Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
Saint Maximus the Confessor
Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
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.
Love is therefore a great good, and of goods the first and most excellent good since through it God and man are drawn together in a single embrace.
Love is? in a definition: the inward universal relationship to the first good connected with the universal purpose of our natural kind? there is nothing that can make the human being who loves God ascend any higher.
Love? binds human beings to God and one another.
Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for which they are done. For example, fasting and vigils, prayer and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.
Men love one another, commendably or reprehensibly, for the following five reasons; either for the sake of God, as the virtuous man loves everyone and as the man not yet virtuous loves the virtuous ; or by nature, as parents love their children and children their parents; or because of self-esteem, as he who is praised loves the man who praises him; or because of avarice, as with one who loves a rich man for what he can get out of him; or because of self-indulgence, as with the man who serves his belly and his genitals. The first of these is commendable, the second is of an intermediate kind, the rest are dominated by passion.
Mystical theology teaches us, who through faith have been adopted by grace and brought to the knowledge of truth, to recognize one nature and power of the Divinity, that is to say, one God contemplated in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It teaches us to know God as a single unoriginate Intellect, self-existent, the begetter of a single, self-existent, unoriginate Logos, and the source of a single everlasting life, self-existent as the Holy Spirit: a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity.
No sinner can escape future judgment without experiencing in this life either voluntary hardships or afflictions he has not chosen.
Nothing is more truly Godlike than divine love, nothing more mysterious, nothing more apt to raise up human beings to deification.
Love alone?proves that the human person is in the image of the Creator?persuading the inclination to follow nature.
Love defeats those three: self-deception, because she is not proud; Interior envy, because she is not jealous; Exterior envy, because she is generous and serene.
Love for God leads him who shares in it to be indifferent to every transient pleasure and every labor and distress.
Love gathers together what has been separated.
Love is said to be God Himself which from the beginning the thorns of self-love have covered up.
Love is the goal of every good, being the highest of goods with God, and source of every good.
Let us therefore shun the love of matter and our attachment to matter with all the strength we have, as if washing dust from our spiritual eyes; and let us be satisfied simply with what sustains our present life, not with what pampers it. Let us pray to God for (his, as we have been taught, so that we may keep our souls unenslaved and absolutely free from domination by any of the visible things loved for the sake of the body. Let us show that we eat for the sake of living, and not be guilty of living for the sake of eating. The first is a sign of intelligence, the second proof of its absence. And let us be exact in the way we observe this prayer, thereby showing through our actions that we cleave fast to the one life lived in the spirit alone, and that we use our present life to acquire this spiritual life. We use it, that is to say, only in so far as we do not refuse to sustain our body with bread and to keep it as far as possible in its natural state of good health, our aim being not just to live but to live for God. For we make the body, rendered intelligent by the virtues, a messenger of the soul, and the soul, once it is firmly established in the good, a herald of God; and on the natural plane we restrict our prayer for this bread to one day only, not daring to extend our petition for it to a second day because of Him who gave us the prayer. When we have thus conformed ourselves to the sense of the prayer, we can proceed, in purity to the next petition, saying, ?And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors? (Matt. 6:12).
Let us, then, ?cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit? (2 Cor. 7:1), so that when we have extinguished our sensual desire, which indecently wantons with the passions, we may hallow the divine name. And with our intelligence let us bind fast our anger, deranged and frenzied by sensual pleasure, so that we may receive the kingdom of God the Father, that comes to us through gentleness. Having done all this, we may go on to the next phrase of the prayer, saying, ?Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven? (Matt. 6:10). He who worships God mystically with the faculty of the intelligence alone, keeping it free from sensual desire and anger, fulfils the divine will on earth just as the orders of angels fulfill it in heaven. He has become in all things a co-worshipper and fellow-citizen with the angels, conforming to St Paul?s statement, ?Our citizenship is in heaven? (Phil. 3:20). Among the angels desire does not sap the intellect?s intensity through sensual pleasure, nor does anger make them rave and storm indecently at their fellow creatures: there is only the intelligence naturally leading intelligent beings towards the source of intelligence, the Logos Himself. God rejoices in intelligence alone and this is what He demands from us His servants. He reveals this when He says to David, ?What have I in heaven, and besides yourself what have I desired on earth?? (Ps. 73:25. LXX). Nothing is offered to God in heaven by the holy angels except intelligent worship; and it is this that God also demands from us when He teaches us to say in our prayers, ?Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven? (Matt. 6:10).
Love ?never fails? since it possesses God who is alone unfailing and unalterable.
It is our aim to make the intelligence stand alone, stripped through the virtues of its affection for the body; for this affection, even when totally dispassionate, is still natural. The spirit, completely triumphing over nature, has to persuade the intellect to desist from moral philosophy m older to commune with the supra-essential Logos through direct and undivided contemplation, in spite of the fact that moral philosophy help the intellect to cut itself off from, and to go beyond, things pertaining to the flux of time. For when the intellect has become free from its attachment to sensible objects, it should not be burdened my longer with preoccupations about morality as with a shaggy cloak.
Just as it is easier to sin in the mind than in action, so warfare through our impassioned conceptual images of things is harder than warfare through the things themselves,
Just as night follows day and winter summer, so distress and pain follow self-esteem and sensual pleasure, either in this life or after death.
Just as the intellect of a hungry man imagines bread and that of a thirsty man water, so the intellect of a glutton imagines a pro?fusion of foods, that of a sensualist the forms of women, that of a vain man worldly honor, that of an avaricious man financial gain, that of a rancorous man revenge on whoever has offended him, that of an envious man how to harm the object of his envy, and so on with all the other passions. For an intellect agitated by passions is beset by impassioned conceptual images whether the body is awake or asleep. . . 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.
Let no one be shocked to hear me speak of the corruption that is inherent in generation. For when one has justly and dispassionately examined the nature of what comes into being and ceases to be, one will clearly see that generation begins with corruption and ends in corruption.
Let no one deceive you, monk, with the notion that you can be saved while a slave to sensual pleasure and self-esteem.
Let our intelligence, then, be moved to seek God, let our desire be roused in longing for Him, and let our incensive power struggle to keep guard over our attachment to Him. Or, more precisely, let our whole intellect be directed towards God, tensed by our incensive power as if by some nerve, and fired with longing by our desire at its most ardent. For if we imitate the heavenly angels in this way, we will find ourselves always worshipping God, behaving on earth as the angels do in heaven. For, like that of the angels, our intellect will not be attracted in the least by anything less than God.