A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XXVIII.

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XXVIII. August 25, 2011

Introduction and Part II

“The body sees by means of the eyes, and the soul by means of the intellect.”[1] Without eyes the body is without sight, and so cannot enjoy the “shining sun on earth and ocean.”[2] Similarly, the soul without an undefiled, pure intellect living in holiness is “blind.”[3] Such a soul has no apprehension of God, and so cannot enjoy Gods “incorruptibility” or “eternal blessings.”[4]

“Ignorance of God is obtuseness and stupidity of soul. For ignorance gives birth to evil, while from knowledge of God comes that goodness which saves the soul. If you are anxious to cut off your desires through watchfulness and knowledge of God, then your intellect will be concentrated upon the virtues. But if, drunk through ignorance of God, you try to fulfill your evil desires for self-indulgence, you will perish like a beast because you disregard the evils that will befall you after death.”[5]

During our lives, we should pursue a life of virtue. Part of that pursuit is to be active in the world, doing what is necessary for the improvement of the world. We cannot be quietist and do nothing. Avoiding action when action is necessary is sinful. It is the easy way out, leading to an illusion of holiness. There is no proper spiritual foundation here, just the masquerade of virtue. It is spiritual neglect. “What is negligence (pramāda)? Its nature is that of laxity in being incapable of guarding against defilement and cultivating purity. Its activity is that of obstructing vigilance and acting as the support of increasing evil and injuring the good.”[6] Such quietude, because one is not tested or tried, does not develop the virtuous habit necessary to protect oneself from temptation. There is no purification nor virtue, but only the avoidance of the moral act altogether.

Ignorance of what one is to do is, in itself, not a legitimate excuse.[7] We can and should prepare ourselves so that we will not be confused when we find ourselves challenged by a serious moral dilemma. Central to this is an openness to God and a desire to please God in all that one does. Having our focus be on God will help regulate everything else in our lives. Even when we cannot see the presence of God in our life, we must reach out to God in love and faith. We must allow such love and faith to slowly purify our soul so that it can become enlightened by the grace of God. Then we can see and appreciate the presence of God, and note he has always been there beside us: God is always at work in our lives, even when we do not sense him.

The answer to a moral dilemma might not be easy, and, indeed, there might not be any perfectly pure resolution which we can discern, but if we live in the light of charity, in the light of love, we will do what is prudent with the hope and belief that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8b RSV). We might err, but if the error is based upon love, we have reason to believe that God’s grace will supply what we lack. If our error is based upon anything less than love, if it based upon some selfish desire which we will not achieve if the good is to be done, then the culpability any error is upon us and must be repented. How willful our ignorance is if we unwittingly do wrong and the intention behind our act lies at the forefront of any judgment and possible suffering or punishment that will comes from what we do.

We are not always confronted with difficult moral questions in our daily lives. We are often given the time to develop our spiritual condition, and we must take that time and make the best of it. Those who are free to contemplate the moral and spiritual condition have more responsibility to do so than those who do not have the time necessary for such reflections. They are to reflect upon moral choices and possibilities, not just for themselves, but for others, so they can become filled with wisdom and help those who do not have the time or ability to contemplate the virtues. Spiritual direction is an important task, but of course, those who seek for such direction must be humble and ready to accept the wisdom offered to them if they want to benefit from it. Even then, it does not take away their responsibility to engage what they have been told, to try to understand it and act upon it to the best of their ability. There is always the need for one to interiorize the wisdom receives, to make it one’s own. When such wisdom is ignored, when God is ignored, such a person is likely to be directed by the whims of desire; great evil comes out of such foolishness.

We are blessed with free will. However fallen our mode of willing is, and however weak it is through the habits of sin, we have enough power within to work upon and focus on the virtues, to contemplate them and bring them to the forefront of our mind so that we can create virtuous habits, habits which are necessary for our salvation. This does not remove God’s place in the spiritual life. All that needs to be done is not to be done by us. We must recognize the primary subject in history and in the promotion of the good will always be God. When we talk about the intellect and its ability to see God, we must remember that the spiritual senses attributed to the intellect are analogous to the bodily senses. When we were infants, we developed our ability to use the bodily senses; even if we did not properly understand what they reported to us, we experienced the material world through them. Similarly, in our spiritual development, our spiritual senses can and do develop. We can and do slowly understand what data they provide – as long as we work with them and let them grow into maturity. But God knows our spiritual condition and so, in and through the incarnation, we find the spiritual senses are confirmed by the bodily senses:

It is with both body and soul that the living human being experiences the world, and, consequently, also God. As Barth and Siewerth stress, man is not an isolated ‘soul’ which must work its way to reality by inferring it from phenomena. Man always find himself within the real, and the most real reality is the Thou – his fellow-man and the god who created him and who is calling him. Both are present together; and even if, as a child of Adam, man is always fleeing from this encounter with God, fleeing into abstractions of the spirit and into the spiritlessness of dulled senses, man cannot escape his hounding God who from the outset has tracked him down and brought him to a halt.[8]

God encounters us in many ways. How we respond to him, that is, if we turn toward God and say yes to him, or if we turn away and say no to him, will have an effect upon us. If we seek after all the inordinate, transitory pleasures of the world, we will not see God, because we have turned our back on him. If we, however, say yes to him and focus our mind on him, then we will begin to see, both in the physical world and in the interior world of our soul, the work of God in our lives. By seeing where God is at work, we see God’s presence in our lives. We must be open to God, we must concentrate on finding God, and pursue God with love, if we want to see and understand where God is in our lives. When we see where he is at, we can move in closer and closer to him, until at last, we will see and possess that goodness which brings us into union with him.


The contents of these two paragraphs are similar to, and continue, the themes we have already addressed. There is, to be sure, a kind of reversal here, where one comes to know God in order to know oneself, but the interdependent relationship of the two does not exclude either side of the picture. The desire to promote a life of virtue so that the intellect can come to know God is what we would expect from Anthony.

[1] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 347 (#118).

[2] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 347 (#118).

[3] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 347 (#118).

[4] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 347 (#118).

[5] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 347 (#119).

[6] Hsüantsang, “Demonstration of Consciousness-Only” in Three Texts on Consciousness Only. trans. Francis H. Cook (Berkley, CA: Numata Cener for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1999), 203.

[7] Clearly, we must not reject the possibility of invincible ignorance. Nonetheless, we must remember, even those invincibly ignorant should pursue, to the best of their ability, the path of wisdom and understanding. Their culpability might be lessened, but anyone who turns completely away from moral reflection and considers it meaningless will he held culpable of their ill-will.

[8] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Volume I: Seeing the Form. trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. ed. Joesph Fessio, S.J. and John Riches (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 406.

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