Union and Distinction in Maximus (Review)

Melchisidec Toronen gives us a useful snapshot and handbook for Maximus the Confessor. While the back has some drawbacks, it is clear and to the point (almost to a fault). Toronen gives a lucid summary of his own argument: “The greatness of the notion of ‘union without confusion’ lies in the fact that it can accommodate at once both unity and differentiation within one being. ‘No’ to confusion means ‘yes’ to difference, and hence to natural integrity; ‘yes’ to union means ‘no’ to separation, and hence also ‘yes’ to personal integrity” (Toronen 120).

He begins surveying the literature and notes several problems with von Balthasar’s account and those following in his footsteps: Toronen acknowledges, with von Balthasar and Thunberg, that Maximus was a Chalcedonian. He simply denies that Chalcedon was the frame for everything Maximus said. “Yes to Chalcedon, no to pan-Chalcedonianism.”

Toronen nicely suggests that Maximus used Porphryry’s Tree as a conceptual model to discuss created reality (not uncreated, though!). This, among other things, allows Maximus to speak of “difference,” not division relative to Christ.

We get a decent discussion of hypostasis, logos, and tropos. One’s “logos” is its principle of essence (Maximus, Ep. 15). Toronen explains that “The principle of essence is what is common to all the particulars but the particulars have some characteristic features of their own which individuate them in relation to one another” (Toronen 53). Further, he nicely distances Maximus’s use of “person” from modern personalism, both in theology and philosophy. The latter two relegate the actions of person to the hypostasis, not the nature.

He gives a good, if frustratingly short account of Monad and Triad. Monad and Triad are both on the side of the uncreated. Going back to the Porphyryan tree, accidents do not apply on the side of the uncreated. And the “generic” is something substantial in God, not abstracted from particulars (64). The Triad is a Monad by virtue of the logos of its essence, and the Monad is a Triad according to the logos of its existence.

Some Criticisms

At times it appears Toronen merely lists arguments from Maximus without actually analyzing them or taking them beyond surface level (see his talk on Circle and Radii, pp. 39). Further, his section “Today” begins by explaining differences between the Fathers and modern personalist theologians, but then just stops (66-68). I grant that “union and distinction” are important for Maximus. I’m just not sure they carry all the weight Toronen wants them to. Nonetheless, this is a fine book and can serve as a good introduction to Maximus.


2 thoughts on “Union and Distinction in Maximus (Review)

  1. Pingback: Review: Orthodoxy and Esotericism (Kelley) | Patristic Charismata

  2. Pingback: A Patristic Linkstorm | The Tents of Shem

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