Thanks for posting St Maximus' writing on the Old and New Testaments:
In an exegesis of Zechariah 4:1–3, st Maximus the confessor writes:
The Church of God, worthy of all praise, is a lampstand wholly of gold, pure and without stain, undefiled and without blemish, receptacle of the true light that never dims…. The lamp above her is the true light of the Father which lights up every man coming into this world, our Lord Jesus Christ, become light and called such.
Then st Maximus says:
I believe that the olive tree to the left means the Old Testament, because Old Testament cares more about practical philosophy, and that the olive tree to the right means the New Testament, because New Testament is a teacher of a new mystery and creates in every believer the will to see God. The first one teaches ways of virtue, the second offers words of knowledge to those who philosophize about the divine. The one grabs the mind from the fog of visible and raises it to noetic, after being cleaned from every material fantasy. The other clears him of any attachment to the materials and with the power of bravery, like a hammer, breaks the nails that hold the intention being towards the body.
The Old Testament elevates the body to the soul making it to become sensible through the virtues, and prevents the mind to descend into the body. The New Testament elevates the mind to God by setting it to fire by the flames of love. The one is making the body similar to mind according to the will. The other is making the mind similar to God by obtaining grace and much resemblance to God, so as God to be recognized through it, similar to the way that we recognize the original from its image.
The Old Testament, because it symbolizes the pursuit of virtue, it causes the body to match the mind in motion. The New Testament, because it creates knowledge and vision of God, illuminates the mind with divine meanings and qualities. The Old Testament provides to the knowledgeable man the modes of virtues. The New Testament gives the practical man the words of true knowledge.
Here, St Maximus values both the Old and New Testaments, saying that the Old Testament raises the body to the mind, and the latter raises the mind to God. Naturally, if the body and been elevated to the mind, it seems that the New Testament could raise the body to God as well, which points to ideas about a lack of decay (as in Psalm 16 or the self-preservation of relics).
To show a table of St Maximus' explanation:
The Two Trees
Old Testament Olive Tree |--------------| New Testament Olive Tree: teaches a "new mystery"
cares about practical thinking |---------------| focuses less on practical thinking
Mind similar to and at level of God. Mind set to fire, has grace
Cleared of attachment and intention to the material
|| New Testament: raises and cleans, illuminates
Mind in the noetic.
But still in attachment and intention to the material.
Body similar to and at the level of the soul. Body becomes sensible and matches the mind in motion.
|| Old Testament: raises and cleans; prevents mind from going back to body
Mind in "fog of the visible", material fantasies, attachment and intention to the material.
In St. Maximus' portrayal, hasn't the Old Testament raised the person up to a higher status, and the new mysteries of the New Testament raised the person to a level even higher than before? The person's new status in both cases "sits on top of" the old one.
This status at a higher level does not mean the value or lessons of the Old Testament are lost, but rather continued and built upon. To give another example, if you drive up a mountain, your new height has replaced the old one, but not in a way that your gains from driving there are lost. The Old Testament transforms the mind from being in a fog to being noetic and virtuous, but the mind is not lost. The New Testament raises that mind with its attachment to the material to the level of God, but the virtues are not lost.
To give an analogy: even when I was a student in advanced economics (and sometimes particularly so), I found it valuable to go back and review earlier books, even if the presentation and concepts were different or more fundamental. Our new knowledge and studies superseded what we learned before on a subject, but the earlier presentations and lessons remained valuable.
To return to St Maximus' writing: a person who has knowledge about God but still needs help with basic practical virtues finds help in the Old Testament, and a person who has practical abilities but still needs knowledge finds it in the new one. Thus, St. Maxmimus describes a process where new statuses, ways of thinking, and processes "sit on top of", or supersede, old ones. The new ones retain valuable elements of the earlier ones, which retain value as well.
I agree with you when you write:
I do not disagree with the chronological arrangement you propose. But the Bible goes beyond the chronological determinism.
I saw the chronological aspect as only one way of looking at it. Another way, I think that comes out from St. Maximus' writing is a vertical arrangement of one thing being "higher" and leading to something "higher" (from simpler to greater), as opposed to only a "left to right" chronological view (old to new). Does that go along with what you are saying?
It sounds right when you say that "All the writings in the Bible have an eschatological reference."
One can find in all the Biblical books something that can be associated with the Messianic era, particularly when it comes to shared ideas of redemption. But doesn't that also fit in with the chronological perception, since you say in a predictive way (future tense):
"Christ follow what is written in the Old Testament to reveal the love of God for man, as will be revealed fully and directly in the Eschaton."
By the way, your sentence above also makes sense: the idea of Christ following the Old Testament, eg. following the predictive prophecies that were ro reveal God's love. This is like an architect following his own blueprint to build his own house. In case he came up against difficulties, he has the authority to supersede problems in the blueprint that would prevent him from building the house. Those problems would not in fact be things in the blueprint to build the house, but might hinder it. Can't it be said that by superseding the law with his authority, and in some situations going over what the old law itself might say, the Creator of the law was able to fulfill its instruction to show love and build His house?
Can you please give an example of the kind of limit you have in mind when you write: "it is a mistake to limit the law system of the Old Testament."
For example, the rule to honor parents is still followed today, and it applies to broad range of unlisted ways: one can show honor by giving flowers on mothers day, or by following their instructions. So it is not limited to one situation. On the other hand, this rule can also be superseded by greater things: Christ talked about giving up family in general to follow Him.
It makes sense when you say:
The Old Testament is a type and image of the Eschaton, and also the New Testament is a type and picture of the Eschaton. Since, however, they take place in human timeline they are adapted to human condition.
Then Christ said in the "Rich Man and Lazarus" parable(Luke 16:27-31):
So, my point is that Old Testament is self-sufficient to show humans the way of repentance. And indeed, Old Testament has led the nation of Israel for centuries to bring the very important result of the birth of Maria, who became worthy to become the Mother of God by following the rules of the Old Testament.
The Old and New Testaments both have redemptive prophetic images of the Eschaton, which is also redemptive. The idea of a promised land is like the idea of a future, Messianic world, and Revelations also gives such visions, like the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven like a bride. I can see this as a metaphor for the Church in the NT era, as well as its status in the future one. They're adapted to human conditions, because in the OT the promised land was realized as a physical land people could physically see. And would it be correct to see the Church in the Christian era as human in the sense that there is a visible institution associated with it?
The passage with Lazarus' parable shows that the OT was enough to teach repentance, because Jesus concludes by saying that the greater miracle of a resurrected person saying to repent would not teach people to repent if the OT prophets did not. And I agree with your larger point that the OT was enough to teach repentance, because this was one of the main messages of the propehts to their people. On the other hand, the OT remained a guiding document, particularly for the OT righteous, who followed God even when the OT portrayed the people collectively as temporarily rejecting God. It makes sense that the incarnation in turn was a response to the prayers of OT righteous people like Daniel, who received a prediction of the Messianic era.
However, how do Christ's words in Matthew 19:7-8 in particular show that the OT was enough to teach repentance? In that passage, Christ says that Moses' law allowed divorce because people's hearts were hard. To me, that sounds like an accommodation made in the OT because of people's hardness of hearts, rather than an announcement to people that they must repent of their failed marriages. perhaps I am misunderstanding what the people should have repented for about the marriage.
You write: "New Testament is not a set of legal rules." With the New Testament there comes a higher understanding of God, according to St Maximus. There is a process of becoming like God. So it seems like that is more than legal rules, but also allowances, forgivess, and freedom. On the other hand, does the New Testament also include legal rules? I read that Jesus giving central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount is analogous to Moses giving the Law on Mount Sinai. And it seems like there is a rule to love others, although perhaps this is too subjective to be a "legal rule"?
Also, I sympathize with your description on the New Testament when you say: "it is the historical record of the life of the Church, it is the revelation of what is the meaning that the people of God give to the reality of life after Pentecost." In fact, a big part of the books that we refer to as the New Testament are narratives describing this historical record and the revelation of its meaning.
It's nice thinking about this. Take care.
Edited by H. Smith, 08 April 2013 - 12:24 AM.