Faith and Knowledge (St Maximos, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, Second Century, #10-19)

Fr MaximosIn these paragraphs, St. Maximos explores the relationship between faith and knowledge.

“Faith,” he tells us, “is knowledge that cannot be rationally demonstrated.”

Yet faith is not passive, unquestionable subservience.  It results from a state of direct union with God.

It is “a supranatural relationship through which, in an unknowable and so undemonstrable manner, we are united with God in a union which is beyond intellection.”

Faith does not come to us automatically, neither does it remain within us without deliberate effort and spiritual warfare. St Maximos reminds us of the fragility of faith if we lack alertness and focus. Union with God allows our state of mind to be “completely in abeyance” with Him and, hence to pass beyond nature and become God “by participation.” Yet, as soon as we drift back to the created world and think in terms of its categories, doubt sets in.

To fend off doubt, a person must be free from  “his soul’s attachment to the body through the senses” so that he does not “separate himself from the union with God which faith has brought about in him through the intellect.” With faith, and freedom from doubt, “all things are possible.”

Faith is not passive then. We have to actively seek things that contribute toward union with God. St. Maximos lists specific things through which man can enter into union with God and thus “attain knowledge of God and virtue:”

deliverance from passions, patient acceptance of trials, the inner principles of virtues, the practice of methods of spiritual warfare, the uprooting of the soul’s predilection for the flesh, the breaking of the senses’ attachment to sensible objects, the utter withdrawal of the intellect from all created things…  

St. Maximos even gives us a concrete methodology.

We “first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ (Matt. 6:33). That is, seek the knowledge of truth before all things…” With our hearts and souls trained on this pursuit, we equip ourselves for the battle “and therefore seek training in appropriate methods of attaining it.”

When we enter into union with God, we see and perceive the world differently since we have ourselves become gods through participation. We are able to adopt a different framework of understanding beyond the categories of the created world. We abandon temporal time and the need for instant gratification so that one

 …first spiritually imbibes those principles and then by means of his actions feeds upon the whole body of the virtues. In this way he transposes to the plane of spiritual knowledge actions which take place in the sensible realm.

Faith then requires our active participation and a path of continuous spiritual warfare. It is not a passive attribute but the result of “training in appropriate methods” to achieve union with God and participate in His nature outside temporal, created categories.

St Maximos the Confessor Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice; Second Century

 

[Reminder: Next Session on 2/8/19 at noon]

#1-7

In this passage, St. Maximos talks about the attainment of divine knowledge. As usual, he elucidates the meaning and experience of this divine knowledge through a series of contrasts and guides us through a progression from the external to the internal—from definitions and clarifications of the nature of divine knowledge, to the process of acquiring it, to the actual experience and its implications that transcend words.

First, St. Maximos confronts us with the paradoxical relationship between truth, “divine knowledge” and virtue,  “the struggles for truth on the part of those who desire it.” It is the sequence between the two that reflects intention and, ultimately, defines outcomes.

It is only by leading a life of virtue for the sake of truth, rather than glory, that we will achieve divine knowledge…” because virtue exists for the sake of truth, but truth does not exist for the sake of virtue. Thus, he who practices virtue for the sake of truth is not wounded by the arrows of self-esteem…

Conversely, attempting to pursue the truth directly and only practicing virtue for the sake of appearance or mere compliance, can lead to vainglory and conceit.

…but he who pursues truth for the sake of virtue does harbor the conceit which self-esteem generates.

Thus, Maximos enters more deeply into the participatory nature of knowledge and its dependence on our relationship with God.

We simply cannot get to divine knowledge and illumination by skipping virtue. Most importantly, we cannot achieve it on the strength of our own will alone but only through the grace of God.

We can’t will the truth. God may reveal it to us if we live a life of virtue without expectations.

A man who endures the labors of virtue for the sake of such knowledge is not vainglorious, because he knows that truth cannot be grasped naturally through human effort. For it is not in the nature of things for what is primary to be circumscribed by what is secondary.

Taking us to an even deeper level, St. Maximos now gives us another set of antitheses through which to contemplate the meaning of divine knowledge: surface vs. substance, theory vs. action, visible vs. invisible.

Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is empty and only gets us to the “image,” rather than the reality and experience of truth.

 

 He who seeks only the outward form of knowledge, that is, knowledge which is merely theoretical, and pursues the semblance of virtue that is, a merely theoretical morality, is puffed up, Judaic-wise, with the images of truth.

Without God-given, divine knowledge we are doomed to only see:…”the letter, the outward appearance of things, and the senses, all of which possess quantitative distinctions and are the negation of unity.”

Unable to discern the underlying principles of created things, we are subjects to passions—greed, envy, lust, despondency, boredom, fear—as we mistake the surface for substance; the tools as ends unto themselves.

Through divine knowledge man…does not view the ritual of the Law with his senses alone, but noetically penetrates every visible symbol and thoroughly assimilates the divine principle which is hidden in each, finds God in the Law. For rightly he uses his intellect to grope among the material forms of the Law, as among litter, in the hope of finding hidden somewhere in its body that pearl or principle which utterly escapes the senses (cf. Matt. 13:45-46).

Delving even beyond contrasts, St. Maximos now takes us to the realm of theosis, beyond words.

Nature alone is created and thus limited. Without God’s grace, our perception is limited to “the nature of visible things to what [our] senses alone can observe, and it cannot by itself lead to divine knowledge.” With God’s grace, our intellect is restored to its divine purpose and “searches after the essence which lies within every creature, [and] also finds God. For from the manifest magnificence of created beings he learns what is the Cause of their being.”

Divine knowledge is not simply the acquisition of information or wisdom but the agent of regeneration and transformation. It returns us to the image of God and restores our capabilities to their original purpose. This is why Maximos alludes to terms such as “blindness” and “forgetfulness,” not simply “ignorance,” to describe a state without divine knowledge.

But if a man compounds the letter of the Law, the outward appearance of visible things, and his own senses with each other, he is ‘so short-sighted as to be blind’ (2 Pet. 1:9), sick through his ignorance of the Cause of created beings.

And he quotes Peter:

2 Peter 1:9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

 

Without the attainment of divine knowledge, and a driving longing for it, we are doomed to a life of blindness and forgetfulness, trapped at the surface and never venturing to the true essence of things.

St. Maximos: Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice First Century, #88-100

ChristGoodShepherd2Suffering, St. Maximos tells us, may be a result of our own choices to sin or may fall upon us without apparent cause. In either case, suffering is a chance to exercise patience, rather than spend lives consumed by anger or bitterness; an opportunity for change and spiritual growth.

Many times, our afflictions are direct and logical consequences of our own actions, such as, indulgence in passions, reliance on material things, praise or acceptance by others for our lives to seem worth living.  In this case, we should accept suffering with a sense of gratitude as a much-needed corrective.

Beyond the idea of suffering as just punishment, however, St. Maximos sees it as an opportunity – perhaps our only opportunity–for redemption.

To recognize “the principle of divine providence” in our affliction and discern its capacity to heal us, allows us to accept “the affliction with joy and gratitude,” and to correct “the fault for which [we are] being disciplined.”

Anger at afflictions that stem from the choices we make in life, means that we justify our choices and blame the consequences on someone or something else. This robs us of the opportunity for transformation; the chance to make corrections in our lives and progress spiritually. Instead, justification and anger enslave us in the passions that, unchecked, lead us to despair

But if he is insensitive to this treatment [of accepting afflictions joyfully], he is justly deprived of the grace that was once given him and is handed over to the turbulence of the passions

 St. Maximos next shows us that, in order to understand “the principle of divine providence” in our afflictions, one must be able to see beyond appearance—to the inner essence and cause of material things. Seeing beyond appearance will reveal the true nature of created things, that is, that by nature everything is good, and nothing is unclean unto itself. It is only we, who ill-use things of the world, making them into ends unto themselves rather than means of glorifying God, upending the natural balance, distorting our view of good and evil and perception of reality.

If, instead of stopping short at the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses, you seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences, seeing them as images of spiritual realities or as the inward principles of sensible objects, you will be taught that nothing belonging to the visible world is unclean.

Without purification and a view of the principles beyond appearance, we experience constant turbulence–happiness when our passions are satisfied and misery when they are not.

The alternative and end goal that St. Maximos presents us with, is dispassion and a path to theosis.

He who is not affected by changes in sensible things practices the virtues in a manner that is truly pure. He who does not permit the outward appearances of sensible things to imprint themselves on his intellect has received the true doctrine of created beings. He whose mind has outstripped the very being of created things has come, as a true theologian, close to the One through unknowing.

As always, Maximos follows a passage on a difficult road ahead with a passage of hope.

God gives each of us the capacity for fulfilling a commandment, he reassures us. And he does this by treating us as distinct individuals, rather that undifferentiated masses–—each at a different stage of his/her journey and with different abilities. This is why:

God reveals Himself to each person according to each person’s mode of conceiving Him. To those whose aspiration transcends the complex structure of matter, and whose psychic powers are fully integrated in a single unceasing gyration around God, He reveals Himself as Unity and Trinity. In this way He both shows forth His own existence and mystically makes known the mode in which that existence subsists.

St. Maximos: Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice First Century #79-88

In these few paragraphs, St. Maximos explores the sources and nature of evil and its relationship to God and man through four sets of relationships and resulting actions.

He sets the “stage” by explaining the nature of good.

Good represents our true nature. It is the baseline we start or depart from. Good is active. Faith, in fact, is real only when it is “manifest and active.” Echoing the concept of “active virtue” in previous chapters, he reiterates the seamless connection between intellect and action in the manifestation of virtue.

Freedom from Passions through Purification and Illumination

Passions are what break and distort this connection and lead us away from a life of active virtue. Maximos shows how the exercise of free will and nature of our relationship with God determine our state of freedom or imprisonment through an allusion to St. Peter. In the story, passions are depicted as the prison guards that prevent Peter from ever reaching the “gate” that leads to the city.

St Peter is guarded by two squads of soldiers and shut in by an iron gate. The two squads signify the attacks suffered by the intellect from the activity of the passions and from the mind’s assent to the passions.

St. Peter, however, was able to free himself from this “obdurate and stubborn attachment of the senses to sensible things” and pass through the gate “through spiritual contemplation of the inner essences of created beings.” Without spiritual contemplation—that is, without the stages of purification and illumination– we remain trapped in the prison of our own attachments that become increasingly deeper.

Having shed the addiction to passions, however, our vision becomes clear. We can now see through spiritual eyes and, instead of being tempted by created things, we are able to discern their inner sense and cause of existence under the surface. We can see our way to the gate and translate understanding into action to pass through it.

Imprisonment though Total Surrender to Passions

What about those who can never open the gate to reach the city? How is it possible for us to choose prison over freedom? St. Maximos dissects the process by which false desire becomes addiction, clouding our vision and leading to despair.

The architect of evil and tempter to passions is of course the devil. St. Maximos presents the relationship between God, man and the devil through paradoxes.

The devil hates God. Somehow, however, “in his hatred for God [he seems] to have acquired a destructive love for us men.”

His destructive love is manifested through distortions and reversals of good into evil, natural into unnatural. This notion of evil as distortion and reversal is not new, for example:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Romans 1:24-32

St. Maximos, however, dissects the gradual process of engagement with passions and their conversion into addiction and, finally, into despair. He also presents the dynamic and complex relationships among, God, man and the devil.

The devil does not put evil in our way with one, fell stroke. On the contrary, he is patient and engaged in a long-term relationship with us “persuading us by means of sensual pleasure to assent to the passions within our control…”

The Devil’s Punishment

At first, we are seduced by pleasure, but when our pursuit of pleasure becomes habit and addiction, the devil has succeeded in seducing “our soul’s desire separating us utterly from divine love and making us willing enemies of Him who made us.” Once we have succumbed to the devil, he” lays bare his hatred for us and demands our punishment.” And the cruelest punishment is when “the soul, sinking down enervated by the weight of such painful calamities, may cut itself off from the power of divine hope, regarding the onslaught of these calamities not as a divine admonition but as a cause for disbelief in God.”

Where does the devil find the mandate to torture and destroy us? St. Maximos makes it clear that it does not come from God. The devil does not act with “the intention of fulfilling God’s command, but out of the desire to feed his own passion of hatred towards us.” Yet, while God does not generate or command evil, he allows it to take place, so we can learn from it and exercise our free will.

Without divine permission, even the demons themselves cannot assist the devil in any way at all

However, Maximos makes it clear that it is our personal actions and choices that bring about our punishment.  We, alone, “willingly accede” to the passions that destroy us. As a result, “It is entirely fitting and just that those who gladly accept the devil’ s cunning suggestions to commit sins through their own volition should also be chastised by him.”

God’s Love and Hope

The final element in the complex interrelationships that Maximos explores in this section is love. God makes it possible for us to return to purity and virtue. In fact, God actively wants us to be saved. This is why, according to Maximos, he heals us from passions by allowing us to experience their destructiveness, first-hand—the way that being vaccinated with a virus gives immunity to it.

Because of his love for us “he allows the devil to afflict us with suffering and chastisement. In this way He scrapes the poison of past pleasure from our souls; and He seeks to implant in us a hatred and complete revulsion for the things which belong to this world and pander to the senses alone, by making us realize that once we have acquired them, we gain nothing from their use save chastisement.”

In Corinthians, Paul similarly lifts us from affliction through God’s love that gives us hope. No burden is impossible to bear or overcome with God’s help:

No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Corinthians 10:13

ST. MAXIMOS: Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice First Century #75-79

St. Maximos here elucidates the process of deification through yet another set of metaphors, and frames it through the contrast between passivity and action,Fr Maximos good and evil.

Evil does not exist unto itself and we do not have the capacity to generate it. When we suffer evil, it is because we ill-use our will and abuse our intelligence to surrender to something contrary to our nature.

However, as our nature is inherently good, we possess the natural capacity for “actualizing the virtues.” St. Maximos calls this “active accomplishment” because it requires intentional action from us—the exercise of free will and the correct use of our intelligence “whose natural task is to accomplish the virtues.”

St. Maximos next dissects the paradox of the state of passivity and brings out the duality within it.

Passivity can be either good or evil he explains. It can involve either surrender to God’s will or abandonment to evil. Yet, paradoxically, while it takes deliberate activity to exercise the virtues, it takes passivity to ascend beyond virtue to deification.

“The principle of passive suffering,” he tells us, “signifies experiencing either the grace of what is beyond nature or the occurrence of what is contrary to nature.”

While we are able to actively exercise the virtues, we cannot raise ourselves to the higher level of deification on our own, without divine grace. The exercise of virtue is still within our nature and our own abilities. It requires action on our part. To ascent beyond what is achievable within our own nature and capabilities, however, we must engage in passivity.

“But, when raised to a higher level, we experience deification passively, receiving this experience as a free gift of grace.”

Through the gift of grace, “we experience things passively,” discerning the inner Cause, without effort on our part.  “We are able to experience created things “in a manner which is beyond conception to the Cause itself of created beings, and there suspend the activity of our powers, together with all that is by nature finite.”

Our nature, in itself, “does not possess the power to grasp what transcends nature.” Through deification our struggles and efforts at active achievement cease. “We become something that is in no sense an achievement of our natural capacities,” and “Grace irradiates nature with a supranatural light and by the transcendence of its glory raises nature above its natural limits.”

Only God can bestow Grace and through it, deification. Yet God is not a passive being who grants deification at appointed times and then disappears. He reveals himself and the inner “principles of created beings” through images and the practice of virtues. And by constantly imbuing created things with “divine blessings,” “God continually becomes man,” in them.

St. Maximos draws a picture of unspeakable promise, hope and love here. The universe is inhabited by God and God is in a continuous relationship with man. He constantly reveals to us clues of His presence, communing with, and becoming one with us.

 

The Holy Spirit is Present Unconditionally in All Things-St. Maximos

Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice , First Century, #67-75

St. Maximos here uses yet another metaphor to describe the perpetual ascent toward theosis: the shift from the Old to the New Testament. It is a shift from the external to the internal–“from the sight of material things to the vision of spiritual realities.” Even so, Maximos makes it clear that no destination is a static end point and that there is eternal growth in perfection.

Abandoning one’s “former passion-dominated way of life” is a beginning step but acquiring “stability in the practice of the virtues” is a higher step. Ascending to a state of perfection is the ultimate destination that drives and makes worthwhile our journey. A state of perfection means to “have already been initiated mystically into contemplative theology: having purified their intellects of every material fantasy and bearing always the stamp of the image of divine beauty in all its fullness, they manifest the divine love present in their hearts.”

A driver and presupposition for our journey upward is fear.

“Those who are beginners and stand at the gate of the divine court of the virtues (cf. Exod. 2 7: 9) are called ‘ God-fearing’ by Scripture (cf. Acts 1 0: 2; 1 3: r 6, 2 6).”

St. Maximos differentiates between two kinds of fear: fear of punishment for wrong doings and what he calls “pure” fear—the fear “rooted essentially by God in creation;” the constant awareness of the “awe-inspiring nature” of Him that “transcends all kingship and power.”

Impure fear is temporary. It disappears as soon as the threat of punishment recedes. Yet the pure fear of God, St. Maximos writes, “is always present even apart from remorse for offences committed” because the profound wonder of God’s nature never leaves our hearts. This is why he who “has acquired the fear that endures forever,” will “lack for nothing.”

It is the shift from the practice of virtue to the mystical contemplation of the spiritual realm that Maximos elucidates in these chapters.

A state of spiritual contemplation and divine love is transformative. In this state, the created world is no longer a trap for temptation and sin but a manifestation of God. Our view of living things reveals the underlying reason for their being

From created beings we come to know their Cause; from the differences between created beings we learn about the indwelling wisdom of creation; and from the natural activity of created beings we discern the indwelling Life of creation, the power which gives created beings their life – the Holy Spirit.”

 And here St. Maximos gives the most elucidating explanation of the Holy Spirit I have ever read.

“The Holy Spirit,” he says, “is present unconditionally in all things, in that He embraces all things, provides for all, and vivifies the natural seeds within them.”

 This means that it is possible, even for a non-Christian to become aware of the true nature of material things and their origins in God because the Holy Spirit:

Being God and God’s Spirit, …embraces in unity the spiritual knowledge of all created things, providentially permeating all things with His power, and vivifying their inner essences in accordance with their nature.”

The presence of the Holy Spirit in all things is not a disembodied, pantheistic embodiment of God. On the contrary “He is present in a specific· way in all who are under the Law, in that He shows them where they have broken the commandments and enlightens them about the promise given concerning Christ.” In revealing the true nature of created things, he uncovers the nature of virtue and evil and “in this way He makes men aware of things done sinfully against the law of nature and renders them capable of choosing principles which are true and in conformity with nature.”

Above all, however, the role of the Holy spirit in the eternal move toward deification points to love. “The Holy Spirit is present unconditionally in all things” because God, “yearns for the salvation of all men and hungers after their deification…He does this s o that they may prefer to be righteous in reality rather than in appearance, discarding the cloak of hypocritical moral display and genuinely pursuing a virtuous life in the way that the divine Logos wishes them to.”

 Rid of that cloak and with the knowledge of the true nature of created things (including ourselves), we will be able to reveal the “true state of our soul” to God.

St. MAXIMOS: Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, First Century

#61-67

St. Maximos here demonstrates how the proper balance between intellect and flesh restores us to our true nature and leads to inner peace. By “flesh” of course, St. Maximos refers to “worldly” passions —from love of material things, to vanity, sloth, anger, fear, delusion etc. These are the passion that must be overcome one by one in St. John’s Ladder of Divine Ascent along the path to theosis.

Maximos weaves together a series of metaphors from which he extracts constantly new perspectives on the relationship between spirit and flesh. He starts this section by comparing “a life stained with many faults arising from the passions of the Flesh,” to a “soiled garment.”

Maximos then delves beyond this metaphor to explore the many dimensions of “the garment” and enter the mind and soul of the sinner. “Garment” is not merely a visual metaphor or an external feature but a dynamic state of the soul that keeps expanding as we contemplate on it. This garment, with the imprint of sin on it, envelops us in a world of memories, passions and sensibilities that overwhelm our intellect, filter and distort our view of reality. Sin, then, is not limited to specific action, space and time from which we can detach ourselves as soon as we commit it. Sin stains our soul and throws off the proper balance between intellect and flesh—with the flesh rather than the intellect leading us.

Thus a ‘garment stained by the flesh’ (Jude, verse 2 3) is the inner state and disposition of the soul when its conscience is deformed by the recollection of evil impulses and actions arising from the flesh. When this state or disposition constantly envelops the soul like a garment, it is filled with the stink of the passions.

I remember participating in a therapeutic environment for drug addicted teenagers and telling parents that their loved ones were no longer themselves – the kids they used to know. Their alcohol or drug usage had taken over, driving them to do things that were contrary to their character up to that point—stealing, lying, abandoning dreams and goals, hurting or prostituting themselves, etc.

People with a stained soul, according to St. Maximos, are similarly “not themselves,” having forgotten their true nature and perceiving the stained state of their souls as a “new normal.”

…when the passions are interwoven under the influence of the flesh, they form a filthy, soiled garment, which reveals the character of the soul, imposing on it a form and image contrary to the divine.

It takes intelligence to recognize and reject “everything alien” to our soul and discover “what is desirable according to our true nature.”

Healing then, requires a reversal of relationships between flesh and intellect and the restoration of control to the intellect.

When the intelligence is in control of the incensive power and desire, it produces the virtues.

St. Maximos offers the greatest hope in the possibility for redemption and deification.

A state of sin does not have to be permanent. Christ himself demonstrated the potential for transformation by taking on human flesh and redeeming it through his Resurrection.

A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to the deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man. For it is clear that He who became man without sin (cf. Heb. 4 : 1 5) will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man’s sake.

Thus passions (the flesh) do not need to be eradicated but transformed and re-directed.

Even the passions become good if we wisely and diligently detach them from what is bodily and direct them towards the acquisition of what is heavenly. This happens, for example, when we turn desire into a noetic yearning for heavenly blessings; or when we turn pleasure into the gentle delight which the volitive energy of the intellect finds in divine gifts; or when we turn fear into protective concern to escape punishments threatening us because of our sins; or when we turn distress into corrective remorse for present sin.

Even beyond the hope of illumination and the acquisition of virtues,  however, lies the ultimate hope of deification, when even the intellect, “after passing beyond the things that are known, apprehends the Cause of created things that transcends being and knowledge.”

With God’s grace, even with our flawed nature, we can be redeemed, partaking of the divine without forsaking our humanity. This is the state of true, inner stillness that goes beyond knowledge and discernment and can only be achieved by the grace of God.

Then the passion of deification is actualized by grace;  the intelligence’s power of natural discrimination is suspended, for there is no longer anything to discriminate about ; the intellect’s natural intellection is brought to a halt, for there is no longer anything to be known ; and the person found worthy to participate in the divine is made god and brought into a state of rest.

 

 

RE-DIRECTING THE SENSES– St. Maximos, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, First Century

#56-61

In these paragraphs, St. Maximos elaborates on the relationship between the senses and the intellect.

The message on renouncing the senses and living a spiritual life is clear:

“The holy Gospel teaches men to reject life according to the flesh and to embrace life according to the Spirit.”

Yet Maximos goes beyond complete renunciation of the senses to their “redirection.”

Sin takes hold of our soul, not merely because the senses have a role in our lives but when the “senses naturally assume the dominant role.” And this occurs when “intelligence does not rule.”

Without the leadership of the intellect our soul is rudderless and prey to destructive thought and passions. It is vulnerable to being “diverted from a life lived in accordance with nature and is impelled to become the author of evil.”

“Nature” for Maximos then is not a neutral, blank slate. It is created by God and, hence, is inherently good. Consequently, sin is the result of forgetfulness of God’s goodness.

“Evil is the noetic soul’s forgetfulness of what is good according to nature; and this forgetfulness results from an impassioned relationship with the flesh and the world.”

By applying intelligence, we do not allow our souls to drift into forgetfulness and loss of control.

 “When the intelligence is in control,” Maximos continues, “it dispels this forgetfulness through spiritual knowledge, since intelligence, having investigated the nature of the world and the flesh, draws the soul to the realm of spiritual realities which is its true home.”

In the framework Maximos lays out, the senses are not simply eradicated but put in the right place through spiritual understanding, so that “the link between the soul and the senses has now been broken, and the senses, limited to the world of sensible objects, can no longer function as a bridge conveying the law of sin into the intellect.”

The proper role for the senses is when they are “limited” to their role as pointers to God’s glory rather than as drivers of our souls. When “the intelligence dominates the passions,” it can transform the senses, making them “instruments of virtue. Conversely, when the passions dominate the intelligence they conform the senses to sin.”

To illustrate how this is done, Maximos recalls “those who are always dying to what is human – I mean human life in the flesh according to this present age – and living for God in the Spirit alone, after the example of St Paul and his followers.

The reason why these people, “bear everything with joy… even though they suffer much affliction, torment, distress and persecution, and experience innumerable forms of trial and temptation,” is that “they do not in any way live their own life but have Christ living in them.

That senses can become handmaidens of the spirit rather than pathways to sin goes beyond renunciation to point us to a bridge to deification.

 

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.