Microcosm and Mediator (Thunberg)


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thunberg, Lars. Microcosm and Mediator.

The last forty years have seen a renaissance in Maximus studies. Each decade brings better and better research. In many ways, Thunberg represents the key link between Hans urs von Balthasar’s early classic and modern texts today. Thunberg’s text is best seen as an encyclopedia on key terms in St Maximus.

As man is a microcosm, he stands in a dipolar relationship between a number of dualities: created/uncreated, intelligible/sensible, heaven/earth, paradise/world, and man/woman. While these dualities are quite interesting, I think that is where Maximus’s thought is least helpful. The rest of his ontology is more sound, and it is there we will spend our time.

Of central importance is the distinction between and diairesis. Diaphora is the difference that safeguards the variations and unity within creation. Diairesis is division; Diaphora does not necessarily imply diairesis. Christ has diaphora, but not diairesis. Diaresis is never constitutive of creation. Man as mediator is called to annihilate the divisions on the moral level but never the diaphora on the ontological level.

Diastasis/Diastema: distance and separation. Maximus uses diastema in a spatial sense. Since all created entities are moved, they have diastema. Diasteme is with motion. Diastasis means that since God has established history, he has marked out a distance to himself. Diastasis stands in a particular relationship to stasis, rest.

Diastole: expansion, distinction. All of created ousia moves, because movement is endemic to creation. The movement of diastole goes from the most general to the more differentiated species. The movement of sustole goes in the opposite direction. In both cases movement comes to a limit. Universals and particulars: there is nothing more particular than that which is made particular by God; there is nothing more universal than the fact that all is created. Diastole is the movement of God’s condescension in creation. Sustole is very close to deification.

Creation because of God’s Will

The Logoi

The principles of differentiated creation, pre-existent in God. The logoi manifest a general law: always and in all God’s Word and God wills to effect the mystery of his embodiment (Thunberg 65; [=Amb. 7, 1084CD])

Creation by the Word

The Logoi of Creation
Logos tou eu einai: the principle of motion for each being (Thunberg 74 [=Amb 7, 1084B]. Logoi gegonoton/ontown/phuseos: not only define essence, but the coming into existence of a thing. The logoi preexist in God, who keeps them all together.

The Logoi are held together by the Logos

Maximus’s triad of genesis/kinesis/stasis rebuts the Origenist problem of a pre-eternal fall. There cannot be a motion to fall before creation (genesis) because genesis introduces motion. Thus, Maximus breaks the back of Hellenism. There is no longer any idea of successive falls and endless generations (Thunberg 81 n217).

Maximus on substance
Substance: ousia. Maximus can speak of ousia as a generic category of created being or something closer to “nature.” It is a category of creation; hence, God is above being. It is characterized by limitations, so it has a contrary (non-being).

That’s a summary of Maximus’s ontology. Now for a few words on his anthropology. In order to combat Origenism, Maximus holds to the indispensable unity of body and soul. He is not saying, pace modern Christian materialists, that the soul cannot exist without the body, but that the soul cannot pre-exist without the body.

For Gregory of Nyssa, a fall into the material world would not purify the soul, but would lead to successive falls leading to the soul’s destruction. Maximus agrees but takes it a step further: the pre-existence of souls gives the body a negative and punitive function. God is forced to create because of evil.

Human Trichotomy

For Gregory of Nyssa, man’s nous is an aspect of the soul (108). It is the higher capacity of the soul.

Image and Likeness

Image is to likeness as potency is to act. They ultimately refer to the same reality.

While other texts have since expanded on St Maximus’s views, it is hard to think of a more reliable guide than Thunberg.