Sunday, February 18, 2007

Joseph Farrell on the Metaphysics of Saint Maximos

In an excellent little book published by St. Tikhon's Seminary Press (Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, South Canan, Pennsylvania, 1989), Joseph Farrell advances a novel and intriguing interpretation of the metaphysics of St. Maximos the Confessor. Whereas the dominant paradigm tends to interpret his metaphysics as more closely aligned with those of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Farrell finds in them a harbinger of St. Gregory Palamas. Although this interpretation is unusual, I found myself largely in agreement with the words of Bishop Kallistos (Ware), who writes in his introduction to the book that Dr. Farrell
possesses a penetrating and creative mind, and he is gifted with unusual powers of analysis and insight.
Certainly the crucial word here is "creative", but one cannot help but admire Dr. Farrell's ability to present his case with scholarly care and Christian charity.

According to Farrell, St. Maximos draws a metaphysical distinction between Person, Energy, and Essence, and, as Farrell puts it:
These categories are not mere conventions of speech for St. Maximus, but rather correspond to distinct metaphysical realities. They are not therefore each names for the same, absolutely simple "Something." Thus, while God is simple, this simplicity is not to be understood along the lines of the definitional model of simplicity, where the term functions as a great metaphysical "equals" (=) sign.
As Farrell notes, St. Maximos' blurring of the link between metaphysics and predication is marked by a notorious sloppiness in the use of the Neoplatonic distinction between "Being" and "Having". In bringing about this break from the pagan metaphysics within which the terminology had its origins, St. Maximos really is closer to Palamas, whose own work was rather representative of what the Byzantine philosophy of his day was capable of. St. Thomas, by contrast, writing a full two generations before Gregory was even born, manages to present a brilliant little treatise on the distinction between being and essence that preserves the connection between metaphysics and predication while at the same time managing to captivate both friends and critics to this day.

Farrell puts Maximos' analysis of free will into the context of the controversies with the Monotheletes. For them: choice is dialectical and therefore must be confined to the historical arena...
For Maximos, by contrast, the human will achieves its deified aspect in Christ, which has the effect of ensuring that the saints in heaven will choose only the good for all eternity while maintaining their freedom. This is a fascinating maneuver on the part of Maximos, but it also illustrates a rather interesting maneuver on Farrell's part. He notes that Maximos' method and doctrine made possible the Council of Constantinople in 680:
It is the dogmatization of the Dynamic of Cyrillic Chalcedonianism, a dynamic [that] permits the use of christological terminology in a triadological context. It is thus possible to speak of a real distinction not only between the divine essence on the one hand and the divine energies on the other, but also the divine energies amongst themselves.
In the case of the early Ecumenical Councils what is not said is often as important as what is said. Farrell appears to think that in permitting certain forms of language and theological speculation the Council was at the same time dogmatizing them. In other words, Farrell interprets the Council as doing something that I have suggested ought not to be done: mandating a certain form of metaphysics. It seems unlikely to me that this is, in fact, what the Council was doing, particularly in light of the historical context of political rivalry and social upheaval in which the Council had its origins. As a method for disambiguating certain concepts and helping us to make some sense (some sense) of a very difficult theology, a variety of metaphysics can be very useful, but by itself it cannot settle such theological disputes once and for all. However, surely Farrell is right to see in the definitions of the Council the theological contributions of St. Maximos, since this serves to place the work of the Council in the broader context of the debate with the Monothelites, which was also a central concern of St. Maximos.

For Farrell, however, St. Maximos represents, in his doctrine of free choice among the saints in heaven, a genuine departure from the theological analysis of St. Augustine on the matter of free choice and predestination, and it is to this topic that I will turn in my next post in this thread.

1 comment:

Patrick Hubert said...

To be

The Appearance Is

The consciousness is

Conscious is