The soul: A view of its end


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In Maximus’ restructuring of the Platonic cosmologies, there are two critical issues: the relative transcendence of God, and the eternality of the world.

The Stoics had a materialist notion of the Logos, seeing it composed of subtle matter, invisible to the naked eye, but nonetheless corporeal, and thus not absolutely transcendent to the corporeal world.

Once creation is said to be ex nihilo, however, a gap opens up between the world and God, between the created and the Uncreate, and the problem of bridging that gap arises.

Plato’s doctrine of the Forms, the bridge between being and becoming, intellect and sense-perception, laid much of the ground. This included the notion of a Logos, or some other near-equivalent, such as the supreme Form of the Good in the Republic; in the Symposium in Beauty; the One of the first hypotheses of the Parmenides; the Nous-Demiurge, the World Soul (in addition to the Receptacle) of the Timaeus; and the principles of Unlimited and Limit (with cosmic Reason) in the Philebus.

The problem of relating the One to the many was not unlike the problem monotheists had concerning the relation of God and the world: both needed a doctrine of intermediaries in order to bring the unknowable God into a relationship with the world.

In general terms, the multiple entities of the Platonic world were shifted – already in Philo – in the direction of divine ideas, powers, or activities. In Philo, the Platonic Forms became ideas in the mind of God. For Jewish and Christian monotheism, these ‘intermediaries’ could not be separate gods or divine beings, and so were reduced to aspects or manifestations of the One.

Maximus was able to refute Origen’s cosmology, but he needed to make sense of the problem of the one and the many, which Origen had resolved through the henad, and Dionysius by divine processions and hierarchies. Contrary to Origen, Maximus argues that the logoi are not separate minds, neither are they emenations, but are identified with God’s will.

Influenced by Dionysius the pseudoAreopagite, the multiplicity of beings, along with their inner principles, derive from the unfolding of the Logos, its self-manifestation in differentiated multiplicity. What constitutes beings as not the Logos is their differentiation from the Logos and from one another. They are beings in that they are distinct from each other and therefore determinate and intelligible. What distinguishes each being from every other being is what distinguishes each being from the Logos.

Before their creation, before coming into being, the intelligible idea of the multiplicity of being exists potentiality within the Logos, which in material terms might be likened to a singularity, which contains within itself the principles and the emergence of the entire material cosmos. This is the Dionysian principle that “the things that belong to the effects preexist in the causes” (On the Divine Names 2.8).

For Maximus, the creation of beings is not simultaneous with the existence of their eternal archetypes in God. He establishes a clear distinction between the logoi that pre-exist eternally in God, and finite, particular beings, created according to them, at a specific moment in time. In this way, he corrects Origen and clarifies Dionysius.

Maximus (following Dionysius), calls the logoi the ‘wills’ of God, which are often identified with ‘ideas’ existing within God. Insofar as the logoi serve as the ‘prototypes’ of each and every creature, they are also called ‘paradigms’ and ‘pre-determinations’ (proorismoi). The logoi are ‘paradigms’ inasmuch as they are the prototypes according to which beings are created out of nothing. They are ‘pre-determinations’ inasmuch as they are the final end toward which all beings strive so that they might fulfil and perfect their existence.

In this way, the truth of beings lies in the future, in the eschaton, and is identified with ‘eternal well being’. Once again Maximus inverts the direction of Plato, of Origen, of the Cosmos, so that it is forward, not backward-facing. In the logoi, the true ‘forms’ of beings are not in their past but in their future.

For man, God is capable of being known indirectly in the contemplation of the logoi of the creation which manifests them, and indirectly, Him. The Book of Nature is, in its own way, a Book of Divine-Knowing.

God can also be known directly (a ‘dark knowing’ beyond cognition) by participation in the life of the ‘realities which are around the essence’, otherwise called the divine energies. These correspond to the attributes of God in His divine properties, or to the divine logoi (their source) or to the ‘invisible realities’ of God (cf. Romans 1:20).

Maximus specifies that ‘every divine energy signifies the whole God indivisibly through this energy in each being, according to that logos through which it is’. He goes on to say ‘God, wholly and commonly in all things and particularly in each being, without division or being divided’, is, at the same time, Himself situated beyond all modes of being, so that any pantheist interpretation is excluded and the transcendence of God is preserved.

For Maximus, the logos of particular being is its principle, its raison d’etre. It is that which defines it absolutely; it is its alpha and its omega, it contains its principle and end of its being. Because this origin and this end is in God, the word Logos has for Maximus its Scriptural meaning and is not reducible to the ‘natural logos’ as understood by Aristotle or an arcane philosophy.

All the characteristics of being, both particular and common according to its species or genus, come from its logoi, and these logoi furthermore govern the relations of beings with each other, and in a general manner assure the order and cohesion of the cosmos both in its movement and in that which is stable.

The supreme unity of the logoi is realised in and by the Logos, the Son, the Incarnate Word of God, which is the principle and the end of all the logoi. The logoi of all beings have in effect been determined by God the Father in the Logos, God the Son, before the ages, and therefore before beings were created; it is in Him that they are contained by Him they subsist, and it is by them – their logoi – that all things, before even they came into existence, are known by God.

Thus every being, according to its own logos, exists in potential in God before time. But beings do not exist in act, according to this same logos, until such time as God, in his wisdom, draws them forth ex nihilo. Once created according to its logoi, it is according to this same logoi again that God, in His providence, conserves, actualises and directs it toward its end.

The logoi of all being, in being in God and near Him, are nevertheless not God. Maximus underlines the radical transcendence of the Logos in that regard, while affirming the logoi are founded by and in Him. Created being is not, inherently, a manifestation of the divine essence. It is not divine by nature. Maximus, following Dionysius, calls them divine ‘wills’ or ‘volitions’. Each individual being is called by its vocation, by a resonance with its archetype, to its being and its end with regard to its place in the Divine scheme of creation.

It is our logoi we contemplate in the mirror of the soul.

In denominating the logoi as that which God wills, Maximus links them to the divine economy, a ‘work’ of His will, and thus neither a neoplatonic emanations (a necessary production) of the divine essence. By the same token, as delineating the logoi as the principle of each and every mode of being, while ontologically distinct from it, there is a distinction between the logoi of the being and its soul or psyche, which is created ex nihilo at the time the creature is called into being, and thus avoids the error of rendering souls pre-existent, eternal, and thus co-natural to God.
Thomas, thanks for writing another piece. Or was it the whole thing? :) Technically a piece, I suppose. This has been tough reading for me but from what I was able to gather Maximus has defeated Origen and this is important to you somehow. This part stuck out to me:

For man, God is capable of being known indirectly in the contemplation of the logoi of the creation which manifests them, and indirectly, Him. The Book of Nature is, in its own way, a Book of Divine-Knowing.


Another wise man from long ago: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Might be back here as time allows.
Hi Stranger —
... but from what I was able to gather Maximus has defeated Origen and this is important to you somehow...
I would n't say 'defeated', that probably comes across in my shorthand. He would never save seen it that way, I think. The Church has a difficult relationship with Origen. The large part of his work is lost. What we can discern from what survives is his genius, but like every genius, he is framed and contained in his times.

He supported theological positions that have seen been refuted; he propose one that lurks in the corners of the mind (apokatastasis) for what I believe are sound pastoral reasons. Above all he was a child of the church, loyal and faithful, a faith he suffered for.

Maximus, I would say, corrected the error, but no less loved the man.