The Cosmology of St Maximus the Confessor  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Prominent in the writings of Maximus the Confessor is his thought on cosmology--in effect, why God created the cosmos--and eschatology--what will really happen to us and to the non-human physical world at the end of time.  Maximus foresees, not only universal bodily resurrection for all humans, but a glorious restoration of the created cosmos in which deified humanity will serve as the channels through which the divine energies will be transmitted to the universe.  In this way humanity will serve as "priests of the cosmos".

In this article Jesse Dominick provides an excellent summation of what Maximus has to say on these topics.


With the unity of man in both composition and purpose firmly established, we can begin to look at man’s central position in St. Maximus’ cosmology, in which the fate of the entire cosmos is tied to that of man. As Torstein Theodor Tollefsen writes in his The Christocentric Cosmology of St. Maximus the Confessor: “[man] is created just for this purpose: to actualize the created potential of his being to achieve a fully realized community between all creatures and their Creator.”[9] In his vision of this task, man is described by St. Maximus as a microcosm (ό μικρὸς κόσμος) because man is composed of both body and soul—both physical and spiritual, sensible and intelligible natures, he is thus the creation in miniature, as creation also consists of both physical and spiritual realities. In this he is following upon the Cappadocian Fathers, and Nemesius of Edessa. Man occupies a “middle” position in creation, straddling the division between the material world that we inhabit and the spiritual world of the angelic powers.
Conversely, if man is a microcosm, then for St. Maximus the universe is a makranthropos—a man distended, and so the universe can be contemplated as a man. St. Maximus states in his work The Church’s Mystagogy that “the whole world, made up of visible and invisible things, is man and conversely that man made up of body and soul is a world ... intelligible things display the meaning of the soul, as the soul does that of intelligible things, and that sensible things display the place of the body as the body does that of sensible things.”[10] As body and soul constitutes but one man, so the visible and invisible aspects of the universe constitute but one cosmos. As Lars Thunberg explains, this relationship between man and the universe does not remain static, but takes on a dynamic element—“the duality should be transformed into a unity, unthreatened by dissolution. This task of unification is attributed to man as microcosm and mediator.”[11] For St. Maximus, the fact that man is a microcosm suggests and naturally leads to this vocation as mediator, in which man “[recapitulates] in himself the elements of the entire world, in his body and in his soul.”[12] Ambiguum 41, as well as chapters 5 and 7 of The Church’s Mystagogy is relevant for the outlining of this active role of mediating. This role of mediation and unification, of uniting diversity, with all diversity preserved, is a consequence of man’s bearing the image of God, and of man’s personal relationship with God.

The Relevance of Hesychasm  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Hesychasm, the spiritual underpinning of Eastern Orthodox spirituality,  based upon the frequent repetition of the Jesus Prayer, seeks to instill in its practitioners a strong sense of inner stillness, leading to silent, imageless contemplation.  Does this mean navel-gazing on a mountaintop?  Far from it.  Orthodox writer Philip Sherrard has some incisive observations on the relevance of hesychasm to the so-called "real world".  His essay "The Revival of Hesychast Spirituality" appears in Louis Dupre' and  Don E Saliers, eds, Christian Spirituality:  Post-Reformation and Modern, Crossroad 1996.  The excerpt below appears on p 428.


Hesychasm by no means scorns or undervalues human love and service.  It is emphatically not "otherworldly" as this term is usually understood.  On the contrary it insists, as we have seen, that the whole of creation is impregnated with God's own life and being and that consequently there can be no true love of God that does not embrace every aspect of creation, however humble and limited.  Its purpose is not to abandon the world to annihilation and self-destruction, but to redeem it.

It is to redeem it by transfiguring it.  But for the hesychast this transfiguration presupposes the transformation of human consciousness itself, so that it becomes capable of perceiving the divinity that lies at the heart of every created form, giving each such form its divine purpose and determining its intrinsic vocation and beauty.  In other words, hesychasts will consider that the way for them, as for any other person, best to serve, at least initially, fellow humans and all other created beings, will be to bring the love and knowledge of God to birth within themselves; for until that has been achieved, their outward actions, instead of being the necessary expression of this love and knowledge, will be tarnished both with self-love and with the idolatry of which we have spoken.  This will make it clear why hesychasm is and must be first of all a way of contemplation.  For it is only through the contemplative life in all its aspects--ascetic watchfulness, prayer, meditation, the whole uninterrupted practice of the presence of God to which the Philokalia is the guide--that humans can actualize in themselves the personal love and knowledge of God on which depend not only their own authentic existence as human beings but also their capacity to cooperate with God in fulfilling the innermost purposes of creation.