George Dion Dragas|
University of Durham
The Church in St. Maximus' Mystagogy
The Problem and the Orthodox Perspective
From "Theology", no 1, 1985
Chapter 3 : The Church as the Eikon of God the Creator (5)
First of all the Church is the type and the eikon of God the Creator, because by imitation and in form She does the same work as He does in the world. To clarify this statement Saint Maximus first turns to God's work in Creation and Providence.
Having first brought all things into existence by His immense power, God holds them all together, unites them together, and sets their limits. By His providence, in particular, He unites one thing with another and both of them with Himself, and He also unites the intelligible with the sensible. Holding everything round Himself as their cause, beginning and end, He makes them all adhere to one another's Tendency, even though their natures are quite distinct, because of their power which is embedded in their movements towards Him. In accordance with this power, they are all led to an identity of movement and existence that excludes destruction and confusion. Thus, the difference of the natures of the created things does not result in strife. They are all coordinated into one movement because they keep the indissoluble relation and custody of the one principle and cause. Thus, God unites all things by bringing them into relation with Himself.(6)
This relation of the created things with God overcomes all other relations that belong to the nature of things, and, as it were, overshadows them. This does not mean that the former destroys or corrupts the latter, but rather that it wins them and shines over them and above them, just as a whole reality is above its parts and appears as the cause of the whole. Such a cause of the whole (η αιτία της ολότητος) also reveals the parts of the whole (τα της ολότητος μέρη), which appear to exist, because their whole cause shines over them. As an example of this, Saint Maximus refers to the sun and the stars. The sun exceeds the brightness of the stars, both in nature and in power, and yet, like the effects of one cause, they all show forth their cause as covering all their existence. As the parts are derived from the whole, so the effects naturally derive their strength from the one cause and are recognized by it. At the same time they surrender their individuality as, by holding hands with each other in their relation to their cause, they receive from it all its quality in accordance with the power embedded in this relationship. Similarly, God is all in all, but this truth becomes visible only to those who leave a clear perception. As for clear perception, it is achieved or acquired, when the mind, contemplating the rationality of things, comes to a halt in God Himself, as the cause, the beginning and the end of the creation and generation of everything.
Now, says Saint Maximus, the Holy Church of God works among us in a similar way. This is because God is Her archetype, and She is His eikon. Of course saint Maximus
acknowledges that, as in the world so in us, there is a multiplicity of natures. There are, he says, many men, women and children who, differ both in race and form, nationality and tongue, manner and custom, as well as profession. In addition, there are many other differences among those who come to the Church and receive Her rebirth and recreation by the power of the Spirit. They have different skills of knowledge, office, fortune, character and disposition. And yet all of them receive from the Church in equal measure one divine form and name, because they all come to exist of and to be called Christians from the one Christ. The Church gives all these people one simple (incomposite) and undivided relation of Faith, which does not allow the human difference, which exists in every person, even to become known. Because all are related to it and meet it in a catholic way. They all come to coinhere with each other and be conjoined to one another in the one simple and undivided grace or power of the Faith. This is, exactly what Acts 4:32 expresses, when it says of the early Christians «the heart and soul of all was one». They were many and different members, says Saint Maximus, but they constituted one visible body, worthy indeed to be the body of the Very Christ, their true Head.
The divine Apostle, says Maximus, expressed it well when he said, there is no male or female, no Jew and/or Greek, no circumcision or uncircumcision, no Barbarian or Scythian, no servant or freeman, because Christ is all in all» (Gal. 2:28 and Col. 3:11). As the sun shines totally upon the stars, and every star shows forth the same sun in a total way, so Christ enlightens totally all the Christians, and each Christian shows forth the same light of Christ. In this Christocentric vision of the Church Saint Maximus sees Christ as the one who with the one simple and all-wise power of His goodness and grace contains all beings within Himself, and resembles a centre from which rays are projected in accordance with the same simple and unified cause and power (cf. here the rose windows in the Western Cathedrals.) By means of these rays, He does not let the beginnings of the created beings run riot and reach their ends, but limits their projections by encircling them, and bringing to Himself all the distinctions of the creatures which He made. He does not want them to become alienated from each other, or become enemies, because they are creatures of the one God, destined to reveal friendship, peace and identity among themselves, lest by their separation from God their being falls into nothingness.
The holy Church then, is an eikon of God because She brings about the same unity among the faithful as the one, which God creates in the universe, even if those who become one body in Her happen to be quite different in their characters, localities and manners.
God brings about this unity in a natural way without causing any confusion in the nature of the beings. He deflects their difference and turns it into identity by relating it to Himself and uniting it with Himself as the only cause beginning and end. Here we have a classic statement of the Christian conception of the inner unity of the world and the Church, i.e. creation and salvation. In spite of their distinction and multiform powers, neither the world, nor the Church can exist in themselves. The key to both is God. In the first instance we have God the Creator and in the second, God the Redeemer. Since the Creator and the Redeemer are the same person, His two activities of Creation and Redemption in the world and the Church enjoy an appropriate inner connection - the one is the eikon of the other. This means that the proper understanding of the world and particularly the mystery of its unity in multiplicity reveal the parallel mystery of the Church and vice versa. Far from being incompatible, the world and the Church enjoy an inner connection and an inner ontological resemblance because they have the same transcendent ground of existence in the one Creator and Redeemer. The world is for the Church and the Church for the world, because both are for God, and God is the key to the existence of both. The world is multiplicity in the unity of God's creative grace. The Church is multiplicity in the unity of God's Christocentric saving grace. World and Church are eikonically interrelated in the way in which God's creative and saving activities are interconnected.
5. - Cf. Mystagogy, ch. 1.
6. - Unity in creation is the goal or the end of creation. It is a gift given to the world by the Creator. For Maximus there is no initial inherent unity in the world, which was lost as Creation fell into pluralism. The right scheme is not «unity-fall» but «multiplicity-grace-unity». The key to the right scheme is God's grace in creation and redemption.