Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
Saint Maximus the Confessor
Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
When you find your intellect occupied pleasurably with material things and becoming fondly attached to its conceptual images of them, you may be sure that you love these things more than God. ?For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also? (Matt. 6:21).
When you hear the words of Scripture, ?Thou shalt render to every man according to his work? (Ps. 62:12. LXX), do not think that God bestows blessings when something is done for the wrong purpose, even though it seems be good. Quite clearly He bestows blessings only when something is done for the right purpose. For God?s judgment looks not at the actions but at the purpose behind them.
You are to love every man from your own soul, but in God alone are you to place your hope and serve Him with your whole strength.
When the mind receives the ideas of things, by its nature is transformed according to each and every idea. If it sees the things spiritually, is transfigured in many ways according to each vision. But if the mind becomes in God, then it becomes totally shapeless and formless, because seeing Him who has one face it comes to have one face and then the whole mind becomes a face of light.
When we pray, let our aim be this mystery of deification, which shows us what we were once like and what the self emptying of the only-begotten Son through the flesh has now made us; which shows us, that is, the depths to which we were dragged down by the weight of sin, and the heights to which we have been raised by His compassionate hand. In this way we shall come to have greater love for Him who has prepared this salvation for us with such wisdom. Bringing the prayer to fulfillment through our actions, we shall manifestly proclaim God as our true Father, by grace. We shall show that the evil one, who is always tyrannically attempting to gain control of our nature through the shameful passions, is not the father of our life, and that we are not unwittingly exchanging life for death. For both God and the devil naturally impart their qualities to those who approach either of them: God bestows eternal life on those who love Him, while the devil, operating through temptations that we subject to our volition, causes the death of his followers.
When the body is urged by the senses to indulge its own desires and pleasures, the corrupted intellect readily succumbs and assents to its impassioned fantasies and impulses. But the regenerated intellect exercises self-control and withholds itself from them. Moreover, as a true philosopher it studies how to rectify such impulses.
When the body sins through material things, it has the bodily virtues to teach it self-restraint. Similarly, when the intellect sins through impassioned conceptual images, it has the virtues of the soul to instruct it, so that by seeing things in a pure and dispassionate way, it too may learn self-restraint.
When the demons expel self-restraint from your intellect and besiege you with thoughts of unchastity, turn to the Lord with tears and say, ?Now they have driven me out and encircled me? (Ps. 17:11. LXX); ?Thou art my supreme joy: deliver me from those who encircle me? (Ps. 32:7. LXX). Then you will be safe.
When the desiring aspect of the soul is frequently excited, it implants in the soul a habit of self-indulgence which is difficult to break. When the soul?s incensive power is constantly stimulated, it becomes in the end cowardly and unmanly. The first of these failings is cured by long exercise in fasting, vigils and prayer; the second by kindness, compassion, love and mercy.
When the intellect begins to advance in love for God, the demon of blasphemy starts to tempt it, suggesting thoughts such as no man but only the devil, their father, could invent. He does this out of envy, so that the man of God, in his despair at thinking such thoughts, no longer dares to soar up to God in his accustomed prayer. But the demon does not further his own ends by this means. On the contrary, he makes us more steadfast. For through his attacks and our retaliation we grow more experienced and genuine in our love for God. May his sword enter into his own heart and may his bows be broken (cf. Ps. 37:15).
When the intellect is stripped of passions and illuminated with the contemplation of created beings, then it can enter into God and pray as it should.
When the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding. When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge. The first leads the spiritual contestant to discriminate between virtue and vice; the second leads the participant to the inner qualities of incorporeal and corporeal things. Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns - as far as this is possible for the human intellect - the qualities of God.
When the intellect turns its attention to the visible world, it perceives things through the medium of the senses in a way that accords with nature. And the intellect is not evil, nor is its natural capacity to form conceptual images of things, nor are the things themselves, nor are the senses, for all are the work of God. What, then, is evil? Clearly it is the passion that enters into the conceptual images formed in accordance with nature by the intellect; and this need not happen if the intellect keeps watch.
When the mind receives the ideas of things, by its nature is transformed according to each and every idea. If it sees the things spiritually, it is transfigured in many ways according to each vision. But if the mind becomes in God, then it becomes totally shapeless and formless, because seeing Him who has one face it comes to have one face and then the whole mind becomes a face of light.- taken from Speech on Love
Those who are always trying to lay hold of our soul do so by means of impassioned thoughts, so that they may drive it to sin either in the mind or in action. Consequently, when they find the intellect unreceptive, they will be disgraced and put to shame; and when they find the intellect occupied with spiritual contemplation, they will ?be turned back and suddenly ashamed? (Ps. 6:l0).
When a trial comes upon you unexpectedly, do not blame the person through whom it came but try to discover the reason why it came, and then you will find a way of dealing with it. For whether through this person or through someone else you had in any case to drink the wormwood of God?s judgments.
Those who look carefully at the present world, making the most of their learning, and wisely tease out with their mind the logos that folds together the bodies that harmoniously constitute it in various ways?they discover what is perceived through the senses, and what is understood and what is universal, everything contained in everything and turning by the exchange of the individual qualities of each. For by nature the senses are contained by what is perceived through the senses, and what is perceived through the senses is contained by the senses through sensation, as being understood. And again the universal is corrupted by change into the particular, and the particular, turned into the universal by reduction, also suffers corruption. And there comes about the corruption of everything that owes its coming to be to others. For the union of universals with one another, which causes the coming to be of particulars, is the corruption of one another by change, and the reduction of particulars to universals by the dissolution of their being bound together, leading to corruption, is the continuance and coming to be of the universals. And learning that this is the constitution of the world of the senses?the change and corruption of the bodies through which and in which it consists, one into another?we come to understand that it follows from the natural property of the bodies in which it consists?their instability and changeability and their chameleon-like alteration of universal qualities?that it is not possible for the world to have a necessary consummation. Nor can it be rightly thought that what does not possess eternity should appear to any rational understanding as eternal, separate from change and alteration, and not rather scattered and changing in a myriad of ways.
When desire grows strong, the intellect in sleep imagines things that give sensual pleasure; and when the incensive power grows strong, it imagines things that cause fear. For the impure demons, finding an ally in our negligence, strengthen and excite the passions. But holy angels, by inducing us to perform works of virtue, make them weaker.
Those whom divine providence is leading towards holiness in this life are tested by the following three tests: by the gift of agreeable things, such as health, beauty, fine children, money, fame and so on; by afflictions causing distress, such as the loss of children, money and fame; and by bodily sufferings, such as disease, torture and so on. To those in the first category the Lord says, ?If a person does not forsake all that he has, he cannot be My disciple? (Luke 14:33); and to those in the second and third He says, ?You will gain possession of your souls through your patient endurance? (Luke 21:19).
When our Lord says, ?I and My Father are one? (John 10:30), He indicates their identity of essence. Again, when He says, ?I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? (John 14:11), He shows that the Persons cannot be divided. The tritheists, therefore, who divide the Son from the Father, find themselves in a dilemma. Either they say that the Son is coeternal with the Father, but nevertheless divide Him from the Father, and so they are forced to say that He is not begotten from the Father; thus they fell into
Thus ? to go back a little and comment briefly on what has been said ? if we really wish to be delivered from evil and not to enter into temptation, we should trust in God and forgive our debtors their debts. ?For if you do not forgive people their sins?, says Scripture, ?your heavenly Father will not forgive you yours? (Matt. 6:15). We should do this not only to receive forgiveness for the offences we have committed, but also to defeat the law of sin -because then we would not be allowed to undergo the experience of being tempted by it ? and to trample on the originator of this law, the evil serpent from whom we entreat God to deliver us? Being the bread of life, of wisdom, spiritual knowledge and righteousness, He arouses in us an insatiable desire for Himself. If we fulfill His Father?s will He makes us co-worshippers with the angels, when in our conduct we imitate them as we should and so conform to the heavenly state. Then He leads us up still further on the supreme ascent of divine truth to the Father of lights, and makes us share in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4) through participation by grace in the Holy Spirit. By virtue of this participation we are called children of God and, cleansed from all stain, in a manner beyond circumscription, we all encircle Him who is the author of this grace and by nature the Son of the Father. From Him, through Him and in Him we have and always will have our being, our movement and our life (cf. Acts 17:28).
When passions dominate the intellect, they separate it from God, binding it to material things and preoccupying it with them. But when love of God dominates the intellect, it frees it from its bonds, persuading it to rise above not only sensible things but even this transitory life.
To harbor no envy, no anger, no resentment against an offender is still not to have charity for him. It is possible, without any charity, to avoid rendering evil for evil. But to render, spontaneously, good for evil -- such belongs to a perfect spiritual love.
When the body dies, it is wholly separated from the things of this world. Similarly, when the intellect dies while in that supreme state of prayer, it is separated from all conceptual images of this world. If it does not die such a death, it cannot be with God and live with Him.
To treat one's neighbor as oneself is to be concerned simply with his existence. This pertains to the natural law. To love one's neighbor as oneself is to care, in a way that accords with virtue, for his well-being. This is prescribed by the written law. (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:33) To love one's neighbor more than oneself is a prerogative of the law of grace.