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Thoughts-What Neuroscience and the Church Fathers Have to Say

June 14, 2012

To some, Saint Peter of Damascus’s list of virtues may not be their first choice in spiritual reading, but it’s value extends beyond an attempt at thoroughness or an exercise in categorization. Given the associative nature of memory and the way one idea/thought/image primes neural circuits for a series of related thoughts that in turn have a significant influence on how one engages with the world, reading regularly about the virtues may be one of the best ways to ingrain virtuous behavior. In fact, one doesn’t even need an elaborate commentary. Simply mentioning a word — such as forgiveness, patience, love, kindness… — immediately activate a web of similar thoughts which will guide subsequent action, at least, according to the findings of neuroscience, in the next ten minutes. Just reading the following excerpt from his list can have a blessed affect on the mind and the soul:

“Courage, justice, faith, hope, love, religious devotion, spiritual knowledge, resolution, strength, understanding, wisdom, gentleness, searching the Scriptures, acts of charity, purity of heart, peace, patient endurance, self-control, perseverance, probity of intention, purposiveness, sensitivity, heedfulness, godlike stability, warmth, alertness, the fervor of the Spirit, meditation, diligence, watchfulness, mindfulness, reflection, reverence, respect, return to God, allegiance to Christ, keeping of the commandments, guarding of the soul, purity of conscience,  the doing of good actions, orderliness, gracefulness, modesty, counsel, magnanimity, devotion to God, stillness,  service, attentiveness,  quietude, calmness, cheerfulness, fortitude, boldness, godlike zeal, fervency, progress, watchfulness over the intellect, moral integrity, holiness, virginity, sanctification, purity of body, chasteness of soul, reading for Christ’s sake, concern for God, comprehension, forgiveness of debts, good management, skillfulness, acuity, fairness, the right use of things, cognitive insight, good-naturedness, experience, psalmody, prayer, thanksgiving, intercession, petition, appeal, hymnody, doxology,  the search of God, forbearance, simplicity of soul, sympathy goodness of disposition, activities that accord with nature, activities exceeding one’s natural capacity, brotherly love, concord, communion in God, sweetness, a spiritual disposition, mildness, rectitude, innocence, kindliness, guilelessness, simplicity, good repute, speaking well of others, good works, preference of one’s neighbor, godlike tenderness, a virtuous character, consistency, nobility, gratitude, humility, dignity, forbearance, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, discrimination, accessibility, courtesy, tranquility, contemplation, guidance, reliability, clearsightedness, dispassion, spiritual joy, sureness, tears of understanding, tears of soul, a loving desire for God, pity, mercy, compassion, purity of soul, purity of intellect, prescience, pure prayer, steadfastness, fitness of soul and body, illumination, the recovery of one’s soul, proper teaching, childlikeness in Christ, rootedness, admonition and encouragement, both moderate and forcible, a praiseworthy ability to change, ecstasy towards God, perfection in Christ, true enlightenment, an intense longing for God, rapture of intellect, the indwelling of God, love of God, love inner wisdom, theology, a true confession of faith, saintliness, successful accomplishment, perfect health of soul, virtue, praise from God, grace, kingship, adoption to sonship.”

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