Saint Maximus the Confessor’s Ambigua (sometimes simply called Ambiguum in the singular) is incredibly important in that it unpacks his theology on the Fall, Christology (and implicit Mariology), Theosis, moral applications of the preceding, the nature of the Scriptures, the sinlessness of Saint John the Baptist, and the energy-essence distinction (and the issue of logoi). In this article, we will provide short summaries of his teaching and block quotes of what he taught.
Death made it’s entry into human existence through human “free will.” (7) As covered elsewhere, “free will”/”free choice”/”gnomic will” are generally euphemisms of the same thing in Saint Maximus: “corrupted free choice.” In short, non-fallen human beings such as Jesus Christ and Adam before his sin have free choice in the prelapsarian state. However, Christ’s human will always cooperates with God’s and unfallen Adam was predisposed naturally to co-will with God. (45, 65) However, through deception and imagination (8), man willed against God, corrupting his free choice, creating the Fall within man so that he is predisposed towards evil instead of good. This occurs because man became “torn apart by mutually opposed and corrupting qualities, but was in a state of equilibrium devoid of flux and reflux, being free of the continuous alteration between each of these two” (45), or in other words, psychologically became predisposed to a “dialectic of opposition” (i.e. always choosing between good and evil, unsure which is which). This is spread to men by their execvise of the animal mode of reproduction. (42) The moral fall has physical consequences, bringing corruptibility upon man. (8, 20) This is contrary to human nature, as man is naturally immortal (1), but this is a sort of tentative, passible immortality conditional upon obedience. (35) This is different from the spiritual (physical) bodies the righteous will have in the resurrection, which due to Theosis will have unconditional immortality and obedience. (63, 65) Those who do not repent and repair their will so that it inclines towards God will suffer an eternity of willing against God, with no hope of repentance or escape from damnation. (21, 65)
[D]eath, will be destroyed. And this will take place because that which is within our power, I mean our free will— through which death made its entry among us, and confirmed at our expense the power of corruption—will have surrendered voluntarily and wholly to God, and perfectly subjected itself to His rule, by eliminating any wish that might contravene His will. (7:11)
After man had been brought into being by God, resplendent with the beauty of incorruptibility and immortality, he chose, instead of intellective beauty the relative deformity of the material nature surrounding him, and consequently lost the memory of his soul’s exalted dignity —or rather he became wholly oblivious of God, who had beautified the soul with divine form. It was thus that man plucked fruit, which, according to the divine decree that wisely directs our salvation, was commensurate with the inclination of his mind, and so drew down on himself not simply the corruption and death of his body, but also the capacity and indeed propensity for all the passions, and, not least, the instability and disorder of the material substance that surrounded him, along with its facility and susceptibility to suffer change...He gave the body the inherent capacity to suffer, undergo corruption, and be totally dissolved. (8:2)
For if death is the corruption of growth, and if the body, which is nourished by the constant ingestion of food, naturally suffers corruption because of such ingestion, it follows that, in the very activity of eating, which Adam believed would support life, death found opportunity to flourish, both in him and for us. If instead of his wife he had trusted God, and been nourished from the tree of life, he would not have lost the gift of immortality, which is maintained perpetually through participation in life [i.e. obedience to God]…the first man fell away from divine life, and embarked upon a different life which engenders death, a life in which he acquired for himself an irrational form. (10:60)
In the same manner, but in the case of what is contrary, the sages give the names of “perdition,” “Hades,” “sons of perdition,” and the like, to those who by their disposition have set themselves on a course to nonexistence, and who by their mode of life have reduced themselves to virtual nothingness. (20:2)
If, however, it makes the wrong or mistaken use of these powers, delving into the world in a manner contrary to what is proper, it is obvious that it will succumb to dishonorable passions, and in the coming life will rightly be cast away from the presence of the ditine glory, receiving the dreadful condemnation of being estranged from relation with God for infinite ages, a sentence so distressing that the soul will not be able to contest it, for it will have as a perpetually relentless accuser its own disposition, which created for it a mode of existence that in fact did not exist. (21:12)
For if the old Adam, a mere man subject to sin, was able through his disobedience to abolish the first spiritual laws of nature, and thereby fill the lower world with those who were born in the flesh from him to corruption, becoming their leader by their likeness to his transgression—a fact which no one disputes—then to a much greater degree will the new, sinless Adam, Christ our God, abolish the laws of irrationality, which were introduced into nature because of sin, for He is the Divine Reason, and will be able to fill the world above rightfully with those who are born from Him by the Spirit into incorruptibility, becoming their leader by their likeness to His obedience. (31:3)
[God] uniquely possesses within Himself an inconceivable, eternal, infinite, and incomprehensible permanence, from which, by virtue of an “ever-giving effusion” of goodness, He brought forth beings out of nothing and endowed them with existence, and also willed to impart Himself without defilement to them in a manner proportionate to all and to each, bestowing upon each the power to exist and to remain in existence. (35:2)
God therefore deservedly judged that, for willingly choosing inferior things over what was better, man should exchange his free, impassible, voluntary, and chaste birth for an impassioned, servile, coercive birth after the likeness of the irrational and mindless beasts of the earth, and in place of the divine and ineffable honor of being with God, man should be left with the dishonor of being relegated to the material level of mindless beasts. (42:31)
I therefore hazard the conjecture that the teacher [Saint Gregory Nazianzus] said these things wishing to point out the difference between the temperament of the human body in our forefather Adam before the fall, and that which is now observed within us and predominates, because then the temperament of man’s body was obviously not torn apart by mutually opposed and corrupting qualities, but was in a state of equilibrium devoid of flux and reflux, being free of the continuous alteration between each of these two, depending on the predominance of one quality or another, for surely man was not without a share in immortality by grace, nor was he suffering, as he is now; from the blows rained down on him by the scourge of corruption, since his body had a different temperament, obviously suited to him, and held together by simple, noncontradictory qualities. (45:3)
For being dispassionate by grace, he was not by pleasure moved to accept the deception of passions in his imagination; and being without any needs he was free of the necessity, imposed by circumstances, to make use of arts and skills; and being wise, his knowledge placed him beyond the contemplation of nature. Thus the first man possessed no barrier between himself and God, which might have veiled his knowledge, or hindered his kinship with God, which was to have been realized as a freely chosen movement to Him in love. (45:4)
If, then, the enjoyment of blessings is more precious than a habit of mind cleansed of the vices; and if a habit of mind possessing perfection in true knowledge is more precious than the healthy exercise of free choice inclining to virtue; and if the transformation in grace to God in divinization is more precious than natural incorruptibility (63:4) [Note: It appears that non-fallen free choice is eventually deified and becomes “perfection in true knowledge.”]
Those possessing perfect knowledge of divine realities say that there are three modes, inasmuch as the total principle of the whole coming into being of rational substances is seen to have the mode of being, of wellbeing, and eternal-being; and that of being is first given to beings by essence; that of well-being is granted to them second, by their power to choose, inasmuch as they are self- moved; and that of eternal-being is lavished on them third, by grace. And the first contains potential, the second activity, and the third, rest from activity This means that the principle of being, which by nature possesses only the potential for actualization, cannot in any way possess this potential in its fullness without the faculty of free choice…That of eternal-being, finally, which wholly contains those that precede it (that is, the potential of the one, and the activity of the other), absolutely does not exist as a natural potential within beings, nor does it at all follow by necessity from the willing of free choice…But eternal being is a limit, bringing a halt to nature in terms of its potential, and to free choice in terms of its activity, without in any way changing the principle according to which the one and the other exist, but establishing for all things the limit of all ages and times. (65:2)
…throughout the whole being of those who by their free choice have used the principle of being according to nature, the whole God suitably abides, bestowing on them eternal well-being by giving them a share in Himself…to those who have willfully used the principle of their being contrary to nature, He rightly renders not well-being but eternal ill- being, since well-being is no longer accessible to those who have placed themselves in opposition to it (65:3)
Jesus Christ’s Voluntary Assumption of the Natural Passions
This is an extremely important and undeniable dogma of the Orthodox Christian faith. The Sixth Ecumenical Council taught:
For He gave to the human nature, whenever He wanted, time to act and to suffer what was proper, so that no one might judge that His marvelous incarnation was an imaginary and empty vision…He became a human being volunatarily, and having become a human being He accepted [the passions and corruption] voluntarily; and they are not [acting upon Him] tyrannically or by constraint and unwillingly, as it is with us, but He gave His consent whenever and to the extent He wanted He allowed them to inflict pain on Him and to cause Him sufferings which were against [His] nature. (quoted in Epilogue of Father Emmanuel Hatzidakis’ Jesus Fallen)
The sixth ecumenical council was on the heels of the teaching career of Saint Maximus. Hence, in the Ambigua, we get a picture of exactly how the preceding teaching of the Council worked.
Maximus is clear that Jesus Christ’s passions were “natural” and not blameworthy, but even then (being truly sinless) He assumed these via both His divine and human wills (5) voluntarily assuming them. (4) The way this was made physically possible was by voluntarily accepting fallen flesh from the Theotokos and allowing for a post-Fall form of birth, enabling passibility. (42) Interestingly, this is why Christians are baptized, because they require a form of birth that does not convey passibility (unlike our “natural” births). (42)
“For this reason He honors obedience by His actions”— becoming by nature a new Adam for the sake of the old— and “experiences it by suffering,” voluntarily accepting to endure the blameless passions of the human body. For this reason our great teacher said, “He grew weary, He became hungry, He thirsted, He endured agony, He wept, all in conformity to the laws of the body.” These “deeds” are a clear proof of His “disposition,” and a sign of His condescension to “His fellow slaves and servants.” For He remained Lord by nature, and became a slave for my sake, who am a slave by nature, so that He might make me lord over the one (i.e., the devil) who through deception despotically lorded it over me…through His passion [He] destroyed corruptibility, and which through His death created life indestructible. (4:6)
By His power He transformed the passions of nature into acts of the [human] will, so that they were not the results of natural necessity, as they are with us, but in His case it was just the opposite. He made His way through the passible element of our nature, authoritatively showing that what in His own [human] will is moved naturally by His [human] power, is in our case that which moves our will…For by virtue of His ineffable conception “the Word beyond being” clothed Himself in all the elements of nature along with nature itself, and He had nothing positively human (in the principle of His human nature) that was not also divinely negated by the transcendent mode of existence (5:15)
One could say, then, that He experienced suffering in a divine way, since it was voluntary (and He was not mere man); and that He worked miracles in a human way, since they were accomplished through the flesh (for He was not naked God). (5:18)
Being man He experienced the sufferings of human nature, but in a divine way for they unfolded at the command of His sovereign [divine] will. Or rather, both were done in a theandric [seamless cooperation of divine and human wills] way, since He is God and man at the same time (5:26).
He was naturally identified with man through the vital inspiration, through which, in assuming the uncompromised and blameless image of God, He remained as man possessing the freedom of sinlessness. By accepting, on the other hand, birth in the flesh, that is, by voluntarily clothing Himself in the form of the slave, so as to assume the likeness of corrupted humanity, the sinless one, as if He were responsible for sin, willingly subjected Himself to natural passions like ours, but without sin. For He was compounded [συνετέθη—synntheti] according to and from out of both of these conditions [μερών—“parts”] of ours [ήμών—“our”], and became completely a new Adam, bearing within Himself the first Adam, undiminished in both conditions. (42:3)
Note: In the above passage, in the original Greek there is an implicit statement that Jesus Christ assumed falleness from the flesh of the Theotokos. Being that (some) Roman Catholics affirm Mary had postlapsarian flesh, this would not be a deal-breaker for them, but according the Maximus’ theology sin itself causes corruption because it is the state of being cut off from the divinization of God as the result of Adam’s sin. (42) The original Greek is as follows:
Greek: κατά [for] θέλησιν [of His own will] ύπο [submitted] κείσθαι [drawn sickness] φυσικοΐς [caused] παθήμασι [passions] Χωρίς [without] αμαρτίας [sin], Ώς [similar to] ύπεύθυνος [responsible], ό [the] άναμάρτητος [sinless] ήνέσχετο [unrelated].
More literal translation: From His own will [He] submitted Himself to suffering the sinless passions, similar to [those we are] responsible [for], [but] not related to sin.
Greek: Κατ’ [And] άμφω [He] Γάρ [since] ταϋτα [contraction of two words, ta and auta, literally, “the her”] μέρη [our fraction/part] ήμών [throw] έκ [from] μερών [fraction/part] συνετέθη [was put together].
More literal translation: And since/because from The-Woman [the Theotokos], He is composed, [He has] our parts.
Greek: καί γέγονε τελείως νέος Άάμ
More literal translation: And became a completely new Adam
For in deference to the law of condescension, He embraced creaturely origin just as it was before the transgression of Adam [i.e. creation from “soil,” not from sexual relations], and in being formed as man He naturally assumed, through the inbreathing, the condition of sinlessness—but He did not assume incorruptibility. On the other hand, when in His voluntary self-emptying He experienced the form of birth that emerged subsequent to the divine condemnation of the transgression, He naturally assumed human passibility—but not the proclivity to sin. And thus he became a new Adam, assuming the same sinless creaturely origin and submitting Himself to the same passible birth. (42:4)
He made the second and ignoble birth the salvation and renewal of the first one, and at the same time He made the first birth constitutive and preservative of the second one. (42:4)
Note: This is why second birth is baptism. It does not undo our creaturely birth, which leads to death, but it redoes our spiritual birth which enables dispassionate state via the cooperation of our will with the divine will.
In becoming flesh, the Savior did not in anyway assume sinful passion or corruption into Himself, but He accepted their consequences, and so made birth the salvation of creaturely origin, and paradoxically renewed the incorruptibility of creation by means of the passibility made possible by His birth. (42:4)
Implications of a Sinless Birth
In direct response to Augustine’s transducianist speculations that the soul is derived from its parents souls and thereby literally inherits those parents’ sins (Letter 98, Par 1), Saint Maximus speculates that we are in the “loins” of our ancestors according to God’s foreknowledge. The reason for this speculation is Christological. Maximus taught that Jesus Christ had a sinless human nature that voluntarily assumed the natural passions and corruptibility beginning at conception. (42) The body, which gets its matter from its mother, becomes human life when it simultaneously receives a soul. Christ’s birth, due it it not having to inherit the original sin of the Theotokos according to any transducianist necessity or by the consequence of fallen, animal-like copulation (5, 10, 31), had to voluntarily assume certain aspects of the Fall. Maximus speculates that due to sin being transmitted this way, if the Fall did not occur, humans would have multipled differently. (41) The Mariological implications of this are profound, as the Theotokos was born of Saints Joachim and Anna via a mode that was fallen (animal-like copulation) but at the same time not (it was without passion). Her conception is, for this reason, venerated by the Orthodox due to it being one of the key reasons the Theotokos committed no sin and lived an all-holy life.
Receiving its existence at the moment of conception simultaneously with the body, the soul contributes to the completion of a single human being, whereas the body is created from the underlying matter of another body at the moment of conception, and is synthesized together with the soul into a single form with it. (42:10)
God knows particular things, the principles of which are eternally contained in His foreknowledge and infinite power, only when they are created and brought into being. For time and the ages show us each thing wisely being created at the proper, predetermined moment, at which point it is brought into being, just as the divine apostle says concerning Levi, namely, that he was still in the loins of his ancestor before he came into being. (42:14)
He was free by nature from the necessity of nature, since He did not owe His existence to the law of generation that applies to us. (5:16)
Thus, again, when David said, “My father and my mother abandoned me, but the Lord took me to Himself,” I think he was speaking obscurely about the abandonment and flight from the natural law of the flesh, which governs the process of birth and corruption, and into which, on account of the transgression, we are born and exist. (10:11)
And what are these laws of nature that were abolished [by Christ]? Conception through seed, and, I think, birth through corruption, neither of which characterized in any way whatsoever the true enfleshment of God and His perfect humanization. For this was a conception pure of any seed, and a birth completely untouched by corruption, which is why the mother of the one bom remained a virgin even after giving birth, and indeed suffered no pain while giving birth…[S]in, finding an opportunity through disobedience, condemned human beings to be marked with the same characteristic as irrational animals, in being generated one from another—and the laws of the first and truly divine creation were renewed, so that God with His strength could restore, out of His love for mankind, what feeble man, in his negligence, had destroyed. (31:2)
He became perfect man, having assumed from us, and for us, and consistent with us, everything that is ours, lacking nothing, but without sin, for to become man He had no need of the natural process of connubial [conjugal] intercourse. In this way, He showed, I think, that there was perhaps another mode, foreknown by God, for the multiplication of human beings, had the first human being kept the commandment and not cast himself down to the level of irrational animals by misusing the mode of his proper powers. (41:7)
Jesus Christ’s divine hypostasis assumed a human nature that has been affected by the Fall, minus its moral elements, henceforth becoming composite as mentioned above. In so doing, Christ canceled both death and sin, as our death is the result of sin. This is a sort of “canceling” of a law of nature (that being sin=corruption and death.) In addition to canceling death, by deifying human nature He made our divinization and thereby immutability/impassibility/eternal life possible. (4)
He bears the totality of human nature, including its natural, blameless passions, which He united to His own hypostasis. Having through them “consumed the meaner element”—on account of which passibility was imposed on us in our sentence of condemnation, I mean the law of sin which arose from disobedience, whose power over us lies in the unnatural disposition of our will, establishing, in lesser or greater degrees, an impassioned state within the passible condition of our nature—He not only saved us who were “held captive by sin,” but also, by having absolved our penalty in Himself, He gave us a share in divine power, which brings about immutability of soul and incorruptibility of body through the identification of the will with what is naturally good in those who struggle to honor this grace by their deeds. (4:4)
[O]bedience is alien to the nature of the Word (just as subordination is). Nonetheless He rendered this in full for our sakes, since we had transgressed the commandment, and thus He accomplished the complete salvation of humanity, making what is ours His own. (4:5)
Maximus gives us some teachings on the hypostatic union and what this means for a correct anthropology as discussed previously. Jesus Christ’s human nature, being sinless, was naturally “impassible” and “immortal.” (4) Interestingly, correct Christology demands the belief that life begins at conception. (42)
Thus, even when He suffered, He was truly God, and when He worked miracles the same one was truly man, for He was the true hypostasis of true natures united in an ineffable union. Acting in both of these natures in a manner suitable and consistent with each, He was shown forth as one truly preserving them unconfused, while, at the same time, preserving Himself without change, insofar as He remained impassible by nature and passible, immortal and mortal, visible to the eyes and known by the intellect, as God by nature and man by nature. (4:8)
“He remains a priest forever,” for His being is immune to death by vice or nature, for He is God and the source of all natural and virtuous life. (10:46)
[Some speculate o]ur Lord and God, who truly deigned to become man like us but without sin, became, at the moment of His conception, a human being without a soul or intellect, and that He remained in this condition for forty days. Against such a view our holy fathers and teachers—or rather the Truth speaking through them—explicitly proclaim that simultaneously with the Word of God’s descent, at the very moment of conception, without any intervening temporal interval, through the medium of the rational soul, the same Lord and Word of God was united to the flesh. (42:25)
Implications on Divinization
Maximus takes a hard stance on Theosis. Man, by God’s grace, literally becomes “God,” (20) “the Lord Himself.” (21) Grace is not “accidental” (23), interestingly a direct contradiction of the later scholastic Roman Catholic view of “created grace.” In passing, Maximus comments that corruption came from Adam freely choosing disobedience, (42) a comment pregnant with meaning as it has ramifications upon both the issue of gnomic will and original sin (as corruption is the result of a moral inadequacy and not simply a penalty.)
Again, a name indicative of grace is when man, who has been obedient to God in all things, is named “God” in the Scriptures, as in the phrase, I said, you are Gods, for it is not by nature or condition that he has become and is called “God,” but he has become God and is so named by placement and grace. For the grace of divinization is completely unconditioned, because it finds no faculty or capacity of any sort within nature that could receive it, for if it did, it would no longer be grace but the manifestation of a natural activity latent within the potentiality of nature. (20:2)
For just as the flesh was swallowed up by corruption as a result of sin, and likewise the soul by the flesh (since it is known only through the activities of the body), and the knowledge of God by the soul’s complete ignorance (to the point of not even knowing whether or not God exists), so too, in the time of the resurrection—when the Holy Spirit will restore the correct order, for the sake of the God who became flesh—the flesh will be spiritually swallowed up by the soul, and the soul by God, who is true life, inasmuch as the soul will possess God exclusively, wholly manifested through all things to the whole soul, and, to put it simply, in contrast to the present state of affairs in which we now exist and live, all that is ours will be revealed under the aspect of the future by the divine grace of the resurrection, so that, just as death prevailed over this life and swallowed all through sin, death itself wall be justly defeated by that life, and swallowed up by grace. (21:11)
[T]hose who choose the pure and undeliled life of the Gospel, through their strict exercise of the commandments, take possession of the likeness of the good things of the age to come, and are made ready by the Word through the hope that they will be spiritually vivified by their union with the archetype of these true things, and so become living images of Christ, or rather become one with Him through grace (rather than being a mere simulacrum), or even, perhaps, become the Lord Himself, if such an idea is not too onerous for some to bear, for now, consistent with the wisdom of our God-bearing teacher, the Word is called the forerunner of Himself. (21:15)
To state this more clearly, in the Deity’s initial approach…the intellect…should never consider this Good to be infertile of the Word and Wisdom or the Power that sanctifies, which are consubstantial and exist hypostatically, lest the Divine be thought to be compounded of these as if from accidents, and not believed to be eternally existing as these. (23.4)
He completely divinized us, without in any way violating or essentially altering our nature, for having totally given the whole of Himself, and assuming the whole of man, in an ineffable and perfect union, He in no way suffered any diminishment of His perfection...This is how God abolishes the laws of nature: He engages Himself with nature amid the things of nature in a way beyond nature. (31:8)
For inasmuch as He came to be below- for our sakes and without change became man, exactly like us but without sin, loosing the laws of nature in a manner beyond nature, it follows that we too, thanks to Him, will come to be in the world above, and become gods according to Him through the mystery of grace, undergoing no change whatsoever in our nature. (31:9)
Adam freely rejected (I mean the birth by the Spirit leading to divinization), and for which he was condemned to bodily birth amid corruption, is exactly what the Word assumed willingly out of His goodness and love for mankind, and, by becoming man in accordance with our fallen state, willingly subjecting Himself to our condemnation (though He alone is free and sinless), and consenting to a bodily birth, in which lay the power of our condemnation, He mystically restored birth in the Spirit. (42:32)
Maximus gives some important moral teachings. Implicit in his reflections are the fact that imagination is the origin and continuing cause of sin. Reflecting upon “the deceptions of this world” (10) will bar one from heaven. “Material attachements” (59) likewise bar one from heaven, seemingly for similar reasons–as they are the images of a reality that is not the divine reality. Maximus also gives a reflection on “free choice” which shows it is not sinful by default and is, in fact, permanent in the salvific state. (63)
No one who enjoys indulging the flesh will be able to pass over to Him, or who takes greater pleasure in the deceptions of the world than in His blessed glory; neither will such a person be able to stand next to Him who conquered the world. (10:85)
[T]he Word vigorously breaks the bonds of material attachment with which souls are shackled…the Word is able on earth to save embodied souls through their faith and purity of life, and when He descends below the earth, He is able to save the souls of the previously departed through their faith alone (59:3)
If this interpretation should seem credible to anyone, he should know that the First Sunday is also said to be a type of resurrection in virtue in accordance with our free choice, whereas the Second is a type of a permanent habit of mind acquired by free choice and leading to the knowledge of perfection. (63:3)
Nature of the Scriptures
Similar to his treatment of the topic in Questions of Thalassius, Maximus assumes not everything in the Scriptures are literally true, but a deeper reading will find overall consistency.
I believe, therefore, that if the meaning of the whole of divine Scripture is properly and piously smoothed out, the disagreements perceived on the literal level of the text will be seen to contain nothing contradictory or inconsistent. (21:14)
John the Baptist’s Dispassionate Life
The following is of note as it is important that we understand certain literal-sounding statements as consistent with high veneration, but not as proof texts meant to be taken in a categorical sense. For example, concerning John the Forerunner, Maximus speaks of him exercising dispassion at literally “full intensity…from his mother’s womb.” (37) He was never “drawn away from any evil or ignorance” and had reached an “unchanging” spiritual state of Theosis. (37) One would be hard pressed to find anywhere higher praise being given to any other saint, even of the Theotokos herself (and this includes Maximus’ own book on her.) Many interpreters, often Roman Catholics, fail to read such statements within a wider context and consistent with overall Orthodox doctrine. In so doing, they infer doctrines such as the immaculate conception. However, if they were consistent (which they never are), they would be forced to affirm the immaculate conception of John the Baptist. If we were to take the statements of men such as Saints Athanasius and Maximus completely literally, without any nuance, he was cleansed from all sin from the womb and never exhibited any tendency whatsoever towards the passions.
The great John is not only an image of repentance, the dispassion of practical philosophy, and cognitive contemplation…because from his mother’s womb until his death he maintained his soul at its full intensity in all of them. David, on the other hand, is an image of confession, the practical life, and contemplation…For he fell subsequent to receiving knowledge, succumbing to a human weakness, and did not preserve unchanged the habit of virtue and knowledge. (37:2)
Άll of you, who through repentance have conceived within yourselves the divine principle of virtue and knowledge, should strive to maintain, either like John or David, the divine leaping of joy. That is, either, like the great John, through a habit of mind that remains unchanged from the beginning to the end of your progress, without ever being drawn away by any form of evil or ignorance—or, short of this, in the manner of the blessed David, so that, even if something unwished for has befallen you on the divine path, you will labor strenuously to repent. (37:3)
And inasmuch as he leaped in his mother’s womb at the approach of the Word, he is a symbol of an unchanging habit of virtue and knowledge. (37:10)
God is Unknowable in His Essence; Energy-Essence Distinction
God is completely and “infintely” unknowable in His essence. (10) God, and in fact all created things, are knowable strictly because we perceive God’s energies. (22)
Yet in saying this we do not thereby signify the blessed Godhead itself, in its own existence, which is infinitely unapproachable and absolutely inaccessible to every principle, mode, intellect, and to all language and every name—but based on our faith in the Godhead, we furnish ourselves with a definition of it, which is accessible to us and within our reach.
For sacred discourse does not in anyway speak of this—I mean the name of “monad”—as representative of the divine and blessed essence, but rather as indicative of its utter simplicity, which is beyond every quantity, quality, and relation, lest we think that it is some whole composed of certain parts, or a part of some whole. For the Godhead is above and beyond all division, addition, and every part and whole (since it is devoid of quantity), and all existence according to place, and every concept that defines it in terms of how it exists (since it is devoid of qualities), and it is free and independent of all conjunction and proximity to anything else, for it transcends relatedness, and has nothing anterior, or present with, or subsequent to itself, for it is beyond everything, and is not ranked together with any being according to any principle or mode whatsoever.
And this is perhaps what the great and divine Dionysios was thinking of when he said: “For this reason, even though the Godhead that transcends all things is hymned as Monad and Trinity it is neither Monad nor Trinity, as understood by us or any other thing. But so that we might truly hymn its transcendent unity and divine fecundity, we have given the divine name of Trinity and Unity to that which is beyond all names, and the names of beings to that which is beyond all being.” (10:97-99)
He nonetheless becomes all things to everyone out of His exceeding goodness: lowly for the lowly, lofty for the lofty, and, for those who are deified through His grace, He is God by nature, and Deity beyond all knowledge as God beyond God. (21:16)
If created things are many, then they must certainly be different, precisely because they are many. For it is impossible that many things should not also be different. And if the many are different, it must be understood that their logoi, according to which they essentially exist, are also different, since it is in these, or rather because of these logoi, that different things differ…the intellect naturally apprehends all the logoi in beings and contemplates within them the infinite energies of God, it recognizes the differences of the divine energies it perceives to be multiple and—to speak truly—infinite. (22:2)
[E]very divine energy indicates through itself the whole of God, indivisibly present in each particular thing, according to the logos through which that thing exists in its own way. (22:3)
In the same way, the Divine by essence and nature is completely unmoved, insofar as it is boundless, unconditioned, and infinite, but not unlike a scientific principle that exists within the substances of beings, it is said to be moved, since it providentially moves each and every being (in accordance with the principle by which each one is naturally moved); and as the cause of beings, it may receive—without suffering any change —all the attributes of the beings of which it is the cause…the Divine is moved to the extent that it creates an inner condition of desire and love among beings capable of receiving them, and it moves insofar as it naturally attracts the yearning of those who are being moved to it. (23:3)
[God] transcends absolutely all the concepts of time or nature that have been devised by those who follow the technical method of logical syllogisms. For these men have proved to be completely useless in the discovery of the truth, since they are incapable of believing in the existence of anything that cannot be apprehended by their thoughts. (40:3)
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