Posts tagged ‘passions’

April 22, 2018

in reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal

Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (book II, chapter 3, “Concerning angels”) by Saint John of Damascus:

He is Himself the Maker and Creator of the angels: for He brought them out of nothing into being and created them after His own image, an incorporeal race, a sort of spirit or immaterial fire: in the words of the divine David, He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire: and He has described their lightness and the ardour, and heat, and keenness and sharpness with which they hunger for God and serve Him, and how they are borne to the regions above and are quite delivered from all material thought.

An angel, then, is an intelligent essence, in perpetual motion, with free-will, incorporeal, ministering to God, having obtained by grace an immortal nature: and the Creator alone knows the form and limitation of its essence. But all that we can understand is, that it is incorporeal and immaterial. For all that is compared with God Who alone is incomparable, we find to be dense and material. For in reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal.

The angel’s nature then is rational, and intelligent, and endowed with free-will, changeable in will, or fickle. For all that is created is changeable, and only that which is un-created is unchangeable. Also all that is rational is endowed with free-will. As it is, then, rational and intelligent, it is endowed with free-will: and as it is created, it is changeable, having power either to abide or progress in goodness, or to turn towards evil.

It is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance.

It is immortal, not by natures but by grace. For all that has had beginning comes also to its natural end. But God alone is eternal, or rather, He is above the Eternal: for He, the Creator of times, is not under the dominion of time, but above time.

They are secondary intelligent lights derived from that first light which is without beginning, for they have the power of illumination; they have no need of tongue or hearing, but without uttering words they communicate to each other their own thoughts and counsels.

Through the Word, therefore, all the angels were created, and through the sanctification by the Holy Spirit were they brought to perfection, sharing each in proportion to his worth and rank in brightness and grace.

They are circumscribed: for when they are in the Heaven they are not on the earth: and when they are sent by God down to the earth they do not remain in the Heaven. They are not hemmed in by walls and doors, and bars and seals, for they are quite unlimited. Unlimited, I repeat, for it is not as they really are that they reveal themselves to the worthy men to whom God wishes them to appear, but in a changed form which the beholders are capable of seeing. For that alone is naturally and strictly unlimited which is un-created. For every created thing is limited by God Who created it.

Further, apart from their essence they receive the sanctification from the Spirit: through the divine grace they prophesy: they have no need of marriage for they are immortal.

Seeing that they are minds they are in mental places, and are not circumscribed after the fashion of a body. For they have not a bodily form by nature, nor are they tended in three dimensions. But to whatever post they may be assigned, there they are present after the manner of a mind and energise, and cannot be present and energise in various places at the same time.

Whether they are equals in essence or differ from one another we know not. God, their Creator, Who knoweth all things, alone knoweth. But they differ from each other in brightness and position, whether it is that their position is dependent on their brightness, or their brightness on their position: and they impart brightness to one another, because they excel one another in rank and nature. And clearly the higher share their brightness and knowledge with the lower.

They are mighty and prompt to fulfil the will of the Deity, and their nature is endowed with such celerity that wherever the Divine glance bids them there they are straightway found. They are the guardians of the divisions of the earth: they are set over nations and regions, allotted to them by their Creator: they govern all our affairs and bring us succour. And the reason surely is because they are set over us by the divine will and command and are ever in the vicinity of God.

With difficulty they are moved to evil, yet they are not absolutely immoveable: but now they are altogether immoveable, not by nature but by grace and by their nearness to the Only Good.

They behold God according to their capacity, and this is their food.

They are above us for they are incorporeal, and are free of all bodily passion, yet are not passionless: for the Deity alone is passionless.

They take different forms at the bidding of their Master, God, and thus reveal themselves to men and unveil the divine mysteries to them.

They have Heaven for their dwelling-place, and have one duty, to sing God’s praise and carry out His divine will.

Moreover, as that most holy, and sacred, and gifted theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite says, All theology, that is to say, the holy Scripture, has nine different names for the heavenly essences. These essences that divine master in sacred things divides into three groups, each containing three. And the first group, he says, consists of those who are in God’s presence and are said to be directly and immediately one with Him, viz., the Seraphim with their six wings, the many-eyed Cherubim and those that sit in the holiest thrones. The second group is that of the Dominions, and the Powers, and the Authorities; and the third, and last, is that of the Rulers and Archangels and Angels

Some, indeed, like Gregory the Theologian, say that these were before the creation of other things. He thinks that the angelic and heavenly powers were first and that thought was their function. Others, again, hold that they were created after the first heaven was made. But all are agreed that it was before the foundation of man. For myself, I am in harmony with the theologian. For it was fitting that the mental essence should be the first created, and then that which can be perceived, and finally man himself, in whose being both parts are united.

But those who say that the angels are creators of any kind of essence whatever are the mouth of their father, the devil. For since they are created things they are not creators. But He Who creates and provides for and maintains all things is God, Who alone is uncreate and is praised and glorified in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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February 10, 2018

a wise educator always trades in Beauty and Goodness before Truth

Remarkable interview with Dr. Timothy Patitsas:

You can’t consider yourself educated, unless you at least once have longed to have been born wholly other culturally—to have been born in another time, language, country, whatever. For many people, it’s reading the Tolkien epics that first give them that deep, erotic longing for a transcendent cultural otherness.

And thus Tolkien’s current significance for education, for modern Civilization, is deep. Eros is the beginning of human moral life, and Beauty in art and literature are oftentimes more effective than religion in awakening eros within us. Religion can just seem like God coming down at us, scolding us, telling us to stay where we are, but just do better. But real Religion must awaken the movement in the other direction, to make us come out of our- selves and move towards him, fall in love with him. It’s about beginning an adventure, becoming a pilgrim, an exile, a lover.

…Yes, and that was actually my point in bringing up Tolkien, and the importance of falling in love with other cultures and civilizations, or with something beautiful that can make us forget ourselves. Our lives only begin, our moral struggle only commences, once we’ve loved something enough to want to leave ourselves behind. That can be painful—but ideally it’s never worse than bittersweet.

Incidentally, a wise educator always trades in Beauty and Goodness, before Truth.

…The only real cure for bad eros is good eros, and plenty of it.

…Many times, starting with goodness—with the attempt to be good and to stop sinning—is a recipe for moral disaster, as we shall see.

…However often we fall, we cannot attack pride directly as our first priority. Rather, we return to the front lines: our simple devotion to Christ, our fasting, our chastity, and the sacred beauty our brothers, sisters, enemies, and all of creation. To contemplate this goodness, to be illumined, we must give alms. We are then illumined in both senses—we contemplate correctly, and our light “shines before men.”

…We will then look back upon that first vision of that person’s beauty, as the moment when our lives started, when we “came to be” out of a kind of nothing. We will know for ourselves what it means to be created ex nihilo, and we will weep.

…We talked about war in general, and trauma, as an anti-liturgy. Whereas liturgy knits our individual character together and integrates us; whereas liturgy promotes communion and deepens our connection to others and God and the whole of nature; and whereas liturgy teaches us the profound truth of who God really is, and thus who we are and who the world is—well, war and trauma reverse all this. They unravel our character by breaking our connection to beauty; drive us from close communion with others so that we don’t have the opportunity to be good; and teach us lies about God, others, the world, and ourselves.

The healing of the soul begins with noticing God’s many theophanies, and with falling in love with them. In other words, it begins with Beauty. In renewing our love for authentic Beauty, we slowly are cleansed of the ugly images of trauma and the false images of worldly pleasures. Our character, unraveled by what we experienced, begins to be knit together, to become whole again. We begin to be “created” again.

…First, the Beautiful: Shay says we begin when we take the trauma victim out of the ugly circumstances inciting the trauma. We bring them to good patterns of life, to friendships, to self-care. All of this represents the return of Beauty to the life. Good Patterns—in the Christopher Alexander sense of Patterns in Architecture, but applicable to patterns of action and self-care and relating.

…Shay knew that The Iliad was the crucial text; so did Simone Weil. I love the way that it combines beauty and goodness, art with empathy. In it, in its profound hearing, brother soldiers came together for a week or so, to listen to a beauty that made them forget themselves, in a safe context of hospitality and unity. Within that Beauty was Goodness, the empathic love. As we said last time, there are no enemies in The Iliad, only noble soldiers, trapped in war on both sides. Before such a monument of Beauty and Empathy, we can safely weep, practicing empathy for others—and by extension for ourselves.

You know, Truth isn’t really a “third moment.” If you have Beauty and Goodness, Truth is right there, inside them both. That weeping in the hearing of The Iliad is one of the moments that you are most alive—most true.

…All kinds of things are going on invisibly within us when we pray, though outwardly nothing has changed and we feel only the same. Although you mean everything to God, and He welcomes your urgent cries, sometimes He may be arranging things with your long-term interest in mind. And in the meantime, when you are being crucified by the trauma flashbacks, know that you are with God; you are his icon. But your strength is also limited, and He will descend.

March 20, 2017

destroying sin through the instrumentality of death

There is a whole lot in my paltry readings of Maximus the Confessor that I don’t understand. However, I continue, and Maximus rewards patience time and again.

Here’s a recent example. Maximus says that Jesus came to give human death a new purpose. He made death into a weapon that we can use against our own sin. This confused me a lot at first, so let me set up the theological background a little more.

Death is simply a natural result of sin. We sometimes read Genesis as if God proclaimed that death would be the punishment for sin. In fact, God was not “assigning a consequence” but simply pointing out a reality about life. Death is fair (or just) because it is a natural extension of sin. This is because sin is turning away from God who is the loving source of life.

Moreover, death became tied up with human nature because our first sin caught us all in bonds of pain and pleasure. Our first sin left us serving a vicious tyranny of the urgent, always fleeing a pain or pursuing a pleasure that seemed more near-at-hand than God’s presence. It became natural for humans to pursue anything but God, and mortality became a human characteristic. It is terrible to think of death as natural to those made in God’s image, but we all learn to see each other in this world as destined for death instead of God. Socrates takes it as an axiom that “man is mortal.”

Maximus also points out that death and suffering are merciful because they keep us from going too far off course while we wander between increasingly extreme fears of pain or desires for pleasure. Although death is merciful in a way, God did not impose death on us as either a kindness or a punishment (most fundamentally). Death is simply reality apart from life with God. As love and the source of life, God hates death.

Moving a step further, human death attacks the core of God’s purpose in creation. Humans were made uniquely to ensure that all creatures would enjoy and display God’s love. By sinning (turning from God to pursue another source of goodness), the image bearers of God tangled up their own natures with death itself, entrapped there by pain and pleasure. Instead of promoting and protecting life in all creation, God’s image became connected to death by our sin. God’s image brought death to the world.

To set up a little background, I’ve wandered from Maximus’ main point (and wandered into a few points of my own, no doubt). Maximus is focused on explaining exactly how salvation is accomplished by Jesus Christ within this situation. Because God’s image became connected to death by our sin and brought death to all creation, Maximus shows how Christ becomes a human and used human death as an ingenious weapon against sin. Maximus says that Jesus Christ “turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.” This attack on our sin gives us a new weapon and opens a way for the curse on all of creation to be undone. Christ surprised the devil and death itself by giving this new purpose to human death. By becoming human and repurposing death, God restored to humans a way to serve again as the image of God.

Maximus explains at length how this was possible. Christ fully took on our own human desires for pleasure and our fears of pain, all the realities of our sins, while remaining free from committing any sins of his own. Therefore, death was not a natural or just consequence for Christ. The normal purposes of death did not apply to Christ, and he was able to give death a surprising new purpose. I won’t go into further details, but this surprise move required all that Jesus Christ was (as fully God and fully human).

This noble use of death to restore life with God is full of profound encouragements and implications regarding how to suffer and to carry our own cross with Jesus Christ each day in this life, even into our own eventual deaths. Amazingly, Maximus claims that “the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin.” Christ has now given death to each of us to use as a weapon against our own sin. Christ changed the function of death for all of those who unite themselves to Christ. In Christ, humans can learn to accept everyday experiences of suffering and death in ways that free us from our sin. Maximus is giving a theological basis for the Christian practices of asceticism and mortification (which are very easily abused and misunderstood).

Pointing continually to the work of Christ, Maximus points us to the only perfect example of how to use death as a weapon against sin. However, Maximus the Confessor, as a follower of Christ, is himself a profound example. All those tortured for Jesus Christ were called “Confessors.” In Maximus’ case, he insisted on confessing the truth even when they promised to cut out his tongue and remove his right hand for preaching or writing one more word about who Jesus was. That didn’t stop him.

Here are some passages from Maximus himself (from Ad Thalassium 61 “On the Legacy of Adam’s Transgression”):

For if the deviance of free choice [by Adam] introduced passibility, corruptibility, and mortality in Adam’s nature, it only followed that in Christ, the immutability of free choice, realized through his resurrection, introduced natural impassibility, incorruptibility, and immortality.

…He exhibited the equity of his justice in the magnitude of his condescension, when he willingly (κατὰ θέλησιν) submitted to the condemnation imposed on our passibility (τὸ παθητόν) and turned that very passibility into an instrument for eradicating sin and the death which is its consequence—or in other words, for eradicating pleasure and the pain which is its consequence. For it was in human passibility that the power of sin and death (the tyranny of sin connected with pleasure and the oppression associated with pain) all began. Indeed, the rule of pleasure and pain over our nature clearly originated in the liability to passions. Wanting to escape the oppressive experience of pain we sought refuge in pleasure, attempting to console our nature when it was hard-pressed with pain’s torment. Striving to blunt pain’s spasms with pleasure, we merely sanctioned against ourselves a greater debt (cf Col 2:14) of pain, powerless to disconnect pleasure from pain and its toils. But the Lord exerted manifest strength of transcendent power by inaugurating for human nature a birth unchanged by the contrary realities (of pleasure and pain) which he himself experienced. For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.

…Therefore death, in its dynasty, dominates all of human nature because of the transgression. …But the Lord, …naturally willed to die…. Clearly he suffered, and converted the use (χρῆσις) of death so that in him it would be a condemnation not of our nature but manifestly only of sin itself.

The baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin. …Such will ensue if indeed the saints, for the sake of truth and righteousness, have virtuously finished the course of this life with its many sufferings, liberating their nature within themselves from death as a condemnation of sin and, like Christ, the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10), turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.

From the translator’s notes:

Maximus repeats here his slightly earlier affirmation that Christ “converted the use of death” (τὴν τοῦ θανάτου χρῆσιν ἀντέστρεψιν) so as to condemn sin and not human nature itself. We already see in Ad Thal. 42 (translated above) Maximus’s larger perspective on Christ’s assumption of human passibility in its fullness, becoming the “sin” which is a consequence of the fall (but not the “sin” committed in moral acts) and so for our sakes taking on the mortality which is its condemnation. Recalling here the christianized Stoic idiom of “good use” of the human passions (cf Ad Thal. 1), Maximus describes Christ “using” death, the ultimate “passion” and the end of human passibility, as a redemptive instrument. Elsewhere, Maximus speaks of Christ’s blameless use of the fear of death (Disputation with Pyrrhus, PG 91:297B), for Christ alone turns it into a “voluntary” fear that encourages the Christian faithful in their own confrontation with death (Opusc. 7, PG 91:80D; cf Comm. on the Lord’s Prayer, CCSG 23:34, 135–35, 142).

…Maximus is insistent that the Christian appropriates Christ’s own good “use” of the ultimate passion of death (see note 9 above) by his or her own discipline of mortification. One should not overlook his important distinction between destroying death and destroying sin through the instrumentality of death.

June 22, 2016

conformity to the likeness of the irrational

Q. Are the passions evil in themselves or do they become so when used in an evil way? I am speaking of pleasure, grief, desire, fear, and the rest.

R. These passions, and the rest as well, were not originally created together with human nature, for if they had been they would contribute to the definition of human nature. But following what the eminent Gregory of Nyssa taught, I say that, on account of humanity’s fall from perfection, the passions were introduced and attached themselves to the more irrational part of human nature. Then, immediately after humanity had sinned, the divine and blessed image was displaced by the clear and obvious likeness to unreasoning animals. The passions, moreover, become good in those who are spiritually earnest once they have wisely separated them from corporeal objects and used them to gain possession of heavenly things. For instance, they can turn desire (ἐπιθυμία) into the appetitive movement of the mind’s longing for divine things, or pleasure (ἡδονή) into the unadulterated joy of the mind when enticed toward divine gifts, or fear (φόβος) into cautious concern for imminent punishment for sins committed, or grief (λύπη) into corrective repentance of a present evil.

From Maximus the Confessor in Ad Thalassium (On the Utility of the Passions1, ccsg 7: 47–49).

When we wish to give a collective name to the passions, we call them world. And when we wish to designate them specifically according to their names, we call them passions. The passions are portions of the course of the world’s onward flow; and where the passions cease, there the world’s onward flow stands still.

From The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (Homily Two, trans. by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, 1984, p. 14).

If neither the Deity is passible nor our nature free from passion, what other account remains whereby we may say that the word of God speaks truly, which says that man was made in the image of God? [XVI.4]

It is not allowable to ascribe the first beginnings of our constitutional liability to passion to that human nature which was fashioned in the Divine likeness; but as brute life first entered into the world, and man, for the reason already mentioned, took something of their nature (I mean the mode of generation), he accordingly took at the same time a share of the other attributes contemplated in that nature. [XVIII.1]

Thus our love of pleasure took its beginning from our being made like to the irrational creation, and was increased by the transgressions of men, becoming the parent of so many varieties of sins arising from pleasure as we cannot find among the irrational animals. Thus the rising of anger in us is indeed akin to the impulse of the brutes; but it grows by the alliance of thought: for thence come malignity, envy, deceit, conspiracy, hypocrisy; all these are the result of the evil husbandry of the mind; for if the passion were divested of the aid it receives from thought, the anger that is left behind is short-lived and not sustained, like a bubble, perishing straightway as soon as it comes into being. Thus the greediness of swine introduces covetousness, and the high spirit of the horse becomes the origin of pride; and all the particular forms that proceed from the want of reason in brute nature become vice by the evil use of the mind. [XVIII.4]

So, likewise, on the contrary, if reason instead assumes sway over such emotions, each of them is transmuted to a form of virtue; for anger produces courage, terror caution, fear obedience, hatred aversion from vice, the power of love the desire for what is truly beautiful; high spirit in our character raises our thought above the passions, and keeps it from bondage to what is base; yea, the great Apostle, even, praises such a form of mental elevation when he bids us constantly to think those things that are above (Colossians 3:2); and so we find that every such motion, when elevated by loftiness of mind, is conformed to the beauty of the Divine image. [XVIII.4]
The misery that encompasses us often causes the Divine gift to be forgotten, and spreads the passions of the flesh, like some ugly mask, over the beauty of the image. [XVIII.6]

Passion in the human soul is a conformity to the likeness of the irrational. [XXVIII.4]

From On the Making of Man by Gregory of Nyssa.

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July 18, 2015

if we cannot persuade our friends by reasons we must be content

One of his maxims was that if we cannot persuade our friends by reasons we must be content “and not bring a mercenary army to our aid.” (He meant passions.)

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis (speaking of the Greek adviser and teacher, the Fox).

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