Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 38

Posted: May 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 38

77.  A man endures suffering either for the love of God, or for hope of reward, or for fear of punishment, or for fear of men, or because of his nature, or for pleasure, or for gain, or out of self-esteem, or from necessity.

The mere fact that we suffer means little. It’s important to know why we endure suffering and it’s rarely from our love of God. St. Maximos the Confessor suffered a great deal for his faithfulness and love of God. He was banished and imprisoned. He had his tongue removed so he could not speak against the ruling heresy. He had his right hand cut off so he could not write against it. And he died without ever seeing the fruit of his faithfulness through suffering.

I’ve endured the suffering of poverty and hard, manual labor for little pay — but that was from necessity. I’ve endured the suffering of a childhood that was not always the easiest, again from necessity. I endured the suffering of Army basic training, but that was for gain, out of self-esteem, and perhaps from some fear of men (drill instructors cultivate a fearsome image). For my own self-esteem, I’ve endured at different points in my life the suffering of strenuous exercise and training. When I am injured, it tends to be my nature to endure that suffering stoically and fight through it. (That last frustrates my wife no end.)

But have I endured suffering for the love of God? Not that I can recall. Would I even be willing to endure suffering for the love of God? I find I don’t know the answer to that question.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 36

Posted: May 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 36

75. He who cultivates the virtues for the sake of self-esteem also seeks after spiritual knowledge for the same reason. Such a man plainly does not do anything or discuss anything for the edification of others. On the contrary, he always seeks the praise of those who see him or hear him. His passion is brought to light when some of these people censure his actions or words. This distresses him greatly, not because he has failed to edify them – for that was not his aim – but because he has been humiliated.

I wonder how often the above could be written today about those who blog their faith — even if only in part? Hopefully I don’t fall within the group St. Maximos describes. I don’t believe I do. I don’t tend to be distressed when people disagree or otherwise don’t like something I’ve written, though I do sometimes wonder if there’s a way I could better express what I’ve attempted to say. But I’m always aware that it’s hard to perceive all your own motivations. Many things drive us and we often do not see deeply into that ocean.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 30

Posted: April 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 30

60. All the gross passions that dominate the soul drive from it the thought of self-esteem. But when all these passions have been defeated, they leave self-esteem free to take control.

61.  Self-esteem, whether it is eradicated or whether it remains, begets pride. When it is eradicated, it generates self-conceit; when it remains, it produces boastfulness.

62.  Self-esteem is eradicated by the hidden practice of the virtues, pride, by ascribing our achievements to God.

These three texts fit together as they all discuss self-esteem. The Fathers within Christianity have always tended to see self-esteem as a problem, not as something we should seek or desire. That does not, however, mean that they teach we should have what today we describe as low self-esteem. It’s my impression they would view that as a distortion as well. Their focus seems to be that we learn to see ourselves truthfully with nothing accentuated or overlooked. Facing the reality about ourselves is a hard thing, which is why we tend to lie to ourselves so easily.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 3

Posted: January 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 3

As I was diving back into St. Maximos’ Centuries on Love, I discovered that between the second and third posts on the third century, I had somehow jumped from his texts on love to a different collection of his theological texts. So I’m going to wind the clock back and pick up where I actually left off in the third century.

7. Overeating and gluttony cause licentiousness. Avarice and self-esteem cause one to hate one’s neighbor. Self-love, the mother of vices, is the cause of all these things.

8. Self-love is an impassioned, mindless love for one’s body. Its opposite is love and self-control. A man dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions.

I thought it was important to keep these two texts together. Self-love in these texts describes an impassioned love of self. Remember, in this context, the passions are those things that rule us and which we suffer. I think a key description is as the opposite of self-control. Self-love in this sense, then, is the precondition that opens the door for all the passions.

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 27

Posted: December 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 27

77.  The demons that wage war on us through our shortcomings in virtue are those that teach unchastity, drunkenness, avarice and envy. Those that wage war on us through our excessive zeal for virtue teach conceit, self-esteem and pride; they secretly pervert what is commendable into what is reprehensible.

When we see the former at work in another and condemn them for it we have fallen prey to the latter. That’s not the only way that virtue can be twisted into vice, but it seems to me one of the clearest signs.

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) 23

Posted: November 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 23

65. Self-esteem is the replacing of a purpose which accords with God by another purpose which is contrary to the divine. For a man full of self-esteem pursues virtue not for God’s glory but for his own, and so purchases with his labors the worthless praise of men.

As a rule, the Fathers have little positive to say about self-esteem, which seems odd when compared to most of what we hear everywhere around us today. Of course, they would also consider the destructiveness that often flows from what we call a low self-esteem today an illness of the soul that needs to be healed. But the balm would not be to replace it with a high self-esteem, which carries its own destructive patterns. Rather, it seems to me that they would characterize the central problem as self-esteem itself. Whether that esteem is high or low, it is still focused on ourselves and that is the true problem.

We need to learn to esteem Christ and through him, learn to see the truth about ourselves. Both are very difficult things to do.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 2

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

4.  It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers.

The physical world and all that is in it was created good. We may turn things toward evil purposes, but they are not evil in and of themselves.

I also notice once again that self-esteem is considered to be something negative. We are not to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought. I’m not sure that the Fathers such as St. Maximos are using the word in exactly the same way as it is used in modern parlance. I don’t think from reading them that they believe we should esteem ourselves in low and destructive ways. But I do get the impression that they believed too much focus on ourselves was not healthy. We are beloved of God, but we must then face outward and love others.

Or at least, that how it seems to me. I’m hardly an expert in this arena. Other thoughts are, as always, welcome.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 13

Posted: July 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

35.  Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for which they are done. For example, fasting and vigils, prayer and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.

This text relates a simple point that I think is often overlooked or misunderstood, sometimes in odd ways. There are Christian groups today that, for fear of doing something from the wrong motive, actually do very little at all for worship. We are ensouled bodies (for lack of a better way of saying), but some treat it as wrong to worship in bodily ways. But our problem has often been less a matter of what we do or don’t do, but the motives behind our action and inaction. Yes, it is possible to act in evil ways, but for most of us much of what we do each day is at least somewhat positive or good. But even an act which would otherwise be good, when done from evil motives, becomes twisted. I would say that doing good things from evil motives is still better than simply doing evil things. Nevertheless, acting from evil motives will rarely shape us in better ways. Such a life will not draw us closer to God or turn us into people who want God.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 5

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 5

9.  Men love one another, commendably or reprehensibly, for the following five reasons; either for the sake of God, as the virtuous man loves everyone and as the man not yet virtuous loves the virtuous; or by nature, as parents love their children and children their parents; or because of self-esteem, as he who is praised loves the man who praises him; or because of avarice, as with one who loves a rich man for what he can get out of him; or because of self-indulgence, as with the man who serves his belly and his genitals. The first of these is commendable, the second is of an intermediate kind, the rest are dominated by passion.

I wanted to include this text, not because I feel I have anything to say that adds or expands on it in any way, but because I think it’s something important to reflect upon. I know I’m not what St. Maximos calls a virtuous man because I know I don’t love everyone. I do have a growing love for those we recognize as saints who, at least in some measure, did achieve those goals. And I love those I directly encounter who love better than I love.

St. Maximos points out that what we often call love is actually dominated by passion. And I think the reason of self-esteem is the one of this sort we most often find among Christian gatherings. I could easily be wrong, of course. I don’t claim any special or unusual insight. But it seems to be more insidious and, given how well I understand my own capacity for self-deception, it seems like the sort of passion-dominate love more likely to take root in that environment.