Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love 8

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

30. You should know that you have been greatly benefited when you have suffered deeply because of some insult or indignity; for by means of the indignity self-esteem has been driven out of you.

Here we find another distinction in patristic thought that tends to run at a tangent to modern thought. It is true that there is a strong theme that, as icons of God, we should respect our nature. That is, we should have self-respect. The most important theme, though, is that we should try to see ourselves as we really are. And that is hard to do. On the one hand we want to think better of ourselves and thus construct that sort of false image. But the fathers also speak about the dangers of proclaiming how wicked we are, for that also is perversely a path of self-pride, especially when we exaggerate our wickedness.

Within that context, the fathers do not tend to value “self-esteem”. We tend to speak of a high self-esteem as good and a low self-esteem as bad. They would tend to say that there is a problem with esteeming ourselves at all, whether that esteem is high or low. We should esteem God and others highly. And we should strive to see ourselves truthfully.

Truth is hard. We hide ourselves from it because too much at once will crush us. We deceive ourselves as a defense. It is not true, as we often say, that truth — as in true knowledge — will set us free. More often than not, it destroys us. Truth is a harsh taskmistress. We attribute that saying about truth to Jesus, but that’s not actually what he said. Here is John 8:31-32.

If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

If we live according to the way of life, then we are truly following Jesus. And as we do so, we will come to know the truth and that truth is who will make us free. As Jesus says a few verses later:

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

Remember, one of the ways Jesus describes himself in John’s Gospel is as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As you can see from the full context, when he talks about knowing the truth, he is talking about knowing and relating to him. Yes, as we do so we will come to see the reality about ourselves more clearly, but through our communion with Jesus we will be able to bear it. The knowledge will heal rather than crush us.

He is a good God who loves mankind, and his purpose is to heal and commune with us, not condemn us. I think we too often forget that particular truth and it’s the most important one of all.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

29. When you are insulted by someone or humiliated, guard against angry thoughts, lest they arouse a feeling of irritation, and so cut you off from love and place you in the realm of hatred.

I have discovered that a dangerous moment for me arises when my ideas or thoughts are attacked or put down. And I am right. And I can prove it.

As we have discussed, a passion in the patristic sense does not necessarily appear explosive, overt, or even wrong — at least at first. Rather, it is the process of taking a step down a path in response to external stimuli without the conscious intervention of our will. What often happens when that begins, at least in my experience, is that our wills can become ruled by the passion rather than the other way around.

People have often called me strong-willed, though not infrequently in less flattering terms. And, in truth, a strong will is rarely a good thing when it is ruled, marshaled, and focused by a passion rather than the other way around. Too often in my life, my irritation at the words or actions of another has been a passion which has merged my intellect and expressive talent with my will for the purpose of destroying another.

Oh, I don’t believe that’s my intent at the time. I’m just defending myself or my ideas. Certainly I don’t hate the other person or want to hurt them! But that’s a lie. And it’s even worse when I am demonstrably right and others around me see and acknowledge that I am right. For now I am justified in my passion! And that makes it even harder to break free.

I became truly and consciously aware of how dangerous and insidious this passion is, at least for me, many years ago at work. I don’t remember exactly how or why it started, but another person on our team either didn’t understand my ideas or strongly held a different idea about the direction we should take. I’m not even sure which one it was or what triggered my passion. It had to be something small at first.

However it began, I look back and see how I began to dismantle his proposals or ideas in our meetings. Oh, I was always careful to focus my discussion on the idea and never the person the way you are supposed to act in business settings. (I would note that our ideas our perhaps more closely entangled with ourselves than we might think.) And I was never directly insulting or otherwise inappropriate. Moreover, my ideas about the direction our project needed to take were actually the right ideas (and that has since been proven over time) and most of the people on the team agreed with me. That created a lot of positive reinforcement, which is not a good thing when it is feeding a passion.

Finally, some weeks or months later, I remember sitting in a meeting having a discussion on something. I was dissecting something that particular coworker had proposed. I had others joining in with me as I often did. Suddenly, as we were laughing at something somebody had said (I don’t even remember if it was something I said or not), I looked over at my coworker and had one of those thoughts that stops you cold. It felt like somebody had thrown a bucket of cold water in my face.

There’s more than one way to be a bully.

Yes, I know that as adults, especially in professional settings, that’s not a word we typically use. But I endured quite a bit growing up and that’s certainly one area where I suffered. There are many reasons that was the case. I went to a lot of different schools growing up, so I was often the “new” guy trying to find a place. I didn’t fit into easy categories. There was the part of me who was the intelligent, shy bookworm. There was another part that was the highly creative actor, writer, and performer. There was another part that loved sports, riding bikes, and exploring the world around me. So I rarely had a “group” and even the friends I thought I had sometimes flipped against me. So the thought that I might have become a “bully” myself was devastating for me.

I went back to my desk, stepped back, and looked at what I had done. Nobody on our team respected our coworker. He had become an object of ridicule and scorn. However, it didn’t end there; such things rarely do. The whole team was a mess. The dynamic between my coworker and me had become one of the dominant dynamics of the entire team.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I crafted and sent an apology to my coworker and the entire team that simply outlined the things I had done wrong. I did not justify them, though I certainly had justifications, as that would have accomplished nothing. And then I said I wasn’t going to act in those ways anymore. An apology didn’t magically fix the problem, but it at least allowed a healing process to begin, especially when I quit feeding the negative feedback loop that had engulfed us.

I’ve noticed that Christians often tend to think of being ruled by passions in terms of the dramatic passions like lust, addictions, and rage. And those are indeed extremely destructive to you and to everyone around you. But the fact that many of us can avoid or break free of such passions does not mean we are truly free. The less overt passions are all the more insidious because they are difficult for us to see. And yet anytime we are ruled by a passion, anytime a passion is able to bypass or control our will, we will think and act in destructive ways.

I think when we begin to recognize the reality of our situation, we truly begin to see how much we need grace, which is to say that we need God.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 6

Posted: April 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 6

23.  He who loves God will certainly love his neighbor as well. Such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way befitting God, being generous to everyone in need.

24.  He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

Our love and our lack of love is very often demonstrated by what we choose to do with our money. Did not Jesus strongly warn us of precisely that reality? And not only should we give, but when providing for the bodily needs of another human being, we ought not discriminate between those we believe deserve our help and those who do not. I’m reminded by these texts that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike. He gives good gifts to us all. He is a good God who loves mankind.

Once again, I’m not particularly good at this. I don’t think it’s greed, since I’ve had both nothing and plenty over the years and I still have no particular desire for money. It’s more comfortable to have enough than not to have enough. That’s true. But I don’t care that much about money itself. I think it’s often fear that drives me away from love. I’m afraid I won’t have enough. I’m afraid the money will be “wasted”. I’m not sure; perhaps it’s fear of many things.

Once again, we Christians are not particularly known in this country for our outrageous generosity. Many people in our country know we are supposed to love and we are supposed to be generous. Too many of the charges against us are true.

Lord have mercy.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 5

Posted: April 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 5

15. If we detect any trace of hatred in our hearts against any man whatsoever for committing any fault, we are utterly estranged from love for God, since love for God absolutely precludes us from hating any man.

16. He who loves Me, says the Lord, will keep My commandments (cf. John 14:15, 23); and ‘this is My commandment, that you love one another’ (John 15:12). Thus he who does not love his neighbor fails to keep the commandment, and so cannot love the Lord.

I wanted to take these two texts together. Christians who acted out of love toward me in ways that did not fit with what I thought about Christianity opened that door in my life which I had thought was closed and sealed. If they acted that way because of Jesus of Nazareth, I needed to know more about him. And the standard of love he lived and demands from those of us who follow him is … daunting. I suppose I can understand why so many people seem to want to discount, limit, or disregard that command.

The above texts come straight from Scripture, of course, and are found in many places. Some are referenced above. But 1 John should give every Christian pause.

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. (1 John 2:9)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:14-15)

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?  And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21)

I know I don’t love others very well. But I don’t pretend that I can love God any better or more fully than I’m able to love my enemy.

I have never heard Christians in the US today (including me) criticized because we have loved too much or too outrageously. Until we can recover something of the love of our Lord, I’m not sure that we have much of anything worth saying at all.

Love is hard. It does not mean that you simply give people what they think they want. They may be ruled by a passion that is destroying them and those around them. As Dallas Willard puts it, love means actively willing the good of the other. No matter what they do or say to you. And that often seems impossible. Much of the time I’m not sure what is truly “good” for me, much less able to discern the good for another. And even when the need is obvious, I often don’t desire that person’s good.

But we either learn to love or whatever else we might be, I don’t see how we can possibly call ourselves Christian. Yes the Lord is merciful and loving, but this isn’t about his judgment or love. This is about the sort of human being we choose to be. Do we choose to love God or not? Not according to our criteria, but according to his? Not according to our fantasy, but in reality? He won’t force us to love him. He never has.

I pray “Lord have mercy” because I’m increasingly aware just how much in need of mercy I stand.


One Year Gluten Free

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on One Year Gluten Free

It’s been roughly a year now since I was diagnosed with celiac disease and began a gluten free diet. It was quite a shift at first, but it’s almost become second nature now. I read the ingredients on everything I pick up and am still sometimes surprised. Just the other day my wife was making a Thai sauce when she noticed that the container of peanuts said it could contain wheat. (She noticed before she added them.) Who expects to find wheat in peanuts? Such is life these days.

We don’t go out to eat that often anymore, and when friends or family want to meet at a restaurant, I tend to skip the food and stick to coffee if it’s not a place I already know. It’s surprising how often food is involved when people gather for any reason, business or social. Whole foods are the safest at such gatherings. I always look for the raw vegetables, though I skip the dipping sauces that typically come with them.

It’s not been as difficult for me in many ways because I’ve always liked vegetables of different sorts, even as a kid. And many of my favorite dishes were already rice, bean, or lentil based and required little, if any, adjustment. The transition has also been easier since both my wife and I can really cook. I’ve always been grateful to my Dad for teaching me how to cook, but never more so than this past year. And my wife has been amazing. She was a little overwhelmed at first, but adapted quickly and has since become quite an accomplished gluten free chef. I know that a lot of people in our modern world never truly learn how to cook for a wide variety of reasons. But if your lifestyle and eating habits revolve around dining out and eating packaged, processed food, I’m not sure how you could make this particular transition. At the very least, it would have to be a lot more challenging than it has been for us.

Business travel remains a challenge. Fortunately, I don’t have to travel very often and I typically have plenty of advance warning when I do, so I can do research and plan how I am going to eat. It’s almost like putting together a battle supply plan in unfriendly territory. I know the stores, restaurants, and other resources in the Austin area pretty well. It’s much more of a challenge in an unfamiliar place. Moreover, the worst time to make yourself sick would be when you are traveling, so I tend to be especially conservative about what I eat when I’m on the road.

My family has also pretty thoroughly adjusted. Even though I’m the only one who has to eat gluten free, we don’t make separate meals for me. So much of what we eat at meals does not contain gluten. On my last business trip, my wife asked the kids if there was anything they had missed and would like for meals while I was gone. They couldn’t think of anything.

I feel better than I’ve felt in years, even if I’m still a long way from healed and healthy at this point. I’m not thrilled at all the doctors I’ve acquired over the past few years. I was used to having only one whom I saw infrequently. That’s not only no longer the case, it’s unlikely to ever be the case again. I’ve landed in a new phase of life.

Now that I’ve made the transition to life as a celiac and am feeling better, it’s time to start trying to get back into some kind of shape. I’ll make that my goal for this next year.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 4

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 4

13. The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself, even though he is grieved by the passions of those who are not yet purified. But when they amend their lives, his delight is indescribable and knows no bounds.

Jesus did not modify the Sh’ma Yisrael simply by adding an extra little bit. No, when he altered the Sh’ma to incorporate love of neighbor, he was saying that you cannot love God without loving your fellow human beings. Traditionally, that has been the Christian understanding and we see it expressed again here.

I have a simple question. Are Christians in the United States today known for their outrageous love for other human beings? If we are not (and surveys certainly indicate that we are not so known), then how can we claim to love God?

In the context of patristic writings, a passion is not a strong emotion or love for some activity, the way we use the English word today. Rather a passion exists when we become so conditioned that when something happens or we encounter some trigger, it translates into a mental attitude and often action without a deliberate act of will on our part. That is what it means to be ruled by a passion or to be in bondage to a passion.

I used to be a pretty heavy smoker and that offers a good example. It was not uncommon at one point in my life to find myself smoking a cigarette with no conscious memory of lighting it. Or to turn to an ashtray to flick the ashes only to find I had another lit cigarette sitting in the ashtray. As part of the process of moving from a smoker to a nonsmoker, I began to establish boundaries for my smoking. When I had to get up and go to a specific place in order to smoke, I at least had to consciously invoke my will. I had to become aware of my desired and decide to act on it.

A passion could be many things. Perhaps there are some circumstances or events that, when you encounter them, trigger rage in you. Sometimes you can contain it. Other times it explodes from you in word or deed in ways you would never have intentionally acted. Your rage has become a passion that rules you.

I’ve heard people invoke silly examples as well to illustrate the point. For instance, an animal can be conditioned so that a trigger will cause them to automatically take a specific action. So if you were conditioned so that every time a light on your desk flashed you would eat a peanut without even being aware of your action until, perhaps you were swallowing the peanut, then that would be a passion.

A passion is basically anything that bypasses your will. Our human state in a broken and disordered creation is such that we are naturally ruled by our passions. I’ve discussed in many places what it means for us to be in bondage to death. Being ruled by our passions offers the best insight, I think, into what it means to be in bondage to sin.

Once you understand that, I think it’s easy to see what St. Maximos is saying. If we love our fellow human beings, we will not condemn them when they are ruled by passions. We will grieve for them and try to help them break free even as we strive to protect those who might be harmed. Christ has, after all, broken those chains for us all. In and through him, we can find freedom. And when people do break free from a passion, we’ll throw a party! I’m not sure we throw enough outrageous parties today.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 3

Posted: April 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 3

12. When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in all sincerity it repeats the prophet’s words: ‘How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6:5)

The construction of this text is complicated, but I felt it worth selecting and discussing. I have come to understand that a lot of modern Christians hold to a belief that faith or “salvation” (whatever they might mean by that word) begins when a person recognizes their lowliness or wretchedness before God. As a result, they tend to orient the things they say to people about themselves and about God in a way designed to instill guilt and possibly fear of retribution. In other words, their proclamation of the good and victorious king (which is what an euvangelion was) begins by trying to make their target feel bad about themselves and afraid of God.

Read almost any modern “Gospel” tract. Some take a hard line approach while others soft sell it, but that is almost always the entry point. It’s also what people hear almost every time they encounter Christianity in the US today. In the past, I think the majority of our culture was perhaps preconditioned to respond in some sense to that message. And it appears to me that a steadily shrinking minority may still be. But that was not the case in the ancient world and it is increasingly not the case in the modern world. Moreover, I think that even in the contexts in which it has worked or even still “works” this approach produces a distorted understanding of God.

It is, rather, only as we are ravished by God’s love, as we turn to him and begin to know him, that we begin to see ourselves as we truly are. This is the normal order in the progression of Christian faith. I know it has been so far for me.


God Is Holy

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on God Is Holy

I was reading something this past week when I had a sudden epiphany. For the first time, I had a sense that I grasped something of what people tend to mean when they use that tricksy word, holy. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the word itself means something set apart particularly for religious purposes, something or someone who is other. And in that sense, God is wholly other from us.

The proper dividing line from a Christian perspective is not between the natural and the supernatural or between the religious and secular. No, the proper division is between the uncreated and the created. On the one side we have God and on the other, we have everything else. Thus God is the thrice Holy, the one who is completely other in essence from all creation. We use the word holy in this context as the linguistic marker for that which beyond our ken. It’s a tautology. We could as readily say that God is God.

That’s part of the beauty and wonder of the Incarnation. The uncreated, the holy (and wholly) other, entered into creation and joined his nature, being, and essence forever with the created. We had no way to truly know God if God had not only come to us, but become one of us. God with us is a name of beautiful mystery.

I realized this week that people were using holy as though they knew what it meant, as though it had a specific set of definable attributes. Thus when they said that God is holy, they had in mind a specific list of attributes and behaviors. God is like this and God acts this way because he is holy. Through the use of the word holy, a word intended to elucidate God’s transcendence, they were actually constraining God. That strikes me as a risky proposition.

Of course, holy in this context is not generally used by itself. And I think the way it is typically paired is illuminating. That was the central aspect of my little epiphany. God is holy and just. Have you perhaps heard that particular phrase before? It implies several things. First, God’s holiness, his apartness, correlates in some sense to some idea of justice. Moreover, I have the sense that people who use that phrase believe they know what it means to be just. I have the feeling that they equate justness with the application of reward and punishment according to some sort of set standard. Those who have wronged others will get their just desserts. (I also have a feeling that few people wish to have that same standard applied to them.)

Within the systems and structures of our world, that’s not even a bad formulation of what it means to be just. After all, we see the injustice that results from tyrants and within the setting of failed states. And we see how structures of order can reduce suffering — particularly among those whom they are designed to favor. However, in fairness, those structures tend to improve life for all.  Even those who tend to get the short end of the justice stick from the systems in the US generally suffer less than those at the mercy of the warlords in a failed state. But even in an unjust, but strong dictatorship, like the former one of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, most people tend to live relatively safe and undisturbed lives.

Certainly our God is a just God. I would not argue with that statement. I do, however, take issue with the idea that God’s justness conforms to our ideas about justness. I love Jonah. And this is one of the reasons why I do. Jonah ran from God and was angry at God not because he didn’t know God, but because he did. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and it was a long-standing and brutal empire. The Assyrians understood how empires had to work in order to endure. They were feared and hated and with reason. And Jonah wanted God to make them pay. Jonah wanted justice and his definition of it was pretty much like ours.

So why did he run? Why, when he could not escape, did he put minimal effort in his prophecy? “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned.” That was it. And why, when the city — every man, woman, child, and even animal — repented, was Jonah pissed off at God? Was it because Jonah didn’t understand God? No. Jonah knew God. He knew God to be compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and abundant in mercy, and willing to change your heart concerning evils. God did exactly what Jonah expected him to do and Jonah just wanted to die.

God is a just God, certainly. But when we say that, we have to recognize that we don’t truly know what it means to be just. If we want to understand true justness, we have to look to Jesus. And if the gospels don’t stand everything you thought you knew about reality on its head, then I would suggest you might not have truly read them.

I will also note, for what it’s worth, that the phrase “holy and just” does not appear at all in many English translations of the Holy Scriptures. In the KJV and NKJV translations it does appear once in Romans 7 as a partial description of Torah. Nowhere that I know does that particular combination of words describe God.

As Christians, our Scriptures do tell us what forms the essence of the otherness of God. 1 John 4:8 says, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Of course, we don’t understand the reality of love any more than we grasp true justice. But we have the fullness of the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. And as we grow in our knowledge of Jesus, we perhaps begin to know love.

I’m not sure exactly how it is that so many people envision God. But it is clear to me that they have constructed a framework and placed God within it. I think their holy and just God might be more similar to the Stoic God of perfect order than anything we find in Christ.

I’m also not sure what form God’s justice will take as he ultimately sets all things ‘to rights’ as the English would say. I’m prepared to simultaneously be shocked and surprised even as I say, “Of course. that’s how it had to be.” If I understand anything of Jesus, though, I am certain that justice will flow from the love which is his essence and I know it will be full of compassion and mercy. Until then, I will use the thrice Holy to describe God, but only in the sense that God is the only Uncreated, not as though I have actually described anything of the nature and attributes of God.


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.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 1

Posted: April 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 1

The first work in the philokalia by St. Maximos the Confessor is his Four Hundred Texts on Love, probably written fairly early in his life. In this series, I plan to reflect on some of those texts. I don’t really have a specific set in mind, though I don’t plan to comment on every single text. Mostly I plan to let the series develop as it seems like it should. So without further ado, let’s dive in.

1.  Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things. We cannot
attain lasting possession of such love while we are still attached to anything worldly.

The concept of knowledge of God comes up frequently in ancient writings in various forms. When we think of knowledge, we tend to think first of a collection of facts about a topic. As such, we are apt to misinterpret such texts when we first read them. However, that is not the only way we use knowledge. For instance, when I say that I know my wife, I’m saying a lot more than that I know her name, birth date, social security number, eye color, hair color, or any of a long list of facts about her. Rather, I am saying that I have experienced life alongside her. We have shared the good and the bad. We have laughed together and we have experienced pain together. It is more that sort of knowledge writers like St. Maximos have in mind.

Once you understand that, then the above makes much more sense. If we are attached to created things, if we highly value anything but God, then we will experience difficulty opening ourselves to God. As Jesus said, we cannot have two masters, for we will love one and hate the other. We cannot love both God and Mammon. St. Maximos also equates in some sense, love to knowing God. And again, this makes sense. If God is love, then as we grow in communion with him — that is as we grow in knowledge of him — we must necessarily grow in love.