Thursday, 30 April 2015

Demetrios (Reuben) Harper: The Ontological Ethics of St. Maximus the Confessor and the Concept of Shame

This paper briefly explores the ontological ethics of St. Maximus the Confessor in light of the modern shame/guilt distinction. As many prominent commentators have affirmed, a virtue-based or ontological sense of ethics is intrinsic to or at least presupposed by the Confessor's great theological synthesis. Appropriating but simultaneously transcending Aristotelian naturalism, Maximus establishes the chief virtue of love as the ontological locus of being, the δύναμις that enables the eschatological wholeness of nature and genuine reciprocity between rational beings. Inasmuch as every authentic virtue constitutes a manifestation of love and its nature-constituting properties, the habituation of virtue and the resulting disposition occur in relation to an ‘other'. The activity of virtue is an ontic movement towards one's Creator and fellow creatures, achieving a functional community of nature and a perichoretic relationship with the divine. Conversely, an unvirtuous disposition and the habituation of vice facilitate a rupture in nature and movement towards solipsism. As this essay proposes, the reciprocal or relational approach to virtue manifested in the Confessor's synthesis is consistent with the criteria of certain modern ethical approaches that affirm the natural superiority of the emotion of shame over the individuating character of guilt. The ethical dimensions of the Confessor's synthesis, therefore, constitute a very interesting and provocative alternative to the majority of contemporary Christian approaches to morals, which, in Kantian fashion, typically fixate upon the autonomous fulfilment of abstracted principles and rely on the inner-directed emotion of guilt to correct behavioural lapses.

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