Wholly Flesh, Wholly Deified

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Cooper, Adam.  Wholly Flesh, Wholly Deified: The Body in St Maximus the Confessor.  Oxford.

The Body in St Maximus
Cooper takes a theme that is a hot issue in current theological groups (e.g., “the body”) and notes how few Maximus scholars have addressed the issue “what happens to the body when it is deified.” He breaks new ground and shows remarkably skill in holding his complex narrative together.

Cooper notes the ways Maximus subtly inverts a lot of ancient (and Origenist) presuppositions about the body. Instead of the body hiding God’s truth, which it does in a way, the body ends up being the focal point for God’s revelation to man in Jesus Christ. Cooper then gives an extended discussion on the various “incarnations” in St Maximus’ thought.

Chapter 2: Corporeality and Cosmos.

This chapter is clearer than the previous one. That said, one should read St Maximus’s “Ambiguum 7” before reading this chapter. It can be found in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, pp. 45-74. Cooper is examining St Maximus’ response to the 6th century Origenists’ use of St Gregory’s phrase “slipped from God.” They claimed that humanity was originally incorporated into a henad of incorporeal unity.  Creation is thus a fall from this henad.  Maximus rebuts this along the lines of

1) it gives creatures a temporal, pre-eternal existence with God. Therefore, for God to be Lord, he has to be Lord of something (incidentally, this heresy has come again in the teachings of John Piper’s Christian hedonism. In fact, the latter is almost a word-for-word endorsement of Origenism).

2) The doctrine of the henad implies God created the world out of necessity, and not freely. If creation is the necessary result of a fall from unitary simplicity, then it can’t be said to be a free creation. 3) Assumes a fall from a state of perfection. Even if one reaches perfection again (e.g., “Go to heaven”) there is no guarantee against another fall.

St Maximus responds to this by reconstructing what we mean by motion. All created things move since they are brought into existence by God. Motion is natural to created beings and is the structure of the path to deification.


But St Maximus does see the essential point Origen was getting at. Our current empirical existence suffers from an instability: because of “death” we move from our becoming and source of being from the moment of our coming into being. Cooper anticipates a future answer: the incarnation (and by extension the sacraments) overcomes the chaos of matter.

In chapter three Cooper gives a good summary of Maximus’ triadology. God exists triadically. God is trinity at the level of particular and unity at the level of common. Neither is apart from another. The Trinity is a monad because this is how it is, and the Unity is truly a triad because this is how it exists (133). The one Godhead is monadically and exists triadically.

St Maximus then makes a helpful distinction between LOGOS and TROPOS. Logos has to do with what a thing is at the level of being, and tropos has to do with how a thing is at the level of hypostasis. Cooper then has a dense but important paragraph,

It is by divine illumination, consequently, that we move from the level of unity, which in the order of theologia is denoted by logos, to the level of differentiation, which is denoted by tropos. In the order of economia the pattern is reversed. Unity in Christ occurs at the level of tropos, or hypostasis, whereas differentiation occurs at the level of logos, or ousia. Epistemologically, the latter is arrived at by the encounter with the form (134).

The logos became composite at the hypostatic level–assuming a human nature in its full reality, body and soul (140). The human nature itself is a composite of body and soul; thus, the Logos assumed a composite.


Cooper gives a very nuanced discussion of Maximus’ belief and role of the Roman See. Was St Maximus a dogged Filioquist who firmly held to the universal monarchical papacy? The answer is a qualified “no.” Cooper focuses on two letters of Maximus that seem to affirm his believe in the papacy. Cooper notes, however, that the textual authenticity of these is doubtful. Oddly enough, Cooper ignores the Filioque debate and focuses entirely on the Roman See. In short, the letters, corrupted and extant as they are, have Maximus championing “the six Ecumenical Councils.” The problem is obvious: the 6th Council had not yet happened. Roman apologists are quick to point a Lateran Council as the 6th Council of which St Maximus allegedly referred. Perhaps, but it is doubtful that St Maximus (or anybody) would have so soon placed a local Lateran council on the same level with Nicea.

In any case, assuming Maximus did say that (which is by no means certain), he said that because of the sanctuary he found in Rome and of Rome’s confession of Orthodoxy. That begs the question of Rome’s supposed infallibility. Suffice to say, Maximus’ interrogators informed him that Rome had now abandoned dyotheletism (which may or may not have been true at the time). This forced Maximus to sharpen his ecclesiology: the truth lay in orthodoxy itself, not in a particular See. Indeed, it would go on to say that the dogma judges the synod (and by extension the sees).

That said, that is not the point of the chapter. Cooper gives us a very good explication of the relation between corporeality, the church, and hierarchy. Contrary to modern feminists and Gnostics (which are the same thing), hierarchy does not abandon freedom of worship in the Spirit, but establishes it. In language reminiscent of Dionysius and Proclus, Maximus advocates a “hierarchical return” by means of the liturgy.


Cooper ends his discussion summing up the previous book when answering the question, “What happens to the body in deification?” The short answer is, “it experiences death in an intense form.” Maximus identifies our baptism as a baptism in Christ death and resurrection (in other words, he doesn’t hem-haw around Romans 6). When we participate in virtue and in suffering, we are identifying even more intensely with Christ’s death via our baptism. Cooper also gives us a fascinating discussion of faith alone and good works. Contrary to later Protestant polemics, good works are the manifestation of God’s mercy in our flesh for the sake of others. In St Maximus–on Cooper’s gloss, anyway–good works take on a social dimension.

The book is probably worth the $170, which is unfortunate since few can afford it. It does not stand alone, though. It does not deal with the nature of Christ’s wills and its discussion of ousia and hypostasis is short. To be fair to Cooper this was not his stated aim. This book will likely remain the standard in the field on these topics.

2 thoughts on “Wholly Flesh, Wholly Deified

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

  2. Pingback: A Eucharistic Ontology (N. Loudonikos) | The Tents of Shem

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