Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 2

Posted: July 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 2

2.  How can the intellect not marvel when it contemplates that immense and more than astonishing sea of goodness? Or how is it not astounded when it reflects on how and from what source there have come into being both nature endowed with intelligence and intellect, and the four elements which compose physical bodies, although no matter existed before their generation? What kind of potentiality was it which, once actualized, brought these things into being? But all this is not accepted by those who follow the pagan Greek philosophers, ignorant as they are of that all-powerful goodness and its effective wisdom and knowledge, transcending the human intellect.

In this text, St. Maximos notes, as I commented on Tuesday, that the pagan Greek philosophers did not grasp this point about the fundamental nature of reality. I will also note, especially since I have a son now studying physics and we like to discuss it, that all our studies so far point back to a singularity. That is to say that everything points back to an event before which we can say nothing. We label that singularity the Big Bang. I don’t want to oversimplify, but it does look a lot more like the Christian perspective than many of the other ancient perspectives on origins of reality.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 1

Posted: July 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 1

1.  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. But just as ‘His magnificence is without limit’ (Ps. 145:3. LXX), so ‘there is no penetrating His purposes’ (Isa. 40:28).

I want to note something in this text that’s somewhat tangential. I’ve often encountered a modern idea that the ancient “Greek” fathers twisted the Christian tradition they received into something else through the influence of  Greek philosophy. (I’ll note that St. Ephraim, St. Isaac, and many others weren’t actually Greek at all. They are called “Greek” fathers, I believe, because they wrote in Greek.) Yet above we see St. Maximos referring to the ex nihilo act of creation by God. That stands in sharp contrast to pagan Greek philosophy. Yes, they used the terms available to them in the language of their time. We do the same today. The words we have are our available tools. But they used that language to fight against Greek philosophy and Christian heresies in those areas where they did not conform to the faith that had been handed down to them. If you actually read the fathers, you can’t help but see that truth. It permeates their writings.

Reflecting on St. Maximos’ text for today, all I can say is go read Colossians. If your mind doesn’t marvel and your heart (nous) isn’t at least momentarily stilled in wonder, I’m not sure you’ve allowed yourself to truly understand what it says.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 48

Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 48

100. Time has three divisions. Faith is coextensive with all three, hope with one, and love with the remaining two. Moreover, faith and hope will last to a certain point; 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).

No, if you’re wondering, I don’t really understand this text. But I’m taken by the image of love for all eternity, increasing beyond all measure. I’m not sure what ‘united beyond union’ might be, but I sense in that the essence of theosis.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 47

Posted: June 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 47

96.  The things that distress us are not always the same as those that make us angry, the things that distress us being far more numerous than those which make us angry. For example, the fact that something has been broken, or lost, or that a certain person has died, may only distress us. But other things may both distress us and make us angry, if we lack the spirit of divine philosophy.

I think that’s a distinction we sometimes overlook. It’s not uncommon for us, in our distress, to become angry. To reduce it to a prosaic and simple level, it distresses us to lose our keys or break a dish. But those are not naturally matters of anger. We misplace stuff. Things get broken. These are the normal ebb and flow of life. How often, though, do we lose our keys and become angry that we cannot find them? Or we break a dish (much less when someone else breaks a dish) and are filled with fury? How can we combat the passion anger in those places where there is a natural connection between our distress and our anger if we are filled with anger when there is no such natural connection?


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 46

Posted: June 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 46

93.  The angelic powers urge us towards what is holy. Our natural instincts and our probity of intention assist us. But the passions and sinfulness of intention reinforce the provocations of the demons.

It’s a struggle that’s in the air we breathe. We can no more escape this constant push and pull than we can escape ourselves. People didn’t turn to the desert as monastics to escape this struggle. They went to face it full on without the masks usually pulled over it. I think that we tend to misunderstand that aspect of the monastic call. It’s not about escape or hiding. It’s more about turning all of one’s resources toward this struggle on your own behalf and on the behalf of the world. At least that’s how it seems to me, even as I note that I’m thoroughly nothing like a monastic in any sense.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 45

Posted: June 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

92.  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.

As I’ve pointed out before, I believe the word they’ve chosen to translate “intellect” in these texts is nous, which is not an easy word to translate into English. Our nous is often disordered. It’s our receptive and experiential mind and it’s often like a radio receiver, tuning into to anything that’s broadcast. But we do have an ability to tune it and to choose what it receives. That does not imply it’s an easy task, but it is a possible task, which is something else entirely. And the fact that it is possible gives meaning to our struggle.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 44

Posted: May 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 44

91.  You will find it hard to check the resentment of an envious person, for what he envies in you he considers his own misfortune. You cannot check his envy except by hiding from him the thing that arouses his passion. If this thing benefits many but fills him with resentment, which side will you take? You have to help the majority but without, as far as possible, disregarding him, and without being seduced by the cunning of the passion itself, for you are defending not the passion but the sufferer. You must in humility consider him superior to yourself, and always, everywhere and in every matter put his interest above yours. As for your own envy, 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).

Envy is a form of resentment that is particularly insidious. When envy is at work, recovery can be long and difficult as St. Maximos outlines above. I often find it difficult to truly believe some of the people with whom I interact are superior to myself. Even when I’m able to perceive it, which is difficult in and of itself, acting on that perception is never easy.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 43

Posted: May 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 43

90.  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. If somebody regards you with rancor, be pleasant to him, be humble and agreeable in his company, and you will deliver him from his passion.

This prescription for dealing with rancor in yourself or directed at you echoes the New Testament, of course, but the reality remains that as often as we hear, we still don’t do it. It’s hard to pray for those who have wronged us. And it’s hard to be pleasant, humble, and agreeable when resentment is directed at us. And yet that is the way of life. When we act as we are inclined, we destroy ourselves. And in the process, we often harm many around us.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 42

Posted: May 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 42

89.  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 leads to death’ (Prov. 12:28. LXX), because ‘whoever harbors rancor is a transgressor’ (Prov.  21:24. LXX).

I’m reminded of the Didache. “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” Even resenting another is a step on the way that leads to death. It’s also, of course, rather difficult to love someone you resent.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 41

Posted: May 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 41

87.  Humility consists in constant prayer combined with tears and suffering. For this ceaseless calling upon God for help prevents us from foolishly growing confident in our own strength and wisdom, and from putting ourselves above others. These are dangerous diseases of the passion of pride.

We constantly “put ourselves above others.” It hardly even matters what group we are or are not in. In every human social context, we define those who are in our group over and usually against those who are not. And if we are capable within that context, we more easily fall victim to pride. But we also don’t perceive ourselves accurately and can be prideful when an outside observer might believe that pride unwarranted. Humility is a hard thing. We have difficulty humbling ourselves, but it is painful when we are humiliated by external forces. It strikes me as a dangerous thing to pray for humility. God, after all, might answer that prayer and grant our request.