The Question of Evil (2)

The Question of Evil (2)


Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae


[The more we’re raised to spiritual heights, the more the wheat of good intentions is choked by the tares of the temptations]. And often enough it’s the tares that win out in the end. The higher we rise above the ordinary sins of most people, the more we feel tempted to make gods of ourselves because of our personal victory- which we’re sure is very great, the more we burn incense to our personal powers and the more we distance ourselves from God. Say perfection depended on spirituality itself, on restraint to the point of mortifying the lower eternal instincts, then how many sages and philosophers, how many atheists and followers of a variety of systems for the organization of external life would have been saved, despite scorning the notion of God and presenting themselves as proof that we can be saved without God’s help. But though the leap from a life replete with carnal abuse to an extremely spiritual one does, indeed, exist, salvation from spiritual evil is impossible without divine providence, without God. It’s only in this internal improvement that full benefit is gained from the teaching that we can do nothing without God.

At the bright pole of spiritualty, humility before God is dominant, whereas at the dark one there’s pride in one’s achievements and obliviousness to God. It follows that, obviously, the bright pole of spirituality cannot prevail within you until you accept God, until you bow before His magnificence, until you seek His help. The more humility we have, humility towards God, and the more we cast off our pride, the more the brightness of spirituality will dispel the darkness from within us. Perfect humility implies absolute acceptance of God, the conviction that whatever you’re able to achieve will be with God’s help. Such perfect humility means a fundamental rooting out of pride, of the conviction that it’s you who achieves what you do, that you’re superior to others, that you have no need of God and other people for your own, personal blessedness, for the task you wish to accomplish.

Excessive pride means denial of God, denial of other people and the absolute triumph of the dark pole of the spirit.

Humility is an experience of a moment of wonderful elevation into the sacrament of repentance. This gains a glittering victory over our pride. But it comes at a cost. Hesitatingly, stumbling over both words and intent, we raise the cudgel and deliver the death blow to our pride, to our everyday reputation in our own eyes. We perform a painful, torturous operation as if we were doing away with our self.

Herein lies the point of repentance, at this shattering experience in our spiritual life: through difficult surgery, we effect the death of our pride and the encouragement of our humility. The most precise and technical enumeration of our external blunders is of no particular value in itself; it matters only insofar as it brings about this upheaval in our existence which sends shock-waves through our being. This is why the sacrament of repentance isn’t necessary only for people who’ve committed specific sins, but also, particularly, for the ‘spiritual people’ who, no matter how hard they look back over their past, find nothing worthy of blame therein. In these people, pride has increased excessively, and so humility has to give them an even more powerful jolt. Intellectuals don’t need the sacrament of repentance less than ordinary people do, because spiritual evil’s more comprehensive than carnal wickedness.

The wisdom of the Church has placed the sacrament of repentance at the end of a fast. This demonstrates that after our elevation over carnal excesses, our spirit also has to be healed. Because it’s not only the body that sins. Some people may believe that they’ve been purified from sins after they’ve carefully fulfilled the demands of a fast. The Church reminds them that there’s a sin of the spirit, against which we strike most forcefully in the sacrament of confession.

Only after the victory of the bright spirituality within us does the Church permit us to approach the new age of the world: life after the Resurrection.

Read the first part here





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Pemptousia and OCN have entered a strategic partnership to bring Orthodoxy Worldwide. Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence. The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person ­– the personhood of God and of man. Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience; it is the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”. So in "Pemptousia", we just want to declare this "fifth essence", the divine beaut in our life. Please note, not all Pemptousia articles have bylines. If the author is known, he or she is listed in the article above.