December 10, 2012

The Passions and the Virtues

Reading Defeating Sin: Overcoming our Passions and Changing Forever has left me stricken with the thought, “There is much wrong with me” (on a rare occasion a book will leave a reader, in this case, disillusioned at the state of one's soul). Now, this isn’t to make little of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification in my life. I’m only recognizing the profound truth that the road stretches far in both directions. I’ve come a long way yet have much to travel. Indeed, for the rest of my life.

Joseph Huneycutt, the author, clergy at St. Joseph Orthodox Church, speaks and teaches on sin, the Passions and the Virtues, of which the latter two he thoroughly explores in his book.

Apparently, and I had no idea, the Passions are a big deal in Orthodox teaching, as became clear to me reading the scores of Orthodox teachers and theologians Huneycutt quotes throughout his discussion. The Passions, in some places known as the Seven Deadly Sins, are Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice and Sloth (or, for memory’s sake, PALE GAS). For me, the movie Seven immediately comes to mind, though not in this order.

A bit of the beginning of the book explores the labyrinths of a theology of the Passions, navigating through the implications of, both, God creating man and woman with the Passions and God creating them without them. In the former, the Passions, before Adam and Eve’s transgression against God in the garden, would have been pure with God-intended ends. After their sin, though, the Passions somehow “fell” and would no longer have taken after their proper God-intended ends. They would have been aimed “lower”, so to speak. In the latter, God creating man and woman without them, the Passions would have been a consequential fruit-bearing of that first sin.

Ultimately, for my ends, it matters little the position taken. What is obvious here, today, is the Passions, whatever they are and however they have come to inflict us with temptation, are real and powerful. But things mustn’t remain this way.

That which I found intriguing from the beginning was Huneycutt’s discussion of the Virtues, the opposites of the Passions. But what are the Virtues' place within such a discussion on overcoming sin? Simply, the center.

The argument here, implicit in the book, is that it isn’t enough to simply overcome the Passions. Employing the story of the Exodus, it seems strange to imagine the Israelites, as the slaves they were, being freed yet remaining in Egypt. The people were led from Egypt to the Promised Land. So: in dealing with the Passions and their manifestations (which is what I’m trying to actually get to), we are led, by God’s grace, from the Passions to the Virtues, Humility, Patience, Chastity, Contentedness, Temperance, Liberality and Diligence, the Promised Land of spiritual liberation and freedom.

When we wage war against the Passions, simultaneously, we are striving toward their opposite, the virtue we long for. In the battle against pride we strive for humility, against anger we strive for patience, against lust we strive for chastity, against envy we strive for contentedness, against gluttony we strive for temperance, against avarice we strive for liberality and against sloth we strive for diligence.

For me and my quest against the Passions, it has been helpful in thinking this way, that I’m going toward the Virtues--ultimately, Christ-likeness--as my end and goal, for Christ's glory. Not just the squelching of the fires of anger or envy but the acquisition of patience and contentment. And in all this fighting and striving, we are fighting the good fight of faith, conforming more and more to the image of God’s Son, moving from one glory to another, resulting in honor and praise to Him we trust and find our lives, Christ Jesus.