Ascetic who denied the need for divine aid in performing good works
Ascetic who denied the need for divine aid in performing good works
And lest, on the other hand, it should be thought to be nature's fault that some have been unrighteous, I shall use the evidence of the scripture, which everywhere lay upon sinners the heavy weight of the charge of having used their own will and do not excuse them for having acted only under constraint of nature.
Consider first whether that which is such that a man cannot be without it ought to be described as sin at all; for everything which cannot be avoided is now put down to nature but it is impious to say that sin is inherent in nature, because in this way the author of nature is being judged at fault... how can it be proper to call sin by that name if, like other natural things, it cannot be avoided, since all sin is to be attributed to the free choice of the will, not to the defects of nature?
Grace indeed freely discharges sins, but with the consent and choice of the believer.
Is it possible then for a man not to sin? Such a claim is indeed a hard one and a bitter pill for sinners to swallow; it pains the ears of all who desire to live unrighteous. Who will find it easy now to fulfil the demands of righteousness, when there are some who find it hard even to listen to them?
It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative...he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction too. He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition, unless he was the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil. Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do His will by exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good ? good, I say, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself.
Nothing impossible has been commanded by the God of justice and majesty...Why do we indulge in pointless evasions, advancing the grailty of our own nature as an objection to the one who commands us? No one knows better the true measure of our strength than he who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than he who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has he who is just wished to command anything impossible or he who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid doing.
Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do hi will by exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good - good, I say, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself.
Those who are unwilling to correct their own way of life appear to want to correct nature itself instead.
Under the plea that it is impossible not to sin, they are given a false sense of security in sinning... Anyone who hears that it is not possible for him to be without sin will not even try to be what he judges to be impossible, and the man who does not try to be without sin must perforce sin all the time, and all the more boldly because he enjoys the false security of believing that it is impossible for him not to sin...But if he were to hear that he is able not to sin, then he would have exerted himself to fulfil what he now knows to be possible when he is striving to fulfil it, to achieve his purpose for the most part, even if not entirely.
When will a man guilty of any crime or sin accept with a tranquil mind that his wickedness is a product of his own will, not of necessity, and allow what he now strives to attribute to nature to be ascribed to his own free choice? It affords endless comfort to transgressors of the divine law if they are able to believe that their failure to do something is due to inability rather than disinclination, since they understand from their natural wisdom that no one can be judged for failing to do the impossible and that what is justifiable on grounds of impossibility is either a small sin or none at all.
Whenever I have to speak on the subject of moral instruction and conduct of a holy life, it is my practice first to demonstrate the power and quality of human nature and to show what it is capable of achieving, and then to go on to encourage the mind of my listener to consider the idea of different kinds of virtues, in case it may be of little or no profit to him to be summoned to pursue ends which he has perhaps assumed hitherto to be beyond his reach; for we can never end upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and compassion...any good of which human nature is capable has to be revealed, since what is shown to be practicable must be put into practice.
Yet we do not defend the good of nature to such an extent that we claim that it cannot do evil, since we undoubtedly declare also that it is capable of good and evil; we merely try to protect it from an unjust charge, so that we may not seem to be forced to do evil through a fault of our nature, when, in fact, we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of our will and always have the freedom to do one of the two, being always able to do either.
No one knows better the measure of our strength than he who gave us our strength; and no
one has a better understanding of what is within our power than he who endowed us with the
resources of our power. He has not willed to command anything impossible, for he is
righteous; and he will not condemn a man for what he could not help, for he is holy.
We classify these faculties thus, arranging them into a certain graduated order. We put in the
first place posse, power; in the second, velle, volition; and in the third, esse, or realisation.
The power we place in our nature; the volition in our will; and the realization in
accomplishment. The first of these faculties expressed in the term posse is especially
assigned to God, who has bestowed it upon his creature; the other two, indicated in the terms
velle and esse, must be referred to the human agent, because they flow forth from the fountain
of his will.
Whenever I give moral instruction, I first try to demonstrate the inherent power and quality of human nature... the wonderful virtues which all human beings can acquire... God has implanted in every person the capacity to attain the very highest level of virtue. But people cannot grow in virtue on their own. We need (soul) companions to guide and direct us on the way of righteousness ... We are each capable of achieving the same degree of moral goodness.
When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they were exercising their freedom of choice....Before eating the fruit, they did not know the difference between good and evil; thus they did not possess the knowledge which enables human beings to exercise freedom of choice. By eating the fruit, they acquired this knowledge; and from that moment onwards they were free. Thus the story of their banishment from Eden is in truth the story of how the human race gained its freedom...Adam and Eve became mature human beings, responsible to God for their actions....by defying God, Adam and Eve grew to maturity in his image.
Doubts are the foundation stones for a firm and robust faith. You will realise that doctrines are inventions of the human mind, as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God. You will realise that Scripture itself is the work of human minds....It is not what you believe that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not just believing in Christ that matters; it is becoming like him....Jesus did not ask people to accept high-flown doctrines. In fact, he did not ask them to believe anything. Instead, he asked them to enter a relationship with God....Do not let your mind be seduced by theological speculation.
Look at the animals roaming the forest: God's Spirit dwells within them.
Look at the birds flying across the sky: God's Spirit dwells within them.
Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God's Spirit dwells within them.
Look at the fish in the river and the sea: God's Spirit dwells within them.
There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent... The presence of God's Spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful. And if we look with God's eyes,
Nothing on earth is ugly.
In the manner of good-for-nothing and haughty servants, we cry out against the
face of God and say, ‘It is hard, it is difficult, we cannot do it, we are but men, we are
encompassed by frail flesh!’ [The argument of the Gnostics] What blind madness! What
unholy foolhardiness! We accuse God of a twofold lack of knowledge, so that he appears
not to know what he has done, and not to know what he has commanded; as if, forgetful
of the human frailty of which he is himself the author, he has imposed on man commands
which he cannot bear. And, at the same time, oh horror!, we ascribe iniquity to the
righteous and cruelty to the holy, while complaining, first, that he has commanded
something impossible, secondly, that man is to be damned by him for doing things which
he was unable to avoid, so that God – and this is something which even to suspect is
sacrilege – seems to have sought not so much our salvation as our punishment.
We are not born in our full development but with a capacity for good an evil; we are begotten as well without virtue as without vice, and before the activity of our own personal will there is nothing in man but what God has stored in him.