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

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XXXI. September 12, 2011

Introduction and Part II

“Man, in so far as he is bad and unjust, is capable of killing. But God never ceases granting life even to the unworthy. Bounteous and full of goodness by nature, He willed that the world should be made and it was made. And it is made for man and his salvation.”[1]

While humanity was created good, and by nature is good, the fallen mode of human existence, being sub-natural, has perverted the human will and allows people to will grave evil. One of the worst things one can will is to kill. God does not desire the death of anyone; though God has set into creation the laws of nature which lead to death, he has also brought forward through Jesus Christ a way to transcend death and to bring about eternal life. God grants life, and makes eternal life possible. Such life is given to us as a gift, and eternal life itself is a gift, one which demonstrates the loving, good nature of God. Even when we abandon him, he does not abandon us; even when we turn aside from him, he finds a way to meet us and give us life. God desires our salvation, and aims to meet us, again and again, each and every time we turn away from him due to sin. Our very existence lies in God’s will, so however hard we turn away from him, he will find ourselves once again turned toward him. Though unworthy, he seeks for our conversion of heart, so we will stop moving about and rest in him.

Yet, the passions inside us can turn us away from our rest in God; when they do that, they led us to rest in ourselves. We try to become God instead of God. Unlike God, we are not fully good. “Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, and the sinful man will possess them” (Sir. 27:30 RSV).When our anger lets loose, we go on the attack, we contrive reasons to harm others. If left unchecked, our anger will grow and lead us to kill. We try to take the role of God in our hands, to become the lord of life and death; but if all we can give is death, that is what we give, pretending to be the Lord instead of realizing how unlordly we have become. We must let the Lord be God, and forgive others and let God take care of them. God is judge, not us. We must forgive if we want to find salvation for ourselves. “He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord, and he will firmly establish his sins. Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (Sir. 30:1-2 RSV).

Greed, among the passions, is among the worst and among the first we must overcome;  it cab easily lead us to kill is left unchecked. “Avarice is said to be the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10), and it is so because it causes hatred, theft, envy, separations, hostility, stormy blasts, remembrance of past wrongs, inhuman acts and even murder.” [2] But even without it, we can find other passions leading to anger and our own self-destruction. We must be humble and not proud if we want to find salvation. We must be capable of accepting insults, and forgiving those who harm us. Without such a heart for others, we shall surely die in the soul.

Scripture tells us do not kill; some people take that to mean that only innocent life should not be taken; after all, Scripture also indicates the use of the death penalty might be necessary if people commit various crimes. However, we must realize the gradual revelation of God in Scripture, a revelation which culminates in Christ, a revelation which culminates in the Gospel, in the spirit behind the law and not the letter of the law. The law seeks the promotion of life; in the end, all life is shown to be sacred, and even those the letter of the law suggests should be stoned Jesus forgives and grants more life. The spirit of the law is the promotion of life. The spirit of the law becomes something positive as it is revealed to be the law of love in Christ:

The commandment regarding the inviolability of human life reverberates at the heart of the ‘ten words’ in the covenant of Sinai (cf. Ex 34:28). In the first place that commandment prohibits murder: ‘You shall not kill’ (Ex 20:13); ‘do not slay the innocent and righteous’ (Ex 23:7). But, as is brought out in Israel’s later legislation, it also prohibits all personal injury inflicted on another (cf. Ex 21:12-27). Of course we must recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though already quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount. This is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation, which provided for severe forms of corporal punishment and even the death penalty. But the overall message, which the New Testament will bring to perfection, is a forceful appeal for respect for the inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the person. It culminates in the positive commandment which obliges us to be responsible for our neighbour as for ourselves: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev 19:18).[3]

The law of love is the law of life, the law which loves all life; it teaches us to seek the life of the other over the life of the self. Our fallen will only allows for self-love, a parody of love which cannot be said to be love at all. The law of love is the love of self-sacrifice for the other, not the demand of the other to be sacrificed for the self. Cain’s sacrifice of Abel shows the two different loves; Cain was cursed due to his sin, stained by the blood of his brother, while Abel’s death sanctified him and made Abel righteous before God. His innocence and love for his brother remained, even in death. And yet, being the first to kill, Cain was judged but sent to die: “God’s judgment was itself a sign, which protected him from being killed.”[4] The first murderer was marked for life, not death, indicating death is not to be met by more killing but penitential judgment, If any deserved to die due to murder, it was Cain, but God saw to it that murder should not start an endless cycle of death. God’s goodness goes even to Cain, preserving him in life, shows the world that murder’s proper response is a life of penance.

We must learn to love, including loving our enemies, loving those who wish us wrong. This is the only way to live out the law “thou shalt not kill,” as St. Gregory Palamas beautifully explains:

‘You shall not kill’ (Exod. 20 : 15), lest you forfeit the adoption of Him who quickens even the dead, and because your actions are adopted instead by the devil, who was ‘a murderer from the beginning’ ( John 8: 44). As murder results from a blow, a blow from an insult, an insult from anger, and we are roused to anger because someone else injures, hits or insults us, for this reason Christ told us not to stop anyone who took our coat from taking our shirt also (cf. Luke 6:29); and we must not strike back at him who strikes us, or revile him who reviles us. In this manner we will free from the crime of murder both ourself and him who does us wrong.[5]

Love, not hate, self-sacrifice instead of self-love, willing to die instead of to kill – that is the way of Christ, whose path we are to follow if we want to be saved. Do not kill means more than that it first seems to suggest, once we look to the spirit behind it. It is the love of love, the love of promoting the good of the other, whether or not we think they deserve it. “Thus the deepest element of God’s commandment to protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of every person.”[6] That is the law of God, the law of love, the law which Jesus himself fulfills in his death, a law which God affirms in the resurrection of Christ. How can we deny it when God has promoted it thus?

 

We have another passage which explores themes already addressed, themes which are in the spirit of Anthony. It is quite possible this would be something he would write. He, after all, talks about the long-suffering love of God for humanity in his letters, indicating God’s unmerited benevolence toward us. [7] Thus, we have another text which easily could be by Anthony; it certainly shows nothing which he would likely disapprove.


[1] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 348 (#123).

[2] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 190.

[3] Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae. Vatican translation. ¶40.

[4] Theodoret of Cyrus, The Questions on the Octateuch: Volume I On Genesis and Exodus. Trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2007), 91.

[5] St. Gregory Palamas, “A New Testament Decalogue” in The Philokalia: the Complete Text. Volume IV. Trans. and ed. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 329.

 

[6] Pope John Paul, , Evangelium Vitae,. ¶41.

[7] See Chitty, Letters of St. Antony,  Letter II for this theme.


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