Ongoing Incarnation in Maximus the Confessor  

Posted by Joe Rawls

During this Advent season, we of course ponder the wonder of  God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Maximus the Confessor, the great seventh-century Greek theologian, suggests that we can allow Jesus to become incarnate within us in a metaphorical yet very real way.  This concept is explored by Brock Bingaman in his comprehensive essay "Becoming a spiritual world of God:  the theological anthropology of Maximus the Confessor."  It is chapter 9 in The Philokalia:  a classic text of Orthodox spirituality, Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds.  Oxford, 2012.


Along with Maximus's teaching on the incarnation as the key to understanding all things, as an act of divine love, as a trinitarian work, and as the self-emptying of Christ, is the idea that the incarnation continues to occur within believers.  In the First Century of Various Texts on Theology, The Divine Economy, and virtue and Vice, Maximus asserts that the "divine Logos, who once for all was born in the flesh, always in his compassion desires to be born in spirit in those who desire him".  Maximus goes on to explain that the Logos becomes an infant and forms himself in the believer through the virtues.  The Logos reveals only as much of himself as he knows the believer can accept.  The limited manifestation of his own greatness in each believer is not due to his lack of generosity, but is based on the receptive capacity of those who long to see him.  "In this way", Maximus continues, "the divine Logos is eternally made manifest in different modes of participation, and yet remains eternally invisible to all in virtue of the surpassing nature of his hidden activity."

In another philokalic text, where Maximus speaks of a balance of dispositions and an inner unity that reflect the holiness of the divine image and likeness, he explains that this is how one participates in the kingdom of God and becomes a translucent abode of the Holy Spirit.  Through grace and free choice, the believer's soul becomes the dwelling place of Christ:  "In souls such as this, Christ always desires to be born in a mystical way, becoming incarnate in those who attain salvation."  Thunberg argues that Maximus's teaching on Christ's presence, birth, and embodiment in the virtues demonstrates that human perfection has two sides.  First, it includes restoration, integration, unification, and deification; and second, it includes divine inhabitation in human multiplicity.  This double emphasis is found whenever Maximus reflects on the theme of Christ's ongoing incarnation in believers and is based on Maximus's late Chalcidonian theology with its emphasis on communicatio idiomatum and perichoresis (or the sharing of attributes and the interpenetration of the divine and human natures in Christ).  Thus Maximus understands that the incarnation of the Logos and the deification of humanity are two sides of the same mystery. 

This entry was posted on Monday, December 7, 2015 at Monday, December 07, 2015 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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