Spiritual warfare

By their fruits ye shall know them. I might call this Christ’s recommended principle for taking sides. Note, it is seldom if ever in our capacity to judge “as God judges,” for we have neither the fulness of evidence, nor the sophistication of analysis that is available to Him. ¬†God, in this sense, actually has the right to form a liberal conclusion, should He do so. In looking through the murky annals of our human history, we may think we glimpse meanings in the works of providence. But without certainty.

By this recommended principle — know the fruits — we may steer away from the obvious poisons, at least. Even the wild animals do this, though none has, to my knowledge, any appreciation of history (whether ours, or theirs). It is to know the fruits, and not to hunger, except after truth and righteousness.

Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory, my late confessor, wrote a marvellous book on Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, in which he treats of this most judiciously. It is a book on ascetical theology — “the science of the saints, based on the study of their lives” — that does not reduce sanctity to abstinence, nor avoid the topic. Kindness, patience, truth-telling, and chastity, are instead creative forms, in which the element of self-denial does not constitute the beginning. But in Scupoli’s Spiritual Combat, which has spread as much through Orthodox Greek and Russian translation as by the original Italian, we begin not only by trusting God, but by distrusting ourself. For by our own fruits, we know ourselves.

Ignorance and curiosity are our twin outward-looking debilitations.

Knowledge “from the fruits” is, in fact, the only reliable moral knowledge for us, about the external world. It is why the origins of heresies need not, possibly should not, be investigated.