By Deacon Daniel Malyon
“Moses’ development of his spiritual life and recognition of the need for obedience to God can be seen as a call for us to perfect virtuous life through the cultivation of virtue.” The Knowledge Of God
Throughout Christian thought there has always been a correlation between the development of one’s virtue and prayer life and the development of the true knowledge of God. To some, such as the desert fathers, this was taken to mean that as one humbles himself he will develop a love for God and mankind and therefore come to understand God’s love. For others it can be understood as one growing to understand that God is ultimately unknowable and therefore devoting themselves to the service of God in his mystery and transcendence.
A third way is through the cultivation of the virtues and virtuous living as a form of Christological living through obedience to the service of God and mysteries of the Church. In this article we will explore three scriptural and patristic examples of this link between cultivation of the spiritual and virtuous life and developing one’s knowledge of God.
The Knowledge Of God | First Example
A first example is in the life of Moses. St Gregory of Nyssa’s famous track on the life of Moses and its theological meaning draws out the importance of the cultivation of virtue in the development of one’s faith in a manner found often in the eastern fathers, influences by Origen and the middle platonic movement of the time.
With Moses as a subject for his exploration, St Gregory walks through the life of Moses demonstrating his development, both morally and spiritually, explaining that Moses “learns first things that must be known about God” and then “he is taught the other side of virtue, learning by what pursuits the virtuous life is perfected.” In this manner, he does not see the knowledge of faith and application of virtue as being separable.
In the same manner, Moses’ development of his spiritual life and recognition of the need for obedience to God can be seen as a call for us to work to perfect the virtuous life through the cultivation of virtue.
“Like St Gregory’s interpretation of the beatitudes, he sees the relationship between knowledge of God and Virtue in that it is our faith that shapes our virtue and our virtue that brings us to its practical application.” The Knowledge Of God
The Knowledge Of God | Second Example
A second example of this is found in the life of Christ himself, specifically the beatitudes. This wonderful short sermon of Christ is a key basis for the understanding of Christian morality and its soteriological and theological impact. An example of this is when Christ teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” As with the life of Moses, St Gregory of Nyssa takes this message to heart and explains in his work On the Perfection, that “Virtuous action is seen as the result of thought and knowledge rather than conditioning.”
Here we see an interesting divergence from traditional views, such as those of philosophers such as Aristotle and Confucius, which value conditioning of virtue instead of linking it to any theological development. Because of this we see the innate relationship between knowledge of virtue and God as St Gregory sees meditation on scripture as being the root of the acquisition of virtue, thus making knowledge of God both the beginning and end of the cultivation of virtue.
“Through the application of our faith, we have the basis of virtue. By applying these virtues, we grow in faith in a sort of exegetical circle, much like that of St Gregory, based on the components of thought, idea, action, and work.” The Knowledge Of God
The Knowledge Of God | Third Example
A third example is found in the life of St Anthony the Great. Similar to St Gregory’s interpretation of the beatitudes, he sees the relationship between knowledge of God and Virtue in that it is our faith which shapes our virtue, and our virtue which brings us to its practical application. A saying attributed to this great saint states, “whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labour in vain.”
In this way, we are called to cultivate the virtues in our lives, but before this we must work to understand what virtues we seek and how to apply them in a meaningful way and in accordance with our faith as overstating a single virtue would be meaningless, and labouring in the cultivation of one at the wrong time would lead to potentially unbeneficial results.
It is therefore through the application of our faith that we have the basis of virtue, and through the application of these virtues that we grow in faith in a sort of exegetical circle, much like that of St Gregory, based on the components of thought, idea, action and work.
So, what can we learn from these regarding the practical application of faith and virtue in our understanding of God? From the example of Moses we can see that the cultivation of virtue in one’s life is not simply a matter of learning to be good but learning of our faith and the practical application of it. This, in a modern sense, would include the recognition of how to develop the living out of your faith in your current situation. Whether it be through assisting in a parish or charity, or simply through developing a peaceful relationship with neighbours.
Through this we can grow in our understanding of the proper Christian action in both activity and prayer, and in this way grow in our love of God.
“Therefore doubt should not be scorned, condemned or ridiculed but recognised and catered for as it can lead one through the darkness of struggle to a greater faith than before” The Knowledge Of God
Similarly the example of the beatitudes and the importance of reflection on Scripture is an important practical step in the cultivation of virtue, with meditation on Scripture being the important first step in one’s own spiritual growth. In the same way, the warning about the basis of cultivation of virtue found in St Anthony, when applied with St Gregory’s exegetical cycle of exploring the praxis, working to apply it, applying it, and growing in it, is a vital lesson.
Our faith should lay the foundation in our lives generally and be the basis of any understanding or growth and thusly should be the foundation of our understanding of the nature of virtuous action and our application of it.
Through these practical lessons we can learn to grow in our faith through the application of virtue and implementation of the Christian life to help us grow in our love and knowledge of God.
By: Deacon Daniel Malyon | A Deacon of St Paul’s Ministry and St Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Church. United Kingdom ~ Coptic Diocese of London.
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-12-28 from London, England
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