Christ and Creation: The Convergence of Maximus and Holloway

Kevin Douglas FAITH Magazine November-December 2009

Kevin Douglas, assistant priest at Craigshill, Livingston, presents some significant philosophical and theological parallels in two thinkers separated by fifteen centuries.

To be recognised officially as a doctor of the Church is, it seems, a convoluted process requiring various levels of Curial and Papal approval. The status of St. Maximus the Confessor is a moot point. Nonetheless in one of his recent encyclicals, Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI unambiguously referred to Maximus as "the great Greek doctor of the Church." {Spe Salvi 28) The Pope's public expression of esteem is part of a broader re-evaluation of Maximus' thought. Until fairly recently he was a largely neglected figure, treated as a kind of footnote to the great Christological debates of the fourth century. However the publication of H. U. von Balthasar's pioneering study, Kosmiche Liturgie, in 1941, renewed interest in Maximus' thought in the LatinWest. Von Balthasar's book was itself also part of a broader movement: in the middle of the twentieth century theologians like von Balthasar, de Lubac and Chenu were major proponents of the Ressourcement movement. They sought to respond in an authentically Catholic way to what they saw as the short-comings of the then dominant Thomist synthesis by returning to the Fathers of the Church, the sources of Catholic theology.

Given this context in which Maximus' thought has been consciously advocated as an alternative to the "old" Thomist synthesis, Benedict XVI's words of praise take on a deeper resonance. This is especially true for those of us who espouse and seek to develop the "vision" of the Catholic faith to which Faith movement and magazine is committed. A comparison of the broad lines of Maximus' thought and Edward Holloway's reveals that, despite a different idiom and set of cultural references, there are striking similarities. The purpose of this article is to examine some of these similarities. In doing so we will bring to light some significant evidence that Holloway's thought, despite its somewhat seminal state and unusual provenance, has a pedigree within the Catholic tradition.Holloway's vision is deeply coherent with, and in places even advances upon, the insights of St. Maximus the Confessor. Moreover at this point in the Church's history as the influence of Maximus' thought increases, it is the conviction of this writer that the new synthesis that scholars are, more or less explicitly, seeking in Maximus is to be found in a more developed form in the Faith vision.

Who Was St. Maximus?

Although this is not the first time that Maximus has been mentioned in the pages of this magazine, nonetheless a brief overview of the man and his historical context will serve as an introduction to his thought. He was born in 580AD in the Eastern Roman Empire and came from a well-to-do family in Constantinople. He entered the Imperial civil service and seems to have been rapidly promoted. About the year 614AD he gave up civil life and entered a monastery near Constantinople. There are reasons, though not conclusive, to suggest that he was never ordained a priest. Maximus then lived in a series of monasteries being forced to move by the invading Turks. He was a great opponent of monotheletism: the heresy that denied Christ's human will. In short, this period was marked by a series ofheresies which undermined the full humanity of Christ. St. Maximus and the Pope at that time St. Martin I heroically upheld the integral humanity of Christ against the Roman Emperor who wanted to compromise on this issue in order to overcome the internal divisions within his Empire and so to face its external aggressors. As a direct result of Maximus' refusal to brook any compromise his tongue was cut out and his right arm cut off as these were the offending articles with which he confessed the faith - hence the title confessor - and he died of his injuries in exile in 662AD. His doctrine which upheld the full humanity of Christ proved triumphant at the council of Constantinople in 680-1 AD.

Parallels Between Holloway and Maximus

Although in his lifetime and during the years immediately subsequent to his death, the chief significance of Maximus' thought was widely agreed to be his defence of orthodox Christology, the content of his teaching is more expansive. In particular his description of the cosmos in terms of the logoi of created being cohering in the one Logos of God would seem to have particularly fruitful applications in the current theological climate.

Maximus plays on the terms logos and logoi continuously, but at its most basic the term logoi refers to the rationale, in a very loose sense one might say the nature that makes a thing what it is. Thunberg, one of the most important scholars in the field, defines the term: "Thus it denotes the created existence of a thing as founded in God's will that it should be, it is the principle of its coming to be".[1]

It should be noted that the logoi of creation whilst defining the individual realities that exist are not in Maximus' estimation wholly autonomous. Maximus writes "the logoi of all things [...] are securely fixed in God."[2] And goes on to add

“we affirm that the one Logos is many logoi and the many logoi are One. Because the One goes forth out of goodness into the individual being, creating and preserving them, the One is many. Moreover the many are directed toward the One and are providentially guided in that direction. It is as though they were drawn to an all-powerful centre that had built into it the beginnings of the lines that go out from it and that gathers them all together. In this way the many are One.”[3]

Therefore the rationale, or principle, of every existent thing pre-exists in the one Logos of God who is the second person of the blessed Trinity. Furthermore the rationale of every existent thing centres upon and finds its fulfilment in the one Logos of God.

Maximus adds a further and significant detail to his description of the created cosmos revolving around the Logos of God. In Ad Thalassium 60, discussing the Incarnation Maximus writes:

"This is the divine purpose conceived before the beginning of beings. In defining it we say that this mystery is the preconceived goal for which everything exists."[4] [my italics]

We, therefore, have a Christocentric universe that is made for the Incarnation.

To anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Faith vision this must all sound uncannily familiar. Yet the similarities do not stop there. Maximus has implicit concepts of the environment and the environed.

"For all created things are defined, in their essence and in their way of developing, by their own logoi and by the logoi of the beings that provide their external context. Through these logoi they find their defining limits."[5]

The logos of an existing individual is defined in relation to the things around it. Creation is one harmonious cosmos made up of mutually inter-defined individual beings. The rationale of every single one of these beings pre-exists as an intention in the mind of God. Furthermore this rationale exists immanently within each individual being and each being has as the reason for its existence and as its fulfilment and as the goal towards which it tends the Incarnation of the Logos.

Such a relational principle of intelligibility immanent to a unified individual seems close to Holloway's concept of the "relative form". Furthermore contrast these insights with one of the central pillars of the Faith vision: the unity law of control and direction. Holloway writes:

"The Law of Control and Direction [...] is not a law of matter in a specific sense. It is not the law of this event and effect, or of that event and effect, it is a law in matter that is cosmic and all-inclusive, so that the entire universe is one equation of meaningful development, in mutual relativity of part on part, at all times throughout space."[6]

In Holloway's view we are faced with one harmonious cosmos in which all the individual parts act according to a single law of control and direction and this law is the expression of the mind and intention of God Himself. In another of his writings Holloway makes the point "Christ is [...] the ultimate meaning of the unity law."[7] As noted above though the idioms may differ - Maximus arguably draws his terminology from Stoic sources and Holloway, with his talk of relativity and events and effects, owes much to modern science - but the insights and the overall vision expressed are strikingly similar.

Evolution and Modern Science

Though we cannot here enter into details Holloway's vision is developmental: it takes into account both the Big Bang and the theory of evolution. In short the process by which matter combines in increasingly complex forms moves firstly towards a material brain that can harmonise with a spiritual soul and once man, a spiritual/material being, has made an appearance, the one unity law of control and direction moves forward toward the Incarnation. To quote Maximus "this mystery is the preconceived goal for which everything exists." For Holloway the final goal of the process modern science calls evolution is nothing other than the Incarnation.

Holloway's theology engages intentionally with the findings of modern science. It would be grossly anachronistic to expect to find in Maximus' writings any account of evolution. However, in his vision the universe is created in a state of dynamic openness to the grace of divinisation:

"God, who is beyond fullness, did not call into being those things that are becoming, out of any need of his, but so that they, participating in him proportionately, might enjoy him."[8]

This means that, although the cosmos is created perfect, it is not finished at the moment of creation. It is moving towards its final divinised state. Maximus believes in a dynamic and to some extent developmental cosmos. Therefore, though definitely constituting an advance upon Maximus' thought, it would not be radically inconsistent with his world-view to accommodate within it the discoveries of modern science.

Moreover, because Maximus believes that the creation is for the Incarnation he has a correspondingly high regard for material reality. By no means am I suggesting that Maximus anticipates the development of our modern science with their specific methodologies and fields of competence, but he does believe that the material universe, as observed by man, to some degree reveals God. Throughout his oeuvre he talks about how, to cite just one example, God may be known "from the orderly arrangement of beings."[9] Because Maximus attaches such great value to the revelatory potential of the natural world, we have every reason to suppose that had he lived in later times he would have availed himself of any advances in our knowledge of the naturalworld.

Holloway and Maximus - Differences

Despite the profound similarities in their description of the cosmos, their agreement on the place of the Incarnation as the goal of all creation and despite the fundamental agreement in their methodology - Holloway engages with the sciences and Maximus privileges observation of the natural world - the differences between Maximus and Holloway go deeper than simply the terminology they used. Thirteen hundred years divide these two men. Holloway and Maximus share a vision, but Holloway had the privilege of reflecting upon that vision in the light of multiple advances in our knowledge of the natural world and with the benefit of centuries of increasingly precise theological reflection.

To cite one simple instance of Holloway's thought being -as one would naturally expect - more explicit and refined than Maximus', Holloway has an unequivocal definition of the difference between matter and spirit. For Holloway it is axiomatic that "mind is that which controls and directs, and matter is that which is controlled and directed." Maximus also observes the distinction between matter and spirit. He couches it in Platonic terms of a distinction between the sensible and the intelligible realms, as with most scholasticism across the centuries. In a frequently quoted passage of his Mystagogy he writes,

“In fact the whole intelligible cosmos, being mystically imprinted on the whole sensible cosmos in symbolic species, shows itself to those who can see; and the whole sensible cosmos is in the whole of the intelligible cosmos, existing in the logoi, and being made intelligibly simple according to the intellect.”[10]

Maximus asserts a reciprocity, even between the two realms, and his esteem for the material cosmos far exceeds that to be found in many of the other Greek Fathers, the Cappadocians being a case in point. But, although Maximus may assume the distinction between sensible and intelligible reality, he does not seem to provide any explicit definition of the distinction. If such a distinction is to be found somewhere in Maximus' oeuvre then certainly the secondary literature on this aspect of his thought is lacking.[11]

Whilst it is perhaps unfair to demand anachronistically precise definitions from Maximus, nonetheless it is important to note that in contemporary theology these distinctions and definitions must be made. The lack of an adequate distinction between matter and spirit has for instance hamstrung the use of modern scientific knowledge in proving God's existence. Moreover it has, for instance, had vast and disastrous ramifications in the theology of

Teilhard de Chardin whose theology though somewhat passé now has had serious repercussions in the pastoral life of the Church.

Maximus, whilst remaining explicitly and firmly loyal to Rome, was the great synthesiser of the Greek patristic tradition. The compelling parallels between the Faith vision and Maximus' thought highlight how eminently and authentically Catholic the Faith vision truly is. Although it might appear somewhat unprecedented to those familiar only with the traditions of the Latin West, the seminal vision we present, in fact, builds upon and is profoundly coherent with the patrimony of the Greek Fathers which fundamentally belongs to the whole Catholic Church. Moreover, given the parallels between this vision and his thought, Maximus' increasing prominence is a powerful testimony to the timeliness of the former.

[1]L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator. The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor, Chicago 1995, p. 74.
[2]Amb. Ia,7,PG91,1081A.
[3]Amb. la, 7, PG 91, 1081B-C. Tr. P. Blowers and R. Wilken On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. P. 57.
[4]Thal, 60, CCG 22,p. 75, 34-36.
[5]Amb. lo, 7, PG 91, 1081B. Tr. P. Blowers and R. Wilken On the Cosmic Mysteryof Jesus Christ, p. 57.
[6]E. Holloway, Catholicism: A. New Synthesis, Surrey 1976. p. 64.
[7]E. Holloway, Perspectives in Theology, Oxford 2005. p. 13.
[9]Thal, 40, CCG 7, p. 273,113-114.
[11] Cooper's work (A. Cooper, The Body in Maximus the Confessor. Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified, Oxford 2005) which is the most recent study of Maximus' approach to the body, goes no further than asserting his positive evaluation of sensible reality and the "pedagogical function of the material universe". This does not constitute an account of matter.

Faith Magazine

November - December 2009