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.


Posted on November 16, 2010, in Environmentalism, St Maximus the Confessor. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’d like to suggest that the 4th cannot even be seriously considered without the 5th: the mediation between the masculine and the feminine. God’s commandment to us to dress and keep the earth is an integral part of our life together as man and woman, male and female.

    It could be considered that the lack of mediation (not just balance as in the Yin and Yang) between male and female creates many situations in which the resources God gives us (physical and spiritual) are wasted, used incorrectly or used destructively.

    Even in the Church herself the lack of mediation or at least the lack of a fully understood attempt at mediation gives rise to the rejection of hierachy and the desire for the destructive egalitarianism of a female priesthood or the concomitant drive to episcopal tryanny

    Some of the ills:

    Abortion (what greater environmental disaster);

    Devaluation of marriage and the home (lack of marriage, homosexual unions, polygamy/polyandry, and assorted other deviations and preversions);

    Devaluation of the male office of sacrifice/headship (liturgically, in the home and in the culture)–this includes the cultural/religious mis-interpretation of male headship as dominating tyranny;

    The synergy between male and female that God designed in us is the point from which we gain our ability to dress and keep the earth and bring it to greater fruitfulness so that we can offer it back to God.

    It is no accident that the first fruit of the fall was the estrangement between man and woman. We hid not only from God, but from each other.

    BTW, I think it a grave mistake to even talk of ‘the environment’ as if it were somehow separate, distinct and of a wholly different order of creation.

    • Thank you for your comments. St Maximus says that the work of Christ proceeds from one pair of distinctions to another and reconciles them in order, so, you are correct that that 4th reconciliation presumes the 5th.

      • Fr. Michael,

        One of the reaons that I find great difficulty in supporting any proposal of the ‘environmental groups’ is that they all have a preference for disordered humanity especially the sexual/gender disorders that are so prevalent in our culture and a disdain for the traditional idea of sin altogether.

        I think one would be hard pressed to find in a meeting of dedicated members of the Sierra Club, for example, anyone who would oppose abortion, opposed the sham of gay marriage, or even look askance at hetrosexual couples living together without marriage.

        In one sense, there does not need to be any special ‘environmental’ program. The simple acts of obedience to God and the Church in prayer, fasting, almsgiving and repentance will bring the healing. Don’t you think?

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