Friday, January 11, 2008

St. Maximus on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

12. God, it is said, is the Sun of Righteousness (cf. Mal. 4:2), and the rays of His supernal goodness shine down on all men alike. The soul is wax if it cleaves to God, but clay if it cleaves to matter. Which it does depends on its own will and purpose. Clay hardens in the sun, while wax grows soft. Similarly, every soul that, despite God’s admonitions, deliberately cleaves to the material world, hardens like clay and drives itself to destruction, just as Pharaoh did (cf. Exod. 7: 13). But every soul that cleaves to God is softened like wax and, receiving the impress and stamp of divine realities, it becomes ‘in spirit the dwelling-place of God’ (Eph. 2: 22).

The Philokalia, pg. 116

I, being the good non-Calvinist that I am, have always argued for the distinction between the active and passive Divine wills. The active will of God is the will in which God’s decree sufficiently determines an event. The passive will of God is the will of His in which is necessary for an event to occur, but not sufficient. With this distinction in mind I have asserted that in the case of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, this was brought about passively by God and actively by Pharaoh. Thinking thus led met to say things like “It was Pharaoh who hardened his own heart”, and this despite the fact that the verb is predicated on God, not Pharaoh, in Romans 8.
But now I have been enlightened by St. Maximus the Confessor in the passage quoted above, I can affirm the self-same proposition the Calvinist affirms, but without having to concede all the baggage that comes with Calvinism. When I assert “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, I mean this in the sense that God’s holiness is such that when it comes into contact with a soul which “cleaves to matter” (i.e. a soul that sins), such a soul hardens as clay hardens in the sun. But acknowledging this truth does not entail that it the case that God made Pharaoh’s heart such that it would be hardened if it came into contact with the Divine. To read it that way would be reading into the text.

Praise be to God for the post-Nicene Patristics!

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Blogger Louis said...

I think this is on the right track. If nothing else it shows how ancient and respected church fathers who dedicated their lives to the scholarly studying of scripture and to thinking clearly and critically came up with perfectly coherent understandings of the interaction between the divine and human without ever incurring the particular compatibalist model of human freedom that the post-modern 5-point Calvinists insist is necessary to the orthodox interpretation of the Bible. Suckers!

7:14 AM  
Blogger Louis said...

Slash when did St. Maximus convert to Gnosticism?

2:06 PM  
Blogger MG said...


If I'm correct, Origen held to a similar understanding of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart--and he was the first Christian to provide an explanation of this event. For those who deny free will, the burden of proof is heavy; not only must they explain away our intuitions, refute several philosophical arguments, and find what seem to me to be implausible readings of Scripture in certain places, but they must provide an explanation for why the early Church fell into "heresy" so early on. After all, from what we can tell, all the early Fathers believed in free will before Augustine, and thought it was a crucial part of how we understand God's goodness (theodicy/defense) and man's place in the universe (the image of God). Something for the Reformed to think about, eh?


When you said "Slash when did St. Maximus convert to Gnosticism?" whadaya mean? I don't mean to start any trouble... I'm just curious, because when I was Protestant I thought Maximus was a Gnostic for a little while, and your comment made me think of that.

3:01 AM  
Blogger Derek said...

"mg" and Louis,

I didn't know he converted to Gnosticism. I know that in his writing in the Philokalia he can come off as as a Gnostic, but a closer reading would conclude nothing of the sort.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Louis said...

I was kidding

4:48 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

and Jehovah strengtheneth Pharaoh’s heart, and he hath not sent the sons of Israel out of his land.

Young, Robert: Young's Literal Translation. Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, 1997, S. Ex 11:10

10:27 AM  
Blogger MG said...


No, he didn't convert to gnosticism... but yeah I took his writings to be gnostic-ish when I read them the first time.

By the way, it has come to my attention in my readings that Fathers such as St. Irenaeus (in Against Heresies), St. Gregory of Nyssa (Life of Moses) and perhaps others said the same kind of thing about free will and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. I was delighted in reading the passages because of how similar they were to what Maximus says.

10:24 PM  

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