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Ninth Sunday after Trinity

David House

St. John's Bell Island – July 27 AD 2005

1 Cor 10:1f    St. Luke 16:1f

For this ninth week of Trinity we consider, following Cassian, the first and second, of the eight  principle faults,  namely, the spirit of gluttony and the spirit of fornication.

 

These passions are first in order of consideration for Cassian because they are preeminently passions of the flesh, which he regards as easier to overcome than the evil passions of the soul and because they must in some degree be controlled before attempting to deal with the passions of the soul: “But now we have to deal with Gluttony, that is the desire of the palate, against which is our first battle. He then will never be able to check the motions of burning lust, who cannot restrain the desires of appetite. The chastity of  the inner man is shown by the perfection of this virtue. For you will never feel sure that he can strive against the opposition of a stronger enemy , whom you have seen overcome by weaker ones, in a higher conflict.” Cassian also  recognizes that  we must progress in all virtue interactively, and so we will find him saying: “For it is an impossibility that the fiery motions of the body can be extinguished, before the incentives of the other chief vices are utterly rooted out:…”.  In fact Cassian says, “For of all virtues the nature is but one and the same, although they appear to be divided into many different kinds and names:.. And so he is proved to possess no virtue perfectly, who is known to have broken down in some part of them.”  From these two positions arise numerous apparent contradictions, but these really belong the matter itself for while the body is the same life as the soul, still they may be spoken of as lying outside each other.

 

But Cassian does not follow these insights, instead, he turns to an analogy to give an order to his inquiry .

 

The analogy, taken from St. Paul (1 Corinth. ix, 24-25 & 2 Tim. ii, 5), is of the athlete who competes in the Olympic race for the corruptible crown, to the Christian’s quest for the perfection of spiritual life in Christ and the crown of eternal life as heirs , with Christ, of God. This analogy runs through the exposition of all eight passions. Chapter xii (Book V) bears the title: “That in our spiritual contest we ought to draw an example from the carnal contests.” Cassian outlines the arduous stages of training and qualification required of the athlete before he is at last allowed to enter the Olympic race and then, by analogy the stages in the development of our capacity for spiritual life.  In Book VI, ch. 5, and especially ch. 7 Cassian repeats the analogy.  It is helpful to compare this use of analogy from the life of the world, with the parable in today’s gospel.

 

The Gospel for the 9th Sunday after Trinity, Christ’s parable of the unfaithful steward, exhorts us in a similar way, using an example from economic life in the world.  The Steward has wasted his rich master’s goods, is caught and dismissed as steward, but before leaving, takes care to assure his future, forgiving ,in part the master’s debtors.  They in turn will receive him into their homes.  The master commends his steward’s shrewd providence, there very virtue which he would want in his service.  Jesus draws this conclusion: “…for the children of this age are more prudent than the children of light. And I say to you , Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, and when it fails you, they will receive you into everlasting habitations.”  In the parable those who are of this world are moved more urgently, and seek their corruptible crowns more prudently, than the children of light are moved and seek their in corruptible crown.

 

Mammon is wealth, it is unrighteous, not in itself, but insofar as it is gained and held in covetousness , that is, in so far as I am moved in my own particular interest, in its acquisition and retention.  Now we are enjoined to make friends of those who will receive us into everlasting habitations by means of this unrighteous mammon which will surely fail us.  But it is through Christ alone that we may come into that everlasting habitation and therefore, it must be used for Him.  This can be in many ways.  It is vivid in Mathew 25; 34-40. “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;

I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me……Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren , you did it to me”.  As also, today’s Epistle clearly tells us : “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.

 

The employment of the unrighteous mammon can be understood of the whole world of particular, finite goods and the passions that move us therein.  These interests are indeed movers of men, and excite our intelligence and our sense of prudence in many ways.  And so Christ does not enjoin us simply to turn away but to use this world for eternal purposes out of a love that does not seek to please itself, but to be pleasing to Christ.  For in reality we are giving back to Christ nothing that we have not received of Him.  At the same time Paul warns in the Epistle that there is a mortal peril here, for just as the children of God were baptized unto Moses under the cloud and drank of the spiritual rock, yet were overthrown in the wilderness because of their lust after evil things and as he admonishes the Corinthians “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them…”.

 Everything which we set up in place of God is an idol.  If we seek our whole satisfaction in the endless realm of finite goods, we create an idol.  In contemporary commercial culture we find everywhere the enticement to find our satisfaction in an endless variety of goods, in every form of sensuality, sexuality, gluttony, power, vanity, violence, and drug induced experience.  So that we could say with Augustine, of almost any city  “To Carthage I came and found there a hissing cauldron of sin”

 

This, then, by way of return to Cassian.  We cannot follow Cassian’ long exposition, but a few quotes will give a sense his thought.

 

Of Gluttony Cassian says:

“And so it is a very true and most excellent saying of the fathers that the right method of fasting and abstinence lies in the measure of moderation and bodily chastening, and that this is the aim of perfect virtue for all alike, viz.: that though we are still force to desire it, yet we should exercise self-restraint in the matter of food, which we are obliged to take owing to the necessity of supporting the body.”

“First then we must trample under foot gluttonous desires , and to this end the mind must be reduced not only by fasting , but also with vigils, by reading, and by frequent compunction of the heart for those things in which perhaps it recollects that it has been deceived or overcome, sighing at one time with horror at sin, at another time inflamed with the desire of perfection and saintliness: until it is fully occupied and possessed by such cares and meditations, and recognizes the participation of food to be not so much a concession to pleasure, as a burden laid upon it, and considers it to be rather a necessity for the body than anything desirable for the soul.”

 

Of Fornication:

“This, then, will be the first means of promoting this purification – that, when the recollection of the female sex steals into our mind by the devil’s subtle and clever insinuation, through remembrance, first of all of our own mother, our sisters, or our relatives, and even holy women, we must at once hasten to cast it out from within us.”

 

To our modern ears the impassioned language of Cassian will have a strident almost fanatical ring. One can hear the contemporary cynic saying “Get a life.” There is irony here, for it is certainly life and life eternal that he seeks.

 

Now Cassian has in mind as the end of the discipline which he proposes analogously with the Olympic runner, that we free ourselves of those passions which would bind us to that world of finite interest.  He sees in the worldly training of the athlete, an exemplar, which is admired for its dedication, singleness of purpose, and the architecture of its discipline.  The athlete must exercise control over all things… that is he must have a general continence including his diet and, according to Cassian, his sexuality.  In this he is really advocating that we pursue our spiritual life and education with the same or greater urgency and discipline than “the people of this generation” pursue their finite interests.

 

The fault in Cassian’s exposition lies in not following today’s gospel more closely. It is true that the will must free itself from and gain ascendancy over impulse and the simplicity of nature, but this is not the end of the matter.  We do not need to leave nature as it was, for example, to reduce food to a matter of simple natural necessity, from which we abstract entirely.  We rightly endow it with social and spiritual significance serving a communion among the children of light.  Nor need we obliterate our mothers from memory for fear of giving occasion to evil lust, but to know our mothers and all other women as members with us in Christ.