With questions for Photios and whomever else in the Comment Box.
Synergy in Christ According to Saint Maximus the Confessor
by Daniel Jones(Photios)
IV. Synergy in Christ
As we shall see in the rich thought of the Confessor’s doctrine on free-choice, his refutation of Monenergism is dependent on a real distinction between person and nature and between nature and energy. Maximus’s doctrine of free-choice, unlike most, starts “from above” rather than “from below.”42 In other words, Maximus looks at what properties are essential to free-will and not the accidental relations that are consequences of the Fall to erect his doctrine. It is one that is centered on Christ and the Saints in the Eschaton. It is a doctrine of free-choice that is non-dialectical.43 The choices between objects, in Maximus’s thinking for Christ and the Saints, are not construed between objects of differing moral worth as they are for Origen and Monenergism.
As for Origen, Maximus is insistent that Kinesis and motion are proper to what it is to be a creature and have personhood:
Since, therefore, rational beings are created, they are doubtless subject to movement because they proceed from a source by virtue of the being proper to nature, and because they move themselves towards an end by virtue of that well-being proper to gnomie.44Although Maximus is equally insistent that Kinesis does not produce the Fall, it is the movement towards deification:
For the divine is immovable, as filling all, and everything that passes from non-being into being is movable indeed, as impelled surely to some cause, then nothing moved has yet to come to a stop, as not yet reposing its power of movement from desire in the ultimate object of its appetite; for nothing else is apt to stop what is impelled except the appearance of that object of appetite…No created being, ever, in any manner, stands fast while being moved by [its] natural power towards the End proper to that power; neither does it cease from the energy proper to that End, [even] after it is fixed up on it.45
There seems to be a slight problem with the Confessor’s thinking at first glance. If Adam was created “up-right,” how is he able to sin in the first place and what is Maximus’s idea of gnomie?
Following Chalcedon in Christ being “fully man,” Maximus deduces that Christ must have a natural faculty of will in both natures—a divine and a human energy:
If he hath two natures, then He surely must have two natural wills, the wills and essential operations being equal in number to the natures. For just as the number of natures of the one and the same Christ, correctly understood and explained, doth not divide Christ but rather preserveth the distinction of natures in the union, so likewise the number of essential attributes, wills, and operations attached to those two natures doth not divide Christ either.46Pyrrhus took this passage as a denial of all of Christ’s voluntary motion, because “what is natural is compelled.” For Maximus, Pyrrhus’s presupposition was too suggestive of the Origenist problem and its dialectical opposition. The will as the ‘faculty of will’ which is the rational principle of the nature (logos) is distinguished from the ‘mode of willing’ or hypostatic use of that faculty (tropos):
The will and the mode of willing, just as the power of sight and the mode of perception are not the same...For the rational nature hath the natural ability and rational appetite [proper to it]. This is called the “faculty of will” of the rational soul. It is according to this [faculty] that we consider when willing, and in considering, we choose the things which we would…and these are not subject to compulsion.47This answer leads us back to our original question: What is Christ’s mode of willing, and how does it differ from ours that gives him the inability to sin (non posse peccare)?
The natural faculty of will is always directed towards the good. We could even say it is irresistibly moved towards some real or apparent good. This is why even in sinful agents they
take their wrong doings as goods for them, i.e. apparent goods. The problem with a thief, however, is not his nature per se but his hypostatic use (tropos) of the natural faculties (logos), which is why the guilt of sin is personal and not natural.48 Since the personal employment and the natural faculty are not "fixed" in virtue, the thief deliberates about proposed courses of actions. He is hesitant and uncertain about the good. This hesitancy and uncertainty about the good is not because he is composite and a created hypostasis (and thus able to sin). So plurality per se is not the problem with the thief. This anxiety about courses of action and uncertainty of
the ends of those acts is eliminated in the Saints in the Eschaton so proairesis49 is not essential to being human. The anxiety and uncertainty about the good is due to the fact that for contingent beings virtue must be exercised through habit. Virtues for Maximus are the rational principles and agencies of the Person of the Logos,50 i.e. the uncreated logoi of God,51 and they are not in human nature accidentally and subsequently to creation:
Pyrrhus: Virtues, then, are natural things?On the other hand, Adam did not start out “exercised” in virtue since he is a creature, although his faculty of willing is "naturally" directed towards virtue (either real or apparent according to his mode of willing [tropos]). This was the purpose in giving man such a simple command to obey in the garden. The idea was to fuse Adam's faculty of willing (logos), naturally directed towards the good, with his personal employment of the will. Once virtue is practiced with one’s hypostatic employment through habit (possibly through more commands and obedience), then Adam would become a morally impeccable agent and be like God unable to sin. But before created agents have exercised the natural virtues, their hypostatic employment of the will (tropos) has a distinct status which Maximus calls the gnomic will:
Maximus: Yes, natural things.
Pyrrhus: If they be natural things, why do they not exist in all men equally, since all men have an
Maximus: But they do exist equally in all men because of the identical nature!
Pyrrhus: Then why is there such a great disparity [of virtues] in us?
Maximus: Because we do not all practice what is natural to us to an equal degree; indeed, if we
[all] practiced equally [those virtues] natural to us as we were created to do, then one would be
able to perceive one virtue in us all, just as there is one nature [in us all], and “one virtue” would
not admit of a “more” or “less.”
Pyrrhus: If virtue be something natural [to us], and if what is natural to us existeth not through
asceticism but by reason of our creation, then why is it that we acquire the virtues, which are
natural, with asceticism and labours?
Maximus: Asceticism, and the toils that go with it, was devised simply in order to ward off
deception, which established itself through sensory perception. It is not [as if] the virtues have
been newly introduced from outside, for they inhere in us from creation, as hath already been
said. Therefore, when deception is completely expelled, the soul immediately exhibits the
splendor of its natural virtue.52Page 12
Gnomie is nothing else than an act of willing in a particular way, in relation to some real or assumed good. 53The gnomic will can be defined as the personal employment of the will (tropos) that is not integrated with virtue, that is, "fixed" with the natural faculty of the will directed towards the good (logos). This is why it was possible for Adam created in innocence to sin. Theosis was open to him, but he was not created in theosis: but a state of potential deification. The devil and our first parents sinned by the gnomic will. Since the gnomic will ceases when a created hypostasis is integrated in the natural virtue, we can say that it [gnomie] is accidental to human nature and not essential. Christ lacks this personal 'mode of willing' since he is the divine uncreated Logos. Christ’s faculties of will are "fixed" with his hypostatic use of the will by his super-essential mode of existence being the Word:
These natural things of the will are present in Him, but not exactly in the same manner as they are in us. He verily did hunger and thirst, not in a mode similar to ours, but in a mode which surpasseth us, in other words, voluntarily. Thus, He was truly afraid [in Gethsemane], not as we are, but in a mode surpassing us. To put it concisely: all things that are natural in Christ have both the rational principle proper to human nature, but a super-natural mode of existence, in order that both the [human] nature, by means of its rational principle, and the Economy, by means of its super-natural mode of existence, might be believed.54Since the gnomic will is accidental to human nature and not essential, Christ does not need to assume this mode of willing, nor could he being the Logos. Christ has an integrity of his nature and person with respect to his humanity that we lack (except in the Eschaton), and we have a "distance" between our personal employment of our faculties and the Good that our natural
faculties are directed to (gnomie) that Christ lacks. Maximus sums it up as follows:
Thus, those who say that there is a gnomie in Christ, as this inquiry is demonstrating, are maintaining that he is a mere man, deliberating in a manner like unto us, having ignorance, doubt and opposition, since one only deliberates about something which is doubtful, not concerning what is free of doubt. By nature we have an appetite simply for what by nature is good, but we gain experience of the goal in a particular way, through inquiry and counsel. Because of this, then, the gnomic will is fitly ascribed to us, being a mode of the employment [of the will], and not a principle of nature, otherwise nature [itself] would change innumerable times. But the humanity of Christ does not simply subsist [in a manner] similar to us, but divinely, for He Who appeared in the flesh for our sakes was God. It is thus not possible to say that Christ had a gnomic will.56Christ's statement, "Not my will, but thine will be done," in the Gethsemane text expresses that Christ initially wills two good objects. Since he has two natural faculties, each one of them directed towards the good, the 'objects of willing' are self-preservation of his life and the Salvation of humanity. Since the faculty of the will is rooted in the nature as we have stated, and nothing natural is in opposition to God, then it is not possible on the mere basis of Christ having a natural human will for him to sin in opposition to God for self-preservation of his own life which is a good to will:
For the things that exist came to be out of nothing, and have therefore a power that impels than to hold fast to existence, and not to non-existence, which [power] is simultaneously an inclination towards that which naturally maintaineth them in existence, and a drawing back from things destructive [to their existence]. Consequently, the super-essential Word, by virtue of His humanity, had of His humanity this self-preserving power which clingeth to existence. And [in fact], He exihibited both [aspects of this power], willing the inclination and the drawing back on account of His [human] energy.56Christ then freely wills the salvation of the world without any determinism, since the choice is between two good courses of action. We see so far in this analysis of St. Maximus that the natural will does not do the choosing, but it is the hypostasis that particularizes or enhypostasizes these things in a unique and irreducible manner. Maximus’s answer to Monotheletism is not one sided, the will is not solely natural. Otherwise, Christ by taking on a natural human will would drag every person to an apokatastasis of ever-well-being in the same manner if the will is solely hypostatic (i.e. if the will is rooted in the hypotasis). This would collapse person and nature.57 The natural will presents possible courses of action to the
hypostasis that then—in the personal mode of willing—chooses to employ the natural will toward an object that it [the natural will] is directed to. This precludes any form of determinism for a hypostasis, but the tripartite distinction of the will must be maintained: the will as the natural will, the will as the personal mode of willing, and the will as the object of the will. If Christ in Gethsemane and the Saints in the Eschaton are going to have true free-choice, then there must be alternate courses of action that are all equally good, all the while excluding the possibility of sinning. It is to the Confessor’s view of the divine simplicity and the objects of choice that we now turn.
The Confessor’s refutation of the Origenist idea of ‘definitional simplicity’ is dependent on the correct understanding of his doctrine of the logoi. Unlike Origen’s idea of the pre-existing logikoi, rational creatures in the Henad, Maximus’s logoi are rational ‘principles’ that pre-exist in God. The logoi are agencies, “blue-prints”58 in which God created the world, but are also the One Logos, which as Farrell notes places it in an important Christological context:59
Who then cannot see that the one Rational Principle is in fact many rational principles, and that created things were determined simultaneously by the agency of this distinction which is undivided, because their attributes are distinct from each other and without confusion? And again the many [rational principles] are in fact one [Rational Principle] existing without confusion by virtue of all things being offered up to Him through Him Who is their enessentialization and enhypostasization.60This passage grounds the idea of recapitulation of the plurality of the logoi being offered up through the One Logos. The logoi are uncreated, real, and distinct; they are not to be identified with the divine essence of God or with any essence of created objects as indicated by Hans Urs von Balthasar from the Confessor’s Ambigua.61 Another interesting point we see in this passage is the Chalcedonian locus of “without division” and “without confusion” being applied to the many logoi to each other and to the One Logos. The logoi of God define the type of movement
Page 15we are to have in Heaven which refutes the type of ‘stasis’ that Origen imagined:
We are speechless before the sublime teaching about the Logos, for He cannot be expressed in words or conceived in thought. Although he is beyond being and nothing can participate in him in any way, nor is he any of the totality of things that can be known in relation to other things, nevertheless we affirm that the one Logos is many logoi and the many logoi are One. The many rational principles are one by being providentially attached, led, and offered up, to the One Rational Principle of the many, as to a source which possesses universal sovereignty, or as to a point which predetermines and unites all the radii [emanating] straight out of it and that gather them altogether…One zealously traverses one’s course toward the beginning and source without deviation by means of one’s good will and choice. And through this course one becomes God, being made God by God. To the inherent goodness of the image is added the likeness acquired by the practice of virtue and the exercise of the will…He moves in God according to the logos of his well-being that pre-existed in God when he lives virtuously. [Finally, one] lives in God in accordance with the rational principle of [one’s] Ever-Being, [which also pre-exists] in God. In the future age when graced with divinization, he will affectionately love and cleave to the logoi already mentioned that pre-exist in God, or rather, he will love God himself, in whom the logoi of beautiful things are securely grounded.62The language of the radii of a circle, in this passage, is close to the spatial imagery of the things moving “around” God in Plotinus’s Enneads.63 The movement of the Saints in the Eschaton according to the rational principles is defined by Maximus as an “ever-moving rest.”64 This rest is a divine logoi of God’s nature65 and one of the logoi of man’s motion in Ever-Being:66
He [God] rests when each being, having obtained the divine energy in due measure, will determine its own natural energy with respect to God.67
This being the goal of the creature’s motion,# Maximus goes on to state that the energies are
The works of God which did not happen to begin to be in time are participated beings, in which participated beings [creatures] share according to grace, for example, goodness and all that the term goodness implies, that is, all life, immortality, simplicity, immutability, and infinity and such things which are essentially contemplated in regard to him; they are also God’s works, and yet they did not begin in time.69
At this point in the essay it is important to note the relationship the logoi have with the energies of God. As we have identified the logoi as blue-prints, predeterminations, agencies, and rational principles, they are also identified with the energies of God which will denote the kind of divine simplicity Saint Maximus has in mind:
The logoi which are in beings, in the infinity of which it contemplates the energies of God, then, to speak truly, it reproduces the numerous and infinite differences in the divine energies which it perceives. Then, as regards the employment of scientific inquiry (e)pisthmonikh=v e)reu/nhv))) into that which is really true, for reasons that one may readily appreciate (ei)ko/twv), it (the intellect) will find the power of any such inquiry [to be] ineffective and its method useless, for it has no means of understanding how God Who is truly none of the things that exist, and Who in the strict sense is all things, and yet beyond them all, [exists] in each logos of all particular things and in all the logoi together whereby all things exist. If, therefore, in a proper sense, every divine energy properly signifies God indivisibly, wholly and entirely through itself, in each thing according to the logos—whatever it may be—whereby it exists, who is capable of conceiving and of saying exactly how, being wholly and entirely and altogether common to all and yet altogether particularly present in each of these realities, God is without part and division, without [thereby] being diversely distributed in the infinite differences of these realities in which He exists as Being, and without thereby being contracted according to the particular existence of each individual [logos], and also without fusing the differences of these realities into the sole and unique totality of them all, but on the contrary that He is truly all in all, He Who never abandoned His own simplicity [which is] without parts?70
This passage is crucial for a couple of reasons. First, it signifies that Maximus maintains that God is simple, but it is to be distinguished from the ‘definitional’ type of simplicity that we mentioned in Plotinus and Origen in the beginning of this essay, the type of divine simplicity where all predications are indistinguishable in God. Secondly, it shows that the energies are in no way separate from each other—being wholly connected to God’s essence—but neither are they to be confused with each other either. Simplicity operates for Maximus as a way to safeguard God’s utter transcendence on one hand (‘Beyond Being’71), and that God is fully manifested in each of His operations on the other.72 These divine energies are the ‘objects of willing’ for Christ and His Saints, and they are all of equally moral value which constitutes a genuine free choice for agents without the possibility of sinning.
42 Farrell. p.178
43 Ibid., p. 90
44 Ambigua 7, PG 91:1073BC; c.f. Farrell, p. 136
45 Ibid., 1069B, 1073B; c.f. Farrell pp. 134-135
46 Disputation 13, p. 4
47 Ibid. 23, 25; pp. 10-12
48 I’d like to thank my very close friend Perry Robinson at St. Louis University for pointing out this very important argument to me that I believe is especially unique to Orthodoxy.
49 Where proairesis is understood as doubt, hesitancy, and deliberation about the good. However, I’m not tying the concept of proairesis with motion or choice per se.
50 Ambigua 7, PG 91:1081D: “There can be no doubt that the one Word of God is the substance of virtue in each person…It is evident that every person who participates in virtue as a matter of habit unquestionably participates in God, the substance of the virtues,” and 1.50; 58 in Berthold pp.137-138: “But some [virtues] began to be in time, for there was a time when they were not, and others did not begin to be in time…The one who with his body is diligent for his soul in the well-ordered diversity of the virtues.” C.f. Thunberg, Gnostic CenturiesMicrocosm, p. 323-
327 for Maximus’s understanding of virtue.
51 Thunberg, Microcosm, p. 74: “The differentiated logoi pre-exist in God, who keeps them together. This preexistence of the logoi in God implies, first of all, that they are fixed in Him.”
52 Ibid. 91-95, pp. 32-33. This passage refutes the Nestorian character of Pyrrhus’s conception of the mode of the Incarnation of appropriating attributes, and the appropriation of grace being introduced into man from the outside.
53 Disputation 85, p. 30
54 Ibid. 35, pp. 17-18
55 Ibid. 87, pp. 31-32
56 Ibid. 33, pp. 16-17
57 It must be recalled here the long retrospective of St. John of Damascus and what is the common presupposition of all heresies: “But this is what leads the heretics astray, viz., that they look upon nature and person as the same thing.” An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith III.3, c.f. NPNF II, 9 p. 47b
58 Maximus also calls them “divine predeterminations and wills.” Ambigua 7, PG 91: 1085A: “With examples from Scripture St. Dionysius the Areopagite teaches us to call these logoi “predeterminations” and “the divine wills.”” On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, p. 61
59 Farrell, p. 136
60 Ambigua 7, PG 91:1073BC; c.f. Farrell, p. 136
61 Hans urs Von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy, p. 117-118; Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, p. 77
62 Ambigua 7, PG 91: 1081A,C, 1084B; Farrell pp. 137-138; On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, for an English translation of the entire Ambigua 7, see p. 57-60
63 Farrell, p. 138,143; Enneads II:2:3: “This is how intellect is moved; it is both at rest and in motion; for it moves around Him (the Good). So, then, the universe, too both moves in its circle and is at rest. “
64 Gnostic Centuries PG 90:1100C, English trans. by George C. Berthold in the Classics of Western Spirituality Series: Maximus the Confessor Selected Writings, p. 136. The phrase “ever-moving rest” implies that “rest” is the fixity of one’s habit and obtaining the goal while the phrase “ever-moving” implies that man does not cease from choice even while fixed upon a certain good. Man therefore still retains the power of self-determination towards any particular good he would wish to enjoy in God.
65 The idea of rest in Maximus is closely connected with habit: “God never ceases from good things, because he never began them.” Gnostic Centuries PG 90:1096D, Berthold, p. 135.
66 Farrell, p. 148
67 Gnostic Centuries PG 90:1100C, Berthold, p. 136.
68 Ibid., p. 150
69 Gnostic Centuries PG 90:1100D, p. 136 in Berthold
70 Ambigua 22, PG 91:1257A-B; c.f. Farrell, pp. 139-140. Compare this statement of Maximus with St. Gregory Palamas Triads III:2:7-8: “Thus, neither the uncreated goodness, nor the eternal glory, nor the divine life nor things akin to these are simply the superessential essence of God, for God transcends them all as Cause. But we say He is life, goodness and so forth, and give Him these names, because of the revelatory energies and powers of the Superessential. As Basil the Great says, "The guarantee of the existence of every essence is its natural energy which leads the mind to the nature." (Ep. 139, 6-7) And according to St. Gregory of Nyssa and all the other Fathers, the natural energy is the power which manifests every essence, and only nonbeing is deprived of this power; for the being which participates in an essence will also surely participate in the power which naturally manifests that essence…But since God is entirely present in each of the divine energies, we name Him from each of them, although it is clear that He transcends all of them. For, given the multitude of divine energies, how could God subsist entirely in each without any division at all; and how could each provide Him with a name and manifest Him entirely, thanks to indivisible and supernatural simplicity, if He did not transcend all these energies?...The superessential essence of God is thus not to be identified with the energies, even with those without beginning [Palamas was previoiusly discussing the difference between energies that have a beginning and an end in time and those that do not]; from which it follows that it is not only transcendent to any energy whatsoever, but that it transcends them "to an infinite degree and an infinite number of times" (Cent. gnost. I.7), as the divine Maximus says.”
71 von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy, pp. 88-89: “God’s immanent name, then, is the name Being; his transcendent name is the name Not-Being, in that he is not any of those things we can speak of as being. The second of these names is more proper to him, since such negation means a reference to God as he is in himself, while an affirmation only refers to him in his activity outside of himself. This is not contradicted by the fact that Maximus, along with the tradition reaching from Philo to Gregory of Nyssa, says we can only know God’s existence—know that he is—not his essence, or what he is…He lies far beyond both modes [affirmative and negative] of knowing.”
72 Simplicity also signifies as a means to safeguard that the Persons of Trinity are co-equal, much like the Nicene homoousion.
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