11 December 2010
Two Holy Fathers on seeking the Royal Path
... setting the midpoint between too little and too much, one finds the distinction between virtue and evil ...
I. St. Gregory of Nyssa
"...[A]ll virtue is reckoned by moderation, any divergence to either side of it being evil; setting the midpoint between too little and too much, one finds the distinction between virtue and evil. The reason for these things is made clearer by examples. We know cowardice and temerity to be two contrasting vices, the one by deficiency, the other by an excess of boldness, courage constituting the midpoint between them. Also, piety is neither atheism nor superstition; it is equally impious to deny the one God and to presume that there are many gods. ...One who flees from stinginess and extravagance, separating himself from both of these contrary passions, will attain the moral quality of liberality (generosity); for this is what liberality is, a disposition neither, on the one hand, to disbursing vast and unavailing funds nor, on the other hand, to meeting needed expenditures in a quibbling manner. ...Surely, then, prudence (sobriety) itself is moderation, obviously entailing deviations to either of its extremes as a vice. In the one instance, one who lacks vigor of soul and is so easily dissuaded from struggle with the passions of sensuality, having never approached the path to a life of virtue and prudence, falls to dishonor; in the other instance, he who goes beyond sound prudence, passing beyond the moderation of this virtue, falls, as it were, into the pit of the 'doctrines of devils,' searing, as the Apostle says, his very 'conscience' [I St. Timothy 4:2]."
II. St. Gregory of Constantinople
"So, with this in mind, my brothers, let us not be slothful in pursuit of the good, but fervent in the spirit, lest by slow degrees we sleep the sleep of death and the Enemy sow his evil seed upon us in our slumber, for sloth is akin to sleep; and let our zeal be untainted by selfishness [better, I think, "by self-centeredness" - AC] and folly lest we be carried away and stray from the royal path and surely stumble in one of two ways: either our slothfulness will need a whip or our fanaticism will hurl us to destruction. Instead, by extracting from both as much as will best serve our purpose, a sense of meekness from the one, impassioned feelings from the other, let us shun the injurious effects of both, the hesitation of the one, the recklessness of the other; in this way we can avoid ineffectual deficiency and the dangers of excess. Unproductive sloth and undisciplined passion are equally useless things; the one, because it does not draw nigh to the good, the other because it overshoots the mark and produces something that is righter than right, as the divine Solomon well understood: Do not swerve, he says, to the right or the left, and do not fall from [the] opposite extremes into an equal evil, namely, sin."
The first of these quotations, from St. Gregory of Nyssa's "On Virginity" (PATROLOGIA GRAECA, XLVI, cols. 353 B-D) is translated by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, while the second, St. Gregory of Constantinople's "Oration 32," is from Martha Vinson's ST. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS; SELECT ORATIONS (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2003)