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The world was created by God in Trinity. The most perfect creature is man, for he is the apex of creation, the microcosm in the macrocosm. Analyzing the issue of the creation of man and its relation to the birth and the origin of pleasure and pain, St. Maximos says that God the Word who created man’s nature, made it without pleasure and pain. “He did not make the senses susceptible to either pleasure or pain.”[3] He insists on this point by saying: “Pleasure and pain were not created simultaneously with the flesh.” [4]

While there was no pleasure and pain in man before the Fall, there was a noetic faculty towards pleasure, through which man could enjoy God ineffably. [ 5 ] But he misused this natural faculty. Man oriented the “the natural longing of the nous for God” to sensible things and thus “by the initial movement towards sensible things, the first man transferred this longing to his senses, and through them began to experience this pleasure in a way contrary to nature”. [6] The words “according to nature” and “contrary to nature” show the complete ontological change that took place in man and depict his fallen state clearly.

Of course, man did not invent this mode of operation of the faculties of the soul on his own, but with the advice of the devil. The devil was motivated by jealously against man, for whom God had shown special care and attention. It is interesting that the devil envied not only man but God Himself: “Since the devil is jealous of both us and god, he persuaded man by guile that God was jealous of him, and so made him break the commandment” [ 7 ].

After the unnatural movement of the noetic capacity of the soul to sensible things and the birth of pleasure, God, being interested in man’s salvation “implanted pain, as a kind of chastising force” [ 8 ]. Pain, which God, in His love for man, tied to sensual pleasure is the whole complex of the mortal and passible body, that is the law of death, which has, ever since then, been very closely connected to human nature. In this way, the “manic longing of the nous” which incites the unnatural inclination of the soul to sensible things, is restrained [ 9 ].

This whole analysis by St. Maximos the Confessor in no way reminds us of Platonic teaching about the movement of the immortal soul from the unborn realm of the ideas, and its confinement to a mortal body which is the prison of the soul. This is simply because St. Maximos the Confessor, being an integral member of the entire Orthodox tradition, makes no distinction between a naturally immortal soul and a naturally mortal body, he does not believe in an immortal and unborn realm of ideas, and, obviously, does not adopt a dualistic view of man, according to which salvation consists in his liberation from the prison of the soul, which is the body. In St. Maximos’ teaching there is a clear reference to the unnatural movement of the faculties of the soul and to the “manic longing of the nous”, which draws the body into situations and acts which are against nature.

It is clear, then, that ancestral sin consists of the “initial movement of the soul” toward sensible things and in the “law of death” granted by God’s love for man. Therefore, pleasure and pain constitute so-called original sin. Pleasure is the soul’s initial movement toward sensible things, while pain is the whole law of death which took roots in man’s existence and constitutes the law of the mortal flesh.

St. Maximos makes some marvellous observations. He states that the transgression (of the commandment) devised pleasure “in order to corrupt the will”, i.e. man’s freedom, and also imposed pain (death) “to cause the dissolution of man’s nature”. This means that pleasure causes sin, which is a voluntary death of the soul, while pain, through the separation of soul and body, causes the disintegration of the flesh. This was, actually, the work and objective of the devil, but God allowed the link between pleasure and pain. That is, He allowed the death to come into man’s existence on grounds of love and philanthropy, for pain is the refutation of pleasure. Thus, “God has providentially given man pain he has not chosen, together with death that follows from it, in order to chasten him for the pleasure he has chosen.” [ 10 ]

On several occasions, St. Maximos refers to “voluntary pleasure” and “irrational pleasure”, as well as to “involuntary” and “sensible” pain [ 11 ]. Pain balances the results of pleasure, that is, it subtracts pain, but does not completely revoke it [ 12 ].

Therefore, pleasure precedes pain, since all pain is caused by pleasure, and this is why it is called natural pain. For Adam and Eve, pleasure was without cause, that is, it was not preceded by pain, while pain, which is a natural consequence of pleasure, is an obligation, a debt, paid by all men who have the same human nature [ 13 ]. This is what happened to Adam and Eve. For their descendants, things are a little different; the experience of pain leads them to the enjoyment of pleasure.

After the Fall and the entry of the law of sin and death into his existence, man is in a tragic state, because, even though pain reverses pleasure and annuls its active movement, man cannot reverse and eliminate the law of death which is found within his being, and this law brings a new experience of pleasure. “Philosophy towards virtue”, namely man’s whole ascetic struggle brings dispassion in his will but in his nature, because asceticism cannot defeat death, which is found as a powerful law within man’s being. [ 14 ] Herein lies the tragedy of man, who may cure pleasure and obtain inner balance through voluntary pain (asceticism) and involuntary events (external grief, death) but is unable to liberate himself from pain, which is determined by the law of death [ 15 ].

From: Picture of the Modern World by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos


[ 3 ] “The Philokalia”, London, 1981, Trans. Palmer, Sherrard, Ware, Vol II. Fourth Century, 33, p243

[ 4 ] ibid., 34, p.244.

[ 5 ] ibid., 33, p.243.

[ 6 ] ibid., 33, p.243.

[ 7 ] ibid., 48, p.246.

[ 8 ] ibid., 33, p.243.

[ 9 ] ibid., 33, p.243.

[ 10 ] ibid., 34, p.244.

[ 11 ] ibid., 34, 35, p.244.

[ 12 ] ibid., 35, p.244.

[ 13 ] ibid., 37, p.244.

[ 14 ] ibid., 36, p.244.

[ 15 ] ibid., 36, p.244.