Friday, July 21, 2006

The Free Will of Christ in Maximus the Confessor

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Read it all.
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.

A. Human Will: lo/goj and tro/poj.

Andrew Louth has perceptively written, 'For Maximus, what is distinctive about being human is self-determination' [2]. It is humanity's ability to make self-determined choices that sets it apart from other beings in the created order and makes it unique. It is at the very heart of the image of God which man bears. Yet, as we have noted above, this free, self-determining will is also at the heart of humanity's fallen state. Somehow, as experience and Scripture reveal, the human will, created good and whole, is now found corrupted in the life of man. The question which faced Maximos' generation was how such a corruption of that which God had created was possible.

To address this issue, Maximos came to distinguish between two aspects of the human will: the natural and the personal. The first, the natural will, is that which is the creation of God and resides in each creature as an aspect of its very essence. It is the Creator's own handiwork, an essential part of creation itself, and resides as part of the very nature of a created being. As F-M Léthel writes:
Chaque nature diffère essentiellement de toute autre nature par son logos propre qui lui assure une consistance inaltérable ; l'immutabilité des logoi est fondée en Dieu. [3]
Léthel's use of lo/goj to describe the natural will is borrowed from Maximos himself. This is the 'essential element' of human will: that which, by essence, makes the will human and not the will of some other created being.

Yet the natural aspect of the will cannot be considered apart from its human realisation, the personal aspect, or, in Maximos' terminology, the tro/poj. While the lo/goj will is essential to human nature, and thus the same throughout the whole of humanity, the possession of individuality brings it to bear in differing ways. Indeed, personal choices are as individual as human beings are as people. Thus, reflected Maximos, while all share a common human natural will, each person appropriates it individually. The way (or 'mode', tro/poj) in which one wills is specific to each person uniquely; or, otherwise phrased, it is a unique mode of his personal hypostasis [4]. It is the very self-determination of which Louth speaks as a foundational element of human character.

This distinction between a lo/goj and a tro/poj aspect within the will is, as Léthel terms it, 'une des clefs de la Christologie de Maxime' [5]. Indeed, it offers one of his most profound insights into human nature. There is a will that is the creation of God, and thus is beyond the power of humanity to alter or corrupt. The lo/goj is beyond human influence, not because that influence is false or unreal, but because the creation of God cannot be corrupted or thwarted by humanity. Yet the tro/poj, or the way in which one makes use of his lo/goj will, either by approximating or abandoning it, is wholly within each person's individual power as a unique, subsisting hypostasis.

The elaboration of this notion of tro/poj led Maximos to a term with which he is now often associated: gnw/mh, or inclination. Each personal hypostasis, in freely choosing from the apparent goods before it as an expression of its own tro/poj, suffers from certain inclinations as to which choice it might make. Ideally, the personal tro/poj would always freely choose that which was in actuality the proper good, that which is in alignment with the lo/goj and thus with the will of God. But the result of the Fall has been an effective corruption of the perception of this good: humanity is not always able to truly see its own lo/goj, and thus the true good which it ought to choose. The result is the gnw/mh, or the personal approximation to the good that an individual makes via his or her inclinations. Thunberg writes:
Gnw/mh--a favourite term of Maximus--does not denote an act of the will, but a disposition or habitus of will, such as man as individual and as fallen creature may establish for himself. [6]
This concept of gnw/mh linked to tro/poj offers an insightful picture of Maximos' conception of humanity as fallen creature: the fundamental nature of the human will, he thought, was not effected by this cosmic event. Rather it was the misuse of the tro/poj and its eventual influence into the development of a deficient gnw/mh. Again, Léthel:
{Ainsi, entre l'humain dans le Christ et l'humain en nous, il ne peut pas y avoir une différence de nature.} La différence, qui consiste en la contrariété de volonté qui est en nous et qui n'est pas en lui n'est pas de l'ordre de la nature; bien plus, cette contrariété est « contre nature », véritable déprivation de la nature. [7]
It is this 'deprivation of nature' that is the great sin of the human will: that it no longer sees or identifies with its own essence, its lo/goj, and thus no longer knows its true good. The 'gnomic compensation' is a far cry from perfection, yet it is, for Maximos, the true lot of fallen humanity.


Blogger Acolyte4236 said...

The gnomic will is a specific use of the personal employment of the will and is therefore accidential to humanity. The idea is that prior to the fall and after creation, humanity had no experience using their natural powers. God gives them a simple command to begin them on the road to theosis with obedience integrating the good of their nature and their personal faculty so that eventually they would become impeccable all the while retaining free will in choosing between alternatives because of the infinite number of divine energies to choose from.

Free will then is not per se defined as a choice between objects of differing moral value (Good and Evil). This dialectic is introduced at the fall with the person introducing an opposition between their person and their nature. Consequently sin is personal and not natural, it is in the use, not the being. Therefore, there can be no inherited guilt or sin, only death.

Free will then by itself is not sufficient to explain why the Fall was possible. It takes the added componant of virtue or rather its possibility. Here are the options. Either it will be the case that (A) virtue can be conferred without any free act of the person or (B)virtue can't be conferred without a free act of the person but one's status is determined by a previous choice in a pre-incarnate existence or (C) virtue can only be conferred by a free act of the person.

Augustine takes the first option, which leads to his predestinarianism. The problem is that it leaves one without a defense for the problem of evil.
Origen takes the second option and Maximus the third. Here's more


1:48 am  
Anonymous John said...

I much prefer these 4 related essays which provide an Illuminated understanding of what we are human beings.

1. www.dabase.net/unique.htm
2. www.dabase.net/dualsens.htm
3. www.dabase.net/twoarmc.htm
4. www.dabase.net/tfrbkgil.htm

2:51 am  

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