Sunday, October 12, 2014

The other state

Last Sunday we heard the "peace of God which is beyond all understanding." Is week we complete our reading of the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. In it St. Paul speak of another state that should characterize the Christian life. In chapter 4 verse 11 he writes

I do not speak of want, for I have learned, in whatever situation I am, to be content.

It's the last phrase that seems incredible.

γὰρ ἔμαθον ἐν οἷς εἰμι αὐτάρκης εἶναι

The I have learned doesn't refer to learning over time, it is that sudden realization of something. At some point St. Paul realized that contentment is not connected to your situation. It is entirely internal.

Here for the word we translate as content, Paul has borrowed a word from stoicism which would have known to the Gentiles. In stoicism the word "autarkes" means totally self-sufficient. One is content, self-contained. Paul however take their word which sounds ego-centric and turns it on its head.

The Christian is content, self-sufficient, only when the self is rooted totally in Christ. In verse 13 he explains

I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

"Content" for the Christian and for the stoic is the same, in that neither look for their contentment in the world. No thing, no person in this world can make you content.

Christian contentment differs from the stoic in that we do not find contentment in ourselves, we find it by placing ourselves in Christ.

All of our true life, all of our true strength comes from him.

As we say at mass,

Through him, and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit

Last week St. Paul told us how to have peace. This week he gives us the formula for contentment. Not resignation but true contentment.