Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 33

Posted: April 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 33

72.  God created both the invisible and the visible worlds, and so He obviously also made both the soul and the body. If the visible world is so beautiful, what must the invisible world be like? And if the invisible world is superior to the visible world, how much superior to both is God their Creator? If, then, the Creator of everything that is beautiful is superior to all His creation, on what grounds does the intellect abandon what is superior to all and engross itself in what is worst of all – I mean the passions of the flesh? Clearly this happens because the intellect has lived with these passions and grown accustomed to them since birth, whereas it has not yet had perfect experience of Him who is superior to all and beyond all things. Thus, if we gradually wean the intellect away from this relationship by long practice of controlling our indulgence in pleasure and by persistent meditation on divine realities, the intellect will gradually devote itself more and more to these realities, will recognize its own dignity, and finally transfer all its desire to the divine.

Asceticism, a word derived from one which originally described the physical training of an athlete, used to be part of the universal life of all Christians. We recognized, as St. Maximos outlines above, that we must train our nous and break the grip of the passions which enthrall us. Somehow that awareness and practice has been all but lost in modern Christianity. Is it any wonder, then, that we’re spiritually flabby?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 35

Posted: June 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 35

74.  The senses belong to a single family but are divided into five individual types. Through the apprehensive force particular to each individual type, the deluded soul is persuaded to desire the corresponding sensible objects instead of God. Hence the man of intelligence will choose to die voluntarily according to the flesh before the advent of that death which comes whether he likes it or not; and to this end he will completely sever his inner disposition from the senses.

I find this text intriguing. Through our senses we come to desire the things we experience through them over God. To me, at least, there is a sense of timelessness in this quote. We are embodied beings created to turn our being toward God. Instead, our perceiving, receptive mind which both interprets the input of our sense and is our vehicle for experiencing God is overwhelmed, distracted, and eventually consumed by the sensory input it receives. We have all followed that course to one degree or another. This lies close to the heart of our universal fall. We are consumed by all that rushes at us through our senses rather than ruling over them in the constant experience or perception of God.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 24

Posted: November 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 24

68.  God is the cause of created beings and of their inherent goodness. Thus he who is puffed up with his virtue and knowledge, and whose grace-given progress in virtue is not matched by a corresponding recognition of his own weakness, falls inevitably into the sin of pride. He who seeks goodness for the sake of his own reputation prefers himself to God, for he has been pierced by the nail of self-esteem. By doing or speaking what is virtuous in order to be seen by men, he sets a much higher value on the approbation of men than on that of God. In short, he is a victim of the desire to be popular. And he who immorally makes use of morality solely to deceive by his solemn display of virtue, and hides the evil disposition of his will under the outward form of piety, barters virtue for the guile of hypocrisy. He aims at something other than the cause of all things.

Pride has many ways of ruling us. Humility, by contrast, is the most difficult of virtues. For when we set our eye on our humility, it immediately becomes pride. We can only truly be humble when we do not much think of ourselves at all.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 19

Posted: November 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 19

60. The origin and consummation of every man’s salvation is wisdom, which initially produces fear but when perfected gives rise to loving desire. Or, rather, initially and providentially wisdom  manifests itself for our sake as fear, so as to make us who aspire to wisdom desist from evil; but ultimately it exists in its natural state for its own sake as loving desire, so as to fill with spiritual mirth those who have abandoned all existing things in order to dwell with it.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I run across too many Christian teachers today who seem to feel that fear is also the culmination of wisdom. It’s not. When we begin to understand this God and the breadth and depth of his love, and we see how we have turned from our only source of life to things which have no life, it is wise to be afraid, for fear can motivate us to turn toward life instead. But if we continue to live in fear, we remain stunted and cannot know God. Perfect love drives out fear.

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 14

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 14

38. Scripture says that seven spirits will rest upon the Lord: the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of spiritual knowledge, the spirit of cognitive insight, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of strength, and the spirit of the fear of God (cf. Isa. 11:2). The effects produced by these spiritual gifts are as follows: by fear, abstention from evil; by strength, the practice of goodness; by counsel, discrimination with respect to the demons; by cognitive insight, a clear perception of what one has to do; by spiritual knowledge, the active grasping of the divine principles inherent in the virtues; by understanding, the soul’s total empathy with the things that it has come to know; and by wisdom, an indivisible union with God, whereby the saints attain the actual enjoyment of the things for which they long. He who shares in wisdom becomes god by participation and, immersed in the ever-flowing, secret outpouring of God’s mysteries, he imparts to those who long for it a knowledge of divine blessedness.

The only true wisdom lies in union and communion with God. That strikes me personally as the most important point of all. There is, however, a clear progression toward that true wisdom and the first step is to begin to choose to abstain from evil. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many modern Christian groups get stuck in that first step (perhaps with brief forays into the second — the practice of goodness). To grow in union with God it is important to learn to stop doing evil and start doing good. Moreover, we have to learn to desire what is good over what is evil. But that’s just the starting point, not the destination or goal. It’s important not to lose sight of that point.

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 13

Posted: October 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 13

36.  He who aspires to divine realities willingly allows providence to lead him by principles of wisdom towards the grace of deification. He who does not so aspire is drawn, by the just judgment of God and against his will, away from evil by various forms of discipline. The first, as a lover of God, is deified by providence; the second, although a lover of matter, is held back from perdition by God’s judgment. For since God is goodness itself, He heals those who desire it through the principles of wisdom, and through various forms of discipline cures those who are sluggish in virtue.

St. Maximos here describes a God who is truly “not willing that any should perish.” So many modern descriptions of God do not. This is a God who meets everyone where they are. If we desire communion, he gives us grace, that is himself, to give us the strength to move forward. And if we do not desire God, he uses loving discipline (not the borderline or outright abusive treatment many modern Christian parenting gurus recommend) to heal us.

Often God allows us to experience the natural consequences of our choices. Sometimes he might rescue us from them. Always God is drawing us to communion — with Him and with other human beings.

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 12

Posted: October 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 12

34.  In each of us the energy of the spirit is made manifest according to the measure of his faith (cf. Rom. 12:6). Therefore each of us is the steward of his own grace and, if we think logically, we should never envy another person the enjoyment of his gifts, since the disposition which makes us capable of receiving divine blessings depends on ourselves.

We all receive different gifts from God. St. Maximos here notes that the grace given to us is according to our disposition. We are stewards of the gifts given to us and should focus our attention there and not on the gifts of others. I say it that way because it seems to me that attention is often the first step toward envy.

Envy is an easy trap and it’s an attitude that knows no reason. If we focus too much on what another has, we can find ourselves envious of something we never before desired. While St. Maximos is speaking in this text of envy of the grace of spiritual gifts that another has received, I can’t help but think of our modern American culture. So much in it depends on the inculcation of envy in our hearts. Our consumer economy depends on the constant growth in our desire for things we never previously wanted. And one of the primary tools in that process is envy.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 19

Posted: July 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 19

49.  If a man is not envious or angry, and does not bear a grudge against someone who has offended him, that does not necessarily mean that he loves him. For, while still lacking love, he may be capable of not repaying evil with evil, in accordance with the commandment (cf. Rom. 12:17), and yet by no means be capable of rendering good for evil without forcing himself. To be spontaneously disposed to ‘do good to those who you hate you’ (Matt. 5:44) belongs to perfect spiritual love alone.

This particular text strikes a deep chord in me. I’ve explored and practiced many spiritual paths and love is the one thing that truly distinguishes Christianity from the rest. We worship a God who is love, and whose love is so extravagant that he became one of us and experienced all that we experience. We proclaim that our way is the way of life, but the way of life is the way of love. It’s this love that drew me into Christianity. It’s this love that keeps me, like a moth circling a flame, in this faith.

And love of this magnitude terrifies me.

I was never the sort of angry person who lashed out at anyone and everyone, assuming the worst of all. As a rule, I was willing to live and let live. If a person demonstrated they were my enemy in a social context, I was typically willing to simply disassociate from them. But if a person acted like an enemy in a context, such as work, that required our interaction, I was pretty ruthless. I would turn my mind and talents toward ensuring that person could do nothing to harm me.

There are many and varied reasons that I was the sort of person that I was in my twenties. All things considered, I think it was better than some of the alternatives. I have empathy, not the scorn you usually hear today, for those who essentially give up, wrap their true selves deeply within, and become victims. I understand the desire to hide and ways we can lose our will. I understand how people can become ruled instead by anger. I’ve come closer than I care to be to the latter at times. But mostly I was a loyal friend to the few I considered friends and tried to treat most others with a sort of distant respect. But if you identified yourself as my enemy, my goal was to prevent you from harming me and those I loved and to make you regret that choice.

It was the love of some Christians that drew me back toward a faith I had long since dismissed. And that time, I saw the God of love visible in the Incarnation and have been circling that flame ever since. And the light of that flame has done much to reveal the person I was and drive out shadows. The more you live in the light, the more you see — the more you can’t avoid seeing.

I’m no longer the person who preemptively acts, where possible, to destroy his enemies. I’m no longer the person who automatically returns evil for evil.

But I’m also not a person who instinctively returns good for evil, or who even returns good for evil much at all.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 18

Posted: July 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 18

48. When a man’s intellect is constantly with God, his desire grows beyond all measure into an intense longing for God and his incensiveness is completely transformed into divine love. For by continual participation in the divine radiance his intellect becomes totally filled with light; and when it has reintegrated its passible aspect, it redirects this aspect towards God, as we have said, filling it with an incomprehensible and intense longing for Him and with unceasing love, thus drawing it entirely away from worldly things to the divine.

There’s  a little story from the sayings of the desert fathers that has found a home in my heart for several years now. I’m not sure I can explain, even to myself, what about the story captivates me, but it was the first thing that sprang to my mind as I reflected on this particular text. Here’s the story.

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Our God is called light in the text of our Scriptures. Of course, that’s not to say that he is made up of photons, but rather to say there is no darkness, no lies, no evil found within him. It’s easy for us in our modern world to forget that for most of human history, we could not create light apart from fire. One of the images of our God is a consuming fire. There are no shadows, nothing hidden, in the heart of the fire. When we think of divine love, we must not forget that aspect.

Perhaps the image of becoming all flame speaks to that part of me which has lived in darkness. We speak as human beings of being drawn to light and trapped in darkness. There is something within us all that perceives reality in terms of light and darkness. Do I want my shadows illumined?

We are all drawn to the fire, but do we want to assume the nature of the fire?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 17

Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 17

47. Certain things stop the movement of the passions and do not allow them to grow; others subdue them and make them diminish. For instance, where desire is concerned, fasting, labor and vigils do not allow it to grow, while withdrawal, contemplation, prayer and intense longing for God subdue it and make it disappear. The same is true with regard to anger. Forbearance, freedom from rancor, gentleness, for example, all arrest it and prevent it from growing, while love, acts of charity, kindness and compassion make it diminish.

This text exposes an important truth about gaining freedom from a passion that rules us. It’s a process and it takes effort. We may need to stop the movement and growth of a passion first before we can begin to subdue it. Other times, we may be able to begin immediately subduing a passion. In either case we need to turn our will as best we can toward the acts that will free us, practice them, and pray for mercy. Our Lord loves us and where we are weak, he is strong.