Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Limerick Maximus

There once was a theologian named Maximus
 Who preached there were two kinds of Jesus
 So they ripped out his tongue
 And he died in August of sepsis

In 662 they actually cut off the hand of Maximus the confessor in addition to ripping out his tongue, but the rhyming scheme of the limerick was already so off I did not want to put a hand in it. Maximus proclaimed that Jesus was both human and divine in order to make sense of the Filioque (literally “and the son” added to some Latin creeds). This was the wrong kind of Jesus to some powerful folks so they mutilated him to prevent him writing about (it was his right hand) or speaking of his heresies. If he had died right away he would be remembered as Maximus the martyr, but he lingered for a little while and so he is called Maximus the confessor.

To the inquiring Atheist the history of theology is a sputtering continuum of subtle and confusing questions. Most, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, are settled only when time buries them under the accumulated realization of just how trivial they are. Many have implications in the lives of real people, and are made non-trivial by the suffering caused by knowing a particular answer to a particular question is true.

The philosophical gymnastics needed to “understand” the Filioque are among the more intractable questions in Christian theology, but their historical context makes them appear important. Christian scripture, especially Catholic and Orthodox scripture, contains canonical texts not assembled into the bible. Arguably at the apex of this pile of non-biblical scripture stuff is the Nicene Creed. Originally written in 325 it was officially amended in 381, and sometime over the next couple hundred years the word filioque was added to the Latin translation. In context the addition stated that: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father 〈and the Son〉.”

Maximus was a rather severe Ascetic. Among his most famous writings is a dense piece entitled “Centuries on Love”. This contained 400 paragraphs (centuries) about love where the annoyingly repetitive theme is: “don’t do it if you want to get to heaven”. The Calvinists love Maximus. He is very concerned with perfect love; a type of love that does not involve people, and where the less human you are the better. He sounds like he is no fun at all. I even had a hard time skimming through his nonsense to find some kind of usable quote about love. Here is one:

“First the memory brings up a simple thought to the mind, and when it lingers about it arouses passion.” – Centuries on Love paragraph 84 Maximus the Confessor


This sounds like the warm afterglow of a recollected encounter. I can picture looking into eyes that turn from brown to green, and then back again; see a night’s sky of lights reflected in an upturned smile. Unfortunately the context Maximus chose for this quote makes it clear that arousing passion is a bad thing. Luckily you have me to free this questionable gem from its prudish context. Let it fly free! You are welcome.

Here is another quote from Centuries on Love where Maximus talks about dreams:

“When the soul begins to feel its own good health, then does it regard as simple and undisturbing the images which take place in dreams.” – Centuries on Love paragraph 89 Maximus the Confessor


The context this was chiseled from makes clear the fact that maximus did not have the same kind of dreams I do. He would probably have found my dreams disturbing. Especially the ones that bring the simplest of smiles to my sleeping face.

To the atheist the question of whether magic spews from one or two imaginary spigots is not a very important question. This is mostly because it does not mean anything when examined rationally. For Christian theology this question was significant enough to mutilate and kill people who thought about it in the wrong way.

Maximus’s contribution, which now has him venerated by several Christian groupings, was to state that Jesus and god could be many things. They could be both divine and human, and could be somewhat interchangeable as a result. This sort of fluid description is central to the modern protestant idea of using biblical descriptions of a corporeal Jesus to determine what the magical Jesus in your own mind wants to talk to you about. In an interesting resonance with the bulk of Maximus’s writings the Jesus in your head is supposed to tell you not to let yourself or anyone else touch your genitals for fun.

Many modern apologists have posited that this dual nature of Jesus contains the kernel of understanding the dual nature of particles/waves. “Perhaps” I have been told “If you let Jesus into your heart you would really understand and know the standard theory of quantum mechanics”. Fortunately nobody who really understands the standard model has ever said that to me so the fact that it is a statement crafted from complete bullcrap remains pure and undiluted.

Unfortunately for Maximus his “everything can be everything as long as you do not love anything but God” approach to the single word amendment of the Nicene Creed was not seen as a happy compromise to everyone. So they ripped out his tongue and cut off his hand. I do not really know if he actually died of sepsis, but it was a good bet and it almost rhymed enough to make the Limerick almost work.






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