Monday, March 8, 2010

A Century of Love in a Day

The following are from Maximus the Confessor's Four Hundred Texts on Love. The work is organized into four "centuries," that is collections of one hundred related texts, which correspond in some sense (even if only in their fourfold nature) to the four Gospels. These selections are from the first century on love. The numbers to the left of each quote are "verse" citations. I have only included about a fourth of the texts from the century. Though I would have liked to include more, I'm already afraid that I'm dancing on the edge of copyright infringement.*

1. Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things. We cannot attain lasting possession of such love while we are still attached to anything worldly.

2. Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God; these in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.

4. The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.

11. All the virtues co-operate with the intellect to produce this intense longing for God, pure prayer above all. For by soaring towards God through this prayer the intellect rises above the realm of created beings.

12. When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in sincerity it repeats the words of the prophet: “How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isa 6:5)

13. The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself…

17. Blessed is he who can love all men equally.

19. Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty.

22. He who forsakes all worldly desires sets himself above all worldly distress.

24. He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need…

31. Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

41. He who loves God neither distresses nor is distressed with anyone on account of transitory things…

43. If a man desires something, he makes every effort to attain it. But of all things which are good and desirable the divine is incomparably best and the most desirable. How assiduous, then, we should be in order to attain what is of its very nature good and desirable.

50. When the intellect associates with evil and sordid thoughts it loses its intimate communion with God.

60. Silence the man who utters slander in your hear. Otherwise you sin twice over: first, you accustom yourself to this deadly passion and, second you fail to prevent him from gossiping against his neighbor.

63. We carry about with us impassioned images of the things we have experienced. If we can overcome these images we shall be indifferent to the things which they represent. For fighting against the thoughts of things is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.

69. …If you are offended by anything, whether intended or unintended, you do not know the way of peace, which through love brings the lovers of divine knowledge to the knowledge of God.

70-71. You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their characters – for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person. Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, common to all, according to the diverse characteristics of individuals; but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally. It loves the good as friends and the bad as enemies, helping them, exercising forbearance, patiently accepting whatever they do, not taking the evil into account at all but even suffering on their behalf if the opportunity offers, so that, if possible, they too become friends. If it cannot achieve this, it does not change its own attitude; it continues to show the fruits of love to all men alike. It was on account of this that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, showing His love for us, suffered for the whole of mankind and gave to all men an equal hope of resurrection…

72. If you are not indifferent to both fame and dishonour, riches and poverty, pleasures and distress, you have not yet acquired perfect love. For perfect love is indifferent not only to these but even to this fleeting life and to death.

90. Just as the physical eye is attracted to the beauty of things visible, so the purified intellect is attracted to the knowledge of things invisible…

95. When the sun rises and casts its light on the world, it reveals both itself and the things it illumines…

[And your apophatic moment for the day:]

100. When the intellect is established in God, it at first ardently longs to discover the principles of His essence. But God’s inmost nature does not admit such investigation, which is indeed beyond the capacity of everything created…and the very fact of knowing nothing is knowledge surpassing the intellect.

As a concluding not, I would like to point out the rich irony which is played out in this text. Maximus begins (and I have in mind here 4 in particular, but also 1) by saying that the pursuit of the knowledge of God is the most holy and righteous aim of man. Yet, he concludes with the familiar and definitive statement that knowledge of God must ultimately conclude that man exists in almost total ignorance of God. In view of my recent musings on paradox as the foundation of Christian belief, it seems particularly fitting to me that Maximus (and I with him) should affirm that the greatest task of the Christian is the quest to know a God that we affirm is unknowable.

*Consequently, let me cite my source here to somewhat alleviate my conscience. Maximus the Confessor. "Four Hundred Texts on Love." In The Philokalia. Translated and edited by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. New York: Faber and Faber, 1981.

1 comment:

  1. "When the intellect is established in God, it at first ardently longs to discover the principles of His essence. But God’s inmost nature does not admit such investigation, which is indeed beyond the capacity of everything created…and the very fact of knowing nothing is knowledge surpassing the intellect."

    Thank you for my apophatic moment.