Philoxenus, Ascetic Discourses (1894) pp.403-471. Discourse 11 -- On Abstinence
[P. 420] THE ELEVENTH DISCOURSE: ON ABSTINENCE AND THE SUBJECTION OF THE BODY, WHICH SHEWETH THAT A MAN IS, THROUGH TRIBULATIONS, ABLE TO ENTER INTO THE SPIRITUAL COUNTRY OF THE ENJOYMENTS OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.
"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,"16 not 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."18 And 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,"19 as 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.48 And 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.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2003. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.
|Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts|