A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part VII
The text continues to address intelligence as found in the virtuous life, insisting, moreover, that being human, being a rational creature, is manifested by such virtue. One should not pretend piety, but act. Wealth is not seen as an indication of virtue, and indeed, an untrained, undisciplined rich man or woman is seen as being cursed by an evil influence, while a poor man or woman filled with virtue is said to be blessed. “A wealthy man of good family, who lacks inward discipline and all virtue in his way of life, is regarded by those with spiritual understanding as under an evil influence; likewise a man who happens to be poor or a slave, but is graced with discipline of soul and with virtue in his life, is regarded as blessed.” It is good to instruct the ignorant, to help them learn how to have a life of virtue, because you help them form a life worthy of their human nature – but it must be done properly, gently, with one’s own self-control, because “gentleness and self-control are a blessing and a sure hope for the souls of men.” Self-control is important, for it helps one avoid inordinate desires, and also makes sure one does not engage quick reaction to self-destructive passions such as anger. One must avoid such sinful actions, because they cloud the mind. Thus, ‘A man should strive to practice the life of virtue in a genuine way; for when this is achieved, it is easy to acquire knowledge about God. When a man reveres God with all his heart and with faith, he receives through God’s providence the power to control anger and desire; for it is desire and anger which are the cause of all evils.” It is through virtue that the soul demonstrates its humanity, its worthiness of being immortal, because reason, what makes us human, is able to keep inordinate passions in check. And so we must strive to work on our soul, the way craftsmen work with material goods:
Every craftsman displays his skill through the material he uses; one man, for instance, displays it in timber, another in copper, another in gold and silver. Likewise we who are taught the life of holiness ought to show that we are human beings not merely by virtue of our bodily appearance, but because our souls are truly intelligent. The truly intelligent soul, which enjoys the love of God, knows everything in life in a direct and immediate way; it lovingly woos God’s favour, sincerely gives Him thanks, and aspires with all its strength toward Him.
From time to time, we see people proclaiming wealth as a sign of divine favor. Those who are wealthy are favored by God, and so one must respect them, and follow their ways, if one wants to receive a similar blessing. Poverty, on the other hand, is said to be indicative of sin, and one who is poor is poor through their own fault. If they want to get out of poverty, they must stop sinning and then work hard. They will be able to make it, if they try hard enough.
The only God which this can be said to describe is a false God, better known as Mammon. God throughout Scripture is shown to be with the poor. “I know that the LORD maintains the cause of the afflicted, and executes justice for the needy” (Ps. 140:12 RSV). Righteous rulers follow through with God’s judgment, and make their cause that of the poor. “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the LORD” (Jer. 22:15-16 RSV). The poor are chosen by God, to be he ones rich in faith, and therefore, to be the ones who have been promised the kingdom of God: “Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5 RSV). Thus, when Jesus says, “”Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20b RSV), he represents the tradition which God had established with Israel and continues with the new, eternal covenant. Is it any surprise that Jesus chose many disciples from the poor and dispossessed of Israel? They did not suddenly become rich with earthly wealth, but they did attain the height of spiritual wealth. The poor, the diseased, are not cursed; they are blessed, though of course, their lot in life might be like a curse, and those who are rich are called to alleviate their suffering (and if they do so, they will be judged as a friend of God). The pain and suffering of the poor experience, when they engage it with a love for God despite their poverty, is a means by which they can be perfected; the momentary happiness and joy of the rich, if they fail to use their riches for the good of the poor, is transformed after their eschatological judgment into sorrow, for there they note they have not achieved real, spiritual wealth. “Because the rich man looked to the love of earthly things, darkness of tribulation covered him, and his light, his prosperity was darkened in hell.” This does not mean, however, the poor have to stay poor to be blessed: those who suggest this merely want to justify sinful structures which need not exist; and we must acknowledge that the rich can be rich in virtue, if they use their riches justly, but Jesus points out how difficult this is for the rich: “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25 RSV).
Our sins create dispositions which affect our minds. Those who are lustful see people according to their lust, as to whether or not they fit their objectified standards, ignoring the whole of the person – lust can make people ignore the good in some, or the bad of others, which is why so many people end up hurt in relationships today, because relationships are geared not toward persons, but objects of lust. Those filled with greed live their life based upon economic considerations; everything is reified according to its monetary value, and those things which have no such value are either seen as worthless, or worse, worthy of condemnation. Pride pollutes our vision of ourselves and of others, making us create a vision of the world based upon a false, ideological perspective, one which places those qualities we think make us superior as those qualities which are most important, denigrating other, needful qualities as a result. Any sin, when it enters the mind, clouds it, turning the mind away from the whole good, from the whole of reality, so that we can accept a limited good as the Good. Once we accept this vision of reality, we pollute our mind, and once we act on it, we make it difficult to overcome that mental pollution. We cannot see and experience the world as it is meant to be seen and experienced, because we have closed our mind to the whole of the real, and if we closed our mind to the whole of the good, then we have closed ourselves to God, who is the real Good. When we desire a lesser good, we turn our back on the Good, and our experience of the world will be less than it should be. We will have blinded our own vision of the real. We will have turned our eye from the direct, integral perception of the whole. We will either look at a part as if it were the whole, or we will divide the world into parts, breaking the integral unity of creation, allowing for aspects of the real, those things which connect the real together, to be dismissed and lost. The world, cut up into parts, is not the world of the real, just like a vivisected animal no longer can show the reality of the animal. Anger distorts our vision, because it creates the means by which the world can be made into more and more parts, into those things which make us angry and those which do not, ignoring the integral bonds which unite the two, making us see objects in a way which do not meet their real nature. And the world, constructed therefore in a dualistic objectification, therefore turns us into the path of evil, for evil is the path of dissolution, of destruction; evil is a parasite which wants to break down the real, trying to turn it into the unreal, for evil is, by its nature, unreal. What is said here can be said about other sins and inordinate passions. They work by making a dualistic, false construction over the real.
The nature of love is to create unity, to help heal the wounds of disintegration. And God, who is love, grants this healing power to us, if we truly love him. God’s grace provides the lover of God the ability to overcome inordinate desire and anger, because God’s grace takes the love which is given toward God and makes it the means by which the lover knows the world. The lover of God sees the world in God, united as one whole integral unity in God. They see the world as God wants it, the world as God sees it, and work to make this world, in time, as it is in eternity. This is why they are not given to inordinate desire or anger; it is because they love the world in and through God, and the constructs which are needed for desire and anger to be actualized have been overcome and seen as empty phantasms. The more one gives over to a love for God, wooing God with love, the more they experience the world as it really is, for they see it in their vision of God. But whatever sin remains in us, that sin prevents us from fully loving God, and therefore, prevents us from seeing the world as it really is. We strive for holiness, for virtue, to overcome those sins which prevent us from loving God; the more virtue we have, the more love for God we have and the more God shows himself to us because of that love. But it is because we achieve such a vision through love, we feel thanks to God. We know God’s love is given to us freely by God, and we are thankful that God gives us such love, despite having once abandoned it in the past through our sins. We are grateful, for we come to see how it is God’s love for us which even allowed us the opportunity to love God: we can only come to love God because he first loved us.
The ascetic sentiments found in these paragraphs are, once again, sentiments which are the kind we find in other Anthonite works. This should not be surprising. Christian asceticism, by its nature, seeks to have a better relationship with God. Any ascetic who has a love for God, and put into practice a life of virtue because of that love, will see their experiences of God and the world change. Anthony, for example, ends up seeing everything in relation to that love. Fear of God, which often serves as a foundation for the ascetic life, turns into love as that which separated one from God is overcome. We can find another presentation of this theme in Anthony’s letters. Here, one who gives themselves fully to God, end up being helped by God so as to be delivered from sin:
But if the soul gives itself to God wholeheartedly, God has mercy upon it and gives it the Spirit of Repentance, which testifies to it about each sin, that it may not again draw near to them; and shows it those who rise up against it and seek to prevent it separating itself from them, contending with it greatly that it may not abide in repentance. But if it endures and obeys the spirit which counsels it to repentance, suddenly the Creator has mercy on the weariness of its repentance, and seeing its bodily toils, in much prayer and fasting and supplication and learning of the words of God, in renunciation of the world, in humility and tears and perseverance in contrition, then the merciful God, seeing its toil and submission, has pity upon it and delivers it.
We also know, in the letters, Anthony sees the ascetic as one who is reasonable, who practices reason to know themselves and God. This we see is what proves one to be human. But how does one get this way? Ascetic practices. We are called to be craftsmen, forging our personality our of our humanity, out of our rational nature. Interestingly enough, we know Anthony enjoys using this kind of imagery, for we find in the Sayings: “Abba Anthony said, ‘Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labour in vain.’” While not proving this text is Anthonite, that it uses a kind of analogy which we know Anthony used suggests that it is. Indeed, as we know from reading his letters, Anthony likes to repeat themes and images, and so it should not be surprising that what we find in the sayings will be found and used elsewhere. And so, we have yet another hint that there is a legitimate connection between this text with Anthony himself.
 “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 331 (#13, 14).
 Ibid., 331 (#9).
 Ibid., 331 (#10).
 Ibid., 331 (#11).
 Ibid., 331 (#12).
 Ibid., 331(#14).
 Ibid., 331-2 (#15).
 The book of Job should be enough to dissuade people of the necessary connection between earthly fortune and sin; nonetheless, this lesson was not learned, and so Jesus had to contend against it as well; see, for example, John 9:2.
  Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermons for Sundays and Festivals. Volume II, 24. Anthony of Padua here is referencing the story of the rich man and Lazarus, but since the rich man is seen as a kind of every-man, representing all of the unjust rich, what is said here is a kind of universal representation of their fate, if they go unrepentant.
 See The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 8 (#32).
 Derwas J. Chitty, trans., The Letters of Saint Anthony the Great, 5 [Letter 1].
 See, for example, ibid., 12 [Letter IV].
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 8 (#35).