Maximus the Confessor’s Deepening of the Anthropic Principle

The anthropic principle is the notion that the universe seems to have been fashioned for humans. The earth’s exact optimal distance from the sun, the makeup of the atmosphere, the presence of the moon at exactly the right distance, etc. lends itself to the idea that the universe is peculiarly shaped for humanity. But if we simply have in mind physical survival, that we can breathe the air, drink the water, and eat the fruit, the depth of this anthropocentrism may be limited. Perhaps it is mechanical principles that govern the universe and they happen to accommodate human life, but these principles themselves may be indifferent to the presence of humanity. The anthropic principle does not specify an actual principle, but it seems to point to an underlying principle, which is itself human centered. That is the anthropic principle may or may not lend itself to a specifically Christian interpretation, but given the idea that it is not just any kind of human but the humanity of Christ that is at the heart of creation, this anthropocentrism takes on a particular shape. Christ as the specific human center to the Cosmos – the truth about the world – means that creation’s purpose is not simply anthropocentric but it is Christocentric.

This Christocentrism consists of two parts: the immanent purposes of creation are to be discovered in the particulars of Christ’s humanity (in no way separated from his deity) and the transcendent principles determining creation are to be discovered in his deity (in no way separated from him humanity). That is, creation is not simply made for man, but in Christ we find the very principles guiding and holding the universe together have a human shape. As Colossians 1:16 puts it, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” He is both the means and the purpose of creation.

 It is not mechanical principles, impersonal laws, or sheer power, at work in the world. That is, we might think of Christ as an outside purpose, holding together some other (e.g., mechanical) principle, but what Paul is describing in Colossians, is an inside principle as well. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). He is the reason of the universe in a two-fold sense – the teleological purpose or the end for which all things were created, but also as guiding principle or final power at work in creating and holding all things together. Paul does not distinguish between these powers – it is the same Christ at work as the inward principle and the outward goal.

If we think of it in terms of the Logos, it is not that a different Word or logic is at work in bringing about all things and bringing them to their proper end. The principle for which things are created is to be found in their end. “Christ maintained the modes of existence (which are above nature), along with the principles of being (which are according to nature), united and unimpaired” (Amb. 5.17).[1]  “As God, He was the motivating principle for his own humanity,” for humanity in general and for all of creation, and what tells us this is the case is that “as man He was the revelatory principle of His own divinity” (Amb. 5.18). In his incarnation we encounter the manner in which all of creation is through him and for him. “His divine energy was humanized through its ineffable union with the natural energy of the flesh, He completed the plan of salvation on our behalf in a ‘theandric’ manner, which means that, in a way that was simultaneously divine and human, he ‘accomplished both human and divine things’” (Amb. 5.19). The principle and energy behind the incarnation (the “theandric energy”), the energy of his flesh, is the very principle of creation. The Logos completing and perfecting creation in the incarnation, is the Logos through whom and by whom creation was accomplished. Creation and incarnation are conjoined in the singular principle and purpose of the Logos.

This means that, given the revealed purpose and principle of creation in the incarnation, Christ is manifest “in all things that have their origin in Him” (Amb. 7.16). This manifestation is according to the being of each existing thing, and it is not as if the fulness of the principle of the Logos is evident in every existent thing. There is, for example, a logos of angels, and a logos of creatures. “A logos of human beings likewise preceded their creation, and—in order not to speak of particulars—a logos preceded the creation of everything that has received its being from God” (Amb. 7.16). Each and everything, whether angels or men or animals, “insofar as it has been created in accordance with the logos that exists in and with God, is and is called a ‘portion of God,’ precisely because of that logos, which, as we said, preexists in God.” Whether great or small – “By His word (logos) and His wisdom He created and continues to create all things— universals as well as particulars— at the appropriate time.” And inasmuch as he sums up or recapitulates all things in Himself, since “it is owing to Him that all things exist and remain in existence, and it is from Him that all things came to be in a certain way, and for a certain reason,” (Amb. 7.16) and this too is made evident in the incarnation, but the incarnation is reflected in all of creation. In summary, “We also believe that this same One is manifested and multiplied in all the things that have their origin in Him, in a manner appropriate to the being of each, as befits His goodness” (Amb. 7.16).

Creation’s purpose was momentarily thwarted by those (and in those) given dominion and responsibility over creation, but this too is part of the purpose of the incarnation: “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:18). Creation and recreation, or creation and incarnation, are not of a separate order. He is at the head of creation as source and purpose and redemption is a filling out or overcoming of any counter-order or counter-purpose that might thwart the principle of creation.

By means of his life, death, and resurrection He restored the divine principle to humanity. He is the beginning of creation (Jn. 1:1) and he is the beginning of redemption: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:18). All of creation is being deified – he is becoming all in all (Col 3:11). Through Christ “God alone, who in a manner befitting His goodness wholly interpenetrates all who are worthy. For all things without exception necessarily cease from their willful movement toward something else when the ultimate object of their desire and participation appears before them” (Amb. 7.12).

All things, according to both Hebrews and Corinthians, will be brought into subjection to Him: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control” (Heb 2:8). “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Co 15:28). It is on the basis of this subjection of all things to the Son, and the Son’s subjection to the Father, that what has defied this subjection is defeated. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Co 15:25–26).

And this will take place because that which is within our power, I mean our free will— through which death made its entry among us, and confirmed at our expense the power of corruption—will have surrendered voluntarily and wholly to God, and perfectly subjected itself to His rule, by eliminating any wish that might contravene His will. (Amb. 7.11).

The anthropic principle might seem to be defeated in death, in deadly accidents, in random death, or in the human orientation to death and self-destructiveness. The principle of death might appear to reign over the human centered, life-giving nature of the universe, but in Christ, the centrality of the human is restored in the one who defeats death. This is not a destruction of the power of self-determination but the restoration of this power:

affirming our fixed and unchangeable natural disposition, that is, a voluntary surrender of the will, so that from the same source whence we received our being, we should also long to receive being moved, like an image that has ascended to its archetype, corresponding to it completely, in the way that an impression corresponds to its stamp, so that henceforth it has neither the inclination nor the ability’ to be carried elsewhere or to put it more clearly and accurately, it is no longer able to desire such a thing, for it will have received the divine energy— or rather it will have become God by divinization—experiencing far greater pleasure in transcending the things that exist and are perceived to be naturally its own. (Amb. 7.12)

Our “natural disposition” is that fixed and unchangeable purpose for which and in which we were created. This is the motive force within creation and this motive force, through our acquiescence, takes its place within us. As we are filled with the divine energy of the Spirit, we become that for which we were created: “He has now reconciled you” to the divine purpose “in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col 1:22) as in and through you He is all in all.


[1] Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua Vol. 1  Edited and Translated by Nicholas Constas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014). Hereafter Amb.


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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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