St. Maximus the Confessor (580 – 662)
Attaining knowledge of the Mysteries of Creation
Those who have been followers and ministers of the Logos have been directly initiated into a knowledge of created things. They have received the continuous tradition from the ancient and holy writers who have found all beings divided into five different categories. …
Man comes at the end of all creatures as a natural link joining through his own members himself with the other creatures, and joining in himself those things which naturally are very distinct from one another. By union with God Who is the universal cause Who made creatures distinct from one another in the beginning, man can then gradually and orderly progress through means to the end in a sublime ascension. This union of all things is found in God in Whom there is no distinction, as we said above, such as that which exists in man according to male and female. In God this category does not exist, but man is represented in his true essence, not distinguished by being male or female, and not insofar as he is divided into parts, but rather man exists in God in his perfection that makes him truly man, namely his reason (logos) from which comes knowledge.
Then man makes one earth by uniting paradise with his inhabited world through caste conversation. His united world then becomes no longer distinct by reason of the diversity of so many parts, but rather it is brought together into a synthesis so that man no longer suffers proliferation into separated parts. Then heaven and earth are united through a virtuous life similar to that of angels. Man no longer is bound down by his bodily condition, but rises through an elevation of his soul to the invisible presence of God.
~ Ambigua, PG XCI, 1304D-1307
Knowing the Mysteries brings Knowledge of Meaning
The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the meaning of all the symbols and all the enigmas of Scripture, as well as the hidden meaning of all sensible and intelligible creation. But he, who knows the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb, knows also the essential principle of all things. Finally, he who penetrates yet further and finds himself initiated into the mystery of the Resurrection, apprehends the end for which God created all things from the beginning.
~ Capita Theologica et Oecomnomica, PG, XC, 1108a-b
Contemplation of Creation
How can the intellect not marvel when it contemplates that immense and more than astonishing sea of goodness [which is creation]? Or how is it not astounded when it reflects on how and from what source there have come into being both nature endowed with intelligence and intellect, and the four elements which compose physical bodies…? What kind of potentiality was it which, once actualized, brought these things into being? …
God is the Creator from all eternity…. When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him from all eternity….
Try to learn why God created; for that is true knowledge. But do not try to learn how He created or why He did so comparatively recently; for that does not come within the compass of your intellect. Of divine realities some may be apprehended by men and others may not. Unbridled speculation, as one of the saints has said, can drive one headlong over the precipice.
~ Philokalia, Vol. II, Fourth Century on Love, Nrs. 2-5, Faber & Faber, London, pg. 100-101.
The Key to Understanding Creation
The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains within itself the whole meaning of the created world. He who understands the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb knows the meaning of all things, and he who is initiated into the hidden meaning of the Resurrection understands the goal for which God created everything from the very beginning.
~ Quoted in Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, “A Theology of Creation,” Sourozh magazine, Cambridge, England, Nr. 38, November, 1989.
How creation instructs us in virtue
Creation is the accuser of the ungodly. For through its inherent spiritual principles, creation proclaims its Maker; and through the natural laws intrinsic to each individual species it instructs us in virtue. The spiritual principles may be recognized in the unremitting continuance of each individual species, the laws in the consistency of its natural activity. If we do not ponder on these things, we remain ignorant of the cause of created being and we cling to all the passions which are contrary to nature.
~ Philokalia, Vol. II, Various Texts on Theology: Third Century, Nr. 6, Faber and Faber, London, pg. 211
God Reveals Himself According to a Person’s Concepts
God reveals Himself to each person according to each person’s mode of conceiving Him. To those whose aspiration transcends the complex structure of matter, and whose psychic powers are fully integrated in a single unceasing gyration around God, He reveals Himself as Unity and Trinity. In this way He both shows forth His own existence and mystically makes known the mode in which that existence subsists.
To those whose aspiration is limited to the complex structure of matter, and whose psychic powers are not integrated, He reveals Himself, not as He is, but as they are, showing that they are completely caught in the material dualism whereby the physical world is conceived as composed of matter and form.
~ First Century of Various Texts, Nr. 95, translated by Kallistos Ware and Philip Sherrard, Philokalia, vol. II, p. 186.
What Hinders the Contemplation of Created Things?
When a sparrow tied by the leg tries to fly, it is held back by the string and pulled down to the earth. Similarly, when the intellect that has not yet attained dispassion flies up towards heavenly knowledge, it is held back by the passions and pulled down to earth.
The intellect, once totally free from passions, proceeds undistracted to the contemplation of created beings, making its way towards knowledge of the Holy Trinity. …
He who has succeeded in attaining the virtues and is enriched with spiritual knowledge sees things clearly in their true nature. Consequently, he both acts and speaks with regard to all things in a manner which is fitting, and he is never deluded. For according to whether we use things rightly or wrongly, we become either good or bad.
~ Philokalia, Vol. II, First Century on Love, Nrs 85-86, 92, Faber & Faber, London, pg. 63.
Learning from the Law of Nature
So long as [a human being’s] will is stubborn and raw, [God] abandons him to the domination of evil; for he has chosen the shameful passions of which the devil is the sower, in preference to nature, of which God is the creator. God leaves him free to incline, if he so wishes, towards the passions of the flesh, and actually to satisfy that inclination. Valuing the insubstantial passions more highly than nature, in his concern for these passions he has become ignorant of the principle of nature. Had he followed that principle, he would have known what constitutes the law of nature and what constitutes the tyranny of the passions–a tyranny brought about, not by nature, but by deliberate choice. He would then have accepted the law of nature that is maintained through activities which are natural; and he would have expelled the tyranny of the passions completely from his will. He would have obeyed nature with his intelligence, for nature in itself is pure and undefiled, faultless, free from hatred and alienation, and he would have made his will once more a companion of nature, totally stripped of everything not bestowed by the principle of nature. In this way he would have eradicated all hatred for and all alienation from what is by nature akin to him.”
~ Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, The Philokalia, vol. II, Palmer, Sherrard, Ware, eds. (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 303.
The Incarnation as the Key to Understand Creation
The mystery of the Incarnation of the Logos is the key to all the arcane symbolism and typology of the Scriptures, and in addition gives us knowledge of created things, both visible and intelligible. He who apprehends the mystery of the cross and the burial apprehends the inward essences of created things; while he who is initiated into the inexpressible power of the resurrection apprehends the purpose for which God first established everything.
All visible realities need the cross, that is, the state in which they are cut off from things acting upon them through the senses. All intelligible realities need burial, that is, the total quiescence of the things which act upon them through the intellect. When all relationship with such things is severed, and their natural ability and stimulus is cut off, then the Logos, who exists alone in Himself, appears as if risen from the dead. He encompasses all that comes from Him, but nothing enjoys kinship with Him by virtue of natural relationship. For the salvation of the saved is by grace and not by nature (cf. Eph. 2:5).
~ Philokalia, Vol. II, “First Century on Theology,” Nrs. 66-67, pg. 127.
The Logos: hidden but revealed in the visible world
About the scriptures we say the words are the clothes of Christ. The words veil: the meaning reveals. It is the same in the world where the forms of visible things are like the clothing, and the ideas according to which they were created are like the flesh. The former conceal, the latter reveal. For the universal creator and law-maker, the word, both hides himself in his self-revelation and reveals himself in his hiding of himself.”
~ Ambigua, PG 91,1129. Alternate Translation in The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p.217.
One of the greatest fathers of the Church, St. Maximus represents the summit and synthesis of early Christianity thought on creation. He grew up in Constantinople; received the finest education of the day in the humanities, philosophy and science; and served as the secretary to the Imperial Court of Emperor Heraclius. He soon abandoned the empty pomp of courtly life for the physical austerity but spiritual richness of monastic life where he flourished under the guidance of St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. St. Maximus is known for the sublimity of his theology of the unity of all creation in Christ. Every created thing, from stone to seagull to the stars of heaven is an expression of the creative thought and will of the Triune God. Creation is at once, a word, or many words in a “book” of God, a gift of God, a symbol of God, and a song of God. Thus for St. Maximus the universe is a vast “cosmic liturgy,” composed of word, gift, song and symbol in which heaven and earth are joined in a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving and worship. Human nature, created in the image and likeness of God, is intended by God to be both microcosm and mediator of, in and through this cosmic liturgy. This means, according to Maximus, that human salvation and the transfiguration of the cosmos are inextricably linked. Just as all things are recapitulated in human nature as microcosmos, so too the human being is meant to bear the responsibility of mediator of creation, that is, to be the one in whom all things created are lifted up to God.
Creation as a Mirror for God
We do not know God in His essence. We know Him rather from the grandeur of his creation and from His providential care for all creatures. By this means, as if using a mirror, we attain insight into His infinite goodness, wisdom and power.
~ Philokalia, Vol. II, First Century on Love, Nr. 96, Faber and Faber, London, pg. 64.
How the Human Soul Differs from that of Plants and Animals
The Human Soul has three powers, first, the power of nourishment and growth; second, that of imagination and instinct; third, that of intelligence and intellect. Plants share only in the first of these powers; animals share in the first and second only; and men share in all three.
~ Philokalia Vol. 2, “Third Century on Love,” p.88, v. 32. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
Humans are Part of Creation in Order to Raise it Up
Man is not a being isolated from the rest of creation. By his very nature, he is bound up with the whole of the universe…. In his way to union with God, man in no way leaves creatures aside, but gathers together in his love the whole cosmos disordered by sin, that it may be transfigured by grace.
~ Wholeness and Transfiguration, pg. 5 Quoted in Animals and Man, Joanne Stefanatos, Life and Light Publishing, 1992, p. 76.
How the Saints will Inherit the Earth
It is clear that the kingdom of God the Father belongs to the humble and gentle. “For blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). It is not this physical earth, which by nature occupies a middle place in the universe, that God promises as an inheritance for those who love Him — not, at least, if He is speaking truly when He says, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30)….
Since these things have been promised to those who love the Lord, what man prompted by intelligence and wishing to serve it would ever say, from a literal reading of scripture alone, that heaven, and the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, and the mystically hidden joy of the Lord… are to be identified with the earth? In this text (Matt. 5:5) … the word “earth” signifies the resolution and strength of the inner stability, immovably rooted in goodness, that is possessed by gentle people. This state of stability exists eternally with the Lord, contains unfailing joy, enables the gentle to attain the kingdom prepared from the beginning, and has its station and dignity in heaven.
~ On the Lord’s Prayer, quoted in The Philokalia, Vol. II, pg. 292.
Creatures Participate in God’s Joy
God, full beyond all fullness, brought creatures into being, not because He had need of anything, but so that they might participate in Him in proportion to their capacity and that He Himself might rejoice in His works, through seeing them joyful and ever filled to overflowing with His inexhaustible gifts.
~ “Third Century on Love,” The Philokalia, Vol. II, Nr. 46, pg. 90.
Contemplating the Inner Essence of Creatures
If, instead of stopping short at the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses, you seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences, seeing them as images of spiritual realities or as the inward principles of sensible objects, you will be taught that nothing belonging to the visible world is unclean. For by nature all things were created good.
~ Maximus the Confessor, “First Century of Various Texts,” in The Philokalia, Vol. II, Nr. 92, Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1981, pg. 185.
Symbols in the Physical World
The (physical and spiritual) worlds are one. For the spiritual world in its totality is manifested in the totality of the perceptible world, mystically expressed in symbolic pictures for those who have eyes to see. And the perceptible world in its entirety is secretly fathomable by the spiritual world in its entirety…. The former is embodied in the latter through the realities; the latter in the former through the symbols. The operation of the two is one.
~ St. Maximus the Confessor, in Charles Upton, Who is the Earth: How to See God in the Natural World, San Rafael, 1997, pg. 45.
Using Symbols to See the Invisible
If invisible things are seen by means of the visible, the visible things are perceived in far greater measure through the invisible by those who devote themselves to contemplation. For the symbolic contemplation of spiritual things by means of the visible is nothing other than the understanding in the Spirit of visible things by means of the invisible.
~ St. Maximus the Confessor in Charles Upton, Who is the Earth: How to See God in the Natural World, San Rafael, 1997, pg. 67.
The Contemplation of Spiritual Things by Means of the Visible
The divine apostle says: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature… has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). If the invisible things are seen by means of visible, the visible things are perceived in a far greater measure through the invisible by those who devote themselves to contemplation. For the symbolic contemplation of spiritual things by means of the visible is nothing other than the understanding in the Spirit of visible things by means of the invisible.
~ Mystagogia 2 (PG 91:669)In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p.219.
In Christ all Creation is Illumined
Just as the sun, when it rises up and lights up the world, manifests both itself and the things lit up by it, so the Sun of Justice, rising upon a pure mind, manifests itself and the essenses of all the things that have been and will be brought to pass by it.
~ Philokalia, Vol. II, First Century on Love, Nr. 95, p. 64.
The Purpose of Creatures
God, full beyond measure, brought creatures into being, not because He had need of anything, but so that they might participate in Him in proportion to their capacity, and that He Himself might rejoice in His works, through seeing them joyful and ever filled to overflowing with His inexhaustible gifts.
~ Four Hundred Centuries on Love, Third Century, Nr. 46, p. 90.