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

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XXXVIII. November 6, 2011

Introduction and Part II

“Through the love of God our Creator, there are many ways that bring men to salvation, converting their souls and leading them up to heaven. For men’s souls are rewarded for virtue and punished for sin.”[1]

If Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no man or woman comes to the Father but through him (cf. Jn 14:6), how can our text say that there are “many ways” of salvation? Do we not have a contradiction between a clear pronouncement of Christ in Scripture and what we find here? And do we not also find it said that there is no salvation outside of the church, that is, outside of the Body of Christ? Is our text giving false hope to people, making them think there are many equally valid ways to salvation, and we can ignore Christ and his church?

Obviously, this is not the case. We must understand that the cause of salvation is always Christ, but the way we experience that cause is not always the same. Since all salvation is in and through Christ, all salvation is in and through the church, his body, and all who are saved will find themselves a part of that church – the church has existed from the foundation of the world, and all who are in the world are capable of being a part of it.  However, the way we find ourselves relating to Christ and his church are not always one and the same. Many have direct access to Christ, but some only have an indirect connection to him. Because of the interdependent nature of the world, when grace is brought to us through indirect means, the cause and source of that grace is still Christ, and if that grace is accepted and brought into someone’s life, it is still Christ who is saving them even if the means is extraordinary. And all who are saved find themselves in Christ and connected to his church, even if their unity with the church is not obvious until the last judgment.  This is the message of Christ as he explains the last judgment:

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  (Matt 25:34 – 40 RSV).

If we strive to be perfect through the pursuit of the virtues, if we achieve such perfection, we will find ourselves rewarded by God, who is not only the source of the reward, but the reward itself. In any good we do, God is already there, but the more good we achieve, the more we will see and appreciate God’s presence. All that is good, including the good inclinations of the soul, comes through God. “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 RSV). When we find ourselves turned toward the good, this orientation itself has come to us from God the Father through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Our nature, filled with many great virtues because we are made in the image and likeness of God, shows us how this orientation was given to us from the foundation of our being. In the good we do in the world, God continues to come to us, to work with and in us, bringing to us grace. We find many opportunities of grace in our lives, such as in and through the sacraments, but we have to recognize that God has many indirect means to reach out to us and draw us to him. All of those means can be said to be ways of salvation; they lead us to him, so that eventually (even if it is only at the eschatological judgment) we find our orientation is perfectly aimed toward him so that we have an encounter with Christ, and in that encounter, we find ourselves saved, having the work of Christ applied to us and perfecting us so that we can engage him in perpetual theosis.

Salvation history also shows that God has indeed worked with humanity bringing salvation to it in many and diverse ways. For some, who have little direct contact of revelation from God, and yet who had faith in God, their faith was said to be enough to justify them and allow God’s grace to work in them so that they could be saved. For others, with more direct revelation, there were greater obligations such as tithes or sacrifices of some sort, and for the seed of Abraham, there was the sign of circumcision, which, when followed also brought grace and salvation.[2] In all possible conditions, there could be seen sacraments, sacraments of the natural and written law, each in their own way bringing God’s presence to humanity. All of them foreshadowed the grace of the new covenant. In that foreshadowing, they engaged the work of Christ so that in all of them, it must be understood that their power came from the work of Christ. “For the passion of the Saviour, which in the first place sanctifies sacraments of grace to effect salvation, through the medium of these sanctified also those sacraments of earlier time so that salvation was the same both for those who by right faith venerated the signs of the future in the earlier sacraments and for those who receive the effect of salvation in these.”[3]

Our daily lives and our walks as Christians, where we are called to different vocations, and where we have different expectations God has of us, also shows us how there can be said to be many paths to salvation. Some people are called to be doctors, others lawyers, teachers, parents, monks, nuns, priests, politicians, et. al., but each, in their calling, has a special way they can help bring God into the world with them, a special way they can walk with God and find their salvation. If they act with God, if they wrestle with the aid of God against the evils of the world, working to improve the world and themselves through their calling, they can find their salvation.  But everyone must understand this: as God has other callings for other people, so others have other paths of salvation. These paths converge in Christ, but to get to Christ, we must start where we are placed and walk on, doing the work God expects of us, not allowing us to stray no matter how distracted we might be when we see the work of others. We have been given our way: we should not look at the paths of others and try to follow them, since where we are at will differ from where they are at, and so if we start imitating what we see others doing, without having a call to do what they are doing, we are likely to stray from our path and turn away from Christ, missing him by having our attention elsewhere. This is not to say we are not to learn from others: clearly that is not the case. But it points out how we must exercise caution when looking to the deeds of others — good deeds done by someone one day could turn evil if they are repeated  without need by someone else.

 

 

 

This passage does seem to recall the spirit of Anthony, where he told his followers of a doctor who was said to be his spiritual equal. However, beyond that, there is little indication for or against it as being a passage we can attribute to an Anthonite source.


[1] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 350 (#140).

[2] See Peter Lombard, The Sentences, book IV, distinction I, chapters 7-10 for one discussion of the grace of circumcision, and how faith or sacrifices were able to grant such grace to those who did not have circumcision, be it those outside of the seed of Abraham, or women who were not circumcised.

[3] Hugh of Saint Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith. Trans. Roy. J. Deferrari (Cambridge: The Medieval Academy of America, 1951), 183.

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  • J. Pickett

    Nothing irritates me more than the insistence of some “Christians” that nobody but someone practicing their particular form of Christianity will get to heaven. I have even heard from some that Gandhi could not get to heaven. I recently had a conversation with one about my grandfather, He was baptized Catholic, his mother was a Baptist, His father not only non-practicing but abusive. He eventually forbid them going to any church, under penalty of violence. He grew up obviously without practicing a religion at all. Yet he married a religious woman, respected what she believed had her bring up their kids religiously and generally respected others. He was always one to make friends, help neighbors, kind, drove her to church. When he was dying, in the hospital his chart said Baptist, when asked why he said it was the last church he remembered. He jokingly said he counted on his wife, already there to get him into heaven. This clod insisted that he was nowhere but hell. I found this hurtful. This was a man I loved, he was conditioned as a child to be good but going to church was literally beaten out of him. Is she right? I don’t think God is that cruel and I think he judges by what is in the heart.