Thursday, 26 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 63 -64

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

He who partakes of holy gnosis and tastes the sweetness of God ought neither to sit in judgement[1] nor bring a law-suit against anyone even should someone take those very things in which he is clothed. For the righteousness of the rulers of this world is at all events defeated in the righteousness of God or, rather, is nothing compared to God’s right. For what difference would there be between those who are nourished by God and those who are nourished by this Age[2] if not that the right of the latter would seem imperfect compared to the righteousness of the former, so that the one be called human right and the other divine righteousness? Thus our Lord Jesus neither upbraided in return when he was upbraided, nor threatened when he was suffering, but endured in silence even the removal of his clothes and, to say the great thing, asked the Father for the salvation of the wrongdoers. However, the men of this world do not cease to go to law, unless, occasionally, they recover [beforehand] with something extra the things for which they are going to law,[3] and certainly when the interest is received before the principal[4]—so that their right often becomes the beginning of a great injustice.
The advanced practitioner of the Jesus Prayer, he who has had a genuine spiritual experience of the spiritual knowledge of God through the spiritual sense should neither sit in judgement nor bring a law-suit. When the author says ‘sit in judgement’ he really means ‘act formally as a judge in a court’. Since he was a Bishop, he might have had experience of such a thing. Recall that St Isaac the Syrian was the Bishop of Nineveh and that he resigned his bishopric when he was obliged to judge a dispute between two Christians and found that one of them at least was indifferent to the demands of the Gospel in the matter. He got fed up and went to a cave to save his soul.
The next point that the author makes depends on a contrast between human justice and the justice of God. The justice of God in incomparable to human justice.
The rest of the chapter should be clear.
One must not, I have heard certain pious persons say, allow just anyone at all to seize those very things which we have for our own administration or for the repose of the poor, and certainly if we suffer this from Christians—so that we not become occasions of sin to those who are doing us an injustice by means of those things towards which we are showing long-suffering.[5] This is nothing more than to want our goods rather than ourselves coupled with an illogical excuse. For if abandoning prayer and attention to my own heart I begin to file law-suits against those who wish to use me badly, and to sit in the corridors outside the law-courts, it is obvious that I consider the things that are being sought greater than my own salvation, not to say greater than that salvific command. For how will I follow the evangelical command which orders me, ‘And do not demand your things from him who takes them;’ unless in accordance with the Apostolic saying I endure with joy the seizure of those things which belong to me, whereas once one had gone to law and recovered as much as he wanted, he still would not have freed the avaricious person from his sin?[6] The corruptible courts are not able to delimit the incorruptible court of God for at all events the accused satisfies fully only those laws before which he happens to defend himself concerning the accusation.[7] So it is good for us to bear the violence of those who wish to commit an injustice against us and to pray for them, so that through repentance, and not through the restitution of our things which they have seized, they be freed from the crime of avarice. For this is what the righteousness of the Lord wishes, that we at some time render free of sin through repentance not the person against whom was committed the act of avarice but the person who was avaricious.
This chapter continues the thought of the previous one. The problem that the author wishes to address is the argument made by some Christians that it is better to go to law against someone who is doing them wrong than it is to let him be because they are letting the person continue in sin if they let him be. The author thinks that this argument is specious. It puts the goods lost by the person above the person himself, since spending all his time with lawyers and in the courthouse the person is not following the Gospel commandment to endure injustice, thus losing his salvation while regaining his goods. Moreover, the author says, even if you regain your goods, you still haven’t freed the avaricious fellow from his sin. Moreover, the author goes on, a human court is not able express the justice of God in its fullness. The way the author expresses himself so as to give the reason is a little difficult to understand: a human court applies only certain specific human laws and calls the accused to answer only to those laws whereas the justice of God is universal, seeing everything and judging the person globally. If we consider that in today’s legal system, the accused fellow might plea-bargain, pleading guilty to a lesser crime because he’s worried he might be convicted of a more serious crime entailing what he considers to be an unacceptable punishment, we can see what the author is driving at: human justice is an imperfect human social system that comes up with a human arrangement concerning the crime or tort, whereas the justice of God is infallible and takes everything into account. The justice of God might be even more severe than human justice. It might just as well be more lenient. Who is capable of prying into the judgements of God and weighing whether God is judging another person correctly?

[1] Thus the text.
[2] I.e. by the world.
[3] I.e. they settle out of court advantageously.
[4] I.e. the payments are first applied to interest owed and then to principal.
[5] I.e. We are now showing long-suffering in the seizure by others, especially Christians, of our goods rather than preventing it or prosecuting them but supposedly we would prevent these persons from sinning if we were to take them to court (through the fear of the gendarme).
[6] This abrupt change from the first to the third person is in the text here and elsewhere.
[7] I.e. the court narrowly considers only the specific laws which apply to the matter at hand whereas the justice of God considers the whole situation, including the whole person involved.

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