Maximus the Confessor

Icon_of_Saint_MaximusI love Maximus the Confessor, but I’m not exactly sure what are the best ways to include him in this blog. He is one of those rare saints who is a man of incredible action and fortitude in the world, detachment as a monk, knowledge of Eastern and Western Christendom, and expansive theological and devotional writing. Most of that writing is specialist or wrapped in language that is not necessarily immediately accessible to the modern reader.

But still, I love Saint Maximus. In the sixth century, he was born we know not where and lived a life we know not quite how. At some point, he was in a high position in the imperial court, but he left that to pursue monastic life. That was led in a few places and somewhat quietly. He wrote spiritual writings, including the earliest life of the Virgin Mary. Then he was involved in the latest brewing controversy about Christ’s humanity and divinity. The question was whether there were two wills in Christ, or merely one. Maximus championed the orthodox teaching that Christ is both human and divine in nature, and both human nature and divine nature both necessarily have a will; therefore, Christ had two wills. Besides, he often said, what Christ did not assume, he did not redeem. If he did not assume a human will, then we’re in big trouble. Eventually, he was tortured for his beliefs (hence being a confessor of the faith) but not martyred. He died in 662.

Another thing Saint Maximus was famous for was a view of the cosmic Christ. Christ was human, and in that nature there is both the material and the spiritual. Christ is cosmic, and so is his Church. In this, there is much joy and hope.

But it is perhaps his view of contemplation that most marks the Christian tradition and which has fed into the thoughts of so many Doctors of the Church. Here is one gem that highlights the view of Maximus:

When the Lord will have given us who did not expect it the wise contemplations of his own wisdom without labour, it will be granted to us suddenly to find a spiritual treasure… Falling suddenly through humility on the one who guards his heart and who did not expect it, the knowledge of divine contemplations overcomes the thinking of the one who seeks it with effort and toil for the sake of show but does not find it.

Contemplation, says Saint Maximus, is a gift. It is not manufactured by us. It is a spiritual treasure granted suddenly. We don’t expect it. We don’t know it’s coming. God gives. It is activated in us without labour. To labour would be to meditate and to concentrate on a devotion’s details and content. But God has gifts that outstrip those meditations of ours. He lavishes them in an instant. We may need to work hard to guard our affections and to steep our thoughts in the revealed truth, but eventually, God may give us some simpler view of that lived truth which we ourselves could not attain to. Humble work in life and prayer is all we can do until then. Isn’t this so very much like the doctrine of Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint John of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Francis de Sales, or Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross? What wonders God was preparing from all eternity to be both repeatedly and progressively unfolded in his Church…!

Today is one of Maximus’ two feast days. Saint Maximus the Confessor, pray for us.


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