The wicked man is a punishment to himself, but the upright man is a grace to himself—and to either, whether good or bad, the reward of his deeds is paid in his own person.
~ St. Ambrose of Milan, De Officiis 1.12
This perspective of St. Ambrose of Milan is one that is quite common among ancient Christians. In some sense they also expect a coming, final judgment, of course, but I am not clear that such was any different than the natural consequences of our actions now, simply taken to their logical ends. In any case, many today, perhaps, could benefit from reconsidering their concepts of sin, merit, reward, and punishment from this more anthropological perspective of St. Ambrose. Continue reading
Now, Mary’s virginity and her giving birth escaped the notice of the prince of this world, as did the Lord’s death—those three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God’s silence. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone in heaven brighter than all the stars. Its light was indescribable and its novelty caused amazement. The rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a ring around it; yet it outshone them all, and there was bewilderment whence this unique novelty had arisen. As a result all magic lost its power and all witchcraft ceased. Ignorance was done away with, and the ancient kingdom [of evil] was utterly destroyed, for God was revealing himself as a man, to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Hence everything was in confusion as the destruction of death was being taken in hand.
~ St. Ignatius, To the Ephesians 19.1-3
St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. circa 110 A.D.) gives, perhaps, a bit more dramatic picture of the Nativity of Christ—Christmas—than what we find in the Gospels of the New Testament. There, we actually only find two accounts, one in Matthew and one in Luke. Neither of them are without their own excitement, but I’ve always liked St. Ignatius’s focus since I first encountered it. It is a bit more overtly theological and highlights some interesting points relevant to the praxis of the spiritual life as well. Continue reading
Man’s will, out of cowardice, tends away from suffering, and man, against his own will, remains utterly dominated by the fear of death, and, in his desire to live, clings to his slavery to pleasure.
~ St. Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassium 21
I previously mentioned this pointed and insightful saying of St. Maximus in an earlier reflection, but it is one about which I could probably write 100 posts. I have found no more succinct, clear, and comprehensive statement of the human condition. Death, that ultimate evil, that anti-natural state of being, casts a dark shadow over all our actions, though we seldom are conscious of it. We suffer and, out of fear of the direction suffering appears to lead—death—we cling in desperation to fleeting pleasures, which run like water through our hands. And when those pleasures die, as all such pleasure does (as opposed to true joy, which is eternal), we once again suffer, and suffering we fear, and fearing we desire, and desiring we enslave ourselves, against our own will to live, to pleasures that so assuredly pass away. It is a vicious spiral, always increasing the magnitude of the pleasure needed to distract ourselves from our suffering, which, in turn, always increases the magnitude of our suffering once it comes. Continue reading
A pilgrim to the Holy Mountain of Athos asked an old hermit, “Father, how can I attain my salvation?” The venerated holy man replied, “Every day at dusk go to the cemetery and for an hour hurl insults to the dead. Do that for a month and pay attention to everything that happens around you. Then come and report to me.” After a month the pilgrim returned. “Father, I have done what you told me but nothing happened!” The hermit then said, “Go to the cemetery again for another month and sing praises to the dead. Then come and tell me what happened.” After a month the pilgrim returned. “Father, I did what you told me but nothing happened!” The holy father then said, “My son, if you wish to attain your salvation, be like the dead, indifferent to insults and indifferent to praise.”
~ From Inner River, vii
(the epithet on the inside before the TOC)
Ah yes. In the unique manner of monks, we have the recommendation, in addition to always keeping the day of one’s death on one’s mind, to live like the dead, “indifferent to insults and indifferent to praise.” I have written previously on the dangers of praise and the avoidable nature of anger when provoked, and while these are both themes that deserve continued reflection, I would like to primarily focus on something else for this post. Continue reading