A Eucharistic Ontology (N. Loudonikos)

Loudonikos, N.  A Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity.

Try to find a better subtitle.  Change my mind.

Nikolaos Loudonikos (hereafter NL) offers a new facet on St Maximus’ theology. NL maintains that the structure of Christian ontology is both eschatological and Eucharistic. It is eschatological because of Maximus’ insight of “becoming and motion.” Ontology is not static or closed. All things begin, have motion, and are in a state of becoming. They are teleologically oriented towards God. Likewise, ontology is not closed. It opens up in the Eucharist as nature receives and moves outside itself (ek-stasis), not to escape nature, but to open itself even more. Further, the Eucharist is eschatological: it points ahead to the time when God will be all in all.

Like all writers on St Maximus, NL gives an extended discussion of the “logos/logoi.” It is similar to what other standard treatises have said on St Maximus, albeit NL works it within his larger thesis. NL gives an extended discussion of what other Maximian scholars have said on the logoi (55-56). NL will call them the basic principles of God (though of course, he is aware of the many connotations of logoi). Logoi are also the divine wills in God, which will have eschatological and Eucharistic overtones. The logoi interpenetrate one another and thus provide the basis for communion: communion between God and creation and communion between Christians in the Eucharist.

NL gives a short but helpful discussion on both person/hypostasis and the uncreated energies of God. Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasis (93ff). NL gives a careful discussion of the energies, correcting some Orthodox scholars and rebutting many Thomist claims. Contra to what some think, the “logoi” of creation are not synonymous with the divine energies (99ff). Every nature has an energy, and the energy is constituted by the principle of nature itself. Each energy reveals God in his entirety in each entity in accordance with the logos of its existence. Thus, the doctrine of the uncreated energies imply the doctrine of the logoi. The distinction between essence and energy (this time with Palamas) promotes the distinction between essence and will in God made by Athanasius and the Cappadocians.

Entities commune with one another through their logoi. Here NL (and St Maximus) confront an age-old philosophical problem still present to us: how do entities commune with one another? Hellenism said a nature can never commune with another nature (see also John Locke, Hegel, Descartes, Hume, American worldview). This raises the famous problem of St Maximus’s “Five Divisions.’ Maximus acknowledges the reality of the problem: given the fall and the divisions of nature, inter-entity communion is not likely by itself, and thus the truth would seem to lie with John Locke. How does St Maximus bridge the Five Divisions? He does so with “a Eucharistic Dialectic” (what a perfect phrase coined by NL!). Christ in his recapitulatory work (Ephesians 1:10) heals the divisions of nature. Thus, the “rifts become gifts.” The person of Christ is the locus of the mystery of en-hypostatization. The person of Christ becomes the mode of authentic communion among beings. The Eucharist solidifies this love for us and we are given a share in the divine life (p. 128).

NL gives a helpful, if perhaps not always careful, discussion of the wills in Christ. He first returns to St Maximus’ theology of motion: Maximus inverts the Origenist triad to read: becoming/motion/stasis. All things have motion because they are created. Entities move via their logoi. “Becoming” is seen as the movement of a created order to its goal–the natural “middle term” justifying the genesis of things within their fixity in God.
Free will is the lawful dominion over actions within our power. “Gnome” is defined as the innate appetite for things within our power. It gives rise to choice. Natural will is the movement of a particular person through the gnome. The gnomic will actualizes the natural will’s desire per its logos. The “mode of movement” is the process whereby movement is activated in a personal way (169).

NL has an interesting footnote to this (admittedly) dense discussion. Having will by nature is not the same as the act of “willing.” The former is a natural; the latter is modal and hypostatic. The distinction between natural and gnomic is analogous to the distinction between logos and tropos. However, we should not press the distinction too far: Christ has two natural wills but he does not have a gnomic will (or more precisely, he does not “will” (verb) in a gnomic way, since the latter implies uncertainty.

NL ends the main argument of his thesis with an extended meditation and eventual rejection of Heidegger’s discussion on “being.” He shows how Denis the Areopagite had already anticipated Heidegger’s (correct) deconstruction of Western philosophy, and provides the solution (against Heidegger) in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we stand outside of ourselves (ek-static) and give to the “other.”

There is one aspect per Maximian studies where NL makes his own “splash.” It is in his subtitle. NL speaks of a “dialogical reciprocity.” This means that God created man in such a way that man has a natural response to God. NL explains this best in contradistinction to later Thomist writers: Man is not simply destined to a “passive” enjoyment of God via the intellect in the beautific vision, but God created man that he would always “be in response” (dia-logos) to the Logos in the eschaton. Not merely the beatific vision, but an active deification, an ever-moving rest. Incidentally, it is in this chapter that NL interacts with the major works on Aquinas and Maximus in the last century.

Conclusion: the book starts off slowly and will put off many readers. The present reviewer is quite familiar with most of the literature on St Maximus (e.g., von Balthasar, Cooper, Bathrellos, Blowers, Louth, and Farrell), yet found the introductory sections of the book difficult to follow. It seemed (at first) that NL was stretching texts to make his thesis (eschatology and Eucharist) fit, and maybe he was. Fortunately, the book is meticulously outlined and easy to follow, once one gets past the first forty pages. I read the book with a notebook, and the outlines made it easy to follow without losing track of the main argument.

Another positive to the book is that NL interacts with most of the current theological and philosophical literature on the topics in the book. He even deals with practical problems raised by the study of St Maximus (thus making him useful, separating him from 90% of academics in the world). The book is good, though there are numerous typographical errors and since the book was translated from Greek, the syntax is occasionally choppy.

One thought on “A Eucharistic Ontology (N. Loudonikos)

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

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