“On the Grace of Holy Baptism”

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ad Thalassium 6

“Q. If, as St. John says, he who is born of God does not sin, because his seed dwells in God, and he cannot sin (1 Jn 3:9), and yet he who is born of water and Spirit is himself born of God (Jn 3:5-6), then how are we who are born of God through baptism still able to sin?

R. The manner of birth from God within us is two-fold: the one bestows the grace of adoption, which is entirely present in potency in those who are born of God; the other introduces, wholly by active exertion, that grace which deliberately reorients the entire free choice of the one being born of God toward the God who gives birth. [notes: Maximus’s “realized eschatology” informs his whole understanding of the “potentiality” and “actuality” of the grace of deification. The full fruition of the grace of adoption is already present, at least potentially, in the believer, before it becomes actually operative in the spiritual life.] The first bears the grace, present in potency, through faith alone; but the second, beyond faith, also engenders in the knower the sublimely divine likeness of the One known, that likeness being effected precisely through knowledge. Therefore the first manner of birth is observed in some because their will, not yet fully detached from its propensity to the flesh, has yet to be wholly endowed with the Spirit by participation in the divine mysteries that are made known through active endeavor. The inclination to sin does not disappear as long as they will it. For the Spirit does not give birth to an unwilling will, but converts the willing will toward deification. Whoever has participated in this deification through cognizant experience is incapable of reverting from right discernment in truth, once he has achieved this in action, to something else besides, which only pretends to be that same discernment. It is like the eye which, once it has looked upon the sun, cannot mistake it for the moon or any of the other stars in the heavens. With those undergoing the (second mode of ) birth, the Holy Spirit takes the whole of their free choice and translates it completely from earth to heaven, and, through the true knowledge acquired by exertion, transfigures the mind with the blessed light-rays of our God and Father, such that the mind is deemed another “god,” insofar as in its habitude it experiences, by grace, that which God himself does not experience but “is” in his very essence. With those undergoing this second mode of baptism, their free choice clearly becomes sinless in virtue and knowledge, as they are unable to negate what they have actively discerned through experience. So even if we have the Spirit of adoption, who is himself the Seed for enduing those begotten (through baptism) with the likeness of the Sower, but do not present him with a will cleansed of any inclination or disposition to something else, we therefore, even after being born of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5), willingly sin. But were we to prepare our will with knowledge to receive the operation of these agents-water and Spirit, I mean – then the mystical water would, through our practical life, cleanse our conscience, and the life-giving Spirit would bring about unchanging perfection for the good in us through knowledge acquired in experience. Precisely for that reason he leaves, to each of us who are still able to sin, the sheer desire to surrender our whole selves willingly to the Spirit.”