The Syrian abbot Chaeremon, as St. John Cassian remembers, explained that it’s far better to avoid sin from love of virtue than from fear of punishment. The one who loves virtue is constant; the one who fears punishment goes back to sin as soon as the fear is removed.
There is a great difference between one who puts out the inner fire of sin by fear of hell or hope of future reward, and one who from the feeling of divine love has a horror of sin itself and of uncleanness, and keeps hold of the virtue of purity simply from the love and longing for purity—who looks for no reward from a promise for the future, but, delighted with the knowledge of good things present, does everything not from the thought of punishment but from delight in virtue.
It is a much greater thing to be unwilling to forsake good for the sake of good than it is to withhold consent from evil for fear of evil. If someone abstains from the allurements of sin because of fear, as soon as the obstacle of fear is removed he will once more return to what he loves. But one who has defeated the attack of sins and is now in the enjoyment of the security of peace, and has passed on to the love of virtue itself, will keep this condition of good continually, as he is entirely wrapped up in it, because he believes that nothing can be worse than the loss of his inmost chastity.
To such a one, I say, neither will regard for the presence of another add anything to his goodness, nor will solitude take anything away from it: but as always and everywhere he bears about with him his conscience as a judge not only of his actions but also of his thoughts, he will especially try to please it, since he knows that it cannot be cheated or deceived, and that he cannot escape it. –St. John Cassian, Conferences, 11.8
IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
Which of the two categories—lover of virtue or fearer of punishment—fits me best?
Father, your love is perfect justice. Teach me to love virtue as you do, so that I may live in perfect obedience to your law.
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