Wednesday, May 15, 2013
ST. JOHN CASSIAN - Three Kinds of Gifts from God
In this issue, we are going to interrupt our series from St. Isaac the Syrian with a reading from St. John Cassian's "Conferences." St. John's works have been a classic of monastic literature, both East and West, for centuries and today's reading demonstrates well the depth of his wisdom and teaching. In this selection, "Conference Fifteen," St. John and his companion, the monk Germanus, are discussing the gifts of God.
THREE KINDS OF GIFTS OF GOD
BEGIN: After the evening meal we sat on the mats, as monks do, and we waited for the discussion which had been promised us. Out of deference to the old man we remained silent for a while. Then he interrupted our respectful silence with the following words.
"The direction taken by our earlier discussion has brought us now to the need to state the nature of spiritual gifts, and the tradition of our elders, as we know, us that this takes a threefold form.
GIFTS THAT COME FROM THE HOLY
"The first cause of the gift of healing is the merit earned by holiness. The grace of working miracles is to be found among specially chosen and just men. It is quite evident that the apostles and many saints worked miracles and wonders. This was in accordance with what the Lord Himself had commanded when He said, 'Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, expel the demons. You have freely received. Give freely.' (Matthew 10:8)
GIFTS THAT COME FROM SINNERS
"Second, for the edification of the church or of those who bring forward their own patients or of those who have to be healed, the virtue of healing comes even from sinners and from the unworthy. Of such people the Savior had this to say in the gospel: 'They will say to me on that day: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and did we not drive out devils in your name, and did we not do many wonders in your name? And I will say out loud to them. I do not know you. Leave me, you workers of iniquity' (Matthew 7:22 - 23). But by contrast, if faith is lacking in those who bring forward the sick, then it will not be permitted, even to those with the gift of healing , to work a cure. The evangelist Luke had this to say: 'And Jesus could not work miracles among them because of their unbelief' (Mark 6: 5 - 6 -- NOTE: this is NOT in Luke, but in Mark). It was at this time that the Lord said: 'There were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisaeus the prophet and no one of them was cured except Neman the Syrian' (Luke 4:27).
GIFTS THAT COME FROM DEMONS
"The third kind of healing is a trick and deception worked by demons. A man caught up in obvious wrongdoing is an object of admiration of being a holy man and a servant of God and he becomes, for evil spirits, the means of enticing others to imitate him even to the extent of doing wrong like him. The way is now open for scandal and even the sanctity of religion is maligned. And it is quite certainly the case that this man who credits himself with the gift of healing is brought crashing down all the harder because of the pride in his heart.
"The demons have also the following trick. They cry out the names of those whom they know to have none of the merits of holiness and to possess none of the fruits of the Spirit. They pretend to be burnt up by the merits of such people and to take flight from the bodies of the possessed. Deuteronomy has this to say about such persons: 'If a prophet should arise among you or a man claiming visionary dreams, and if he foretells a sign and a portent, and if what he says should actually happen, and if he should say to you, "Let us go and follow strange gods who are unknown to you and let us serve them," do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. For the Lord your God is putting you to the test, bringing out into the open whether or not you love Him with all your heart and with all your should (Deuteronomy 13: 1 - 3). And in the gospel he says this: 'Fake Christs and fake prophets will rise up and they will perform great signs and wonders so that if possible even the chosen will be led into error' (Matthew 24:24).
BEING ON GUARD
"Therefore we must never be admirers of those who pretend to do such things out of virtuousness. We must note, instead, whether they have become perfect as a result of driving out their sins and because of the improvement of their way of life. This is something that is certainly not achieved through the act of faith of someone else or for reasons that are obscure to us. It happens because of a man's own zeal and the divine gift of grace.
"Such, then, is the practical knowledge which is otherwise called 'charity' by the apostle and which, on his apostolic authority, is to be preferred to all the speech of men and angels, to the full faith which can even move mountains, to all knowledge and prophetic power, to the utter abandonment of the things of the world, and, finally, even to glorious martyrdom. He listed all the types of charismatic gifts and had this to say: 'To one man the Spirit grants wisdom in preaching, to another knowledgeable discourse, to another faith, to another the gift of healing, to another the working of cures' (I Corinthians 12:8 - 10) and all the rest. But he will go on to speak of love, and notice how he put this before all the charisms: 'I will show you a way that is better than any of them' (I Corinthians 12:31).
"In this way it is clearly shown that the high point of perfection and blessedness does not lie in the working of those miracles but rather in the purity of love. And not without good reason. The former have to vanish and to be done away with. But love will endure forever. Hence we never see the Fathers caught up in these wonderworkings. By the grace of the Holy Spirit they were possessors of such capacities but they never wanted to use them unless they were coerced by utter, unavoidable necessity." END
from St. John Cassian (trans Colm Luibheid), "Conferences," (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 174 - 176