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Maximus the Confessor
Adam A.J. DeVille, Ph.D. (cand.) Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute at St. Paul University Ottowa, ON
Introduction Writing in the late 1930s, the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar observed a process of destruction of Western culture and Christianity that has only increased in the intervening sixty-five years. In such a context, von Balthasar suggested, the inclination on the part of many is to attempt to recover a lost Eden, a garden of delights unspoiled by the acids of modernity and the exigencies of a frequently troubling history. For many Christians, this paradisiacal age is thought to be found in that of the Fathers, and our task is simple: we must return to the way things were done in their time. Yet, between the Patristic age and our own, there is a great gulf fixed. The former age was one in which highly sophisticated theological disputes were thrashed out frequently at the cost of exile, excommunication, and even death for those on the wrong side. Our present age, by contrast, is one in which many people doubt the very concept of truth, and are supinely indifferent to the ongoing existence of incommensurate and patently contradictory “truths,” thinking none of them worth dying for. Moreover, even many Christians, especially in North America and Western Europe, doubt many (especially moral) truths of the faith “once delivered to the saints.” In such a context, can a thoroughgoing Byzantine theologian like Maximus the Confessor be relevant--and if he is relevant, can he be approached across such wide expanses of time and space and such profoundly different cultural contexts? This essay will argue that Maximus is relevant to us today and can be accessed, but not by simply adopting all his ideas
or imitating all his solutions to the problems of his age. As Alexander Schmemann cautioned us, any return to the Fathers will prove destructive if we seek only to return to their ideas or their texts, and not to their spirit and mind: It is my impression that with a few exceptions, the “patristic revival”… is a return much more to patristic texts than to the mind of the Fathers, as if these patristic texts were self-sufficient and self-explanatory. It is indeed the “original sin” of the entire western theological development that it made “texts” the only loci theologici, the extrinsic “authorities” of theology, disconnecting theology from its living source: liturgy and spirituality. The problem with such a textual approach to the Fathers, including Maximus, is that their life was not lived in books but in churches and monasteries, in prayer and at liturgy. If we in our day seek to understand what Maximus has to teach us about salvation, we will be sorely mistaken if we look only to his written works and do not undertake the practices necessary for such salvation. Reading Maximus, in other words, is not enough: we must also act. Accordingly, after examining his tripartite process for salvation as understood in the light of Christ’s Transfiguration, we will close with a reflection on the liturgical texts for Feast of the Transfiguration since it is in the liturgy above all that the Fathers remain alive with us and are able to teach us from beyond the grave. Thus do we outwit the hermeneutic problem of approaching those long dead: we look beyond their texts to their living communion with us in the liturgy and their on-going intercession on our behalf. As von Balthasar so eloquently put it: [W]e shall not collect the living and sacred documents of our life (and the history of the Church is our life) as a person would collect stamps or butterflies. That would be to demonstrate that we are already dead. Let us read history, our history, as a living account of what we once were, with the double-edged consciousness that all of this has gone forever and that, in spite of everything, that period of youth and every moment of our lives remains mysteriously present at the wellsprings of our soul in a kind of delectable eternity. I: Salvation as Transfiguration: Foundational Ascetic Practices At first glance, the Confessor’s soteriology may seem hopelessly abstruse. Any sign of “delectable eternity” is well hidden by writing that is notoriously dense and rhetorically florid. Maximus would seem to be the last person to whom to look for practical counsel on what is necessary that we might
obtain eternal salvation. Yet, for all his over-fondness of speculation and sentences that seem never to end, Maximus instead had as his uppermost consideration that of prayer and the practical life. The antinomy of Maximus’s life is that this most complex of theologians is also but a simple monk and man of prayer whose whole concern centres on “ascetic struggle,” leading, as we shall see, to transfiguration in Christ. This holy monk’s soteriology—insofar as we may treat it systematically, since Maximus was not a systematician—may be summed up as the process of transfiguration of the soul through prayer and ascetic struggle, leading up an ascent through virtue to spiritual knowledge and culminating in theology. We shall consider each of these in turn. This monastic concern manifests itself repeatedly throughout Difficulty 10, in which we find the Confessor returning again and again to the theme of “ascetic struggle.” Difficulty 10 is a wide-ranging reflection—which moves from many topics in a pattern of “lateral thinking,” as Louth has put it—but is nonetheless linked by the common concern for the practical means necessary for the contemplation of God and for obtaining salvation. Thus does Maximus return frequently to the examples of, inter alia, Moses, Abraham, the prophets and patriarchs, and the saints who, in possessing “the inerrant knowledge concerning God and divine things…rightly proceed along the straight path.” That straight path is secured through ascetic struggle against the sins to which our fallen nature is prone in an attempt to deny or avoid death. Without such a struggle, it is impossible to begin the process of knowing God: “ascetic struggle destroys evil and through the demonstration of the virtues cuts off from the world those who are completely led through it in their disposition.” Such a struggle, Maximus writes in another place, “overthrows the flesh, sense and the world, through which the relationship of the mind to the intelligible is dissolved, and by his mind alone through love comes to know God.” For Maximus, ascetic struggle as the first stage in the process of salvific transfiguration aims most simply at “the complete mortification and cessation of desire in the senses,” or what is commonly known among Byzantine theologians as apatheia. One arrives at such a state through ascetic struggle, which is itself composed of a disciplining of the bodily desires—including, inter alia, “conceit…pride and self-esteem,” “‘ignominy of mouth,’” “gluttony” and “envy”—chiefly through
prayer until one becomes “completely oblivious of wealth and health and other transient goods which the virtues transcend.” For Maximus, then, the first step along the path to salvation is to undergo that rigorous training which any mountaineer would undertake before attempting to scale a high mountain. So, too, in the spiritual life, the ascent to Mount Tabor and the uncreated light of Christ’s saving divine power can only be attempted by those who first undertake the rigorous practice and discipline of the body in order to purify the soul and leave the world behind, ascending to God who is without form and beyond the world.  As Lev Gillet notes: “before attaining the light of the Transfiguration, the hard path of asceticism is necessary.” Let us now turn to the fruit of ascetic struggle, viz., those transcendent virtues whose achievement marks the second step in the process of transfiguration leading to the ultimate goal of sanctified deification and thus salvation. II: Transfiguration Through Virtue After one has begun the process of ascetic discipline, one begins to move to the next stage in the salvific process of deification. That stage consists in the acquisition of virtue, which Maximus defines simply: “Virtue is a stable and utterly dispassionate state of righteousness.” For Maximus, such a state is intrinsically valuable, sought for its own sake as much as for its role as the “divine chariot” carrying us to God. As he puts it, if a man “has virtues alone and for their sake, he is blessed….If you take away all bodily and external advantages from the condition of general blessedness, and leave nothing whatever but the virtues, it remains a state of blessedness. For virtue, by itself, is sufficient for happiness.” While Maximus does acknowledge that the acquisition of virtue is a gift from God, he stresses repeatedly that the responsibility is ours to accept or reject: “‘The Lord has given us the tropos of salvation and the eternal power to become sons of God; henceforth, our salvation is in our power.’” It is not, in other words, within God’s power to force us to cooperate with His will: “created man cannot become a son of God and god by grace through deification unless he is first through his own free choice begotten in the
Spirit.” Once a man makes that choice, then the entire panoply of salvation, and the entire pantheon of saintly warriors, open up to him: For God provides equally to all the power that naturally leads to salvation, so that each one who wishes can be transformed by divine grace. And nothing prevents anyone from willing to become Melchisedec, and Abraham, and Moses, and simply transferring all these Saints to himself, not by changing names and places, but by imitating their forms and way of life. Of those forms of life crucial for the virtues, none rate so high an encomium as that of humility, which Maximus regards as the sine qua non of all virtues. Humility is the characteristic virtue of the saints who “hold fast to the form of the virtues par excellence, I mean humility. Now humility is a firm safeguard of all that is good, undermining everything that is opposed to it.” As he puts it elsewhere, “the highest of all blessings [is] humility, that conserves other blessings and destroys their opposites.” One of the blessings that virtue, founded upon humility, conveys, is the ability to read and understand divine revelation, especially scriptural revelation: “As soon as anyone practices the virtues with true intelligence, he acquires a spiritual understanding of Scripture” and thus avoids the literalism that Maximus denounces in many places. Such a reading of Scripture is part of the acquisition of spiritual knowledge leading to contemplation and ultimately our salvation: “Every lover of salvation is totally committed either to the practice of the virtues or to the contemplative life. For without virtue and spiritual knowledge no one can attain salvation in any way whatsoever.” To the matter of spiritual knowledge, then, let us turn next to understand this further step in the climb up the Mount Tabor of our salvation. III: Transfiguration Through Spiritual Knowledge For Maximus, spiritual knowledge is that which enables one to soar beyond the fleshly and the worldly and ascend to great heights of contemplation. Once one has undertaken ascetic struggle, acquired humility, and advanced in virtue, one proceeds concomitantly to develop knowledge of things divine that enables one to contemplate the Providence of God. These is not a strictly linear process and often what we might think of as
discrete stages overlap and circle back on one another or occur almost simultaneously. As Louth reminds us, “ascetic struggle is not simply an initial stage to be accomplished as quickly as possible, it is an abiding concern of the spiritual life.” Just as a mountaineer does not always ascend to the top in a direct line, but sometimes has to descend in order to ascend from a better position, or move laterally to find a better vantage point from which to continue climbing, so too with the relationship between virtue and spiritual knowledge: “man’s manifestation through the virtues of the God who is by nature invisible is correlative with the degree to which his intellect is seized by God and imbued with spiritual knowledge.” Virtue and spiritual knowledge, then, go together—although not always, and in some rare instances one who is “smutted by the passions may possibly deduce knowledge of divine things by means of plausible guesswork; but they cannot grasp or express such knowledge with any accuracy.” Maximus recognizes, in other words, that what he calls spiritual knowledge is not simply the result of “mere learning,” which, as often as not, is simply a human creation. By contrast, Maximus insists that we may attain correct knowledge of things divine, but such an attainment is not of our own devising: “a man whose intellect has been formed by the knowledge that comes by dint of the virtues through the divine Spirit is said to experience divine things; for he has acquired such knowledge not by nature, thanks simply to his existence, but by grace, thanks to his participation in it.” Spiritual knowledge, then, is a divine gift, but once again we must freely choose to participate in it. Our participation is not in a simple, natural acquisition of facts about God, but in a completely transforming process in God and for God so that, with St. Paul, we may say, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” This transposition of the self, this total gift of the self, means that any spiritual knowledge acquired consists not in a tangible facts and figures that can be demonstrably discussed and disseminated but is to be understood more as “erotic” knowledge beyond the empirical. Whilst qualifying his terms so that we do not misunderstand him, Maximus nonetheless presses the point: “spiritual knowledge unites knower and known” in “an erotic union in the Spirit.” For Maximus, then, “spiritual knowledge,” the second stage in our transfiguration in Christ, is to be understood more in monastic and marital terms--as the union of lovers--than academic and scientific ones. Spiritual
knowledge, as that intercourse between human and divine, between our efforts and God’s gracious revelation, is embodied above all in Christ’s nuptial self-giving. As Aidan Nichols comments: Faced with the mystery of the Incarnate Word, Maximus at last grasped that man is not divinised by a simple prolongation of his natural dynamism, but by a change which fulfils his natural aspiration only through transposing it into a new key, in that realm of being and action proper only to persons. Hencefore, where salvation is concerned, divinisation and Christology will form one single mystery. For Maximus, divinisation and Christology form one single unity and the spiritual knowledge we acquire does not provide us with any “new data” beyond the Christological. Maximus, ever eschewing the role of innovator and the temptation of Gnosticism, suggests that spiritual knowledge simply takes one into the realm of tried and true dogma: “the saints have received the many divine mysteries…and were immediately initiated into knowledge of reality in accordance with the tradition passed down to them from those before them.” Moreover, Maximus is at pains in several places to stress what is perhaps the central antinomy of the Christian life: the more one draws closer to the Triune God, the darker one’s knowledge becomes—or, to put it in terms of the metaphor we have been using throughout, the higher up one draws to the transfigured Christ on Mount Tabor, the more one becomes blinded by the light, until, at the peak and thus closest to Christ, one cannot see at all with only eyes of flesh. This antinomy of hidden-revealed is drawn out at length in Difficulty 5: Having become man he [ie., Christ] himself remains completely incomprehensible, and shows his own Incarnation…to be more incomprehensible than any mystery. The more he becomes comprehensible through it, so much the more through it is he known to be incomprehensible. ‘For he is hidden after his revelation,’ the teacher says, ‘or, to speak more divinely, also in his revelation. And this mystery of Jesus in itself remains hidden, and can be drawn out by no reason, by no intellect, but when spoken of it remains ineffable, and when understood unknown.’ The higher one climbs, the more one perceives Christ to be unknown; the greater spiritual knowledge one has of divine things, the less one is able to
see and say. In other words, the more the light of spiritual knowledge brightens one’s mind, the darker one’s perception of God becomes, and so one is thrown back on faith. This theological antinomy occupies a large place in Maximus’s writings, especially on the Transfiguration, and so we turn to it next. IV: Transfiguration as Theology: Antinomic Method Accustomed as we moderns are to thinking of theology as an academic discipline with discrete boundaries and definite subject matter, we may come to Maximus’s use of this term and find it puzzling. Yet, in light of the foregoing, we may surmise by now that for Maximus “theology,” like the other stages of the salvific ascent up Mount Tabor, is not an academic discipline (Maximus, after all, was the successor to Evagrius, for whom the theologian is simply the one who prays) but, rather, the result of prayer. Theology is largely a synonym for contemplation in and through Christ of the Trinity, as brought about by Spirit-inspired prayer: “Theology is taught us by the incarnate Logos of God, since He reveals in Himself the Father and the Holy Spirit.” Such a contemplation of the Triune God is as much a revelation as a veiling, as we saw earlier. In this, Maximus takes us once again to the classical antinomy between a theology of negation and that of affirmation, which he understands again via a reflection on the Transfiguration: For I think that the divinely-fitting events that took place on the mount at the Transfiguration secretly indicate two universal modes of theology: that is, that which is pre-eminent and simple and uncaused, and through sole and complete denial truly affirms the divine, and fittingly and solemnly exalts its transcendence through speechlessness, and then that which follows this and is composite, and from what has been caused magnificently sketches out…through affirmation. Maximus is here suggesting that the one path we have been following up Mount Tabor is now about to diverge. All the climbers have undertaken ascetic disciplines and practiced virtues leading to spiritual knowledge, but once they have progressed through these stages, some will ascend still higher via a “hidden apophatic theology” in which “the blessed and holy Godhead is by essence beyond ineffability and unknowability and countlessly raised above all infinity, leaving not the slightest trace of
comprehension to those who are after it, nor disclosing any idea to any being.” Others, however, will engage in a positive contemplation, or what the Confessor calls “the affirmative mode” which has three components to it: “activity,” “providence,” and “judgment.” Whether via such “active” means or by the more negative ones, the goal is still the same: “it is our aim to make the intelligence stand alone, stripped through the virtues of its affection for the body.” Only one so stripped may ascend to the top of Tabor and there see, and be seen by, the uncreated light radiating from Christ, who is the source and summit of the Christian life. When one thus prepared arrives at the top, Maximus sketches out what awaits them as awaited the Apostles whom Christ took with Him to His Transfiguration: [T]hey passed over from flesh to spirit, before they had put aside this fleshly life, by the change in their powers of sense that the Spirit worked in them….Then, having both the bodily and the spiritual senses purified, they were taught the spiritual meanings [logoi] of the mysteries that were shown to them….Thus they arrived at a clear and correct understanding concerning God, and were set free from every attachment to the world and the flesh. Those who scale Tabor, then, find themselves arriving at the top in human form, but yet taken beyond human form to contemplate God in a way that is pure, clear, and free from human frailty and fallibility. As Nichols puts it: For Maximus, the whole “matter” of existence, whether thought or action, is not just renewed but “innovated”–recreated from the roots up–by entrance into the life of the children of God. As Creator, the Logos furnishes man with these “materials” but as Word Incarnate, he communicates to him the new life which “innovates” nature in his person. This innovation and re-creation, as we have suggested, is for Maximus akin to climbing Mount Tabor, which is not a one-time affair but an on-going transfiguration for all of us. Salvation is thus a process akin to mountaineering. The base of the mountain of salvation is the ascetic practices of prayer and self-denial; the first step is the acquisition of virtue, of which humility is the most important; the next level is spiritual knowledge; the penultimate peak is “theology” or contemplation of the divine along paths of both negation and affirmation; and then the summit is complete
transfiguration whereby the self is transposed and we become deified, hearing, like Christ, the Father’s commendation, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Such a commendation from the Father puts squarely before us now the entire purpose of our ascent: to know the Father’s love and be utterly transfigured in, and ecstatically enraptured by, it. Such, as Hans Urs von Balthasar has reminded us, is the source and summit of man’s life as Maximus understood it: “pour Maxime, l’amour est la synthèse de tout ce que est humain dans l’homme.” V: Salvation as Transfiguration and Deification: Some Liturgical Conclusions We began by asking how Maximus might be relevant for us today, and how we could receive wisdom from a figure who lived so long ago and in such profoundly different times. We are now in a position to give an answer. As Maximus himself would not hesitate to counsel, what matters is not reading his own often-difficult treatises but what matters is prayer, and above all the liturgy. We conclude with a brief reflection on how the three stages of salvific ascent to transfiguration come through in the liturgical texts for the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th. Maximus argues that the first stage of the ascent of Tabor is that of ascetic struggle. Without struggling against our fallen nature, we will never advance in the spiritual life. This theme is even today still pointedly put before us in the Ikos of Orthros on August 6th: “Come, stay awake! If we let laziness chain us to the ground, our spirits will never rise to lofty matters. Let us rise and go up the slope of the divine Mount.” Thus there is, in one of the opening hymns of the feast day, a clear call sounded to all of us to take up the necessary work of disciplining our passions and overcoming our laziness so that we might be ready for the ascent. The second stage, as we saw, is the acquisition of virtue. This, too, comes out in the hymnography, drawn out clearly in the fourth stichera from Great Vespers: “O Lord, when You were transfigured on a high mountain in the presence of Your foremost disciples, You radiated with glory, showing how those who lead an outstanding life of virtue will be made worthy of the glory of heaven.” Once more, a Maximian theme may be detected.
Third and finally, the stage of contemplation takes one into the Triune God and allows one to see clearly the mystery of each Person. This theme comes out in several of the texts of the feast, but is perhaps best summed up by the exapostilarion of Matins: “Today, O Word, You reveal Your light on Tabor, O unaltered light of the eternal Father’s Light! And in Your light, we see the light of the Father and the Holy Spirit, guiding all creation with eternal uncreated light.” We have been arguing that salvation for Maximus the Confessor is a tripartite process of gradual transfiguration in which we are challenged to ascetic practices, virtue, and spiritual knowledge before ascending to theological contemplation of the uncreated light and thus to deification. In sum, salvation for Maximus is a process of cooperating with, and participating in, the grace of God through several stages of ascent, leading to a freedom from every earthly attachment and the ability to see God as Moses and Elijah did on top of the mountain. This is not a direct progression from one absolute, discrete stage to the next, but much more of a circuitous process: not a straight path upward, but a spiral that circles back on itself and only gradually ascends. Such an ascent will lead us in the final analysis to our salvation by our “deliverance from death, separation from corruption, liberation from slavery, cessation of turbulence, destruction of wars, dispelling of darkness, rest from suffering, calming of turmoil, eclipsing of shame, escape from passions and, to sum up, the termination of all evils.” If such are the treasures that await us atop Mount Tabor, may we all run with eagerness to ascend it, aided by the prayers of that master mountaineer, our holy father among the saints, Maximus the Confessor!
Notes:  Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves,” Communio vol. xxiv no. 2 (Summer 1997):347-396. (This essay was originally published in 1939.) Von Balthasar demonstrates how fatuously romantic and therefore undesirable—indeed, impossible—the idea of a return is: “No time is completely like another, and the Church is always standing before a new situation, and therefore before a new decision in which she can let herself receive advice and admonition from her past
experiences but in which, however, the decision must be faced directly: The past can never lighten, let alone dispense from, the decision itself” (p. 370).  See, for but one germane example, the famous trial of St. Maximus: G. Berthold, Maximus Confessor. Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1985).  See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) for one of the most profound and influential treatments of the philosophical crisis of our age.  Jude 3. For an eloquent and theologically compelling response to these doubts, see the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (Vatican City: Polyglot Press, 1993).  For an initial attempt to situate Maximus in something of an historical context, see Jaroslav Pelikan, “The Place of Maximus the Confessor in the History of Christian Thought,” in Heinzer Felix and Christoph Schonborn, Maximus Confessor. Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confessor (Fribourg-en-Suisse: Editions Universitaires, 1982): 387-402.  As Andrew Louth suggests, an increasing number of people are coming to see Maximus’s relevance for our age, as evidenced by renewed scholarly attention being paid to him: Andrew Louth, “Recent Research on St. Maximus the Confessor: A Survey,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly vol. 42 no. 1 (1998): 67-84.  Alexander Schmemann, “Liturgical Theology, Theology of Liturgy, and Liturgical Reform,” in Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann, ed. Thomas Fisch (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 42. This essay was originally published in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 13 (1969): 217-224.  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 ), 13. For a brief comparison between Maximus and Gregory (and his Cappadocian confreres), see George C. Berthold,. “The Cappadocian Roots of Maximus the Confessor,” in eds. Heinzer Felix and Christoph Schonborn, Maximus Confessor. Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confessor (Fribourg-en-Suisse: Editions
Universitaires, 1982): 51-9. Cf. also Andrew Louth, “St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Maximus the Confessor: The Shaping of Tradition,” in eds. S. Coakley and D.A. Pailin, The Making and Remaking of Christian Doctrine: Essays in Honour of Maurice Wills (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993): 117-130.  As Louth tells us, no less a figure that the Photius, the ninth century Patriarch of Constantinople, found Maximus very difficult to interpret and understand. And as Louth observes, Maximus seems “positively shy of fullstops!” Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 81.  Ibid., 21.  See note 14, below.  Cf. St. Maximus the Confessor, Difficulty 10 31B, cited in Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 131.  In commenting on the Transfiguration, Maximus writes “‘these tabernacles represent the three stages of salvation, namely that of virtue, that of spiritual knowledge, and that of theology.’” Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 46, quoting CT II.13-16.  This phrase occurs numerous times in his writings. In Difficulty 10, it comes up in sections 1108A (Louth: p. 97), 1109B (Louth: p.98), 1145A (Louth: p.119), 1145C (Louth: p. 120), 1148A (Louth: p.120), 1149C (Louth: p.122), 1161A (Louth: p.129). As Louth writes in his introduction, “for Maximus, into whatever realm of speculation his intellect roams, ascetic theology remains fundamental” (p. 44).  Ibid., 94.  Difficulty 10, 30: Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 128.  Jean-Claude Larchet provides a helpful analysis of the consequences of sin and death according to Maximus in his, “Ancestral Guilt According to St. Maximus the Confessor: A Bridge Between Eastern and Western Conceptions,” Sobornost 20/1 (1998): 26-48. Cf. John Boojamra, “Original
Sin According to St. Maximus the Confesssor,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 20 (1976): 19-30.  Ibid., 1161C, p.129.  Difficulty 10, 1148A: Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 120.  Maximus the Confessor, On the Lord’s Prayer, in The Philokalia, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, P. Sherrard, K. Ware (London/Boston, 1984), 291.  Cf. Difficulty 10 1148b-D: Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 121.  Maximus the Confessor, Fifth Century in The Philokalia, 262.  Ibid., 265 (cf. 2 Sam. 4:4).  Ibid., 274.  Ibid.  For more on Maximus’s approach to prayer, see “On the Lord’s Prayer,” in The Philokalia, 285-305.  Difficulty 10, 1172D: Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 136. Elsewhere, Maximus gives another list of the vices or bodily desires against which one must war: “Anger, bloodthirstiness, wrath, guile, hypocrisy, dissembling, resentment, greed, and everything by thich the one human person is divided up.” Letter 2: On Love 397D in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 88.  “For truly the great and fearful gulf between God and human beings is the desire and inclination to the body and this world.” Difficulty 10 1172A in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 135.  Lev Gillet (“A Monk of the Eastern Church”), The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, trans. Deborah Cowan (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001 [original English edition: 1980]), 240.  Maximus, Fifth Century in The Philokalia, 261.
 Difficulty 10 1124B (12), in Ibid., 107.  Difficulty 10 1173A (34) in Ibid., 136.  Maximus, Liber asceticus, PG 90, 953B : cited in Aidan Nichols, Byzantine Gospel: Maximus the Confessor in Modern Scholarship (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1993), 208.  Fifth Century no. 97 in The Philokalia, 284.  Difficulty 10 1144A (20b) in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 118.  Difficulty 10 1205A (51) in Ibid., 153.  Maximus the Confessor, Fifth Century in The Philokalia, 282.  Maximus, Fifth Century in The Philokalia, 273.  See, e.g., Fifth Century, paragraphs 27, 33-40 in The Philokalia, 266-270.  Fifth Century in The Philokalia, 275.  Providence is a common theme in Maximus: see, e.g., Difficulty 10 1188D (42)-1193A in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 144-47.  Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 69.  Fifth Century in The Philokalia, 278.  Ibid., 264.  Ibid., 265.  Ibid.  Galatians 2:20.  Fifth Century nos. 84-88 in The Philokalia, 280-282.
 Ibid., no. 91, 88 in The Philokalia, 282.  Cf. Ephesians 5:25-32.  Aidan Nichols, Byzantine Gospel, 207.  Difficulty 41 1304D: Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 156.  Difficulty 5 1049A in Ibid., 173.  For more on the relationship between Maximus and Evagrius, see Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 35-38.  On the Lord’s Prayer in The Philokalia, 287.  Difficulty10 1165B (31B) in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 131.  Difficulty 10 1168A (31D) in Ibid., 132.  Difficulty 10 1168B (31c) in Ibid., 133.  On the Lord’s Prayer in The Philokalia, 293.  Difficulty 10 11128A (17) in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 109.  Nichols, Byzantine Gospel, 198.  In his commentary on the Transfiguration, Archbishop Joseph Raya notes the “Transfiguration is not simply an event out of the two-thousandyear old past, or a future yet to come. It is rather a reality of the present, a way of life available to those who seek and accept Christ’s nearness.” Joseph Raya, Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Combermere, ON: Madonna House, 1992), 115.  Matthew 17:5.  “Deification through assumption into the divine is produced by perfect love and an intellect voluntarily blinded, because of its transcendent state, to created things.” Fifth Century no. 93 in The Philokalia, 283. For more on
the theme of ecstasy in Maximus, see Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 42-43.  Hans Urs von Balthasar, Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur ( Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1947), 263.  Had we time, it would be equally fruitful to undertake a study of other texts from this feast bearing a Maximian mark of influence, including Ode 3 of the Canon, which celebrates the consubstantiality of Christ in a way reminiscent of the Confessor’s treatment of it.  August Menaion: Service Books of the Byzantine Churches (Newton Centre, Massachusetts: Sophia Press, 1994, 63.  Ibid., 50.  Ibid., 69.  Fifth Century no. 76 in The Philokalia, 278. St Maximus the Confessor, that profound theologian, confessor of truth, and exemplary monk. Many of his properly theological works – as opposed to his ascetic writings – are notoriously dense and difficult to comprehend, especially in the original Greek. No one, however, should deprive themselves of the Confessor's "symphony of experience," as Fr Georges Florovsky described his works. The very best volume with which to start is On the Cosmic Mystery of Christ, containing an exemplary introduction by the translators, Paul L. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken. Ad Thallasium 1: "On the Utility of the Passions" (pp. 97-98): Question: Are the passions evil in themselves or do they become so when used in an evil way? I am speaking of pleasure, grief, desire, fear, and the rest. Response: These passions, and the rest as well, were not originally created together with human nature, for if they had been they would contribute to
the definition of human nature. But following what the eminent Gregory of Nyssa taught, I say that, on account of humanity's fall from perfection, the passions were introduced and attached themselves to the more irrational part of human nature. Then, immediately after humanity had sinned, the divine and blessed image was displaced by the clear and obvious likeness to unreasoning animals. The passions, moreover, become good in those who are spiritually earnest once they have wisely separated them from corporeal objects and used them to gain possession of heavenly things. For instance, they can turn desire (epithumia) into the appetitive movement of the mind's longing for divine things, or pleasure (hedone) into the unadulterated joy of the mind when enticed toward divine gifts, or fear (fobos) into cautious concern for immediate punishment for sins committed, or grief (lupe) into corrective repentance of a present evil. In short, we can compare this with the wise physicians who remove the existing or festering infection of the body using the poisonous beast, the viper. The spiritually earnest use of the passions to destroy a present or anticipated evil, and to embrace and hold to virtue and knowledge. Thus, as I have already suggested, the passions become good when they are used by those who "take every thought captive in order to obey Christ" [2 Cor 10:5]. What this means is that if Scripture mentions anything about the passions in connection with God and the saints, the following applies: in connection with God, the passions are mentioned for our benefit, revealing the saving and beneficial movements of divine providence accommodated in a way that befits our own experience; with reference to the saints, on the other hand, when the passions are mentioned it is because the saints cannot convey in corporeal speech their spiritual inclination and dispositions toward God apart from human passions. We see that, according to St Maximus, the passions came into existence following the Fall; they are not an intrinsic part of man as created by God. They are bound up with our lower, carnal, animal nature, but can separated from this corporeal objects and put to good use as a means towards virtue:
love and desire can be turned towards God. One might say, adapting the saint's analogy, that passions such as fear and grief can serve like leeches that suck evil inclinations out of us. However, when we speak of God as having passions (e.g., anger or jealousy), this is solely in order to express the inexpressible in terms that we can comprehend. When the saints speak of their great yearning and passion for God, this too, is using human language in a weak attempt to express the divine. The ascetic effort, then, is not so much matter of repressing the passions, so much as expressing the passions properly, of turning our natural energies away from pleasing our own flesh and towards the love of God. While all of this takes place within the body as the locus of our salvation, it is not expressed sensually or physically. It might be profitable to compare this approach with that of the medieval Spanish mystics, with their "devotion of ecstasy or rapture," which often appears crudely carnal in comparison.
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