Saturday, March 22, 2014

Insights from Maximus the Confessor

This was adapted from an article I wrote for my school's newspaper.

                 Currently, my Greek class is tackling the highly philosophical and yet very intriguing Maximus the Confessor, an Eastern theologian who lived during the seventh century. Maximus is called the Confessor because he lost both his right hand and his tongue due to his unrelenting push for orthodoxy in what is known as the Monothelite controversy. We are currently reading through a work called the Mystagogy which has been called “one of the most seminal literary pearls of Greek Orthodox Byzantine culture and spirituality, whose tremendous importance for our present world is yet to be discovered.”[1] In it, Maximus seeks to display the total mystery of the Church. 

                One doesn’t have to read the Mystagogy long before one realizes that Maximus goes beyond the traditional Evangelical framework. He effortlessly moves in and out of philosophical systems while explaining the theological topic at hand. His main goal in the work is to describe the ways in which the church is the image of all reality. He indulges in what many would call speculative theology with no reservation. Most would find his work utterly foreign. 

Yet, there is much that can be gained from Maximus’ thought. Maximus is considered the great synthesizer of the faith. He combines Eastern and Western thought, and mines the best of the tradition before him without falling into their excesses. Maximus can be looked to as a model of how to blend the best of the numerous traditions within Christianity today.

Maximus, along with the rest of the Greek Orthodox Church, also highlights theosis, or the process of man becoming God, which is based on 2 Peter 1:4. For Maximus, theosis is central to the Christian life. It is the very telos, or goal, of existence. In theosis, man penetrates entirely into God and is united with Him. Maximus looks to the two natures of Christ as a model for this union. In the Incarnation, the Logos united itself with humanity without mixing. This then made it possible for humanity to unite with Divinity without either being absorbed by the other. 

This is somewhat comparable to the Evangelical version of sanctification (although only at a very basic level). In sanctification, man becomes more and more like God through the Holy Spirit indwelling him. Evangelicals acknowledge that in the end of all things, God will dwell with man. The difference with Maximus lies in emphasis. Because Evangelicals tend to emphasize the justification stage in salvation and passages like Romans 4, it is this doctrine that has been given more thought and has been thoroughly developed. For Maximus, it is the sanctification stage (what he calls theosis) and passages like John 14:20,23 that have been heavily reflected on and refined. The question then becomes: who is correct? Is it better to stress becoming like God or being made right with God? And how would this affect the way we think about the Christian life? 

[1] Dragas, George Dion. “The Church in St. Maximus' Mystagogy: The Problem and the Orthodox Perspective,” chapter 1. <>

1 comment: