St. Maximus on Humanity’s Liberation from the World and Nature: A Translation of Letter 9

by Jordan Daniel Wood

Brief prefatory note

Below sits a working English translation of Maximus’s Ep 9. It previews an ongoing translation project of all his extant letters, the details of which I will disclose in the near future. The letter’s recipient, Thalassius, is the figure to whom Maximus addressed his monumental Quaestiones ad Thalassium, and seems to have been an abbot of a group of monks somewhere in North Africa. We know neither the proximate date of this letter nor the troubling events to which Maximus alludes at the end.1

Some remain uneasy over certain trends in contemporary theology that would see “nature”—an admittedly multivalent notion—as a hindrance to creation’s perfection. What strikes me in this brief letter is the way Maximus presents nature as both rational intermediary between and existential barrier to our primordial vocation to become God. Man as methorios, “liminal boundary,” is still not true man, at least if humanity’s truth appears only in its actual end. That end and beginning is Jesus Christ (QThal 60). Only a God-human is truly human. Which is why Maximus observes in this letter that our own nature, abstracted from Christ, proves no less a condition of the Fall than bestial passion. If Christ is Adam, pure nature is a source of Adam’s original sin, not some display of divine sovereignty. Anything less than personal, which is to say hypostatic and erotic, ascent into God is not yet God’s true creation. Astonishing in all this the implication that what seems like reverential reserve, an ostensibly dignified resolve never to presume we could be God in any sense, is itself a rejection of the divine intent in creation. Reason without love is natural; but we’re to become spiritual. Nature without persons is Fall.

* * *

Letter 9

To Thalassius the priest and hegumen

[PG 91, 445C–449A]

They say there are three things that move human beings. Or rather there are three things toward which human beings are freely moved through their own intention and disposition2: God, nature, and the world. When one of these draws someone, it pulls that person away from the other two and changes the person moved into itself; it makes that person by position into what the mover itself is known to be by nature—without, of course, making that person of the mover’s own nature.3 For God naturally preserves what constitutes the human being when God makes a human being into God by position, insofar as deification is a supra-natural good given to the one moved and severs the person clean from the other two, I mean from the world and nature. And if nature moves a man then this manifests what that human being is in himself—he finds himself the intermediary between God and the world, partaking of neither through his disposition. But if the world bears someone along, it renders the human a beast. In other words it renders a man moved solely by the flesh, creating passibility in him through deception, which sets him far off from both God and nature and teaches him how to make every sort of thing that opposes nature.

​Thus the extremes, God and the world, as well as the intermediary, nature, are wont to vie with one another in an effort to drag away the human being. Now the mean is the liminal boundary of the these extremes [448A]. So if it inclines man to set his gaze only on the mean itself then it drives him away equally from both extremes: he does not concede to reverting to God, yet he is also ashamed to let himself sink toward the world. When therefore a person is moved toward one of these terms according to interior disposition, that term instantaneously alters his activity and changes his designation so that he is called either fleshly or natural or spiritual. The work and distinctive mark of fleshly man is knowing how to produce only evil; that of natural man is desiring neither to produce nor to suffer evil; that of spiritual man is desiring to produce only good and, if necessary, to suffer beautifully for the cause of virtue—even eagerly embracing it.

​If then, my blessed friend, you long to be moved by the Spirit of God—and I know you do—expel from yourself the world and nature. Or rather sever yourself from them entirely: do not avoid enduring wrong, do not refuse to bear mockery and violence. In a word, when you suffer evil never cease to do good to those who do evil to you, and refer everything done to God’s grace and virtue in accordance with the saying: “If someone wants to take you to court and take your tunic, give him your cloak as well.”4 And again according to the blessed apostle who says: “Reviled, we bless; persecuted, we endure; blasphemed, we pray.”5

​If you wish to be persuaded by me, blessed servant of God, it remains only to render grace to those troubling you and, if needful, to endure all their punishments. Instead bless when you are reviled, endure when persecuted, and pray when blasphemed. Do this and you will not become fleshly, knowing and desiring to do only wrong. Nor will you become natural, unwilling to endure wrong. Rather you will become spiritual, voluntarily and knowingly doing good alone, training yourself in ascesis, eagerly and deftly suffering the evil of those who wish it upon you. Do all this for the sake of virtue and cast your gaze upon Jesus, the primordial cause of our salvation.6 In exchange for every good, which no one had ever been capable of knowing how to grasp firmly, he patiently endured every horrifying thing, which no one had endured from sinners—and yet he did so for sinners. For the aim of the Giver of the commandments was to liberate humanity from the world and nature. Which is why whoever does not obey is condemned, and why it is futile for parents in this world to use progeny as an excuse < to disobey the commandments >, or for those who put their relations before the monastic life of ascetic labors in order to make their obligations more “reasonable,” rendering the commandments fairly light. If we were to accept these as viable paths, we would have to presume that the Lord has not in any sense written the law of salvation after all. Hence the psychical man—which is what I think the scriptural account calls the natural man. For, as the experts in these matters say, one contemplates nature’s distinguishing property by considering animate beings (τὰ ψυχούμενα) in themselves; or to put it plainly, by considering anything subject to generation and corruption.

​I have written such things to you, master, because I sensed strongly [449A] through your message that you are perturbed by these events. Still I ask you, worthy father, on behalf of Maximus your servant and disciple, to pray with power as your power permits to the One who has the power to forgive sins.

 

Footnotes

[1] Marek Jankowiak and Phil Booth, “A New Date-List of the Works of Maximus the Confessor,” in The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. Edited by Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil (Oxford: OUP, 2015) 69, speculate that the remark might refer to some sort of trouble with Thalassius’s pro-monothelite bishop.

[2] Maximus uses three technical terms here, each a modality of freedom (βουλήσει τε καὶ γνώμῃ κατὰ προαίρεσιν). In Opsuc 1 Maximus describes them thus: “imaginative intention” (βούλησις) aims at a general end, “free choice” (παροαίρεσις) determines the course of action toward that general end, all of which inculcates a “disposition” or “inclination” (γνωμή). His phenomenology of freedom is actually more complicated. The crucial point here is that all three modes involve conscious and voluntary deliberation. We are passively moved but never without our active (if deluded) assent.

[3] “By nature” (φύσει) vs. “by position” (θέσει) form a recurrent pairing across Maximus’s thought. The main idea is that a being can become characterized in fact by what it is not in itself. Nature furnishes the inherent potencies in a being, but those potencies must be reduced to act and can be reduced wrongly. False rational motion (i.e. sin or vice) is still motion, still some sort of actualization. The deeper distinction lurking even here is hypostasis (“person” or “subsistence”) vs. physis or ousia (“nature” or “essence”). Neochalcedonians such as Maximus held that the latter never actually exist except in and as the former. So every action concretizes what did not really exist anywhere else, i.e. that person’s way of actualizing this or that natural potency. Our spiritual life is an attempt at true Incarnation (deification) rather than false incarnations (decreation).

[4] Matt 5.40.

[5] 1 Cor 4:12-13.

[6] Cf. Heb 12.2.

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22 Responses to St. Maximus on Humanity’s Liberation from the World and Nature: A Translation of Letter 9

  1. ebcvictoria says:

    Simply blows my mind. But would Maximus enjoy craft beer? Then he would be a perfect one. And a complete role model.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mercifullayman says:

    Jordan, I thoroughly enjoy your work, and it has been a long while since our last conversation. (As I’ve disappeared from Twitter.) Thank you for this. It was wonderful to survey.

    As the Berdyaev guy, and you know our mutual affinity for him, I do want to ask if the intermediary for Maximus, functions much as the same as B’s descriptions of self-will. He too sees freedom as it relates to Christ. Not the good as a transcendental per se , as this can be a societal or collectively perceived good, but only as the good that is revealed in the God-Man (Christ) himself. B and by proxy Dostoyevsky push the same point….when we devolve into self-will, our actions are free, but in a sense not fully free. Much like a chained person in a cell can move but only so far. If one is to become “spiritual,” it means that they have harnessed the good by assent and grace fusing together, correct? Deification becomes the Neo-Chalcedonian view of differentiation by mystery instead of sheer duality?

    Maximus precludes Berdyaev but yet swims in the very same seas….no?

    Hope all is well!

    LR

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Yes, as you know I find much overlap between Maximus and Berdyaev (though I hadn’t expected to). If I follow you aright, you’re asking if Maximus conceives man as sheer methorios in terms of self-will, which, per Berdyaev, falls short of Christ’s perfect freedom. To that I say yes indeed. Maximus is clear (e.g. in the Intro to QThal) that “ignorance of the Cause” is the “mother of all evils.” But ignorance of God immediately implies ignorance of this world of phenomena, which includes ignorance of ourselves. In this respect we are never truly free until we know all truth (of God, the world, ourselves), and we don’t know the truth until we are free. Much of the spiritual life is unifying the poles of this dynamic process into a single life, our own life.

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  3. Owen-Maximus says:

    Wonderful contribution, Jordan, thank you. Excited about the new translation project.

    I recently finished a ThM thesis on Maximus and the cross. My two readers questioned specifically his understanding of nature as dynamic. They were concerned that positing an essential change in human nature—namely, its wounding in the Fall and its healing Christ—may indicate a transition of mankind into something else, like a tertium quid. My reply to them noted that ontological change indeed occurs at the Fall, bringing humanity to an unnatural fallen state, and the work of Christ restores us ontologically to true humanity. Below is my response. When/if time permits, could you confirm or correct this account? I rely on Thunberg (M&M) for the general scope. Thanks again for sharing your work with us.
    ___________

    I think the concern about essential change in human nature is well justified. It seems the motivation for this concern is a strict preservation of the human species qua species. And rightly so! Has the Fall resulted in a tertium quid? If so, then what did the Son of God assume in the Incarnation? These questions seem to weigh heavily against the assertion that human nature (physis) might somehow contain a dynamic element. Yet Maximus seems to believe it does. Following Aristotle, he understands physis not only as the static principle that unifies individuals of a particular species, but also as containing a dynamic aspect of movement and rest (see Aristotle, Phys. 2.1; 192b). This dynamic element is framed teleologically. The nature of the human is to move toward a final rest in God. Only God is the true end (telos) of humanity as a species; the natural motion of human nature is toward God its Creator. In other words, a dynamic Godward directionality is endemic to human nature.

    What about when humanity willingly forsakes its telos? Does human nature change? I have been challenged in this regard by a passage in Ephesians: before God made us alive with Christ, we were “by nature [physei] children of wrath, just as the rest” (2:3). Paul’s statement about physis seems to accord with Maximus’ understanding. Since God did not originally create human nature under His wrath, some sort of dynamism seems to be in view. Human nature is fallen, corrupted. While nature in terms of species in strictly preserved, nature in terms of telos demonstrates a certain elasticity. For Maximus, a nature is manifest when its potentiality is realized in actuality. Thus, a Godlike life of virtue is the realization of human nature, while a life of vice is its diminishment. This notion corresponds to Maximus’ teaching on the logoi. To quote Fr. Maximos Constas, “Created beings, in terms of their underlying nature, are not stationary, but are in motion toward their natural goal, which is also a return to their origin and cause, namely God the Logos, who from eternity contains within Himself the “principles” (logoi) of beings, the metaphysical foundations of the universe. On the basis of these principles, the Logos brings beings into actual existence, by creating them out of nothing, providing each with a fixed nature and purpose.”

    No matter how a person might actualize the potential of his nature, the character of physis as a limited species/substance is strictly preserved by its logos. This fact makes Maximus more in tune with essentialism than with existentialism. Stating that a person is “less than human” or that “human nature can be healed” reflects the central role Maximus’ gives to the human will/volition for attaining a fully “natural” human life. The unnatural life pursues created goods as ends in themselves, but the natural human life properly realizes the powers and purpose of human nature in a movement toward God, who is our only proper telos. Even those who have diminished their humanity are still human, retaining that nature determined by God the Logos. But the fulfillment of our nature, as manifest perfectly in Christ, is only actualized by the free will of the person in cooperation with God’s saving grace.
    ___________

    Yours,
    Owen

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Thanks for all this, Owen.

      A few quick thoughts:

      The variability or dynamism inherent in nature is most clearly expressed in Amb 42, where Maximus wields the logos/tropos distinction. As you know, the former is the fixed definitional principle of “nature” as such, the latter is the existential “manner” or “way” the potencies in the natural principle are in fact realized. The telos is indeed the fixed perfection of the nature, and yet–and this is the crucial point–there really is no such thing as a telos of nature *as such*. This is why (e.g. in QThal 2, Amb 41, etc.) the deified cosmos only occurs in and as the totality of all perfected *persons*, how explicitly furnish the manifold variety and difference and richness of the infinite realization that deification is. And, too, the tropos of a natural activity can indeed manifest *more* than that nature, though not less. Miracles, for instances, do not destroy the natural principle of the realities involved, but it does change their actual existence. Water remains water in principle, but is so pervaded by the actuality of wine that the two are indistinguishably one. Thus Maximus’s frequent use of classic examples of perichoresis–iron in fire, light in air, etc. And this works in the opposite direction as well: a human being, while remaining human, can indeed become so existentially marked by mindless, impassioned activity that the actual person before you resembles more a beast, less a human being. In any case, positive (deification) or negative (decreation), the natural principles/logoi persist immanently and in potency even as the existential modes/tropoi can vary widely.

      In light of these points I don’t think it’s correct to say that Maximus is more an essentialist than an existentialist. If anything, he’s more the latter, since it is always precisely the person/hypostasis that makes any nature actual, but actual always in *that person’s unique mode* (as he says in Opusc 10, I think, the person “typifies” natural activity). Really, though, I think Maximus’s vision surpasses both essentialism and existentialism. The latter is often simply the negation of the former (e.g. Sartre). As such, many modern existentialisms are still essentialisms, only negatively. For Maximus nature is good but cannot be final. And indeed there is a positive content that bears no natural or formal content at all–namely the person (whether in the Trinity or Christ or indeed any creature in the cosmos). Persons both ground and surpass nature. So it is that Adam was called to unite all natural divisions in himself, namely in his own person (Amb 41; and in so far as “Adam” means every person, we are all thus called). It’s striking that Adam, or the concrete human person, never appears within the 5 divisions of nature. The reason is that persons are to unite and thus exceed all divisions of nature. Which is why it is Christ, in his own person (which is not itself reducible to either of his natures), that is the true arche and telos of human nature and indeed of all created nature: he himself become the identity of natural difference.

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      • Owen-Maximus says:

        Jordan, your “quick thoughts” far exceed my prolonged ones. 🙂 Your points on tropos and on miracles are well taken. I covered the former in my paper but not the latter. The notion of perichoresis would have been a valuable addition, as I argue for an ontological understanding of atonement in Maximus. Thanks for explaining that. Reminds me of the beautiful examples of such in Cyril of Alexandria.

        I argue in the paper that while the logos provides the divine intention for human physis, free will dynamically moves the person (hypostasis) either naturally toward his telos in God or unnaturally away from it (cf. Thunberg, M&M, 88-9). What matters for a physis is that its logos shines through, and this is only accomplished personally, “hypostatically,” by a free human hypostasis, as he embodies a particular mode (tropos) of being which aligns with the logos of his nature. Thus, virtue actualizes nature and vice is contrary thereto.

        The last point seems to be verified in Disputations with Pyrrhus when Maximus explains that “with the removal of things that are contrary to nature only things proper to nature are manifest. Just as when rust is removed the natural clarity and glint of iron [are manifest].” The deviant passions are deviations from human nature, but, again, Maximus explains that “even the passions become good among the diligent, when they wisely separate them from corporeal objects and use them to acquire the things of heaven” (Q.Thal. 55).

        Thunberg likewise notes that when the passions are employed wisely, in accord with the logos of nature, these human drives can be used to move man “toward the final goal of life, which is deification” (Man and Cosmos, 58). I believe all this is what you mean by “the tropos of a natural activity can indeed manifest *more* than that nature.” In this regard, for good measure, one more quote from Maximus: Christians, “by emptying themselves of the passions, lay hold of the divine to the same degree as, deliberately emptying Himself of His own sublime glory, the Logos of God truly became man” (Or.dom. 2).

        And yet, I still wonder (i.e. stand amazed) concerning the place of nature in Maximus. Is it fair to say that a person who—in Christ and the Spirit’s grace—acts freely, in a natural mode of existence, the telos of such a life will be *more* than natural? In other words, a person’s voluntary, virtuous, natural way of existence will culminate in becoming a son of God, becoming God, by the elevation of divine grace. I guess what I’m really asking is this: when Maximus says, “He [Christ] restored our nature, renewing its capacities by means of what was negated in His own flesh, and…granting it…divinization” (Q.Thal. 61), is he envisioning two levels, the restored natural and the divinized supra-natural? Or is restoration of nature in Christ just equivalent to divinization?

        Thanks again,
        Owen

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        • jordandanielwood says:

          Again, great thoughts and questions, Owen. My thanks.

          Nature, by my lights, carries at least three meanings in Maximus, distinct though not contradictory. First the abstract philosophical meaning: “essence” (ouia) of the sum total of potencies inherent in the kind of thing a thing is. Here, as you know, Maximus assigns a “logos” or natural principle for every genus/species/kind/form that exists (Amb 7). Second, our fallen “nature,” nature as we currently experience it in this world, or “Adamic” nature. As you say, this is a result (and condition, actually, but I table that for now!) of the misdirected use of our natural powers, so that the tropos of our actual existence is at the moment not only deficient, but literally misguided toward false ends (QThal Intro). But then there’s this most distinctive and fundamental sense of nature: Jesus Christ the Logos. When, that is, Maximus identifies the Logos with the logoi, he’s identifying a divine *person* as himself the natural principles of all creatures–and not just the natural principles, but even the “logos of hypostasis” corresponding to every hypostasis/person. “Jesus Christ is the natural law,” he once puts it. So the principles of nature are themselves personal; the Logos *himself* is the logoi; natures exist only in and as hypostases, the and the universal nature of created being itself subsists in the person of Christ.

          That last indicates a resolution to an otherwise impenetrable dilemma in Maximus’s conception of deifying grace. On the one hand Maximus openly denies that human nature as such–indeed any nature as such–contains the potency for deification (Amb 21, Opusc 1, etc). “Ecstasy” means for him exactly that we do not possess a *natural* capacity to suffer divine things, but must “go out” of our nature to become what we’re not by nature. And yet, on the other hand, Maximus also insists that the deifying power, the Holy Spirit, is universally present in all creatures, indeed resident immanently in the principles of all creation! How can both be true? I spend many pages on the question in my forthcoming book, but here’s the pith of it: Since it is the person of the Word, who is Christ, that becomes and is the logoi of all creatures; and since he is at once created *and* uncreated; then it is precisely Christ’s universal *personal* presence in and as all things that mediates uncreated grace to all things in the very event of their becoming to be. In other words, deifying grace is not inherent in created nature as such, but then there is no such thing as “created nature as such”–created nature, human nature, subsists in the person of the Word, so that the Word’s universal presence in all creation is itself the ground of creation. So deifying grace isn’t *naturally* present in nature as such, but it is *universally* present in nature as it subsists in the Word himself. Grace is at once un- or supra-natural and yet really and universally innate.

          So then, to attempt an answer at your final question: Christ restores our nature, but not as if this were a natural process–not impersonally, automatically, mindlessly. And yet he does so inevitably. This inevitability is the invincibility of personal love, of eros–“God becomes what he longs for,” to summarize a part of Amb 7. There is no “human nature” outside the sum total of all human persons, and so the restoration of human nature must occur existentially as inter-personal perfection, as unconditioned love (Ep 2). You could therefore say that there are in a sense three levels to this, not just two: [1] there’s “nature as such”; [2] divinity as such; [3] neither of which actually exists except in the identity of the Word (himself the ineffable expression of the Father perfected by the Spirit), which identity is not only above human nature but, astoundingly, proves to be beyond “divinity” abstractly conceived too. Grace is nothing but the personal union in love of the two natures in Christ, of whose body we are members.

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          • Owen-Maximus says:

            Crystal clear exposition, Jordan. Many thanks.

            The cosmic personalism of St. Maximus would seemingly give a boon not merely to vague sorts of panentheism but more so to panpsychism. A truly beautiful vision.

            I do find interesting the distinction in your third par. between automatic and inevitable. Thus, I wonder how how personal freedom and volition plays into individual restoration and divinization, especially since Maximus locates (human) will at the level of nature, not person. But I will stop peppering you with questions! I’m sure I’ll find good answers in your upcoming book.

            Gratefully yours,
            Owen

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  4. Alex says:

    Does world/nature translate κόσμος/φύσις? Would you expand on how Maximus conceives the difference between these two terms? Does it refer to sensible vs. intelligible reality, or is there a different opposition he has in mind? Thanks!

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Yes, world = cosmos, nature = physis. He treats the former very often (though not always) as a Johannine term. The “world” is this world of phenomena, which we ourselves partly create and partly succumb to. It is the realm of mindless passion, of pure parataxis, of meaninglessness and aimlessness, of deception and delusion. Hence here becoming a “worldly” person means wallowing in thoughtless passion, which enslaves us and renders us unable to intend anything in true freedom. Nature, though, is in itself good. Nature is the realm of reason in the abstract, of order, wherein everything sits in its proper place. The “natural” human being does not “sink into” the world, but also does not presume to embark upon the quest to become God. And yet, as Christ shows (QThal 60), the whole point of being created is to become in fact (not in nature) what God is by nature, namely uncreated, free, infinite in knowledge and love and virtue, etc. So even as nature as such is a necessary starting point for any created being, and even as it provides us with all the natural faculties by which we move in the way we do (e.g. rational nature provides us with the faculty to move rationally, i.e. by our own will and intent), nature can also become the occasion of our failure to become what we’re made to be: unmade, God. This might seem extreme, and for “the natural man” it is. But that’s why only the true passion of infinite eros can possibly accept that nature as such is Fall; we’re to become infinite, we’re to become true persons.

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  5. David says:

    Thanks for this Jordan – it’s really both informing and fun reading your translation and preface. I confess some of this may be going over my head, but I am wondering whether you could say a little more how Maximus avoids conflating creation and Fall?

    You say that for Maximus ‘nature without persons is Fall’ and ‘anything less than personal… is not yet God’s true creation.’ I think that, as temporal beings, this ‘not yet’ is an essential aspect of human existence: theosis takes time, so the temporal beginning of a human being cannot be ‘fully’ personal (sin or no sin) insofar that it does not represent the fulness of human personhood.

    But if this ‘pure nature is a source of Adam’s original sin’ doesn’t that make original sin an inevitable aspect of (non-God-incarnate) human beings? I can’t see how redefining ‘true creation’ as our eschatologically-perfected state helps – if the inevitable/necessary temporal forerunner of that eschatological state is fallen humanity ‘on the road’ to perfection, then it amounts to the same problem: God’s decision to create makes fallenness an inevitability.

    Or, alternatively, should the idea that ‘pure nature is a source of Adam’s original sin’ just be taken to mean our nature functions as a possible, but not inevitable, gateway to original sin – such that humanity in some sense faced a genuinely avoidable choice to fall and contingently chose to do so? If that’s the case, do you think Maximus can provide the right conceptual resources to help us understand how the Fall can genuinely be considered a contingent choice (particularly if ‘man fell at the instance he was created’?)

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Very nice question, David. I’ll need to punt to my forthcoming book, where I attempt to lay out in detail Maximus’s thinking on these matters–something like 50 pages worth! In short, though, I’ll say this: I read Maximus’s as answering “yes” to both of your options. That appears inconsistent, but I think not. On the one hand Maximus absolutely denies evil any *essential* place in God’s true creation; indeed for Maximus that is the damnable feature of (his understanding of) the Origenist myth of a primordially perfect henad of intellects (Amb 7). On the other hand he does depict the fall as in some sense inevitable. Not only does he say, as you note, that humanity fell “at the instant it came into being” (3x he says this), but he’ll also add that humanity’s charge to come to know visible creation apart from perfect knowledge of God leads to further ignorance of God, the world, and ourselves, which ignorance is “the mother of all vice” (QThal Intro). And yet this ignorance, as an imperfection of our actual knowledge and desiring of God, seems inherent in the very fact of being created at all. So he agrees with Irenaeus that we must become accustomed to divinity over the long course of ages in this world; yet he also thinks we cannot rightly apprehend this world without having become divine. My attempted resolution is this: evil is not at all natural or essential to true creation; and yet creation is not simply a matter of essences or an arrangement of some abstract ordering of impersonal “beings,” but rather the divine labor of birthing and perfecting actual persons (and I think all creatures are inherently if latently personal, but that’s another matter). So while ignorance and vice are in no way essential to creation, they are inevitable in so far as they are what we in fact choose in our ignorance. God’s act of creation must prove both the refusal of any essential claim of evil and also must overcome actual, freely-willed evil which actual persons bring about themselves. Now this might still sound a bit too clever–doesn’t the process, after all, depend upon the evil we choose even if to overcome it? I’d reply briefly: But what is the character of overcoming evil? Must it not rectify the very evil of the process *qua* process in order truly to prove the overcoming of all evil? Yes. This might sound absurd or contradictory. I maintain, however, that it’s only absurd if we assume that our experience of time itself (and indeed all spacetime, all phenomena) simply presents the truth of time. And that’s an assumption I’d deny. The overcoming of all evil in time will mean the undoing of all time characterized by sin, and therefore the undoing of “process” as we know it. In the end there will not be a single event–whether at the end, beginning, middle, or some other dimensional framing–that will contain any evil or its relative use in some process.

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      • David says:

        Hi Jordan! Sorry not to have thanked you for your response before, I’ve just noticed this.

        I was struck by your statement that ‘evil is not at all natural or essential to true creation’ – one issue I see here is that this could really mean a number of things:

        1) the final eschatological state does not itself include any evil – and only this state counts as ‘true creation’ – so sin is not necessary to this new creation as such (BUT… to arrive at this state it may be necessary for ‘pre-true-creation’ human beings to exist, which inevitably suffer from ignorance and original sin)

        2) human nature as such does not *require* original sin even before eschatological perfection – for example, Jesus does not have original sin but is still fully human (BUT… one could still hold that, strictly speaking, original sin is not an essential feature of human nature, but only mean that in the sense that the state of original sin would be avoided by a hypostasis that was also God, but it would remain inevitable for everyone else)

        3) original sin is 100% completely unnecessary, in the sense that some contingent decision or event caused the current state that human’s exist in sinful ignorance with the tendency to sin that is fallenness, and this contingent decision to fall really could have gone another way (BUT… well, there is no but, but I’m left wondering exactly what the status of this choice was… individual choices to commit this or that particular sin is one thing, but humanity’s overall state of fallenness is another)

        I like the solution you’ve offered, but I’m not quite sure where it sits on this scale or whether there’s another option that Maximus takes. But as I say, this is all a bit above me! But I’ll look forward to your book!

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  6. Garreth says:

    I don’t know if you are familiar with the work of michel henry, especially regarding his understanding the world as untruth, would there be a overlap here with maximus’ thinking, or maybe michel henry was deeply indebted to maximus’ thinking?

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      I know that Fr John Behr would say yes, but I cannot yet speak knowledgeably of Henry. I have his, C’est moi, la verité, sitting on my shelf; perhaps I need to reprise it!

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Jordan, what precisely does hypostasis mean for Maximus?

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      It means singular subsistence, equivalent for Maximus to “person” (prosopon). But it bears at least three distinctive features: [1] it presents ontologically real or positive content (think of the way a person’s face presents “who” s/he is, but who s/he is is not simply the face); [2] this content is not at all reducible to any formal or natural or general content (i.e. a “who” is not a “what”; [3] this positive, concrete, non-formal content is itself the only place any formal or natural or general content actually exists (e.g. there is no human nature except in and as all human persons).

      And it’s exactly because the person is both positive and yet non-formal (i.e. more determinate or singular than any generic form) that “person” as such cannot be defined; for a definition classically conceived requires at least a genus + differentiae (e.g. a human being is a rational animal–“animal” names a genus or class or kind, “rational” what differentiates or marks off the human from other members of the genus “animal”). But persons are irreducible to their genus or their specific differentiae (which are themselves generic specifications–“rational” applies not simply to one being, but to every human person commonly). So they cannot defined conceptually, even though they are the most positive and undeniably real existential fact in our experience. There is no abstract “idea” of a person, only names of actual persons.

      Incidentally, this is why I think much debate about a “patristic precedent” for personalism proves to be a red-herring. You shouldn’t go searching for a “definition” of a person in the fathers in order to affirm or deny the precedent. There is no abstract definition of persons, necessarily! You must instead attend to what they say of actual persons, above all the person of Christ. Doing that would show, I’d argue, that Maximus (at least) certainly is a precedent to certain versions of Christian personalism.

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  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I tried to have a look at PG 91, 445C–449A, but my acquaintance with Greek is rudimentary. Could you say something – both grammatical and more than grammatical – about the “if necessary” in “if necessary, to suffer beautifully for the cause of virtue” and “if needful” in “if needful, to endure all their punishments”?

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Hey David,

      In both cases they’re just causal particles (though two different ones), nothing special. They appear to indicate two things: first, that whatever “sufferings” Thalassius might face have yet to occur; second, an ambiguous relationship of these sufferings to divine providence, a relationship that, like Origen, Maximus is always reticent to specify.

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  9. brian says:

    Jordan, thanks for all this, terrific. You may have answered this elsewhere in the blog. When is your book coming out? Berdyaev and Shestov, btw, are two fellas I find sympatico regardless of places where the metaphysics departs from my own understanding.

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Many thanks, Brian.

      There’s still no release date for the book. It’s officially accepted at UNDP, but sitting on a desk somewhere. I’ll keep hounding them…

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  10. Tom says:

    “Maximus observes in this letter that our own nature, abstracted from Christ, proves no less a condition of the Fall than bestial passion.”

    Exactly, which is why I, why I’ve been saying, well you know… Oh never mind. ;o)

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