Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
Saint Maximus the Confessor
Byzantine Christian Monk, Theologian and Scholar
He who combines the practice of the virtues with spiritual knowledge is a man of power. For with the first he withers his desire and tames his incensiveness, and with the second he gives wings to his intellect and goes out of himself to God.
Five things make a soul cut itself off from sin: fear of judgment, hope of future reward, love of God and, lastly, the prompting of conscience.
For according to Scripture there are two kinds of temptation, one pleasurable, the other painful. One is the result of deliberate choice; the other is unsought. The first kind generates sin. We have been commanded by the Lord?s teaching to pray not to fall into this, for He says, ?Lead us not into temptation? (Matt. 6:13), and ?Watch and pray so that you do not enter into temptation? (Matt. 26:41). The other kind of temptation punishes sin, chastising a sin loving disposition with sufferings that are unsought. To the person who endures this kind of temptation ? which comes in the form of a trial ? and who in particular is not riveted to evil, the words of the apostle James may be applied: ?My brethren, regard it as a great joy whenever you find yourselves beset by many trials; because the testing of your faith produces patient endurance; this endurance shapes the character; and the character thus shaped should be brought to fruition? (cf. Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:4). The evil one works his malice both through the temptation that is subject to our volition and through the trial that comes unsought. Where the first is concerned, by sowing the soul with bodily pleasures and by exciting it in this manner, he contrives to divert its desire away from divine love. Where the trial is concerned, in his wish to destroy nature through pain, he cunningly tries to force the soul, enervated by its sufferings, to calumniate and abuse the Creator.
For indeed, what is more dire than the evils which today afflict the world? What is more terrible for the discerning than the unfolding events? What is more pitiable and frightening for those who endure them? To see a barbarous people of the desert overrunning another's lands as though they were their own; to see civilization itself being ravaged by wild and untamed beasts whose form alone is human.
For the activity and clear proof of perfect love towards God is a genuine disposition of voluntary goodwill toward one?s neighbor.
For the sake of love the saints all resist sin continually finding no meaning in this present life.
From created beings we come to know their Cause; from the differences between created things we learn about the indwelling Wisdom of creation; and from the natural activity of created beings we discern the indwelling Life of creation, the power which gives created beings their life- the Holy Spirit.
God takes form in each through his great love for mankind out of the virtue that is present in each through the ascetic struggle.
Do not misuse your conceptual images of things, lest you are forced to make a wrong use of the things themselves. For if a man does not first sin in his mind, he will never sin in action.
Elijah clearly reveals this mystery in a typological manner through his actions (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:11-14). For when he was borne aloft he gave Elisha his cloak, that is, the mortification of the flesh which constitutes the chief glory of moral conduct. He did this so that Elisha should have the support of the Spirit in his battle against hostile powers and should triumph over the flux and instability of nature, typified by the Jordan; so that, in other words, he would not be immersed in the turbidity and slime of material attachment and thus prevented from Crossing over into the holy land. Meanwhile, Elijah himself advanced freely towards God, Unencumbered by attachment to any created thing. His desire being undivided and his will unmixed, he made his dwelling with Him who is simple by nature, carried there by the interdependent cardinal virtues, harnessed spiritually to one another like horses of fire.
Everything is circumscribed by love according to God?s good pleasure?for what form of good things does love not possess??faith, hope humility, meekness, gentleness, mercy, self-control, patience, long-suffering, kindness, peace and joy.
Faith is knowledge that cannot be rationally demonstrated. If such knowledge cannot be rationally demonstrated, then faith is a supernatural relationship through which, in an unknowable and so undemonstratable manner, we are united with God in a manner that is beyond intellection.
Faith without love does not act in the soul the illumination of the divine knowledge.
Both spiritual knowledge and health are good by nature, yet their contraries have been of more benefit to many people. For such knowledge may serve no good purpose where the wicked are concerned, even though, as we have said, it is good in itself. The same is true with regard to health, riches and joy, for they are not used advantageously by such people. But certainly their contraries do benefit them. Therefore not one of them is evil in itself, even though it may appear to be evil.
But, knowing the wiles of the evil one, let us pray for deliverance from the temptations subject to our volition, so that we do not defied our desire from divine love; and let us bravely endure the trials that come unsought, since they visit us with God?s consent and by enduring them we show that we have not put nature before the Creator of nature.
Certain things stop the movement of the passions and do not allow them to grow; others subdue them and make them diminish. For instance, where desire is concerned, fasting, labor and vigils do not allow it to grow, while withdrawal, contemplation, prayer and intense longing for God subdue it and make it disappear. The same is true with regard to anger. Forbearance, freedom from rancor, gentleness, for example, all arrest it and prevent it from growing, while love, acts of charity, kindness and compassion make it diminish.
Death in the true sense is separation from God, and ?the sting of death is sin? (1 Cor. 15:56). Adam, who received the sting, became at the same time an exile from the tree of life, from paradise and from God (cf. Gen. 3); and this was necessarily followed by the body?s death. Life, in the true sense, is He who said, ?I am the life? (John 11:25), and who, having entered into death, led back to life him who had died.
Divine love? in its power is beyond circumspection or definition.
Do not dishonor your conscience, perfectly instructing you always. Because she suggests you the divine and angelic opinion, she sets you free from the hidden infections of the heart and she gives you uprightness before God when you depart.
All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are inside our hearts hidden.
Almost every sin is committed for the sake of sensual pleasure; and sensual pleasure is overcome by hardship and distress arising either voluntarily from repentance, or else involuntarily as a result of some salutary and providential reversal. ?For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged; but when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned with the world? (1Cor. 11:31-32).
Alternatively, by temptation Scripture means the soul?s predilection for the passions of the flesh; and by ?what is evil? the actual way in which this impassioned proclivity is satisfied. The just Judge does not liberate a man from either of these if he has not forgiven his debtors their debts. So long as he prays merely in words for liberation, God. allows him to be defiled by the law of sin; and so long as his will is stubborn and raw, He abandons him to the domination of evil; for he has chosen the shameful passions (cf. Rom. 1:26), of which the devil is the sower, in preference to nature, of which God is the creator. God leaves him free to incline, if he so wishes, towards the passions of the-flesh, and actually to satisfy that inclination. Valuing the insubstantial passions more highly than nature, in his concern for these passions he has become ignorant of the principle of nature. Had he followed that principle, he would have known what constitutes the law of nature and what the tyranny of the passions ? a tyranny brought about, not by nature, but by deliberate choice. He would then have accepted the law of nature that is maintained through activities which are natural; and he would have expelled the tyranny of the passions completely from his will. He would have obeyed nature with his intelligence, for nature in itself is pure and undefiled, faultless, free from hatred and alienation, and he would have made his will once more a companion to nature, totally stripped of everything not bestowed by the principle of nature. In this way he would have eradicated all hatred for and all alienation from what is by nature akin to him, so that when saying this prayer he would be heard and would receive from God a double rather than a single grace: forgiveness for offences already committed, and protection and deliverance from those which lie in the future. For he would not be allowed to enter into temptation and to fall into the power of evil for one simple reason: his readiness to forgive his neighbors their debts.
Anyone who is convinced that God exercises providence over the things that are, from which he has learnt that he exists, will judge it right and reasonable that he is none other than the guardian of the things that are and cares for them and that he alone is the fashioner of what is. For the permanence of what is, and its order and position and movement, and the consonance of the extremities with the middle, the agreement of the parts with the wholes, and the union throughout of the wholes with the parts, and the unblurred distinction of the parts one from another in accordance with the individuating difference of each, and the unconfused union in accordance with the indistinguishable sameness in the wholes, and the combination and distinction of everything with everything else (not to limit myself to particulars), and the eternally preserved succession of everything and each one according to form, so that the logos of each nature is not corrupted by confusion or blurring?all this shows clearly that everything is held together by the providence of the Creator God. For it is not the case that God is good but not beneficent, or beneficent but without providence, and therefore he cares wisely for the things that are and in a way befitting God, so that they are favored with existence and care. Providence is, then, according to the God- bearing Fathers, the care that comes from God to the things that are. They also define it thus: providence is the will of God through which everything that is receives suitable direction. If this will is God?s, if I may use the very words of my teachers, then it necessarily follows that what happens happens in accordance with right reason, and so no better disposition could be looked for. One who has chosen to take truth as his guide is therefore led to say that providence is either the one who is truly known to be the Creator or is a power exercised by the Creator of all things. And with animals, if we approach them in a rational way we shall find a trace of the intelligible in them which is a not unworthy imitation of what is above reason. For if we look at those beings that naturally care for their offspring, we are encouraged to define for ourselves reverently and with godly boldness that God exercises providence in his sovereign uniqueness over all beings, and not over some beings but not others, as some of the adepts of the ?outer learning? have it, but of absolutely everything, in accordance with the one and indistinguishable will of goodness, and indeed of both universals and particulars, for we know that if particulars can perish because they are not within the remit of providence and fitting protection, then universals will perish with them (for universals consist of particulars), in this way propounding a rational demonstration that rightly leads by a reasonable retort to the truth. For if universals consist of particulars, then if the particular examples of any logos in accordance with which things exist and consist should perish, then it is quite clear that the corresponding universals will not continue to be. For the parts exist and subsist in the wholes, and the wholes in the parts. No reason can gainsay it. But there are those who are, as it were, unwillingly bound by the truth and betray the power of providence, arguing that it only pervades what is important to them. For they say that only universals are governed by Providence, and that particulars are hidden from providence, being led by necessity towards the truth that they are anxious to flee. For if they say that it is because of permanence that universals are worthy of providence, they admit even more strongly that those particulars are worthy, in which the permanence and stability of the universals consist. These are admitted together through the indissoluble natural relationship that they have with each other, and both conserve permanence, nor can one be said to be foreign to the protection of the other, and again if they admit the protection of the one with respect of permanence, they have to grant the other too. Apart from that there are three ways in which the providence of God is denied. Some say that God does not understand the method of providence, others that he cannot will it, others that he has not the power. But it follows from the common notions that God is good and beyond goodness and eternally wills what is good for everything, and that he is wise and beyond wisdom, or rather the source of all wisdom, and certainly knows everything that is going to happen, and that he is powerful, or rather infinitely powerful, and certainly brings about in a divinely fitting way in everything what is known to him and what he wills for the good and what is fitting. For God is good and wise and powerful, and pervades everything visible and invisible, both universals and particulars, both small and great, indeed everything that possesses existence in any way whatever. He is not diminished by the boundlessness of his goodness and wisdom and power, and conserves everything in accordance with the logos of its being, both in relation to themselves and to others, and in accordance with the indissoluble harmony and permanence that relates everything one to another. Why then can we not understand that nature itself teaches us clearly about the existence of God?s providence over everything? For nature itself gives us no small proof that the knowledge of providence is naturally implanted within us, whenever it prepares us to seek salvation through prayers in sudden emergencies, as if pushing us towards God in an untaught way. For seized by necessity, all unawares, without choice, before we have had a chance to think of anything, as if providence itself led us to itself without any thought, faster than any mental power within ourselves, placing before us the divine help as stronger than anything else. Not that nature leads us to the possession of something unnatural. Whatever happens naturally, even if it is obscure to all, possesses the strong and unconquerable power of the demonstration of the truth. If it is the case that the reason for providence as it affects particulars is incomprehensible to us, as in accordance with the verse, his judgments are unsearchable and his ways past finding out (Rom. 11:33), then in my view they are not right who say that it shows that there is no such providence. For if the difference and variation between different human beings is great and incomprehensible, in ways of life and customs and opinions and choices and desires, in what they know, and their needs and pursuits, and the almost countless thoughts in their minds, and in everything that happens to them in each day and hour (for this animal, man, is changeable, sharp on occasions and changing with need), it is absolutely necessary that providence, comprehending everything with foresight in the circumscription of its individuality, should be manifest as different and manifold and complex, and should achieve harmony as it extends into the incomprehensibility of the multitudinous, in a way suitable to each individual, whether thing or thought, reaching as far as the least movement of mind or body. If therefore the difference of particulars is incomprehensible, then likewise is the infinite meaning of providence that draws them into harmony, but it should not follow that, since the meaning of particular providence happens to be infinite and unknowable to us, we should make our ignorance a ground for denying the all-wise care for the things that are, but we should receive and hymn all the works of providence simply and without examination, as divinely fitting and suitable, and believe that what happens happens well, even if the reason is beyond our grasp. And I mean all the works of providence, not what happens by our agency in accordance with our reason, for these are quite different from the logos of providence. For the manner indicated by the great teacher of the power and grace of the Saints, according to reason and contemplation, is conjectural rather than categorical (for our mind is very far from truth itself), but trying to get hold of what has been said with the reason, and as it were tracking it down, I have done nothing more than make suggestions.
as indeed He is. The sign of the second is that at the very onset of prayer the intellect is so ravished by the divine and infinite light that it is aware neither of itself nor of any other created thing, but only of Him who through love has activated such radiance in-it. It is then that, being made aware of God?s qualities, it receives clear and distinct reflections of Him.
As long as you have bad habits do not reject hardship, so that through it you may be humbled and eject your pride.