A serendipitous turn

richard-swinburne-1When I taught my Orthodoxy class two years ago, I kept a blog (I have blogs for all my classes as a means of keeping track of the extra work my students now must do to justify my school taking money from Il Stato – – “If students are paying for 3 credits, we want to know that they have the equivalent of 42 seat hours plus another 80+ work hours, or you ain’t educatin!!” Somebody came across the blog, which I don’t advertise as I have it just for my class, and registered that they liked it. The entry they clicked was one in which I answered three questions a student posed on the thought of St. Maximus the Confessor. Now, this became all the more pertinent since, as I told someone on FB just today, the last three Sundays have found me standing very near or right next to, Pr. Richard Swinburne, one of the great Christian apologists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He has done a lot of work on free will, and as these replies touch on that, here they are. And so, what I sent to my students, though somewhat amended:

For those of you dying to do some further reading on St. Maximus, I would suggest you get Lars Thunberg’s monumental Microcasm and Mediator. The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor. A shorter work, but wonderful all the same, is Jospeh Farrell’s Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor. Lastly, there are several entries on Maximus at Monochos.net, and at http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/.  Just search at both of them under Maximus or Maximos. There is a lot at Energetic Procession, and you may have to wade through some of the interchanges to get to the diamonds (mining through coal to find the gems). Both are grand sites. EP is a blog, while Monachos is that and more.

1. Gregory of Nazianzus writes, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” I’m not sure if I completely understand the concept of the gnomic will, but if Christ didn’t share our gnomic will, how are we healed/redeemed? I believe that you’ve been saying that Christ is human in the way Adam was, without the gnomic will. But Adam didn’t need to be redeemed until after he sinned and took on his gnomic will. Doesn’t Christ necessarily need to assume our humanity to heal it? And if He doesn’t assume our gnomic will, then is it not healed? Or does it not need to be healed? I guess I’m just a little confused. Is their a contradiction here, or do I just not understand the gnomic will?

Christ need not share “our” gnomic will for “we” don’t have one. The gnomic will is not the human will, but the declension and activity of the personal will (though not merely the personal will or individual mode of willing itself). That Christ doesn’t have a gnomic will -is obvious from the fact that His personal mode of willing, whether willing divinely or humanly, is that of the Second person of the Trinity: this is why he has no gnomic will, for he wills always as the 2nd hypostasis of the Divine Trinity. What needs redemption is more than our propensity to haver about between goods and apparent goods (since we don’t see all goods clearly), but for the seat of the gnomic will, the will itself, to be redeemed by union with Christ. The gnomic will is in us individually as our own peculiar mode of willing: the difference to Maximus of logos (word/logic) and topos (specificity/peculiarity/ mode of willing). “Gnomic” was in Adam as an aspect of his personal mode of existence, but is not itself the hypostatic/personal mode of existence. Maximus in the Disputation speaks of the gnomic will as that which hesitates, doubts, and sees “things” in oppositions. I will expand on this some more in response to your second question. So, what Christ assumes is our nature, but not our “persons” or “personal foibles” (i.e. the gnomic will). When you get to the section on the virtues in the disputation, this is the point. The ascetic life is the key, through union with Christ, to the nullifying of the gnomic inclinations (and some scholars translate gnomie as inclination). Once our personal mode of willing seeks Christ, the nature, our individual logos which God created for Himself, will follow.

2. So, you partly answered this question in class. You were saying in class that we don’t share anything with God. We simply cannot relate to Him. Christ has to be our mediator to God. This is why Christ is necessary even without sin entering the world I think. But if we share nothing with God, then what does it mean to be made in the image of God? In class, I believe you claimed that the image of God in man is Free Will. So, can’t we relate to God in that; the choices we make and our knowledge of good and evil?

Freewill is part of the image of God, but not all of it. For Maximus and the Orthodox, real human nature is the human nature of Christ. Well, that is also our human nature. Human nature has its own logos (its reality that is predetermined by God), that it gets from the Divine Logos (that is, the hypostasis/person of the Son of God, God the Word). Maximus famously said that the One Logos (word) is the many logoi (words), and the many logoi are the one Logos. Each individual human has his or her own logos, that nature which God has determined. While fallen and corrupted, so that each of us individually seeks our own ends and desires, the nature itself, still good, yearns for God, yearning to be clothed with immortality. While we were created to obtain immortality, we did not have it naturally, for only God is naturally immortal (and this speaks to the third question). What we share with God now is our human nature, and He then, through the Incarnation shares with us the divine nature. We become by grace what Christ is naturally. To be in the image of God is to be in the image of the express Icon of the Father, the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ. Freedom as such we always have, for we always have freewill, we never stop being human, even though fallen. The fall is when Adam chose his own ends, to see in things the source of life instead of seeing them for what they really were. The fathers call these the “inner essence of created things,” that they were created as gifts from God to us for life. Adam saw them as ends in themselves. But as such these are not the good things that God has created for us, Adam must hesitate and deliberate, as he now has his imagination (the memory and reasoning of his mind) darkened for he doesn’t know what is and isn’t a good, since he had divorced all created goods from their ultimate purpose. This is sin, this is the Fall. Maximus believed that Adam, created with the command to obey God in him naturally, fell as his first act. St. Maximus’ interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3 contained much of the allegorical (but I should note, he did not deny, for real reasons, an historical Adam): e.g., that when created we had bodies suited for immortality, analogous to Christ’s resurrected body that transcended matter and space, but with the fall we were given “skins of flesh” and we inherited in the them concupiscence of the flesh. Thus posterity, generated now by a carnal principle (and thus why the Virgin birth, and also why in heaven we shall be like the angels, even though in bodies, neither marrying nor being given in marriage), remains fallen.

3. If we really do need Jesus to mediate with God, even without sin, then did God create us imperfect? What I mean is, did God create us unable to achieve our purpose? You explained this in class, but I guess I wasn’t satisfied. Maybe I just disagree with you, but it seems wrong for God to make us incomplete.

Since God is Creator, it is de facto that we can never achieve our purpose apart from Him. As creatures, we cannot achieve our purpose of union with God without God. How could that be possible? As Creator, he created us ‘good,’ suited for immortality. But he also created us free. Thus, we were created to achieve our purpose, but His purpose for us is never apart from His image. Had he not created us in His image and after His likeness, we would exist merely as brutes. But then at least we would also be achieving that purpose as well, but we would never be immortal nor attain to immortality.


About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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