“Since the soul is more noble than the body and God incomparably more noble than the world created by Him, he who values the body more than the soul and the world created by God more than the Creator Himself is simply a worshipper of idols.“ -St. Maximos the Confessor

This is such a beautiful quote, but can very easily be misunderstood. Take note that St. Maximos says nothing about the body being bad, or the world that God made being bad. When God created the world, He said, “It is good.” He then proceeds to make man in His own image and likeness, obviously creating another which is good. The phrases St. Maximos uses here, especially ‘body’ and ‘world,’ must be properly understood in order to take away from this quote the real point that the saint is trying to make.

When he says that “the soul is more noble than the body,” he is referring to the fact that we are fallen, we are sinners. The Church and the Scriptures clearly teach us that man’s soul can be entirely healed in this world, but the body, which is made of clay, will only be completely restored in the Resurrection at the last day. This is not a sort of heretical dualism (thinking that spiritual things are important the the body is an evil burden on the soul). In fact, we often sing in our hymns to the saints that they cared more for the soul because it is immortal. Our soul naturally longs for God – this is why so many people feel an emptiness in their lives, regardless of material success. I’ve heard it said that our lives have within them a “God-shaped hole,” a space that only God can fill and complete. After the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, our bodies, which are material, no longer primarily long for God, but they long for things that make them happy in the moment. So, as St. Maximos says near the end of the quote, we have a real choice – using his language we would say that we can choose the things of the soul, which means to choose the will and the way of God, or we can choose the way of the body, which is following our own will, which ultimately leads us to estrangement from God and death.

St. Maximos saying that “God [is] incomparably more noble than the world created by Him” seems obvious. But again, a misreading of this phrase could lead one to thinking that the world is evil. Primarily, when we read of ‘the world’ in the New Testament or in the writings of the Fathers, they are referring not to the creation, but to the fallen ways of the world. When Christ says “the world hates Me,” He speaks not of the creation but rather of the ways of fallen man. The things that fallen man wants are the exact opposite of what God has called us to, and therefore the world is hostile to the will of God. God is greater in infinite degrees than anything we can attain on our own in this world. Nothing compares to Him in any way. So our choice is clear – to choose to seek out the things that this world says are important (wants, desires, fads, popularity, power, money, possessions, etc), or we can choose to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

Idolatry – putting something in the place of God; putting something above God in our lives. So the point of St. Maximos is important, beautiful, and one that we all need to keep in mind. It’s very easy to get caught up with what we want in this world, or what we want to keep ourselves ‘happy,’ and in doing this we can easily forget God. What does this actually look like? When our only measure of success is our own desires. When every decision is based on what do I want. When the measure of how we live is determined by what is popular or fashionable and not on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we allow our view on issues of right and wrong to be swayed by what our friends, neighbors, and “media personalities” think on the issues. One great measure of the place God hold in our lives is in our checkbook – do we tithe and help the poor, or does all our money go for conveniences and desires.

God’s purpose in His creation of man is love. God loves us, and He wants to share Himself and everything He is and everything He has with us. We could get no more! God wants to share everything with us! This is far more than we can attain by our own selfish pursuits. Our choice is plain – idolatry (putting our own will over God) or proper orientation and worship of the One True God. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?

Author Matthew Jackson