Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The First, and Last Enemy: The Nemean Lion

When the Roman legions were caught in a tactically bad situation, they would often cut their own odds. For instance, at Gallorum Forum, the Legio Martia ordered the recruit band to stand to one side during the battle against Mark Anthony (BC 43, Civil War). The rationale for this was that inexperience would create chaos in the Roman lines, and that numbers were the least of the worries at that point. Martia was victorious, because her veterans were trained to function independently, to give their own orders when cut off, and to form their own tactics in the fog of war. In the Christian era, awards have been given for independent action against orders. The Austrian Empire gave this to those who achieved success by risking court-martial. This was a Baroque epiphany, additive to the legionary Pauline model. When Hercules went to slay the Nemean lion, he realized that the fur could not be pierced, and that the beast had to be killed in the mouth or throat, or have its hide ripped by its own claws. He had to strangle the beast. The spiritual warfare in our spiritual life is not straightforward: it is desperate, complex, and simple only in a non-obvious way. Saint Paul tells us not to beat the air. Instead, we are to arm ourselves, prepare ourselves, and fight as if only one can win. We cannot embrace the worldy model of "success".The Nemean Lion is the Self. It can only be killed, effectively and salvifically, by the Self, by the Champion. It must be tracked to its lair, and engaged in close quarters. It must be strangled and skinned with its own claws. It is the most difficult adversary, because it comes first. It could easily prove the death of the young champion, coming, as it does, so early as a dire challenge. Nevertheless, the one who conquers can wear the lion-skin forever. If we want to become like Hercules, we must not "follow orders" (didn't the Nazis restrict themselves to this), but must learn the deeper lessons, the lessons David learned from the Law which lead to the shewbread. And, finally, we must become champions. Perhaps, then, we may find adventure.
Isaac the Syrian says it thusly: "The effect of the cross is twofold; the duality of its nature divides it into two parts, One consists in enduring sorrows of the flesh which are brought about by the action of the excitable part of the soul, and this part is called activity. The other part lies in the finer workings of the mind and in divine meditation, as well as in attending to prayer, etc.; it is accomplished by means of the desiring part of the soul and is called contemplation. The part of the soul by dint of its zeal, while the second part is the activity of soulful love, in other words, natural desire, which enlightens the rational part of the soul. Every man who, before perfectly mastering the first part, switches to the second, attracted out of weakness--to say nothing of laziness, is overtaken by God's wrath because he did not first mortify his members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5). In other words, he did not cure his thoughts of infirmities by patiently bearing the cross, but rather dared in his mind to envision the glory of the cross" (Word 55).
"It is evident from these words of Isaac the Syrian that what we call prelest proper exists when a man starts trying to live above his capabilities. Without having cleansed himself of passions, he strives for a life of contemplation and dreams of the delights of spiritual grace. Thus the wrath of God befalls a man; because he thinks too highly of himself, God's grace is withdrawn from him and he falls under the influence of the evil one who actively begins to tickle his vainglory with lofty contemplation and [spiritual] delights..." http://www.roca.org/OA/66-68/66n.htm
We wish romance, but not delusion. It is evident that the spiritual life is dangerous. The first, the last, the deadliest enemy is the Self. We have need of Hercules' strength and directness, as well as divine blessing, in order to slay this Foe.

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