Friday, January 05, 2007

Bad News for Professional Victims

Gregory of Nyssa, the mystic, is generally paired with his brother, Basil the Great, the organizer and pragmatist. There is much to this generalization, though it possibly short-changes Basil's mysticism and Gregory's ascetical works. Here is Gregory with some good practical advice:

"Do not accept the honors of this life; run in such a way as to conceal your struggles in behalf of virtue lest the devil, finding an opportunity to tempt you with worldly honors and having distracted you from leisure for good, lead you to vanity or error."
(from "On the Christian Mode of Life")

Let me add only two observations on this passage to explain my choice of a title for this post: where in Gregory's day, honor and fame were thought to belong to especially virtuous persons who sacrificed greatly for civic ideals, today, 'struggles' are more often for emancipation from civic duty. Perhaps worldly acclaim accrues from successfully prosecuting one's case on 'Judge Judy'?

Second, how much 'leisure for good' do we lose to mulling over gripes that we have with others? How much leisure for good do we cultivate, period? Leisure has a bad name in religious circles: It sounds like the privilege of an upper class. In fact, I don't think it needs to mean anything other than regularly taking time to turn our minds toward heavenly things so as not to fall into distraction and error, as Gregory warns can happen. If we take the time for a regular 'searching and fearless moral inventory' (to borrow AA's excellent phrase), then the possibility of us making a big show of our virtue is certainly less. Corresponsingly, our progress in spiritual warfare will be greater.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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