Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy and Great Wednesday

As Easter approaches, each day takes on a new significance. On Holy and Great Wednesday, remembrance is made of the anointing at Bethany and of Judas' decision to betray Jesus. Both these events should inspire us a radical humility. They represent the total depths of human sinfulness and the most appropriate and most inappropriate possible responses to that sinfulness.

On the one hand, there is Judas who looks on the image of his creator and is so overcome by lust for sin that he conspires to destroy the one who created him. The radical irony of this cannot be overstated. When faced with the one who came to remove his sins, Judas reacted with even greater sin. When faced with the one who came in mercy, Judas turned him over to the merciless. When faced with perfection, Judas deepens his own imperfection and labels the blameless one a criminal. He meets sincerity with hypocrisy, purity with defilement, love with hate, not only for the one who loves him, but by implication for himself as well. After all, what could be more self-destructive, more self-loathing than the respond to salvation with total rejection.

Then there is the woman, scandalous and sinful though she was, who met the divine with the truly appropriate posture: on the ground, humbly making an offering to God. Where Judas became so consumed with his own desires that those desires consumed him, Mary empties herself totally for the one who would empty himself for her. She debases herself for the one who was ineffably debased on her behalf. She washes the feet of the one who washes our souls, and makes fragrant the one whose fragrance we are to become to the world. It is a beautiful juxtaposition of human inclination towards God, and one that should inculcate in us a spirit of humility and imitation.

To that end, Hesychios the Priest offers some practical advice on achieving humility to consider:

If we are concerned with our salvation, there are many things the intellect can do in order to secure for us the blessed gift of humility. For example, it can recollect the sins we have committed in word, action and thought; and there are many things other things which, reviewed in contemplation, contribute to our humility. True humility is brought about by meditating daily on the achievements of our brethren, by extolling their natural superiorities and by comparing our gifts with theirs. When the intellect sees in this way how worthless we are and how far we fall short of the perfection of our brethren we will regard ourselves as dust and ashes, and not as men but as some kind of cur, more defective in every respect and lower than all men on earth.

Apologia Apatheia

My thoughts here are largely in response to this post, though I hope that they have value on their own as well.

It has been suggested that the classical doctrine of impassibility is an assertion of the emotionlessness of God. I reject this, both as a depiction of the history of dogma and as a theological assertion. While it may be said that the post-scholastic, Western conception of impassibility necessitates a God without emotion, the historical doctrine of impassibility, even the basis of that Western doctrine, is not directly related to the ability of God to feel.

The doctrine of God's impassibility (formulated, as was almost all early doctrine, in Greek) regarded His apatheia (impassibility or dispassion), that is His lack of pathos (passion). As with most theological discussion, the language here took on a specialized meaning so that passion cannot simply be equated with emotion (which was never the meaning of "pathos" to begin with). Therefore, to truly understood what is meant in an authentically classical definition of impassibility, one must first determine the classical defition of that which impassibilty says God is without: pathos.

Kallistos Ware, in his introduction to John of Sinai's Ladder of Divine Ascent, writes that passions are "regarded as the contranatural expression of fallen sinfulness." Pathos represents the human perversion their emotions, their natural impulses. Pathos are the sinful impulses of a fallen creation. If a direct relationship to emotion is necessary, then passion can be said to be our subjugation to our corrupted emotions rather than our domination and purification of them. Anger, for example, is pathos not because it is an emotion but because it has been perverted to ungodly ends. Desire is a pathos not because it is an emotion but because it has been coopted by humanity for the purpose of indulgence. Pathos is by its very definition sin.

Impassibility then becomes an ethical imperative, rooted in the nature of God, which is intended for humans. God governs His pure emotion rather than being governed by them, so humanity must transfigure and govern their emotions. The impassibility of God is a goal for man to achieve; in Ware's words " is a reaffirmation of the pure and natural impulses of our soul and body. It connotes not repression but reorientation, not inhibition but freedom; having overcome the passions, we are free to be our true selves, free to love others, free to love God. Dispassion, then, is no mere mortification of the passions but their replacement by a new and better energy."

Clearly passion refers to something other than the emotive aspect of the human soul, as the fathers vigorously affirm the God given virtue of emotionality:

"Hatred against the demons contributes greatly to our salvation and helps our growth in holiness." Evagrius Ponticus, "On Discrimination," 9.

Evagrius also writes that one should experience, while fasting, the emotions of joy "at the blessings that await the righteous" and fear of resurrection and "that fearful and awesome judgment-seat," because "in this way you will have the means for helping others and for mortifying the passions of your body" ("On Asceticism and Stillness")

"We should be afraid of God in the way we fear wild beasts. I have seen men go out to plunder, having no fear of God but being brought up short somewhere at the sound of dogs, an effect that fear of God could not achieve in them." John Climacus, "Ladder of Divine Ascent"

The dichotomy between emotion and passion is evident in Diadochos' contrast of real joy (an emotion) and counterfeit joy (a diabolical passion): "When we experience things in this manner, we can be sure that it is the energy of the Holy Spirit within us. For when the soul is completely permeated with that ineffable sweetness, at that moment it can think of nothing else, since it rejoices with uninterrupted joy. But if at that moment the intellect conceives any doubt or unclean thought, and if this continues in spite of the fact that the intellect calls on the holy name...then it should realize that the sweetness it experiences is an illusion of grace, coming from the deceiver with a counterfeit joy. Through this joy, amorphous and disordered, the devil tries to lead the soul into an adulterous union with himself."

Passion then is not simply equated to emotion but is the corruption of and domination by emotion. This, at least, is the testimony of the Church Fathers.

(This, I might add, is a view of passion and impassibility consistent with the Bible, if not the exclusive biblical view. While apatheia is never used in the New Testament, the three instances of pathos and its forms are all negative leading one to conclude that the absence of passion is a virtue. The three occurrences of pathos, moreover, never tie pathos to emotion strictly but always in some sense to control by passion as opposed to self-control: 1 Thess 4:3-5: "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God;" Rom 1:26: "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions;" Col 3:5: "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil lust, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." Notably God is never described as being "passible" since pathos is a sinful state.)

Therefore, in its original formulation, impassibility is not a feature of the divine distinct from humanity. Instead, it is the shared possession of God and His creature in its natural state. Impassibility is a mandate for humanity in an attempt to once again recapture our created purity, our image of God. "Blessed dispassion raises the poor mind from earth to heaven, raises the beggar from the dunghill of passion." (John Climacus) It requires that people not be subject to their pathos (sinful impulses) but that purified emotion should be subject to them in order that they may be subject to a dispassionate God. Quotes from a few fathers should suffice to demonstrate that this is the case.

"When the intellect rescues the soul's senses from the desires of the flesh and imbues them with dispassion [apatheia], the passions shamelessly attack the soul, trying to hold its senses fast in sin; but if the intellect then continually calls upon God in secret, He, seeing all this, will send His help and destroy all the passions at once." Isaiah the Solitary, "On Guarding the Intellect," 14.

John of Carpathia parallels sin and passion: "Once certain brethren, who were always ill and could not practice fasting, said to me: 'How is it possible for us without fasting to rid ourselves of the devil and the passions?' To such people we would say: you can destroy and banish what is evil, and the demons that suggest this evil to you, not only by abstaining from food, but by calling with all your heart on God." ("Texts for the Monks of India," 68)

More telling still is the exposition of impassibility/dispassion (both apatheia) by Ilias the Presbyter in his "Gnomic Anthology," I.71-74, where he intimately connects passion to sin and impassibility to sinlessness: "Pasionateness is the evil matter of the body...the self-indulgent man is close to the impassioned man; and the man of impassioned craving to the self-indulgent man. Far from all three is the dispassionate man. The impassioned man is strongly prone to sin in thought, even though for a time he does not sin outwardly...the man of impassioned craving is given over freely or, rather, servilely, to the various modes of sinning. The dispassionate man is not dominated by any of these degrees of passion...Dispassion is established through remembrance of God."

Gregory Palamas notes that the goal of ascetic practice is the attainment of impassibility, that is to no longer be "dominated by passionate emotions:" "In every case, those who practice true mental prayer must liberate themselves from the passions, and reject any contact with objects which obstruct it, for in this way they are able to acquire undisrupted and pure prayer...for the body's capacity to sin must be mortified" ("The Hesychast Method of Prayer," II.ii.6).

In addition to an ethical goal for humanity restored to its pure created state, there is another function of the impassibility of God in the Fathers. The insistence on impassibility is a tacit affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God, part of a theology of negation which says that God is no confined to our categories of emotionality. Therefore, the kataphatic assertion that God loves/hates/rejoices/burns with anger is both accepted and countered with the apophatic assertion that God is impassible, and this in turn should be accepted and then met with the even more apophatic assertion that God is beyond impassibility. Nikitas Stithatos expresses the paradox in "On Spiritual Knoweldge, Love, and the Perfection of Living," 1: "God is dispassionate Intellect, beyond every intellect and beyond every form of dispassion." [And as a way of cheating to further prove my previous point about the ethical implications of this, he immediately continues:] "If on account of your purity these qualities have been bestowed on you and are richly present in you, then that within you which accords with the image of God has been safely preserved and you are now a son of God guided by the Holy Spirit; for all who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God."

Thus, when Anselm formulates what becomes the "classical" doctrine of impassibility for the West, he is not truly reiterating what has always been held by the church universal. Instead, he is expressing and justifying what he believes has been taught in proto-scholastic terms that will take hold in the West. His sentiment is rooted neither in the sinlessness nor the incomprehensibility of God expressed by the fathers who preceded him:

But how are You at once both merciful and impassible? For if You are impassible You do not have any compassion*; and if You have no compassion Your heart is not sorrowful from compassion with the sorrowful, which is what being merciful is. But if you are not merciful whence comes so much consolation for the sorrowful?

How then are you merciful and not merciful, O Lord, unless it be that You are merciful in relation to us and not in relation to Yourself? In fact, You are [merciful] according to our way of looking at things and not according to Your way. For when You look upon us in our misery it is we who feel the effect of Your mercy, but You do not experience the feeling. Therefore You are both merciful because you save the sorrowful and pardon sinners against You; and You are not merciful because You do not experience any feeling of compassion for misery. (Proslogion, 8)
In fact, just the opposite, this view of God's impassibility is motivated by our ability categorize God, the opposite intention of the original proponents of impassibility. Rejecting these scholastic trends that were creeping into Eastern theology, Gregory Palamas writes:

By examining the nature of sensible things, these people have arrived at a certain concept of God, but not at a conception truly worthy of Him and appropriate to His blessed nature...wrapped up in this mindless and foolish wisdom and unenlightened education, they have calumniated both God and nature. (Triads, I.1.18)
A good formal theology will always be fundamentally apophatic, and thus affirms that God transcends all human categorization including form and emotion, but the motivation is something quite different than a scholastic understanding of impassibility. The beautiful paradox of God is that we can at one time affirm that He transcends all emotional categorization and at the same time truly declare that we experience His love: not feigned love or effects which are analogous to the effects of love but love that is true and pure, the perfect expression of how He created His creatures to experience love. When true impassibility is applied to God it is first and foremost a defense of God's sinlessness, since pathos is a patristic term which refers to our contranatural impulses (which all ought to agree are absent in God). From there, impassibilty may be employed as an apophatic category which rejects the finitude of God, even from being restricted truly into the category of impassibility. What impassibility can never be is an assertion that we have an unfeeling God, indifferent to the plight of His creation and incapable of interacting with it in any genuinely personal way. Neither Scripture nor the Fathers who formulated the doctrine of impassibility necessitate this, and all good sense seems to prevail against it. Most importantly, the testimony of the Incarnation positively precludes it, or else the sorrow of Jesus in the garden and the anger in the temple are instances of the divine succombing to the human rather than the human conforming to the divine, something which is particularly untenable.

See also: Appendix to the Apology

*As almost a curiosity, it is worth noting that Anselm's problem here is undoubtedly partly linguistic. In Latin compassion and passion clearly have the same root, the Latin pati for "to suffer." A Greek would never have seen dispassion as opposed to compassion, since in Greek pathos forms no part of the etymology of either mercy (eleos) or compassion (oiktirmos).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Wisdom of Georges Florovsky

Quotes taken from George A Maloney's A History of Orthodox Theology Since 1453

"Patristic writings are respected indeed, but more as historical documents than as books of authority. Numerous patristic references or even quotations are still usual in our theological essays and textbooks. But so often these old texts or quotations are simply interpolated into a scheme borrowed elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the conventional schemes of our theological textbooks came from the West, partly from Roman sources, partly from Reformed ones. Patristic texts are kept and repeated. The patristic mind is too often completely lost or forgotten."

"This call to 'go back' to the Fathers can be easily misunderstood. It does not mean a return to the letter of patristic documents...What is really meant and required is not a blind or servile imitation and repetition but rather a further development of this patristic teaching, both homogeneous and congenial. We have to kindle again the creative fire of the Fathers, to restore in ourselves the patristic spirit."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Do Things Like This Get Published

Source: Smith, James E. The Minor Prophets. Old Testament Survey Series. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1994.

"Why would so many Gentiles stream toward Zion? Three reasons are suggested. First, 'many nations shall go and say'...Second, the Gentiles would hunger to know the ways of Israel's God...Third, the Gentiles would desire to live their lives by [the Lord's] precepts...Fourth, Gentiles would stream into Zion because 'from Zion instruction shall go forth.'" (318)

That is amusing. This is laughable.

"...those weapons would no longer be needed because 'nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.' Micah was not speaking of political peace but of the spiritual peace within the kingdom of God's the absence of war, the citizens of Zion would enjoy gifts of peace and happiness. 'They shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree.' Micah is speaking of the spiritual gifts enjoyed by members of the church of Christ." (319)

I cannot comprehend how things like that make it into print. I've muttered more sensible exegesis in my sleep. If someone walked up to Micah and told him, "By that, of course, you mean the spiritual gifts which are enjoyed by the members of the church of Christ," he or she would at the least confuse him. More likely that person would incur a prophetic curse. It breaks my heart to read these things, all the more when I realize that other people are reading them as well with a less discerning eye.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Wisdom of David Hume

The following quotes are from Hume's Dialogues, and I have not indicated who is speaking in each quote. To that end, you should expect to read the highlights of a unified thought process. Instead, these excerpts represent some of the more thought provoking elements of the piece I read. Some I agree with; some I do not. All, however, inspired me to think.

“Let us become thoroughly sensible of the weakness, blindness, and narrow limits of human reason.”

“But in theological reasonings…we are employed upon objects, which, we must be sensible, are too large for our grasp…We are like foreigners in a strange country, to whom every thing must seem suspicious, and who are in danger every moment of transgressing against the laws and customs of the people with whom they live and converse. We know not how far we ought to trust our vulgar methods of reasoning in such a subject; since even in common life, and in that province which is peculiarly appropriated to them, we cannot account for them, and are entirely guided by a kind of instinct or necessity in employing them.”

“I shall never assent to so harsh an opinion as that of a celebrated writer, who says, that the Sceptics [sic] are not a sect of philosophers: they are only a sect of liars. I may, however, affirm (I hope without offence), that they are a sect of jesters or railers. But for my part, whenever I find myself disposed to mirth and amusement, I shall certainly choose my entertainment of a less perplexing and abstruse nature.”

“Atheist and Sceptic [sic] are almost synonymous.”

“…every particular which regards so divine a Being, are mysterious to men. Finite, weak, and blind creatures, we ought to humble ourselves in his august presence; and, conscious of our frailties, adore in silence his infinite perfections, which eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. They are covered in a deep cloud from human curiosity. It is profaneness to attempt penetrating through these sacred obscurities. And, next to the impiety of denying his existence, is the temerity of prying into his nature and essence, decrees and attributes.”

“Our ideas reach no further than our experience. We have no experience of divine attributes and operations. I need not conclude my syllogism. You can draw the inference yourself. And it is a pleasure to me (and I hope to you too) that just reasoning and sound piety here concur in the same conclusion, and both of them establish the adorably mysterious and incomprehensible nature of the Supreme Being.”

“Zealous defenders of religion allow, that the proofs of a Deity fall short of perfect evidence.”

“A very small part of this great system, during a very short time, is very imperfectly discovered to us; an do we then pronounce decisively concerning the origin of the whole?”

“…your greatest errors proceed not from barrenness of thoughts and invention, but from too luxuriant a fertility…”

“…by representing the Deity as so intelligible and comprehensible, and so similar to a human mind, we are guilty of the grossest and most narrow partiality, and make ourselves the model of the whole universe.”

“These are only more learned and elaborate ways of confessing our ignorance…”

Catholicism: What You See Is What You Get

News stories like this one always make me wonder: why would you want your child to go to a school that so vehemently opposes your lifestyle? Just from a logical standpoint, these homosexual parents cannot honestly want that child to grow up to be a Catholic, one of the last demographic bastions for radical social conservatism. Abortion is wrong; birth control is wrong; premarital sex is wrong; and, as a side note, homosexuality is wrong. What goes through a homosexaul parent's mind enrolling their child in a Catholic school and then being shocked when it generates controversy?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Century of Love in a Day, Pt. 2

7. Whatever a man loves he inevitably clings to, and I order not to lose it he rejects everything that keeps him from it. So he who loves God cultivates pure prayer, driving out every passion that keeps him from it.

10. …prefect love presupposes that you love all men equally.

29. …the Divinity is divided but without division and is united but with distinctions. Because of this both the division and the union are paradoxical…

36. In everything that we do God searches out our purpose to see whether we do it for Him or for some other motive.

42. When a trial comes upon you unexpectedly, do not blame the person through whom it came but try to discover the reason why it came, and then you will find a way of dealing with it. For whether through this person or through someone else you had in any case to drink the wormwood of God’s judgment.

43. As long as you have bad habits do not reject hardship, so that through it you may be humbled and eject your pride.

49. …To be spontaneously disposed to do good to those who hate you belongs to perfect spiritual love alone.

54. A monk is a man who has freed his intellect from attachment to material things and by means of self-control, love, psalmody, and prayer cleaves to God.

63. Let no one deceive you…with the notion that you can be saved wile a slave to sensual pleasure and self-esteem.

66. No sinner can escape future judgment without experiencing in this life either voluntary hardships or afflictions he has not chosen.

68. Just as the intellect of a hungry man imagines bread and that of a thirsty man water, so the intellect of a glutton imagines a profusion of foods, that of a sensualist the forms of women, that of a vain man worldly honour, that of an avaricious man financial gain, that of a rancorous man revenge on whoever has offended him, that of an envious man how to harm the object of his envy, and so on with all the other passions. For an intellect agitated by passions is beset by impassioned conceptual images whether the body is awake or asleep.

75. Some of the things given to us by God for our use are in the soul, others are in the body and others related to the body. In the soul are its powers; in the body are the sense organs and other members; relating to the body are food, money, possessions and so on. Our good or bad use of these things given us by God, or of what is contingent upon them, reveals whether we are virtuous or evil.

83. In its natural state, the human intelligence is subject to the divine intelligence and itself rules over the non-intelligent element in us. Let this order be maintained in all things, and there will be no evil among creatures nor anything which draws us towards evil.

To Arms! To Arms!


A Malaysian magazine has apologized for upsetting Christians after it published an article researched by two Muslims who pretended to be Roman Catholics and took Holy Communion in a church.

The apology aims to ease tensions with religious minorities who feel that overzealous government authorities and clerics are trying too hard to champion the interests of Islam and ignoring the rights of non-Muslims.

The Al Islam monthly magazine, which focuses on issues affecting Malaysian Muslims, acknowledged in a statement on its publisher's Web site last week that the article had "unintentionally hurt the feelings of Christians, especially Catholics."

The article, published in May last year, was meant to investigate rumors that Muslim teenagers were being converted in churches. The article said its two reporters had found no evidence supporting those claims.

The apology came after Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, who heads the Catholic Church in peninsular Malaysia, criticized government authorities earlier this week for not prosecuting the two magazine researchers. Pakiam, however, said that church leaders would be satisfied if the magazine issued a formal apology.

The men had spat out the Eucharist and took a photograph of a partially bitten one. Communion is a sacrament for baptized Catholics in good-standing. The church teaches that the Eucharist is transformed into the body of Christ by the priest during Mass.

Does everybody remember the Jyllands-Posten incident where a dozen cartoons incited commercial boycotts, death threats, and calls to the UN for sanctions? I'd like to believe that the gross disparity both in the nature of the crime and in the intensity of the response are a product of the ethos of love that undergirds Christianity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Contrast in Attitudes

I was reading Petru Dumitriu's To the Unknown God some time ago, and in it he painted a vivid picture of life in communist Romania. The economic conditions there were such that dismissal from one's job was essentially a death sentence. Dumitriu comments on the loss of several people close to him from suicide and even admits to having toyed with the idea himself. Stories like that provide a stark contrast in attitudes when compared to what seems to be the American attitude in the face of difficult economic times. Though things in America right now are by no means comparable to the destitution of Soviet Romania, I do not think it is a mere coincidence that in this time of financial decline that there is an increase in unemployment related violence. I have in mind the two very publicized cases of Amy Bishop and Nathaniel Brown, two university employees who did not handle even the prospect of potential unemployment well. Unlike their historical Romanian counterpart, Bishop and Brown did not fall into a state of depressed resignation leading to their own suicides. Instead, imbued with a since of indignant entitlement they lashed out at those "responsible" for their troubles. It's shocking the way the modern Western mind works. "My livelihood is more important than your life." How demented must we be as a people to allow a thought like that to creep into our minds?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Chalcedonian Revelation

I am presently reading through John Meyendorff's Byzantine theology, and the section on Christology has opened my eyes to a fine christological distinction with radical implications for every field of theological inquiry. Let me see if I can explain it adequately. I have always held to the opinion, though not consciously, that the hypostatic union affirmed by Chalcedon (i.e. Christ has two natures [ousia] united in one person [hypostasis]) was in a unique hypostasis. That is to say that the divine nature united itself to a human nature and formed together a unique person in the individual Jesus, who was thereby the Christ. If I had been forced to choose whether the hypostasis was primarily that of the humanity or the divinity of Jesus, I probably would have chosen the former.

That view, apparently, is contrary to the teaching of the Orthodox Church. The Byzantine theologians understood Chalcedon to affirm that the single hypostasis of the Christ was the same as the hypostasis of the pre-existent Logos. That is to say, when one talks about the Trinity as one essence in three persons, that second person (i.e. the Son) is identical with the person of the Christ with his two essences. Meyendorff says that this emphasis on the divinity of Jesus has drawn criticism from the West. The Orthodox have been accused of being "crypto-Monophysites" because they subordinate the human essence and will under the divine by affirming the divinity of Christ's hypostasis. Reading the criticisms, I admit that I agreed. There is little there to allow us to empathize with Jesus the person, to delve into his human mind, and to speculate about the psychology of his behavior.

But, true to form, Meyendorff set me straight. He defends the Orthodox position on the grounds of Orthodox anthropology, which has (without explicit attribution to the Byzantine tradition) found great acceptance in the world today. The focal point of Orthodox anthropology is that man is only true to his humanity, the creational purpose of the person is only truly fulfilled when he is in submission to God. Who could argue with that? If we accept this premise (and if we do not, there are larger problems to address), then the subordination of the humanity of Jesus to the divinity of Jesus is actually an implicit glorification of his humanity. The humanity of Christ, following always the lead of the divine will, is in fact more human than our own humanity which has subordinated itself to that which it was created to rule (an insight to expand for another time). Rather than the East becoming crypto-Monophysites, the West has tended toward idolatrous worship of humanity. Can there really be any formula of union between man and God where the former is not submissive to the latter? Is man greater than God, equal to him?

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Century of Love in a Day

The following are from Maximus the Confessor's Four Hundred Texts on Love. The work is organized into four "centuries," that is collections of one hundred related texts, which correspond in some sense (even if only in their fourfold nature) to the four Gospels. These selections are from the first century on love. The numbers to the left of each quote are "verse" citations. I have only included about a fourth of the texts from the century. Though I would have liked to include more, I'm already afraid that I'm dancing on the edge of copyright infringement.*

1. Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things. We cannot attain lasting possession of such love while we are still attached to anything worldly.

2. Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God; these in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.

4. The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.

11. All the virtues co-operate with the intellect to produce this intense longing for God, pure prayer above all. For by soaring towards God through this prayer the intellect rises above the realm of created beings.

12. When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in sincerity it repeats the words of the prophet: “How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isa 6:5)

13. The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself…

17. Blessed is he who can love all men equally.

19. Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty.

22. He who forsakes all worldly desires sets himself above all worldly distress.

24. He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need…

31. Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

41. He who loves God neither distresses nor is distressed with anyone on account of transitory things…

43. If a man desires something, he makes every effort to attain it. But of all things which are good and desirable the divine is incomparably best and the most desirable. How assiduous, then, we should be in order to attain what is of its very nature good and desirable.

50. When the intellect associates with evil and sordid thoughts it loses its intimate communion with God.

60. Silence the man who utters slander in your hear. Otherwise you sin twice over: first, you accustom yourself to this deadly passion and, second you fail to prevent him from gossiping against his neighbor.

63. We carry about with us impassioned images of the things we have experienced. If we can overcome these images we shall be indifferent to the things which they represent. For fighting against the thoughts of things is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.

69. …If you are offended by anything, whether intended or unintended, you do not know the way of peace, which through love brings the lovers of divine knowledge to the knowledge of God.

70-71. You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their characters – for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person. Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, common to all, according to the diverse characteristics of individuals; but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally. It loves the good as friends and the bad as enemies, helping them, exercising forbearance, patiently accepting whatever they do, not taking the evil into account at all but even suffering on their behalf if the opportunity offers, so that, if possible, they too become friends. If it cannot achieve this, it does not change its own attitude; it continues to show the fruits of love to all men alike. It was on account of this that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, showing His love for us, suffered for the whole of mankind and gave to all men an equal hope of resurrection…

72. If you are not indifferent to both fame and dishonour, riches and poverty, pleasures and distress, you have not yet acquired perfect love. For perfect love is indifferent not only to these but even to this fleeting life and to death.

90. Just as the physical eye is attracted to the beauty of things visible, so the purified intellect is attracted to the knowledge of things invisible…

95. When the sun rises and casts its light on the world, it reveals both itself and the things it illumines…

[And your apophatic moment for the day:]

100. When the intellect is established in God, it at first ardently longs to discover the principles of His essence. But God’s inmost nature does not admit such investigation, which is indeed beyond the capacity of everything created…and the very fact of knowing nothing is knowledge surpassing the intellect.

As a concluding not, I would like to point out the rich irony which is played out in this text. Maximus begins (and I have in mind here 4 in particular, but also 1) by saying that the pursuit of the knowledge of God is the most holy and righteous aim of man. Yet, he concludes with the familiar and definitive statement that knowledge of God must ultimately conclude that man exists in almost total ignorance of God. In view of my recent musings on paradox as the foundation of Christian belief, it seems particularly fitting to me that Maximus (and I with him) should affirm that the greatest task of the Christian is the quest to know a God that we affirm is unknowable.

*Consequently, let me cite my source here to somewhat alleviate my conscience. Maximus the Confessor. "Four Hundred Texts on Love." In The Philokalia. Translated and edited by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. New York: Faber and Faber, 1981.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Wisdom of John Locke

With one exception, these quotes are from John Locke's "The Reasonableness of Christianity."

“...they may be supposed to have had in the mouths of the speakers, who used them according to the language of that time and country wherein they lived; without such learned, artificial, and forced senses of them, as are sought out, and put upon them in most of the systems of divinity, according to the notions that each one has been bred up in.”

“…it seems a strange way of understanding a law, which requires the plainest and directest words, that by death should be meant eternal life in misery.”

“I allow to the makers of systems and their followers, to invent and use what distinctions they please, and to call things by what names they think fit. But I cannot allow to them, or to any man, an authority to make a religion for me, or to alter that which God hath revealed.”

“Though the works of nature, in every part of them, sufficiently evidence a Deity; yet the world made so little use of their reason that they saw him not, where, even by the impressions of himself, he was easy to be found.”

“The law is the eternal, immutable standard of right. And a part of that law is, that a man should forgive, not only his children, but his enemies, upon their repentance, asking pardon, and amendment. And therefore he could not doubt that the author of this law, and God of patience and consolation, who is rich in mercy, would forgive his frail offspring, if they acknowledge their faults, disapproved the iniquity of their transgressions, begged his pardon, and resolved in earnest for the future to conform their actions to this rule, which they owned to be just and right.”

“Faith, on the other side, is the assent to any proposition, not thus made out by the deductions of reason, but upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God in some extraordinary way of communication. This way of discovering truths to men we call revelation.”

“It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that ‘tis too hard a task for unassisted reason, to establish morality, in all its parts, upon its true foundations, with a clear and convincing light.”

“We must not cull out, as best suits our system, here and there a period or a verse, as if they were all distinct and independent aphorisms; and make these the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, and necessary to salvation, unless God has made them so. There be many truths in the Bible, which a good Christian may be wholly ignorant of, and so not believe, which, perhaps, some lay great stress on, and call fundamental articles, because they are distinguishing points of their communion.”

“[God] promised a deliverer, whom in his good time he sent; and then declared to all mankind, that whoever would believe him to be the Saviour promised, and take him now raised from the dead, and constituted the Lord and Judge of all men, to be their King and Ruler, should be saved. This is a plain intelligible proposition; and the all-merciful God seems herein to have consulted the poor of this world, and the bulk of mankind: these are articles that the laboring and illiterate man may comprehend. This is a religion suited to vulgar capacities, and the state of mankind in this world, destined to labour and travail. The writers and wranglers in religion fill it with niceties, and dress it up with notions, which they make necessary and fundamental parts of it; as if there were no way into the Church, but through the Academy or Lycaeum. The greatest part of mankind have not leisure for learning and logic, and superfine distinctions of the schools. Where the hand is used to plough and the spade, the head is seldom elevated to sublime notions, or exercised in mysterious reasoningsTis well if men of that rank (to say nothing of the other sex) can comprehend plain propositions, and a short reasonings about things familiar to their minds, and nearly allied to their daily experience.”

“Go beyond this, and you amaze the greatest part of mankind; and may as well talk Arabic to a poor day labourer, as the notions and language that the books and disputes of religion are filled with, and as soon will be understood.”

“I have talked with some of their teachers, who confess themselves not to understand the difference in debate between them; and yet the points they stand on, are reckoned of so great weight, so material, so fundamental in religion, that they divide communion, and separate upon them.”

“And if the poor had the gospel preached to them, it was, without doubt, such a gospel as the poor could understand, plain and intelligible.”