Saint Isaac the Syrian on Repentance and Humility

Today I would like to share a short quotation from the Ascetical Discourses (1st Series, No. 34) of Saint Isaac the Syrian, who is also known as Isaac the Assyrian or Isaac of Nineveh. Living during the seventh century, Isaac was ordained bishop of Nineveh in 660, and spent much of his life writing ascetical theology based on the writings of Origen and Evagrius of Pontus. At times he was accused of the Nestorian heresy, mostly because of his membership of the Assyrian Church of the East, but, aside from the fact that the degree to which the Church of the East was actually Nestorian has been mitigated by recent scholarship, Isaac’s writings themselves prove to be completely orthodox both in their premises and their conclusions.

Isaac, who has the distinction of being the last saint to be recognised as such by all the apostolic churches, only stayed in his episcopal see for five months, preferring the contemplative life of a hermit, and ended his life in the monastery of Rabban Shabur in Iraq, where he could dedicate himself to purifying his soul and writing of the way others may find God in their own lives. Much of his writing, although maintaining a strict asceticism in order to draw people away from the world and closer to the work of the Holy Spirit within them, also focuses on the mercy and forgiveness of God, and it is in this spirit that the following quotation should be read.

The very reason we must humble ourselves and repent of our sins is because we have a loving Father who is always ready to forgive us, and all our ascetical practices are geared towards helping us to recognise this fact more clearly. Thus it is imperative that we are honest with ourselves, and see the depth of our rebellion against God, so that we may receive the graces that are waiting to be poured out into our souls and be led into a new and more blessed way of living (c.f.; Matthew 23:12). Here is the quotation, which though short in length, is deep in wisdom, and requires no further commentary, as its insight is as simple as it is profound:

Anyone who acknowledges his own sins is greater than one who raises the dead by his prayer. Anyone who mourns over the state of his soul for an hour is greater than one who embraces the world in contemplation. Anyone to whom it has been given to see the truth about himself is greater than one to whom it has been given to see angels.

Courtesy of Daily Gospel.


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