Somewhere in his writings on the priesthood, St John Chrysostom makes an interesting observation. Speaking about how priests should behave around women the saint says that “more priests have fallen through compassion than lust.”
To contemporary ears it sounds odd to find fault with compassion or even that compassion might in someway be a source of error. In part this is because we have, as Peter Kreeft has pointed out, become in recent years better at the “soft” virtues (forgiveness and compassion to name but two) then the “hard” virtues (for example, justice and obedience). Added to this is I think the more general struggle of fallen humanity to advance some virtues at the expense of others. If in an earlier age, to return momentarily to Kreeft, we were better at justice it was (I suspect) because we neglected compassion, forgiveness and mercy.
In any event all of this came to mind when I read recently a comment how antinomianism has taken hold off American Christianity in general and Orthodox Christianity in particular. To be sure, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are “free from the law.” For example he tells the Galatians, “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (3:23-25, NKJV)
But our freedom for Paul is not license; not freedom from the moral law but from compulsion. And so as the moral theologian Germain Grisez argues what we have in Christ is a freedom for virtuous living. Writing in Living a Christian Life Grisez summarizes Paul’s teaching and argues that
Far from limiting freedom, faith in Jesus makes his disciples free (see Jn 8.31-36). With faith, individuals can escape from slavery to sin and to death’s terror, and men and women together can escape mutual exploitation and enter into authentic, faithful communion. No longer living in conflict with reality and true fulfillment, Christians, if they are faithful, enjoy the freedom of the children of God (see Rom 8.21).
Chrysostom’s comment about compassion is, I think, a reminder that there is more than one way that we can slip back into the slavery to sin from which we have only recently escaped. If at one time American Christianity found itself tempted by justice (for example) today we are tempted by the very softer virtues that we celebrate. Odd though it may sound mercy, compassion, and forgiveness are now often the cause of our fall and this is because we have come to see these virtues as somehow detached from, and even opposed to, the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage.
Tomorrow I would like to look with you at what I’m calling the human foundations of antinomianism. What, I hope to show, the anthropology that underlies this false vision of the human person? Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome they are actively sought.