Ambrose of Milan: The Lord Jesus refreshes, and does not shut out nor cast off Friday, Jul 10 2015 

ambrose_of_milanIf the highest end of virtue is that which aims at the advancement of most, gentleness is the most lovely of all, which does not hurt even those whom it condemns, and usually renders those whom it condemns worthy of absolution.

Moreover, it is the only virtue which has led to the increase of the Church which the Lord sought at the price of His own Blood, imitating the lovingkindness of heaven, and aiming at the redemption of all, seeks this end with a gentleness which the ears of men can endure, in presence of which their hearts do not sink, nor their spirits quail.

For he who endeavours to amend the faults of human weakness ought to bear this very weakness on his own shoulders, let it weigh upon himself, not cast it off.

For we read that the Shepherd in the Gospel (Luke 15:5) carried the weary sheep, and did not cast it off. And Solomon says: “Be not overmuch righteous” (Eccles. 7:17); for restraint should temper righteousness.

For how shall he offer himself to you for healing whom you despise, who thinks that he will be an object of contempt, not of compassion, to his physician?

Therefore had the Lord Jesus compassion upon us in order to call us to Himself, not frighten us away. He came in meekness, He came in humility, and so He said: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (Matt. 11:28).

So, then, the Lord Jesus refreshes, and does not shut out nor cast off, and fitly chose such disciples as should be interpreters of the Lord’s will, as should gather together and not drive away the people of God.

Whence it is clear that they are [St Ambrose is speaking of the Novatianists] not to be counted amongst the disciples of Christ, who think that harsh and proud opinions should be followed rather than such as are gentle and meek; persons who, while they themselves seek God’s mercy, deny it to others….

What can show more pride than this, since the Scripture says: “No one is free from sin, not even an infant of a day old” (Job 14:4 [LXX]).  And David cries out: “Cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 50:2).

Are they more holy than David, of whose family Christ vouchsafed to be born in the mystery of the Incarnation, whose descendant is that heavenly Hall which received the world’s Redeemer in her virgin womb?

For what is more harsh than to inflict a penance which they do not relax, and by refusing pardon to take away the incentive to penance and repentance? Now no one can repent to good purpose unless he hopes for mercy.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): On Repentance, book 1, chapter 1, 1-4.

Peter of Damascus: God’s Grace will Give Us Gentleness so that We Begin to Imitate Christ Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

peter_of_damascusGod’s grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ.

This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the gentle” (Matt. 5:5).

Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honor or dishonor.

In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and that this life is a path leading to the future life.

We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God.

For whatever God does is “wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen. 1:31), even if we are unaware of this. As the psalm puts it: ‘He will teach the gentle how to judge’ (Ps. 25: 9. LXX) or, rather, how to exercise discrimination.

Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it.

Unwittingly or wittingly we must have offended God, or a brother, or someone else, and now we are being given a chance to receive forgiveness for this. For through patient endurance we may be granted forgiveness for many sins.

Moreover, if we do not forgive others their debts, the Father will not forgive us our debts (cf Matt. 6:14). Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt. 6:14).

This, then, is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.

But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.

Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul. Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.

[…] God, being self-sufficient and giving to each what is to his profit, does indeed deserve our thanks, since He patiently suffers both the devil and the wickedness of men, and yet bestows His blessings upon those who repent both before and after they sin.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 94-96.

Isaac the Syrian: What wisdom Is God’s! And how filled with life! Tuesday, Dec 11 2012 

Isaac the Syrian 3If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe Himself in the body in order to bring the world back to His Father using gentleness and humility?

And why was He stretched out on the Cross for the sake of sinners, handing over His sacred body to suffering on behalf of the world?

I myself say that God did all this for no other reason, except to make known to the world the love that He has, His aim being that we, as a result of our greater love arising from an awareness of this, might be captivated by His love when He provided the occasion of this manifestation of the kingdom of heaven’s mighty power – which consists in love – by means of the death of His Son.

[…] [The Incarnation and the death on the Cross happened] not to redeem us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might become aware of the love which God has for His creation.

Had all this astounding affair taken place solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sin, it would have been sufficient to redeem us by some other means.

What objection would there have been if He had done what He did by means of an ordinary death?

But He did not make His death at all an ordinary one – in order that you might realize the nature of this mystery.

Rather, He tasted death in the cruel suffering of the Cross.

What need was there for the outrage done to Him and the spitting?

Just death would have been sufficient for our redemption – and in particular His death, without any of these other things which took place.

What wisdom is God’s! And how filled with life!

Now you can understand and realize why the coming of our Lord took place with all the events that followed it, even to the extent of His telling the purpose quite clearly out of His own holy mouth:

“To such an extent did God love the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” – referring to the Incarnation and the renewal He brought about.

[…] When the entire extent of creation had abandoned and forgotten God and had perfected themselves in every kind of wickedness…He came down to their abode and lived among them in their body just as one of them, and with a love exalted beyond knowledge or description by any created being,

He begged them to turn back to Himself, showing them concerning the glorious establishment of the world to come, having intended before all worlds to introduce felicity such as this for creation.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630 – c. 700): Quoted in Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: The Incarnation of the Word and the deification of man according to St Isaac of Nineveh.

John Ruusbroec: By Gentleness and Kindness, Charity is Kept Quick and Fruitful Monday, Nov 26 2012 

From the renunciation of self-will springs patience.

[…] Patience is a peaceful endurance of all things that may befall a man either from God or from the creatures.

Nothing can trouble the patient man; neither the loss of earthly goods, of friends and kinsmen, nor sickness, nor disgrace, nor life, nor death, nor purgatory, nor devil, nor hell.

For he has abandoned himself in perfect charity to the will of God, and…everything that God imposes on him, in time and in eternity, is light to him.

By this patience a man is also adorned and armed against peevishness and sudden wrath, and impatience in suffering which often stir a man from within and from without, and lay him open to many temptations.

From this patience there spring meekness and kindliness, for none can be meek in adversity save the patient man.

Meekness gives a man peace and rest in all things.

For the meek man can bear provoking words and ways…and every kind of injustice towards himself and his friends, and yet in all things remain in peace; for meekness is peaceful endurance.

By meekness the irascible…power remains unmoved, in quietude; the desirous power is uplifted toward virtue; the rational power, perceiving this, rejoices.

And the conscience, tasting it, rests in peace; for the second mortal sin – anger, fury, or wrath – has been cast out.

For the Spirit of God dwells in the humble and the meek; and Christ says: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth – that is, their own nature and all earthly things…, and after that the Country of Life in Eternity.

Out of the same source wherein meekness takes its rise springs kindliness, for none can be kind save the meek man.

This kindness makes a man show a friendly face, and give a cordial response, and do compassionate deeds, to those who are quarrelsome, when he hopes that they will come to know themselves and mend their ways.

By gentleness and kindness, charity is kept quick and fruitful in man, for a heart full of kindness is like a lamp full of precious oil,

For the oil of mercy enlightens the erring sinner with good example, and with words and works of comfort it anoints and heals those whose hearts are wounded or grieved or perplexed.

And it is a fire and a light for those who dwell in the virtues, in the fire of charity; and neither jealousy nor envy can perturb it.

John Ruusbroec (1293-1381): The Spiritual Espousals, 1, 15-17.

Maximus the Confessor: Bearing by Grace an Exact Spiritual Likeness of Christ, the Truly Great King Sunday, Nov 25 2012 

Anger and desire repudiated, we should next invoke the rule of the kingdom of God the Father with the words “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10), that is, “May the Holy Spirit come”.

For, having put away these things [anger and desire], we are now made into a temple for God through the Holy Spirit by the teaching and practice of gentleness.

“For on whom shall I rest”, says Scripture, “but on him who is gentle and humble, and trembles at my words?” (cf. Isa, 66:2).

It is clear from this that the kingdom of God the Father belongs to the humble and the gentle. For “blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).

It is not this physical earth, which by nature occupies a middle place in the universe, that God promises as an inheritance for those who love Him.

[…] In this text (Matt. 5:5) I think that the word “earth” signifies the resolution and strength of the inner stability, immovably rooted in goodness, that is possessed by gentle, people.

This state of stability exists eternally with the Lord, contains unfailing joy, enables the gentle to attain the kingdom prepared from the beginning, and has its station and dignity in heaven. It also permits the gentle to inherit the principle of virtue, as if virtue were the earth that occupies a middle place in the universe.

For the gentle person holds a middle position between honour and obloquy, and remains dispassionate, neither puffed up by the first nor cast down by the second.

For the intelligence is by nature superior to both praise and blame; and so, when it has put away the sensual desire, it is no longer troubled by either the one or the other, having  anchored the whole power of the soul in divine and unassailable liberty.

The Lord, wanting to impart this liberty to His disciples says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29).

He calls the rule of the divine kingdom “rest” because it confers on those worthy of it a lordship free from all servitude.

If the indestructible power of the pure kingdom is given to the humble and the gentle, what man will be so lacking in love and so completely without appetite for divine blessings that he will not desire the greatest degree of humility and gentleness in order to take on the stamp of the divine kingdom, so far as this is possible for men, and to bear in himself by grace an exact spiritual likeness of Christ, who is by nature the truly great king?

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): On the Lord’s Prayer, Text (slightly adapted) from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 2 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp.292-293.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Kingdom of Heaven Within Us – the Joy which the Spirit Instils into Our Souls Monday, Oct 22 2012 

In speaking about the different virtues, we cannot say that one is better than the rest, or that we should pursue them in order of merit.

For in fact they are of equal importance with one another, and linked together they lead those who practice them to the height of perfection.

Sincerity leads to obedience, obedience in turn to faith, and faith to hope, hope to righteousness, righteousness to service, and service to humility.

From humility we learn gentleness which leads to joy, as joy leads to love, and love to prayer.

Thus bound to one another and binding their zealous follower, the virtues lead him to the very height of his desires, just as the various forms of wickedness lead those attached to them down the oppo­site way to the utmost depths of evil.

But we must above all devote ourselves to prayer; for prayer is like a choir-leader in the choir of virtues, by means of which we ask God for the virtues we still lack.

Devotion to prayer unites the Christian to God in the communion of a mystic sanctity, in a spiritual possession and a disposition of the soul that no words can describe.

With the Spirit then to guide and help him, his love for the Lord like a bright flame, he prays unceasingly in ardent desire, always burning with love for the divine good and refreshing his soul with renewed zeal.

As Scripture says: Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more; and elsewhere: You have filled my heart with gladness.

So too the Lord says: The kingdom of heaven is within you.

By the kingdom within us he certainly means that joy which the Spirit instils into our souls from above, as an image and a pledge, reflecting the eternal joy which the souls of the faithful possess in the life to come.

So the Lord comforts us in all our afflictions through the working of the Spirit, to keep us safe and to grant us a share of spiritual gifts and of his own special grace.

He comforts us in all our troubles, says the Apostle, so that we may be able to comfort others in their distress.

And the psalmist says: My whole being cries out with joy to the living God; and: My soul is richly feasted, indicating in all such symbolic sayings the joy and comfort that come from the Spirit.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Christian Way of Life, II (Jaeger VIII, 77-79); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Wednesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 2

Seraphim of Sarov: You Cannot Be Too Gentle Wednesday, Oct 14 2009 

Seraphim_SarovskyYou cannot be too gentle, too kind.

Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.

Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.

All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other.

We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves.

When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it.

That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others.

Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.

Keep silent, refrain from judgment.

This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

St Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833); H/T to Salt of the Earth and Mind in the Heart