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) 37

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 37

76.  The presence of the passion of avarice reveals itself when a person enjoys receiving but resents having to give. Such a person is not fit to fulfill the office of treasurer or bursar.

I was struck by the turn this text took. St. Maximos describes the sign of one rule by the passion of avarice, but having noted it turns to a practical matter. Once you recognize such a person, don’t put that person in charge of the money. But it’s not merely practical. St. Maximos is also telling us to protect those in the grip of a passion out of love for them. Don’t place them in a position which you know will contribute to their self-destruction. That’s a perspective we could apply in many areas of life.


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) 35

Posted: April 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 35

74.  It is not always for the same reason that sinners commit the same sin. The reasons vary. For example, it is one thing to sin through force of habit and another to sin through being carried away by a sudden impulse. In the latter case the man did not deliberately choose the sin either before committing it, or afterwards;  on the contrary, he is deeply distressed that the sin has occurred. It is quite different with the man who sins through force of habit. Prior to the act itself he was already sinning in thought, and after it he is still in the same state of mind.

There is a common way of speaking in my strand of Christianity that holds that all sin is the same. Of course that’s nonsense. We don’t even live or act as though that’s true. I think it’s even a dangerous attitude. It can hide the more dangerous things that rule us. All sin is not the same. St. Maximos has warned us elsewhere that the more spiritual sins like greed and pride are much more destructive than the baser passions. Here he warns us that even when the sin is the same, it’s merely the outward symptom. In and of itself, it tells us nothing about the inner state driving the act. And that inner state is extremely important. An impulsive action for which we are distressed is more easily and readily healed than a deeply engrained passion.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 34

Posted: April 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

73.  He who speaks dispassionately of his brother’s sins does so either to correct him or to benefit another. If he speaks for any other reason, either to the brother himself or to another person, he speaks to abuse him or ridicule him. In this case he will not escape being abandoned by God. On the contrary, he will fall into the same sin or other sins and, censured and reproached by other men, will be put to shame.

Of course, we see, hear about, and experience cases of spiritual abuse all the time today, it seems. We need to speak from love, that is actively willing the good of the other, or we should not speak at all. Our New Testament has an awful lot to say about how we should speak and the danger that lies in our tongue — ever ready to trap us. I think it almost has as much to say about that as it does about the dangers of wealth and the passions riches and power stir.


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 (Third Century) 32

Posted: April 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

71.  The passion of love, when reprehensible, occupies the intellect with material things, but when rightly directed unites it with the divine. For the intellect tends to develop its powers among those things to which it devotes its attention; and where it develops its powers, there it will direct its desire and love. It will direct them, that is to say, either to what is divine, intelligible and proper to its nature, or to the passions and things of the flesh.

We become like that toward which we direct our nous. At least, that’s how I understand St. Maximos here. Or, to put it a different way, we become like what we worship.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 31

Posted: April 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 31

68.  If a man has cut off the passions and so has freed his thoughts from passion, it does not necessarily mean that his thoughts are already orientated towards the divine. It may be that he feels no passionate attraction either for human or for divine things. This occurs in the case of those simply living the life of ascetic practice without yet having been granted spiritual knowledge. Such men keep the passions at bay either by fear of punishment or by hope of the kingdom.

I found this text intriguing. It acknowledges that we can break the grip of the passions through ascetic practice without necessarily turning toward God and receiving spiritual knowledge (which I understand in this context to be the noetic experience of our personal God — attuning our nous to God).  Upon reflection, I think that makes sense to me. Some people are highly disciplined and have a strong will. If they turn that will toward breaking the grip of the passions, they may succeed. But that is not the ultimate goal. It’s something to consider, at least.


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) 29

Posted: April 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 29

59.  When you overcome one of the grosser passions, such as gluttony, unchastity, anger or greed, the thought of self-esteem at once assails you. If you defeat this thought, the thought of pride succeeds it.

In other words, breaking the grip of an attitude or behavior is just the first step. If we do so successfully, we are immediately beset by the wrong sort of self-esteem followed closely by pride in our achievement. And those will undo any gains we originally made.