Praktike & Commandments

CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:]

  1. ascetical practice,
  2. the [contemplation of] nature,
  3. and theology.

Ascetical practice or praktike  entails “the fulfillment of the commandents” (Praktikos 81, KG 1.10 in Ilaria Ramelli’s translation). The first thing about Christianity is to do what God tells you to do. This is not much different from what St. Benedict recommends from the very beginning of his monastic rule: “listen” which means not simply hearing but obediently perform what one is told. The Holy Rule is contained in between two words: “listen” and “arrive” and in between these words stands the “fulfilling of God’s commandments.” All three stages or elements involve knowledge. For Evagrius the concept of knowledge is central. He connects it to salvation. As Ramelli comments: “Knowledge helps virtue, and virtue helps knowledge. This is why Evagrius states that knowledge leads to salvation, and this is also why demons oppose this process (Kephalaia Gnosica, transl. by Ilaria Ramelli, p. 13 Kindle edition).”

And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: * for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people, * for the remission of their sins.

Office of Lauds, Canticle (Lk. 1 9-10), Monastic Diurnal, p. 42.

The practical guidance provided in the Rule of Benedict is an example of what form the “commandments” can take. Now it is not merely knowing what these commandments are and performing hem though. As Evagrius warns the demons fiercely oppose the performance of these commandments. This, however, is where we meet another aspect of what praktike is for and what sort of salvific knowledge the practitioner gains.

As the demons oppose the fulfilling of the commandments they try to find a foothold within us. The myriad of footholds are all subsumed under the eight logismoi (which in St. Gregory the Great’s hands will become the 7 deadly sins) or eight “tempting thoughts.” These are the passions, or weaknesses within us that the demons can exploit in their attempt to lure us away from the commandments into sin. But in this strugle we can become aware of our weaknesses, we can diagnose them, and they can be exposed and cured! This deeper insight or knowledge of where the demons and the weakness of out nature intersect is salvific if we use this knowledge to apply God’s medicine of saving grace. We can crucify our flesh, nailing our passions to the Cross, and see our lives transformed by the power of the Cross. That is is the real work of praktike to be crucified with Jesus Christ so that we may also rise with Him.

As we continue our journey with Evagrius by means of The Praktikos we will meet this idea again and again. We will have many more opportunities to delve deeper into these teachings and how we can live them.

Fr. Gregory Wasen

The Conceptual Content of Satisfaction

Cur Deus Homo in short

To find out where the Rule and Cur Deus Homo meet we will need to look at the concept of satisfaction again. In the Cur Deus Homo we have seen that:

  1. Sin consists in not rendering to God what is due him (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).
  2. Nothing can be added or subtracted from God’s honor in-itself (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  3. This disturbance is repaired either by satisfaction or punishment (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  4. It is repaired by punishment when God exacts a penalty upon the unwilling/unrepentant sinner (Cur Deus Homo, I, 14 & I, 15).
  5. It is repaired by satisfaction when the sinner willingly repays (Cur Deus Homo, I, 16).
  6. The satisfaction offered must be supereregatory (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).

This quick refresher in Anselmian thought should enable us to recognize where the Holy Rule and the Cur Deus Homo meet and here the one fertilizes the other.

The Holy Rule in short

It should be noted that the Holy Rule is not a theological treatise. It is a monastic rule of life. We should not expect Benedict to theologize as elaborately as Anselm in Cur Deus Homo. Still we have seen that satisfaction entails the following:

  1. Satisfacere concerns the monk at fault (RB, 11, 13; 43, 12; 44, 8-9; 46, 3; 71, 8 for example).
  2. Satisfaction in one way or another occurs 17 times in the Rule (see Mansini).
  3. Offence can be given to God or fellow monastics (RB, 9, 7; 11, 3; 11, 13; 16, 2; 18, 24
  4. Satisfaction takes place in the sphere of personal relationships and must be fitting (RB 24, 1-3; 44; 43; 45; 71 etc).
  5. Satisfaction is distinct from punishment (RB 5, 19).
  6. Satisfaction must be supereregatory (the satisfaction requires more than simply resuming to do what should have been done in the first place; prostration comes to mind).

There seem to be certain points of overlap and a deeper reading into the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo will make its Benedictine provenance even more evident (Obedience, Honor, and Order can also be shown to derive from The Rule rather than presumed feudalism).

Four Points where Cur Deus Homo & the Holy Rule meet

There are four points where satisfaction in the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo actually meet:

  1. Satisfaction concerns the personal relational sphere.
  2. Satisfaction must be fitting.
  3. Satisfaction is willingly given because punishment is reserved for the unwilling. Iow satisfaction is distinct from punishment.
  4. Satisfaction must be supereregatory.

This is not to say that Anselm was immune to the society in which he lived. Far from it. But since it was a decidedly Benedictine society the feudal link is far from the only possible, and certainly not the least problematic one. Recent scholarship has called into question the very existence of “feudalism” whereas other research which does believe some form of feudalism existed places it long after Anselm’s death. The easiest way to understand Anselm’s theory of satisfaction is to approach it from the very source that Anselm himself drank from very deeply: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Satisfaction in “Cur Deus Homo?”

Bad Anselm

The very name Anselm of Canterbury leaves a bad taste in many peoples mouths today. This is because Anselm has been associated with what has been called “the satisfaction theory of the atonement. So what is this satisfaction theory? A short description from the Theopedia defines it as follows:

The Satisfaction (or Commercial) theory of the atonement was formulated by the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’). In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Anslem believed that humans could not render to God more than what was due to him. The satisfaction due to God was greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is already required of them. Therefore, God had to make satisfaction for himself. Yet if this satisfaction was going to avail for humans, it had to be made by a human. Therefore only a being that was both God and man could satisfy God and give him the honor that is due him.

The classic Anselmian formulation of the Satisfaction View needs to be distinguished from Penal Substitution. Penal Substitution states that Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of those sinners united to him by faith. Anselm, by contrast, regarded human sin as defrauding God of the honour he is due. Christ’s death, the ultimate act of obedience, gives God great honour. As it was beyond the call of duty for Christ, it is more honour than he was obliged to give. Christ’s surplus can therefore repay our deficit. Hence Christ’s death is substitutionary in this sense: he pays the honour instead of us. But that substitution is not penal; his death pays our honour not our penalty.

The Protestant reformers shifted the focus of this satisfaction theory to concentrate not merely on divine offense but on divine justice. God’s righteousness demands punishment for human sin. God in his grace both exacts punishment and supplies the one to bear it.

This is an important difference. For Anselm, Christ obeyed where we should have obeyed; for John Calvin, he was punished where we should have been punished.

Theopedia.

This is a good place to begin understanding, and appreciating, Anselm’s soteriology. The attentive reader will already have picked up on the similarities between satisfaction as described above and that of St. Benedict’s Rule. The distinction made above between punishment (penal substitution theory) and satisfaction theory (Anselm, but also the Rule of St. Benedict) is very important. I think it would be true to say that in Anselmian thought we are not saved from God but we are saved by the God-man: Jesus Christ. In penal substitution we are saved by God but also from God. But still satisfaction theory makes the atonement a transaction of divine financing and Anselm is responsible for this misconstruction of the atonement.

Bad Anselm!

Rectitude, essence, and reference to God

Anselm is a Platonist. To provide some context to the argument in Cur Deus Homo we need to take this into account. In Platonism things are what they are because of their “essence” or “form.” A circle is a circle because it participates in the form (essence) of “circle-ness. A human being is a human being because he participates in human-ness, etc. Ever since St. Augustine of Hippo these “essences” or “forms” have been considered to exist in the “mind of God.” All things to be what they are must therefore be oriented toward God. That is to be a circle the circle must participate in circleness which exists in the mind of God. The same is true for human beings. The proper participation and orientation Anselm calls “rectitude.” To be rectitudinous is therefore simply to be what one “ought to be.”

Now human beings, unlike circles, are able to make choice and to (in a sense) lessen their participation in human-ness and thereby and to that extent turn away from God. This is what sin is. By sin we fail to be rectitudinous. Sin results in a distortion of the created order and therefore in a lack of rectitude. This disrupts the relationship of the created world with its Creator and needs to be addressed.

Satisfaction and salvation

According to Anselm sin “consists in not rendering to God what is due him” (G. Mansini, “St. Anselm, Satisfactio, and the Rule of St. Benedict,” p. 103). Anselm explains this to Boso in Cur Deus Homo? Bk. I chapter 11 (scroll down). Sin results in the disruption of the order and beauty of the universe. This order and beauty is God’s honor and it is “external to God” because:

… it is evident that no one can honor or dishonor God as he is in himself; but someone seems to do so, to the extent that he can, when he subjects his will to the will of God or withdraws it from the will of God.

Cur Deus Homo, Bk. I, Chapter 15 (Jasper Hopkins translation).

This an important point. Previously Anselm had said that it is God’s honor which is offended and that requires either punishment or satisfaction. Here, upon being asked, Anselm further refines what this offended honor is. It appears that it is not so much that God had his divine toes stepped on and is now furious with the offender. Rather it seems to be the case that the divine order and beauty of creation has been disrupted. That the orientation toward God has been knocked out of whack and has become dis-oriented. It is this which prevents God and sinful creatures to relate as they ought. The problem is not that God has flown into a fit of murderous rage to be cooled in murdering his innocent Son on the Cross. That idea is the result of simply failing to read what Anselm is actually saying. In fact, it seems to me, most people repeating this horrible narrative have simply failed to pay close enough attention to Anselm’s argument (if they have read him at all ! ).

The disrupted order must be restored. Anselm believes that this restoration takes the form of human beings (that are saved) taking the place left open by the angels who had fallen (following Satan’s rebellion). How is this restoration to take place? Either by punishment (Curd Deus Homo?, Bk. I chapter 14) or by satisfaction (Cur Deus Homo?, Bk I, chapter 16 & 19). But simply offering God what is due to him is not enough. Satisfaction must be supereregatory: satisfaction must consist in giving back more than what is already owed. In other words: it is not enough to simply say sorry. After all, “sorry,” does nothing to restore or repair. Restoration requires “undoing” the evil that was done. This undoing is not in the power of a human being to perform and necessitates the God-man. Since man owns the problem God cannot (externally) do away with the problem (it violates God’s nature to do so). God must become  man and from the inside out and clean up the mess we had made.

Next we will take a look at the conceptual content of Anselmian “satisfaction” and how it corresponds to the concept of “satisfaction” in the Rule of Benedict.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen

 

Praktikos 1-3

Introduction

The Praktikos is perhaps one of the most famous and popular works of Evagrius of Pontus. There are good reasons for this. Evagrius writes in such a way that engagement with his books can sustain steady spiritual growth over a very long time. To really “read” one of Evagrius’ works is to receive spiritual guidance from one of the Church’s most accomplished spiritual masters of all time. The failure to receive guidance from Evagrius is not usually on his part but on ours. To receive spiritual guidance for spiritual growth one needs to learn to “listen” and it is precisely this listening that is so fundamental to the Father of Western Monasticism: Benedict of Nursia. Let us, whether monastics or not, listen to Evagrius.

Praktikos 1 – 3

The online translation of Evagrius’ Praktikos by Fr. Luke Dysinger Osb translates the first three “chapters” or “sentences” as follows:

  1. CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:] ascetical practice, the [contemplation of] nature, and theology.

  2. THE Kingdom of Heaven is apatheia (dispassion) of the soul together with true knowledge of beings.

  3. THE Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity, coextensive with the capacity of the nous (mind/intellect) but surpassing it in incorruptibility.

The first thing to notice is that even though Evagrius begins this book with three definitions he does not offer a definition of praktike. In other words he declines to define the primary subject – after which the book is named – of the book. This is an interesting move and should not go unnoticed. In writing a book on spiritual issues it would have made sense to allow your readers to gain some grasp of your point of view by defining how your book will treat and look at the subject. It would make sense to establish clear limits so your readers have a well defined frame of reference within which they can begin to understand the message your book is trying to get across.

Evagrius is doing the opposite. He begins his book with a definition not of praktike but of Christianity. His second chapter is also not a definition of pratike, but rather of physike followed by the third definition of theologike. Pratike will not be defined until much, much later in the book (Praktikos, 78). From the beginning Evagrius lays down that whatever praktike is, it is not a monastic spirituality. Evagrius is not merely addressing ascetic professionals or monks, Evagrius is writing for Christians. Praktike, whatever it may be, is christian spirituality pure and simple. The spiritual growth to which praktike leads: physike and theologike are also not reserved for monks only. The path to physike and theologike are open to all Christians.

Physike & Theologike

If praktike can be said to be the path to physike and theologike, then, what are they? Physike – to put it simply – is mediated knowledge of God. That is we begin to grow intimate with our Creator by means of His creation: God speaks to us in the Bible, in events in our lives, through things in our environment. We begin to perceive creation as a “letter” written by God to us who are far away from Him. God reveals Himself by thigs he has created: thus mediated knowledge of God.

Theologike is different. It too is built on the soul that has been established in praktike, but it is unmediated knowledge of God. No longer does God limit Himself to revealing Himself indirectly, either through nature, events, or even the Bible. All these are presumed, but a new thing emerges: God reveals Himself to us without using “go-betweens.” This is what in Western theology is “the beautific vision” or in Evagrian language: “essential knowledge.”

Praktike is then the way to physike and theologike. Praktike is not defined and – as we shall see – physike and theologike are not exhaustively defined either. Rather what has happened in the first three chapters is that we have been presented with a path we should travel. We have not been given precise definitions of anything, but we have been given some parameters which will enable our journey – a journey back to God with whom we have lost contact.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen