How we get to know God is the topic of the first 9 paragraphs of the first Century of “Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice.”
St. Maximos repeats his frequent theme of the impossibility of complete knowledge of God, using new metaphors and parallelisms.
It is impossible to fully know God because He transcends “the summit of all spiritual knowledge,” he tells us. How could we? God is “an infinite union of three infinites. Its principle of being, together with the mode, the nature and the quality of its being, is altogether inaccessible to creatures. For it eludes every intellection of intellective beings, in no way issuing from its natural hidden inwardness, and infinitely transcending the summit of all spiritual knowledge.”
We can only know God by participation through the virtues we cultivate within us. Yet goodness in humans is “substantive since it has an origin, a consummation, a cause of being, an. d motion, so far as its being is concerned, towards some final cause”
For God, however, “good is that which has no origin, no consummation, no cause of being and no motion whatsoever, so far as its being is concerned, towards any final cause.” God’s existence is prior that that of created things. In contrast, we can only derive our existence through participation in His.
In fact, “Not only is the divine Logos prior to the genesis of created beings, but there neither was nor is nor will be a principle superior to the Logos.”
Hence our knowledge through participation is limited. We cannot participate in God’s essence or be coeternal with Him “who willed [us] to exist.”
Yet how wonderful it is that God made us capable of participating and being “participated in.” Our incompleteness is also our bridge to God and humans, and hope for redemptions. St. Maximos spends some time expounding on the nature of knowledge through participation.
First, knowledge through participation requires mutual desire and a synergistic relationship between God and man:
“…God, in whose essence created beings do not participate, but who wills that those capable of so doing shall participate in Him.”
Secondly, the various modes of participation allow constant renewal.
In his desire, humility and love of man, God “becomes an infant and moulds Himself in [us] through the virtues.” Thus, He reveals Himself in us according to what each of us is able to accept and understand at any given moment, though His true nature and reasons remain invisible. The multiple and constantly new modes of God’s manifestation in us imply infinite possibilities of growth and continuous renewal.
This is why, St. Maximos tells us,
… the apostle, when wisely considering the power of this hidden activity, says, ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and throughout the ages’ (Heb.r 3 : 8) ; for he sees the hidden activity as something which is always new and never becomes outmoded through being embraced by the intellect.
Thirdly, God gives the energy and tools to participate.
“…it is He who has given to nature the energy which produces its forms, and who has established the very is-ness of beings by virtue of which they exist.”
St. Maximos compares God to an artist. If an artist is able to conceptualize shapes and forms before putting them on the canvass “how much more does God Himself bring into existence out of nothing the very being of all created things, since He is beyond being and even infinitely transcends the attribution of beyond-beingness.”
While we, humans, are created beings and God is unoriginate, He allows us to uncover his presence among created things and decipher the truth.
“It is He who has yoked the sciences to the arts so that shapes might be devised” and so that our intellect can integrate and apply them.
Artists can conceive and re-create shapes and forms; and we apply science and art, intellect and heart to become capable of participating in God at the highest level.