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The World According to Maximus,
This review is from: On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ (Paperback)
In the millennia-long conversation of Christian theology, St. Maximus (580-662) stands out as a profound, original contributor. For this reader, the most striking feature in this collection of his writings has to be his understanding of "deification.". Based on his reading of II Peter 1:3-4, deification (or divinization) stands at the very center of his thought concerning the redemption and transfiguration of the entire cosmos. According to Maximus this process occurs in a "blessed inversion":
"... the power that elevates man to God through his love for God and brings God down to man because of his love for man. By this blessed inversion, man is made God by divinization and God is made man by hominization." (Ambiguum 7)
So, while Western theology's development of man's reconciliation to God has emphasized the descent of God into the human, Maximus gives equal time to man's ascent into the divine. Perhaps the closest theological term in the Western tradition to Maximus' "deification" is sanctification, the process whereby the Christian becomes purified from the old, corrupt self and grows into the new, Christ-like self. Maximus, developing II Peter 1:3-4, seems to take things farther: while we in the West are used to the notion of becoming like Christ (as remote as that can seem from our day-to-day reality), Maximus insists that our being is transformed to share in the very nature of God.
In doing so, Maximus gives this reader a fuller picture of the wondrous union of God and man brought about by the grace of God in Christ - a union that removes all barriers to the realization of Eternal Love between Church and Christ, Bride and Bridegroom.
Maximus is not all sweetness and light, however. Sadly, in his diatribe against Jews in Ad Thalassium 64, he adds his two cents to a poisonous, persistent theme in the history of Christian discourse. Also, for present-day readers, his insistence that the act of conceiving a human life is sinful tends to undermine his explanation of the corruption inherited from Adam.
Yet given what a product of his times he is in on these issues, he (surprisingly) concedes a redemptive role to human emotions. The fires of passion are not simply condemned (as they are in many manifestations of Christianity), but refocused so that passion may find its greatest fulfillment: "[turning] desire into the appetitive movement of the mind's longing for divine things." This is a perspective developed most recently in Evangelical Christian circles by John Eldridge in his The Divine Romance and The Journey of Desire. From a psychological standpoint, we might say that Maximus represents a surprisingly healthy and compassionate approach to human emotion, especially for a church father writing in the 7th century! Yet this all flows logically from his overarching view of the cosmos: all is redeemable and will find deification in Christ.
Further, Maximus makes distinctions around passions and attachment that can seem uncannily Buddhist or Hindu to our ears: "Anything non-existent seems to exist merely by the presumption of mistaken judgment when actually it has no existential basis at all; indeed, mere fantasy deceives the mind and, through passion, causes vain attachment to objects that do not exist." His insights on the illusory nature of our attachments foreshadow Buddhist-influenced Christian discourse in the 20th century, for example in the meditations of Catholic writer, Anthony De Mello (The Way To Love).
All in all, for those already within the Christian faith, Maximus deepens the awe that comes over us in the light of "amazing grace." For those seekers of truth who are open to the idea of a universe where Spirit evolves us to higher consciousness and greater compassion, Maximus may open the possibility that Christianity lives in a bigger house that they had previously thought.