ST. MAXIMOS, THEOLOGY, THE DIVINE ECONOMY, AND VIRTUE AND VICE, First Century, #44-54

The outcome of every affliction endured for the sake of virtue is joy,” St. Maximos says, debunking popular misconceptions of Christianity as a joyless religion that demands a life of pure suffering. It is in fact natural for man to seek goodness and joy, “because He [God] wishes to unite us in nature and will with one another, and in His goodness urges all humanity towards this goal…”

Then why is our single-minded pursuit of happiness and comfort so profoundly misaligned with the Christian concept of joy? St. Maximos dissects, not only the nature of joy in Christ but also our motivations and misperceptions that distort our direct line of vision to God and path to true joy.

In the first place, there is a contradictory interrelationship between good and evil, suffering and joy. “The outcome of every affliction endured for the sake of virtue,” St. Maximos tells us, “is joy, of every labour rest, and of every shameful treatment glory; in short, the outcome of all sufferings for the sake of virtue is to be with God, to remain with Him forever and to enjoy eternal rest.”

St. Maximos is unequivocal about this direct correlation between pain and joy. This is why he finds the worldly “strategy” of taking shortcuts to joy and avoiding pain misguided and destructive.

St. Maximos’ view is that joy (rest or glory) is simply the outcome of virtue rather than an end unto itself; and that virtue, in turn, entails discipline and suffering. Seeing happiness as an outcome rather than entitlement, as the result of virtuous labor rather than as a direct goal is a radical departure from the secular worldview.

The goal, St. Maximos says, is not pleasure itself, but love; and, through love, unity with others and ourselves. Love leads to peace and unity when it stems, not from self-interest, but mercy toward others.

45· Because He wishes to unite us in nature and will with one another, and in His goodness urges all humanity towards this goal, God in His love entrusted His saving commandments to us, ordaining simply that we should show mercy and receive mercy (cf.Matt. (5 :7).

Ironically, preoccupation with self-interest and self-love deprive people of true joy and peace, “alienating them from each other and perverting the law, have cut our single human nature into many fragments.”

St. Maximos creates a type of hierarchy of joy. Sensual pleasures, including praise, status or control, are not lasting and, hence, at the bottom rung of a ladder.

Instead of inner peace, they fill us with anxiety, greed for more of the same, dependency, envy of others, insecurity or constant and rapid shifts from pleasure to disappointment. Hence sensual pleasure divides rather than unite.

“The self-love and cleverness of men have so extended the insensibility which they introduced into our nature and which now dominates it, that our nature, divided in will and purpose, fights against itself.”

In contrast, in perfect love, we have “a single identity of will and purpose, free from faction, among many or among all; for the property of love is to produce a single will and purpose in those who seek what pertains to it.”

Nothing is more destructive to human soul than division.

If by nature the good unifies and holds together what has been separated, evil clearly divides and corrupts what has been unified. For evil is by nature dispersive, unstable, multiform and divisive.

St. Maximos does not present our propensity toward personal pleasure and self-interest as merely evil but as tragic. Mired by delusion we fail to understand the complementarity of joy and pain. The more we pursue shortcuts to pleasure, without pain, the more pain we create for ourselves.

He [man] struggles with all his might to attain pleasure and he fights against pain with immense zeal. By doing this he hopes to keep the two apart from each other – which is impossible – and to indulge his self-love in ways which bring only pleasure and are entirely free from pain. Dominated by the passion of self-love he is, it appears, ignorant that pleasure can never exist without pain. For pain is intertwined with pleasure, even though this seems to escape the notice of those who suffer it. It escapes their notice because desire for pleasure is the dominating force in self-love, and what dominates is naturally always more conspicuous and obscures one’ s sense of what is present with it.

St. Maximos does not merely depict the evil of transgression but the tragedy of delusion. Through delusion and ignorance, we become caught in a downward spiral of addiction. The more we seek pleasure the greater the pain and emptiness we inflict.

Thus, because in our self-love we pursue pleasure, and because – also out of self-love – we try to escape pain, we generate untold corrupting passions in ourselves.

St. Maximos asks us to abandon this futile pursuit and show mercy to ourselves. He presents God’s mercy as salvation to our self-inflicting tortures, bringing unity to fragmentation.

In His love for man God became man so that He might unite human nature to Himself and stop it from acting evilly towards itself, or rather from being at strife and divided against itself, and from having no rest because of the instability of its will and purpose.

Thus, because in our self-love we pursue pleasure, and because – also out of self-love – we try to escape pain, we generate untold corrupting passions in ourselves.

By “casting off desire for pleasure and fear of pain, we are freed from evil self-love and are raised to a spiritual knowledge of the Creator.” Our desire for joy is not eradicated but elevated. Even self-love is transformed to a higher level of spiritual self-love.

In the place of the evil self-love, we receive an uncorrupt and spiritual self-love, separated from affection for the body; and we do not cease to worship God through this uncorrupt self-love, always seeking from Him sustenance for our souls.

 

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