Virtues and Vices

    Wherefore it seems to me that Solon had the rich in mind when he said: 'We will not exchange our virtue for their gold, for virtue is an everlasting possession, while riches are ever changing owners.' Similarly Theognis said that the god, whatever he might mean by the god, inclines the balances for men, now this way, now that, giving to some riches, and to others poverty. Also Prodicus, the sophist of Ceos, whose opinion we must respect, for he is a man not to be slighted, somewhere in his writings expressed similar ideas about virtue and vice. I do not remember the exact words, but as far as I recollect the sentiment, in plain prose it ran somewhat as follows: While Hercules was yet a youth, being about your age, as he was debating which path he should choose, the one leading through toil to virtue, or its easier alternate, two women appeared before him, who proved to be Virtue and Vice. Though they said not a word, the difference between them was at once apparent from their mien. The one had arranged herself to please the eye, while she exhaled charms, and a multitude of delights swarmed in her train. With such a display, and promising still more, she sought to allure Hercules to her side. The other, wasted and squalid, looked fixedly at him, and bespoke quite another thing. For she promised nothing easy or engaging, but rather infinite toils and hardships, and perils in every land and on every sea. As a reward for these trials, he was to become a god, so our author has it. The latter, Hercules at length followed.

St. Basil the Great: Address to Young Men on the Right use of Greek Literature

    ...since also the renowned deeds of the men of old either are preserved for us by tradition, or are cherished in the pages of poet or historian, we must not fail to profit by them. A fellow of the street rabble once kept taunting Pericles, but he, meanwhile, gave no heed; and they held out all day, the fellow deluging him with reproaches, but he, for his part, not caring. Then when it was evening and dusk, and the fellow still clung to him, Pericles escorted him with a light, in order that he might not fail in the practice of philosophy. Again, a man in a passion threatened and vowed death to Euclid of Megara, but he in turn vowed that the man should surely be appeased, and cease from his hostility to him.
    How invaluable it is to have such examples in mind when a man is seized with anger! On the other hand, one must altogether ignore the tragedy which says in so many words : 'Anger arms the hand against the enemy;' for it is much better not to give way to anger at all. But if such restraint is not easy, we shall at least curb our anger by reflection, so as not to give it too much rein.
    But let us bring our discussion back again to the examples of noble deeds. A certain man once kept striking Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus, in the face, yet he did not resent it, but allowed full play to the ruffian's anger, so that his face was swollen and bruised from the blows. Then when he stopped striking him, Socrates did nothing more than write on his forehead, as an artisan on a statue, who did it, and thus took out his revenge. Since these examples almost coincide with our teachings, I hold that such men are worthy of emulation. For this conduct of Socrates is akin to the precept that to him who smites you upon the one cheek, you shall turn the other also — thus much may you be avenged; the conduct of Pericles and of Euclid also conforms to the precept: 'Submit to those who persecute you, and endure their wrath with meekness;' and to the other: 'Pray for your enemies and curse them not.' One who has been instructed in the pagan examples will no longer hold the Christian precepts impracticable. But I will not overlook the conduct of Alexander, who, on taking captive the daughters of Darius, who were reputed to be of surpassing beauty, would not even look at them, for he deemed it unworthy of one who was a conqueror of men to be a slave to women. This is of a piece with the statement that he who looks upon a woman to lust after her, even though he does not commit the act of adultery, is not free from its guilt, since he has entertained impure thoughts. It is hard to believe that the action of Cleinias, one of the disciples of Pythagoras, was in accidental conformity to our teachings, and not designed imitation of them. What, then, was this act of his? By taking an oath he could have avoided a fine of three talents, yet rather than do so he paid the fine, though he could have sworn truthfully. I am inclined to think that he had heard of the precept which forbids us to swear.

St. Basil the Great: Address to Young Men on the Right use of Greek Literature

    When the heart feels the arrows of the demons with such burning pain that the man under attack suffers as if they were real arrows, then the soul hates the passions violently, for it is just beginning to be purified. It if does not suffer greatly at the shamelessness of sin, it will not be able to rejoice fully in the blessings of righteousness. He who wishes to cleanse his heart should keep it continually aflame through practising the remembrance of the Lord Jesus, making this his only study and his ceaseless task. Those who desire to free themselves from their corruption ought to pray not merely from time to time but at all times; they should give themselves always to prayer, keeping watch over their intellect even when outside places of prayer. When someone is trying to purify gold, and allows the fire of the furnace to die down even for a moment, the material which he is purifying will harden again. So, too, a man who merely practises the remembrance of God from time to time, loses through lack of continuity what he hopes to gain through his prayer. It is a mark of one who truly loves holiness that he continually burns up what is worldly in his heart through practising the remembrance of God, so that little by little evil is consumed in the fire of this remembrance and his soul completely recovers its natural brilliance with still greater glory.

St Diadochos of Photiki: On Spiritual Knowledge

    To those who are just beginning to long for holiness the path of virtue seems very rough and forbidding. It appears like this not because it really is difficult, but because our human nature from the womb is accustomed to the wide roads of sensual pleasure. But those who have travelled more than half its length find the path of virtue smooth and easy. For when a bad habit has been subjected to a good one through the energy of grace it is destroyed along with the remembrance of mindless pleasures; and thereafter the soul gladly journeys on all the ways of virtue. Thus, when the Lord first leads us into the path of salvation, He says: 'How narrow and strait is the way leading to the kingdom and few there are who follow it' (cf. Matt. 7: 14); but to those who have firmly resolved to keep His holy commandments He says: 'For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light' (Matt. I I : 30). At the beginning of the struggle, therefore, the holy commandments of God must be fulfilled with a certain forcefulness of will (cf. Matt. 1 1 : I 2); then the Lord, seeing our intention and labour, will grant us readiness of will and gladness in obeying His purposes. For 'it is the Lord who makes ready the will' (Prov. 8: 3 r;. LXX), so that we always do what is right joyfully. Then shall we truly feel that 'it is God who energizes in you both the willing and the doing of His purpose' (Phil. 2: 13).

St Diadochos of Photiki: On Spiritual Knowledge


    Since we have spoken of the knowledge of the virtues, we will also speak about the passions. Knowledge comes like light from the sun. The foolish man through lack of faith or laziness deliberately closes his eyes - that is, his faculty of choice - and at once consigns the knowledge to oblivion because in his indolence he fails to put it into practice. For folly leads to indolence, and this in turn begets inertia and hence forgetfulness. Forgetfulness breeds self-love - the love of one's own will and thoughts - which is equivalent to the love of pleasure and praise. From self-love comes avarice, the root of all evils (cf. 1 Tim. 6 : 10), for it entangles us in worldly concerns and in this way leads to complete unawareness of God's gifts and of our own faults. It is now that the eight ruling passions take up residence: gluttony, which leads to unchastity, which breeds avarice, which gives rise to anger when we fail to attain what we want - that is, fail to have our own way. This produces dejection, and dejection engenders first listlessness and then self-esteem; and self-esteem leads to pride. From these eight passions come every evil, passion and sin. Those consumed by them are led to despair and utter destruction; they fall away from God and become like the demons, as has already been said.

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge

    From knowledge, or understanding, is born self-control and patient endurance. For the man of understanding restrains his own will and endures the resulting pain; and, regarding himself as unworthy of anything pleasant, he is grateful and thankful to his Benefactor, fearing lest because of the many blessings that God has given him in this world he should suffer punishment in the world to come. Thus through self-control he practises the other virtues as well. He looks on himself as in God's debt for everything, finding nothing whatsoever with which to repay to his Benefactor, and even thinking that his virtues simply increase his debt. For he receives and has nothing to give. He only asks that he may be allowed to offer thanks to God. Yet even the fact that God accepts his thanks puts him, so he thinks, into still greater debt. But he continues to give thanks, ever doing what is good and reckoning himself an ever greater debtor, in his humility considering himself lower than all men, delighting in God his Benefactor and trembling even as he rejoices (cf. Ps. 2 : 11 ).
    As he advances through this humility towards divine and unfailing love, he accepts sufferings as though he deserved them. Indeed, he thinks he deserves more suffering than he encounters; and he is glad that he has been granted some affliction in this world, since through it he may be spared a portion of the punishments which he has prepared for himself in the world to be. And because in all this he knows his own weakness, and that he should not exult, and because he has been found worthy of knowing and enduring these things by the grace of God, he is filled with a strong longing for God.

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge

    The blessed apostle offers as a summary of salvation the perfection of these three virtues. `Now,' he says, `these three things remain - faith, hope, love' (1 Cor. 13:13). For it is faith - with its fear of the judgement and punishment to come - which brings about the decline of sin's contagion. It is hope which draws our mind from the things of the present and which in its anticipation of heavenly rewards spurns all the pleasures of the body. And it is love which fires us to long for Christ, to be zealous for the fruit of the spiritual virtues and to detest utterly whatever is contrary to these virtues.

St. John Cassian


    If a person's purpose is fixed in God with all humility and he patiently endures the trials that come upon him, God will resolve for him any question that perplexes him and perhaps even [that which] leads him into delusion. Then, greatly ashamed but full of joy, he turns back, seeking the path of the fathers. For, as St John Klimakos states, we should regard what happens according to God's will, and nothing else, as coming from grace for our good, even though in itself it is not very good. Without such patience and humility a person will suffer what many have suffered, perishing in their stupidity, trusting to their own opinions and thinking they can get along very well without either a guide or the experience that comes from patience and humility. For experience transcends tribulation, trials and even active warfare. Should a person of experience be subject to some slight attack on the part of the demons, this trial will be a source of great joy and profit to him; for it is permitted by God so that he may gain yet further experience and courage in facing his enemies.
    The signs that he has done this are tears, contrition of soul before God, flight into stillness and patient recourse to God, a diligent inquiry into the Scriptures and a desire, based on faith, to accomplish God's purpose. When, on the other hand, a person lacks patience and humility, the signs of this are doubt with regard to God's help, being ashamed to ask questions humbly, avoidance of stillness and the reading of Scripture, a love of distraction and of human company, with the idea - entirely misguided - that one will attain a state of repose in this way. On the contrary, it is now that the passions find an opportunity to put down roots, and that trials and temptations grow stronger, while one's own pusillanimity [cowardice, faint-heartedness], ingratitude and listlessness wax because of one's abounding ignorance.

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge


“What man is he that desireth life and to see good days? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile: depart from evil and do good” (Ps. 34:12-14, cf. 1 St. Peter 3:10-11). Evil means gluttony, drunkenness and dissolute living. Evil means love of money, being greedy for gain, and injustice. Evil means vainglory, arrogance and pride. Let everyone turn aside from such vices and do those things which are good. What are they? Self-control, fasting, chastity, right­eousness, almsgiving, forbearance, love, humility. That by so doing we may worthily partake of the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for our sake, and so receive the earnest of incorruption, and keep it as an assurance of the inheritance promised to us in heaven. Is it hard to do what is good, and are the virtues more difficult than the vices? That is certainly not how I see it. The drunken, self-indulgent person subjects himself because of this to more sufferings than someone who restrains himself; the licentious person suffers more than someone chaste; someone striving to become rich more than someone who lives in contentment with what he has; the person seeking to surround himself with glory than someone who passes his life in obscurity. Since, however, the virtues seem more difficult to us because of our love of comfort, let us force ourselves. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence”, it says, “and the violent take it by force” (St. Matthew 11:12).

All of us, eminent and lowly, governors and governed, rich and poor, need diligence and attention to drive these evil passions away from our souls, and introduce the whole range of virtues in their stead. Farmers, shoemakers, builders, tailors, weavers and in general all those who earn their living by their own effort and the work of their hands, provided they throw out of their souls the desire for riches, glory and pleasure, are truly blessed. These are the poor to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. It was on their account that the Lord said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (St. Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit are those whose spirits, or souls, are free from boasting, love of glory and fondness for pleasure, and therefore either choose to be poor in external things as well or else courageously bear involun­tary poverty. Those who are rich and comfortable, and enjoy fleeting glory, and in general all who long to be like them, will yield to more harmful passions and fall into other worse traps of the devil, which are more difficult to deal with. When someone becomes rich, he does not lay aside his desire for riches, but increases it, grasping at more than he did before. In the same way, pleasure lovers, power seekers, the dissolute and the debauched increase their desires rather than renouncing them. Rulers and eminent men increase their power so as to commit greater injustices and sin.

That is why it is difficult for a ruler to be saved or for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “How can ye believe”, it says, “which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (St. John 5:44). But if any of you are well off, or eminent or rulers, do not be dismayed. You can, if you wish, seek the glory of God and exert force on yourselves to stop the impetus towards becoming worse, to practise great virtues and to drive away great evils, not just from yourselves, but from many other people, even against their will. Not only can you act honestly and chastely yourselves, but there are many ways in which you can prevent those who want to be unjust and licentious from doing so. Not only can you show yourselves obedient to Christ’s Gospel and His teachings, but you can also bring those who are minded to disobey into subjection to Christ’s Church and its leaders according to Christ. This you are able to do, not just by means of the power and authority allotted to you by God, but by becoming an example of all that is good to those below you. For subjects become like their rulers.

St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 15 Delivered On Palm Sunday - Mount Thabor Publishing


    Man is a twofold being comprising soul and body, and has two orders of senses and two corresponding orders of virtues. The soul has five senses and the body five. The senses of the soul, which are also called the faculties, are intellect, reason, opinion, fantasy and sense-perception. The senses of the body are sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. The virtues which belong to these senses are twofold and so, too, are the vices. Everyone should know how many virtues there are of the soul and how many of the body, and what kind of passions belong to the soul and what kind to the body. The virtues which we ascribe to the soul are primarily the four cardinal virtues: courage, moral judgment, self-restraint and justice. These give birth to the other virtues of the soul: faith, hope, love, prayer, humility, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, kindness, freedom from anger, knowledge of God, cheerfulness, simplicity, calmness, sincerity, freedom from vanity, freedom from pride, absence of envy, honesty, freedom from avarice, compassion, mercifulness, generosity, fearlessness, freedom from dejection, deep compunction, modesty, reverence, desire for the blessings held in store, longing for the kingdom of God, and aspiration for divine sonship.

    Besides these there are the bodily virtues or, rather, the tools or instruments of virtue. When used with understanding, in accordance with God's will, and without the least hypocrisy or desire to win men's esteem, they make it possible to advance in humility and dispassion. They are self-control, fasting, hunger, thirst, staying awake, keeping all-night vigils, constant kneeling, not washing, the wearing of a single garment, eating dry food, eating slowly, drinking nothing but water, sleeping on the ground, poverty, total shedding of possessions, austerity, disregard of personal appearance, unselfishness, solitude, preserving stillness, not going out, enduring scarcity, being self-supporting, silence, working with your own hands, and every kind of hardship and physical asceticism, with other similar practices. When the body is strong and disturbed by carnal passions, they are all indispensable and extremely beneficial. When the body is weak, however, and with the help of God has overcome these passions, such practices are not as vital as holy humility and thanksgiving, which suffices for everything.

    Something should also be said about the vices or the passions of the soul and the body. The passions of the soul are forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance. When the soul's eye, the intellect, has been darkened by these three, the soul is dominated by all the other passions. These are impiety, false teaching. or every kind of heresy, blasphemy, wrath, anger, bitterness, irritability, inhumanity, rancour, back-biting, censoriousness, senseless dejection, fear, cowardice, quarrelsomeness, jealousy, envy, self-esteem, pride, hypocrisy, falsehood, unbelief, greed, love of material things, attachment to worldly concerns, listlessness, faint-heartedness, ingratitude, grumbling, vanity, conceit, pomposity, boastfulness, love of power, love of popularity, deceit, shamelessness, insensibility, flattery, treachery, pretence, indecision, assent to sins arising from the soul's passible aspect and dwelling on them continuously, wandering thoughts, self-love, the mother of vices, avarice, the root of all evil (cf. I Tim. 6 : 10) and, finally, malice and guile.

    The passions of the body are gluttony, greed, over-indulgence, drunkenness, eating in secret, general softness of living, unchastity, adultery, licentiousness, uncleanness, incest, pederasty, bestiality, impure desires and every passion which is foul and unnatural, theft, sacrilege, robbery, murder, every kind of physical luxury and gratification of the whims of the flesh (especially when the body is in good health), consulting oracles, casting spells, watching for omens and portents, self-adornment, ostentation, foolish display, use of cosmetics, painting the face, wasting time, day-dreaming, trickery, impassioned misuse of the pleasures of this world, and a life of bodily ease, which by coarsening the intellect makes it cloddish and brute-like and never lets It raise itself towards God and the practice of the virtues.

    The roots or primary causes of all these passions are love of sensual pleasure, love of praise and love of material wealth. Every evil has its origin in these. As Mark, wisest of the ascetics, says, a man cannot commit a single sin unless the three powerful giants, forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance, first overpower him and enslave him, And these giants are the offspring of sensual pleasure, luxury, love of men's esteem, and distraction. The primary cause and vile mother of them all is self-love, which is a senseless love of one's body and an impassioned attachment to it. A dispersed and dissipated intellect given to frivolous talk and foul language produces many vices and sins. Laughter and loose, immodest speech also lead to sin.

St. John of Damascus - The Philokalia, Vol. 2, pp. 334-336
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