St Maximus the Confessor: Are You a Chaste Lover of Wisdom and Beauty?

Feast of St Autonomous the Martyr

Maximus_Square.jpgTO THE SANCTIFIED servant of God, spiritual father and teacher, lord Thomas, from the humble and sinful Maximus, his unworthy servant and disciple.

From your concerted zeal in the pursuit of divine things, you have acquired, dearly beloved of God, a habit of undeviating contemplation, and have become a most chaste lover, not simply of wisdom, but of her beauty. Now the beauty of wisdom is knowledge embodied in practice, or practice informed by wisdom, whose common characteristic (inasmuch as it is complete through both) is the principle of divine providence and judgment. In accordance with this principle, you combined intellect and sensation through the spirit, showed truly how God is of a nature to fashion man after His own image, and made intelligible the riches of His goodness, lavishly showing forth in yourself—by means of the marvelous mixture of opposites—God incarnated by means of the virtues. As an imitator of God, you have equally attained His exalted height and the depth of His self-emptying, and have not disdained to descend even to me, seeking things the knowledge of which you already possess through experience.

These things pertain to certain passages in the writings of Dionysios and Gregory, those highly praised saints and blessed and truly elect men, who from the beginning were appointed by God according to His eternal purpose. They received within themselves all the outpouring of wisdom that can truly be attained by the saints, and by setting aside a life conformed to nature they occupied themselves with the substance of the soul and so took hold of the living, unique Christ, who—to say what is even greater—became the soul of their souls, manifest to all through all their deeds, words, and thoughts, by which one is persuaded that the passages cited hereinafter were authored, not by them, but by Christ, who by grace has exchanged places with them.

But as for me, how can I say Jesus is Lord, when I have not yet received the Spirit of holiness? How can I speak of the Lord’s powers when I am mute, having firmly closed my intellect through attachment to corruptible things? How can I render audible even some of His praises when I am deaf? For the ear of my soul, on account of my love for the passions, is entirely turned away from the blessed voice of the Word. How will the Word, who by nature conquers the world, but does not appear to the world, appear to me, conquered as I am by the world, since He is essentially unknowable to minds enamored of material things? How would it not be an act of insolence for a profane man to rush in among sacred things, and for the impure to lay hands on the pure?

I would have therefore declined to take in hand the execution of your directives, fearing the reproach of impetuosity, which is more tolerable, to the danger of disobedience, which is unforgivable. By the intercession of the saints, then, and with the help of your own prayers, and with Christ our great God and Savior granting me reverent thoughts and suitable speech, I will set forth a response as concise as is possible to each heading (for my treatise is addressed to a teacher who can infer great things from small). I begin with Gregory of godly mind, since he is rather closer to us in time.

—St Maximus the Confessor, The Ambigua

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