TRUTH AND THE PATH TO UNION WITH GOD, St Maximos the Confessor

(Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice Third Century #31-40)

St. Maximos begins this section with the dynamic interrelationship between love, truth and faith.

“Love,” he tells us, begins with the longing to participate in goodness which results in our “unfailing pleasure and indivisible union.”   Love is intrinsically connected to, and enabled by, truth—”the fulfillment of all spiritual knowledge and of all the things that can be known.” Like love, truth takes us from fragmentation and conflict to a state of indivisible union. Truth “transcends all things, truth admits of no plurality, and reveals itself as single and unique…”

When we are able to discern truth, we escape the anguish of ambiguity, doubt, conflicting realities and contradictions because we are now able to see clearly that there is only one simple, all-encompassing, self-evident truth. To experience truth, however, one must have faith.  Real faith is, in fact, truth in that it is “free from all falsehood.”

With our souls calmed and purified, we are then able to experience love because “a good conscience confers on us the power of love, since it is not guilty of any transgression of the commandments.”

OUR PART IN THE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

In this divine ecology of interrelated “puzzle pieces,” man is not merely a passive recipient but an active participant in constant interaction with God.

In the first place, God has endowed us with natural capabilities for receiving:

for, corresponding to every divine gift, there is in us an appropriate and natural organ capable of receiving it – a kind of capacity, or intrinsic state or disposition.”

For example, “he who purges his intellect of all sensible images receives wisdom. He who makes his intelligence the master of his innate passions – that is to say, of his incensive and desiring powers – receives spiritual knowledge.”

Secondly, virtues, like truth, are not abstract concepts, frozen in a tableau, from which we can pluck them randomly. Instead, God, matches them to our individual needs and levels of preparedness.

“On some it bestows lucid spiritual knowledge of the grace they have lost, and to others it grants, through an indescribable mode of perception and by means of participation, clear understanding of the goodness for which they long.”

Thirdly, we exercise free will for the choices we make and, hence, bear responsibility for them and the state of our soul.  For example,

our actions disclose the measure of our faith, and the strength of our faith determines the measure of grace that we receive. Conversely, the extent to which we fail to act reveals the measure of our lack of faith, and our lack of faith in turn determines the degree to which we are deprived of grace.”

This means, St. Maximos tells us, that envying others for their virtuous lives and the peace they experience is “more than misguided, for the choice of believing acting, and of receiving grace according to the measure of his faith, clearly depends on him and not on anybody else.”

THEOSIS AND THE SEVEN SPIRITS

Having shown how these virtues are interrelated and dependent on our level of preparedness and willingness to receive them, St. Maximos “deconstructs” the pieces to enable us to understand them in the context of ascendance to theosis by interpreting them in terms of the seven spirits that rest “upon the Lord. (cf. Isa. 11:2):”

  • the spirit of the fear of God
  • the spirit of strength
  • the spirit of counsel
  • the spirit of cognitive insight
  • the spirit of spiritual knowledge
  • the spirit of understanding
  • the spirit of wisdom,

These are not merely static elements to be checked off a list. There is a logical sequence in the seven spirits, transforming them into a ladder by which we ascend to God.

First, St. Maximos says, we start our journey “by abstaining from evil because of fear;” next we “advance to the practice of virtue through strength.” By committing to practicing virtue, we advance to the ability to discern good from evil through the spirit of counsel. Cognitive insight “is an unerring perception of the ways in which virtue is to be practiced;” we understand the relationship between virtuous thought and action and enter into “a settled state of virtue.” We next ascend to the higher level of understanding in which we truly grasp and conform to “the divine principles of virtue that we have come to know.”  From this, St. Maximos writes, “we advance to the simple and undistorted contemplation of the truth that is in all things. From this point of vantage, as a result of our wise contemplation of sensible and noetic beings, we will be enabled to speak about the truth as we should.”

Far from being static, virtues are dynamic and interrelated, with each building new capabilities in us and setting the ground for the next, more advanced level of our relationship to God.

By choosing to follow this path of ascendance, we rise “step by step from what is remotest from God, but near to us, to the primal realities which are furthest from us but near to God.”

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