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Redemption in Maximus the Confessor

Joseph Lucas

St Photios the Great, the most sophisticated and erudite Greek theologian of his era, once

remarked concerning the writings of his predecessor St Maximus, that they are unclear and

difficult to interpret. 1 Such a reflection should fill any modern reader with trepidation at the

thought of investigating the mind of St Maximus, and indeed, very few scholars have made such

an attempt. 2 Yet in spite of the difficulty of his texts, the import of his theology to later

Byzantine thought is immense. Jean Meyendorff writes, St Maximus can be called the real

father of Byzantine theology. 3 Through him, the best elements of controversial writers such as

Origen, Evagrius and Dionysius were preserved and synthesized with the theology of Athanasius,

the Cappadocians and Cyril of Alexandria. 4 However, his contributions far exceed the

perpetuation of theological precedents: St Maximus stands out as one of the most creative and

mystical of all the Greek Fathers. In the present paper, we will examine the coherence of

Maximus thought related to his views of redemption.

Maximian Epistemology

A basic premise to all of St Maximus thought is his faithfulness to received revelation,

beginning with Holy Scripture and extending through the tradition and dogmas of the Church.

Although his theological creativity is often emphasized by scholars, it must be interpreted within

the scope of his self-perception. St Maximus believed that he was merely preserving the ancient

1
R. Henry, quoted in St Maximus the Confessor, Louth, 81.
2
See the bibliography for some of the most notable modern commentaries in English.
3
Christ is Eastern Christian Thought, 131.
4
Ibid., 132.
teachings of the Church. Yet this was not blind acceptance, but rather an active and spiritual

process of discernment.

Most revealing is St Maximus approach to exegesis. Concluding a commentary on

Colossians 2:15, he writes, With Gods help, and as long as it will be found worthy in your eyes,

we shall still inquire, with a zeal to learn, into the apostolic thinking on this [verse]. 5 Here St

Maximus speaks of acquiring the apostolic phronema, of delving into the depths of revelation in

order to discover the pearl hidden within. It is not an automatic process; understanding is

reciprocal to our love for God: When the Word of God becomes bright and shining in us. . .the

clear and distinct words of the Holy Scripture of the Gospels [will] no longer be veiled. 6 In his

Centuries on Knowledge, he further elucidates this process:

The mind of Christ which the saints receive according to the saying, We have the mind of Christ, comes

along not by any loss of our mental power, nor as a complementary mind to ours, nor as essentially and

personally passing over into our mind, but rather as illuminating the power of our mind with its own quality

and bringing the same energy to it. For to have the mind of Christ is, in my opinion, to think in his way and

of him in all situations. 7

Interestingly, St Maximus presents this passage as his own personal opinion. This

reflects his view that categorical assertion when interpreting revelation can be dangerous. It is

better to proceed with caution and to speak in conjecture which is modest, than to assert

something as definite, which is reckless. 8 If it is risky to establish ones own postulates as

dogma, then how may we hope to comprehend anything about matters of faith? For St Maximus,

the apostolic revelation has been reliably interpreted by the Fathers, pillars and bulwarks of

orthodoxy who came to embody the apostolic faith. The Saints possessed the mind of Christ,

5
Ad Thal. 21, 133; Blowers and Wilken, 113.
6
Centuries on Knowledge, 2.14; Berthold, 150.
7
Ibid., 1.83; Berthold, 165.
8
De Ambigua 71, PG 1412B; Louth, 165

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and hence provide the Church with a yardstick by which to gauge the verity of ones opinions.

In Opuscule 7, concerning the use of patristic sources in defense of two wills in Christ, St

Maximus defends the Fathers from misappropriation:

We are to accept the reverent meaning of dogma drawn from the expressions of the Holy Fathersand any

other expressions we may findthat indicate unity [of wills] as in no way contradictory of other statements

of the holy Fathers that indicate duality [of wills]. We know that the latter are mighty for the difference and

against confusion, and the former are steadfast for the union and against division, but both, the former and

the latter, we welcome exceeding gladly with soul and voice, as we confess the orthodox faith. And we

wisely turn away those expressions that seem somehow contrary, the meanings of which are equally

opposed to themselves and to one another and to the truth, and we boldly expel them from our home, that is

the Catholic and Apostolic Church of God. And lest any of them contrive to bypass the orthodox faith by

thievishly altering the boundaries set down by the Fathers, we beseech that they be shot down with the

weapons and dogmas of reverent faith and visited with disaster and destruction. 9

St Maximus believes that the teachings of the Church are plain, even when the writings of

the Fathers are not. And whats more, it is not the Fathers who are at fault for ambiguity, but the

heretics for attempting to interpret patristic sources according to their own design. 10 This may

appear at first glance to be circular reasoning. However, St Maximus obliquely reveals that he

subscribes to consensus patrum: it is the boundaries, i.e. the canons and definitions in toto, that

have been established by the Fathers and which protect the soteriological mission of Christianity.

Although isolated patristic quotes may be wrenched from their original context to support heresy

(such as Monothelitism), they cannot withstand the challenge presented by the Churchs

universal experience of salvation.

9
88B-88D; Louth, 190.
10
Perhaps this is what leads St Maximus to emphasize the necessity for precision in his own dialogues: [E]rror
arises out of ambiguity. (Disp. Pyrrhus, ch. 21) He is also critical even of his own work, retracting earlier
assertions that Christ possesses a gnomic (deliberative) will just as all humans do, when these statements became
fuel for the Monothelites. (Blowers and Wilken, 120, n1.)

2
St Maximus believes that all knowledge originates from and revolves around God, and by

extension his creation. 11 Thus the Christian theologian is the quintessential philosopher. 12 This

raises the question as to how the believer discerns between true and false knowledge. Following

the collective experience of the Christian East, St Maximus contrasts two ways of knowing: that

which is revealed (cataphatic) and that which is hidden (apophatic). These two poles represent

distinctalbeit complementaryways or modes of knowledge. 13 Originating in Greek

philosophical schools, this methodology entered into Christian usage primarily through Clement,

Origen and Evagrius. 14 St Maximus likewise adopts this theological approach, but unlike later

proponents of scholasticism, he does not use it to define or imprison God within a rigid,

theoretical system. His application of cataphaticism and apophaticism is much more nuanced,

and entirely congruent with Christian revelation.

Cataphatic knowledge is the way of affirmation. 15 St Maximus envisages the Christian

life as an ascent in knowledge, not in the sense of facts and concepts, but rather as a deepening in

mans relationship with both God and creation. Knowing God and knowing about God are not

the same; the former is paramount:

If, according to the Apostle, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, [Eph. 3:7] and all the treasures of

wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him, [Col. 2:3] then all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are

hidden in our hearts. They are revealed to the heart in proportion to each ones purification by the

commandments. This is the treasure hidden in the field of your heart which you have not yet found because

of laziness, for if you had found it you would then have sold everything to acquire that field. . . .This is why

the Savior says, Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God, [Matt. 5:8] because he is hidden in

11
Centuries on Love, 1.78; Berthold, 43.
12
Ibid., 4.47; Sherwood, 47; Interestingly, in Bertholds translation of this text he systematically avoids translating
philosophy ( ) literally, perhaps with the intention of preventing confusing between Christian
contemplation and pagan Greek philosophy.
13
De Ambigua 10, PG 1165B; Louth, 131; But as noted above, such terminology already began to filter into
Christianity through the writings of St Paul and the earliest Fathers.
14
Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, 32.
15
Ad Thallasium, 105; Blowers and Wilken, 142.

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the heart of those who believe in him. They will see him and the treasure in him when they purify

themselves by love and self-mastery, and the more intensely they strive, the fuller will their vision be. 16

Through sincere prayer, asceticism and contemplation, thereby lifting the veils of the

passions, 17 one becomes pure in heart and capable of receiving revelation directly from God.

This path of ascent enables one to perceive, first of all, the principles () of Gods created

order, along with his providence and activity that sustains all things; 18 and then, delving more

deeply into divine mysteries, the mind () goes out of itself, transcending the sensible

world. 19 For once illumined by the divine and infinite light, [the mind] remains insensible to

anything that is made by [God], just as the physical eye has no sensation of the stars when the

sun has risen. 20 This advanced stage he refers to as contemplation (), when the believer

is deemed worthy of the grace of theology. 21

Here it must be stressed that any outline of St Maximus epistemology should emphasize

the role he assigns to asceticism, obedience and the acquisition of virtuea process he refers to

as the active lifewhich together invite God to likewise go out from himself of his own free will

to illumine [the mind] with divine brightness. 22 Once again, obtaining knowledge is seen not

as an abstract, rational methodology, but rather an active, synergistic process in which the

believer enters into a relationship with Christ. Using a metaphor ubiquitous in both the Old and

New Testaments, St Maximus likens this mystical relationship between God and man to an erotic

dialogue that culminates in marriage. In a rather jarring passage that draws all these currents

together, he writes:

16
Four Hundred Centuries on Love, 4.70-72; Berthold, 83.
17
De Ambigua 10, PG1128A; Louth, 109.
18
Ibid., PG 1168A-1169B; Louth, 132-134; cf. PG 1133A-1137C
19
Centuries on Love, 1.10; Berthold, 36.
20
Ibid.
21
Ibid., 2.26; Berthold, 50.
22
Centuries on Knowledge, 1,31; Berthold, 134.

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The believer comes to fear. The one who has fear is humbled. The one is humbled becomes gentle; he has

adopted a behavior which renders inactive the movements of anger and lust. The one who is gentle keeps

the commandments. The one who keeps the commandments is purified. The one who is purified is

illumined. And the one who is illumined is judged worthy to sleep with the Word-Spouse in the inner

chamber of the mysteries. 23

The way of negation, the apophatic approach, is deeply rooted in the Christian

understanding of mystery. A rich tradition antecedes St Maximus use of such terminology. As

noted above, it was first used by Hellenic Jews, and occasionally in the parlance of St Paul.

Using privative language is intended to preserve the ineffability of God, whose existence ()

is completely dissimilar to anything in creation. 24 He can neither conceive nor be conceived. 25

So knowledge of the transcendent God is really unknowing. Since it is impossible for finite

man to comprehend the infinite God, to see or know his essence in any way, the believer is called

instead to know him trough personal communion, participating in his divine life through grace. 26

Contrasting this mode of understanding with the cataphatic approach, St Maximus writes:

The one who speaks of God in positive affirmations is making the Word flesh. Making use only of what

can be seen and felt he knows God as their cause. But the one who speaks of God negatively through

negations is making the Word spirit, as in the beginning he was God and with God. Using absolutely

nothing which can be known he knows in a better way the utterly Unknowable. 27

Cataphaticism and apophaticism, then, do not comprise the dialectical components of an

academic exercise, nor a way to comprehend the essence of God himself. St Maximus sees

cataphatic knowledge as an initial stage in ones ascent to God; but the higher one ascends, the

23
Ibid., 1.16; Berthold, 131.
24
Ibid., 1.82-83; Berthold, 143-144.
25
Ibid., 1.2; Berthold, 148.
26
Centuries on Love, 3.24; Berthold, 64.
27
Centuries on Knowledge, 2.39; Berthold, 156.

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further he plunges into the depths of unknowing where words fail. This is the mystical

experience that engenders all true Christian knowledge.

Cosmic Theology

Like most of the Greek Fathers, St Maximus does not present us with a systematic treatise

outlining his theological ideas. His cosmology is embedded throughout his epistles and

reflections, carefully interwoven with Biblical exegesis and commentary on the spiritual life.

His method is entirely holistica reality that is difficult for moderns to comprehend. For the

present essay, space prohibits us from an in-depth analysis of his theology, of which many books

have been written. And rather than offering a general summary of his teachings, we shall focus

on specific aspects of his cosmology in relation to soteriology, and then associate it with his view

of the spiritual life.

In the writings of St Paul, the apostolic kerygma of the early Church takes on the

dimensions of a cosmic drama in three acts: Creation, Fall and Redemption. St Paul

universalizes the promises made to Israel by tracing salvation from Adam to Christ. 28 But he

goes further by declaring the Word of God the beginning and end of the entire cosmos, the One

who unites all things in heaven and all things on earth in himself. 29 Christ is the One who

fills all in all. 30 St Irenaeus would later elaborate on this theme, focusing especially on the

person of Christ the Second Adam as the principal of recapitulation (), 31

heading up all creation in himself. This doctrine of recapitulation provides the hermeneutical

28
1 Cor. 15.
29
Eph. 1:10.
30
Ibid., v.23. The cosmic dimension of this epistle has led contemporary scholars to speculate that someone other
than St Paul was the author. However, written later in his career, Ephesians reflects the mature theology of a man
who has spent most of his life contemplating the mystery of Christ.
31
Ibid., v.10.

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key for St Maximus cosmic theology, with the Pauline schema of Creation Fall Redemption

underlying his soteriological vision. 32

A fundamental assertion in St Maximus cosmology is the dissimilarity of Creator and

creation. By the seventh century, it had been well-established in orthodox Christian thought that

a great chasm exists between the Uncreated God and the created world (the latter of which is

comprised of both a noetic and sensible realm). For St Maximus, it seems the question turns

upon how God bridges this chasm; how is it possible for God to fill all in all and for humans to

become partakers of the divine nature without annihilating the essential difference between

Creator and creation? 33 Following Holy Scripture, St Maximus answers this question in the

person of Christ, the Word () of God:

If by reason and wisdom a person has come to understand that what exists was brought out of non-being

into being by God, if he intelligently directs the souls imagination to the infinite differences and variety of

things as they exist by nature and turns his questing eye with understanding towards the intelligible model

() according to which things have been made, would he not know that the one Logos is many logoi?

This is evident in the incomparable differences among created things. For each is unmistakably unique in

itself and its identity remains distinct [] 34 in relation to other things. He will also know that the

many logoi are the one Logos to whom all things are related and who exists in himself without confusion,

the essential and individually distinctive God, the Logos of God the Father. He is the beginning and cause

of all things in whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether

thrones or dominions or principalities or authoritiesall things were created from him and through him and

for him [Col 1:15-17]. Because he held together in himself the logoi before they came to be, by his

gracious will he created all things. . . universals as wells as particulars, at the proper time. 35

32
Farrell draws a similar conclusion, but applies St Irenaeus doctrine of recapitulation to Maximus orthodox
revision of apokatastasis (universal salvation). See his introduction in Disputation with Pyrrhus, xxviii-xxxvi.
33
De Ambigua, PG 1092C; Blowers and Wilken, 66.
34
This term, drawn from the Chalcedonian definition, is an example of St Maximus following the received and
collective tradition of the Orthodox Church.
35
De Ambigua 7, PG 1077C-1080A; Blowers and Wilken, 54-55.

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The logos 36 of each created thing is its principle, its reason for existing and what governs

its mode of existence or natural movement, analogous to DNA in the nucleus of a living cell, or

like a blueprint by which the construction of an edifice is directed. 37 And yet these logoi are not

the possession of created things, but rather pre-eternally exist in the mind of God; they are

neither identical with the essence of God, nor with the essence of creatures. 38 St Maximus

defines the logoi as both predeterminations and products of the divine will. 39 He goes on to

link the many logoi with the one Logos, the Son of God. Because the cosmos was created by

and through him, he is also the source of its unity. Thus, all created things, according to their

natural mode of existence, are drawn towards the Logos.

Mutability and passivity are synonymous in the mind of St Maximus. All created things

are shifting and changing and possess no stable basis, apart from that of their primary meaning

[o]. 40 Passibility, then, is tied to mutability because all created things are generated in a

state of flux, a state of becoming (v). In other words, creatures do not begin in a fixed

state () as Origen taught; motion (v) is indicative of the created state. 41 To be

impassible belongs to God alone: That which is perfect in itself is uncaused. Nor is anything

that has come into being free of passions. Only what is unique, infinite and uncircumscribed is

free of passions. The impassible is not of a nature to suffer at all. 42 St Maximus draws a

distinction not always made by earlier writerspassivity is not the same as sin. The Greek

implies that something is moved from without, which can be interpreted as external

movement or even suffering. He writes, For the passibility spoken of in this connection does

36
logoi is plural.
37
Cf. Microcosm and Mediator, Thunberg, 72-75.
38
Ibid., 77.
39
Ibid., PG 1085A; 61.
40
De Ambigua 71, PG 1461A-B; Louth, 168.
41
De Ambigua 7, PG 1069B-C; Blowers and Wilken, 46.
42
De Ambigua 7, PG 1072C; Blowers and Wilken, 49.

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not refer to change or corruption of ones power; passibility here indicates that which exists by

nature in beings. 43 In the beginning, all of creation was moved by God according to his will.

Its natural inclination was to obey, to be acted upon and be drawn towards him according to his

good pleasure. 44

The tradition of the Christian East maintains that God created man as the crown of his

creation. St Maximus develops and expands this teaching in light of his emphasis on

recapitulation in Christ. Unlike any other creature, man is a composite being uniting two

realities: the noetic realm, associated with the rational soul, and the sensible realm, associated

with the body. 45 In other words, man is an icon of the universe, 46 a little world (

). 47 The world itself was created with five levels of division: uncreated and created;

noetic and sensible; heaven and earth; paradise and the oikoumene (inhabited earth); and male

and female. 48 Mans unique condition, from the moment of his creation, presages his calling to

unify the cosmos in himself. St Maximus writes:

For humanity clearly has the power of naturally uniting at the mean point of each division since it is related

to the extremities of each division in its own parts. Through that capacity it can come to be the way of

fulfillment of what is divided and be openly instituted in itself as the great mystery of the divine purpose. It

proceeds harmoniously to each of the extremities in the things that are, from what is close at had to what is

remote, from what is worse to what is better, lifting up to God and fully accomplishing union. For this

reason the human person was introduced last among beings, as a kind of natural bond mediating between

the universal poles through their proper parts, and leading into unity in itself those things that are naturally

set apart from another by a great interval. In order to bring about the union of everything with God as its

cause, the human person begins first of all with its own division, and then, ascending through the

43
Ibid., PG 1073B; 50.
44
Ibid.
45
De Ambigua 10, PG 1153A-B; Louth, 124.
46
Mystagogy, ch. 7,Berthold 196-7.
47
First used in Epistle 6, PG 429D; quoted in Microcosm and Mediator, Thunberg, 138.
48
De Ambigua 41, PG 1304A-B; Louth, 156-7.

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intermediate steps by order and rank, it reaches the end of its high ascent, which passes through all things in

search of unity, to God, in whom there is no division. 49

The primordial man, Adam, from the moment of his creation, was incorrupt. 50 By his

participation in life, he was immortal by Gods grace; 51 and had he trusted in God, he would

have been nourished from the tree of life, and the Lord would not have set aside the

immortality that had been granted. 52 Adams potential perfection 53 is a common theme in the

Greek Fathers, an important distinction that helps to explain how Gods creationwhich he

declared to be very goodcould have fallen from grace. 54 Adam was not created perfect, but

was able to obtain perfection through obedience and love for God.

Why would Adam forsake his glorious calling and disobey his Lord? St Maximus

contends that two factors coalesced to effect mans fall: the deception of Satan, and mans selfish

grasping for autonomy. For since the deceitful devil at the beginning contrived by guile to

attack humankind through his self-love, deceiving him through pleasure, he has separated us in

our inclinations from God and from one another, and turned us away from rectitude. 55 Adams

decision was catastrophic. He introduced death and corruption () 56 to humanity, and by

reason of mans link to the cosmos, he enslaved the sensible realm to corruption as well. 57 The

dissolution of created being as a result of corruption is seen as descent into non-being. 58

Interestingly, St Maximus also views evil as non-being, the result of a privation of the good. 59

Hence, Adams rebellion against God, the movement of his will towards evil, is likewise his

49
Ibid., 1305B-C; 157.
50
De Ambigua 42, PG 1317B; Blowers and Wilken, 81; Ad Thalassium 21, CCSG 7:127; 109.
51
De Ambigua 10, PG 1156D-1157A; Louth, 126.
52
Ibid.
53
Original Sin According to St Maximus the Confessor, John Boojamra, 21.
54
See The Ancestral Sin, John Romanides, passim.
55
Epistle 2, PG 396D; Louth, 87.
56
Cf. Rom. 8:21, Acts 13:34.
57
De Ambigua 10, PG 1156C-1157A; Louth, 126.
58
De Ambigua 7, PG 1084D; Blowers and Wilken, 61.
59
Centuries on Love, 3.29; Berthold, 65.

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tendency towards non-existence. It is out of compassion that God allows Adam to die, in order

to hinder evil, since it does not allow that wickedness of free choice that is based on the

infirmity of nature to advance into concrete action. 60

The ancestral fall introduces a dialectic of pain and pleasure to mans existence. Fixated

on the sensible realm, Adam and his progeny seek out pleasure to compensate for the beauty and

grace once abandoned; but pleasure is ephemeral in this world, and pain always follows. 61 The

pleasure/pain matrix is linked to a passibility that has been corrupted by the fall. And because

the human cycle of procreation is bound to this matrix, a corrupted passibility is transmitted to

every generation. 62 Mans natural faculties are disordered and weakened as a result of the fall.

The inclination to sin is exacerbated by his bondage to death and the devil, and he finds himself

enslaved to unnatural passions by which he is borne along against his design, against his

logos. 63 It is important to note at this point that St Maximus distinguishes between blameless

passions (hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear of death) and sinful passions (self-love, lust, gluttony, etc.).

The fall introduced both to mans mode of existence (his essence and logos were not affected),

but only the latter are the result of mans misuse of his faculties, and hence he incurs judgment

for them alone. 64

The ancestral fall leaves humankind in a pitiable state. The creature fashioned with the

purpose of uniting the whole universe hurtles towards non-existence, dragging the sensible world

into the abyss with him. The question of St Athanasius is apropos: So, as the rational creatures

60
Ad Thalassium 42, CCSG 7:289; Blowers and Wilken, 122.
61
Ad Thalassium 61, CCSG 22:85-87; Blowers and Wilken, 131-3.
62
Ibid., 22:87-88; 133.
63
De Ambigua 8, PG 1105A-B; Blowers and Wilken, 77-8.
64
Cosmic Liturgy, von Balthasar, 194-5.

11
were wasting and such works in course of ruin, what was God in His goodness to do? 65 The

world was desperately in need of a Savior.

Christ and the New Creation

The Incarnation of the Son of the God is the climax of Gods revelation and salvific

activity begun in the Old Testament. But like St John the Theologian before him, St Maximus

does not begin with the Economy, but rather with the pre-eternal Word of God. Drawing from

the Epistle to the Colossians, St Maximus writes that the Incarnation was known to the

prescience of God, and therefore foreordained:

The Scriptural text calls the mystery of Christ Christ. The great Apostle clearly testifies to this when he

speaks of the mystery hidden from the ages, having now been manifested [Col 1:26]. He is of course

referring to Christ the whole mystery of Christ, which is, manifestly, the ineffable and incomprehensible

hypostatic union between Christs divinity and humanity. 66

Before anything created came into being, Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning

and the ending, 67 in whom all the logoi of creation originate from and are held together, and to

whom all things shall return. 68 He is the the mystery that circumscribes all the ages; and yet

the fruition of his plan lies at the end of time when God brings foreknowledge to fulfillment,

in order that naturally mobile creatures might secure themselves around Gods total essential

immobility, desisting altogether from their movement toward themselves and toward each
69
other. The Incarnation of Christ, then, is a sudden inrushing of the end () of all things

into the history of man, an irruption in the course history thus initiating the return of the cosmos

65
On the Incarnation, 6.7; NPNF, vol.4
66
Ad Thalassium 60, CCSG 22:73; Blowers and Wilken, 123.
67
Rev. 1:8.
68
De Ambigua 7, PG 1077C-1080A; Blowers and Wilken, 54-5.
69
Ad Thalassium 60, CCSG 22:75-77; Blowers and Wilken, 124-5.

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to God. 70 The eschaton has been inaugurated here and now, and will find its completion at the

parousia, when all of creation will be granted eternal rest (). 71

Reconciliation between God and man lies at the very heart of St Maximus soteriology.

Quoting St Paul, he shows that Christ has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of

hostility 72 in order to reconcile us to the Father. 73 To do this, Christs mission had to be

twofold. First, it was necessary to reverse the effects of the ancestral fall. Christ had to

overcome the corruption imposed upon our passible mode of existence, thereby opening up a

means to communion and eternal life. Second, Christ as perfect man had to accomplish what

Adam could not: act as mediator and unite all of the cosmos in himself and then offer it up to the

Father. The Pauline themes of recapitulation and reconciliation converge, revealing the manner

in which Christ actualizes both.

By becoming the man Jesus Christ, the Logos empties himself to take on our passible

natureyet without sinin order to restore it, uniting it hypostatically to his divine nature. He

beautifully summarizes this doctrine in Ambigua 42:

For [Christ] is doubly identified by the two parts of which he is constituted: he has perfectly become the

New Adam, while bearing in himself the first Adam, and he is both of these at once, without diminution.

For, in being formed as a human being, he condescended to what was by law the creaturely origin of Adam

prior to his fall, and so assumed in his human nature impeccability through the divine inbreathing, but not

incorruptibility. On the other hand, when, in his voluntary abasement, he underwent the human birth

punitively instituted after the fall, he assumed the natural liability to passions but not sinfulness. He

became the New Adam by assuming a creaturely origin and yet submitting to passible birth. Perfectly

combining the two parts in himself in a reciprocal relationship, he effectively rectified the deficiency of the

one with the extreme of the other, and vice versa, by causing his birth amid dishonor to save and renew his

70
Ad Thalassium 22, CCSG 7:139; Blowers and Wilken, 117.
71
Ibid., 7:137; 115.
72
Eph. 2:14-15.
73
On the Our Father, ch. 3; Berthold, 104.

13
honorable creaturely origin, and conversely, by making his creaturely origin sustain and preserve his

birth. 74

God is active and not passive. 75 Christs humanity is penetrated by the energy of his

divinity and is wholly deified. This enables him to take on all of the blameless passions,

transforming them by their contact with his holy flesh. 76 He turns the very passibility into an

instrument for eradicating sin and the death which is its consequence. 77 By his active passivity,

he destroys the dialectic of pleasure and pain. 78 With the Virgin Birth, Christ effectively

circumvents the manner of generation by which corrupted passibility is communicated to each

human generation; however, he voluntarily accepts the suffering caused by the blameless

passions so that he may transfigure them. 79 This victory [is]. . .for our sake, not for his own,

so that he may create a complete restoration. 80 The New Adam raises the Old, and all

humanity along with him, so that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 81

Since Adam abnegated his vocation as micro-cosmic mediator, Christ fulfills this role in

himself by uniting all the divisions imposed upon creation. 82 His Virgin Birth transcends the

division between male and female; through his life of obedience, he reverses the sin of Adam

and conjoins the oikoumene to paradise; by his ascension he unites heaven and earth; passing

with his soul and body through the ranks of the heavens, he reconciles the sensible and noetic

realms; and finally, he goes to God himself, to bridge the chasm between created and the

74
PG 1316D-1317B; Blowers and Wilken, 80-1.
75
Centuries on Knowledge, 1.10; Berthold, 130.
76
Ad Thalassium 42, CCSG 7:285-287; Blowers and Wilken, 119-121.
77
Ad Thalassium 61, CCSG 22:89-91; Blowers and Wilken, 134-5.
78
Ibid.
79
Ibid.; also, cf. De Ambigua 42, PG 1317B; Blowers and Wilken, 81: Now of course the Savior in his incarnation
did not assume this sinful passion, and corruption; he took on their consequences, and enabled his birth to save his
creaturely origin, and paradoxically renewed the incorruptibility of his creaturely origin by his own suffering.
80
Ad Thalassium 21, CCSG 7:129; Blowers and Wilken, 111.
81
2 Cor. 5:17
82
De Ambigua 41, PG 1308C-D; Louth, 158-9.

14
Uncreated. 83 The mystery of Pascha climaxes in the establishment of a new mode of existence

for mankind.

The Path to Salvation

Every person brought into existence remains in motion, for only God is unmoved. Being

is a state of becoming. 84 Mans bondage to corruption, to sin and the devil, pulls him away from

his intended goal, which is communion with God. Man freely acts against his true nature, the

logos of his eternal being that pre-existed in God. 85 And yet man can choose to respond to

Gods call and lay hold of salvation. For St Maximus, the motion towards God begins

sacramentally: The second birth comes through baptism, in which we receive well-being in

abundance. 86 This initiates the process of deification (), which is more a dialogue with

God than a methodology. The believer goes out from himself () and is drawn towards

his Maker in love ():

If [one] experiences ecstasy, [he] presses on eagerly, and if [he] presses on eagerly [he] intensifies [his]

motion. . .and does not come to rest until [he] is embraced wholly by the object of [his] desire. [He] no

longer wants anything from [himself], for [he] knows [himself] to be wholly embraced, and intentionally

and by choice [he] wholly receives the life-giving delimitation. When [he] is wholly embraced [he] no

longer wishes to be embraced at all by [himself] but is suffused by that which embraces [him]. In the same

way air is illuminated by light and iron is wholly inflamed by fire, as is the case with other things of this

sort. 87

83
Ibid., 1309A-1311D; 159-160.
84
De Ambigua 7, PG 1073B-C; Blowers and Wilken, 50.
85
Ibid., PG 1084B; 59.
86
De Ambigua 42, PG 1325B; Ibid., 89.
87
De Ambigua 7, PG 1073C-1076A; Ibid., 50-1.

15
The believer who is drawn to God begins to voluntarily surrender his will to the divine

willwhich is identical to his natural will imprinted by his logos. 88 Uniting two wills

() Christians can become instruments of the divine nature [2 Pet. 1:3-4]. The

fullness of God permeates them wholly as the soul permeates the body, well adapted and useful

to the master. He directs them as he thinks best, filling them with his own glory. 89

Baptism is merely the beginning of theosis. It bestows the grace of adoption, which is

a potency () that requires actualization on the part of the believer. 90 St Maximus

repeatedly emphasizes the importance of asceticism and spiritual struggle in this regard.

Asceticism reestablishes a proper relationship between man and the cosmos: fasting and

renunciation are directed toward the sensible realm; 91 and prayer to the noetic. 92 In so doing,

man becomes dispassionate (), which truly means that his passions have been

transfigured and are no longer compelled by sin and corruption. In other words, the active life

leads to the contemplative life:

So long as one bravely endures the spiritual contests with ascetic discipline, he holds fast to himself the

Word who came out from the Father through the commandments to the world. But when he is released

from the struggles of the ascetic state against the passions and is pronounced victor over passions and devils,

and has passed on through contemplation to the mystical level of knowledge, then he allows the Word

mystically to leave the world again and to go to the Father. 93

St Maximus believes that the spiritual life of the believer must be enacted within the

Church. In the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ gives a sharing in the divine life. 94 He is the

88
Ibid., PG 1084A-B; 58-9.
89
Ibid., PG 1088B; 63.
90
Ad Thalassium 6, CCSG 7:69; Ibid., 103.
91
Centuries on Love, 3.13; Sherwood, 175.
92
On the Our Father, ch. 6; Berthold, 118.
93
Centuries on Knowledge, 2.94; Ibid., 168.
94
On the Our Father, ch. 2; Berthold, 103-4.

16
bread of life who is able to deify those who eat. 95 The locus of this event is the Divine

Liturgy, of which St Maximus dedicates an entire treatise to explaining the depth of its

symbolism and meaning. Concerning the spiritual necessity of corporate worship, he relates a

tradition passed on to him by a predecessor:

This, indeed, is why the blessed old man believed that every Christian should be exhortedand he never

failed to do thisto frequent Gods holy Church and never to abandon the holy synaxis accomplished

therein because of the holy angels who remain there and who take note each time people enter and present

themselves to God, and they make supplications for them; likewise because of the grace of the Holy Spirit

which is always invisibly present, but in a special way at the time of the holy synaxis. This grace

transforms and changes each person who is found there and in fact remolds him in proportion to what is

more divine in him and leads him to what is revealed through the mysteries which are celebrated, even if he

does not himself feel this because he is still among those who are children in Christ, unable to see either

into the depths of the reality or the grace operating in it, which is revealed through each of the divine

symbols of salvation being accomplished, and which proceeds according to the order and progression from

preliminaries to the end of everything. 96

United to Christ in baptism, and deified by his grace through the active life and in the Eucharist,

the believer acquires the likeness of God and restores the image to its pristine state. According

to St Maximus, This is the calling of every Christian: to continually render himself and his world

transparent in order to allow the light of Christ to shine through, uniting the cosmos and offering

all things up to God in a glorious and eternal Liturgy. 97

95
Ibid.
96
Mystagogy, ch. 24; Berthold, 206-7.
97
Cf. The Experience of God, Dumitru Staniloae, 59,102.

17
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