The Gnomic Will in Scripture

St. Maximus the Confessor: “Thus, those who say that there is a gnomie in Christ, as this inquiry is demonstrating, are maintaining that he is a mere man, deliberating in a manner like unto us, having ignorance, doubt and opposition, since one only deliberates about something which is doubtful, not concerning what is free of doubt. By nature we have an appetite simply for what by nature is good, but we gain experience of the goal in a particular way, through inquiry and counsel.” [Joseph P. Farrell, Disputation with Pyrrhus, p. 31-32]

There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12)

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6)

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Heb. 5:13-14)

11 Responses to The Gnomic Will in Scripture

  1. Symeon says:

    I think it would be useful to compile a Patristic florilegia along the lines of this post.

  2. Nate says:

    Will/Maximos,

    Thanks for pointing me back to this blog. I originally came across it when I was trying to learn about the Orthodox position on the filioque. I appreciate almost everything I read on here and this dialogue is no exception. I’ve been meaning to read something from St Maximos and I think I have found the book I’ll start with “On the Cosmic Mystery…”…as you suggested this past Saturday. Anyway, for my two cents I throw in this quote. The prodigal son returning to the natural will:
    Luke 15:11-13,
    “Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living…BUT WHEN HE CAME TO HIMSELF, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…”

  3. Drew that depends. The natural power of will is directed to the Good, but the gnomic will is a personal employment of a natural power and as such it only becomes fixed in thegood through habituation. The good here is far wider than Plato and Aristotle envisioned since the union with the divine that they proffered was primarily intellectual and not bodily, as it is for the Fathers.

  4. Drew says:

    So would the gnomic will bear a relation to the eudaemonistic understanding of ethical cognition as proposed by Plato and Aristotle? Just curious…

    Thanks!
    Drew

  5. Andrew,

    It is my understanding that the gnomic will is our human will which is immature in that it does not always will the right/mature thing. It must be perfected by repetitious willing obedience to God’s precepts to establish a habit of virtue fitting to our individual logoi, which I believe is God’s intention for our nature that we must choose to act according to.

    Here’s what St. Maximus says about logoi and our willing participation in Christ:

    ” If by reason and wisdom a person a person has to come to understand that what exists was brought out of non-being into being by God, if he intelligently directs the soul’s imagination to the infinite differences and variety of things as they exist by nature and turns his questing eye with understanding towards the intelligible model according to which things have been made, would he not know that the Logos is many logoi? This is evident in the incomparable differences among created things. For each is unmistakably unique in itself and its identity remains distinct in relation to other things. He will also know that the many logoi are the one Logos to whom all things are related and who exists in Himself without confusion, the essential and individually distinctive God, the Logos of God the Father. He is the beginning and cause of all things in whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones of dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created from Him and through Him and for Him (Col. 1:15-17; Rom 11:36). Because He held together in Himself the logoi before they came to be, by His gracious will He created all things visible and invisible out of non-being. By His word and by His wisdom He made all things and is making all things, universals as well as particulars, at the proper time.

    For we believe that a logos of angels preceded their creation, a logos preceded the creation of each of the beings and powers that fill the upper world, a logos preceded the creation of human beings, a logos preceded everything that receives its becoming from God and so on. It is not necessary to mention them all. The Logos whose excellence is incomparable, ineffable and inconceivable in Himself is exalted beyond all creation and even beyond the idea of difference and distinction. This same Logos, whose goodness is revealed and multiplied in all the things that have their origin in Him, with the degree of beauty appropriate to each being recapitulates all things in Himself (Eph 1:10). Through this Logos there came to be both being and continuing to be for from Him the things that were made came to be in a certain way and for a certain reason, and by continuing to be and by moving, they participate in God. For all things, in that they came to be from God, participate proportionally in God whether by intellect, by reason, by sense-perception, by vital motion, or by some habitual fitness, as the great and inspired Dionysius the Areopagite thought. Consequently each of the intellectual and rational beings, whether angels or human beings, through the very Logos according to which each was created, who is in God and is “with God” (John 1:1) is “called and indeed is” a “portion of God” [Maximus phraseology, 1John 3:1 says “children of God”] through the Logos that preexisted in God as I have already argued.

    Surely then, if someone is moved according to the Logos, he will come to be in God in whom the logos of his being preexists as his beginning and cause. Furthermore if he is moved by desire and wants to attain nothing else than his own beginning, he does not flow away from God. Rather, by constant straining toward God, he becomes God and is called a “portion of God” because he has become fit to participate in God. By drawing on wisdom and reason and by appropriate movement he lays hold of his proper beginning and cause. For there is no end toward which he can be moved nor is he moved in any other way than toward his beginning, that is, he ascends to the Logos by whom he was created and in whom all things will ultimately be restored. (see Acts 3:21) Clearly one’s movement toward the divine reaches its end only when one reaches God.”

    On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 7

  6. Andrew,

    Thanks for your questions, perhaps I can answer them.

    (1) Gnomic willing or the necessity of deliberation about the Good emerges from the ignorance of and lack of integration with it proper to newly-created persons. The logoi are God’s plans or predeterminations for the natures of things, the character of their possible and actual modes of existence. With respect to creatures with free choice, God’s plan for them (acquisition of virtue, deification) can only be realized by their voluntary movement towards that end, and it is this movement that is according to the logoi of their nature, all else is contrary to it. I do not believe that gnomic willing (confusion, ignorance, deliberation concerning the Good) is eliminated when human persons become fixed in vice, but the conscience can be seared and vice fixed in habit such that the possibility of repentence while on earth is greatly diminished.

    (2) When Adam sinned, he redirected his natural love for God towards created things and introduced a new form of knowing that restricts itself to the contents of sensory perception. This new form of knowing and our activated fear of death make us prone to self-deception and idolatry, that is the heart seeks from what is created the rest of soul and stability of motion that can only be found in God (Matt. 15:19). To use the language of St. Paul, the “lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22) make necessary asceticism in order to make “the members of our earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amount to idolatry.” (Col. 3:5)

  7. Andrew says:

    Help a young Padawan out here:

    So according to Orthodox anthropology, the more a person unites his gnomic will with the logoi of his nature*, the more the gnomic will becomes unnecessary due to the fact that deliberation is no longer needed? In other words, the gnomic will becomes extraneous because the virtues are enacted spontaneously?

    Another question:

    Is there then a kind of anti-logoi of nature? Meaning, what of those persons who consistently give themselves over to the vices, to ‘the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life’? Does the gnomic will then also become extraneous because the vices are enacted spontaneously?

    *Could you explain — in the vernacular, please — what exactly the logoi of nature means?

    Thanks, and again I say thanks, for this wonderful blog which I visit daily.

    Andrew.

  8. Karen says:

    Great post, Neo! Of course I did have to look up what gnomic will was, ha…

  9. dananova says:

    Hi Perry,

    Great stuff here, as always. I lost your contact information. Would you mind sending me your email and number?

    My email address is “andrew.nova” “hubinternational.com”.

    Peace

  10. Steve or Bill,
    Yes that’s a good passage to illustrate all these themes mingling and intertwined together to form a kind of summing up of Orthodox anthropology.

    Photios

  11. s-p says:

    It seems to me that the “partakers of the divine nature” passage we so often lift out of context, is the quintessential “synergy” passage and indeed calls out the “gnomic will” and the concept that we must, through ascetical discipline, return to the logoi of our nature which correspond to the energies of God, yes?… or no? hmmmm….

    2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
    10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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