Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
Saint Maximus the Confessor
Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
There are also three things that impel us towards evil: passions, demons and sinfulness of intention. Passions impel us when, for example, we desire something beyond what is reasonable, such as food which is unnecessary or untimely, or a woman who is not our wife or for a purpose other than procreation, or else when we are excessively angered or irritated by, for instance, someone who has dishonored or injured us. Demons impel us when, for example, they catch us off our guard and suddenly launch a violent attack upon us, stirring up the passions already mentioned and others of a similar nature. We are impelled by sinfulness of intention when, knowing the good, we choose evil instead.
There are said to be five reasons why God allows us to be assailed by demons. The first is so that, by attacking and counterattacking, we should learn to discriminate between virtue and vice. The second is so that, having acquired virtue through conflict and toil, we should keep it secure and immutable. The third is so that, when making progress in virtue, we should not become haughty but learn humility. The fourth is so that, having gained some experience of evil, we should ?hate it with perfect hatred? (cf. Ps. 139:22). The fifth and most important is so that, having achieved dispassion, we should forget neither our own weakness nor the power of Him who has helped us.
There are three main inner states characterizing the life of the monk. The first consists in not sinning in actions; the second in not allowing the soul to dally with impassioned thoughts; the third in being able to contemplate dispassionately in the mind the forms of women and of those who have given one offence.
The power of love [is] the adversary of self-love.
The principal vices - stupidity, cowardice, licentiousness, injustice - are the ?image? of the ?earthy? man. The principal virtues - intelligence, courage, self-restraint, justice - are the ?image? of the ?heavenly? man. As we have borne the image of the earthy, let us also bear the image of the heavenly (cf. 1 Cor. 15:49).
The malice of the demon of pride takes two forms. Either he persuades the monk to ascribe his achievements to himself and not to God, the Giver of all goodness and helper in every achievement; or, if this fails, he suggests that he should belittle those of his brethren who are as yet less perfect than himself. Influenced in this way, he does not realize that the demon is persuading him to deny God?s help. For if he belittles his brethren for their lack of achievement, he clearly infers that he has achieved something through his own powers. But this is impossible, since, as our Lord has said, ?Without Me you can do nothing? (John 15:5). For even when impelled towards what is good, our weakness cannot bring anything to fruition without the Giver of all goodness
The mystery of love which out of human beings makes us gods.
The passion of pride arises from two kinds of ignorance, and when these two kinds of ignorance unite together they form a single confused state of mind. For a man is proud only if he is ignorant both of divine help and of human weakness. Therefore pride is the lack of knowledge both in the divine and in the human spheres. For the denial of two true premises results in a single false affirmation.
The passion of self-love suggests to the monk that he should have pity on his body and in the name of its proper care and governance should take food more often than is fitting; for in this way self-love will lead him on step by step to fall into the pit of self-indulgence. On the other hand, self-love prompts those who are not monks to fulfill the body?s desires at once.
The passions lying hidden in the soul provide the demons with the means of arousing impassioned droughts in us. Then, fighting the intellect through these thoughts, they force it to give its assent to sin. When it has been overcome, they lead it to sin in the mind; and when this has been done they induce it, captive as it is, to commit the sin in action. Having thus desolated the soul by means of these thoughts, the demons then retreat, taking the thoughts with them, and only the specter or idol of sin remains in the intellect. Referring to this our Lord says, ?When you see the abominable idol of desolation standing in the holy place (let him who reads understand) . . .? (Matt. 24:15). For man?s intellect is a holy place and a temple of God in which the demons, having desolated the soul by means of impassioned thoughts, set up the idol of sin. That these things have already taken place in history no one, I think, who has read Josephus will doubt; though some say that they will also come to pass in the time of the Antichrist.
The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a man, having achieved some things and eager to achieve others through this divine power, never belittles anyone. For he knows that just as God has helped him and freed him from many passions and difficulties, so, when God wishes, He is able to help all men, especially those pursuing the spiritual way for His sake. And if in His providence He does not deliver all men together from their passions, yet like a good and loving physician He heals with individual treatment each of those who are trying to make progress.
The Logos bestows adoption on us when He grants us that birth and deification which, transcending nature, comes by grace from above through the Spirit, The guarding and preservation of this in God depends on the resolve of those thus born: on their sincere acceptance of the grace bestowed on them and, through the practice of the commandments, on their cultivation .of the beauty given to them by grace. Moreover, by emptying themselves of the passions they lay hold of the divine to the same degree as that to which, deliberately emptying Himself of His own sublime glory, the Logos of God truly became man.
The Logos destroys the tyranny of the evil one, who dominates us through deceit, by triumphantly using as a weapon against him the flesh defeated in Adam. In this way he shows that what was once captured and made subject to death now captures the captor: by a natural death it destroys the captor?s life and becomes a poison to him, making him vomit up all those he was able to swallow because he had the power of death. But to humankind it becomes life, like leaven in the dough impelling the whole of nature to rise like dough in the resurrection of life (cf. l Cor. 5:6-7). It was to confer this life that the Logos who was God became man ? a truly unheard of thing ? and willingly accepted the death of the flesh.
The Logos enables us to participate in divine life by making Himself our food, in a manner understood by Himself and by those who have received from Him a noetic perception of this kind. It is by tasting this food that they become truly aware that the Lord is full of virtue (cf. Ps. 34:8). For He transmutes with divinity those who eat it, bringing about their deification, since He is the bread of life and of power in both name and reality. He restores human nature to itself. First, He became man and kept His will dispassionate and free from rebellion against nature, so that it did not waver in the slightest from its own natural movement even with regard to those who crucified Him; on the contrary, it chose death for their sake instead of life, thereby demonstrating the voluntary character of His passion, rooted as it is in His love for humankind. Second, having nailed to the Cross the record of our sins (cf. Col. 2:14), He abolished the enmity which led nature to wage an implacable war against itself; and having summoned those far off and those near at hand ? that is, those under the Law and those outside it ? and having broken down the obstructive partition-wall ? that is, having explained the law of the commandments in His teaching to both these categories of humankind ? He formed the two into one new man, making peace and reconciling us through Himself to the Father and to one another (cf. Eph. 2:14-16): our will is no longer opposed to the principle of nature, but we adhere to it without deviating in either will or nature.
The Logos has made men equal to the angels. Not only did He ?make peace through the blood of His Cross between things on earth and things in heaven? (Col. 1:20), and reduce to impotence the hostile powers that fill in the intermediary region between heaven and earth, thereby making the festal assembly of earthly and heavenly powers a single gathering for His distribution of divine gifts, with humankind joining joyfully with the powers on high in unanimous praise of God?s glory; but also, after fulfilling the divine purpose undertaken on our behalf, when He was taken up with the body which He had assumed. He united heaven and earth in Himself, joined what is sensible with what is intelligible, and revealed creation as a single whole whose extremes are bound together through virtue and through knowledge of their first Cause. He shows, I think, through what He has accomplished mystically, that the Logos unites what is separated and that alienation from the Logos divides what is united. Let us learn, then, to strive after the Logos through the practice of the virtues, so that we may be united not only with the angels through virtue, but also with God in spiritual knowledge through detachment from created things.
The Logos purifies human nature from the law of sin by not permitting His incarnation for our sake to be preceded by sensual pleasure. For His conception took place miraculously without seed, and His birth supra-naturally without the loss of His Mother?s virginity. That is to say, when God was born from His Mother, through His birth He tightened the bonds of her virginity in a manner surpassing nature; and in those that are willing He frees the whole of human nature from the oppressive rule of the law which dominates it, in so far as they imitate His self-chosen death by mortifying the earthly aspects of themselves (cf. Col. 3:5). For the mystery of salvation belongs to those who choose it, not to those who are compelled by force.
The Lord?s Prayer, as I have said, contains a petition for each of these things. First, it speaks of the Father, His name, and His kingdom. Second, it shows us that the person who prays is by grace the son of this Father. It asks that those in heaven and those on earth may be united in one will. It tells us to ask for our dally bread. It lays down that men should be reconciled with one another and unites our nature with itself when we forgive and are forgiven, for then it is not split asunder by differences of will and purpose. It teaches us to pray against entering into temptation, since this is the law of sin. And it exhorts in to ask for deliverance from the evil one. For the author and giver of divine blessings could not but be our teacher as well, providing the words of this prayer as precepts of life for those disciples who believe in Him and follow the way He taught in the flesh. Through these words He has revealed the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (cf. Col. 2:3) that as pure form exist in Him; and in all who offer this prayer He kindles the desire to enjoy such treasures. It is for this reason, I think, that scripture calls this teaching ?prayer?, since it contains petitions for the gifts that God gives to men by grace. Our divinely inspired fathers have explained prayer in a similar way, saying that prayer is petition for that which God naturally gives men to the manner appropriate to Him, while a vow, conversely, is a promise of what men who worship God sincerely resolve to offer Him. The fathers cite many Scriptural texts to illustrate this distinction such as, ?Make your vows to the Lord our God and perform them? (Ps. 76:11. LXX), and ?I will give Thee, O Lord, what I have vowed? (Jonah 2:10. LXX), which refer to vows. On the subject of prayer they quote such texts as ?Hannah prayed to the Lord, saying, O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed listen to Thy handmaid and give me a child? (cf. 1Sam. 1:11), and ?Hezekiah the king of Judah and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz prayed to the Lord? (cf. 2 Chr. 32:20), and ?Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven? (Matt. 6:9), as the Lord said to the disciples. Consequently, a vow is a decision to keep the commandments, confirmed by a promise on the part of the person making the vow; and a prayer is a petition by one who has kept the commandments that he may be transformed by the commandments he has kept. Or, rather, a vow is a contest of virtue that God welcomes most readily whenever it is offered to Him; and prayer is the prize of virtue that God gives joyfully when the contest is won.
The herdsman signifies the man practicing the virtues, for moral achievements may be represented by cattle. That is why Jacob said, ?Your servants are herdsmen? (Gen. 46:34). The shepherd signifies the gnostic, for sheep represent thoughts pastured by the intellect on the mountains of contemplation. That is why ?every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians? (Gen. 46:34), that is, to the demonic powers.
The intellect joined to God for long periods through prayer and love becomes wise, good, powerful, compassionate, merciful and long-suffering; in short, it includes within itself almost all the divine qualities. But when the intellect withdraws from God and attaches itself to material things, either it becomes self-indulgent like some domestic animal, or like a wild beast it fights with men for the sake of these things.
The intellect receives impassioned conceptual images in three ways: through the senses, through the body?s condition and through the memory. It receives them through the senses when the senses themselves receive impressions from things in relation to which we have acquired passion, and when these things stir up impassioned thoughts in the intellect; through the body?s condition when, as a result either of an undisciplined way of life, or of the activity of demons, or of some illness, the balance of elements in the body is disturbed and again the intellect is stirred to impassioned thoughts or to thoughts contrary to providence; through the memory when the memory recalls the conceptual images of things in relation to which we were once made passionate, and so stirs up impassioned thoughts in a similar way.
The intellect that dallies with some sensible thing clearly is attached to it by some passion, such as desire, irritation, anger or rancor; and unless it becomes detached from that thing it will not be able to free itself from the passion affecting it.
The grace of love? leads one to God who deifies the human being that He himself has fashioned.
The demons are weakened when the passions in us decrease through our keeping the commandments; and they are defeated totally when they are routed by dispassion, for then they no longer find anything through which they can enter the soul and fight against it. This is what is meant by ?they will be weakened and defeated before Thy face? (Ps. 9:3).
The demons attack the person who has attained the summits of prayer in order to prevent his conceptual images of sensible things from being free from passion; they attack the gnostic so that he will dally with impassioned thoughts; and they attack the person who has not advanced beyond the practice of the virtues so as to persuade him to sin through his actions. They contend with all men by every possible means in order to separate them from God.
The demons either tempt us themselves or arm against us those who have no fear of the Lord. They tempt us themselves when we withdraw from human society, as they, tempted our Lord in the desert. They tempt us through other people when we spend our time in the company of others, as they tempted our Lord through the Pharisees. But whichever line of attack they choose, let us repel them by keeping our gaze fixed on the Lord?s example.