Monday, June 30, 2008

More on Christ's Free Will and Suffering

Benedict XVI has a great respect for St. Maximus the Confessor as the protagonist of Constantinople III (680-681), the Council that resolved the dualism of the two natures in Christ that were understood to be “in parallel” and the key to the widely unresolved dualisms that continue to obtain in the present day: grace/nature; faith/reason, Church/ State, etc. Benedict refers to the reshaping of the question from a relationship of natures to the deployment of two wills by the one Subject, the Logos of the Father. It seems that the question migrated from the human nature of Christ as an agency operating immanently within the created cosmos, to the Agency of the divine Subject who wills immanently within the created cosmos. In a word, Chalcedon was not the last word since it left the Christological account in a state of “parallel” (seemingly autonomous) natures where – to this day – the sufferings of Christ is disputed as to whether Christ suffered as God or as man. The operative concept is “immutability.” In dealing with natures as objects, to suffer involves change in being. To suffer, one must lose ontological density. If God is supreme, unchanging Being, then He cannot change or lose ontological density and still be God. Hence, He cannot suffer as God. And since Chalcedon defined that, indeed, Christ is true and complete man by possession of a human nature, then His suffering must be accounted for in and by the human nature. This is the parallelism of the two natures as principles of two ontological levels of activity, the divine and the human. Suffering, then, is human.

But what if we went deeper and ascertained that only subjects are the free and responsible agents of moral, human action. Natures don’t act; they operate. And if we take St. Thomas’s assessment of the number of existential principles in Jesus Christ, we find that there are not two acts of existence, but one, the Esse personale of the Son. The entire Being of Christ is dynamized in being and act by the personal act of existence of the divine Son.
[1] Both wills, divine and human, are executions of the one divine Person. And this without prejudice to the ontological integrity of the human nature and the freedom of the human will. Nay, the human will, made in the image and likeness of the divine is enhanced as self-gift and therefore freedom imaging the divine Freedom. The free and responsible Agent of all being and action in Jesus Christ is the Son, and the human willing is an operation, not of a nature but of the Son Himself. The “nature” is not the principle of operation or action. Hence, all the suffering that occurs in Christ because of the humanity and the human will, is the suffering of the divine Person – the Eternal Absolute - Who is the Subject-Agent of all Being and acting in Christ.

In a word, Constantinople III completes the development of truth of Chalcedon, and the protagonist of that work and completion has been Maximus.

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Benedict XVI writes on June 25, 2008: "He Always Had As His Compass the Concrete Reality of the World"

“Maximus did not accept any attempt to minimize the humanity of Christ. The theory had arisen according to which Christ had only one will, the divine. To defend the uniqueness of his person, they denied he had a true human will.”At first glance, it might appear to be something good that in Christ there was only one will. “However, St. Maximus understood immediately that this would have destroyed the mystery of salvation, because a humanity without will -- a man without a will -- is not a true man, but rather an amputated man. Therefore, the man Jesus Christ would not have been a true man, would not have experienced the drama of the human being, which consists precisely in the difficulty of conforming our will with the truth of being.

”Thus St. Maximus affirmed with great determination: Sacred Scripture does not show us an amputated man, without a will, but a true complete man: God, in Jesus Christ, has truly assumed the totality of the human being -- obviously except for sin -- hence, also, a human will. Stated that way, the question was clear: Christ is either a true man or not. ”However, the problem arises: Does not one end in this way in a sort of dualism? Is not one faced with affirming two complete personalities with reason, will, sentiment? How can this dualism be overcome? How can the completeness of the human being be preserved while protecting the unity of the person of Christ, who was not schizophrenic?”St. Maximus demonstrates that man finds his unity, the integration of himself, his totality not in himself, but in surpassing himself, by coming out of himself. Thus, also in Christ, man, coming out of himself, finds in God, in the Son of God, himself.”Man must not "amputate" the human Christ to explain the Incarnation. One must only understand the dynamism of the human being who is fulfilled only by coming out of himself. Only in God do we find ourselves, our totality and our completeness.”Thus we see that it is not the man who is closed in on himself who is complete the man, but it is the man who opens himself, who comes out of himself -- it is he who becomes complete, who finds himself in the Son of God, he finds in him his true humanity.”For St. Maximus this vision does not remain a philosophical speculation. He sees it realized in the concrete life of Jesus, above all in the drama of Gethsemane.”In this drama of Jesus' agony, of anguish and death, of the opposition between the human will not to die and the divine will that offers itself to death, in this drama of Gethsemane the whole human drama is realized, the drama of our redemption. St. Maximus tells us, and we know that this is true: Adam -- and Adam is us -- thought that the "no" was the apex of liberty; that only he who can say "no" is truly free; that to truly realize his liberty, man must say "no" to God.

”Only in this way, he thinks, he is finally himself; he has arrived at the summit of liberty. This tendency was also present in Christ's human nature, but he overcame it, because Jesus saw that "no" is not the greatest liberty. The greatest liberty is to say "yes," to conform with the will of God. Only in saying "yes" does man really become himself. Only in the great opening of the "yes," in the unification of his will with the divine will, does man become immensely open, he becomes "divine."”To be like God was Adam's desire, namely, to be completely free. However, he is not divine, the man who is closed in on himself is not completely free. He is so by coming out of himself, it is in the "yes" that he becomes free. And this is the drama of Gethsemane: not my will but yours.”Transferring one's will to the divine will, that is how a true man is born. That is how we are redeemed. ”This, in a few words, is the fundamental point of what St. Maximus wished to say, and we see that here the whole human being is questioned; here is the whole question of our life.”St. Maximus already had problems in Africa defending this vision of man and of God; then he was called to Rome. In 649 he took an active part in the Lateran Council, called by Pope Martin I to defend the two wills of Christ, against the emperor's edict, which -- pro bono pacis -- prohibited the discussion of this question.”Pope Martin paid dearly for his courage: Although he was in poor health, he was arrested and taken to Constantinople. Prosecuted and condemned to death, his sentence was commuted to final exile in Crimea, where he died on Sept. 16, 655, after two long years of humiliation and torments.”

Helpful Study on Maximus the Confessor[2]
My Comment:

The following study is useful to see the autonomy of the humanity and the human willing in the gift of self to death, and therefore to effect our Redemption. However, it makes the same mistake as Weinandy’s scholastic treatment of the human nature and the human will. It reifies the nature and will by misidentifying them as the agent-protagonist-subject of free action. I take this to be a rationalism produced by the hegemony of conceptual knowing that has not understood the context within which it always works, albeit unknowingly; i.e. the consciousness of the experience of the “I” as agent. As Wojtyla mentioned in his introduction to “The Acting Person:” in every experience of sensation there is an experience of the “I” experiencing itself as protagonist and agent of that perception and/or action.

Maximos the Confessor: On the Free Will of Christ
The soteriological need for reciprocity

“The question of 'why?' is at the centre of our current discussion on Maximos the Confessor. It is of peculiar note that the body of modern scholarship on Maximos, thorough and insightful though it is in many respects, seems to deal very little with this very question. Even such a masterful and monumental work as Lars Thunberg's Microcosm and Mediator, perhaps the most complete exposition of the Confessor's thought, tends to focus principally on the technical 'how' of his theology and anthropology. Without wishing to discount the great importance and insight of such studies, our concern in this short paper is not so much the technical explanation of Maximos' understanding of Christ's free will, as it is the theological motivations which pushed him to give such importance to this doctrine.

“The lack of attention paid to the question of why cannot be blamed wholly upon modern scholars. Indeed, the case seems to be that our author himself spoke much less of it than he did of the doctrine's technical exposition. Maximos spends much time and spills much ink in defense of the two wills of Christ and His ultimate freedom of will, and he does a remarkable job of 'proving' them logically and philosophically. He spends much less time speaking of the theological background which was to give these concepts their pronounced importance. This unbalanced emphasis is in fact logical enough, given the circumstances surrounding the monothelete controversy with which Maximos was faced: it was not the notion of salvation that was being questioned, but rather the ontological and theological possibility of a single person (Christ) possessing a duality of will. It was a controversy over the how, and thus it is reasonable and expected that Maximos would devote the majority of his work to dealing with this very question. Yet in the present day, with the monothelete controversy long passed and the dythelete position having been accepted as a basic tenet of orthodoxy, the question of why this idea was of such central importance to so important a figure as Maximos becomes of heightened interest.

It is precisely because the Confessor presents us with a remarkable insight into this very question, that he has remained so influential a theologian throughout Christian history. For buried deep within his many layers of technical investigation lies a concept of salvation that has its heart in a true soteriology. This soteriological heart is, for Maximos, the notion of reciprocity, of mutual exchange and interaction in the process of human salvation -- a notion that by no means finds its first patristic expression in Maximos, but which finds in him perhaps the most poignant presentation and emphasis of the theme in the early Church. It was Maximos' investigations into and clarifications of this relational concept of salvation in Christ that was to link his name so closely to the topic throughout the centuries to follow.

The Reciprocal [read "relational"]Nature of Salvation in the Incarnation.

One may begin with a rather lengthy, but extremely important, quote from Lars Thunberg's shorter work on the Confessor, Man and the Cosmos:
"As in the Eastern tradition in general, Maximus puts strong stress on the Incarnation as an effective instrument of salvation, of which--at least from one point of view--the reconciling death is only a logical consequence. Thus the different aspects are complementary; the sacrificial aspect occupies no exclusive place. The incarnation itself is the supreme act of divine grace, which manifests and carries into effect the salvific relationship between God and man. But stating this, we must always remember that incarnation has to be understood in terms of the doctrine of Chalcedon. This means that incarnation does not only imply God's becoming flesh, generally speaking, but God's becoming flesh in uniting himself hypostatically with man in Christ, true God and true man, fully united but without change or fusion. In other words, incarnation is always understood by Maximus as an aspect of reciprocity. The act of salvation understood in this way is not a one-sided act so that God, as it were, 'forces' His salvation on man. Nor is it a divided act so that Christ as man reconciles God the wrathful Father, as in the predominant Western tradition, but a cooperative act, an act of reciprocity, a concerted act, and it has to be understood in this way." [1]

One finds in this remarkable paragraph the heart of Maximos' understanding of the relational aspect of salvation [my underline]. He is unwilling to look at it as a one-sided act on the part of God, somehow forced upon man from above. Promulgation of such a notion of 'forced salvation' would be to lose sight of the fact that man freely fell, a concept of which Maximos often spoke. The Fall was the work of humanity, stemming from the free choice with which it had been endowed as an aspect of its creation in the image of God. The first sin was, as all willful choices are, the free choice of a free creature. To Maximos, such a reality intimately tied the will and the Fall together: the latter was bound up in the former, was indeed caused by it. Thus a salvation could not simply be a redemption of body or even of mind as a purely intellectual agent. It must needs be a salvation of will, for this is the element of most severe corruption in fallen humanity.

Thus the question logically becomes, 'what is Maximos' conception of human will?', and it is to this question that one must turn before an examination into the Confessor's conception of the human will in the person of Christ can be attempted.

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Back to the 'Why?'
We may now return to the question Carlyle's mother didn't ask: why was this notion of the free human will in Christ of such importance to Maximos? To obtain an answer, one may turn again to the quotation with which this discussion was opened. Of particular importance are the following few sentences:

Incarnation is always understood by Maximus as an aspect of reciprocity. The act of salvation understood in this way is not a one-sided act so that God, as it were, "forces" His salvation on man. Nor is it a divided act so that Christ as man reconciles God the wrathful Father, as in the predominant Western tradition, but a cooperative act, an act of reciprocity, a concerted act, and it has to be understood in this way. [11]

When earlier commenting on this conception of salvation, we noted that Maximos viewed the Fall as, largely, an act of human will. This has now been elaborated by the above investigation of his conception of will itself. The Fall was originally wrought by the misuse of will among humanity, and thus was the result of free choice; it was not the working of God, but the mis-working of man. This provided the framework for what Maximos' saw as a future of relationship between man and God in the area of salvation: it was something that only God could effect (here Maximos is in line with Athanasius), yet it had to be something that humanity freely chose. Salvation could not be 'forced', for this would not involve the redemption and sanctification of the very thing that Maximos' saw at the root of humanity's fallen state: the human will.
Salvation, then, must involve two fundamental elements: (1) the saving power of God the Creator, who is the only source of life, and thus the only one capable of restoring life to those who have lost it; and (2) the free consent of the human will to the divine plan of redemption. Only when man uses his free will to re-attain his proper lo/goj, can salvation and sanctification fully come to pass. And this is the heart of the great why behind the Confessor's emphasis upon the free will of Christ: only if Christ possessed a truly human and truly free will, could he engage in the relational, reciprocal process of salvation that was truly needed by mankind.

Car le « fiat » de Jésus à Gethsémani exprime l'ultime décision de sa volonté humaine devant la Passion imminente. Pour nous sauver, « il fallait que le Christ souffrît sa Passion ». Cette mystérieuse nécessité procédait de la philanthrôpia de Dieu, de cette même volonté bienveilante (eudokia) que les trois Personnes ont à notre égard. Mais pour que le Christ nous sauve, il fallait aussi que sa Passion fût précédée par l'acceptation de sa volonté humaine. [12]

Christ as human must freely choose His passion, must freely choose to act according to the will of His Father. He must freely choose that path of ke/nwsij wherein the personal tro/poj is emptied of all that might stand against God, and live fully within the divine grace. Only then, when the process of Salvation is initiated as both a fully divine and fully human act (via the free choice of the will), can the true redemption of fallen humanity come to pass.”

My Comment:

As we have seen above, the meaning of freedom in God and man as image is the relation of self-gift, not choice. Freedom is the act of mastering self so as to own self and be able to make the gift, to enter into relation. Choice is grounded in this capacity to master self-in-relation. Freedom is the “I” saying “Yes.” It does not consist in the indetermination of the will before finite goods. It consists in the fullness of Being “for” the other. Freedom is Love. The divine Person, the Logos and Son of and from the Father and “For” the Father and “For” us, actively and freely accepts that the Father “made him to be sin who knew nothing of sin, so that we might become the justice of God” (2 Cor. 5, 21). The Subject and Protagonist of this freedom to death is not the human will but the divine Person willing humanly with and through His human will – and suffering as Person-Love.


[1] Thunberg, Lars. “Man and the Cosmos: the Vision of St Maximus the Confessor.” New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985. pp. 65-66 (emphasis mine).
[2] Louth, Andrew. Maximus the Confessor. London: Routledge, 1996. p. 60.
[3] Léthel, François-Marie. Théologie de l'agonie du Christ : La liberté humaine du Fils de Dieu et son importance sotériologique mises en limière par saint Maxime Confesseur. Paris: Editions Beauchesne, 1979. p. 69.
[4] Léthel refers to it as the 'mode hypostatique' as opposed to the 'élément essentiel' that is his definition of the lo/goj, p. 69.
[5] Léthel, p. 69.
[6] Thunberg, Lars. Microcosm and Mediator: the Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor. Sweden: H'kan Ohlssons Boktryckeri Lund, 1965. p. 226. Italics in original.
[7] Léthel, p. 67 (emphasis mine).
[8] Louth, p. 61. Cp. also Maximos, Opusc. 3.
[9] Gauthier, Saint Maxime le Confesseur, pp. 52-53. Quoted in Farrell, p. 107.
[10] Léthel, p. 70.
[11] Thunberg, Man and the Cosmos, pp. 65-66 (emphasis mine).
[12] Léthel, p. 18.

[1] S. Th. III, 17, 2, ad 2.

1 comment:

Seek Find Know Love Serve said...

Keep up the good work.