Christianity 201

December 18, 2019

Without the Spirit’s Help, There Will Be No Self-Control

Six months ago we introduced you to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him. What follows was posted last week as one of three fresh readings from the three Cappadocian Fathers. Click the header below to read this particular post at source.

Basil of Caesarea: Self-Control, Obsessions and Despondency

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23

“Anyone who is truly self-controlled does not desire human glory, but restrains himself from vices such as wrath and despondency and all those obsessions which untaught and incautious souls are wont to cling to. One might go so far as to say that among all the commandments of God we find that the one is so linked with the other that it is impossible to accomplish one in isolation from another. This is found especially the case with self-control itself, in that the humble person is judged to be one who has restrained himself from pride and one who has renounced all his property and, according to the Gospel, sold all his possessions and distributed them to all (cf. Matthew 19:21) is without doubt one who has restrained himself from the desire of money. And the meek too will be one who has mastered his wrath and checked his rage. And the wandering looks of the eye, the listening of the ear, and the looseness of the tongue – what else but self-control can subdue and check them?”

Basil the Great (330-379) Bishop of Caesarea, one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, and doctor of the Eastern Church, Question 8, Response 20-25, in Rule of St. Basil in Latin and English: A Revised Critical Edition, ed. Anna M. Silvas (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) 95… He was an influential theologian whose writings always shape me when I read them.

In this section of his rule Basil expounds on self-control so that “untaught and incautious souls” may avoid being overcome by obsessions and despondency in trying to sort life on their own. It’s the last in the list of the fruit of the Spirit for a reason. It’s really important! If we have self-control, it saves us from a host of vices, including pride and the desire of money.

We live in a day when even Christians tell us to hold on to money. Many (wrongly!) call it wise stewardship. Don’t be fooled. Holding back money for ourselves positions us to indulge in a host of other sins and shifts where we place our trust. In telling us to let go of property in the Gospels, Jesus was not trying to rob us but to help us.

So what’s the key to self-control and how does it relate to generosity?

Without the Spirit’s help, there will be no self-control and no generosity in our lives. None! Either the self guides our lives or the Spirit does. When we submit to the Spirit, it frees us from obsessions and despondency, from the desire for anything other than God to sustain us and all the fear, worry, and vices that go with it.

Father, show us any areas of our lives dominated by self rather than the Spirit. As you do, teach us to submit those areas of our lives to You, so that our obedience delivers us from obsessions and despondency that seek to overcome us. Make us people that exhibit the fruit of generosity and self-control. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.