The Development of the Will. Moral Theology, Chapter 13

I) Practice. Self-discipline. Good habits. II) The significance of principles in improving the will. Religion as the source of these principles.


It remains for us to examine the question of the education and development of man’s will. The moral character and moral value of an individual depends mostly upon the direction and force of the will, and, of course, it is understandable to everyone that it is important for a Christian to have first of all, a strong and decisive will, and secondly, a will directed towards the benefit of his neighbor, on the side of good, not evil.

How can we develop a strong will? The answer is simple: exercise it. Analogous to physical exercise, we need to start little by little, but having begun to exercise the will in something (i.e., in a continuous struggle with a sinful habit or caprice), it is essential not to cease this work with oneself. From the very beginning, a Christian desiring to strengthen his will, his character, must avoid all dissipation, disorder, and inconsistency in his conduct. Otherwise, he will be a characterless person, not presenting himself as anything definite.

The Holy Gospel, calls such a man a reed, wavering in the wind. Each one of us needs discipline. It is of such important significance, that without it, normal order and success in school or military work is impossible. Discipline is even more important in the life of every individual person: the place of external school or military discipline is here occupied by internal self-discipline. Man must place himself within a certain framework, creating definite conditions and order of life and not deviating from this order once it has been established.

In the work of strengthening the will, of large importance are man’s habits. We have already seen that foolish, sinful habits are a great obstacle to a moral, Christian life. However, good habits are a precious acquisition for the soul; that is why man must teach himself much good for the good to become habitual. This is especially important in the early years when the second half of man’s earthly life is built up from habits saved up during the first half of this life (compare this to the proverb: “a habit is second nature”).

No one will argue against the necessity of a strong will. We meet people in life with varying degrees of willpower. It often happens that a person, very gifted, talented, with a strong mind and a deep, kind heart, is weak willed, and cannot actualize his plans in life, no matter how good and valuable they are. And conversely, it happens that a person, less talented and gifted, but with a more willful, strong character, is successful in life, and as they say, draws his idea to a close.

But an even more important quality of man’s will is the direction towards good, not evil. If a good but weak-willed person may seem to be of little worth to society, then a person with a strong, but evil, destructive will is dangerous! The stronger his evil will is, the more dangerous he is. It is clear from this that good principles are extremely important; those basic beginnings and rules which govern man’s will. An unprincipled person is an ethical nonentity, not having any moral foundation, and is dangerous for those around him.

From whence can man’s will take those principles for itself, to act upon them? For an unbeliever, the answer is extremely difficult, even essentially unsolvable. Can they be taken from science? But science, first of all, is interested predominantly in questions of knowledge and not morals; and secondly, it does not represent anything firm and consistent in principles, for it widens continuously, deepens and changes in much. From philosophy? But philosophy itself speaks to us repeatedly about the relativity and conditional authenticity of its truths. From practical life? Even less. This life itself needs positive principles, which could order it and divert from it unruly, unprincipled conditions.

But if the answer is so difficult for unbelievers, it is simple and clear for a believer, especially for a faithful Christian. The source of good principles is God’s will. It is revealed to us in the teachings of the Savior in His Holy Gospel. Only God’s will has an unconditional, unshakeable authority in this field! And only God’s will has taught us self-sacrifice and Christian love for everyone, even for our enemies.

Only God’s will gave people a noble understanding of Christian freedom, Christian equality and brotherhood (concepts stolen from us by socialists and communists and other enemies of the faith). Our Lord Himself said about true Christians that not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven (Matt. 7:21-23).

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
Parish Life, October 2022
St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, DC


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