31. According to the wise, we cannot use our intelligence to think about God at the same time as we experience Him, or have an intellection of Him while we are perceiving Him directly. By ‘think about God’ I mean speculate about Him on the basis of an analogy between Him and created beings. By ‘perceiving Him directly’ I mean experiencing divine or supernatural realities through participation. By ‘an intellection of Him’ I mean the simple and unitary knowledge of God which is derived from created beings. What we have said is confirmed by the fact that, in general, our experience of a thing puts a stop to our thinking about it, and our direct perception of it supersedes our intellection of it. By ‘experience’ I mean spiritual knowledge actualized on a level that transcends all thought; and by ‘direct perception’ I mean a supra-intellective participation in what is known. Perhaps this is what St Paul mystically teaches when he says, ‘As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for speaking in tongues, this will cease; as for knowledge, it too will vanish’ (1 Cor. 13:8); for he is clearly referring here to the knowledge gained by the intelligence through thought and intellection.
I think St. Maximos has a warning for many of us in this text. It’s not that it’s wrong to think about God. St. Maximos himself is doing so. Nevertheless, when we think about or consider anything, we of necessity hold it apart from us for examination. Our ultimate goal and purpose is not to think rightly about God, but to know him through experience. Now, if we think wrongly about God, if we hold an image of God in our minds that is unlike God, that will also interfere with our ability to truly know God. So somehow we have to manage both until we reach the point when we know God so well, we no longer need to think about him.