Natural and Gnomic Wills in St. Maximus Confessor
- Fr. Oliver Herbel has a good series of posts on St. Maximus the Confessor.
In particular, I think his post on St. Maximus's teaching (accepted by an EC
and both the Orthodox and Lutheran churches) on natural and gnomic wills is
especially important in Orthodox and Lutheran comparisons.
Natural and Gnomic
Ok, well, here�s a continuation of my St. Maximos the Confessor series. I
thought I�d start offering some reflections on the gnomic/natural will
distinction, one step at a time. Already, in the last post, the topic was
raised when I mentioned the ethical implications of irrational dread (which
is sinful) versus fear (which is natural).
Let�s start with natural wills. In his debate with Pyrrhus (who had been
Patriarch of Constantinople and would become patriarch again in 654, shortly
before his death), St. Maximos makes this point (amongst others):
The same person who was God in his divinity and human in his humanity
subjected human nature, through himself, to God the Father, so that we
might imitate Christ and come to will nothing apart from God the Father
He also later says (and here I quote from Farrell�s translation):
�Those who say that there is a gnomie in Christ, as this inquiry is
demonstrating, are maintaining that he is a mere man, deliberating in a
manner like unto us, having ignorance, doubt and opposition, since one only
deliberates about something which is doubtful, not concerning what is free
of doubt. By nature we have an appetite simply for what by nature is good,
but we gain experience of t he goal in a particular way, through inquiry and
counsel. Becquse of this, then, the gnomic will is fitly ascribed to us,
being a mode of the employment, and not a principle of nature, otherwise
nature would change innumerable times. But the humanity of Christ does not
simply subsist similar to us, but divinely, for he who appeared in the flesh
for our sakes was God. It is thus not possible to say that Christ had a
gnomic will. For the same had being itself, subsisting divinely, and thus
naturally hath an inclination to the good, and a drawing away from evil.�
He then continued on to highlight St. Basil�s reference to Isaiah 7:10,
which says the Christ will know choose the good before he is even old enough
to know the difference between good and evil.
In other words, to �will� is a natural appetite for human nature. Humanity
naturally wills. The distinction the category �gnomic will� describes is
that of deliberation based on ignorance or doubt. It should be noted that
here we are discussing things of morality. St. Maximos is not seeking to
contradict Mark 13:32. Nor is he claiming Jesus� humanity did not have to
go through physical growth and development. What he is saying is that �to
will� is natural and this same natural quality exists in Jesus. The gnomic
will, on the other hand, is what we have because we deliberate based on
ignorance and doubt. That is why Christ had to subject our act of willing
to conform to the divine will of the Father. This is what Christ had to do
with all aspects of human nature, lest humanity never be fully and truly
united to God. Human nature, on its own, is capable of going as far as
Enoch, Elijah, and the Theotokos, but full and complete union requires
Christ (even if there had never been any sin St. Maximos tells us
So, with this in mind, the next two St. Maximos the Confessor posts will
address two questions:
1) Do we have free will in the eschaton, then, if our humanity has now been
subjected to God the Father?
2) Could Christ have sinned?
Wrestling with these two questions will help us appreciate the distinction
St. Maximos is making between a natural ability (to will) and the personal
employment of it through ignorance and doubt (the gnomic will).
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