So far I have discussed basic morality, the idea that morality is the fruit of salvation, and how the beginning of the life of salvation is a purification (katharsis) of the heart or morality “because God said so”. I mentioned briefly that our purification comes through prayer, fasting, and repentance; most spiritual traditions share these forms of worship with Christianity. For Christians, it must be added that the study of scriptures and worship within the Church are necessary to the purification of the heart. It is through all of these acts of worship (Praxis) where our will finds (comm)union with the Will of God. Prayer, fasting, and repentance find their fulfillment within the words of the scriptures and the sacramental worship of the Church—it is where the action of worship finds its identity in Christ. Here is the stage in the life of salvation, the purified heart through the praxis of worship, where the mind becomes illumined (theoria) to the truth behind Christian morality. Now we can begin to understand “why” certain things are right or wrong.
Let me quickly state that these “stages” in the life of salvation are not a systematic process with cut and dry boundaries; they fluctuate at different times for different people. While purification must happen before illumination, the complexity of the Mind of God requires this to happen at a gradual pace. While we come to understand the truth on basic matters quite early, we continue our katharsis so that greater matters can be revealed to us. This also does not imply some sort of secret knowledge (gnosis) that is only available to the initiated. Because illumination is ultimately granted through grace, or on God’s time, it is impossible to create a “grade level” system for our spiritual knowledge. For example, “A does not necessarily need to be understood before B. Sometimes we understand F then have to go back and gain understanding for A.” We refer to all of this as a katharsis because we are emptying our spirit to make room for the understanding of A through Z.
I stated before that our perfect exercise of faith is when we act simply “because God said so”. This is one of the biggest problems people have with Christianity. For many, this “blind” faith is proof of the ignorance found among Christians. How can we call ourselves freethinking if we only act because God (or a religious institution) has commanded it? As a Christian living in the modern Western world, where personal liberty is the apex of human existence, I have found great difficulty in answering this question; it is, to say the least, a valid question. If Christianity is not in fact a “Law of Morality”, why am I bound by this understanding of morality, especially if I am not hurting anyone in the process?
When it comes to basic morality, lying, stealing, assault, murder, it is easy for us to see certain acts as detrimental to our lives. Slightly more difficult to see, but still rather common knowledge, are the reasons we must care for the poor and sick, and point out injustice where it is found. It is matters of a more personal nature where we begin to find confusion. I will use one example in an attempt to illustrate this point—pre-marital sex. In Christian teachings, any sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage is considered immoral. This has become an area of confusion because the choices between two consenting adults appear to be outside the concern of anyone, including God. Also, it is human nature to have sexual desire so as long as it is safe and consensual, what is the problem?
As Christians, we (attempt to) follow the restrictions on sexual activity first because we have been commanded to do so. The prohibition on fornication in the scriptures is clear. We struggle, because it is obviously a struggle, through temptations and desires that are natural and difficult. As we fail, and try again, fail, and try again, to fight our temptations, we are illumined to the truth behind this moral teaching. Sexual activity outside of marriage weakens the bond of marriage. It bypasses the spiritual connection two people must share, through communication and commitment, in order for a marital bond to be completely healthy. It is only through the katharsis of the individual, where the union of the couple can find completion in sexual intercourse.
And so it is with all matters of morality. The Christian begins their purification with only the knowledge that it is God who has spoken and we are happy to call this a Divine ignorance. As we continue in our acts of worship, falling and rising many times, we are granted knowledge of the spirit and clarity of the mind. Here we learn that yes, God has said so, but He has a very real and practical reason for saying so. Not only do the commands of God test our faith and bring our will closer to His will, they also serve as a means to preserve us from harm and offer peace and stability to our mortal lives. We see the world as it is meant to be because our will is realigning with the will of God. Purification and illumination lead us to Union with God (theosis), and it is only here where we can truly call ourselves free and autonomous beings. A complete emptying of our will, replaced by the will of God, allows us to become entirely selfless in our love for all of God’s creation.