Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 18

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 18

51. The first type of dispassion is complete abstention from the actual committing of sin, and it may be found in those beginning the spiritual way. The second is the complete rejection in the mind of all assent to evil thoughts; this  is found in those who have achieved an intelligent participation in virtue. The third is the complete quiescence of passionate desire; this is found in those who contemplate noetically the inner essences of visible things through then outer forms. The fourth type of dispassion is the complete purging even of passion-free images; this is found in those who have made their intellect a pure, transparent mirror of God through spiritual knowledge and contemplation. If, then, you have cleansed yourself from the committing of acts prompted by the passions, have freed yourself from mental assent to them, have put a stop to the stimulation of passionate desire, and have purged your intellect of even the passion-free images of what were once objects of the passions, you have attained the four general types of dispassion. You have emerged from the realm of matter and material things, and have entered the sphere of intelligible realities, noetic, tranquil and divine.

The nous (which is often translated mind in English translations of the New Testament) is a concept that does not seem to have a real equivalent in our language. It’s not really the rational mind or thoughts. It’s more the center of our being that can know God mystically, directly, and truly. It’s that part of us that can see reality as it is rather than as we imagine it to be. It’s the part in us that was dead and which was healed by Jesus. When Paul speaks of being “transformed by the renewing of your mind,” it’s the nous to which he is referring. Remember also that the passions are the things we suffer. The term here does not refer to feeling strongly about something but to be ruled by those things that bypass our will. The eventual goal is to see reality, that is to know God, not through our imagination, but truly and actually.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 16

Posted: October 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

41.  The first good which actively affects us, namely fear, is reckoned by Scripture as the most remote from God, for it is called ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Setting out from this towards our ultimate goal, wisdom, we come to understanding, and this enables us to draw close to God Himself, for we have only wisdom lying between us and our union with Him. Yet it is impossible for a man to attain wisdom unless first, through fear and through the remaining intermediary gifts, he frees himself completely from the mist of ignorance and the dust of sin. That is why, in the order established by Scripture, wisdom is placed close to God and fear close to us. In this way we can learn the rule and law of good order.

I was reminded, when I read the above, of a recent two-part sermon series by Shane Hipps at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI. The first one, Touching the Stove, explores precisely that positive aspect of fear in a way I had never before considered it. (The second part, Outside the Boat, is pretty good too.) Fear and any resulting abstention from evil is not wisdom, but it is the first baby step toward wisdom. That’s an important distinction. It strikes me that there are too many today who preach fear and treat fear as though it were the destination rather than that which is sometimes our first immature step toward union with Christ.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 15

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 15

39.  The spirit of the fear of God is abstention from evil deeds. The spirit of strength is an impulse and disposition prompt to fulfill the commandments. The spirit of counsel is the habit of discrimination according to which we fulfill the divine commandments intelligently and distinguish what is good from what is bad. The spirit of cognitive insight is an unerring perception of the ways in which virtue is to be practiced; if we act in accordance with this perception we will not deviate at all from the true judgment of our intelligence. The spirit of spiritual knowledge is a grasping of the commandments and the principles inherent in them, according to which the qualities of the virtues are constituted. The spirit of understanding is acceptance of the qualities and principles of the virtues or, to put it more aptly, it is a transmutation by which one’s natural powers commingle with the qualities and principles of the commandments. The spirit of wisdom is ascension towards the Cause of the higher spiritual principles inherent in the commandments, and union with it. Through this ascension and union we are initiated, in so far as this is possible for human beings, simply and through unknowing into those inner divine principles of created beings, and in different ways we present to men, as if from a spring welling up in our heart, the truth which resides in all things.

I wanted to share this text since it expands on the text I posted last Thursday and I find the progression it describes compelling. Of course, we don’t move smoothly from one spirit to another. Rather, we move forward only to fall back. We get “stuck” for long periods of time. Sometimes, through the grace of God, we leap forward for brief periods only to return to our former position. But always we seek to become so one with God that a life abiding in him truly becomes a spring welling up in our heart.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 14

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 14

38. Scripture says that seven spirits will rest upon the Lord: the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of spiritual knowledge, the spirit of cognitive insight, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of strength, and the spirit of the fear of God (cf. Isa. 11:2). The effects produced by these spiritual gifts are as follows: by fear, abstention from evil; by strength, the practice of goodness; by counsel, discrimination with respect to the demons; by cognitive insight, a clear perception of what one has to do; by spiritual knowledge, the active grasping of the divine principles inherent in the virtues; by understanding, the soul’s total empathy with the things that it has come to know; and by wisdom, an indivisible union with God, whereby the saints attain the actual enjoyment of the things for which they long. He who shares in wisdom becomes god by participation and, immersed in the ever-flowing, secret outpouring of God’s mysteries, he imparts to those who long for it a knowledge of divine blessedness.

The only true wisdom lies in union and communion with God. That strikes me personally as the most important point of all. There is, however, a clear progression toward that true wisdom and the first step is to begin to choose to abstain from evil. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many modern Christian groups get stuck in that first step (perhaps with brief forays into the second — the practice of goodness). To grow in union with God it is important to learn to stop doing evil and start doing good. Moreover, we have to learn to desire what is good over what is evil. But that’s just the starting point, not the destination or goal. It’s important not to lose sight of that point.


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 1

Posted: May 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Faith, of any sort, necessarily colors the way we perceive, interpret, process, and interact with the world around us. While many of my thoughts are still half-formed, I can tell already that there are more threads than can be contained within a single post. As such, I’m declaring this my first series. That didn’t take long, did it? Those who know me already know that I’m not by nature a man of few words when I write.

The title of this series is actually a phrase that popped into my head when it began to be clear that I likely did have celiac disease. On one level it seems straightforward, but I find as I’ve reflected on it, that it is deep and rich in meaning. Let’s begin to unpack the thought.

What is a fast? That question is central to this discussion and will likely be central to many questions I will explore on this blog. On one level it seems like such a straightforward question, but in truth the core meaning of a fast has been virtually lost today in the Western world. Fasting has come to mean almost any form of abstention. Thus people say they are fasting from TV or they are fasting from facebook or they are fasting from their iPod when they actually mean that they are abstaining from those activities for a period of time. There is nothing wrong with abstaining from various things for a time for spiritual reasons. But that is not what it has traditionally meant to fast.

If you truly fast it means that you abstain from some or all food and drink for a period of time. While I expect to primarily speak from and through the lens of Christianity, my spiritual journey has been far too wide-ranging for me not to note that that is what fasting means across a broad spectrum of spiritualities. This definition is not and has never been uniquely Christian, though why we fast will vary greatly from one spiritual perspective to another. I think we have broadened the definition in the Christian and post-Christian West today to cover all forms of abstention because we largely do not fast anymore in any meaningful or communal sense. Even our Lenten preparation, for those traditions who still observe it at all, has become a highly individual activity. We each separately decide what we will “give up” rather than fasting together as a community.

The diagnosis of celiac demands a fast. It is a strict fast. It is a difficult fast. And it is a lifelong fast. If you break the fast, you will damage your body. It is uncompromising. No, I did not choose it and I do not want it. This is not the fast I’ve chosen. But it is the fast I’ve been given.

I could try to act as though this was a merely medical condition. I could try to live as if there were some sort of division or distinction between my physical, my mental, and my spiritual being. Many shaped within the context of the West, including many Christians, would have me draw such a distinction. But I’ve never been able to find that dividing line. The things I do or which happen to my body affect my mind and my spiritual condition. It’s clear to me now that I experienced and endured a period of serious depression because of the chemical changes in my body wrought by a combination of sleep apnea and celiac.

The manner in which we think and the condition of our spirits always affect our bodies, for good or ill. We know that and acknowledge it every time we talk about the physical damage stress causes. And yet we still try to draw lines between the two as though they could be separated.

And while this is not the fast I’ve chosen, I must confess that I might never have chosen a fast at all. But I’ll explore that in my next post.