Paradise and the oikoumene
One of the more intriguing passages in St Maximus the Confessor is found in Ambiguum 41, in which the Confessor lays out humanity’s role in sanctifying the world by mediating five pairs of distinctions inherent in the created order. Because of the fall, mankind was not able to effect these mediations, but Christ, through His Incarnation, was. The five distinctions are:
1. Between the uncreated and the created;
2. Among created things, between the intelligible and the sensible;
3. Among sensible things, between heaven and earth;
4. On Earth, between paradise and the inhabited world (the oikoumene);
5. In humanity, between man and woman, or the masculine and the feminine.
Now, the distinctions are given here in order from top to bottom, but in the order in which they are mediated, they are made from the bottom up; that is to say, the first mediation is between male and female, the second between Paradise and the inhabited world, etc.
What interests us here, in a discussion of environmentalism, is the fourth distinction, the second one to be mediated, that which takes place on earth between paradise and the inhabited world. Please note that for St. Maximus, paradise is an earthly reality, not a transcendent one. Questions naturally arise: where then does paradise lie? (Is it really just outside of Austin, as all Texans are convinced?) How can paradise and the inhabited world be reconciled or mediated? Once they are mediated, what effect does paradise have on the inhabited world?
The Confessor himself, in other places in his writings, suggests some answers to these questions. (Those who are really desperate to know can read Lars Thunberg, Man and the Cosmos, pp. 83-85).
If we can avoid “reaping wholesale returns of speculation on a trifling investment of fact,” to quote Mark Twain, I’d like to suggest that this notion in St. Maximus might be a fruitful one to explore for persons interested in the application of patristic ideas to environmental concerns.