A Saint for East and West

Maximus the Confessor's Contribution to Eastern and Western Christian Theology

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Daniel Haynes
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , May
     308 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The literature on Maximus the Confessor seems to have doubled in volume over the past few years. The creative work of this outstanding author of the post-Chalcedonian era has proved to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration for researchers. Although Maximus's literary heritage is relatively small (two volumes in Migne's Patrologia Graeca) and for a long time his works were known only as part of various anthologies, in the 20th century this author was rediscovered and recognized as perhaps the greatest thinker of Byzantium.

Daniel Haynes’ edited collection, A Saint for East and West. Maximus the Confessor's Contribution to Eastern and Western Christian Theology, is the compilation of materials from a seminar held as part of the XVI International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford University (9-11 August 2011) and shares a title with the seminar.

Eight years stand between the seminar and the publication of the book. This incredibly long period is the main drawback of the collection, but it is more than redeemed by the magnificent pleiad of authors. Nevertheless, over the course of eight years, many new works on Maximus have appeared, including those written by the collection’s authors, but this fact, with rare exceptions, was left without the attention of the compiler of the bibliography. Misprints and/or the absence of diacritics in Greek quotations are also frequent, which could have been avoided with more careful editorial work.

The collection opens with a foreword by editor Daniel Haynes, an introduction by Andrew Louth, followed by three parts (1. Reception and Influence (chapters 1-3); 2. Anthropology, Christology, and Spirituality (chapters 4-7); 3. Ontology and Metaphysics (chapters. 8-14), where each chapter belongs to a separate author. Most of the articles are devoted to the philosophical problems considered by Maximus: issues of moral philosophy and the concept of will, logic, understanding the relationship between God and the cosmos.

1. An article by Adrian Guiu (3-30) examines the influence of Maximus's thought on John Eriugena. In particular, Guiu argues that the fivefold divisions of being (described, in particular, in Timothy Ware's article on page 71), proposed by the Confessor in Ambig. 41, formed the basis for Eriugena's Periphyseon.

2. Edward Siecienski (31-49) again raises questions that have been discussed in detail by Jean-Claude Larchet and others, namely the relationship of Maximus to the filioque and the papal primacy. Unlike his predecessors, Siecienski believes that the reverence with which Maximus relates to the Holy See is explained by the fact that in the era of dominant Monothelitism, Rome managed to preserve orthodoxy, which earned the respect of the Confessor.

3. Christophe Erismann (50-65) views Maximus as a philosopher and theologian and emphasizes the importance of his work in the history of logic in early Byzantine philosophy. The author pays special attention to the issue of universals, considering two theories of Maximus: (1) theory of logoi and (2) theory of universals, properly speaking. Since the former has already been studied in detail by Torstein Tollefsen, Erismann focuses on the latter, in which universals are ontologically dependent on the particular, as well as the influence that Maximus had on subsequent theological thought of Byzantium, in particular on John Damascus.

4. In the article by Timothy Kallistos Ware (69-84), dedicated to the imitation of Christ according to Maximus the Confessor, are examined such key terms for understanding the theology of Maximus as “imitation” (mimêsis), kenôsis, and the concept of endless progress developed by Gregory of Nyssa (epektasis). The goal of imitation is to achieve "an ever-moving stability" (aeikinêtos stasis is Maximus’s term).

5. Adam Cooper (85-101), using the example of Maximus's interpretation of the Gethsemane Prayer, examines his doctrine of freedom of choice, focusing on the controversy with Livio Melina.

6. David Bradshaw (102-114) also raises the issue of will, examining all the nuances that describe the act of will and decision making. The author points to the dependence of Maximus on Aristotle and Nemesius of Emesa and describes innovations introduced by Maximus in the context of the dispute with the Monothelites, such as the distinction between natural and gnomic will.

7. Luis Granados (115-133) examines the Christology of Maximus in a pneumatological aspect and points to the key term describing the relationship of the persons of the Trinity and their synergy.

8. Melchisedec Törönen (137-141), in his short article, points out the reasons why the metaphysics of Maximus cannot be equated with Neoplatonic metaphysics.

9. Rowan Williams (142-148), arguing with Nikolaos Loudovikos and Christoph Schneider about the ontology of Maxim, pays special attention to the concept of eros.

10. John Milbank (149-203) in the most voluminous article in the collection describes the relationship of Christianity with (neo)Platonism and, in discussions with Rowan Williams and David Bradshaw, comes to the paradoxical conclusion that Thomas Aquinas turned out to be more Byzantine than Gregory Palamas in distinguishing divine energies/activities.

11. Nikolaos Loudovikos (204-222) continues the comparison of the theology of Maximus the Confessor and Thomas Aquinas again in the context of distinguishing between divine logoi and actions.

12. The article by Torstein Tollefsen (223-230) is devoted to the question of exactly how deification occurs, which of the twelve types of unity is most suitable for describing how exactly a person becomes one with God.

13. Vladimir Cvetković (231-244) speaks of three ways of participating in divine being: participation in logoi, participation in the church as the body of Christ, and participation in God through likeness.

14. According to Joshua Lollar (245-259), the culmination of philosophy for Maximus is natural contemplation.

Since most of the authors are personally acquainted with each other, and have thoroughly read the work of their colleagues, a transcript of the discussion about each article at the seminar would be a good addition to each chapter. However, the implementation of this idea could postpone the publication of the book for several more years.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Illya Bey is Professor of Patristic Studies at the Center for Religious Studies at the National Pedagogical Dragomanov University. Ukraine.

Date of Review: 
October 29, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Daniel Haynes is Instructor in Religious Studies at Georgia Gwinnett College and Bioethics at Brenau University.


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