Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Four Hundred Chapters on Love by Maximus the Confessor / Works of Love

Maximus the Confessor

Maximus the Confessor
Born in 580, Maximus was an aide to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius early on but eventually left public life to become a monk. He became an important and prolific author, so when yet another controversy broke out over Christ's nature, he was sucked into the debate. While the church adopted Maximus's position, the Roman emperor had been on the other side. This resulted in Maximus's trial, torture, and exile, where he died soon after in 660. (In the 7th century, Islam was starting to conquer Africa, and Caedmon wrote the earliest known piece of English poetry) We're not sure when Maximus wrote The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, but it is considered a classic of devotional literature. For further information see Maximus the Confessor.

The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, Chapter 31

"As the memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not bring about the illumination of knowledge in the soul."


I love this quote (which is the entire chapter by the way) because I think it can serve as a satisfactory explanation. If someone asked me, "How do faith and love work together?", I think I could answer them with this quote.

Of course, I think there's implicit reference here to I Corinthians 13:2. "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." What's interesting is that while Paul seems to say that we can know and not love, Maximus says they're connected. However, I don't think we should make a theological point from hyperbole on Paul's part. James focuses on a working faith versus faith that the demons have, and I think Paul would allow for that distinction. So, when Paul mentions a faith that moves mountains, I don't think he would actually separate that from the love of God.

I mention that because I like the direct connection Maximus between faith and love. In Rhetoric, Aristotle says the goal of rhetoric is persuasion. The Greek word for persuasion is the same word we interpret as faith. While it would be wrong to import Aristotle's use of the word into Paul, I think it's equally wrong to completely dismiss its rhetorical associations. Paul (and Maximus) is constructing a Christian way of knowing, but he's also subverting a pagan way of knowing. The persuasion that the Christian experiences is not the eloquence of men but the power of the Spirit.

As a Neo-Platonist, Maximus would probably have emphasized the active role of memory as an essential part of wisdom. When I remember fire, I remember what I need to know about it, what it does, how I should or should not interact with it, etc. However, the memory of fire is not the same thing as fire itself, and the memory of love is not the same thing as love. Knowing God is an active process, and our knowledge of the world crumbles when it's not placed on this foundation. When Maximus talks about "illumination of knowledge," I think he's referring to this active or activating process.


Our acting in love is important for our growth as Christians. Our knowledge of God needs to start with our devotion to him. The same goes for every other area of life. If love for God and others does not provide our end goal, then our knowledge has no application. It is the memory of a fire, but not the fire itself.


I used Wikipedia for the background of Maximus's life, and I'm reading through his The Four Hundred Chapters on Love from his Selected Writings.

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