BEYOND CONTRADICTIONS: St. PETER OF DAMASCUS, THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS, Philokalia vol. 3

pp.96-100

In his chapter on the Seven Commandments, St. Peter begins with fear as the cornerstone and starting point of salvation. He continues with 6 more levels of spiritual ascent until we reach the level of wisdom.

Our journey begins with fear because we “are taught that if we do not begin with fear, we can never ascend to the rest.”  If fear is so critical, then, why is it that it is transformed into wisdom at the end of the chapter?  

Fear, St. Peter tells us, is transformed into “religious devotion, from which springs spiritual knowledge; from this knowledge comes judgment, that is, discrimination; from discrimination comes the strength that leads to understanding; from thence you come to wisdom.”

The journey to wisdom and salvation is not a matter of simple substitution of evil with good but one of continuous transformation. St. Peter presents us with 7 levels of gradual conversion, undertaken in gentleness, that result in reconciliation rather than elimination.

We are not simply avenging warriors against passions. We are to “reflect with wonder on the self-abasement of our Lord Jesus Christ” and imitate it. The emphasis is not on what we are to reject but on what we become, as it is given to us in the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit:

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn:

for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek:

for they shall inherit the earth.

Through this series of transformations, we acquire a precious gift—divine knowledge. The logic is clear. By applying the commandments (fear, inward grief, gentleness, the desire for virtues, mercy, detachment and the grace of the Holy Spirit), our intellect is freed from passions and delusions and, hence, able to see the true nature of things.  It is divine knowledge that enables us to acquire wisdom.

With divine knowledge, our perception of the world and our place in it, are no longer the same. There are no contradictions or divisions between visible and invisible reality because we possess “the knowledge of the mysteries of God inherent in the visible world.”

This means that material things are no longer worthless of attention or objects of passion because in them we can now discern the divine and, hence, their purpose.  We “have ascended with Christ into the transcendent world through the knowledge of intelligible realities and of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures.”

We do not reject our human side but gain “the knowledge of things both human and divine” and see the connection between, and inseparability of, the two. This is when the union with Him is perfected:

By passing through all these levels of practice and contemplation you are granted pure and perfect prayer, established within you through the peace and love of God and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is what is meant by saying, ‘Gain possession of God within yourself’

By seeing “things as they truly are,” we no longer need to demonize matter but see it in its proper perspective as embodiment of the divine.

Understanding the true nature of material things, as temporary and perishable rather than life’s goals, we are freed from passions and delusion and become masters of ourselves.

Then, coming to itself, the intellect recognizes its proper dignity-to be Master of Itself-and is able; for its eye, made blind by the devil through the tyranny of the passions, is opened.

As masters of ourselves, endowed with true knowledge, we are no longer torn between matter and spirit. We can enjoy the physical beauty around us, the comforts of food and home and the benefits of our labor in a different way as we discern “in these visible things God’s power and providence, His goodness and wisdom…”

By seeing the true nature of things, we can enjoy the world “without passion,’ and perceive it as a pointer to God’s grandeur.

Thus, by virtue of his soul’s purity, he is found worthy to be resurrected with Christ spiritually, and receives the strength to look without passion on the exterior beauty of visible things and to praise through them the Creator of all. Contemplating in these visible things God’s power and providence, His goodness and wisdom, as St Paul says (cf. Rom 1 : 2o-2 I),

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