It is not only necessary for the perfection of charity that a man should sacrifice his exterior possessions: he must also, in a certain sense, relinquish himself. Dionysius, in De Divinis Nominibus IV, says that, “divine love causes a man to be out of himself, meaning thereby, that this love suffers him no longer to belong to himself but to Him whom he loves.”St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, illustrates this state by his own example, saying, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), as if he did not count his life as his own, but as belonging to Christ, and as if he spurned all that he possessed, in order to cleave to Him. He further shows that this state reaches perfection in certain souls; for he says to the Colossians, “For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Again, he exhorts others to the same sublimity of love, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, “And Christ died for all, that they also who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15). Therefore, when our Lord had said, “If any man comes to me, and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters,” He added something greater than all these, saying, “yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). He teaches the same thing in the Gospel of St. Matthew when He says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mat 16:24).
This practice of salutary self-abnegation, and charitable self-hatred, is, in part, necessary for all men in order to salvation, and is, partly, a point of perfection. As we have already seen from the words of Dionysius quoted above, it is in the nature of divine love that he who loves should belong, not to himself, but, to the one beloved. It is necessary, therefore, that self-abnegation and self-hatred be proportionate to the degree of divine love existing in an individual soul. It is essential to salvation that a man should love God to such a degree, as to make Him his end, and to do nothing which he believes to be opposed to the Divine love. Consequently, self-hatred and self-denial are necessary for salvation. Hence St. Gregory says, in his Homily, “We relinquish and deny ourselves when we avoid what we were wont (through the old man dwelling in us) to be, and when we strive after that to which (by the new man) we are called.” In another homily he likewise says, “We hate our own life when we do not condescend to carnal desires, but resist the appetites and pleasures of the flesh.”
But in order to attain perfection, we must further, for the love of God, sacrifice what we might lawfully use, in order, thus to be more free to devote ourselves to Him. It follows, therefore, that self-hatred, and self-denial, pertain to perfection. We see that our Lord speaks of them as if they belonged to it. For, just as in the Gospel of St. Matthew he says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor,” (Mat 19:21) but does not lay any necessity on us to do so, leaving it to our own will, so He likewise says, “if any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). St. Chrysostom thus explains these words, “Christ does not make his saying compulsory; He does not say, ‘whether you like it or not, you must bear these things.’” In the same manner, when He says: “If any man will come after Me and hate not his father” etc. (Luke 14:28), He immediately asks, “Which of you having a mind to build a tower, does not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether) he have enough to finish it?” St. Gregory in his Homily thus expounds these words, “The precepts which Christ gives are sublime, and, therefore, the comparison between them and the building of a high tower shortly follows them.” And he says again, “That young man could not have had enough to finish his tower who, when he heard the counsel to leave all things, went away sad.” We may hence understand, that these words of our Lord refer, in a certain manner, to a counsel of perfection.