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Human will, Divine will, and theosis

salvation free will sixth ecumenical council

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#21 Lakis Papas

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Posted 28 June 2013 - 10:10 PM

St Maximus writes in  "Four Hundrend Chapters on Love" :

1. Love is a good disposition of the soul by which one prefers no being to the knowledge of God. it is impossible to reach the habit of this love if one has any attachment to earthly things.
56. Self-love, as has frequently been said, is the cause of all passionate thoughts. From it are begotten the three capital thoughts of concupiscence: gluttony, greed, and vanity. From gluttony the thought of fornication arises; from greed, that of covetousness; and from vanity, that of arrogance. All the rest follow one or the other of these three the thoughts of anger, grief, resentment, sloth, envy,back-biting, and the rest. These passions, then, bind the mind to material things and keep it down on the earth, weighting on it like a very heavy stone, though by nature it should be lighter and livilier than fire.
57. The beginning of all passions is love of self, and the end is pride. Self-love is irrational love of the body, and if one eliminates this he eliminates along with it all the passions stemming from it.
58. Just as parents have affection for the offspring of their bodies, so also is the mind naturally attached to its own reasonings. And just as to parents who are emotionally attached the children appear as the fairest and handsomest of all even though in every way they might be the most hideous of all, so it is with the foolish mind. Its reasonings, even though they might be the most depraved of all, still appear in its view as the most sencible of all. However, this is not the case with the wise man and his reasoning. Rather, when it seems convincing that they are true and correct, then especially does he distrust his own judgment but makes use of other wise men as judges of his own reasonings (so as not to run or have run in vain), and from them he receives assurance.


According to st Maximus, sin in action is preceded by sin in thought. Passion is generated in our intellect. I simplify this theological analysis -  there is also room for satanic influence and angelic counceling and God's intervention, all of which affect humans, depending on the susceptibility of each person.
Neptic Fathers suggest that the noetic function of the intellect of a person serves the purpose to provide meaning to sensory objects (objects and events that are real). But, this function is also more complex. It has a creative ability to produce virtual concepts that surpass the initial view of the real world object. This productive functionality is the main force that enables humans to elevate earthly things up to spiritual meanings. For example, I see Creation and through this real view I elevate my intellect into the spiritual knowledge of the Creator. But as st Maximus said above (in article 58) mind's children are often hideous. He explains what happens next:

3. When passions dominate the intellect, they separate it from God, binding it to material things and preoccupying it with them. But when love of God dominates the intellect, it frees it from its bonds, persuading it to rise above not only sensible things but even this transitory life. 
15. When the intellect turns its attention to the visible world, it perceives things through the medium of the senses in a way that accords with nature. And the intellect is not evil, nor is its natural capacity to form conceptual images of things, nor are the things themselves, nor are the senses, for all are the work of God. What, then, is evil? Clearly it is the passion that enters into the conceptual images formed in accordance with nature by the intellect; and this need not happen if the intellect keeps watch.
16. Passion is an impulse of the soul contrary to nature, as in the case of mindless love or mindless hatred for someone or for some sensible thing. In the case of love, it may be for needless food, or for a woman, or for money, or for transient glory, or for other sensible objects or on their account. In the case of hatred, it may be for any of the things mentioned, or for someone on account of these things.
17. Again, vice is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, which leads us to misuse the things themselves. In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her. And the same is true with regard to other things and our conceptual images of them. 
33. There are also three things that impel us towards evil: passions, demons and sinfulness of intention. Passions impel us when, for example, we desire something beyond what is reasonable, such as food which is unnecessary or untimely, or a woman who is not our wife or for a purpose other than procreation, or else when we are excessively angered or irritated by, for instance, someone who has dishonored or injured us. Demons impel us when, for example, they catch us off our guard and suddenly launch a violent attack upon us, stirring up the passions already mentioned and others of a similar nature. We are impelled by sinfulness of intention when, knowing the good, we choose evil instead.


In summary, we either produce the image of evil inside us, or devil offers it to us, although no evil exist in the real world. Then, we accept this image of evil with our intellect as a meaningful concept in the real natural world (which is a false acceptance). We bind this created evil meaning as a path that will implement a proper natural will of ours. And finally we try to act according to the accepted evil path. 
St Maximus said in article 15: "and this need not happen if the intellect keeps watch". This is our responsibility: to have our intellect to keep watch at all times. This is something that is primary done by prayer, especially by the Lord's prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner". 
St Maximus said:

6. Two states of pure prayer are exalted above all others. One is to be found in those who have not advanced beyond the practice of the virtues, the other in those leading the contemplative life. The first is engendered in the soul by fear of God and a firm hope in Him, the second by an intense longing for God and by total purification. The sign of the first is that the intellect, abandoning all conceptual images of the world, concentrates itself and prays without distraction or disturbance as if God Himself were present,as indeed He is. The sign of the second is that at the very onset of prayer the intellect is so ravished by the divine and infinite light that it is aware neither of itself nor of any other created thing, but only of Him who through love has activated such radiance in-it. It is then that, being made aware of God’s qualities, it receives clear and distinct reflections of Him.


#22 Bill Turri

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 12:06 PM

Thank you, Lakis!


So to circle back to my original post...


I now understand that the 6th council was more nuanced than what I posted. That Christ had two natural wills, and because they were in total harmony and union, had no "gnomic will" which is what exists in us simply because we, as sinful and finite creatures, must deliberate between opposite choices. We must train our "gnomic will" (through prayer, asceticism, etc.) to always choose the good. When our volition always coincides with our natural human desire (which is for God), then...


1. Is it true to say that we, too, will no longer have a "gnomic will"?

2. Would this be essentially what we call "theosis" (at least one important aspect of it)?


The reason for my post was to explore human salvation through the perspective of the Incarnation. Given my background (previously Calvinist) where free will discussions dominate all else, I wanted to try to square the various perspectives with the Incarnation. It's my belief that both prominent Protestant views (Calvinism and Arminianism) fail in this regard.


1. The first says that, to be all of God, everything must be done by God. I believe, I respond, I obey, etc...my "will" is truly active...but only because God is actually doing everything for me. Ultimately they get around the conclusion that we are "puppets on strings" only by asserting that we aren't. But the logic, I think, leads there.


2. The second says that God does his part, we do our part, but speaks of it as though whatever we do, God does not do. So it's part God, part man. It all adds up to some supposed whole.


Since our salvation essentially is our participation in the Incarnation, and the Incarnation is pure synergy between humanity and divinity, it seems to me that we must assert two seemingly opposite claims. First, that salvation is all of God. Second, that our participation in this is really and truly our own voluntary cooperation. God works in us, and through us, to accomplish salvation.


Would it be true to say that the mystery of how this could be possible, is like (or maybe the same as) the mystery of the Incarnation? We cannot explain how two wills could cooperate perfectly in Christ, we simply confess that they do.


Maybe I'm completely on the wrong page. Always a real possibility :huh:

#23 Bill Turri

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 04:16 PM

Thanks, Lakis, for a very clear explication of St. Maximos on will, et al.  And you make a most important point, that when people today speak of free will, it has little or nothing to do with Patristic concepts.  It really means choosing and deciding, largely according to what the individual person deems necessary to him, absent any outside influence.  In the modern religious context it really refers to fideism, which is a type of voluntarism which is the assertion that will, not intellect, is the fundamental principle of both the individual and the universe.  So I will myself to believe.  I will myself to have faith in God.


So Owen, what would you say is the proper understanding? What is the patristic corrective to the fideism of which you speak?


If I do not "will myself to believe," then how do I come to faith? How is it understood if we take intellect and not will to be the fundamental principle of the individual and the universe?

#24 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 01:06 PM

First of all, we are not dealing with theories.  It's something that has to be lived.  We deal with specific cases as examples.  Biblical cases, examples of saints and what they report.  And so we do the things they did.  We obey God's commandments.  That's what we do.  But we can't be obedient by an act of will.  The power to be obedient comes from God.  Your question -- how do I come to faith? -- can have an infinite regression if you let it.  How and Why did I come to be a believer?  How did I come to be Orthodox?  What do I have to do next?  How do I do that?  Why me in the first place?  An infinite number of questions. 

#25 Anna Stickles

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 05:56 PM

St Theophan the Recluse on the cooperation of our freedom with God. 



“The goal of human freedom is not in freedom itself, nor it is in man, but in God. By giving man freedom, God has yielded to man a piece of His Divine authority, but with the intention that man himself would voluntarily bring it as a sacrifice to God, a most perfect offering. “




"The condition for this indwelling and reigning of God in us,
or the acceptance of His acting in everything, is the renunciation of our own
freedom. A free creature, according to his consciousness and determination,
acts from his own self, but this should not be so. In the kingdom of God there
should not be anyone acting from himself; God should be acting in everything.
This cannot happen as long as freedom stands for itself — it denies and turns
away God's power. This stubborn resistance to God's power will only cease when
our free, or self-acting, individual will and activity fall down before Him;
when we pronounce the resolute prayer: "Do Thou, O Lord, do in me as Thou
wilt, for I am blind and weak."



#26 Lakis Papas

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 12:36 AM

Thank you Owen and Anna.
I think, for humans, to have a "will for something" means that this "something" is given and we take stand on accepting it, or refusing it. Even when we express our will for something that is a future eventuality, we have already created it by our imagination in our minds and we consider it as a given condition. Even an optional possibility is considered by us as something that is potentially available at hand. 
For us, humans, it is possible to exercise our freedom negatively - we either accept or deny a given option. But for God (also for God-man Christ) things are different. God always exercises His freedom by creating something completely new. Every act of God is a new creation. Therefore God's actions are always affirmative. It is a paradox that even when God says "no", His denial produces a new reality - it is a peculiar form of affirmation (something that is impossible for creatures). 
When a person says "I will myself to believe", then this phrase implies that also the selection of unfaithfulness is a realistic option. And indeed, a person can imagine himself/herself as faithless and then accept this option as a free made decision.
There was a similar situation for st Paul, when he was to visit Corinthians. St Paul presents the issue of his decision making process to visit the city of Corinth in the following passage:
2 Corinthians 1:15-20

And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit — to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea. Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No? But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us — by me, Silvanus, and Timothy — was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.


St Paul admits that, in flesh, he had two options:  yes and no (visit/no visit). But, his plan to visit Corinthians was decided under a single option, that is to make the visit. This singularity was due to God's exclusivity to Yes. There was no room for No, in the real world that was created by God. Paul's visit was about preaching the reality of Christ which is the only reality, there is no other.
Likewise, there is no room for No in the issue of believing in God. There is no real option of "NO believing" in the real world that is created by God. Then, how do people refuse to believe in God ? This is happening because people create an illusion of not believing in God by their own imagination(or by the council of devil), then they consider this illusion as a given real condition, which they accept as real because it exists in their minds. It is a condition similar to believing to an illusion on the basis that it is confirmed by an illusionary thought. As it is clear, this is a pathological condition. 
It is also pathological to fantasize an option of "believing in God" and then put forward the conviction "I will myself to believe". When this will is based on "I" is problematic (St Paul, described his will to visit Corinthians as inevitable because his visit was connected with the teaching of Christ). To say "I will myself to believe" means that a person has an imaginary goal in his/her mind. This goal, no matter how legitimate, it is as imaginary as the goal pursued by a person that is seeking atheism.  
When we free our minds from illusions and then we understand reality, then believing in God is not the result of our will, but the result of living reality as genuine as it is. This is why the Church is not trying to strengthen our will. She primarily trying to cleanse our hearts. Then, with a pure heart, free from the passions, our imagination is neutralized, our mind works naturally and distinguishes the physical/real world from the unnatural/illusion (that is introduced by devil) and comes to a unique affirmative decision, like St Paul did. 
Reaching to unique affirmative choices (most times, little by little) is how we gradually gain faith. (many examples of this can be found in Hebrews 11

Edited by Lakis Papas, 05 July 2013 - 12:40 AM.

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