St. Maximus the Confessor, Greek, and Love

Lately I’ve come across several citations of an ancient work, “The Four Centuries on Love.” It means four series of one hundred meditations upon love. The work is by a St. Maximus the Confessor. He is a favorite theologian among the Greek Orthodox. He lived from 580-662 ad. who wrote on various topics: Christology, a devotional guide to the life of Mary, love, Biblical interpretation, and answers to difficult questions.

I’ve wanted to read his stuff for over a year but never wanted to buy it (its old enough to be public domain I say!), but nobody ever took the time to translate it until recently so the translations are not public domain. Anyhow, I found it online in Greek last night. I have feebly attempted at translating the first two meditations for your mystical consumption:

α΄. Ἀγάπη μέν ἐστιν, διάθεσις ψυχῆς ἀγαθή, καθ᾿ ἥν οὐδέν τῶν ὄντων, τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ γνώσεως προτιμᾷ. Ἀδύνατον δέ εἰς ἕξιν ἐλθεῖν ταύτης τῆς ἀγάπης, τόν πρός τι τῶν ἐπιγείων ἔχοντα προσπάθειαν.

1. Love is, on the one hand, a well ordering of the soul, according to which nothing is more precious than the knowledge of God. On the other hand, it is impossible to go to maturity in this love for the one who remains attached to possessing earthly things.

β΄. Ἀγάπην μέν τίκτει ἀπάθεια· ἀπάθειαν δέ, ἡ εἰς Θεόν ἐλπίς· τήν δέ ἐλπίδα, ὑπομονή καί μακροθυμία· ταῦτας δέ, ἡ περιεκτική ἐγκράτεια· ἐγκράτειαν δέ, ὁ τοῦ Θεοῦ φόβος· τόν δέ φόβον, ἡ εἰς τόν Κύριον πίστις.

2. Now, detachment [presumably to material possessions or sinful habits] gives birth to love, and hope toward God births attachment and hope births endurance and patience. These are born from complete self-control, the fear of God gives birth to self-control, and faithfulness to the Lord gives birth to fear.

There it is 2 down, 398 to go.
Maximus is trying to help people come to know love as the ground of being so to speak. So, material things are, he would affirm, good. But as material things they are impermanent and themselves gifts from an immaterial, enduring, and transcendent reality: God. So, to overcome sin and learn to love as one ought, one must think through the arguments for God’s existence: Everything begins, everything ends, yet the universe exists. The precondition for the present chain of contingencies is a necessary being (a being who by definition must exist, a feature which the universe as a chain of causes cannot possess). This being is being itself or God. Since God, in Christian revelation is revealed not only as goodness itself, but as love, we must not only receive the bounty material world as a gift from God, utterly gratuitious as it is, but we must also learn to not be attached or obsessed with them. In learning to think thus, through the material world, to the immaterial God (who nevertheless took on flesh) we can learn to love because we will no longer have to grasp or obsess over the things we have/want/need because they are gifts, not ultimately, the giver.

Also, if you want to learn to love learn detachment (self-denial really), hope in God, faith in Christ, fear of God, patience, endurance, and self-control (probably of the tongue, the thoughts, and the bodily habits). If you can learn these things then love will come from them as naturally (and perhaps as painfully) as children come from romance.


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