St. Maximos, Theology (1st century) #75-100

In this section St. Maximos uses a sequence of parallel metaphors and biblical allusions to elucidate, from different angles, the journey of ascent from purification to illumination and theosis.

He first establishes the need for purification through allusions to Herod, Pilate and Cesar.

“Herod exemplifies the will of the flesh,” St. Maximos writes; “Pilate, the senses; Caesar, sensible things.” While the Jews represent the soul, they lose their way by subjugating the soul to the flesh.

 When the soul through ignorance associates with sensible things, it betrays the Logos into the hands of the senses to be put to death and proclaims within itself the kingship of perishable things. For the Jews say, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:15).

Pilate is an intriguing character. While he refuses to condemn Christ, he misses the opportunity to go beyond this refusal, thus “denying the kingdom of God.” Instead of saving him, he turns him over to those who will condemn him to death. His neutrality–refusal to prosecute Christ—is simply not enough.

“The subjugation of the passions,” St. Maximos tells us, “is not sufficient to ensure spiritual happiness for the soul unless the soul also acquires the virtues by keeping the commandments.”

Resisting “the pleasures of the body” is a first step. To progress beyond it, one must cultivate virtues and acquire spiritual knowledge.

St. Maximos now turns to the parable of the paralytic to elucidate the true meaning of illumination. The paralytic looks with longing and frustration at the healing waters of the Pool of Bethesda, just steps away from him. He watches helplessly as others are helped into the water by their loved ones and are immediately healed. He can almost taste a new life of salvation and illumination but is unable to find somebody to push him into the water.  St. Maximos compares his situation to that of a man looking for salvation without having accumulated a trove of virtue and spiritual knowledge to draw upon.

For this reason, he has no one – that is, no intelligent thought – to put him into the pool when the water is disturbed (cf. John 5:7), that is, into a state of virtue capable of receiving spiritual knowledge and of healing every sickness.

It is far easier to indulge in passions than to exert discipline and resist them. Hence, what keeps us from healing, though like the paralytic we are sick, is laziness.

On the contrary, although sick, he procrastinates because of laziness and is forestalled by someone else, who prevents him from being cured. And so he lies there with his illness for thirty-eight years.

And Maximos shows the consequences of spiritual laziness:

Whoever does not advance towards God by these means remains paralyzed until the Logos comes to teach him how he can obtain prompt healing, saying to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’ (John 5:8); that is to say, the Logos commands him to upraise his intellect from the love of pleasure which dominates him, to shoulder the body of the virtues and to go home, that is, to heaven.

Christ provides the model of a life in union with God that contrasts with the above

For when through his ascetic practice he has irreproachably created the world of the virtues as if it were a world of visible nature, not allowing his soul to be diverted from its course by the hostile powers as he passes through time

St. Maximos next uncovers another aspect of illumination. Illumination is still of dual nature, he tells us. We are intellective beings, which means that we have the capacity to understand the created universe. At the same time, we and other beings are also “intelligible,” that is, we possess the intrinsic capacity of being understood by other, intellective beings. Intellective and intelligible capabilities are the two extremes. They lack simplicity because “it is only an intermediate relationship between two extremes” that makes them meaningful. For example, an intellective being must have the willingness, discipline and commitment to cultivate these capabilities and apply them to understand another being.

Hence, “no creature is in itself a simple being or intellection, in such a way as to constitute an indivisible unity.” We perceive the world around us in terms of its differences, conflicts, divergencies and multiplicities of points of view.  Yet “God is beyond being and beyond intellection…He is an indivisible unity, simple and without parts.” And herein lies the seemingly impossible paradox. If we are subjects to a world of multiplicity and bound by our duality of our intellective and intelligible being, how can we understand God through the limitations of our created universe?

In the multiplicity of beings there is diversity, dissimilarity and difference. But in God, who is in an absolute sense one and alone, there is only identity, simplicity and similarity. It is therefore not safe to devote oneself to the contemplation of God before one has advanced beyond the multiplicity of beings.

To progress from illumination to theosis, then, we have to advance “altogether beyond intellection,’ and beyond duality so that we can dwell in unity. 

None of the tools and assumptions of the world as we know it are adequate “to attempt to utter the inexpressible.”

The surest way is to contemplate pure being silently in the soul alone

To “converse with God” we have to let go of the means by which we attempted to exert some degree of control over our universe—the spoken word; the assurance of familiar space and time; the categories in which we grouped things and ideas.

“Moses showed this,” we are told, “when he pitched the tent of his mind outside the camp (cf. Exod. 33:7) and then conversed with God.”   And “the high priest, who was commanded to go into the holy of holies within the veil only once every year (cf. Lev. 16; Heb. 9:7), shows us that only he who has passed through what is immaterial and holy and has entered the holy of holies – that is, who has transcended the whole natural world of sensible and intelligible realities, is free from all that is specific to creatures and whose mind is unclad and naked – is able to attain the vision of God.”

To ascend to theosis we must “have transcended our own being and that of all things sequent to God. …He  who has not  transcended himself and all that is in any way subject to intellection, and has not come to abide in the silence beyond intellection, cannot be entirely free from change. But he who has advanced altogether beyond intellection, and has renounced it because he has transcended it, has come to dwell to some extent in unity

 

 

St. Maximos, Theology #51-72

Continuing on the theme of spiritual progression, St. Maximos makes use of the 6th, 7th and 8th days of creation as pivots of, and gateways to, growth. This echoes his use of circumcision, baptism and the harvest in the previous section.

In depicting various types of progression, St. Maximos draws parallels between the Old & New Testament. He also contrasts the passion-filled, downward spiral of the secular kingdom of the Jews and Romans to the inner journey of ascension that is anchored in the gospel.

For him who follows only the Law, St. Maximos tells us, the Sabbath is simply a respite from passions. Yet, even for him, it is possible to go beyond the Law by “crossing the Jordan” and entering the realm of virtues.

He who “observes the sixth day according to the Gospel,” however, has already “put to death the first impulses of sin, through cultivating the virtues,” and attained a state of dispassion. When this person crosses the Jordan, he acquires spiritual knowledge and “becomes in spirit the dwelling place of God.”

St. Maximos unveils the meaning of each day progressively through a series of parallelisms, each of which introduces a different insight and layer of meaning.

The sixth day is rest of the intellect—even beyond any image that can suggest passion.

It is the completion and fulfillment of natural activities and good deeds. It betokens the inner essence of things, but we are not there yet. We simply recognize the signs and get a glimpse of the next level. It is a day of preparation.

Crossing the Jordan takes you to a more mystical experience of God on the 7th day. You are crossing over from preparation to spiritual knowledge becoming “in spirit the dwelling place of God,” but not yet reaching consummation. You have crossed over “to the repose of spiritual contemplation” in which “the intellect, grasping in a divine manner the inner essences of created beings, ceases from all movement.”

Some of us, St. Maximos tells us, may be “also found worthy of the eighth day.” In this state, we experience “the blessed life of God, who is the only true life,” and we, ourselves, become God by deification.

On the 8th day, we participate in “God’s deifying energy,” which is “the mystical resurrection.” This means that we leave behind “in the sepulcher His linen clothes and the napkin that was about his head (cf. John 20:6-7). Those who perceive this, like Peter and John, are convinced that the Lord has risen.”

Why should we leave behind the linen clothes and the napkins?

The linen clothes represent “the inner essences of sensible things together with their qualities of goodness.” The napkin is the “simple and homogenous knowledge of intelligible realities together with the vision of God.”

Up to this point, we still apply the natural categories of the created world to comprehend God. “Ages, times and places,” St. Maximos says, “belong to the category of relationship, and consequently no object necessarily associated with these things can be other than relative.”

He goes on to remark the paradox: While we perceive the world through categories of relationships “…God transcends the category of relationship; for nothing else whatsoever is necessarily associated with Him.”

The linen clothes and the napkin are “the things by which the Logos is initially recognized” because we lack the capacity to recognize him otherwise. But if we bury the Lord the right way, in glory, we will no longer need to recognize him in relationship to his linen clothes or napkin, and we will be able to see him in a way no one else sees him:

  1. Those who bury the Lord with honor will also see Him risen with glory, but He is not seen by anyone else

The 8th day unlocks the mystery, without which, we only have partial understanding of God.

He who apprehends the mystery of the cross and the burial apprehends the inward essences of created things; while he who is initiated into the inexpressible power of the resurrection apprehends the purpose for which God first established everything.

On the eight day, one goes beyond knowledge to consummation. We are no longer limited by the principles of the natural world and relationships within it through which we may get only a partial understanding of God. Consummation “bears no resemblance whatsoever to the intermediary state, for otherwise it would not be a consummation.”

“When he who is saved is perfected in God, he will transcend all worlds, ages and places in which hitherto he has been trained as a child.”

 

St. Maximos, 1st Century on Theology, #26-50

Whew! This was a hard but very profound section but, luckily, Fr. David helped us through it.

In these few pages, St. Maximos takes us through multiple steps and levels of spiritual growth in which our relationship with God entwines in various forms and manifestations until we are on with him—with God dwelling within us and us within him. This is how I order the sections to make sense to me. It is a little long but bear with me as I muddle through and feel free to comment.

So, we live in the temporal world, limited by the natural laws of decay and death. When we or our knowledge of things reach maturity, growth ceases and death or stagnation follow.

However, true knowledge of God does not cease once it reaches ch maturity. Instead,

…it starts to grow anew. For the end of one stage constitutes the starting-point of the next. There is never an end, as there is never a beginning, to the good which God does

Through divine knowledge, then, we get a taste of God’s immortal world.

The journey to perfect knowledge and endless renewal is structured along the three stages of spiritual life in Orthodox Theology: purification, illumination and Theosis or deification

PURIFICATION

St. Maximos starts with the theme of silence to signify purification from passions:

27 If a man impetuously interrupts a speech at a public meeting, he clearly reveals his lust for self-glory. Overpowered by this passion, he tries to obstruct

  1. Those who still fear the war against the passions and dread the assaults of invisible enemies must keep silent; in their struggle for virtue they must not enter into disputes with their enemies but through prayer must entrust all anxiety about themselves to God.

ILLUMINATION

First, our desire for God must be supported by the grace of God to lead to illumination.

“A soul,” St. Maximos says, “can never attain the knowledge of God unless God Himself in His condescension takes hold of it and raises it up to Himself. For the human intellect lacks the power to ascend and to participate in divine illumination, unless God Himself draws it up in so far as this is possible for the human intellect – and illumines it with rays of divine light.”

Through purification and illumination, the real meaning of things is revealed and we able to achieve a deeper level of understanding of the scriptures. Maximos selects three biblical concepts as the anchoring steps of spiritual ascent.

  1. The Sabbath. While the Sabbath is honored as rest from work, its deeper meaning is “the freedom of the deiform soul” from passions so that it can experience the full manifestation of God’s love; “the dispassion of the deiform soul that through practice of the virtues has utterly cast off the marks of sin.”
  2. Circumcision. 40 . Circumcision signifies the quelling of the soul’s impassioned predilection for things subject to generation.
  3. The harvest. 42. Harvest signifies the deiform soul’s in gathering and knowledge of the more spiritual principles of created beings in a manner conforming to both virtue and nature.

DEIFICATION

This is the stage in which the depths of God are revealed to one through the Spirit and he approaches the uncreated Light.

  • There is a deeper understanding of the Sabbath—the Sabbaths of Sabbaths—that (3 9 ) …signify the spiritual calm of the deiform soul that has withdrawn the intellect even from contemplation of all the divine principles in created beings, that through an ecstasy of love has clothed it entirely in God alone, and that through mystical theology has brought it altogether to rest in God. And we enter a more profound harvest—the harvest of harvests. It is “another more spiritual harvest, which is said to belong to God.
  • Beyond circumcision, there is another more mystical circumcision, the “circumcision of circumcision” that “signifies the complete discarding and stripping away also of even the soul’ s natural feelings for things subject to generation.”

 43 . Harvest of harvest signifies the apprehension of God which follows the mystical contemplation of noetic realities and which, inaccessible to all, is consummated in the intellect in a manner beyond understanding. Such apprehension is fittingly reaped by the person who in a worthy manner honours the Creator because of what He has created, whether visible or invisible.

Yet true knowledge of God never has an ending and is constantly renewable and a stepping stone to constantly more knowledge. St. Maximos bring yet another level as an example:

“There is another more spiritual harvest, which is said to belong to God Himself,” he tells us: “there is another more mystical circumcision; and there is another more hidden sabbath, which God celebrates when He rests from His own labours.”

  1. 46. Circumcision of the heart in the spirit signifies the utter stripping away from the senses and the intellect of their natural activities connected with sensible and intelligible things.
  2. 47. The sabbath rest of God signifies the complete reversion of created beings to God. It is then that God suspends in created beings the operation of their natural energy by inexpressibly activating in them His divine energy. I It is by virtue of this natural energy that each created being naturally acts ; and God suspends its operation in each created being t o the degree to which that being participates in His divine energy and so establishes its own natural energy within God Himself.
  3. 45. The harvest of God signifies the total dwelling and stability of the saints in God at the consummation of the ages. This stripping away is accomplished by the Spirit’s immediate presence, which completely transfigures body and soul and makes them more divine.

3 TYPES OF RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

Probably reflecting the constantly evolving levels of knowledge of God, St. Maximos delineates three types of relationships with God.

  • THE MAN OF FAITH frees himself from passions through the practice of virtues
  • THE DISCIPLE receives and multiples the word of God by spreading it to others and ministering to them.
  • THE APOSTLE has the power to go beyond spreading the word to heal “the sick, through hope restoring a state of devotion to those who have lost it” and cure “every disease and infirmity.”

The universe is divided between created and uncreated beings. However, God made uncreated beings such as, goodness, truth, love or charity “participable”—that is, accessible to us, created beings, through participation—participation that can be only enabled through Grace.

Hope for our salvation, then, lies in our God-given potential to participate. So even though we have a temporal origin, we are enabled, through God’s grace, to become participants in the timeless, unoriginate essence of beings that manifest the presence of God.  And through this participation, we experience this presence and become one with him.

St. Maximos, 4th century on love, #76-100

In defining love in Christ St. Maximos distinguishes it from many of the things we have come to associate with love in popular culture: sentimentality, passion, sexuality, “feel-good” experiences, possessiveness etc.

For St. Maximos “Love of God is opposed to desire, for it persuades the intellect to control itself with regard to sensual pleasures.”

How’s that for disruptive thinking?

Love is manifested only through control rather than passion, he says. It is one thing to love when we are loved, filled with passion for a lover or overcome with feeling of love as we gaze at our newborn baby. But what about the moments when we are insulted or betrayed; are overcome with envy, scorn or outrage? These are the moments that one-by-one fill ort days. They slowly creep up to dominate our perception and color the fabric of daily life. This is why St. Maximos asks:

Cleanse your intellect from anger, rancor and shameful thoughts, and you will be able to perceive the indwelling of Christ.

Bridle your soul’s incensive power with love, quench its desire with self-control, give wings to its intelligence with prayer, and the light of your intellect will never be darkened.

Unless we can exert control to stem anger the minute it occurs, we cannot recover the love that lays dormant in our soul.

Love, however, is not simply a feeling one has for another person but a state of the soul. It is achieved only after you have cleansed yourself from passions and entered “the higher forms of the contemplation of divine realities.” However, what is significant is not only that true love can only dwell in a clean heart, and a mind capable of the “the higher forms of the contemplation. It is also that the highest forms of contemplation are not ends by themselves but gateways to love which completes them. When you have reached such spiritual state, St. Maximos advises,

“…give your utmost attention to love and self-control, so that you may keep your soul’s passible aspect undisturbed and preserve the light of your soul in undiminished splendor.”

And so, love is the light of our souls rather than limited to specific occasions and one on one relationships. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise of “eternal blessings” and “the pledge of the Spirit in your hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22).” Making love the center of your soul requires that we lead a different lifestyle, centered on love and driven by constant alertness:

“…God commanded you to pay attention to how you live, so that the inner man may be freed from the passions and begin here and now to enjoy these blessings.”

It is easy to allow “disgrace, injury, slander either against one’s faith or one’s manner of life, beatings, blows and so on” to “dissolve love,” St. Maximos says. But “he who loses his love because of these things has not yet understood the purpose of Christ’s commandments.”  Paying attention to how we live means recognizing the onset of passion; understanding that the danger of losing the love within us is far greater than the danger of the disgrace or injury to ourselves; and taking action through self control.

“Many of us are talkers, few are doers,” St. Maximos says. To achieve and maintain love calls for us to shift from words to action and become doers.

 

St. Maximos, 4th Century of Love, #55-74

 St. Maximos here builds a complex of interrelationships that are enabled by love as well as aim at love as the ultimate destination.

The challenge of the quest is to locate and unleash the treasure that lies “hidden in the field of your heart (cf. Matt. 13:44).”  “Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (cf. Eph. 3:17).”

St. Maximos urges us to consider what this means.

If “all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in Him (cf. Col. 2:3), then all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in our hearts.”

Living with Christ in our hears is so precious that were we able to find this “field” within our hearts, our entire life would be transformed and re-directed. Experiencing even a glimmer of this treasure is so sweet that we would eagerly submit to any sacrifice or deprivation to center our lives in it. Missing it or never realizing its existence leaves us bereft and empty, vulnerable to misdirecting our unrequited longing.

“…you have abandoned that field and give all your attention to the land nearby, where there is nothing but thorns and thistles.”

Interestingly, what St. Maximos sees as preventing us from recognizing the treasure within, is “our laziness.”   And here is a series of interrelationships that explain it:

To see Christ in our hearts “and the riches that are in Him” we must purify ourselves “through love and self-control.’  Love in Christ is not the effusion of sentiment we  have come to associate with romantic love, but an imitation of Christ.

Christ, for example, was always conferring blessings on people; He was long-suffering when they were ungrateful and blasphemed Him; and when they beat Him and put Him to death, He endured it, imputing no evil at all to anyone. These are the three acts which manifest love for one’s neighbor. If he is incapable of them, the person who says that he loves Christ or has attained the kingdom deceives himself.

Yet mere knowledge of this spiritual path and the goodness of love is passive. Knowledge becomes holy when it is translated into action and, hence, becomes “active.”

Are you tempted to snap back at an insult, nurse a grudge for an injustice or betrayal against you or indulge in self-pity? These are our default impulses so that giving in to them is easy. This is what St. Maximos calls laziness. To make knowledge active requires hard discipline—a conscious choice of love over resentment.

Imagine if, when overwhelmed by righteous outrage or self-defeating self-pity, we were able to hold back from reacting out of consideration of the effect that these passionate thoughts and actions would have on our souls and relationship with God.  We would concentrate on our inner life rather than on composing the perfect comeback or savoring the remembrance of all the injustices against us. This discipline, stemming from what St. Maximos calls active holy knowledge, would eventually reconcile us with God’s love and allow us to partake of the treasure within.

The purpose of discipline, in fact “the whole purpose of the Savior’s commandments is to free the intellect from dissipation and hatred, and to lead it to the love of Him and one’s neighbor. From this love springs the light of active holy knowledge.”

And, conversely, this holy knowledge is only complete when accompanied, by love.

St. Maximos, 4th century of love, #26-54

There are these moments in our lives, when we are filled with love for a person or the grandeur of the universe around us; when things seem suffused in light and everything appears possible.  Hatred then can only be aroused by the devil since it deprives us of the peace and harmony that love brings to our soul.

  1. Because today an assault of the devil has aroused some hatred in you, do not judge as base and wicked a brother whom yesterday you regarded as spiritual and virtuous; but with long-suffering love dwell on the goodness you perceived yesterday and expel today’s hatred from your soul.

Hatred, and related emotions of irritability, resentment and envy, can be aroused at any time and about anybody—even those we most love, admire or nurture. The solution is not to allow hatred to obscure your experiences of goodness and love

Do not condemn today as base and wicked the man whom yesterday you praised as good and commended as virtuous, changing from love to hatred, because he has criticized you; but even though you are still full of resentment, commend him as before, and you will soon recover the same saving love.

In the end, St. Maximos exhortations for love are not little aphorisms to memorize or rules to passively obey but a make a case for salvation and spiritual survival.

We are to spare no effort in freeing ourselves from hatred because succumbing to bitterness and resentment will strip us from the joy, peace, hope and love we are meant to inhabit and which will unite us with God.  “The deiform soul,” St. Maximos reminds us, “cannot nurse hatred against a man and yet be at peace with God, the giver of the commandments.”

When overwhelmed by resentment, instead of justifying it and fanning the flames, our goal must be to recover the love we once had for that person and for God.

St. Maximos gives many practical tools for quenching resentments against others by directing our efforts at the recovery of love rather than on nurturing thoughts of insult, jealousy and resentment:

If a brother happens to be tempted and persists in insulting you, do not be driven out of your state of love, even though the same evil demon troubles your mind. You will not be driven out of that state if, when abused, you bless; when slandered, you praise; and when tricked, you maintain your affection. This is the way of Christ’s philosophy: if you do not follow it you do not share His company.

What drives us in periods when we seem to be always angry and irritated with everybody, filled with self-pity and resentment? For Maximos, this happens when the pursuit of fame or recognition, obsessions with material things or an outcome we believe we are entitled to achieve, dominate our thoughts.

“The man who still loves empty fame, or is attached to some material object,” Maximos writes, is naturally vexed with people on account of transitory things, or harbors rancor or hatred against them, or is a slave to shameful thoughts.

And the solution is tough and yet uncomplicated:

Stop pleasing yourself and you will not hate your brother; stop loving yourself and you will love God.

St. Maximos, 4th century of love, #1-25

St. Maximos begins the 4th century with contemplation of God’s creation and the humbling of the intellect before it.

 “First the intellect marvels when it reflects on the absolute infinity of God, that boundless sea for which it longs so much. Then it is amazed at how God has brought things into existence out of nothing.”

St. Maximos transitions from the infinity and eternity of God’s creation to us.

We have always existed as potentiality in God’s mind “from all eternity” and

“4. When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him.”

So what is our relationship to God’s creation and what is our purpose?

We were endowed with intelligence, he tells us. Yet,

“13. Whether or not a nature endowed with intelligence and intellect is to exist eternally depends on the will of the Creator whose every creation is good; but whether such a nature is good or bad depends on its own will.”

Evil is not “to be imputed to the essence of created beings, but to their erroneous and mindless motivation.” And our “motivation is rightly ordered when its desiring power is subordinated to self-control, when its incensive power rejects hatred and cleaves to love.”

Without love, our purpose cannot be clear and our intelligence will be diverted by evil, self-serving motivations rather than advance toward God “through prayer and spiritual contemplation.”

Take suffering, for example. How many times have times of suffering produced in us anger, self-pity, envy for others or despair that, in themselves, cut us off from love, gratitude and hope, causing us more harm than the cause of suffering itself? This is maintaining love in the face of suffering is the most important example of our ability to exert our will to make our God-given nature good as opposed to evil.

“16. If in time of trial a man does not patiently endure his afflictions, but cuts himself off from the love of his spiritual brethren, he does not yet possess perfect love or a deep knowledge of divine providence.

Thus, he who does not resolutely bear trouble, endure affliction, and patiently sustain hardship, has strayed from the path of divine love and from the purpose of providence.”

Then, there are our relationships with others. How much of our daily life is consumed by envy of others, hurt feelings from perceived insults, fears of rejections and loss of control, blame and recriminations?   Yet what use is “victory”—surpassing others in status, getting validation for wrongs against you or “putting someone in his place”—when our lives are filled with fractured relationships, anger and hatred and deprived of love?

“Has a brother been the occasion of some trial for you and has your resentment led you to hatred?’ St. Maximos asks. “22. Do not let yourself be overcome by this hatred, but conquer it with love. You will succeed in this by praying to God sincerely for your brother and by accepting his apology; or else by conciliating him with an apology yourself, by regarding yourself as responsible for the trial and by patiently waiting until the cloud has passed.”

He concludes: “18. If ‘love is long-suffering and kind’ (1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is fainthearted in the face of his afflictions and who therefore behaves wickedly towards those who have offended him, and stops loving them, surely lapses from the purpose of divine providence.”

Ultimately,

“17. The aim of divine providence is to unite by means of true faith and spiritual love those separated in various ways by vice. Indeed, the Savior endured His sufferings so that ‘He should gather together into one the scattered children of God’ (John 11: 52).”

The section ends with a seemingly simple truth that encompasses all the complex relationships between the creator and the created universe that St Maximos details in the preceding pages and the gist of his centuries of love: “Do not lightly discard spiritual love: for men there is no other road to salvation.”

St. Maximos the Confessor: 3d Century on Love Excerpts #76-100

 Our intellect lies between angel and demon, each of which works for its own ends, the one encouraging virtue and the other vice. The intellect has both the authority and the power to follow or resist whichever it wishes to.

St. Maximos understands both poles and constantly points out the thin and treacherous line between them. This is why he shows compassion for our failings and helps us both envision our destination with the angels and develop simple, practical tools for following the right path and resisting the demons.

An easy slip-up for most of us is to succumb to envy and resentment. This is how St. Maximos defines it:

Resentment is linked with rancor. When the intellect forms the image of a brother’s face with a feeling of resentment, it is clear that it harbors rancor against him. ‘The way of the rancorous

The Greek word for “rancor” is “μνησικακία”—the memory of past wrongs. Being consumed by bitterness and resentment for perceived wrongs and offenses “leads to death,” because ‘whoever harbors rancor is a transgressor’ (Prov. 21:24. LXX).

“Mνησικακία” is devoid of logic and does not always require an actual harmful act committed against us to be triggered. We can bitterly resent someone’s success because we choose to see it as a reminder of our own, perceived “failure.” We may envy someone else’s popularity or talent and resent him for it because believe we should possess them, instead, for our life to be worth living. And we may be especially intolerant of others’ flaws when they remind us of personal weaknesses we are ashamed of.

You will find it hard to check the resentment of an envious person, for what he envies in you he considers his own misfortune.

 In short, we dehumanize others by seeing them as mere commodities to compare ourselves to and benchmark our successes or failures against.  The remedy St. Maximos outlines is to separate the resentment from the thought and view others in the fulness of their humanity rather than through the filter of our passions, thus opening our hearts to compassion and love.

If you harbor rancor against anybody, pray for him and you will prevent the passion from being aroused; for by means of prayer you will separate your resentment from the thought of the wrong he has done you. When you have become loving and compassionate towards him, you will wipe the passion completely from your soul.

How many times, filled with envy and resentment, we secretly delight in another’s failures or find it impossible to be happy for their good fortune. Yet, forgetting ourselves and empathizing with those we resent is what will free us from the tyranny of these passions.

 …You will be able to check it if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves, thus fulfilling St Paul’s words, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep’ (Rom. 12:15).

To choose the path of angels rather than the demons, we cannot be absolved of responsibility even when it is someone else who envies and resents our own successes. Even then,

You must in humility consider him superior to yourself, and always, everywhere and in every matter put his interest above yours…. for you are defending not the passion but the sufferer

In the end, the remedy for envy and all other passions is love:

 …but love, united beyond union with Him who is more than infinite, will remain for all eternity, always increasing beyond all measure. That is why ‘the greatest of them is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13).[V2] 100

St. Maximos, 3d century of love, #52-76

We know that the Fathers consider thoughts the source of all passions. St. Maximos gives us a detailed example here:

…as the body fornicates with the body of a woman, so the intellect, forming a picture of its own body, fornicates with the conceptual image of a woman. For in the mind it sees the form of its own body having intercourse with the form of a woman.

But surely most of us think that some situations naturally deserve to occupy our thoughts: a heinous act committed by a criminal, for example; a neighbor’s outrageous behavior; our outrage at ISIS…

St. Maximos makes no exception and warns us of the danger of becoming overtaken by passionate thoughts. First of all, our own thoughts—noble or vile, justifiable or unjustifiable—hold an appeal for us. Let’s face it, it is intoxicating to indulge in our own fantasies, ruminations, memories or fears and speculations. St. Maximos compares our relationship to our own thoughts to that between parents and children:

 … Just as parents have a special affection for the children who are the fruit of their own bodies, so the intellect naturally clings to its own thoughts. And just as to passionately fond parents their own children seem the most capable and most beautiful of all – though they may be quite the most ridiculous in every way – so to a foolish intellect its own thoughts appear the most intelligent of all, though they may be utterly degraded.

 Secondly, just like addiction becomes central to our lives, stripping away all things that truly matter and the person we once were, so does indulgence in our thoughts replace alertness, inner stillness and contemplation of God with fantasy:

He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins, which are truly heavier than a great lump of lead; nor does he know why a man becomes heavy-hearted when he loves vanity and chases after falsehood.

 These passions, then, tie the intellect to material things and drag it down to earth, pressing on it like a massive stone, although by nature it is lighter and swifter than fire.

St. Maximos has practical advice for avoiding attachment to our own thoughts:

  It is precisely when he feels convinced that they [thoughts] are true and good that he most distrusts his own judgment. He makes other wise men the judges of his thoughts and arguments – lest he should run, or may have run, in vain (cf. Gal. 2:2) – and from them receives assurance.

St. Maximos does not stop with this advice. This is where these pages get deeper and more complex.

 “Passion-free knowledge of divine things,” he admits, “does not persuade the intellect to scorn material things completely; it is like the passion-free thought of a sensible thing. It is therefore possible to find many men who have much knowledge and yet wallow in the passions of the flesh like pigs in the mire.”

St. Maximos goes beyond theory and analysis of the thought process to delve into the dynamics of human motivation and peel back the many layers of truth and faith.

Through diligent work, he says, people “temporarily cleanse themselves and attain knowledge, but then they grow negligent.”  It is not logical persuasion but the fullness of love that will give us the focus, motivation and consistency of passion-free knowledge and understanding:

 For in this world truth exists in shadows and conjectures. That is why there is need for the blessed passion of holy love, which binds the intellect to spiritual contemplation and persuades it to prefer what is immaterial to what is material, and what is intelligible and divine to what is apprehended by the senses.

St. Maximos on Love: Third Century, #26-51

 Stuck on obsessive thoughts like how to change someone’s behavior? Tired of dwelling on a perceived insult against you or sinking into self-righteousness and self-pity?   Going in circles without a clear path out?  St. Maximos totally gets you and has some answers for you.

Mental dysfunction of any kind occurs when we misuse and distort these powers against their nature. The hopeful message here is that restoring them to their natural state is within our control. Both the descent into dark passions and healing are matters of choice.   The soul functions in accordance with nature when its passible aspects – that is, its incensive power and its desire – remain dispassionate in the face of provocations both from things and from the conceptual images of these things.

It is not the external triggers that darken our souls but the passionate thoughts about them that we allow to take root within us.  Our weapon is “love and self-control” that keep the intellect dispassionate in the face both of things and of the conceptual images we form of them.”

Like the other Fathers, Maximos repeatedly conveys our vulnerability to passions and the implicit need to admit our powerlessness, as 12-step programs have found out. Only this awareness will keep us engaged in active warfare every minute of our day.

Yet it is a waste to expend our resources on fighting the triggers of our passions. Here is what St. Maximos advises us on how to conduct effecting warfare:

The intellect of a man who enjoys the love of God does not fight against things or against conceptual images of them. It battles against the passions which are linked with these images. It does not, for example, fight against a woman, or against a man who has offended it, or even against the images it forms of them; but it fights against the passions which are linked with the images.

If you are looking for a “trick”—a practical tool you can apply the moments that passionate thoughts begin to form in your mind, Maximos readily provides you with concrete tools.

When consumed by desire, envy or anger, for example, we should first separate our own impassionate thoughts from the objects that triggered them. Instead of becoming consumed with plans for witty comebacks to insults or self-pity for our inability to make our children choose the path we believe is right for them, for example, we should examine the real roots of our passions and our acquiescence to their dominance.

The whole purpose of the monk’s warfare against the demons is to separate the passions from conceptual images. Otherwise he will not be able to look on things dispassionately.

A thing, a conceptual image and a passion are all quite different one from the other. For example, a man, a woman, gold and so forth are things; a conceptual image is a passion-free thought of one of these things; a passion is mindless affection or indiscriminate hatred for one of these same things. The monk’s battle is therefore against passion.