Four Hundred Texts on Love 26

100. When the intellect is established in God, it at first ardently longs to discover the principles of His essence. But God’s inmost nature does not admit of such investigation, which is indeed beyond the capacity of everything created. The qualities that appertain to His nature, however, are accessible to the intellect’s longing: I mean the qualities of eternity, infinity, indeterminateness, goodness, wisdom, and the power of creating, preserving and judging creatures. Yet of these, only infinity may be grasped fully; and the very fact of knowing nothing is knowledge surpassing the intellect, as the theologians Gregory of Nazianzos and Dionysios have said.

We’ve reached the concluding text of St. Maximos’ first century on love and it’s a complicated one indeed. I’m familiar with the longing to understand God’s essence and am beginning to recognize the futility of that effort. And that, I think is as it should be. A God that my mind could compass would not, after all, be much of a God.

The qualities that leap out to me from St. Maximos’ list are goodness and wisdom. Those, I think, are the qualities I perceived in God that finally drew me into something like Christian faith. That wasn’t an easy step for me. There are versions of God proclaimed in parts of Christianity that may be many things, but who could not be called good. However, when you truly perceive our God, even darkly through a clouded glass, his goodness still shines through. He is a good and wise God, the sort of God we desperately need. And he loves mankind. Sadly, far too many do not recognize that beautiful truth.

As we cannot truly say something about God’s essence without almost unsaying it at the same time, we also cannot know God through our intellect. And yet, even though we know nothing, we can have a knowledge of God — a mystical or relational form of knowing — that is infinite. Or at least, those are the thoughts that St. Maximos’ text awakens in me. I’m not sure that it’s what he meant at all, but even if mine is a different thought, I think it’s a true one.

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