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

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XLIV January 9, 2012

Introduction and Part II

“The truly devout soul knows the God of all. True devotion is simply to do God’s will. This means to gain knowledge of God by being free from envy, self-restrained, gentle, as generous as possible, kindly, not quarrelsome, and by acquiring whatever else accords with God’s will.”[1]

The “material passions” are overcome by knowledge of God. [2] “As long as ignorance of God is present in the soul, the passions remain incurable and rot the soul away; for evil in the soul is like a festering wound.”[3] We are responsible for this, not God, because God has given humanity “spiritual understanding and knowledge.”[4] “God has filled man with spiritual understanding and knowledge, for He seeks to purify man from his passions and deliberate wickedness; and in His love He desires to transform the mortal into the immortal.”[5] The pure, devout person will see God with their intellect, [for they will find God inside, for] he alone is the “purity in the pure of heart.”[6]

As much as we live with sin, as much as we life for the sake of the self instead of following the dictates of love, that is as far away we are from God. The greater our sin, the greater our unlove, the more distorted our vision of God will be, until, at last, we are so far from God we will not be able to see him. How many of us suffer this already in our lives? How many of us find it difficult to sense the presence of God? It’s because of how far away we have let ourselves drift from him! To see God, we need to cleans our heart, to make it pure. “”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8 RSV).

To be pure in heart is to be a person full of love and devotion to God. Through that love and devotion to God, one will have love and devotion to everyone else. What God loves, one will love. God loves the world universally, and so our love will become universal. Indeed, we need to have such universal love if we want to see God, for God is love. The one who holds it will see God in themselves. Holiness, pure holiness, can only be seen in one who has such universal love. And if we live with such love, others will be able to see God, if not in themselves, then in and through the presence of God in us. This is why the saints are so important – even if, in their lives, they have not attained perfection, their closeness to God, their greater purity of heart, gives witness to God. Their self-sacrificial character shows what God would have the world be like if the world would follow God. It would be a world of universal love, where people helped those who needed help, and no one would feel apart from the whole.

Such love, of course, cannot be merely theoretical. It must be practical. It must be put into universal action:

Now if we seek to benefit the world by taking universality as our standard, those with sharp ears and clear eyes will see and hear for others, those with study limbs will work for others, and those with a knowledge of the Way will endeavor to teach others. Those who are old and without wives or children will find means of support and be able to live out their days; the young and orphaned who have no parents will find someone to care for them and look after their needs.[7]

As we put love into action we become more and more like God, for God is, in essence, the activity of love. God’s essence is one with his activity, and his activity is love. To be pure at heart is to make oneself a vessel of love. This is what it means to be a temple of God. As temples of God, we will know God and do God’s will because we will know love and follow through with the expectations of love. We will have become rays of love sent into the world itself. Sin cannot enter such a life. A self-enclosed will cannot be found in one who has turned themselves into the image of love. Matter, and what is in it, will be loved, according to its proper nature, but it will not divert the one full of real, actual love away from God. One united with God will not be distracted by and attached to the lesser, material goods because they will no longer appear greater than they actually are.

But those far from God, those who have yet to quell sin, those who have yet to find universal love, will find that in their lack of love, a lack of any peace. The world, even if it is enjoyed in part, nonetheless contains much which leads such a person to bitterness. Where the lack of love is found, hatred can reside, and such hatred makes sure one will find no satisfaction with what one does in the world. What one hates will eat away at the person, making them act in a way contrary to their own good. “One’s mind finds no peace, neither enjoys pleasure or delight, no goes to sleep, nor feels secure while the dart of hatred is stuck in the heart.” [8]

Those who do not follow the path of love will create their own suffering. God has given us free will, and allows us to turn aside from him, from the path of love which leads to him, but he also has given us the way to return to him if and when we ever seek to do so. We must reject the way of the self. When we are turned inward and desire only the self, we will become jealous of others for what they have which we do not. We will always find something someone else has which we do not and feel dejected from our lack. Without love, envy and hate will slowly rise up in the soul, making us turn away, not just from God, but from everyone around us until we will have made ourselves the lonely rulers of a pathetic kingdom of one.[9] But if we look to God, and seek God out, God’s grace will be able to transform us. Slowly, as we purify ourselves, the sinful habits we have developed will recede, and the temptation that the passions bring will no longer be there. How can we be tempted to follow that which brings us less true happiness than God himself?

To the one who has come to know God, there is nothing which will separate them from God, for they will know everything else pales in comparison. Free will, grace, and love will unite in such a person so that they will freely follow the love which they have attained, and they will find God’s unlimited grace gives them the power to achieve that which they will. Their happiness in God, a happiness which is achieved through their union with God in Christ, will make it so that sin no longer is desired, as St. Bernard makes clear:

And this is where Christ comes in. In him, man possesses the necessary ‘power of God and the wisdom of God,’ who, inasmuch as he is wisdom, pours back into man true wisdom, and so restores to him his free counsel; and, inasmuch as he is power, renews his full power, and so restores to him his free pleasure. As a result, being by the former perfectly good, he may now no longer sin; and being, by the latter, completely happy, may no longer feel its sting.[10]

Devotion unites us with Christ. United with Christ, we find ourselves united with God. In and through our unity with God, we will find love and know the path of love. Nothing but love will satisfy us, nothing but love will motivate us. This is what the Christian life is all about – to turn us into people of love. Grace gives us the power to love. The knowledge of the faith gives us the wisdom and direction needed to find such love. It is not what we have done but what God, who is love, has done which makes this possible. If we have truly found God we will be like Christ. What we do will be for others. Even the sufferings we face in the world, sufferings which are real, will be turned around to a thing of glory by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love. Love, in the end, will always be victorious.

There is nothing in these passages which would make us doubt an Anthonite attribution. Indeed, there are allusions to Biblical ideas here, allusions which make an Anthonite connection stronger, since they are used to help favor an ascetic approach to life.

[1] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 352 (#151).

[2] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 352 (#152).

[3] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 352 (#152).

[4] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 352 (#152).

[5] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 352-3  (#153).

[6] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 353 (#154).

[7] Mo Tzu, Basic Writings, 41.

[8] Śāntideva, The Bodhicaryāvatāra. Trans. Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 50.

[9] C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce presents this quite well, showing how the kingdom of hell is the kingdom of isolated hate, where everyone seeks to be as far apart from each other as possible.

[10] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Free Choice. Trans. Daniel O’Donovan OSCO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 82-3.

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