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Archive for June 2015

Dance of Love: Synergy of Grace and Free Will

We come to the conclusion of Cassian's beautiful conference on the interplay of grace and free will and once again we discover one who sees with profound clarity that there is no conflict between the two but rather a synergy that is necessary for a relationship of love.  God gives everything and does everything to enliven that love within us but His desire must meet our own.  Anyone fully immersed in the spiritual life comes to understand this; not through abstraction and argumentation but rather through experience.  Faith fully lived brings understanding.
Cassian states this firmly as follows:
"Therefore it is understood by all the Catholic fathers, who have taught perfection of heart not by idle disputation but in fact and in deed, that the first aspect of the divine gift is that each person be inflamed to desire everything which is good, but in such a way that the choice of a free will faces each alternative fully. Likewise, the second aspect of divine grace is that the aforesaid practice of virtue bear results, but in such a way that the possibility of choice not be extinguished. The third aspect is that it pertains to the gifts of God that one persevere in a virtue that has been acquired, but not in such a way that a submissive freedom be taken captive.  Thus it is that the God of the universe must be believed to work all things in all, so that he stirs up, protects, and strengthens, but not so that he removes the freedom of will that he himself once granted. If something cleverly gleaned from human argumentation and reasoning seems contrary to this understanding, it should be avoided rather than called forth to the destruction of the faith. For we do not acquire faith from understanding but understanding from faith, as it is written: `If you do not believe, you will not understand.'' For how God works all things in us on the one hand and how everything is ascribed to free will on the other cannot be fully grasped by human intelligence and reason."

As men and women of faith, we must be willing to live within the paradoxes and tensions of faith - humbling ourselves before the wisdom of God and the immensity of His love; yet in our desire for the Beloved willfully and freely embracing His grace. 
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Living in the Tension: The Language of Desire

The most controversial conference of Cassian's work turns out to be the most beautiful and awe-inspiring.  We picked up tonight with section IX of Conference 13 where Cassian's approach to and understanding of the interplay of Grace and Free Will comes into clear view.  Both must be affirmed in our understanding of and living out of the Christian life.  Cassian is writing not to express theological clarity (as we often understand it) but rather to encourage us and help us understand that we must be willing to live in the tension or, perhaps expressed better, be willing to participate in the dance of love - the movement of God's desire for us and our desire for him.  Cassian's approach, then, is experiential and relational and it is here that he shows himself to be "Theologian" in the truest sense of the word.  God is seeking us in love at every moment and every circumstance, wooing us and drawing us toward Him; lingering and waiting for the movement of our will towards Him.  Without that capacity no love is possible.  But to insist on the place of free human will in no way diminishes divine grace.  The grace of God, too, remains free, since with inestimable generosity it confers on meager and small efforts such immortal glory and such gifts of everlasting blessedness.
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Living in the Tension: The Language of Desire

The most controversial conference of Cassian's work turns out to be the most beautiful and awe-inspiring.  We picked up tonight with section IX of Conference 13 where Cassian's approach to and understanding of the interplay of Grace and Free Will comes into clear view.  Both must be affirmed in our understanding of and living out of the Christian life.  Cassian is writing not to express theological clarity (as we often understand it) but rather to encourage us and help us understand that we must be willing to live in the tension or, perhaps expressed better, be willing to participate in the dance of love - the movement of God's desire for us and our desire for him.  Cassian's approach, then, is experiential and relational and it is here that he shows himself to be "Theologian" in the truest sense of the word.  God is seeking us in love at every moment and every circumstance, wooing us and drawing us toward Him; lingering and waiting for the movement of our will towards Him.  Without that capacity no love is possible.  But to insist on the place of free human will in no way diminishes divine grace.  The grace of God, too, remains free, since with inestimable generosity it confers on meager and small efforts such immortal glory and such gifts of everlasting blessedness.
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Taking up Cassian's Conference 13 ON GOD'S PROTECTION again, we prefaced our conversation with a closer look at the criticism lodged against Cassian's thought by Prosper of Aquitaine.  Considering the study of Casiday in his book, Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian, it becomes clear through a thorough analysis of both Cassian and Prosper that Prosper in his zeal to defend the Church against the heresy of Pelagianism misrepresents Cassian's teaching and even alters or excludes portions deliberately.  Unfortunately, it is only in recent times that scholars have begun to closely scrutinize both writers' works in a fashion that gives a clear and accurate picture of the truth.

Having addressed these concerns, we then turned once more to the text only to find ourselves captivated by the depth and beauty of the elder Chaeremon's teaching on the essential nature of God's grace in the pursuit of all virtue, especially chastity.  Furthermore, God is set on the salvation of all men and women and looks for the smallest response to his grace within us; only then to pour forth an abundance on us and to guide and direct our steps at every turn.  God is like a jealous lover; not hurt by our rejection but rather driven on by love to draw us back to Him by any means necessary.
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