Home      Back to Trinity 13





Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Rev. Canon Dr. Robert Crouse

University of King's College Chapel

Halifax, Nova Scotia 1998

Galatians 5:16f     St. Luke 10:25f


"I say then, walk in the Spirit..."

It is, of course, purely accidental that the University Service  occurs this year within the week of the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, and that our Epistle and Gospel lessons are therefore those appointed for that week: in the Epistle lesson we have St. Paul's exhortation to Christians in ancient Galatia, that they should "walk in the Spirit;" and the Gospel lesson is about love of God and neighbour, concluding with Jesus' story about the Good Samaritan.  We could perhaps sum up the message of those lessons in one simple sentence: Life in the spirit - spiritual life - is life lived in the perspective of love of God and neighbour; it is the life of charity.


But what has that to do with the University?  Is there any more specific message there for us, as we enter upon a new academic year?  St. Paul begins by warning us against what he calls "the works of the flesh": "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like."  Quite a list, and most of the items not totally unfamiliar in our experience of college life.  But what, really, are these "works of the flesh"?


Some of you may recall those chapters in Book XIV of The City of God, where St. Augustine, in an argument against Virgil and the Platonists, discusses this text, and explains that the "works of the flesh" must always be seen as essentially perversions of will: willing self-indulgence, willing exploitation of others, willing worldliness.  And such perversions of will are certainly familiar enough to all of us.  We share in a world deeply scarred by sins of self-indulgence, greed and exploitation; we are children of a century which has perpetrated cruelty and violence to a degree unimagined in the darkest ages of our past.  And St. Paul is saying that the remedy does not lie in some legal system, but in a conversion of will - a new spiritual life - the life of charity.


It is precisely about that conversion of will that Jesus speaks in our Gospel lesson, when the lawyer asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus tells him that he must love God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, and love his neighbour as he loves his own self.  "This do, and thou shalt live."  This "love" of which Jesus speaks is not a matter of emotional attachment, or the bonds of natural affection -- his story of the Good Samaritan makes that point clearly: it is crucial to the story that the hero is not a Jew, but a Samaritan, a stranger, an outcast, for whom those attachments do not exist.  The love of which Jesus speaks is charity: the steadfast willing of the good -- the absolute and eternal good which is God, and in that perspective, willing the good of one another. 


That, I think, is the basic meaning of our Scripture readings, and it seems to me a meaning profoundly relevant to our human condition, at all times and in all places.  But we must also try to see its particular relevance to the life of the university and to our vocation as scholars.


The University exists for the cultivation of what our philosophical tradition since Aristotle has called the "intellectual virtues" -- the various forms of science and wisdom; it is an institution dedicated to the pursuit of truth.  But the truth and the Good are finally inseparable: the truth is simply the good of intellect, and all the virtues are summed up in that steadfast willing of the good which we call charity.  Thus charity is said to be the "form" of all the virtues: the form of which all of them have actual life.  And it involves a dialectical interplay, a reciprocity, an interdependence of intellect and will.  To love the truth, you must know it, but to know the truth you must love it.  That is the doctrine which you will find adumbrated in the Ethics of Aristotle, and more fully worked out in the trinitarian doctrine of St. Augustine, in the scholastic theology of the 13th century, and in the poetry of Dante.


Loving depends upon knowing, and knowing depends upon loving.  That dialectical formula stands at the very heart of the great tradition of Christian humanism in which our universities were founded.  The unity and creative interplay of divers elements and aspects and dimensions -- intellectual, moral, religious -- belonged to the very essence of that tradition, and it is, of course, precisely that unity that has tended to be lost in the modern secularizing of so many universities.  And that loss seems to me a very sad impoverishment and narrowing of vision.  St. Paul was surely right when he said that without charity knowledge was worthless: "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal."


The same point is made, I think, quite dramatically by a remarkable piece of thirteenth-century sculpture, and I'll describe it for you as a concluding illustration.  It's a work by Giovanni Pisano, the very greatest of gothic sculptors, contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dante and Giotto, noted, for instance, for his work on the facade of Sienna Cathedral, when he placed figures of Plato and Aristotle, engaged in lively conversation with ancient Hebrew kings and prophets and ancient sibyls -- illustrating magnificently the interplay of human philosophy and divine revelation and human religious aspiration.  It's a wonderful illustration of Christian humanism.


But the particular work I want to focus upon is less well-known.  It's a fond the youthful Giovanni Pisano created for the Church of San Giovanni Forcivitas, in the Tuscan city of Pistoia.  Around the bowl of the font, he carved figures representing the four natural (or cardinal) virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude; and for the pedestal, he carved faith, hope and charity.  Thus it seems to me a marvellous illustration of what today's scripture lessons are about, and what we might well have in mind as we enter upon a new academic year:  the authentic life of intellect is grounded in and sustained by charity.


And, of course, it is profoundly right that we mark the beginning with this liturgy, in which we are invited to eat and drink the charity of God.


"I say then, walk in the Spirit."