St Maximus the Confessor: Do You Love God?

Feast of Sts Athanasius & Cyril, Patriarchs of Alexandria

1. CHARITY is a good disposition of the soul, according to which one prefers no creature to the knowledge of God. It is impossible to attain a lasting possession of this charity if one has any attachments to earthly things.

2. Charity springs from the calm of detachment, detachment from hope in God, hope from patience and long-suffering; and these from all-embracing self-mastery; self-mastery from fear of God, fear of God from faith in the Lord.

3. He that has faith in the Lord fears punishment; he that fears punishment masters his passions; he that masters his passions endures hardships with patience; he that endures hardships with patience will have hope in God; hope in God separates the mind from every earthly attachment; the mind thus separated will have charity towards God.

4. He who loves God prefers knowledge of Him to all things made by Him; and by desire ceaselessly devotes himself to it.

5. If all things have been made by God and for God, He is nobler than all the things made by Him; he who deserts God, the incomparably nobler, and devotes himself to inferior things shows that he prefers before God the things made by Him.

6. He who has his mind fixed upon charity for God scorns all visible things and even his body as something alien.

7. If the soul is nobler than the body and God incomparably nobler than the world He made, he that prefers body to soul and the world to God who made it differs in no way from idolaters.

8. He that turns his mind from charity and constant attention towards God and binds it over to some sensible thing—this is the one that prefers body to soul and created things to God their Maker.

9. If the life of the mind is the illumination of knowledge; and this springs from charity towards God—beautifully it is said: Nothing is greater than divine charity.

10. When the mind by the burning love of its charity for God is out of itself, then it has no feeling at all for itself nor for any creatures. For, illumined by the divine and infinite light, it has no feeling for anything that is made by Him, as the eye of the senses has no perception of the stars when the sun is risen.

11. All the virtues help the mind towards the burning of divine love; more than all, pure prayer. For by this winging its way to God, the mind gets outside all things.

12. When through charity the mind is ravished by divine knowledge, and, outside of creatures, has a feeling of the divine infinity, then, as divine Isaiah explains, shocked into a sense of its own lowliness, it says with conviction the words of the prophet: Woe is me, because I am struck at heart, because, being man and having unclean lips, I live in the midst of a people with unclean lips and the king the Lord of Sabbaoth I have seen with my eyes (Is. 6:5).

13. He that loves God cannot help loving also every man as himself, even though the passions of those not yet purified disgust him. So then as he sees their conversion and betterment, he rejoices with a boundless and unspeakable joy.

14. Impure is the impassioned soul, filled with notions of cupidity and hate.

15. Who sees a trace of hate in his own heart, for any fault soever, towards any man soever, is quite alien from charity towards God; because charity towards God in no way suffers hate towards man.

16. He that loves me, saith the Lord, will keep my commandments; and this is my commandment that you love one another (Jn. 14:15, 15:12). He therefore who does not love his neighbor does not keep the commandment. Nor is he that does not keep the commandment able to love the Lord.

17. Happy the man who is able to love all men equally.

18. Happy the man who is attached to no corruptible or transitory thing.

19. Happy the mind that has gone beyond all things and delights unceasingly in the divine beauty.

20. He that takes forethought for the flesh in its lusts and, because of transitory things, bears grudges against his neighbor—such a man worships the creature instead of the Creator.

21. He that keeps his body apart from pleasure and disease has it as a fellow helper in the service of better things.

21. He that flees all worldly desires places himself above every worldly grief.

23. He that loves God most certainly also loves his neighbor. Such a man cannot keep money, but, God-like, distributes it, giving to each one in need.

24. He that in imitation of God does almsdeeds knows no difference between evil and good, just and unjust, in regard to the needs of the body, but distributes equally to all according to their need, even though for his good intentions he prefers the virtuous to the bad.

24. God, who is by nature good and without passion, loves all alike as His handiwork; yet the virtuous He glorifies as one who for his good will is made intimate with Himself, while, because of His goodness, He shows mercy on the bad, with chastisements in this world to convert him. So also he, who by good will is good and without passion, loves all men alike—the virtuous because of his nature and that fellow feeling which causes him to show mercy upon him as upon one without sense and wandering in darkness.

~St Maximus the Confessor, The Four Centuries on Charity, tr. Polycarp Sherwood (New York: Newman Press, 1955), 137-140.

*This is one of several patristic readings included in Synaxis 6.1: The Symposium Journal, to be released at the 2019 Symposium.

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