Saint Maximos the Confessor - On Love

Four Hundred Texts on Love


In addition to my treatise on the ascetic life I am also sending you, Father Elpidios, this treatise on love divided, on the analogy of the four Gospels, into four centuries of chapters. It may not fulfil your expectations, but it is the best that I can do. Moreover, you should know, Father, that these chapters are not the products of mine own mind. On the contrary, I have gone through the writings of the holy fathers and collected from them passages relevant to my subject, condensing much material into short paragraphs and in this way making it easy to remember and to assimilate.

In sending these chapters to you I beg you to read them with sympathy and to seek out only what is profitable in them, over­looking the inelegant language. I also ask you to pray for my un­worthy self, bereft as I am of all spiritual blessing. I have this re­quest too: do not be annoyed by what I have written, for I have merely carried out what I was commanded to do. I say this because we who plague people with words are many nowadays, while those who teach or are taught by actions are very few.

Please give careful attention to each chapter. For I suspect that not all the chapters are easy for everyone to understand. Many of them will need to be studied closely by most readers even if what they say seems to be very simple. If anything in these chapters should prove useful to the soul, it will be revealed to the reader by the grace of God, provided that he reads, not out of curiosity, but in the fear and love of God. If a man reads this or any other work not to gain spiritual benefit but to track down matter with which to abuse the author, so that in his conceit he can show himself to be the more learned, nothing profitable will ever be revealed to him in anything.

First Century

1. Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things. We cannot attain lasting possession of such love while we are still attached to anything worldly.

2. Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God; these in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.

3. If you have faith in the Lord you will fear punishment, and this fear will lead you to control the passions. Once you control the passions you will accept affliction patiently, and through such accept­ance you will acquire hope in God. Hope in God separates the intellect from every worldly attachment, and when the intellect is detached in this way it will acquire love for God.

4. The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.

5. If everything that exists was made by God and for God, and God is superior to the things made by Him, he who abandons what is superior and devotes himself to what is inferior shows that he values things made by God more than God Himself.

6. When your intellect is concentrated on the love of God you will pay little attention to visible things and will regard even your own body as something alien.

7. Since the soul is more noble than the body and God incom­parably more noble than the world created by Him, he who values the body more than the soul and the world created by God more than the Creator Himself is simply a worshipper of idols.

8. If you distract your intellect from its love for God and concentrate it, not on God, but on some sensible object, you thereby show that you value the body more than the soul and the things made by God more than God Himself.

9. Since the light of spiritual knowledge is the intellect’s life, and since this light is engendered by love for God, it is rightly said that nothing is greater than divine love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13).

10. When in the intensity of its love for God the intellect goes out of itself, then it has no sense of itself or of any created thing. For when it is illumined by the infinite light of God, it becomes in­sensible to everything made by Him, just as the eye becomes in­sensible to the stars when the sun rises.

11. All the virtues co-operate with the intellect to produce this intense longing for God, pure prayer above all. For by soaring to­wards God through this prayer the intellect rises above the realm of created beings.

12. When the intellect is ravished through love by divine know­ledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in all sincerity it repeats the prophet’s words: ‘How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6:5).

13. The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself, even though he is grieved by the passions of those who are not yet purified. But when they amend their lives, his delight is in­describable and knows no bounds”.

14. A soul filled with thoughts of sensual desire and hatred is unpurified.

15. If we detect any trace of hatred in our hearts against any man whatsoever for committing any fault, we are utterly estranged from love for God, since love for God absolutely precludes us from hating any man.

16. He who loves Me, says the Lord, will keep My commandments (cf. John 14: 15, 23); and ‘this is My commandment, that you love one another’ (John 15:12). Thus he who does not love his neighbour fails to keep the commandment, and so cannot love the Lord.

17. Blessed is he who can love all men equally.

18. Blessed is he who is not attached to anything transitory or corruptible.

19. Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty.

20. If you make provision for the desires of the flesh (cf. Rom. 13:14) and bear a grudge against your neighbour on account of something transitory, you worship the creature instead of the Creator.

21. If you keep your body free from disease and sensual pleasure it will help you to serve what is more noble.

22. He who forsakes all worldly desires sets himself above all worldly distress.

23. He who loves God will certainly love his neighbour as well. Such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way be­fitting God, being generous to everyone in need.

24. He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

25. God, who is by nature good and dispassionate, loves all men equally as His handiwork. But He glorifies the virtuous man be­cause in his will he is united to God. At the same time, in His goodness He is merciful to the sinner and by chastising him in this life brings him back to the path of virtue. Similarly, a man of good and dispassionate judgment also loves all men equally. He loves the virtuous man because of his nature and the probity of his intention; and he loves the sinner, too, because of his nature and because in his compassion he pities him for foolishly stumbling in darkness.

26. The state of love may be recognized in the giving of money, and still more in the giving of spiritual counsel and in looking after people in their physical needs.

27. He who has genuinely renounced worldly things, and lovingly and sincerely serves his neighbour, is soon set free from every passion and made a partaker of God’s love and knowledge.

          28. He who has realized love for God in his heart is tireless, as Jeremiah says (cf. Jer. 17:16. LXX), in his pursuit of the Lord his God, and bears every hardship, reproach and insult nobly, never thinking the least evil of anyone.

29. When you are insulted by someone or humiliated, guard against angry thoughts, lest they arouse a feeling of irritation, and so cut you off from love and place you in the realm of hatred.

30. You should know that you have been greatly benefited when you have suffered deeply because of some insult or indignity; for by means of the indignity self-esteem has been driven out of you.

31. Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

32. Just as the light of the sun attracts a healthy eye, so through love knowledge of God naturally draws to itself the pure intellect.

33. A pure intellect is one divorced from ignorance and illu­mined by divine light.

34. A pure soul is one freed from passions and constantly de­lighted by divine love.

35. A culpable passion is an impulse of the soul that is contrary to nature.

36. Dispassion is a peaceful condition of the soul in which the soul is not easily moved to evil.    .

37. A man who has been assiduous in acquiring the fruits of love will not cease loving even if he suffers a thousand calamities. Let St. Stephen, the disciple of Christ, and others like him persuade you of the truth of this (cf. Acts 7:60). Our Lord Himself prayed for His murderers and asked the Father to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing (cf. Luke 23:34).

38. If love is long-suffering and kind (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is contentious and malicious clearly alienates himself from love. And he who is alienated from love is alienated from God, for God is love.

39. Do not say that you are the temple of the Lord, writes Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 7:4); nor should you say that faith alone in our Lord Jesus Christ can save you, for this is impossible unless you also acquire love for Him through your works. As for faith by itself, ‘the devils also believe, and tremble’ (Jas. 2:19).

40. We actively manifest love in forbearance and patience to­wards our neighbour, in genuinely desiring his good, and in the right use of material things.

41. He who loves God neither distresses nor is distressed with anyone on account of transitory things. There is only one kind of distress which he both suffers and inflicts on others: that salutary distress which the blessed Paul suffered and which he inflicted on the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-11).

42. He who loves God lives the angelic life on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, praying and singing psalms and always thinking good of every man.

43. If a man desires something, he makes every effort to attain it. But of all things which are good and desirable the divine is in­comparably the best and the most desirable. How assiduous, then, we should be in order to attain what is of its very nature good and desirable.

44. Stop defiling your flesh with shameful deeds and polluting your soul with wicked thoughts; then the peace of God will de­scend upon you and bring you love.

45. Afflict your flesh with hunger and vigils and apply yourself tirelessly to psalmody and prayer; then the sanctifying gift of self-­restraint will descend upon you and bring you love.

46. He who has been granted divine knowledge and has through love acquired its illumination will never be swept hither and thither by the demon of self-esteem. But he who has not yet been granted such knowledge will readily succumb to this demon. However, if in all that he does he keeps his gaze fixed on God, doing everything for His sake, he will with God’s help soon escape.

47. He who has not yet attained divine knowledge energized by love is proud of his spiritual progress. But he who has been granted such knowledge repeats with deep conviction the words uttered by the patriarch Abraham when he was granted the manifestation of God: ‘I am dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27).

48. The person who fears the Lord has humility as his constant companion and, through the thoughts which humility inspires, reaches a state of divine love and thankfulness. For he recalls his former worldly way of life, the various sins he has committed and the temptations which have befallen him since his youth; and he re­calls, too, how the Lord delivered him from all this, and how He led him away from a passion-dominated life to a life ruled by God. Then, together with fear, he also receives love, and in deep humility continually gives thanks to the Benefactor and Helmsman of our lives.

49. Do not befoul your intellect by clinging to thoughts filled with anger and sensual desire. Otherwise you will lose your capacity for pure prayer and fall victim to the demon of listlessness.

50. When the intellect associates with evil and sordid thoughts it loses its intimate communion with God.

51. The foolish man under attack from the passions, when stirred to anger, is senselessly impelled to leave his brethren. But when heated by desire he quickly changes his mind and seeks their company. An intelligent person behaves differently in both cases. When anger flares up he cuts off the source of disturbance and so frees himself from his feeling of irritation against his brethren. When desire is uppermost he checks every unruly impulse and chance conversation.

52. In time of trial do not leave your monastery but stand up courageously against the thoughts that surge over you, especially those of irritation and listlessness. For when you have been tested by afflictions in this way, according to divine providence, your hope in God will become firm and secure. But if you leave, you will show yourself to be worthless, unmanly and fickle.

53. If you wish not to fall away from the love of God, do not let your brother go to bed feeling irritated with you, and do not go to bed yourself feeling irritated with him. Reconcile yourself with your brother, and then come to Christ with a clear conscience and offer Him your gift of love in earnest prayer (cf. Matt. 5:24).

54. St Paul says that, if we have all the gifts of the Spirit but do not have love, we are no further forward (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2). How assiduous, then, we ought to be in our efforts to acquire this love.

55. If ‘love prevents us from harming our neighbour’ (Rom. 13:10), he who is jealous of his brother or irritated by his reputa­tion, and damages his good name with cheap jibes or in any way spitefully plots against him, is surely alienating himself from love and is guilty in the face of eternal judgment.

56. If ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10), he who is full of rancour towards his neighbour and lays traps for him and curses him, exulting in his fall, must surely be a transgressor de­serving eternal punishment.

57. If ‘he who speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, and judges the law’ (Jas. 4:11), and the law of Christ is love, surely he who speaks evil of Christ’s love falls away from it and is the cause of his own perdition.

58. Do not listen gleefully to gossip at your neighbour’s expense or chatter to a person who likes finding fault. Otherwise you will fall away from divine love and find yourself cut off from eternal life.

59. Do not permit any abuse of your spiritual father or encourage anyone who dishonours him. Otherwise the Lord will be angry with your conduct and will obliterate you from the land of the living (cf. Deut. 6:15).

60. Silence the man who utters slander in your hearing. Other­wise you sin twice over: first, you accustom yourself to this deadly passion and, second you fail to prevent him from gossiping against his neighbour.

61. ‘But I say to you,’ says the Lord, ‘love your enemies. . . do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you’ (Matt. 5: 44.). Why did He command this? To free you from hatred, irritation, anger and rancour, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love. And you cannot attain such love if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. For God loves all men equally and wishes them ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

62. ‘But I say to you, do not resist evil; but if someone hits you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek as well. And if any­one sues you in the courts, and takes away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And if anyone forces you to go a mile, go with him for two miles’ (Matt. 5:39-41). Why did He say this? Both to keep you free from anger and irritation, and to correct the other person by means of your forbearance, so that like a good Father He might bring the two of you under the yoke of love.

63. We carry about with us impassioned images of the things we have experienced. If we can overcome these images we shall be in­different to the things which they represent. For fighting against the thoughts of things is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.

64. Some passions pertain to the body, others to the soul. The first are occasioned by the body, the second by external objects. Love and self-control overcome both kinds, the first curbing the passions of the soul and the second those of the body.

65. Some passions pertain to the soul’s incensive power, and others to its desiring aspect. Both kinds are aroused through the senses. They are aroused when the soul lacks love and self-control.

66. The passions of the soul’s incensive power are more difficult to combat than those of its desiring aspect. Consequently our Lord has given a stronger remedy against them: the commandment of love.

67. While passions such as forgetfulness and ignorance affect but one of the soul’s three aspects - the incensive, the desiring or the intelligent -listlessness alone seizes control of all the soul’s powers and rouses almost all the passions together. That is why this passion is more serious than all the others. Hence our Lord has given us an excellent remedy against it, saying: ‘You will gain possession of your souls through your patient endurance’ (cf. Luke 21:19).

68. Never strike any of the brethren, especially without reason, in case he is unable to bear the affliction and leaves the monastery. For then you would never escape the reproach of your conscience. It would always bring you distress in the time of prayer and divert your intellect from intimate communion with God.

69. Shun all suspicions and all persons that cause you to take offence. If you are offended by anything, whether intended or unin­tended, you do not know the way of peace, which through love brings the lovers of divine knowledge to the knowledge of God.

70. You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their characters - for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person.

71. Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, com­mon to all, according to the diverse characteristics of individuals; but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally. It loves the good as friends and the bad as enemies, helping them, exercising forbearance, patiently accepting whatever they do, not taking the evil into account at all but even suffering on their be­half if the opportunity offers, so that, if possible, they too become friends. If it cannot achieve this, it does not change its own attitude; it continues to show the fruits of love to all men alike. It was on account of this that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, showing His love for us, suffered for the whole of mankind and gave to all men an equal hope of resurrection, although each man determines his own fitness for glory or punishment.

72. If you are not indifferent to both fame and dishonour, riches and poverty, pleasure and distress, you have not yet acquired perfect love. For perfect love is indifferent not only to these but even to this fleeting life and to death.

73. Listen to the words of those who have been granted perfect love: ‘What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written, “For Thy sake we are slain all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter” (Ps. 43:23). But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:35-39). Those who speak and act thus with regard to divine love are all saints.

74. Listen now to what they say about love for our neighbour: ‘I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience also bears me witness in the Holy Spirit: I have great distress and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were severed from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites’ (Rom. 9:1-3). Moses and the other saints speak in a similar manner.

75. He who is not indifferent to fame and pleasure, as well as to the love of riches that exists because of them and increases them, cannot cut off occasions for anger. And he who does not cut these off cannot attain perfect love.

76. Humility and ascetic hardship free a man from all sin, for the one cuts out the passions of the soul, the other those of the body. This is what the blessed David indicates when he prays to God, saying, ‘Behold my lowliness and my toil, and forgive all my sins’ (Ps. 24:18).

77. It is through our fulfilling of the commandments that the Lord makes us dispassionate; and it is through His divine teachings that He gives us the light of spiritual knowledge.

78. All such teachings are concerned either with God, or with things visible and invisible, or else with the providence and judg­ment relating to them.

79. Almsgiving heals the soul’s incensive power; fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for the contemplation of created beings. For the Lord has given us com­mandments which correspond to the powers of the soul.

80. ‘Learn from Me’, He said, ‘for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matt. 11:29). Gentleness keeps the soul’s incensive power in a calm state; humility frees the intellect from conceit and self-esteem.

81. Fear of God is of two kinds. The first is generated in us by the threat of punishment. It is through such fear that we develop in due order self-control, patience, hope in God and dispassion; and it is from dispassion that love comes. The second kind of fear is linked with love and constantly produces reverence in the soul, so that it does not grow indifferent to God because of the intimate com­munion of its love.

82. The first kind of fear is expelled by perfect love when the soul has acquired this and is no longer afraid of punishment (cf. 1 John 4:18). The second kind, as we have already said, is always found united with perfect love. The first kind of fear is referred to in the following two verses: ‘Out of fear of the Lord men shun evil’ (Prov. 16:6), and ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 110:9). The second kind is mentioned in the following verses: ‘Fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever’ (Ps. 18:9), and ‘There is no want to them that fear Him’ (Ps. 33:9).

83. ‘Put to death therefore whatever is earthly in you: unchastity, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and greed’ (Col. 3:5). Earth is the name Saint Paul gives to the will of the flesh. Unchastity is his word for the actual committing of sin. Uncleanness is how he desig­nates assent to sin. Passion is his term for impassioned thoughts. By evil desire he means the simple act of accepting the thought and the desire. And greed is his name for what generates and promotes passion. All these Saint Paul ordered us to mortify as ‘aspects’ express­ing the will of the flesh.

84. First the memory brings some passion-free thought into the intellect. By its lingering there, passion is aroused. When the pas­sion is not eradicated, it persuades the intellect to assent to it. Once this assent is given, the actual sin is then committed. Therefore, when writing to converts from paganism, Saint Paul in his wisdom orders them first to eliminate the actual sin and then systematically to work back to the cause. The cause, as we have already said, is greed, which generates and promotes passion. I think that greed in this case means gluttony, because this is the mother and nurse of un­chastity. For greed is a sin not only with regard to possessions but also with regard to food, just as self-control likewise relates to both food and possessions.

85. When a sparrow tied by the leg tries to fly, it is held back by the string and pulled down to the earth. Similarly, when the intellect that has not yet attained dispassion flies up towards heavenly knowl­edge, it is held back by the passions and pulled down to the earth.

86. The intellect, once totally free from passions, proceeds un­distracted to the contemplation of created beings, making its way towards knowledge of the Holy Trinity.

87. When in a pure state, the intellect, on receiving the concep­tual images of things, is moved to contemplate these things spiritu­ally. But when it is sullied through indolence, while its conceptual images may in general be free from passion, those concerned with people produce in it thoughts that are shameful or wicked.

88. When during prayer no conceptual image of anything worldly disturbs your intellect, then know that you are within the realm of dispassion.

89. Once the soul starts to feel its own good health, the images in its dreams are also calm and free from passion.

90. Just as the physical eye is attracted to the beauty of things visible, so the purified intellect is attracted to the knowledge of things invisible. By things invisible, I mean things incorporeal.

91. It is already much not to be roused to any passion by material things. It is even more to remain dispassionate when presented with mental images of such things. For the war which the demons wage against us by means of thoughts is more severe than the war they wage by means of material things.

92. He who has succeeded in attaining the virtues and is enriched with spiritual knowledge sees things clearly in their true nature. Consequently, he both acts and speaks with regard to all things in a manner which is fitting, and he is never deluded. For according to whether we use things rightly or wrongly we become either good or bad.

93. If the conceptual images that continually rise up in the heart are free from passion whether the body is awake or asleep, then we may know that we have attained the highest state of dispassion.

94. Through fulfilling the commandments the intellect strips it­self of the passions. Through spiritual contemplation of things visible it casts off impassioned conceptions of such things. Through knowl­edge of things invisible it discards the contemplation of things visible. Finally it denudes itself even of this through knowledge of the Holy Trinity.

95. When the sun rises and casts its light on the world, it reveals both itself and the things it illumines. Similarly, when the Sun of righteousness rises in the pure intellect, He reveals both Himself and the inner principles of all that has been and will be brought into existence by Him.

96. We do not know God from His essence. We know Him rather from the grandeur of His creation and from His providential care for all creatures. For through these, as though they were mirrors, we may attain insight into His infinite goodness, wisdom and power.

97. The pure intellect is occupied either with passion-free con­ceptual images of human affairs, or with the natural contemplation of things visible or invisible, or with the light of the Holy Trinity.

98. When the intellect is engaged in the contemplation of things visible, it searches out either the natural principles of these things or the spiritual principles which they reflect, or else it seeks their original cause.

99. When the intellect is absorbed in the contemplation of things invisible, it seeks their natural principles, the cause of their generation and whatever follows from this, as well as the providen­tial order and judgment which relates to them.

100. When the intellect is established in God, it at first ardently longs to discover the principles of His essence. But God’s inmost nature does not admit of such investigation, which is indeed beyond the capacity of everything created. The qualities that appertain to His nature, however, are accessible to the intellect’s longing: I mean the qualities of eternity, infinity, indeterminateness, goodness, wisdom, and the power of creating, preserving and judging crea­tures. Yet of these, only infinity may be grasped fully; and the very fact of knowing nothing is knowledge surpassing the intellect, as the theologians St. Gregory of Nazianzos and St. Dionysios have said.’


The Philokalia: Volume Two – Saint Maximos the Confessor: First Century on Love, pp. 50-64


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