Sunday, December 08, 2013

St. Isaac

The writings of the second St Isaac of Syria don't seem to be online (at least not in English), but there are quotations. He was an ascetic, and some of his suggestions illustrate that focus.
  • Ease and idleness are the destruction of the soul and they can injure her more than the demons.
  • A small but persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop tailing persistently, hollows out hard rock.
  • Dispassion does not mean that a man feels no passions, but that he does not accept any of them.
  • The key to Divine gifts is given to the heart by love of neighbor, and, in proportion to the heart's freedom from the bonds of the flesh, the door of knowledge begins to open before it.
  • Be persecuted, rather than be a persecutor. Be crucified, rather than be a crucifier. Be treated unjustly, rather than treat anyone unjustly. Be oppressed, rather than zealous. Lay hold of goodness, rather than justice.
  • Before you stumble, call out and plead; before you make a vow, have ready what things you promise, for they are your provisions afterwards.
  • If you compel your body when it is weak to labors that exceed its strength, you will instill darkness upon darkness into your soul and bring greater confusion upon her.
  • Mercy and legality in one soul is like a man who worships God and the idols in one house.
  • If you cannot be merciful, at least speak as though you are a sinner. If you are not a peacemaker, at least do not be a troublemaker. If you cannot be assiduous, at least in your thought be like a sluggard (?typo for "not like"?). If you are not (typo?) victorious, do not exalt yourself over the vanquished. If you cannot close the mouth of a man who disparages his companion, at least refrain from joining him in this.
  • A gift free of trials is a disaster to those who receive it.
  • Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet.
  • Flee from discussions of dogma as from an unruly lion; and never embark upon them yourself, either with those raised in the Church, or with strangers.
  • The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its charm.

I am quite far from being an ascetic, as a slight pudge quickly testifies and 33 years of marriage would strongly suggest. I did not imbibe any appreciation for monastic life, and nor was it obvious why asceticism would be attractive enough that brothers and sisters would drop everything and head for the desert.

But I think I'm starting to get a glimmering. Imagine an era swarming with luxuries that turn tasteless with indulgence, with entertainments that alternate between the cruel and the lascivious, with the public sphere monopolized by the power hungry and greedy, with intrusive bureaucracies, and seemingly everything designed to manipulate you to utterly worldly ends. Now imagine yourself swimming in this, and starting to realize that these temptations and evils already have a home in your own soul. You too sometimes hunger to chase the banner, or to buy the toy that your neighbors esteem, or collect the hoard that will protect you from the rapacious, or try a taste of your neighbor's mistress.

You hear of a man who was able to put all these things aside with self-disciplines no worse than those imposed on wrong-doers. The life in the world is so obviously vile that this alternative, for souls hungering for nobility, looks wise and right.

And, in that era, maybe it is.

UPDATE: Here's a favorite example of the manipulation mentioned:


The Mad Soprano said...

Where was that particular production staged?

james said...

Quick googling suggests Paris 2011