St. Maximos begins the 4th century with contemplation of God’s creation and the humbling of the intellect before it.
“First the intellect marvels when it reflects on the absolute infinity of God, that boundless sea for which it longs so much. Then it is amazed at how God has brought things into existence out of nothing.”
St. Maximos transitions from the infinity and eternity of God’s creation to us.
We have always existed as potentiality in God’s mind “from all eternity” and
“4. When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him.”
So what is our relationship to God’s creation and what is our purpose?
We were endowed with intelligence, he tells us. Yet,
“13. Whether or not a nature endowed with intelligence and intellect is to exist eternally depends on the will of the Creator whose every creation is good; but whether such a nature is good or bad depends on its own will.”
Evil is not “to be imputed to the essence of created beings, but to their erroneous and mindless motivation.” And our “motivation is rightly ordered when its desiring power is subordinated to self-control, when its incensive power rejects hatred and cleaves to love.”
Without love, our purpose cannot be clear and our intelligence will be diverted by evil, self-serving motivations rather than advance toward God “through prayer and spiritual contemplation.”
Take suffering, for example. How many times have times of suffering produced in us anger, self-pity, envy for others or despair that, in themselves, cut us off from love, gratitude and hope, causing us more harm than the cause of suffering itself? This is maintaining love in the face of suffering is the most important example of our ability to exert our will to make our God-given nature good as opposed to evil.
“16. If in time of trial a man does not patiently endure his afflictions, but cuts himself off from the love of his spiritual brethren, he does not yet possess perfect love or a deep knowledge of divine providence.
Thus, he who does not resolutely bear trouble, endure affliction, and patiently sustain hardship, has strayed from the path of divine love and from the purpose of providence.”
Then, there are our relationships with others. How much of our daily life is consumed by envy of others, hurt feelings from perceived insults, fears of rejections and loss of control, blame and recriminations? Yet what use is “victory”—surpassing others in status, getting validation for wrongs against you or “putting someone in his place”—when our lives are filled with fractured relationships, anger and hatred and deprived of love?
“Has a brother been the occasion of some trial for you and has your resentment led you to hatred?’ St. Maximos asks. “22. Do not let yourself be overcome by this hatred, but conquer it with love. You will succeed in this by praying to God sincerely for your brother and by accepting his apology; or else by conciliating him with an apology yourself, by regarding yourself as responsible for the trial and by patiently waiting until the cloud has passed.”
He concludes: “18. If ‘love is long-suffering and kind’ (1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is fainthearted in the face of his afflictions and who therefore behaves wickedly towards those who have offended him, and stops loving them, surely lapses from the purpose of divine providence.”
“17. The aim of divine providence is to unite by means of true faith and spiritual love those separated in various ways by vice. Indeed, the Savior endured His sufferings so that ‘He should gather together into one the scattered children of God’ (John 11: 52).”
The section ends with a seemingly simple truth that encompasses all the complex relationships between the creator and the created universe that St Maximos details in the preceding pages and the gist of his centuries of love: “Do not lightly discard spiritual love: for men there is no other road to salvation.”