Who Am I?

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.


St. Maximos the Confessor

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

If you study Church history, you can’t help but encounter St. Maximos the Confessor. He stood faithfully against the monothelite heresy, even when it meant standing against both the Patriarch and the Emperor. This heresy held that even though Christ had both a human and a divine nature, he had only a divine will. Such a man could not have strayed from the divine will, thus could not have been truly tempted. A Christ like that could never relate to us as one of us, nor we to him. St. Maximos held faithfully to the teaching that in Christ’s fully human nature, he also had a human will. Despite all temptation and suffering, Jesus kept his human will faithfully aligned with the divine will.

St. Maximos not only faithfully held to the faith, he confessed it widely and effectively in person and in writing. He was so effective that in his last exile, his tongue was removed to keep him from speaking and his hand was cut off to keep him from writing. His faithful assistant continued writing and St. Maximos’ works continued to be widely circulated and read. In 680, eighteen years after his death, he was vindicated in the 6th ecumenical council, which affirmed the two wills of Christ.

Once he was accused of esteeming himself the only Orthodox and the only one who would be saved and of believing all others were heretics would be condemned. His response has stayed in my mind.

When all the people in Babylon were worshiping the golden idol, the Three Holy Youths did not condemn anyone to perdition. They did not concern themselves with what others were doing, but took care only for themselves, so as not to fall away from true piety. In precisely the same way, Daniel also, when cast into the den, did not condemn any of those who, in fulfilling the law of Darius, did not want to pray to God; but he bore in mind his duty, and desired rather to die than to sin and be tormented by his conscience for transgressing God’s Law. God forbid that I, too, should condemn anyone, or say that I alone am being saved. However, I would sooner agree to die than, having apostatized in any way from the right faith, endure the torments of my conscience.

Though I have but a fraction of the great saint’s faith, I understand and share his response above. My scribblings here and elsewhere, such as they are, represent my effort to understand and express my faith in Christ. I do not intend to condemn anyone. I do not have that right and do not desire that responsibility.

St. Maximos has long held a special place in my heart and I’ve decided to blog through some of his works preserved in the philokalia. I’ll start tomorrow with his Four Hundred Texts on Love.


Beyond Justification 3 – What is the goal of the human being?

Posted: May 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Justification | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

We are not only being saved from something, we are being saved toward something. What is the goal of our salvation?

When you immerse yourself in the ecumenical councils and the writings surrounding them, you quickly find that you cannot discuss salvation without discussing Christ. You cannot even begin to understand what it means to be saved until you understand who Christ is. As St. Gregory the Theologian famously proclaimed:

What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united with his divinity that is saved.

This is the reason that Jesus had to assume our fallen nature, die, and be resurrected. We first had to be freed from death. But that was never the ultimate goal for humanity. That was the work of redemption, restoration, and healing. But the goal? I don’t think so. For what were we created? In order to begin to answer that question, consider another one first. If mankind had never fallen would the Incarnation still have been needed? Referencing St. Maximos the Confessor and others, from the Beyond Justification article:

However, the Fall is not the primary reason for the incarnation itself since, as Maximos and others point out, the incarnation was always part of God’s plan since it was the means by which humanity could truly achieve salvation, understood as theosis or union with God, an approach which will be discussed in more detail in the following section.

Absolutely. In the Resurrection Jesus emptied Hades, that is to say he defeated death universally for every human being. This is the gift of God we were powerless to achieve on our own. But that act alone only brings us back to something like the starting point. By joining his nature to ours, Jesus makes it possible for us to unite ourselves to God. In the story of man in the garden, man had the potential for immortality or for mortality. That much was in our nature. But we were still created either way and the uncreated God was beyond our ken and ultimately unknowable. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God united human nature to his nature, changing what it means to be human and providing us the means to unite, to become one with, God. To be truly human is to be the one standing in creation such that when creation beholds us, it beholds God. This is what it means to be an eikon living fully in the likeness of God. We are meant to reflect God into creation as we participate in the communal life of God.

Thus, as many theologians have noted, the Orthodox understanding of Christ’s crucifixion, derived from soteriological christology, is diametrically opposed to the Anselmian theory of satisfaction which underpins both Catholic and Lutheran notions of justification. God is not a judge in a courtroom, and Christ did not pay the legal penalty or “fine” for our sins. His redemptive work was not completed on the Cross, with the Resurrection as a nice afterword. The eternal Son of God took on our fallen human nature, including our mortality, in order to restore it to the possibility of immortality. Jesus Christ died so that he might be resurrected. Just as Christ is homoousios with the Father in his divinity, we are homoousios with him in his humanity; it is through our sharing of his crucified and resurrected human nature that our own human nature is transformed from mortality to immortality. John Meyendorff summarizes the significance of the Cross for the Christian East as follows:

…In the East, the Cross is envisaged not so much as the punishment of the just one, which “satisfies” a transcendent Justice requiring a retribution for one’s sins. As George Florovsky rightly puts it: “the death on the Cross was effective, not as a death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord.” The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement, but to vanquish the frightful cosmic reality of death, which held humanity under its usurped control and pushed it into the vicious circle of sin and corruption.

Exactly. We need forgiveness. We have done wrong. But in deed and parable and voice we see in Scripture a God overflowing with mercy and forgiveness. Heck, that was Jonah’s complaint about God and he was proven right! The Cross was not necessary for God to forgive us. If all we had needed was forgiveness, God had (and has) an inexhaustible overabundance. God has never had a forgiveness problem and we do him wrong when we attribute such a problem to him. But don’t worry, I’m sure he forgives us for the poor way we portray his lovingkindness and mercy. 😉

Tomorrow I’ll explore more fully the goal which is variously called theosis or deification, becoming one with God in Christ.