Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, Third Century, #22-30
Building on the theme of gratitude that he introduced in the last few pages, St. Maximos makes us look at our relationship to God, and the path to complete union with him, through a number of different lenses.
First, he depicts the state of true inner stillness of both thoughts and senses that the death of passions, the practice of virtues and gratitude enable.
Truly blessed is the intellect that dies to all created beings: to sensible beings by quelling the activity of the senses, and to intelligible beings by ceasing from noetic activity.
While purifying ourselves from dependency on worldly things is a first step, restraining our thoughts is another, even more difficult task. It involves resisting the temptation of dwelling on the “what if’s,” the “why not’s” and the “why me’s” that St. Maximos calls “outlandish speculations” that “disturb [our] contemplative activity.” They clutter our intellect and enmesh us into the ever-deepening pools of discontent, self-pity, resentment, depression, anger and desire to control.
Only through such “death of the intellect” –freeing ourselves from the tyranny of circular thinking– can our intellect become “able to receive the life of divine grace and to apprehend, in a manner that transcends its noetic power, not simply created beings, but their Creator.” This is when we will be able to understand and experience God’s goodness and truth.
GOODNESS AND TRUTH
Goodness, St. Maximos tells us, is more than practicing virtuous deeds. We experience it when the goodness of our actions is mirrored by the goodness dwelling in our hearts. Goodness represents “the lull expression of divine activity within us” not just on the outside.
The complement of goodness is truth, “the simple, undivided knowledge of all the qualities that appertain to God.”
Goodness and truth, then, are not extrinsic qualities, foreign to our nature, but part of nature. They are not intellectual abstractions but dwell in our hearts and link action with the intellect, “nous.”
With our intellect purified and renewed, we can experience goodness and truth and partake of God’s holistic, integrated universe in which practice is united with action, and contemplative life with natural truth. By rejecting created things, we have paradoxically reunited with them on a deeper level by looking past appearance to discern their inner essence and intrinsic goodness. And by attaining spiritual knowledge, we transcend intellect itself.
“When goodness and truth are attained,’ we move more easily toward true union with God because “nothing can afflict the soul’s capacity for practicing the virtues, or disturb its contemplative activity with outlandish speculations; for the soul will now transcend every created and intelligible reality, and will enter into God Himself, who alone is goodness and truth and who is beyond all being and all intellection.”
TRANSFORMED RELATIONSHIP TO GOD ON THE PATH TO THEOSIS
Yet nothing can be attained without the grace of God, St. Maximos reminds us. To “enter into God Himself,” we must have experienced gratitude for his grace and, hence, restored our relationship with Him to the proper balance and proportions.
“Blessed is he who knows in truth that we are but tools in God’s hands,” St. Maximos says. “…that it is God who effects within us all ascetic practice and contemplation, virtue and spiritual knowledge, victory and wisdom, goodness and truth…All the achievements of the saints were clearly gifts of grace from God.
While we are but “tools of God,” we are engaged in a dynamic relationship with him in which we are far from passive. Though “we contribute nothing at all” to our achievements, there is one exception: our willingness and desire; “a disposition that desires what is good.” And while our contribution is small, in relationship to God’s, it requires an arduous, lifelong journey of continuous ascendance and transformation.
Even though a saint does not achieve anything by himself, St. Maximos says, but only through “the goodness granted to him by the Lord God according to the measure of his gratitude and love… what he acquired he acquired only in so far as he surrendered himself to the Lord who bestowed it…”
Our journey then is not solitary but relational, transformational and synergistic.
OUR JOURNEY TO LOVE AND UNION WITH GOD.
As we ascend toward theosis, our vision is transformed, revealing more of God’s true nature and giving us a glimpse of his unspeakable beauty.
“In goodness the beauty that is according to God’s likeness is made manifest.”
Our purified intellect, now free of obsessive thoughts, achieves spiritual knowledge which “makes manifest the dignity of the divine image in a wholly unsullied state.”
In other words, a different world is gradually revealed to us because we no longer rely on our limited, human intellect. Through “the life of divine grace,” our intellect has transcended itself and its own “noetic power.” We are now able to comprehend “not simply created beings, but their Creator.”
This is not the same world we experienced when were torn apart by anguish, anger, disappointment, discontent and despair. In this transformed reality, we become one with God as goodness and truth “give rise to the love that unites men with God and with one another. This love wrests the soul away from all that is subject to generation and decay and from all intelligible beings that are beyond generation and decay, and – in so far as this can happen to human nature – it intermingles the soul with God Himself in a kind of erotic union, mystically establishing a single shared life, undefiled and divine.