Essay / Misc.

Maximum Maximus

Maximus the Confessor (580-662) can be hard to understand and challenging to teach. His literary corpus is extensive and much of it still remains untranslated making it difficult for non-Greek readers to have access to all of Maximus — to the maximum Maximus. Yet, even a little reading of Maximus can yield much fruit. For example, in Ambigua 41 Maximus reiterates for us the five divisions of all substances that have come into being (originally found in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa):

1. The uncreated nature and the universal created nature
2. That which is perceived by the mind and that which is perceived by the senses
3. Heaven and earth
4. Paradise and the inhabited world
5. Male and female

Yet, it is not Maximus’ reiteration of these divisions that is necessarily important but rather what he proceeds to draw out from these divisions. He says that humanity has the ability to unite these divisions. That’s right! Maximus says that we are to bring these divisions together again. Christ and the saints (writes Maximus) have done it so everyone is able to do it. Wait a second! Is Maximus telling me that I need to be like Christ? That I need to participate and be involved in the process of reconciliation? Is this what it means to be given the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18)?

Now, no offense to Maximus but I was hoping that I would only have to be like Christ in the outward, easier-to-imitate details such as turning my cheek, holding my tongue and speaking out for the destitute, the prostitutes and the occasional tax collector. It sure seems like Maximus is making things more difficult, or is he? Perhaps Maximus is right. Suppose for a moment that becoming and being Christ-like is more than simple imitation. Suppose that becoming and being Christ-like actually means acting like Christ. Not as mere imitators but as participants in restoring the world to its paradisiacal state. Not as cheap copies of Christ but as “little Christs.” The apostle Paul says to “Do as God does” (Eph. 5:1 CEV; cf. 1 Thess. 1:6). But not just mime-like doers but Maximus-like doers! Real participants in the work of God! Real ministers of reconciliation! Though we may reject Maximus’ ultimate explanations of how to actually do this, it is hard to disagree with his basic (and biblical) premise. I’m ready to be like Christ, are you?

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