Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: Between the Law and Perfection

Arabic original here.

Between the Law and Perfection

Christ distinguishes between the Law and perfection. When the young man asks Him about the nature of goodness, Christ replies, "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments... but if you want to be perfect, go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:16-22). Christ does not nullify the Law, but rather considers it a guide to intuitive behavior. One who strives for perfection will not achieve it by only carrying out the law, but rather by practicing love in everything he undertakes.

The Holy Apostle Paul says, "No one is justified by the Law before God... but the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ" (Galatians 3: 11, 24). Thus, there is no perfection in the Law: perfection is in imitating Christ. In this context, Saint Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) says, "The Law taught us to take revenge on one who hurts us, following the verse that stipulates an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But Jesus taught us to go beyond this vengeance, looking at what is loftier."

The loftier thing that Jesus brought is His stating the Golden Rule of the new Law: "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). After Mosaic law had been based on the principle of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", that is the principle of treating someone in kind which is closer to justice, Jesus turned this principle on its head when He said that people are called to behave according what they believe, not on the basis of reaction but from action flowing from perfect conviction of the correctness of their principles.

The commandment "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" realized human justice, but the Golden Rule allows its practitioner to reach the perfection of love. Justice, according to the teaching of Christ, is not the goal at which those who strive for perfection stop. Rather, they go beyond justice to something greater, to grace, forgiveness, and the abandonment of anything that draws a person to the dust that they are from. Perfection is not in justice, but rather in gratuitous love.

The Golden Rule, in contrast to the Mosaic commandment, does not call on people to imitate the people who harmed them, but rather to imitate God and Christ. Returning like for like sometimes means imitating the wicked and returning evil for evil. Thus Christ called his followers to robe themselves in divine virtues and strive for perfection, for divinization: "be merciful just as your Father is merciful", "be perfect just as your Father is perfect"...

Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407) says that nothing causes us to resemble God apart from our preparedness to forgive those who hurt us. In that way we will have acted like God  because God alone has the authority to forgive sins and He called on humans to participate with Him in this authority.

He continues, "If Christ's goal was for man to become god by grace, after God became man, then man must only imitate the Lord Jesus who forgave those who beat Him, crucified Him, and mocked Him."

Therefore, we are not satisfied to be governed by any law other than one law, the law of love, because what we are striving to reach is human perfection, resembling God. Other laws are not sufficient for us and do not match what we aspire to.

1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

In light of current circumstances in the Middle East, what is the teaching on self defense? Are Christians obligated to consent to their own extinction and/or expulsion from their native lands?