St Maximus the Confessor: Have You Cast Off the Deformity of Vice through Participation in the Beautiful?

Feast of the Holy Martyr Emilian

Maximus_Square.jpgFROM SAINT Gregory’s oration on Saint Athanasius:

To whomsoever it has been granted to pass, by means of reason and contemplation, through matter and this fleshly “cloud” or “veil” (whichever it should be called), and attain kinship with God, and be mingled with the purest light (to the extent that this is possible for human nature)—that person is blessed owing to his ascent from here and his divinization there, which is given by true philosophy and by passing beyond the material dyad on account of the unity perceived in the Trinity. ~Oration 21.2

I do not think that Gregory’s teaching concerning the virtue of the saints, which we discussed when we were together, is at all deficient, even if, as you wrote, there are some who think this, based on the fact that here he speaks of those who pursue divine philosophy solely through “reason” and “contemplation,” saying nothing about the practice of asceticism. On the contrary, I take it that, when the teacher affirms that divine philosophy is achieved through reason and contemplation, he in actuality is quite clearly implying that the saints’ true judgment and action concerning beings (which alone I would be so bold as to define as philosophy in the fullest sense of the word) is twofold. This is because practice is absolutely conjoined with reason, and the judgment it presupposes is contained in contemplation—if it is true, as it certainly is, that while the aim of reason is to order the body’s movements, skillfully using the bridle of right thinking to restrain it from irrational impulses, the task of contemplation is the prudent option of what has been properly understood and judged, revealing, like a most radiant light, the truth itself by true knowledge. To be sure, it is by means of reason and contemplation that every philosophical virtue is created and sustained, and it is also by them that such virtue is manifested in and through the body, though not wholly, for the body cannot contain virtue, which is a form imprinted within it by divine power—but it does have certain traces of it, imparted, not for the benefit of virtue, but so that those who are naked of its grace might come to imitate the divine form of life of those who love God, inasmuch as they have cast off the deformity of vice through participation in the Beautiful, and so come to be ranked with those who are worthy of God; or so that those who are in need of some help might obtain it from those who are able to provide it. And when they acquire the disposition of the virtuous—which is hidden in the depths of the soul but manifested through bodily practice—they praise the providence of God, which has become all things in everyone, and through all things is presented to all. So that, if there were no one who needed to be helped by an act of virtue, or who stood in need of an example to show him what virtue is, it would not be out of place to say that each one of those who is adorned with the graces of the soul is absolutely sufficient for himself even without the manifestation of these virtues through the body.

—St Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 10

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