There are some who see clearly that man has no other enemy but concupiscence, which turns him away from God, and not (human) enemies, no other good but God, and not a rich land. Let those who believe that man’s good lies in the flesh and his evil in whatever turns him away from sensual pleasures take their fill and die of it. But those who seek God with all their hearts, whose only pain is to be deprived of the sight of him, whose only desire to possess him, who grieve at finding themselves surrounded and dominated by such enemies, let them take heart, for I bring them glad tidings …
– Blaise Pascal, Pensees
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Closely related to autarkeia, “contentment,”is enkrateia or “self-control.” Enkrateia is the last of the nine bright gem-like words Paul uses to describe the Fruit produced by the indwelling Spirit in the life of the believer (Galatians 5:22, 23). It’s also the next item on our list of fundamental Pilgrim values.
Interiority is the controlling concept here. Inwardness is the link that binds these two mutually enhancing terms. As the observant reader may have noted, en is Greek for “in”; and since the noun kratos denotes “strength, might, or power,” the resulting compound, enkrateia, can be interpreted either as “inner strength” or “the strength to draw or hold something in.” Autarkeia (as discussed in the previous entry) is the deep satisfaction that consists in knowing that everything I could ever possibly want or need I already possess within myself. Enkrateia is the ability to rein myself in, to restrain, contain, and control my inner impulses. The one refers to assets, the other to liabilities. In both cases, it’s all about what happens on the inside.
That’s where Blaise Pascal enters the picture. Pascal understood that interiority is essential to true spirituality. It’s the place where Real Life happens. This insight (which, of course, was not uniquely his own) provides a much needed corrective to the notion, so prevalent in our time, that the warfare of the Church Militant is a matter of beating back the infidels, the heretics, the persecutors, the atheists, the agnostics, and all the other human enemies of the Gospel message. There is, in fact, no substantial threat to be anticipated from that quarter; for as Isaiah (29:7) says,
And the multitude of all the nations who wage war
Even all who wage war against her and her stronghold,
and who distress her,
Shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.
The only danger the Pilgrim need truly fear comes not from other people but from the temptations in his own heart and the pernicious allurements of his own internal tendencies. There is indeed a good fight to be fought and a righteous war to be waged, but it is not a battle against liberals or conservatives, gays or homophobes, Republicans or Democrats, terrorists, tyrants, racists, cultists, or right-wing wackos. It’s much simpler – and far more challenging – than that.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,” writes author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, “and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them!” We all face a subtle and perennial temptation to define our spiritual warfare in precisely these terms. It’s a deception, of course; for the truth, as Solzhenitsyn goes on to say, is that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
To put it another way, the most formidable opponent you will ever face in the battle for truth and goodness is … yourself. The toughest battle you will ever endure is the one that gets played out on the field of self-discipline, self-control, and moment-by-moment reliance upon the indwelling presence of the Spirit. And enkrateia is the only weapon you will ever need to win it.