Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, Fourth Century, #1-9
In my 20’s I used to drive cars with manual transmission. I saw this as a pleasant experience, rather than hardship. Years later, I switched to automatic transmission, which I found much easier. I wasn’t exactly full of gratitude for this improvement. Instead, my perception of what was normal had rapidly changed, so that automatic transmission was now an expectation. Now heated seats, keyless entry and built-in GPS are my new normal. I hate to admit it but I would probably seize on the next innovation, whether it was flying cars or transmuting myself into atoms that could be reconfigured back into my person in another location, within seconds–like Dr. Spock and the rest of the Star Trek characters.
St. Maximos would tell me that I misuse my intellectual capacity, diverting its true purpose and subjugating it to the senses.
My true purpose is spiritual ascendance and union with God. We are equipped by God with a nature that has the capacity to apprehend this higher noetic reality.
The intellect has as its object noetic and incorporeal beings, whose essence it is by nature fitted to apprehend
When we are entrapped in the mere pursuit of sensual pleasure—whether this be food, a new car, career advancement, praise, control of others etc.—our intellect “becomes entangled in the superficial aspects of sensible things and devises ways of enjoying the pleasures of the flesh.”
We are caught in the continuous pursuit of the next object or achievement, and the next and the next, without ever feeling filled and content. Our intellect “is unable to transcend the nature of visible things because it is held back by its impassioned attachment to the senses.”
How many of us are exhausted by the endless pursuit of the next milestone and unable to ever say: “this is enough and I am content.”
St. Maximos juxtaposes the intellect against the senses as two opposite realities.
The natural energies of the intellect and those of the senses are opposed to one another because of the extreme dissimilarity between their objects. The intellect has as its object noetic and incorporeal beings, whose essence it is by nature fitted to apprehend; the senses have as object sensible and corporeal entities, which they likewise apprehend by virtue of their natural powers.
He does not, however, ask us to renounce one in favor of the other. He only asks that we put them in the proper order in which “the intelligence takes precedence over the senses in the contemplation of visible things.” In this way…” the senses are then kept under control by the intelligence.”
We still perceive the beauty or pain of the world around us through our senses, but we are no longer limited to the mere pursuit of personal pleasure. We can see beyond the “superficial aspects of visible things as soon as they strike the senses… (we can) contemplate the spiritual essences of created things stripped of their outer forms.”
Apprehending the inner essence of created things and perceiving God’s blessings in them replaces greed with gratitude, and short-term pleasure with virtue and inner contentment.