The Dialectics and Therapeutics of Desire in Maximus the Confessor

In: Vigiliae Christianae
Paul M. Blowers Emmanuel School of Religion One Walker Drive, Johnson City, Tennessee 37601 USA

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Maximus the Confessor’s Ambiguum 7 has long been considered the anchor of a substantial refutation of Origenist cosmology and teleology, with Maximus still seeking to rehabilitate the ascetical “gospel” of Origen. Yet in commenting on Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration 14 in Ambiguum 7, Maximus acknowledges that Gregory is dealing less with the scheme of human origins per se than with the miseries attending life in the body, which opens up the whole question of how embodied, passible human existence is the frontier of human salvation and deification. I argue that for Maximus human desire in all its cosmological and psychosomatic complexity—both as a register of creaturely passibility and affectivity, and as integral to the definition of human volition and freedom—is central to the subtle dialectic of activity and passivity in the creaturely transitus to deification. The morally malleable character of desire and the passions, and their ambiguous but ultimately purposive status within the economy of human transformation, decisively manifest the divine resourcefulness in fulfilling the mystery of deification—especially in view of Christ’s use of human passibility in inaugurating the new eschatological “mode” (tropos) of human nature. In his engagement of Gregory of Nyssa, in particular, Maximus develops a sophisticated dialectics and therapeutics of desire that integrates important perspectives of the Confessor’s anthropology, christology, eschatology, and asceticism.

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