Category Archives: Bible – OT – Jeremiah

Mere belief?

In continuing to reflect on Maximus’ Four Hundred Chapters on Love, I have frequently found myself conflicted about what I find there. In reading this text, one gets the sense that there are multiple layers of philosophical and theological thought at play, each being carefully grafted into a common project. It seems like Maximus is bending and tweaking variant schools of thought (from hellenistic neo-platonism to monastic orthodoxy to biblical theology) and radically redefining them according to the cruciform shape of his distinctively trinitarian metaphysics. This integration is some times smoother than others. Regardless, his language regarding the body, passions, contemplation, holiness, asceticism, and the like acts as a constant reminder against my presumptions that his use of such paradigms complies univocally with our modernly-shaped understanding of things. The more I push into his work, the more I begin to appreciate the subtlety of Maximus’ thought.

Some of this theological and exegetical layering can be seen in the following chapter:

Do not say, as the divine Jeremiah tells us, that you are the Lord’s temple. And do not say that ‘mere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ can save me.’ For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works. For in what concerns mere believing, ‘even the devils believe and tremble’ (1.39).

For a long time, this chapter puzzled me. I was initially drawn to it because of the way it clearly illuminates where Maximus sits on the question of the relation between faith and works in the economy of salvation. However, the first sentence seems a bit contradictory, irrelevant, and if not simply bizarre. Are we not told explicitly by St. Paul that Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6.19)? Does not this gratuitous divine indwelling produce well-springs of life manifesting in both faith and deed? Secondly, what does this (negative) reference to the temple have to do with a stark refusal of a sola fide conception of salvation? How does this stern admonition advance his overall agenda?

It was only after I managed to chase down the original text from ‘the divine Jeremiah’ that these questions found any sense of intelligibility. When read alongside the biblical text, it becomes patently obvious that what Maximus is offering in this chapter on love is not an abstract universalized theological or philosophical platitude, but a (continuing) biblical exegesis of the question of the church’s participation in incarnate out pouring of divine charity. Of course, Maximus’ adherence to Scripture at this point heavily qualifies the nature of this participation. For any such movement to be faithful, such ‘works of love’ must embody itself truthfully, humbly, compassionately, and justly.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message:

‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless’ (Jeremiah 7.1-9).

It is in close conversation with this biblical narrative that Maximus responds:

If it is a mark of love to be patient and kind, the one who acts contentiously or wickedly clearly makes himself a stranger to love, and the one who is a stranger to love is a stranger to God, since ‘God is love’ (1.38).

Do not say, as the divine Jeremiah tells us, that you are the Lord’s temple. And do not say that ‘mere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ can save me.’ For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works. For in what concerns mere believing, ‘even the devils believe and tremble’ (1.39).

The work of love is the deliberate doing of good to one’s neighbor as well as long-suffering and patience and the use of all things in the proper way (1.40).

Advertisements