St. Maximos the Confessor: 400 texts on love, Excerpts #1-41

St Maximos the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) (Volume 2, pp. 48-305) a well-educated member of the aristocracy who first served in the civil service before he became a monk around 614. From 633-4 onwards. He played a leading part in opposing the heresies of Monoenergism and Monotheletism, and because of this he was arrested in 653 by the imperial authorities, brought to Constantinople for trial, and sent into exile where he died as a result of torture.   

 St. Maximos begins this first essay with a definition of love:

Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things.

Achieving such love is not the result of any one action but a balanced and orderly sequence of multiple forces that make our souls whole.

First comes fear of God that is “the result of faith in God.” Everything hinges on faith and is built on its foundation: Fear of punishment motivates us to control passions.  Once we, and not our passions, are in control, we can “accept affliction patiently, and through such acceptance …[we] acquire hope in God.” Hope in turn, “engenders dispassion;” and “dispassion engenders love.”

What allows us to extract and apply lessons learned and exercise discernment is our intellect. But this is only true when the intellect has the right place in the larger order and is rooted in faith.

Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty… When your intellect is concentrated on the love of God you will pay little attention to visible things and will regard even your own body as something alien.

In the same vein, faith is nothing in itself if disconnected from love.

Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

 Just like individual dance steps, cut off from the larger choreography, do not constitute a dance, isolated virtues or actions do not lead to the experience of divine love. It is the constant motion of keeping in step, connecting each step to the next, maintaining balance and coordination with other dancers that constitute a dance. And it is through a similar continuous movement toward balance and integration that one experiences love.

Dispassion is a fundamental piece in this choreography and St. Maximos has the clearest and most succinct definition I have ever read.  “Dispassion,” he says simply, “is a peaceful condition of the soul in which the soul is not easily moved to evil.”   He gives us several examples. We can easily, and usually imperceptibly, allow our passions to move us to places of darkness and inner turmoil when:

  • A soul is “filled with thoughts of sensual desire and hatred”
  • There is “any trace of hatred in our hearts against any man whatsoever for committing any fault”
  • Our heart is overwhelmed with feelings of anger or irritation because of perceived insults and humiliations from others

Think of what large percentage of our days and lives is spent on ruminating over perceived insults or injustices, worrying about winning arguments or making the right impression, trying to impose our own agenda on the world around us or resenting our lives and coveting others’ lives?  These are the “worldly things” that Maximos describes as rendering us “utterly estranged from love for God,” isolate us and “place [us] in the realm of hatred.”

On the contrary, “he who has genuinely renounced worldly things, and lovingly and sincerely serves his neighbor, is soon set free from every passion and made a partaker of God’s love and knowledge.”

Maximos gives us a lyrical description of what it means to become “partaker[s] of God’s love and knowledge,” and to be free from anxieties over worldly things, personal “agendas“ and worries about others’ opinions of us.

When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in all sincerity, it repeats the prophet’s words: ‘How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6:5).

And he reminds us the Lord’s commandment:

He who loves Me, says the Lord, will keep My commandments (cf. John 14:15, 23); and ‘this is My commandment, that you love one another’ (John 15:12).

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