Review of A Eucharistic Ontology

Nikolaos Loudonikos (hereafter NL) offers a new facet on St Maximus’ theology.   NL maintains that the structure of Christian ontology is both eschatological and Eucharistic.  It is eschatological because of Maximus’ insight of “becoming and motion.”   Ontology is not static or closed.  All things begin, have motion, and are in a state of becoming.  They are teleologically oriented towards God.  Likewise, ontology is not closed.   It opens up in the Eucharist as nature receives and moves outside itself (ek-stasis), not to escape nature, but to open itself even more.   Further, the Eucharist is eschatological:  it points ahead to the time when God will be all in all.

Like all writers on St Maximus, NL gives an extended discussion of the “logos/logoi.”  It is similar to what other standard treatises have said on St Maximus, albeit NL works it within his larger thesis.   NL gives an extended discussion of what other Maximian scholars have said on the logoi (55-56).  NL will call them the basic principles of God (though of course, he is aware of the many connotations of logoi).  Logoi are also the divine wills in God, which will have eschatological and Eucharistic overtones.  The logoi interpenetrate one another and thus provide the basis for communion:  communion between God and creation and communion between Christians in the Eucharist.

NL gives a short but helpful discussion on both person/hypostasis and the uncreated energies of God.  Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasi (93ff).  NL gives a careful discussion of the energies, correcting some Orthodox scholars and rebutting many Thomist and Protestant claims.  Contra to what some think, the “logoi” of creation are not synonymous with the divine energies (99ff).  Every nature has an energy, and the energy is constituted by the principle of nature itself.  Each energy reveals God in his entirety in each entity in accordance with the logos of its existence.  Thus, the doctrine of the uncreated energies imply the doctrine of the logoi.  The distinction between essence and energy (this time with Palamas) promotes the distinction between essence and will in God made by Athanasius and the Cappadocians.

Entities commune with one another through their logoi.   Here NL (and St Maximus) confront an age-old philosophical problem still present to us:  how do entities commune with one another?  Hellenism said a nature can never commune with another nature (see also John Locke, Hegel, Descartes, Hume, American worldview).  This raises the famous problem of St Maximus’s “Five Divisions.’  Maximus acknowledges the reality of the problem: given the fall and the divisions of nature, inter-entity communion is not likely by itself, and thus the truth would seem to lie with John Locke.[i] How does St Maximus bridge the Five Divisions?  He does so with “a Eucharistic Dialectic” (what a perfect phrase coined by NL!).  Christ in his recapitulatory work (Ephesians 1:10) heals the divisions of nature.  Thus, the “rifts become gifts.”  The person of Christ is the locus of the mystery of en-hypostatization.   The person of Christ becomes the mode of authentic communion among beings.  The Eucharist solidifies this love for us and we are given a share in the divine life (p. 128).

NL gives a helpful, if perhaps not always careful, discussion of the wills in Christ.  He first returns to St Maximus’ theology of motion:   Maximus inverts the Origenist triad to read:  becoming/motion/stasis.   All things have motion because they are created.  Entities move via their logoi.  “Becoming” is seen as the movement of a created order to its goal—the natural “middle term” justifying the genesis of things within their fixity in God.

Free will is the lawful dominion over actions within our power.  “Gnome” is defined as the innate appetite for things within our power.  It gives rise to choice.   Natural will is the movement of a particular person through the gnome.  The gnomic will actualizes the natural will’s desire per its logos.  The “mode of movement” is the process whereby movement is activated in a personal way (169).

NL has an interesting footnote to this (admittedly) dense discussion.   Having will by nature is not the same as the act of “willing.”  The former is a natural; the latter is modal and hypostatic.  The distinction between natural and gnomic is analogous to the distinction between logos and tropos.   However, we should not press the distinction too far:   Christ has two natural wills but he does not have a gnomic will (or more precisely, he does not “will” (verb) in a gnomic way, since the latter implies uncertainty.

NL ends the main argument of his thesis with an extended meditation and eventual rejection of Heidegger’s discussion on “being.”   He shows how Denis the Areopagite had already anticipated Heidegger’s (correct) deconstruction of Western philosophy, and provides the solution (against Heidegger) in the Eucharist.   In the Eucharist we stand outside of ourselves (ek-static) and give to the “other.”

Conclusion:  the book starts off slowly and will put off many readers.   The present reviewer is quite familiar with most of the literature on St Maximus (e.g., von Balthasar, Cooper, Bathrellos, Blowers, Louth, and Farrell), yet found the introductory sections of the book difficult to follow.   It seemed (at first) that NL was stretching texts to make his thesis (eschatology and Eucharist) fit, and maybe he was.  Fortunately, the book is meticulously outlined and easy to follow, once one gets past the first forty pages.   I read the book with a notebook, and the outlines made it easy to follow without losing track of the main argument.

Another positive to the book is that NL interacts with most of the current theological and philosophical literature on the topics in the book.   He even deals with practical problems raised by the study of St Maximus (thus making him useful, separating him from 90% of academics in the world).    The book is good, though there are numerous typographical errors and since the book was translated from Greek, the syntax is occasionally choppy.


[i] And thus American democracy would appear to be legitimate, but we know this is not the case.

 

Review *The Body in St Maximus*

The Body in St Maximus

Cooper takes a theme that is a hot issue in current theological groups (e.g., “the body”) and notes how few Maximus scholars have addressed the issue “what happens to the body when it is deified.”  He breaks new ground and shows remarkably skill in holding his complex narrative together.

CONCEALING AND REVEALING

Cooper notes the ways Maximus subtly inverts a lot of ancient (and Origenist) presuppositions about the body.  Instead of the body hiding God’s truth, which it does in a way, the body ends up being the focal point for God’s revelation to man in Jesus Christ.  Cooper then gives an extended discussion on the various “incarnations” in St Maximus’ thought.

Chapter 2:  Corporeality and Cosmos.   This chapter is clearer than the previous one.  That said, one should read St Maximus’s “Ambiguum 7” before reading this chapter.  It can be found in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, pp. 45-74.   Cooper is examining St Maximus’ response to the 6th century Origenists’ use of St Gregory’s phrase “slipped from God.”   They claimed that humanity was originally incorporated into a henad of incorporeal unity.  Creation is thus a fall from this henad.   Maximus rebuts this along the lines of 1) it gives creatures a temporal, pre-eternal existence with God.  Therefore, for God to be Lord, he has to be Lord of something (incidentally, this heresy has come again in the teachings of John Piper’s Christian hedonism.  In fact, the latter is almost a word-for-word endorsement of Origenism).  2) The doctrine of the henad implies God created the world out of necessity, and not freely.  If creation is the necessary result of a fall from unitary simplicity, then it can’t be said to be a free creation.  3) Assumes a fall from a state of perfection.  Even if one reaches perfection again (e.g., “Go to heaven”) there is no guarantee against another fall

St Maximus responds to this by reconstructing what we mean by motion.  All created things move since they are brought into existence by God.  Motion is natural to created beings and is the structure of the path to deification.

GENESIS à KINESIS à STASIS

BEING à WELL-BEING à EVERWELL BEING

But St Maximus does see the essential point Origen was getting at.   Our current empirical existence suffers from an instability:  because of “death” we move from our becoming and source of being from the moment of our coming into being.  Cooper anticipates a future answer:  the incarnation (and by extension the sacraments) overcomes the chaos of matter.

In chapter three Cooper gives a good summary of Maximus’ triadology.   God exists triadically.  God is trinity at the level of particular and unity at the level of common.  Neither is apart from another.  The Trinity is a monad because this is how it is, and the Unity is truly a triad because this is how it exists (133).    The one Godhead is monadically and exists triadically.

St Maximus then makes a helpful distinction between LOGOS and TROPOS.  Logos has to do with what a thing is at the level of being, and tropos has to do with how a thing is at the level of hypostasis.   Cooper then has a dense but important paragraph,

It is by divine illumination, consequently, that we move from the level of unity, which in the order of theologia is denoted by logos, to the level of differentiation, which is denoted by tropos.   In the order of economia the pattern is reversed.  Unity in Christ occurs at the level of tropos, or hypostasis, whereas differentiation occurs at the level of logos, or ousia.   Epistemologically, the latter is arrived at by the encounter with the form (134).

The logos became composite at the hypostatic level—assuming a human nature in its full reality, body and soul (140).  The human nature itself is a composite of body and soul; thus, the Logos assumed a composite.

MAXIMUS AND THE CHURCH

Cooper gives a very nuanced discussion of Maximus’ belief and role of the Roman See.   Was St Maximus a dogged Filioquist who firmly held to the universal monarchical papacy?  The answer is a qualified “no.”  Cooper focuses on two letters of Maximus that seem to affirm his believe in the papacy.  Cooper notes, however, that the textual authenticity of these is doubtful.  Oddly enough, Cooper ignores the Filioque debate and focuses entirely on the Roman See.   In short, the letters, corrupted and extant as they are, have Maximus championing “the six Ecumenical Councils.” The problem is obvious:  the 6th Council had not yet happened.  Roman apologists are quick to point a Lateran Council as the 6th Council of which St Maximus allegedly referred.   Perhaps, but it is doubtful that St Maximus (or anybody) would have so soon placed a local Lateran council on the same level with Nicea.

In any case, assuming Maximus did say that (which is by no means certain), he said that because of the sanctuary he found in Rome and of Rome’s confession of Orthodoxy.   That begs the question of Rome’s supposed infallibility.  Suffice to say, Maximus’ interrogators informed him that Rome had now abandoned dyotheletism (which may or may not have been true at the time).  This forced Maximus to sharpen his ecclesiology:  the truth lay in Orthodoxy itself, not in a particular See.  Indeed, it would go on to say that the dogma judges the synod (and by extension the sees).

That said, that is not the point of the chapter.  Cooper gives us a very good explication of the relation between corporeality, the church, and hierarchy.   Contrary to modern feminists and Gnostics (which are the same thing), hierarchy does not abandon freedom of worship in the Spirit, but establishes it.   In language reminiscent of Dionysius and Proclus, Maximus advocates a “hierarchical return” by means of the liturgy.

CONCLUSION

Cooper ends his discussion summing up the previous book when answering the question, “What happens to the body in deification?”  The short answer is, “it experiences death in an intense form.”  Maximus identifies our baptism as a baptism in Christ death and resurrection (in other words, he doesn’t hem-haw around Romans 6).  When we participate in virtue and in suffering, we are identifying even more intensely with Christ’s death via our baptism.  Cooper also gives us a fascinating discussion of faith alone and good works.  Contrary to later Protestant polemics, good works are the manifestation of God’s mercy in our flesh for the sake of others.  In St Maximus—on Cooper’s gloss, anyway—good works take on a social dimension.

The book is probably worth the $170, which is unfortunate since few can afford it.   It does not stand alone, though.  It does not deal with the nature of Christ’s wills and its discussion of ousia and hypostasis is short.   To be fair to Cooper this was not his stated aim.   This book will likely remain the standard in the field on these topics.