External Senses – Part 2 of 3

Continuing his discussion on bringing the five external senses under the control of reason, Father Geiermann addresses the sense of hearing. He writes: “If we do not wish to be imbued with false principles and desire to preserve our hearts undefiled, we must turn away from (1) all irreligious and immodest conversation; (2) from all uncharitable remarks and criticism; (3) from all idle gossip, especially with persons of the opposite sex; and (4) from all sensational rumors and idle reports.”

Instead, Father Geiermann advises us to hear the wisdom of the saints. St. Thomas Aquinas suggested that the listener do four things: listen patiently, weigh wisely, report the good, and forget the rest. St. Anthony said that three things defile the ears: boastful words, detracting remarks, and vain flattery. And St. Bernard advised that we willingly hear, devoutly receive, and carefully preserve whatever pertains to the salvation of our souls.

Since much of what reaches the ear comes from the tongue, Father Geiermann has this to say about the proper use of speech: “A right use of the tongue is made (1) in honoring God by prayer and divine praise; (2) in communicating with a neighbor in justice and kindness on business, social, and charitable affairs; (3) especially by consoling the unfortunate, in speaking well of all, in conversing on edifying subjects. But a wrong use of the tongue is made by all irreverent, disrespectful, uncharitable, and indelicate remarks.”

The Psalmist prayed that the Lord set a watch before his mouth and a door around his lips that his heart may not incline to evil words (Ps 140:3-4). Father Geiermann writes: “We exercise a custody over the tongue (1) by always thinking well of all; (2) by always wishing well to all; (3) by repressing all impetuosity to speak; (4) by weighing what we are about to say, so that we speak in season and offend not against modesty, charity, justice, or truth.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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External Senses – Part 1 of 3

Here the Redemptorist Father Peter Geiermann discusses the importance of bringing the five external senses under the control of reason. He writes: “By following their senses instead of regulating their conduct according to the word of God, our first parents lost happiness and brought sin and misery into the world. In consequence of their sensuality human nature inclines to evil, the world allures to sin, and Satan has grown astute in tempting mankind. Before us stand the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The spirit inclines to the former, the flesh to the latter. As we obtain knowledge primarily through the senses, St. Augustine aptly calls them ‘the doors by which life and death enter the soul.’ If we do not wish death to enter our souls through the senses we must keep them so completely under the control of reason enlightened by faith that we can turn them instinctively from any unforeseen danger and concentrate them on what is conducive to life eternal. This subjugation of the senses, says Thomas a Kempis, purifies the heart, gives peace to the soul, and inclines the will to devotion.”

Concerning the sense of sight, Father Geiermann writes: “The most numerous and the most lasting impressions made on the soul usually enter through the sense of sight. To cultivate purity of heart it will therefore be necessary to exercise specially custody of the eyes. Without doing anything extravagant or ridiculous this can easily be accomplished by those who keep the Christian ideal constantly before their minds and are determined to attain it in their daily lives. In all things let them (1) act from principle and guard against natural impulse; (2) watch and pray that they may enjoy the special protection of Divine Providence; (3) conquer fickleness of heart by cultivating a tender conscience; (4) not fix their gaze on a person of the opposite sex that might easily incite them to impure thoughts or desires; (5) avoid suggestive books, pictures, and plays; (6) guard against idle curiosity; and (7) by the contemplation of the beauties of nature learn to raise their minds and hearts to God.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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In the Image and Likeness of God

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen 1:26)

Origen (185-253), who lectured at the catechetical school in Alexandria, taught that man received the dignity of the image of God at his creation, but that each person acquires the perfection of the likeness of God through his personal efforts, aided by the grace of God. In his De principiis (First Principles), Origen distinguishes between image and likeness. Here is what he says in Book Three, at the beginning of Chapter Six:

According to philosophers, he says, the highest good which a rational nature seeks is “to become as like to God as possible.” But he adds: “This definition I regard not so much as a discovery of theirs, as a view derived from holy Scripture. For this is pointed out by Moses, before all other philosophers, when he describes the first creation of man in these words: ‘And God said, Let Us make man in Our own image, and after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26); and then he adds the words: ‘So God created man in His own image: in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them, and He blessed them’ (Gen 1:27-28).”

“Now the expression, ‘In the image of God created He him,’ without any mention of the word ‘likeness,’ conveys no other meaning than this, that man received the dignity of God’s image at his first creation; but that the perfection of his likeness has been reserved for the consummation,—namely, that he might acquire it for himself by the exercise of his own diligence in the imitation of God, the possibility of attaining to perfection being granted him at the beginning through the dignity of the divine image, and the perfect realization of the divine likeness being reached in the end by the fulfilment of the (necessary) works.”

“Now, that such is the case, the Apostle John points out more clearly and unmistakably, when he makes this declaration: ‘Little children, we do not yet know what we shall be; but if a revelation be made to us from the Saviour, ye will say, without any doubt, we shall be like Him’ (1 John 3:2). By which expression he points out with the utmost certainty, that not only was the end of all things to be hoped for, which he says was still unknown to him, but also the likeness to God, which will be conferred in proportion to the completeness of our deserts.”

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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Why Did Christ Delay?

The second-century Christian author of the Epistle to Diognetus discusses why Christ did not come sooner than He did. In the following excerpts from Chapter Nine, he suggests that Christ appeared so late in history because God wished to allow men time to become conscious of their weakness and corruption before sending them a Redeemer.

Concerning the time before the coming of Christ, he writes: “As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.”

Concerning the day of salvation, he says: “But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. . . . By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?”

He concludes: “Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.”

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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What Is a Christian?

The following excerpts are from two chapters of the Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous apology of the second century addressed to the high-ranking pagan Diognetus. The author of this epistle calls himself simply “Mathetes,” meaning in Greek “a disciple.” As we hear him describe the Christian of his day, let us ask ourselves, Can this same description be given today?

Mathetes writes: “The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. . . . They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.” (5)

“To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. . . . The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.” (6)

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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Work and Play

St. Paul says, “If any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thes 3:10). Father Geiermann discusses work and its necessary counterpart, recreation.

Concerning work, he states: “A habit of industry is a disposition for work.” This habit is useful in at least three ways: it is conducive to happiness and to success, and it disposes us to live a Christian life.

“A habit of industry is conducive to happiness (1) by giving us an object in life; (2) by compelling us to take exercise, which is necessary for the preservation of health; (3) by supplying diversion for the mind; (4) by giving us profitable occupation for our time; (5) by imparting a relish to our recreation; (6) by insuring rest in our repose; (7) by keeping us from vice; (8) by disposing us to help a neighbor in need.”

“A habit of industry is likewise essential to success. It (1) teaches concentration of our energies; (2) imparts method to our procedure, and (3) insures perseverance in our efforts.”

“A habit of industry disposes us for a Christian life (1) by teaching us self-discipline; (2) by giving us the mastery over ourselves; and (3) by grounding us in natural virtue.”

Concerning recreation, Father Geiermann writes: “Recreation is relaxation after the strain and strife of duty. It is necessary to relax and renew our energies from time to time, if we are to bear the burdens that await us.” He says three things about recreation. First, he advises that “recreation should be an innocent relaxation, suited to our age and station in life.” Secondly, he cautions: “To balance the mind recreation should be taken with moderation. Over-indulgence will dissipate instead of recreating our energies, while a want of recreation will make us dull and mechanical.” Thirdly, he observes that “congenial surroundings contribute very much to our recreation.” Therefore, he surmises that “under normal circumstances the home is the best place for our recreations, though on special occasions we may take our recreation away from home without injuring home life.”

Lastly, he observes that cheerfulness, which is “the disposition of looking on the bright side of life,” has “a soothing influence on all present” and “a tendency to lighten our burdens, to sweeten our sorrows, and to give us a relish for labor, endurance, and prayer.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Charity in the World

Father Geiermann discusses how we can put fraternal charity into practice during our earthly lives. He writes: “The Saviour gave His followers a practical rule of conduct when He said: ‘Be ye wise as serpents and simple as doves’ (Matt 10:16). We must be wise or prudent without being crafty, and charitable without being foolish. To exercise this prudence we must avoid all rash judgments, words, and actions on the one hand, and on the other give no one our trust or confidence till they have shown themselves worthy of it.” Thus, we read: “Separate thyself from thy enemies, and take heed of thy friends” (Sir 6:13). Geiermann says that “we are simple as doves when (1) we do nothing in look, word, or deed to deceive our neighbor; (2) when we edify him by our self-possession, and by the integrity of our speech and deportment; and (3) especially by our forbearance and Christian charity.”

“Christian charity is that divine virtue whereby we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. The infallible test of Christian charity is our charity towards our neighbor. The noblest acts of fraternal charity are summed up in the Seven Corporal, and the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy.”

“The Corporal Works of Mercy are: (1) to feed the hungry; (2) to give drink to the thirsty; (3) to clothe the naked; (4) to ransom the captive; (5) to harbor the harborless; (6) to visit the sick; (7) to bury the dead.”

“The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: (1) to admonish the sinner; (2) to instruct the ignorant; (3) to counsel the doubtful; (4) to comfort the sorrowful; (5) to bear wrongs patiently; (6) to forgive all injuries; (7) to pray for the living and the dead.”

“Our divine Saviour Himself declares that at the general judgment He will pronounce sentence upon mankind according to the works of mercy they have performed.” For Christ said, “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40).

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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