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§ 143. St. Maximus Confessor.


I. Maximus Confessor: Opera in Migne, Patrol. Gr. Tom. XC., XCI., reprint of ed. of Fr. Combefis, Paris, 1673 (only the first two volumes ever appeared), with a few additional treatises from other sources. There is need of a complete critical edition.

II. For his life and writings see his Acta in Migne, XC. col. 109–205; Vita Maximi (unknown authorship) col. 67–110; Acta Sanctorum, under Aug. 13; Du Pin (Eng. transl., Lond. 1693 sqq. ), VI. 24–58; Ceillier (second ed., Paris, 1857 sqq. ), XI. 760–772.

III. For his relation to the Monotheletic controversy see C. W. Franz Walch: Historie der Kezerien, etc., IX. 60–499, sqq.; Neander: III. 171 sqq.; this History, IV. 409, 496–498. On other aspects see J. N. Huber: Die Philosophie der Kirchenväter. München, 1859. Josef Bach: Die Dogmengeschichte des Mittelalters. Wien, 1873–75, 2 parts, I. l5–49. Cf. Weser: Maximi Confesoris de incarnatione et deificatione doctrina. Berlin, 1869.


As a sketch of St. Maximus Confessor (c. 580-Aug. 13, 662) has been elsewhere given,853853    See pp. 409, 496-498. it is only necessary in this place to pass in review his literary activity, and state briefly his theological position.

Notwithstanding his frequent changes of residence, Maximus is one of the most prolific writers of the Greek Church, and by reason of his ability, stands in the front rank. Forty-eight of his treatises have been printed, others exist in MS., and some are lost. By reason of his pregnant and spiritual thoughts he has always been popular with his readers, notwithstanding his prolixity and frequent obscurity of which even Photius and Scotus Erigena complain.

His Works may be divided into five classes.
I. Exegetical. A follower of the Alexandrian school, he does not so much analyze and expound as allegorize, and make the text a starting point for theological digressions. He wrote (1) Questions [and Answers] upon difficult Scripture passages,854854    Migne, XC. col. 244-785. sixty-five in number addressed to Thalassius, a friend who had originally asked him the questions. The answers are sometimes very short, sometimes rich speculative essays. Thus he begins with a disquisition upon evil. Unless one is expert in allegorical and mystical writings, the answers of Maximus will be hard reading. He seems to have felt this himself, for he added explanatory notes in different places.855855    l.c. col. 785-856. (2) Questions, seventy-five in number, similar to the preceding, but briefer and less obscure. (3) Exposition of Psalm LIX.856856    l.c. col. 856-872. (4) The Lord’s Prayer.857857    l.c. col 872-909. Both are very mystical.

II. Scholia upon Dionysius Areopagita and Gregory Nazianzen, which were translated by Scotus Erigena (864).858858    XCI. col. 1032-1417.

III. Dogmatical and polemical. (1) Treatises.859859    l.c. col. 9-285. The first twenty-five are in defense of the Orthodox dyotheletic doctrine (i.e. that there are in Christ two perfect natures, two wills and two operations) against the Severians. One treatise is on the Holy Trinity; another is on the procession of the Holy Spirit; the rest are upon cognate topics. (2) Debate with Pyrrhus (held July, 645) upon the Person of Christ, in favor of two wills.860860    l.c. col. 288-353. It resulted in Pyrrhus’ retraction of his Monotheletic error. This work is easier to read than most of the others. (3) Five Dialogues on the Trinity.861861    Migne, XXVIII. col. 1116-1285. (4) On the Soul.862862    XCI. col. 353-361.

IV. Ethical and ascetic. (1) On asceticism863863    XC. col. 912-956 a dialogue between an abbot and a young monk, upon the duties of the monastic life. A famous treatise, very simple, clear and edifying for all Christians. It insists upon love to God, our neighbors and our enemies, and the renunciation of the world. (2) Chapters upon Charity,864864    l.c. Cols. 960-1080. four in number, of one hundred aphorisms, each, ascetic, dogmatic and mystical, added to the preceding, but not all are upon charity. There are Greek scholia upon this book. (3) Two Chapters, theological and oeconomical,865865    l.c. cols. 1084-1176. each of one hundred aphorisms, upon the principles of theology. (4) Catena,866866    l.c. cols. 1177-1392. five chapters of one hundred aphorisms each, upon theology.

V. Miscellaneous. (1) Initiation into the mysteries,867867    XCI. cols. 657-717. an allegorical exposition of the Church and her worship. Incidentally it proves that the Greek liturgy has not changed since the seventh century. (2) Commonplaces,868868    l.c. cols. 721-1017. seventy-one sections, containing texts of Scripture and quotations from the Fathers, arranged under heads. (3) Letters869869    l.c. cols. 364-649. forty-five in number, on theological and moral matters; several are on the Severian heresy, others supply biographical details. Many of his letters exist in MS. only. (4) Hymns,870870    l.c. cols. 1417-1424, and this; vol., p. 409. three in number.

Maximus was the pupil of Dionysius Areopagita, and the teacher of John of Damascus and John Scotus Erigena, in the sense that he elucidated and developed the ideas of Dionysius, and in turn was an inspiration and guide to the latter. John of Damascus has perpetuated his influence in the Greek Church to the present day. Scotus Erigena introduced some of his works to Western Europe. The prominent points of the theology of Maximus are these:871871    Cf. Neander and Bach in loco. Sin is not a positive quality, but an inborn defect in the creature. In Christ this defect is supplied, new life is imparted, and the power to obey the will of God is given. The Incarnation is thus the Divine remedy for sin’s awful consequences: the loss of free inclination to good, and the loss of immortality. Grace comes to man in consequence of Christ’s work. It is not the divine nature in itself but in union with the human nature which is the principle of atoning and saving grace. God is the fountain of all being and life, the alpha and omega of creation. By means of the Incarnation he is the Head of the kingdom of grace. Christ is fully Man, and not only fully God. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. Opposed to the Monophysites and Monothelites, Maximus exerts all his ingenuity to prove that the difference of natures in Christ requires two wills, a human and a divine will, not separated or mixed, but in harmony. Christ was born from eternity from the Father, and in time from the Virgin, who was the veritable Mother of God. Christ’s will was a natural, human will, one of the energies of his human nature. The parallel to this union of the divine and human in Christ is the human soul wrought upon by the Holy Spirit. The divine life begins in faith, rules in love, and comes to its highest development in the contemplative life. The Christian fulfils the command to pray without ceasing, by constantly directing his mind to God in true piety and sincere aspiration. All rational essences shall ultimately be re-united with God, and the final glorification of God will be by the complete destruction of all evil.

An interesting point of a humane interest is his declaration that slavery is a dissolution, introduced by sin, of the original unity of human nature, and a denial of the original dignity of man, created after the image of God.



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