St Maximus the Confessor on Essence, Energies, and Logoi (Jean-Claude Larchet).

1. The Divine Essence and Energies.

Capable of being known indirectly in the contemplation of the logoi of the creation which manifest him, God can also be known directly (but according to a superior mode which goes beyond all cognition and without his essence being accessible) by the faithful who is elevated to the sphere of theologia, by the “realities which are around the essence” [1], otherwise called the divine energies. [2] These corresponde to the attributes of God, to the divine properties, inasmuch as they are manifested or are participated, or to the divine logoi (considered at their source) or to the “invisible realities” of God (cf. Rom. 1.20), or to the divine live, or to the glory of God.

These divine energies (which are cognisable, communicable and participable) are relative to the essence (which remains uncognisable, incommunicable and imparticipable) but nonetheless distinct from it. Like it uncreated, they are manifested eternally “around God” like a radiation of this essence, but they are also manifested in the logoi of the creation (without being identified with them) and given as grace to those who are worthy. They correspond thusly to the “providential procession” according to which God, absolutely imparticipable by essence, is rendered fully participable by his creatures.

Considering the divine energies relative to their manifestation in the creation, Maximus specifies that “every divine energy signifies the whole God indivisibly through this energy in each being, according to that logos through which it is.” [3] He notes further that “God, which is wholly and commonly in all things and particularly in each being, without division or being divided”, while being none of the beings and being situated beyond all, so that any pantheist interpretation is excluded and the transcendence of God is preserved.

The distinction of the divine essence and energies has patristic antecedents attested in Athanasius of Alexandria, the Cappadocians (Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa), the Pseudo-Dionysius, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, but the Confessor gave to them a greater importance than his predecessors, in relation to his theory of the logoi on the one hand and to his mysticism of divinisation on the other hand. [4]

2. The Theory of Logoi.

The cosmology of Maximus is for a large part expressed in his theory of logoi, [5] the notion of logos in general occupies in his thought a fundamental place and there receives a devleopment which knows no equivalent in the Greek Fathers.

For Maximus, the logos of a being is its principle or its essential reason, that which defines it fundamentally, but also its finality, that in view of which it is, in brief its raison d’être in the double sense of the principle and end of its being. Because this principle and this end are in God, the word logos has before all for Maximus a spiritual meaning and is not reduced to the “natural logos” as it was understood by Aristotle.

This here is the principal definition of the notion of logos, but one must know that for Maximus, all the characteristics of beings, both particular and common to some of them according to species or genus come equally from the logoi, and that these logoi equally govern the relations of beings with each other, and, in a general manner, assure the order and cohesion of the universe both in its movement and in that which is stable.

The supreme unity of the logoi is realised in and by the Logos, the Word of God himself which is the principle and the end of all the logoi. The logoi of all beings have in effect been determined together by God in the divine Logos, the Word of God, before the ages, and therefore before these beings were created; it is in him that they contained before the centures and subsist invariably, and it is by them that all things, before they even came into existence, are known by God. Thus every being, according to its own logos, exists in potential in God before the centuries. But it does not exist in act, according to this same logos, except at the time that God, in his wisdom, has judged it opportune to create it. Once created according to its logos, it is according to this same logos again that God, in his providence, conserves it, actualises its potentialities and directs it toward its end in taking care of it, and in the same way by his judgment he assures the maintenance of its difference, which distinguishes it from all other beings.

The logoi of all beings, in being in God and near him, are not God. Not only Maximus underlines the radical transcendence of the Logos in their regard, but he affirms that they were themselves posited as a foundation (ὑφεστῶτας) by him. Otherwise said, they are not manifestations of the divine essence. They are no longer divine Ideas in the Platonic sense of the term. Maximus, following Pseudo-Dionysius, calls them divine “volitions (θελήματα),” [6] which signifies above all that they are in beings the inscription of the divine will or intention with regard to each and that they render manifest this divine design in creation. In thus denominating them and in linking their origin to the “good will” of God, Maximus links them clearly to his economy, in fact a work of his will, and is thus clearly separated from a neoplatonic conception which would make them emanations (or necessary productions) of the divine essence, which would be in fact connatural to God. [7]

  • [1] Maximus, Amb. 34 (91.1288B); Ep. 6 (91.432C).
  • [2] On the divine energies according to Maximus, see V. Lossky, Théologie mystique (Paris, 1944), 70, 84, 86; ibid., Vision de Dieu, 109–10; P. Sherwood, Earlier Ambigua, 95n.49; ibid., Maximus, 32; ibid., “Maximus and Origenism,” 25–26; A. Riou, Le monde et l’Église, 60–61; L. Thunberg, Man and the Cosmos, 137–40; V. Karayiannis, Maxime le Confesseur, 183–231; J.–C. Larchet, La divinisation, 503–09.
  • [3] Maximus, Amb. 22 (91.1257AB).
  • [4] Maximus, Car. 1.12; 2.27; 4.7; Qu.D. 99 (10.76); 173 (10.120); Amb. 10 (91.1141AB, 1156B); Thal. Prol. (7.41); 13 (7.95–97); 22 (7.141); 39 (7.261); 63 (22.159); Th. oec. 1.48, 50; 2.72, 76.
  • [5] See: I.–H. Dalmais, “La théorie des ‘logoi'”, 244–49; J. Lemaître, “Contemplation chez les Grecs et autres orientaux chrétiens,” Dictionnaire de spiritualité 2.1818–19; P. Sherwood, Earlier Ambigua, 166–80; H. U. von Balthasar, Kosmische Liturgie, 110–17; A. Riou, Le monde et l’Église, 54–63; L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 73–79; J.-Cl. Larchet, Divinisation, 112–131.
  • [6] Maximus, Amb. 7 (91.1085A); Thal. 13 (7.95); Pseudo-Dionysius, Div.nom. V.8 (3.824C).
  • [7] Maximus, Amb. 7 (91.1077C, 1080A, 1081AC, 1085A); 10 (1188D–1189B, 1133CD); 15 (1217AB); 17 (1128A–1229A); 21 (1245B); 41 (1309C, 1312B–1313B); 42 (1328AB, 1329BC); Thal. 2 (7.51); 13 (7.51); 55 (7.495); 65 (22.263); Ep. 12 (91.485D).

Source: Jean-Claude Larchet, Saint Maxime le Confesseur, (Paris: Cerf, 2003), 132–36.