A Suggestion for Lent: On the Cosmic Mystery of Christ

St. Maximus the Confessor

(St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

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SVSP’s Popular Patristic Series in one of my absolute favorites. Its volumes have a prominent place on my bookshelf, and I come back to them time and again.

St. Maximus is one of the greatest theologians of all time. He did not receive a great deal of attention in the West until the previous century, when great Latin theologians like von Balthasar finally gave him the attention he so justly deserves. He was the hero of the Monothelite Controversy, the 7th Century debate over whether Christ has a human will in addition to His divine one: He does, said Maximus. He ultimately died for it.

As comes across in this short collection of writings, he was primarily influenced by St. Gregory Nazianzus and Pseudo-Dionysius. From my judgement, he is a perfect blend of the two.

This publication samples two of his great works, his Ambigua and Questions to Thelassius, as well as one other tract.These are not easy writings, though. They require some care and attention. And yet, they are remarkably profitable – both spiritually and intellectually. The first one, for instance, explains a phrase of St. Gregory’s, liable to misinterpretation – “that we are a portion of God and have slipped down from above.” In doing so he develops an amazing and inspiring meditation of our life in God. The writings are very well chosen and appropriately arranged – no surprise, seeing that the editor is John Behr.

Of course, it is the final essay, which is on Christ’s two wills in the Agony in Garden that is of the most historical interest. Of great interest period: the question of the nature of the Lord’s will is one of the most misconceived topics in theology these days.

Particularly apt for Lent would be the tract “On Christ’s Conquest of the Human Passions.”

If you are up for an intellectual challenge while desiring to deepen your faith, this book is definitely for you. At 188 pages, even taking it a few pages at a time, you will easily be able to finish it by Good Friday.

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