Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 13

Posted: February 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 13

26. All beings endowed with intelligence and intellect are either angelic or human. All angelic beings may be subdivided further into two general moral categories or classes, the holy and the accursed — that is, the holy powers and the impure demons. All human beings may also be divided into two moral categories only, the godly and the ungodly.

I want to take it slowly through these texts in particular, but this one is fairly straightforward. We know of only two categories of beings endowed with the sort of intelligence and intellect St. Maximos is describing, angels and humans. And angels and human beings both ultimately fall into two categories based on the manner in which they employ their intellect. It’s important to keep that in mind for his subsequent texts.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 23

Posted: March 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 23

54. All, whether angels or men, who in everything have maintained a natural justice in their disposition, and have made themselves actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well-being, will participate totally in the divine life that irradiates them; for they have submitted their will to God’s will. Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being, will lapse completely from divine life, in accordance with their dedication to what lacks being; for they have opposed their will to God’s will. It is this that separates them from God, for the principle of well-being, vivified by good actions and illumined by divine life, is not operative in their will.

Do we set our will against God? Or do we choose to align it with him? Ultimately, that’s the question. Do we or do we not love God?

From what little we know of angels, it does seem that the nature of their alignment as spiritual beings is different from ours as embodied beings. It seems as though once they choose to align their will either with or against God, that decision immediately permeates their whole being. And it’s unclear whether, having once chosen, they are able to choose differently.

It’s different with us. When we align our will, it takes a great deal of time to permeate our body. And we can shift our will toward God and away from God again and again. The saints sometimes lived to see their will and love toward God permeate their bodies. It’s my sense that many of us don’t reach that point, though it’s what we should strive to do.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 22

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

53. By a single infinitely powerful act of will God in His goodness will gather all together, angels and men, the good and the evil. But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in Him equally: they will participate in Him according to what they are.

In this text, St. Maximos begins to draw the threads of his answer to the proceedings questions together. Yes, God draws all creation to himself. God fills all things. But angels and men participate in God according to what we are.

If that thought does not give you pause, I don’t know what will. It’s hard for us to be honest with ourselves, but I have some inkling of the sort of person I am. Do I love God? I don’t know that I would be so bold. Most of the time, I believe I want to love God. I’ve reached a point in my life where I am confident he loves me, for I know there is no-one he does not love.

But do I love God?

Can I even answer that question honestly and without delusion?

I see how little I love my enemies and I realize, if that is indeed a measure, then I don’t love God very much at all. To what extent can a man who does not love his enemies participate in a God who loved and forgave the men who mocked, tortured, and unjustly killed him?

I think so many of us today are reluctant to ask for mercy because we cannot see ourselves as we truly are.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Angels Among Us

Posted: February 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Do you believe in angels?

My wife’s question elicited an instant ‘yes‘ from me, but I also realized that in our modern world, we very rarely speak of angels. Oh, we’ll speak of their appearance in Scripture — in the past. We’ll sometimes have intellectual discussions about their nature and function. But even among the Christians I know, angels are rarely discussed as part of our present reality. I’m not sure why that’s so.

Angels, of course, are spiritual created beings while we are embodied created beings. As far as I can tell, that’s the core distinction between us. While angels are also free, as spiritual beings that freedom seems to have manifested differently for them than for us. It seems to have been more of a one time choice for or against God.

Angel is derived from the ancient Greek word, angelos, which means messenger. Throughout Christian history, God has sometimes sent a reposed saint as a messenger, but we do not become the spiritual beings known as angels nor do they become human beings. There seems to be some confusion today on that point.

My wife was quick to point out, though, that angels can manifest tangibly in the physical realm. And that’s quite true. Our guardian angels would not be very effective if that were not the case. My wife mentioned the stories of people who had been helped by a stranger only to have that person vanish in an instant.

“Of course,” I replied, “that happened to us all the time when I was growing up. My mother often needed all the help she could get.” I hadn’t really thought about it in years, but there’s a lot of truth in my quip. I had one of those interesting childhoods and my mother did have many struggles to overcome. We often ended up in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations. My mother often jokes that she’s worn out her guardian angel. While it’s a joke, there is an element of truth in her statement. We frequently received help unexpectedly. And I have no doubt that some who helped us were indeed angels. They appeared from nowhere and vanished just as quickly and totally. And I’m sure that some of the invisible help we received also came from angels.

Perhaps that’s one of the many reasons why, out of all that I’ve been and believed and practiced over the course of my life, I’ve never been tempted by any form of materialism. I’ve encountered and experienced the spiritual too much to pretend it does not exist. I’ve also never believed the spiritual realm was far removed from us as even many Christians today seem to believe. I’ve always known it was all around me, hardly a breath away. In some ways, I suppose much of my life has been a thin place.

My wife also asked if angels comfort us when we are in pain. I had to confess I simply don’t know. That they love us I have no doubt. After all, they are filled with the very love of God. But comfort requires a level of empathy I’m not sure they share. Christ does, since he became fully one of us in every way. Jesus of Nazareth overflows with comfort and peace for us. I’m not sure if angels can understand and empathize enough with us to truly offer comfort, though. Love, however, is always a comfort of sorts, even if the one loving doesn’t really understand your pain. And I’m certain they love us.

If anyone reading has any thoughts on angels, I invite you to share them in the comments.

Of Love And Evil

Posted: February 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments »

Anne Rice’s latest novel, Of Love And Evil, continues the story of Toby O’Dare, the unlikely hero of Angel Time. I enjoyed Angel Time, but I was captivated by Of Love And Evil. I read it last week between Austin and Dallas on the first leg of my trip to DC. Toby comes alive in this novel and so do all those around him. Even the angels are simultaneously wholly other and entirely engaging.

It’s not a long book and I don’t wish to reveal the plot. Instead, I want to focus on a single event in the book. In his mission this time, Toby encounters a demon who tries to tempt him at a moment when he is grief-stricken and vulnerable. Toby mistakes the demon for an angel at first, which I found fitting. In the tradition of the Church, demons often masquerade as angels to gain a hearing.

The particular shape the temptation took was especially compelling to me for it drove right to the core of things I have believed and which Toby himself has considered in his past. The demon invoked the idea of an immortal soul that transmigrates from one physical body to another attempting to develop and mature.  The demon circled through that frame of reference attempting to get Toby to reject the existence of a personal Maker. The transcendent permeates everything but is not God in the intimately personal Christian sense. Toby acknowledges that system has a coherence and a sort of beauty, but that he had already rejected it. The reason for his rejection flowed on the page in words that could have been uttered by my heart.

I know because deep in my soul, I know there is a God. There is someone I love whom I call God. That someone has emotions. That someone is Love. And I sense the presence of this God in the very fabric of the world in which I live. I know with a deep conviction that this God exists. That He would send angels to His children has an elegance to it that I can’t deny. I’ve studied your ideas, your system, as it were, and I find it barren and finally unconvincing, and cold. Finally it’s dreadfully cold. It’s without the personality of God and it’s cold.

Later, on the demon’s charge that there is no justice, only pain and grief and meaningless attachment, Toby’s prayer again echoes my own.

There is mercy. … And there is justice, and there is One who witnesses everything. And above all, there is love.

And finally, Toby understands he is in the school of love.

I saw a vision of love; I saw that it was no one thing, but a great commingling of things both light and dark and fierce and tender, and my heart broke as the questions broke from my lips.

Christian faith is the poetry of love or it’s worth nothing.

Reflections on Resurrection 6 – Angels?

Posted: November 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 6 – Angels?

I have to confess I feel almost embarrassed to write this post. Yet I have listened and read and it seems to me there is some real confusion among at least some people on this point, so I will say it as simply as I can.

We do not become angels after we die.

Or demons. Or spirit guides. Or any other sort of spiritual or disembodied power.

We don’t know a lot about angels and the other spiritual powers and beings who are part of the fabric of creation. We do know that angels are created beings of spirit. We know they also have free will, though a will unmediated by a material body seems to manifest in different ways. It seems they are either wholly serving God or wholly opposed to him with little of the gray areas and gradual change with which we live. But we mostly know they are different creatures from us.

They are spirit. We are embodied. That is a fundamental and eternal difference. Angels don’t become human beings and human beings don’t become angels. We have bodies and there is really no concept of immaterial existence for human beings within Christianity. Our narrative is one of resurrection.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 12

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 12

32. There are three things that impel us towards what is holy: natural instincts, angelic powers and probity of intention. Natural instincts impel us when, for example, we do to others what we would wish them to do to us (cf. Luke 6:31), or when we see someone suffering deprivation or in need and naturally feel compassion. Angelic powers impel us when, being ourselves impelled to something worthwhile, we find we are providentially helped and guided. We are impelled by probity of intention when, discriminating between good and evil, we choose the good.

33. There are also three things that impel us towards evil: passions, demons and sinfulness of intention. Passions impel us when, for example, we desire something beyond what is reasonable, such as food which is unnecessary or untimely, or a woman who is not our wife or for a purpose other than procreation, or else when we are excessively angered or irritated by, for instance, someone who has dishonored or injured us. Demons impel us when, for example, they catch us off our guard and suddenly launch a violent attack upon us, stirring up the passions already mentioned and others of a similar nature. We are impelled by sinfulness of intention when, knowing the good, we choose evil instead.

I wanted to highlight the above two texts together. The number three had a sacred meaning in ancient Judaism and, considered in light of the three Persons of the Trinity, took on even greater significance in Christianity. In these texts, St. Maximos draws parallels between the forces which move us toward good and those which move us toward evil in groups of three.

Our natural instincts, as creatures in the image of God impel us toward good, while our unbridled passions impel us toward evil and seek to rule us. Angels seek to help us and guide us toward good while demons seek to fuel our passions. But the most important of all, I think, are those cusps where we know the difference between good and evil and willfully and deliberately choose the one or the other. Every such choice, large or small, is important for those choices shape our will. The more we choose evil, the easier we find it to will evil and the harder we find it to will good. And the reverse is true as well.

Our wills need to be healed, but they can only be healed through choosing good. And at every such point at which we can exercise our will for good, an evil alternative is always available and may often seem more attractive.

Healing our wills is also essential in our overall salvation. This is why the determination that Jesus had both a human and divine will in the sixth ecumenical council is so important to our faith. If Jesus did not have a human will or if his human will was wholly subsumed in his divine will, then our wills are not healed in Christ and we have no hope of true healing. Our human will can be healed because Jesus assumed a human will and willfully remained the faithful and good man at every point of intention and decision in the face of every temptation to do otherwise. He truly became one of us and in him we are healed.

On the Incarnation of the Word 13 – What Was God To Do As We Worshiped Other Gods?

Posted: September 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 13 – What Was God To Do As We Worshiped Other Gods?

In this next section, Athanasius explores the question: What was God to do in light pf our worship of gods we had created?

Or what profit to God Who has made them, or what glory to Him could it be, if men, made by Him, do not worship Him, but think that others are their makers? For God thus proves to have made these for others instead of for Himself.

Athanasius once again employs the metaphor of an earthly king.

Once again, a merely human king does not let the lands he has colonized pass to others to serve them, nor go over to other men; but he warns them by letters, and often sends to them by friends, or, if need be, he comes in person, to put them to rebuke in the last resort by his presence, only that they may not serve others and his own work be spent for naught. Shall not God much more spare His own creatures, that they be not led astray from Him and serve things of nought? especially since such going astray proves the cause of their ruin and undoing, and since it was unfitting that they should perish which had once been partakers of God’s image.

Notice how he phrases it not in terms of punishing his creatures (man), but of sparing them. We become like what we worship. And when we worship that which is not God, we begin to reshape ourselves into something less than human.

What then was God to do? or what was to be done save the renewing of that which was in God’s image, so that by it men might once more be able to know Him? But how could this have come to pass save by the presence of the very Image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ? For by men’s means it was impossible, since they are but made after an image; nor by angels either, for not even they are (God’s) images. Whence the Word of God came in His own person, that, as He was the Image of the Father, He might be able to create afresh the man after the image. But, again, it could not else have taken place had not death and corruption been done away. Whence He took, in natural fitness, a mortal body, that while death might in it be once for all done away, men made after His Image might once more be renewed. None other then was sufficient for this need, save the Image of the Father.

This is simply heartbreakingly beautiful. The Word took a mortal body to do away with death and renew his image in man. It was a task no other could accomplish.