Wednesday, September 13, 2006


“Nihil magis,” inquit ille Socrates, aut aliquis alius, ius cui idem adversus humana atque eadem potestas est, “persuasi mihi, quam ne ad opiniones vestras actum vitae meae flecterem. Solita conferte undique verba; non conviciari vos putabo sed vagire velut infantes miserrimos.” Haec dicet ille, cui sapientia contigit, quem animus vitiorum immunis increpare alios, non quia odit, sed in remedium iubet.

“Upon nothing,” says a Socrates, or some other person who is able and powerful to deal with human adversities, “am I more resolved than not to change my course of action on the basis of your opinions. Drag out all the usual arguments and pile them on; I will not consider you to be abusing me, but rather to simply be crying like pathetic infants.” Thus speaks he who has wisdom, whose soul, being itself free from all vices, bids him rebuke others, not because he hates them, but in order to cure them.

- Seneca’s De Vita Beata, XXVI:4-5 (ESS II:172-173)

The metaphor of medicine has long been applied to spiritual correction. Pagan Seneca makes use of the image here, using the word “cure” or “remedy.” A common German term for priests and pastors is Seelsorger, or “soul-healer.”

Of course, not all who require the help of a doctor necessarily welcome the care they need. Often the doctor’s remedies are unpleasant. Only the clear understanding that such unpleasant remedies in the present will provide soundness in the future allows the average patient to stoically take his medicine or endure his unpleasant regimen.

Of course, not everyone is a Stoic.

Many are the patients who do not understand the seriousness of their illness. Many are they who do not have the faith in their doctor necessary to believe in future days of better health. Many are they who feel that the future benefit is not worth the present unpleasantness, and what is life but a series of present moments?

Seneca epitomizes all these in the worst, most foolish form of patient a doctor may encounter: a miserable infant. There is no reasoning with an infant.

The infant heaps abuse on the doctor, screams at him, flails about – all because the infant does not understand what the doctor is doing or why. All the infant knows is that someone is hurting him, and he simply tries to defend himself, lashing out instinctively like an animal. The infant does not understand that the pain the doctor inflicts is in the infant’s best interest. The infant, who lacks reason, cannot imagine any motive but hatred behind such unpleasant treatment, and yet the healer has only the infant’s health in mind.

What if the doctor’s unpleasant assistance were to be repelled by the infant’s screaming?

Of course, no doctor worth his salt would be so easily deterred. After all, the doctor knows what the infant’s best interest is; the infant is unreasonable. No, the doctor will rather go to even more unpleasant lengths to ensure the child’s health, if that is what it takes, while the child screams all the more loudly.

A good healer must stay his course and deliver the regimen of care, regardless of the unreasonable screaming of his infant patient.

Like the doctor, the Christian must remember that he is delivering an unpleasant remedy to an unreasonable patient. “This is for your own good,” are wasted words, just as they would be wasted on the unreasoning and beast-like infant. No, the Christian must purse his lips and endure all manner of abuse if he truly desires the health of his patient.

It is the unfaithful Christian and the unfaithful doctor who cares more for his own immediate comfort than the future health of a sick patient.

How cruel it would be to refuse medical care to pitiful, sick infants simply because they scream and flail at their caregiver! So cruel would it also be for Christians to refuse spiritual care to pitiful, sin-sick men and women simply because they cannot understand their own need.

The faithful Christian, particularly those in the distinct vocation of Seelsorger, “soul-healer,” must stoically press forward with the unpleasant regimen of care for those entrusted to his healing ministrations. He must not be deterred by those who, like pitiful unreasoning infants, heap abuse upon him. If he will love his people, he must do what must be done with mouth and shoulders set. This necessary stoicism is well-taught by Our Seneca.
If you want to be a soul-healer, steel yourself for abuse from unreasonable patients. Rehearse the words now so that they may be ready on your lips:

Upon nothing am I more resolved than not to change my course of action on the basis of your opinions. Drag out all the usual arguments and pile them on; I will not consider you to be abusing me, but rather to simply be crying like pathetic infants.
- Lucilius

[The saints of old] suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy.
- The Epistle to the Hebrews (11:37-38, ESV)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Father Mark!