Paul M. Blowers “The Logology of Maximus the Confessor in His Criticism of Origenism,” in Origeniana Quinta, ed. Robert J. Daly, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, vol. 105. Leuven: Peeters/Leuven University Press, 1992, pp. 570-576.
Maximus was one of many in his time to criticize “Origenism”, but unlike others he attempted to engage the cosmology on a serious level in order to bring forward what was good in it and offer his own interpretation. This is clear in Maximus’ theory of “logology”, the doctrine of the immanent relation between the Logos and the logoi of creation.
Maximus criticizes the “Origenists myth” concerning the fall and dispersion of the intellects into multiple material beings. Maximus instead posits that creation is diversified because of God predetermined it to be that way. The various logoi of sensible and intelligible (real and noetic) creation are expressions of God’s intention and will, not the outcome of a lapse of noetic souls. God still has judgment and providence upon the logoi in this world, but it is not to bring them back into a unified henad, but to bring them to self-realization.
The logoi, for Maximus, are symbols of the divine plan, the way the mystery of the Logos-Christ is brought to human understanding. This is done by both creation and scripture, both of which conceal and reveal the Logos. The reason why creation and scripture can reveal the Logos is because the Logos has incarnated himself in the words of scripture and the phenomena of creation, without giving up any of his divinity. So the knowledge gained through the logoi of scripture and creation is only relative, but by contemplating these logoi, first at the sensible level, creation and scripture “become gradually transparent to the intelligible economy of God” and the mind gains a deeper understanding of the attributes of God and his divinity. Functionally, the logoi lift the mind from the sensible to the intelligible, the types and signs of creation and scripture making manifest God’s will.
Maximus distances himself from Origenism by insisting that material creation is more than just a veil or symbol of the spiritual realm. Interpretation of scripture must begin on the level of its senses, letters, syllables, because it is in these things that God has mingled himself in order to bring about the spiritual ascent of his students. The letters of scripture and the material creation are healthy because they are based upon the “copenetration of intelligible and sensible of reality” which is the basis of all of human nature, scripture, and creation. The logoi then are integrally fused together with an “universal principle” or “mystic principle” of the Logos.
Like in Origenism, Maximus sees the logoi as foundational the sanctification and deification of humans, because in the logoi the center of world, who is the Logos-Christ, is drawing the mind toward himself in spiritual growth. For Maximus, the spiritual exercise of the contemplation of logoi rejects the Origenist idea that knowledge is gained through dematerialization and spiritualization of both the subject and the object, striving to become pure nous in a spiritual henad of formless light. Instead, for Maximus, while the mind is searching for the unity of the logoi in the Logos, the differentiation between the objects never completely disappears. Instead, the mind “contracts” and then realizes the relationship of the logoi to the Logos. There are five modes for analyzing the differentiated logoi, essence, motion, difference, mixture, and position. In spiritual exercise one could gain a deeper understanding through these modes of relationship of unity of the logoi to the Logos.
The same method of contemplation can be applied to the “cosmos” of scripture, leading one to see the various logoi of scripture as having a unified base in a common and comprehensive logos which is from the Logos-Christ himself. This is done through a progression of interpretation of multiplicity to contraction. Through this, the mind is drawn to an underlying comprehension of the Logos-Christ, but this comprehension remains on the level of differentiation because the full unity of the logoi in the Logos is an “ineffable truth” which can only be fully realized when one is deified. Until that deification then, the logoi operate as a kind of divine energia, revealing certain things of God without fully showing the absolute immanence of God in creation. The mind then can grasp some of the truth of the Logos through the logoi of the sensible and intelligible, but the logoi of the divinity of Christ, while it is immanent in creation, remains unknowable.
This means that the contemplation of the sensible creation is not simply a necessary evil for the growth of the lapsed intellect as in Origenism. Rather, the sensible creation is the foundation for a multi-faceted encounter with the Logos-Christ. Conduct, contemplation, virtue, and knowledge are not on a progressive scale, but in a mutually coinherent relationship. Creation does not simply offer the logoi as objects of contemplation, but also offers the virtues for imitation.
Anthropologically speaking then, in Maximus’ system the lower faculties of reason and sense are necessary for the practice of virtue, and they continue to function in the support of the nous in its journey to deification. So all of the soul, as they function properly is necessary, and they are gradually united without becoming annihilated.
Therefore, for Maximus, the diversity of creation is not the end result of the fall of the noetic souls out of the spiritual henad which must be overcome to reunify the henad. Rather, the diversity is planned by God to bring souls into spiritual development, because by contemplating the diverse logoi we come to apprehend the Logos, for the Logos has brought the diversity and unity together in the incarnation. Spiritual exercise, then, must be world-affirming, embracing the diversity in creation and scripture, and thereby coming to a “sublime experience of God.”