Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 25

Posted: December 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 25

71. A person pursuing the spiritual way is perhaps quicker to recognize the other demons, and so he more easily escapes the harm that they do, but in the case of the demons that appear to cooperate with the progress of virtue and pretend they want to help in building a temple to the Lord, surely no intellect is so sublime as to recognize them without the assistance of the active and living Logos who pervades all things and pierces ‘even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit’ (Heb. 4:12) – who discerns, in other words, which acts or conceptual images pertain to the soul, that is, are natural forms or expressions of virtue, and which are spiritual, that is, are supranatural and characteristic of God, but bestowed on nature by grace. It is only the Logos who knows whether  ‘the joints and marrow’, that is, the qualities of virtue and spiritual principles, have been united harmoniously or not, and who judges the intentions and thoughts of the heart (ibid.), that is, judges from what is said the invisible underlying disposition and the motives hidden in -the soul. For to Him nothing in us is unseen: however we think we may escape notice, to Him ‘all things are naked and open’ (Heb. 4:13), not only what we do or think, but even what we will do or will think.

We have a natural capacity for virtue. And the more subtle of the demons will cooperate and aid, rather than hinder, that natural capacity for the purpose of creating and stirring pride within our heart. Only the living Word can divide and truly reveal to us our own inward state. Of course, I’m so far from the point of recognizing and breaking free from the normal passions, that I’m a long way from these more subtle dangers. But I do recognize the danger of pride — the way it so easily and quickly turns us from the publican in the parable to the pharisee.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

72.  Just as it is easier to sin in the mind than in action, so warfare through our impassioned conceptual images of things is harder than warfare through the things themselves.

I quit smoking slightly more than fourteen years ago. (I could count the days over fourteen years if I wanted, but I try not to dwell on it that much.) I had smoked and smoked fairly heavily for two decades by that time. My body and mind had been formed and shaped with and around nicotine. As studies have shown, one of the effects of nicotine is that it increases focus and concentration. So in addition to breaking the other physical aspects of addiction, I had to learn how to intently focus my mind without the aid of a drug. But I managed all of that and the physical aspect of my smoking addiction has long since passed. I not only fought that war, I won it.

My conceptual images of smoking are another thing entirely and I am still not free from them. I can still remember the feeling when that first deep drag floods your body with sensation. The memory is so intense, it’s as though I can almost relive it. And it’s compelling. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have to remind myself that I am not a smoker and I am never going to be a smoker again.

I won the war over the things themselves years ago. The war over my impassioned conceptual images of the things? Not so much. That war continues. I think I grasp some of what St. Maximos is describing in this text.


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 6 – Resurrection

Posted: June 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Now that I’ve discussed death and the abode of the death, it seems appropriate to interject the Christian belief in resurrection, certainly one of the most central tenets of our faith. (If you missed my post on Rob Bell’s Resurrection video, now’s a good time to pause and check it out.) Resurrection means and has always meant a physical, earthly life with a body that is in some sense continuous with our present body. There seems to be a lot of confusion on that point today. As far as I can tell, prior to Christ’s resurrection, the idea of any sort of resurrection was unique to the Jewish people. And their belief was far from universal even among themselves and markedly different in a number of key ways from what became the Christian confession in light of Jesus’ resurrection.

I’ve practiced a number of non-Christian religions and explored many more than I’ve actually practiced. I’ve also studied a bit of ancient history. I’m not aware of any religion outside Judaism and Christianity whose beliefs include resurrection. Resurrection is certainly a central part of the view of reality that drew me deeper into Christian faith and which keeps me in it. There are a few facets of the Christian confession which I know with certainty if I ceased to believe they were true, I would abandon this faith and move on to something else instead. Resurrection is one of those key facets. I’m frankly shocked that Resurrection seems more like an afterthought or something peripheral to many Christians today. It’s not. It’s right at the very center of our faith. Without resurrection nothing about Christianity is appealing or even makes sense.

In Christ’s Resurrection, which is the first fruit of our own future resurrection, death was destroyed. Humanity was in bondage to death and God had to rescue us from the vice of its relentless grip. Moreover, death was the ultimate tool that Satan and the Powers used to enslave us. And in and through that dark power, sin swirled around and within us. One of the many images used by the Christian Fathers was the image of a baited trap. Death thought it had swallowed a man in Jesus of  Nazareth and discovered too late that it had swallowed God. Sheol/Hades was burst open from the inside and death was destroyed. The icon of the harrowing of Hades speaks louder than words. The abode of the dead now stands empty with its gates burst asunder.

It was only a part of the story and purpose of the Incarnation, but in his death and resurrection Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, healed the wound of death in the nature of mankind. It is no longer our nature to die! We see that in the language of the Church. In the NT, those who have died are said to have fallen asleep in the Lord. God has accomplished all that he needed to accomplish in order to rescue us. Jesus has joined our nature with God’s and flowing from him are rivers of healing water. We are no longer subject to death and we live within the reality of the forgiveness of sins.

But God will not force himself on us. Jesus has truly done it all and offers us the power of grace, which is to say himself, in and through the Spirit for our healing. It’s in and through the mystery of the Incarnation that God can join himself with each of us. But in order to be healed, we must cooperate and participate with the Great Physician. We have to want God. Or at the least, we have to want to want God. (Sometimes that’s the best we are able to do. Not to worry, God came to us in the Incarnation and he will keep coming to us wherever we stand.) And thus we live in this interim period where the fullness of the work of Christ remains veiled.

Christianity has relatively little to say about what happens to us when we die or our “life after death.” Off-hand, I can think of only three places where it’s mentioned in the NT with virtually no detail offered. Our faith, however, has a great deal to say about resurrection, new creation, and re-creation. I like Bishop N.T. Wright’s phrase “life after life after death.” The Christian story is that we do not die. God sustains us somehow until that time when all humanity is resurrected as Christ is resurrected.

In light of that reality, perhaps it’s clear why I chose to place the post on Resurrection at this spot in the series. Sheol/Hades are no more. So where “hell” in Scripture is used to translate either of those words, it must in some sense be understood as referring to an aspect of reality that ended with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The enormity of just that one piece of Christ’s work is overwhelming to me.

Truly we can now shout, “Death, where is thy sting?


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.