After reading the Philokalia, I made a list of authors that I wanted to read. That list included philosophers, saints, and early Christian mystics. One of the first was Saint Maximus the Confessor. I had read the Wikipedia entry on him and was fascinated by him. My own belief in ego death reflected in his philosophy and I saw echoes of my own experiences with the God Image, the deification of man, and reconnecting with the Source.
In Maximus’ time, there was a great debate over whether Jesus had only a Divine Will or both a Divine Will and a human will. Monophysitism put forward that Christ only had a Divine Will. Dyophysitism believed Christ had both a Divine Will and a human will. This was a tremendous debate within the new church.
Maximus the Confessor believed in the Dyophysite position. He believed the only way Christ could fully demonstrate his sacrifice and vulnerability was to be faced by the same temptations as God’s creation. Ultimately, this is how the Church evolved but at the time it resulted in a heresy conviction and cost Maximus his tongue and his right hand. He died shortly thereafter in 662 AD.
As a result of the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 681, Maximus was vindicated and the Church declared Christ to have both a Divine Will and a human will. He was made a saint and is one of the last men to be recognized by both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church as a Father of the Church.
The book Maximus Confessor Selected Writings by George C. Berthold is divided into 6 key parts: The Introduction, The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, The Commentary on the Our Father, The Chapters on Knowledge, and The Church’s Mystagogy.
The Introduction provides the historical framework necessary to appreciate the world of Maximus’ time. It also gives a brief biography of Saint Maximus the Confessor to include his teachers and the great controversies of the time. The Christian Church wasn’t built in a day. Its creation was the result of many iterations of discussions and debates during the first millennium of the Church’s existence. These debates were incredibly passionate as the founders felt a responsibility almost beyond imagination. There were also consequences for those who didn’t follow the popular line of reasoning. Theologians incorporated and synthesized elements of Judaism and Greek philosophy to fully understand the Christ phenomena. Maximus was a student of Pseudo-Dionysius and also integrated the work of Plotinus, the father of Neoplatonism, into his own beliefs.
The Four Hundred Chapters on Love is also known as the Four Centuries on Love. It contains 400 verses that represent the most beautiful reflections on God, Love, and Jesus Christ ever written. It also delves into the destructive force of allowing passions to enter the heart. After I read these verses I saw a change in myself and my own understanding. I promised myself I would reread them regularly and incorporate them into my prayers and meditations.
The Commentary on the Our Father is a delightful dissection and discussion of the Lord’s Prayer. My own experiences of coming back to the Church were reinforced by this discussion. As a child and young adult, I recited the Lord’s Prayer with rote accuracy but without an understanding of its deeper meaning. One of the first things that I did as I came back was to meditate on each line of the prayer and how it evolved for me. The Lord’s Prayer hadn’t changed, by its personal meaning and reflection on my understanding of God had been altered dramatically by the passing years.
The Chapters on Knowledge or Two Centuries on Knowledge are some of the most deeply moving philosophical thoughts on God, the human ego, redemption, and salvation I have read. Like the Four Hundred Chapters on Love, there are two hundred verses to serve as a basis for meditation and prayer. Maximus’ deep understanding and inspired writing cannot help but move one to a greater appreciation of our role as God’s creation.
The Church’s Mystagogy discusses the symbolism of the rites within the Divine Synaxis. Although this was my least favorite part of the book, it was interesting nonetheless. The first eight chapters were the most rewarding with in-depth discussions of man’s relationship and responsibility to both God and himself and the logical ransom Christ paid for his Father’s creation. After chapter eight I found it became a little dry for the next 14 pages. Stepping through the individual rites and their meaning wasn’t as engaging for me personally.
In summary, this book will be a part of my permanent collection. Like a wise old friend, I find its company comforting and I am often surprised by the counsel I receive from its pages. Whenever I feel distracted, this book can be relied on to provide the answer I need. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.