Thursday, June 26, 2008
General Audience: On Maximus the Confessor
REUTERS/Chris Helgren (VATICAN)
~from Zenit, yesterday's catechesis by Pope Benedict.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to present the figure of one of the great Fathers of the Eastern Church of later times. He is a monk, St. Maximus, who merited from Christian tradition the title of Confessor because of the intrepid courage with which he was able to give witness -- "to confess" -- even while suffering, the integrity of his faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Savior of the world.
Maximus was born in Palestine, the Lord's land, around 580. From his boyhood he was directed to the monastic life and to the study of Scripture, also through the works of Origen, the great teacher who already in the third century had already managed to define the Alexandrian exegetic tradition.
From Jerusalem, Maximus went to Constantinople, and from there, because of the barbarian invasions, he sought refuge in Africa. Here he distinguished himself with extreme courage in the defense of Orthodoxy. Maximus did not accept any attempt to minimize the humanity of Christ. The theory had arisen according to which Christ had only one will, the divine. To defend the uniqueness of his person, they denied he had a true human will.
At first glance, it might appear to be something good that in Christ there was only one will. However, St. Maximus understood immediately that this would have destroyed the mystery of salvation, because a humanity without will -- a man without a will -- is not a true man, but rather an amputated man. Therefore, the man Jesus Christ would not have been a true man, would not have experienced the drama of the human being, which consists precisely in the difficulty of conforming our will with the truth of being.
Thus St. Maximus affirmed with great determination: Sacred Scripture does not show us an amputated man, without a will, but a true complete man: God, in Jesus Christ, has truly assumed the totality of the human being -- obviously except for sin -- hence, also, a human will. Stated that way, the question was clear: Christ is either a true man or not.
However, the problem arises: Does not one end in this way in a sort of dualism? Is not one faced with affirming two complete personalities with reason, will, sentiment? How can this dualism be overcome? How can the completeness of the human being be preserved while protecting the unity of the person of Christ, who was not schizophrenic?
St. Maximus demonstrates that man finds his unity, the integration of himself, his totality not in himself, but in surpassing himself, by coming out of himself. Thus, also in Christ, man, coming out of himself, finds in God, in the Son of God, himself.
Man must not "amputate" the human Christ to explain the Incarnation. One must only understand the dynamism of the human being who is fulfilled only by coming out of himself. Only in God do we find ourselves, our totality and our completeness.
Thus we see that it is not the man who is closed in on himself who is complete the man, but it is the man who opens himself, who comes out of himself -- it is he who becomes complete, who finds himself in the Son of God, he finds in him his true humanity.
For St. Maximus this vision does not remain a philosophical speculation. He sees it realized in the concrete life of Jesus, above all in the drama of Gethsemane.
In this drama of Jesus' agony, of anguish and death, of the opposition between the human will not to die and the divine will that offers itself to death, in this drama of Gethsemane the whole human drama is realized, the drama of our redemption. St. Maximus tells us, and we know that this is true: Adam -- and Adam is us -- thought that the "no" was the apex of liberty; that only he who can say "no" is truly free; that to truly realize his liberty, man must say "no" to God.
Only in this way, he thinks, he is finally himself; he has arrived at the summit of liberty. This tendency was also present in Christ's human nature, but he overcame it, because Jesus saw that "no" is not the greatest liberty. The greatest liberty is to say "yes," to conform with the will of God. Only in saying "yes" does man really become himself. Only in the great opening of the "yes," in the unification of his will with the divine will, does man become immensely open, he becomes "divine."
To be like God was Adam's desire, namely, to be completely free. However, he is not divine, the man who is closed in on himself is not completely free. He is so by coming out of himself, it is in the "yes" that he becomes free. And this is the drama of Gethsemane: not my will but yours.
Transferring one's will to the divine will, that is how a true man is born. That is how we are redeemed.
This, in a few words, is the fundamental point of what St. Maximus wished to say, and we see that here the whole human being is questioned; here is the whole question of our life.
St. Maximus already had problems in Africa defending this vision of man and of God; then he was called to Rome. In 649 he took an active part in the Lateran Council, called by Pope Martin I to defend the two wills of Christ, against the emperor's edict, which -- pro bono pacis -- prohibited the discussion of this question.
Pope Martin paid dearly for his courage: Although he was in poor health, he was arrested and taken to Constantinople. Prosecuted and condemned to death, his sentence was commuted to final exile in Crimea, where he died on Sept. 16, 655, after two long years of humiliation and torments.
Not long after, in 662, it was Maximus' turn who -- also opposing the emperor -- continued to repeat: "It is impossible to affirm only one will in Christ!" (cfr PG 91, cc. 268-269).
Thus, together with two of his disciples, both called Anastasius, Maximus was subjected to an exhausting trial, though he was already older than 80 years of age. The emperor's tribunal condemned him, accused of heresy, to the cruel mutilation of his tongue and right hand -- the two organs with which, through words and writing, Maximus had combated the erroneous doctrine of the one will of Christ.
In the end, the holy monk, thus mutilated, was exiled in Colchide, on the Black Sea, where he died, exhausted by the sufferings undergone, at the age of 82, on Aug. 13 of the same year, 662.
Speaking of the life of Maximus, we referred to his literary work in defense of orthodoxy. We are referred in particular to the dispute with Pirro, then patriarch of Constantinople, in which Maximus succeeded in persuading the adversary of his errors. With great honesty, in fact, Pirro concluded the dispute thus: "I apologize for myself and for those who preceded me. Through ignorance we arrived at these absurd thoughts and arguments. I pray that the way will be found to cancel these absurdities, rescuing the memory of those who erred" (PG 91, c. 352).
There were then added some dozen important works, outstanding among which is the "Mistagoghia," one of St. Maximus' most significant writings, which brings together his theological thought in a well-structured synthesis.
St. Maximus' thought was never only theological, speculative, closed in on itself, because he always had as his compass the concrete reality of the world and of its salvation. In this context, in which had to suffer, he could not evade the question with solely theoretical philosophical affirmations. He had to seek the meaning of life, asking himself: who am I? What is the world?
To man, created in his image and likeness, God has entrusted the mission to unify the cosmos. And as Christ has unified the human being in himself, so the Creator has unified the cosmos in man. He has shown us how to unify the cosmos in communion with Christ and thus truly arrive at a redeemed world.
One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Hans Urs von Balthasar, referred to this powerful saving vision when, in "re-launching" the figure of Maximus, he defined his thinking as the representative expression of "cosmic liturgy."
At the center of this solemn liturgy Jesus Christ always remains, the only Savior of the world. The efficacy of his salvific action, which has definitively unified the cosmos, is guaranteed by the fact that he, though being God in everything, is also integrally man -- with the "energy" and the will of man.
The life and thought of Maximus remain powerfully illumined by an immense courage in witnessing to the integral reality of Christ, without any reduction or compromise. And so we see who is truly man, how we must live to respond to our vocation. We must live united to God, and thus be united to ourselves and the cosmos, giving the cosmos itself and humanity their just form.
Christ's universal "yes" shows us with clarity how to give the right place to all the other values. We are thinking of values justly defended today, such as tolerance, liberty and dialogue. However, a tolerance that is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil would become chaotic and self-destructive. So, moreover, would a liberty that does not respect the freedom of others and does not find the common measure of our respective liberties, it would become anarchic and destroy authority. Dialogue that no longer knows what to dialogue about becomes empty chatter.
All these values are great and fundamental, but they can remain true values only if they have the point of reference that unites them and gives them true authenticity. This point of reference is the synthesis between God and the cosmos, and the figure of Christ in which we learn the truth about ourselves and so learn where to place all the other values, because we discover their genuine meaning.
Jesus Christ is the point of reference that gives light to all the other values. This is the end point of the testimony of this great Confessor. And thus, in the end, Christ shows us that the cosmos must become liturgy, glory of God and that adoration is the beginning of the true transformation, of the true renewal of the world.
Because of this, I would like to conclude with a fundamental passage from St. Maximus' works: "We adore the only Son, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, as it is now, and for all times, and the times after time. Amen." (PG 91, c. 269).