St. Maximos, Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God, second century, #1-11

After the first few lines of this treatise, your head might start spinning. No wonder we spent over an hour on just a few paragraphs (#1-11) during our discussion last Friday.

St. Maximos begins by getting to the essence of Trinitarian theology. He takes you through a maze of relationships that capture the nature of the Trinity in rapid parallelisms–each with a different starting point and angle of approach.

The Divinity is both unity and trinity – wholly one and wholly three. It is wholly one in respect of the essence, wholly three in respect of the hypostases or persons. For the Divinity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and is in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The whole Divinity is in the whole Father and the whole Father is in the whole Divinity. The whole Divinity is in the whole Son and the whole Son is in the whole Divinity. The whole Divinity is in the whole Holy Spirit and the whole Holy Spirit is in the whole Divinity.

After a few paragraphs, you have no idea if you are at the beginning, middle or end of the labyrinth you entered, and how each new sentence differs from the previous one.

Perhaps getting “lost” and recognizing your inability to rely on familiar categories of space and time, beginning and end, is what St. Maximos wants us to experience in order to grasp the nature of oneness.  No matter which category of thought or angle of approach you use, you cannot reduce or take apart the complete unity and absolute simplicity of the Holy Triad. The familiar categories of time, space and the sequential nature of relationships   do not apply to God. As a modern Greek translation of the text says:

Η αρχή, η μεσότητα και το τέλος είναι γνωρίσματα εκείνων που διαιρούνται ως προς τον χρόνο…

The beginning, the middle and the end are characteristics of things that are divisible in time

It is ironic that, for most of my life, I looked down on “simplicity” and yearned for intellectual complexity. “Simple” people had nothing interesting to offer, I decided. Whether it was Nietzsche, modern literary criticism or French films, I loved reading and analyzing complex concepts, secretly congratulating myself for my sophistication.

Now St. Maximos turns these assumptions on their head. The most important characteristic in God’s nature, he tells us, is simplicity. What is the meaning of simplicity for St. Maximos? What did I miss out on when I equated it with boredom, lack of sophistication; the antithesis of excitement and success? And why is it so difficult for us to shed the tools and categories through which we perceive reality to experience God in simplicity and purity of soul?

St. Maximos outlines a process of gradually shedding and emptying ourselves in order to achieve unity with God and experience his world of unity and simplicity.

First, we must give up our dependence on the intellect. God “is neither an apprehending intellect nor an intelligible being: He transcends both. “For if He were an apprehending intellect He would be limited by His need for a relationship with an intelligible being; and if He were an intelligible being He would be limited because naturally subject to an apprehending intellect capable of grasping Him.”

Intellection is dependent on relationships and exists in sequential time while “God is in both respects absolutely simple: in so far as He is being. He is independent of any apprehending subject; in so far as He is intellection. He is independent of any apprehensible object.”

While God is independent of relationships, however, his absolute unity and simplicity enables our relationship with Him through communion and a life in community with others.

Secondly, we must transition from fragmentation and multiplicity to unity.

“When intellection is given form through its apprehension of intelligible objects,” Maximos says, “it ceases to be single and becomes many intellections; for it is marked by the form of each intelligible object that it apprehends.”

This multiplicity, and the resulting fragmentation, prevent us from true union with God. Most of us are unable to discern the essence of things through conflicting allegiances, racing thoughts on past grievances and future uncertainties that rob us of the present, futile efforts to control and script our lives and that of others.

In Maximos, we see the real possibility of transitioning from intellection to inner stillness and a life livedin unity and simplicity. It is a path that “as it passes beyond the multiplicity of the sensible and intelligible things that in this way confer their manifold forms upon it, it becomes altogether free from form.”

Once we enter “the Logos, who is beyond intellection,” Maximos tells us, “then the intellect contemplates only its own immutability, and rejoices with an unspeakable joy because it has received the peace of God which transcends all intellect, and which ceaselessly keeps him who has been granted it from falling (cf. Phil. 4:7).”

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