The Moral Path of Being

IMG_0809_2If Christian morality is not a legal or forensic matter, how are we to think about moral behavior? Does the word have no use for Orthodox Christians? What do we think about when we confess our sins? If morality is ontological – a matter of being – what does that look like?

To say that morality is ontological, a matter of our being, is to confess that the commandments of God are for our sake, for our salvation, our direction towards union with Him, and not merely for a legal/forensic judgment. The consequences of our actions are primarily internal, not imposed on us from without (Rom. 1:27).

My last article used the imagery of boundaries to speak about our proper way of life. Nothing is more constitutive of our salvation than the fullness of our personhood in relationship with the Triune God. All that pertains to our salvation rests within that relationship – which is truly ontological and not forensic. For Christ truly became what we are that we might become what He is.

Our boundaries can be seen as measures of who we are. As such there are all kinds of boundaries: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, hypostatic. Our boundaries are both the points at which we violate the proper boundaries of others as well as the points  at which we may be saved. To understand this requires that you rethink with me the mechanics of morality. I am not suggesting here a metaphysics of boundaries, but rather using boundaries as a way to speak of metaphysics.

If we think of sinful actions – say adultery or theft. The violation of certain boundaries, exclusive faithfulness on the one hand, and property on another, are easily adapted for moral thought. But more than that, there are “boundaries within boundaries,” or other liminal aspects such as how someone thinks about their spouse, or someone other than their spouse. Those emotional boundaries are deeply important, and we describe their violation as lust, covetousness and the like.

But in these cases, rather than simply thinking of a specific rule-oriented explanation (the forensic model), we can explore the inner dynamic of what makes unfaithfulness a sin, not only against another, but against our own being as well. For there are proper boundaries of the self as person, and there are the improper boundaries (or none at all) of the self as ego.

The Orthodox Tradition understands the human person in the light of the Divine Persons, rather than the other way around. It is primarily by reflecting on Christ as God and Man that we understand what it actually means to be a human person. Indeed, the very word “person” as a name for the human subject, is a contribution of Christian thought to language.

To exist rightly as person, and not merely as self-centered ego, includes proper boundaries. To know where I “stop” and where I “end” is essential in having any meaning whatsoever. I am not you. Your concerns belong to you and are yours. You do not exist in order to fulfill my desires. When modern language speaks of “objectifying” another human being (as in making them a “sex object” or “economic object”) what we really mean is that we have destroyed proper boundaries and have subsumed them into our desires and thoughts. The moral content of such thought should be obvious, with reflection.

Even commandments such as truth telling have to do with correct boundaries. The truth always has actual content. That real content is describable. Only a faithful and correct description, etc., properly respects the boundaries of someone or something. To mis-represent is to distort boundaries for a false purpose.

This same exercise is easy to do across the whole range of moral concerns. But it is important to see that in using such imagery to carry out these thoughts, we are seeing ourselves, those around us, and our situations, not in legal terms, but in substantial, ontological terms. We can better understand that wrong actions are not merely “legally wrong,” but are actual violations of personhood and the reality of others – as clear and distinct as violence to someone’s physical body.

Important as well is its assistance in seeing ourselves as we truly are. Only boundaries reveal anything. For the shape and outline of things and situations, their delineations are all words for their boundaries. With no boundaries, we see nothing, or fail to know that we see anything. In making Himself known to us, God has always done so by boundaries. His name is the first great boundary revealed to Moses. It is set about with caveats and treated most carefully. Prominent within the 10 commandments is the prohibition against the misuse of His name. For if the name is used indiscriminately, it loses its meaning, and ceases to be the Divinely-revealed boundary by which we might know God.

Of course, the ultimate boundary is the Incarnation itself. The Word becomes flesh:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life–the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1Jo 1:1-3)

The commandment continues into the very heart of our New Testament faith:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.

All of this is rightly defended in the veneration of the Holy Icons, in which the Church recognizes the condescension of God to humankind. He has become such that He can be pictured! The veneration of icons is properly, a moral act (in an ontological understanding).

But in the recognition of the boundaries of others and the things outside of us, we also come to know and accept the boundaries of our own selves. And this constitutes an essential part of our salvation.

For though we describe one another as persons, in the theology of the Church, that is something that we have yet to fully become. Our salvation can be understood as a movement towards true personal existence. The character of personal existence is most especially marked by its relationship to the Other. Just as the persons of the Holy Trinity are revealed with names that are relational (Father, Son, Spirit), so the truth of our personhood is revealed as it is rightly shaped in its relationships – with God, with other human persons, and with all created things.

Conversely, it is characteristic of sin that it fails in those relationships – its boundaries are broken, obscured, or non-existent. We do not relate to the Other, but use the other. Human beings as consumers is almost synonymous with human beings as sinners.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another. (Gal 5:14-15)

And we are told of our adversary:

…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.(1Pe 5:8)

That mental construct that we call the “ego,” our false self, is primarily characterized by its own distorted boundaries. In its anxieties it seeks to control, to manage, and to own. It exists as a story that is under constant revision, always searching and rearranging the past while warily scanning the future. The true self, as person, is content to exist in the present, at home within all of the boundaries that are appropriate. It is, in the last analysis, the heart of love.

This is the other dynamic of personhood. Content within proper boundaries, we learn to rightly extend ourselves towards the Other, without coercion or violence. In love, we lay down our own prerogatives and voluntarily accept the burdens of all. The ego obliterates all of the others in its own mania. The person accepts death, its own annihilation, for the sake of the Other, and in so doing finds itself and fulfills its personhood.

The distinct advantage in thinking in this manner (or something similar), is its integration with the language of the faith: personhood, being, etc. Doubtless there are other images that can be used (though they haven’t yet occurred to me). But the disadvantages of legal/moralistic language are manifold. It tends to make our moral life somehow separate from the rest of our lives. It becomes its own special subset of the faith. This compartmentalization is typical of one period in Christian history (scholasticism) and has left us with a problematic legacy – and a pressing danger that much be considered.

For quite some time traditional morality, rooted in legal/moralistic ideas, has been increasingly undermined by various forces in the culture. It is being replaced with a new set of legal/moralistic ideas, sometimes ruthlessly enforced through government action and bureaucratic policy. This “new morality” exploits the weakness of the legal/forensic model by challenging its cultural biases and attacking its apparent arbitrary character. Christian moralistic answers are proving to be unable to meet the challenge. Thinking “ontologically” requires us to say how something is wrong, and not simply that it is wrong.

There is an interesting example in St. Paul:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (1Co 6:15-18)

St. Paul could have simply quoted the Law: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But he instead grounds the commandment in the ontological reality of union. There’s certainly more to be said when his argument is unpacked. But it is the kind of moral grounding that is required in the current challenge presented by our culture.

Legal imagery has, over time, led Christians down a very false and empty path. It has created an understanding of morality devoid of true content and left Christians intellectually unarmed and confused in the face of the New Morality. Worse still, it has substituted images of moral progress for the true path of the Cross that is marked by voluntary self-emptying. The imagery that I have offered here, a meditation on the boundaries of being, suggests a way to consider the teachings of the Fathers in which self-emptying is the very nature of moral action. To accept a boundary is to empty the false self. To extend that true personhood towards the Other is the very nature and character of the Cross. It is Christ’s way of the Cross. For He accepted the boundary of human existence, even to the point of death – the shameful death of the Cross. And through His shameful death He destroyed death, breaking its boundaries, and exalted human nature to the heavens. That is the true moral path.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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59 responses to “The Moral Path of Being”

  1. Bruce Newman Avatar
    Bruce Newman

    Sounds like if I truly want to reflect what was spoken here I’m also going to have to become acquainted with the reality of being a stranger and pilgrim.

  2. David Brault Avatar
    David Brault

    As sometimes happens, I get into conversations with people who, as you describe, exploit “the weakness of the legal/forensic model by challenging its cultural biases and attacking its apparent arbitrary character” to oppose traditional Christian boundaries on, say, sex, and to promote a more “free-spirited” way of life. To date, I have only been able to appeal rather lamely to scripture and tradition, which is, to say the least, not terribly winsome to those outside the faith.

    Therefore I sincerely hope you use an upcoming post to unpack 1Co 6:15-18. I would like to see how this perspective works in some detail.

  3. Dino Avatar

    Brilliant! I think that this finally fills in all the ‘cracks’

  4. Christopher Avatar

    I was obviously growing impatient for a positive statement of morality (Christianly speaking) – I should apologize for that impatience.

    My first thoughts on the “New Morality” and “…Thinking “ontologically” requires us to say how something is wrong, and not simply that it is wrong.” are that I suppose I have always thought that morality flows out of ones underlying ontology/metaphysic/worldview. The anthropological debates are a clash of moralities, but they are first and foremost a clash worldviews caused by the varying answers to the question “what is man” (and the related “what is the universe” and “what/who is God”). The New Morality flows out of the New Man that modernism poses and the clash is the result of the fact that there are still people around who remember (sometimes unconsciously like those who are “old fashioned” and the like – sometimes consciously, like some of us in the Church or other non moderns) Man as C.S. Lewis /Church would define him, though he is being increasingly “abolished”.

    Whenever I talk to a modernist (most often a modernist who is a communing member of the Church either in my own parish or on the internet) about a moral question like “is abortion wrong” or “should ‘gay marriage’ be accepted by the Church” I try to steer the conversation in a “anthropological” direction – that is I try to get at the underlying “ontological” question of “what is man”.

    What I have discovered is that the vast majority of modernists within the Church (to say nothing of those outside it) simply are not able to go there. It goes right over their head. Here are my speculations as to why:

    1) Anger/offense/hurt is already in the conversation, so they are capable of thinking about these things but will not. I would say this is a common reason but I have noticed that these same people come back to the same point so I find it hard to believe they are angry all the time. I mean, I suffer from the passion of anger but not ALL the time… 😉

    2) As has been discussed, we live in an “post-philosophical” or “un-philosophical” age, so these folks simply don’t have the education, grammar, and other tools one needs to make the necessary distinctions. They are, following their very “modern” educations, cause and effect thinkers, and so they simply can not step back from a moral clash and see the multi-dimensional aspects of it. They do not see cause and effect thinking as a “world view”, but as reality itself. In a sense they have no world view, but are a world view, they are caricatures (even though obviously they are not truly as they also are “in the image”) so speaking with them is like arguing with the talking head on your TV screen as if he can hear you.

    3) They are a “true believer”, in that they believe the New Morality (or more realistically certain aspects of it) is true, because they believe that modern man really is neo-Darwinist in metaphysic, the soul really is a neo-Freudian artifact of a volunteerist psychology (and thus the ‘ego’ can create itself into what it wants to be), that gender differences and sexual distinction/organs/purposes are accidents of evolution to be used in any way our appetites see fit.

    I am sure more could be added to the above. Seems like #3 is a way of saying that they have narcissistic, boundless egos and have a deep faith in said ego, instead of Christ (following your discussion about boundaries). I would go perhaps farther than most here would: I would say that they are not Christians at all (even if they stand next to you in church, or serve at the alter, or visit every now and then and sit in the bishops chair). Problem is, as soon as this is said one is accused of “fundamentalism” or “legalism” and then much is said about how we are all sinners and fall short, and this is judgementalism/moralism, etc. I have never thought of it, but perhaps this is because of this legal/forensic model and because this person is in your church (or is clergy) then he must be a Christian in some sense because he is following the outward forms, he is indeed following the rules! As an aside, I believe the numbers of these types parishioners/clergy/bishops in American Orthodoxy to be significantly higher than Fr. Stephen or most other posters here – not sure what that means (other than I could be wrong).

    Behind all this though, is what is God doing about all this? Some in the Church (I am thinking of some things Fr. Hans Jacobse has written recently) believe that “the New Morality” and the underlying Ontology has no staying power because it is simply not reality, it is unreal, it is from the false ego. Thing is, history is full of false religions (and modernism is a religion) lasting generation after generation.

    What can we/I do about it, particularly in the Church? Should I do anything about it? Pray, preach, yes yes of course. My ego wants more!! 😉

  5. Robert Avatar


    The legal/forensic model is problematic. Couple it with ‘Natural Law’ and one has a veritable house of cards. It seems to me that is what you are up against.

  6. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    I agree, Dino. I am most edified by what you and Fr. Stephen are given to share in this blog and commbox. This one on “The Moral Path of Being” completes the circle for me–and is an occasion for repentance as well. Thanks be to God.

    Thank you, Father. May your time in Miami next week be blessed.

    Christ is in our midst,

  7. Dino Avatar

    I think we can say some words when asked by honest enquirers with great sweetness and understanding. All these parishioners/clergy/bishops are God’s beloved who only owe “an hundred pence”, while we must remember we owe Him “ten thousand talents”…
    And in this spirit –ideally- we must stand in the presence of the Lord invoking Him for at least ten times longer. This is what I think we can and ideally should be doing with God’s help. And it is powerful.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We will not likely have arguments that will convince or convert anyone. Conversions just don’t happen that way, except in extremely rare cases. Arguments are for juries, and lawyers even then know it’s not about having the best argument.

    But what is required is the teaching and nurturing of God’s people. God will bring us the people and we have to instruct them in a way that they can truly access the Tradition and be grounded in the faith.

    Fr. T. Hopko noted a few years back, discussing the subject of women’s ordination, that though the tradition is quite clear in the matter, we still have yet to articulate the Tradition in the manner of its fullness. The whole question of gender turns much on the same questions. He said at the time that these questions would be as significant as the Arian controversy (and it is).

    And it is indeed all about anthropology – the doctrine of man. The Tradition has to be articulated in a manner that will hold up for believers in this cultural climate. It’s a matter of prayer and work.

  9. Byron Avatar

    I must admit that my first thought concerning the boundaries discussed here was “how do they differ from the boundaries that society is, in its own liberal-we-are-all-supposed-to-respect-and-be-nice-to-each-other way, is pushing?

    The doctrine of man answers that question. “What were we created for?” has been on my mind these past few weeks and to see it outlined in a larger perspective is very helpful.

    Thank you, Father! I shall continue to watch the comments and discussion and seek to understand more.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In some cases, the culture describes boundaries well, but tends to want to make them self-defined. They are not. Like Lewis’ “Tao,” they are part of the inherent structure of the human person(s).

    I am using the term as a way to get at “personhood” in its theological content. It’s one of those classical terms that is often used, badly defined, and which everyone thinks they understand when they don’t.

    It has some affinity with Western Civilization, in that Christianity largely invented Western Civilization. So, personhood is a right place to begin the conversation, it would seem to me.

    For example, when someone asserts “human rights” the question has to be, “On what grounds are there human rights?” When there is no real basis for something, it can only ultimately be asserted and maintained through the use of raw power. Which is what is presently going on. It is why the State is as deeply involved in our moral questions as it is. Only the State has such raw power.

  11. Dino Avatar

    That the secular State sees itself as the arbiter of moral questions above the Church, (as well as religion, tradition, what was hitherto considered nature, etc) seems to me like the harbinger of Abaddon…

  12. Robert Avatar

    In regards to anthropology and the general need for Tradition to be (re)articulated for our own times – the importance of this cannot be overstated. We must get busy. Orthodoxy has a unique, convincing place in this – there are many voices claiming the Fathers.

  13. Dino Avatar

    there seems to be a clear link between ‘boundaries’ (as you used the term to help describe personhood/hypostasis), ‘doors’ (as you used the term recently) and the ‘logoi’ of beings.
    Wouldn’t cultivating and deepening one’s unceasing awareness of – and orientation towards – our eternal destination of “eternal well-being” in union with the Divine Logos (no matter how far we fall short of this in the present) be the key in this conversation?

  14. Reid Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate your teaching us on this point, and I have found the past couple of posts especially helpful. I’m wondering, though, if you could say a bit about a matter that is puzzling me.

    In this ontological framing of morality, what is the significance of the forgiveness of sins? That is, why do we (and the saints) ask God to forgive our sins? What does it mean that He forgives our sins? Indeed, with Forgiveness Sunday coming up, what does it mean that we ask forgiveness of each other and forgive each other (and even our enemies)? Is there a helpful way to construe it in terms of boundaries?

    Under the legal model, asking God to forgive me is asking Him not to give me the due punishment for breaking His moral law. His forgiveness consists of doing so (usually with the understanding that Christ took the punishment in my place). Asking forgiveness of another man sometimes has similar features (for example in the parable of the man who owed ten thousand talents asking that he and his family not be sold as slaves to pay the debt). In other cases, though, it is seeking of reconciliation with someone we love by asking him to overlook an offense. In yet other cases (like the Prodigal Son) it is a cry for pity for the sake of a former love and communion now lost.

    If morality, however, has the ontological purpose of guiding me to the fullness of personhood in the likeness of Christ and leading me away from the path of corruption toward nonexistence–if God has no moral law to enforce, was in no way “injured” by my sins (since I was only hurting myself), and was, in fact, never ill-disposed to me at all (the resistance to reconciliation lying wholly on my side), then (and I intend this reverently) I’m a bit fuzzy on why I ask Him to forgive my sins and even more so on what that forgiveness might consist of. Perhaps the parable of the Prodigal hints at it, where the son is far more interested in confessing his sins than the father, who interrupts him, is in hearing the confession. Yet there has to be more to it than simply that we need to ask forgiveness; otherwise why do the saints ask forgiveness for us (as we weekly remember that St. Anne does)?

    I would be grateful for any light you can shed on this.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The violation of boundaries, in all of its various forms, has consequences – sometimes with great devastation. We injure our relationship (psychologically, physically, and on deeper levels), and we injure ourselves, pushing ourselves away from our proper direction, and towards death and destruction. Repentance and forgiveness is the acknowledging of this fact, and a request for healing and of setting things straight.

    With other people, we have to see that the act of forgiveness (as on Forgiveness Sunday) is only a beginning. The injury done to ourselves and others is not “legal” and therefore a mere legal forgiveness is of little effect. We all experience this on a daily basis. It is a return to the right path, and a willingness of the other to enter the right path with us. It begins the healing – but the right path needs to be continued for the healing to continue.

    This way of thinking helps us better understand Christ’s conflating of healing and forgiveness (cf. the Paralytic).

    Salvation is union with Christ. Sin is a movement away from that and damages us on the level of our personhood – we become less truly personal through sin – we move ourselves more in the direction of a mere object – and a disintegrating object at that.

    Forgiveness restores us to a right position and right direction and begins the healing and restoration of our true humanity. The Son was still objectifying himself – nothing more than a servant – and existing only for food. The Father restores him to his true position – sonship – robing him, putting a ring on him, feasting, singing and dancing.

    The Lenten journey towards Pascha is a movement towards union with Christ. And so we begin it with what is closest at hand – our brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot love God if we hate our brother. There is no union with Christ that is not ultimately a union with everyone and everything.

  16. Eleftheria Avatar

    Father Stephen,


    In one of the comments above, you articulate precisely what it is you are doing – and for which so many of us are so grateful:
    “The Tradition has to be articulated in a manner that will hold up for believers in this cultural climate. It’s a matter of prayer and work.”
    I would add that it is also a matter of time – time in which Grace (the Spirit) may do Its work.
    As I have said before and will say again: Your words are most definitely along the same lines as the homilies we hear in Cyprus and Greece

    Prior to that, in the article, where you are in the process of distinguishing “ego” from “person” you state:
    “The ego obliterates all of the others in its own mania. The person accepts death, its own annihilation, for the sake of the Other, and in so doing finds itself and fulfills its personhood.”
    Saint Paisios, commenting on the selfishness/egoism of a young man so impatient to see him that he bypassed all the other people crowded on the steps who were also waiting to see him, said that that young man’s attitude towards others was that “they should become cement” – meaning so that he could more easily walk on them.

    In the same way, if we turn your second sentence about “person” inside out, “ego” is even more clearly understood as: Not accepting its own death (boundary), the ego expects the annihilation of all others (all laws, too – including God’s) for the sake of itself, and in so doing, never fulfills itself and is therefore consigned to continually seeking to fulfill its (ever-empty) self.

    Thank you Fr, for all the work you do.

    In Christ,

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The Church lived with a dominant Arian heresy for centuries and, unfortunately, continues to live with it culturally. I suspect that it will always be with us in one form or another.

    Man is created by God and for God so that we may be as God. When we try to return the favor (acting as if God is created in our image) then we get in trouble. He becomes either impossibly distant or just impossible period.

    I think we must answer the question: How does one defeat an ideology? That is what we are dealing with–an ideology that at best ignores God. We are only in a post-philosophical era because the philosophy of materialism hardened into a bunch of anti-God ideologies has won the day in our culture and in the hearts of most people (or so it seems), much as Arianism seemed to have triumphed.

    One thing that disturbs me is the talk of schism in the Church for those in opposition to the cultural norm if the non-human materialism makes greater inroads into the Church. That is simply the wrong way of doing it. The Cappadocian Fathers and St. Athanasius in their steadfast opposition to Arianism never left the Church. They suffered consequences for their upholding of the truth, but they never left the Church. Such an act is wholly at odds with what the Church is and is merely a further effect of the wrong anthropology. A restatement that we are autonomous and our own will must prevail.

    We are called to bear one another’s burdens as Christ bears ours even when they appear that those burdens might crush us or cause us pain–perhaps especially then.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Of course, the Fathers during the Arian controversy lived and wrote with an Imperial Church. We do not. We are now in a very splintered culture, where rationality itself is busted (cf. MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?). It’s going to be a long, protracted struggle, and we may lose (as I’ve suggested before).

    We can have no strategies for winning, because it’s not our job to win. We must have strategies for faithful living and faithful transmission of the Tradition, for that is our job. The outcome of history belongs to God.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …but even when the emperor was Arian, the saints persisted in the Church. Yes, it may have been easier for them prior to the thousands upon thousands of schisms that have occurred since and continue to occur but they persisted. That is the point for me.

    We may indeed “loose” in a worldly sense. Actually I think it quite likely. We may be tossed out. Certainly the catacombs or something similar may be in our future. You are correct though that if we try to control history and ‘win’ we will become as murderous as everyone else, in our hearts if not in deed. That is part of what disturbs me about those suggesting schism as it seems to come from the place of “I know better”.

    The older I get, the less I know. I simply try to listen and pass on what I have heard that seems consonant with the truth. I am a sinful man laboring under a lifetime of sinful accretions and yet…I also know Jesus Christ and I long to be with Him. If anything I say or write is of Him, that is His doing. It is Him I recognize when I recognize the truth. It is Him I recognize when I see someone who deeply loves Him. Would that I could see Him as clearly in all of my fellows. I would sin less.

    My own excursions into the realm of heresy in the years before being received into the Church have left me with the knowledge of how easy it is to believe other than the truth and how damaging heresy is. I certainly don’t want to find myself in the place of the wicked servant. I have been forgiven and healed, I can, I must guard my heart not to condemn others with a similar affliction.

    The heretical mind always seeks to divide, to condemn, to ostracize. When I see that kind of activity going on, it is a clear sign of something deeply wrong.

    If I am set apart by God and His spirit, that is one thing but to seek such a status is to court grave sin. As T.S. Eliot had Thomas Becket say to one of the tempters in Murder in the Cathedral: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason.”

    Lord, have mercy on us all.

  20. Peter Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Re: “*strategies* for faithful living and faithful transmission of the Tradition” (my emphasis).

    Anything here you might be able to flesh out? (“Therefore be wise as serpents…”)

  21. Bruce Avatar

    Father Bless!!!

    What an outstanding series of posts….I thought the words below from Father Hopko might be relevant to Reid’s comment and the role of forgiveness in our personhood. I’m curious whether you think this is helpful and useful to this discussion. This notion of ‘loving your neighbor as being your own self’ may suffer from a lack of appropriate boundary but I find it a powerful insight worthy of consideration and discussion.

    “The Orthodox approach is that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that God is a Trinity of persons in absolute identity of being and of life in perfect communion. Therefore, communion is the given. Anything that breaks that communion destroys the very roots of our existence. That’s why forgiveness is essential if there is going to be human life in the image of God. We are all sinners, living with other sinners, and so 70 times 7 times a day we must re-establish communion — and want to do so. The desire is the main thing, and the feeling that it is of value.

    The obsession with relationship — the individual in search of relationships — in the modern world shows there is an ontological crack in our being. There is no such thing as an individual. He was created, probably, in a Western European university. We don’t recognize our essential communion. I don’t look at you and say, “You are my life.”

    Modern interpretations of the commandment in the Torah reflect this individualistic attitude. The first commandment is that you love God with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and the second is that you love your neighbor as yourself. The only way you can prove you love God is by loving your neighbor, and the only way you can love your neighbor in this world is by endless forgiveness. So, “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in certain modern editions of the Bible, I have seen this translated as, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But that’s not what it says.

    I recall a televised discussion program in which we were asked what was most important in Christianity. Part of what I said was that the only way we can find ourselves is to deny ourselves. That’s Christ’s teaching. If you cling to yourself, you lose yourself. The unwillingness to forgive is the ultimate act of not wanting to let yourself go. You want to defend yourself, assert yourself, protect yourself. There is a consistent line through the Gospel — if you want to be the first you must will to be the last. The other fellow, who taught the psychology of religion at a Protestant seminary, said, “What you are saying is the source of the neuroses of Western society. What we need is healthy self-love and healthy self-esteem.” Then he quoted that line, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He insisted that you must love yourself first and have a sense of dignity. If one has that, forgiveness is either out of the question or an act of condescension toward the poor sinner. It is no longer an identification with the other as a sinner, too. I said that of course if we are made in the image of God it’s quite self-affirming, and self-hatred is an evil. But my main point is that there is no self there to be defended except the one that comes into existence by the act of love and self-emptying. It’s only by loving the other that myself actually emerges. Forgiveness is at the heart of that.

    As we were leaving a venerable old rabbi with a shining face called us over. “That line, you know, comes from the Torah, from Leviticus,” he said, “and it cannot possibly be translated ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ It says, ‘You shall love your neighbor as being your own self’.” Your neighbor is your true self. You have no self in yourself.

    After this I started reading the Church Fathers in this light, and that’s what they all say — “Your brother is your life.” I have no self in myself except the one that is fulfilled by loving the other. The Trinitarian character of God is a metaphysical absolute here, so to speak. God’s own self is another — His Son. The same thing happens on the human level. So the minute I don’t feel deeply that my real self is the other, then I’ll have no reason to forgive anyone. But if that is my reality, and my only real self is the other, and my own identity and fulfillment emerges only in the act of loving the other, that gives substance to the idea that we are potentially God-like beings. Now, if you add to that that we are all to some degree faulty and weak and so on, that act of love will always be an act of forgiveness. That’s how I find and fulfill myself as a human being made in God’s image. Otherwise, I cannot. So the act of forgiveness is the very act by which our humanity is constituted. Deny that, and we kill ourselves. It’s a metaphysical suicide.

    You are making a distinction here between the individual and the person.

    The individual is the person that refuses to love. When a person refuses to identify in being and value with “the least,” even with “the enemy,” then the person becomes an individual, a self enclosed being trying to have proper relationships — usually on his or her own terms. But again, we would say that the person only comes into existence by going out of oneself into communion with the other. So my task is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.

    Forgiveness is not an achievement, an act, so much as the development of an understanding of reality?

    It is a decision in the sense that you have to will it. You have to choose life. A person can choose death by not forgiving. So there is a sense in which you can destroy yourself by not saying “yes” to the reality that actually exists. That’s the choice: “yes” or “no” to what truly exists. Forgiveness is the great “yes.” So there is a choice. In the Greek patristic tradition, the more a person is a person, the more we realize and will our communion with others in the act of love, the less we choose. So the freer we are, the less choice we have.

    That’s almost opposite to the post-Enlightenment, secular Western thought. We tend to think the freer we are, the more choice we have. For example, if you would sin against me and I want to love with the love of God, then I do not have a choice whether or not I should forgive you, I only have a choice whether or not I will. And I must, if I want to be alive. If I were truly holy, I wouldn’t even choose — it would be a spontaneous act.”

  22. Christopher Avatar

    Concerning Michaels comments about schism, I thought that schism “flows” in the opposite direction that he indicates (if I am reading him correctly). In other words, it is the Church with right dogma that remains the Church, and it is those with wrong doctrine that “schism” from the Church.

    If when at some time in the future when I am alive (not likely – though things have already moved allot faster than most anyone would have predicted) or say in my childrens or their childrens time (very likely I think) some American Orthodox succumb to the pressure to recognize “gay marriage” (perhaps this summers supreme court ruling which will force this morality upon all of us to some extant will be remembered as the true beginning of the coming persecution). Through moral pressure and real persecution, some American bishops/synods will “recognize” this “doctrine”. I or my children do the right thing and move on to attend a Church under a bishop who not following this doctrine. Are we/they in “schism” as Micheal defines it? Perhaps Fr. Stephen or someone else with knowledge of how doctrine “works” in this situation can comment?? If anthropological underpinnings for something called “Holy Dogma” have not truly been worked out as Fr Hopko indicates, is it going to take a dogmatic definition from a real “great council” before these anthropological issues are solidified?

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When things become that messy, the faithful do their best. We head to the hills. We break communion with false bishops and align with true. Were such a thing to happen, I would be out of communion faster than you can say the phrase. Communion is our existence in Christ. We don’t stick around trying to fix the Church (conceived as an institution). Orthodoxy, thank God, is messier than that – and it helps save us.

    There was an effort to pervert the Church in 1918 with the “Living Church” established through the work of the Bolsheviks. And the people hated it (mostly). It failed. Sometimes the Church had to exist in an underground form (the Catacomb Church). But, we have no allegiance to institutions, per se, but to the Cup of Christ. I started with my present Church in a warehouse 17 years ago. I’m not married to its structures even now.

    And that, frankly, speaks for the bulk of all the priests that I know.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Christopher, I did indeed misspeak. You are correct.

    However the type of conversations I was referring to typically take the spirit of “I’m going to take my ball and go home.”

  25. Peter Avatar

    Bruce, where might we find that wonderful Hopko passage?

  26. Bruce Avatar


    Father Hopko’s quote is from this 2005 article

  27. Eleftheria Avatar


    As you know, God has always protected the *pure* Church – the Body of Christ. There have been attempts to adulterate the Church throughout Her history, like Arius and the Bolsheviks, and there are attempts to adulterate the Church today, like those you write of and those we all see.
    However, the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16-18). The Church will flee, as always, to the desert and to the catacombs. It is those so-called believers who compromise that will be trod upon by the nations (Rev.11:2).
    As for the rest of us, we ought “to be of good cheer” that Christ has “overcome the world”(John 16:33).

    In Christ,

  28. Dino Avatar

    great quote, especially the final description of true freedom as opposed to the post-enlightenment delusion…

  29. Reid Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your elaboration. If I understand you rightly, then you are saying that to ask God to forgive my sins is more-or-less synonymous with asking Him to heal and restore me to true humanity (or personhood, the image of Christ) and communion with Himself, to fix the damage that I have done to myself and others by my sins.

    Bruce, thank you for the quote from Fr. Hopko. That seems very much to the point, and he presents it movingly with his usual insight.

  30. Christopher Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Re-reading your response to Reid, I wonder more could not be said by you on this. I have to admit, it can be difficult to separate forgiveness from a transactional model (whether “legal” or “economic” as in “forgive us our debts”). If I read you correctly, forgiveness still retains an element of the transactional, at least as a beginning – but quickly moves on into healing. In an important sense, one does still “give” something to the other when one forgives, and that something is of course more than an an accounting or a balancing of accounts – it is namely love itself…

  31. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Christopher, I look at forgiveness and healing teleologically. That is, what will it be like when I’m living with the person I harmed, yet in joy, in peace and we share communion with Christ? No forensic-only view can touch it and healing is only meaningful if it heals these relations right along with the persons who were harmed. This is wrought by repentance and forgiveness on my (our) part and by God’s healing touch without which such a vision would be impossible.

  32. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, excellent essay. It strikes me that our word ‘integrity’ comes closer to this than ‘morality’ does, in the common usage. I’ve been trying to use ‘morality’ in such a way that it ties in with the idea of ‘morale’ – that is, of personal wholeness and relation wellness, and the resulting sense of confidence and hope. I’ve had a feeling for a while that the true moral dimension of a human being can be located with his capacity for delight. I think this essay opens up a possible reason for that feeling. To grasp what something is and to delight in its isness – and consequently to be unwilling to rupture its form or pervert its substance – really does get at that dimension of being as you’ve described it.

    In regard to the Culture Wars, I’m finally starting to think that they have been a great, big mistake and that we Christians would have done better to mind our own business. I ran across a saying in Revelation, “Let the evil do evil still, and the filthy be filthy still; let the righteous continue to act righteously, and the holy be holy still.”

    Christ gives no reasons for saying this, except that the time is short (whatever that means.) However, it seems to me that a willingness to rupture someone else’s integrity of being in order to separate them from their evil and filthiness is to act against God’s act of Creation. It is the one thing he himself is not willing to do (people commonly express this as God’s “respect” for man’s free will, but that phrase is already come to be deeply misunderstood.) And it’s also the one thing we shouldn’t be willing to do in the normal course of events.

    What many people don’t realize is that when evil is introduced to one’s system through another person’s violence, the result is often the same as if one had done evil oneself.

    I wonder about the image, in Revelation, of Christ with the sword coming out of his mouth, slaying his enemies with it. This image seems to fulfill all the hopes, expressed throughout the history of religion, that God will end evil, rescue the innocent, and triumph over oppression. But why doesn’t he wield the sword with his hand? Why, even in the moment of cosmic triumph, does he forbear to do violence?

    Christ’s word is never a destroyer. His word wakes from the dead and calls into being. With a word he re-creates the soul so that the resulting newness is not artifice, but truly nature and truly self. I think – I hope – the meaning here, if we can see it, is that he triumphs over evil Creatively, not destructively. He slays not by controverting his own Creative will, but by calling the good to himself so that the evil falls dead, its parasitic or cancerous existence brought to an end.

    In this purpose he has to be patient and suffer long with evildoers – violence is always the quick solution – but on the plus side of that, we all got to be born.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking essay and all the work that doubtless went into it.

  33. Michelle Avatar

    I really like the idea presented in AR’s comment, it rings true. However, I always thought that Christ did “violence,” in a sense, by the truthfulness of His words, like a two edged sword wielded from His mouth, which seems to me to be at variance with what AR has said. For example in Matthew 23 His sharp words pierce the Pharisee, revealing their hypocrisy. Now, sometimes speaking the stark truth seems pretty violent towards the one it’s aimed at, but it may nevertheless be what’s necessary (even though painful) to rip that person out of their delusion and heal what ails them. This would still be “creative.” But, in the case of the Pharisee, Jesus’s spoken revelation of the harsh, blunt truth seemed to only harden their hearts even further, so how does this fit with the idea of Christ only triumphing evil through creativity? In this example I clearly see evil being tore down, but what was being built up?

  34. AR Avatar

    Michelle, good thoughts. Your comment brings to mind the scripture in which it is said,

    “For the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting through so as to divide soul from spirit, joints from marrow. It is even able to discern the thoughts and deliberations of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, Mounce)

    The similarity between this image and John’s vision in Revelation are also striking. “Living and effective” are close to “creative” as well.

    I guess my answer is, 1) The sword wielded in might, and the sword of the word, are both swords – they both pierce, granted. However, the word of God is said to divide one thing from another. It is not said, for instance, to break the joints or shatter the marrow, but to divide the one from the other. It is subtle enough to divide soul from spirit. And this action is what reveals the otherwise secret thoughts and intentions of the heart, because they can’t hide anymore when this word of God reveals them by exposing them, by separating them from all the other matters with which they are entangled in the being.

    I think that if the writer of Hebrews had had the metaphor of a surgical knife available, he might have gone with that! However, this word of God is obviously even more subtle than a surgical knife.

    2) In my idea of ‘violence’ here I’m trying to stick close to what Fr. Stephen was saying about boundaries. For instance, if the joint has an outer edge, a boundary of being, then to break that boundary (smash the joint) is to diminish or destroy the being of the joint. This is violence. But if some foreign matter is lodged within the joint, then to be able to to slice so subtly as to remove it without doing any damage to the joint itself is “effective” indeed. As our Creator, God is able to work so precisely and subtly within us that there is no need to damage us.

    3) As far as Christ with the Pharisees, I can’t see anywhere that he did violence to them with his word. He constantly revealed their true intentions and thoughts. That he did not triumph in their hearts at the time does not mean that he will not eventually do so. That’s why the triumphal image from Revelation is the cosmic triumph, the fruit of long patience on the part of God and the saints.

    If you have any specific examples of Christ and the Pharisees I would be glad to examine them.

  35. Ben Avatar

    When I share this kind of idea with my fellow Christians, most of whom are evangelical BTW, they are always quick to point out how common it is in the bible to speak of salvation, sin and justification “legally”. Paul especially seems to use that model. I’m not sure what to do with that. Maybe I’m just blinded by my own evangelical tradition? Would any of you care to reinterpret some of Paul’s more legalese sounding pages in this light? “Justification by faith ” and God as the final “judge” all sounds very legal to me, even if I see much more value in the ontological model.

  36. AR Avatar

    Michelle, as an afterthought, to better explain the distinction I’m seeing, I’m thinking about all the instances of demon possession Christ encountered. He always knew when behavior was the person’s own behavior, and when they were being controlled by demons. Unlike them, however, he never ruptured the “boundary” of any person’s decision-making apparatus. He never forced anyone to do something or took anyone over. It would have been far easier for him to do so than for the demons, and it might have seemed to be for the person’s good.

  37. AR Avatar

    Ben, just to start with, I would like to point out that the groundwork for Paul’s legal teaching is his understanding of Old Testament Law. And this law, with its system of sacrifices, has been grossly misunderstood by people teaching substitutionary atonement. In the law, there is only one explicit instance of a person’s sins being “transferred” to an animal, for the animal to bear the consequences of that person’s sin. This animal was the scapegoat. And importantly, the scapegoat was not killed and eaten, or offered to God as a sweet savor. He was sent out of the camp – rejected, as we must do with our sins.

    We are not told that Christ is our scapegoat, but that he is our lamb.

    All of the other sacrifices are very different indeed. This was not ritual slaughter for the sake of the blood and the pain and the agony of the animal. It was not as if God was appeased by the animal’s suffering. Rather, these were food animals. These were animals that their owners would normally have killed and eaten for food. It had to be a male, because males are the food animals, while females are for breeding and milk. And it had to be the best, out of honor for God.

    The proof of this is the fact that grain, oil, and wine offerings were treated exactly the same way as offerings of meat.

    Then what happens? This food is given to God instead of being eaten at home. But then – mark this – the food, after being sacrificed, is given back to the family who offered it and they eat it in a celebratory meal! (Certain offerings were burned whole.)

    The picture is so different now. Instead of the lamb being a victim who bears the punishments of others so that God’s justice can be appeased and the law can have its due, we now see sinners voluntarily giving of their substance – their livelihood – their own life – their own being – to God. He gives it back, and God and sinner eat a meal together, reconciled, made family. It is this rendering of the life back to God that is the debt we owe him. It is this familial “boundary” if you will, that has been ruptured by our sinfulness. And it can only be healed by this action-in-good-faith on our part, and by what God makes of it when he returns our offering to us.

    Why, then, were animals never enough? Why was Christ shown to be the true Lamb of God, bearing away the sins, not just of a select family, but of the whole world?

    Christ, being flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, becomes the very best that we have – our life – and we offer him to God, and God gives him back to us and we eat the Holy Meal with God, in the Eucharist, made family again, made whole again, truly and finally reconciled. His greatness in being is such that he is meal enough for the whole world – a spiritual meal, not just a physical one. His greatness is such that he is an offering worthy of the repentance the whole world owes to God.

    If you start there, you may be able to tease apart some of the other scriptural issues that come up.

    For Paul, I think that freedom from the law was very important, so he pointed out that even before the system of sacrifices was in place, Abraham was justified similarly just by believing God. He quotes Genesis to this effect. If we assume that Abraham, without the law there to help him, did the same basic thing that the law later led people to do, we now see that believing God is a form of offering one’s life and repentance to him, and can be counted as righteousness even without following the law. Since Paul explicitly makes this argument, it’s hard to see that he is being very legal.

    Christ fulfilled the law by being the Lamb that all the lambs pointed to – the Bread of Life that all the grain offerings pointed to. In so doing, he freed us from the specific requirements of the law – that is, we no longer have to offer lambs because the Lamb has been offered once for all.

    ‘Justified’ means, made righteous. An evangelical must assume that it means “legally counted as righteous even when you’re not,” in order for this verse to be in his side.

    Finally, I’ll point out that no evangelical has ever known what to do with John 6. If they point out the stuff from Paul, you can mildly mention that Christ said no one can be saved without eating his flesh and drinking his blood. That’s pretty ontological.

  38. Dino Avatar

    very well said!

  39. Ben Avatar

    Wow. I’d never seen the sacrifices that way, and I am especially excited about how they relate to communion. I’ve always sensed there was something missing in the explanations I had growing up, just could never quite put my finger on what it was.

    This is going to keep me distracted in thought all day long!

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    And even with the demons…he permitted “Legion” to enter the swine. It did them no good, but was a merciful action. Of course, a little hard on the swine.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Though I do not have time today to do this – I would contend that there is virtually no legal imagery in the Scriptures – that it is almost exclusively being seen where it does not exist. Justification is not a legal term, for example. “Being made righteous” is ontological – a matter of our being – not a matter of a legal fiction in God’s mind.

  42. ajt Avatar

    Thank you AR. That was one of the most succinct explanations for the difference in legal vs. ontological OT/Pauline understandings (or misunderstandings) I have read. Very clear, and very insightful…thank you.

  43. AR Avatar

    I’m glad it was helpful, everyone. It has been helpful for me, as well.

    Fr. Stephen, that’s true. It’s remarkable that we have a biblical instance of Christ showing mercy to demons. I suppose when I think about it, all the arguments for God’s limitless love must imply that he loves the fallen angels as well, though always acting in opposition to their every thought and deed.

  44. ajt Avatar

    I would suggest that it is the fallen angels that act contrary to the mercy of God, not the other way around, which you seemed to suggest in your last statement.

  45. Michelle Avatar

    “As far as Christ with the Pharisees, I can’t see anywhere that he did violence to them with his word. He constantly revealed their true intentions and thoughts. That he did not triumph in their hearts at the time does not mean that he will not eventually do so. That’s why the triumphal image from Revelation is the cosmic triumph, the fruit of long patience on the part of God and the saints.””

    I think you and Fr. Stephen are be right. He’s only imparting to the Pharisee (and the demons) what love requires. He only offers life to them because He loves them. Sometimes this is by means of exposing their evil. That it does them no good, and that they in fact double-up and strengthen their murderous resolve against Him, causing them to travel even closer towards ontological death rather than ontological Life, is a violence they commit against themselves. And it’s a violence that Christ knew they would commit against themselves. But He gives His love anyway, like any good father would to his wayward children, forever committed to nothing else HIs love for them. Knowing that it will do no good does not prevent a good father from still giving all of his love to his children. Knowing that it will do no good does not even prevent a good and loving father from dying for his evil hearted children. I do not think that a good father who loves perfectly, even if it does no good, even if he knew from the beginning that it would do no good, cannot be said to have failed, can he? He never failed to love.

    It’s true, Christ gives Life to persons by means of Creating; “Create in me a clean heart.” But love does not force. Each person must consent to being made new. I hope each and every person does “consent” in the end.

  46. Michelle Avatar

    *forever committed to nothing else but His love for them.” Sorry, had to fix it.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    AR, in addition to the capacity to delight– the empathic ability is crucial. They work together allowing us to both glorify God and bear our own suffering as well as bear one another’s burdens. Or so it seems to me.

  48. Michelle Avatar

    Here’s a good hypothetical scenario that will be fun to mull over, since AR brought up God’s Creative Love in the book of Revelation and hinted at universal apokastasis in a previous comment. (Sorry Fr Stephen’s if I’m veering to far of course here. I know this wasn’t the topic of your original blog post, but it’s such an intriguing topic.)

    Let’s imagine a father and mother are thinking of conceiving a child, and that scientific knowledge has somehow arrived at a point that their doctor has the omniscient knowledge of the child to know whether he or she will become, by their own free choice, unrepentantly murderous all of their existing lives. Let’s also imagine these parents are so amazing that they are ONLY capable of perfect love in general. And let’s imagine they also have the amazing capability of giving nothing but unrelenting, perfect gifts of love to this child all of his or her existing life (and this is what their hearts desire to do, which is why they considered conceiving in the first place), but, because of the child’s freedom to resist their love, it will ultimately be of no avail. And now that their doctor has revealed to them in perfect detail exactly who their potential child is, they have to make a choice; to conceive or not to conceive? What does perfect love decide? Does perfect love already love their potential child? Maybe, or maybe not. But if so, does perfect love deny the child they love its existence?

    What I do know, for myself at least, is that no matter how evil my children may become nothing could stop me from loving them. I don’t know that I’m capable of saying I would ever deny the children I have now of their existence, even if it was revealed to me that they would become unrepentantly evil all their existing lives, and that I now somehow magically had an opportunity to go back in time for a do-over and prevent their existence.

    So, in the end, my ultimate question is whether or not Perfect Love requires a perfect ending before deciding to conceiving children?

    Sorry again for being way off topic, lol. I couldn’t resist.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hypotheticals are always interesting.

    What I would suggest to everyone, is that we frequently have too little “feel” for actual existence. Our naturalism has made us more or less take it for granted and we lose the sheer overwhelming wonder. Plato and the later neo-Platonists had a great feel for the wonder of being – and their wonder was certainly carried deeper and further by the Church Fathers.

    If we properly understood being – then perhaps we would understand why God does not take it away – even from Satan. Our perspective is, I think, colored by the experience of death and time – we’re used to stuff just “disappearing.” And so we think rather kindly of annihilation. That God does not, tells me that we need to better understand being itself.

  50. Michelle Avatar

    Well, that was a much more profound answer than I was expecting. Thank you, Father!

  51. Dino Avatar

    Thank you again for your insightful clarifications, especially our time-bound mode of being cannot fathom created existence’s limitless limits until it has the experience of the ‘other mode’ of being (I recall Elder Sophrony in particular here) of the Creator -who truly is-, and until then is rationally defective in all its hypotheticals…

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I would posit that a step to a deeper understanding of being is to begin to realize that it is not individual. Indeed it requires others. Perhaps to annihilate one, even Satan, is to annihilate all?

    Conversely, to save one is to save all?

    The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world?

    Is annihilation even a possibility?

  53. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, your words about understanding being and having a feel for it remind me of Jonathan Edwards’ definition of “true virtue.” He said it was a beauty of the heart.

    “True virtue most essentially consists in benevolence to being in general. Or perhaps, to speak more accurately, it is that consent, propensity and union of heart to being in general, which is immediately exercised in a general good will.”

    He thought that non-intelligent being had to be disqualified from being a subject of this good will, which I think St. Maximus would disagree with! and I personally disagree with his conclusion that there’s nothing of the nature of virtue within love to a particular person if you don’t love everyone (though I see his point) but he has some interesting investigations.


    Michelle, I agree that such a father would not have failed in his love – but that he would have failed in his purpose is indisputable.

  54. AR Avatar

    To tie it in with our talk of “being” – evil has no ground of being and therefore it is impossible that it should endure as God endures.

  55. Janis Schmidt Avatar

    I am confused about today’s law and morality, especially the arguments over same-sex marriages. I am not gay, nor do I harbor any hatred toward gay people. The ones I know have not insisted upon wedding or raising children. Perhaps you could shed some light on this.

  56. Michelle Avatar


    I’m not so sure it would be a failure of purpose either. I’ll use myself as an analogy to explain. This is kind of hard to express because it is a deep, inward truth that I cannot fully articulate, but I think most parents would resonate with me: I have a daughter who is going on 3 years old. She is my daughter forever, I am her mother forever. This is her ontological reality -she is my beautiful daughter. And this ontological reality is good. And this is her purpose -to be a beautiful thing, and her purpose is fulfilled in that she is truly a beautiful thing. Her becoming “evil” through everlasting attempts of revoking and destroying this reality cannot, and does not in fact diminish this reality. There is nothing she can do to become an ugly stranger to me, she will always be my beautiful daughter. Her attempts of “ugliness” are unfruitful in becoming reality, lacking all substance, in the face of the permanence of the beauty that exist simply by virtue of her being my beloved daughter. She could make attempts of ugliness for eternity, but they would be to no avail. She is always and forever my beautiful daughter. What I meant to fulfill when conceiving her has indeed been fulfilled. She has not failed to be beautiful, and thus I have not failed in my purpose for her.

  57. Michelle Avatar

    My above comment is why even if I were somehow magically informed that my daughter was going to be evil hearted for eternity, and then offered a chance to go back in time and choose not to concieve her, I could not do it. I would still choose her existence because she is beautiful.

  58. AR Avatar

    I certainly agree with that, Michelle. Maybe I meant something different by ‘purpose’ than you did. God’s purpose is not his reason for existing (I don’t think we can think about him that way) but what he intends to do.

    Your conviction that your daughter’s existence is irrevocably good even if she she does nothing but evil all her life is the same thing that I meant by goodness having a ground of being, and evil not having a ground of being. Otherwise, how can we explain the fact that your conviction she is good would outlast every single bit of seeming evidence to the contrary?

    However, given that… it’s kind of hard to imagine that the evil could outlast the good, you know? Love – regard for the goodness of being – can survive tremendous assaults of evil, but it seems clear to me, at least, that it can never be complacent so long as that grievous contradiction remains.

  59. Ron Avatar

    Oddly, I was called to this oratory. As my eyes grow heavy, I will read your thoughts again on the day of the New Lunar Year. I give thanks for your wisdom!

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Latest Comments

  1. Simon, I saw your comment mentioning Living Buddha, Living Christ, after I had posted mine. I didn’t intend to undercut…

  2. Matthew, You mentioned, Living Buddha, Living Christ. Thich Nhat Hanh offered a fairly surface level treatment in that book. If…

  3. Matthew, what I have gleaned from the genuine God-bearing saints is that at its core, genuine repentance is, I guess,…

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