Maximus the Confessor on “the Grace of Theology”

When the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding. When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge… Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns—as far as this is possible for the human intellect—the qualities of God.

If you are about to enter the realm of theology, do not seek to descry God’s inmost nature, for neither the human intellect nor that of any other being under God can experience this; but try to discern, as far as possible, the qualities that appertain to His nature—qualities of eternity, infinity, indeterminateness, goodness, wisdom, and the power of creating, preserving and judging creatures, and so on. For he who discovers these qualities, to however small an extent, is a great theologian.

— Maximus the Confessor, Four Centuries on Love 2.25-26, in The Philokalia, vol. 2, 69.

5 thoughts on “Maximus the Confessor on “the Grace of Theology”

  1. Hmm, I feel like I don’t know Maximus well enough to answer that question. I would guess that ‘qualities’ here relate to God’s acts and life as it is perceived in theological reflection, whereas the ‘essence’ only God knows in his own life. Maybe.

  2. Vasilios Karayiannis, Maxime le Confessur. Essence et energies de Dieu, 125-129 is really helpful.

    The gist is that quality-essence is not like accident-substance, because God doesn’t have parts, but rather qualities give expression to the essence. There are two kinds of properties: ‘natural’ ones like omnipresence, omnipotence, all-holiness, and ‘hypostatic’ ones relating to the Persons–the Father’s ‘hypostatic’ property is unorigination. So “qualities are tied to the essence and follow its movement” (129).

    Much better than my idea.

  3. Quite right, but then the energies are neither substances nor accidents, nor are they metaphysically reducible one to the other. The schema is Essence-Person-Energy, where the persons are primary and mediate and actualize the power of the essence to act.

  4. Ah, fascinating. Thanks for that clarification.

    And now that I go stalk your blog I see that you’re an expert in these things ;). Thanks for helping me out on this!

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