Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recent reading in Maximos

Lots of reading lately; little writing. The following are a few excerpts from recent notes.

  • St. Maximos (Ambigua 7)
    • Very interesting text. He is writing to a friend who has questions about texts in St. Gregory Nazianzen. Particularly about those texts that could be interpreted according to an Origenist mindset. Not just any doctrine of Origen, but really his whole cosmology: He held that all logika (rational beings) were all with God in the beginning as a henad (a primordial unity) but through some primordial sin they were caged into material bodies--their sin is actually the cause of the entire material universe with its diversity and manyness (opposite of the henad). Maximos refutes this by first setting out the principle that all things move because they are imperfect and heading towards perfection and immobility which is only found in God. If prior to this material universe all souls and spirits dwelt with God, then they could not possibly descend or depart from their perfection. And if they could descend, then this means our beatitude is not secure and we cannot hope to remain in heaven if we should ever reach it (in City of God, St. Augustine makes a similar argument that knowing one will never leave beatitude is an essential part of beatitude; something of this is in Aristotle, though he seems doubtful about our capacity to attain it).
    • Knowledge, Love, Ecstasy, Movement, Rest: This is the path of the soul toward God as Maximos lays it out at one point, to contrast with Origen’s teaching. First we come to knowledge of the sensible world, but through this we rise to a knowledge of the beginning and end of all things. Recognizing the goodness of this Principle of all principles, we love Him of above all. This proceeds to ecstasy. At first this sounded odd to me, but the Greek is ek+stasis, to stand outside of oneself. Through love, one is at once where one is and where the beloved is, and from this tension the result is a movement toward the object loved (this sounds almost Hegelian, but it actually accords with the soundest of Aristotle’s natural philosophy). And then the motion terminates in that perfect rest by which we are circumscribed by God so that we shall know as we are known.
    • The upcoming section is about the true manner in which all beings were with God before creation, how all logoi (created rational principles?) exist in the one and only-begotten Logos.

Instead of continuing Maximos (in a disciplined manner as I should), I went ahead and began reading the orations of Gregory the Theologian. Some first impressions:

  • Began to read orations of St. Gregory the Theologian
    • What an excellent doctor Gregory is! The first oration was a quick text, but the second one took a long time and I am still not finished. Within it, he defends his action of fleeing from his appointment as a bishop. He talks about the gravity of the office, how many priests there are who fill it poorly, how one and the same action can please some and offend others, the difficulty of explaining the truth about God so that people do not become Jewish or polytheistic in their understanding, a catalogue of what the prophets wrote concerning bad priests, and a section in praise of St. Paul who (apparently) fulfilled the office of pastor perfectly, always knowing when to be gentle or strict, teaching basic doctrines or more advanced, never failing to set an example by his actions and suffering on account of them all the while. Saint Gregory also took opportunities to praise the quiet life of contemplation--praises that resonated with me--but balanced these by considering the office of governing and how terrible it is when either all desire it or none.