Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Eric Lopez: Ascetic Knowledge and Anagogical Knowing in Maximus the Confessor

In the post-Justinian era of the Byzantine Empire, Maximus the Confessor (580-662 CE), a Christian ascetic and theologian, sketched out his conception of Christian ascent. This paper examines Maximus' vision of Christian ascent with special attention to his understanding of knowledge and theological epistemology in order to demonstrate how his engagement with Origenist and Neoplatonic cosmologies led him to explore the nature of knowledge, union, and the intelligible function of the Logos. The intersection of these three areas define not only what is knowable concerning God and creation but also what kind of knowledge is possible in each case. Entailed in his description is a rich set of terms that describe the phenomenological and psychological processes of human knowledge and deification. Correlative to Maximus’ conception of ascent is an ordered portrayal of the cosmos and the wisdom available from it. While accessible to all and commencing from various vantage points, ascent is nevertheless an ordered progression of one’s attention through kinds of knowledge and unknowing that governs the ascetic’s ability to understand Scripture, creation, liturgical acts, and God. This attention is not merely a pursuit of knowledge but rather a process that engenders a specific disposition toward God and creation which illuminates a proper understanding and engagement with all things. Consequently, knowledge is not the end goal to ascent but a necessary stage on the way to union. While there are limits to these processes, Maximus explains a means of transcending them as far as is possible.

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