Monday, April 05, 2010

The most necessary 'call to arms' of all...

The spiritual combat.
"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." - Ephesians 6:12  (So do not grow slack in your Easter celebration and relaxation.  The devil prowls like a roaring lion.)
I don't know about you, but it seems to me the real spiritual battle only now begins.  I'm so grateful to my friend who returned my book yesterday.  The title?  Cassian's, Monastic Institutes.  All I can think of is that he reads my blog and realizes how badly I need this instruction.  I opened to the chapter on vainglory, noting in particular the following counsels...
Of the Spirit of Conceit (or vainglory)
Chapter 9 - How conceit is more perilous when mingled with virtue.
Other disorders when they are opposed by their opposite virtues, are engaged in the open like battle in the light of day, and can easily be overcome or avoided: this alone when it is entwined with virtues is far more dangerously deceptive to the unwary warrior, as if battle were joined in confusion, fighting in the thick of night.
Chapter 14 - How conceit suggests they might rise in the hierarchy.
Often it instills an ambition for Holy Orders and the priesthood or diaconate.  If a monk has been chosen for ordination, it makes him imagine himself ministering with such piety and correctness that he can give an example of holiness to other priests, and winning many souls not only by his manner of life but also in his teaching and preaching.  Even one dwelling in the desert or in a cell is made to imagine himself travelling round different houses and monasteries, and converting many by the eloquence of his fantasy discourses.
Chapter 18 - How a monk should avoid women and bishops.
The consistent and still current teaching of the old Fathers (which I am embarrassed to repeat, I who failed to escape from my girl cousin, or elude the hands of the bishop) is that in all ways a monk should flee women and bishops.  Neither would allow him, once entangled in their company, either to apply himself to peaceful work in his cell, or to cleave to divine contemplation, in the consideration of holy things with undistracted eye. - The Monastic Institutes, John Cassian
Art: The Holy Communion of Mary of Egypt from the hands of the monk Zosimus.  St. Mary of Egypt's feast is observed on different dates at the beginning of April - I always observe it April 2.


  1. Anonymous6:06 AM

    I don't underwhat what Cassian means by avoiding women and bishops. Can you explain what he's getting at?

  2. This is just my opinion of course, but in part, what I think this means is that they (bishops and those like them, as well as women, and those like them) would engage the monk all at every opportunity. They would consider his leisure - which is spent in solitary work, study or prayer in the cell to be free-time for themselves.

    For instance, say a 'bishop' loved icons, and the monk made icons, hence the bishop would love to discuss iconography, urge the monk to paint this or that icon, take the monk on trips to see great icons, asking the monk to travel, or frequently invite him to dine with him out of his monastery. In some cases, the monk would be flattered and impressed by the attention and esteem of the bishop. On the other hand the monk could be distracted to such an extent he no longer keeps his cell rule.

    Women, or those like them, can sometimes act similarily... although the greater danger here is flattery, obsequious behavior towards the monk, frivolous pleasantries and other vanities which can weaken manly character - and contributes to vainglory.

    That's just a quick assessment but I don't think it is useful for you so much. (At this time, I mean.)

    Although I once knew a semminarian who was very popular with the bishops and the superiors of the semminary, as well as the ladies - nuns and lay-women. On account of these special favors, many of his faults were overlooked, as well as the doctrinal misunderstandings he possessed. His admirers also totally missed the fact he had been dating someone until he finally left the seminary and married. I think that situation kind of applies to this counsel.

    I have another story about a nun - but I don't have time for it here.

    Patrick, I say these things do not apply to you because you are going to be a priest. ;)

  3. Oops! However, that is not to imply isn't a danger for all of us no matter what we are going to be - but these counsels had particular meaning for me.

    I'm sure they confuse everyone else.

  4. "Spiritual warfare" - I agree that Satan steps it up right after Easter. I would have been well served to have read this earlier.

  5. Austringer10:43 AM

    Terry, thanks for passing on those quotes, and for your explanation to Patrick. They had particular significance for me as a pew-warmer, though written for monks -- vainglory is a threat for pew-warmers as well.

    I thought that the advice to avoid women and bishops was given in recognition that the presence of bishops would tend to stir ambition and/or the desire to curry favor; women would tend to inspire thoughts of being the strong guy protecting the weak female -- this is a natural guy thing to do -- which is a kind of ambition and certainly one leading to vainglory.

    I've seen the result of both factors at work in our parish -- a potent cocktail. The results have been corrosive, to put it mildly.

  6. Great explanation, Terry.
    What caught my eye was this:
    "Neither would allow him, once entangled in their company, either to apply himself to peaceful work in his cell, or to cleave to divine contemplation, in the consideration of holy things with undistracted eye."
    In the context of a monk, called primarily to the contemplative life,
    "entanglements" are a real temptation, for various reasons; not necessarily IMMORAL entanglements, but that is not excluded, but the very fact that, as you say, people (here bishops or women, but it can be anyone) might become a source of either vanity for the monk or of "wasting the monk's time" that should be, according to the contemplative
    vocation dedicated to the silence, solitude, sacred reading, community life and prayer that constitutes such a life.
    This is something that a lot of people don't understand (and I feel guilty regularly about this...not "having" time to just "gab" on the phone, the awful delay in answering letters and phone messages when they are not urgent, the anxiety about being able to get my work done or to prayer on time because I am "being held captive":<)!)
    Excellent spiritual direction and post, here. Once again!
    I LOVE Cassian!

  7. Austringer11:54 AM

    I should have specified that vainglory is a threat for this particular pew-warmer -- me.

  8. +JMJ+

    "Women and bishops" actually makes perfect sense to me.

  9. Anonymous1:02 PM

    Thanks, Terry. I appreciate your explanation. Makes sense.

    I trust, when you say that I will be a priest, that you speak to encourage. I know I probably come off as self-absorbed because the whole vocational discernment question is really relevant to me right now, and I constantly think about it and maybe even read my paranoia into what other people write. I'm sorry for that.

    [If, however, you've had some insight into the/my future, by all means share! :)]

  10. Patrick - no special insights... that I'm aware of... but what if you were waiting for a sign and then read what I wrote??? Just kidding.

    Father - I appreciate your take on this and yours as well Austringer... vainglory is a problemn that afflicts everyone.

    Larry - yep - a confessor once told me they are called feast-day devils - to steal away the joy.

  11. Anonymous3:12 AM

    Terry, never heard of the term feast-day devil. Thanks for sharing that, bc that's what I experience quite frequently on big feasts, even if I prep well. Happened this Easter, again.


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