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Maximus the Confessor

on the Word Incarnate

(c) translated by George Berthold

Paulist Press, New York

Excerpts from:

Chapters on Knowledge

Commentary on the Our Father

The Fifth Difficulty

Chapters on Knowledge

22. Just as our human word which proceeds naturally from the mind is messenger of the secret movements of the mind, so does the Word of God, who knows the Father by essence as Word knows the Mind which has begotten it (since no created being can approach the Father without him), reveal the Father whom he knows.  As the Word of God by nature he is spoken of as the "messenger of the great council."

23.  The great plan of God the Father is the secret and unknown mystery of the dispensation which the only-begotten Son revealed by fulfilling in the incarnation, thus becoming a messenger of the great plan of God the eternal Father.  the one who knows the meaning of the mystery and who is so incessantly lifted up both in work and in word through all things until he acquires what is sent down to him is likewise a messenger of the great plan of God.

24. If it was for us that the Word of God in his incarnation descended into the lower parts of the earth and ascended above all the heavens; while being himself perfectly unmoved, he underwent in himself through the incarnation as man our future destiny.  Let the one who is moved by a love of knowledge mystically rejoice in learning of the great destiny which he has promised to those who love the Lord.

25. If the Word of God and God the Son of the Father became son of man and man himself for this reason, to make men gods and sons of God, then we must believe that we shall be where Christ is now as head of the whole body having become in this human nature a forerunner to the Father on our behalf.  For God will be in the "assembly of the gods," that is, of those who are saved, standing in their midst and apportioning there the ranks of blessedness without any spatial distance separating him from the elect.


37. In the active person the Word grows fat by the practice of the virtues and becomes flesh.  In the contemplative it grows lean by spiritual understandings and becomes as it was in the beginning, God the Word.

38. The one who is involved in the moral teaching of the Word through rather earthly examples and words out of consideration for his hearers is making the Word flesh. On the other hand, the one who expounds mystical theology using the sublimest contemplative experiences is making the Word spirit.

39. The one who speaks of God in positive affirmations is making the Word flesh.  Making use only of what can be seen and felt he knows God as their cause.  But the one who speaks of God negatively thorugh negations is making the Word spirit, as in the beginning he was God and with God. Using absolutely nothing which can be known he knows in a better way the utterly Unknowable.


61. The beginning of religious discipleship for men is directed at the flesh.  For in our first acquaintance with religious devotion we approach it in the letter not the spirit.  But gradually going on in the spirit we strip off the grossness of the words to find finer meanings and so arrive purely at the pure Christ, insofar as human beings are able, and can say with the Apostle, "And if we looked on Christ according to the flesh, we no longer look on him in this way." that is to say, by means of the simple encounter with the Word without the veils of the mind covering him, we progress from knowing the Word as flesh to "his glory as the only-begotten of the Father."


Commentary on the Our Father

2. In becoming incarnate, the word of God teaches us the mystical knowledge of God because he shows us in himself the Father and the Holy Spirit.  For the full Father and the full Holy Spirit are essentially and completely in the full Son, even the incarnate Son, without being themselves incarnate.  rather, the Father gives approval and the Spirit cooperates in the incarnation with the Son who effected it, since the Word remained in possession of his own mind and life, contained in essence by no other than the Father and the Spirit, while hypostatically realizing out of love for man the union with the flesh.

He gives adoption by giving the Spirit a supernatural birth from on high in grace, of which divine birth the guardian and preserver is the free will of those who are thus born.  By a sincere disposition it cherishes the grace bestowed and by a careful observance of the commandments it adorns the beauty given by grace.  By the humbling of the passions it takes on divinity in the incarnation of his own unmixed glory in becoming genuinely human.

He rendered men equal in honor to the angels not only in that "reconciling through the blood of his cross what is in heaven and what is on earth" [Col. 1:20] and destroying the hostile forces which fill up the middle space between heaven and earth, he showed there was only one gathering of earthly and heavenly powers for the distribution of divine gifts which sings with joy the glory of God with one and the same will with the powers on high.  But even more than this, after the fulfillment of the dispensation toward us, and after having ascended with the body he had assumed, he united through himself heaven and earth, joined sensible to intelligible things, and showed the unity of created nature, internally coherent in its furthest parts, by virtue and exact knowledge of the first cause.  He showed, I think, by what he accomplished in a mysterious way, how the Word is the uniting of what is distant and how unreason is the division of what is united.  And we learn how to strive for the Word by practice so as to be united not only to angels by virtue but spiritually to God by the separation from creatures.

He gives a sharing in the divine life by making himself food for those whom he knows and who have received from him the same sensibility and intelligence.  Thus in tasting this food they know with a true knowledge that the Lord is good, he who mixes in a divine quality to deify those who eat, since he is and is clearly called bread of life and of strength.

He restores nature to itself not only in that having become man he kept a free will tranquil and undisturbed in the face of nature and did not allow it to become unsettled in its own movement in a way contrary to nature even in the face of those who were crucifying him; he even chose death at their hands rather than life, as the voluntary character of the passion shows, which was accomplished by the disposition of love for men by the one who underwent this passion.  But even more than this, he abolished enmity in nailing to the cross the bond by which nature waged implacable war against itself, and having called those who are far and those who are near (that is, of course, those who are under the Law and those who are outside the Law), "and having broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, [he created] in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and reconciling us through himself to the Father and with each other in such a way that we no longer have a will opposed to the principle of nature and that thus we be as changeless in our free decisions as we are in our nature.

He purified nature from the law of sin in not having permitted pleasure to precede his incarnation on our behalf.  Indeed his conception wondrously came about without seed, and his birth took place supernaturally without corruption: with God being begotten of a mother and tightening much more than nature can the bonds of virginity by his birth.  He frees the whole of nature from the tyranny of the law which dominated it in those who desire it and who by mortification of the sensuality of the earthly members imitate his freely chosen death.  For the mystery of salvation belongs to those who desire it, not to those who are forced to submit to it.

He effects the destruction of the tyranny of evil which has lorded over us by trickery.  he conquers the flesh which had been overcome in Adam by brandishing it as an instrument against evil.  Thus does he show how the flesh, which had been bruised first by death, captures its captor and destroys its life by natural death.  The flesh has become both a poison strong enough to make him vomit out all those who he had swallowed by confining them in death's dominion, and also a life for the human race, which causes the whole nature to rise like a loaf for a resurrection of life.  It is wholly on account of this life that the Word who is God has become man (certainly an incredible fact and story) and willing accepts the death of the flesh.  All of this, as I have said, the words of the Prayer are found to request.