Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

Do Christians have an old nature?


  • Please log in to reply
29 replies to this topic

#1 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 08 April 2011 - 08:57 PM

Well, I've been deliberating on whether or not to begin such a topic for over a week now. After reading many of the threads on man's nature, none of them answered this for me satisfactorily.

Now here's the rub. Actually, I do think that Christians have an old nature. Scripture makes that quite clear, and furthermore, empirically it would seem undeniable. With what do we wrestle if not our old nature? Are not the passions those things which cleave to and are bound up in our old nature?

However, the reason I ask such a question is to get the ORTHODOX answer. And I promised my husband I would pose this question on Monachos. You see, recently my husband and I were riding with our priest to a mission vespers. My husband being very inquisitive and considering Orthodoxy asked Father if he thought Christians have an old nature. He asked because he has been struggling with the Orthodox understanding of what it is to be human and how that understanding reflects on the spiritual struggle = the flesh waging war against the spirit. Father said without hesitation that he doesn't think Christians have an old nature. He believes that the old nature was put to death in baptism.

As you might imagine, a (how shall I say?) verbose conversation ensued in which Father could not satisfactorily answer my husband's probing questions. Furthermore, I was left dumbfounded. It seemed Father couldn't relate to the matter of resisting the passions of the flesh or struggling against evil. He said that he believed our human nature is restored in baptism. Well, how then is it that we struggle with sin? Is such an illusion? My husband, being the Bible man that he is, then presented the following Scripture from Ephesians ch. 4: "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." "So what does this passage mean?" queried my husband. Father had no answer. It was as if he was unaware that such a Scripture even existed. I could sense the tension between the two of them, and I was left feeling quite disappointed.

I know Father is not one to emphasize ascetism. I say this as one who has heard quite a few of his homilies and has had various discussions with him. He seems more to emphasize attending services and partaking of the Eucharist as the necessary healing for the Christian. However, how does this address the spiritual warfare in which a Christian must engage themselves on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis? We do not receive strength to overcome evil by osmosis. Our faith is not merely passive but active. So while attending church is necessary and important, what does any of it matter if we have no old nature, no passions with which to struggle and put to death?

After that conversation, my husband was somewhat frustrated and disheartened that he could not get a sufficient answer other than, "Christians have no old nature." I must say I could not blame him. Sadly, it seems that many of his questions are not answered sufficiently and thus he is beginning to be suspicious of Orthodoxy. At this point, I have discouraged him from asking Father any more questions about the Orthodox faith. It seems that Father's answers only seem to compound the stuggles that my husband has with the Orthodox faith, and more often than not dissuade rather than draw him toward the Church.

In all that I have read it would seem to me that Orthodoxy believes we do have an old nature. And that old nature is our flesh, that part of us that struggles with the new creation that resides within us. As St. James says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God,'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown brings forth death." This desire it seems must come from the old nature, the flesh. Otherwise, if there exists no old nature (old man), then the passions of our flesh must just be an illusion. If our human nature is healed, the old man dead, then why is it that we struggle with our passions? So you see, I just cannot reconcile this idea of our old nature being healed by baptism and thus all that is left is the healed human person, i.e. the new nature.

Please somebody, help me out here. I am left befuddled not quite sure what the Orthodox Church teaches in this regard.

#2 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 08 April 2011 - 09:31 PM

I was puzzled by what you meant by the 'old nature' until I turned to the original NT versions (Russian Orthodox) and then the OSB which says: "the old man". This phrase is used continually by our pious and ascetic writers as well as theologians. In a word we are called upon to put off the old man and to put on the new.

However this is not a sudden change from black to white as it were. Even baptism will not do this for us since the old man/the old Adam still remains, and must be struggled with.

This then is our life in Christ to struggle against the old and to grasp towards the new man, who is being remade in Christ.

I would think that the more basic story of Great Lent also comes down to this very point.

In looking at your question though- without meeting a person it's hard to tell where they're coming from- don't make the mistake of thinking that we have a kind of separate 'old' nature which we then try to replace with something completely different & new from what was there before. Such an understanding would be deemed by the Fathers deeply flawed and likely heretical. What we mean then by putting off the old and putting on the new is a transformation of the human nature God has already created us with and which God has created as good. This is crucial to understand for otherwise, as a number of Fathers explain, if there is nothing inherently good about human nature, then there is no basis on which it can change from what is bad to what is good. We literally could not recognize good when we saw it, since it does not correspond to anything we know or wish for.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#3 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 08 April 2011 - 09:50 PM

I was puzzled by what you meant by the 'old nature' until I turned to the original NT versions (Russian Orthodox) and then the OSB which says: "the old man". This phrase is used continually by our pious and ascetic writers as well as theologians. In a word we are called upon to put off the old man and to put on the new.

However this is not a sudden change from black to white as it were. Even baptism will not do this for us since the old man/the old Adam still remains, and must be struggled with.

This then is our life in Christ to struggle against the old and to grasp towards the new man, who is being remade in Christ.

I would think that the more basic story of Great Lent also comes down to this very point.

In looking at your question though- without meeting a person it's hard to tell where they're coming from- don't make the mistake of thinking that we have a kind of separate 'old' nature which we then try to replace with something completely different & new from what was there before. Such an understanding would be deemed by the Fathers deeply flawed and likely heretical. What we mean then by putting off the old and putting on the new is a transformation of the human nature God has already created us with and which God has created as good. This is crucial to understand for otherwise, as a number of Fathers explain, if there is nothing inherently good about human nature, then there is no basis on which it can change from what is bad to what is good. We literally could not recognize good when we saw it, since it does not correspond to anything we know or wish for.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Thank you, dear Father. And yes, I meant to equate the old nature with the old man. Both are synonymous as I would understand it. And my husband did refer to the old man as well in the conversation with my parish priest.

Your reference to Great Lent also seems evident that we must struggle with our passions. So, if one who calls themselves a Christian isn't struggling with the passions, then how can they be aware of the evil one who seeks to harm them? Mustn't we be vigilant in ascetic struggle (prayer, fasting, almsgiving, loving our neighbor, etc) in order to resist the enemy of our souls?

#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 08 April 2011 - 09:53 PM

So, if one who calls themselves a Christian isn't struggling with the passions, then how can they be aware of the evil one who seeks to harm them? Mustn't we be vigilant in ascetic struggle (prayer, fasting, almsgiving, loving our neighbor, etc) in order to resist the enemy of our souls?


Yes- absolutely.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#5 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 09 April 2011 - 02:33 AM

In looking at your question though- without meeting a person it's hard to tell where they're coming from- don't make the mistake of thinking that we have a kind of separate 'old' nature which we then try to replace with something completely different & new from what was there before. Such an understanding would be deemed by the Fathers deeply flawed and likely heretical. What we mean then by putting off the old and putting on the new is a transformation of the human nature God has already created us with and which God has created as good. This is crucial to understand for otherwise, as a number of Fathers explain, if there is nothing inherently good about human nature, then there is no basis on which it can change from what is bad to what is good. We literally could not recognize good when we saw it, since it does not correspond to anything we know or wish for.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Father,

Could you please explain a bit more precisely what you mean in this last paragraph. What do you mean by "deeply flawed and likely heretical?"

#6 Herman Blaydoe

Herman Blaydoe

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,157 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 09 April 2011 - 12:18 PM

If I may jump in uninvited. I don't think "nature" and "person" are synonymous. I can be a new PERSON but still have the bad habits of my previous NATURE. In fact, it is probably a pretty sure thing. Sorry but we don't simply become "perfect" as we leave the baptismal font. There is still a lot of hard work ahead that will take the rest of our lives. The Apostle Paul talks about this extensively.

Herman the new old Pooh

#7 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 09 April 2011 - 01:15 PM

Father,

Could you please explain a bit more precisely what you mean in this last paragraph. What do you mean by "deeply flawed and likely heretical?"


What I am referring to is that by Orthodox definition we were created by God as good. Therefore the evil of the old man is from our choice, by a misuse of our free will.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#8 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 09 April 2011 - 01:33 PM

If I may jump in uninvited. I don't think "nature" and "person" are synonymous. I can be a new PERSON but still have the bad habits of my previous NATURE. In fact, it is probably a pretty sure thing. Sorry but we don't simply become "perfect" as we leave the baptismal font. There is still a lot of hard work ahead that will take the rest of our lives. The Apostle Paul talks about this extensively.

Herman the new old Pooh


Herman,

As per what I have outlined, that makes perfect (pun intended) sense. Otherwise, if that were the case, it would be likened to some forensic, juridical position in which a person stands justified before God merely on the basis of the sacrament alone. While baptism cleanses a person, there is still the work ahead of submitting ourselves to God and renewing our baptism daily. As St. Paul said, "I die daily."

In many ways the idea that we have no old man because he died in baptism is very similar to the teaching of imputed righteousness (i.r.). Here it is believed that the person's sentence against them is wiped clean and they have legal standing before God, who recognizes them as justified. So much so that when God looks upon that person, He only sees Jesus and regards that person as having faithfully and perfectly followed the Law as Christ did, making that person acceptable in the sight of God. In both cases, imputed righteousness & no old man (nature), the person continues to sin but somehow it isn't quite that serious of a matter, because in both cases the person is looked upon by God as acceptable/perfect. In i.r. = he has faithfully obeyed the Law as Christ and his sin is no longer imputed to him but is regarded as non-existent. With no old man = his person is completely made whole and healed by baptism and therefore he is acceptable/perfect in the sight of God no matter how much he may sin.

In both cases, to struggle against sin is merely extraneous because one's position before God overrules his actual inward disposition.

#9 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 09 April 2011 - 02:45 PM

What I am referring to is that by Orthodox definition we were created by God as good. Therefore the evil of the old man is from our choice, by a misuse of our free will.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael


Thanks for responding, Father. Now I've another question. According to Orthodox teaching what is it that we inherit from Adam? The Scripture that immediately comes to mind is, "For s in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Upon closer examination, though, this verse doesn't say we inherit Adam's nature, but rather that we inherit death. Still, what is it that we inherit from Adam if not the propensity to sin? In saying this I am not saying we inherit his personal sin, just the inclination to sin. My understanding is that we are accountable to God for our own personal sin (not Adam's). As I read further in I Corinthians ch. 15, St. Paul says,

"The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable."

I have read ch 15 of I Corinthians many times and I must admit that much of it eludes me. However, it seems to me that the thrust of this passage is saying that the old man/Adam/the physical man is insufficient in being able to attain the kingdom of God = eternal life (imperishable). One must still be "born from above" as Christ told Nicodemus in the third chapter of St. John. So, the fact that we are made in the image of God, and that image is good (though marred by sin and the Fall), still is not enough, it will not quite get us there. We must be renewed, made alive in Christ. The old man has been cast out of the garden and is separated from God. We each inherit this old man, this old Adam, until we receive the life of Christ in baptism and the Holy Spirit makes us alive. And yet, the old Adam lives, continually pulling at us, nudging us away from Christ.

So while I agree with you that what God created is good, and that we became evil by our own wrong choices (a misuse of our free will), choosing to rebel against our Creator, that old man cannot enter the kingdom of God. His fallen condition prevents him from doing so. So according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, what happens with this old Adam? What is his destiny? What role/part does he play in the life of the one who is a believer in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit and a partaker of the Divine nature?

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 09 April 2011 - 08:12 PM

the mutation of human nature over to passibility, corruption, and death is the condemnation of Adam's deliberate sin. Man was not created by God in the beginning with such a corrupted nature; rather, man invented and knew it since he created deliberate sin through his disobedience. And clearly condemnation by death is the result of such sin. Yet the Lord took on this very condemnation of my deliberate sin, that is to say, the passibility, corruptibility, and mortality of our nature. He became the 'sin' that I caused, in terms of the passibility, corruptibility, and mortality, and he submitted voluntarily to the condemnation owed me in my nature, even though He Himself was blameless in His freedom of choice, in order to condemn both my deliberate sin and the sin that befell my nature. Accordingly He has driven sin, passion, corruption, and death from human nature, and the economy (dispensation) of Christ's philanthropy of behalf of me has become for me, one fallen through disobedience, a new mystery. For the sake of my salvation, Christ, through His own death, voluntarily made my condemnation His own, thereby granting me restoration to immortality.


St Maximus the Confessor Ad Thalassium 42

#11 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 10 April 2011 - 05:01 PM

I think of it in terms of my no longer being a slave to sin. Corruption is still present, but in a new way that does not have to dominate my life and enslave me. I am being changed. I think we too often get our thinking trapped in to a box, in terms of what something is or isn't. Obviously a bird is a bird and a fish is a fish and a man is a man. But it's a little more complex than that with respect to people (not the same as complicated-- but complex in this sense of existing in layers and as more than one "thing" at the same time). What is being referred to here in this thread led to what the Church calls theosis, or the doctrine of deification. In some ways, yes, we put the old man to death so that the new can come to life. And I have seen this in people quite dramatically. But the Church also says that man is an intermediate being, neither mortal nor immortal (in an absolute sense) but in between. So we must avoid the approach of physicists like Aristotle and Isaac Newton and become familiar with the technical language of the Church regarding spiritual "nature" and begin to identify with these terms as they relate to our experience. Classical physics deals with distinct and discreet things that are in motion and how they kind of clunk into each other. But a person is more than just a thing in motion in physical space. Man is unique in this sense. St. Maximos also says that it is possible to "relapse into a state of non-existence." By that he means no longer existing as a man as man. So our salvation is tied to the form of our existence, and not just mechanical interactions.

#12 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 10 April 2011 - 07:08 PM

Owen, I got lost on you. But the problem more likely than not is with me. I'm still trying to get at the core of this issue and eventually I think I will have a grasp of it. And when I do it will be like a lightbulb turning on in my head, or the sun emerging from behind a cloud, or a lamp being turned on in a pitch dark room.

#13 Herman Blaydoe

Herman Blaydoe

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,157 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 10 April 2011 - 07:54 PM

So according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, what happens with this old Adam? What is his destiny? What role/part does he play in the life of the one who is a believer in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit and a partaker of the Divine nature?


He undergoes metamorphosis. He experiences metanoia. He is transformed, he is redeemed, he is made new.

Herman the hopefully transforming Pooh

#14 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:18 PM

He undergoes metamorphosis. He experiences metanoia. He is transformed, he is redeemed, he is made new.

Herman the hopefully transforming Pooh


Herman,

If this is the case, then why do we still struggle with our passions? Don't the passions originate from the old man? If the old man is changed then why does Scripture address the ongoing/continuing struggle that we have with the old man?

My understanding is that we have a new man and an old man entirely at war within the same person. Years ago I would hear Christians (nonOrthodox) say "even my flesh loves Jesus." I thought, how absurd. My flesh wants nothing to do with Jesus. It is at war with my new creation. Today I experienced an onslaught of emotions welling up from within, such that I wanted no part of attending the Divine Liturgy, such that I wrestled with such intense feelings that I felt I was dragging my carcass off to worship. And even while I was there, in the presence of the congregation I battled with a jumbled mass of thoughts. I thought I would break down weeping because of the logismoi swimming around inside me. Rather, I had more of an inclination to break out, to let loose, to blast my radio with loud rock music and scream. The struggle would not relent and even now, I feel as though I am under a heavy weight.

If my old man is redeemed, transformed, etc. from where is this assault coming? And if the old man is redeemed, then why do we still have temptations to sin?

The way I see it, the old man lives even though he is dead (surely a paradox) because we live in the here and now. He seeks to ravage our souls and drag us away from the life of God. He is not transformed but at war with our new creation. I cannot see it any other way.

#15 Herman Blaydoe

Herman Blaydoe

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,157 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:31 PM

Transformation is not an event, it is a process. Ask a butterfly what happened to the caterpillar.

Sorry that's the best I can do.

Herman

#16 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:43 PM

However, the reason I ask such a question is to get the ORTHODOX answer. And I promised my husband I would pose this question on Monachos. You see, recently my husband and I were riding with our priest to a mission vespers. My husband being very inquisitive and considering Orthodoxy asked Father if he thought Christians have an old nature. He asked because he has been struggling with the Orthodox understanding of what it is to be human and how that understanding reflects on the spiritual struggle = the flesh waging war against the spirit. Father said without hesitation that he doesn't think Christians have an old nature. He believes that the old nature was put to death in baptism.

As you might imagine, a (how shall I say?) verbose conversation ensued in which Father could not satisfactorily answer my husband's probing questions. Furthermore, I was left dumbfounded. It seemed Father couldn't relate to the matter of resisting the passions of the flesh or struggling against evil. He said that he believed our human nature is restored in baptism. Well, how then is it that we struggle with sin? Is such an illusion? My husband, being the Bible man that he is, then presented the following Scripture from Ephesians ch. 4: "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." "So what does this passage mean?" queried my husband. Father had no answer. It was as if he was unaware that such a Scripture even existed. I could sense the tension between the two of them, and I was left feeling quite disappointed.


I suspect there has been a huge misunderstanding between your priest and your evangelical husband. Unless I'm mistaken, your husband has been strongly influenced by Reformed theology, correct? Misunderstanding between the Reformed and Orthodox is unavoidable on a question like this. Calvinists believe in total depravity. Orthodox do not. Both believe that their understanding is firmly grounded in Scripture, but their interpretation of Scripture differs dramatically. Just compare Calvin's interpretation of Romans 7 with St John Chrysostom's interpretation of the same chapter.

What does it mean, can it mean, to say that we have a totally new nature in Christ? Have we ceased to be human? Obviously not. The eternal Son assumed human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he has not ceased to be human. Human nature may have been healed and transfigured in Christ, but it has not ceased to be human. So how can we literally speak of two natures?

So what does this language of old nature and new nature mean? It's probably easier to say what it does not mean than what it does mean. It does not mean that in Christ we have become non-human or trans-human or whatever. (The NIV translation of sarx as "sinful nature" is at least misleading, if not worse.)

Darlene, you write: "It seemed Father couldn't relate to the matter of resisting the passions of the flesh or struggling against evil." I cannot believe that this is actually the case, though I do not doubt that is how it appeared to you and your husband. Orthodoxy is all about battle against the passions. Hence when your parish priest asserted that we have been given a new and redeemed nature in Christ, I know that he cannot have meant that we no longer need live a life of repentance nor need struggle against evil. I suspect, rather, that he was attempting to emphatically assert that in Christ we are truly transformed and empowered to live a new life in Christ (i.e., theosis).

You cite Ephesian 4:22-24: "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

But is this a correct translation? It's not a literal translation of the Greek, which does not speak of new and old natures. Compare the renderings found in KVJ, ESV, and NASB, as well as the latest version of the NIV. An exhortation to put aside the "old man" and put on the new man or new self is not the same as saying that we have two natures, at least not literally. This is the language of the preacher, exhorting his congregation to live the new life given in Christ and not to live the old life that leads only to death.

Compare the discussion of Fr John Romanides: Original Sin According to St. Paul.

#17 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:15 PM

Fr. Alvin,

In a nutshell, my husband is not a Calvinist in any way, shape or form. He doesn't subscribe to the TULIP, doesn't believe in imputed righteousness, nor the Calvinist rendering of predestination.

In the conversation with my priest, my husband was bending over backwards to explain what he meant by old nature. He redefined the term in several ways, i.e.: passions, the flesh, old man, etc. With that said, I realize that it isn't natures that sin per se, but persons.

Honestly, I think my husband (I'll include myself here too) is just trying to get a grasp on the following from an Orthodox perspective:

1. What does it mean to be human and how is our humanness/humanity effected by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
2. How is the battle against the passions of the flesh waged and how are we victorious in this battle?.
3. What role does the mind play in this ascetic struggle?
4. What role does the heart play in this ascetic struggle?
5. What role does the will play in this ascetic struggle?
6. How does one know if they are living according to the flesh?
7. How does one know if they are living according to the spirit?
8. How does one gauge whether or not they are making progress or failing in the ascetic struggle?
9. What role does the Church play in helping us to succeed in the ascetic struggle?

I'm sure I have more questions but these are good for a start.

#18 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:23 PM

BTW, where can I find Calvin's and St. John Chrysostom's interpretation of Romans 7? I've probably already read Calvin's interp. or at least someone's rendering of his interp. of Romans 7, but that would have been from over a decade ago.

#19 Christina M.

Christina M.

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 696 posts

Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:32 PM

I think the following letter from Elder Joseph the Hesychast explains clearly the difference between the "old man" and the "new man". I like Elder Joseph's writings because they contain no traces of frumpiness. ;-)

So, my child, let me tell you also about the three states of nature that man ascends and descends.

The natural state of man, since we have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and have fallen out of paradise, is the divine Law which was given to us in writing after that exile. Every man desiring salvation has to fight with the passions: thrashing and opposing, fighting and being fought against, winning and suffering defeat. And in general, he has to struggle in order to stay within the divine laws of nature.

When we abide by the divine law given to use in the Bible - we are not fornicators, murderers, thieves, liars, gossipers, and are not unjust, proud, vainglorious, gluttonous, greedy, avaricious, envious, taunting, blaspheming, irascible, peevish, complaining, hypocritical, and so on - then we are in the state natural for us after the Fall.

Whereas the state contrary to nature is when one is outside of the divine law and behaves like the irrational animals that do not have a law. The prophet says regarding such people, "Man, being in honor, did not understand; he is compared to the mindless cattle, and is like them." So whoever lives like this outside of the divine Law, wallowing in various sins as we mentioned, is in the state contrary to nature.

But the state above nature is dispassion, which is what Adam had before he transgressed the commandment of God and fell out of this divine grace and innocence.

So these, my child, are the three states which, if we make progress, we ascend from the contra-natural to the supernatural state. But if we live insensibly and neglect our salvation, then we feed swine and try to get our fill from husks like the prodigal son.

As we mentioned, the three modes of divine grace that the nature of man is likely to receive when he has good intentions and exerts himself are: purifying, illuminating, and perfecting.

Once a man comes to repentance from his previous sinful life, he forces himself to stay within the divine Law. And due to his passionate habits, he undergoes great struggles and suffers sharp pains. Then divine grace secretly gives him comfort and joy, mourning, delight, and sweetness from the divine words he reads, as well as strength and boldness in his spiritual struggle. This is called purifying grace which mystically helps the struggling penitent to be purified from sins and to remain in the state according to nature.

So if he remains there, in the state according to nature, and does not stop struggling, does not turn back, is not negligent, and does not fall from his post, but endures and forces himself to bear good fruits, being patient and accepting the continuous changes of nature, and awaiting the mercy of God; then his nous receives divine illumination and becomes entirely divine light, by which he noetically perceives the truth and discerns how he must proceed until he reaches love, which is our sweet Jesus.

However, here too, one must be very cautious. When you hear me saying "light", do not think that it is fire or light from a lamp or lightning or some other kind of colors. Away with such absurdity! For there were many who did not understand and accepted some kind of lightning as something divine, and thus were deluded and miserably ruined. But the noetic light of divine grace is immaterial, formless, colorless, gladsome, and peaceful. This is, and is called, illuminating grace which illuminates the nous and knows the safe roads of the spiritual journey, so that the traveler will not get lost and fall.

However, since the body is commingled with changes, and since there is plenty of time, grace does not abide permanently, but comes and goes. Light is followed by darkness and then darkness is followed by light.

Now listen carefully to understand:
Our natural state is darkness in comparison to divine grace. How much more so when the gloomy demons approach us, which are dark by nature! So when the light of grace comes, everything evil disappears - just as when the sun rises the darkness leaves, and we can clearly see even the smallest details that escaped notice before dawn. But once the sun sets, the darkness overtakes us naturally once more, and whoever walks in the darkness suffers great damage and grievous incidents.

Likewise, the same thing happens to us in our spiritual journey. When we have divine light, we can see everything clearly, and the demons flee far away, as they are unable to stand before divine grace. But once divine grace leaves again, the darkness remains, that is, our natural state. Then the thievish demons come and fight us. And so, since our nature is subject to so many changes, and since in a time of darkness we, without the discernment of divine grace, work many deeds that harm us, and since many times we are mortally wounded by the enemies, because it is dark and we cannot see the enemies that are hiding. Therefore, we must never grow bold and think that everything we do is pleasing to God, nor should we trust in our weapons and our skill. But we should call upon divine aid and trust only in it, and should say with great fear, for we do not know, "I wonder, is what I say pleasing to God, or do I perhaps sadden Him?" And in times of change, we must be patient.

If, then, we remain in this state and are not harmed by the continuous wars and turmoil from the passions, then we are given the gift of God, perfecting grace, which perfects us. It is called supernatural, because he who has it walks above nature. In the first two stages of grace, a person forces himself with good thoughts and spiritual recollections to keep the virtues: love, humility, abstinence, and so on. Thus by thinking pious thoughts and by opposing demonic thoughts, he destroys the passions' malice and keeps the virtues. But when the perfecting, supernatural grace comes, all the passions are wiped out. Then all the virtues are kept as though they belonged to his own nature, without needing to use his own devices and methods, because he has been given that dispassionate state that existed before the Fall. For the passions entered the nature of man after Adam's disobedience, whereas the natural state in which man was created by God was passionless. For this reason when the nous is freed from the passions, it walks above nature like a king by means of divine knowledge.

So when you, too, my child, see that without artifices and spiritual thoughts all the virtues remain naturally and do not change, know that you are living above nature. But if you keep them with good thoughts and they change, know that you are living according to nature. And when you commit sins, know that you are living contrary to nature and feed the swine of the citizens, as in the Holy Gospel: so struggle to free yourself. As for those things beyond what we have already mentioned, the All-wise and All-good God knows, as well as he who abides in God, to Whom be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.

It's amazing how much wisdom is in his words.

#20 Rdr Daniel (R.)

Rdr Daniel (R.)

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Validating
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 704 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:36 PM

I don't know of Calvin's but Saint John Chrysostom's homilies can be found here http://www.ccel.org/...pnf111.toc.html

P.S. It might be good to read his (Saint John's) prayer before reading the homily http://www.chrysosto..._scripture.html

Edited by Daniel R., 10 April 2011 - 09:54 PM.





0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users