Heaven can wait

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ambiguum 7, sections on The unity of rational beings, and Rest and motion.

St. Maximus is defending St. Gregory of Originism, which Maximus instead called “a doctrine of the Greeks”, when the former said, “we, who are a portion of God that has flowed down from above”. This idea is that we were at rest, and became restless, and at least wanted to leave, so God punished us by demoting us to corporality to various layers of corruption, from which we must ascend back to God. St. Maximus says that if so, then what’s to prevent an infinite cycle of the same.

The thought that strikes me is that the reason we think heaven might be boring, is that it seems like we’d become couch potatoes. If the only movement is down, then at least one would be moving instead of stagnant because “nothing that moves has yet come to rest, because its capacity for appetitive movement has not yet come to repose in what it ultimately desires, for nothing but the appearance of the ultimate object of desire can bring to rest that which is carried along by the power of its own nature.” He then goes on to talk about how this scheme makes evil necessary in order to teach us that resting in God is better than moving through the pains of evil.

Somehow God isn’t bored with Himself, but I have no idea how He’s fine with His beyond being immovability. We, however, are not made for stagnation. But since God is infinite, we will never have no place to go. Seems there will always be a chase to know him. He talks about the inadequacy of beauty to satisfy, but what if it’s more like those time lapse artist videos where more and more detail is filled in so that you can’t look away. But an artist knows when to stop, then you appreciate the result of proper balance achieved. Then you move on to the next. So maybe there are many many rooms…

But each room builds something in us. The fixity is in moving towards God and not away. Our experience is to become dissatisfied with evil and learn our lesson and turn away from it. But that is because evil happened. The Orthodox say that the fall wasn’t necessarily necessary. Adam was not fixed in Godward movement yet. He didn’t completely know God. The devil was able to distract him. The Orthodox say this was due to immaturity in Adam. But like I wrote recently, sometimes we can get so fixated on something that we forget everything else. It can seem God wasn’t engaging enough. But if there were a loud enough noise in the background. Only very trained soldiers aren’t distracted by very loud noises. Why God allowed the very loud noise is another question. We say because of free will. Or impatience for ecstasy? Divine ecstasy is only a reward for those who choose to wait? We have to prove ourselves worthy, and Satan offered a shortcut.

Perhaps Buddhist make the movement toward passionlessness the goal. But this is not God’s will. He wants us to redirect our passions toward Him, as a dear panteth for the water.

whistle while you work

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ambiguum 5 is the last to Thomas, 6 is to John, who I believe was St. Maximus’s spiritual father. Don’t know if I got that right at the beginning.

After his ever so humble prologue saying how John, already knowing inner meanings, sometimes asks people who don’t know anything and who have no literary style, so that some morsel of truth may accidentally come out, in Ambiguum 6 St. Maximus clarifies that St. Gregory is not saying that we need to flee our bodies in order to contemplate mysteries, we need to detach ourselves from “unreserved love for my body”.

In this age of letting it go, and how much happier people are when they do, to say no, or even wait, to our bodies is considered a hate crime. I wonder if in previous days when people weren’t expected to indulge themselves, if it was easier to deny ourselves. I suppose that’s what the Great Depression taught. Years of plenty undo it, it seems. Perhaps the Great Depression trained the “greatest generation” for the trials of WWII.

the fellowship of His sufferings

by Andrea Elizabeth

For in the indissoluble union, the Word made flesh possessed the whole active power of His own divinity together with the whole passive power of His own humanity. Being God He worked wonders in a human way, for they were accomplished through naturally passible flesh. Being man He experienced the sufferings of human nature, but in a divine way, for they unfolded at the command of His sovereign will.

Ambiguum 5 – St. Maximus the Confessor

It is interesting that St. Maximus does not mention if God experienced pleasure in His human experience. Surely the food he ate didn’t taste terrible. Surely some of the sand he walked on was of a nice temperature. I don’t remember His being tempted by pleasure in the desert, despite modern retellings of Christ and Mary Magdelene, or angels falling into sin from jealousy of human experiences of pleasure. The devil tempted Christ with the freedom from suffering hunger with plain bread, not tiramisu; with the power to be spared of the dangers of gravity, not the pleasures of flying like a bird; and with universal public recognition of who he was, which could be considered freedom from suffering the humiliation of being falsely disrespected. The devil didn’t parade Salome in front of Him.

I’m tempted to think that St. Maximus and other Fathers focus on Christ’s sufferings because of some sort of hyper monastic masochistic disregard for the comforts of this life. I remember watching the video of that Anglican Vicar (don’t they call themselves preists?) who went to spend some time like St. Anthony did in the desert. While seeing the benefits, I think I remember him coming away thinking extreme asceticism wasn’t for him and wondering what was wrong with enjoying flowers and home grown tomatoes instead? So was earthly pleasure, above and beyond necessary nourishment, shelter, rest, and maybe companionship during his sufferings, just too easy for Him to avoid to really talk about? Did His experience of humble comforts not really figure into our salvation? Indeed, his focus on human experience was on suffering. The suffering of grieving friends and family, of wounded people left on the side of the road, and of people thirsting for their true home and family. He seemed to be convinced of the satisfaction found in relationship with His Father, and the folly of seeking earthly pleasure instead.

Not that earthly pleasures are enjoyed only sinfully. Are only some called to be Christ and John the Baptist-like in that way? Are the rest of us sinfully weak, or divine purposefully weak, or just optionally inclined? I don’t know. Maybe he forewent them so that we didn’t have to?

The Great Gatsby

by Andrea Elizabeth

Last night I watched the Dicaprio remake of The Great Gatsby.

My English class didn’t read it like all the other ones did. I don’t remember what we read instead. I saw the Redford version around 30 years ago. My impressions from the remake:

Very visually intriguing, from the director of Moulin Rouge.

Reminded me a lot of Wuthering Heights, which I have read, after I astrally projected myself into the Lawrence Olivier/Merle Oberon movie when I was a kid. There are a few movies I’ve done that with. The first was Gone With the Wind at age 8. Another was The Univinted, around the same time, and Audrey Hepburn’s War and Peace. There are many more that I very closely related to, but did not forget this alternate reality called real life so completely. The next time I remember it happening, when I was so completely devastated while separated from my ex-husband to almost the point of divorce when I was around 25, was while watching Michael Keaton’s Pacific Heights. I did not lose myself in either version of The Great Gatsby.

I was depressed by the first viewing in my 20’s though. I’ve gotten over it since then. So last night I objectively observed that Gatsby is sort of a Christ Incarnation. He left the Father, in a manner of speaking, to be Incarnated in his love for us. We were not worthy, but he made our lives better. Daisy’s husband decided to treat her better, and she remembered his good side. Gatsby saved her from the punishment for her sins. I suppose it’s penal substitution, but that’s how America understood it the ’20’s. And he was baptized into death after giving his life’s confession. He waited for Daisy to join him but she didn’t. He was also poor and left to build her a mansion just across the water. I’m wondering how the scene where he leaves her waiting earlier on is related. Maybe it’s because we do get the sense of being abandoned by God and give up and leave sometimes.

This is all cloaked in corruption, but maybe that’s Fitzgerald’s way of describing Christ entering the human condition. Another Protestant explanation.

Orthodox believe Christ suffering death existentially saved us from death. What is not assumed is not saved. He joined with our death, and we will join in His resurrection.

Orthodox also believe that human nature is not naturally corrupt. Christ’s human nature was the same as ours, except without sin. Read St. Maximus’s Ambigua to understand his experience of being cloaked in human existence.

Perhaps Fitzgerald didn’t see debauchery as totally corrupting people either. Leaving Gatsby in the lurch did for him though.


more on oneness with distinction

by Andrea Elizabeth

continuing Ambiguum 5

The conjunction of these [humanity with divinity] was beyond what is possible but He for whom nothing is impossible became their true union, and was the hypostasis in neither of them exclusively, in no way acting through one of the natures in separation from the other, but in all that He did He confirmed the presence of the one through the other, since He is truly both.

As God, He was the motivating principle of His own humanity, and as man He was the revelatory principle of His own divinity. One could say, then, that He experienced suffering in a divine way, since it was voluntary (and He was not mere man); and that He worked miracles in a human way, since they were accomplished through the flesh…. “as God having become man, He lived His life among us according to a certain new theandric energy.” [Most of the quotes within the marks in Ambiguum 5 are from St. Dionysius, but some are from St. Gregory. I can’t prove this one goes along with the majority, but I assume it does.]

… Nonetheless it is not, as some would have it, “by the negation of two extremes that we arrive at an affirmation” of something in the middle, for there is no kind of intermediate nature in Christ that could be the positive remainder after the negation of two extremes.

While lighting a candle the other day I had the thought that people, like a wick, have the natural property to burn. Burning, not only is like deification, but like doing good works. When you first light a candle, it burns bright, then before it starts melting wax, it dims dangerously, and sometimes goes out. If it doesn’t, when it is fueled by wax, it is not consumed until the wax evaporates. Pelagians are like wicks without wax. Yes, they do what it is humanly natural to do, but they most likely will burn out. What about atheists that do good works? Or animals who are good mothers? They are still subject to getting tired and burning out. Even Christ subjected himself to the necessities of rest and nourishment, but His death was not a result of burning out. It was another voluntary submission to our condition in order to heal it, and then to go away so that the wax-giver could come and fill everyone up, not only to burn with human energy, but divine.

Impassible desire and power

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Out of His infinite longing for human beings, He has become truly and according to nature the very thing for which He longed, neither suffering any change in His own being on account of His unutterable self-emptying, nor altering or diminishing anything whatsoever from human nature on account of His ineffable assumption of the flesh.”

…And in a manner beyond man, He does the things of man,” according to a supreme union involving no change, showing that the human energy is conjoined with the divine power, since the human nature, united without confusion to the divine nature, is completely penetrated by it, with absolutely no part of it remaining separate from the divinity to which it was united, having been assumed according to hypostasis…. and thereby make known His power that is beyond infinity , recognized through the generation of opposites.” – Ambiguum 5

Opposites such as willing out of necessity vs out of power. Therefore his suffering is voluntary, and not out of necessity.

Me: Perhaps this is how our sufferings can make or break us. We can choose to use them for good or evil. Bad guys use their sufferings as an excuse for evil. This is passive and easy. Good guys voluntarily suffer for others out of active strength. And they choose their battles wisely.

“And why go through all the rest [opposites], which are very many? For anyone who looks into them divinely will know, in a way that transcends the intellect, that even the affirmations concerning Jesus’s love for humanity have the power of transcendent negations.”

Ambiguum 4

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ambiguum 4 is much longer. First let me add to Ambiguum 3 more than I thought was implicit in what I shared in that post. I just wanted to make clear that in the Incarnation, the stronger nature was Christ’s Divine Nature, so it won out.

Ambiguum 4 has new information! Christ’s “obedience” was human and not divine! How can the giver of commands be obedient to them? So it’s not his divine nature that was obedient – remember the Monarchy post? – it was his human nature that he assumed. He assumed our experience of obedience. “He honors [our] obedience by His actions, and experiences it by suffering.” – St. Gregory.

Therefore the Father is the source of the Son’s deity, and that includes ruling, not subserving. But what about those headship comparisons like as the Father is over the Son the Man is over the Woman? We can’t blankly say that under this new angle that the husband automatically gives the wife her head (not that it’s like a person and an animal), but that they both be as unified and of one mind as the Father and the Son, so that they don’t act independently. Therefore they become one. Sourcehood is very interesting, and now encompasses, not independence, dignity to the sourced, and the hard work of perfect oneness, which since men aren’t perfect is a two way street.

Does he bear the responsibility? Or just the sourcehood like how Adam provided a rib? And what is it he needed a helpmeet for? In the puppet/puppeteer model women are off the hook as well as on it. I believe women bear responsibility if the husband is leading them into error. They can’t just be mindless pawns. Since he is stronger, and if in error while resisting her objection, then she may have to silently let things go his way to a point. But in some cases, I believe, she may have to claim distance instead of being a codependent accomplice. This is broken and not an equal option fix. It’s the lesser of two evils, imo.

More Wisdom of Solomon

by Andrea Elizabeth

This verse from the Wisdom of Solomon 4:6 gave me pause.

“For children born from lawless unions
Are witnesses of evil against their parents
In their close examination.” (Orthodox Study Bible)

At first I thought that it meant evil against their parents, and I thought, do they mean a corroberating  witness when someone does evil things against you. So I googled it and came across the Septuagint version, which I thought the OSB was.

On Judgment Day children born of a forbidden union will testify to the sin of their parents and act as witnesses against them.

Yikes. I wonder if they testify before death and Judgment Day if the forbidden and lawless uniters will get off easier. Lord have mercy.

Hey, Solomon was the child of such a union, but he apparently didn’t write this.

Its implied author is King Solomon, and its implied audience is the rulers of the earth. However, its real author seems to have been a Greek-speaking Jew with some knowledge of Greek rhetoric and philosophy, and its real audience seems to have been young Jews in danger of slipping away from their Jewish heritage into pagan materialism. The use of the Greek language, the influence of Greek philosophy and rhetoric, its Jewish audience, and the links with Philo suggest an origin in Alexandria in Egypt. It is generally dated to the mid-1st century BCE (around 50 BCE), although scholars place it anywhere from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. The purpose of the Wisdom of Solomon is to demonstrate the superiority of the Jewish religion and its great wisdom. The author knows Greek rhetoric and Greek philosophy, as well as the Bible in its Greek form. He adopts some concepts from Stoicism and Platonism, and opposes the Epicureans and Egyptian paganism. [from here]

Ambiguum 3

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dear Teacher, since you know this passage fully, and since we do not wish to reproduce it here for copyright reasons, let us get to the point. Simple God, ok, just these few words, “consorting with the [composite] flesh through the medium of the intellect”. St. Maximus does not hash out St. Gregory’s “medium” remark. God is immaterial, so his intellect mediates between him and his human flesh, and by that does he mean nature? It’s been a while since I read Dr. David Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West. So long that I don’t know why it just popped into my head. I don’t know if it talks about God being an intellect or not. I know he assumed a human mind, so is he of two minds as it were? Perhaps St. Gregory spoke of his human intellect being the medium of his consortation with the flesh. If this is so, then it would imply that he had mastery over his flesh, which we can all accept. We who are immature let the flesh mediate between us and the world. We are not intellectually present in all of our experiences. It’s interesting to hear athletes and other skilled people talk about being in the zone. Oh, I don’t want to get into deliberation vs. impulse, or how someone who is omniscient doesn’t need to deliberate, because their impulses are informed, any more than that anyway.

Another point is “God on earth became man, for it (i.e., the flesh) was blended with God, and He became one, because the stronger predominated, so I might be made God to the same extent that He was made man.” Sounds like he was up on his St. Athanasius.

I’ll also not get into the difference between hypostasis and nature as it’s not as simple apparently as saying hypostasis is person and nature is essence. “The teacher says, moreover, that He became “one” (i.e., a single subject), but not a single object, pointing to the fact that even in the identity of the one hypostasis, the natural difference of the unified natures remains unconfused, since the one (i.e., the single subject) is indicative of the hypostasis and the other (i.e., the single object) of nature.” Wait, yes it is, Christ the subject is a person/hypostasis. The two natures/objects, are his essences. I think.

St. Maximus with his usual self-deprecation at the end, “As for the words, ‘so that I might be made God to the same extent that He was made man,’ they are not mine to utter, since I am stained by sin and utterly devoid of appetite for what is life in the true sense….”

Ambiguum 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

We shall not be so care free today because God assumed human flesh which suffers. He in his whole divine essence assumed human personhood with an intellect and a soul “so that His sufferings would not be deemed merely nominal, because the flesh in question was His own, and it was by virtue of the flesh that truly ‘God is able to suffer in opposition to sin.'” St. Maximus quoting St. Gregory the Theologian.

I believe he next makes an essence/energy distinction.

In this passage, then, the teacher is making a distinction between “essence,” according to which the Word remained simple, even though He became flesh, and “hypostasis,” according to which He became composite, by the assumption of the flesh, so that in the work of salvation the incarnate Word can be properly called a “suffering God.” Saint Gregory said these things so that we might not out of ignorance ascribe the properties of the person to nature and, like the Arians, unwittingly worship a God who by nature is susceptible to suffering.

… – but He did not become man without the energy that is proper to human nature, for the principle of natural energy is what defines the essence of a thing, and as a rule characterizes the nature of every being in which it essentially inheres. For that which is commonly and generically predicated of certain things constitutes the definition of their essence, the privation of which brings about the destruction of their nature, since no beings remain what they are when they are deprived of their natural, constituent elements.

The last paragraph however makes me wonder how Dr. Joseph Farrell’s Ordo Theologiea fits in. I believe Dr. Farrell, who has since left the Church, but was a bright intellectual light in presenting St. Maximus at one time, derived the Ordo from reading the Fathers. It puts person before activities before nature. This presents the person as free, but also one who is sort of self-made. We can say that Christ inherited his human nature with all it’s energies from Mary. But we can also say He was free to choose not to sin. When we define human nature we look at what we all have in common, but also at what extraordinary people have accomplished. Most people use “I’m only human” as a cop-out to describe average experiences. We know that it is not human nature to sin also because Adam was created without sin. People who perform record-breaking feats make a new record for humans to emulate. The fall showed us what not to do, so Adam introduced a set of negative things humans are capable of. Christ showed us it is possible to overcome this negative set. Did Adam change human nature? He introduced disease, which is not natural. Disease is not in our essence, but what about suffering? We can say cancer is foreign, but is the pain it causes? St. Gregory says that suffering is in opposition to sin. People can choose to suffer to defeat sin. This is what asceticism and martyrdom is. People are free to actively suffer to cleanse their natures of foreign sin. That is the proper order. Our nature does not make us sin, and our God given natural free will and suffering obedience can overcome it. Freedom is the thing which puts us over our natures. We can choose to act according to our sinless natures or not.