Monday, June 12, 2006

Perfection in holiness can be achieved only through humility and that through faith

"The thief who received the kingdom of heaven, though not as the reward of virtue, is a true witness to the fact that salvation is ours through the grace and mercy of God. All of our holy fathers knew this and all with one accord teach that perfection in holiness can be achieved only through humility. Humility, in its turn, can be achieved only through faith, fear of God, gentleness and the shedding of all possessions. It is by means of these that we attain perfect love, through the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory through all the ages. Amen."

St. John Cassian

From the Philokalia, Volume One, 93, On the Eight Vices.


Jason Goroncy said...

... and all the time here was I thinking that it is Christ who makes us perfect and that faith is perfection. In Forsyths words, 'To claim sinlessness as the perfect state superseding faith is to fall from faith, not to rise from it. It is because we have sin that we believe—as belief must go in a religion whose nature is for ever revealed as Redemption. Our perfection is not to rival the Perfect, but to trust Him. Our holiness is not a matter of imitation but of worship. Any sinlessness of ours is the adoration of His. The holiest have ever been so because they dared not feel they were. The height of sinlessness means the deepest sense of sin. If we ever came to any such stage as conscious sinlessness we should be placing ourselves alongside Christ, not at His feet.' Thanks for your blog. I'm enjoying it.

Scott said...

Thank you for responding. I have one little concern with the Forsyth quote you used (a quote I found helpful). He says, "Holiness is not a matter of imitation but worship." I believe that if we separate these then we are have to affirm that there can be no real change in our lives this side of the eschaton. Any good works would not be our own as a result of justification, but rather God overpowering our sinful will. This seems to be rather manipulative being that we were created to participate in the life of God; to garden with Him, so to speak.

I am very fearful, as you are, that people claim a sinless perfect. My Church tradition has battled with this in its history and it leaves many bitter and arrogant. Some have grossly misinterpreted John Wesley to teach Sanctification as sinless perfection in this life. Perhaps it might be better to think of Christian perfection as the goal of faith. Christ has accomplished it and we are on our way.

I believe Cassian is correct in what he says. Perfection in holiness comes in humility because it is only by faith that we can attain the outcome of our faith, i.e. perfect love. Faith leads to humility because we know that it is not by our doing: “…salvation is ours through the grace and mercy of God.”

Check out the de Lubac quote I posted. He talks about being able to love because God loves. I believe that is the goal of faith, our Christian perfection. We can begin, even now, to love like God has loved us. Imitation then is part of our worship. We have been made able to love God and neighbor by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and this through the Spirit.

Thanks for your post. I am enjoying your blog as well.


urbanmonk said...

It's great to see someone else reading Cassian. "On the Training of Monks," is equally as wonderful, which may have been included in your addition.

Cassian encourages novice monks to confess all of their sin to their elder brother, not is some kind of spiritual masocism. He concluded that by confessing them all, even the ones they don't know are sins or not, the elder brother can tell him which ones to worry about and which ones not too. Hiding sins produces false humility which will kill ones journey towards perfection faster than anything else.

I think this is where Wesley gets his idea to ask the question, "Is their anything you have done that you are unsure whether it to be sin or not." He asks this in his bands to create the same atmosphere of trust created between novice and elder monk. Very different from our current understanding of Christian accountability. We read about Wesley's groups and see rigidity. Likely some groups abused the trust created by these questions, but for others, the journey was a freeing one that produced fruits of lay monasticism. I'm rambling,

Scott said...


I think you've embarked on a road that many Protestants want to avoid, at least most "evangelicals." Reluctance to confess can only hinder the freedom God has given us in Jesus to love.

Cassian says, “…we learn that perfection does not follow immediately upon renunciation and withdrawal from the world. It comes after the attainment of love… (Philokalia, 96).” I want to join Robert Jenson to this who says, “The temporal infinity that opens before us and so embraces us as the triune God’s eternity is the inexhaustibility of one event. That event is the appropriation of all other events by the love actual as Jesus of Nazareth (Systematic Theology, v.1, 221).”

Confession is not a means to an end. In the same way repentance is not an isolated act prior to conversion. Our conversion is our repentance. It is our turn from one disposition to another, namely death to life. This is eternal because we are always being drawn into the inexhaustible love of God. Even in the end when God will be all in all, thus, our conversion complete, heaven with consist of our eternally sharing in the inexhaustible love of God. Heaven is our always being amazed by God in a reciprocal sharing of the love by which we are amazed. Confession teaches us to practice sharing that love through the vulnerability of our own lives as we see dimly in a mirror our reflecting God’s love.

I hope I didn’t veer too far off.