Saturday, June 6, 2015

On Saints and Divine Love

   How great and how many are the athletes of virtue, the saints and with which crowns they are decked, is clearly demonstrated by the accounts written on them. Even if they don’t contain all their contest, yet even a few suffice to show the character of the life they have lead. It is not by wearing away all the gold that is applied to it but by being rubbed against a little of it that a stone shows to be a good coin or bad. Likewise in the case of an archer, one could learn accurately from the discharge of only a few arrows whether he uses the bow well, hitting the target, or if he shoots outside, being unpractised in the skill. It is possible in the same way too to test the other men of skill, not to mention them individually: athletes, runners, actors of tragedy, pilots, shipwrights, doctors, peasants, and, in a word, all the others who put their hand to some skill; for slight experiment is sufficient to prove the skill of those with knowledge and convict the ignorance of those who adopt the mere name. Therefore, as I said, the recording of even a few of the achievements of each one is sufficient to teach their whole purpose in life. It is our present task to examine, inquire, and discover exactly from what impulse they embraced this way of Life, and by what thoughts they attained the very summit of philosophy; for that it was not through confidence in the strength of the body that they became enamored of what is beyond human nature, transcended the limits imposed on it, and jumped beyond the bounds fixed for contestants in piety, experience is a clear teacher.

   He who has conceived divine love despises all earthly thing together and trample on all the pleasures of the body. He looks down upon wealth and glory and honor from men; he thinks that the royal purple is no different from spiders' webs; he likens the stones that are precious to pebbles on the bank. He does not consider health of body enviable, nor does he call disease a misfortune, nor does he term poverty bad luck, nor does he use wealth and luxury to define happiness. But they are of the fine opinion that each of these is always to be compared to river streams that flow past trees planted on the banks and stop by none of them; for beauty, poverty and wealth, health and disease, honor and dishonor, and the other things that brush past the nature of men, are likewise observed not to re­main always with the same people, but to change their possessors, and pass continually from some to others. Many fall from plenty into extreme poverty, while many ascend from being poor into the list of the rich; and disease and health travel through all bodies, so to speak, both of the hungry and of those lapped in luxury.
   Virtue, or philosophy, is an abiding good. It overcomes the hands of the robber, the tongue of the slanderer, and the showers of dart and spears of the enemy; it does not become the victim of fever, nor the plaything of a storm, nor the casualty of shipwreck. Time doe not remove its power, but increases its power. The substance of it is love for God. It is impossible for one who does not become fer­vently enamored of God to succeed in philosophy. But rather, this thing is itself called 'philosophy' (friendship with wisdom), since God is, and is called, Wisdom. Concerning the God of the universe the blessed Paul says, “To the incorruptible, invisible, unique, wise God”. Concerning the Only-begotten he says, “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God”. And again, He has been given “to us as wis­dom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption”. Therefore the true “philosopher” (friend of wisdom) could appro­priately be called the “friend of God”. The “friend of God” despises everything else and looks at the Beloved alone. He puts serving him before all the rest together; he says, performs, and thinks only those things that please and serve the One he loves, and abominates every­thing that he forbids. It was because they practiced and were adorned with divine love that the whole company of prophets achieved the most perfect virtue and left behind a fame of everlasting remembrance. Moreover, the choir of the Apostles and the throngs of martyrs, on receiving this fire, looked down on all things visible, and preferred innumerable forms of death to every kind of agreeable life. Enamored of the divine beauty, reflec­ting on God's love for us, and pondering on his innumerable benefits, they thought it disgraceful not to yearn for that ineffable beauty or to be ungrateful towards their Benefactor. On account of this, they kept till death their covenant with him.

   It was enamored of this beauty that the new athletes of virtue also, whose life we were recorded, have leapt into those great conflicts that surpass human nature. This they were taught clearly by the divine Scriptures. For they chant with the great David: “Lord my God, how exceeding great you are! You have clothed yourself with confession and magnificence, casting on light like a garment, stretch­ing out the sky like a curtain” -and the remaining verses that teach his wisdom and power (Psalm 104). And again, “The lord reigns, he has clothed himself with majesty; the Lord has clothed and girded himself with power” (Psalm 93) for, “He has established the world, which shall not be shaken” (Psalm 96); here likewise his wisdom and beauty are proclaimed, and also his power. In another place.

   Being taught, therefore, by divine Scripture that He is beauti­ful, has indescribable wealth, is the fount of wisdom, is able to do whatever He wishes, possesses immeasurable love for men, pours forth rivers of kindness, and in everything wishes solely to benefit men -and being taught by the God-bearing men about the myriad and uncountable varieties of his beneficence -, they have been wounded by the sweet darts of love, and, as limbs of the bride, ex­claim with her: “We are wounded with love”. The great John ex­claims: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”- The prophet Isaiah foretold what was to come as if it had already taken place, when he said: “He was wounded for our trans­gressions and bruised for our sins; the chastisement for our peace was upon him; by his scar we were healed” - and the remaining verses which proceed through the sufferings of salvation. There is also the proclamation of Paul, exclaiming: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also give us all things together with him?” And again, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God is making his appeal through us, We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God; for him who knew not sin he made to be sin for our sake, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him”.

   Finding these and all similar statements in those who became the servants of the Word of God, they receive from all sources the goads of divine love; despising all things, they contemplate the Beloved, and prior to the incorruption for which they hope they have ren­dered the body spiritual, Let us too conceive this longing; let us become bewitched by the beauty of the Bridegroom, eager for the promised goods, paying heed to the multitude of benefits, fearing the punishment for ingratitude, and so in our love be maintainers of his laws, For this is the definition of friendship: liking and hating the same things, This is why He said to Abraham: “I shall bless those who bless you, and those who curse you shall I curse?” And David to Him, “Greatly honored by me have been thy friends, O God”. And again, “Have I not hated, Lord, those who hate thee, and wasted away because of thine enemies? With perfect hatred have I hated them; they have become for me enemies”. And elsewhere, “I have hated the lawbreakers, and loved thy law”. And in another place, “How I have loved thy law, O Lord; the whole day it is my meditation”. There­fore the clear proof of love for God is the keeping of his divine laws. “He who loves me will keep my commandments” said Christ the Master, with whom to the Father be the glory with the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen.

   Theodoret of Cyrrhus, A History of the Monks of Syria translated by R.M. Price (1985), Cistercian Publication, Kalamazoo, Michigan.