The Ambigua of Maximos the Confessor contains an important critique of the Origenist doctrine of the preexistence of souls condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). Against the notion that soul is temporally, and therefore ontologically, prior to body, Maximos sets forth a theory of the human composite which relies on the Aristotelian conception of a "whole," of which body and soul are "parts." This language, which appears already in such early writers as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, is infused by Maximos with philosophical overtones in order to provide a rigorous refutation of Origenism whereby belief in the preexistence of the soul becomes not only a factual error, but a logical impossibility. Building on the anthropology of Gregory of Nyssa, whom he invokes as his authority on this issue, Maximos's theory is also indebted to the writings of Nemesios of Emesa, Leontios of Byzantium, and Leontius of Jerusalem. Yet Maximos's theory is unique in its appropriation of Aristotelian categories to establish a distinctly Christian understanding of the psychosomatic synthesis. Conditioned by the Chalcedonian interpretation of the hypostatic union, Maximos develops a conception of the human being as single eidospossessed of two ousiai, each of which is reciprocally defined by the other on the basis of the Aristotelian category of the Relative.
This paper examines the way in which these Aristotelian concepts inform Maximos's Chalcedonian anthropology through an analysis of the Confessor's metaphysical arguments for the coexistence of body and soul. Implications for Byzantine theology after Maximos are also explored.