SJT 58(4): 410-433 (2005) Printed in the United Kingdom © 2005 Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd doi:10.1017/S0036930605001481

‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

lan A. McFarland Candler School of Theology, 109B, Bishops Hall, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA


Although Maximus’ and Augustine's theologies of the will were shaped by very different polemical contexts, it is arguable that the two thinkers were interested in securing the same theological ground. In response to positions that treated the will as a reserve of human autonomy over against God, both thinkers sought to see the freedom of the will as a function of its integration into the natural order through grace. Maximus’ concept of the natural will in particular functions as a means of challenging both divine determinism and human libertarianism as adequate accounts of the relationship between divine and human activity.

In one of his early works, Maximus the Confessor offers a brief but im- passioned account of the final destiny of human beings:

With the advent of Christ at the end of time, there will be a change and transformation of inclination and choice in human beings from faithlessness to faith, from wickedness to virtue, from ignorance to knowledge of God; because then, at the end of the ages, there will be through the same God, our Savior, a transformation and renewal of the whole human race that is all-encompassing, natural, and by grace, from death and corruption to immortal life and incorruption in the expected resurrection. !

Though Maximus quickly moves on to other matters in this treatise, much of his subsequent literary output can be read as an attempt to flesh out the meaning of this seemingly bizarre conflation of intentional, natural and divine activity in human life. By dint of Maximus’ engagement in the Monothelite controversy, the later stages of this development centre on the will as the nexus where inclination (qnome), choice (proairesis), nature (phusis)

1 Expositio in Psalmum 59 (PG 91:857A). It should probably be pointed out that Maximus’ talk here of a ‘renewal of the whole human race’ need not be taken as evidence that he believed in an apokatastasis. See Brian E. Daley, SJ, ‘Apokatastasis and “Honorable Silence” in the Eschatology of Maximus the Confessor’, in Felix Heinzer and Christoph Schönborn (eds.), Maximus Confessor: Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confesseur Fribourg, 2—5 septembere 1980 (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1982), 322-3.


‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

and grace (charis) intersect. Focusing on the figure of Christ as the touchstone for anthropological reflection, Maximus will come to see the agony in the garden as the prototype of genuinely human action: at once free, natural and founded in grace.

Vastly influential in Orthodox theology, this model also has much to contribute to more Augustinian reflections on the relationship between human freedom and divine grace. Though it is an open question whether or not Maximus was familiar with Augustine,’ both struggled to define the relationship between freedom, nature and grace. More specifically, both opposed a model of free will as a reserve of autonomy cut off from God and the world in favour of an understanding in which it is ‘always already’ related to both.? As a consequence of this basic anthropological orientation, both had to answer the objection that such a position amounted to a necessita- rianism that ruled out genuine freedom of the will. A crucial issue for both men therefore became how divine grace becomes part of human willing without rendering mention of one or the other superfluous.

Needless to say, the theological contexts that brought these two thinkers to this common predicament were profoundly different. Augustine’s arguments centre on the anthropological question of human beings’ capacity to secure blessedness for themselves: over against Pelagian (and pagan philosophical) claims to the contrary, Augustine insisted that they could not; blessedness was a gift of grace. By contrast, Maximus’ views assumed final form in the context of a christological debate in which his main concern was defending the presence and power of Christ’s human will over against a position (Monothelitism) which effectively argued that salvation depended on the human will being overruled by God. So contextualized, it seems that the two theologians’ perspectives could not possibly be more divergent* and yet one of the chief objection levelled against Maximus by his opponents was precisely that his position undermined the freedom of the will! To understand how such a charge could make sense, it is necessary to take a closer look at the details of Maximus’ views.

? Maximus spent a long time in North Africa. Arriving no later than 630 (perhaps as early as 628), he stayed till his departure for Rome in 646 and was sympathetic enough to Western theology to have offered a sympathetic interpretation of the filioque; but he nowhere refers to Augustine in his writings. See G. Berthold, ‘Did Maximus the Confessor Know Augustine’? in Studia Patristica 17 (1982), 14—17.

I owe this phrasing to Charles T. Mathewes, Evil and the Augustinian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 103.

For an argument seeking to make just this point, see Joseph P. Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor (South Canaan, PA: St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1989).


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The category of the will in Maximus Though Monothelitism provided the stimulus for Maximus’ mature doctrine of the will, many key components of his final position were in place beforehand. For example, the issue of human freedom is introduced in one of Maximus’ earliest extant works, ‘Letter 2’ (to John Cubicularius), in which he speaks of the need to make our capacity for self-determination (to ep’hemin) submit to reason and, more specifically, the way in which our inclination (gnome) must be persuaded ‘to follow nature and not in any way to be at variance with the logos of nature’ so that ‘we are able to have one inclination (gnome) and one will (thelema) with God and with one another, not having any discord with God or one another’.® This wholesale renewal of human intentional action is necessary because through the fall the devil has ‘separated us, with respect to our inclination, from God and one another’, having ‘divided nature at the level of mode of existence, fragmenting it into a multitude of opinions and imaginations’ by introducing into human being an ‘irreconcilability with respect to inclination’ that led us ‘to turn from the natural movement [we] once had... to what is forbidden’.°

Already at this very early stage (around 626 and thus well before the emergence of Monothelitism) the basic architecture of Maximus’ later thinking on the will is visible. Two points in particular are important here. First, Maximus defines fallen existence in terms of division with respect to inclination or gnome; second, he associates gnome with personal mode of existence (tropos) rather than created human nature (phusis). In the fall human beings find themselves divided from God, each other, and even within their own selves by an ‘irreconcilability of inclination’ that marks a declension from the natural movement towards God characteristic of the will in its original state.’ Whereas humankind was created with a natural desire for God, the fall perverts desire.® In redemption, however, this internal division

> Maximus the Confessor, ‘Letter 2’ (PG 91:396C), in Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London: Routledge, 1996), 86-7.

Maximus, ‘Letter 2’ (PG 91:396D-397A), 87; the translation has been modified to indicate that Maximus speaks consistently of ‘inclination’ (qnome) in the singular here. Thus Maximus can say that ‘nature remains undamaged and undivided in those who have received... grace, not divided up into the differences introduced by gnome’. ‘Letter 2’ (PG 91:401A), 89.

As Maximus describes it elsewhere, “every wicked power is at work... driving the gnome with the natural passions into the corruption of unnatural passions’. Quaestiones ad Thalassium 21 (CCSG 7:128—9) in Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken (eds.), St. Maximus the Confessor, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003), 110; translation slightly altered.


‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

is healed:

nature remains undamaged and undivided in those who have received this grace, not divided by the differences in gnome characteristic of the many. For no longer are different things drawn to this and that, but they all continue with the same, none of them directed by their own gnome... but all directed to what is common and undivided in all things at the level of nature, thus drawing together what has been separated.”

Significantly, once gnomic division is overcome in the redeemed state, nature seems completely to displace the gnome in directing human behaviour. The gnome apparently plays a role in the personal development of the individual towards the redeemed state, but at the endpoint it disappears.

This same basic pattern is visible in other early works of the Confessor. In the Commentary on the Our Father, for example, gnomic division within and between human beings is once again associated with postlapsarian existence, in contradistinction to the harmony with God and each other characteristic of human life in its natural state.'' Correspondingly, redemption is described as a process in which we come to have a gnome no longer ‘opposed to the principle of nature (toi logoi tes phuseos)’, so that we may ‘be as changeless in our gnome as we are in our nature’.'* This transformation is more specifically described as one in which Christ ‘will join to the will (thelema) of the one who supplies the grace the gnome of those who request it, by rendering the two identical in a unity of relation’.'? Likewise, in the sixth of the Quaestiones ad Thalassium, Maximus speaks of the gift of Spirit to the baptized as redirecting the gnome, so that it might be converted towards God and deification. !4


‘Letter 2’ (PG 91:401A), 89; translation slightly altered.

Thus, while Maximus speaks of redemption as including a process by which ‘through love for humankind gnome embraces nature’, the final state in which division is eliminated ‘is clearly not a matter of gnome, about which there is contention and division . . . but of nature itself’. “Letter 2’ (PG 91:401A, 400C), 89.

See, e.g., Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:893B), in Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, ed. George C. Berthold (New York: Paulist, 1985), 111.

Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:900A), 114; translation slightly altered. See also 103 (PG 90:877A), where Maximus speaks of the redeemed’s ‘supernatural birth from on high in grace, of which divine birth the guardian and preserver is the free will (proairesis) of those who are thus born’. That proairesis is synonymous with gnome is suggested by a parallel passage later in the same treatise (PG 90:901A), where proairesis and gnome are used interchangeably to characterize the will as the preserver of the grace God gives.

Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:900A), 114; translation slightly altered.

14 Maximus, Ad Thalassium 6 (CCSG 7:69), in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, 103-4. Cf. Ad Thalassium 61 (CCSG 7:99), in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, 139: ‘all those


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In these texts salvation is clearly depicted as a process in which the will’s acting in accord with humanity’s natural state brings it through grace to the supernatural end of union with God.'° The process is described in similar terms in the second of the Ambigua ad Ioannem, where Maximus speaks of a future in which our free will (autexousios) will ‘surrender voluntarily to God’.!® In clarifying this statement he insists that he is not denying freedom of the will, inasmuch as the state he has in mind is ‘a firm and steadfast disposition according to nature (kata phusin), a willing surrender (ekchoresis gnomike), so that from the one from whom we received being we long to receive being moved as well’.'’ Indeed, Maximus goes so far as to argue that in the state of glory, human union with the divine is so complete that ‘God alone is active’ and ‘in all things there will be only one activity (monen dia panton energeian)’.!®

In short, the early Maximus more or less equates gnome with the will, and understands the fall as the event through which the will is put out of step with nature. The process of redemption is one in which the will is enabled to enter into a renewed correspondence with nature that leads to a union with the divine will. Though supernatural (in so far as it is achievable only by grace), this union nevertheless can be said to constitute the ‘natural’ end of humanity (in so far as it is the mode of existence God intended for human beings in creating them). Yet if Maximus’ basic intention seems fairly clear, his terminology leaves room for further development. The idea that the final stage of human existence can be characterized both as a ‘firm and steadfast disposition’ and as a ‘surrender’ of the gnome in which ‘God alone is active’ raises some troublesome anthropological questions regarding the relationship between human and divine activity. Does nature simply replace the will, so that the eschatological surrender of gnome leaves the human creature a creature of instinct (‘according to nature’)? Or does the fact that ‘God alone is active’ render any talk of autonomous human existence at this point simply superfluous?

Revisiting the language of his Ambigua later in life, Maximus explains that he at no point meant to suggest that human activity simply ceased at

who by keeping the commandments of their own will (gnomikos) enjoy only birth in the Spirit uphold the use of death... to condemn sin’ (translation slightly altered). For in Christ ‘there is only a deiform principle created by divine knowledge and one single movement of free will which chooses only virtue’. Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:889D-892A), 110.

1€ Ambiguum 7 (PG 91:1076B), in On the Cosmic Mysterof of Jesus Christ, 52.

Ambiquum 7 (PG 91:1076B), 52; translation altered to include the phrase kata phusin, which the translators omit.

18 Ambiguum 7 (PG 91:1076C), 53.


‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

the eschaton, but only to stress that such activity does not effect human blessedness, since ‘only the power beyond being is able to cause deification, and this comes about by grace in the deified’.!? This explanation falls within the context of a crucial terminological modification that the later Maximus introduces as a means of clarifying the character of human activity and its relationship to the divine. Whereas, in the early works we have examined, Maximus is content to speak of nature on the one hand and will (gnome) on the other, in his later career he refines this distinction in terms of the contrast between two wills: the ‘natural’ and ‘gnomic’. Maximus defines this distinction as follows: “The natural will (thelema phusikon) is the essential desire of things according to nature; the gnomic will (thelema gnomikon) is the self-chosen impulse and movement of reason to one thing or another’ .”° In creation humankind is characterized by a movement towards God that is both natural (in so far as it is a function of the underlying ontological principle or logos that defines human being) and free (in so far as it is not reducible to instinct).”! This movement constitutes the ‘natural will’ (or simply ‘will’ (thelesis)).?* Through the fall this intrinsic orientation to God has become distracted, and is now characterized by those ‘irreconcilable inclinations’ that characterize the operation of the ‘gnomic will’ (or simply gnome) .*?

The upshot of this development is a greater precision in Maximus’ use of terms. Whereas in his earlier writing, ‘nature’ might look like a category

19 Opuscula Theologica et Polemica (hereafter OTP) 1 (PG 91:33D-36A).

20 OTP 14 (PG 91:153A-B); cited in Polycarp Sherwood, OSB, The Earlier Ambigua of St. Maximus the Confessor and his Refutation of Origenism (Rome: Herder, 1955), 201; translation slightly altered. Cf. OTP 16 (PG 91:192B) and OTP 26 (PG 91:280A).

Lest anyone should confuse the ‘longing’ of the natural will with instinct, Maximus explicitly correlates the natural will with the possession of a rational nature. See, e.g., OTP 16 (PG 91:192B): ‘For everything among existents, especially if they are rational (kai malista logikon), naturally desires being according to nature (phusikos kata phusin)’. Cf. OTP 1, PG 91:24A: ‘no one desires rationally (logikos oregetai) without being by nature rational. Thus the human, being by nature a rational animal, is characterized by desire (orektikos)’.

2 See OTP 1 (PG 91:12C). In OTP 16 (PG 91:185D; cf. 192B) Maximus attributes the distinction between the natural and gnomic wills to a ‘pious monk’, by whom he probably means Sophronius, his theological mentor and later patriarch of Jerusalem. Maximus does not explicitly equate gnomic will with gnome in his formal definitions, but he treats them as synonymous in, e.g., the Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:368C—D). For evidence that Maximus is not altogether consistent on this point, however, see “‘Opuscule 7’ (PG 91:80A), in Maximus the Confessor, 185; cf. also OTP 4 (PG 91:60A), where Maximus describes human opposition to God through divergent inclinations as taking place kata ten thelesin.




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standing over against the will, the idea of the ‘natural will’ amounts to the affirmation of a willing that is a function of nature.’* By contrast, in so far as gnome stands over against nature as the ‘self-chosen impulse’, it appears in the first instance less a characteristic feature of human life as such than a sign of its deformation.’® Is the experience of internal division to be equated with the gnomic will in such a way as to justify a straightforward identification of the gnomic will with the fallen will? There are grounds for supposing so. It is clear that for Maximus the fall produces a sinful disposition that is not characteristic of the natural will.” In so far as this postlapsarian experience of competing inclinations and a divided self appears to be correlative with the gnome, it seems natural enough to view the presence of the gnomic will

as both consequence and symptom of the fall, to the extent that Maximus is

able to contrast gnomic decision with genuine volition.””

On this reading of Maximus, the gnomic will is best understood not as a distinct faculty alongside the natural will, but rather as a perverted form of willing. Yet there is a problem with this way of reading Maximus. While the natural will pertains, as the name suggests, to human nature (or, in Maximus’ own ontological terminology, its logos), the gnomic will refers to a particular mode (or tropos) of the will’s operation that is defined by the way in which human nature is lived out by particular human beings.’® Maximus

24 Note that over against the ‘Pelagian’ tendency to divorce the operation of the will from

motivation, Maximus characterizes the natural will as a ‘movement of yearning after desire’ (kat’ephesin orektike kinesis) and again as a ‘movement after desire’ (kinesis kat’ ephesin) in OTP 3 (PG 91:49A, 56A), 194, 197.

Berthold (Commentary on the Our Father, 124) notes that in Maximus’ early work ‘the term gnome is... employed to signify will, that is, intentionality. This was a common enough usage in contemporary Greek. With the outbreak of the Monothelite heresy, however, Maximus had to restrict the use of this term to the human condition of the will which lies subject to sin’.

“What happens through the fall is that a perversion of man’s capacity for self- determination takes place not an annihilation of it a perversion which predisposes man for its constant misuse . . . That is to say, it forms in man a sinful disposition of will (gnome)’. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 227.

°7 See Ad Thalassium 21 (CCSG 7:129), where fallen human nature is described as being moved ouchi kata thelesin gnomei. Blowers renders this passage ‘by deliberation rather than true volition’ (On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, 111).

See the Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:308D), where gnome is explicitly defined as ‘a tropos of use, not a logos of nature’ (tropos ousa chreseos, ou logos phuseos). Cf. OTP 16 (PG 91: 192B-C), where Maximus affirms that ‘the self-chosen various alternatives’ that constitutes the gnomic will ‘is not definitive of nature, but strictly of person and hypostasis’.





‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

explains this distinction as follows:

As being some thing, not as being some one, each of us principally operates, that is as a man; but as some one, as Peter or Paul, he gives form to the mode of action more or less intensively, this way or that, he determines it as he wills. Hence when considering activity the changeability of persons is known in the mode (tropos), and the inalter-

ability of natural operation in the logos.”?

In short, whereas the (natural) will is a constitutive feature of human nature as such, the gnomic will is a function of its employment by the individual. Granted that through the fall the gnomic will has become thoroughly perverted, it would nevertheless seem to be the case that even apart from the fall human beings would continue to have gnomic wills to the extent that they remain distinct hypostases. Quite simply, it would seems that we need a gnome in order to be free.

Christ and the gnomic will

Considerations like this lead Lars Thunberg (drawing on the earlier work of Polycarp Sherwood) to judge that one-sided portraits of the gnome in uniformly negative terms cannot be sustained.*° He does not deny that for Maximus the gnomic will has been corrupted by the fall, but he nevertheless maintains that the ‘self-chosen impulse’ characteristic of gnome is constitutive of humanity’s created dignity and is not simply a deficient form of human existence. He substantiates this position by pointing out that Maximus attributes gnome to Christ himself in such works as the Commentary on the Our Father.

The obvious objection to Thunberg’s thesis is that the Commentary on the Our Father is an early work, and that in the later Opuscula theologica and polemica, composed in the context of the terminological refinements characteristic of his anti-Monothelite writings, Maximus vigorously denies that Christ possesses a gnomic will:

And this...Gregory clearly teaches in his second sermon on the Son, when he says, ‘For the willing of that one is not opposed [to God],

2> OTP 10 (PG 91:137A); cited in Sherwood, The Earlier Ambigua, 166 (translation slightly altered). Cf. Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:292D-293A).

See Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 216: ‘a diametrical opposition between nature and gnome would... introduce, for the first time, an entirely negative evaluation of differentiation into Maximus’ thinking’. Yet one has only to read the comments on human sexual difference (in, e.g., the Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:889C—D), or Ambigua 31 and 41 (PG 91:1276B-C; 1305C, 1309D—1312A)) to see that Maximus is not always inclined to view differentiation in a positive light.



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but completely deified’. Thus he possesses a human will... only it was not opposed to God. But this will was not at all gnomic (gnomikon), but properly natural (phusikon), eternally formed and moved by its essential Godhead to the fulfilment of the economy.?!

Thunberg is, of course, aware of this apparent change in Maximus’ position, but he interprets it as signifying no fundamental shift in the Confessor’s views on the place of gnome in theological anthropology. Instead, he avers that it reflects an increasing focus on the generic character of Jesus’ humanity in Maximus’ anti-Monothelite writings.*” It is certainly true that Maximus (in common with the whole of the patristic tradition) viewed Jesus’ role as representative. It is an open question, however, whether in Maximus’ hands this tendency is properly viewed as indicating a diminished emphasis on Jesus’ human particularity, especially given that one of the main objections Maximus raised against his opponents was precisely that they viewed Christ’s humanity in generic terms.°3

In order to evaluate the significance of Maximus’ denial that Christ had a gnomic will, it is necessary to recognize that the theological impetus behind his distinguishing between the natural and gnomic wills in the first place was above all else christological. Over against the Monothelite claim that Christ, as one person or hypostasis, had but one will, Maximus insisted that proper interpretation of the Council of Chalcedon demanded that Christ be con- fessed as having two wills, corresponding to his existence in two natures. Only so was it possible to honour the venerable principle, ‘that which [Christ] has not assumed he has not healed’.3* Since his human will is in this way seen as a corollary of his possessing a complete human nature, it is appropriately described as a natural will.>°

31 “Opuscule 7’ (PG 91:81C-D), 187; cf. OTP 1 (PG 91:29D), and Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:308D-309A).

Maximus’ ‘later denial of a gnome in Christ was probably... due to the fact that he regarded the incarnate Christ not only as one human being among many but as Man, representative of all humanity’. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 216.

See, e.g., his judgement that the great error of Severus of Antioch was that he ‘only confirms the difference of natural qualities after the union’. “Opuscule 3’ (PG 91:56D), in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 197; cf. 219, where Louth interprets this passage as meaning that while Severus admits the presence of generic human qualities (‘thirst, speaking, the colour of the hair’) in the incarnate Word, he refuses to allow the possibility of identifying a distinct, clearly defined human nature.

Gregory of Nazianus, Epistle 101, “To Cledonius Against Apollinaris’, in Edward R. Hardy (ed.), Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 218. Maximus refers explicitly to this passage in support of the Dyothelite position in the Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:325A).

35 See, e.g., Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:289B).





‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

In this context, Maximus’ denial of a gnomic will to Christ is a function of two points. First, the conviction that Christ is without sin:

The Fathers... openly confessed the difference between two natural but not gnomic wills in Christ . . . For they knew it was only this difference of gnomic wills that introduced into our lives sin and separation from God. For evil consists of nothing else than the difference of our gnomic will from the divine will, which occurs by the introduction of an opposing quantity (viz., number) in the will, showing the opposition of our gnomic will to God.*°

It is not simply a function of our fallen state that precludes the ascription of a gnomic will to Christ, however, but also the fact that his hypostasis is divine and thus not subject to the constraints of finite existence in time and space:

Now those who say that there is a gnome in Christ . . . teach that he is a mere human being, subject to deliberation as we are, plagued by ignorance, doubt, and hesitation between opposites... For inasmuch as we simply and naturally have desire for what by nature is good, but have experience of the good only through investigation and deliberation, gnome is properly ascribed to us... But the Lord’s human nature subsists divinely and not merely as ours. And, as God, the one who for us appeared in flesh taken from us is not able to be ascribed a gnome.”

In short, here it appears that, even apart from the fall, the gnome is an inalienable part of human existence in time. Crucially, however, it does not follow that it is a part of human existence outside of time, for Maximus argues that in glory humanity will share the same deified state that Christ possessed during his earthly existence, so that ‘there will be no evaluation or deciding between opposite [courses of action]... since all uncertainty has been removed from things’.*° In this way, denying a gnome to Christ does not reflect a retreat from interest in Jesus as a particular human being among others, but rather reflects the conviction that Christ anticipates in his earthly existence what Maximus believed to be the destiny of all the saints.

36€ ‘Opuscule 3’ (PG 91:56B), 197; translation slightly altered.

37 Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:308D-309A).

38 OTP 1 (PG 91:24C); cited in Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, 110; cf. 112, where Farrell goes on to note that in Maximus’ vision of the eschaton freedom entails ‘the ability to decide without involving any of the processes of discursive reason, for these are no longer needed; it becomes a decision made without the intervention of these intervening processes’.


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The upshot of this perspective is that for Maximus the presence of gnome is evidently not necessary for the integrity of hypostatic existence. Indeed, one of the main arguments Maximus deploys against ascribing a gnomic will to Christ is that it would imply a division of will among the persons of the Trinity. Working from the perspective that the gnome is a function of hypostasis, and that Christ’s hypostasis is divine, he points out that if Christ were ascribed a gnomic will, that would imply three gnomic wills in God corresponding to the three divine hypostases, thereby introducing an intolerable division within the Godhead:

If... you say that Christ has one will, how do you say this and what kind of thing are you saying?...If...this will is gnomic, then it will be characteristic of the single hypostasis. For the gnomic is defined by the person, and...[the Second Person] will [thereby] be shown to have another will from the Father and the Spirit, and to fight against them.*” Clearly, if the divine hypostases have no gnomic will, then there is no need to view gnome as a condition of freedom. Instead, the gnomic will appears to be a mark of a division between hypostasis and nature (and, thereby, from other hypostases of the same nature) that renders its attribution to any of the trinitarian persons unthinkable and its possession by human persons a sign of existence that falls short of its ultimate destiny in communion with God. In short, one can be free without a gnome, in so far as in the eschaton freedom will be divorced from deliberation and ‘will be a single, active, and intellective desire for those things that are naturally to be desired’ .*°

Freedom and the natural will In Maximus’ early work the human will is more or less identical with gnome, and there is no distinction between the natural and gnomic wills.*! In this

3? ‘Opuscule 3’ (PG 91:53C), 196-7; cf. Dispute with Pyrrhus (PG 91:313C-316B).

40 OTP 1 (PG 91:24C). While Farrell agrees that the gnomic will is not constitutive of hypostatic integrity, he argues that for Maximus gnome represents a more inclusive psychological category (of which the gnomic will is simply a particular species) that is a necessary condition of divine and human freedom alike; but he provides very little in the way of evidence. For example, the one passage he cites in support of the idea of a plurality of wills in God (Quaestiones et Dubia, PG 90:801B) speaks of ‘three wills’ not in relation to the three divine persons, but with respect to divine action in the economy. See Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, 124—6.

For example, in the Commentary on the Our Father the term thelesis appears only once, in an entirely neutral context: ‘the only pleasure is the attainment of divine things whose... guardian by will (phulax de kata thelesin) is the free choice (proairesis) of the one who receives them’. Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:901A), 115.



‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

context, for Maximus to attribute a gnome to Christ is simply for him to acknowledge that Christ had a fully human will exactly the same point he will want to stress in his polemics against the Monothelites. Over the course of this later controversy, however, Maximus evidently grew to believe that simply ascribing Christ a gnome was not an adequate means of securing this fundamental christological point. Monothelite talk of a single will in Christ convinced him that greater precision was needed as a means of securing the principle of Christ’s full consubstantiality with divinity and humanity alike. In response to this perceived need, Maximus introduced the distinction between the natural and the gnomic wills, affirming that Christ had the former but not the latter. But why exactly was this move necessary? Why not continue to speak of the will (or gnome) in general terms and simply contrast Christ’s good use of it with its subjugation to ‘unnatural passions’ in postlapsarian humanity?

The answer seems to be a rethinking of the relationship between the freedom and nature forced by careful consideration of the implications of Monothelite insistence that Christ had only one will. The Monothelite movement presented Maximus with the challenge of explaining how the will can remain genuinely human while being totally at one with God. This process of reflection led Maximus to an increasingly strong correlation between the will and nature, culminating in the definition of the natural will as ‘the power that longs for what is natural’.** This is not to say that the early Maximus conceived the will and nature as simply opposed. Already in ‘Letter 2’, for example, he opposes humanity’s fallen state, in which ‘will is... divided from nature into many parts’ with the state of the redeemed, in which ‘the will is joined to nature’.** Yet there remains a certain disjunction between the will and nature: though the will’s job is to see to it that human life fulfils its natural course, it does so from a position seemingly at some

42 OTP 3 (PG 91:45D). In OTP 26 (PG 91:276C; cf. 317C), he attributes a slightly modified version of this definition to Clement of Alexandria, but Madden (‘The Authenticity of Early Definitions of Will’, 64-71) argues that this attribution is extremely doubtful and suggests that the definition is in fact Maximus’ own. Cf. OTP 16 (PG 91:185D), where the natural will is defined as ‘a power desiring being according to nature, and encompassing all the properties that inhere essentially in nature’.

* ‘Letter 2’ (PG 91:400D-401A), 89; translation slightly altered. Cf. Commentary on the Our Father (PG 90:880A), 104, where the effect of Christ’s reconciling work is described as ‘that we no longer have a will opposed to the principle of nature (toi logoi tes phuseos) and that thus we be as changeless in our will as we are in our nature (hosper ten phusin, houto kai ten gnomen)’ (translation slightly altered).


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remove, as though itself fundamentally disjoined from the nature which, by its operations, it either subverts or perfects.**

In his later work Maximus resolves this problem by bifurcating his concept of the will. The gnomic will is now clearly disjoined from nature as a hypostatic turning characterized by ignorance and hesitation with respect to its proper object.*° As such, it is denied of Christ by virtue of his status as one of the divine hypostases.*° Over against this defective turning stands the natural will, which both may and must be ascribed to Christ in so far as it is defined as a ‘movement of desire (kat’ephesin)’ that is ‘the proper and primary property of every rational nature’.*” The Monothelites found this distinction bewildering. To affirm two wills in Christ seemed to them to attribute to him a kind of schizophrenia.*® Maximus countered this objection by pointing out that in so far as Christ’s human will is natural, it cannot rightly be conceived as opposed to the God who founds nature.*? But this defence led to a second and potentially more devastating line of attack: “Given that what is natural

4t Maximus himself suggests the problem with this perspective when he argues that the Monothelite hypothesis of a single gnomic will in Christ would actually make him less than fully human, since ‘when He decides accordance with deliberation upon one course of action, with his free choice (proairesis) giving as it were the casting vote (hoione psephos), then either He brings about through the right use a logos in accordance with [human] nature, or, through its wrong use, a mode (tropos) contrary to [that] nature’. OTP 1 (PG 91:29A); cited in Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, 117. Farrell points out that this would mean, in effect, that the logos ‘proper to human nature would subsist in Christ only by the correct employment of his will; He would therefore in a sense not be fully human’, since his human nature would depend on the proper exercise of his will.

The twin themes of disjunction from nature and corresponding hesitation between alternatives is clear from the definition of gnome found in the Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:308C), as ‘a form of willing, qualified by habit (schetikos), that adheres to something that either is or is believed to be good’. Thunberg (Microcosm and Mediator, 214) notes that though there is some precedent for using gnome to refer specifically to the ambiguous dimension of the human capacity for self-determination, it is Maximus who gives the term a fixed anthropological sense.

46 See , e.g., Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:308D) and ‘Opuscule 3’ (PG 91:53C—D), 197. 47 ‘Opuscule 3’ (PG 91:56B), 197.

48 ‘Ttis impossible for two wills to coexist with each other in one person without conflict’. Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:292A). See the excellent analysis of this dimension of Maximus’ theology in François-Marie Léthel, ‘La Prière de Jésus à Gethsémani dans la controverse monothélite’, in Maximus Confessor, 207—1 4.

See Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:292A—B), where Maximus notes that such an objection would make God ‘the creator of strife’. Cf! ‘Opuscule 7’ (PG 91:80A-B), 185: “That nothing natural is opposed to God is clear from the fact that these things were originally fashioned by him, and there can be no complaint on our side about their natural constitution’.




‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will

is constrained, does it not follow that those who say that the wills in Christ are natural take away voluntary motion from him??? In other words, isn’t the idea of a ‘natural will’ a contradiction in terms, in so far as nature refers to that which happens independently of the will, and the will exemplifies precisely our independence from nature?

The Monothelite objection hinges on an oppositional understanding of the relationship between what is natural and what is free, in which the more free something is, the less it is determined by nature.°! Maximus responds by denying the fundamental presuppositions of the Monothelite argument:

For if (according to your premise) ‘what is natural is constrained’, then God who is by nature God, by nature good, by nature Creator will be constrained to be God and good and Creator... And if (as you claim) saying that the wills in Christ are natural takes from him all voluntary motion, it follows that beings who naturally will have an involuntary motion, and [only] those who do not naturally will have a voluntary one. And thus not only God (who is above all beings), but also all intellective and rational creatures beings who possess a will by nature will have an involuntary motion, and inanimate beings lacking a will will have a voluntary motion! But the blessed Cyril...released us from such superfluous concerns by clearly stating, ‘In an intellective nature nothing natural is involuntary’.**

As its name implies, the natural will functions in accord with nature by turning human beings to that which is genuinely good for their natures. It is by definition never opposed to God, but rather functions in accord with the creature’s divinely established logos.” And yet this correspondence does not imply that the natural will operates automatically, as Maximus’ opponents

Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:293B).

51 This is not to say that freedom for the Monothelites was properly manifest as opposition to nature. Presumably Pyrrhus (like the Maximus of the Commentary on the Our Father) would have seen the job of the will as bringing the individual to a life in conformity to her nature. The point is that this operation, to the extent that it is free, is seen as necessarily standing over against nature. It is this claim that genuine freedom entails a disjunction between the will and nature that the later Maximus denies.

5? Disputation with Pyrrhus (PG 91:293C—296A). Cf. Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 46.54, in

Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, vol. 5 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed.

Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1887), 139.

‘For nothing that is natural can be opposed to God in any way, not even with respect

to gnome (hopotan oute gnomikon), for then a personal division would appear, if it were

natural, and the Creator would be to blame, for having made something at odds with

itself by nature’. ‘Opuscule 3’ (PG 91:48D—49A), 194.



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thought. Here again, Christ is the test case. For though the gnomic will is often described as ‘deliberative’, it would be quite misleading to suppose that for Maximus Christ’s lack of a gnomic will meant that his human nature was reduced to the role of an automaton.°* Indeed, it is Maximus’ contention that it is precisely the Monothelites who undermine Christ’s freedom by affirming that his humanity is moved directly by the logos.°°

It is here that Maximus’ reflections on Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane are decisive for appreciating his position. The theological problem presented by this passage is the relationship between Jesus’ two petitions. That the first of these Christ’s plea for the passing of the cup should be attributed to his humanity, which fears (and thus seeks to avoid) death, is something the Monothelites were ready to concede.”ć For them, however, this petition is a sign of human weakness that must be overcome by the divine logos, to whom they ascribe the second petition, ‘Not what I will, but what you will’ (Matt 26:39). Maximus denies that Christ’s willing can be divided up in this way:

But if... you proceed to say that ‘Not what I will’ is to be referred in a negative manner to the eternal divinity of the Only-Begotten... then you are compelled to refer what is willed (that is, the declining of the cup) to the same eternal divinity. For even if you say that the negation is the exclusion of his willing something for himself separately from his Father, it is nevertheless not a dismissal of what is willed. For it is impossible for the negation to apply to both things: the Only-Begotten’s willing something for himself separately from the Father and that which is willed....But if it is impossible for the negation to be applied to both things is obvious that if you opt to apply it to the Son willing something for himself... you are not repudiating what is willed, namely, the declining of the cup, but you are in fact ascribing that declining to

54 Given that in the detailed analysis of the act of willing in OTP 1, Maximus specifically

includes deliberation (boule or bouleusis) as a function of the natural will, it