Yesterday we saw that Cassian teaches the necessity of interior “fasting.” The person who does not practice fasting from cynicism, jealousy, anger and so forth, on the level of his heart, stores up poison there. These vices, largely connected with the way we view our neighbour, are so many offences against love of neighbour, therefore.
For Cassian in the fifth century, as for us in the twenty-first, the wisdom lies in “owning” our problems, as we say now. Then we are less apt to project them onto a friend, spouse, colleague, son or daughter. Cassian goes even deeper. There is a profound benefit to be gained within the vessel of the heart if we own our problems. It changes not only the way we look at others, it changes our very heart. Here is what he advises:
[We] must not seek all kinds of virtue from one person. For there is one adorned with the flowers of knowledge, another who is more strongly fortified by the practice of discretion, another who is solidly founded in patience, one who excels in the virtue of humility and another in that of abstinence, while still another is decked with the grace of simplicity. Therefore [he] who, like a most prudent bee, is desirous of storing up spiritual honey must suck the flower of a particular virtue from those who possess it more intimately and he must lay it up carefully in the vessel of his heart (Institutes 5:IV).
If we can manage to overlook the rather flowery fifth-century language, we can see that this is good news indeed. There is nothing unrealistic here. The person described by Cassian knows that no one possesses every virtue in its fullness. But rather than despairing, or posing as the perennial critic, such a person is beginning to realise that every sign of goodness he finds in others represents a great victory for grace. He accepts that there will be a certain unevenness in the goodness of all people. Still, to recognise what is good in others is to “store up spiritual honey.” This bears fruit on the level of his heart. It becomes “sweet.”