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Visions Of Hope: Perfection

...I used to think of perfection in terms of ethics and behaviour. I no longer think in these terms... I now tend to think of perfection as wholeness, harmony, as a unity, as a oneness with God,'' writes William Sykes.

Perfection—completion; making perfect; full development; faultlessness; comparative excellence; perfect person or thing; highest pitch, perfect specimen or manifestation


I used to sing in the choir of the University Church of Christ the King, in London. During a summer vacation we went to sing the services in Llandaff Cathedral for a week, and this was followed by a short tour in Germany. Our singing improved as we went from church to church. Having sung together for a fortnight we were beginning to sing quite well.

We came to our final Service in a church in Cologne. I shall never forget this service. The anthem was Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus. Something strange happened to us whilst singing this anthem. It was as though everything suddenly clicked into place. We were conscious of being on a higher plane. There was a glorious feeling of absolute and utter harmony. We felt we were singing as one person. The conductor only had to move his little finger and there was an instant reaction. It was a thrilling experience. At the end of the anthem we all gasped in amazement. This was the closest we had come to perfection, and it was a wonderful sensation.

I used to think of perfection in terms of ethics and behaviour. I no longer think in these terms, since the experience in Cologne. I now tend to think of perfection as wholeness, harmony, as a unity, as a oneness with God. I see my role as a priest primarily as exercising a cure of souls—enabling people to come to wholeness through releasing the divine that is already within them. This surely must be the source of our perfection.

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he.
Deuteronomy 32:3-4

This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true.
2 Samuel 22:31

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
Matthew 19:21

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:4

Every heart contains perfection's germ.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 'Queen Mab', v. 146, in Thomas Hutchinson, editor, The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Oxford University Press, 1935, page 772

Perfection is always to be measured, by its nearness to the pattern of perfection.
Benjamin Whichcote, Moral and Religious Aphorisms, century xii, number 1129, Elkin Mathews & Marrot, 1930, page 132

Nature, in her productions slow, aspires By just degrees to reach perfection's height.
William Somervile, The Chase, George Redway, 1896, first book, page 3

The great question, therefore, which each religion must be asked is, how far it produces permanent and profound incentives to the inward perfecting of personality and to ethical activity.
Albert Schweitzer, Christianity and the Religions of the World George Allen & Unwin, 1923, page 37

But Jesus did not offer life a little more bearable, he promised life more abundant; neither did he exhort his disciples to aim at a respectable mediocrity but to perfection.
Martin Thornton, Spiritual Direction, SPCK, 1984, page 10

In trying to do everything for the best, we do not avoid all mistakes. So the Christian life is not a huge effort to do good, but abdication and a prayer that God will guide us through all the reefs.
Paul Tournier, The Person Reborn, SCM Press, William Heinemann, 1967, page 90

Thy life is dear, for all that life can rate Worth name of life in thee hath estimate: Youth, beauty, wisdom, courage, all That happiness and pride can happy call.
William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, II. i. 175

Only the best matters, in man especially.
True, you can't produce the best without attending to the whole
but that which is secondary is only important
in so far as it goes to the bringing forth of the best.
D.H. Lawrence, 'The Best Matters', in Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, editors, The Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence, William Heinemann, 1967, volume II, page 668

We cannot offer to God the service of Angels; we cannot obey Him as man in a state of perfection could; but fallen men can do their best, and this is the perfection that is required of us; it is only the perfection of our best endeavours, a careful labour to be as perfect as we can.
William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, J.M. Dent and Co, 1898, page 27

In philosophical ethics the original Latin sense of perfectio, completeness, persists: it indicates the full development of one's distinctively human capacities, cognitive, aesthetic, moral, religious. In this wide sense the notion comes from the Greeks, who included health and bodily perfection.
T.E. Jessop, in James F. Childress and John Macquarrie, editors, A New Dictionary of Christian Ethics, SCM Press,
1985, page 464

That men should perfectly love God and worthily magnify his holy name is the goal of the Christian life. Christian perfection is defined in terms of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39)—of love of God and man. Absolute perfection lies beyond this life, in the vision of God, when faith and hope have passed away, but the love of God endures (Aquinas).
E.G. Rupp, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden, editors, A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, SCM Press, 1985,
page 440

It is good for a man, when he makes his debut in the world, to regard himself highly, to aim at perfecting himself in a great number of ways, to take the broadest view of his possibilities. But after he has arrived at a certain degree of self-perfection it is of advantage for him to learn to lose himself in a crowd, to live for the sake of others, and to forget himself in activity prescribed by duty. Only then does he begin to know himself; for it is in what we do that we truly measure ourselves against others.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wisdom and Experience, selected by Ludwig Curtius, translated and edited by Hermann J. Weigand, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949, page 204

He [Jesus] was 'perfect' at every stage, as infant, as boy, as youth, as man; but it is evident that there is a height and depth of 'perfection' in the man's obedience to God which has no place in the boy's and no meaning for the infant. 'Perfect' at every stage, He 'yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and having been made perfect (or full grown) became to all them that obey Him the cause of eternal salvation' (Hebrews 5:9).
William Temple, Readings in St. John's Gospel (First and Second Series), Macmillan & Co, 1947, page 208

Every day the choice between good and evil is presented to us in simple ways. When we choose the higher, we fashion our character in harmony with our future environment, and, when we prefer the lower, we are making ourselves less capable of life where Christ reigns. God's laws work on immutably. 'We are not punished for our sins, but by our sins.' Yet God is at hand to aid the most helpless who will turn to Him for help. Devout souls are not made perfect in the instant of death by some stroke of power. Perfection can never be given: it can only be co-operatively attained. But that is God's ambition for us all, and the end He will pursue through all eternity.
W.E. Sangster, These Things Abide, Hodder and Stoughton, 1939, page 185

Everything that is perfect in this life has some imperfection bound up with it, and there is nothing we investigate that is without its darkness. Humble recognition of what your nature is will lead more surely to God than profound searching for knowledge. Learning or the simple knowledge of facts can be good and instituted by God, and then there is no fault to be found with it, but a good conscience and a holy life must always be preferred...
When the day of judgment comes, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done, not if we made fine speeches, but if we lived religious lives.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, translated by Betty I. Knott, William Collins Sons & Co, 1977, page 41

... I evidently saw that the way to become rich and blessed was not by heaping accidental and devised riches to make ourselves great in the vulgar manner, but to approach more near, or to see more clearly with the eye of our understanding, the beauties and glories of the whole world: and to have communion with the Deity in the riches of God and Nature.
I saw moreover that it did not so much concern us what objects were before us, as with what eyes we beheld them, with what affections we esteemed them, and what apprehensions we had about them. All men see the same objects, but do not equally understand them. Intelligence is the tongue that discerns and tastes them, Knowledge is the Light of Heaven, Love is the Wisdom and Glory of God, Life extended to all objects is the sense that enjoys them. So that Knowledge, Life, and Love are the very means of all enjoyment, which above all things we must seek for and labour after. All objects are in God Eternal: which we by perfecting our faculties are made to enjoy. Which then are turned into Act, when they are desolate and idle; or discontented and forlorn. Whereby I perceived the meaning of the definition wherein Aristotle describeth Felicity, when he saith, Felicity is the perfect exercise of perfect virtue in a perfect Life. For that life is perfect when it is perfectly extended to all objects, and perfectly sees them, and perfectly loves them: which is done by a perfect exercise of virtue about them.
Thomas Traherne, Centuries, The Faith Press, 1969, page 146


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