework for all judgments
of reality.
Other modern philosophical anthropologists, Christian
and non-, have leveled analogous accusations. Nicolas Berdyaev argued
that some early Christian ascetics, Maximus included, had abstracted
spiritual love from the emotions and from all concreteness and indi-
viduality, and fossilized it into a means of transcendence devoid of hu-
man warmth.
Robert Solomon, the contemporary Neo-Romantic
philosopher of the passions, has indicted traditional Christianity as a
111. See Farrell, Free Choice in Maximus the Confessor, 95130, 14354.
112. qu. Thal. 6 (CCSG 7.69,2324; 71,4648); cf. ibid. 65 (CCSG 22.253,3943);
Myst. 5 (PG 91.680C). On the importance of v.i o in Maximus spiritual doctrine,
see Pierre Miquel, H.i o: Contribution ltude du vocabulaire de lexprience re-
ligieuse dans loeuvre de Maxime le Confesseur, SP 7, TU 92 (Berlin: Akademie-
Verlag, 1966), 355361.
113. ambig. 7 (PG 91.1088CD).
114. qu. Thal. 22 (CCSG 7.139,66141,98).
115. Michel Despland, The Education of Desire: Plato and the Philosophy of Reli-
gion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 28087.
116. Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, trans. Natalie Duddington (New York:
Harper & Row, 1960), 18788.
whole for exalting reason and for subverting the pure subjectivity of the
passions, which he denes as the deepest and best human judgments
and the very core or essence of the human self.
Michel Despland for his part commends Gregory of Nyssa and Augus-
tine as early Christian theologians whose spiritual existentialism at least
held place for the education of desire: Gregory with his vision of perpet-
ual desire for intimate personal communion with God, Augustine with his
belief that the orientation of our will, in the end, depends on the story
of our loves.
Despland does not mention Maximus, but would he be
as sympathetic with his insights? Maximus, after all, still has a critical
stake in the ontological framework of human willing and desiring as well
as the properly moral or existential dimension (i o,o as well as t ovo,
to use his own terminology). Perhaps Despland would categorize Max-
imus as a proto-scholastic who effectively subsumed the passions into a
nely articulated network of cause-and-effect within a system of divine
grace and human intentionality. J. M. Garrigues has already averred that
in the evolution of his soteriology, the mystique naturelle du dsir was
merely a temporary infatuation of Maximus en route to discovering at last
la ordre de la personne as the key to human will and creaturely move-
Hopefully this essay has shown that any such conclusions would
be premature. Maximus, in good company with Gregory of Nyssa and
still clings to the view that in the human pursuit of God,
the deep-seated erotic and thymetic drives, while not informing the rea-
soning mind and will as such, nonetheless empower them and launch
They tell the story of how ones moral choices and movements
have come about as groundedstrategically, as it werein all the levels
of ones being, and how ones ultimate spiritual commitments have come
to be engrained and owned. For in Maximus anthropological inter-
pretation of the virtues, virtuous decisions can never result in virtuous acts
without the trained and rallied responses of the souls full range of facul-
ties and psychosomatic functions. Such training comes simultaneously in
117. Robert Solomon, The Passions (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976),
xivxvii, 10, 25, 42, 112.
118. Despland, The Education of Desire, 28384.
119. Garrigues, Maxime le Confesseur, 97, 100ff.
120. For a fuller comparison of Maximus with Augustine, see Robert Wilken, Max-
imus the Confessor on the Affections in Historical Perspective, in Asceticism, ed. Vin-
cent Wimbush and Richard Valantasis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995),
41223. I am indebted to Robert Wilken for a copy of his manuscript in advance of its
121. See Williams, Macrinas Deathbed Revisited, 242; Harrison, Grace and Hu-
man Freedom according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, 16062.
the drama of human society, where loves and aversions are rened in a
genuinely universal ascetic struggle to attain to the t .io of all creature-
ly existence, and in the interior microcosm of the soul-body relationship,
where the ever deepening habit and disposition of love give rise to new
alignments in the souls affections, the virtues which displace the vices.
The narrative of the individual spiritual self and its loves is always for
Maximus tied into a grander macrocosmic plot, or plan (i o,o), that be-
gins in Adam and ends in the hypostasis of the New Adam. Rowan
Williams notes that for Gregory of Nyssa, the interlocking frames of his-
tory, gender and passion form the concrete structure for the souls jour-
ney toward a God who is free from all of thema paradox, but one al-
together appropriate to incarnational Christianity.
Maximus, who is
arguably more pained by the language of philosophical paradox,
nonetheless follows the instinct of Gregorys theological anthropology at
this point. The full fruition and transformation of created nature climax-
ing in deication and the historical struggle for restoration from fallen-
ness in all its manifestations are irreducible, intersecting grids or elds of
action that can never, from a teleological and indeed a Christological per-
spective, be extricated from each other. They constitute one history, one
story, one dynamic of human nature,
aimed not at a mere spiritual
repristination (as in the myth of preexistence) but at the utterly new hu-
man destiny opened up through the Incarnation. In the dnouement, the
experience of the passions is both a hallmark of the tragedy of the Fall
and a pivotal frontier of its resolution and even its ultimate transcendence.
In the end, Maximus scriptural image of the passions as the gentiles
in the ascetic theater of the soul is perhaps his most tting and evocative
analogy. Like the gentiles, renowned for their alienage (t` o oiio,.v .)
and foreignness (t` o oii otiov), the passions have always been a con-
122. Williams, Macrinas Deathbed Revisited, 245.
123. On Maximus attempts to obviate the strongly paradoxical language and im-
agery of Gregorys notion of epektasis, see Blowers, Maximus the Confessor, Grego-
ry of Nyssa, and the Concept of Perpetual Progress, 15960, 16364.
124. Von Balthasar, in his Kosmische Liturgie, 142, aptly suggests that toi itself
is for Maximus (as for Gregory of Nyssa), hardly a static category; it rather indicates
eine Anlage, ein Plan (i o,o), ein Feld und System von Bewegung (cf. von Balthasars
investigation of Nyssas doctrine of the openness of human nature in Presence and
Thought, 11119). For further commentary on Maximus doctrine of toi, see Thun-
berg Microcosm and Mediator, 8790; also Garrigues, Maxime le Confesseur, 107:
La permanence inaltrable de chaque nature dans son principe essentiel nexclut pas
pour Maxime que lnergie de la nature cre soit tlologiquement dynamise vers le
Bien ultime.
tingent presence (votv ootooi) in the economy of human salvation.
But now the God who, as Maximus says, longs to be incarnate in all that
he creates,
has opened up a means for their outright reorientation, in-
clusion, and instrumentality in that economy, their redemption from
chaos and participation in the grace of deication. Only through these re-
deemed gentiles is incarnational grace wondrously embodied in the far-
thest reaches of creation, of which human nature is the treasured micro-
cosm. For Maximus the Confessor, the resolution of the ontological and
physiological problem of the passions lies, not simply in a renovated phi-
losophy of human being, but in the apocalyptic action of God in Jesus
Christ, an incarnational and recreative mystery the full effects of which
continue to be elicited in human life and experience.
Paul M. Blowers is an Associate Professor of Church History at the
Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee
125. qu. Thal. 51 (CCSG 7.403,154405,189).
126. ambig. 7 (PG 91.1084CD).