Maximus, Sartre, and the Dialectic of Time-existence
May 24, 2010 1 Comment
Sartre explained that the average man hides behind masks and sustains himself on a kind of false existence of wearing masks and role-playing. Nietzsche said much the same of the masses. It is hard to deny this to be the case. The ancient pre-socratic philosophers alternated within this same dialectic, too, with Heraclitus claiming all reality was constant flux and Parmenides rebutting that all reality was actually permanence. These are two sides of the same dialectic found in post-lapsarian time-existence.
What occurred to me was that these pre-Socratics were looking for an ultimate impersonal ontological grounding, while the modern existential philosophers were concerned with this issue anthropologically and socially. When one thinks of Sartre’s man who steps forward to dispell the viscous, as he calls it, and begins to be being-for-itself, one of his characters ends in suicide. The ultimate act of chaos, change, and rejection of the permanent. Someone like the rock star comes to mind. (But isn’t this just a role as well? Yes, it is.) On the other hand, you have the masses, dumbed down as obeisant sheep who follow blindly whatever Übermensch comes along. In other words, same dialectic protracted through the history of philosophy.
What is interesting is that there seems to be no way out of this dialectic. However, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and later St. Maximus, expanded on this theme and posited a solution for this dialectic in the eschaton. The eschaton will not be either a state of immoble stasis, nor one of constant flux (since the righteous will not be able to fall into sin). This dialectic is transcended just as the false dialectic of free meaning a choice between good or evil is transcended. Paul Blowers writes in his paper:
“The Confessor reworks the categories of time, extension, and aeonic existence in an effort to describe an indescribable state. This moving rest presupposes a kind of extension (diastema) that is beyond time (kronos), and yet short of God’s own utter timelessness: a temporal timelessness or aeon, a moving motionlessness. On this plane the creature enjoys “eternally moving repose” as a finite being open toward the infinite, and yet also knows an “immobile eternal movement” since the end of the finite being is infinite and unattainable Thus the final stasis is thus a ‘dialectic vibration between time and timelessness, between creature and Creator.” (Blowers, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa and the Notion of Perpetual Progress)
So there is an interesting solution to this historical philosophical dilemma as proposed by these Eastern doctors. And, it is one which is simultaneously ontological and personal, whereas the pre-socratics were impersonal in their considerations, while the existentialists were ultimately concerned only with persons, since real being is the person who wills being-for-itself. So we have the permanence and stasis as preferred by the masses reconciled with the flux and change as preferred by the revolutionary. It seems only a personal God can rescue us from this false dialectic as well.