Maximus_ConfessorThose who are always trying to lay hold of our soul do so by means of impassioned thoughts, so that they may drive it to sin either in the mind or in action.

Consequently, when they find the intellect (Greek: ὁ νοῦς)** [see footnote] unreceptive, they will be disgraced and put to shame, and when they find the intellect occupied with spiritual contemplation, they will ‘be turned back and suddenly ashamed’ (Ps. 6:10).

He who anoints his intellect for spiritual contest and drives all impassioned thoughts out of it has the quality of a deacon.

He who illuminates his intellect with the knowledge of created beings and utterly destroys false knowledge has the quality of a priest.

And he who perfects his intellect with the holy myrrh of the knowledge and worship of the Holy Trinity has the quality of a bishop.

The demons are weakened when the passions in us decrease through our keeping the commandments, and they are defeated totally when they are routed by dispassion, for then they no longer find anything through which they can enter the soul and fight against it.

This is what is meant by ‘they will be weakened and defeated before Thy face’ (Ps. 9:3).

Some men abstain from the passions because of human fear, others because of self-esteem, and others through self-control. Some, however, are delivered from the passions by divine providence.

All the discourses of our Lord contain these four elements: commandments, doctrines, threats and promises.

With the help of these we patiently accept every kind of hardship, such as fasting, vigils, sleeping on the ground, toil and labor in acts of service, insults, dishonor, torture, death and so on. ‘Helped by the words of Thy lips,’ says the psalmist, I have kept to difficult paths’ (Ps. 17:4. LXX).

The reward of self-control is dispassion, and the reward of faith is spiritual knowledge. Dispassion engenders discrimination, and spiritual knowledge engenders love for God.

When the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding. When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge.

The first leads the spiritual contestant to discriminate between virtue and vice; the second leads the participant to the inner qualities of incorporeal and corporeal things.

Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns – as far as this is possible for the human intellect – the qualities of God.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): Four Hundred Texts on Love, Second Century, 20-26 53, Text  from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 2 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp.68-69.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Maximus and by other Greek authors: INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos). The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Macarian Homilies).