With questions for Photios and whomever else in the Comment Box.
Synergy in Christ According to Saint Maximus the Confessor
by Daniel Jones(Photios)
II. The ‘Origenist Problem’
To understand the ‘investigative’ theology of Origen’s On First Principles, we need to outline two basic concepts of Plotinus’s ‘The One.’ For Plotinus, ‘The One’ is utter transcendence, beyond all predications, and is “absolute unity itself:”5
It [the One] is not a thing or quality or quantity or intellect or soul: It is not in motion or at rest…It is not thought for there is no otherness in It. It is not movement, but prior to movementPage 2
and thought. For what would It think about? Itself? But then It would be ignorant before Its thought, and would need thought to know Itself...It is none of them, It can only be said to be beyond them. Now these things are beings, and being: so It [the One] is ‘beyond being’…’Beyond being’ is not Its name; all that it implies is that It is ‘not this.’6
This very apophatic approach to ‘the One’ harkens back to Plato in book VI of The Republic that all human cognition of the good can never pick out the good because the good in its essence is altogether on the other side of esse (i.e. existence) and beyond the diastemic boundary of human cognition.7 However, there is another side to this coin for Plotinus’s conception of ‘the One’: within the One all predications are wholly indistinguishable. Being, activity, and will are all identical:
He is his own act, and is what He is not by chance but according to His own activity…So He is not ‘as He happened to be,’ but as he Himself wills…His essential being is his self-directed activity, and this is one with Himself.8
This concept of simplicity—all predications being identical and indistinguishable—is definitional to the One’s utter perfection. This leads to some interesting consequences. If the One is to be the One, multiplicity must stand over against the One, and the One could not be the One if it did not produce this multiplicity. Plotinus remarks that “everything which is multiple and not one is defective, since it is composed of many parts”9 which in turn means that “distinction is opposition.”10
We see in both of these accounts that there is a certain tension in Plotinus’ view of ‘the One.’ However, it is this latter concept of God being identical to all predications of Him, that one might employ, is inherent in Origen’s On First Principles11 to which I now turn.
For Origen, the problem of free-choice is centered on two anomalies. The first one is a
divine problem. As we have stated with Plotinus, God's essence has no multiplicity or distinctions. Existence, Will, and Activity are wholly indistinguishable and identical.12 Any distinction of these attributes is only in the cognition of the human subject. Since God's activity is wholly indistinguishable from his Being, we can say that he is an 'ever-productive' agent. To be ever-productive, the divine essence must create, since it has no distinction of being, essence, will and activity. The essence has but one object of willing to choose—it has but one good thing to do.13 We can therefore say, for God's essence, true freedom is actually a freedom from free choice. Thus, for Origen God was by definition Creator and Almighty:
Accordingly, to prove that God is almighty we must assume the existence of the universe. For if anyone would have it that certain ages, or periods of time, or whatever he cares to call them, elapsed during which the present creation did not exist, he would undoubtedly prove that in those ages or periods God was not almighty, but that he afterwards became almighty from the time when he began to have creatures over whom he could exercise power. Thus God will apparently have experienced a kind of progress, for there can be no doubt that it is better for him to be almighty than not to be so. Now how is it anything but absurd that God should at first not possess something that is appropriate to him and then should come to possess it? But if there was not time when he was not almighty, there must always have existed the things in virtue of which he is almighty; and there must always have existed things under his sway, which own him as their ruler.14
A couple of things that are worthy of noting from this passage: first, we see that the will as the ‘faculty of will’ that is proper to nature is not distinguished from the will as the ‘object of the will’ that the natural will is directed to. Thus, the natural faculty of will, which is identical to the essence, is the same as its object.15 This highlights confusion between nature and person, which has ramifications for Origen’s doctrine of the apokatastasis.16 For a restoration of one’s nature inevitably results in the restoration of one’s person as well. Secondly, since these two are not
distinct, what is natural to an agent is absolutely necessary and not contingent. This ‘definitional simplicity’ leads free-will to be defined as between objects dialectically opposed.17 Like Plotinus’s conception of ‘the One’, creation stands over and against God, for the very purpose that God can be Creator. In other words, "he [Origen] imagined an endless flow of ages which had to be filled...Any sequence in the divine predicates appeared to him under the form of real temporal change; and therefore, having excluded change, he was inclined to deny any sequence at all to, or interdependence among, those predicates taken as a whole; he asserted more than the mere "co-eternity" of the world with God; he asserted the necessity of the divine self-disclosure ad extra, the necessity of the eternal realization of the fullness and of all the potentialities of Divine power."18 Likewise, "the world was impossible without God, and God was impossible without the world."19 Therefore, for Origen, God cannot choose not to create, since such a choice is entangled with a dialectic, which would involve multiplicity in Him, and given God's utter perfection, such would by definition be evil and impossible.20
The second problem in Origen’s doctrine of free-choice is the Saints in the Eschaton and this is a creaturely problem. Since we have just shown that for Origen God's freedom is really a freedom from free choice, creation on the other hand, being composite, must therefore involve choice. This choice, however, must precisely be between objects of differing moral value. The creature in its diversity must always have free volition, mutability, and motion:
the will's freedom always moves in the direction either of good or evil, nor can the rational sense, that is the mind or soul, ever exist without some movement either good or evil.21
We see in this passage that Origen logically ties personhood to free-choice and motion, but because he cannot disentangle motion and plurality from his definition of free-will as objects dialectically conditioned, this has some interesting consequences for the redeemed in the Eschaton. With God being absolutely simple, how many willing objects can there be? There can
be only one metaphysical object in this logic,22 and Origen has ruled out all diversity or motion in the Eschaton for creatures—absorption into the One. However, Origen is not one to give up on the problem. We saw that motion, free-will, and personhood are tied together in his doctrine of free-choice. The redeemed have but one single good object to will, the other option by definition must be evil, which brings us to the culmination of this human problem as an eternal cycle of falls and redemptions:
the soul is immortal and eternal, it is possible that in the many and endless periods throughout diverse and immeasurable ages it may either descend from the Highest Good to the lowest evil or to be restored from the lowest evil to the Highest Good.23
This is how Origen logically believes in the pre-existence of souls. The cycle was the only conceptual way he could stave off absorption into the divine essence since sin was a clear individuating principle between God and creatures. Sin then becomes the distinguishing mark of creatures and their free will is thought of in terms of between options of differing moral worth, as we have already stated. Since God is perfect nothing sinful could become God thereby staving off divine absorption. The pre-existent souls in God are in stasis. Kinesis results in a fall from this unity resulting in Genesis of the corporeal world with a reversal of this process in a journey back to the One (Kinesis, Stasis).
Before we turn to Maximus and the Monothelite controversy, I wish to note the continuity with history that Maximus has of breaking up the ‘Origenist problem.’ This job seems to first fall to St. Athanasius in the controversy with the Arians over the deity of Christ and his consubstantiality with the Father. Arius was the one who first picked up on Origen’s dialectic that gives two opposed options: Either affirm the eternality of the Son and the eternality of the kosmos or to deny the eternity of the Son and the kosmos.24 In Saint Athanasius, the distinction between essence and will appears to be a real, metaphysical one:
A man by counsel builds a house, but by nature he begets a son; and what is in building began to come into being at will, and is external to the maker; but the son is proper offspring of the Father’s essence, and is not external to him; wherefore neither does he counsel concerning him, lest he appear to counsel about himself. As far then as the Son transcends the creature, by so much does what is by nature transcend the will. And they, on hearing of Him, ought not to measure by willPage 6
what is by nature.25
Thus, St. Athanasius’s defense of the deity of Christ and His necessity from the Father, along with the free contingency of the world depends on a real distinction between essence and will.26
A continuing break up of the ‘Origenist problem’ occurs in the Cappadocians’s view of the proper knowledge of God through the process of conception (e/pi/noia) against the Semi-Arian Eunomians.27 According to Eunomius, the ούσία of the Father can be known through the precision of the terminology applied to it. It was this idea of having knowledge of the divine essence that the Cappadocians attacked:28
He makes Himself known that He is “by the greatness and beauty of His creatures proportionately” to the things that are known, vouchsafing to us the gift of faith by the operations of His hands, but not the comprehension of what He is.29
We are now able to outline 2 distinct principles that characterize definitional simplicity: 1) The principle of non-contradiction or that plurality cannot be disentangled from moral opposition,30 and 2) What is natural is compelled. With this hermeneutic in place, we can now proceed on with an investigation of Monotheletism.
5 Farrell, Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor, p. 40
6 Enneads VI:8:13; 9:3; V:5:6, c.f. cited in Farrell pp. 40-42
7 Plato, Republic, VI.509B: “You will agree that the Sun not only makes the things we see visible, but also brings them into existence and gives them growth and nourishment; yet he is not the same thing as existence. And so with the objects of knowledge: these derive from the Good not only their power of being known, but their very being and reality; and Goodness is not the same thing as being, but even beyond being, surpassing it in dignity and power.”
8 Ibid., VI:8:17; c.f. Farrell, p. 44
9 Ibid., VI:9:6.
10 Ibid, III:2:16; Farrell, p. 45. This is a very important principle for Monotheletism.
11 It is only my concern in this essay to show the similarity and comparison of this concept in Origen’s doctrine. Farrell, p. 52: “Origen was not familiar with the works of Plotinus, and derives his platonising tendencies largely from the Middle Platonists.”
12 Origen, On First Principles, Bk 1, c. 1
13 Farrell, p. 44
14 Origen, On First Principles, II, 2, 10
15 Thomas Aquinas makes the same claim in Summa Contra Gentiles I.74: “GOOD understood is the object of the will. But what is understood by God in the first place is the divine essence: therefore the divine essence is the first object of the divine will.”
16 We will see that Maximus holds to a notion of the apokatastasis but comes to a different conclusion because of the real distinction between persons and natures. This is likely what Gregory of Nyssa as interpreted by Maximus had in mind as well, although is much debated in modern scholarship.
17 Farrell, p. 55
18 Florovsky, Creation and Redemption, Vol. III, The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, p. 53
19 Ibid., pp. 55-56
20 Farrell, p. 55
21 Origen, On First Principles, III, 3, 5
22 Although there would be multiple creatures in the Eschaton, man’s natural desire is for God and He being the object of deification, lesser goods do not deify.
23 Ibid., III, 1, 23
24 Florovsky, Aspects, p. 46
25 Athanasius, Third Discourse Against the Arians III, 62, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers II, 4, pp.427-428
26 Florovsky, Aspects, p. 53
27 The Eunomians also held to a ‘definitional’ simplicity of God.
28 See M. C. Steenberg’s excellent essay: The Cappadocian Fathers on Essence and Energy and the Knowledge of God: The Process of Epinoia. http://www.monachos.net/patristics epinoia_ennoia.shtml
29 Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Answer to Eunomius’s Second Book, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers II, 5, p. 251
30 That is, “distinction is opposition.” Notice Thomas Aquinas’ agreement with this principle in his discussion on the distinctions of the Persons of the Trinity. Summa Theologiae I.28, A.3: “So as in God there is a real relation, there must also be a real opposition.”
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