The Passionate Christian

For a good part of Christian history, the passions were seen as being the basis of human sin.  The 12th Century monk, Ilias the Presbyter, writes:

“Pleasure is the mother of desire;

bad temper, of anger;

malice, of jealousy.

Whoever does not struggle against the ringleaders will not be left in peace by their subordinates; nor can you restrain the passions if you practice the commandments only because you are forced to do so.”  (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 25381-83)

For Ilias the cure of the soul involves discovering the spiritual causes of various sins.  Additionally, Ilias recognizes that even though you might be able to legislate morality, it will not help people overcome their passions, so such legislated morality is really of very little value.  Those who obey the commandments because they are forced to do so by law will not over come their passions.  They will endlessly fall into sin and never become more Christ like.  They can only be Christians if they freely and lovingly obey God and choose to take up the cross and deny themselves and follow Christ.  They will not be victorious over sin if they forced to obey the law.

St John of Damaskos, the 8th Century Patristic Father, offers the following teaching as a help for Christians to overcome their own passions:

 “These eight passions should be destroyed as follows:

gluttony by self-control;

unchastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store;

avarice by compassion for the poor;

anger by goodwill and love for all men;

worldly dejection by spiritual joy;

listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God;

self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart;

and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:11-12), and by considering oneself the least of all men.”  (THE PHILOKALIA,  Kindle Loc. 22431-41)

The cure of the soul involves overcoming specific sins:  gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem and pride.  The modern Christian has to really consider this list of sins, as they don’t reflect modern values at all, and certainly don’t reflect the sins that get all the media hype.  Some, like self esteem, have to be carefully understood as self esteem in the modern sense is a virtue we want to attend to, while for the Patristic monks it is much more like our ideas of self-centeredness or even narcissism.

For St. John of Damascus, the virtues which Christians should value, cultivate and inculcate are self control, longing for God, compassion for the poor, good will and love, joy, patience, perseverance, thankfulness, humility, contrition, and not judging others.

These are the virtues needed for us to engage in spiritual warfare as well as cultural warfare.

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