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Self-con­trol is also list­ed by the Apos­tle Paul as a “fruit of the Spir­it.” (Gala­tians 5:22) This virtue is one which is not often eas­i­ly attained because peo­ple for­get that, like patience, it is a grace of God and they must seek it from the Lord. Instead they think that it can come from human effort and will pow­er alone.

Self-con­trol is one of the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of God and is one of the main gifts to man as cre­at­ed in God’s image. Accord­ing to the saints, self-con­trol is one of the main ele­ments of the divine image in man, coex­ten­sive with the gift of free­dom which is often explained as the essen­tial and basic ele­ment of man’s like­ness to his Cre­ator. When one is per­fect­ly free by the grace of God — “where the Spir­it of the Lord is, there is free­dom” (2 Corinthi­ans 3:17) — there is also per­fect con­trol over one­self.

Man los­es his self-con­trol when he sells him­self to sin and becomes a slave to the cor­rup­tion of his flesh­ly pas­sions. Such a man has been char­ac­ter­ized well in the sec­ond let­ter of Saint Peter.

… those who indulge in the lust of defil­ing pas­sion and despise author­i­ty … bold and will­ful… irra­tional ani­mals, crea­tures of instinct, born to be caught and killed, revil­ing in mat­ters of which they are igno­rant … They are blots and blem­ish­es, rev­el­ing in their dis­si­pa­tion… They have eyes full of adul­tery, insa­tiable for sin… They have hearts trained in greed … They have gone astray… These are water­less springs and mists dri­ven by a storm … For, utter­ing loud boasts of fol­ly, they entice with licen­tious pas­sions of the flesh men who have bare­ly escaped from those who live in error. They promise them free­dom, but they them­selves are slaves of cor­rup­tion; for what­ev­er over­comes a man, to that he is enslaved. (2 Peter 10–19)

The man with­out self-con­trol is enslaved. He is the cap­tive of sin, the will­ing instru­ment of car­nal pas­sions, the vic­tim of all fool­ish­ness and evil. He is bound in his mind and heart by “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” (I John 1–17) He is a “child of the dev­il” (John 8:44, Acts 13:10, 1 John 3:10) and pos­sess­es a “car­nal mind.” (Romans 8:7)

…fol­low­ing the course of this world, fol­low­ing the prince of the pow­er of the air, the spir­it that is now at work in the sons of dis­obe­di­ence. Among these we also once lived in the pas­sions of our flesh, fol­low­ing the desires of the body… (Eph­esians 2.3–4, Romans 1:18–32)

Self-con­trol, accord­ing to the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the Church, is the spir­i­tu­al mas­tery over the lusts of the mind and the flesh. It is often called “pas­sion­less­ness” by the spir­i­tu­al mas­ters. Pas­sion­less­ness (apatheia) does not mean the destruc­tion of the nat­ur­al dri­ves and desires of the body and soul, such as the need for sleep, food and drink; or the emo­tions such as spir­i­tu­al de- sire, zeal, excite­ment, joy, awe, sor­row or fear. It means rather the con­trol of the feel­ings that are nor- mal, nat­ur­al and healthy, and the mor­ti­fi­ca­tion of the feel­ings that are wicked and evil.

Evil is to be seen, not in the nature of crea­tures, but in their wrong and irra­tional move­ments.

Pas­sion­less­ness is a peace­ful state of the soul in which it is not read­i­ly moved to evil.

In the soul are its spir­i­tu­al pow­ers. In the body are its sens­es and mem­bers. Around the per­son are food, pos­ses­sions, mon­ey, etc. A right or wrong use of things, and the result­ing effects show us as being either vir­tu­ous or sin­ful.

The scrip­tures… do not for­bid eat­ing or bear­ing chil­dren or hav­ing mon­ey and spend­ing it right­ly, but they for­bid glut­tony, for­ni­ca­tion, and so on.

They do not even for­bid us to think about such things…but only for­bid us to think of them with pas­sion and lust.

When the mind is not the mas­ter, the sens­es hold sway, and as a rule the sens­es are mixed with the pow­er of sin which, through plea­sure, leads the soul to pity the flesh…As a result, it under­takes, as if it were nat­ur­al to do so, a pas­sion­ate and lust­ful and plea­sure-lov­ing care of the flesh and leads man away from the tru­ly nat­ur­al life, urg­ing him to be for him­self the insti­ga­tor of evil…

Evil for a ratio­nal soul is to for­get its nat­ur­al good, thanks to a pas­sion­ate atti­tude to the flesh and the world. When the mind becomes the mas­ter, it abol­ish­es such an attitude…rightly inter­pret­ing the ori­gin and nature of the world and the flesh…

As the mind, keep­ing pas­sion in its pow­er, makes the sens­es the instru­ments of virtue, so the pas­sions, cap­ti­vat­ing the mind, move the sens­es to sin. It is nec­es­sary to see how the soul should keep a suit­able mode of action by using for virtues what was for­mer­ly used for sin.

A soul moves ratio­nal­ly when its desir­ing pow­er has acquired self-mas­tery, its excitable pow­er strives after love… and its men­tal pow­er abides in God by prayer and spir­i­tu­al con­tem­pla­tion. (Saint Max­imus the Con­fes­sor, 7th c.)

Thus it is only com­mu­nion with God, through Christ and the Holy Spir­it, that gives the pow­er of self-con­trol to the ratio­nal crea­ture of God.