Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
Saint Maximus the Confessor
Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
The demons fight against us either through things themselves or through our impassioned conceptual images of these things. They fight through things against those who are occupied with things and through conceptual images against those who are not attached to things.
The divine and blessed love? will embrace God and manifest the one who loves God to be God himself.
The Divinity is not one thing in another thing: the Trinity is not in the Unity like an accident in a substance or vice versa, for God is without qualities. The Divinity is not one thing and another thing: the Unity does not differ from the Trinity by distinction of nature; the nature is simple and single in both. Nor in the Divinity is one thing dependent on or prior to another: the Trinity is not distinguished from the Unity, or the Unity from the Trinity, by inferiority of power; nor is the Unity distinguished from the Trinity as something common and general abstracted in a purely conceptual manner from the particulars in which it occurs: it is a substantively self-subsistent essence and a truly self-consolidating power. Nor in the Divinity has one thing come into being through another: there is within it no such mediating relationship as that of cause and effect, since it is altogether identical with itself and free from relationships. Nor in the Divinity is one thing derived from another: the Trinity does not derive from the Unity, since it is ungenerated and self-manifested. On the contrary, the Unity and the Trinity are both affirmed and conceived as truly one and the same, the first denoting the principle of essence, the second the mode of existence. The whole is the single Unity, not divided by the Persons; and the whole is also the single Trinity, the Persons of which are not confused by the Unity. Thus polytheism is not introduced by division of the Unity or disbelief in the true God by confusion of the Persons.
The effect of observing the commandments is to free from passion our conceptual images of things. The effect of spiritual reading and contemplation is to detach the intellect from form and matter. It is this which gives rise to undistracted prayer.
The following four things are said to change the body?s temperament and through it to produce either. The function of practical philosophy is to purify the intellect of every impassioned fantasy. The function of natural contemplation is to initiate the intellect into the true knowledge that is found in created things and according to which they possess existence. The function of mystical theology is by grace to make the intellect like God and equal to Him- as far as this is possible- so that it becomes totally unaware, because of its transcendent state, of anything that is sequent to God.
Some say that the demons first touch the genitals during sleep and so arouse the passion of unchastity. Once aroused, the passion, by means of the memory, brings the form of a woman into the intellect. But others say that the demons appear first to the intellect in the guise of a woman and then excite the appetite by touching the genitals and so fantasies arise. Yet others say that the passion dominant in the approaching demon stirs the corresponding passion in us, and thus the soul is incited to sinful thoughts and brings these female forms into the intellect by means of the memory. The same is true with regard to other impassioned fantasies. Some say they happen in one way, others in another. However, if love and self-control are present in the soul, the demons have no power to arouse any passion at all in any of the ways described, whether the body is awake or asleep.
Some say that there would be no evil in the created world unless there were some power outside this world dragging us towards evil. But this so-called power is in fact our neglect of the natural energies of the intellect. For those who nurture these energies always do good, never evil. If this, then, is what you too wish to do, get rid of negligence and you will also drive out evil, which is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, followed by the wrong use of the things themselves.
Some thoughts are simple, others are composite. Thoughts which are not impassioned are simple. Passion charged thoughts are composite, consisting as they do of a conceptual image combined with passion. This being so, when composite thoughts begin to provoke a sinful idea in the mind, many simple thoughts may be seen to follow them. For instance, an impassioned thought about gold rises in someone?s mind. He has the urge mentally to steal the gold and commits the sin in his intellect. Then thoughts of the purse, the chest, the room and so on follow hard on the thought of the gold. The thought of the gold was composite - for it was combined with passion - but those of the purse, the chest and so on were simple; for the intellect had no passion in relation to these things. And the same is true for every thought - thoughts of self-esteem, women and so on. For not all thoughts which follow impassioned thought are themselves impassioned, as our example has shown. From this, then, we may know which conceptual images are impassioned and which are not.
Sometimes men are tested by pleasure, sometimes by distress or by physical suffering. By means of His prescriptions the Physician of souls administers the remedy according to the cause of the passions lying hidden in the soul.
The all glorious way of love? is truly divine and deifying and leads to God.
The clean mind sometimes God himself comes into and teaches, sometimes the holy angelic powers suggest the right things, sometimes the vision of the nature of things. ? But to participate or not in His goodness and wisdom, depends to the will of the creatures who have reason.
The demon of unchastity is powerful and violently attacks those who struggle against passion, particularly if they are lax about matters of diet and often meet women. With the lubricity of sensual pleasure he imperceptibly steals into the intellect and thereafter persecutes the hesychast by means of the memory, setting his body on fire and presenting various forms to his intellect. In this way he evokes his assent to sin. If you do not want these forms to linger in you, turn again to fasting, labor, vigils and blessed stillness with intense prayer.
So therefore when the Saints behold the creation, and its fine order and proportion and the need that each part has of the whole, and how all the perfect parts have been fashioned wisely and with providence in accordance with reason that fashioned them, and how what has come to be is found to be not otherwise than good beside what now is, and is in need of no addition or subtraction in order to be otherwise good, they are taught from the things he has made that there is One who fashioned them. So,95 too, when they see the permanence, the order and position of what has come to be, and its manner of being, in accordance with which each being, according to its proper form, is preserved unconfused and without any disorder; and the course of the stars proceeding in the same way, with no alteration of any kind, and the circle of the year proceeding in an orderly manner according to the periodic return of the [heavenly bodies] from and to their own place, and the equal yearly proportion of the nights and days, with their mutual increase and decrease, taking place according to a measure that is neither too small nor too great, they understand that behind everything there is providence, an this they acknowledge as God, the fashioner of all.
Some commandments of the Mosaic Law must be kept both physically and spiritually, others only spiritually. For example, ?You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal? (Exod. 20:13-15) and so on must be kept both physically and spiritually (the spiritual observance is threefold, as explained below). To be circumcised (cf. Lev. 12: 3), to keep the Sabbath (cf. Exod. 31:13), and to slaughter the lamb and eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs (cf. Exod. 12:8; 23:15) and similar injunctions are to be kept only spiritually.
Some men abstain from the passions because of human fear, others because of self-esteem, and others through self-control. Some, however, are delivered from the passions by divine providence.
Some of the things given to us by God for our use are in the soul, others are in the body and others relate to the body. In the soul are its powers; in the body are the sense organs and other members; relating to the body are food, money, possessions and so on. Our good or bad use of these things given us by God, or of what is contingent upon them, reveals whether we are virtuous or evil.
Some people with possessions possess them dispassionately, and so when deprived of them they are not
Scripture calls material things ?the world?; and worldly men are those who occupy their intellect with these things. It is such men that Scripture rebukes when it says: ?Do not love the world or the things that are in the world . . . The desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and pride in one?s possessions, are not of God but of the world? (cf. 1 John 2:15-16).
Scripture reveals in these words that he who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with his neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for. Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgments of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sins. Scripture here means by temptation the law of sin, of which the first man was free when he was created. And by ?what is evil? it means the devil, who has mixed this law of sin with human nature, deceitfully persuading man to transfer his soul?s desire from what is permitted to what is forbidden, and to turn aside to the transgression of the divine commandment. The result of this is the loss of the incorruptibility which had been given by grace.
Self-love is? the first sin, the first progeny of the devil, and the mother of the passions?the beginning and mother of all evils.
Since these things have been promised to those who love the Lord, what man prompted by intelligence and wishing to serve it would ever say, from a literal reading of Scripture alone, that heaven, and the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, and the mystically hidden joy of the Lord, and the perpetual dwelling with the Lord enjoyed by the saints, are to be identified with the earth? In this text (Matt. 5:5) I drink that the word ?earth? signifies the resolution and strength of the inner stability, immovably rooted in goodness, that is possessed by gentle, people. This state of stability exists eternally with the Lord, contains unfailing joy, enables the gentle to attain the kingdom prepared from the beginning, and has its station and dignity in heaven. It also permits the gentle to inherit the principle of virtue, as if virtue were the earth that occupies a middle place in the universe. For the gentle person holds a middle position between honor and obloquy, and remains dispassionate, neither puffed up by the first nor cast down by the second. For the intelligence is by nature superior to both praise and blame; and so, when it has put away the sensual desire, it is no longer troubled by either the one or the other, having anchored the whole power of the soul in divine and unassailable liberty. The Lord, wanting to impart this liberty to His disciples says, ?Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls? (Matt. 11:29). He calls the rule of the divine kingdom ?rest? because it confers on those worthy of it a lordship free from all servitude. If the indestructible power of the pure kingdom is given to the humble and the gentle, what man will be so lacking in love and so completely without appetite for divine blessings that he will not desire the greatest degree of humility and gentleness in order to take on the stamp of the divine kingdom, so far as this is possible for men, and to bear in himself by grace an exact spiritual likeness, who is by nature the truly great king? In this likeness, says St Paul, ?there is neither male nor female? (Gal. 3:28), that is, there is neither anger nor desire. Of these, the first tyrannically perverts judgment and makes the mind betray the law of nature; while the second scorns the one dispassionate cause and nature, that alone is truly desirable, in favor of what is inferior, giving preference to the flesh rather than to the spirit, and taking pleasure more in visible things than in the magnificence and glory of intelligible realities. In this way with the lubricity of sensual pleasure it seduces the intellect from the divine perception of spiritual realities that is proper to it.
Since, then, prayer is petition for the blessings given by the incarnate Logos, let us make Him our teacher in prayer. And when we have contemplated the sense of each phrase as carefully as possible, let us confidently set it forth; for the Logos Himself gives us, in the manner that is best for us, the capacity to understand what He says. ?
Of the things contingent upon those given us by God, some are in the soul, some are in the body, and some relate to the body. Those in the soul are spiritual knowledge and ignorance, forgetfulness and memory, love and hate, fear and courage, distress and joy, and so on. Those in the body are pleasure and pain, sensation and numbness, health and disease, life and death, and so on. Those relating to the body are having children and not having children, wealth and poverty, fame and obscurity, and so on. Some of these are regarded as good and others as evil. Not one of them is evil in itself. According to how they are used they may rightly be called good or evil.
Of these mysteries that He has granted to men in His boundless generosity, seven are of more general significance; and it is these whose power, as I have said, lies hidden within the Lord?s Prayer/ These seven are theology, adoption as sons by grace, equality with the angels, participation in eternal life, the restoration of human nature when it is reconciled dispassionately with itself, the abolition of the law of sin, and the destruction of the tyranny that holds us in its power through the deceit of the evil one.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come? (Matt. 6:9-10) It is appropriate that at the outset the Lord should teach those who pray to start with theology, and should initiate them into the mode of existence of Him who is by essence the created Cause of all things. For these opening words of the prayer contain a revelation of the Father, of the name of the Father, and of the kingdom of the Father, so that from this beginning we may be taught to revere, invoke and worship the Trinity in unity. For the name of God the Father exists in substantial form as the only-begotten son. Again the kingdom of God the Father exists in substantial form as the Holy Spirit: what Matthew calls ?kingdom? in this context one of the other Evangelists has elsewhere called ?Holy Spirit?, saying, ?May Thy Holy Spirit come and purify us. For the Father?s name is not something which He has acquired, nor is the kingdom a dignity ascribed to Him: He does not have a beginning, so that at a certain moment He begins to be Father or King, but He is eternal and so is eternally Father and King. In no sense at all, therefore, has He either begun to exist or begun to exist as Father or King. And if He exists eternally, not only is He eternally Father and King but also the Son and Holy Spirit co-exist with Him eternally in substantial form, having their being from Him and by nature inhering in Him beyond any cause or principle: they are not sequent to Him, nor have they come into existence after Him in a contingent manner. The relationship of co-inherence between the Persons embraces all three of them simultaneously, not permitting any of the three to be regarded as prior or sequent to the others.