Prudence Is The Key

Prudence Is The Key March 12, 2012

The Christian life is to be one in which we are free to love others, even sinners. We are going to be around others who do not live like we do, who do not seek to be holy as hopefully we seek to be holy. We are not to constantly berate them for their lack of holiness. We are to show them dignity. We are to respect them as persons. We can, when the time is right, explain, in a prudential fashion, the harm we think they are doing to themselves, but even if they will not listen to us, we should not use that to distance ourselves from them. Only if what they can affect us personally, if they are liable to encourage us to follow a way of life which is harmful to us or those dear to us, should we consider not being with them. If we have an addiction to alcohol, it probably is best to avoid bars and to avoid the near occasion for sin. On the other hand, if we find ourselves untouched by temptation, how we handle ourselves with others can have a positive effect upon them. It should not be seen as a sign of sin to hang with people who live in sin. Indeed, if we have matured enough spiritually, there should be no temptation:

For just as it is not possible for the sun ever to soil its rays by shining on a swamp, neither is it possible to soul the soul or reasoning faculty of a man who has received the grace to bear God even if his most pure body should chance to be wallowing, so to speak, in a swamp of human bodies – a situation, to be sure, which is unusual for God-fearing people. Nor do I stop there, but even if such a man were to be confined with tens of thousands who were unbelieving and impious and debauched, and his naked body were to be in contact with their naked bodies, he would not be injured in his faith, nor estranged from his Master, nor forgetful of His beauty.[1]

Sadly, prudence is lost to many who seek the way of holiness. We must avoid what tempts us, but not all sin is going to tempt us. And not everything which would tempt us has to be, in itself, sin. More importantly, not everything which is a temptation for us turns out to be a temptation for others. We must not confuse what works for us, what is helping us overcome temptation, as being necessary for others. This truth must be recognized, not just on the personal level, but with societies as a whole. Social mores affect us in many ways. The mores of one culture will differ from the mores of another culture. What we see as unacceptable might be acceptable in another culture with different social cues. Temptation is, in part, based upon how we read the situation, and social mores affect this greatly. The example of nudity is a good one. For some, nudity is a sexual thing, and so all nudity is seen with a sexual lens. For others, such as in many tribal cultures, it is all around them and it doesn’t entice them, because they do not interpret such nudity with sensual overtones. Modesty is what is important.  One can be fully clothed and immodest, or nude and quite modest. What lies within, not without, is what defiles someone. This is not to say that if we have no problem with nudity we should be out in public in the buff. Again, prudence says we should consider others and how it would affect them. But, when dealing with others, the key to remember is not to project judgments upon them based upon our own cultural standards or personal needs. Yes, they might be sinners, but on the other hand, it is not necessarily the case and we can end up condemning someone holy. The words of St Symeon the New Theologian above came as the result of condemnations placed upon his mentor by those who saw him walking around in the buff. St Symeon was able to prove that his mentor was a holy man, and had him canonized in the process of proving his holy innocence.  Let us not make the same mistake. Love, and let God judge the soul.

[1] St Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses. Volume II:  On Virtue and the Christian Life. Trans. Alexander Golitzin (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 71.

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