Tag Archives: Maximus the Confessor

Loving Everyone

Do all you can to love everyone.  If you are not yet able to, at the very least don’t hate anyone.  Yet you won’t even manage this if you have not reached detachment from the things of this world.
You must love everyone with all your soul, hoping, however, only in God and honouring him with all your heart.
Christ’s friends are not loved by all, they sincerely love all.  The friends of this world are not loved by all, but neither do they love all.
 Christ’s friends persevere in their love right to the end.  The friends of this world persevere only so long as they do not find themselves in disagreement over worldly matters….
 This is the Love about which it is written:  “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing.” [I Cor. 13:2]
Whoever has love has God, because God is love.  [1 John 4:16].

                                       –Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Charity

I found this wonderful bit of wisdom in the reading for today in Thomas Spidlik’s book, Drinking From the Hidden Fountain.  I have previously written about Maximus the Confessor (see here), and won’t repeat that discussion in this post. I have, however, always found Maximus to be a source of great wisdom.

Perhaps no part of the Christian life challenges us more than Jesus’ injunction that we are to love all of God’s children.  This means loving the clerk in the grocery store who really perturbs me, the fellow in the gym who seems so full of himself, and the horrible gossip at Church.  It means loving the people who’ve wounded me, even those who remain unrepentant.

The Christian life demands that we love without regard to the question of who deserves our affection, without regard to their kindness, without regard to their history, and without regard to their merit.  That’s no small part of what underlies the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and it certainly  provides the foundation for Jesus’ teaching:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Matt. 5:43-46.

Those of us who follow Jesus walk down a difficult path, especially the road of loving our enemies.  Too often, I hear people make the Faith sound easier than it is.  Following Christ is hard; it is as hard as the nails on the Cross.  St. Maximus urges us take the discipline of the Christian life seriously.  I need to hear his voice more often.

I wish you a safe and happy holiday, and may the peace of Christ disturb you profoundly,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

The Grace of Charity

If you have received from God the gift of knowledge, however limited, beware of neglecting charity and temperance.  They are virtues which radically purify the soul from passions and so open the way of knowledge continually.
The way of spiritual knowledge passes through inner freedom and humility.  Without them we shall never see the Lord.
“Knowledge puffs up whereas charity builds up.”  [1 Cor. 8:1.]  Therefore, unite knowledge with charity and by being cleansed from pride you will build yourself up and all those who are your neighbors.

Charity takes its power to build up from the fact that it is never envious nor unkind.  It is natural for knowledge to bring with it, at the beginning anyway, some measure of presumption and envy.  But charity overcomes these defects:  presumption because “it is not puffed up” and envy because “it is patient and kind.”  [1 Cor. 13:4]

Anyone who has knowledge, therefore, ought also to have charity, because charity can save his spirit from injury.
      –Maximus the Confessor (from Drinking from the Hidden Fountain)

The Dominican Order expects its brothers and sisters to spend an hour a day in prayer and an hour a day in study of Holy Scripture and theology.  Frankly, I love that part of the rubric of my Order, because learning and study come easy to me.  Maximus the Confessor reminds me that maybe it comes a bit too easy.

Maximus was a monk who lived from around 580 to 662.  Most scholars believe that he was born in Constantinople; we know he was tried there for heresy.  Maximus suffered both exile and torture for the faith.  After his death, the Church declared his innocence of the charge of heresy.  Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches recognize him as a saint and a Father of the Church.  He famously said, “Theology without practice is the theology of demons.”

Looking to the reading today, Maximus reminds us that our study and our learning must be rooted in the ancient Christian practice of charity.  Charity carried a slightly different meaning then; it meant more than simply giving money to the poor.  Charity meant loving kindness without limits.  This notion was related to the Hebrew concept of chesed or the Greek word agape.

Thomas Aquinas said that all the virtues pointed toward charity, the highest of the virtues, and charity (or love) makes all the other virtues possible.  Charity is a grace, and we practice charity because we were first loved by God.  Charity relates closely to humility because both enable us to lay aside our own desires and concerns for a while.  As a friend of mine observed, the Christian virtue of humility doesn’t mean we think less of ourselves; it means we think of ourselves less.

Maximus reminds us that all our study, all our theology, will leave us parched and withered unless we drink from the well of charity.  Our knowledge is always deeply incomplete and inadequate.  Rabbi Heschel once said, “The tree of knowledge grows upon the soil of mystery.”  Part of that mystery lies in God’s limitless capacity to love, and our capacity to reflect His love through the practice of charity.  Thus, as Heschel observed, “When I was young I admired clever people.  Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

I wish you a good and holy Lent,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

N.B.  Earlier this week, through a computer glitch or some sort of (as yet unknown) operator error, this post was erroneously published as a draft with many, many typos.  I was mortified.  The irony of that event, in a post about humility is not lost on me, and I hope you’ll accept my apologies.