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.
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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.
 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.
 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.
 “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).
 Matt 5.40.
 1 Cor 4:12-13.
 Cf. Heb 12.2.