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

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XLVIII April 18, 2012

Introduction and Part II

“Man alone is capable of communion with God. For to man alone among the living creatures does God speak – at night through dreams, by day through the intellect. And He uses every means to foretell and prefigure the future blessings that will be given to those worthy of Him.”[1]

For those properly disposed through faith and with a will to achieve their desire, one can gain spiritual insights about God. [2] “If you wish to contemplate Him, look at the providential harmony in all things created by His Logos. All are for man’s sake.”[3]

We are called to be rational, to live in and with reason so that we can know God and come to understand God’s work in the world.  It is with reason we come to know how to open ourselves up, to let God come in and have communion with us.  “The rational man who has prepared himself to be set free through the advent of Jesus, knows himself in his intellectual substance. For he who knows himself knows the dispensations of the Creator and all that He does among His creatures.”[4] It is with such reason we come to realize the prompting of God and understand what it is God is communicating to us. No matter whom we are talking about, no matter what their background is, every human person has the gift of reason. Even babies, in their own way, are embracing it as they learn about the world around them, showing us an approach to life which we often forget as we age.

Dreams, constructs of our mind, can be a way in which a mind reveals its experiences of God. He engages our reason to lead us, to guide us, to make sure we can follow where he would lead us: the kingdom of heaven. When it exceeds our ability to comprehend, the transcendent mystery of God nonetheless remains with us, and becomes manifest in our lives in many ways, including, and especially, in dreams.  Though we must be careful and not assume something supernatural with them, dreams present to us our experiences in the world and show us a new way to understand them. They can reveal something hidden to the conscious self: we just have to find a way to interpret them properly. If God is at work in our lives, then it makes sense that our dreams will show elements of that work, though we must be careful and not perform eisigesis, making our dreams say more than they really do. What is necessary is for us to appreciate how God can speak to us through dreams, prompting our mind to ponder things which we would otherwise not consider. And however God is at work with us, we should follow, to the best of our ability, what he wants of us. This requires faith. When things seem chaotic and full of confusion, we must have faith, holding on to it as we try to experience the kingdom of God. Even when life seems difficult, when the path to the kingdom of God seems difficult to traverse, our faith should provide us hope, that it is possible to enter the kingdom of heaven and to find such satisfaction that all our troubles will be as naught.

All around us are creatures of God, creatures which show and reflect something about God. If we, with our reason, look to them and read them spiritually, we will come to know God through them, to know the Logos behind all of their differing logoi. The Logos, Jesus, holds the whole of creation in himself, where everything has been given its form, its own logos, in harmonic reflection of him. It is for this reason the whole universe can be said to be a book of God. If we engage God in prayer and contemplate the world around us, we can be led to God through the world itself: “In relation to our position in creation, the universe itself is a ladder by which we can ascend into God. Some created things are vestiges, others images; some are material, others spiritual; some are temporal, others everlasting; some are outside us, others within us. In order to contemplate the First Principle, who is most spiritual, eternal and above us, we must pass through his vestiges, which are material, temporal and outside us.”[5]

The world reveals God. The world speaks of God. The world directs us to look and find God. All of this has been done for our sake. The whole of creation was made –and it was made for our sake! But we must not take this in the wrong fashion. It was all done for us, but this does not mean it was only done for us. It is for us, for our sake, but also for other purposes which God has ordained, purposes which give each thing its own worth for its own sake. We must understand that we, too, have been made for the sake of the rest of creation, to guide and shepherd it, so that we are told that creation  groans in pain awaiting our spiritual transformation  (cf. Rom 8:19). The interdependent nature of the universe allows differentiation and integration, allowing all within it to have their own special worth and value, while the elevation of one helps and elevates all.  Realizing this will help us understand our place in the world.

Humanity is said to be that species which reasons. In a sense, all who reason would therefore be said to be human, while all that lacks reason is said to be an irrational beast. We do not have to believe we are the only ones to possess reason to understand what is being said. We are given an allegory in which humanity represents all that is rational. To see this does not mean we have to believe only humans are rational, just as we do not have to believe only women have souls to appreciate classical allegory which relates women with the soul. Allegorically, different kinds of animals have been used to represent different passions of the body, to exemplify elements of the world which need to be guided by our rational faculty. This is what it means to say humanity has been given governance of the animal world: that our human intellect is to be the measure and guide of our earthly, irrational bodily passions. “The saints and all who preserve the blessings of God in themselves exercise dominion over these things guiding the total man by the will of the spirit.”[6] The bodily passions, because of their irrational nature, need guidance to make sure they do not take us astray. This is not because the passions, the desires of the flesh, are bad in and of themselves, but rather, an unbalanced pursuit of them, where one seeks bodily desires without restraint, limits us and prevents us from becoming the person we are meant to be. By an inordinate and exhaustive pursuit of the limited goods of the body, we find ourselves straying away from God, caught up in our own self, leaving us closed off to the grace which is needed for true eternal happiness.  Thus, we must reason, we must be human masters of our urges, and deny them when they would lead us astray, while giving them what they need if what they ask for is just and right.

These paragraphs fall within the spectrum of thought contained in Anthonite literature. There is nothing in them to make us believe he could not have stated them, and indeed, Anthony held a great interest in God as Logos and the rationality of the human person, so that, it is easy to believe he could have written them down.

[1] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 353 (#159).

[2] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 353 (#160).

[3] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 353 (#160).

[4] Chitty, The Letters of Saint Anthony, 9 [Letter III].

[5] Saint Bonaventure, “The Soul’s Journey Into God,” 60.

[6] Origen, “Genesis Homily I” in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus. Trans.  Ronald E. Heine (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1981),69.

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