(Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice Third Century)
Reaching the ultimate destination of spiritual knowledge and union with God does not guarantee you a permanent seat at the top of the mountain. Even for the most spiritually advanced, ascendance to the top is a remarkably fragile state that can be upset by myriads of demonic intrusions such as lack of balance, the invisible invasion of passions or attachment to objects or ideas.
In the first place, having described the attainment of spiritual knowledge in the previous sections, St. Maximos reminds us once again of the holistic nature of the union with God in which there is no more fragmentation. To become “a throne and a footstool of God (cf. Isa. 66:1),” theory must be applied to practice, spiritual knowledge to the realization of virtues.
…practice of the virtues with spiritual knowledge is a throne and a footstool of God (cf. Isa. 66:1) – a throne because of his spiritual knowledge and a footstool because of his ascetic practice.
Yet, even when “fortified with virtue and spiritual knowledge, or with ascetic practice and contemplation,” the devout philosopher still “sees the power of evil rising up against him through the passions, like the king of the Assyrians rising up against Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kgs. 18:13-16; Isa. 36:1-2).”
The spiritually advance person recognizes the first signs of passions and engages in spiritual warfare against them. What is the nature of that spiritual warfare? St. Maximos identifies two weapons:
- Understanding that you are powerless and need God’s grace to restore you to spiritual health: “He invokes God’s mercy by crying out silently;” and
- “…striving to advance still further in virtue and knowledge.”
Instead of being asked for passive submission or simple abstinence, we are called to continue advancing further and further and deeper and deeper. We are called to flourish in Christ rather than passively sit on a throne of spiritual achievements. We are called to go beyond attrition that “suppresses the actualization of sin,” to obliteration that “destroys even the thought of it. For attrition prevents the realization of the impassioned act, while obliteration completely annihilates all demonic motivation in the mind itself.”
Our journey to God is dynamic and defined by our interactive relationship with God.
For example, we receive God’s gifts, and, in turn, we transform them into our own gifts to Him:
Scripture exhorts us to offer gifts to God so that we may become conscious of His infinite goodness. For God receives our offerings as if they were entirely our own gifts and He had not already given us anything.
As we grow in spiritual knowledge our vision of the world around us is transformed. “Visible creation” is no longer a landscape to look at or source of temptation but “enables us to grasp that there is a Maker…Creation is the accuser of the ungodly. For through its inherent spiritual principles, creation proclaims its Maker; and through the natural laws intrinsic to each individual species it instructs us in virtue. The spiritual principles may be recognized in the unremitting continuance of each individual species, the laws in the consistency of its natural activity. If we do not ponder on these things, we remain ignorant of the cause of created being and we cling to all the passions which are contrary to nature.”
Continuous movement and on-going spiritual warfare are not punitive. The fragility of our spiritual achievements is not meant as psychological torture but as the means for continuing alertness and transformational growth. Spiritual ascendance is dynamic, transformative and continuous.
As Christopher A. Beeley from Yale Divinity School puts it:
Our basic constitution as human beings is thus a kind of dynamic process, and our created nature is already eschatologically oriented: we were created in a condition of movement towards God which has its center in Christ and will reach its fulfillment in the age to come.