Lord's Voice | Diakonia | Links | Baptism | Multimedia







The Church as the Eikon of the Soul  (1)

George D. Dragas
«The Church in St. Maximus' Mystagogy- The Problem and the Orthodox Perspective » Theology 56 (2), 1985, σελ. 395-401

In the Fifth place the Church is for St. Maximus an eikon of the human soul itself. As this is the most intimate eikon for every human being, St.Maximus elaborates its various aspects by means of a profound psychological analysis. We might say that here the holy father searches into the very depths of the human soul and illuminates them with the light of the Church. He gives the human soul an ecclesiastical formation and character, and thus gives the Church her most intimate human face! The vision is profound but also complex and therefore we shall consider it.
The soul, says St. Maximus, generally speaking comprises the intellectual power (νοερά δύναμις) and the vital power (ζωτική δύναμις). The intellectual power is moved authoritatively by a will, whereas the vital power remains constant (i.e. as it is) in its own nature without the power of choice (απροαιρέτως). The intellectual power contains two further powers, the theoretical (θεωρητική δύναμις) and the practical power (πρακτική δύναμις). The former is called «mind» (νους) and the latter «reason» (ο λόγ o ς). It is the «mind» that actually moves the intellectual power, whereas «reason» exercises providence over the vital power. The mind is called «wisdom» (σοφία(constantly directed towards God.
Similarly reason is called «prudence» (φρόνησις), when through acts it unites prudently the vital power, which is providentially directed by it, with the «mind», and makes the one agree with the other, since this vital power has the same seal of God as the mind, acquired with virtue. This vital power is naturally distributed to the «mind» and to «reason», so that the soul may appear right from the start as consisting of «mind» and «reason», because she is both mindful and reasonable. The vital power is the power equally of the «mind» and of «reason:, because neither of these two is deprived of life.
The «mind», having life, which we called «wisdom», moves into simplicity by means of «a contemplative «theoretical activity» directed towards the ineffable silence and knowledge, and thus is led to «the truth» by means of the «unforgettable and unceasing knowledge». On the other hand, «reason», having the life, which we called «prudence», moves to the good by means of a «practical activity» of the body which is consonant with virtue by faith. These two goals, the truth and the good, says St. Maximus, constitute the true science of the divine and the human realities, the truly inerrant knowledge, the ultimate end of all divine philosophy of the Christian, namely, God Himself.
We may, then, summarize the doctrine of St. Maximus on the structure of the soul in the following way:
The Truth denotes God with respect to His Being (His existence - the fact that He is) because the truth is a reality, which is simple, only one, and the same, incomposite, immutable, incapable of suffering, infallible and without distinction. The God denotes God with respect to His Act, because the good is such that it provides for all that derive from Him and follows them like a guardian. Here St. Maximus points out that, according to the grammarians, the word good (αγαθόν) comes from a combination of two words άγαν + είναι or άγαν + τεθείσθαι , or άγαν + θέειν , and as such it denotes that which grants existence to all things, or preservation and movement.
There are then, five syzygies in the soul, which evolve around the one syzygy that reveals God, i.e. the syzygy of Truth and Goodness. By means of these syzygies the human soul imitates the immutability and beneficence of the being and act of God through the habit of her constant and immovable will.
St. Maximus clarifies further the notion of the five syzygies of the soul by resembling them to the ten chords of the spiritual Psalter. They are the chords, which, by their word, supply the tune of God's praise at the biting of the Spirit. This takes place through the other ten blessed chords of the commandments whereby the decade of the psychological chords produces the perfect and harmonious sounds with a sort of mental or intellectual melody with which God is truly praised. So there are two groups of ten chords: one that sings and another, which is sung. When the one is mystically united with the other and is harmonized with it then the following events take place: on the one hand the divine Saviour Jesus is brought back to man and on the other hand man is perfected in Him - though Jesus is always in perfect fullness and never exists outside himself; and on the other hand, man is reconstituted as a man through Jesus in a wonderful way, as he is once again united with Him from Whom he received existence and towards Whom he hastens to go longing for true being. This coordination of the two sets of chords reveals man's special office as it is known actively in life. It reveals that what is made after the Image is given back to the Image; or that the archetype is honoured by the type; or that the power of the mystery of salvation is in him for whom Christ died; or that men can abide in Him and He in us, as He said: the Logos of God is straight and all His works in faithfulness.
Exploring yet further the five psychological syzygies, St. Maximus says that «wisdom» is the power of the «mind», and that the «mind» itself is «wisdom» in power; «contemplation» is a «habit» (έξις), and «knowledge» is energy; «unforgettable knowledge» is a «habitual and perpetual movement» (αεικινησία) around that which is to be known and which is incomprehensible and beyond knowledge; finally, that the end of the perpetual movement is that which is to be known as infallible, namely, «the truth» of God, which is worthy to be wondered at; and that which is unforgettable (το άληστον) comes to an end, when it is described, or when it reaches the end of its movement in the truth of God. God is in fact the Truth around Whom the mind moves unceasingly and unforgettably, without being ever able to come to a point of rest, since it does not find a limit (πέρας) where there is no distance (διάστημα). Indeed, says St. Maximus, such is the amazing magnitude of the divine limitlessness (απειρία), deprived of all quantity, parts and all kind of dimensions, that when man reaches out to God, he cannot know what His being could be. Whatever has no dimensions and does not admit of comprehension, no one can conquer.
The movement of reason is parallel to the movement of the mind. Reason passes through prudence to act or energy; and from act to virtue; and From virtue to faith; i.e. to the truly assured and unshakable awareness of divine things. Reason possesses faith first as a possibility and then through prudence, activity and virtue as an actuality, i.e. as work. Without work faith is something dead, as it is written; and as such it could never be numbered among the goods. Rather it is through faith that man arrives at the good, as reason finds the proper end to its inherent power and energies. So then, prudence is the power of reason and reason is provisionally power. Act is habit and virtue is energy. Faith is an inherent and immutable solidity (ενδιάθετος , πήξις και αναλλοίωτος) of prudence and act and virtue, i.e. of power, habit and energy. Τ he ultimate limit of all this is the good, where reason puts an end to its movement and retires, because God is the Good in Whom every power of whatever reason is naturally ended.
St. Maximus does not explain how precisely the inner movement of ascent to God is achieved by the soul and what powers are coordinated with or opposed to it and for what length of time. But he does make a number of important points which clarify the whole subject. Firstly, he says that every soul can achieve union with the food and true God, when with the grace of the Holy Spirit and her own effort and diligence she unites «reason» with «mind», «prudence» with «wisdom», «act» with «contemplation», «virtue» with «knowledge» and «faith» with the «unforgettable knowledge», without minimizing or exaggerating any one vis-à-vis the others. Secondly, he says that the soul which is united with God having transformed the decade into a monad, becomes like God by acquiring the four general virtues. The tetrad is potentially a decade, because it is constituted on the basis of the monad by means of a successive line. Again the decade is the monad, because it contains the good in a comprehensive unity and shows in itself the simple and incomposite divine energy as being partitioned without being divided! With these four virtues, which are the fulfilment of the ten powers of the soul, the soul keeps whatever is her own in a firm and inviolable state, and at the same time is rid of all that is evil or alien to it in a manly fashion. Because she has a mind endowed with good reason, and a mindful wisdom coordinated with practical contemplation, and a knowledge imbued with virtue, and also an unforgettable knowledge which follows on and which is both secure and unfailing, she is able to bring to God the energies united together with the powers as causes with effects, and thus she is rewarded with deification and simplicity.
The energy is also a manifestation. Reason is the manifestation of the mind as the effect manifests its cause. Similarly, St. Maximus links prudence with wisdom, act with contemplation, faith with unforgettable knowledge. From these, again, the innate relation with the truth and the good (i.e. God) is achieved. This relation is called divine science, unfailing knowledge, love and peace. Deification is found in them all and is accomplished with them all.
It is science (επιστήμη), because it constitutes the completion of the knowledge of God and the divine realities, which man can achieve and secure as he guards the virtues. It is knowledge (γνώσις), because it has genuinely arrived at the truth, and gives an unceasing experience of the Divine. It is love (αγάπη) because it partakes with entire disposition into the entire pleasure, which comes from God. Finally it is peace (ειρήνη), because it suffers the same as God, and prepares those who become worthy to attain to it, to suffer the same. In other words, if the Divine is totally immovable, since there is nothing from anywhere, which can disturb it -for, what is there which could reach its lofty position? - And the peace is also immovable and unshakable firmness and also undisturbed gladness, is it not true that every soul which became worthy to taste the Divine peace should suffer the same condition at the Divine? For she has not only surpassed evil as ignorance, lie and deceit, which are opposed to virtue itself, and of knowledge, and truth and goodness, and has come to rest in an ineffable and unknowable way in the 'restful place' of God (as it were), which is something beyond truth and goodness according to His reliable promise! Because nothing of the things whose nature is to disturb can reach its hidden resort in God. It is on this most-blessed and all-holy 'bed' that the awesome mystery of unity, which is above mind and reason, takes place. 'This is the mystery of the union of God with the Church or soul and the soul with God into one spirit. At this point Saint Maximus exclaims: «how shall I wonder for your goodness, O Christi for I do not dare to praise this, because I do not even have the power to wonder at it worthily. 'The two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great, i.e. that of Christ and the Church' (Ephes. 5-31-32) as the divine Apostle says elsewhere. 'He who is united with the Lord becomes one spirit'» (1 Cor. 6:17).
So when the soul becomes unified and gathered together in itself and in God, the logos (reason) which divides it into many parts with conceptions, will no longer exist, because she will be crowned on her head with the first and one and only Logos and God. She will be crowned, that is, with the Logos in Whom are and subsist in an incomprehensible simplicity all the reasons of beings unified, since He is the Creator and Maker of all beings. Gazing at Him Who is not outside her, but the entire in the entire, she will also come to know by a simple projection (κατά απλήν προβολήν) the «logos» and causes of all beings, on account of which she was subjected to divisive methods before she was married to God the Logos, and by means of which (methods) she was led in a saving manner and without contradictions near Him Who contains and creates every logos and cause.
These things then occur to the soul: potentially she has wisdom in the mind and contemplation in wisdom and knowledge in contemplation and unforgettable knowledge in knowledge (νους - σοφία - θεωρία - γνώσις άληστος γνώσις - αλήθεια); through these she is led to the truth which is the limit and end of all the goods which are connected with the mind. Again on account of her reason she has prudence, and from prudence, act, and from act, virtue, and from virtue, faith, and by the faith's help she finally arrives at the good as the blessed end of all the rational energies (λόγος - φρόνησις - πράξις - αρετή - πίστις - το αγαθόν); it is through these energies that the science of the divine things is summed up in accordance with their union with each other, which is achieved when they come together.
It is clearly appropriate, therefore, from the theoretical point of view to liken the Church of God to the soul; by the things which belong to her mind and which have been shown to exist and of the mind by progression (κατά πρό o δ ov είναι), she denotes the holy of holies (το ιερατείον). And again the things which belong to her reason and which have been shown to exist by expansion (κατά διαστολήν είναι), she makes plain through the Temple (ναός). She sums them all up by means of the Mystery (Sacrament), which is celebrated upon the divine Altar. Whoever managed to enter into this Mystery, says St. Maximus, with prudence and wisdom, through the Church's liturgical act, he alone was able to make his soul divine and truly a church of God. It was most probably for the sake of the soul that the hand-made Church was given. It was instituted that it might lead man by the hand, as it were, to his highest calling. This hand-made Church constitutes, especially through her divine acolouthies a real symbol and example of the Christian soul.


(1).  Cf. Mystagogy ch. 5.

{ technical support      contact