The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for February 21st, 2011

Some Notes on Today’s Psalm Verses (Ps 119)

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011

165 Great peace have those who love thy law; nothing can make them stumble. RSV

The Psalmist states this from experience, for he is being persecuted by powerful people to force him (apparently) to do something against the law, thus verse 161 states: Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of thy words (RSV).

A reverential fear of God’s word-the revelation of his will- is essential for peace: “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matt 5:9) .” This blessedness, beloved, belongs not to any and every kind of agreement and harmony, but to that of which the Apostle speaks: “have peace towards God” (Rom 5:1) and of which the Prophet David speaks: “Much peace have they that love Thy law, and they have no cause of offences” (Ps 119:165) This peace even the closest ties of friendship and the exactest likeness of mind do not really gain, if they do not agree with God’s will. (Pope Leo)

The Law was given as a revelation of wisdom so that the people might know the will of God and be wise in this regard: 1 “And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, gives you. 2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baalpeor; for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor; 4 but you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive this day. 5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, `Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day? 9 “Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life (Deut 4:1-9 RSV).

There are many professions that demand wisdom but the one who studies the law is wisest of all. See the comparison between the wisdom of various craftsmen (Sirach 38:24-34) and that of those who study the Law (Sirach 39:1-11).  Since the path of wisdom is peace (Prov 3:17), those who love the law have great peace.

168 I keep thy precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before thee. RSV

The fact that nothing can be hidden from God is a great motive for obeying His will.  The Lord beholdeth the ways of man, and considereth all his steps (Prov 5:21).   What would be my portion from God above, and my heritage from the Almighty on high? Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity? Does not he see my ways, and number all my steps? (Job 31:2-4 RSV).

But Jesus is the full revelation of the Father, of which the Law and the Prophets were a shadow: God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners,  hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son (Heb 1:1-2). For this reason the Son is called the Word of God (John 1:1; Heb 4:12). He both reveals the Father’s will-as the Law in its limited fashion did-and knows the hearts of those whom he will one day judge: For the Word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:12-13).  All the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts. And I will give to every one of you according to your works (Rev 2:23).

171 My lips will pour forth praise that thou dost teach me thy statutes. RSV

The thought here is similar to that expressed earlier in this Psalm, verse 7: I will praise thee with an upright heart, when I learn thy righteous ordinances (RSV)  The revelation of God’s will is a motive for praising him: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.  Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us, in his beloved son. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his, grace, Which hath superabounded in us, in all wisdom and prudence, That he might make known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in him, In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in him (see Eph 1:3-10).

172 My tongue will sing of thy word, for all thy commandments are right. RSV

Concerning this and the previous verse St Augustine writes:  “My lips shall burst forth praise: when Thou hast taught me Thy righteousnesses” (verse 171). We know how God teacheth those who are docile unto God. For every one who hath heard from the Father and hath learned, comes unto Him “who justifieth the ungodly:” so that he may keep the righteousnesses of God not only by retaining them in his memory, but also by doing them. Thus doth he who glorieth, glory not in himself, but in the Lord, and burst forth praise.

But as he hath now learned, and praised God his Teacher, he next wisheth to teach. “Yea, my tongue shall declare (sing) Thy word: for all Thy commandments are righteousness” (verse 172). When he saith that he will declare these things, he becometh a minister of the word. For though God teach within, nevertheless “faith cometh from hearing: and how do they hear without a preacher?” For, because “God giveth the increase,” is no reason why we need not plant and water.

See Col 3:14-17~But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly: in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

174 I long for thy salvation, O LORD, and thy law is my delight. RSV

Delight in the Law was a theme that opened the Psalter: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Ps 1:1-2 RSV).

175 Let me live, that I may praise thee, and let thy ordinances help me. RSV

Spoken in spite of his persecutors, the princes mentioned in 119:161. The expression and context here (verses 174-175) are similar to what is found in 119:77~Let thy mercy come to me, that I may live; for thy law is my delight (RSV). These words too were spoken in the face of enemies (119:69).

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A Lenten Treatise~Philoxenus of Hieropolis: On Abstinence

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011


“Enter ye in at the strait gate,” 1 proclaimeth the word of the Redeemer unto all true disciples of His word, for without this gate a man cannot enter into the kingdom of God. For a man is not wholly worthy of the experience of the rule and life of Christ until he hath put to an end in him all feeling for the meats of the world, and he is not able to cut off and to cast away from him this affection, except through the power of patience he cut off [from himself] pleasure in all things which are lusted after. For when a man hath cut off and cast away wickedness from his soul, all good and fair things spring up within him in its place, that is to say, in the place from which evil hath been cut off good straightway springeth up therein, and blossometh. And as all the power of the soul [p. 421] turneth to water and to make to grow that plant, even so is the power of all the thoughts wholly directed to make to grow the tree of goodness, which is planted |404 in the soul after wickedness hath been uprooted therefrom; for if vices be not rooted up virtues cannot blossom, and except evil habits be cut off and cast away from us, the tradition of a good life layeth not hold upon us, and unless we have forsaken slackness we cannot lay hold upon fortitude, and except gluttony hath died, abstinence cannot live in us. For death and life are ministered unto in us in two things: the death of the old man, which is abominable lusts, and the life of the new man, which is a correct rule of life. Now the death which is man’s penalty did the commandment bring, but the death which ariseth from the.lusts He calleth the will of each one of us, because also from the beginning the death which is of sin entered in by [man’s] will, and afterwards came the death which arose from the penalty by the will of God. And so also is it in this case: for before the dissolution of the nature of the body which dissolveth the penalty, the will of each one of us is able to scatter the composition of the old man of lusts, and when this death hath been dissolved not even then is that nature firm.

Now the death which is of sin brought in the death which is of nature, and with the dissolution of the one, the other was brought to nought, and those who did not die aforetime died in very truth, but those, who of their own freewill put to death in them the man of lusts in this death, dissolved the death of the natural man; [p. 422] therefore it is well that we should die before our death, that we may also live before our life. For where the death of the will goeth first, the death which is of nature is dissolved, and where the death which is of nature is dissolved aforetime by the dominion of freewill before we come into life, the man who dieth |405 is alive; and because these cessations and renewings happen unto us aforetime in all ways, it is seemly for us first of all to uproot wickedness, and then to lay in ourselves the foundation of the edifice of virtues, in order that the rock may receive our foundation, as it is written,2 and that on a sure stone may be our building, even as it is said. And in this respect we should be like unto the physicians of [our] nature who, until they have removed and cleansed the matter from the sore, do not lay [upon it] the plaster which buildeth up and maketh to grow the living flesh; and so must it be with us also when we have uprooted the matter of the lust of the belly, and have made accusations against its filthy and loathsome forms.

And now let us shew in our discourse the benefit of abstinence, and let us exhort disciples with profitable doctrine to lay hold in their souls upon this endurance which, although it is imagined to be laden with labours, is nevertheless the birth-pang which giveth us birth into the experience of the blessings of Christ. And as the child is born into the world through the pains of her that giveth him birth, even so also through the pains of sufferings and the patient endurance of labours is a man born into the world of the knowledge of Christ. And if a man were to call abstinence the cleansing of the lusts of the body he would not err, for as [p. 423] the body is purified by washing from the things which pollute it, and which conceal its natural appearance and colour, even so also through abstinence are the blemishes of the old man healed, and made clean, and the beauty of the new man, |406 cleansed and pure, is revealed, and when he hath been revealed and re-standeth in the appearance of his nature, then is it easy for him to see and be seen in the beauty of his soul from whence he receiveth the clothing of knowledge.

Now the beginning of abstinence is bitter and severe, but the end thereof is pleasant and sweet. Its burden is heavy unto those who do not feel how light it is, and its load is difficult unto those who do not look into the spiritual riches which are therein, for it is the strait gate which leadeth into the broad country of spiritual beings; and as poverty of possessions is the end of the way of the world, even so is abstinence the beginning of the path of the rule and life of the Gospel. And it is good for us also that, after the discourse upon poverty, we should enter upon the doctrine which concerneth abstinence, because in proportion as a man possesseth that which is outside of him will he work therein, and therefrom will he gather in the produce. And though of his own will he distributeth goodness and lovingkindness, yet he taketh from outside of him the seed, and casteth it in the fields of the afflicted, or as one might say, he taketh from the world, and giveth thereunto, even though the fruits of this righteousness be gathered together unto the person of the man himself; but labours are outside the person. For what labour and tribulation will arise in the body of him, the righteousness of whose alms are stablished by riches which are outside him, [p. 424] besides this only, that he constraineth the thought of the lust of the belly, and bringeth it into subjection beneath the will of lovingkindness? But when a man hath emptied himself of everything, and he standeth free in the world in his |407 own person, he becometh a. field of which he himself is the cultivator, and he tilleth it, and soweth seed therein, and from it tribulations begin, and in it they come to an end, and henceforth he doth not sow strange lands with the seed of alms, but the rational field of himself, and in it he beginneth the service of the labours of righteousness.

Now the first rule of this field is the cultivation of fasting and abstinence, for without these all the virtues of the person can be but feebly cultivated, and it is as if the power [to perform] them were weak and wanting in us; for our prayer cannot be pure, nor our singing wakeful, nor our thoughts sanctified, nor our knowledge increased, nor our understanding made bright, nor our mind active, nor will our hidden man be renewed in wondering admiration at the greatness of the glory of God, without the cultivation of fasting and the ministration of abstinence. For from these things we go on to others, and we are lifted up from this step unto others which are higher, and by reason of resisting meats we arrive at the similitude of angels; for inasmuch as the angels exist wholly and entirely without meat, we must of our own freewill make ourselves alien unto the meat which is lusted after, and diminish a few of the wants of the body. And by this [p. 425 ] also we shew that we have in us the longing to be like unto spiritual beings. For this reason our Lord Who came for our redemption was able in His own power immediately He was revealed to make us in the likeness of angels—-which He is about to make us finally according to the riches of His grace—-yet He did not do this, but He taught us how a man might become like unto the angels, and He left it to our freewill to |408 hasten after their similitude. Let us then, of our own freewill cast off from us the old carnal mindedness, and put on the renewing of the likeness of the angels, and let us exchange meat for meat, and lust for lust, and table for table, and food for food, and one kind of nourishment for another. For we have a [carnal] belly and a [spiritual] belly which receive different kinds of meats, and when a man hath shut the door in the face of one, he then openeth the other that it may receive the meats of the spirit, and enjoy and live daintily upon the various kinds of spiritual food which are above nature; and because our nature was too feeble of itself to cut off and to cast out these things from it, the gift of the Spirit came to our support, in order that that which nature was not able to do of itself it might complete by Grace.

Therefore, O disciple, contend against the lusts of the body with all thy soul, and cultivate virtues in the field of thyself which remaineth to thee from the world, for thou thyself alone of every thing which is in the world art reserved [p. 426] for life, and for thee the wedding chamber is opened, and the kingdom prepared, and the place for reclining spread, and the mansions are in order, and the table of dainties is made ready in that living feast in which God hath made Himself the minister, even as He Himself hath proclaimed unto thee in His sure word, “Verily I say unto you that He shall make His chosen ones sit down, and He shall gird up His loins and shall go in and minister unto them.” 3 Be thou then [O disciple,] at all times mindful of this table, that from the remembrance thereof thou mayest receive strength, and mayest be able to despise the |409 natural table; for there is no man who would exchange the dainty table of the kingdom for the coarse and common table of the bread of wheat, and more than this the table of meats of the body is smaller and inferior in comparison to that spiritual table.

Be thou wakeful, then, and watch thyself when this lust beginneth to fight against thee, and gather together all the host of thy thoughts, having as the general thereof a wakeful understanding, which is like the chief of a band of thieves, who are the passion of the lust of the belly. For this lust knoweth that it is too feeble to fight against the mind which can endure, and it taketh with it hunger that it may be a help thereunto, and that it may shew thee that thy blame will not be very great if thou art constrained by thy hunger [and thou eatest]. And it offereth unto thee such entreaties as these: “Need of food was implanted in thee by the ‘Creator,” and “Hunger naturally ruleth over thy body,” and “The support of thy human life consisteth of food, and without it thou canst not abide in the [p. 427] world, and if thou wishest to live without these things thou resistest the will of the Creator, Who desired that thy bodily life should be supported in the world in this manner; and the meat which is [eaten] by measure, and the drink which is taken in moderation are blameless.” And when this lust hath led thee away by these blandishments, and hath brought thee from the consideration of, Thou shalt not eat, unto that of, Thou shalt eat, it draweth thee on further from, Thou shalt eat, unto how thou shalt eat, and what thou shalt eat; for it doth not counsel thee from the beginning that thy eating shall be from lust, but it persuadeth thee that thou shalt eat for need’s sake, and afterwards |410 it leadeth thee on from need unto lust. By the power of patient endurance a man standeth when he contendeth to overcome the hunger of nature, and if at the season of his power weakness gaineth dominion over him, he is easily conquered [and is made] to come to utter defeat when once a small portion of that feebleness hath gained the mastery over him.

Observe then, O thou [disciple], very carefully and with discerning knowledge, that not all hunger is the hunger of nature, and that not all meat is the meat which satisfieth want, and observe the different kinds of hunger, and distinguish and select with knowledge thine own hunger from among them. One kind of hunger belongeth to youth, and another ariseth from weakness, and another from excessive emptiness, and another from habit, and another from idleness of the thoughts which have nothing wherewith to occupy themselves, and another from the feebleness of the thoughts, and another from the daily cutting off which happeneth unto the body, and another from the coldness of the body which seeketh to be made warm [p. 428] by meat, and another which excessive labour produceth; these and such like things are the causes of hunger, besides there being some men also whose hunger is not a healthy hunger. Therefore many men are able to bear hunger from the beginning of the day, and some are an hungered at the second hour, and others at the fourth, and others at the sixth, and others at the ninth, and others in the evening, and others can endure the hunger of the close of the day until the vigil of the night, and others continue to fast until the third hour; and when they have arrived at the number of a double vigil their natural hunger hath entirely ceased in them, because the natural heat which |411 is stirred up in the body taketh the place of meat to them. And when from these things thou dost understand the varieties of hunger which are born in thee, thou must distinguish and select from them all the hunger which cometh of thy need, but thou must from time to time restrain even this, in order that the endurance of thy affliction may be the more made manifest, by which thy love unto God is made known. Take heed then that the hunger of lust lead thee not astray and thou imagine it to be the hunger of nature. Now the real hunger of nature is not the want of food in the stomach, but the want of the power of the food in all the members, for when the members have put off the power of food, and have put on in its stead weakness, and although thou callest unto them they respond not with whatever service thou wishest, this is natural hunger; and thou must [p. 429] therefore take carefully such food as will restore the power to the members, being watchful of thy thought that it be not mingled with the body in the meat, and thou must make the lust which is in thee to sleep, lest it be roused up and the lust for food be excited by thee instead of by want; and if this happeneth thy meal is one to be blamed, even though thou takest food because of hunger, and eatest sparingly.

Let thy thoughts then observe at all seasons all thy affairs, whether it be those which are in the world, or those which are in thy body, or all the others which are wrought in the soul. For a man is not an animal that he should feed whenever he is hungry, but he is bound, like a rational being, whenever the body sheweth , its natural hunger, to make the soul shew the forbearance which becometh it, and it shall make use |412 of that which is its own, even as doth the body also of the things which belong to its nature, and the hunger of the body shall be a reminder of its own hunger, and it shall take its need as the testimony of the need of its spiritual life. For the soul is not bound to bring itself mightily into subjection unto the feminine passions of the body, but it must rouse itself up in war against them, and must subdue, and fetter, and be master of, and overcome them; and it must produce in itself arrangements and preparations against these lusts which rise up from below, and which abase its greatness, and défile its fair beauty. When the body at any time whatsoever maketh war against thee with its needs, or with the hunger of its lusts, thou must conquer in the war at that season by patient endurance, and by producing in thee as an antidote against that hunger another hunger, and thou must turn thy mind [p. 430] from the thought of the hunger of the body unto meditation upon, and converse with God, for in this way wilt thou be able to overcome the importunity of the passion of its hunger. For if natural hunger were to obtain dominion over each one of us very little, or ever so little, we should all be hungry together, but because hunger is also produced from the feeling of desire we become hungry at different seasons. For who doth not know that that hunger which cometh at the beginning of the day, or at the third hour, or even at the sixth hour, is not natural hunger? because, as I have said, natural hunger is the want of the strength of meat in the members of the body, and that the passion can be vanquished by the power of patient endurance sheweth particularly that it is not natural hunger; and, moreover, even if it were natural, in this case |413 also would it be right that it should be mastered, because our rule and life are superior to nature, and our strife is against nature. For behold the human life which is in us is not the feelings of nature, but they are nature, and although it be thus, because of the truth we fight also against human life, for the limits are marked out and laid down; for unto the limit of death for the sake of righteousness we must fight against these lusts, but the war which is for faith’s sake is against natural life. And we are not commanded by our Redeemer to slay ourselves of our own freewill by patient endurance for the sake of the labours of righteousness, but for the truth’s sake we are commanded to die; so then it is right that we should contend by rule and conduct on the side of [p. 431] faith against all the needs of nature, but for the truth we must contend against the natural life.

Repress then, [O disciple,] thy passion of hunger when this lust is stirred up in thee, and set in battle array against it all the powers of thy thoughts, that if it be not vanquished by one, it may be overcome by many. For how can that lust, which is wont to be overcome by one living motion for God’s sake, avoid being vanquished by the might of many thoughts, if this motion be in us in a healthy manner as if it arose from a living and healthy nature? For as is the power of the hand, so also is [the force] of the stone which is cast therefrom, and according to the might of the. arm is the power of the arrow which is shot forth by it, and as are the strength and healthy condition of the soul, so also is the healthy motion which is sent forth by it to the war against lust, and lust (even though it happen that it hath held us fast |414 habitually for a long time past), that is to say need, is not able to abide before it.

And observe that a distinction also existeth between one kind of need and another, for there is the need which ariseth from lust, and that which ariseth from a healthy state, and that which ariseth from strength, and that which ariseth from life; let us then forsake the former kinds of need, and make use of the last, so that when we are constrained to satisfy a want, it may not be that which ariseth from lust, or health, or from strength, but only that which ariseth [p. 432] from life itself, even as we learn also from the testimony of the righteous men of old, who did not satisfy the want of any one of these three, and of whom some persisted and endured patiently a fast for forty days, and some for three weeks. And it is not known that they satisfied [their] needs for the sake of [their] life only, and the limit of our Redeemer’s fast sheweth this to us, and His answer to the Calumniator also teacheth us this openly, for it is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which goeth forth from the mouth of God.” 4 Now He said “shall live,” and not, “shall be sound,” nor, “shall be strong,” nor, “shall be filled its lust’s need;” and although this word is of little importance in its utterance, yet a great distinction is apparent therein. For He taught us clearly by that word that not by bread alone should man live, but that he should eat only to live, and not for the sake of lust, or strength, or healthy condition; for according to these things is life stablished also in sickness, and in weakness a man liveth unto them in |415 the world. And as whosoever hath a severe disease m his body, that is to say, in those members which are the receptacles of meat, the food which he receiveth nourisheth his disease and not his strength, even so also whosoever feedeth the lust which is in him, his meat nourisheth his lust and not his human life; and it is manifest that whosoever nourisheth his lust [p. 433] giveth birth to [other] lusts, for as is the nature of the ground, so is also the taste of the [fruit of] trees which grow up therefrom.

Thou shalt not then, [O disciple,] devour like a slave, but eat like a free man, and let not thy food be unto others but unto thyself, for instead of ministering unto the bondage of lust thou must be a minister unto thyself. And who is there that understanding all this will diminish [the food of] his own mouth and put [it] into the mouth of others, even though it be that of a helpful friend? how much less then [into that] of an enemy, that is, the contrary of thy true life? For there is no power in lust to lead thy life into subjection, but it taketh might from thine own might to subjugate thee; thou shalt not, then, take thy power and give it unto lust that it may fight against thee therewith, and thou shalt not clothe thine enemy in armour that thou mayest contend against him therein. Thou shalt not be in doubt concerning thyself, that is to say, thou shalt not be wholly on the side of thine enemy and turn and wage war against thyself, for this lust, if thou wilt, is a feeble thing, and how can it help being a feeble thing if without thee it cannot even exist? If now thou dost create it, thou must also give it strength; and if it beginneth to exist from thee, from thee must it obtain strength to gain power over thee; for as God |416 is over created things so art thou god over thy lusts, and as by the will of the Creator created things exist, and if He willeth not they exist not, so also according to thy will are thy lusts, and at thy will they become nothing. “God calleth [p. 434] the things which are not as if they were,” 5 even so also doth thy will create the lusts which are not, that they may come into existence; now God looketh upon all things, and they become nothing, so also doth thy will [look] upon all the passions, and straightway they are destroyed and become nothing. If thou wishest, they are thy passions; and if thou wishest, they do not exist. From thee springeth up the cause of thy lust, and from thee is born the destruction thereof; if thou makest it to live, thou canst make it to die, and if thou makest lust to live in thee, thou makest thy life which is in God to die. A man cannot by any means live with God and with lust at the same time, even as he cannot live with the Calumniator and with Christ also; for the lust of the body is a goad unto the man of the spirit, in the same manner that the Calumniator is the contrary of thy whole self. All the fair passions spring up from the soul in thee by the help of Grace, but the origin of abominable lusts is from the body, and the Enemy doth urge them on; therefore vanquish that which it is meet should be overcome, that He to Whom the victory belongeth may overcome by thee, and fight and conquer the first lust, that thereby and henceforth the conquest of them all may be easy. For if one lust can overcome thee, how very much more easily can many overcome thee! And moreover, when all lusts are gathered together [against thee], |417 yet are they powerless, and how very much more easily are they made impotent when thou dost vanquish them one by one by the persistence of patient endurance!

And, moreover, it is right for thee to make a distinction between them, in order that victory over them may be easy for thee. [p. 435] For when the lusts desire to make an attack upon thy patient endurance in a body, thou shalt not give unto them that which they seek, but thou shalt engage in war with them all, only thou must cut off and separate them one from another, and fight against each one of them singly, and gain the victory; and thou shalt not allow them to perfect their will in thee, not only by not allowing them to overcome thee, but also by preventing their coming [upon thee] in a body. Now by their coming in a body in this manner, their weakness is displayed, and if, when gathered together, their infirmity is revealed unto thee, how very much more will their utter powerlessness be apparent when each one of them cometh against thee singly? Watch then diligently that portion of the desire for truth which is in thee, and which longeth for life, and panteth for that which is good, and which lusteth with a healthy, and not with a destructive lust. For the lust of destruction is laid beneath destruction, and it speedily destroyeth whomsoever wisheth to possess the power of patient endurance; but the lust which destroyeth not, even when its enemies think that they have overcome it, is not loosed from the sure fixity of its nature, and although it be thought that it is conquered, it is by no means overcome, but it removeth itself from the thought which is unworthy of it, even when it is held thereby, and it fighteth against abominable lust.

Now therefore it is good that we should overcome all |418 lusts, but especially [p. 436] the first lust by which, if we overcome it, we receive the strength of victory against other lusts; for when this evil lust shall be vanquished in us, together therewith shall be conquered the others which follow in its train. And as we see that our work hath multiplied, in that we have in vanquishing one overcome many, so let us devote ourselves more diligently to the work, because if we are dilatory, not only shall we incur defeat in this, but in all other contests which will enter in thereafter. And as, if we conquer in the first victory, it is the victory in all other contests, so also if we be defeated, it is the defeat in all other battles; therefore it is right that we should be victors at all times, because it is the victory of our nature, and because it is outside our nature to be overcome, both because of our own will and because of the blandishments of our enemies. Let us then voluntarily fulfil the will of God our Creator, Who hath set us in the strife that we may be victors, and let not that king Who chose us be ashamed of us, and be reproached because He hath chosen and mingled sluggish soldiers in His camp; for our defeat would show the ignorance of Him Who chose us, and therefore let us be victors, that the Wise Being may not be thought to be foolish through us.

Observe then by the experience of thy contest with what thoughts this lust of the belly, when it troubleth thee, may be overcome, and by this habit, whenever it setteth itself in battle array against thee, do thou array in order of battle these thoughts against it, and after the victory thou wilt receive the sweets of conquest. For so long as thou art disturbed by the prickings [p. 437] of lust, thou wilt never taste the pleasure of victory: |419 but after a little, when thou art clothed with the armour of patient endurance, thou shalt go forth from the strife of the battle with victory, and the pleasure of victory shall meet thee. And it is impossible that pleasure should light upon thee in the world, for pleasure is born of labour, and it is impossible for the harvest to be produced in thy grasp whilst thou holdest the seed in thy hand, for crops are gathered from the seed after it hath been sown. And, moreover, whilst thou art still standing in the thick of the battle, and it is not apparent to which side victory will incline, it is impossible for thy triumph to be proclaimed in the cities; but after the war is ended, and victory hath appeared, then shall the triumph of the warrior be proclaimed in the cities. According to these examples, then, take thou this spiritual war in which thou art engaged. And if thou art disturbed when thou fightest, know that this befitteth thee, and if thy fighting be laboured and thou sweatest, this also cleaveth unto thy work; for if there be a battle, there must be labour therein, and if there be a contest, in weariness and sweat must run those who enter in to it.

Do thou, then, not consider the things which are near, but look beforehand at the pleasures which [come] after the tribulations, and let not thy mind be fettered unto thy body, but let it hasten to see the things which are about to come, that thou mayest strengthen with the remembrance of victory the members which stand in battle. Thou art a spiritual being and must wage war against the lust of the body, and the spiritual being who is overcome by the body is a laughingstock; and it is a disgrace [p. 438] unto him that is invited to heaven, that the belly should contend with him and |420 overcome him. For if thou art ordained by Grace to fight and conquer spiritual principalities and powers, that is to say, the hosts and the companies which are opposed to thee, how very much more is it meet for thee to vanquish the belly? And behold thy garb hath been dedicated unto this, and the appearance of thy rule of life proclaimeth for thee victory over the hosts which are opposed [to thee]. And who would not laugh , at the man who hath prepared himself for these things if he should see his belly overcoming him? especially when it is not the necessary of life which urgeth thee to this, but the lust which is born of the feebleness of thy will, and that that which is born of thee, not being a man of might but as yet a child and youth, which it would have been easy for thee to have set under thy heel, hath stood up in battle against thee, and hath laid thee low.

And see then also how the Spirit counselleth thee, saying, “Dash the children of Babylon upon the stones while they are young.6” And well hath the word of prophecy called these passions “children”, that it might show thee their powerlessness, and might encourage thee to victory; and it did not say “thy children,” that it might not cause thee disgrace, as if such children appeared from thee, but it named them “children of Babylon,” that is to say, children who were born of slavery and not of freedom, because the mother which giveth birth to lusts is the slavery which the word of prophecy hath symbolized by Babylon which hath been wasted, and which carrieth off rapaciously like spoil the [p. 439] power of the spiritual man, and plundereth his riches.

Now therefore when lust hath joined itself unto hunger |421 to wage war against thee, do thou unite thy thought unto Grace, and stand up in prayer, and as if thou didst despise lust, do not even turn thy thoughts thereunto —-now I mean that lust which is great—-for even when thou fightest and dost overcome, thy victory will still be subject unto defects, for thou hast had need of fighting, and then thou didst conquer the belly—-for it is right that thou shouldst despise it, and that it should be of no account in thy sight, and that thy thought should not cleave thereunto—-but thou must despise it as a mighty man despiseth a feeble one, and as a man of strength and power despiseth one that is contemptible and wretched. And it is also the custom of brave warriors when they see feeble men coming against them to fight to despise them, and to have them in contempt, and to laugh at their advance, even as it is written concerning that blasphemous giant whose boast lay in the strength of his body, who, “when he saw David despised him.” 7 And if all the contempt which he had in him for David arose from his confidence in his flesh, why shouldst not thou, by the power of the spirit which is in thee, despise and hold in contempt the lust of the belly? For whom doth it usually conquer except infants and young children? For immediately the lust of the belly afflicteth them with its need they begin to cry and to importune their parents, and to ask them for what they want, and they do this because they have not yet attained unto the age in which the power of patient endurance is born of [p. 440] the soul. But thou hast attained, like a giant, unto this age, and the power of thy soul hath been revealed unto thee, if thou desirest to make use |422 thereof; and why shouldst thou be vanquished by the belly like a child, and become a thing to mock at, that the passion of childhood may make a laughingstock of thee? For in the age in which being overcome by the belly is akin unto the nature of the stature of a child, in that same age [I say], victory over it is to thee also akin, and as his childhood is subject unto defeat, even so doth victory cleave unto thine own full-grown stature.

Understand then from this also the feebleness of the lust of the belly, for its fighting belongeth unto the condition of children, for we see that all the other lusts renew themselves against our life in the various states of [our] growth which follow after [childhood], but this lust of the belly is stirred up in childhood; and thou must know that it is because it is feeble that it fighteth against the child, but when it wageth war against thee it cometh only [to make] a trial, and not [to obtain] the victory. Overcome then with thy persistence that, the defeat of which, even when thou hast conquered it, is not a great thing, because it is a war of childhood, but the benefit which is produced therefrom is not a feeble thing—-for being small and contemptible, when thou hast overcome it, its defeat is not a thing to wonder at; but it openeth unto us the door of triumphs over all the passions, and when the other lusts which follow in its train see this, they become so enfeebled that they cannot come to fight, [p. 441] or if they draw nigh to fight, they do so with fear and terror, and because of this they fight with half their strength and not with [their] full force, for fear is wont to diminish and to dissipate their power.

Fight then, O disciple, and overcome like a man, |423 that thou mayest be crowned gloriously like a warrior. Thou shalt not be conquered, for thou wast not set apart for this; thou shalt not fall because thou wert not chosen for this; thou shalt not surrender, because the mighty Hand is with thee; for the Hand of Christ will be with thee in the wars which thou shalt wage against all these things, if only thou wilt perceive the right Hand which graspeth thy right hand, and the mighty Arm which holdeth thy feeble hand.

And now, since it is fitting that I should teach thee the first kinds of this victory listen, and I will tell thee. Do not, then, attribute unto thyself victory when thou conquerest the lust for rare and costly meats only, but when thou conquerest [thy lust] for poor and common food, thou mayest consider this a genuine victory; for the disciple is bound to excuse himself not only from the eating of flesh and the drinking of wine, but also from everything for which he lusteth; do not then fight against meat, but against lust. If it be that thou makest war against the kind of meat, when thou hast vanquished in the war against one kind, another will fight against thee, but if thou overcomest lust in only one thing out of many, with this thou wilt also overcome another, for there are certain meats of which if a solitary or a [p. 442] coenobite make use, the reproach on their account is evident; now in this war shame of the multitude will help thee, and many times wilt thou be prevented from eating by reason of the shame before those who behold thee; and since it happeneth that thou hast help in this war from outside, the conquest therein is small. But do thou, like one wise unto advantages, and cunning unto benefits, fight against those things which are permitted to be eaten, and against the lust thereof |424 do thou wage war; and briefly, I will give thee an indication [of what they are]. Everything which is laid upon the table for thy food, and which thine eye looketh upon and lusteth after, thou shalt not think of, but say quietly unto thy belly, “Because thou hast lusted therefor thou shalt not taste it;” and when it hath received from thee this law, it will occupy itself with its need, and the eye of its lust will not be extended and diffused over the meats. And I also say that which, because it will be thought new, not every man will forthwith accept, but the few and the small in number will understand it, and these will suffice: it is better for thee to eat flesh without lust, than lentiles with it, for by the eating of the flesh passion will not be produced, but in respect of that which is inferior (i. e., the lentiles) lust goeth before the eating thereof, and an accusation is brought against the food because of a man’s lust therefor, and not because of its nature. Hast thou forgotten that which Paul crieth, saying, “Everything which hath been created by God is holy, and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving?” 8 But [p. 443] take good heed unto me, in this case also, that thou receive not this word as free permission to eat flesh, and that thou make not use thereof, for the sake of ministering unto thy lusts, for unto the free it is written. If thou hast been tempted in thy soul which standeth upon the height of the freedom of Christ, and hast subdued by the power of thy patient endurance the bondage which is in thee, thou mayest make use of these words, if when thou eatest thou dost not eat with thy senses, and when thou drinkest thou dost not |425 drink longingly that which thou drinkest. If thou canst eat like a dead man, eat, but if thou eatest like a living man, take heed that thou dost not taste thy food with pleasure; for the perception of the taste of that which thou eatest testifieth against thee that thou art still alive unto lust, and that thou eatest in order that thou mayest eat, and not that thou mayest live. And Saint Paul, standing upon the height of this freedom, said, “Let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth,” 9 neither let him that eateth because of his freedom despise him that eateth not because of the bondage of the law, because he whom the law leadeth is yet a servant, and hath not yet arrived at the perfect freedom of Christ. See then therefore, and think not that thou standest in the freedom of Christ whilst thou still servest in bondage, and dost eat everything without being permitted so to do. For the blessed Apostle also warns thee against lusting with thoughts of freedom, whilst thou art still a slave, saying, “Ye have been called unto freedom, my brethren;” 10 but let not your freedom be for the eating of flesh, and if thou art still a slave, let not only [p. 444] the laws which are external direct thee, but also the laws of thy discretion. For the external laws are kept for many reasons, for appearance, for fear, for praise, for the love of honour, for imagination, for the growth of other passions, that a man may humble his enemies, and that he may shew unto others who are slack the comparison of his wickedness, and similarly there are many other reasons [for the keeping] of the external law; but let the law of thy discretion be unto thee, so that if thou lustest after anything thou must restrain thyself from making use thereof. And moreover, in respect of |426 that for which thou lustest, thou must know that as yet thou art a slave, and when thou hast in this manner perceived thy slavery, thou must know that the law requireth thee to conquer henceforth, and to encircle with the law all the motions of thy thoughts, and every thought which moveth in thee with the lust for something restrain by the fear of the law, examining very carefully both the motions of nature and the motions of lust, and if the motion be of nature, suppress it, but if it be of lust, root it up. Now thou hast power to uproot the motions of lust, but the motions of nature thou canst only suppress and quiet, because lust itself receiveth its motion from nature, for it inclineth and looketh unto nature to be moved; and when it seeth that it is moved, it taketh the motion and maketh it its own, and it bringeth it out, and giveth it unto thy will to perform in very deed. Thou must then, like one who seeth thy passions, understand when any feeling of lust is mingled in the [p. 445] motion, I mean the motion which receiveth [something] from nature, because it receiveth what it needeth, and returneth; now I distinguish between that motion and the motion of lust, that I may not eat and be overcome.

Overcome therefore the lust for garden herbs, that thou mayest thereby overcome the lust of fornication, and let not common food stir thee up, in order that what hath a fair guise may not excite thee. Despise thou poor and contemptible things, lest they gather together against thee the lusts of those which are mighty, for lust doth not wage war against thee but against that which is akin unto thy rule of life. Because thou art remote from the meats of the world, and from preparations of cooked foods, and from the eating of flesh, and the drinking |427 of strained wines, lust is slow in bringing these things nigh unto thee, for it knoweth that they are remote from thee, and that they have no connexion with thy promises that thou shouldst make use of them, and that they are cut off from thee by custom, and by law, and by thy dwelling, and by thy rule ot life. And where lust seeth that there is something which will fight on its account it ceaseth from making war against such things, and pricketh thee with others, that is with ordinary meats, with the lust of dried vegetables, with the lust of garden herbs, and with the lust for cold water instead of strained wine, which things will be thought by thee not [worthy] of great blame, for their commonness is an excuse for them, and it adviseth thee, saying, “Eat, and thou shalt not be blamed, and drink and thou shalt not be reproached, for these are necessaries, and it is not meet that thou shouldst restrain thyself therefrom, especially [p. 446] at eventide, or thou mayest draw nigh to taste them once in two days. Eat everything which is set before thee, and eat until thou art satisfied, in order that thy body may be strengthened, and [be able] to bear labours;” for slackness in the guise of righteousness giveth thee counsel, because it seeth how many times thou hatest the advice of slackness which is evident. But do not thou be flattered by the person of these things, and despise not the commonness of things, and do not imagine that food is naturally reprehensible, for it is only so when a man shall eat it with lust; whether a man eat flesh or herbs with lust the eating of both is the same thing, and they are reprehensible because lust hath eaten them. It was not the fruit which Eve ate that brought forth death, but it was the lust thereof which brought forth |428 death; for if she had kept the law, and had not eaten with lust at that time, how many times could she have eaten of it afterwards, and not been blamed, provided that she took it unto herself in the ordinary way like [that of] other trees? And she drew nigh unto it, for it is written that she lusted, and then ate,11 and for this reason she was condemned. And what then was the nature of this fruit which was able to produce death, together with all [other] wickedness? Now, behold, according to what many say, and according also to the slight indication which the Book itself giveth unto us, the fruit which Eve ate was of the fig-tree, and it is manifest that the nature of the fig-tree is not to produce death; therefore it was lust which gave birth unto death, which it hath in all generations produced for man. For the root of death is [p. 447] lust, and the root of lust is carnal union, and for this reason all those who are born of carnal union are moved by lust, and are subject unto death, except One who was not born of carnal union; for this reason He was free from the motion of lust, and therefore He appeared superior to natural death, which, although He took it upon Himself, was voluntary and not natural. So then the nature of food is not reprehensible, although it is blameworthy when lust eateth it. And the reason for setting apart and prohibiting to the Jews the meats which are severally mentioned in the law was to teach them to overcome their lust for certain things, for if the law had prohibited every kind of meat the command would have been heavy upon them, and they would not have received it, and because the commandment |429 did not prevent them from [eating] even one [of them], they were moved within themselves, like animals without discretion, unto all lusts; and as they had not wherewith to learn that it was good for a rational being to overcome his lust, He allowed them to eat by reason of [their] weakness, and He prohibited them from eating many of them that the distinction of their rational nature might appear, and that they might learn to contend against lusts; and because they would not undertake with good will the war against lusts, He made meats unclean to them, that because they were unclean they might be restrained from making use of them. Now with thee He hath not done thus, but [p. 448] He hath purified and sanctified everything, as it is written, “Everything is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer,” 12 that henceforth the patient endurance of thy discretion might appear, and that thou mightest not eat, not because they were impure, but because it hath been said that it is good that thou shouldst not eat flesh nor drink wine, nor anything by which our brother may stumble,13 and also that thou mightest overcome lust by thine own will, and not by the restriction of the uncleanness of meats.

Now against the things which are unclean naturally lust doth not rise up, and therefore everything is holy before thee; therefore when on all sides the materials which provoke thy lust shall appear, thou shalt suppress and overcome them by the love of God, and moreover, because of this, it is seemly for thee to appear temperate. Unto thee, then, let the meats which are set apart, that is to say, everything for which thou lustest, |430 be unclean unto thee, for that which thou bringest nigh unto thyself for its need’s sake without lust thou art allowed to eat without reprehension, the law which restraineth thee permitting [thee so to do]; the law is not written outside thee, as in the case of some, but it is that which is written upon thy heart, and thy conscience testifieth concerning it, and only by thyself is it read, and others who are outside thee see it not, and thy freedom, as by the law, is not prohibited from eating, that it may not transgress the law if it eateth.

For freedom is above the law, [p. 449] and therefore it is the same to thee whether thou eatest, or whether thou eatest not, even as Paul spake concerning this freedom of the spirit, saying, “He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, and he that regardeth it not, regardeth it not unto the Lord; and he that eateth not eateth not unto God; and he that eateth, eateth unto God, and giveth thanks unto the Lord;”14 so then it belongeth unto us by this freedom to eat, or not to eat. And for this reason He did not make a difference between meats severally mentioned by the law, that they might not be distinguished before us by lust or by the absence of lust, and that we should not excuse ourselves from eating that for which we lust as if through uncleanness, whether it be rare or whether it be common, or whether it be permitted to be eaten according to custom or not; so then that from the eating of which lust ariseth not in us we may eat as of that which is clean, without our conscience pricking us during the eating thereof.

The prick of the conscience is the transgression of the |431 law, as hath been said also by the Apostle,15 for if a man be in doubt, and he eateth, he is condemned. The Jews ate flesh in the wilderness, and it is written concerning them that, ”While the flesh was yet between their teeth the anger of God had dominion over them,”16not because they had eaten flesh, but because with lust they had asked to eat it, for if the eating of flesh commonly brought anger whenever they ate it, they would have received this penalty, and, moreover, the priests who continually ate [p. 450] flesh in the temple would have deserved also the very same condemnation; but it is not written anywhere that anger had dominion over them because of the eating of flesh except in this place. That they sought flesh lustfully, and asked for it with lust, David testifieth, saying, “They lusted with lust in the wilderness, and they tempted God in the waterless desert, And He gave them their requests, and sent fulness into their souls”.17 And in the place where they required flesh it is written that, “The people said to Moses, It was better for us when we were in Egypt, for we sat by the flesh pots, and did eat, and were filled [with] everything that our soul lusted for.”18And again when Moses saw that they lusted, and were made unclean by their lust, he said to them, “Sanctify yourselves [against] to-morrow that ye may eat flesh,”19as if a man were to say, Because your persons have been made unclean by your lusts, and the gift of God draweth not nigh unto the unclean, sanctify yourselves from the lust that ye may be worthy to eat |432 the gift of flesh, for “Ye shall not eat it one day, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it come out from your nostrils, and it become indigestion unto you; because that ye have rejected the Lord Who is among you, and have said, Who will give us flesh to eat?”

Behold then, according to the word of Moses unto the Jews, every one that eateth in lust, [p. 451] rejecteth the Lord Who is in him, and he resteth upon his lust’s desire. Well then was indigestion made the limit of the meat which lust required, for need observeth a limit, but lust hath neither limit nor end. Understand then [the matter] from another side also. It was because they lusted that they were condemned and not because they ate flesh, for behold Elijah did not ask for [food] with lust, but the ravens fed him with bread and flesh, evening and morning, and he drank water from the brook;20 and when flesh was sent unto the prophet by the Giver, he by the power of his freedom received it like a meal of garden herbs. And thou must in another way understand that it is lust which is reprehensible, for every day, morning after morning, the people gathered the manna which came down, and so long as they gathered it according to the command they were not reprehended or condemned; but when they lusted to gather it in too great a quantity, it swarmed with worms and stank,21 to the shame of the lust which gathered it. And moreover when they ate it formerly, its taste was changed into that of all [kinds of] meats in their mouth, and it is well known that it also took the place of flesh unto |433 them, for it is written, “It was like honey comb, and its taste was as if it had been kneaded in oil.” 22 And although it was changed into all these varieties of food the eaters thereof were not condemned thereby, for [p. 452] it was a gift of Grace, and not that which their lust had demanded.

Now that thou mayest understand that it is everything that is eaten with lust, even though it be common, that is reprehensible, set before thine eyes these two examples, the eating of Esau, and the eating of Elijah. Esau, because he ate lentiles, was condemned, and therefore Paul calleth him “dissolute”, and “fornicator”, because “for one mess of meat he sold his own birthright;” 23 and Elijah, though eating meat, was pure and holy, and a spiritual being, and like a spiritual being was removed unto the place of spiritual beings. Behold then, and understand from the two examples of Elijah and Esau, that it is lust which causeth condemnation and not meat. Seek then to eat everything and not to be condemned, and be above lust in everything, and eat everything; but if thou canst not be superior to lust, everything that thou eatest will be a condemnation unto thee, even though it be a common thing, as Eve was condemned for eating the fruit, and as the Jews were censured for gathering the manna, and as Esau was condemned for eating the lentiles, and as the people also who perished, because they ate and drank with lust before the calf.

And that even the drinking of cold water with lust is reprehensible David, the wise man of God, shall prove unto thee, for when he lusted to drink water |434 from the great cistern which was in Bethlehem, and those who did hear [him] obeyed and brought [it] to him,24 he suppressed his lust, and poured it out before the Lord, as if [p. 453] by means, thereof he was pouring out [his] lust; now the nature of water is not such as to cause sin even if he had partaken thereof, for it is cool and pleasant, but he perceived within himself that he had asked for it with lust and he conquered his lust, and did not grant its request. And he did this also that he might vex those who had been ministers unto his lust, by turning back their kindness upon themselves, that he might teach every man not to be in subjection unto his lust, and that we should not make our faces joyful towards those who minister unto our lust. And God permitted Noah also to eat every thing like green herbs, and though Adam was censured because he had eaten the fruit, yet to Noah power was given, as by a covenant of gift, over all meats—-now where it was partaken of with lust, there was it reprehended, for having received through the taste of lust the pleasure of wine, he drank thereof inordinately and immoderately, and was in this case laid under sin—-for God permitted him to eat every kind of flesh after which his soul lusted. Now although this meat is a burden unto the wise and prudent, yet was it given by promise unto Noah,25 and it was sent unto Elijah in a gift,26 and Abraham received God and His angels thereby,27 and Isaac was pleased to pour out blessings upon Jacob thereby,28 and Samuel offered this gift beforehand to Saul as to a king,29 and David and all the righteous |435 kings made use of such meat, and it was employed by all the righteous; [p. 454] and they were not blamed therefor, because they were superior to lust. And they did not eat like slaves with lust, but they made use of every thing with authority like free men, and they in their eating of rare meats were praised, while those who fed themselves upon ordinary and common foods were rejected and reprobated. Now Paul crieth unto us, “Let not your hearts be made heavy through the eating of flesh and the drinking of wine”,30 that he may teach us that meat maketh heavy the heart, but they ate and did not become heavy, and they ate, moreover, that they might show that their lightness was more powerful than the heaviness of meat, and that by that thing which maketh dense the heart their mind became the brighter, and that by that which maketh heavy the body, and darkeneth the mind, the lightness of their understanding became more luminous. For being abstinent, that they should be clean, and pure, and holy, was not accounted by them so great a thing as that they should be purified in the matter of the things which make gross the heart, that is to say, that they should be purified in the matter of the things which are the contrary of purity, that they might overcome like mighty men that which was opposed to them, and that, like men of power and freemen, they might be uninjured by the things which cause injury.

But thou hast not arrived at this point, and to this grade thou hast not yet ascended, therefore it is necessary for thee to abstain from every thing, and to eat in moderation that thou mayest be pure, and |436 to eat and to drink by weight and measure that thou mayest be clean, because according to thy promise thou must run after purity [p. 455] of soul, and thou must seek diligently to arrive at the likeness of the angels. But thou wilt not be able to stand in the freedom of spiritual beings until thou hast cast away entirely the bondage of carnal beings, for when thou hast cast away this bondage like a spiritual being and freeman thou mayest eat of every thing blamelessly, without making thy heart gross by the eating of flesh, and the drinking of wine will not cloud thy thoughts, even as it is written concerning the angels, that “They ate flesh and drank wine with Abraham”;31 and their spiritualness was not weighed down by this food; moreover, like unto them also are all the righteous whose [names] are written in the Scriptures, who ate, and [whose hearts] neither became heavy nor gross, because they did not eat with a longing desire. Be thou without desire, and eat as did the angels with Abraham, and like all the righteous men who [are mentioned] in the Old Testament, and thou shall not be blamed, that is to say, thou must hold thyself bound to preserve the chastity of thy rule of life because this befitteth thy promise, and because of the benefit [which it will be] unto others, for freedom and power to draw nigh unto everything are not permitted unto us, and although freedom hath power over every thing, yet it may not be exercised in everything lest it destroy its own freedom. That a free man is not fettered by a lust for anything he sheweth by his freedom, and in that he hath the power and doth not make use thereof, he doubleth readily the freedom thereof, and he preserveth it from being dissipated. |437 even as Paul writeth concerning [p. 456] this freedom, saying, “I have power [to do] everything, but not everything edifieth” 32. And that thou mayest learn that [it is thus] with all other things, and especially in the matter of eating and not eating, he maketh known the power of his freedom and saith immediately after these words, “Meats of the belly, and the belly of meats, but God will bring both of them to nought.” 33

Preserve then, O disciple, the habit of abstinence, that thou mayest also arrive at the power of freedom, and wean thyself, and eat not, that thou mayest draw nigh unto the state of eating without perceiving [it]; abstain from food by the power of thy soul, in order that the lusts which are mingled in thy members may be destroyed. Thou shalt not eat, that thou mayest sin not; thou shalt not drink, that thou mayest not err; be constant in fasting, through which thou mayest become worthy of the purity of prayer; diminish thy food at the time of thy eating, that the wing of thy understanding may be light to soar unto God; reckon with thy body even unto the most minute things, that thy soul may gain the mastery over the abundant riches of Divine knowledge thereby, and that He, who hath revealed unto thee the treasures of His wisdom and of His knowledge, may not make a reckoning with thee; wink thine eyes but little at lusts, and behold thou shalt pass over a difficult place, for the time wherein thou canst make use of them is little and short, but the time of immunity from them is without end. Be not then conquered in the time of victory, and grasp the battle against lust like a discovery, in order that |438 work may be found for thy soul; for so long as lusts perfect their work [p. 457] in thee, thy soul hath no work in thee, and being in thee, it is as though it were not in thee, because it is empty of, and lacketh the works of its nature. When the body hath begun to make its lusts move in thee, leap up, and tarry [not], and abhor the sight of thy lust like a thing of destruction which has found work for itself. And thou shalt say unto thy soul, “Why art thou troubled, O my soul, and why art thou sad because thou art deprived of gain? Behold, work hath fallen into thy hands, do it prosperously. Behold, lust is sent that it may shew itself against thee for the fight, shew forth then the skill of thy athletic art and the might of thy arms. Behold the material for gain, for thou lovest gain! Behold, thine enemies have gathered themselves together in the field of war, cry out against them with thy mighty voice, and rebuke and scatter the hosts of lusts which prosper not in this country, [for] they traffic in losses. Do thou then zealously collect [thy] gains, for thy victory will be the more proclaimed, if where others are conquered thou obtainest the victory. To the sluggish lust is the cause of defeat, but to thee, being diligent, it shall be the cause of triumph, for like the warrior who is confident in his strength, and who relieth upon his skill, and rejoiceth at the sight of [his] enemies, even so also do thou rejoice in the advance of lusts, for without them thy triumph would be empty, and thou wouldst have no material for the fight from which victory is produced.” Let these things, then, be said unto thy soul by thee, whenever it happeneth [p. 458] that lusts are stirred up against thee, but especially against this stupid lust of the belly, which is wont to spring from |439 childhood; for it entereth in as a destroyer alone, because it loveth to be seen by itself, and it layeth the foundation of slackness from the beginning of the growth of the stature of the body, so that beginning therefrom it may be found a helpmeet unto all lusts which spring up in every age of life.

Now this is the first lust which conquered the world, and because of it the first transgression of the law took place; and next Cain also, in turning unto this, meditated the killing of his brother that he might inherit the earth by himself.34 It laid a blemish upon the righteous man Noah;35 it dismissed from Esau his birthright and his blessings;36 it brought the Sodomites unto the work of impurity;37 and in its train the children of Seth also came to fornication,38 so that they were rejected from the household of God thereby; it destroyed the people in the wilderness by penalties of all kinds;39 from the table of lust they rose up and worshipped a dead calf;40 incited thereby they were ungrateful for all the acts of grace which [had been shewn] unto them, for Israel had waxed fat and kicked through this lust, and it is written of him, that “He forgot God Who made him.” 41 And because the priests lusted and drank [wine], and were confused in the place of propitiation, the fire consumed their bodies;42 through it also the Prophet reproached the people, [p. 459] when he proclaimed, “Woe unto those who rise up early in the morning, and follow quickly thereafter;” 43 and through |440 this lust another Prophet brought accusation against the people, saying, ”They ate fatlings of the flocks, and calves from the herds;”44 through it the scribes and Pharisees received “Woe” from our Redeemer, because it had taught them to keep festival, and Sabbath, and [to pay tithe of] cummin;45 it demanded tribute from the priests, who, without right, were taking it away from those who made offerings;46 it dismissed the sons of Eli from their priesthood;47 and by its exceeding dainties Solomon also was led into the error of idols.48And even to-day it corrupteth every thing, for because of it the world is exhausted, and for its pleasure creation runneth its course; for its sake all the children of men work slavery, and it seemeth as if the door could be shut in the face of all wickedness if it did not exist. Consider too, and observe understandingly the course of every man, and the labour, and fatigue, and the sweat of all those who enter the world, for it is only because of it, and for its sake and need only, that merchants travel on the roads, and sailors go down into terrible seas, and ploughmen and farmers endure labour and fatigue, and workmen toil in the cities, and hirelings run in the market-place, and slaves serve their masters, and masters also sell and buy their slaves; because of it precious things are gathered together and treasure is laid up for years, and gold, and silver, and produce of all kinds are for its sake collected and heaped up. Ascend [p. 460] then, and stand upon the height of knowledge, and look upon all the world from |441 that place, and watch the course, and the activity and the commotion, and the promises made by the inhabitants thereof on all sides. And observe how some ascend, and others descend; how some depart and others come; how one crieth out and another disputeth; how one contendeth, and another fighteth; how one carrieth off that which belongeth not to him, and another spoileth his fellow; how one stealeth like a thief, and how another, like a robber, plundereth on the highways; how battles are set in array in the marches; how kingdoms are divided against themselves; how captains of hosts rebel against kings, and how kings fight that their dominions be not taken away from them; how judges take bribes, and how advocates sell the success of cases iniquitously; and how for lust learners learn, and learned men teach. And when thou hast observed all these things and many others like unto them, and the various kinds of confusion and tumult which fill the world, turn thee and seek the cause of all these, and thou wilt find that it is the lust of the belly; and if it were overcome, everything would become peaceful and quiet, and thou wouldst see nothing in the world which would rebel against the will of God, or lead us to transgress the command, and to tread the law under foot, except this only.

Now if any man shall say there are other causes for all the things which are ministered unto in the world, [p. 461] let him that sayeth this know that the lust of the belly is also the primary cause of the other evils. And although passions are many and diverse, and they move themselves in various ways in the children of men, whereby the world is disturbed and creation troubled, yet the great fountain, from which these troubled streams |442 flow down on all sides, is the lust of the belly. And if a man stoppeth up this spring by the might of his patient endurance, he will straightway see that all the streams of wickedness, which are poured out therefrom, will dry up, and there will be quietness over everything, and peace will rule over all flesh, and there shall be abundant rest in troubled places, and all minds will be filled with happiness and joy, and so to say, if lust were not in the midst thou wouldst not see one vice in the world; for all wickednesses gather together thereunto, and all labours and wearying works hasten thereafter. That man should eat bread by the sweat of his face hath been born of lust, and it hath made brambles and briars to spring up, and through the ruin thereof the penalty of death ruleth over all; for it is the captain of the host of the left side, and to it are fettered all the hosts of sin, and as captains of hosts go forth to war at the head of their companies against the enemy, even so also doth it, as the captain of the host of all wickedness, go forth to war against that which is good. And thoughts and deeds of iniquity accompany it, and the motions and acts of sin, and all the deliberations of evil march at its perverse heel, [p. 462] and all the works of sin become unto it as members, and from it they receive their power, and they obtain their nourishment therefrom. As the senses are bound up with the head, even so in the lust of the belly are bound up error, and idolatry, and division, and suspicion, and falsehood; and as all the members of the body receive power and sustenance from the head, even so also are strengthened by the lust of the belly all wickednesses, which are:—-fornication, and adultery, and other corrupt passions; the adornment of the person with fine apparel; the empty pleasures |443 of the lust of the belly; and grief, and vain-glory, and pride; and wrath and despair, and bitterness; and wicked intent, and hatred, and enmity; and unrelenting anger, and burning wrath, and indignation; and violent rage, and envy, and bitterness; and sedition, and a deceitful face; and rule and dominion, and calumny, and whispering, and the tongue which continually smiteth in secret; and mocking, and scoffing, and fraud; and oppression, and murder, and soothsaying; and drunkenness, and blows; together with all other such like abominable passions, all of which are bound up with the lust of the belly. And I permit myself to say that of labours, and afflictions, and diseases, and sicknesses, and all such like things which afflict us in the body, lust is the cause.

And whosoever fighteth by the power of forbearance, and conquereth this first evil, is able thereby to conquer all sin, and well [p. 463] have divine men also handed down to us the tradition, that whosoever wisheth to be perfect in the way of Christ must first of all fight against this passion; therefore also if those who go forth from the world seeking perfection do not first of all begin by abstinence, they will not begin in the way of the commandments according to the law, and consequently they cannot finish [therein] because the lust of the belly carrieth them off like a thief. And although it may happen that at the beginning they make use thereof in a fitting manner, yet will it bring them to longings and desires of the thoughts, and to fantasies of the mind, and to that covering which standeth in front of the understanding, and darkeneth it to the sight of God, and maketh it especially dense, and until it be rent asunder from before |444 the face of the mind, a man will not be able to look at the Holy of Holies of the knowledge of Christ, even though he bear afflictions and labours. For if the covering of grossness of heart be not rent asunder, the heavenly light cannot be seen by him, and he is not able to serve the rule of Christ with his soul’s perception; but when this hath been rent asunder, a man then beginneth to perceive the renewing of his soul, and to know by the knowledge of his mind that he is something else besides that which can be seen and touched, and he receiveth also the perception of the things which are above the world, and wonderings and living motions concerning God, in order that he may be moved in a living manner like unto God Himself, and not in the manner of a dead man according to the nature of his body, [p. 464] and briefly, after the victory over this lust, a man is worthy of every spiritual vision.

Now if those who are in the world and who work righteousness have need of fasting and abstinence, how much more do those need them who have gone forth therefrom for the practice of a spiritual rule and conduct? For the limit of abstinence is that we should fight against all the meats which are made use of by the body, not with the forbearance of the members only, but also with the endurance of the thoughts; and if a man be constrained by his needs, let him eat the things which are of no account or value, and are common, and are both cheap and easily obtained. And let us be also watchful against the fulness of the belly, for as hath been said by one of the spiritual teachers, “A fat belly cannot produce a refined mind.” For the overfulness of the stomach without doubt darkeneth the |445 mind; therefore none of those who have had experience of knowledge can have any doubt about it, and if fools do doubt, they doubt because they have not experienced it, or if they do know it, because it is hard for them to depart from their lusts. Now therefore, what I now say shall shew thee a complete testimony. As the body is nourished, so the soul becometh enfeebled, and as the body becometh gross, and addeth body unto body by the food [which it taketh], the soul dwindleth and disappeareth, and although the soul existeth, it might be thought that it existed not in the body; and as the body addeth unto the strength and vigour of its stature, the stature of the soul boweth down, [p. 465] and its members—-which are the thoughts—-pine away, and its knowledge dwindleth, and the light of instruction is withheld from it; and so long as the body is found, the soul is lost, and so long as the body enjoyeth health, the soul is sick.

Whosoever, then, seeketh to find his soul, must deliver his body unto the destruction of all afflictions, and behold, he will find his soul in the destruction of his body, and the health of the man of the spirit in the sickness of the carnal man, even as Paul also testifieth, saying, “When I am sick, it is then that I am strong.” 49

Now when two opposing parties are engaged in battle with each other, so long as their hosts are equal in number and are equally skilled in the art of war, there will be fighting between them continually, for they will always be conquered and conquering, and taking and giving the victory to each other, and plucking triumphs each from each, and giving them back each |446 to each, and by reason of their equality constant war will be produced between them. In this manner then are also the soul and body towards each other, and as their natures are contrary to each other, even so also are their wills, and concerning this hath Paul also said, “The body lusteth after that which will harm the spirit, and the spirit lusteth after that which will harm the body, and both are contrary, each to each.” 50 And so long as they stand in this measure of equality, they will be at constant and unceasing war, and at one time the body will conquer the soul, and at another the soul will overcome the body; and [p. 466] whosoever fighteth thus must stand in his place, for although he step forward even so little towards that which belongeth to the soul, the body hangeth on to him and turneth him back, and, moreover, it will even thrust him from his position, and drag him down into the abyss of sin And during these ascents and descents, and goings and comings, a man must not depart from his place, or he will not be able to grow in the stature which hath been given unto him by God that he may increase unto spiritual life thereby.

Now therefore if these, the motions of whose lives stand in equality of soul and body, are not able to grasp the victory and to go forth unto the end of the journey of their life and conduct, how can those who live in the body, and who feed it continually, and give it the fulness of its wants, and feed it as it were to transgress, and give it as much drink as it desireth, and make it to sink under the weight of sleep, be able to grasp the victory against the passions, and to arrive |447 at the end of the Christian path along which they travel? For those who thus feed themselves, and who take care for their bodies in this manner, are not only unable to conquer sin, but their soul dieth and perisheth wholly and entirely, and their bodies become graves unto their souls, and their souls are buried within them like bodies in a grave, and they perceive not at all the life which is in them, [p. 467] and if there be in them the movement of life it is all on the behalf of the body. Now when the soul killeth the body, the work belongeth unto the soul in every particular, but if the body kill the soul, it thinketh, and acteth, and speaketh like a living being, and the soul dwelleth within it like a dead thing which perceiveth not at all; and if it thought that it liveth—-because the nature of the soul is immortal—-it liveth to the body and not to itself.

Take away then from the body, and give to the soul, but take not away from the soul that thou mayest give to the body, and according to that which was promised should happen unto thee by thy Creator, so do thou thyself unto thyself. For this hope, that thy body should be exalted unto the grade of thy soul by the resurrection, was given unto thee, and not the expectation that the soul should be brought down to the deadness of the body and the corruption thereof, for it hath been said unto thee, “One half of thee shall live with the other half,” and not “The portion which is superior in thee shall not perish with that which is inferior.” So then lift thou up the power of thy body upon thy soul, and change and mingle the life thereof with the life of the soul, that its mortal life may be preserved with its immortal life, and its feeble power may be mingled with the might of its spiritual power. And instead of |448 allowing the grave to bring thy body to an end, and to dissolve and scatter the constitution of thy members, take thou the portions of its members through the common labours of all the members, and lay them upon the soul, and when it goeth forth from thee through the dissolution of death, it shall not [p. 468] depart by itself, but shall bear upon itself all that belongeth unto the body, the strength of the body in its strength, the life of the body in its life, the carnalness of the body in its spirituality, and the members and senses of the body, together with all the labour of their ministration, in all the spiritual members of the soul.

Now this strife is of use unto us—-especially to conquer therewith—-from the beginning of our youth. for from the beginning of the foundation of the childhood of the children of men this passion cleaveth unto their lives, and maketh to shoot up in all stages of their growth the passions which are peculiar unto them. In children, and in gray-haired men, in youths and in old men this passion begetteth wrath, and indignation, and constant annoyance, and rage; but in the other periods which fall between [youth and age], of young manhood, and the prime of life, it begetteth fornication, and empty pleasures, and the lust for money, and the lust for power, and other such like things, and according to the order of the periods [of life] it is meet that the forms of fighting should be changed. In the period of childhood, since it is below the knowledge of the prudent, it is meet that children should be restrained from the service of this lust by the power of the law, and they should be instructed by teachers and masters to perform the practice of abstinence—-even though it be heavy upon them, and they be not |449 pleased therewith—-and they should be constrained to perfect it that they may acquire a good habit, and be trained to endure patiently from [p. 469] their youth up; and when they have arrived at the age which begetteth knowledge, they will feel the experience of their patient endurance, and will taste the sweetness of this victory. And the childhood which hath from the beginning been accustomed to learn that which is good, and hath been exercised in the training of patient endurance, is like a field which hath been cultivated and sown from its earliest times, that at the fitting season it may yield the fruits of knowledge.

And what shall I say in respect of children? Unto those of all ages, and even also unto perfect and fullgrown men, the knowledge of contests appeareth not at the times when their thoughts are disturbed by fighting in the contests, but when they have ceased to war then they perceive [their] knowledge; if then the knowledge be found with them at the time when they are fighting, how they shall fight belongeth unto their knowledge, that is to say, the knowledge of the delivery of the law, which is established by hearing, and by tradition, and by doctrine, and by word, and not that knowledge of the spirit which shineth naturally upon the soul, and bringeth forth words without the remembrance of the tradition. And as the eye by its activity receiveth the vision of the clearness of light, even so also doth the sight of the soul receive, after the conquest of the carnal passions, the purity and simplicity of the knowledge of the spirit; and as the simple sun shineth upon things in nature, and upon diverse bodies, and he seemeth to them [p. 470] divisible and separate, although he is of one single nature, and there is no division in him, |450  even so also is it with the knowledge of the spirit when it shineth upon the rule, and conduct, and labours of life, for it seemeth to them separate and divisible, although in itself it is simple. Now the soul is not worthy to receive the brilliance of this light, except a man be first of all born from carnality to spirituality, the birth itself being perfected by labours and afflictions, for, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven,” 51 the blessed Paul teacheth us, or as a man might say, “So long as the motions of a man are established by flesh and blood he is unable to inherit the spiritual knowledge of Christ,” which, as in a parable, he calleth the kingdom of heaven; and although this verse hath other meanings in respect of other passions, yet as regardeth the matter which is under discussion we may suitably apply it with this meaning. For the true kingdom is the knowledge which erreth not, and doubteth not, but seeth everything in its proper place distinctly, as well as things which are above nature, according to the capacity which is given unto created beings; and he whose life is established by means of motions of flesh and blood is unable to become the heir of this knowledge, and if it happen that he receive it by the tradition of words, he heareth the words from others, and it is not that [p. 471] knowledge which itself hath revealed itself in his soul, for this knowledge is beyond words, and beyond appellations and names, as the demonstration of the Holy Children who were reared in Babylon testifieth unto us. Now those children, although they acquired human learning by the word of instruction, yet longed earnestly to |451 receive the divine knowledge, which was above oral tradition, and which revealed itself unto them at the fitting season, and that which human learning could not know this knowledge taught unto those children, and it was shewn unto them because they travelled towards it in the way of this knowledge according to the law. For although their food was allowed them from the royal table, and they were ordered to take the meat which befitted those who received royal instruction, they rejected it because they perceived that it gave increase unto worldly knowledge, and that clean and pure meats were necessary for those who received human instruction, that their bodily senses might be pure and active according to the purity of their food. Now spiritual knowledge hath no need of these things, because it holdeth nothing of the perspicacity of carnal senses in the soul, but when all parts of the soul have been purified and cleansed from evil passions, then this knowledge riseth therein.

Now pure meats are helpful and beneficial in no slight degree to the activity of the senses of those who receive the knowledge of the soul, but spiritual beings [p. 472] have no need of anything thereof, and that thou mayest know that this is so, accept the testimony of these pure children, who instead of the royal, pure, and clean meats which give to the body solid and substantial nourishment, chose pulse and the drinking of water, for the might of the former food is a hindrance unto those who receive human learning. And because they were not refined in their bodies, but in their souls, they chose vegetable food that their bodies might become meagre, and the strength and the natural power of their members might be reduced, and |452 that after these things the living parts of the soul might be revealed unto the perception and sight of divine knowledge. And this actually took place, for after they had eaten pulse and drunk water for three years this knowledge was revealed unto them, not that which is born of words, but that which is born of deeds, for they were doing the works which gave birth unto the knowledge of the spirit, while they were learning the words which gave birth unto human knowledge; but because their expectation was directed unto the revelation of that knowledge which ariseth from works and not unto that which ariseth from words, where they looked they saw, and where they expected they received, and they became a medium for words, and receptive vessels of the knowledge of the spirit. And thou must understand from this matter that not merely did they eat pulse and drink water only, but they took this abstemious food after prolonged fasting, for whosoever eateth pulse is constant [p. 473] in fasting also, and whosoever drinketh water is clean for pure prayer at all seasons, if the object of his abstinence be therefor. And thou must understand from the passage that when the time arrived in which that knowledge was to shew itself in them, they clave to abstinence, and fasting, and prayer, and then the revelations for which they asked were shewn unto them, for Daniel told his companions to entreat the God of heaven to reveal this mystery unto them in order that he and his brethren might not perish, together with all the other wise men of Babylon; and then unto Daniel, in a vision of the night, was the mystery revealed.52 This then is the gift which abstinence gave unto the Children, and this |453 is the harvest which they gathered in from the fields which had been sown with pulse and which had drunk in water. Run thy course then, O disciple, as did they, that like them thou mayest be able to restrain thyself and to go forth into a wide place; make thyself little that thou mayest be able to go through the narrow gate; drink water that thou mayest drink knowledge; feed upon pulse that thou mayest become wise in mysteries; eat by measure that thou mayest overcome without measure; fast that thou mayest see; this is the meat which belongeth to thee, because it is also thy dis-cipleship, for according to this [hast thou] promised. For dainty meats and fulness of the belly belong not to thee, but unto those who live in wickedness in the world, and who at all seasons produce the brambles and thorns of sin, for the person who is sown with dainties and who drinketh wine is accustomed to yield fruit like unto these things; but of the eating of pulse and of the drinking [p. 474] of water the harvest is heavenly visions and revelations, and the knowledge of the spirit, and divine wisdom, and the interpretation of hidden things, and that which human knowledge perceiveth not, but the soul which laboureth in such like things perceiveth it. And moreover from thy youth up abide in the rule of labours, and say not, “I am a child,” because thou wilt be taken as an example of what children [can do]. And besides, according to the indication of the history of the Book those beloved ones were only children of a few years of age when they began this divine service, and they found it out without being taught,—-do thou, since thou hast teachers, practise this [habit]—-for their teachers were persuading them to do the contrary, that is to say, to eat and to drink—-now the |454 divine doctrine counselled! thee, on the contrary, to love the rule of abstinence, and to lay hold upon patient endurance—-and those children, without being obliged or required to do so, by their own discernment chose these things. And thou, if thou wilt do as they did, wilt pay what is due from thee, and thou wilt fulfil thy promise by the word of God which thou hast.

Rouse thyself then, and observe these children of the Old Testament, who being born of one mother sucked the milk of another, for while the Old Testament brought them forth to the belief of God, they fulfilled the rule of life of the New Testament, and the milk of their mother was not sweet unto them, but they longed earnestly to suck from the breasts which suckle thee, [p. 475] and they lusted for the meat of thy table. And thou, when thou doest these things, wilt do that which belongeth unto thee to do, and where thou wast produced there wilt thou be reared, and the laws which thou art bound to keep thou wilt keep—-for thy choice itself proclaimeth labours, and afflictions, and abstinence, and the subjugation of the body—-and after these things there will come upon thee the pleasures which are born therefrom, happiness, and joy, and confidence, and all these are above the world, and before the coming of the kingdom thou wilt inherit the kingdom. For whosoever purifieth and cleanseth his body by affliction and severe labours, and also his soul from wickedness, shall inherit the kingdom before the time of the kingdom, and before the coming of the glorious and universal revelation the glory thereof will be revealed unto him by his soul, and he himself will become the fountain of his knowledge, because he is about to be held worthy in heaven of the kingdom, and because he will find in |455 himself the kingdom. For behold, “The kingdom of God is within you,53” and in another place [the Book] saith, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,54” and two things are certain: the kingdom of heaven which the righteous shall inherit at the end of the world, above the heavens, and the kingdom which is in you, which is the knowledge of the spirit which is revealed unto spiritual beings, and as it were, we have already been in the kingdom of heaven in unspeakable happiness. Now neither of these can be found without afflictions and labours of the body, for those who bear labours in the body are heirs of the kingdom of heaven, [p. 476] and those who, together with labours, possess innocency of soul also, become the discoverers of the kingdom which is in them, and in its blessings they fare luxuriously and revel in continual joy, over which sorrow ruleth not, because at all times they rejoice in the gladness which is born of them, even as Paul also said, “Rejoice at all times,” 55 and in another place he also said, “Rejoice in your hope, and endure patiently your tribulations; for from the patient endurance of tribulations the hope concerning the things which are to come increaseth in us,” even as he said in another place, “Tribulation perfecteth patience in us; and patience, probation, and probation, hope; and patience putteth not to shame.”56

Whosoever beareth not tribulations by his own constancy, in him it is evident that the remembrance of hope is not, for if he had hope, he would also be in tribulation because of his hope, even as all the |456 righteous who have come into the world were in tribulation with all kinds of labours, and in many afflictions they trod this path which leadeth to the kingdom of God; and because they trod it in hope the experience of the afflictions was pleasant unto them. Now the beginning of the way of tribulations unto them all was abstinence, even as the greed of the belly is the beginning of all wickedness, for from this very place two paths begin; from the love of the belly the path [which goeth to] the left, and from the hatred of the belly [p. 477] the path [which goeth to] the right. And whosoever wisheth to begin the path of discipleship in good order, must start herefrom, afflicting and buffeting his body, and reducing its meat and drink, and loading it with the toils of vigil, and with the tribulations of fasting; and when its lusts are cut off it will become light and active for the business of the soul. Now the work of afflictions is not so hard as report saith, for a report from afar usually terrifieth every man, but when he hath tried and hath had experience of the matters in very deed, they become easy unto those who do them.

To thee then, O thou who hast cast off the world, belong the things which will help thee greatly, and which will give thee power [to lead] the good life, for the fact of being removed from the affairs of the world, and from the sight and hearing thereof, keepeth thy life holy in no small degree. The beloved Children 57, the example of whom I have brought before thee, although the royal table was set before their sight, rejected its pleasures, and chose tribulations instead of delights. |457 And herefrom consider the power of their patient endurance, for having no teacher to admonish, and none to help or encourage, nor the pattern of others who were before them, nor the fear of the law upon them, nor want and need, nor fear and terror which restrained them, nor being removed from the sight of meats—-which also is helpful to patient endurance—-having [p. 478] none of these [reasons, I say], they filled themselves with the power of their patient endurance. Do thou then, even though all these things help thee, persevere in the patience which befitteth thy discipleship, and conquer the wicked mistress of all iniquity, and subdue thy body and afflict thy members, even as Paul also said, “I subdue my body, and bring it into subjection, lest peradventure I, who have preached to others, am myself rejected 58.” And if Paul, although he, by the power of Grace, gained the victory over the passions, still had need to subdue his body, how much more have those, in whom there still live the lusts of the flesh, need to subdue their bodies by fasting and abstinence, and to fight and to overcome!

Unto thee then, O disciple, if thou wishest thy discipleship to be good, let the table, which unto others is a place of pleasure, be a place of fighting, and set in array thereupon the battle against all meats, whether they be great or little, or rare or common, and despise not lust, because it is laid hold upon by small matters, and think [not] that it is not worthy of blame, for thou wilt be especially blameworthy if it happen that thou art overcome by small things, even more so than if thou wert conquered by great things, for if lust can |458 vanquish thee by little things, how much more shall it defeat thee by great? [p. 479] And if it conquereth thee by garden herbs, how much more shall it overcome thee by the meat of flesh? Whosoever will commit iniquity in a small thing will also commit iniquity in a great thing. Now with that with which lust doeth battle with thee must thou overcome it: if it be with the meat of flesh, and the various preparations of meat and dainty foods, fight therewith and vanquish the lust of the belly, and if it be with pulse, and garden herbs, and valueless and common fruits, with that very thing with which lust fighteth do thou oppose victory. And say not, “To conquer these things is no victory at all,” but consider that if thou be vanquished by these things the defeat will be great. What then? And if it be that that lust which is wont at all times to lust after great things, abaseth itself and lusteth after small things in order that it may subdue thee, do not thou abase thyself with it, but conquer it wherever it seeketh to conquer thee. For wherever it calleth there art thou bound to follow after it, and against that thing which it lusteth after, do thou set in array the battle against the incentives thereto, being in this respect like unto Christ thy Lord, Who, wherever the Tempter sought to tempt Him, was found present with him, and wherever he wished to enter into battle with Him, there did He respond unto him. And He began first of all the war which was against the greediness of the belly, and He overcame this lust by the patient endurance of fasting, that He might give unto us also an example, and lay down for us the law, so that we, if we desired to enter upon a spiritual rule of life and conduct [p. 480] might begin with fasting, and after |459 that, little by little, we might advance unto all triumphs. For also our Lord first of all vanquished the lust of the belly, and after it the love of money, and the empty boasting of the world, and dominion and power —-which things are born therefrom—-and after these He conquered vain-glory—-an abominable passion which is born of fine things—-and by these three He overcame and brought to nought all the passions which cleave unto them, and then He began to preach the kingdom of His Father with power, and to deliver the doctrine of perfection unto the children of men.

Now as Christ our Lord, when He had finished the service of the Law and had begun the rule of the spirit, began with fasting, even so also like Him art thou bound to make the beginning of thy discipleship, which is above the world therewith. For what abstinence could be as perfect as that of Jesus? Who not only made himself a stranger unto the taste of meats, but also unto the smell and sight thereof, in that He forsook the peaceful state in which these are found, and went forth into the wilderness, and deprived Himself of everything, in order that He might cut off and cast out from all the senses this abominable lust; for except a man go forth from the world he cannot tread the path of perfection. And consider also that our Redeemer protracted His fast unto the last limit to which our nature could attain! Now Moses and Elijah did also tread [that path], and attain to this number [of days], and if our nature had been able to go beyond it, our Redeemer would have fasted more, and also if [p. 481] its strength had been insufficient to arrive at this number [of days], He would have diminished the number of the days which He fasted, |460 and would have limited Himself to the time up to which human nature could endure. For our Lord did not fast according to His strength, but according to our strength, for if He had fasted according to His own strength He would never have hungered at all, for the nature of His spirituality was not to hunger; but He fasted according to the body according to the capacity of the power of carnal beings, and He brought Himself down to us, and revealed unto us the limits of His natural endurance.

Now the power of endurance hath become weak in us by reason of a multitude of dainties, and we think that without these our nature cannot live, and that if we diminish these dainties and supports of meat it will perish. Our Lord fasted forty days, and hath [thus] taught us that the power of our natural endurance can be prolonged unto this point, if the barriers of lust be not placed in the way to cut off the way of endurance; but our Redeemer broke through and passed over all the barriers of lusts and the endurance of sicknesses and diseases, and arrived at the end of the forty days, therefore unto this point have very many arrived, but beyond the limit which our Redeemer fixed hath no man passed, because it is the natural one. If then it hath been heard or said that a man hath passed this limit, it is beyond the power of human nature to do so, and it hath been performed solely by Grace, [p. 482] because of many reasons, some of which are hidden from us, and some of which are manifest unto us.

Now therefore it is meet that the disciple should place this example before his eyes, if he wisheth to be prosperous in the spiritual life, and as our Lord |461 overcame the other passions, even so also for thee after abstinence will it be easy to vanquish the other lusts. And as after all lusts had been overcome Jesus began the teaching of authority, and the life of freedom, to eat with all men, to be invited by all men, and to mix with, and to talk with all [kinds of] people, which things are a sign of absolute freedom, even so also shalt thou stand in the freedom of Christ, when thou hast mastered the lust of the belly, and the other passions which follow in its train thereby, and shalt mingle with and talk to every one with authority, and thou shalt eat and drink with tax-gatherers and whores, and thou shalt converse fearlessly with women, thy freedom making no distinction between male and female, because thou hast cast off that thought which by reason of the passions seeth the difference between them; for when the mind is not goaded by passion it distinguished not between the person of a man or woman, nor between a beautiful face and an ugly one, but without passion it meeteth all and regardeth all alike. And without fear thou shalt enter into every [house], and thou shalt salute every man, and thou shalt be all things unto all men, being thyself without change, for the benefit of all. Now the patterns of these things [p. 483] have been seen in Christ and in His disciples. And thou must observe that unto these and such like things our Redeemer arrived through abstinence, and not only Himself, but also the holy Apostles, and the divine Prophets, and also John the Baptist who came between the two Covenants. And remember how the Holy Book recounteth unto thee concerning his abstinent rule of life, which was new and different from that of all the other children of men, for his clothing was of |462 camel’s hair,59 and skin girded his loins, like the prophets, and his food was locusts and wild honey, and his dwelling-place was the desert wilderness which was destitute of peace, and he lived among the beasts of the wilderness. And from his youth up he fulfilled all this stern life of abstinence, and after these things he was held to be worthy of the revelation, and to become a herald of the advent of the Highest, and before the Crucifixion to be equal unto those who were after the Crucifixion; and although as yet human nature was not born unto spirituality he alone was born thereto before the birth of all other men. And of this sight which is above speech, and the change which is to be wondered at and admired, together with the power of that Grace unto which everything is easy, he was held to be worthy by reason of his strict abstinence; for it is the nature of this rule of life that when purity of the soul is nigh thereunto, it giveth birth unto man that he may be in the world of the spirit, and a counterpart of the angels, although he still sojourneth in the world of the body.

And besides this, then, thou must understand that the blessed Apostles, even though they had been chosen by divine Grace, [p. 484] were not worthy of the gift of the Spirit until there had appeared in them first of all the life of abstinence, and behold, although they were going about with Jesus in the world, it is not written concerning them that they themselves observed the rules of abstinence, for through the abundance of Divine grace they led the life of the freedom of Christ, to which our Redeemer Himself came |463 after His temptation in the wilderness; and although in their course they had not as yet arrived at this point by temptation, Christ made them participators in His perfection. Now the Pharisees and the disciples of John, not having understood the power of this freedom, reproached Christ boldly, saying, “Why do we fast so much, and thy disciples fast not?” 60 But Jesus made answer unto them in words the meaning of which was above the power of their understanding, saying, “The children of the bride-chamber cannot fast so long as the bridegroom is with them, for as at a feast it is not only the bridegroom who is clothed in white, and who is occupied with pleasure, but also those who have been bidden to the feast, and similarly, it is not only I, Who, after the conquest and the payment of the debt of all sufferings having arrived at this freedom of the feast, rejoice and am glad, but also My disciples, who have been invited unto the kingdom, and them do I make to participate with Me; but the days shall come when I shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast in those days, [p. 485] that is to say, when the full light of the power of free-will hath been gathered unto Me, then shall they also kindle the lamps of their endurance;” and that there shall be a place for the spirit instead of the light [of which] Jesus [speaks] He himself will shine in their hidden places—-which actually came to pass after His going up into heaven.

Now although they lived beforehand the life of freedom, as a pledge, yet they did not receive this freedom in themselves until they had first of all laboured |464 in the life of abstinence, for it is written concerning them that immediately our Redeemer was taken up they returned to that upper chamber in which they were abiding,61 and that they lived there with much fasting, and in close confinement, and with sincere prayers, and bitter weeping, and that afterwards they were held to be worthy to receive the Paraclete. And if from the ascension of Christ into heaven, unto the descent of the Spirit the days of their abstinence were few, we must learn that they also tarried in this service of fasting and abstinence after they had received the Spirit, and in every place is it written concerning them that they fasted and prayed. “And while they were fasting and praying, the Holy Spirit said to them, Separate ye unto Me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them.” 62 And again the Apostles said when they wished to choose seven deacons, “We will continue steadfastly in prayer, [p. 486] and in the ministry of the word;” 63 and again when Simon was bound in prison, it is written that the whole church prayed;64 and again it is written concerning Paul, that before he was baptized, and received the Holy Spirit, he neither ate nor drank for three days,65 nor rose up from his place, because he was lying upon his face praying, and thus he received the Holy Ghost. And he was occupied in fasting and prayer during the whole of the remaining period of his life after his election, even as he himself testifieth everywhere concerning his fasting, and his prayer, and his many |465 tribulations which he bore for the sake of the Gospel, and with all his other labours and afflictions he reckoned frequent fasting, saying, “In fasting often, in watching often, in hunger often, in cold and in nakedness;” 66 and again he saith, “I am trained in everything, both in fulness, and in hunger, in abundance, and in want.” 67 And to how much in want and poverty he was testify the fact that once until he had sold his clothing they were not able to buy food for him and for those who were with him, and the constant labour which he did with his hands at nights, in order that he might be a burden upon no man.68

And concerning Simon, moreover, it is written that “he went up to the roof to pray at the time of the ninth hour, and he was an hungered, and wished to eat,” and he told [them] to make ready for him.69 And by this [example the Book] teacheth thee that, in addition to constant instruction, [p. 487] and prayers at every hour, he prayed continually also at the stated seasons which [are those of] the common service, and that together with prayer was his fasting continual. That he was hungry and wished to eat at the ninth hour [sheweth] that his hunger arose from Divine dispensation and not from habit, and that he had not a rule for eating at that season, and it is evident from what he saith that when he went up to the roof to pray hunger suddenly fell upon him, and that he left his prayers and told them to prepare food for him. And if it had been the season when he was accustomed to eat, those who received him would have made ready for him according to [their] wont, but from the fact that he |466 commanded them to prepare for him, it is evident that he became hungry through Divine dispensation, that by the passion of his hunger he might receive the teaching of the things which were spoken unto him, his fasting being continual.

And consider, the Apostles fasted not—-now their rule of life is not suitable to come to testify unto thee, for when they had received the Spirit Paraclete they were perfect—-and as our Lord did not fast after His temptation, so also was it not fitting for them to fast, according to the rule of freedom in which they stood, and the perfection in which they were. But although their spiritual rule of life was above labours, yet they descended to labours and afflictions, for one reason, that they might give us a good example, so that we might be like unto them, and for another, because they gratified their pleasure with tribulations and labours. Now of what did the food [p. 488] of these great ones who arrived at perfection consist? When they had any did it not consist of bread, and garden herbs, and olives only? And if the Apostles had need of the rule of abstinence, and in the time of perfection lived like those who were in danger, who would not tremble and excuse himself from slackness, and run and lay hold of the rule of patient endurance?

And thou must also understand from the testimony of the Prophets, that they too, whenever they were held worthy to receive a vision of God or of the angels, led a life of much fasting, and then were they worthy to receive the vision of revelations, even as it is written of that beloved man Daniel, that after his fast of three weeks he was wholly worthy of the sight |467 of angels.70 And if for that man who was looking for the advent of an angel all this fasting was necessary, and he was only then worthy to receive spiritual revelations, how much more for thee who awaitest the spiritual sight of Christ, and hopest to receive within thy soul the perception which is above nature, are much fasting, and abstinence, and the subduing of the body necessary, if thou wouldst arrive at things which are greater than those of Daniel?

And so also Elijah, after his fast of forty days and forty nights,71 received the sight of God in Mount Horeb, and he was alone in the wilderness, and in addition to the protracted fast he bore also the labour of the journey of the way; and besides these he was shut off from the children of men, and [lived in] silent contemplation, and he was [p. 489] in pure prayer, and after these things he heard the voice of God speaking with him. And like this holy man the blessed Moses also was twice72 deemed worthy to go unto the thick darkness and to receive the law upon the tablets; and he was made pure by fasting like unto this, and then he was deemed worthy of the terrible sight. And the prophet Ezekiel73 also, when he was about to receive the revelation of the prophecy of the uprooting of the city and the overthrowing of the temple, did the word of God bring into severe tribulations to eat bread by weight, and to drink water by measure, and to sleep upon his side in affliction—-and then he arrived at the vision of prophecy. And thus also thou canst [shew] that all the righteous men and Prophets, either by |468 their own will, or by God’s command unto them, endured always tribulations and labours, even as the blessed David maketh known that from the severity of his fasting the very limbs of his body had become enfeebled, saying, “My knees have become sick through fasting, and my flesh faileth of fatness;” 74 and again he saith, “For I have forgotten to eat my bread, and by reason of the voice of my groanings my flesh cleaveth unto my bones.” 75 It was not sufficient for him, through his remembrance of God to turn away from [his] natural food, but he forgot entirely this corruptible food because his mind was meditating upon that which belonged to the spirit; and by reason of the severity of his labours and tribulations, and through the pain and grief of his groanings his flesh clave to his bones.

And again, he teacheth thee also concerning [p. 490] that which he took as a preparation for his meat, saying, “For I have eaten ashes like bread:” 76 these were the condiments and dainties which were laid upon the table of this righteous king when he ate his food. Listen also concerning the strained wine which he drank: “I have mingled my drink with tears.” 77 Behold the meat and drink of the righteous king! He fed himself upon ashes, and his drink was tears of suffering. What disciple on hearing these things will not break his heart in sorrow for his slothful life, if indeed he be a disciple? And again David saith, “I have humbled my soul in fasting, and I have become unto them a reproach. I have made sackcloth my clothing, and I have become unto them a byword”:78 and by this |469 he teacheth us that he not only endured the labour of good deeds, but that he also heard reproaches and indignant words because thereof, and endured them patiently; from which thou also mayest learn that if thy labours are despised by the slothful, and thy tribulations are repeated mockingly by those who love pleasure, thou must remember these words and be comforted, and let them be a support for thy soul when irritation at the wicked cometh upon thee. And again, in another place, he telleth unto what severity of labours he had arrived in the patient endurance of his tribulations, saying, “I have become like a skin bottle in the ice, but I have not forgotten Thy commandments;” 79 and by this he teacheth thee [p. 491] that through excessive meagreness and dryness even the moisture of his body had dried up and come to an end. And again listen unto him, for he teacheth thee in another place that before a man hath gone through tribulations and hath been tried in the furnace of enduring labours patiently, he cannot go forth into the wide place of spiritual happiness, saying, “Thou hast brought me through fire and water, and hast brought me out into a wide place;” 80 now he likeneth unto fire and water the afflictions, and wickedness, and labours which surround him on all sides, whether the afflictions arose from his own will, or from the chastisement of God which took place to try him, or from the wicked men who envied him his good works.

And besides this righteous king, listen also unto the words of the spiritual athlete Job, whom the healing of the spirit taught what manner of thing he should set |470 upon his table before his food, “For my sighing entereth in before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like water;” 81 these are the fruits which he took before [his food]—-groanings and weeping—-and then he drew nigh [to eat] his natural food, for he ate first of all suffering, and drank the tears of his groanings, and then he took his carnal food, from which also [we may learn] that that which he ate was consecrated and not ordinary food. Hear also from him what tribulations he bore and yet did not depart from the love of God: “Why have I taken my flesh in my teeth, and [why] is my soul laid in my hands? Even if He slay me, it is for Him only that I will wait”,82 [p. 492] as if a man were to say, Even though He love me not, yet will I not depart from His love. God punished him like an enemy, yet he cried out, “I am smitten by a friend,” and he denied not the love of Him that punished him. And everywhere, if thou seekest, O disciple, thou wilt find that none of the righteous pleased God in the world without tribulations and labours, for this is the road of the royal city which is above, and that “strait and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.” 83

Let us travel then, in the narrow path which God hath trodden for us, and let us walk in the way of the tribulations which He hath shewn us. Let us restrict ourselves here, that we may live in freedom there; let us hunger here, that we may be filled there; let us diminish our food and drink [here], that we may have spiritual food in abundance there; let us take ourselves into the furnace of tribulations, that we may be given unto |471 the kingdom as pure gold in which there is no blemish; let us not spare the destruction of our body, that our inner man may be renewed day by day. Let us not think anxiously about the pains and sicknesses which will befall [us], but let us think that if things be not thus the wounds of the soul cannot be healed; let us be filled with joy in running our course, because it is known that we hasten after hope. Let us labour like sons of grace for the Father of truth, that we may be worthy of that inheritance which is filled with blessings, and is promised unto sons, and let us always remember the word of the Apostle, “By tribulation it is meet that we should enter the kingdom of God”,84 and with the Apostle let us say each to each, “If we suffer with Christ, [p. 493] we shall be glorified with Christ,85 and if we endure [with Him], we shall also reign with Him;”86 to Whom be glory from us all, for ever and ever, Amen.

Here endeth the Eleventh Discourse, which is on Abstinence.

[Footnotes renumbered and moved to the end.  Page numbers in brackets refer to the Syriac text in vol. 1 of the printed edition.]

1. 1 St. Matthew vii. 13.

2. 1 Isaiah xxviii. 16; 1 St. Peter ii. 6.

3. 1 St. Luke xii. 37.

4. 1 Deuteronomy viii. 3; St. Matthew iv. 4; St. Luke iv. 4.

5. 1 Romans iv. 17.

6. 1 Compare Psalm cxxxvii. 9.

7. 1 1 Samuel xvii. 42.

8. 1 1 Timothy iv. 4.

9. 1 Romans xiv. 3.

10. 2 Galatians v. 13.

11. 1 Genesis iii. 6.

12. 1 1 Timothy iv. 5.

13. 2 Romans xiv. 21.

14. 1 Romans xiv. 6.

15. 1 Compare 1 St. John iii. 4; Romans iv. 15.

16. 2 Numbers xi. 33.

17. 3 Psalm cvi. 14.

18. 4 Exodus xvi. 3.

19. 5 Numbers xi. 18.

20. 1 1 Kings xvii. 6.

21. 2 Exodus xvi. 20.

22. 1 Exodus xvi. 31; Numbers xi. 7.

23. 2 Hebrews xii. 16.

24. 1 2 Samuel xxiii. 16.

25. 2 Genesis viii. 20.

26. 3 1 Kings xvii. 4.

27. 4 Genesis xviii. 7.

28. 5 Genesis xxvii. 25.

29. 6 1 Samuel ix. 24.

30. 1 Compare Ephesians v. 18, and St. Luke xxi. 44.

31. 1 Genesis xviii. 8.

32. 1 1 Corinthians vi. 12; x. 23.

33. 2 1 Corinthians vi. 13.

34. 1 Genesis iii. 6; Genesis iv. 8.

35. 2 Genesis ix. 21.

36. 3 Genesis xxvii. 36.

37. 4 Genesis xix. 8.

38. 5 Genesis vi. 2.

39. 6 Numbers chaps, xi. xiv. xvi. xx. xxi.

40. 7 Exodus xxxii. 4.

41. 8 Deuteronomy xxxii. 15.

42. 9 Numbers xvi. 18, 35.

43. 10 Isaiah v. 11.

44. 1 Deuteronomy xxxii. 14.

45. 2 St. Matthew xxiii. 23.

46. 3 1 Samuel ii. 13-15.

47. 4 1 Samuel iv. 11.

48. 5 1 Kings xi. 5.

49. 1 2 Corinthians xii. 10.

50. 1 Galatians v. 17.

51. 1 1 Corinthians xv. 50.

52. 1 Daniel ii. 18, 19.

53. 1 St. Luke xvii. 21.

54. 2 St. Matthew iii. 2.

55. 3 1 Thessalonians v. 16.

56. 4 Romans v. 3.

57. 1 See above p. 452.

58. 1 1 Corinthians ix. 27.

59. 1 St. Matthew iii. 4.

60. 1 St. Mark ii. 18.

61. 1 Acts i. 13 ff.

62. 2 Acts xiii. 2.

63. 3 Acts vi. 3, 4.

64. 4 Acts xii. 5.

65. 5 Acts ix. 9.

66. 1 2 Corinthians xi. 27.

67. 2 Philippians iv. 12.

68. 3 1 Thessalonians ii. 9.

69. 4 Acts x. 9.

70. 1 Daniel x. 2, 7.

71. 2 1 Kings xix. 8.

72. 3 Exodus xxiv. 18; xxxiv. 28.

73. 4 Ezekiel iv.

74. 1 Psalm cix. 24.

75. 2 Psalm cii. 5.

76. 3 Psalm cii. 9.

77. 4 Psalm cii. 9.

78. 5 Psalm lxix. 10, 11.

79. 1 Psalm cxix. 83.

80. 2 Psalm lxvi. 12.

81. 1 Job iii. 24.

82. 2 Job xiii. 14, 15.

83. 3 St. Matthew vii. 14.

84. 1 Acts xiv. 22.

85. 2 Romans viii. 17.

86. 3 Timothy ii. 12.


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Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011

Text in red, if any, represent my additions.

Verse 24. No man can serve two masters. Whither does this tend? S. Chrysostom (Hom. xxii.) and The Author (Hom. xvi.) answer: Christ had said in verse 19, “Lay not up,” which, He shows, we cannot do, because we cannot serve God and mammon. S. Chrysostom (Hom. xxii.) and Theophylact show how it is to be understood, and that no one can serve two masters who give contrary commands, as God and mammon. This is no doubt true, but Christ gives another reason: ” He will hate,” &c. The words show that no one can have two masters, issuing, not merely different, but even contradictory orders. For nature herself forbids the love of a servant to be divided between two masters; as if Christ had said, ” No woman can have two husbands,” not only because they would give contrary directions, but because conjugal love is of such a nature in itself as to be the possession of one husband alone. Thus one master can have many servants, but one servant cannot have many masters; for the master does not love but direct the servant; the servant does not direct but love his master; and while command can be divided, love cannot. Christ therefore teaches us that riches, not only when wickedly gained and unjustly dispensed, but when both rightly gained and justly dispensed, if loved, call men off from the love of God. For no one is able to love two masters, or, as Christ said elsewhere, ” It is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven ” (Matt 19:26). The Author (Hom, xvi.) says: “Christ did not say, No man can have two masters, but no man can serve two masters “. Everything to which we are too much inclined, and to which we are in a manner servants, He calls our master (as S. Paul, Rom 6:16; 2 Pet 2:19), and whoever is overcome by it is its servant (S. Basil, Reg., ii. i).

For either he will hate the one. “The one” is here taken for the first, “the other” for the second, a very common and well-known Hebraism. Specify therefore two masters, whom you will, Peter and Paul, either he will hate the one, that is, the first, Peter, and love the other, that is, the second, Paul; or he will sustain the one, that is, Peter, and he will despise the other, that is, the second, Paul. In a word, Christ does not oppose the one person to the other, but the hatred of the one to the love of the other. There is a similar expression in S. Luke 16:13.

You cannot serve God and mammon. Riches are called Mammon in Chaldaic; Mammona in Syriac; and Elias in Theto says: ” The Punic, which is akin to them, employs the same term “; as S. Augustin says (ii., De Serm. Dom., and Serm. xxxv. in verb. Dom. sec. Luc).

Verse 25. For your life. “Life ” (anima) is here put for one part of the man, as is clear from the other part being opposed to it: “Nor for your body what you shall put on”; but because our life consists of that part, anima is put for it, according to the custom of the Hebrews, as S. Augustin says, and as will be seen on Matt 10:39; 16:25 ; S.John 13:37, 38; 15:13; and other places innumerable.

Nor for your body. Christ mentions the two things that are most especially valued by men, and about which they are apt to be the most anxious, because all life consists of them. He forbids us to be anxious about them. But He does not forbid every kind of anxiety: but that alone, in fact, which springs from want of trust in God (as in verses 26, 28, 30), and which takes men off from the service of God (as in verse 24). Lastly, He does not disapprove of all kinds of anxiety, but of that which the servant has towards his rnaster. For He speaks in accordance with what He had said in verse 24.

Is not the life more than the meat? We may rightly question to what this tends. S. Jerome, S. Augustin (ii., De Serm. Dom) S. Chrysostom (Hom. xxii.), The Author (Hom, xvi.), Bede, Theophylact, Euthymius, Strabus, think that it has this following meaning: “Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? For who gives us our life and body but God ? He, therefore, who has given us the greater, will also give us the less.” So 1 Peter 5:7. This is confirmed by verses 26-30.

Verse 26. Behold the birds of the air. There seems to be three chief reasons why Christ named birds rather than other creatures, 1. He wished to give us examples of Divine Providence, as it were, throughout the whole universe, and He therefore begins from heaven with birds, and ends with earth. 2. When the birds are flying above, they are at a distance from all food, and yet God feeds them. 3. Terrestrial animals are more occupied in obtaining and storing up food; and therefore Solomon, that we may learn to be provident and busy, sends us to the ant {Prov 6:6; 30:25).

Of the air. These words have the same sense as the above. For there are domestic fowls which obtain their support from the care of man, but the fowls of the air are fed by God alone. S. Luke (xii. 24) specifies the ravens because, as some think, the young of the raven, as soon as they are hatched, are deserted by the parent birds, that they may depend upon the providence of God alone. It is, therefore, said expressly of the ravens that God provides food for them (Job 38:1; Ps 147:9).

And your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Christ does not say “their Father,” but “your Father”. As if He had said: If God most carefully provides for these creatures, though they are of little account, and He is not their Father, how much more will He feed you, who are men, and His sons?”  Christ,” says S. Chrysostom (Hom, xxii.), “might have brought examples of Divine Providence in Elias and John Baptist. Moses was supported forty days without food (Exod 24:18); Elias was fed by a raven, the most voracious of birds (1 Kings 17:46); John lived in the desert, without thought or care for his life and clothing (Matt 3:4). But Christ desired to show that Divine Providence extends even to the least and meanest of creatures, and that it is not true that the heavens are closed up, as the foolish companions of Job said (22:14).”

Verse 27. One cubit. The meaning of these words is plain from .S. Luke 12:26, by which, if we would rightly understand the passage, we must interpret them. It is clear that Christ was proceeding from the greater to the less. He calls the addition of the cubit, therefore, the least thing, not as in comparison with food, or drink, or clothing (for it is, undoubtedly, greater and more difficult to add, I do not say one cubit, but one hair to our bodies than to provide food and clothing), but in comparison with the whole body and life, as The Author well observes. Christ, therefore, by these words, proves the minor proposition of His former argument, which He had before suppressed. For He had said: “The life is more than the meat, and the body than the clothing”—but (understand) not you, but God makes the life and body. Not you, therefore, but God should provide food and raiment. He now goes on to prove that part of the minor proposition: You cannot make the life and body. You cannot make one cubit, much less the whole.

Verse 28. The lilies of the field. As Christ had said before, not merely “the fowls,” but “the fowls of the air,” so He here says, not “the lilies,” but “the lilies of the field,” to distinguish them from the lilies of the garden, which are planted and cultivated by man. Christ by this example appears to teach that God pleases to take care, not only for the necessaries but also for the comforts and refinements of life, that we may not be anxious even for these: as fathers provide not only that their children should not want, not merely the means of life and education, but those of ordinary refinement and necessary recreation as well.

What Christ teaches in these words He had already taught in fact in clothing the Israelites for forty years in the desert (Deut 7:4).

Verse 29. Not even Solomon. Christ named Solomon rather than any other king, because he excelled all who had gone before, and all who followed him, in riches, power, and glory (1 Kings 3:13), by which all that pertains to the ornament of the person is studied and invented.

In all his glory. Some read “with” for “in,” but the alteration is not required, and it destroys the force of the sentence. The meaning is not, as these suppose, that Solomon, however great and glorious, could not be clothed in such splendour, but that not Solomon himself, even when so clothed, and at the highest point of his grandeur, could be arrayed in such a manner. Our present version, therefore, is the better.

Verse 30. And if the grass. Two opposite qualities of the lily are here dwelt upon— their great beauty and their entire uselessness: their beauty as to be preferred to the glory of Solomon; their uselessness to show that there is nothing so mean and profitless but God takes the utmost care of it. When speaking of their beauty, Christ calls them “lilies”; when of their uselessness,
“hay”. Scripture constantly compares what is most useless and of the shortest duration to hay (Ps 37:2 72:16; Ecclus 14:8; Isaiah 37:27; 40:6).

Mat 6:31  Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?
Mat 6:32  For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.

Maldonado provides no comments on these verses, perhaps because the thought they express has already been mentioned in his commentary on the preceding verses. See also the following comment.

Verse 33. Seek ye therefore. Be anxious for the kingdom of God; so verses 25, 28, 31. Christ opposes one kind of solicitude to another—the necessary to the useless, the good to the bad. The Greek δέ refers not to the latter class, but to the former—the kingdom of God. The Greek adversative δέ is translated as “But” in the NAB, RSVCE, NIV; however, in the JB, DR, etc., it is not translated, perhaps because the adversative sense of the statement in verse 33 is already indicated at the beginning of verse 31, translated above as “Be not”, and in the imperative which follows the adversative δε heré.

First. We must understand “first” as “only”; for we are not to seek in the “second” place that which we are forbidden to seek at all. Christ did not wholly forbid us to seek other things, but so to seek them that our care for them should not take us from seeking the kingdom of God, or allow them to make us their slaves (verse 24). Christ has not forbidden: He has taught us to seek these things for the kingdom of God’s sake; for, in the Lord’s Prayer, after the words, “Thy kingdom come,” we are to say, “Give us this day,” and, as if to show what the meaning is, ” Seek ye first,” &c. So say S. Chrysostom (Hom xxiii.) and Euthymius.

To the words that follow, “And all these things shall be added unto you,” it has been objected, as if we were not to enquire, not to be anxious, not to seek. The addition is made because the things are not sought in the first place. But what is not sought in the first place, and for its own sake, but in the second place, and for the sake of God, does not seem to be sought at all, because the thing itself is not sought, but God is sought in it. Moreover, “these things” are often added by God, even when we do not seek them or think of them, as shall be shown hereafter.

The kingdom of God. S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, and others understand this as the kingdom spoken of in verse 10; which would agree well, were it not evident that the subject here is not what we ask for God’s sake, but for ourselves, and did not the words, “His righteousness,” immediately follow. It is certain that we should seek this, not for God, but for ourselves. It has been explained of a life of happiness, as if Christ had said: “Study first to come to the kingdom of God” (The Author, Hom xvi.; Bede, Euthymius, Comment). We may receive the words, “The kingdom of God,” as the grace of God, which we ought to seek in the first place as the life of our souls, as in S. Luke 17:21.

And his justice. God’s justice is so called as that which God has commanded
of us. As if it had been said: “Take heed, first to do the will of God, and observe His commandments,” as Zacharias and Elizabeth are said to have walked in all the “justifications,” that is, in the commandments of God (S. Luke 1:26). We must understand the “kingdom of God” by the explanation of S. Paul (Rom 4:17).

All these things shall be added unto you. This seems to be a metaphor taken from things of little value, which, on the purchase of articles of price, are not reckoned, but given as make-weights. Solomon is an example, when he asked not wealth, nor glory, nor power, but wisdom to govern the people of God; that is, when he sought the kingdom of God alone, he had other things for which he had not asked given to him (1 Kings 3:13). Similar expressions are often found in the Psalms (Ps 34:11; 111:5).

Verse 34. Be not therefore. The comparison of the fowls of heaven and the lilies of the field, which are not anxious, and yet God feeds and clothes them, has the same force. We then, His sons, should not be thus anxious; as that for which we most take thought is added to all who dismiss such cares, and seek only the kingdom of God. Be not solicitous, torment not yourselves without cause, spare your anxiety, for, “Sufficient unto the day”.

For the morrows. The words show that we may be allowed to have some care for to-day, but rather that of asking from God than of seeking by our own labour. The allusion seems to be to verse 11 (S. Luke 12:29. Be not causelessly anxious for the distant future, do not discuss what is afar off; as astronomers when they study the heavens, and as they who are described by S. James 4:13). To-morrow is put, according to Hebrew custom, for the future, as S. Hilary and S. Jerome have observed, and as is seen in Gen 30:38.

The morrow will be solicitous for itself. Solicitous for the things which pertain to it; that is, it will cause sufficient anxiety in the search of that which, when it comes, will be necessary for it. Christ speaks, as S. Chrysostom says (Hom, xxiii.), of the day, a thing inanimate, by prosopopoeia (personification), as if it could feel anxiety, or, as rather appears by the metonymy by which death is called “pale,” because it makes men so. In this sense day is said to be anxious for its own things, because it makes us anxious for them.

The evil thereof. The solicitude of which Christ speaks, and which He calls “evil,” that is, affliction and vexation; as Tertullian (ii., Against Marcion), S. Jerome (Comment.), S. Chrysostom (Hom xxiii.), S. Augustin (ii., De Serm. Dom), Euthymius, and Theophylact explain it. S. Jerome says that κακία, “evil,” is put for “a state of evil “. The question remains of the truth of the saying, how Christ forbids us to be anxious for the morrow, when He Himself had a purse (S. John 12:6; 13:29); so that He seems to have been solicitous, not only for the morrow, but for more days to come. Joseph, too, a man of evangelical piety, was careful for seven years to come, and was much praised for his foresight (Gen 41:39-48); and the Apostles were careful to prepare means for their future sustenance (Acts 11:29); and Solomon, to teach us forethought and carefulness, refers us to the ant (Prov 6:6; 30:25). If we are not to have any kind of anxiety for the morrow, we must not plant or sow, for these cannot exist without it. S. Augustin replies that by ” to-morrow ” are meant those other temporal goods which we ought not to seek. That we can, and, at times, even ought to be anxious about temporal goods, has been proved before. The Author explains the being anxious for the morrow to mean “anxiety for what is not necessary”. But Christ speaks even of these; even of the necessaries of life, of food and clothing (verses 26, 28, 31). Former examples have shown that every kind of solicitude for the future is not forbidden, but that which is forbidden is to be gathered out of the entire chapter.

1. Whatever hinders us from seeking the kingdom of God is forbidden.

2. Whatever springs from distrust of God.

3. Whatever does not follow but precedes anxiety for the kingdom of God; which we ought to seek in the first place, and which is of so great consequence, that we ought to be its servants, we who cannot serve two masters (verse 24).

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 62

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011


Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Psalm 62[61]
“In God alone be at rest!’

1. The gentle words of Psalm 62[61] have just resounded; it is a hymn of trust that opens with what appears to be an antiphon, repeated halfway through the text. It is like a peaceful and strong ejaculatory prayer, an invocation that also becomes a programme of life: “In God alone is my soul at rest; my help comes from him. He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress: I stand firm” (vv. 2-3, 6-7).

2. As the Psalm continues, however, two types of trust are compared. They are two fundamental choices, one good and the other perverse, which involve two types of moral behaviour. Above all, there is trust in God, exalted in the opening invocation where there enters into the picture a symbol of stability and of security, like the rock, the “fortress”; that is, a stronghold and bulwark of protection.

The Psalmist repeats: “In God is my safety and glory, the rock of my strength; my sure “refuge'” (cf. v. 8). He affirms this after having called to mind the hostile conspiracies of his enemies who try to “thrust him down from his eminence” (cf. vv. 4-5).

3. There is then another trust of an idolatrous nature, upon which the person of prayer insistently directs his critical eye. It is a trust that searches for security and stability in violence, plunder and riches.

The appeal now becomes crystal clear: “Do not put your trust in oppression nor vain hopes on plunder. Do not set your heart on riches, even when they increase” (v. 11).

Here, three idols are evoked and rejected as contrary to human dignity and to social coexistence.

4. The first false god is the violence that humanity unfortunately still continues to resort to in our blood-stained days. Marching alongside this idol is the vast procession of wars, oppression, prevarication, torture and abominable assassinations inflicted without a moment’s remorse.

The second false god is plunder, manifested in extortion, social injustice, usury and political and economic corruption. Too many people cultivate the “illusion” of satisfying their own greed in this way.

Finally, riches are the third idol upon which man sets his heart with the false hope of being rescued from death (cf. Ps 49[48]), and assuring himself of prestige and power of the first order.

5. Serving this diabolical triad, man forgets that idols are unreliable: they are, indeed, harmful. By taking refuge in things and in himself, man tends to forget that he is “a breath… an illusion”; what is more, weighed on a scale he is “less than a breath” (Ps 62[61]: 10; cf. Ps 39[38]: 6-7).

If we were more aware of our fallen nature and of the limits to which creatures are subject, we would shun the path of trust in idols and would not programme our lives based on a scale of fragile and inconsistent pseudo-values. Instead, we would be oriented toward the “other trust”, which finds its centre in the Lord, source of eternity and peace. Indeed, to God alone “belongs power”; only he is the source of grace; he alone is the author of justice, “repaying each man according to his deeds” (cf. Ps 62[61]: 12-13).

6. The Second Vatican Council applied to priests the invitation of Psalm 62[61] to “not set your heart on riches” (v. 11b). The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests exhorts: “Priests, far from setting their hearts on riches, must always avoid all avarice and carefully refrain from all appearance of trafficking” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 17).

And yet, this appeal to reject misplaced trust and to choose that which leads us to God is relevant to everyone and must become our guiding star in our daily behaviour, moral decisions and lifestyle.

7. Undeniably, this is a difficult road that entails trial for the righteous and courageous decision-making, always marked, however, by trust in God (cf. Ps 62[61]: 2). In this light the Fathers of the Church have looked upon the man of prayer in Psalm 62[61] as the prefiguration of Christ and have placed the opening invocation of complete trust in and adherence to God on his lips.

St Ambrose elaborates on this subject in the Commento al Salmo 61 [Comment on Psalm 61]: “What must our Lord Jesus have done first, in taking upon himself the flesh of man to purify it in his own body, if not to cancel the evil influence of original sin? By means of disobedience, that is, violating the divine prescriptions, sin became permeated. Before all else, then, he had to restore obedience to prevent the hotbed of sin from spreading…. He took obedience upon himself in order to pour it out upon us” (Commento a Dodici Salmi 61, 4: SAEMO, VIII, Milan-Rome, 1980, p. 283).

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St John Fisher on the Fourth Penitential Psalm (51) Part 1

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011

St John Fisher, by Hans Holbeing the Younger

The following post is the first of two sermons on the fourth penitential psalm preached by St John Fisher, the Martyr Bishop of Rochester, Great Britain. I hope to have the second sermon-a continuation of the first-posted in the near future in anticipation of Lent, for the Psalm figures prominently in the liturgy of that season.  Words in red are translations of old English words which have become archaic since the Bishop’s day. Some were provided by my source, others by me. I’ve also edited out most of the Latin phrases, but this without any loss to the reader since the Saint himself translated them in his discourse. (Image source).

That man were put in great peril and jeopardy that should hang over a very deep pit, held up by a weak and slender cord or line, in whose bottom be most furious and cruel beasts of every kind, abiding with great desire his falling down, for that intent, when he shall fall down, immediately to devour him; which line or cord that he hangeth by, should be held up and stayed only by the hands of that man to whom by his manifold ungentleness he hath
ordered and made himself as a very enemy. Likewise, dear friends, consider in yourself. If now under me were such a very deep pit, wherein might be lions, tigers, and bears gaping with open mouth to destroy and devour me
at my falling down, and that there be nothing whereby I might be held up and succoured but a broken bucket or pail which should hang by a small cord, stayed and held up only by the hands of him, to whom I have behaved myself as an enemy and adversary by great and grievous injuries and wrongs done unto him, would ye not think me in perilous conditions? Yes, without fail. Truly all we be in like manner. For under us is the horrible and fearful pit of Hell, where the black devils in the likeness of ramping and cruel beasts doth abide desirously our falling down to them. The lion, the tiger, the bear, or any other wild beast never layeth so busily a-wait for his prey when he is hungry, as doth these great and horrible hell-hounds, the devils, for us. Of whom may be heard the saying of Moses:  “I shall send down amongst them wild beasts to gnaw their flesh, with the woodness (fury) of cruel birds and serpents drawing
and tearing their bones.” There is none of us living but that is held up from falling down to Hell in as feeble and frail vessel, hanging by as weak line as may be. I beseech you, what vessel may be more bruckle (brittle) and frail
than is our body that daily needeth reparation, and if thou refresh it not, anon (soon, or immediately) it perisheth and cometh to nought? A house made of clay, if it be not often renewed and repaired with putting to of new clay, shall at the last fall down. And much more this house made of flesh, this house of our soul, this vessel wherein our soul is held up and borne about, but unless it be refreshed by often feeding and putting to of meat and drink, within the space of three days it shall waste and slip away. We be daily taught by experience how feeble and frail man’s body is; also beholding daily the goodly and strong bodies of young people, how soon they die by a short sickness. And therefore Solomon in the book called Ecclesiasticus compareth the body of man to a pot that is brocle, (brittle) saying “Have mind on thy Creator and Maker in the time of thy young age, ere ever the pot be broken upon the fountain”: that is to say, thy body, and thou peradventure (by chance) fall into the well; that is to say, into the deepness of Hell. This pot (man’s body) hangeth by a very weak cord, which the said Solomon in the same place calleth a cord or line made of silver:  “Take heed by faith, ere the silver cord be broken.” Truly this silver cord whereby our soul hangeth and is
held up in this pot, in this frail vessel, our body, is the life of man. For as a little cord or line is made or woven of a few threads, so is the life of man knit together by four humours, that as long as they be knit together in a right order so long is man’s life whole and sound. This cord also hangeth by the hands and power of God. For as Job saith: “In His hand and power is the life
of every living creature.” And we by our unkindness done against His goodness have so greatly provoked Him to wrath that it is a marvel this line be so long held up by His power and majesty; and if it be broken, this pot our body is broken, and the soul slippeth down into the pit of Hell, there to be torn and all-to-rent of (torn to pieces by) those most cruel hell-hounds. O, good Lord, how fearful condition stand we in, if we remember these jeopardies and perils! And if we do not remember them, we may say, O marvellous blindness, yea our madness, never enough to be wailed and cried out uponl Heaven is above us,wherein Almighty God is resident and abiding,
Which giveth Himself to us as our Father, if we obey and do according unto His holy commandments. The deepness of Hell is under us, greatly to be abhorred, full of devils. Our sins and wickedness be afore us. Behind us be the times and spaces that were offered to do satisfactions and penance, which we have negligently lost. On our right hand be all the benefits of our most good and meek Lord Almighty God given unto us. And on our left hand be innumerable misfortunes that might have happened if that Almighty God had not defended us by His goodness and meekness. Within us is the most stinking
abomination of our sin. whereby the image of Almighty God within us is very foul deformed, and by that we be made unto Him very enemies. By all these things before rehearsed we have provoked the dreadful majesty of Him unto so great wrath that we must needs fear, lest that He let fall this line from His hands, and the pot our body be broken, and we then fall down into the deep dungeon of Hell. Therefore what shall we wretched sinners do? Of whom may help and succour be had and obtained for us? By what manner sacrifice may the wrath and ire of so great a Majesty be pacified and made easy? Truly the best remedy is to be swift in doing penance for our sins. He only may help them that be penitent. By that only sacrifice His ire is mitigate and assuaged chiefly. Our most gracious Lord Almighty God is merciful to them that be penitent. Therefore let us now ask His mercy with the penitent prophet David. Let us call and cry before the throne of His grace, saying Miserere mei Deus: ” God have mercy on me.”

First let us teach a part of this Psalm, as we did before in the other Psalms. We shall at this time by the help of Almighty God declare the half of it. Wherein
our prophet doth three things. First he induceth and bringeth in his petition, which every penitent person may make apt and convenient to himself. After that, he sheweth by many reasons his petitions to be granted. And lastly he promiseth very true and undoubtful hope to himself of the desire that he asketh. If that sinners would truly and rightfully ponder and think of what condition and state they be in (of the which somewhat we have said before) I trow (think, suppose) they should think themself in a very great peril and jeopardy. And if that they remember it not well, truly the more is their peril and great jeopardy. For, of the two, that person is more nigh the health of his soul that seeth and perceiveth before the danger or peril that he may fall into, than is he that hath no mind upon it. For he that casteth (forecasts, sees before hand) no peril before may not flee the chance when it shall happen. We therefore knowing the perilous condition we be in, let us seek a remedy for to avoid it. Which can nowhere else be had but only of Almighty God: “For who may else forgive sins but only our Blessed Lord Almighty God?” Let us all therefore cry unto Him, saying Miserere mei Deus: “God, have mercy on me.” Peradventure (perhaps) some man will think in himself: if no remedy may be else had but of Almighty God, Whose majesty I, ungracious sinner, have so oft and so grievously offended, heaping sin upon sin, how shall He so lightly have mercy upon me? How may it be that He shall not take vengeance and
punish me, since He is so mighty and rightwise (righteous)? For great men in power of this world, the more mighty and rightwise they be, so much the more they exercise and use vengeance and punishment upon them that be wicked and breakers of the law. Therefore sith (since) Almighty God is most rightwise and most mighty of all, how may He have mercy and not avenge His quarrel of so many and great trespasses done against His highness? Unto this
we answer in this manner wise: that the judges of this world (if any be without falseness and malice) be so obedient and subject unto the laws, which alway they must obey, that it is not lawful to them at their own will and arbitrament to forgive such as shall please them. Also many of them (and almost all) have so much curse’dness and malice set in their minds that, if that they might, they will not forgive those that hath offended them in any condition. For why? They have but little mercy and almost none. It is written “No man is good but only Almighty God.” He only is of so great meekness and pity that no point of malice neither of falseness may be in Him. Therefore since He is so meek and so merciful, and above His laws, also in no condition subject to them, He may forgive and be merciful to whom He will; and so shall He do, for He may not have little mercy but always great and plenteous. Truly the mercy of our most mighty and best Lord is great, and so great that it hath all measure of greatness. Sometimes trees be called great for their goodly and large height. Pits be called great for their deepness. Far journeys be called great because they are long. Streets and highways be called great for their breadth and wideness. But the mercy of God containeth and is measured by all these measures of greatness, and not only by one of them. Of the greatness in height is written “Lord Thy mercy extendeth and reacheth up to the heavens.” It is also great in deepness, for it reacheth down to the lowest Hell. The prophet saith: “Lord, Thy mercy is great over me, and Thou hast delivered me from the lowest and deepest Hell.” It is broad, for it occupieth and overcovereth all the world, the same prophet saying: “The earth is full of the mercy of our Lord.” It lacketh no length, for also it is spoken of the same
prophet: “The mercy of God is without end on them that dreadeth Him.” Therefore sith (since) the mercy of God is so high, so deep, so broad and so long, who can or may say or think it little? Who shall not call it great by all measures of greatness? Then every creature that will acknowledge himself to this mercy may say: “Lord have mercy on me according to Thy great mercy.”
Two things there be concerning mercy: that is to say, inward mercy, and the work of mercy outwardly done. There lieth for example in the open street a poor man full of sores: a certain physician coming by beholdeth him and is moved anon (immediately) with inward pity; nevertheless, he goeth beside (by) and giveth him no medicine at all. Truly although this physician were somewhat merciful to this poor man, yet he shewed no deed of mercy unto him. And we ourself oftentimes see and behold many needy and sick folks, unto whom we give no help, albeit we be somewhat moved inwardly with pity and mercy. Our prophet therefore saith of very right in another place, praising the mercy of God, Misericors et miserator Dominus . He is ‘misericors’ that is moved with some mercy inwardly. ‘Miserator’ is he that doeth and performeth outwardly the deed of mercy. Therefore our Lord is not only merciful inwardly, but also He exerciseth outwardly the work of it. And if He executed not mercy in deed, what should it profit us? For why? We shall feel no remedy, by inward pity only, of the grievousness that we suffer,
and before were overthrown by, without the deed of mercy be shewed. It is not therefore enough that Almighty God have mercy on us but unless He do the deed of mercy. And what other thing is to give and shew on us the work of mercy but to do away our wretchedness, that is to say, our sins whereby we be made wretched? Scripture saith: “Sin maketh wretched people.” It is very needful truly to pray that Almighty God be merciful unto us and also vouchsafe to execute the deed of His mercy on us, that is to say, to do away our sins and give us His mercy according to the multitude of His mercies. If thou sin once, it is needful to thee one mercy, whereby that sin may be done
away. If twice or thrice or peradventure (perhaps) more often, then it shall be needful to thee so many mercies as thy sins be. Of a truth the mercies of Almighty God be innumerable. For like as from the great light of the sun
cometh and sheweth forth innumerable beams so from the great mercy of Almighty God goeth forth innumerable mercies. Number the sunbeams if it be possible, and the mercies of Almighty God be more without end. How grievous and how great soever our sin be, yet the mercy of God is much more, whereby He may be merciful to us. And how many soever they be in number, yet the mercies of Him be many more, by the which He may do away all our trespasses. Therefore with great confidence and trust let us ask of Him His mercy, saying: “Good Lord, do away my sin, according to the multitude of Thy mercies.” If a table be foul and filthy of a long continuance, first we rase (erase) it, after when it is rased (erased) we wash it, and last after the washing
we wipe and make it clean. A soul is compared unto a table whereon nothing was painted, nevertheless with many misdoings and spots of sin we have defiled and made it deformed in the sight of God. Therefore it is needful that it be rased (erased), washed and wiped. It shall be rased (erased) by the inward sorrow and compunction of the heart when we be sorry for our sin. It shall be washed with the tears of our eyes when we acknowledge and confess our sin. And lastly it shall be wiped and made clean when that we be about1 for to make amends and do satisfaction by good deeds for our sins.

These three things that we have spoken of cometh without doubt of the gracious pity of God. Thou art sorry for thy sin? It is a gift of Almighty God. Thou makest knowledge (acknowledgment) of thy sin, weeping and wailing for it? It is a gift of Almighty God. Thou art busy in good works to do satisfaction? Which also is a gift of Almighty God. We have asked now of Almighty God that He do away our sins by rasing of our soul, that is contrition; let us again ask and desire Him to wash us from the same, that is to say, He grant and give us grace to weep and wail for it. We weep sometime, but it cometh not of God. As when we suffer adversities against our will: when our weeping tears doth profit us nothing, but rather doth hurt. For St. Paul saith: “The sorrow of this world for loss of worldly pleasures and desires causeth everlasting death.” Such sorrows and weepings washeth not the soul, but rather make it foul. Other weeping tears there be that be caused of the sorrow which is godly, as when we be sorrowful that we have so much displeased God Who hath done so much for us.  “This sorrow (as saith St. Paul) causeth penance to be had, for everlasting health.” And as saith St. Chrysostom: “These weeping tears wash away sin.” They be also given of the Holy Ghost to them that be penitent. For it is written: “The spirit of God shall give so great infusion of grace to them that be penitent that the waters (that is
to say, their weeping tears) shall flow and be abundant.” Upon these waters the spirit of Almighty God may fly and go swiftly: which was figured in the beginning of Scripture, by the saying of Moses: “The spirit of our Lord was borne aloft upon the waters.” Chrysostom describeth the virtue of these weeping tears, saying: “Like as after great showers and storms the air is made clean and pure, so after great plenty of weeping tears followeth the clearness and tranquillity of the soul.” Let us all therefore desire and ask to be washed from our sins by these waters, and say unto Almighty God: “Lord, wash me more from my wickedness.” Beside rasing (the erasing) of our soul (that is, contrition) and washing (that is, confession) we said that it is necessary to be wiped and made clean. Which is done by satisfaction of good works. First by almsdeeds and charitable distribution to the poor people. For our Saviour said: “Give alms, and ye shall be made clean from all sin.” By almsdeeds therefore and good works we may be wiped and made clean from all sin. And no creature of himself hath power to do good works without the grace and help of God. For as saith St. Paul: “We be not sufficient and able of ourself, as of ourself, to think any manner thing, but our sufficiency and ability dependeth and cometh of God only.” Therefore this thing is to be asked of God that He vouchsafe to move our souls perfectly by His grace unto the exercising and doing of many good works, that they may be utterly wiped and made clean from all contagions of sin, according to the desire and saying of the prophet that followeth: “Good Lord, make me clean from my sin.” Our whole petition is ended here, wherein first we have asked that God be merciful unto us after His great mercy; and that He rase our souls, wash them
and wipe them utterly from all sin, according to the multitude of His manifold mercies.

In this second member be divers (diverse) strong reasons brought forth, whereby God may be moved so that He may not deny our petition. Three things we have asked before. First that God do away our sin by contrition,
wash our soul by confession, and thirdly make it clean by satisfaction. To the which other three, correspondent to them, be brought forth and shewed in this first syllogism (in this first reason) although they be not in the same order. To do away sin (as we said) is to rase (erase) it, that no spot be seen in our soul, in like manner as letters be done away when they be rased, so that nothing which was there written may be read or known. Truly Almighty God will not know our sin and trespass, if we ourself will know them. If we study and be about (as our duty is) to read and consider the sins that be written and marked in our souls, anon He of His goodness putteth them out of His sight. Therefore let us all say with a contrite heart and mind, “O Blessed Lord God
do away my sin and wickedness: “For I know my great and grievous trespass.” It is greatly acceptable in the sight of our most merciful Lord God if a sinner will call to mind with due contrition and greatness of his sin; also Whom he
hath offended and how grievously; into how many hurts and things unprofitable he hath fallen for his sin; and how many profits he hath lost by the reason of it. If we were in mind busily to behold and look on these things it should be to us right profitable. For why? If we know our sins after this manner, anon God forgiveth and doth them away. And the more often we do, the sooner He forgetteth. If we call to mind unfeignedly and without any dissimulation how much our sins doth hinder and let us from doing good works, that blessed Lord shall utterly forget and do them away for ever, so
that one little spot shall not also be left, but in every part to appear fair and clean. Let us therefore with contrition say also this that followeth, “Lord make me clean from my sin: For my sin is always against me.” (the Hebrew נגד means over against or before me. His sin is confronting him face to face). How against me? Truly even directly before my eyes that I may behold and look upon it at all times without any let (hindrance). Now we have spoken of the doing away of our sin, and making clean of our soul, and also why God should
so do; let us now also shew why He should wash it, to the intent every particle that we have promised to speak of may answer conveniently to other. The weeping tears whereby our souls may be washed, cometh of a special gift of God, and namely when we have that grace to weep in confession and acknowledging our sins before His fearful Highness, knowing also the grievousness of it, we shall soon know the greatness of our sin. First, if we will consider well how great and mighty Lord He is Whom we have offended. Another (Another way to know it is) if we take good heed how much our ungentleness hath been to Him, looking on us, when we do so many and great offences. God only is of that power that if we offend and trespass against His goodness we be guilty to suffer eternal death for it. David offended grievously against Uriah his knight, whom he caused to be slain. And also he did wickedly to Bersabe (Bathsheba), wife to the said Uriah, which he persuaded to adultery. Nevertheless if he had not broken the law and commandment of God by the said offences, he had not been guilty and worthy of eternal death. Therefore of a truth none offence may be done to any creature whereof the doer should stand in the jeopardy of eternal death, but only for offending against Almighty God. Whom we offend much more grievously that He beholdeth and seeth every trespass that we do, be they little, be they much. Therefore let us all go by prayer unto Almighty God, saying, “O my Lord God,
behold and see. I, wretched sinner, acknowledge and confess my guilt before Thy Majesty; before Thy sight I detect my trespass, I do mot hide it; I shew forth my sin to be very grievous. But, Blessed Lord, I beseech Thee wash me with my weeping tears, coming out from the plenteousness of Thy grace. And furthermore wash me from my sin. For why? Good Lord, I acknowledge: “That only to Thee I have trespassed and offended before Thy sight.” For this cause, good Lord, forgive and do away my sin. For why? I know my trespass, I know well I have offended Thee. And besides that, wash me; for I myself confess that only to Thee I have offended. And so, in conclusion, make me clean because my sin is as an object to my sight, it is ever in my sight. Blessed Lord, if Thy Highness may not by these reasons be moved to mercy, yet let this move and stir Thee to be merciful: “that thou mayst be justified in Thy words and sayings.” It is written by thine holy prophet Ezechiel, what judgments universal Thou gave unto the people. Thou sayest also, good Lord: “I will not the death of a sinner, but that he be turned from his wicked life and live.” Thou sayest also: “The misliving, the wickedness, of the sinful creature shall never hurt neither be noisome to him whensoever he will turn from his wickedness.” And again Thou sayest: “If a sinner do penance for his sin, he shall live and never die everlastingly; the sins and trespasses that he hath done shall never be cast in his teeth, neither laid to his charge.” O Blessed Lord, vouchsafe and give us leave to ask Thee this question. Were not these Thy words, did Thou not speak them to Thy prophet, or did he beguile us that said they were spoken of Thee? For of a truth he wrote that Thou spake them to him: “Thou, the son of a man, shew and tell this unto thy people, &c.” Therefore, Good Lord, they be Thy words. O most meek God, behold, we wretched sinners turn from our evil ways unto Thee, we do penance for our offences; grant, Lord, that they be not noisome to us neither laid to our charge at any time, but utterly to be done away, washed away and wiped away. “That Thou may be justified by Thy words .” Thou knowest well what foolhardy judgment the people gave against Thee for this Thy sentence: “The way that this Man taketh is not equal.” The people presumed to be judges of Thy sentence. To whom Thou gave answer on this wise: “Is not My way
good and equal, and yours shrewd, nought, and more unequal?” Thou confirmed again to them Thy words spoken before, saying: “Whensoever a sinner shall turn away from his sin and truly confess him of it and make satisfaction, he shall live and never die everlastingly. I shall also forget and never call to mind any sin that he hath done.” Good Lord, Thy will was to overcome and exclude by this manner their foolhardy judgment against Thy merciful sentence. We beseech and pray Thee now to do the same. Thou shalt not overcome their opinions but if Thou manifest and shew Thy words and sayings to be true and that they have untruly judged of Thee. Therefore now, Blessed Lord, do away our wickedness, now forget our sins which we utterly forsake and despise.  “That Thou may be justified in Thy words, and overcome when Thou art judged so boldly and foolishly.” Our sins be great and innumerable; we do not forget them, we do not cover and hide them, we do
not defend them, but we know, we make open and accuse them; nevertheless we beseech Thee for Thy great mercy and for the infinite multitude of Thy manifold mercies, behold us; and namely, whereof we be made, Thou knowest what matter it is and how frail it is. Call again to mind that we are but dust and clay, and also that the law and custom of our body is contrary to the law and custom of our soul, and the custom of our body putteth us daily under the captivity and thraldom of sin. If a commandment were given to a man that hath but a weak and feeble body in strength, to roll and turn up a millstone of a great weight unto the highest part of a hill, and that he put his good will to perform the same; nevertheless, peradventure whilst he is about to do the deed, the stone for greatness of his weight above his strength falleth down backward into a valley. Were not this man more worthy to be pardoned and forgiven (seeing and knowing his good mind) than he that were mighty and hath great strength? We be in like condition, we be about to bring this our body unto Thy holy hill; nevertheless it is thrust down by the heavy burden of sin, that oftentimes it boweth and slippeth down backward. For that same sin that by our first father and mother, Adam and Eve, was brought amongst all men is heavy and grievous on us like as an heavy burden, and daily grieveth us more and more; it maketh us also prone and ready to all other vices. Therefore and for this cause have mercy on us, for this sin of our forefather, this heavy and grievous weight, was conceived and begotten with us, according to the saying of the prophet: “Behold I was conceived in sin, and my mother conceived me in sin”. ‘ This notwithstanding, good Lord, we know that Thou art true, and all that Thou dost promise is very truth. Truly Thou said that Thy coming into this world was to call sinners to penance.  “I came into this world, not to call rightwise people, but sinners to penance.” Thou hast called on them and daily dost call, saying, “All ye that labour in this world and bear heavy, by doing penance come to Me and I shall refresh you.”
Truly Thy promise is to receive all that will come, if they come to Thee as they should do.  “Whosoever cometh to Me I shall not cast him out, I shall not forsake him.” O good Lord, behold, we be sinners in like manner as Thou came
into the world to call unto Thee, we labour and be laden with the multitude of our sins, we also be made weary by the means of our wickedness. Therefore, blessed Lord, say unto us, ” Come ye unto Me,” and anon (immediately) we come, we humble and meek ourself before the throne of Thy mercy. Other hope and trust have we none in any condition but only in Thee. If Thou wilt not be merciful to us for accusing ourself, neither by this that Thou art justified by Thy words, neither also for our frailty, yet, good Lord, have mercy on us for Thy truth.  Thou art true and lovest truth above all things. Have in mind the promise Thou made to every penitent sinner coming unto Thee, which is, Thou shalt not cast them away, and also Thou shalt refresh them. We come therefore unto Thee, good Lord, cast us not away, but refresh
us with thy grace and mercy.  “Thou hast ever loved truth.”

After that this holy prophet hath shewed and purposed his petition, and brought forth many reasons why the said petition should be granted; thirdly now with a glad cheer he maketh sure promise and hope to himself to get and obtain his asking, willing to give example to every sinner because that they should do the same. It is a great difference between despair and sure hope. The Ninivites, when the prophet threatened and menaced them with the destruction of the city, they were not in surety God would be merciful to them, neither they were utterly in despair. Jonas the prophet came unto them the second time, sent from Almighty God, and said openly: “Within forty days to come the city of Ninive shall be overthrown and destroyed.” The people hearing the words of the prophet Jonas and fearing the vengeance of God to fall upon them, commanded among themself every man, woman and child to fast, and also clad them in sackcloth from the lowest degree unto the highest.   The king of that city, anon as he was certified and had knowledge of the prophet’s saying, rose up from his seat, threw away his royal garment and clad him in sackcloth, and sat down on the ground in the dust; and, by the decree and one assent of all his nobles, commanded that every man, woman and child, and also brute beasts, should not eat, neither drink, by a certain space, but that everybody should do penance for their sin. This was their saying: “Who knoweth, who is sure, if God will be turned from vengeance
and by His mercy forgive us, and also withdraw His wrath and we shall not perish?” It appeareth by these words they had no very trust of forgiveness and also that they were not utterly in despair; notwithstanding, they did penance, abiding all together what the most meek God would do with them. Whose great mercy at the last they knew and had in experience, although before they neither had very trust nor full mistrust of it. But we be now in another condition. Almighty God hath shewed to us Christian people the treasures of His great mercy, the secret mysteries of the Faith and the Sacraments of health, whereby we may trust verily to have forgiveness . Certainly they were before hid and unknown to us, but now of late time they be manifest and shewed by His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Which His own self doth witness, saying unto His Father: “Father, Thou hast hid and kept secret the privities of Thy Godhead from wise and cunning men and shewed them to such as be small and of little reputation in this world.” Jesus Christ, coming down from the Father of Heaven into this world, made open and shewed unto His Church the hid and privy mysteries of His Godhead; His own self beareth witness, saying: “I have manifested and shewed to you all that I have heard of My Father.” He promised also at His Ascension the Holy Ghost to come, that should teach perfectly the knowledge of everything. So that now nothing may be more certain to us than it which is taught by Holy Church. No means may be found so speedful and ready to prove the certainty of anything concerning our faith as that the Church hath so affirmed and ordained. The Church of God may in no wise beguile in those things that belongeth to our faith and to the undoubtful health of the soul. Who therefore of us Christian people may not of right say unto God this that followeth: “Good Lord, Thou hast shewed unto me the mysteries of Thine infinite wisdom, which before were hid and unknown to us?” But why hath God shewed us these secrets? What doth it profit, the secret mysteries of Him to be shewed and made open to us? What comfort shall we take by it? Truly great comfort if we unfeignedly repent our old sinful life: else we know them to our great hurt. For, as St. Peter saith: “It is better not to know the way of rightwiseness (righteousness) than after the knowledge of it to use and do the
contrary.” But if we turn to God and follow His commandments, forsaking our wretched life, having faith and trust in His sacraments, we shall without doubt obtain forgiveness and mercy by the virtue of them. Peradventure (perhaps) some man shall say,”we see what is done in every sacrament. In the sacrament of Baptism the child is washed in the water, and a few words be spoken of the priest. In the Confirmation, the forehead of the child is anointed with holy cream (chrism, oil) in manner of a cross, with a few words spoken by the priest. In the Sacrament of Penance after the Confession is heard and the satisfaction enjoined, the priest saith also a few words. What belongeth these to the health of the soul? For the words, anon (as soon) as they be spoken, be gone into the air and nothing of them remaineth. The water also and the oil pierceth not from the body unto the soul.” Perchance
some man will think this in himself. And it is of a truth the water and the oil to have no strength of their own nature whereby they may enter unto the soul,
or to work in it good or evil. Nevertheless, there is a privy and hid virtue given unto them by the merits of the Passion of Jesus Christ and of His Precious Blood, which on the Cross was shed for wretched sinners. This most holy and dear Blood of Jesus Christ shed for our redemption, bought and gave so great and plenteous virtue to the sacraments, that as often as any creature shall use and receive any of them, so often it is to be believed they are sprinkled with the drops of the same most holy Blood, whose virtue pierceth unto the soul, and maketh it clean from all sin. But whereby know we this? Truly for He hath shewed and made open the hid and uncertain things to us of His infinite wisdom. It was a custom in the Old Law amongst the Jews to do away their sins by this manner. If any of them by touching of a dead body or by any other manner thing were culpable and made foul, anon he was made clean of that default with hyssop dipped in the blood of certain beasts and sprinkled upon him. Which manner and custom was given to the Jews by Moses, and ordained by the wisdom of God. Nevertheless at that time it was unknown what this matter meant and signified. It was uncertain, it was hid, what the wisdom of God would to be understood by this aspersion or sprinkling of blood. And after that our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ had shed His Precious Blood, and, as saith St. Peter, washed us from sin with His Blood, it was known to every man what by the hyssop and by the aspersion of blood was signified. Hyssop is an herb of the ground that of its nature is hot, and hath a sweet smell, signifying Christ which meeked Himself to suffer death on the Cross. (Marjoram is such a spice).  And, as St. Paul saith, He offered Himself of very great and fervent charity unto His Father Almighty God as a sacrifice of sweet odour. No man may doubt of this, that by the aspersion of blood of beasts before the Incarnation was signified and represented the effusion of the Blood of Christ for our redemption. Which Blood of our Saviour without doubt is of much more strength incomparably to do away sins than was the blood of beasts. And as often as the holy sacraments be iterated and used according to the commandment of Christ’s Church, so often is the blessed Blood of our Lord sprinkled abroad to cleanse and put away sin. Therefore let us all say with the holy prophet
this verse that followeth: Asparges me hysopo et mundabor: “You will sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed”: as we might say, “Lord, our faith is so clear and undoubtful by the merit of the Passion of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, Which by the effusion of His holy Blood hath given so great efficacy and strength to the holy sacraments of His Church, that when we receive any of them we shall be sprinkled and made clean by the virtue of His Precious Blood like as with hyssop. Which aspersion anon (presently) followeth the water of grace that is infused in our souls, whereby we be made more white than snow.” Therefore the prophet addeth to the same verse: “Lord, Thou shalt wash me and I shall be made more white than snow.” No creature may express how joyful the sinner is when he knoweth and undcrstandeth himself to be delivered from the great burden and heaviness of sin, when he seeth and perceiveth that he is delivered utterly and brought out of the danger of so many and great perils that he was in whilst he continued in sin, when also he perceiveth the clearness of his soul and remembereth the tranquillity and peace of his conscience. “Then he perceiveth well in his heart what our Lord will shew in him by inspiration.” What shall He shew? Everlasting peace to come upon His servants, upon them that be sorrowful and do penance for their sins. Which peace is so joyful and comfortable and causeth so great joy and gladness that the prophet remembering it saith: “Lord, Thou shalt give to mine hearing inwardly joy and gladness.” If the peace of this time be so greatly to be desired to the inward hearing of our soul, what joy, trow (think) we, shall be at that time when the peace everlasting shall be offered to us, when the King of Eternal Peace shall say unto all true penitent persons: “Come to Me, ye blessed children of My Father, take the everlasting kingdom that was prepared and made ready for you before the beginning of the world.” Shall we not joy then inwardly in our souls, shall we not joy then outwardly in our bodies, shall we
not then joy both body and soul without adversity, never to cease? Shall not this fearful Judge saying these comfortable words give unto our hearing inward joy of the soul for the salvation of it? Shall He not give fervent joy when we have obtained our asking and our desire? Shall He not give everlasting joy without any adversity? Truly He shall give inward joy for the sorrow of our contrition, joy also for weeping in our confession, and lastly everlasting joy for the grief of our satisfaction. Et tunc exultabunt ossa humiliata: that is to say, the superior strengths of the soul, which be called Will, Reason, and [Memory, that before were overthrown by the grievance of sin, shall then joy (rejoice) for ever without any adversity. Our will shall joy in the fruition of God; our reason, in the clear sight of the Godhead. And lastly our memory shall joy in a sure remembrance ever to continue, and never lack that excellent joy and pleasure. Then our will, our reason, and our memory, before oppressed and brought under by sin, shall joy without end.

That we promised in our beginning is now performed and shewed in this first part of the Psalm. First what thing we that be penitent should ask; second, what reasons we may make and bring for ourself for the grant of our petition; and last, that we may trust without doubt to obtain our asking. Which our Lord grant us. Amen.


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Cornelius a Lapide on 2 Cor 11:19-33, 12:1-9 for Sexagesima Sunday

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011

2Co 11:19  For you gladly suffer the foolish: whereas yourselves are wise.

Irony. You have foolishly suffered the boastings of these vain-glorious false apostles; I hope that you will suffer me to glory wisely and usefully among them that are wise. Theophylact, however, and Anselm think that this is said seriously, in the way of exaggerated rebuke. Since you are wise in Christ, you ought to have exploded the folly of the false apostles. Why, then, do you gladly suffer them?

2Co 11:20  For you suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take from you, if a man be lifted up, if a man strike you on the face.

For you suffer if a man bring you into bondage.  This is aimed at the insatiable arrogance, avarice, and tyranny of the false apostles. You suffer false apostles, who imperiously treat you as slaves, who devour you by extorting from you your goods, who are exalted by their self-praise, who smite you in the face, not with the palms of their hands, but with insults. Hence he adds: “I speak as concerning reproach.” These words, therefore, contain a sharp rebuke. These men squander your money, take away your freedom and honour, load you with taunts, as though you were slaves; but 1 have borne myself humbly, have lived at my own expense, have wished to put upon you the easy yoke of Christ. Yet you prefer them to me, as though, when compared with these, your imperious lords, nay, tyrants, I was not sufficiently well-born, or powerful, or eloquent. S. Bernard (de Consid. lib. i. c. 3) says: “When you may be free there is no virtue in the patience which lets you become a slave. Do not conceal the slavery into which you are being daily led, while you know it not. It is the mark of a dull and heavy heart not to feel its own continual trouble. Trouble gives to the hearing understanding, provided it be not excessive. If it is, it gives not understanding, but carelessness.”

Let superiors and prelates console themselves by the example of S. Paul, when they duly do their duty, and are despised by those under them, and see others preferred before them. It has ever been the custom of the world, and ever will be till the end, as Salmeron notices here, to obstinately resist the servants of God, to murmur, and, meeting rebuke, on the least occasion, to complain of even moderate severity; to spurn all discipline; to submit servilely to impostors, libertines, and false apostles; to entrust everything to them; to bear patiently whatever burden they may choose to impose. The Israelites, e.g., despised the holy and gentle Samuel, and preferred to bear the yoke of a self-willed and tyrannical king (1 Sam 8).

2Co 11:21  I seek according to dishonour, as if we had been weak in this part. Wherein if any man dare (I speak foolishly), I dare also.

This belongs to the preceding. The “striking on the face” spoken of (in verse 20) is here explained to be mental, not physical—consisting in the ignominy and revilings cast, as it were, in their faces by the false apostles. This “smiting” is no less wrong than if they had been beaten like slaves. Others, however, interpret these words to mean: “I say this to your shame.” This, however, would require πρὸς instead of κατὰ

As if we had been weak.  Refer this to the words, you suffer (verse 20). You suffer these bold and imperious false apostles; me you do not, but rather despise me as weak and timid, as though I could not have acted more imperiously than I have done, I could, indeed, have done so, but I would not, through humility, modesty, and abounding charity (Chrysostom).

Wherein if any man dare.  If any one ventures to boast foolishly, I too can do the same.

2Co 11:22  They are Hebrews: so am I. They are Israelites: so am I. They are the seed of Abraham: so am I.

They are Hebrews? so am I. The word Hebrew is derived either (1.) from a Hebrew word denoting “across the stream,” in allusion to their descent from Abraham, who crossed the Euphrates from Chaldæa to dwell in Palestine. Hebrews in this sense would mean (to coin a word) transamnine, as we speak of transmarine or transalpine. Abraham, after crossing the Euphrates, is the first to be called Hebrew (Gen 14:13). The LXX and Aquila render the word here “crosser;” S. Augustine (qu. 29 in Gen.) renders it “transfluvial.” So Chrysostom, Origen, Theodoret understand the word. (2.) Or the Jews were called Hebrews as being descended from Heber, Abraham’s forefather, the only man who with his family, after the confusion of tongues at Babel, retained the primeval Hebrew tongue, together with true faith, religion, and piety. (Cf. Gen 10:21, and Gen 11:1, et seq.) Those, then, are wrong who suppose that Hebræi is derived from Abrahæi. S. Augustine, it is true, at one time held this opinion (de Consens. Evang. lib. 1. c. 14), but in his Retractations (lib. ii. c. 14) he gave it up. The meaning of the Apostle, at all events, is this: These false apostles glory in their birth—in their being, as Hebrews, descendants of Heber, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in their possession of the holy religion of their ancestors, and the primeval tongue. But I also am a Hebrew and descendant of Abraham—like him in stock, tongue, faith, and religion.

2Co 11:23  They are the ministers of Christ (I speak as one less wise): I am more; in many more labours, in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in deaths often.

Ver. 23.—They are ministers of Christ? The Latin version takes this in the indicative, and supposes S. Paul to concede, for the sake of argument, that the false apostles were ministers of Christ. Be it so, but I am much more truly such than they.

In many more labors. Let prelates and doctors take notice from this, that they should base their influence, as S. Paul did, not on external show, but on labours and mode of life. The Fourth Council of Carthage (c. 5) says: “Let a bishop have a sordid dress, a scanty table, and poor living, and let him seek to have his high office revered through his faith and the merits of his life.”

S. Bernard, quoting this passage in his work, De Consideratione, addressed to Pope Eugenius, says, (lib. ii. c. 6): “How excellent a ministry is this! What king holds a more glorious office? If you must needs glory, the life of the Saints is put before your eyes, the glorying of the Apostles is set forth. Seems that to you a little matter? Would that one would give to me to be like the Saints in their glorying! The Apostle exclaims God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Recognise thy heritage in the cross of Christ, in abundant labours. Happy the man who would say: “I have laboured more than they all.’ This is glorying indeed, but there is nothing in it empty, slothful, or effeminate. If labour terrifies, the reward beckons us onward. Though he laboured more than all, yet he did not elaborate the whole work, and yet there is room. Go into the field of the Lord, and notice carefully how the ancient curse holds sway in an abundant crop of thorns and thistles. Go forth, I say, into the world; for the field is the world, and it has been entrusted to you. Go into it, not as a lord but as a steward, who will one day be called on to give an account.”

In stripes above measure. More than can be told or believed. Stripes is a reference to whippings, lashings or, beating with rods (see 2 Cor 4:7-9; 2 Cor 6:5; Acts 16:22-23).

In deaths oft. In dangers of death, when my companions, or others, were wounded or slain, as, e.g., by robbers, or in popular out-breaks. Cf. 2 2 Cor 1:10, and 1 Cor 15:31. See also Rom 8:35-39.

2Co 11:24  Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes save one.

The Lord had ordered, in Deut. xxv. 3, that the number of stripes should not exceed forty. The Jews, to make sure of obedience to this precept, used to inflict on criminals one less.

2Co 11:25  Thrice was I beaten with rods: once I was stoned: thrice I suffered shipwreck: a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea.

I was in the depth of the sea. The Greek word for the depth may refer to a well or a prison, as well as the sea. Hence (1.) some think, says Theophylact, that that well is meant in which Paul is said to have lain concealed after escaping from the attack made on him by the people of Lystra (Acts 14:18). (2.) Baronius (Annals, A.D. 58), following Bede and Theodoret, thinks that the Cyzicenum, that deep and loathsome dungeon, like the Barathrum at Athens and the Tullianum at Rome, into which Paul was thrown, is here meant. (3.) It is better to understand the deep to be the sea, and to be an explanation of the hardships of his shipwreck: ” A night and a day I have been in the deep.” In other words, he says: I was tossed about by so violent a tempest that I seemed to be days and nights in the depths of the sea (Maldonatus Not. Manusc.). Or it may be that he means to say that after his shipwreck he spent a day and a night tossed by the waves, not in a boat or on a raft, but swimming in the deep, i.e., on the open sea (Theophylact, Ambrose, S. Thomas). Haymo says that this latter explanation of S. Paul’s rescue alive from the belly of the deep, like another Jonah, is the tradition of the Fathers.

Of these scourgings and this shipwreck there is no record in the Acts of the Apostles. The shipwreck at Melita, narrated in Acts xxvii., happened long after this, when Paul was sent a prisoner to Rome. Only one scourging is mentioned, that in Acts xvi., and only one stoning, that in Acts xiv.  S. Luke, it is evident, therefore, is silent on many details of S. Paul’s life.

2Co 11:26  In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren:

In perils from my own nation. Through the plots that the Jews often entered into against him (Anselm).

2Co 11:27  In labour and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness:

In painfulness. Ærumna (Latin version), which, says Cicero, is laborious toil, as, e.g., when one that is tired out is forced, for the sake of rest, to undertake fresh toils.

The things in which the Apostle glories are those that not only many Christians now-a-days but many clergy would be ashamed of, as S. Bernard laments when commenting on the words, “Lo, we have left all.” Whither have we drifted? Where has the apostolic Spirit gone? Whither are fled the humility, labours, sufferings, and zeal of the primitive Church? The Apostles, the princes of the Church, Christ’s lieutenants, do not rejoice in their palaces, their carriages, their silken robes, in an attending crowd of noblemen, domestics, soldiers, horses, and hounds; in banquets and dinners; in fat benefices, in an effeminate, luxurious, and sumptuous life; but they exult and glory in hunger, thirst, painfulness, and weariness; cold and nakedness; in continual journeying to barbarous nations; in persecution, preaching, scourgings, beatings, stonings, death, martyrdom, fatigues by day and night; they are made all things to all men; they scorn no one; they are fathers of the poor and the afflicted; those that are barbarous, ignorant, and poor they teach: they preach to them the Gospel, comfort them, give them alms. This was the calling of the Apostles; this was the high dignity of the princes of the Church, of which Paul here boasts; this was the spirit of the early Christians, both clergy and people. Nor has this spirit, God be thanked, died out in this age. Our age has had, and still has its Borroméo, Pius, Xavier, Menesius, Gaspar, Hosius, and others like minded.

Be not ashamed then, 0 Bishop, or prior, or doctor, or pastor, to imitate these men—to visit the poor after their example, to enter hospitals and prisons, to bear the confessions of peasants, to give counsel to the unhappy, to instruct the simple and ignorant, to be made all things to all men, to zealously seek the salvation of all. In these works do not shrink from toil, fatigue, and sorrow, even unto death; in this cause be pleased and delighted to suffer scoffs and even blows. So Christ did and suffered, so did S. Paul, so did the Apostles in general. In this consisted their virtue, holiness, and apostleship. In that last day of the world, when the Chief Shepherd and great Doctor shall sit as judge, to examine the deeds of each one and to pass on each one sentence of an eternity of bliss or an eternity of woe, He will not ask you how many benefices, what wealth, or servants, or knowledge you had, but how you used them—how many by them you converted, how many poor you fed or gave drink to, how many you visited in prison, how far you spread His Gospel and extended His glory; what labours, dangers, ridicule, and persecutions you bore for Him; what hunger, and thirst, and weariness. These things God has done; and, while we have time, let us think on these things, let us do these things, that we may stir up in ourselves and in all men the spirit of the primitive Church and of the Apostles, that we may follow Christ our Leader, and the Apostles His princes, and so by our zeal and burning charity, set on fire a world now growing old and stiffening with cold. Then shall we in due time hear with the Apostles: “Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, then shall ye also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Listen to what S. Chrysostom has to say of these sufferings and victories, and the courage of S. Paul (Hom. 25, 26): “Paul, as a champion athlete, against the world contends in every kind of contest, and conquers in all. This was his apostolic character, and by these contests he spread the Gospel. Just as a flame of inextinguishable fire, if it falls into the ocean and is swallowed by the waves, emerges again as bright as ever—so too S. Paul, though pressed on all sides, was not oppressed; not knowing how to yield. Suffering but left him the more glorious victor and martyr a thousand times over.”

S. Chrysostom (Hom. 2) says again: “Paul, through the abundance of his devotion, somehow did not feel the sufferings that he underwent in the cause of virtue; nay, he thought virtue itself its own reward. Daily he rose higher and more ardent; in every attack he rejoiced and gained the victory; when suffering under blows and injuries he counted it triumph. He sought death before life, poverty before riches; he longed for toil more than others rest; he counted cities, nations, provinces, and power as of as little account as the sand. He regarded nothing bitter and nothing sweet, as men commonly regard things. He looked on tyrants as moths; on death, tortures, a thousand sufferings as mere child’s play, provided that he might endure something for Christ. He was as adamant, nay, harder and stronger than adamant. Like a bird he flew over the whole world to teach it, and, as though hampered by no body, he despised all sufferings and dangers. So thoroughly did he despise all earthly things that heaven might seem already his.”

2Co 11:28  Besides those things which are without: my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches.

Beside those things that are without: my daily instance. The weight of business that daily presses upon me. The Greek word here used denotes, says Budæus, to collect a band, to call together a meeting, as, e.g., when the mob assembles and makes an attack on the aristocracy and the magistrates. So the Apostle here uses the word to denote those manifold cares which, as it were, formed a band and rushed upon him from every side, and almost overwhelmed him, and this not once only but continuously. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Ephrem understand it to mean that factious conspiracies, seditions, tumults, popular outbreaks, and plots were being always set in motion against him. This is, indeed, the literal meaning of the Greek; but S. Paul has already mentioned those troubles in ver. 26. The former meaning is, therefore, the better. Then next clause, “the care of all the churches,” is explanatory of this. Anselm and Theophylact say beautifully: “Everywhere Paul teaches, but he also suffers greatly. He endures his own sufferings, and at the same time bears the sufferings of others. He bears the infirmities of individuals, and at the same time is anxious about the salvation of all.”

S. Chrysostom here (Hom. 18) teaches us beautifully, by his example, that nothing is sweeter than this anxiety, thought, labour, and grief of a good pastor for the Church. “A mother too,” he says, “in the in midst of deep grief for her child has pleasure; in the midst of anxiety she has joy. Though her anxiety be a source of bitterness, yet her devotion gives her great happiness.” Let great men, and those that are ministers of Christ, desire to be ever in motion as the heart is, or like the heavens, and, as Suetonius says of Vespasian, to die standing. Pacatus says, in his Panegyric of Theodosius: “Divine things delight in continual motion, and at the same time eternity feeds itself on movement, and your nature delights too in what we men call labour. As the heavens revolve with unfailing rotation, and the waves of the sea are ever in motion, and the sun never stands still, so are you, 0 Emperor, always engaged in matters of business that seem to return in a regular cycle.”

2Co 11:29  Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I am not on fire?

Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is weak, or grieves, or is afflicted, and I am not with him weak, grieved, or afflicted? Who is offended and I am not on fire, both with grief, because the evil that my neighbour suffers when he is scandalised is mine, and with zeal also, to remedy his trouble and remove the cause of offence?

S. Gregory (Hom. 12 in Ezek 4:3), on the words, “Take thou unto thee an iron pan,” thinks that by the pan is meant the mind of Ezekiel, who, on seeing the overthrow of Jerusalem, was, as it were, roasted in a pan with compassion. Of this God puts him in mind by ordering him to place a pan between himself and the city. Such, too, was S. Paul when he said: “Who is offended and I burn not?” “Paul had set on fire his heart,” says S. Gregory, “with zeal for souls, and so had made it a pan in which, from love of virtue, he flamed against vice.”

2Co 11:30  If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity.
2Co 11:31  The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever, knoweth that I lie not.

Of the things that concern my infirmities. I will glory of the afflictions, blows, persecutions, and sufferings that I have borne for Christ. Through them I seem weak, i.e., despicable, mean, and worthless (Chrysostom). Observe that Paul glories not in his miracles but his infirmities, because in them there shines forth the effectual power of God’s grace, and also because in these he surpassed the false apostles, and thirdly, because they are the tokens of real virtue and of an Apostle.

2Co 11:32  At Damascus, the governor of the nation under Aretas the king, guarded the city of the Damascenes, to apprehend me.

This satrap of King Aretas was, says Theophylact, the father-in-law of Herod. Josephus says that Herod Antipas, who put to death John the Baptist, married the daughter of Aretas.

2Co 11:33  And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall: and so escaped his hands.

This escape of S. Paul from Damascus happened in the year 39 (Acts 9:25), when, as Josephus says, Aretas, King of Arabia and of the country near Damascus, waged war against Herod, because Herod had repudiated his wife, the daughter of Aretas, for the purpose of marrying Herodias. In this war Herod was worsted, and slain by Aretas. This brought on Aretas the vengeance of Tiberius Cæsar, who sent Vitellius, governor of Syria, to take or slay Aretas (Josephus, Ant. lib. x. c. 7). Using the opportunity, the Jews, enraged with S. Paul, seem to have accused him before the prefect of Aretas of disturbing the people under a pretext of preaching the Gospel, and so drawing them away from heathenism, and consequently from Aretas. They wished to show that this would end in his betraying Damascus to the Jews and to Vitellius. Hence the prefect sought to take Paul, but he, being warned, escaped by being let down by the wall in a basket. Cf. Baronius (Annals, vol. i. p. 304).

2Co 12:1  If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed) but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2Co 12:2  I know a man in Christ: above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven.

I know a man in Christ.  A Christian. He thus describes himself, says Theophylact, that it may be clear that Paul was taken up by the grace of Christ, and not, like Simon Magus, by the power of the devil.

Above fourteen years ago. Hence we conclude that this rapture of S. Paul took place about nine years after his conversion, which took place A.D. 36; Paul, therefore, was taken up A.D. 44, which was the ninth year from his conversion. It was in this year that, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, he was ordained, with Barnabas, Apostle and Doctor of the Gentiles (Acts 13:2), that is to say, a little before he began this apostleship. This is evident, because, as I said at the beginning of this Epistle, S. Paul wrote this A.D. 58, in the second year of Nero. This rapture of S. Paul did not take place, therefore, in the year of his conversion (Acts 9:12), i.e., A.D. 36, though some join S. Thomas in assigning it to that year.

Theophylact remarks on the modesty of the Apostle in having kept this silent for fourteen years. Secondly, he points out that Paul, fourteen years before, was privileged to contemplate such deep things, how much more did he merit it now, after the labours of so many years?

Whether in the body…I know not. Although the Apostle says that he knows nothing for certain about this rapture, yet S. Thomas (ii. ii. qu. 175, art. 5), and others think it probable that his soul remained united to his body as its form, otherwise Paul would have died and then risen again. Moreover, it does not beseem God, when He throws men into an ecstasy, to kill them; nay, such a process would not be one of rapture and ecstasy, but a putting to death. This, too, would involve the multiplication of many miracles. But it is a principle that we should not multiply miracles; therefore it is easier and more natural to suppose that, like other Saints, Paul was carried up while remaining in the body.

Caught up. “To be caught up is,” says S. Thomas, “to be raised from what is natural to what is supernatural by the power of the higher nature.” Hence angels and the Blessed are not caught up when they see God. Although they are raised above nature, yet they are not cut off from nature, i.e., from the power man has of naturally having consciousness of objects by means of his bodily senses and his representative powers. But when “caught up,” the soul is deprived of the use of its senses and imagination, and Paul, therefore, was so deprived, or he would have known that he was in the body. Moreover, such abstraction, as S. Thomas says, may take place under the influence of disease, as when a man is delirious, or even by the power of devils, as when they carry off a man. It is not, however, called rapture or ecstasy, unless wrought by Divine power, which withdraws the mind from the senses, and lifts it up to the contemplation of things supernatural.

To the third heaven. What is this heaven? 1.  S. Basil (Hom. i. in Hexem.) infers from this that there is not merely one heaven, as Chrysostom thought, nor two, as Theophylact held, but at least three. Some add that there are three only, and that the third is the highest. But all the astronomers of olden times will dispute this, for they reckoned eight at least, as will moderns, who count at least eleven.

2. S. Thomas says (ii. ii. qu. 175, art. 3, ad. 4): “By the third heaven may be understood any supernatural vision, and in three ways it may be called the third heaven. First, with relation to man’s cognitive powers. Then the first heaven will be any supernatural, corporal vision, seen by the bodily eye, such as that of the handwriting on the wall, described in Daniel v. The second heaven will be any vision presented to the imagination, such as that of Isaiah, and of S. John in the Apocalypse. The third heaven will be any intellectual vision, such as is explained by S. Augustine (super Gen. ad Litt. 12).

“Secondly, the distinction may be made according to the different orders of the objects of consciousness. Then the first heaven will be the knowledge of celestial bodies; the second, the knowledge of celestial spirits; the third, the knowledge of God Himself.

“Thirdly, the three heavens may be the different steps of the knowledge by which God is seen. The first will then belong to the angels of the lowest hierarchy; the second to the angels of the middle hierarchy; the third to the angels of the highest.” According to this test, S. Paul would have been caught up to the third and highest hierarchy of angels, and standing there with the seraphim, have seen most clearly the essence of God, and from thence have been enkindled with that burning fire of charity with which he afterwards set on fire the whole world.

But I should say that the third heaven is the highest, or the empyrean, where the Blessed dwell. Hence, in ver. 4, it is called Paradise. It is called the third by a Hebraism. The number three denotes completion, being the first number to which the word all may be applied. We do not speak of “all two,” but we may and do say “all three.” Hence the poet says: “Oh, thrice and four times blessed they,” &c., i.e., completely blessed. Again (in Amos 1:3) we read, “for three transgressions of Damascus,” meaning, for all. In ver. 8 of this chapter again, we have, “I besought the Lord thrice,” or, very often, till I could ask no more, until the answer came. “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

3. It is simplest of all to say with S. Thomas, in the passage above quoted, that “the first heaven is the sidereal, the second the crystalline, the third the empyrean;” or, rather, that “the first is the aerial, the second the sidereal, the third the empyrean,” as Theophylact gives them. With him agree Julian Pomerius, and Damascene (de Fide, lib. ii. c. 6), and many others. “The air” in Scripture is commonly called “the heaven;” hence we get “the birds of heaven.” The air, therefore, is the first heaven, and is called the aerial one. All the heavenly orbs are the second heaven, or the etherial, and the third is the empyrean. Hence Cajetan is wrong in rejecting the empyrean, in which the Blessed dwell, and supposing that the third is the crystalline. In this latter are the waters which, in Gen. i. and elsewhere, are said to be above the firmament.

Mystically, S. Bernard says that the three heavens are the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and also the three virtues and gifts by which we ascend to them and to the highest pinnacle of grace and glory, viz., humility, charity, and perfect union. He says (Tract. de Grad. Humil.): “Those whom, by His word and example the Son has first taught humility, on whom the Holy Spirit has then poured the gift of charity, these the Father at length receives in glory. The Son makes them disciples, the Paraclete comforts them as friends, the Father exalts them as sons. Firstly, He instructs them as a Master; secondly, He comforts them as a Friend or a Brother; thirdly, He embraces them as sons. From the first union of the Word and reason is born humility; from the second union of the Spirit of God with the will of man comes charity; then at last the Father unites to Himself His glorious bride. And thus reason is not suffered to think of itself or of the will of its neighbour, but the beatified soul delights to say this alone: ‘The King hath brought me into His chamber.’ These steps were not surpassed by S. Paul, who declares that he was caught up to the third heaven.”

A second question arises: Was Paul truly and really caught up into the empyrean, so as to be in it as in a place, or was he there only by way of imagination or of understanding, so that he seemed to himself in his imagination to be in heaven, and saw what was being done there, while his body and soul remained on earth? Some think with probability that he was not caught up actually and truly, but only imaginarily, because he includes this rapture in vers. 1 and 7, under the head of visions and revelations of the Lord. God can bring it to pass that I in Belgium can see what is going on in India, and even what is passing in heaven. This may be brought about either through the imagination or the understanding, or even by the eyes of the body; for God can so raise these above themselves, so co-operate with them above nature, so strengthen and extend the visual powers as to make them reach even to heaven. If that power may be increased beyond what is natural by spectacles or medicaments, why may not God extend this power yet further and further? Thus it happened to S. Anselm, that he was able to see through a wall what was going on on the other side, by God imprinting the proper images on his retina. So Bede says that S. Diethelmus and others saw in imagination the pains of purgatory. Why, then, should not Paul have seen in the same way the empyrean, and what was passing in it?

Others, with perhaps greater probability on their side, think that he was actually and truly caught up into the empyrean. They give as their reasons: (1.) That the Greek verb used is not the technical term for casting into an ecstasy, but a word which denotes an actual rapture. (2.) That Paul is doubtful whether his soul was caught up with his body or without his body; therefore he presupposes that his soul was truly and really caught up; for in a vision that is merely imaginary there is no doubt that the soul alone and not the body is caught up by the imagination. (3.) That there be actually heard mysterious words, so that, as the destined teacher of the world, he seemed to go forth from heaven, and to communicate to men what he had there seen and heard as God willed him, and so brought to men as from heaven heavenly wisdom. Cf. ver. 4, note.

Now if the soul was really caught up, and yet remained united to the body (as I said in the opening note on this verse), then the body of Paul seems to have been caught tip into paradise; and indeed this is as easy with God as taking up the soul only. This would be fitting to S. Paul’s office, who was to be the teacher and Apostle, not, like Moses, of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, and so should wholly come forth, like another Moses, from intercourse with God in heaven.

2Co 12:3  And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth):

Whether in the body or out of the body, I know not. S. Athanasius (Serm. 4 contra Arian.) thinks that Paul knew the mode in which he was caught up, yet says: “I do not know,” or, “I cannot tell;” because he could not reveal it to others, in the same way that Christ, in S. Mark 13:32, says that He did not know the day of judgment. For though in himself he knew, yet as far as others were concerned he did not know, for he could not explain it. But others do better in understanding him simply to mean. “I do not know,” and his simple recital of the event seems to require this.

2Co 12:4  That he was caught up into paradise and heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter.

Into paradise. Ambrose, Œcumenius, Haymo, Anselm, and Theophylact think that Paul was twice caught up: (1.) into the third heaven, and (2.) then higher still into paradise. If so, the third heaven would be the heaven of sun, moon, and stars; but what would Paul have done there? Hence others hold that the events are one and the same, and that the third heaven and paradise are identical.

It may be asked. Why, after saying that he was caught up into the third heaven, does Paul say that he was caught up into paradise, as though it were a place higher still? I reply that of the vast empyrean paradise is one particular part where the Blessed are, and a more glorious part than the rest. S. Paul would imply that not only did he see deepest mysteries by his understanding, but also in his will drank in ineffable happiness. He signifies this by the term paradise, which, both in Greek and Latin, denotes a place of happiness.

Paradise is not a Greek word meaning, as Suidas thinks, a well-watered garden, nor yet a herb-garden, as others suppose, but, as Pollux says, it is a Persian word, or rather Hebrew, denoting a garden planted with pleasant trees and fruits. Cf. Ecc_2:5; Neh_2:8; Son_4:11. It is derived from two Hebrew words, denoting to bring forth myrtles. Then, because myrtle is of a pleasant smell, and does best in gardens, the name has been transferred to pleasure-gardens, plantations, and glades, and then again to any pleasant place. Here the third heaven is called paradise.

Did Paul see there the Divine Essence? S. Augustine (Ep. 112, c. 13), Clement (Stromata, c. 5), Anselm, and S. Thomas (ii. ii. qu. 175, art. 5) say that he did, and their opinion is probable; for he was for this purpose caught up into paradise, or the place where the Blessed see God. Again, he heard secret things of which it is not lawful for man to speak: but men may speak of everything except the Divine Essence.

It may be objected that in that case he ought to have said that he saw things, not heard words. I reply that, by a common Hebraism, “to hear words” means “to see things” (Theodoret); as, e.g., with the prophets vision and hearing are the same, so is it in the minds of the Blessed.

But the contrary seems more probable (1.) For even with a separated soul, to hear does not mean to behold a thing clearly, but to take in the words of God, or of an angel, or of man; otherwise he would have said without ambiguity, I saw ineffable things, even God Himself. (2.) S. Paul says, in 1 Tim 6:16, speaking of God, “Whom no man hath seen.” (3.) If he saw God he must have seen also his own state, whether he was in the body or not. But he says that he did not. (4.) But he gives a scanty account of his visions here, and says that, out of humility, he passes over greater things. Cf. Gregory (Morals, lib. xviii. c. 5), Jerome, Cyril, Chrysostom, and the Fathers and Schoolmen in general, and also Lud. Molina (pt. i. qu. xii. art. 11, dips 2). (5.) Scripture says more plainly of Moses that he saw the Essence of God, and yet I have shown clearly enough, in the notes to Exodus 33., that Moses did not seek to see the Essence of God, and would not have obtained such a request if he had made it. In Ex 33:20 the Lord distinctly replies to him in the negative: “Thou canst not see My face, for no man shall see Me and live.” It was only conceded to him that he should see the back parts of God, that is, the back of the body assumed by the Angel who represented God. Moses, however, sought that God, or the angel, who behind a cloud stood in the place of God, and spoke with him from the cloud, should unfold Himself, that he might see Him clearly and converse with Him face to face. The angel answered him that the eyes of man cannot see His face, but only His back; because the face assumed by the angel was so shining and so gloriously bright and majestic that it shone to a certain extent with the glory of God. It surpassed, therefore, the splendour of the sun, which man cannot look on directly with unveiled eyes, nay, rather man is blinded by the splendour. If follows from this that much less could this far more splendid face of the angel be seen by Moses; nay, he would have been blinded by it. But in the back of the body that the angel had assumed the light was so toned down that Moses could look upon it. Moses looking upon this was so covered as it were with light that his face shone, and seemed to emit two horns of rays of light. This vision of Moses was a bodily vision, for with the eyes of his body he saw the back of the angel’s body. He was, therefore, far from seeing the Divine Essence; and if he did not see it, much less did S. Paul, who speaks more obscurely and more humbly of his vision.

And heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter. What were these mysteries that Paul heard or saw in paradise? They are related indeed in the book which is styled “the Apocalypse of S. Paul,” but this book is not genuine, and is full of mythical stories, and is scouted by S. Augustine (Tract. 98 in Johan.), Bede, Theophylact. Epiphanius attributes it to the sect of Cainites. I should reply that no certain answer can be given where Paul kept silence. Still it is natural to suppose that Paul saw and heard wonderful things of the nature, gifts, grace, glory, and orders of the angels, as S. Gregory says (in Ezech., Hom. 4). Hence S. Dionysius, in his “Celestial Hierarchy,” so describes the orders of the angels from what he heard from S. Paul, that you might think he saw them with his eyes. Again, he may have heard wondrous things about some Divine attributes not known to us here; he may have seen too the glory of Christ, for he was taught the Gospel by Christ (Gal 1:12). He was caught up that he might receive authority, and not be inferior to the other Apostles, who had seen Christ in the flesh and been taught thoroughly by Him (Chrysostom). Theodoret adds that he saw the beauty of paradise, the choirs and joys of the Saints, and heard the tuneful harmony of the heavenly hymns. This caused his exclamation of admiration: “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”

Secondly, it is better to suppose that he heard the mysteries of the reason, mode, and order of the Divine reprobation and predestination, and the call of men, especially of the heathen provinces to be converted by himself. Of this mystery Paul frequently expresses his admiration, as in Rom 11:33, and it had special reference to his mission (Baronius).

Thirdly, he may have heard mysteries concerning the Gospel of our redemption by Christ; for he says (Gal 1:12) that he had received this Gospel by revelation, viz., when he was caught up. Lastly, he heard, as it might seem, mysteries of the government and progress of the Church in his time and afterwards. This, too, would affect his office, as he had already been singled out as the Church’s teacher and guide. He calls them “unspeakable words,” both because he was forbidden to utter them, and also because we are unable either to speak of them or to understand them.

2Co 12:5  For such an one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing but in my infirmities.

For such an one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing. He speaks of himself when caught up and in his ordinary state as two different persons, so as not to be thought vain-glorious (Œcumenius).

But in my infirmities. My calamities, my sufferings. By a common Hebrew metonymy “infirmity” is here put for “grief.” They are related as cause and effect or effect and cause. Cf. ver. 9; Mic 4:10. In Isa 53:3, we read of Christ that He should be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity” (Vulg.). Cf. also Ps 16:4 (Vulg.)

2Co 12:6  For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish: for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or any thing he heareth from me.

But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me.  Lest he should think me an angel or some god, as the Lycaonians did (Acts 14:10). He could have related more wonderful things about himself, but modesty and humility cause him to conceal them. “All the Saints,” says Anselm, “not only do not seek at all for glory above their measure, but they even shrink from that which they have merited.”  S. Bernard says beautifully (Ep. 18 ad Pet.): “We praise others hypocritically, and delight in vanity ourselves; and thus they who are praised are vain, and those who praise are false. Some flatter and are crafty; others praise as they think and are false; others glory in the words of both and are vain. He alone is wise who says with the Apostle, ‘I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.'”

2Co 12:7  And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me.

And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me. From this it appears that Paul, as the heavenly teacher of the world, had many great revelations, and was accustomed to them, and, as it were, at home among them. Some of these are narrated by S. Luke. Cf. Acts 9:3; Acts 18:9; Acts 22:17;  Acts 27:23.  S. Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. lxxviii. 69, Vulg.), on the words, “Benjamin in the excess of his mind,” understands S. Paul to be referred to as being of the tribe of Benjamin.

There was given me a sting in the flesh. Not by the devil, but by God. Not that God is the author of temptation, but He allowed the devil, who was ready beforehand, to tempt Paul, and that only in appearance, and in the matter of lust to humble him. Cf. Augustine (de Nat. et Grat. c. 21). “This monitor,” says Jerome (Ep. 25 ad Paulam, on the death of Blesilla), “was given to Paul to repress pride, just as in the car of the victor, as he enjoys his triumph, there stands a monitor whispering to him, ‘Recollect that you are a man.'” So, too, at the installation of a Pontiff, tow is lighted and extinguished, while the words are sung: “Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world.” Hence the best preservative against the temptations of the flesh is humility. If you are rooted and grounded so deeply in that as God exalts you by His gifts and graces, there will be no need for Him to apply this thorn to keep you humble. Cf. Rom 1:24, note.

What was this thorn, and how did it buffet S. Paul? How was it a messenger of Satan? Augustine (de Nat. et Grat. c.16) replies that he does not know what it was. But two things are certain: (1.) that he was vexed by Satan, and (2.) that this vexation was like a thorn fixed in his flesh, and continually paining him.

But it is not certain what its particular nature was. Anselm, Bede, Sedulius, and Jerome (in Gal. iv. 13) think it was bodily illness, as constant headache (S. Jerome), or colic (S. Thomas), or costiveness, or gout (Nicetas, commenting on Orat. 30 of S. Gregory Nazianzen), or some internal disorder.  S. Basil (in Reg. cap. ult.) and S. Augustine (in Ps. cxxxi.) think that this goad was some disease sent upon Paul, just as on job, by the devil. The Apostle, however, nowhere else complains of any diseases. Moreover, they would have been a great hindrance to him in the preaching of the Gospel.

Secondly, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Theodoret, Œcumenius, Ambrose, Erasmus think that this thorn refers to the persecutions Paul endured from his adversaries, and of which he speaks in ver. 10. But these were external goads, not thorns in the flesh, and of these he is wont to boast, not complain.

Thirdly, others, with more probability, think that this thorn in the flesh consisted in blows and beatings, often given to Paul by Satan, as to Antony and others, so that pain remained in his body, as a thorn, from the blows he had received. This is the literal meaning of the words used no doubt; but if this be so, Paul would surely have said more plainly: “There was given me the messenger of Satan to buffet me.” Nor would the generous mind of S. Paul have complained of this: he was but raised higher by the attacks of devils and men, and found in them matter for glorying.

Secondly, it is proved, from Rom. vii., that this concupiscence was in S. Paul, for there he bewails it more than he does here. Hence, too, as he said (1 Cor 9:27), he was in the habit of castigating his body.

Thirdly, had it been anything else he would have said so clearly; but as it is, modesty and shame bid him conceal it, and call it metaphorically a thorn.

Fourthly, this thorn was given him to humiliate him. But nothing so humiliates those who are chaste and lovers of virtue, as this temptation of the flesh, and nothing is so great a check on them, and makes them so work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Through the frailty of their flesh they are always in fear of lapsing in the midst of temptations so dangerous and well calculated to make them yield consent. And, therefore, they rather glory in illness, blows, persecutions, and other evils, especially if, like S. Paul, they suffer for Christ and His faith.

Fifthly, these temptations of the flesh, properly speaking, do not hurt the Saints, but buffet them, that is strike them with shame and sorrow. A man, when struck by his friend, is suffused with shame rather than overcome with pain.

Sixthly, Paul prays repeatedly and earnestly to be set free from this thorn; in other things he would have sought not liberation, but fortitude and constancy. But concupiscence is overcome, not so much by courageous endurance as by instant flight. He asks, therefore, to be set free from it, and hears, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” It is this grace which in this case is especially necessary, and should be always sought for by those that are tempted, that they may resist and overcome this civil foe lurking within and always striving to stir up war.

Lastly, this is the opinion of S. Augustine (Enarr. 2 in Ps. lix.), S. Jerome (ad Eustoch. de Custod. Virgin.), Salvianus (Serm. de Circumcis., wrongly attributed to Cyprian), Haymo, Theophylact, Anselm, Bede, S. Thomas, Lyranus, and others. It seems, too, the common belief of the faithful, who from this passage speak of the temptation of lust as a thorn in the flesh. The voice of the people is the voice of God.

But, what Cardinal Hugo adds, viz., that this temptation found a place in Paul, owing to his familiar converse with a beautiful virgin, S. Thecla, whom he had baptized, and afterwards kept with him in his journeyings, is false, and merely conjecture. Paul took no woman about with him, as he says in 1 Cor 9:5. And even if he had, he would have been bound, under penalty of incurring guilt, to send her away if he found her to be an occasion of so much troublous temptation. Moreover, what need would there have been for S. Paul to pray to God so instantly that this thorn might be taken from him, when he might easily have got rid of it himself? Add to this that this story is taken from a book entitled, “The journeys of Paul and Thecla,” which is rejected as apocryphal by S. Jerome, Tertullian, and Gelasius.

Erasmus and Faber object to this, firstly, that the thorn of lust was unbecoming and unworthy of so great an Apostle, and he now an old man. I answer that in our lapsed state it is not only not unworthy, but is also beneficial. See S. Gregory (Moral. lib. xix., c. 5 and 6) and Anselm, who point out how useful it is to the Elect to be now caught up into ecstasy, and now depressed by weakness, so that they may never be puffed up with pride or cast down into despair, but may always keep the narrow way that lies midway between the two, and which leads to heaven. Rom_7:23 shows that this concupiscence existed in S. Paul, and experience tells us that it has been, and now is, in the Saints, even when they are old men.  S. Gregory Nazianzen, for instance, often complains of the evils of his flesh, as in Ep. 96, and in his hymn on his flesh and the burden of his soul. Moreover, Paul was not an old man, for he was a young man when converted—perhaps twenty-five or twenty-seven (Act_7:58). This Epistle was written twenty-two years after his conversion, when he would, therefore, be about fifty years old.

Secondly, the objection is raised that the Apostle immediately adds. “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities.” But we may not glory in concupiscence, and therefore he must mean some other infirmity and thorn. To this I reply that the Apostle is not referring in these words to the thorn in the flesh that he had just mentioned, but also, and more properly, to all the sufferings that he had borne for the faith, and which he had recounted in the last chapter. In them, he says, he glories always. He uses the word infirmity in its widest meaning, and plays on it, as I will point out at ver. 10. Moreover, it is lawful to glory in this temptation of the flesh, not in itself, so far as it excites to evil, but as it is an affliction put upon us by the devil, and as in it the strength of Christ is made perfect. In this way Julius Cæsar used to glory, and desire most powerful foes, that he might show against them his power and warlike courage. So, too, many Saints have prayed to God, and asked to have temptations, and have gloried in them. Hence, S. James says (1:2): “My brethren, count it all joy ,when ye fall into divers temptations.” Cf. also S. James 1:12.

Morally, it should be observed that temptation is not to the righteous a cause of falling, but a spur to virtue. For, as high-spirited horses, when urged by the spur, quicken their pace, and show their spirit more, so are Saints spurred on by temptation to walk more diligently in virtue, lest they give way and perish. Hence, some of the Saints of great earnestness were not saddened, but gladdened, by temptations. In the “Lives of the Fathers” (lib. iii. c. 8) we read of an aged man who, on seeing one of his disciples grievously tempted to commit fornication, said to him: “If you wish it, my son, I will pray the Lord to remove this attack from you.” The disciple replied: “I see, my father, that I am undergoing a laborious task, yet I feel that it will bring forth in me good fruit; because, through this temptation I fast the more, and spend more time in vigils and prayers. But I beseech you to pray God of His mercy to give me strength, that I may be able to bear it, and fight lawfully.” Then the old man rejoined: “Now I perceive, my son, that you faithfully understand that this spiritual struggle may, through patience, help on your soul towards eternal salvation. For so said the Apostle, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.'”

Fourthly, others think, therefore, that this thorn in the flesh was the motions of concupiscence and the temptations of lust. This concupiscence, like a thorn or a dart, is so deeply fixed in the flesh that while life lasts it cannot be taken out. Hence it is called in Greek, σκόλοψ, a stake, a sharpened stick, a thorn, a javelin, or sting.

It may be asked: “Why, then, does he call this thorn ‘the messenger of Satan,’ or the minister of Lucifer?” I reply that he means by the messenger of Satan, Satan himself, as the exciting cause of this thorn of concupiscence; or even he calls the thorn sent by Satan, the adversary of his chastity, by the name of Satan. This would be a metonymy, where the cause is put for the effect, the agent for his work. For the devil, by stirring up the humours, by kindling the blood, by inflaming the feelings that subserve generation, by putting foul images before S. Paul’s mind, gave life to that concupiscence which had been as it were put to sleep, and mortified by his numerous labours, fastings, and troubles. Thus he stirred up S. Paul to obey the foul motions of lust.

S. Dorotheus relates of a certain holy monk that he grieved at being freed from temptation, and exclaimed: “Am I not then worthy, 0 Lord, of suffering, and being a little afflicted for Thy love?” Climacus (Grad. 29) relates of S. Ephrem, that seeing himself possessed of deep peace and tranquillity, which he himself calls impassibility, and an earthly heaven, he besought God to restore to him his former temptations and struggles, so that he might not lose the material for meriting and adding to his crown. Palladius relates that Abbot Pastor, on some one saying to him, “I have prayed to God, and He has set me free from all temptation,” replied “Pray God to restore you your temptations, lest you become slothful and careless.”

2Co 12:8  For which thing, thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me.

Three is the number symbolic of multitude and universality. The answer meant that though he was weak in himself, yet in God he might be strong enough to overcome this temptation. It, hence appears that Paul was not heard, and was not freed from his thorn.  S. Augustine gives the reason (Enarr. in Ps. cxxxi.). He says: “As when some disagreeable medicine is brought to one that is sick, and he asks the physician to take it away; whereupon the physician comforts him and urges him to have patience, because he knows that the medicine is good for him, so does God here deal with Paul.” As a physician from vipers’ flesh makes a conserve against vipers’ poison, so does God, out of our weakness, form a medicine against weakness, and makes one lust of the flesh a remedy against another, as, e.g., this thorn of the flesh was a preservative against pride.

2Co 12:9  And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

For power is made perfect in infirmities. This is a general proposition, a moral axiom applying to any weakness, but properly and primarily to that thorn of concupiscence just mentioned. These are the words of God in answer to the prayers of S. Paul. The greater the temptation of the flesh is, the greater is the strength supplied by Christ. This explains the paradox that follows: “When I am weak then am I strong.”

The strength is both Paul’s and God’s—Paul’s as the receiver, God’s as the Giver. Therefore, the Divine power is best manifested in weakness when, (1.) in those that are weak it works fortitude, patience, and other superhuman works. (2.) When he by whom anything is done, conscious of his own weakness, claims nothing for himself, but gives all the praise to God. Observe here the difference between the power of God and the power of the world. One is seen in force and violence, the other in endurance. (3.) Infirmity is the object of patience, fortitude, and temperance, in the same way that those who are infirm are more sober when they are ill. (4.) Infirm people keep the most careful watch over themselves, and prudently refuse whatever is noxious, and so become more self-controlled by habit (S. Thomas). Certainly, virtue feeds on opposition, and, therefore, by temptation, chastity becomes constant, and every virtue more robust, as we see in the lives of Joseph, Susannah, Paul, and others. (5.) S. Augustine says mystically (de Gratia Christ. c. 12), as does Anselm: “Fortitude is a true knowledge and humble confession of our infirmity.” And S. Jerome says, writing, to Ctesiphon: “The one perfection to be found in this life is to recognise our imperfection.” By this you learn not to trust to your own strength, but to cast yourself wholly with perfect confidence on the power of God, who strengthens the humble and those that hope in Him, and makes them as it were almighty, as S. Bernard says (Serm. 85 in Cantic.), able to pass unscathed through all temptations, labours, and dangers.

S. Augustine gives us an instance of this in his own life (cf. lib. viii. c. 11). He says. “When habit that seemed to me irresistible said to me, ‘Can you live without them?'” (the concubines that he had been accustomed to have), “there appeared to me in the direction to which I had turned my face, while shrinking from setting out that way, the pure dignity of continence, with dignified mien, inviting me to come without hesitation, holding out, to welcome and embrace me, holy hands filled with hosts of good examples. There were multitudes of boys and girls, and many a youth; all ages were there, sober widows and aged virgins. She smiled encouragingly upon me, as much as to say, ‘Can you not do what these men and women have done? They did it not in their own strength, but in the Lord their God. He gave me to them. Why do you stand in yourself and fall? Cast yourself upon Him; fear not. He will not withdraw and cause you to fall. Boldly trust yourself to Him . He will receive you and will heal you.'”

Lastly, virtue is made perfect in weakness, because, as S. Bernard (Ep. 254) says, in a robust and vigorous body the mind lies effeminate and lukewarm, and again in a weak and sickly body the spirit grows stronger and more vigilant. As one to whom nature has denied strength excels in intellect, so where God withholds health He gives robustness and vigour of mind, so that the mind afflicted with a feeble body sighs after its resurrection and after heaven; spurns whatever is transient, troubled, and exposed to decay; lives for the future life, not the present; thinks with Plato that this life is death’s mediator; in short, gives itself wholly to God and heavenly things. “The mind that is allied to disease is close to God,” says Nazianzen. Listen to what a famous old man said to one of his disciples who enjoyed bad health (Vita. Patrum, lib. iii. n. 157). “Be not sad, my son, at your sickness and bodily ills. It is the highest duty of religion to give God thanks in weakness. If you are iron you lose your rust by fire; if you are gold you are tried by the fire and, proceed from great to greater. Be not distressed, then, my brother. If God wishes you to be tormented in the body, who are you that you should be angry with Him? Bear up then, and ask Him to give you what He sees fit.”

S. Theophanes, Abbot of Sigrianum, a man who never had good health, A.D. 816, gave the following answer to the iconoclastic emperor, Leo the Armenian, who threatened him with dreadful tortures if he did not condemn the veneration of images: “If you hope to terrify me with your threatenings, a man already worn out with disease and old age, as teachers threaten with a beating boys of no generous spirit, then let the pyre be kindled, let the instruments of torture be got ready, together with every engine of malicious cruelty, that you may know most clearly that the strength of Christ is made perfect in my weaknesses. I, who cannot walk on the ground, shall find my weakness changed into strength, and will leap upon the fire.” And he was as good as his word; for after many temptations he was shut up in prison, and all access to him was forbidden; and so, being gradually weakened by hunger, filth, and disease, he offered up his soul in two years’ time to God, as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and after his death became illustrious for his miracles. The Church commemorates him on March 12th Cf. Baronius (Annals, A.D. 816). Cf. also S. Thomas and S. Chrysostom (Hom. 26), on the benefit of infirmities and tribulations.

Lastly, S. Bernard (Tract. de Grad. Humil.) says: “‘Virtue is made perfect in weakness.’ What virtue? Let the Apostle tell us: ‘Gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the virtue of Christ may rest upon me.’ But perhaps you do not yet understand what special virtue he meant, since Christ had all virtues. But though all were found in Him, yet one in particular shone above all, viz., humility. This He commended to us in the words, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ Gladly, then, 0 Lord Jesu, will I glory if I can in my infirmity, in my bodies illness, that Thy virtue, humility, may be made perfect in me; for when any virtue fails, Thy grace avails.”

Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Humility makes him glory not in his strength but in his infirmity; and so he calls upon Christ to give him strength, and tacitly says that he throws himself upon Him. Hence, by infirmity he means every kind of suffering, tribulation, temptation, humiliation, as is explained in the next verse. Infirmity, then, is a generic term, including anything that causes pain to mind or body. Hence (1.) it may embrace sicknesses, which, S. Basil says, formed Paul’s thorn in the flesh; (2.) labours, such as are described in the preceding chapter; (3.) temptations of the flesh (ver. 7), or any other temptations; (4.) watchings, fastings, and other acts of mortification of the body, by which the body is weakened and made subject to the spirit; (5.) insults, persecutions, dangers, blows, and all afflictions borne for the sake of the faith of the Gospel.

Let them that are infirm console themselves amidst their infirmities by the thought that the power of Christ tabernacles in them as in its proper home. The power of God shows itself most where there is most need for it, and gives the greatest help when necessity is greatest. “To Thee,” says the prophet “the poor is left: Thou wilt be a helper of the fatherless.” For although naturally “bodily weakness involves also mental,” as S. Jerome says (Pref. lib. ii. Comment. in Amos), and “the body which is corrupted weighs down the soul” (Wis 9:15), yet supernaturally it is otherwise; for the soul that is strengthened with grace strengthens also the body. S. Francis, for instance, increased in mental vigour as his body grew more feeble, so much so that in giving thanks to God he prayed that his sicknesses might be increased a hundredfold. “To fulfil Thy will, 0 Lord,” he said, “is my exceeding comfort.” See his Life by S. Bonaventura.

S. Bernard (Serm. 34 in Cantic.) says: “He does not say that he bears his infirmities patiently, but that he glories in them, and glories in them most gladly, proving that it was good for him to be humbled; for God loveth a cheerful giver. Humility alone which is joyous and unconstrained merits the grace which it receives.” Again, in Sermon 25, he says: “We should wish for infirmity, which is supplemented by the power of Christ. Would that I might be not only weak, but destitute, and wholly wanting in anything of my own, that I might be strengthened by the might of the Lord of might; for strength is made perfect in weakness. And since this is the case, the bride beautifully turns it to her glory that she is held up to scorn by her rivals, and she glories, not only that she is comely but also that she is black. She thinks nothing more glorious than to bear the reproach of Christ. The ignominy of the Cross is pleasing to him who is not unpleasing to the Crucified.”

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Feb 21: Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (Mark 9:14-29)

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2011

Ver 14. And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the Scribes questioning with them.15. And straightway all the people, when they beheld Him, were greatly amazed, and running to Him saluted Him.16. And He asked the Scribes, “What question ye with them?”17. And one of the multitude answered and said, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;18. And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.”19. He answereth him, and saith, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto Me.”20. And they brought him unto Him: and when He saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.21. And He asked his father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” And he said, “Of a child.22. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”23. Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”25. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.”26. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, “He is dead.”27. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.28. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could not we cast him out?”29. And He said unto them, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

Theophylact: After He had shewn His glory in the mount to the three disciples, He returns to the other disciples, who had not come up with Him into the mount; wherefore it is said, “And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the Scribes questioning with them.”

For the Pharisees, catching the opportunity of the hour when Christ was not present, came up to them, to try to draw them over to themselves.

Pseudo-Jerome: But there is no peace for man under the sun; envy is ever slaying the little ones, and lightnings strike the tops of the great mountains. Of all those who run to the Church, some as the multitudes come in faith to learn, others, as the Scribes, with envy and pride.

It goes on, “And straightway all the people, when they beheld Jesus, were greatly amazed, and feared.”

Bede, in Marc., 3, 38: In all cases, the difference between the mind of the Scribes and of the people ought to be observed; for the Scribes are never said to have shewn any devotion, faith, humility, and reverence, but as soon as the Lord was come, the whole multitude was greatly amazed and feared, and ran up to Him, and saluted Him; wherefore there follows, “And running to Him, saluted Him.”

Theophylact: For the multitude was glad to see Him, so that they saluted Him from afar, as He was coming to them; but some suppose that His countenance had become more beautiful from His transfiguration, and that this induced the crowd to salute Him.

Pseudo-Jerome: Now it was the people, and not the disciples, who on seeing Him were amazed and feared, for there is no fear in love; fear belongs to servants, amazement to fools.  It goes on: “And He asked them, What question ye with them?”

Why does the Lord put this question? That confession may produce salvation, and the murmuring of our hearts may be appeased by religious works.

Bede: The question, indeed, which was raised may, if I am not deceived, have been this, wherefore they, who were the disciples of the Saviour, were unable to heal the demoniac, who was placed in the midst, which may be gathered from the following words; “And one of the multitude answered and said, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away.”

Chrys.: The Scriptures declare that this man was weak in faith, for Christ says, “O faithless generation:” and He adds, “If thou canst believe.”  But although his want of faith was the cause of their not casting out the devil, he nevertheless accuses the disciples.  Wherefore it is added, “And I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; but they could not.”

Now observe his folly; in praying to Jesus in the midst of the crowd, he accuses the disciples, wherefore the Lord before the multitude so much the more accuses him, and not only aims the accusation at himself, but also extends it to all the Jews; for it is probable that many of those present had been offended, and had held wrong thoughts concerning His disciples.

Wherefore there follows, “He answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” By which He shewed both that He desired death, and that it was a burden to Him to converse with them.

Bede: So far, however, is He from being angry with the person, though He reproved the sin, that He immediately added, “Bring him unto Me; and they brought him unto Him. And when He saw him, straightway the spirit tare him, and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.”

Chrys.: But this the Lord permitted for the sake of the father of the boy, that when he saw the devil vexing his child, he might be brought on to believe that the miracle was to be wrought.

Theophylact: He also permits the child to be vexed, that in this way we might know the devil’s wickedness, who would have killed him, had he not been assisted by the Lord.

It goes on: “And He asked his father, How long is it ago since this come unto him? And he said, Of a child; and ofttimes it has cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him.”

Bede: Let Julian [ed. note: Julian was bishop of Eclanum in Campania; he was well known to St. Augustine, who before his fall speaks of him with great affection. On refusing however to agree to Pope Zosimus’ condemnation of Pelagius, he was deposed, and expelled from Italy. He wrote a great deal against St. Augustine, by whom he was refuted in works now extant. The opinion specially referred to in the text was, that Adam would have died, even though he had remained innocent, and therefore that death and sickness are not the consequences of original sin. He died in Sicily in great poverty, about A.D. 453.] blush, who dares to say that all men are born in the flesh without the infection of sin, as though they were innocent in all respects, just as Adam was when he was created.

For what was there in the boy, that he should be troubled from infancy with a cruel devil, if he were not held at all by the chain of original sin? since it is evident that he could not yet have had any sin of his own.

Gloss.: Now he expresses in the words of his petition his want of faith; for that is the reason why he adds, “But if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

For in that he says, “If thou canst do any thing,” he shews that he doubts His power, because he had seen that the disciples of Christ had failed in curing him; but he says, “have compassion on us,” to shew the misery of the sons, who suffered, and the father, who suffered with him.  It goes on: “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

Pseudo-Jerome: This saying, “If thou canst,” is a proof of the freedom of the will. Again, all things are possible to him that believeth, which evidently means all those things which are prayed for with tears in the name of Jesus, that is, of salvation.

Bede: The answer of the Lord was suited to the petition; for the man said, “If thou canst do any thing, help us;” and to this the Lord answered, “If thou canst believe.” On the other hand, the leper who cried out, with faith, “Lord, if Thou will, Thou canst make me clean,” [Mat_8:2] received an answer according to his faith, “I will, be thou clean.”

Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: His meaning is; such a plenitude of virtue is there in Me, that not only can I do this, but I will make others to have that power; wherefore if thou canst believe as thou oughtest to do, thou  shalt be able to cure not only him, but many more. In this way then, He endeavoured to bring back to the faith, the man who as yet speaks unfaithfully.

There follows, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

But if he had already believed, saying, “I believe,” how is it that he adds, “help thou mine unbelief?” We must say then that faith is manifold, that one sort of faith is elementary, another perfect; but this man, being but a beginner in believing, prayed the Saviour to add to his virtue what was wanting.

Bede: For no man at once reaches to the highest point, but in holy living a man begins with the least things that he may reach the great; for the beginning of virtue is different from the progress and the perfection of it. Because then faith mounts up through the secret inspiration of grace, by the steps of its own merits, [ed. note: This sentence of Bede may be considered to be an exposition of our Lord’s words: “for he that hath not from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” The connection between grace and merit, as used by the Fathers, may be illustrated from St. Thomas, their faithful disciple. He defines a meritorious operation to be one the reward of which is beyond the nature of the worker; so that merit implies the infusion of a supernatural habit, that is, of grace, not only as its efficient, but as its formal cause. Summa 1 Q62, Art 4] he who had not yet believed perfectly was at once a believer and an unbeliever.

Pseudo-Jerome: By this also we are taught that our faith is tottering, if it lean not on the stay of the help of God. But faith by its tears receives the accomplishment of its wishes.

Wherefore it continues, “When Jesus saw that the multitude came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee come out of him, and enter no more into him.”

Theophylact: The reason that He rebuked the foul spirit, when He saw the crowd running together, was that He did not wish to cure him before the multitude, that He might give us a lesson to avoid ostentation.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: And His rebuking him, and saying, “I charge thee,” is a proof of Divine power. Again, in that He says not only, “come out of him,” but also “enter no more into him,” He shews that the evil spirit was ready to enter again, because the man was weak in faith, but was prevented by the commend of the Lord.

It goes on, “And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him; and he was as one dead, insomuch that  many said, He is dead.”  For the devil was not able to inflict death upon him, because the true Life was come.

Bede: But him, whom the unholy spirit made like unto death, the holy Saviour saved by the touch of His hold hand; wherefore it goes on, “But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Thus as the Lord had shewn Himself to be very God by the power of healing, so He shewed that He had the very nature of our flesh, by the manner of His human touch. The Manichaean [ed. note: “Their fundamental maxim of the intrinsic evil of matter and the degraded state of mind, which their speculations on the birth after the flesh brought with it involved the denial of the Incarnation of our Lord and, as a consequence, of the reality of His whole life.” (Note a, upon St. Augustine’s Confessions, Oxf. Tr. p. 325)] indeed madly denies that He was truly clothed in flesh; He Himself, however, by raising, cleansing, enlightening so many afflicted persons by His touch, condemned his heresy before its birth.

It goes on: “And when He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out?”

Chrys.: They feared that perchance they had lost the grace conferred upon them; for they had already received power over unclean spirits.  It goes on: “And He said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”

Theophylact: That is, the whole class of lunatics, or simply, of all persons possessed with devils. Both the man to be cured, and he who cures him, should fast; for a real prayer is offered up, when fasting is joined with prayer, when he who prays is sober and not heavy with food.

Bede: Again, in a mystical sense, on high the Lord unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to His disciples, but below He rebukes the multitude for their sins of unfaithfulness, and expels devils from those who are vexed by them. Those who are still carnal and foolish, He strengthens, teaches, punishes, whilst He more freely instructs the perfect concerning the things of eternity.

Theophylact: Again, this devil is deaf and dumb; deaf, because he does not choose to hear the words of God; dumb, because he is unable to teach others their duty.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, a sinner foameth forth folly, gnasheth with anger, pineth away in sloth. But the evil spirit tears him, when coming to salvation, and in like manner those whom he would drag into his maw  he tears asunder by terrors and losses, as he did Job.

Bede: For oftentimes when we try to turn to God after sin, our old enemy attacks us with new and greater snares, which he does, either to instill into us a hatred of virtue, or to avenge the injury of his expulsion.

Greg., Mor. x., 30: But he who is freed from the power of the evil spirit is thought to be dead; for whosoever has already subdued earthly desires, puts to death within himself his carnal mode of life, and appears to the world as a dead man, and many look upon him as dead; for they who know not how to live after the Spirit, think that he who does not follow after carnal pleasures is altogether dead.

Pseudo-Jerome: Further, in his being vexed from his infancy, the Gentile people is signified, from the very birth of whom the vain worship of idols arose, so that they in their folly sacrificed their children to devils. And for this reason it is said that “it cast him into the fire and into the water;” for some of the Gentiles worshipped fire, others water.

Bede: Or by this demoniac are signified those who are bound by the guilt of original sin, and coming into the world as criminals, are to be saved by grace; and by fire is meant the heat of anger, by water, the pleasures of the flesh, which melt the soul by their sweetness.

But He did not rebuke the boy, who suffered violence, but the devil, who inflicted it, because he who desires to amend a sinner, ought, whilst he exterminates his vice by rebuking and cursing it, to love and cherish the man.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, the Lord applies to the evil spirit what he had inflicted on the man, calling him a “deaf and dumb spirit,” because he never will hear and speak what the penitent sinner can speak and hear. But the devil, quitting a man, never returns, if the man keep his heart with the keys of humility and charity, and hold possession of the gate of freedom [ed. note: of “fastness”.]. The man who was healed became as one dead, for it is said to those who are healed, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

Theophylact: Again, when Jesus, that is, the word of the Gospel, takes hold of the hand, that is, of our powers of action, then shall we be freed from the devil. And observe that God first helps us, then it is required of us that we do good; for which reason it is said that Jesus “raised him;” in which is shewn the aid of God, and that “he arose,” in which is declared the zeal of man.

Bede: Further, [p. 179] our Lord, while teaching the Apostles how the worst devil is to be expelled, gives all of us rules for our life; that is, He would have us know that all the more grievous attacks of evil spirits or of men are to be overcome by fastings and prayers; and again, that the anger of the Lord, when it is kindled for vengeance on our crimes, can be appeased by this remedy alone.

But fasting in general is not only abstinence from food, but also from all carnal delights, yea, from all vicious passions. In like manner, prayer taken generally consists not only in the words by which we call upon the Divine mercy, but also in all those things which we do with the devotedness of faith in obedience to our Maker, as the Apostle testifies, when he says, “Pray without ceasing.” [Thes 5:17]

Pseudo-Jerome: Or else, the folly which is connected with the softness of the flesh, is healed by fasting; anger and laziness are healed by prayer. Each would has its own medicine, which must be applied to it; that which is used for the heel will not cure the eye; by fasting, the passions of the body, by prayer, the plagues of the soul, are healed.

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