Fathers of the Church
by Gregory Nazianzen in 379-381 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A
IN DEFENCE OF HIS FLIGHT TO PONTUS, AND HIS RETURN, AFTER HIS ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD, WITH AN EXPOSITION OF THE CHARACTER OF THE PRIESTLY OFFICE.
1. I have been defeated, and own my defeat. I subjected myself to the Lord, and prayed unto Him.(a) Let the most blessed David supply my exordium, or rather let Him Who spoke in David, and even now yet speaks through him. For indeed the very best order of beginning every speech and action, is to begin from God,(b) and to end in God. As to the cause, either of my original revolt and cowardice, in which I got me away far off, and remained(g) away from you for a time, which perhaps seemed long to those who missed me; or of the present gentleness and change of mind, in which I have given myself up again to you, men may think and speak in different ways, according to the hatred or love they bear me, on the one side refusing to acquit me of the charges alleged, on the other giving me a hearty welcome. For nothing is so pleasant to men as talking of other people's business, especially under the influence of affection or hatred, which often almost entirely blinds us to the truth. I will, however, myself, unabashed, set forth the truth, and arbitrate with justice between the two parties, which accuse or gallantly defend us, by, on the one side, accusing myself, on the other, undertaking my own defence.
2. Accordingly, that my speech may proceed in due order, I apply myself to the question which arose first, that of cowardice. For I cannot endure that any of those who watch with interest the success, or the contrary, of my efforts, should be put to confusion on my account, since it has pleased God that our affairs should be of some consequence to Christians, so I will by my defence relieve, if there be any such, those who have already suffered; for it is well, as far us possible, and as reason allows, to shrink from causing, through our sin or suspicion, any offence or stumbling-block to the community: inasmuch as we know how inevitably even those who offend one of the little ones(d) will incur the severest punishment at the hands of Him who cannot lie.
3. For my present position is due, my good people, not to inexperience and ignorance, nay indeed, that I may boast myself a little,(e) neither is it due to contempt for the divine laws and ordinances. Now, just as in the body there is(z) one member(h) which rules and, so to say, presides, while another is ruled over and subject; so too in the churches, God has ordained, according either to a law of equality, which admits of an order of merit, or to one of providence, by which He has knit all together, that those for whom such treatment is beneficial, should be subject to pastoral care and rule, and be guided by word and deed in the path of duty; while others should be pastors and teachers,(a) for the perfecting of the church, those, I mean, who surpass the majority in virtue and nearness to God, performing the functions of the soul in the body, and of the intellect in the soul; in order that both may be so united and compacted together, that, although one is lacking and another is pre-eminent, they may, like the members of our bodies, be so combined and knit together by the harmony of the Spirit, as to form one perfect body.(b) really worthy of Christ Himself, our Head.(g)
4. I am aware then that anarchy(d) and disorder cannot be more advantageous than order and rule, either to other creatures or to men; nay, this is true of men in the highest possible degree, because the interests at stake in their case are greater; since it is a great thing(e) for them, even if they fail of their highest purpose—to be free from sin—to attain at least to that which is second best, restoration from sin. Since this seems right and just, it is, I take it, equally wrong and disorderly that all should wish to rule, and that no one should accept(z) it. For if all men were to shirk this office, whether it must be called a ministry or a leadership, the fair fulness(h) of the Church would be halting in the highest degree, and in fact cease to be fair. And further, where, and by whom would God be worshipped among us in those mystic and elevating rites which are our greatest and most precious privilege, if there were neither king, nor governor, nor priesthood, nor sacrifice,(th) nor all those highest offices to the loss of which, for their great sins, men were of old condemned in consequence of their disobedience?
5. Nor indeed is it strange or inconsistent for the majority of those who are devoted to the study of divine things, to ascend to rule from being ruled, nor does it overstep the limits laid down by philosophy,(i) or involve disgrace; any more than for an excellent sailor to become a lookout-man, and for a lookout-man, who has successfully kept watch over the winds, to be entrusted with the helm; or, if you will, for a brave soldier to be made a captain, and a good captain to become a general, and have committed to him the conduct of the whole campaign. Nor again, as perhaps some of those absurd and tiresome people may suppose, who judge of others' feelings by their own, was I ashamed of the rank of this grade from my desire for a higher. I was not so ignorant either of its divine greatness or human low estate, as to think it no great thing for a created nature, to approach in however slight degree to God, Who alone is most glorious and illustrious, and surpasses in purity every nature, material and immaterial alike.
6. What then were my feelings, and what was the reason of my disobedience? For to most men I did not at the time seem consistent with myself, or to be such as they had known me, but to have undergone some deterioration, and to exhibit greater resistance and self-will than was right. And the causes of this you have long been desirous to hear. First, and most important, I was astounded at the unexpectedness of what had occurred, as people are terrified by sudden noises; and, losing the control of my reasoning faculties, my self- respect, which had hitherto controlled me, gave way. In the next place, there came over me an eager longing(a) for the blessings of calm and retirement, of which I had from the first been enamoured to a higher degree, I imagine, than any other student of letters, and which amidst the greatest and most threatening dangers I had promised to God, and of which I had also had so much experience, that I was then upon its threshold, my longing having in consequence been greatly kindled, so that I could not submit to be thrust into the midst of a life of turmoil by an arbitrary act of oppression, and to be torn away by force from the holy sanctuary of such a life as this.
7. For nothing seemed to me so desirable as to close the doors of my senses, and, escaping from the flesh and the world, collected within myself, having no further connection than was absolutely necessary with human affairs, and speaking to myself and to God(b) to live superior to visible things, ever preserving in myself the divine impressions pure and unmixed with the erring tokens of this lower world, and both being, and constantly growing more and more to be, a real unspotted mirror of God and divine things, as light is added to light, and what was still dark grew clearer, enjoying already by hope the blessings of the world to come, roaming about with the angels, even now being above the earth by having forsaken it, and stationed on high by the Spirit. If any of you has been possessed by this longing, he knows what I mean and will sympathise with my feelings at that time. For, perhaps, I ought not to expect to persuade most people by what I say, since they are unhappily disposed to laugh at such things, either from their own thoughtlessness, or from the influence of men unworthy of the promise, who have bestowed upon that which is good an evil name, calling philosophy nonsense, aided by envy and the evil tendencies of the mob, who are ever inclined to grow worse: so that they are constantly occupied with one of two sins, either the commission of evil, or the discrediting of good.
8. I was influenced besides by another feeling, whether base or noble I do not know, but I will speak out to you all my secrets. I was ashamed of all those others, who, without being better than ordinary people, nay, it is a great thing if they be not worse, with unwashen hands,(a) as the saying rims, and uninitiated souls, intrude into the most sacred offices; and, before becoming worthy to approach the temples, they lay claim to the sanctuary,(b) and they push and thrust around the holy table, as if they thought this order to be a means of livelihood, instead of a pattern of virtue, or an absolute authority, instead of a ministry of which we must give account. In fact they are almost more in number than those whom they govern; pitiable as regards piety,(g) and unfortunate in their dignity; so that, it seems to me, they will not, as time and this evil alike progress, have any one left to rule, when all are teachers, instead of, as the promise says, taught of God,(d) and all prophesy,(e) so that even "Saul is among the prophets,"(z) according to the ancient history and proverb. For at no time, either now or in former days, amid the rise and fall of various developments, has there ever been such an abundance, as now exists among Christians, of disgrace and abuses of this kind. And, if to stay this current is beyond our powers, at any rate it is not the least important duty of religion to testify the hatred and shame we feel for it.
9. Lastly, there is a matter more serious than any which I have mentioned, for I am now coming to the finale(a) of the question: and I will not deceive you; for that would not be lawful in regard to topics of such moment. I did not, nor do I now, think myself qualified to rule a flock or herd, or to have authority over the souls of men. For in their case it is sufficient to render the herd or flock as stout and fat as possible; and with this object the neatherd and shepherd will look for well watered and rich pastures, and will drive his charge from pasture to pasture, and allow them to rest, or arouse, or recall them, sometimes with his staff, most often with his pipe; and with the exception of occasional struggles with wolves, or attention to the sickly, most of his time will be devoted to the oak and the shade and his pipes, while he reclines on the beautiful grass, and beside the cool water, and shakes down his couch in a breezy spot, and ever and anon sings a love ditty, with his cup by his side, and talks to his bullocks or his flock, the fattest of which supply his banquets or his pay. But no one ever has thought of the virtue of flocks or herds; for indeed of what virtue are they capable? Or who has regarded their advantage as more important than his own pleasure?
10. But in the case of man, hard as it is for him to learn how to submit to rule, it seems far harder to know how to rule over men, and hardest of all, with this rifle of ours, which leads them by the divine law, and to God, for its risk is, in the eyes of a thoughtful man, proportionate to its height and dignity. For, first of all, he must, like silver or gold, though in general circulation in all kinds of seasons and affairs, never ring false or alloyed, or give token of any inferior matter, needing further refinement in the fire;(b) or else, the wider his rule, the greater evil he will be. Since the injury which extends to many is greater than that which is confined to a single individual.
II. For it is not so easy to dye deeply a piece of cloth, or to impregnate with odours, foul or the reverse, whatever comes near to them; nor is it so easy for the fatal vapour, which is rightly called a pestilence, to infect the air, and through the air to gain access to living being, as it is for the vice of a superior to take most speedy possession of his subjects, and that with far greater facility than virtue its opposite. For it is in this that wickedness especially has the advantage over goodness, and most distressing it is to me to perceive it, that vice is something attractive and ready at hand, and that nothing is so easy as to become evil, even without any one to lead us on to it; while the attainment of virtue is rare and difficult, even where there is much to attract and encourage us. And it is this, I think, which the most blessed Haggai had before his eyes, in his wonderful and most true figure:(a)—"Ask the priests concerning the law, saying: If holy flesh borne in a garment touch meat or drink or vessel, will it sanctify what is in contact with it? And when they said No; ask again if any of these things touch what is unclean, does it not at once partake of the pollution? For they will surely tell you that it does partake of it, and does not continue clean in spite of the contact."
12. What does he mean by this? As I take it, that goodness can with difficulty gain a hold upon human nature, like fire upon green wood; while most men are ready and disposed to join in evil, like stubble,(b) I mean, ready for a spark and a wind, which is easily kindled and consumed from its dryness. For more quickly would any one take part in evil with slight inducement to its full extent, than in good which is fully set before him to a slight degree. For indeed a little wormwood most quickly imparts its bitterness to honey; while not even double the quantity of honey can impart its sweetness to wormwood: and the withdrawal of a small pebble would draw headlong a whole river, though it would be difficult for the strongest dam to restrain or stay its course.
13. This then is the first point in what we have said, which it is right for us to guard against, viz.: being found to be bad painters(g) of the charms of virtue, and still more, if not, perhaps, models for poor painters, poor models for the people, or barely escaping the proverb, that we undertake to heal others(d) while ourselves are full of sores.
14. In the second place, although a man has kept himself pure from sin, even in a very high degree; I do not know that even this is sufficient for one who is to instruct others in virtue. For he who has received this charge, not only needs to be free from evil, for evil is, in the eyes of most of those under his care, most disgraceful, but also to be eminent in good, according to the command, "Depart from evil and do good."(a) And he must not only wipe out the traces of vice from his soul, but also inscribe better ones, so as to outstrip men further in virtue than he is superior to them in dignity. He should know no limits in goodness or spiritual progress, and should dwell upon the loss of what is still beyond him, rather than the gain of what he has attained, and consider that which is beneath his feet a step to that which comes next: and not think it a great gain to excel ordinary people, but a loss to fall short of what we ought to be: and to measure his success by the commandment and not by his neighbours, whether they be evil, or to some extent proficient in virtue: and to weigh virtue in no small scales, inasmuch as it is due to the Most High, "from Whom are all things, and to Whom are all things."(b)
15. Nor must he suppose that the same things are suitable to all, just as all have not the same stature, nor are the features of the face, nor the nature of animals, nor the qualities of soil, nor the beauty and size of the stars, in all cases the same: but he must consider base conduct a fault in a private individual, and deserving of chastisement under the hard rule of the law; while in the case of a ruler or leader it is a fault not to attain to the highest possible excellence, and always make progress in goodness, if indeed he is, by his high degree of virtue, to draw his people to an ordinary degree, not by the force of authority, but by the influence of persuasion. For what is involuntary apart from its being the result of oppression, is neither meritorious nor durable. For what is forced, like a plant(g) violently drawn aside by our hands, when set free, returns to what it was before, but that which is the result of choice is both most legitimate and enduring, for it is preserved by the bond of good will. And so our law and our lawgiver enjoin upon us most strictly that we should "tend the flock not by constraint but willingly."(d)
16. But granted that a man is free from vice, and has reached the greatest heights of virtue: I do not see what knowledge or power would justify him in venturing upon this office. For the guiding of man, the most variable and manifold of creatures, seems to me in very deed to be the art of arts(e) and science of sciences. Any one may recognize this, by comparing the work of the physician of souls with the treatment of the body; and noticing that, laborious as the latter is, ours is more laborious, and of more consequence, from the nature of its subject matter, the power of its science, and the object of its exercise. The one labours about bodies, and perishable failing matter, which absolutely must be dissolved and undergo its fate,(a) even if upon this occasion by the aid of art it can surmount the disturbance within itself, being dissolved by disease or time in submission to the law of nature, since it cannot rise above its own limitations.
17. The other is concerned with the soul, which comes from God and is divine, and partakes of the heavenly nobility, and presses on to it, even if it be bound to an inferior nature. Perhaps indeed there are other reasons also for this, which only God, Who bound them together, and those who are instructed by God in such mysteries, can know, but as far as I, and men like myself can perceive, there are two: one, that it may inherit the glory above by means of a struggle and wrestling(b) with things below, being tried as gold in the fire(g) by things here, and gain the objects of our hope as a prize of virtue, and not merely as the gift of God. This, indeed, was the will of Supreme Goodness, to make the good even our own, not only because sown in our nature, but because cultivated by our own choice, and by the motions of our will,(d) free to act in either direction. The second reason is, that it may draw to itself and raise to heaven the lower nature, by gradually freeing it from its grossness, in order that the soul may be to the body what God is to the soul, itself leading on the matter which ministers to it, and uniting it, as its fellow-servant, to God.
18. Place and time and age and season and the like are the subjects of a physician's scrutiny; he will prescribe medicines and diet, and guard against things injurious, that the desires of the sick may not be a hindrance to his art. Sometimes, and in certain cases, he will make use of the cautery or the knife or the severer remedies; but none of these, laborious and hard as they may seem, is so difficult as the diagnosis and cure of our habits, passions, lives, wills, and whatever else is within us, by banishing from our compound nature everything brutal and fierce, and introducing and establishing in their stead what is gentle and dear to God, and arbitrating fairly between soul and body; not allowing the superior to be overpowered by the inferior, which would be the greatest injustice; but subjecting to the ruling and leading power that which naturally takes the second place: as indeed the divine law enjoins, which is most excellently imposed on His whole creation, whether visible or beyond our ken.
19. This further point does not escape me, that the nature of all these objects of the watch-fulness of the physician remains the same, and does not evolve out of itself any crafty opposition, or contrivance hostile to the appliances of his art, nay, it is rather the treatment which modifies its subject matter,(a) except where some slight insubordination occurs on the part of the patient, which it is not difficult to prevent or restrain. But in our case, human prudence and selfishness, and the want of training and inclination to yield ready submission are a very great obstacle to advance in virtue, amounting almost to an armed resistance to those who are wishful to help us. And the very eagerness with which we should lay bare our sickness to oar spiritual physicians, we employ in avoiding this treatment,(b) and shew our bravery by struggling against what is for our own interest, our skill in shunning what is for our health.
20. For we either hide away our sin, cloaking it over in the depth of our soul, like some festering and malignant disease, as if by escaping the notice of men we could escape the mighty eye of God and justice. Or else we allege excuses in our sins,(g) by devising pleas in defence of our falls, or tightly closing our ears, like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears, we are obstinate in refusing to hear the voice of the charmer, and be treated with the medicines of wisdom? by which spiritual sickness is healed. Or, lastly, those of us who are most daring and self-willed shamelessly brazen out our sin before those who would heal it, marching with bared head, as the saying is, into all kinds of transgression. O what madness, if there be no term more fitting for this state of mind! Those whom we ought to love as our benefactors we keep off, as if they were our enemies, hating those who reprove in the gates, and abhorring the righteous word;(d) and we think that we shall succeed in the war that we are waging against those who are well disposed to us by doing ourselves all the harm we can, like men who imagine they are consuming the flesh of others when they are really fastening upon their own.
21. For these reasons I allege that our office as physicians far exceeds in toilsomeness, and consequently in worth, that which is confined to the body; and further, because the latter is mainly concerned with the surface, and only in a slight degree investigates the causes which are deeply hidden. But the whole of our treatment and exertion is concerned with the hidden man of the heart,(a) and our warfare is directed against that adversary and foe within us, who uses ourselves as his weapons against ourselves, and, most fearful of all, hands us over to the death of sin. In opposition then, to these foes we are in need of great and perfect faith, and of still greater co-operation on the part of God, and, as I am persuaded, of no slight countermanoeuvring on our own part, which mast manifest itself both in word and deed, if ourselves, the most precious possession we have, are to be duly tended and cleansed and made as deserving as possible.
22. To turn however to the ends in view in each of these forms of healing, for this point is still left to be considered, the one preserves, if it already exists, the health and good habit of the flesh, or if absent, recalls it; though it is not yet clear whether or not these will be for the advantage of those who possess them, since their opposites very often confer a greater benefit on those who have them, just as poverty and wealth, renown or disgrace, a low or brilliant position, and all other circumstances, which are naturally indifferent, and do not incline in one direction more than in another, produce a good or bad effect according to the will of, and the manner in which they are used by the persons who experience them. But the scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in His image,(b) if it abides, to take it by the hand, if it is in danger, or restore it, if ruined, to make Christ to dwell in the heart(g) by the Spirit: and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon, one who belongs to the heavenly host.
23. This is the wish of our schoolmaster(d) the law, of the prophets who intervened between Christ and the law, of Christ who is the fulfiller and end(e) of the spiritual law; of the emptied Godhead,(z) of the assumed flesh,(h) of the novel union between God and man, one consisting(th) of two, and both in one. This is why God was united(a) to the flesh by means of the soul,(b) and natures so separate were knit together by the affinity to each of the element which mediated between them: so all became one for the sake of all, and for the sake of one, our progenitor, the soul because of the soul which was disobedient, the flesh because of the flesh which co- operated with it and shared in its condemnation, Christ, Who was superior to, and beyond the reach of, sin, because of Adam, who became subject to sin.
24. This is why the new was substituted for the old,(g) why He Who suffered was for suffering recalled to life, why each property of His, Who was above us, was interchanged with each of ours, why the new mystery took place of the dispensation, due to loving kindness which deals with him who fell through disobedience. This is the reason for the generation and the virgin, for the manger and Bethlehem; the generation on behalf of the creation,(d) the virgin on behalf of the woman,(e) Bethlehem(z) because of Eden, the manger because of the garden, small and visible things on behalf of great and hidden things. This is why the angels(h) glorified first the heavenly, then the earthly,(th) why the shepherds saw the glory over the Lamb and the Shepherd, why the star led the Magi to worship and offer gifts,(i) in order that idolatry might be destroyed. This is why Jesus was baptized,(k) and received testimony from above, and fasted,(l) and was tempted, and overcame him who had overcome. This is why devils were cast out,(m) and diseases healed, and the mighty preaching was entrusted to, and successfully proclaimed by men of low estate.
25. This is why the heathen rage and the peoples imagine vain things;(n) why tree(x) is set over against tree,(o) hands against hand, the one stretched out in self indulgence,(p) the others in generosity; the one unrestrained, the others fixed by nails,(r) the one expelling Adam, the other reconciling the ends of the earth. This is the reason of the lifting up to atone for the fall, and of the gall for the tasting, and of the thorny crown for the dominion of evil, and of death for death, and of darkness for the sake of light, and of burial for the return to the ground, and of resurrection for the sake of resurrection.(a) All these are a training from God for us, and a healing for our weakness, restoring the old Adam to the place whence he fell, and conducting us to the tree of life,(b) from which the tree of knowledge estranged us, when partaken of unseasonably, and improperly.
26. Of this healing we, who are set over others, are the ministers and fellow-labourers;(g) for whom it is a great thing to recognise and heal their own passions and sicknesses: or rather, not really a great thing, only the viciousness of most of those who belong to this order has made me say so: but a much greater thing is the power to heal and skilfully cleanse those of others, to the advantage both of those who are in want of healing and of those whose charge it is to heal.
27. Again, the healers of our bodies will have their labours and vigils and cares, of which we are aware; and will reap a harvest of pain for themselves from the distresses of others, as one of their wise men(d) said; and will provide for the use of those who need them, both the results of their own labours and investigations, and what they have been able to borrow from others: and they consider none, even of the minutest details, which they discover, or which elude their search, as having other than an important influence upon health or danger. And what is the object of all this? That a man may live some days longer on the earth, though he is possibly not a good man, but one of the most depraved, for whom it had perhaps been better, because of his badness, to have died long ago, in order to be set free from vice, the most serious of sicknesses. But, suppose he is a good man, how long will he be able to live? Forever? Or what will he gain from life here, from which it is the greatest of blessings, if a man be sane and sensible, to seek to be set free?
28. But we, upon whose efforts is staked the salvation of a soul, a being blessed and immortal, and destined for undying chastisement or praise, for its vice or virtue,—what a struggle ought ours to be, and how great skill do we require to treat, or get men treated properly, and to change their life, and give up the clay to the spirit. For men and women, young and old, rich and poor, the sanguine and despondent, the sick and whole, rulers and ruled, the wise and ignorant, the cowardly and courageous, the wrathful and meek, the successful and failing, do not require the same instruction and encouragement.
29. And if you examine more closely, how great is the distinction between the married and the unmarried, and among the latter between hermits and those who(a) live together in community, between those who are proficient and advanced in contemplation and those who barely hold on the straight course, between townsfolk again and rustics, between the simple and the designing, between men of business and men of leisure, between those who have met with reverses and those who are prosperous and ignorant of misfortune. For these classes differ sometimes more widely from each other in their desires and passion than in their physical characteristics; or, if you will, in the mixtures and blendings of the elements of which we are composed, and, therefore, to regulate them is no easy task.
30. As then the same medicine and the same food are not in every case administered to men's bodies, but a difference is made according to their degree of health or infirmity; so also are souls treated with varying instruction and guidance. To this treatment witness is borne by those who have had experience of it. Some are led by doctrine, others trained by example; some need the spur, others the curb; some are sluggish and hard to rouse to the good, and must be stirred up by being smitten with the word; others are immoderately fervent in spirit, with impulses difficult to restrain, like thoroughbred colts, who run wide of the turning post, and to improve them the word must have a restraining and checking influence.
31. Some are benefited by praise, others by blame, both being applied in season; while if out of season, or unreasonable, they are injurious; some are set right by encouragement, others by rebuke; some, when taken to task in public, others, when privately corrected. For some are wont to despise private admonitions, but are recalled to their senses by the condemnation of a number of people, while others, who would grow reckless under reproof openly given, accept rebuke because it is in secret, and yield obedience in return for sympathy.
32. Upon some it is needful to keep a close watch, even in the minutest details, because if they think they are unperceived (as they would contrive to be), they are puffed up with the idea of their own wisdom: Of others it is better to take no notice, but seeing not to see, and hearing not to hear them, according to the proverb, that we may not drive them to despair, under the depressing influence of repeated reproofs, and at last to utter recklessness, when they have lost the sense of self-respect, the source of persuasiveness.(a) In some cases we must even be angry, without feeling angry, or treat them with a disdain we do not feel, or manifest despair, though we do not really despair of them, according to the needs of their nature. Others again we must treat with condescension(b) and lowliness, aiding them readily to conceive a hope of better things. Some it is often more advantageous to conquer—by others to be overcome, and to praise or deprecate, in one case wealth and power, in another poverty and failure.
33. For our treatment does not correspond with virtue and vice, one of which is most excellent and beneficial at all times and in all cases, and the other most evil and harmful; and, instead of one and the same of our medicines invariably proving either most wholesome or most dangerous in the same cases—be it severity or gentleness, or any of the others which we have enumerated—in some cases it proves good and useful, in others again it has the contrary effect, according, I suppose, as time and circumstance and the disposition of the patient admit. Now to set before you the distinction between all these things, and give you a perfectly exact view of them, so that you may in brief comprehend the medical art, is quite impossible, even for one in the highest degree qualified by care and skill: but actual experience and practice are requisite to form(g) a medical system and a medical man.
34. This, however, I take to be generally admitted—that just as it is not safe for those who walk on a lofty tight rope to lean to either side, for even though the inclination seems slight, it has no slight consequences, but their safety depends upon their perfect balance: so in be case of one of us, if he leans to either side, whether from vice or ignorance, no slight danger of a fail into sin is incurred, both for himself and those who are led by him. But we must really walk in the King's highway,(a) and take care not to turn aside from it either to the right hand or to the left,(b) as the Proverbs say. For such is the case with our passions, and such in this matter is the task of the good shepherd, if he is to know properly the souls of his flock, and to guide them according to the methods of a pastoral care which is fight and just, and worthy of our true Shepherd.
35. In regard to the distribution of the word, to mention last the first of our duties, of that divine and exalted word, which everyone now is ready to discourse upon; if anyone else boldly undertakes it and supposes it within the power of every man's intellect, I am amazed at his intelligence, not to say his folly. To me indeed it seems no slight task, and one requiring no little spiritual power, to give in due season(g) to each his portion of the word, and to regulate with judgment the truth of our opinions, which are concerned with such subjects as the world or worlds,(d) matter, soul, mind, intelligent natures, better or worse, providence which holds together and guides the universe, and seems in our experience of it to be governed according to some principle, but one which is at variance with those of earth and of men.
36. Again, they are concerned with our original constitution, and final restoration, the types of the truth, the covenants, the first and second coming of Christ, His incarnation, sufferings and dissolution,(e) with the resurrection, the last day, the judgment and recompense, whether sad or glorious; I, to crown all, with what we are to think of the original(z) and blessed Trinity. Now this involves a very great risk to those who are charged with the illumination(h) of others, if they are to avoid contracting(th) their doctrine to a single Person, from fear of polytheism, and so leave us empty terms, if we suppose the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to be one and the same Person only: or, on the other hand, severing It into three, either foreign and diverse, or disordered and unprincipled, and, so to say, opposed divinities, thus falling from the opposite side into an equally dangerous error: like some distorted plant if bent far back in the opposite direction.
37. For, amid the three infirmities in regard to theology, atheism, Judaism, and polytheism, one of which is patronised by Sabellius the Libyan, another by Arius of Alexandria, and the third by some of the ultra- orthodox among us, what is my position, can I avoid whatever in these three is noxious, and remain within the limits of piety; neither being led astray by the new analysis and synthesis into the atheism(a) of Sabellius, to assert not so much that all are one as that each is nothing, for things which are transferred and pass into each other cease to be that which each one of them is, of that we have an unnaturally compound deity, like those mythical creatures, the subject of a picturesque imagination: nor again, by alleging a plurality of severed natures, according to the well named madness(b) of Arius, becoming involved in a Jewish poverty, and introducing envy into the divine nature, by limiting the Godhead to the Unbegotten One alone, as if afraid that our God would perish, if He were the Father of a real God of equal nature: nor again, by arraying three principles in opposition to, or in alliance with, each other, introducing the Gentile plurality of principles from which we have escaped?
38. It is necessary neither to be so devoted to the Father, as to rob Him of His Fatherhood, for whose Father would He be, if the Son were separated and estranged from Him, by being ranked with the creation, (for an alien being, or one which is combined and confounded with his father, and, for the sense is the same, throws him into confusion, is not a son); nor to be so devoted to Christ, as to neglect to preserve both His Sonship, (for whose son would He be, if His origin were not referred to the Father?) and the rank of the Father as origin, inasmuch as He is the Father and Generator; for He would be the origin of petty and Unworthy beings, or rather the term would be used in a petty and unworthy sense, if He were not the origin of Godhead and goodness, which are contemplated in the Son and the Spirit: the former being the Son and the Word, the latter the proceeding and indissoluble Spirit. For both the Unity of the Godhead must be preserved, and the Trinity of Persons confessed, each with His own property.
39. A suitable and worthy comprehension and exposition of this subject demands a discussion of greater length than the present occasion, or even our life, as I suppose, allows, and, what is more, both now and at all times, the aid of the Spirit, by Whom alone we are able to perceive, to expound, or to embrace, the truth in regard to God. For the pure alone can grasp. Him Who is pure and of the same disposition as himself; and I have now briefly dwelt upon the subject, to show how difficult it is to discuss such important questions, especially before a large audience, composed of every age and condition, and needing like an instrument of many strings, to be played upon in various ways; or to find any form of words able to edify them all, and illuminate them with the light of knowledge. For it is not only that there are three sources from which danger springs, understanding, speech, and hearing, so that failure in one, if not in all, is infallibly certain; for either the mind is not illuminated, or the language is feeble, or the hearing, not having been cleansed, fails to comprehend, and accordingly, in one or all respects, the truth must be maimed: but further, what makes the instruction of those who profess to teach any other subject so easy and acceptable—viz. the piety(a) of the audience—on this subject involves difficulty and danger.
40. For having undertaken to contend on behalf of God, the Supreme Being, and of salvation, and of the primary hope(b) of us all, the more fervent they are in the faith, the more hostile are they to what is said, supposing that a submissive spirit indicates, not piety, but treason to the truth, and therefore they would sacrifice anything rather than their private convictions, and the accustomed doctrines in which they have been educated. I am now referring to those who are moderate and not utterly depraved in disposition, who, if they have erred in regard to the truth, have erred from piety, who have zeal, though not according to knowledge,(g) who will possibly be of the number of those not excessively condemned, and not beaten with many stripes,(a) because it is not through vice or depravity that they have failed to do the will of their Lord; and these perchance would be persuaded and forsake the pious opinion which is the cause of their hostility, if some reason either from their own minds, or from others, were to take hold of them, and at a critical moment, like iron from flint, strike fire from a mind which is pregnant and worthy of the light, for thus a little spark would quickly kindle the torch of truth within it.
41. But what is to be said of those who, from vain glory or arrogance, speak unrighteousness against the most High,(b) arming themselves with the insolence of Jannes and Jambres,(g) not against Moses, but against the truth, and rising in opposition to sound doctrine? Or of the third class, who through ignorance and, its consequence, temerity, rush headlong against every form of doctrine in swinish fashion, and trample under foot the fair pearls(d) of the truth?
42. What again of those who come with no private idea, or form of words, better or worse, in regard to God, but listen to all kinds of doctrines and teachers, with the intention of selecting from all what is best and safest, in reliance upon no better judges of the truth than themselves? They are, in consequence, borne and turned about hither and thither by one plausible idea after another, and, after being deluged and trodden down by all kinds of doctrine,(e) and having rung the changes on a long succession of teachers and formul, which they throw to the winds as readily as dust, their ears and minds at last are wearied out, and, O what folly! they become equally disgusted with all forms of doctrine, and assume the wretched character of deriding and despising our faith as unstable and unsound; passing in their ignorance from the teachers to the doctrine: as if anyone whose eyes were diseased, or whose ears had been injured, were to complain of the sun for being dim and not shining, or of sounds for being inharmonious and feeble.
43. Accordingly, to impress the truth upon a soul when it is still fresh, like wax not yet subjected to the seal, is an easier task than inscribing pious doctrine on the top of inscriptions—I mean wrong doctrines and dogmas(z)—with the result that the former are confused and thrown into disorder by the latter. It is better indeed to tread a road which is smooth and well trodden than one which is untrodden and rough, or to plough land which has often been cleft and broken up by the plough: but a soul to be written upon should be free from the inscription of harmful doctrines, or the deeply cut marks of vice: otherwise the pious inscriber would have a twofold task, the erasure of the former impressions and the substitution of others which are more excellent, and more worthy to abide. So numerous are they whose wickedness is shown, not only by yielding to their passions, but even by their utterances, and so numerous the forms and characters of wickedness, and so considerable the task of one who has been intrusted with this office of educating and taking charge of souls. Indeed I have omitted the majority of the details, lest my speech should be unnecessarily burdensome.
44. If anyone were to undertake to tame and train an animal of many forms and shapes, compounded of many animals of various sizes and degrees of tameness and wildness, his principal task, involving a considerable struggle, would be the government of so extraordinary and heterogeneous a nature, since each of the animals of which it is compounded would, according to its nature or habit, be differently affected with joy, pleasure or dislike, by the same words, or food, or stroking with the hand, or whistling, or other modes of treatment. And what must the master of such an animal do, but show himself manifold and various in his knowledge, and apply to each a treatment suitable for it, so as successfully to lead and preserve the beast? And since the common body of the church is composed of many different characters and minds, like a single animal compounded of discordant parts, it is absolutely necessary that its ruler should be at once simple in his uprightness in all respects, and as far as possible manifold and varied in his treatment of individuals, and in dealing with all in an appropriate and suitable manner.
45. For some need to be fed with the milk(a) of the most simple and elementary doctrines, viz., those who are in habit babes and, so to say, new-made, and unable to bear the manly food of the word: nay, if it were presented to them beyond their strength, they would probably be overwhelmed and oppressed, owing to the inability of their mind, as is the case with our material bodies,(b) to digest and appropriate what is offered to it, and so would lose even their original power. Others require the wisdom which is spoken among the perfect,(a) and the higher and more solid food, since their senses have been sufficiently exercised to discern(b) truth and falsehood, and if they were made to drink milk, and fed on the vegetable diet of invalids,(g) they would be annoyed. And with good reason, for they would not be strengthened(d) according to Christ, nor make that laudable increase, which the Word produces in one who is rightly feel, by making him a perfect man, and bringing him to the measure of spiritual stature.(e)
46. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, able to corrupt(z) the word of truth, and mix the wine,(h) which maketh glad the heart of man,(th) with water, mix, that is, our doctrine with what is common and cheap, and debased, and stale, and tasteless, in order to turn the adulteration to our profit, and accommodate ourselves to those who meet us, and curry favor with everyone, becoming ventriloquists(i) and chatterers, who serve their own pleasures by words uttered from the earth, and sinking into the earth, and, to gain the special good will of the multitude, injuring in the highest degree, nay, ruining ourselves, and shedding the innocent blood of simpler souls, which will be required at our hands.(k)
47. Besides, we are aware that it is better to offer our own reins to others more skilful than ourselves, than, while inexperienced, to guide the course of others, and rather to give a kindly hearing than stir an untrained tongue; and after a discussion of these points with advisers who are, I fancy, of no mean worth, and, at any rate, wish us well, we preferred to learn those canons of speech and action which we did not know, rather than undertake to teach them in our ignorance. For it is delightful to have the reasoning(l) of the aged come to one even until the depth of old age, able, as it is, to aid a soul new to piety. Accordingly, to undertake the training of others before being sufficiently trained oneself, and to learn, as men say, the potter's art on a wine-jar, that is, to practise ourselves in piety at the expense of others' souls seems to me to be excessive folly or excessive rashness—folly, if we are not even aware of our own ignorance; rashness, if in spite of this knowledge we venture on the task.
48. Nay, the wiser of the Hebrews tell us that there was of old among the Hebrews a most excellent and praiseworthy law,(m) that every age was not entrusted with the whole of Scripture, inasmuch as this would not be the more profitable course, since the whole of it is not at once intelligible to everyone, and its more recondite parts would, by their apparent meaning, do a very great injury to most people. Some portions therefore, whose exterior(a) is unexceptionable, are from the first permitted and common to all; while others are only en-trusted to those who have attained their twenty-fifth year, viz., such as hide their mystical beauty under a mean-looking cloak, to be the reward of diligence and an illustrious life; flashing forth and presenting itself only to those whose mind has been purified, on the ground that this age alone(b) can be superior to the body, and properly rise from the letter to the spirit.
49. Among us, however, there is no boundary line between giving and receiving instruction, like the stones of old between the tribes within and beyond the Jordan: nor is a certain part entrusted to some, another to others; nor any rule for degrees(g) of experience; but the matter has been so disturbed and thrown into confusion, that most of us, not to say all, almost before we have lost our childish curls and lisp, before we have entered the house of God, before we know even the names of the Sacred Books, before we have learnt the character and authors of the Old and New Testaments: (for my present point is not our want of cleansing from the mire and marks of spiritual shame which our viciousness has contracted) if, I say, we have furnished ourselves with two or three expressions of pious authors, and that by hearsay, not by study; if we have had a brief experience of David, or clad ourselves properly in a cloak-let, or are wearing at least a philosopher's girdle, or have girt about us some form and appearance of piety—phew! how we take the chair and show our spirit! Samuel was holy even in his swaddling-clothes:(d) we are at once wise teachers, of high estimation in Divine things, the first of scribes and lawyers; we ordain ourselves men of heaven and seek to be called Rabbi by men;(e) the letter is nowhere, everything is to be understood spiritually, and our dreams are utter drivel, and we should be annoyed if we were not lauded to excess. This is the case with the better and more simple of us: what of those who are more spiritual and noble?(a) After frequently condemning us, as men of no account, they have forsaken us, and abhor fellowship with impious people such as we are.
50. Now, if we were to speak gently to one of them, advancing, as follows, step by step in argument: "Tell me, my good sir, do you call dancing anything, and flute-playing?" "Certainly," they would say. "What then of wisdom and being wise, which we venture to define as a knowledge of things divine and human?" This also they will admit. "Are then these accomplishments better than and superior to wisdom, or wisdom by far better than these?" "Better even than all things," I know well that they will say. Up to this point they are judicious. "Well, dancing and flute-playing require to be taught and learnt, a process which takes time, and much toil in the sweat of the brow, and sometimes the payment of fees, and entreaties for initiation, and long absence from home, and all else which must be done and borne for the acquisition of experience: but as for wisdom, which is chief of all things, and holds in her embrace everything which is good, so that even God himself prefers this title to all the names which He is called; are we to suppose that it is a matter of such slight consequence, and so accessible, that we need but wish, and we would be wise?" "It would be utter folly to do so." If we, or any learned and prudent man, were to say this to them, and try by degrees to cleanse them from their error, it would be sowing upon rocks,(b) and speaking to ears of men who will not hear:(g) so far are they from being even wise enough to perceive their own ignorance. And we may rightly, in my opinion, apply to them the saying of Solomon: There is an evil which I have seen under the sun,(d) a man wise in his own conceit;(e) and a still greater evil is to charge with the instruction of others a man who is not even aware of his own ignorance.
51. This is a state of mind which demands, in special degree, our tears and groans, and has often stirred my pity, from the conviction that imagination robs us in great measure of reality, and that vain glory is a great hindrance to men's attainment of virtue. To heal and stay this disease needs a Peter or Paul, those great disciples of Christ, who in addition to guidance in word and deed, received their grace,(z) and became all things to all men, that they might gain all.(a) But for other men like ourselves, it is a great thing to be rightly guided and led by those who have been charged with the correction and setting right of things such as these.
52. Since, however, I have mentioned Paul, and men like him, I will, with your permission, pass by all others who have been foremost as lawgivers, prophets, or leaders, or in any similar office—for instance, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, the Judges, Samuel, David, the company of Prophets, John, the Twelve Apostles, and their successors, who with many toils and labors exercised their authority, each in his own time; all these I pass by, to set forth Paul as the witness to my assertions, and for us to consider by his example how important a matter is the care of souls, and whether it requires slight attention and little judgment. But that we may recognize and perceive this, let us hear what Paul himself says of Paul.
53. I say nothing of his labours, his watchings, his sufferings in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, his assailants from without, his adversaries within.(b) I pass over the persecutions, councils, prisons, bonds, accusers, tribunals, the daily and hourly deaths, the basket, the stonings, beatings with rods, the travelling about, the perils by land and sea, the deep, the shipwrecks, the perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from his countrymen, perils among false brethren, the living by his own hands, the gospel without charge,(g) the being a spectacle to both angels and men,(d) set in the midst between God and men to champion His cause,(e) and to unite them to Him, and make them His own peculiar people,(z) beside those things that are without.(h) For who could worthily detail these matters, the daily pressure,(th) the individual solicitude, the care of all the churches, the universal sympathy, and brotherly love? Did anyone stumble, Paul also was weak; did another suffer scandal, it was Paul who was on fire.
54. What of the laboriousness of his teaching? The manifold character of his ministry? His loving kindness? And on the other hand his strictness? And the combination and blending of the two; in such wise that his gentleness should not enervate, nor his severity exasperate? He gives laws for slaves and masters,(i) rulers and ruled,(k) husbands and wives,(l) parents and children,(a) marriage and celibacy,(b) self-discipline and indulgence,(g) wisdom and ignorance,(d) circumcision and uncircumcision,(e) Christ and the world, the flesh and the spirit.(z) On behalf of some he gives thanks, others he upbraids. Some he names his joy and crown,(h) others he charges with folly.(th) Some who hold a straight course he accompanies, sharing in their zeal; others he checks, who are going wrong. At one time he excommunicates,(i) at another he confirms his love;(k) at one time he grieves, at another rejoices; at one time he feeds with milk, at another he handles mysteries;(l) at one time he condescends, at another he raises to his own level; at one time he threatens a rod,(m) at another he offers the spirit of meekness; at one time he is haughty toward the lofty, at another lowly toward the lowly. Now he is least of the apostles,(n) now he offers a proof of Christ speaking in him;(x) now he longs for departure and is being poured forth as a libation,(o) now he thinks it more necessary for their sakes to abide in the flesh. For he seeks not his own interests, but those of his children,(p) whom he has begotten in Christ by the gospel.(r) This is the aim of all his spiritual authority, in everything to neglect his own in comparison with the advantage of others.
55. He glories in his infirmities and distresses. He takes pleasure in the dying of Jesus,(s) as if it were a kind of ornament. He is lofty in carnal things,(t) he rejoices in things spiritual; he is not rude in knowledge,(u) and claims to see in a mirror, darkly.(ph) He is bold in spirit, and buffets his body,(ch) throwing it as an antagonist. What is the lesson and instruction he would thus impress upon us? Not to be proud of earthly things, or puffed up by knowledge, or excite the flesh against the spirit. He fights for all, prays for all, is jealous for all, is kindled on behalf of all, whether without law, or under the law; a preacher of the Gentiles,(ps) a patron of the Jews. He even was exceedingly bold on behalf of his brethren according to the flesh,( w) if I may myself be bold enough to say so, in his loving prayer that they might in his stead be brought to Christ. What magnanimity! what fervor of spirit! He imitates Christ, who became a curse for us,(aa) who took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses;(bb) or, to use more measured terms, he is ready, next to Christ, to suffer anything, even as one of the ungodly, for them, if only they be saved.
56. Why should I enter into detail? He lived not to himself, but to Christ and his preaching. He crucified the world to himself,(a) and being crucified to the world and the things which are seen, he thought all things little,(b) and too small to be desired; even though from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum(g) he had fully preached the Gospel, even though he had been prematurely caught up to the third heaven, and had a vision of Paradise, and had heard unspeakable words.(d) Such was Paul, and everyone of like spirit with him. But we fear that, in comparison with them, we may be foolish princes of Zoan,(e) or extortioners, who exact the fruits of the ground, or falsely bless the people:(z) and further make themselves happy, and confuse the way of your feet,(h) or mockers ruling over you, or children in authority,(th) immature in mind, not even having bread and clothing enough to be rulers over any;(i) or prophets teaching lies,(k) or rebellious princes,(l) deserving to share the reproach of their elders for the straitness of the famine,(m) or priests very far from speaking comfortably(n) to Jerusalem, according to the reproaches and protests urged by Isaiah, who was purged by the Seraphim with a live coal.(x)
57. Is the undertaking then so serious and laborious to a sensitive and sad heart—a very rottenness to the bones o of a sensible man: while the danger is slight, and a fall not worth consideration? Nay the blessed Hosea inspires me with serious alarm, where he says that to us priests and rulers pertaineth the judgment,(o) because we have been a snare to the watchtower; and as a net spread upon Tabor, which has been firmly fixed by the hunters of men's souls, and he threatens to cut off the wicked prophets,(p) and devour their judges with fire, and to cease for a while from anointing a king and princes,(r) because they ruled for themselves, and not by Him.(s)
58. Hence again the divine Micah, unable to brook the building of Zion with blood, however you interpret the phrase, and of Jerusalem with iniquity, while the heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests teach for hire, and the prophets divine for money—what does he say will be the result of this? Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem be as a lodge in a garden, and the mountain of the house be reckoned as a glade in a thicket.(a) He bewails also the scarcity of the upright, there being scarcely a stalk or a gleaning grape left, since both the prince asketh, and the judge curries favour,(b) so that his language is almost the same as the mighty David's: Save me, O Lord, for the godly man ceaseth:(g) and says that therefore their blessings shall fail them, as if wasted by the moth.
59. Joel again summons us to wailing, and will have the ministers of the altar lament under the presence of famine: so far is he from allowing us to revel in the misfortunes of others: and, after sanctifying a fast, calling a solemn assembly, and gathering the old men, the children, and those of tender age,(d) we ourselves must further haunt the temple in sackcloth and ashes,(e) prostrated right humbly on the ground, because the field is wasted, and the meat-offering and the drink-offering is cut off from the house of the Lord, till we draw down mercy by our humiliation.
60. What of Habakkuk? He utters more heated words, and is impatient with God Himself, and cries down, as it were our good Lord, because of the injustice of the judges. O Lord, how long shall I cry and Thou wilt not hear? Shall I cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save? Why dost Thou show me toil and labour, causing me to look upon perverseness and impiety? Judgment has been given against me, and the judge is a spoiler. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth. Then comes the denunciation, and what follows upon it. Behold, ye despisers, and regard, and wonder marvellously, and vanish away, for I work a work.(z) But why need I quote the whole of the denunciation? A little further on, however, for I think it best to add this to what has been said, after upbraiding and lamenting many of those who are in some respect unjust or depraved, he upbraids the leaders and teachers of wickedness, stigmatising vice as a foul disorder, and an intoxication and aberration of mind; charging them with giving their neighbours drink in order to look upon the darkness of their soul,(h) and the dens of creeping things and wild beasts, viz.: the dwelling places of wicked thoughts. Such indeed they are, and such teachings do they discuss with us.
61. How can it be right to pass by Malachi, who at one time brings bitter charges against the priests, and reproaches them with despising the name of the Lord,(a) and explains wherein they did this, by offering polluted bread upon the altar, and meat which is not firstfruits, which they would not have offered to one of their governors, or, if they had offered it, they would have been dishonoured; yet offering these in fulfilment of a vow to the King of the universe, to wit, the lame and the sick, and the deformed, which are utterly profane and loathsome.(b) Again he reminds them of the covenant of God, a covenant of life and peace, with the sons of Levi, and that they should serve Him in fear, and stand in awe of the manifestation of His Name. The law of truth, he says, was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips; he walked with me uprightly in peace, and turned away many from iniquity: for the priest's lips shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth. And how honourable and at the same time how fearful is the cause! for he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.(g) Although I pass over the following imprecations, as strongly worded,(d) yet I am afraid of their truth. This however may be cited without offence, to our profit. Is it right, he says, to regard your sacrifice, and receive it with good will at your hands,(e) as if he were most highly incensed, and rejecting their ministrations owing to their wickedness.
62. Whenever I remember Zechariah, I shudder at the reaping-hook,(z) and likewise at his testimony against the priests, his hints in reference to the celebrated Joshua, the high priest, whom he represents as stripped of filthy and unbecoming garments and then clothed in rich priestly apparel.(h) As for the words and charges to Joshua which he puts into the angel's mouth, let them be treated with silent respect, as referring perhaps to a greater(th) and higher object than those who are many priests:(i) but even at his right hand stood the devil, to resist him. A fact, in my eyes, of no slight significance, and demanding no slight fear and watchfulness.
63. Who is so bold and adamantine of soul as not to tremble and be abashed at the charges and reproaches deliberately urged against the rest of the shepherds. A voice, he says, of the howling of the shepherds, for their glory is spoiled. A voice of the roaring of lions,(k) for this hath befallen them. Does he not all but hear the wailing as if close at hand, and himself wail with the afflicted. A little further is a more striking and impassioned strain. Feed, he says, the flock of slaughter, whose possessors slay them without repentance, and they that sell them say, "Blessed be the Lord, for we are rich:" and their own shepherds are without feeling for them. Therefore, I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord Almighty.(a) And again: Awake, O sword, against the shepherds, and smite the shepherds, and scatter the sheep, and I will turn My Hand upon the shepherds;(b) and, Mine anger is kindled against the shepherds, and I will visit the lambs:(g) adding to the threat those who rule over the people. So industriously does he apply himself to his task that he cannot easily free himself from denunciations, and I am afraid that, did I refer to the whole series, I should exhaust your patience. This must then suffice for Zechariah.
64. Passing by the elders in the book of Daniel;(d) for it is better to pass them by, together with the Lord's righteous sentence and declaration concerning them, that wickedness came from Babylon from ancient judges, who seemed to govern the people; how are we affected by Ezekiel, the beholder and expositor of the mighty mysteries and visions? By his injunction to the watchmen(e) not to keep silence concerning vice and the sword impending over it, a course which would profit neither themselves nor the sinners; but rather to keep watch and forewarn, and thus benefit, at any rate those who gave warning, if not both those who spoke and those who heard?
65. What of his further invective against the shepherds, Woe shall come upon woe, and rumour upon rumour, then shall they seek a vision of the prophet, but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients,(z) and again, in these terms, Son of man, say unto her, thou art a land that is not watered, nor hath rain come upon thee in the day of indignation: whose princes in the midst of her are like roaring lions, ravening the prey, devouring souls in their might.(h) And a little further on: Her priests have violated My laws and profaned My holy things, they have put no difference between the holy and profane, but all things were alike to them, and they hid their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I was profaned among them.(th) He threatens that He will consume both the wall and them that daubed it,(i) that is, those who sin and those who throw a cloak over them; as the evil rulers and priests have done, who caused the house of Israel to err according to their own hearts which are estranged in their lusts.(a)
66. I also refrain from entering into his discussion of those who feed themselves, devour the milk, clothe themselves with the wool, kill them that are fat, but feed not the flock, strengthen not the diseased, nor bind up that which is broken, nor bring again that which is driven away, nor seek that which is lost, nor keep watch over that which is strong, but oppress them with rigour, and destroy them with their pressure;(b) so that, because there was no shepherd, the sheep were scattered over every plain and mountain, and became meat for all the fowls and beasts,(g) because there was no one to seek for them and bring them back. What is the consequence? As I live, saith the Lord, because these things are so, and My flock became a prey,(d) behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hands, and will gather them and make them My own: but the shepherds shall suffer such and such things, as bad shepherds ought.
67. However, to avoid unreasonably prolonging my discourse, by an enumeration of all the prophets, and of the words of them all, I will mention but one more, who was known before he was formed, and sanctified from the womb,(e) Jeremiah: and will pass over the rest. He longs for water over his head, and a fountain of tears for his eyes, that he may adequately weep for Israel;(z) and no less does he bewail the depravity of its rulers.
68. God speaks to him in reproof of the priests: The priests said not, Where is the Lord, and they that handled the law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me.(h) Again He says to him: The pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord, and therefore all their flock did not understand, and was scattered.(th) Again, Many pastors have destroyed My vineyard, and have polluted My pleasant portion, till it was reduced to a track less wilderness.(i) He further inveighs against the pastors again: Woe be to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! Therefore thus saith the Lord against them that feed My people: Ye have scattered My flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold I will visit upon you the evil of your doings.(k) Moreover he bids the shepherds to howl, and the rams of the flock to lament, because the days of their slaughter are accomplished.(l)
69. Why need I speak of the things of ancient days? Who can test himself by the rules and standards which Paul laid down for bishops and presbyters, that they are to be temperate, soberminded, not given to wine, no strikers, apt to teach, blameless in all things, and beyond the reach of the wicked,(a) without finding considerable deflection from the straight line of the rules? What of the regulations of Jesus for his disciples, when He sends them to preach?(b) The main object of these is—not to enter into particulars—that they should be of such virtue, so simple and modest, and in a word, so heavenly, that the gospel should make its way, no less by their character than by their preaching.
70. I am alarmed by the reproaches of the Pharisees, the conviction of the Scribes. For it is disgraceful for us, who ought greatly surpass them, as we are bidden, if we desire the kingdom of heaven, to be found more deeply sunk in vice: so that we deserve to be called serpents, a generation of vipers, and blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, or sepulchres foul within, in spite of our external comeliness, or platters outwardly clean, and everything else, which they are, or which is laid to their charge.(g)
71. With these thoughts I am occupied night and day: they waste my marrow, and feed upon my flesh, and will not allow me to be confident or to look up. They depress my soul, and abase my mind, and fetter my tongue, and make me consider, not the position of a prelate, or the guidance and direction of others, which is far beyond my powers; but how I myself am to escape the wrath to come, and to scrape off from myself somewhat of the rust of vice. A man must himself be cleansed, before cleansing others: himself become wise, that he may make others wise; become light, and then give light: draw near to God, and so bring others near; be hallowed, then hallow them; be possessed of hands to lead others by the hand, of wisdom to give advice.
72. When will this be, say they who are swift but not sure in every thing, readily building up, readily throwing down. When will the lamp be upon its stand,(d) and where is the talent?(e) For so they call the grace.(z) Those who speak thus are more fervent in friendship than in reverence. You ask me, you men of exceeding courage, when these things shall be, and what account I give of them? Not even extreme old age would be too long a limit to assign. For hoary hairs combined with prudence are better than inexperienced youth, well-reasoned hesitation than inconsiderate haste, and a brief reign than a long tyranny: just as a small portion honourably won is better than considerable possessions which are dishonourable and uncertain, a little gold than a great weight of lead, a little light than much darkness.
73. But this speed, in its untrustworthiness and excessive haste, is in danger of being like the seeds which fell upon the rock,(a) and, because they had no depth of earth,(b) sprang up at once, but could not bear even the first heat of the sun; or like the foundation laid upon the sand,(g) which could not even make a slight resistance to the rain and the winds. Woe to thee, O city, whose king is a child,(d) says Solomon. Be not hasty of speech,(e) says Solomon again, asserting that hastiness of speech is less serious than heated action. And who, in spite of all this, demands haste rather than security and utility? Who can mould, as clay-figures are modelled in a single day, the defender of the truth, who is to take his stand with Angels, and give glory with Archangels, and cause the sacrifice to ascend to the altar on high, and share the priesthood of Christ, and renew the creature, and set forth the image, and create inhabitants for the world above, aye and, greatest of all, be God, and make others to be God?
74. I know Whose ministers we are, and where we are placed, and whither we are guides. I know the height of God, and the weakness of man, and, on the contrary, his power. Heaven is high, and the earth deep;(z) and who of those who have been cast down by sin shall ascend?(h) Who that is as yet surrounded by the gloom here below, and by the grossness of the flesh can purely gaze with his whole mind upon that whole mind, and amid unstable and visible things hold intercourse with the stable and invisible? For hardly may one of those who have been most specially purged, behold here even an image of the Good, as men see the sun in the water. Who hath measured the water with his hand, and the heaven with a span, and the whole earth in a measure? Who hath weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?(th) What is the place of his rest?(i) and to whom shall he be likened?(k)
75. Who is it, Who made all things by His Word,(l) and formed man by His Wisdom, and gathered into one things scattered abroad, and mingled dust with spirit, and compounded an animal visible and invisible, temporal and immortal, earthly and heavenly, able to attain to God but not to comprehend Him, drawing near and yet afar off. I said, I will be wise, says Solomon, but she (i.e. Wisdom) was far from me beyond what is:(a) and, Verily, he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.(b) For the joy of what we have discovered is no greater than the pain of what escapes us; a pain, I imagine, like that felt by those who are dragged, while yet thirsty, from the water, or are unable to retain what they think they hold, or are suddenly left in the dark by a flash of lightning.
76. This depressed and kept me humble, and persuaded me that it was better to hear the voice of praise(g) than to be an expounder of truths beyond my power; the majesty, and the height, and the dignity, and the pure natures scarce able to contain the brightness of God, Whom the deep covers, Whose secret place is darkness,(d) since He is the purest light,(e) which most men cannot approach unto; Who is in all this universe, and again is beyond the universe; Who is all goodness,(z) and beyond all goodness; Who enlightens the mind, and escapes the quickness and height of the mind, ever retiring as much as He is apprehended, and by His flight and stealing away when grasped, withdrawing to the things above one who is enamoured of Him.
77. Such and so great is the object of our longing zeal, and such a man should he be, who prepares and conducts souls to their espousals. For myself, I feared to be cast, bound hand and foot,(h) from the bride- chamber, for not having on a wedding-garment, and for having rashly intruded among those who there sit at meat. And yet I had been invited from my youth, if I may speak of what most men know not, and had been cast upon Him from the womb,(th) and presented by the promise of my mother, afterwards confirmed in the hour of danger: and my longing grew up with it, and my reason agreed to it, and I gave as an offering my all to Him Who had won me and saved me, my property, my fame, my health, my very words, from which I only gained the advantage of being able to despise them, and of having something in comparison of which I preferred Christ. And the words of God were made sweet as honeycombs(i) to me, and I cried after knowledge and lifted up my voice for wisdom.(k) There was moreover the moderation of anger, the curbing of the tongue, the restraint of the eyes, the discipline of the belly, and the trampling under foot of the glory which clings to the earth. I speak foolishly,(a) but it shall be said, in these pursuits I was perhaps not inferior to many.
78. One branch of philosophy is, however, too high for me, the commission to guide and govern souls—and before I have rightly learned to submit to a shepherd, or have had my soul duly cleansed, the charge of caring for a flock: especially in times like these, when a man, seeing everyone else rushing hither and thither in confusion, is content to flee from the melee and escape, in sheltered retirement, from the storm and gloom of the wicked one: when the members are at war with one another, and the slight remains of love, which once existed, have departed, and priest is a mere empty name, since, as it is said, contempt(b) has been poured upon princes.(g)
79. Would that it were merely empty! And now may their blasphemy fall upon the head of the ungodly! All fear has been banished from souls, shamelessness has taken its place, and knowledge(d) and the deep things of the Spirit(e) are at the disposal of anyone who will; and we all become pious by simply condemning the impiety of others; and we claim the services of ungodly judges,(z) and fling that which is holy to the dogs, and cast pearls before swine,(h) by publishing divine things in the hearing of profane souls, and, wretches that we are, carefully fulfil the prayers of our enemies, and are not ashamed to go a whoring with our own inventions.(th) Moabites and Ammonites, who were not permitted even to enter the Church of the Lord,(i) frequent our most holy rites. We have opened to all not the gates of righteousness,(k) but, doors of railing and partizan arrogance; and the first place among us is given, not to one who in the fear of God refrains from even an idle word, but to him who can revile his neighbour most fluently, whether explicitly, or by covert allusion; who rolls beneath his tongue mischief and iniquity, or to speak more accurately, the poison of asps.(l)
80. We observe each other's sins, not to bewail them, but to make them subjects of reproach, not to heal them, but to aggravate them, and excuse our own evil deeds by the wounds of our neighbours. Bad and good men are distinguished not according to personal character, but by their disagreement or friendship with ourselves. We praise one day what we revile the next, denunciation at the hands of others is a passport to our admiration; so magnanimous are we in our viciousness, that everything is frankly forgiven to impiety.
81. Everything has reverted to the original state of things(a) before the world, with its present fair order and form, came into being. The general confusion and irregularity cry for some organising hand and power. Or, if you will, it is like a battle at night by the faint light of the moon, when none can discern the faces of friends or foes; or like a sea fight on the surge, with the driving winds, and boiling foam, and dashing waves, and crashing vessels, with the thrusts of poles, the pipes of boatswains, the groans of the fallen, while we make our voices heard above the din, and not knowing what to do, and having, alas! no opportunity for showing our valour, assail one another, and fall by one another's hands.
82. Nor indeed is there any distinction between the state of the people and that of the priesthood: but it seems to me to be a simple fulfilment of the ancient curse, "As with the people so with the priest."(b) Nor again are the great and eminent men affected otherwise than the majority; nay, they are openly at war with the priests, and their piety is an aid to their powers of persuasion. And indeed, provided that it be on behalf of the faith, and of the highest and most important questions, let them be thus disposed, and I blame them not; nay, to say the truth, I go so far as to praise and congratulate them. Yea! would that I were one of those who contend and incur hatred for the truth's sake: or rather, I can boast of being one of them. For better is a laudable war than a peace which severs a man from God: and therefore it is that the Spirit arms the gentle warrior, as one who is able to wage war in a good cause.
83. But at the present time there are some who go to war even about small matters and to no purpose, and, with great ignorance and audacity, accept, as an associate in their ill-doing, anyone whoever he may be. Then everyone makes the faith his pretext, and this venerable name is dragged into their private quarrels. Consequently, as was probable, we are hated, even among the Gentiles, and, what is harder still, we cannot say that this is without just cause. Nay, even the best of our own people are scandalized, while this result is not surprising in the case of the multitude, who are ill-disposed to accept anything that is good.
84. Sinners are planning upon our backs;(a) and what we devise against each other, they turn against us all: and we have become a new spectacle, not to angels and men,(b) as says Paul, that bravest of athletes, in his contest with principalities and powers,(g) but to almost all wicked men, and at every time and place, in the public squares, at carousals, at festivities, and times of sorrow. Nay, we have already—I can scarcely speak of it without tears—been represented on the stage, amid the laughter of the most licentious, and the most popular of all dialogues and scenes is the caricature of a Christian.
85. These are the results of our intestine warfare, and our extreme readiness to strive about goodness and gentleness, and our inexpedient excess of love for God. Wrestling, or any other athletic contest, is only permitted according to fixed laws, and the man will be shouted down and disgraced, and lose the victory, who breaks the laws of wrestling, or acts unfairly in any other contest, contrary to the rules laid down for the contest, however able and skilful he may be; and shall anyone contend for Christ in an unchristlike manner, and yet be pleasing to peace for having fought unlawfully in her name.
86. Yea, even now, when Christ is invoked, the devils tremble,(d) and not even by our ill-doing has the power of this Name been extinguished, while we are not ashamed to insult a cause and name so venerable; shouting it, and having it shouted in return, almost in public, and every day; for My Name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.(e)
87. Of external warfare I am not afraid, nor of that wild beast, and fulness of evil, who has now arisen against the churches, though he may threaten fire, sword, wild beasts, precipices, chasms; though he may show himself more inhuman than all previous madmen, and discover fresh tortures of greater severity. I have one remedy for them all, one road to victory; I will glory in Christ(z) namely, death for Christ's sake.
88. For my own warfare, however, I am at a loss what course to pursue, what alliance, what word of wisdom, what grace to devise, with what panoply to arm myself, against the wiles of the wicked one.(h) What Moses is to conquer him by stretching out his hands upon the mount,(th) in order that the cross, thus typified and prefigured, may prevail? What Joshua, as his successor, arrayed alongside the Captain of the Lord's hosts?(a) What David, either by harping, or fighting with his sling,(b) and girded by God with strength unto the battle,(g) and with his fingers trained to war?(d) What Samuel, praying(e) and sacrificing for the people, and anointing as king one who can gain the victory? What Jeremiah, by writing lamentations for Israel, is fitly to lament these things?
89. Who will cry aloud, Spare Thy People, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them?(z) What Noah, and Job,(h) and Daniel, who are reckoned together as men of prayer, will pray for us, that we may have a slight respite from warfare, and recover ourselves, and recognize one another for a while, and no longer, instead of united Israel, be Judah(th) and Israel, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, Jerusalem and Samaria, in turn delivered up because of our sins, and in turn lamented.
90. For I own that I am too weak for this warfare, and therefore turned my back, hiding my face in the rout, and sat solitary,(i) because I was filled with bitterness(k) and sought to be silent, understanding that it is an evil time,(l) that the beloved had kicked,(m) that we were become backsliding children,(n) who are the luxuriant vine,(x) the true vine, all fruitful, all beautiful,(o) springing up splendidly with showers from on high.(p) For the diadem of beauty,(r) the signet of glory,(s) the crown of magnificence(t) has been changed for me into shame; and if anyone, in face of these things, is daring and courageous, he has my blessing on his daring and courage.
91. I have said nothing yet of the internal warfare within ourselves, and in our passions, in which we are engaged night and day against the body of our humiliation,(u) either secretly or openly, and against the tide which tosses and whirls us hither and thither, by the aid of our senses and other sources of the pleasures of this life; and against the miry clay(ph) in which we have been fixed; and against the law of sin,(ch) which wars against the law of the spirit, and strives to destroy the royal image in us, and all the divine emanation which has been bestowed upon us; so that it is difficult for anyone, either by a long course of philosophic training, and gradual separation of the noble and enlightened part of the soul from that which is debased and yoked with darkness, or by the mercy of God, or by both together, and by a constant practice of looking upward, to overcome the depressing power of matter. And before a man has, as far as possible, gained this superiority, and sufficiently purified his mind, and far surpassed his fellows in nearness to God, I do not think it safe for him to be entrusted with the rule over souls, or the office of mediator (for such, I take it, a priest is) between God and man.
92. What is it that has induced this fear in me, that, instead of supposing me to be needlessly afraid, you may highly commend my foresight? I hear from Moses himself, when God spake to him, that, although many were bidden to come to the mount, one of whom was even Aaron, with his two sons who were priests, and seventy elders of the senate, the rest were ordered to worship afar off, and Moses alone to draw near, and the people were not to go up with him.(a) For it is not everyone who may draw near to God, but only one who, like Moses, can bear the glory of God. Moreover, before this, when the law was first given, the trumpet-blasts, and lightnings, and thunders, and darkness, and the smoke of the whole mountain,(b) and the terrible threats that if even a beast touched the mountain it should be stoned,(g) and other like alarms, kept back the rest of the people, for whom it was a great privilege, after careful purification, merely to hear the voice of God. But Moses actually went up and entered into the cloud,(d) and was charged with the law, and received the tables, which belong, for the multitude, to the letter, but, for those who are above the multitude, to the spirit.(e)
93. I hear again that Nadab and Abihu, for having merely offered incense with strange fire, were with strange fire destroyed,(z) the instrument of their impiety being used for their punishment, and their destruction following at the very time and place of their sacrilege; and not even their father Aaron, who was next to Moses in the favor of God, could save them. I know also of Eli the priest, and a little later of Uzzah, the former made to pay the penalty for his sons' transgression, in daring to violate the sacrifices by an untimely exaction of the first fruits of the cauldrons, although he did not condone their impiety, but frequently rebuked them;(h) the other, because he only touched the ark, which was being thrown off the cart by the ox,(a) and though he saved it, was himself destroyed, in God's jealousy for the reverence due to the ark.
94. I know also that not even bodily blemishes in either priests(b) or victims(g) passed without notice, but that it was required by the law that perfect sacrifices must be offered by perfect men—a symbol, I take it, of integrity of soul. It was not lawful for everyone to touch the priestly vesture, or any of the holy vessels; nor might the sacrifices themselves be consumed except by the proper persons, and at the proper time and place;(d) nor might the anointing oil nor the compounded incense(e) be imitated; nor might anyone enter the temple who was not in the most minute particular pure in both soul and body; so far was the Holy of holies removed from presumptuous access, that it might be entered by one man only once a year;(z) so far were the veil, and the mercy-seat, and the ark, and the Cherubim, from the general gaze and touch.
95. Since then I knew these things, and that no one is worthy of the mightiness of God, and the sacrifice, and priesthood, who has not first presented himself to God, a living, holy sacrifice, and set forth the reasonable, well-pleasing service,(h) and sacrificed to God the sacrifice of praise and the contrite spirit,(th) which is the only sacrifice required of us by the Giver of all; how could I dare to offer to Him the external sacrifice, the antitype of the great mysteries,(i) or clothe myself with the garb and name of priest, before my hands had been consecrated by holy works; before my eyes had been accustomed to gaze safely upon created things, with wonder only for the Creator, and without injury to the creature; before my ear had been sufficiently opened to the instruction of the Lord, and He had opened mine ear to hear(k) without heaviness, and had set a golden earring with precious sardius, that is, a wise man's word in an obedient ear;(l) before my mouth had been opened to draw in the Spirit,(m) and opened wide to be filled(n) with the spirit of speaking mysteries and doctrines;(x) and my lips bound,(o) to use the words of wisdom, by divine knowledge, and, as I would add, loosed in due season: before my tongue had been filled with exultation, and become an instrument of Divine melody, awaking with glory, awaking right early,(a) and laboring till it cleave to my jaws:(b) before my feet had been set upon the rock,(g) made like hart's feet, and my footsteps directed in a godly fashion so that they should not well-night slip,(d) nor slip at all; before all my members had become instruments of righteousness,(e) and all mortality had been put off, and swallowed up of life,(z) and had yielded to the Spirit?
96. Who is the man, whose heart has never been made to burn,(h) as the Scriptures have been opened to him, with the pure words of God which have been tried in a furnace;(th) who has not, by a triple(i) inscription(k) of them upon the breadth of his heart, attained the mind of Christ;(l) nor been admitted to the treasures which to most men remain hidden, secret, and dark, to gaze upon the riches therein? and become able to enrich others, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.(m)
97. Who is the man who has never beheld, as our duty is to behold it, the fair beauty of the Lord, nor has visited His temple,(n) or rather, become the temple of God,(x) and the habitation of Christ in the Spirit?(o) Who is the man who has never recognized the correlation and distinction between figures and the truth, so that by withdrawing from the former and cleaving to the latter, and by thus escaping from the oldness of the letter and serving the newness of the spirit,(p) he may clean pass over to grace from the law, which finds its spiritual fulfilment in the dissolution of the body.(r)
98. Who is the man who has never, by experience and contemplation, traversed the entire series of the titles(s) and powers of Christ, both those more lofty ones which originally were His, and those more lowly ones which He later assumed for our sake—viz.: God, the Son, the Image, the Word, the Wisdom, the Truth, the Light, the Life, the Power, the Vapour, the Emanation, the Effulgence, the Maker, the King, the Head, the Law, the Way, the Door, the Foundation, the Rock, the Pearl, the Peace, the Righteousness, the Sanctification, the Redemption, the Man, the Servant, the Shepherd, the Lamb, the High Priest, the Victim, the Firstborn before creation, the Firstborn from the dead, the Resurrection: who is the man who hearkens, but pays no heed, to these names so pregnant with reality, and has never yet held communion with, nor been made partaker of, the Word, in any of the real relations signified by each of these names which He bears?
99. Who, in fine, is the man who, although he has never applied himself to, nor learnt to speak, the hidden wisdom of God in a mystery,(a) although he is still a babe, still fed with milk,(b) still of those who are not numbered in Israel,(g) nor enrolled in the army of God, although he is not yet able to take up the Cross of Christ like a man, although he is possibly not yet one of the more honorable members, yet will joyfully and eagerly accept his appointment as head of the fulness of Christ?(d) No one, if he will listen to my judgment and accept my advice! This is of all things most to be feared, this is the extremest of dangers in the eyes of everyone who understands the magnitude of success, the utter ruin of failure.
100. Let others sail for merchandise, I used to say, and cross the wide oceans, and constantly contend with winds and waves, to gain great wealth, if so it should chance, and run great risks in their eagerness for sailing and merchandise; but, for my part, I greatly prefer to stay ashore and plough a short but pleasant furrow, saluting at a respectful distance the sea and its gains, to live as best I can upon a poor and scanty store of barley-bread, and drag my life along in safety and calm, rather than expose myself to so long and great a risk for the sake of great gains.
101. For one in high estate, if he fail to make further progress and to disseminate virtue still more widely, and contents himself with slight results, incurs punishment, as having spent a great light upon the illumination of a little house, or girt round the limbs of a boy the full armor of a man. On the contrary, a man of low estate may with safety assume a light burden, and escape the risk of the ridicule and increased danger which would attend him if he attempted a task beyond his powers. For, as we have heard, it is not seemly for a man to build a tower, unless he has sufficient to finish it.(e)
102. Such is the defence which I have been able to make, perhaps at immoderate length, for my flight. Such are the reasons which, to my pain and possibly to yours, carried me away from you, my friends and brothers; yet, as it seemed to me at the time, with irresistible force. My longing after you, and the sense of your longing for me, have, more than anything else, led to my return, for nothing inclines us so strongly to love as mutual affection.
103. In the next place there was my care, my duty, the hoar hairs and weakness of my holy parents, who were more greatly distressed on my account than by their advanced age—of this Patriarch Abraham whose person is honored by me, and numbered among the angels, and of Sarah, who travailed in my spiritual birth by instructing me in the truth. Now, I had specially pledged myself to become the stay of their old age and the support of their weakness, a pledge which, to the best of my power, I have fulfilled, even at the expense of philosophy itself, the most precious of possessions and titles to me; or, to speak more truly, although I made it the first object of my philosophy to appear to be no philosopher, I could not bear that my labor in consequence of a single purpose should be wasted, nor yet that blessing should be lost, which one of the saints of old is said to have stolen from his father, whom he deceived by the food which he offered to him, and the hairy appearance he assumed, thus attaining a good object by disgraceful trickery.(a) These are the two causes of my submission and tractability. Nor is it, perchance, unreasonable that my arguments should yield and submit to them both, for there is a time to be conquered, as I also think there is for every purpose,(b) and it is better to be honorably overcome than to win a dangerous and lawless victory.
104. There is a third reason of the highest importance which I will further mention, and then dismiss the rest. I remembered the days of old,(g) and, recurring to one of the ancient histories, drew counsel for myself therefrom as to my present conduct; for let us not suppose these events to have been recorded without a purpose, nor that they are a mere assemblage of words and deeds gathered together for the pastime of those who listen to them, as a kind of bait for the ears, for the sole purpose of giving pleasure. Let us leave such jesting to the legends and the Greeks, who think but little of the truth, and enchant ear and mind by the charm of their fictions and the daintiness of their style.
105. We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle,(d) will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation.
106. What then is the story, and wherein lies its application? For, perhaps, it would not be amiss to relate it, for the general security. Jonah also was fleeing from the face of God,(a) or rather, thought that he was fleeing: but he was overtaken by the sea, and the storm, and the lot, and the whale's belly, and the three days' entombment, the type of a greater mystery. He fled from having to announce the dread and awful message to the Ninevites, and from being subsequently, if the city was saved by repentance, convicted of falsehood: not that he was displeased at the salvation of the wicked, but he was ashamed of being made an instrument of falsehood, and exceedingly zealous for the credit of prophecy, which was in danger of being destroyed in his person, since most men are unable to penetrate the depth of the Divine dispensation in such cases.
107. But, as I have learned from a man(b) skilled in these subjects, and able to grasp the depth of the prophet, by means of a reasonable explanation of what seems unreasonable in the history, it was not this which caused Jonah to flee, and carried him to Joppa and again from Joppa to Tarshish, when he entrusted his stolen self to the sea:(g) for it was not likely that such a prophet should be ignorant of the design of God, viz., to bring about, by means of the threat, the escape of the Ninerites from the threatened doom, according to His great wisdom, and unsearchable judgments, and according to His ways which are beyond our tracing and finding out;(d) nor that, if he knew this he would refuse to co-operate with God in the use of the means which He designed for their salvation. Besides, to imagine that Jonah hoped to hide himself at sea, and escape by his flight the great eye of God, is surely utterly absurd and stupid, and unworthy of credit, not only in the case of a prophet, but even in the case of any sensible man, who has only a slight perception of God, Whose power is over all.
108. On the contrary, as my instructor said, and as I am myself convinced, Jonah knew better than any one the purpose of his message to the Ninevites, and that, in planning his flight, although he changed his place, he did not escape from God. Nor is this possible for any one else, either by concealing himself in the bosom of the earth, or in the depths of the sea, or by soaring on wings, if there be any means of doing so, and rising into the air, or by abiding in the lowest depths of hell,(a) or by enveloping himself in a thick cloud, or by any other of the many devices for ensuring escape. For God alone of all things cannot be escaped from or contended with; if He wills to seize and bring them under His hand, He outstrips the swift, He outwits the wise, He overthrows the strong, He abases the lofty, He subdues rashness, He represses power.
109. Jonah then was not ignorant of the mighty hand of God, with which he threatened other men, nor did he imagine that he could utterly escape the Divine power; this we are not to believe: but when he saw the falling away of Israel, and perceived the passing over of the grace of prophecy to the Gentiles—this was the cause of his retirement from preaching and of his delay in fulfilling the command; accordingly he left the watchtower of joy, for this is the meaning of Joppa in Hebrew, I mean his former dignity and reputation, and flung himself into the deep of sorrow: and hence he is tempest-tossed, and falls asleep, and is wrecked, and aroused from sleep, and taken by lot, and confesses his flight, and is cast into sea, and swallowed, but not destroyed, by the whale; but there he calls upon God, and, marvellous as it is, on the third day he, like Christ, is delivered: but my treatment of this topic must stand over, and shall shortly, if God permit, be more deliberately worked out.(b)
110. Now however, to return to my original point, the thought and question occurred to me, that although he might possibly meet with some indulgence, if reluctant to prophesy, for the cause which I mentioned—yet, in my own case, what could be said, what defence could be made, if I longer remained restive, and rejected the yoke of ministry, which, though I know not whether to call it light or heavy, had at any rate been laid upon me.
111. For if it be granted, and this alone can be strongly asserted in such matters, that we are far too low to perform the priest's office before God, and that we can only be worthy of the sanctuary after we have become worthy of the Church,(a) and worthy of the post of president, after being worthy of the sanctuary, yet some one else may perhaps refuse to acquit us on the charge of disobedience. Now terrible are the threatenings against disobedience, and terrible are the penalties which ensue upon it; as indeed are those on the other side, if, instead of being reluctant, and shrinking back, and concealing ourselves as Saul did among his father's stuff(b)— although called to rule but for a short time—if, I say, we come forward readily, as though to a slight and most easy task, whereas it is not safe even to resign it, nor to amend by second thoughts our first.
112. On this account I had much toilsome consideration to discover my duty, being set in the midst betwixt two fears, of which the one held me back, the other urged me on. For a long while I was at a loss between them, and after wavering from side to side, and, like a current driven by inconstant winds, inclining first in this direction, then in that, I at last yielded to the stronger, and the fear of disobedience overcame me, and has carried me off. Pray, mark how accurately and justly I hold the balance between the fears, neither desiring an office not given to me, nor rejecting it when given. The one course marks the rash, the other the disobedient, both the undisciplined. My position lies between those who are too bold, or too timid; more timid than those who rush at every position, more bold than those who avoid them all. This is my judgment on the matter.
113. Moreover, to distinguish still more clearly between them, we have, against the fear of office, a possible help in the law of obedience, inasmuch as God in His goodness rewards our faith, and makes a perfect ruler of the man who has confidence in Him, and places all his hopes in Him; but against the danger of disobedience I know of nothing which can help us, and of no ground to encourage our confidence. For it is to be feared that we shall have to hear these words concerning those who have been entrusted to us: I will require their souls at your hands;(g) and, Because ye have rejected me, and not been leaders and rulers of my people, I also will reject you, that I should not be king over you;(a) and, As ye refused to hearken to My voice, and turned a stubborn back, and were disobedient, so shall it be when ye call upon Me, and I will not regard nor give ear to your prayer.(b) God forbid that these words should come to us from the just Judge, for when we sing of His mercy we must also by all means sing of His judgment.(g)
114. I resort once again to history, and on considering the men of best repute in ancient days, who were ever preferred by grace to the office of ruler or prophet, I discover that some readily complied with the call, others deprecated the gift, and that neither those who drew back were blamed for timidity, nor those who came forward for eagerness. The former stood in awe of the greatness of the ministry, the latter trustfully obeyed Him Who called them. Aaron was eager, but Moses resisted,(d) Isaiah readily submitted, but Jeremiah was afraid of his youth,(e) and did not venture to prophesy until he had received from God a promise and power beyond his years.(z)
115. By these arguments I charmed myself, and by degrees my soul relaxed and became ductile, like iron, and time came to the aid of my arguments, and the testimonies of God, to which I had entrusted my whole life, were my counsellors.(h) Therefore I was not rebellious, neither turned away back,(th) saith my Lord, when, instead of being called to rule, He was led, as a sheep to the slaughter;(i) but I fell down and humbled myself under the mighty hand of God,(k) and asked pardon for my former idleness and disobedience, if this is at all laid to my charge. I held my peace,(l) but I will not hold my peace for ever: I withdrew for a little while,(m) till I had considered myself and consoled my grief: but now I am commissioned to exalt Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the seat of the elders.(n) If my former conduct deserved blame, my present action merits pardon.
116. What further need is there of words. Here am I, my pastors and fellow-pastors, here am I, thou holy flock, worthy of Christ, the Chief Shepherd,(x) here am I, my father, utterly vanquished, and your subject according to the laws of Christ rather than according to those of the land:(o) here is my obedience, reward it with your blessing. Lead me with your prayers, guide me with your words, establish me with your spirit. The blessing of the father establisheth the houses of children,(a) and would that both I and this spiritual house may be established, the house which I have longed for, which I pray may be my rest for ever,(b) when I have been passed on from the church here to the church yonder, the general assembly of the firstborn, who are written in heaven.(g)
117. Such is my defence: its reasonableness I have set forth: and may the God of peace,(d) Who made both one,(e) and has restored us to each other, Who setteth kings upon thrones, and raiseth up the poor out of the dust and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill,(z) Who chose David His servant and took him away from the sheepfolds,(h) though he was the least and youngest of the sons of Jesse,(th) Who gave the word(i) to those who preach the gospel with great power for the perfection of the gospel,—may He Himself hold me by my right hand, and guide me with His counsel, and receive me with glory,(k) Who is a Shepherd(l) to shepherds and a Guide to guides: that we may feed His flock with knowledge,(m) not with the instruments of a foolish shepherd,(n) according to the blessing, and not according to the curse pronounced against the men of former days: may He give strength and power unto his people,(x) and Himself present to Himself(o) His flock resplendent and spotless and worthy of the fold on high, in the habitation of them that rejoice,(p) in the splendour of the saints,(r) so that in His temple everyone, both flock and shepherds together may say, Glory,(s) in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be all glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/VII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.