Sunday, 3 May 2015

Ian Gerdon: The Evagrian Roots of Maximus the Confessor's Liber Asceticus

As yet, only one alternative has been posed to Polycarp Sherwood's dating of Maximus the Confessor's Liber Asceticus (LA) to the earliest strata of his writings (i.e., by 626 CE): Irénée-Henri Dalmais's suggestion that the work's Christological and Scriptural maturity indicates a late composition. Dalmais's eloquent praise for LA is widely cited; his proposed date is not. Yet no attempt has been made to refute his argument, despite the insight and clarification to be gained from such an attempt.
I will use Dalmais's position as a point of departure for reconsidering the relationship between Maximus and his monastic predecessor Evagrius Ponticus. In order to stress the maturity of LA, Dalmais attempts to disentangle the work from the deep Evagrian influence found in the undisputedly early text Capita de Caritate, which appears to be a companion to LA. I will show on the contrary that LA is founded on ideas drawn from Evagrius's Thoughts and Praktikos. It is precisely Maximus's remarkable Christological grounding for asceticism that clearly shows his debt to Evagrius, for the two motifs that give Christological meaning to the double love commandment in LA are found in Thoughts 1 and Praktikos 5. Maximus does not simply give a new orientation to Evagrian material, as Dalmais states: he develops an implicit possibility of Evagrian asceticism and Christology. From this vantage, it will be possible to refine our understanding of the continuity and development of Evagrian thought in Maximus's early ascetic works.

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