this is totally awesome

by Andrea Elizabeth

Maximos the Philosopher

If the Ambigua is the epic work of a theological genius, it is also the work of a man who had received what we would recognize as advanced professional training in philosophy, a language that he speaks as freely and fluently as if it were his other tongue. This was recognized by writers of the Middle Byzantine period – a time of renewed interest in Neoplatonic studies – who typically refer to him as “Maximos the philosopher.” The philosophical language spoken by Maximos, however, is not simply that of Plato and Aristotle, but rather the distinctive idiom of the late Neoplatonists, the so-called Commentators, who flourished from 200 to 600 CE, making Maximos the inheritor of a long and rich development. Though difficult to characterize without caricature, the Commentators were Neoplatonists who sought to harmonize the teachings of Plato and Aristotle by transposing Aristotelian logic into Platonic metaphysics, the eclectic use of Stoic categories, and the arithmetical philosophy of a revived Pythagoreanism. Maximos’s thought seems effortlessly to encompass the whole sum of the received philosophical tradition, and with magisterial freedom he makes other men’s philosophies but fragments in his own system.

Maximos’s aim is not to extend the tradition of the philosophers into Christianity, but with the tools of philosophy to elucidate the tradition of the Fathers and the Councils. The Confessor’s fundamental themes are arranged not according to the assumptions of worldly wisdom but according to the order of a life in whose midst is born the Divine Logos. He therefore redefines the Neoplatonist language of causality so that the principles (logoi) of beings are not simply formal causes and teleological finalities but are themselves grounded in the person of the Logos and identified as “divine wills” (Amb 7.24). No longer Origen’s disembodied “rational entities” (Amb 7.2), and still less the emanations of Neoplatonism, the logoi are the free, personal expressions of divine love, the “wills” of God to love the world, the divine passion to “love and be loved” (Amb 23.3-4). This is central to Maximos’s transformation of Origenism, which entails not simply a rearrangement of Origen’s metaphysical syntax but a complete redefinition of its fundamental grammar. In this way, the Origenist problem of the mind’s “satiety,” which triggered the descent into motion and matter (Amb 7.2-5, 28-29), is eliminated by identifying “stability” (stasis) with love, uniting the saints by grace to a Trinity united by nature in love. Recent scholarship has turned its attention to the philosophical aspects of Maximos’s theology, but more work remains to be done….

from the Introduction to On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, The Ambigua, Volume I, Maximos the Confessor, edited and translated by Nicholas Constas.

What I love is St. Maximos’s freedom to borrow and explain things as he wanted, with the proper training, spiritual knowledge and love.

I don’t know if I have any more than a paltry amount of those three ingredients, but I find St. Maximos to be very freeing and inspiring. Hopefully I don’t use his inspiration for ill, but as a motivation to go further up and further in, as C.S. Lewis says. 

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