Building the House of the Soul

Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Chapter 14 On the Structure and Harmony of the Virtues of the Soul

Holy Scripture says of the midwives who kept alive the Israelites’ male children, that through the God-fearing midwives they made themselves houses. Exodus 1:21

Frederick Douglass House

Dorotheos begins this lengthier chapter with explaining that the midwives were obviously not building physical houses but rather, through the keeping of the commandments, they built up the house of the soul. “How the house of the soul is built we can learn from the building of a material house and from the knowledge and care it demands.” (Page 201)

The House of the Soul

  • Foundation = Faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6
  • Building Stones = Virtues. Is there an occasion for obedience? A stone must be laid, obedience. Does a disagreement arise among the brethren? A stone of patience must be laid. Is there need for self-control? That stone too must be laid. One stone for forebearance, another for mortifying self-will, one for meekness, etc.
  • Mortar = Humility. Without humility the stones come apart.
  • Tie-beams = Discretion. Discretion draws the whole house together.
  • Roof = Love. Charity is the completion of virtue as the roof completes the house.
  • Crown = Humility. “If you build yourself a house and make it your dwelling place, put a crown round your house (railings around the flat roof) lest your children fall from the roof.” Deut 22:8 As each virtue needs humility for its acquisition – and in that sense we said that each stone is laid with the mortar of humility –so the perfection of all the virtues is humility. Dorotheos (Page 203)
  • Craftsman Builder = The one who acts with the knowledge that he knows what he is doing. Because a man without knowledge may destroy his own work. For Example: A brother comes along and says one word to anoy or offend you. You say nothing – you have laid a brick. Then you go off and speak to another and say, “That blighter so-and-so said this and that to me and I did not say a word.” There you are – you have laid brick and taken up two.

Everyone according to his ability and the condition of his soul has the power to be merciful; he must only take great care to do whatever good he does with knowledge, as we have said, for each of the virtues. For we say that a man acting with knowledge, is capable of building his own house safely. About this the Gospel says, “A wise man builds his house on a rock” and nothing can overturn it. May God, who is a lover of men, grant you may hear, and what you hear do, that these words do not become your condemnation on the day of judgment, so that to him be glory for all ages. Amen. (Page 211)

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