Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 2

Posted: December 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 2

13. Not even the grace of the Holy Spirit can actualize wisdom in the saints unless there is an intellect capable of receiving it; or spiritual knowledge unless there is a faculty of intelligence that can receive it; or faith unless there is in the intellect and the intelligence full assurance about the realities to be disclosed hereafter and until then hidden from everyone; or gifts of healing unless there is natural compassion; or any other gift of grace without the disposition and faculty capable of receiving it. On the other hand, a man cannot acquire a single one of these gifts with his natural faculties unless aided by the divine power that bestows them. All the saints show that God’s grace does not suspend man’s natural powers; for, after receiving revelations of divine realities, they inquired into the spiritual principles contained in what had been revealed to them.

This expands on the theme of synergy. If we do not have the natural capacity or predisposition for a gift, grace cannot impose it on us. I think the example of healing is a good one. If we do not have compassion, if we do not suffer with those who need healing, how can God’s grace give us a gift for healing of any sort? God does not overpower us and turn us into marionettes. He heals, completes, and empowers us to be fully human as we were created to be. God overflows with grace. In one sense, we lead powerless lives because we choose to don spiritual raincoats.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 28

Posted: December 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 28

79. Virtue may be defined as the conscious union of human weakness with divine strength. Thus the person who makes no effort to transcend the weakness of human nature has not yet attained the state of virtue. And that is why he goes astray, because he has not yet received the power which makes what is weak strong. On the other hand, he who willfully relies on his own weakness instead of on divine power, regarding this weakness as strength, has completely overshot the bounds of virtue. And that is why he goes astray, because he is unaware that he has left goodness behind; indeed, he mistakes his error itself for virtue. Thus the person who makes no effort to transcend the limits of his natural weakness is more easily forgiven, because indolence is the main reason for his lapse. But he who relies on his own weakness instead of on divine strength in order to do what is right, is likely to have lapsed because of willfulness.

This text obviously flows from Jesus’ teachings about the reversal of the way we think things ought to be and Paul’s explicit words about being strong in his weakness. It’s easy to grasp how we can be lazy and not seek the strength to transcend our weakness. After all, I’m sure most of us do that every day. The subtler insight of this text is that we can focus and rely on our weakness, perceive it as strength instead, and fail to join that weakness with divine strength. It’s another path pride can take.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 8

Posted: September 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 8

16.  The arrogant intellect is justly made the object of wrath, that is to say, it is abandoned by God, as I have already described, and the demons are permitted to plague it during contemplation. This happens so that it may become aware of its own natural weakness and recognize the grace and divine power which shields it and which accomplishes every blessing; and so that it may also learn humility, utterly discarding its alien and unnatural pride. If this indeed happens, then the other form of wrath – the withdrawal of graces previously given – will not visit it, because it has already been humbled and is now conscious of Him who provides all blessings.

Humility is hard.

Honestly, I don’t know any other way to say it. For even when we begin to be truly humble, we tend to observe our own humility and that very observation, perversely, tends to inspire pride. We divide into categories and tend to place ourselves in the better category. I’ve observed that even when I hear Christians truthfully say that God loves Muslims or God loves homosexuals, the very way it is phrased others those groups. The sense becomes one of God even loves them though the more accurate expression of reality would be to say that God loves them and God even loves us.

Other categories are little better. When we say that we are the saved and they are the lost, that is a statement of pride. I’m reminded again of the aged Romanian monk I heard (on video) say simply, “All will be saved and I alone will be damned.” When uttered honestly and from deep awareness of our own love for God, that strikes me as the truth of humility.

It is so easy to judge others as worse than ourselves. But when we do, we lose our consciousness of God, who provides all blessings.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 6

Posted: September 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 6

12.  Providence has implanted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through this experience that all such blessings are produced through the workings of divine power. This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by nature and not by grace. If we did this we would be using what is good to produce what is evil: the very things which should establish knowledge of God unshaken within us will instead be making us ignorant of Him.

Such arrogance is an easy trap for any of us. We have all seen people fall into it and, I think, if we try to be honest with ourselves, I think most of us have at least begun to fall into it at one point or another. Paul writes about this, of course, as the sort of knowledge which puffs up. All our virtue and knowledge and true power lies in Christ and our communion with him.

Paul describes Adam as the man of dust. He also calls Christ the image of the invisible God. We are created according to the likeness of the one true image or eikon, but that is not our nature. Our nature outside Christ is dust. In the Incarnation and Resurrection, Christ has made himself the source of the nature of humanity. It’s a wondrous teaching, but sometimes it can be easy to forget that it all flows from him. Without him, we have no life.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 14

Posted: July 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 14

39.  The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a man, having achieved some things and eager to achieve others through this divine power, never belittles anyone. For he knows that just as God has helped him and freed him from many passions and difficulties, so, when God wishes, He is able to help all men, especially those pursuing the spiritual way for His sake. And if in His providence He does not deliver all men together from their passions, yet like a good and loving physician He heals with individual treatment each of those who are trying to make progress.

God’s ongoing purpose is not forgiveness. He has never had a problem forgiving anyone and in Jesus there is the fullness of “the forgiveness of sins.” No, God’s purpose has always been to heal us so we are able to live in communion with him and with each other. And that is a much greater and much richer purpose. We are all damaged creatures. We all need to be healed. But as with the doctors with whom we have forgiveness, if we do not take the medicine or if we do not do the exercises, we will not experience healing. The eucharist has been called the medicine of immortality. I believe there is much truth in that imagery. Similarly, the ascetic disciplines are exercises prescribed to strengthen us. It’s not enough to be forgiven. We need to become truly human.


On the Incarnation of the Word 43 – Not to Impress, But to Heal

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 43 – Not to Impress, But to Heal

Athanasius is circling his target and moving closer in his treatise. He is responding to those who might criticize the Incarnation as something humble rather than an impressive display of divine power and might.

Now, if they ask, Why then did He not appear by means of other and nobler parts of creation, and use some nobler instrument, as the sun, or moon, or stars, or fire, or air, instead of man merely? let them know that the Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering. For the way for one aiming at display would be, just to appear, and to dazzle the beholders; but for one seeking to heal and teach the way is, not simply to sojourn here, but to give himself to the aid of those in want, and to appear as they who need him can bear it; that he may not, by exceeding the requirements of the sufferers, trouble the very persons that need him, rendering God’s appearance useless to them.

The Son did not come to impress us with his glory. He became one of us so that he might heal us, and in healing us, truly save us. I would say that if you do not understand that about Jesus, then you don’t understand him at all.

Athanasius goes on to point out that the rest of creation had never of its own volition turned from its created purpose. Man had. We were the ones in need of rescue.