'How Should We Live Then?': "Active Wisdom"
On the one hand I think the description of The Path as, "Very simple, direct, and true", comes from the way in which his book presents the spiritual life in a way that we in the west are more able to apply to our daily life. A large part of this must come from St Theophan's being closer to our time & culture.
On the other hand St Theophan's Russian is more difficult than that of many other Russian religious writers. I'm not sure but in his Russian one senses an educated and perhaps poetic mind also.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Thanks to Father Raphael for the above, and yes, as he says, I agree, we find here in The Path, a presentation of the spiritual life, a manual of spiritual transformation (as indicated by the sub-title of the book) that provides clear application.
And, as we begin by looking at the introduction to this work, by the author, we see beginning in the second paragraph;
True, one may know man's final goal; communion with God. And one may describe the path to it; faith,and walking in the commandments, with the aid of divine grace. One need say in addition: here is the path--start walking!
This is easily said, but how to do it?
In the introduction there were two phrases that jumped out at me. "These were "a real life in the spirit of Christ" (21) and especially, "active wisdom." (21) And, while I normally attempt to identify an author's purpose and primary thesis he or she is presenting, and sometimes attempt to relate that purpose of thesis to the work of others in the field (viz. is he contradicting, supporting or building off the work of others?, I'm not sure that this would be such an easy task here. But, I think if pressed, I would point to the positioning and the imperative language of these two phrases in terms of his first or highest ranking principle. In the first paragraph of his introduction St. Theophan says, "The important thing for us is a real life in the spirit of Christ." In the fourth paragraph he firmly fixes:
But suppose someone has turned toward God, suppose he has come to love his law. is the very going toward God, the very walking on the path of Christ' law, already necessary and will it be successful merely because we desire it to be? No. Besides the desire, one must also have the strength and knowledge to act: one must have active wisdom.
I am not so sure that everything in this entire book cannot fall under what is being expressed here in these two phrases. especially the second, "active wisdom." I am fascinated by this expression and see the value here, in relation to his other principles that the author has laid down in the following pages. As it relates to the three stages that may be called: "1) Turning to God; 2) Purification or self-amendment; 3) Sanctification" (23), it seems the author's purpose is to describe this and determine its laws whereby the path of salvation is indicated (23), and in addition to provide guidance in these matters by showing;
1) how Christian life begins in us;
2) how it is perfected, ripened and strengthened; and
3) how it manifests itself in its perfection.
In his introduction, St. Theophan chooses to use three metaphors-one of a journey, a horticultural one, and a military metaphor. Speaking of the real life in the spirit of Christ, he places an early emphasis on "crossroads" and provides warnings for these so that we can be informed ahead of time knowing we will all encounter these. But, as he develops the life in Christ as a journey, we read also of "guideposts" along the "path," we read of "steps," "walking," so that the "traveler" may know the difference between the path indicated by the Lord, and 'the one that holds danger of losing his or her way--of going astray and perishing imagining himself saved.'
The second and third metaphors work together to show that this journey is not one that is easy and unconstrained. But, it is "labor of sweat--a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties according to the Christian standard.' It is a battle. Like a solider, he must take every step of land, even his own, from his enemies by means of warfare . . ."
But, all of this culminating at the end of St. Theophan's introduction he speaks of the third stage of the Life in Christ:
. . . in the third, the Lord comes, takes up his abode in his Heart, and communes with him. This state of blessed communion with God--the goal of all labors and ascetic endeavors. (24)
and, this takes my mind to the Gospel of John (viz. chaps. 12-15). I am also prompted to consider such passages in the Scriptures where the active voice is used in the Greek, and where the passive voice is used, as well as where the middle voice is used. Where I come from there are usually two camps, one which centers on the active, where they like to proclaim the Life in Christ is "ACTIVE!--ACTIVE!--ACTIVE!" And, the other camp which likes to proclaim the Life in Christ is "PASSIVE!--PASSIVE!--PASSIVE!" I wonder as we move along through this most excellent work of St. Theophan's if we could possibly keep this aspect in mind. Especially as it relates to our ascetic endeavors and labors. To be honest, I have become most interested in the passages of the Scriptures which utilize the middle voice--usually passages that speak of what we do for ourselves that yields a passive pose whereby we are positioned for a renewal by the Spirit of Life, one that we always experience passively as a result of "active wisdom."
I guess I will just go out on a limb here, maybe, and suggest that the author's purpose in The Path is to indicate the path to salvation and to provide guidance in this matter, and his primary thesis is in order for man to obtain man's final goal, communion with God, one must have active wisdom.