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Friday, January 16, 2009

Maximos the Confessor: On the Free Will of Christ

This was taken from the monachos website.

"The soteriological need for reciprocity

Carlyle's mother may have hit the nail only halfway on the head. In that memorable quotation in which she rebukes young Thomas' claim that as a preacher he would simply tell his parishioners to go out and do what they knew they ought, hers was the memorable question: 'Would you tell them how?' Yet perhaps her comment would have been even more full had she brought into play another feature of discussion that her son seems to have left out: the crucial question of why. To know the what and the how of an issue are essential requirements for an accurate knowledge of its character, but without a grasp of the why which underlies them, the meaningfulness of such an issue cannot be fully grasped.

The question of 'why?' is at the centre of our current discussion on Maximos the Confessor. It is of peculiar note that the body of modern scholarship on Maximos, thorough and insightful though it is in many respects, seems to deal very little with this very question. Even such a masterful and monumental work as Lars Thunberg's Microcosm and Mediator, perhaps the most complete exposition of the Confessor's thought, tends to focus principally on the technical 'how' of his theology and anthropology. Without wishing to discount the great importance and insight of such studies, our concern in this short paper is not so much the technical explanation of Maximos' understanding of Christ's free will, as it is the theological motivations which pushed him to give such importance to this doctrine.

The lack of attention paid to the question of why cannot be blamed wholly upon modern scholars. Indeed, the case seems to be that our author himself spoke much less of it than he did of the doctrine's technical exposition. Maximos spends much time and spills much ink in defence of the two wills of Christ and His ultimate freedom of will, and he does a remarkable job of 'proving' them logically and philosophically. He spends much less time speaking of the theological background which was to give these concepts their pronounced importance. This unbalanced emphasis is in fact logical enough, given the circumstances surrounding the monothelete controversy with which Maximos was faced: it was not the notion of salvation that was being questioned, but rather the ontological and theological possibility of a single person (Christ) possessing a duality of will. It was a controversy over the how, and thus it is reasonable and expected that Maximos would devote the majority of his work to dealing with this very question. Yet in the present day, with the monothelete controversy long passed and the dythelete position having been accepted as a basic tenet of orthodoxy, the question of why this idea was of such central importance to so important a figure as Maximos becomes of heightened interest.

It is precisely because the Confessor presents us with a remarkable insight into this very question, that he has remained so influential a theologian throughout Christian history. For buried deep within his many layers of technical investigation lies a concept of salvation that has its heart in a true soteriology. This soteriological heart is, for Maximos, the notion of reciprocity, of mutual exchange and interaction in the process of human salvation -- a notion that by no means finds its first patristic expression in Maximos, but which finds in him perhaps the most poignant presentation and emphasis of the theme in the early Church. It was Maximos' investigations into and clarifications of this relational concept of salvation in Christ that was to link his name so closely to the topic throughout the centuries to follow.

The Reciprocal Nature of Salvation in the Incarnation.

One may begin with a rather lengthy, but extremely important, quote from Lars Thunberg's shorter work on the Confessor, Man and the Cosmos:

As in the Eastern tradition in general, Maximus puts strong stress on the Incarnation as an effective instrument of salvation, of which--at least from one point of view--the reconciling death is only a logical consequence. Thus the different aspects are complementary; the sacrificial aspect occupies no exclusive place. The incarnation itself is the supreme act of divine grace, which manifests and carries into effect the salvific relationship between God and man. But stating this, we must always remember that incarnation has to be understood in terms of the doctrine of Chalcedon. This means that incarnation does not only imply God's becoming flesh, generally speaking, but God's becoming flesh in uniting himself hypostatically with man in Christ, true God and true man, fully united but without change or fusion. In other words, incarnation is always understood by Maximus as an aspect of reciprocity. The act of salvation understood in this way is not a one-sided act so that God, as it were, "forces" His salvation on man. Nor is it a divided act so that Christ as man reconciles God the wrathful Father, as in the predominant Western tradition, but a cooperative act, an act of reciprocity, a concerted act, and it has to be understood in this way. [1]

One finds in this remarkable paragraph the heart of Maximos' understanding of the relational aspect of salvation. He is unwilling to look at it as a one-sided act on the part of God, somehow forced upon man from above. Promulgation of such a notion of 'forced salvation' would be to lose sight of the fact that man freely fell, a concept of which Maximos often spoke. The Fall was the work of humanity, stemming from the free choice with which it had been endowed as an aspect of its creation in the image of God. The first sin was, as all wilful choices are, the free choice of a free creature. To Maximos, such a reality intimately tied the will and the Fall together: the latter was bound up in the former, was indeed caused by it. Thus a salvation could not simply be a redemption of body or even of mind as a purely intellectual agent. It must needs be a salvation of will, for this is the element of most severe corruption in fallen humanity.

Thus the question logically becomes, 'what is Maximos' conception of human will?', and it is to this question that one must turn before an examination into the Confessor's conception of the human will in the person of Christ can be attempted."

To read the rest please go to



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