Yesterday I discovered that for the past several years I have misunderstood David B Hart’s view of the fall of creation. I shared my misunderstanding on Facebook and Twitter, generating some interesting responses. Perhaps the most interesting—and certainly the most provocative—reflection came from Jordan Daniel Wood, who succinctly summarized the position of St Maximus the Confessor. I just had to share his reflection here on Eclectic Orthodoxy.
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On three separate occasions, Maximus says Adam’s fall occurred “at the same instant he came to be.” I spend about 35 pages of the upcoming book trying to explain what this means. Most scholars simply act as if he didn’t mean this, but rather that Adam did enjoy some moments, however fleeting, of actual sinless—almost deified—existence. But I think that’s wrong, and that his clear claim that Adam’s fall and coming to be were “simultaneous” (hama) means just that: from his very origins in this world of phenomena Adam is fallen.
Crucial here, though, is another insight: this world of phenomena is not yet the world, not yet creation, and so not yet even begun—except in Christ, whose historical Incarnation is the true beginning of Adam and of the true (and only) world. This false world began in a false beginning. And that false beginning (Maximus follows Gregory of Nysa here) is at once the condition and consequence of Adam’s primordial transgression. Now I think (and argue at some length) that for Maximus “Adam” means something like “the whole of human nature as it subsists in and as the entire set of human persons” (there is no Man in itself). Thus the false beginning of this false world is the condition and cause of all human sins; and God’s acceptance of this false beginning is at once his act of creation and his reaction to the fall—in the same act. Now Maximus moved beyond even Gregory by reconfiguring the Origenist pair “judgment and providence” in the most astonishing way: Evagrius, for example, understood judgment as God’s salvific reaction to the primordial fall (the creation of finite difference) and providence as God’s ubiquitous work of guiding all fragmented being back to its primordial union. Maximus identifies providence with the hypostatic union—the Son’s conception in Mary—and judgment with the crucifixion, even as these retain their Origenist function. The Incarnation is simultaneously the ground and goal of God’s universal providence. The cross is the condition and consequence of our universal sin. On the cross the Son suffers, experiences, the very “principles” of the false world we create and thereby grants hypostasis to even that possibility. A most astounding thought: Christ hypostasizes in his Passion the very conditions of our rejecting him! But because he realizes the conditions of the fall as simultaneously his response to our fall, he unites even our false world, the fallen world, the sum total of all our free foolishness and mad stupidity (sin)—all this is simultaneously united to his divinity, the very power of resurrection.
So Maximus has taken Gregory’s formal principle (creation as cause and response to sin) and Evagrius’s formal metaphysical pair, judgment and providence, and filled these with the positive content of the Incarnation: Christ both activates and overcomes the conditions and consequences of every sin of every rational being in his Passion (judgment) and thereby secures the deification of all creation in principle (providence), which deification is implicit all the logoi of this world. Thus false world bears within its own principles the seeds of its destruction, which is also its true salvation, true creation of the true world and “Adam.” Christ is God’s act of creation. Christ is thus bearer and destroyer of the false world we illicitly “create.” Christ thus suffers that we might be free, even though we are fools. He does so because there is no limits to his erotic love for us and thus no limits to his kenosis, to his degree of self-abasement that he might destroy all and so save all from their own delusions, which they attempt to incarnate through their own persons. The true Incarnation makes possible and obliterates all false incarnations. So yes, “Adam” fell from the very start; but no, he wasn’t really the true Adam. We are caught in between these two, in a “world” whose dark depths do still indeed bear the logoi of God’s true world, for Christ lies there “as if in a womb” (Amb 6), awaiting his birth in all.