Four Hundred Texts on Love 2

Posted: April 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2.  Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God; these in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.

This text by St. Maximos revolves another idea we are prone to misunderstand. When we think of someone who is dispassionate, we tend to think of someone who is emotionless — either because they suppress or repress their emotions or because they have none. We most often associate dispassion, then, with the absence of emotion.

But that’s not what it generally means in ancient Christian writings. Since it is used pretty frequently, it’s an important concept to understand. The best explanation I’ve encountered is this one. Dispassion describes a state where, when you experience an emotion, you do not act on that emotion without a conscious act of volition or will. In other words, it describes a state where, rather than being ruled by our passions as we so often are, we rule them instead.

Dispassion does not mean that we do not experience emotion. It does not mean that we do express emotion. It does not mean that we do not act from that emotion. But it does mean that we do not think or act in response to that emotion without a conscious and deliberate choice.

Few of us ever attain this sort of dispassion even fleetingly. But I think it has to describe how Jesus lived his whole life. How else could he have kept his human will faithfully aligned with God’s if his every response was not under his conscious, volitional control? After all, he experienced the full range of human emotion and he often did so under more intense conditions than many of us will ever know. Yet even in the middle of his torture and execution, as he was reviled by all around him, he did not revile them in turn. Clearly, Jesus was a man who never “lost control” of himself.

I think we often interpret Jesus as though his thoughts and actions springing from his emotional responses mirrored our own. For instance, we often describe his actions overturning tables and driving out moneychangers from the temple as though Jesus became enraged and responded from that anger. But that’s not how it is described in the Gospels. Rather, it is portrayed as a prophetic act. Prophets didn’t just speak. They often acted in outrageous ways. And it was a Messianic act of cleansing and “rebuilding” the temple. And the leaders and the people understood it in that way. Efforts to eliminate him intensified.

No, Jesus didn’t fly off the handle and lose control in the temple. He acted faithfully in perfect accordance with God’s will. Was he also angry? Perhaps. It would have been a normal emotional response in those circumstances. But it was not anger that was driving him, whether he experienced it or not.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one place where our Scriptures explicitly tell us Jesus was angry, and that was standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb. In Jesus we see the sorrow and anger of God at the death of the eikon. We know that Jesus experienced all that we experience, so we know that he felt all our normal range of emotions. But we are infrequently informed in our Scriptures about Jesus’ internal emotional state or experience at any particular moment. And while I see no harm in our attempts to see things from his perspective, we need to always keep in mind that even in his extremity his emotions never ruled him.

I also find the order of St. Maximos’ last thought interesting. Fear of God flows from faith in God and not the other way around. It strikes me that a lot of people today tend to get that one backwards.


One Comment on “Four Hundred Texts on Love 2”

  1. 1 Scott Morizot said at 10:34 am on April 8th, 2010:

    New at Faith & Food: Four Hundred Texts on Love 2 https://faithandfood.morizot.net/2010/04/08/four-hundred-texts-on-love-2/