Saint John Chrysostom
Six Books on the Priesthood
English Translation by Graham Neville
Edited by Veronika Riml, von Altrosenburg
Graham Nevilleís version of St John Chrysostomís Six Books on the Priesthood to English readers of the twentieth century was published in 1964 by S.P.C.K. in Great Britain and subsequently reprinted in 1984 by St Vladimirís Seminary Press, New York. The original translation by T.A. Moxon was published by S.P.C.K. in Great Britain in 1907. It was felt by some Orthodox Church leaders that the British Publication was highly appropriate for a scholastic audience and perhaps not sensitive enough to the needs of English speaking Orthodox readers. This is the reason behind the few simplifications that I have attempted to make. Though I do not consider these changes to be perfect, I can only hope that I will be forgiven for any serious errors.
In 391 St. John Chrysostom sat down in Antioch to write his six books on ĎPriesthoodí (390/91 CE). He was highly influenced by Gregory, and he built upon his ideas about the function of the priest as teacher and shepherd, describing in more detail the difficulties, perils and temptations he encounters in his service. But he also added new themes that were not touched in Gregoryís treatise. In discussing the responsibility of the priest for the souls of his flock and his liturgical and sacramental functions, Chrysostom found in them a reason to ascribe to him an awesome dignity, a high honor, and even a character which is different from human:
ĎWhen one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also; and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others, and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature: or rather far more. For in this case let me not take the height of shoulders as the standard of inquiry; but let the distinction between the pastor and his charge be as great as that between rational man and irrational creatures, not to say even greater, in as much as the risk is concerned with things of far greater importance.í (Book 2:2)(6)
ĎFor the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks amongst heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers.í (Book3: 4)
Chrysostom sees that the role of priests in the sacraments of reconciliation, baptism and Eucharist makes our salvation dependent upon them:
ĎFor if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority that God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.".... this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, "Whose sins you remit they are remitted, and whose sins you retain they are retained?" What authority could be greater than this? "The Father has committed all judgment to the Son?" But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable.í(Book 3:5)
ĎFor transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?í(Book 3:5)
John Chrysostom reaches the conclusion that the authority of the priests over the Sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, and Anointing is a reason for them to be more feared and honored than kings and Jewish priests and to be more loved than parents:
ĎThese verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these begat us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness -- not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. ...God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents... For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins. "Is any sick among you?" it is said, "let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him." Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.í(Book 3: 6)
Only three decades separate the two earliest patristic treatises on priesthood; yet they speak in two different languages, express two different attitudes, and even use two different theologies. We can explain this only in part by the enthusiasm of Chrysostom early in his career as a priest in the great city of Antioch. A casual look at the Christian literature of the time shows that some of his description of the glamor, dignity and authority of the clerical office was commonplace.
In his farewell address to his congregation at Constantinople in 381, St. Gregory Nazianzen says,
" Perhaps we may be reproached, as we have been before, with the exquisite character of our table, the splendor of our apparel, the officers who precede us, our haughtiness to those who meet us. I was not aware that we ought to rival the consuls, the governors, the most illustrious generals, who have no opportunity of lavishing their incomes; or that our belly ought to hunger for the enjoyment of the goods of the poor, and to expend their necessaries on superfluities, and belch forth over the altars. I did not know that we ought to ride on splendid horses, and drive in magnificent carriages, and be preceded by a procession and surrounded by applause, and have everyone make way for us, as if we were wild beasts, and open out a passage so that our approach might be seen afar. If these sufferings have been endured, they have now passed away: Forgive me this wrong. Elect another who will please the majority: and give me my desert, my country life, and my God."(7)
St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his sermon on Epiphany in 383, illustrates how the ordaining words of the bishop can transform the character of the priest since they represent the same divine Word which changes the water of Baptism, the bread of the Eucharist and the stones when consecrating an altar,
"The power of that divine word bestows a special dignity on the priest, and the blessing separates him from the ranks of the people. Yesterday he was but one of the crowd, but now he has been appointed to govern and preside, heal and instruct. Outwardly he looks like he did before, but inwardly he is transformed by an invisible power and Grace."(8)
It appears that the great triumphs that Christianity enjoyed over the Pagans and the Aryan heretics by the ascent of Theodosius to the throne in 378 have bolstered the power, influence and honor of its leaders. This does not only appear in the tone of the patristic writings of the period, but also in the actions of the Church leaders. History gives us several examples. In 390, St. Ambrose of Milan excommunicated Theodosius after his massacre of thousands of Thessalonians when they had killed an army commander. The Emperor, stripped of the ensigns of royalty, had to appear in the midst of the church of Milan, and humbly solicit, with sighs and tears, the pardon of his sins. Theodosius was restored to communion after a delay of eight months. (9) The great temple of Serapis at Alexandria was destroyed in 391 under the direction of its Archbishop St. Theophilus. (10)
In a few decades, St. Isidore of Peluse would lament the loss of the ancient values of priesthood. He writes to a bishop, " It is not long since the Church had splendid teachers and approved disciples, and it would be so again if bishops would lay aside their tyranny and show a fatherly interest in their people..." Writing to an ambitious deacon, he says, " The episcopate is a work not a relaxation; a solitude not a luxury; a responsible ministration not an irresponsible dominion; a fatherly supervision not a tyrrannical autocracy."(11)
St. Gregory Theologian vs St. John Chrysostom.
The evolution of the teaching of the early Church on Priesthood between Gregory and Chrysostom can be attributed to a combination of factors, a change of times and the enthusiasm of a young priest. Although it may have been a basis for further abuse of power by the clergy of the Middle Ages in the West, and of the Scholasticsí definition of a priest as one who has the power to celebrate the Eucharist and forgive sins, Chrysostom is not the one to blame. His teaching must be taken as a whole, and more weight should be given to his later writings. Two years after writing Priesthood (c.393), he says in his homily on Second Corinthians:
"But there are occasions in which there is no difference at all between the priest and those under him; for instance, when we are to partake of the awful mysteries; for we are all alike counted worthy of the same things: not as under the Old Testament [when] the priest ate some things and those under him others, and it was not lawful for the people to partake of those things whereof the priest partook. But not so now, but before all one body is set and one cup. And in the prayers also, one may observe the people contributing much. For in behalf of the possessed, in behalf of those under penance, the prayers are made in common both by the priest and by them; and all say one prayer. (12)... Again when we exclude from the holy precincts those who are unable to partake of the holy table, it behoveth that another prayer be offered, and we all alike fall upon the ground, and all alike rise up. (13) Again, in the most awful mysteries themselves, the priest prays for the people and the people also pray for the priest; for the words, "with thy spirit," are nothing else than this. The offering of thanksgiving (14) again is common: for neither doth he give thanks alone, but also all the people. For Having first taken their voices, next when they assent that it is "meet and right so to do," then he begins the thanksgiving (15). ...The Apostles frequently admitted the laity to share in their decisions. For when they ordained the seven, and Matthias they first communicated with the people, both men and women. (Acts 1: 15 & Acts6: 2, 3.). Here is no pride of rulers nor slavishness in the ruled; but a spiritual rule ... For so ought the Church to dwell as one house; as one body so to be all disposed; just as therefore there is one Baptism, and one table, and one fountain, and one creation, and one Father.
Why then are we divided, when so great (6) things unite us; why are we torn asunder? .... For in this way will he that is greater be able to gain even from him that is less. For if Moses learnt from his father-in-law somewhat expedient which himself had not perceived (Exod. 18: 14- 27), much more in the Church may this happen."(16)
(1) Winslow:The Dynamics of Salvation:A Study of Gregory of Nazianzus, 1979: 7,8.
(2) Quasten: Patrology, volume 3; 1960: 243, 244.
(3) Gregory Nazianzen: Oration 2, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus. Slightly adapted from the translation of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, volume 7, pages 204-226.
(4) Philip Schaaff:: History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, 1910: 919
(5) Kelly JND: Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. NY: Cornell University Press, 1995:83.
(6) John Chrysostom: Treatise on the Priesthood, Books 1-6. Adapted from the translation of the NPNF, first series, volume 9, pages 33-83. Italics and bold type are added for emphasis.
(7) Gregory Nazianzen: Oration 42, The Last Farewell; adapted from the translation of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, volume 7, page 393..
(8) Gregory of Nyssa: On the Baptism of Christ, quoted in Doors to the Sacred, by Joseph Martos, New York, Doubleday,
(9) Edward Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 27, abridged edition, New York, 1960:399,400. Chadwik H: The Early Church, 1967:167-68.
(10) Ibid. Gibbon, chapter 28, pp. 415-18; Chadwick, p. 168.
(11) Wace H & Piercy WC: A Dictionary of Christian Biography. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994: 545.
(12) Prayer of absolution after public penance in the early Church
(13) The rite of excommunication in the early Church.
(15) The Divine Liturgy.
(16) Chrysostom: Homilies on Second Corinthians: 18 (on 2 Cor. 8: 24); NPNF, first series, volume 12: 355-66.
1. Johnís Deceit.
Ihad many genuine and true friends, men who understood the laws of friendship and faithfully observed them. But out of this large number, there was one in this group who excelled all the rest in his friendship for me, striving on leaving as far behind him as possible those who regarded me with indifference. He was one of those who were constantly at my side as we were engaged in the same studies and employed the same teachers. We had equal eagerness and enthusiasm for our studies and shared the same high ideals as a result of our common interests. Not only when we were attending school, but also even after we had left it, we found ourselves of the same mind when we had to decide what course of life would be best to choose. In addition to this, there were other bonds which held this accord unbroken and secure. Regarding the greatness of our fatherland, neither of us could boast more than the other, nor was I burdened with riches while he lived in poverty, but on the contrary, our means corresponded as closely as our tastes. Our families were also of the same class and everything was in keeping with our disposition.
But when the time came to pursue the blessed life of monks and the true philosophy, our balance no longer remained even. His scale rose upwards, while I, still entangled in the lusts of this world, dragged mine down, weighting it with youthful vanities, thereby forcing it to stay on a lower level. From that time on, our friendship remained as firm as ever but our intimacy was broken as our interests had changed and we no longer spent the same time together.
As soon as I began to emerge a little from the flood of worldliness, he received me with open arms. Yet we could not maintain our former equality, for he had got the start of me, and having displayed his great eagerness, he rose again above my level and soared to great heights. Being a good man, however, and placing a high value on my friendship, he withdrew from all the rest of his friends and spent all of his time with me.
He had desired to do this before, but had been prevented, as I had explained, because of my frivolous conduct. For it was impossible for a man who attended the law-courts, and was thrilled by the pleasures of the stage, to often be in the company of someone who was glued to his books and never even set foot in the market-place. When these hindrances were removed and he had brought me into the same condition of life as himself, he gave free vent to the desire that he had conceived long before. He would not leave me alone for one moment, and persistently urged that each of us should abandon our homes and share a place together. He succeeded in persuading me and the arrangements were in hand.
But the continual lamentations of my mother hindered me from granting him the favor, or rather from accepting it from him. For when she perceived that I was meditating this step, she led me to her private room and sat me on the bed where she had given birth to me. She burst into tears and then spoke words more touching that her tears: "My child," she said, "it was not the will of Heaven that I should long enjoy your fatherís virtues. His death followed soon after the pangs which I endured at your birth, leaving you an orphan and me a widow before my time, with all the burdens of widowhood, which only those who have borne them can properly understand. For no words are adequate to describe the stormy condition which a young woman faces who, having just left her fatherís house without any experience of the world, is suddenly compelled to shoulder cares too great for her age and sex. For, as I know too well, she has to correct the laziness of servants and be on the watch for their misconduct, to repel the schemes of relatives, and to bear with dignity the threats of public officials and their rudeness over the harsh imposition of tax rates. And if the departed one should have left a child, even when that child is a girl, she will cause great anxiety to her mother, although free from much expense and fear. But a son fills her each day with ten thousand alarms and many anxieties, to say nothing about the expense she must incur if she wishes to bring him up as a gentleman. Still, none of these thoughts persuaded me to enter into a second marriage or introduce another husband into your fatherís house. No, I remained patient in the midst of the storm and uproar, and I did not shun the iron furnace of widowhood. My foremost help was the grace from above, and I found great consolation in those terrible trials by gazing continually at your face and treasuring in you a living image of my dead husband. So while you were still a baby and had not yet learned to speak, at a time when children give the greatest delight to their parents, you afforded me much comfort. Nor can you reproach me that, although I bore my widowhood bravely, I reduced your patrimony which I know has been the fate of many orphans. Besides keeping the whole of it intact, I did not omit any expense needed to give you an honorable position, even spending for this purpose some of my own fortune and from my marriage dowry.
"Yet, do not think that I am saying these things as a reproach to you. But in return for all these benefits, I ask for just one favor: do not plunge me into a second widowhood nor revive the grief which is now laid to rest, but please be patient until my death. It may be that I shall depart before long. The young indeed look forward to a distant old age, but we who have grown old, have nothing to wait for but death. When you have committed my body to the ground, and my bones have been mingled with your fatherís bones, then set sail for a long voyage on whatever sea you choose. Then, there will be no one to hinder you. But as long as I am alive, be content to live with me. Do not oppose God in vain by overwhelming me with these calamities, for I have never caused you any harm."
"Of course, if you have reason to complain that I distract you with worldly cares and force you to attend to business, then pay no attention to natureís laws, or education, or custom, or anything else, but then shun me as an enemy. On the contrary, if I do everything to provide leisure for your journey through this life, then let this bond, if nothing else, keep you by me. Even if you say that you have a thousand friends, not one will allow you to enjoy so much freedom as this, for there is no one who cares for your welfare as I do."
All this and more my mother said to me, and I repeated this to my noble friend. But far from being disheartened by these arguments, he was all the more insistent in his original requests.
While we were in this situation, he continually entreated me, and I kept refusing my assent. Suddenly, both of us were disturbed by a report that we were about to be promoted to the dignity of the priesthood. As soon as I heard this rumor, I was seized with alarm and bewilderment: with alarm, that I should be seized against my will, and with bewilderment, as I tried again and again to guess what could have entered the minds of men to form such a plan for us. For myself, I found nothing worthy of such an honor.
That noble friend of mine came to me privately, and thinking that I had not heard the rumor, begged that we might, in this instance as formerly, decide and act together. He said that he would readily follow whichever course I might pursue, whether to escape or to let ourselves be captured. Perceiving his eagerness, and considering that I would inflict a loss upon the whole body of the Church, if through my own weakness I should deprive the flock of Christ of a young man so good and so well qualified to govern, I abstained from disclosing to him the purpose which I had formed, even though I had never before concealed any of my plans from him. I now told him that it would be best to postpone our decision to another time, as it was not immediately urgent, and persuaded him not to worry about it. At the same time, I encouraged him to hope that, if such a thing should even happen to us, I would act in concert with him.
After a short time, when the one who was to ordain us had arrived, I remained in hiding. Basil, ignorant of this, was taken off on some other pretext. He submitted to the yoke, expecting from my promises that I would certainly follow him, or rather, thinking that he was following me. Seeing that he resented being seized, some of the people who were present deceived him by exclaiming how strange it was that the one generally considered to be the more hot-tempered (meaning me), had submitted to the decision of the Fathers, whereas he, who was considered a much more reasonable and submissive man, had shown himself hot-headed and conceited, unruly, restive and contradictory.
Having yielded to these remonstrances, and afterwards having learned that I had escaped capture, he came to me in deep dejection and sat by my side. Then he tried to speak, but hindered by his distress, was unable to express in words the violence to which he had been subjected. No sooner had he opened his mouth, than speech failed him, as grief cut his words short before they ever passed his lips. Seeing his tearful and agitated condition, and knowing that I was the cause, I laughed with joy, and taking his right hand, I made him embrace me. I praised God because my plan had succeeded as I had always prayed it might. But when he saw that I was delighted and beaming with joy, he understood that I had deceived him and was even more wounded and distressed.
2. Basilís Reproaches.
When at last he had recovered a little from his agitation of mind, he said:
Even if you have washed your hands of me and have no further regard for me (though I do not know why), you should at least consider your own reputation. As it is, you have set every tongue wagging, and the world is saying that you have declined this ministry through love of vainglory, and no one will clear you of this accusation. As for me, I cannot even bear to go into the market place as there are so many who come up to me and reproach me every day. Whenever they see me anywhere in the city, all my intimate friends take me aside and cast the greater part of the blame upon me. They say that: "None of his plans could be kept secret from you, so you should not have concealed them but should have communicated them to us, and we would have been able to devise some plan for capturing him." I am too ashamed to tell them that I did not know that you had been plotting this trick for a long time, for fear that they should say that our friendship was a mere pretence. Even if it is so, as indeed it must be ó you cannot deny it yourself after what you have just done to me ó it is only right to hide our misfortune from the outside world and from those who have an indifferent opinion of us. I shrink from telling them the truth and how things really stand between us. I am compelled in future to keep silent, and stare at the ground, and avoid people who meet me. If I escape the condemnation on the former charge, I am judged as being a liar, as they will never believe that you placed Basil amongst those who are not permitted to know your secret affairs.
But this is of no great matter to me as it has seemed agreeable to you, but how shall we endure future disgrace? Some accuse you of arrogance and others of vainglory, while the more merciful accusers charge us with both of these offences and add that we have insulted those who have honored us. They say it would have served them right if we had treated them even more contemptuously. They passed over many distinguished and experienced men, and advanced mere youths, who only yesterday were immersed in the interests of the world and had never dreamed of obtaining such a dignity in order that they may, for a brief season, knit their eyebrows, wear dusky garments and put on a grave face. Those who have, from early manhood to ripe old age, diligently practiced self-discipline, are now to be placed under the authority of youths who have not even heard of the laws which ought to guide them in exercising their authority.
I am constantly assailed by persons who say such things and worse, and I am at a loss as to how to reply to them. I pray that you tell me, as I do not suppose that you took flight and incurred such hatred from such distinguished men without cause or consideration. You must have reached your decision after careful reasoning and circumspection, so I infer that you have some argument ready for your defense. Tell me, then, whether there is any good excuse which I can make to those who accuse you. I do not demand any satisfaction for the wrongs you have done to me, nor for your deceit and your treachery, nor for the advantage which you have derived from me in the past. I placed my very life in your hands, yet you have treated me with as much guile as if your concern was to guide against an enemy. And if you knew that this decision of ours was profitable, you should not have avoided the gain. If, on the contrary, you thought it harmful, you should have saved me also from the loss, as you always said that you esteemed me over others. But you have done everything to make me fall into the snare, even though you had no need of guile and hypocrisy in dealing with one who, in word and action, was always open and sincere towards you.
Nevertheless, as I said before, I do not accuse you of these things, nor do I reproach you for the lonely position in which you have placed me by bringing to an end those times together from which we derived no small pleasure and profit. All these things, I bear in silence and meekness, not that you have acted meekly in your transgression against me, but because, from the day that I cherished your friendship, I made a rule for myself that whatever sorrow you might cause me, I would never force you to apologize. You know yourself that you have afflicted no small loss on me, if at least you remember what was said about us repeatedly by strangers and by ourselves, that it was a great advantage for us to be of one mind and secure in our mutual friendship. Everyone said that our concord would be of great benefit to ourselves and to others. However, I never perceived how it could be of advantage to others, but I did say that we should at least derive this benefit from it, and that those who wished to contend with us would find us difficult to master. I never ceased to remind you of these things by saying that the time we live in are dangerous and that our enemies are many. Genuine love no longer exists and the deadly disease of envy has crept in its place. We Ďgo about in the midst of snares and walk upon battlements of citiesí.1 There are many in our midst who stand ready to rejoice if misfortunes should befall us whereas it is difficult to find anyone to console us in our sorrow. Beware that by separating, we do not incur ridicule damage worse than ridicule. ĎA brother aided by a brother is like a strong city and a kingdom securely barred.í2 Do not dissolve this genuine love nor break down the fortress.
I was continually saying such things and more, not suspecting anything like this, but thinking that our relationship was sound and that I was wanting gratuitously to heal the healthy. But is seems that I was unwittingly administering medicine to a sick man. Even so, I have not been fortunate enough to do any good and have gained nothing from my excess of forethought. Having discarded my advice all at once without giving it a thought, you have turned me adrift like a vessel without ballast on a boundless ocean, taking no heed of those cruel waves which I must encounter. If I happen to undergo calumny or mockery or any other kind of insult or menace which frequently occur, to whom shall I turn to for refuge, to whom shall I confide my distress, who will help me drive back my assailants and stop their assaults? Who will comfort me and prepare me to bear the ill-mannered conduct of others? There is no one since you stand aloof from this terrible strife and cannot even hear me cry. Can you now see what harm you have done? Now that you have dealt the blow, do you realize what a deadly wound you have inflicted upon me?
But let it all pass, for the past cannot be undone, nor can one find a path through pathless difficulties. What shall I say to the outside world, how shall I defend their accusations?
1. Ecclus. 9.13. 2. Cf. Prov. 18.19 (LXX).
3. Johnís Reply.
John: Be of good cheer, I replied, for I am not only ready to answer for myself in these matters, but I will try as well to explain those other matters you have excused me from explaining. If you like, I will make them the starting point of my defense. It would be stupidity on my part to think only of praise from the public and to try to silence their accusations. Indeed, it would be strange if I were to acquit myself in the eyes of my dearest friend that I am not wronging him, and were to treat him with indifference greater than the zeal which he has displayed towards me. By treating me with such forbearance, he has refrained from accusing me of the wrongs which he says he has suffered from me by setting his own interests aside.
What wrong have I done to you since I have decided to embark upon the sea of apology? Is it that I misled you and concealed my purpose? I did it for your benefit and for the benefit of those to whom I surrendered you, as you were both deceived.
For if deception is evil and we never have the right to make use of it, I am prepared to pay any penalty you like. If, on the other hand, you will never inflict punishment upon me, I shall subject myself to the same judgment pronounced by judges on criminals when they are convicted. If it is not always harmful, but becomes good or bad according to the intentions of those who use it, you must stop accusing me of deception and prove that I used this means for an evil end. As long as there is no proof, it would only be fair for those who wish to conduct themselves prudently, to abstain from reproaches and accusations, and even to give a friendly reception to the deceiver. A timely deception used with a right purpose has such advantages, that many persons have often had to undergo punishment for abstaining from fraud.
If you consider the history of famous generals who have enjoyed the highest reputation from the earliest times, you will find that most of their triumphs were achieved by this stratagem, and are more highly commended than those who conquer in open fight. For the latter conduct their campaigns with great expense of money and men, so that they gain noting by the victory, but suffer as much distress as those who have been defeated. Besides this, they are not even permitted to enjoy all the glory which pertains to the victory as no small part of it is reaped by those who have fallen, because in spirit they were victorious, and their defeat was only a bodily one. If they had not fallen when wounded, and if death had not come to stop them, there would have been no end to their prowess. But one who has been able to gain the victory by stratagem involves the enemy in ridicule as well as in disaster. Again, in the other case, both sides equally carry off the honors for valor, whereas in this case, they do not equally obtain those which are bestowed on wisdom. No, the prize belongs to the victors alone. What is more, they preserve, for their country, the joy of victory unimpaired. Abundant resources and multitudes of men are not like shrewdness of mind. When you use them continually in war, the supply becomes exhausted and fails its possessors, whereas the nature of wisdom increases the more it is used.
The need of deceit is found not only in war, but also in peace, in reference to the affairs of the state, and also in private life, in the dealings between husband and wife, father and son, between friends, and also children and parents. The daughter of Saul would not have rescued her husband out of her fatherís hands except by deceiving him. And when her brother wanted to save from danger the very man she had rescued, he made use of the same weapons as she did.
Basil: None of this applies to me. I am not an enemy nor am I striving to hurt you, but just the opposite. I entrusted all my plans to your judgment, and always followed the path you told me to take.
John: But, my dear good friend, this is the very reason why I took the precaution of saying that it was a good thing to employ this kind of deceit, not only in war, but also in peace, and in dealing with our dearest friends.
As proof that deceit is beneficial not only to the deceivers, but also to the deceived, go to any physician and inquire how they cure their patients from disease. They will tell you that they do not rely only upon their professional skill, but sometimes they resort to deceit which helps them to restore the sick man to health. When the plans of physicians are hindered by the whims of their patients, and the obstinacy of the complaint baffles their counsels, it is necessary to put on the mask of deception as they do on the stage, in order to hide what is really taking place.
With your permission, I will relate to you one on of the many tricks which I have heard physicians devise. A man was suddenly overcome by a violent fever and his temperature kept rising. The patient rejected the remedies which could have allayed the fever but craved for a draught of pure wine. He passionately entreated all those who approached him to bring the wine and satiate this deadly craving. It would not only have inflamed his fever, but would have driven the unhappy man frantic. In this case, professional skill was baffled and at the end of its resources and quite useless. Deception stepped in and displayed its power in the way which I will now relate.
The physician took an earthen vessel straight out of the kiln and steeped it in wine. Then he drew it out empty and filled it with water. Next, he gave orders for the room where the patient was lying to be darkened with curtains so that the light might not reveal the trick. He then gave the vessel to the patient to drink from, pretending that it was filled with undiluted wine. Deceived by the smell, the man did not examine what was given to him, but convinced by the odor, and deceived by the darkness, he eagerly snatched the vessel. When he had drunk his fill, the feeling of suffocation was shaken off and he escaped the imminent peril.
Do you see the advantage of deception? If you were to collect all the tricks of physicians, the list would stretch interminably. You will find that it is not only those who heal the body who make use of this remedy, but those who treat the diseases of the soul. By this means, St. Paul won over multitudes of Jews.1 With this intention he circumcised Timothy,2 although he warned the Galatians in his letter that Christ would not profit those who were circumcised.3 For this cause, he submitted to the law,4 recognizing the righteousness of the Law but loss after receiving faith in Christ.5
Great is the power of deceit, provided it is not applied with a mischievous intention. In fact, action of this kind should not be called deceit, but rather good management, cleverness and skill, leading to ways where resources fail, and correcting defects of the mind. I should not call Phineas a murderer, although he slew two human beings with one stroke,6 nor Elijah, after he slaughtered a hundred soldiers and their captain 7 and the torrents of blood he caused to be shed by the destruction of those who sacrificed to devils.8 If we were to concede this and examine the deeds in themselves, not considering the intention of the doers, one could then condemn Abraham for murdering his son, 9 and accuse his grandson and his descendant of wickedness and deception. For the one got possession of the birthright10 and the other transferred the wealth of the Egyptians to the host of the Israelites.11
But this is not the case ó away with such an audacious thought! We not only acquit them of blame, but we also admire them because of these things, since God commended them for the same. He alone can justly be called a deceiver who performs the action for unjust ends. Often, it is necessary to deceive in order to obtain the greatest benefits, whereas the straightforward man does great harm to those he does not deceive.
7. 2 Kings 1.10, 12. 8. 1 Kings 18.40. 9. Gen. 22.10. 10. Gen 27 11. Ex. 11.2.
4. The Difficulties of Pastoral Care.
Icould have argued at greater length that it is possible to use the power of deception for a good end, or rather that it
is not right to call that kind of action deceit at all but an admirable kind of good management. But since I have already said enough, it would be irksome and tedious to lengthen my discourse on the subject. Now it is up to you to show that I have not employed this method to your advantage.
Basil: What kind of advantage have I derived from this good management or wise policy, or whatever you wish to call it, in order to persuade me that I have not been deceived by you?
John: What advantage could be greater than to be seen doing those things which Christ, with his own lips, declared to be proof of love for Him? Addressing the leader of the apostles, Christ said, "Peter, lovest thou me?"; and when he confessed that he did, the Lord added, "If thou lovest me, tend my sheep." The Master asked the disciple if He was loved by him, not in order to learn the truth ó why should He who penetrates the hearts of men ó but to teach us how great an interest He takes in the superintendence of these sheep. This being evident, it will likewise be manifest that a great and indescribable reward will be in store for him who labors for these sheep upon which Christ places such a high value. When we see anyone bestowing care upon members of our household or upon our flocks, we take this concern for them as a sign of love towards us, although they can all be bought for money. With how great a gift then will He give as a reward to those who tend the flock which He purchased, not for money or any such thing, but by His own death when He gave His blood for His flockís ransom. Therefore, when the disciple said, "Thou knowest, Lord, that I love Thee," and invoked the beloved one Himself as a witness of his love, the Savior did not stop there but went on to describe the proof of love. He did not want to prove how much Peter loved Him, but how He loved His own Church. He desired to teach Peter and all of us that we also should bestow much zeal upon the same.
Why did God not spare His only-begotten Son but instead surrendered Him? It was to reconcile to Himself those who were His enemies and make them His chosen people.1 Why did He shed His blood? It was that He might win these sheep which He entrusted to Peter and his successors. Those words of Christ, then, were natural when He said: "Who is the faithful and wise servant whom his Lord shall set over His household?"2 Again, the words are those of one who is in doubt, yet the speaker did not utter them in doubt. On the contrary, just as He asked Peter whether he loved Him, not from any need to learn the affection of the disciple, but from a desire to show the exceeding depth of His own love. Now, also when He says, "Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his Lord shall make ruler over his household? He speaks not out of ignorance for the faithful and wise, but as desiring to set forth the rarity of such a character and the greatness of this office. Observe at any rate how great the reward is: "He will set him over all that he hath."3
Will you, then, still contend that you were not rightly deceived when you are about to superintend the things which belong to God, and are doing what the Lord said to Peter so that he would surpass the rest of Godís apostles? For he said, "Lovest thou me, Peter, more than these? Tend my sheep." He might have said to him, "If thou lovest me, practice fasting, sleeping on the bare ground, and prolonged vigils; champion the wronged, be as a father to the fatherless and as a husband to their mother."4 In fact, setting aside all these things, what does He say? "Tend my sheep."
Many women or men under authority might easily perform the other things I have mentioned. But when someone is required to preside over the Church and is entrusted with the care of so many souls, then let womankind give way before the magnitude of the task, and indeed most men also. Bring before us those who far excel all others and who surpass the rest in spiritual stature, as Saul was in bodily stature above the Hebrew nation, or rather far more! Let us not look only "from the shoulder and upward"5 be the standard of inquiry, but let the distinction between shepherd and his sheep be as great as that between rational man and irrational creatures, not to say even greater, since matters of much greater importance are at stake.
He who loses sheep, either through the ravages of wolves or the attacks of robbers, or through murrain or some other accident, might perhaps obtain some indulgence from the owner of the flock. Even if he were called upon to pay compensation from the owner of the flock, the penalty would be only a matter of money. However, he who has human beings entrusted to him, the rational flock of Christ, incurs a penalty for the loss of the sheep which goes beyond material things, and risks not money but of his own soul. Moreover, he has a far greater and difficult struggle. His fight is neither with wolves, nor his fear with robbers, nor to consider how he may protect the flock from pestilence. With whom then has he to fight? With whom has he to wrestle? Listen to the words of St. Paul, "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, and against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places."6 Do you see the terrible multitude of enemies and their fierce legions, not armed with steel, but endued with a nature which is equivalent to a suit of armor?
Would you like to be shown another cruel and savage army lying in wait for his flock? This also you can behold from the same post of observation. For he who has discoursed to us concerning the others also points out these enemies to us speaking in such a manner as this: "These are the works of the flesh which are manifest: fornication, adultery, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, back-biting, whispering, swellings, tumults,"7and more besides these. For he did not list them all, but left us to understand the rest from these examples.
Moreover, in the case of the shepherds of irrational creatures, those who want to destroy the flock when they see the guardian take flight, cease making war with him and are content to seize his animals. Even in this case, if they should capture the whole flock, they do not leave the shepherd unmolested but attack him all the more and with more daring, until they have either overthrown him or are beaten themselves. Again, the afflictions of the sheep are manifest, either by famine or pestilence, wounds or anything else that might distress them. This might be a great help towards the relief of those who are oppressed in these ways.
And there is yet another fact greater than this which facilitates release from this kind of infirmity. What is it? Those shepherds with great authority compel the sheep to accept the remedy even if they do not willingly submit to it. It is easy to bind them when cautery or cutting is required, and to keep them inside the fold for a long time whenever it is expedient, and to bring them one kind of food instead of another, and to cut them off from their supply of water. The shepherds may decide with perfect ease other remedies conducive to the health of their sheep.
In the case of human infirmities, it is not easy in the first place for a man to discern them, for no man "knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him."8 How, then, can anyone apply the remedy for the disease if he does not know its character and often is unable to understand it, even if he should happen to be sick with it himself? When it becomes apparent, it causes him yet more trouble, for it is not possible to treat all men with the same authority with which the shepherd treats his sheep. Here too, it is possible to bind and to restrain from food and to use cautery or the knife, but the decision to receive treatment depends on the will of the patient, and does no lie with the man who administers the medicine. This was also perceived by that wonderful man, St. Paul, when he said to the Corinthians, "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy."9 For Christians above all men are not permitted forcibly to correct the failings of those who sin. When secular judges have captured wrongdoers under the law, they show their great authority by preventing men from following their own devices. But in our case however, the wrongdoer must be made better by persuasion and not by force. The authority to restrain sinners has not been given us by law, and even if it were, we could not exercise our power since God rewards those who abstain from evil by choice and not by force. For this reason, much tact is needed so that our patients may be induced to submit willingly to the treatment prescribed by the priests, and also that they be grateful to them for the cure. If a man becomes restive when he is bound, as it is in his power to do so, he makes his sufferings worse. If he should pay no heed to the words which cut like steel, he inflicts another wound by his contempt, and the intention to heal becomes the occasion of a more serious disease. For it is not possible for anyone to cure a man by compulsion against his will.
What, then, should one do? If you deal too leniently with one who needs deep surgery, and do not make a deep incision in the one who requires it, you remove one dart of the sore but leave the other. If, on the other hand, you make the required incision unsparingly, often the patient, in despair at his sufferings, will throw aside both remedy and bandage at once, and promptly throw himself down headlong, "breaking the yoke and bursting the bond."10 I could tell you of many who have run into extreme evils because the due penalty of their sins was exacted.
In applying punishment, it is not right to exact a penalty by proportioning it to the scale of the offence. It is better to keep in mind the disposition of the sinner, for fear that by wishing to mend what is torn, you make the tear worse, and in your eagerness to restore what is fallen, you could cause a worse fall. Those who are weak and careless and generally addicted to the pleasures of the world, and who take pride on their birth and rank, may, if gently and gradually brought to repent their errors, be at least partially delivered from the evils that possess them. For if anyone where to inflict the discipline all at once, he would deprive them of this slight chance of amendment. Once the soul has been forced to dispel shame, it becomes callous and neither yields to kindly words nor bends to threats. No longer susceptible to gratitude, it becomes far worse than that the city which the prophet reproached saying, "Thou hadst the face of a harlot; thou refusedst to be ashamed before all.11
So the pastor needs much discretion, and a myriad of eyes to observe on every side the habit of the soul. For many are uplifted to pride, then sink into despair of their salvation, from their inability to endure bitter remedies, while others, who because they do not pay a penalty equivalent to their sins, fall into negligence and become far worse, and are led to commit greater sins. It is proper therefore for the priest to leave none of these things unexamined, and after a thorough inquiry into all of them, he must apply such remedies as he has considered appropriate to each case lest his zeal prove to be in vain. One can see that he has much to do, not in this matter only, but also in the work of knitting together the severed members of the Church.
The pastor of sheep has his flock following him wherever he may lead them. If any should stray off the straight path, and deserting the good pasture feed in unproductive or rugged places, a loud shout is enough to collect them and bring back to the fold those who have been parted from it. But if a man wanders away from the right path, great exertion, perseverance and patience are required. He cannot be dragged back by force, nor can he be constrained by fear, but he must be led back by persuasion to the truth from which he originally swerved. The pastor ought to be of a noble spirit so as not to despond or despair of the salvation of those who wander from the fold. He must continually reason with himself and say: "Peradventure God will give them the knowledge of the truth and they may be freed from the snare of the devil."12
That is why the Lord, speaking to the disciples, said:
"Who, then, is the faithful and wise servant?" He who disciplines himself compasses only his own advantage. However, the benefit of the pastoral function extends to the whole people. The man who dispenses money to the needy, or otherwise succors the oppressed, benefits his neighbors to some extent, but less than the priest, as the body is inferior to the soul. It is not surprising therefore when the Lord said that zeal for the flock was a token of love for Himself.
1. Titus 2.14. 2. Matt. 24.45. 3. Matt. 24.47. 4. Ecclus. 4.10. 5. 1 Sam. 9.2. 6. Eph 6.12
7. Cf. Gal. 5.19-21 & Cor. 12.20. 8. Cf. 1Cor. 2.11. 9. 2Cor. 1.24. 10. Cf. Jer. 5.5.
11. Jer. 3.3. 12. Cf. 2Tim. 2.25-26.
5. Love ó The Chief Thing.
Basil: But youódo you not love Christ?"
John: Yes, I love Him, and shall never cease loving Him; but I fear lest I should provoke Him whom I love.
Basil: Could any paradox be more obscure? Christ commanded him who loves Him to tend His sheep, and yet you say that you decline to tend them because you love Him who gave this command!
John: What I said is no paradox, but is very clear and simple. If I were well qualified to administer this office as Christ desired it, and then shunned it, my remark might be open to doubt. Since the infirmity of my spirit renders me useless for this ministry, why does what I say deserve to be called in question? I fear that if I took the flock in hand when it was in good condition and well nourished, and then wasted it through my ineptitude, I may provoke against me God who so loved the flock that He gave Himself up for its salvation and redemption.
Basil: You speak in jest. For if you were in earnest, I know otherwise by means of these very words, whereby you have endeavored to dispel my despondency. I knew already that you had deceived and betrayed me, but now that you are trying to clear yourself of my accusations, I understand and realize more fully the extent of the evils into which you have led me. If you withdrew yourself from this ministry because you were conscious that your spirit was not equal to the burden of the task, you should have rescued me from it first, even if I had been full of eagerness for it, to say nothing of having confided to you the entire decision of these matters. As it is, you have looked solely to your own interest and neglected mine. If you had indeed entirely neglected them, then I should have been content, but you plotted to facilitate my capture by those who wished to seize me.
You cannot even take shelter in the argument that public opinion deceived you and induced you to imagine great and wonderful things concerning me. For I am not one of your famous and distinguished men, and even if this had been the case, you ought not to have preferred public opinion to the truth. If I had never permitted you to enjoy my company you might have seemed to have a reasonable pretext for being guided in your vote by public report. But since no one has such thorough knowledge of my affairs as you, and if you are acquainted with my character better than my parents and those who brought me up, what argument can you use which will be convincing enough to persuade those who hear you that you did not deliberately push me into this danger? Tell me, what answer shall I make to your accusers?
John: No, I will not proceed to those questions until I have resolved that which concerns you alone, even if you were to ask me ten thousand times to dispose of these charges.
You said that ignorance would have brought me forgiveness and freed me from all accusation if I had brought you into your present position without knowing anything about you. However, as I did not betray you in ignorance but was intimately acquainted with your affairs, I was deprived of all reasonable pretext and excuse. But I say precisely the reverse because in such matters careful scrutiny in needed. He who is going to present anyone as qualified for the priesthood must not be content with public report only but above all and before all, he should investigate the manís character.
For when blessed Paul said, "Moreover he must have good testimony from them that are without,"1he does not assign precedence to such testimony over the scrutiny required in such cases. For after much previous discourse, he mentioned this additional testimony to prove that one must not be content with this alone for elections of this kind, but must take it into consideration along with the rest. For it often happens that public report is false, but when careful investigation proceeds, no further danger need be anticipated from it. For he did not simply say, "he must have a good report," but added the words, "from them which are without," thereby wishing to show that before the report of those without, he must carefully examine the man himself. Since then, as I myself knew your affairs better than your parents, as you yourself also acknowledged, I might deserve to be released from all blame.
Basil: That is the very reason why you should not escape punishment if any one decides to indite you. Do you not remember hearing from me, and often learning from my conduct, the weakness of my character? Were you not perpetually taunting me for my faint heartedness because I was so easily dejected by ordinary cares?
John: I donít deny that I remember often hearing such things from you, but if I ever taunted you, I did it in sport and not in earnest. However, I will not argue about these matters, and I claim the same degree of forbearance from you while I wish to mention some of the good qualities you possess. If you attempt to convict me of saying what is untrue, I shall not spare you, but will show that you say these things in self-depreciation rather than with a view the truth. I will employ no evidence but your own deeds to demonstrate the truth of my assertion.
The first question I wish to ask of you is this: do you know how great is the power of love? By omitting all the miracles which were to be performed by the apostles, Christ said, "Hereby shall men know that ye are my disciples if ye love one another."2 And Paul said that love is the fulfillment of the law,3and that without it, no spiritual gift has any profit.4 This is the distinguishing mark of Christís disciples, the highest of all spiritual gifts, and I saw that this was deeply implanted in your soul and teeming with fruit.
Basil: I acknowledge indeed that the matter is one of deep concern to me, and I earnestly endeavor to keep this commandment. But I have not even half fulfilled it, as even you yourself can bear witness if you would abandon partiality and simply respect the truth.
John: Well, then, I shall turn to the evidence and shall now do what I threatened, providing that you wish to disparage yourself rather than to speak the truth. I will mention a fact that has just occurred in order to prevent anyone of suspecting me of attempting to obscure the truth. Because of the great lapse of time in relating long past events, oblivion might then prevent any objection being made to the things which I might say with a view to gratification.
For when one of our intimate friends was in extreme peril, having been falsely accused of insult and folly, you then flung yourself into the midst of the danger without having been summoned by any one or appealed to by the person who was about to be involved in danger. Such was the fact. But, to convict you from your own words as well, I will remind you of the words you uttered when some did not approve of this zeal while others commended and admired it. "For I do not know otherwise to love than by giving up my life when it is necessary to save any of my friends who is in danger." This repeats in different words, but with the same meaning, what Christ said to his disciples when he laid down the definition of perfect love and said: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."5If, then, it is impossible to find greater love than this, you have attained its limit. Both you, and your deeds and words, have crowned the summit. That is why I betrayed you. That is why I contrived that plot. Do I now convince you that it was not from malicious intent nor from any desire to thrust you into danger, but from a persuasion of your future usefulness that I dragged you into this course?
Basil: Do you then suppose that the power of love is sufficient to correct oneís fellowmen?
John: Certainly it goes a long way towards it. But if you want me to give examples of your wisdom as well, I will proceed to do so and will prove that your understanding exceeds your loving-kindness.
Basil: (At these remarks Basil blushed scarlet and said:) "Let my character be now dismissed for it was not about this that I originally demanded an explanation. But if you have any just answer to make to outsiders, I would gladly hear what you have to say. Wherefore, abandoning this vain contest, tell me what defense I shall make, both to those who have honored us and to those who are distressed on their account, considering themselves to have been insulted.
1. 1Tim. 3.7. 2. Cf. John 13.35. 3. Rom. 13.10. 4. 1Cor. 13.3. 5. John 15.13.
6. John Continues his Apologia.
John: This is the point that I am finally anxious to come to. Now that my explanation to you has been completed, I shall easily turn to this part of my defense. What, then, is the accusation made by these persons, and what are their charges?
Basil: They say that they have been insulted and grievously wronged by us because we have not accepted the honor which they wished to confer upon us.
John: In the first place, I say that no account should be taken of the insult shown to men, seeing that, by paying honor to them, we should be compelled to offend God. I should also say to those who are displeased, that it is not safe to take offence at these things as it does them a great deal of harm. For I think that those who live in God and look to Him alone, ought to be so spiritually disposed as to not consider such a thing an insult even if they were dishonored a thousand times.
That I have not gone so far as even to think of daring anything of this kind is manifest from what I am about to say. For, if indeed, I had been induced by arrogance and vainglory to assent to my accusers, as you have often said some people slanderously affirm, I should have been one of the most iniquitous of mankind having treated my great and excellent benefactors with contempt. For if we deserve to be punished for wronging those who have never wronged us, how should we honor those who have spontaneously preferred to honor us? For no one could possibly say that they were requiting me for any benefits, small or great, which they had received at my hands. How great a punishment then would one deserve if one requited them in the contrary manner. But if such things never entered my mind, and I declined the heavy burden with quite a different intention, why do they refuse to forgive me, even if they do not approve, but accuse me of having selfishly spared my own soul? So, far from having insulted the men in question, I can say that I have even honored them by my refusal. Do not be surprised at the paradoxical nature of my remark for I shall supply a speedy solution to it.
If I had accepted the office, those men who take pleasure in speaking evil might have suspected and said many things concerning my election and about those who appointed me. For instance, they could have said that they regarded wealth and admired splendor of rank, or had been induced by flattery to promote me to this honor. Indeed, I cannot say whether someone might not have suspected that they had been bribed. Moreover, they would have said, "Christ called fishermen, tentmakers, and publicans to this dignity, whereas these men reject those who support themselves by daily labor, but if there is anyone who devotes himself to secular learning, and is brought up in idleness, they receive and admire him. Why have they passed over those who have undergone much toil in the service of the Church, and suddenly drag into this dignity one who has never experienced any labors of this kind, but has spent all his youth in the vain study of secular learning?"
These things and more they might have said if I had accepted the office, but they no longer can. Every pretext for slander has been removed. They can neither accuse me of flattery, nor can they accuse the others of receiving bribes, unless some of them choose to act like madmen. For how could one who used flattery and expended money in order to gain the dignity have abandoned it to others when he might have obtained it? For this would be like a man who had bestowed much labor on his land in order that the cornfield might be laden with abundant crops and that his presses overflow with wine, and after innumerable toil and great expense of money, were to surrender the fruits to others just when it was time to reap his corn and gather in his vintage. Do you see that although what was said might be far from the truth, nevertheless, those who wished to calumniate the electors would then have had a pretext for alleging that the choice was made without fair judgment and consideration. But as it is, I have prevented them from uttering a single word on the subject. Such then, and more, would have been their remarks at the outset.
After undertaking the ministry, I would not have been able to defend myself daily against accusers, even if I had done everything faultlessly, to say nothing of the many mistakes which I inevitably would have made owing to my youth and inexperience. But now, I have saved the electors from this kind of accusation also, whereas in the other case, I should have involved them in innumerable reproaches. For what would people not have said? "They have committed affairs of such vast interest and importance to thoughtless youths. They have defiled the flock of God and Christian affairs have become a joke and a laughing stock." But now, "all iniquity shall stop her mouth."1 For although they may say these things on your account, you will speedily teach them by your acts that understanding is not to be estimated by age, and gray hair is not the test of an elder, and that the young man should not be absolutely excluded from the ministry but only the novice, and the difference between the two is great.
Such then is the reply I should give in answer to the charge of insulting those who would have honored me. What I have already said might be sufficient to prove that in refusing this office, I had no desire to put them to shame. I will now endeavor to make it evident, to the best of my ability, to prove to you that I was not puffed up by arrogance.
If the offer of a generalship or a kingdom had been made to me, and if I had made the same decision, anyone might naturally have suspected me of this fault. I would have been found guilty by all men, not of arrogance but of senseless folly. But when the priesthood is offered to me, which exceeds a kingdom as much as the spirit differs from the flesh, will anyone dare to accuse me of disdain? Is it not preposterous to charge with folly those who reject small things, but when they do the same in matters of pre-eminent importance, they drop the charge of madness and substitute accusations of pride? It is like accusing a man of insanity and not of pride because he looked with contempt on a herd of oxen and refused to be the herdsman. Yet would they say that a man who declined the empire of the world, and the command of all armies of the earth, was not mad but inflated with pride.
This assuredly is not the case, and those who say such things injure themselves more than me. Merely to imagine that it is possible for human nature to despise this dignity shows the opinion of the office held by those who bring this charge. They did not consider it to be something of no great account, as such a suspicion would never have occurred to them. For why is it that no one has ever dared to entertain such a suspicion with reference to the dignity of the angels, and to say that arrogance is the reason why human nature would not aspire to the angelic rank? It is because we imagine great things concerning those powers, and this prevents us from believing that a man can conceive anything greater than that honor. Wherefore, it might be more just to accuse with arrogance those who have accused me of it. For they would never have suspected this of others if they had not previously depreciated the matter as being insignificant.
If they say that I have done this with a view to glory, they will be convicted of fighting openly against themselves and falling into their own snare. For I do not know what kind of arguments they could have sought in preference to these if they had wished to release me of the charge of vainglory. For if this desire had ever entered my mind, I should have accepted the office rather than decline it. Why? Simply because it would have brought me much glory. Would not all men be persuaded to anticipate great and marvelous things of me if such a young person as myself, having only just abandoned secular pursuits, should suddenly be deemed by all worthy of admiration by being advanced to such an honor by receiving more votes than those who have spent all their life in labors of this kind! But as it is, the greater part of the Church does not know me even by name. Even my refusal of the office will not be manifest to all but only to a few. I am not even sure that all of these know it for certain, but probably many of them either imagine that I was not elected at all, or that I was rejected after the election as being unsuitable, and not that I avoided the office of my own accord.
Basil: But those who know the truth will be surprised and admire your action.
John: And yet according to you, these are the people who falsely accuse me of vainglory and pride. From whom then can I expect praise? From the many? But they do not know the actual fact. Well then, from the few? Here again, the matter is misconstrued to my disadvantage. For the only reason you have come here now is to learn what answer you should give them. What shall I now say on account of these things? Wait a moment, and you will clearly perceive that even if all know the truth, they need not have convicted me of pride and love of glory. In addition to this, there is another consideration that there is great danger involved, not only for those who dare to take this attitude, but also in suspecting it in others.
1. Ps. 107.42.
7. The Glory of the Priesthood.
The priestly office is discharged on earth, but it is ranked amongst the heavenly ordinances. And naturally so, for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power but the Paraclete Himself instituted this vocation, and persuaded men, while still abiding in the flesh, to represent the ministry of angels. The consecrated priest, therefore, must be as pure as if he were standing in heaven itself, in the midst of those powers.
The symbols which existed before the ministry of grace were fearful and of great consequence such as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones on the breastplate and on the ephod, the girdle, the miter, the long robe, the plate of gold, the Holy or Holies, and the deep silence within. But if anyone should examine the symbols that belong to the dispensation of grace, he will find that, as small as they are, they are fearful and awe-inspiring. The statement concerning the Law is true here also: "The splendor that once was is now no splendor at all; it is outshone by a splendor greater still."1For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest, standing and praying over the sacrifice, and all the worshippers being tinged with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still amongst men and standing upon the earth? On the contrary, are you not at once transported to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from your soul, are you not then, in spirit and with pure reason, able to contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh, the wonder of it! Oh, the loving-kindness of God to men! He who sits on high with the Father is, at that hour, held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. All this is done with the eyes of faith! Do you think these things could be despised, or do they make it possible for anyone to be superior to them?
Would you like to be shown the exceeding sanctity of this office? Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around Him, and the sacrifice laid upon the stone altar, and all the rest of the people hushed into deep silence while the prophet alone offers up prayer. Suddenly, the rush of fire falls from Heaven upon the sacrifice. These are marvelous things, charged with terror. Turn, then, from this scene to the rites which are celebrated today. They are not only marvelous to behold but transcend terror. There stands the priest, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but the Holy Spirit. He makes prolonged supplication, not that some flame from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace descending on the sacrifice may thereby enlighten the souls of all, and render them more refulgent than silver purified by fire. Who can despise this most awe inspiring mystery unless he is mad and senseless? Do you not know that no human soul could ever have endured that fire in the sacrifice, but all would have been utterly consumed except for the powerful help of Godís grace?
Can anyone consider how great a thing it is for a man of flesh and blood to be able to approach that blessed and pure nature. He will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit bestows to priests. It is through them that these rites are celebrated and other rites no less inferior to these, both in respect to our dignity and our salvation.
For those who inhabit the earth and make their abode, they are entrusted with the administration of heavenly things and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For has it not been said to them, "What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose, shall be loosed"2 They who rule on earth have authority to bind only the body, whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens. What priests do on earth God ratifies above and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. God has given them all manner of authority for He says, "Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven, and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."3 What authority could be greater than this? "The Father hath given all judgement unto the Son."4 But I see that the Son has placed it all in their hands for they have been raised to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and freed from the passions to which we are liable.
Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased, and then release him at will, he becomes the admiration and envy of all. But although the priest has received from God a greater authority, as Heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, it appears to some to have received so slight an honor, that they imagine that someone entrusted with this gift will despise it. Away with such madness! It is sheer madness to despise such a dignity without which we cannot attain salvation or Godís good promises.
For if a man "cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be born again of water and the Spirit,"5and if he that eateth not the Lordís flesh and drinketh not His blood is cast out of everlasting life,6as all these things can be accomplished only by means of the blessed hands of the priest, how can anyone, without their help, escape the fire of Gehenna or win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious? They are the only ones entrusted with spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism. Through them, we put on Christ and are united with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore, they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents, since these begot us "of blood and the will of the flesh." The priests are the authors of our birth from God, that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the adoption according to grace.
The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or to not release it, but only to examine those who were already released. And you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal not only with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness, and not just to certify its cure but to actually cure it. Those who look down upon these priests are far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve severe punishment. For the later, although they claimed to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, shown by the eagerness with which they pursued it. But the people we are considering have done just the opposite, at a time when the priesthood has been better regulated and enhanced. They have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in coveting an honor which does not pertain to one, and making light of it, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? No one, I should say, except the victim of some demonic impulse.
To return to the topic from which I digressed, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The difference between the two differs as much as the present and the future life. Our natural parents bring us into this life only, but priests into the life to come. Natural parents cannot avert death from their offspring, or repel disease. But priests have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, by making the punishment milder for some, and preventing others from ever incurring it, not only by instruction and admonition but also through helping them by prayer. They have the authority to remit sins, not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards too. "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."7 Again, our natural parents are unable to help their children if they come into conflict with the prominent and powerful in the world, but priests have often reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.
Will anyone after this still dare to condemn me for arrogance? I think that after what I have said, such reverence will fill the souls of the hearers that they will no longer condemn those who avoid the office of arrogance and fear, but only those who seek it of their own accord and are determined to obtain this dignity for themselves.
1. 2Cor. 3.10 (N.E.B.) 2. Cf. Matt. 18.18. 3. John 20.23. 4. John 5.22. 5. John 3.5. 6. Cf. John 6.53. 7 Jas. 5:14-15
8. The Difficulty of the Priesthood.
If it is true that those who are entrusted with civic government have sometimes destroyed cities, and also ruined themselves through lack of discretion and vigilance, then how much strength and power from above must a man need to avoid sin, whose task is to adorn the Bride of Christ?
No man loved Christ more than Paul; no man exhibited greater zeal than he; and no man was endowed with more grace. Nevertheless, after all these great advantages, it is with fear and trembling for his authority that he governs those entrusted to him. He says, "I fear, lest as the serpent beguiled Eve, so your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity which is towards Christ."1 And again, "I was with you in fear and in much trembling.2 Yet he was a man who had been "caught up to the third Heaven"3and made "partaker of the unspeakable mysteries of God,4and endured as many "deaths"5as he had lived days after he became a believer. He was a man who did not want to use the authority given him by Christ in case any of his converts should be offended.6
If, then, he who went beyond the ordinances of God, and nowhere sought advantage for himself but only for those under him, and was always so full of fear when he considered the magnitude of his responsibility, what will become of those who seek their own advantage, and fail to go beyond the commandments of Christ and for the most part, transgress them? "Who is weak," he says, "and I am not weak? Who is offended and I burn not?"7 That is what a priest ought to be like, or rather, not just like that, for these are small things, and really nothing in comparison with what I am going to say.
And what is that? "I could wish," he says, "that I were anathema from Christ for my brethrenís sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh."8 If anyone can utter such a speech, if anyone has the soul capable of such a prayer, he might justly be blamed if he evaded the priesthood. But if anyone falls as short of that standard as much as I do, he deserves to be hated for accepting the office, and not for having avoided it.
If those who had the right of conferring a military honor were to drag forward a coppersmith, or a shoemaker, or some such artisan for election to a generalship, and entrust the army to his hands, I should not praise the wretched man if he did not flee, and do all in his power to avoid plunging himself into such a disaster.
If, indeed, it is sufficient to bear the name of pastor, and to undertake haphazardly the work in hand without risk, then blame me of vainglory if you like. If on the contrary, the man who accepts this responsibility needs great understanding, and before that, the great grace of God, an upright character and purity of life, and more than human goodness, then do not deprive me of forgiveness if I am unwilling to perish in vain without a cause.
Moreover, if anyone in charge of a full-sized merchant ship, fully equipped with rowers, and laden with valuable freight, were to station me at the helm and bid me to cross the Aegean or the Tyrrhenian Sea, I should recoil from the proposal at once. If anyone asked me why, I should say, "To save sinking the ship!" When the loss concerns material wealth, and the danger extends only to bodily death, no one will blame those who exercise great prudence. Where the fate of the shipwrecked is to fall, not into the ocean but into the abyss of fire, and what awaits them is not that which severs the soul from the body but it is the death which consigns both together to eternal punishment, shall I incur your wrath and hate because I did not plunge headlong into so great an evil? I pray and beseech you not to. I know how weak and puny my soul is. I know the magnitude of this ministry and the great difficulty of the work. More stormy billows vex the soul of the priest than the gales that trouble the sea.
First of all, there is the dreadful rock of vainglory, more dangerous than the Sirensí rock of which the fable-mongers tell such marvelous tales. Many were able to sail past that and escape unscathed. But to me, this is so dangerous that even now, when no necessity of any kind impels me into that abyss, I am unable to stay clear of the snare. If anyone entrusted this charge to me, it would be the same as if he tied my hands behind my back, and delivered me to the wild beasts dwelling on that rock to rend me in pieces day by day. And what are those beasts? They are wrath, despondency, envy, strife, slanders, accusations, lying, hypocrisy, intrigue, anger against those who have done no harm, pleasure at the indecorous acts of fellow priests, sorrow at their prosperity, love of praise, desire of honor which drives the human soul headlong to perdition, doctrines devised to please, servile flatteries, ignoble flattery, contempt of the poor, paying court to the rich, senseless and mischievous honors, and harmful favors which endanger giver and receiver alike, sordid fear fit only for the basest of slaves, the abolition of plain speaking, much affectation of humility, banishment of truth, the suppression of convictions and reproofs, or rather the excessive use of them against the poor, while no one dares so much as to open his lips against those who yield power. For all these wise beasts and more are bred upon that rock of which I have spoken. And those people whom they have once captured are inevitably dragged down into such a depth of servitude, that even to please women, they often do many things which it is better not to mention.
The divine law has excluded women from the ministry, but they endeavor to thrust themselves into it, and since they can effect nothing for themselves, they do all through the agency of others. They have become invested with so much power that they can appoint or eject priests at their will. In fact, things are turned upside down, and the proverbial saying may be seen realized, "the ruled lead the rulers." It is bad enough if they were men but they are women who have not received a commission to teach. Why do I say teach? St. Paul did not even allow them to speak in Church.9 But I have heard someone say that they have obtained such freedom of speech, that they even rebuke the prelates of the Churches, and censure them more severely than masters would their slaves.
But let not any one suppose that I subject all to these charges, for there are many who are superior to these entanglements and exceed in number those who have been caught in them. Nor would I indeed make the priesthood responsible for these evils. God forbid that I should be such a fool! Wise men do not say that the sword is to blame for murder, nor wine for drunkenness, nor strength for outrage, nor courage for foolhardiness. No, they lay the blame on those who make an improper use of the gifts which have been bestowed upon them by God, and punish them accordingly. The priestly office might well accuse us of not handling it rightly. For it is not itself a cause of the evils already mentioned, but we, who as far as lies our power, have defiled it with so much pollution by entrusting it to commonplace men who readily accept what is offered them without having first acquired a knowledge of their own souls, or considered the gravity of the office. And when they come to exercise they ministry, they are blinded by inexperience, and they overwhelm with innumerable evils the people who have been committed to their care.
This is the thing that nearly happened to me, had not God speedily delivered me from those dangers, mercifully sparing his Church and my own soul. Tell me, where do you think such great troubles in the Churches originate? For my part, I believe that their only source is the inconsiderate and random way in which prelates are chosen and appointed. For the head ought to be the strongest part, in order to be able to regulate and control the evil exhalations which arise from the rest of the body as well. To prevent this coming to pass, God kept me in the position of the "feet" which was the rank originally assigned to me.
1. 2Cor. 11.3 2. 1Cor. 3.3. .3. 2Cor. 12.2. 4. Cf. 2Cor. 12.4. 5. 2Cor. 11.23. 6. 1Cor. 9.l2.
7. 2Cor. 11.29. 8. Rom. 9.3. 9. 1Cor. 14.34.
9. The Character and Temptations
of a Bishop.
There are many other qualities, Basil, besides those already mentioned, which the priest ought to have, but which I do not possess. Above all, he must purify his soul of ambition for the office. For if he happens to have a natural inclination for this dignity, a stronger flame is kindled as soon as he attains it, and the man being taken completely captive will endure innumerable evils in order to keep a secure hold upon it. He will even resort to flattery, or submit to something base and ignoble, or spend large sums of money. I will not, at this time, speak of the murders with which some have filled the Churches with, or the desolation which they have brought upon cities in contending for the dignity, lest some persons should think what I say is incredible.
I believe that one ought to exercise so much caution in the matter as to shun the burden of the office, and when one has entered upon it, not to wait for the judgement of others, should any fault be committed which warrants deposition, but anticipate it and depose yourself from the dignity. In this way, a man may probably gain Godís mercy. But if he clings to a position for which he is not fit, he deprives himself of all forgiveness, and kindles the wrath of God by adding a second error more offensive than the first. But no one will endure the strain, for it is a terrible temptation to covet this honor. In saying this, I do not contradict St. Paul, but entirely agree with his words. For he says: "If any man seeketh the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work."1 Now I have not said that it is a terrible thing to desire the work, but only the authority and power.
I think one ought to expel this desire from the soul with all possible earnestness, not permitting it at the outset to be possessed by such a feeling, so that he may always act with freedom. For he who does not desire to show that he is in possession of this authority, does not fear its loss either. Not fearing this, he will be able to act with the freedom which befits Christian men. But those who fear and dread deposition from this office endure a bitter servitude, filled with all kinds of evils, and are often compelled to offend both man and God.
But the soul ought not to be affected in this way. As in warfare, we see noble-spirited soldiers fighting willingly and falling bravely, so those who have attained to this stewardship should be content to be consecrated to the dignity or removed from it, as befits Christian men, knowing that such deposition earns a crown no less than the office itself.
For when anyone suffers anything of this kind because he will not submit to something which is unbecoming or unworthy of this dignity, he procures a greater punishment for those who wrongfully depose him and a greater reward for himself. "Blessed are ye," says our Lord, "when men shall reproach you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven."2 This is surely the case when one is expelled by those of his own rank, either through envy, or with a view to please others, or through hatred, or from any other wrong motive. But when he gets this treatment from his enemies, I do not think any argument is needed to prove what great gain they confer upon him by their wickedness.
So we must be thoroughly on our guard and make a careful search to prevent any spark of this desire to be secretly smouldering somewhere. It is much to be desired that those who are originally free from this passion should also be able to avoid it when they have lighted upon this office. If anyone cherishes in himself this terrible and savage monster before he obtains the honor, there is no telling into what a furnace he will fling himself into after he has attained it. For my own part, I possess this desire to a high degree, and do not suppose that I would ever tell you what was untrue in self-disparagement. Combined with other reasons, this alarmed me and impelled me to take flight. For just as lovers of a human person suffer more severe torment from their passion as long as they are permitted to be near the objects of their affection, they throw off their frenzy when they are as far way as possible from these objects of desire. Also, when those who desire this dignity are near it, the evil becomes intolerable, but when they cease to hope for it, the desire is extinguished together with the expectation.
This single motive then is no slight one, and taken by itself, it would have sufficed to deter me from this dignity. As it is, there is another motive no less than the former. What is it? A priest ought to be sober minded, and penetrating in discernment, and possess a thousand eyes looking in every direction, for he lives not for himself alone but for a great multitude. But I am sluggish and slack, and scarcely able to bring about my own salvation, as even you should admit, who, out of love for me, are eager to conceal my faults.
Do not speak to me now of fasting and vigils or sleeping on the ground and other hard bodily discipline. You know how defective I am in these matters. But even if I had carefully practiced them, they could not, with my present sluggishness have been of any service to me with a view to this post of authority. Such things might be of great service to a man shut up in a cell and concerned only about his own soul. But when a man is divided among so great a multitude, and enters separately into the private cares of those who are under his direction, what appreciable help can be given to their improvement unless he possesses a robust and vigorous character?
Do not be surprised if, in addition to such endurance, I seek another test of fortitude in the soul. To be indifferent to food and drink and a soft bed is not a hard task to many, especially to those who have been brought up in this way from early youth, and to many others as well. For bodily discipline and custom softens the severity of these laborious practices. However, there are not many, only a few here and there, who can bear insult, and abuse, and coarse language and gibes from inferiors, spoken wantonly or deliberately, and rebukes made at random, both by rulers and the ruled. You can see men who are valiant in ascetic practices become so completely upset by these things as to become more furious than the most savage beasts. We should especially exclude such men from the precincts of the priesthood. No harm would be done to the common interests of the Church if a prelate did not loathe food, or go barefoot, but a furious temper causes great disasters both to him who possesses it, and to his neighbors.
There is no divine threat against those who fail to do the things referred to, but those who are angry without a cause are threatened with hell and hell fire.3 As, then, the lover of vainglory adds fresh fuel to the fire when he assumes direction of a whole multitude like some wild beast Goaded On all sides by countless tormentors. He would never be able to live in peace, and would cause incalculable evil to those people committed to his charge.
Nothing clouds the purity of the mind and the perspicuity of the mental vision as much as undisciplined wrath that fluctuates violently. Scripture says, "This destroys even the prudent."4 For the soulís eye is darkened as in a nocturnal battle and cannot distinguish friend from foe, nor the honorable from the unworthy. It handles them all in turn the same way, even if some harm must be suffered, readily enduring everything in order to satisfy the pleasure of the soul. For a fire of wrath is a kind of pleasure and tyrannizes over the soul more harshly than pleasure, completely upsetting itís healthy condition. It easily impels men to arrogance, to unseasonable enmities and unreasonable hatred, and it continually makes them ready to commit wanton and vain offences, and forces them to say and do many other things of that kind. The soul is swept along with the rush of passion, and has no base on which to fasten its strength and resist so strong an impulse.
Basil: I will not endure this irony of yours any longer. Who knows better than I how far removed you are from this infirmity?
John: Why then, my good friend, do you want to drag me near the pyre and provoke the sleeping beast? Do you not know that I have achieved this condition, not by any innate virtue, but by my love of retirement? When one who is so constituted remains contented by himself, or only associates with one or two friends, he is able to escape the fire which arises from his passion. However, if he has plunged into the abyss of all these cares, he drags not only himself, but also many others with him to the brink of destruction, and renders them more indifferent to all consideration for gentleness. For the mass of people under government are generally inclined to regard the character of their rulers as a model type, and to assimilate themselves to it. How then could any one put a stop to their outbursts, if he is himself swelling with rage? Who amongst the multitude would naturally desire to learn self-control when he sees that his ruler is hot-tempered?
The priestís shortcomings simply cannot be concealed. On the contrary, even the most trivial ones soon become known. The weakest athlete can conceal his weakness as long as he remains at home and contends with no one; but when he strips for the contest, he is easily detected. For some who live this private and inactive life, their isolation serves as a veil to hide their defects; but when they are brought into public life, they are compelled to divest themselves of this mantle of seclusion, and to lay bare their souls to all through their visible movements. As, then, their right deeds profit many by challenging them to equal zeal, so their shortcomings make men more indifferent to the practice of virtue, and encourage them to indolence for the things that matter. Therefore, his soul ought to gleam with beauty on every side so that it may be able to gladden and to enlighten the souls of those who behold it.
The faults of ordinary men, being committed as it were in the dark, ruin only those who commit them. But the errors of a man in a conspicuous position, and known to many, inflict a common injury upon all, rendering those who have fallen more supine in their efforts for good, and driving to desperation those who wish to improve. Apart from this, the faults of insignificant men, even if made public, harm no one seriously. But they who occupy the highest seat of honor are visible to all, and if they err in the smallest matters, these trifles seem great to others, since everyone measures the sin, not by the magnitude of the offence, but by the rank of the offender.
The priest must be protected on all sides by steel armor, by intense earnestness, and perpetual watchfulness concerning his manner of life, lest someone discovering an exposed and neglected spot should inflict a deadly wound. For all who surround him are ready to smite and overthrow him, not only his enemies and foes, but many of those who pretend to love him.
Therefore, the souls of men elected to the priesthood ought to be endued with power as hardy as Godís grace once bestowed on the bodies of those saints cast in the Babylonian furnace.5 Brush-wood and pitch and tow are not the fuel of this fire, but something far more dreadful. It is no material fire to which they are subjected, but the all-devouring flame of envy encompasses them, rising up on every side and assailing them, rising up all round, and assailing them and searching their life more thoroughly than the fire did the bodies of those young men. When it finds a slight trace of stubble, it speedily lays hold of it and entirely consumes this unsound part, while all the rest of the fabric, even if it is brighter than the sunbeams, is scorched and blackened by the smoke.
For as long as the life of the priest is well regulated in every particular point, their intrigues cannot hurt him. But if he happens to overlook some trifle, as is natural in a human being traversing the treacherous ocean of this life, none of his other good deeds are of any avail in enabling him to escape the words of his accusers. That small offence casts a shadow over all the rest of his life. Everyone is ready to pass judgment on the priest, not as one clothed in flesh, not as one who possesses a human nature, but as an angel exempt from the frailty of others.
All men fear and flatter a tyrant as long as his power lasts because they cannot depose him, but when they see his power decline, those who were his friends a short time ago abandon their hypocritical respect, and suddenly become his enemies and antagonists. Having discovered all his weaknesses, they set upon him, and depose him from power. So it is with priests. Those who honored him and courted him when he was in power, eagerly prepare to dispose him as soon as they have found some little handle, not only as a tyrant, but something far more dreadful than that. As the tyrant fears his bodyguards, also does the priest dread most of his neighbors and fellow-ministers. For no others covet his dignity so much or know his affairs as well as these men. Being close to him, they learn before others of any faults that may occur. If they slander him, they easily command belief, and by magnifying trifles, they take their victim captive. For the apostolic saying is reversed: "And if one member suffereth, all the members rejoice; and if one member is honored, all the members suffer,"6 unless, by his great discretion, a man should be able to survive it all.
Are you, then, sending me forth into so great a warfare? Did you think that my soul was equal to such a complex and intricate battle? Where did you get the information, and from whom? And if God revealed this to you, show me the oracle and I will obey. But if you cannot do so, and are making a judgment from human opinion only, then deceive yourself no longer. For in what concerns my own affairs, it is fairer to trust me over others since "no man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is in him."7
With these arguments, I think I must have now convinced you, if not before, that I should have made both my electors and myself ridiculous by having accepted this office, and should have, with great loss, returned again to this condition of life in which I am now. For it is no only malice, but something far worse ó the lust after this office ó that is wont to arm many against the one who possesses it. Just as avaricious sons begrudge their fathers a long life, so when some of these men see the priestly office held by anyone for a prolonged period, they hasten to depose him as it would be wicked to murder him. Being desirous to take his place, everyone expects that the office will fall to him.
5. Dan. 3.27. 6. Contrast 1Cor. 12.26. 7. Cf. 1Cor. 2.11.
10. Particular Duties and Problems.
Would you like me to show you yet another phase of this strife which is full of innumerable dangers? Come, then, and take a peep at the public festivals when it is generally the custom for elections to be made to ecclesiastical dignities. You will then see the priest assailed with accusations as numerous as the people whom he rules. For all who are qualified to bestow the honor are then split into many parties, and one can never find the council of elders of one mind with each other, nor with the one who has received the Episcopal office. Each man stands alone, one preferring this man and another that. The reason is that they do not all concentrate on one thing ó spiritual worth ó which ought to be the only object kept in view. There are other qualifications which influence appointment to this office. For instance, one man says, "Let this man be chosen because he belongs to a distinguished family"; another says, "Because he possesses a large fortune and would not need supporting out of the Churchís revenues"; another, "Because he is a convert from the other side." One man is anxious to give preference to a friend, another to a relative, a third to a flatterer, but no one will look for the best-qualified man or make a test of his character.
I myself am so far from thinking these things trustworthy criteria of a manís fitness for the priesthood. Even if anyone manifested great piety, which is no small help in the discharge of that office, I should not venture to approve him on that account alone, unless he combined considerable intelligence with his piety. For I know many men who have exercised perpetual restraint upon themselves, and exhausted themselves with fasting, and who, as long as they were allowed to live alone and attend to their own needs, were acceptable to God, and every day made great progress in this kind of learning. Yet, when they entered public life, and were compelled to correct the ignorance of the multitudes, some of them proved at the outset that they were incompetent for so great a task, and others, when forced to persevere in it, abandoned their former strict standards, and inflicted great injury upon themselves and were not of the least use to others.
Again, if a man has spent all his life in the lower order of the ministry and has reached extreme old age, I would not, merely out of reverence for his years, promote him to the higher dignity. What if, arriving at that time of life, he should still remain unfit for the office? I do not say this out of disrespect for gray hairs, nor am I laying down a rule that we should absolutely exclude from this responsibility those who come from the monastic brotherhood. It has turned out that many who have issued from that body have shed luster upon this office. The point which I am anxious to prove is, that if neither piety of itself nor advanced age alone are sufficient to prove a man worthy of the priesthood, the reasons formerly alleged are hardly likely to do so.
There are men who bring forward other pretexts which are stranger still. Some men are enlisted in the ranks of the clergy to prevent them from siding with the enemy, and others on account of their evil disposition, in order to stop them from causing great mischief if they are overlooked. Could anything be more contrary to right rule than this ó that corrupt men, laden with iniquity, should be courted for the very things for which they ought to be punished, and promoted to the priestly dignity for the very things for which they ought to be forbidden from crossing the threshold of the Church?
Tell me, then, do we need to look any further for the cause of Godís wrath when we expose such sacred and awe-inspiring things to be defiled by wicked or worthless men? When some men are entrusted with the administration of things which are not at all suitable to them, and others, with the administration of things quite beyond their powers, they make the condition of the Church like that of Euripus.
Formerly, I used to deride secular rulers because they distributed honors not on grounds of moral excellence, but on wealth, and seniority, and worldly distinction. When I heard that this kind of folly had forced its way into our affairs also, I no longer regarded their conduct as so atrocious. For why should we be surprised that worldly men, who love the praise of the multitude, and do everything for the sake of gain, should commit these sins, when those who claim to be free from all these influences are no better? Although they are in a contest for heavenly rewards, they act as if the question submitted for decision was one which concerns acres of land, or something else of the kind. They simply take commonplace men, and put them in charge of those things for which the only-begotten Son of God did not disdain to empty Himself of His glory, and to become man, and to take the form of a servant, and to be spat upon, and buffeted, and to die a death of reproach in the flesh.
Nor do they stop even here, but they add to these offences others still more monstrous. Not only to they elect unworthy men, but they actually expel those who are well qualified. As if it were necessary to undermine the safety of the Church in both ways, or as if the former provocation were not enough to kindle the wrath of God, they have contrived another reason no less serious. For I consider it as bad to keep out the useful as to bring in the useless. This in fact takes place so that the flock of Christ is unable to find consolation in any direction or draw its breath freely. Does this not deserve to be punished by a hail of thunderbolts and hell-fire hotter than that with which we are threatened? Yet these monstrous evils are borne patiently by Him who does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. How can we marvel at His loving kindness for man, or be amazed at His mercy? Christians destroy the property of Christ more than enemies and adversaries, yet the good Lord still deals gently with them and calls them to repentance.
Glory be to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee! How vast is the depth of Thy loving kindness! How great the riches of Thy forbearance! Men, who through Thy name have risen from insignificance and obscurity to positions of honor and distinction, use the honor they enjoy against Him who bestowed it, and commit deeds of outrageous audacity. They insult holy things, rejecting and expelling men of zeal, in order that the wicked may have perfect freedom and full security to ruin everything at their pleasure.
If you want to know the causes of this dreadful evil, you will find that they are similar to those I mentioned before. They have one root and so to speak one mother ó envy, and this is manifested in different forms. For we are told that one is to be struck out of the list of candidates because he is young; another, because he does not know how to flatter; a third, because he has offended so-and-so; a fourth, in case so-and-so should be hurt at seeing his nominee rejected and another man appointed; a fifth, because he is kind and gentle; a sixth, because sinners fear him; a seventh, for some other similar reason. They are at no loss to find as many pretexts as they want, and can even make a manís wealth an objection if they have no other. Indeed, they are capable of discovering, gently and gradually, many other reasons why a man should not receive this honor.
But I should like to ask you now what the prelate ought to do when he has to contend with so many winds? How can he stand firm against such billows? How can he repel all these assaults? If he manages the business upon upright principles, all men become enemies and foes to him and to those whom he has chosen. They will provoke, with a view of contention, daily strife, and heap scorn upon the candidates until they either strike them off the list, or introduce their own men. It is like a captain having pirates sailing with him on board ship, and continually plotting hour by hour against him and the sailors and crew. If, on the other hand, he favors such men over his salvation by accepting unworthy candidates, he will incur Godís enmity in place of theirs. And what could be worse than that? His relations with them will be more difficult than before since they will all conspire together, and thereby become more powerful than before. When fierce winds coming from opposite directions clash with one another, the sea, which before was calm, suddenly rages and towers and destroys those who sail on it; so the calm sea of the Church is filled with surf and wreckage when evil men are accepted.
Consider, then, what qualities a man needs if he is to withstand such a tempest, and deal successfully with these obstacles to the common good. He ought to be dignified yet modest, impressive yet kind, masterful yet approachable, impartial yet courteous, humble but not servile, strong yet gentle, in order that he may successfully contend all these difficulties and promote with authority a suitable man for the office even though everyone should oppose him. He must keep one aim only in view, the building up of the Church. He must do nothing out of hostility or favor.
Well, then, do you think I was unreasonable in declining the ministry of this office? But I have not yet gone through all my reasons with you for I still have some others to say. So do not lose patience in listening to a friendly and sincere man who wishes to clear himself of your accusations. For what I say is not only of service to you in my defense, but will probably afford considerable help for the due administration of the office. For anyone who is about to enter upon this walk of life needs to investigate thoroughly beforehand all matters before he sets undertakes this ministry. And why? Because one who knows all difficulties beforehand will have the advantage of not being taken by surprise when they crop up.
Widows and the Sick
Would you like me then to approach the question of the superintendence of widows, or of the care of virgins, or of the difficulty of the judicial function? For in each of these cases, there is a different kind of anxiety and the fear is greater than the anxiety.
In the first place, even though this ministry appears to be easier than the rest, the charge of widows seems to cause anxiety to those who take care of them so far as the expenditure of money is concerned. But this is not so. On the contrary, here also close scrutiny is needed when they are enrolled. Entering their names carelessly has led to untold troubles. For they have ruined households, and severed marriages, and have often been detected stealing and pilfering and committing other disgraceful offences like these. To support women like that from the Churchís funds provokes punishment from God, and extreme condemnation from men, and discourages those who want to do good. For who could ever choose to spend the money which he was commanded to give to Christ upon those who defame the name of Christ? For these reasons a long and precise scrutiny ought to be made to prevent those whom I have described, as well as those who can provide for themselves, from plundering the table of those who cannot.
After this scrutiny, there follows another bit anxiety ó to see that the means for their support should pour in abundantly, like water from a spring, and never fail. For compulsory poverty is an insatiable kind of evil, querulous and unthankful. Great discretion and great zeal is required to take away all occasions for complaint and stop their tongues from wagging. When people see anyone superior to avarice, they at once point him out as suitable for this stewardship. But I do not think that honesty by itself is sufficient. Although it ought to be possessed prior to all other qualities, since without this a man will be a destroyer rather than a protector, a wolf instead of a shepherd. But you must look for the possession of another quality as well, and that is forbearance, the source of all human blessings, which guides the soul into a serene heaven.
For widows are a class who, both on account of their poverty, their age and natural disposition, indulge in unlimited freedom of speech ó to call it no worse! They make unseasonable clamor and idle complaints and lamentations about matters for which they ought to be grateful, and bring accusations concerning things which they ought contentedly to accept. Now the superintendent should endure all these things in a generous spirit, and not be provoked either by their inopportune annoyance or their unreasonable complaints. For persons of this kind deserve to be pitied, not insulted for their misfortunes. It would be a mark of utter cruelty to take advantage of their misfortunes, and add to the pain of poverty the pain of insult.
That is why a very wise man, observing the avarice and pride of human nature, realized the nature of poverty and its terrible power to depress even the noblest character, and often teaches it to lose all shame on such matters. To prevent anyone being irritated when accused or provoked by continual importunity to become an enemy when he ought to bring aid, he instructs him to be gentle and accessible to the needy saying: "Incline thine ear to a poor man without grieving and answer him with peaceable words in meekness."1 In the case of one who provokes a man in distress ó for what can you say to someone who is overcome ó he addresses the man who is able to bear the otherís infirmity, urging him, before he bestows his gift, to correct the suppliant by the gentleness of his countenance and the mildness of his words. If anyone, without having taken the property of these widows, loads them with innumerable reproaches and insults them and is exasperated against them, he not only fails through his gift to alleviate the despondency of poverty, but aggravates the distress by his abuse. Even if they are compelled by sheer hunger to act shamelessly, they are still hurt by this compulsion. When they are forced to beg because of the dread of famine, they are constrained to put off shame and are insulted because of their brazenness, and the power of despondency, which attacks them, casts a deep gloom over their soul.
Whoever is in charge of these persons should be so long-suffering so that far from increasing their despondency by his fits of anger, he actually removes the greater part of it by his sympathy. For just as a rich man who has been insulted forgets the benefits of his wealth on account of the blow of the insult, so on the other hand, the man who has been addressed with kindly words, and whose gift has been accompanied with encouragement, exults and rejoices all the more. The gift becomes doubled in value through the manner in which it was offered. I say this, not of myself, but on the authority of the writer whose precept I have already quoted. "My son, to thy good deeds add no blemish, and no grief of words in any of thy giving. Shall not the dew assuage the scorching heat? So is a word better than a gift. Lo, a word is better than a gift; and both are with a gracious man." 2
The guardian of these people must not only be gentle and forbearing, but also a good steward. For if this quality is missing, the affairs of the poor are again exposed to loss. Not long ago, someone was entrusted with this ministry, and having collected a large amount of money, did not waste it on himself but, except for a few, had not spent it on the needy either. He had buried in the earth the greater part of it until a season of distress occurred, and then surrendered it into the hands of the enemy. Much foresight, therefore, is needed to prevent the resources of the Church either piling up or running short. It is better to quickly distribute all that is subscribed among the needy and lay up treasures for the Church stored in the hearts of those who are under her rule.
Moreover, for the hospitality of strangers and the care of the sick, consider how great an expenditure of money is required, and how much exactness and discernment is needed on the part of those who preside over these matters. It is often necessary that this expenditure should be even larger than that of which I have just spoken about. The man who presides over it should combine prudence and wisdom, with skill in the art of supply, so as to encourage the affluent to emulate one another and to be ungrudging in their gifts. His object is to provide for the relief of the sick and not vex the souls of the contributors. Earnestness and zeal need to be displayed here in a far higher degree, for the sick are difficult to please, and are prone to languor. Unless every care and attention is lavished on them, the smallest neglect is enough to cause the patient great distress.
As for the care of virgins, the fear is all the greater in proportion as the treasure is more precious, and this group is of a nobler character than the others. Already, even into the band of these holy ones, great numbers of women, full of innumerable vices, have intruded into the ranks of these holy ones. In this case, the grief is greater here. It is not the same thing for a virgin and a widow to go astray as it is with a freeborn girl and her servant to fall into sin. With widows, it has become common practice to trifle and to rail at one another, to flatter or to be impudent, to appear everywhere in public, and to loiter about the market place. But the virgin has striven for nobler aims and devoted herself to the highest philosophy. She professes to live on earth the life of angels, and while in the flesh, proposes to do deeds which belong to the incorporeal powers. Moreover, she must not make numerous or unnecessary journeys, nor is it permissible for her to utter idle and random words without good reason. She should not even know the meaning of abuse or flattery. On this account, she needs careful guardianship and the greatest support. For the enemy of holiness is always surprising them and lying in wait for them, ready to devour any one of them if they should slip and fall. Many men also lay snares for them, and besides all these things there is their own passionate natures. The virgin must equip herself for a twofold war, one launched from the outside and the other from within. For these reasons, he who has the guardianship of virgins suffers great alarm and distress should any of the things occur which, God forbid, are contrary to his wishes.
For if a daughter is "a secret cause of wakefulness to her father,"3 and his care for her makes him loose sleep through his great anxiety that she may be childless, or pass her prime unmarried, or be hated by her husband, what more will a man feel whose anxiety is over none of these dangers, but over others far greater than these? For in this case, it is not a man who is rejected but Christ Himself. And here, barrenness is not merely the subject of reproach, but the evil end in the soulís destruction. "For every tree," he says, "which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.4 And if she has been repudiated by the Bridegroom, it is not sufficient to receive a certificate of divorce and so depart, but she has to pay the penalty of eternal torment.
A natural father has many things that make is easy to watch over his daughter. For a mother and a nurse and many handmaids share in helping to keep the girl safe. She is not allowed to be perpetually dashing into the market-place, and when she does go there, she is not allowed to show herself to passers-by since the dusk of the evening conceals her no less than the walls of the house. And apart from this, she is relieved from every
cause which might otherwise compel her to meet the gaze of men. She has no anxiety about the necessities of life, nor the insults of wrongdoers, nor anything of that kind which reduces her to this unfortunate necessity since her father represents her in all matters. But she herself has one care only, which is to avoid doing or saying anything unworthy of the modest conduct which becomes her.
But in the case of a virgin, there are many circumstances which make it difficult, or rather impossible for her spiritual father to protect her. He cannot have her in his house since it would not be seemly or safe to live together. For even if they themselves should suffer no harm, but continue to preserve their innocence unsullied, they would have to answer for the souls they have offended, just as much as if they happened to sin with one another. As it is impossible for them to live together, it is not easy to understand the movements of the character, and to suppress the ill regulated impulses, and train and improve those which are better ordered and tuned. Nor is it easy to interfere with her habits of going out, for her poverty and independence does not permit him to become a close investigator of the propriety of her conduct. As she is compelled to manage all her affairs, she has many pretexts for going out, especially if she is not inclined to be self-controlled. Now, if someone orders her always to remain at home, he must take away these pretexts, provide sufficient provision for her daily needs, and give her a woman to attend to them. He must also keep her away from funerals and vigils, for that subtle serpent knows very well how to spread his poison even by means of good deeds. The virgin must be completely immured, and must leave her house only a few times each year when urgent necessity compels her.
Should anyone say that it is not the bishopís job to attend to any of this, he must bear in mind that all particular anxieties and accusations are referred to him. It is much better for him to manage everything himself, and so be rid of the criticism which he must otherwise incur through the faults of others, than to abstain from the management and then have to dread being called to account for what others have done. Moreover, if he does everything himself, he gets through all his business with great ease. But if he is compelled to do it by converting everyoneís opinion, the relief he gets through freedom from personal labor is not equal to the trouble and bother he is caused by those who oppose him and resist is decisions.
However, I could no enumerate all the anxieties concerned with the care of virgins. For when they have to be enrolled on the list, they cause no small trouble to the man who is entrusted with this administration.
Again, the judicial function of the bishopís office involves innumerable vexations, much expenditure of time, and greater difficulties exceeding those experienced by those who sit to judge secular affairs. It is a problem to find where justice lies, and it is hard not to destroy it when found. Not only loss of time and difficulties are incurred, but there is also no little danger. Before now, some of the weaker brethren have plunged into disputes because they have not obtained patronage, and have "made shipwreck concerning the faith."5 Many of those who have suffered wrong, no less than those who have inflicted wrong, hate those who do not assist them. They will not take into account either the intricacy of the matters in question, or the difficulty of the times, or the limitation of ecclesiastical authority, or anything of the kind. They are merciless judges, who recognize only one kind of defense ó release from the evils which oppress them. If he cannot offer them this, however many good reasons he gives, he will never avoid condemnation.
Talking of patronage, let me disclose another pretext for fault-finding. If the bishop does not pay a round of visits every day, even more than the idle men about town, unspeakable offence ensues. Not only the sick, but also the healthy want to be visited by the bishop, not so much because their piety prompts them, but in most cases they lay claim to honor and distinction. And if he happens to visit one of the richer and more influential men more frequently, prompted by some special need and for some common good of the Church, he wins at once the reputation for fawning and flattery.
But why mention favoritism and visiting? The mere way in which bishops address people is enough to incur such a load of reproaches that they are often burdened and overwhelmed by despondency. In fact, they have to undergo a scrutiny of the way in which they use their eyes, for the public rigorously criticizes their simplest actions. They take note of the tone of their voice, the cast of their countenance, and the frequency of their laughter. "He laughed heartily at such a man," says one, "and spoke to him with a bright face and hearty voice; whereas to me he addressed only a slight and passing remark." If he does not turn his eyes in every direction when he is conversing to a large assembly, the majority declares that his conduct is insulting.
Who, then, unless he is exceedingly strong, could cope with so many accusers, and either not be indited by them or escape indictment? For he must either be without any accusers, or, if this is impossible, purge himself of the accusations which are brought against him. And, if this again is not an easy matter, as some men delight in making vain and wanton charges, he must make a brave stand against the dejection produced by these complaints. A man who is justly accused may easily tolerate the accuser. For since there is no accuser more bitter than our own conscience, we have no difficulty in bearing the milder accusations of others. But he who has no evil thing upon his conscience, is speedily excited to wrath when he is subjected to an empty charge, and he easily sinks into dejection unless he happens to have practiced beforehand how to put up with the follies of the multitude. For it is utterly impossible for one who is falsely accused without cause and condemned, to avoid feeling some vexation and annoyance at such great injustice. And how can one describe the grief bishops feel when anyone has to be excommunicated from the body of the Church? If only the evil went no further than distress! But in fact, it may lead to terrible loss. For if it is to be feared that if a man is punished beyond what he deserves, he may do what St. Paul speaks of, and "be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow."6 Here, also, great care is needed to ensure that what was meant to help does not become the occasion of greater loss. For whatever sins he may commit after such a method of treatment, the physician who so unskillfully applies his knife to the wound shares the wrath caused by each of them.
What severe punishment, then, must a man expect, when he not only has to render account for his own offences, but also stands in the utmost peril for the sins of others? For if we shudder at undergoing judgment for our own misdeeds, believing that we shall not be able to escape the fire of the other world, what must one expect to suffer who has to answer for so many others? To prove that this is true, hear what St. Paul says, or rather, not Paul but Christ speaking to him: "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit to them; for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account."7 Is the fear of this threat trivial? We dare not say it is.
Surely, all this is enough to persuade the most stubborn and obstinate that my reason for hiding was not pride or vainglory, but merely out of fear for my own safety, and consideration of the gravity of the office.
1. Ecclus. 4..8. 2. Ecclus. 18.15-17. 3. Ecclus. 42.9. 4. Matt. 3.10. 5. 1Tim. 1.19. 6. 2Cor. 2.7. 7. Heb. 13.17.
11. The Penalty for Failure.
Basil listened to this, and after a short pause he said:
If you had been personally ambitious to obtain this office, your fear would have been reasonable. Anyone who, by his ambition to obtain it, confesses himself to be qualified for its administration, and if he fails after it has been entrusted to him, cannot take refuge in the plea of inexperience. He deprived himself of that excuse in advance by coming forward and grabbing the ministry eagerly. And one who has voluntarily taken up the work of his own free will can no longer say, "I have sinned in this matter against my will," or, "I have ruined such and such a soul." For He who will one day judge him will say to him: "Since you were conscious of your great inexperience, and had not the ability to undertake this vocation without incurring reproach, why were you so eager and presumptuous as to take in hand what was far beyond your own powers? Who compelled you to do it? Did you shrink or try to escape?" But you, at any rate, will never hear this said to you. Nor will you have to condemn yourself for that kind of thing. It is evident to all that you never showed the least ambition for this honor as the accomplishment of the matter was due to the action of others. What deprives the ambitious of pardon for their mistakes provides you with good grounds for excuse.
John: In answer to this I shook my head and smiled a little, admiring the simplicity of the man and replied:
I could only wish it were as you say, my best of friends, but not in order to enable me to accept the office which I have just evaded. For even if there were no punishment stored up for me for taking charge of the flock of Christ without consideration and experience, it would be worse than any punishment to be entrusted with so great a charge and seem so base towards Him who had entrusted me with it.
For what reason, then, did I wish that your opinion were not mistaken? I do so for the sake of those wretched, miserable men (for that is what I call those who have not found out how to discharge the duties of this office, however often you tell me that they were forced into it, and made their mistakes in ignorance). I wish they could escape the unquenchable fire and the outer darkness and this worm that never dies and the punishment of being cut asunder and perishing together with the hypocrites! But what can I do? It cannot be so.
If you like, I will give you proof of what I say, beginning with an argument from kingship which is not so highly esteemed by God as the priesthood. When Saul, the son of Kish, was made king, he was not eager for the work. No, he set out to look for his asses and came to ask the prophet about them; but Samuel spoke to him about the kingship. Instead, he hesitated and excused himself saying, "Who am I, and what is my fatherís house?"1 And what happened? When he had made a bad use of the honor bestowed on him by God, did this plea suffice to save him from the wrath of Him who had made him king? And yet he might have answered Samuelís accusation by saying, "Did I greedily run and rush after the kingship and sovereign power? I wished to live the undisturbed and peaceful life of ordinary men, but you forced me into this post of honor. If I had remained in my lowly life, I should easily have avoided these stumbling blocks. Surely, if I had been one of the crowd, without special distinction, I should never have been sent forth for this work, nor would God have put me in charge of the war against the Amalekites. And if I had not been put in charge of it, I should never have committed this sin."
But all these excuses are feeble, and not only feeble but perilous inasmuch as they rouse Godís anger even more. For he who has been promoted to great honor by God must not advance the greatness of his honor as an excuse for his errors. He should make Godís special favor towards him the motive for further improvement. But he who thinks himself at liberty to sin because he has been so highly honored, is determined to prove that the cause of his sins is the kindness of God. This is always the argument of those who lead godless and careless lives. We must not be on any account like-minded or fall into the insane folly of such people. Rather, we should at all times, be determined to play our part to the best of our ability, and to be reverent both in speech and thought.
Again, to leave the kingship and come now to the priesthood, which is our real subject, Eli was not ambitious to obtain his high office. Yet, what advantage was this to him when he sinned therein? And why do I say "obtain"? He could not have avoided it if he had wanted to because he was under a legal necessity to accept it. For he was of the tribe of Levi and was bound to accept that high office which descended to him from his forefathers. But even so, he paid dearly for the drunken behavior of his sons.
Then again, did not the first High Priest of the Jews, about whom God spoke so many words to Moses, all but perish when he was unable to withstand alone the frenzy of so great a multitude except that the intercession of his brother averted the wrath of God? And since I have mentioned Moses, it will be well to show the truth of my argument from what happened to him too. For this same saintly Moses was so far from grasping at the leadership of the Jews as to deprecate the offer, and declined it when God commanded him to take it, provoking the wrath of God who appointed him. Not only then, but also afterwards, when he held the office, he would gladly have died to have been set free from it. "Kill me," he said, "if Thou wilt thus deal with me."2 What followed? When he sinned at the waters of Meribah, were his repeated refusals enough to excuse him and to persuade God to pardon him? For what else, then, was he deprived of the Promised Land? For no other reason, as we all know, except this sin, for which that wondrous man was debarred from enjoying the same blessings which those over whom he ruled obtained. After many labors and sufferings, after that unspeakable wandering, after so many battles fought and victories won, he died outside the land he had struggled so hard to reach. Though he weathered the storms of the sea, he failed to enjoy the blessings of the haven.
Do you see, then, that it is not only those who grasp at this office who are left without excuse for the sins they commit, but also those who are led to it through the ambitious desires of others. For truly those persons, who have been chosen for this high office by God himself, though they have never so often refused it, have paid such heavy penalties. If nothing has availed to deliver any of them from this danger, neither Aaron nor Eli, nor that holy man, the saint, who spoke as a friend with God, the prophet, the wonder worker, the meek above all men which were upon the face of the earth, surely we, who fall so far short of his goodness, shall not be able to plead as our excuse the consciousness that we have never been ambitious of this dignity, especially when many of todayís ordinations do not proceed from the grace of God, but from human ambition.
God chose Judas and set him in that holy company, and granted him the dignity of the apostolic office along with the rest, and gave him beyond the others, the stewardship of their money. And what happened? When he abused both of these trusts, betraying Him whom he was commissioned to preach, and misapplying the money which he should have laid out well, did he escape punishment? No, this was the very reason why he brought upon himself a greater punishment. And rightly so, for we must not misuse the high honors given to us by God so as to offend Him, but to please Him the more.
But a man who claims to be exempt from the punishment he deserves because he has been more highly honored than others, acts like one of the unbelieving Jews, who after hearing Christ say, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin," and, "If I had not done among them the works which none other did, they had not had sin."3 And when they would have accused the Savior and Benefactor of mankind and said, "Why then, did you come and speak? Why did you work miracles, so that you might punish us more severely?" Such words would be signs of madness and utter insanity. The Great Physician did not come to condemn you but to heal you and to rid you completely of your disease. But you withdrew yourself from His hands. Receive, then, heavier punishment. You would have been rid of your former disease if you had yielded to the treatment. But now that you have seen Him coming and avoided Him, you can no longer wash off these stains. And since you are unable, you will be punished for them, and for having frustrated Godís good solicitude.
So we who act like this are not subjected to the same test before we receive honor by Godís hands but we have much more severe torment after than before. If a kindly treatment has not made a man good, he deserves bitter punishment. Since, then, this excuse has been shown to be weak, and not only fails to save those who take refuge in it but exposes them to greater guilt, we must provide ourselves with some other means of safety.
Basil: What is that? For now, I cannot control myself as your words have reduced me to such a state of fear and trembling.
John: I beseech and implore you to not be so downcast. For while there is safety for us who are weak, namely in not undertaking this office at all, there is safety for you too who are strong. This consists in making your hopes of salvation depend on Godís grace, and avoiding every act unworthy of this gift and of God who gave it.
Men who, after getting this dignity by their own ambition, should then through sloth, or wickedness, or even inexperience, abuse the office deserve the greatest punishment. We are to gather from this that there is pardon in store for those who have not been so ambitious for office. On the contrary, they too are deprived of all excuse. I think that if vast numbers of men entreat and urge you, a man should pay no attention to them. First of all, a man should search his own heart and examine the whole matter carefully before yielding to their importunities.
For, after all, no one would venture to undertake the building of a house if he were not an architect, nor will anyone attempt to cure the sick if he is not a skilled physician. Even though many will urge him, he will beg off and will not be ashamed of his ignorance. Shall he then, who is going to have the care of so many souls entrusted to him, not examine himself beforehand? Will he accept this ministry despite his utter lack of experience because this man commends him, or that man constrains him, or for fear of offending yet another? How can he fail to involve himself, along with them into manifest misery? Left alone, he might save his own soul, but this way he involved others in his own destruction. How can he obtain pardon? Who will then successfully intercede for us? They who now perhaps urge us and compel us by force? But who will save them at that hour? Truly, they themselves need the help of others if they are to escape the fire.
I do not say these things to frighten you, but as the truth of the matter. Listen to what St. Paul says to his disciple Timothy, his true and beloved child: "Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partaker of other menís sins."4 Do you not see from what great blame and punishment I have rescued, as far as I could, those who would have brought me to this? It is not sufficient excuse for those who are chosen to say, "I did not come forward of my own accord; I accepted the office with my eyes shut." Equally, it will not help those who appoint a man to say that they did not know the man they appointed. The fault is all the greater because they brought someone forward they did not know. What seems to be an excuse actually increases their guilt. Is it not absurd that when people want to buy a slave, they show him to physicians, and demand guarantors for the purchase, and make inquiries of neighbors, and after all this they still lack confidence and demand a long trial period. Yet, when they are going to admit a man to so great an office as this, they make a careless and random choice, without further investigation, if someone sees fit to vouch for him or to avoid the displeasure of someone else?
Who shall then successfully intercede for us at the hour when they stand themselves in need of defenders? He who is going to ordain should make a diligent inquiry, and much more he who is going to be ordained. For though they who ordain him share his punishment for any sins which he may commit in his office, still he is not himself exempt from vengeance, but will pay even more dearly unless those who chose him acted from some worldly motive against their better judgement. For if they should be detected doing so, and knowingly chose him on some unworthy pretext or other, their punishment shall be equivalent to his and perhaps even greater. For if anyone gives authority to a man who wants to destroy the Church, he would be certainly to blame for the outrages which that person commits. But if he is innocent of all of this and pleads that he has been misled by the opinions of others, he shall not altogether remain unpunished, but be will be given a lighter penalty than the one who has been ordained. And why? Because it is possible that those who made the choice may have been deceived by a false report. They can say that they did not know him, but the man who is elected cannot say he did not know himself. Since, then, he is liable to a severer punishment than those who promoted him, he should make a more careful scrutiny of his character than that which they made of him. If they bring him forward in ignorance, he ought to come forward and carefully explain the reasons why he is unworthy of the responsibility of such a high office.
Why is it that when a decision has to do with war, commerce, farming and other worldly business, a farmer will not undertake to navigate the ship, nor the soldier to plough, nor a skipper to lead an army even if he were under the pain of death. Is not plainly because each foresees the danger of inexperience? Shall we exercise such foresight and refuse to yield to the pressure of compulsion, but where the punishment is eternal, as it is for those who know not how to handle the Priesthood, shall we lightly and casually run into so great a danger? Shall we then advance as our excuse the pressing entreaties of others? But He, who one day will judge us, will entertain no such plea as this. For we ought to show far more caution in spiritual matters than in earthly matters. In fact, however, we are discovered exercising even less.
Tell me, if we supposed that a man was a good craftsman when he is not so, and asked him to do a job and he accepted; and then having set his hands on the material provided for the building he ruined the wood and the stone, and built the house in such a way that it immediately collapsed, would it be sufficient excuse for him to allege that he had been urged by others and did not come of his own accord? Certainly not. It would not be fair or just as he ought to have refused the call of others. Shall, then, a man who only spoils wood and stone have no refuge from justice; and shall another who destroys souls, or builds them up carelessly, think that the compulsion of others will rescue him from punishment? Is that not absurd? I will not add the argument that no one can compel another against his will. Let it be granted that he has been subjected to excessive pressure and diverse artful devices, and so fell into a snare. Will that save him from punishment? I beseech you, let us not deceive ourselves so completely! Do not let us reply that we are ignorant of facts that are obvious to a mere child. For surely this pretense of ignorance will not be able to help us at the Day of Judgement.
You said that you were not ambitious of receiving this high office, conscious as you were of your own weakness. Very well. You should, then, on this assumption, have kept clear of it, even though others were inviting you. Were you weak and unsuitable when no one invited you, and did you suddenly become competent when others found you ready to offer you this dignity? The idea is absurd and ridiculous and deserves most severe punishment. For this very reason, the Lord bids the man who wants to build a tower not to lay the foundation before he has calculated his own ability to build into account, in order not to give passers by endless opportunities of mocking him. In his case, the penalty consists only of ridicule. But ours is fire unquenchable and the worm that never dies, gnashing of teeth, outer darkness, being cast asunder and being numbered with the hypocrites. But our accusers are unwilling to consider any of these things, for otherwise they would cease to blame a person who is unwilling to perish without cause.
12. The Ministry of the Word.
Our present inquiry is not the management of wheat and barley, or oxen and sheep, or any such like matters. It is the very Body of Jesus. For the Church of Christ is Christís own Body, according to St. Paul,1and the man who is entrusted with it must train it to perfect health and unspeakable beauty, and look everywhere lest any spot or wrinkle or other blemishes of that sort mar its vigor and comeliness. In short, he must make it worthy, as far as lies within human power, or that incorruptible and ever blessed Head to which it is subjected.
People who are keen for athletic fitness need the help of physicians and trainers, and a careful diet, and constant exercise, and any amount of other precautions. The omission of the merest detail upsets and spoils the whole scheme. How then shall they, whose vocation is not against flesh and blood but against powers unseen, be able to keep it sound and healthy unless they far surpass ordinary human virtue, and are versed in all healing suitable for the soul? Do you not realize that the body is subject to more diseases and attacks than this flesh of ours, and is infected more quickly and cured more slowly.
Physicians who treat the human body have discovered diverse medicines and various designs of instruments and appropriate forms of diet for the sick. Often the condition of the atmosphere is of itself enough for the recovery of a sick man. Sometimes a timely amount of sleep saves the physician further labor. But in this case, it is impossible to take any of these things into consideration. When all is said and done, there is only one means and only one method of treatment available, and that is by applying the Word. This is the one instrument, the only diet, and the finest climate. It takes the place of medicine, cauterization and surgery. If it is necessary to cauterize or amputate, this is the means which we must use. Without it, all else is useless. By it, we rouse the soul when it sleeps and reduce it when it is inflamed, we cut off excesses and fill up defects, and perform all manner of other operations which are required for the soulís health.
In adopting the best possible way of life, it is true that someone elseís example may spur us to emulation. However, when the soul is suffering from false doctrine, there is a great need of the Word, not only for the safety of our own people, but to meet the attacks of the enemy from without. If, indeed, one had the sword of the spirit and the shield of faith so as to be able to work miracles, and by means of these marvels to stop the mouths of impudent gainsayers, one would have little need of the assistance of the Word. In the days of miracles, the Word was by no means useless but essentially necessary. For St. Paul made use of it himself, although he aroused wonder everywhere for the miracles he performed. And another of the apostolic company urges us to pay attention to this power saying, "Be ready to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you."2 Moreover, with one accord, they all committed the care of the poor widows to Stephen for no other reason than that they might devote themselves to the ministry of the word. To this we ought equally to apply ourselves unless we are endued with a power or working miracles. But if there is not so much as a trace of that power left while on every side many enemies are constantly attacking us, it remains necessary for us to arm ourselves with this defense in order to avoid being struck with the darts of the enemy and to strike them with ours.
It should be our ambition that the Word of Christ dwells in us richly. For it is not for one kind of battle only that we have to be prepared. This warfare is manifold and is engaged with a great variety of enemies. They do not all use the same weapons nor do they practice the same method of attack. He who has to join battle with all must know the arts of all, and be at once both archer and slinger, cavalry officer and infantry officer, private soldier and general, in the ranks and in command, foot soldier and hussar, marine and engineer. In military warfare, each man repels the enemy by discharging the particular duty which he has undertaken. But in our warfare this is not so. If anyone wishes to conquer this battle, he must understand every aspect of the art as the devil knows well how to introduce his own assailants at a single neglected spot and plunder the flock. But not so where he perceives that the shepherd has mastered his whole repertoire and thoroughly understands his tricks.
We ought to be well guarded at every point. As long as a city happens to be surrounded with a wall, it mocks its besiegers and remains in perfect safety. But once a breach, no larger than a gate, is made in the wall, the rest of the circuit is of no use, although the rest of it stands safe. So it is with the city of God. As long as the presence of mind and wisdom of the shepherd encompass it like a wall all round, the enemyís entire devices end in his own confusion and ridicule, and the inhabitants remain unharmed. But when someone demolishes a single part, even though he fails to destroy it all, ruin will enter through that breach. To what purpose does a man contend earnestly with the Greeks if at the same time he becomes a prey to the Jews, and if he masters both of these, and then falls into the clutches of the Manicheans, or if, after he has proved himself superior to both of them, the exponents of "Destiny"3 slaughter the sheep standing inside the fold? Do I need to enumerate all the devilís heresies? It will be enough to say that unless the shepherd knows how to refuse every one of them effectively, the wolf can enter by a single one and devour most of the sheep.
In ordinary warfare, we must always expect that victory or defeat will depend on those who stand on the field of battle. But in spiritual warfare the case is quite different. Often the battle against others secures a victory for men who never engaged in battle at all nor took any trouble, but were sitting still and doing nothing. He who has not much experience in such occurrences will fall on his own sword and become an object of ridicule to friends and foes alike.
I shall try to explain my meaning to you by an example. Those who accept the wild doctrines of Valentinus and Marcion, and of all whose minds are similarly diseased, reject the Law given by God to Moses from the canon of Holy Scripture. The Jews, on the other hand, so revere the Law, that when the time has come which annuls it, they still contend for the observance of all its contents, contrary to Godís will. But the Church of God, avoiding both extremes, steers a middle course and is neither induced to place herself under its yoke, nor permits men to slander it but commends it, although it is abrogated, because it was serviceable in its time. So anyone who means to oppose both these parties must understand this balance. If he wants to teach Jews that they are out of date and clinging to the old law, and begins to find fault with it unsparingly, he gives no little handle to those heretics who wish to tear it in pieces. But if, in his determination to silence this group, he extols the Law immoderately and speaks of it with admiration as though it was necessary in our present age, he unseals the mouths of the Jews.
Again, those who are afflicted with the madness of Sabellius or the ravings of Arius have in both cases fallen away from a sound faith for want of observing a middle course. Both these heretics bear the name of Christian. But if you examine their doctrines, you will find the first group no better than the Jews, and differing from them only in name, and the other very nearly holding the heresy of Paul of Samosata, and that both are very far from the truth. There is great danger in such cases and the way of orthodoxy is straight and narrow, with threatening crags on either side. There is every reason to fear that, while trying to aim at one enemy, we should be struck by the other. For if anyone asserts the unity of the Godhead, Sabellius distorts the expression at once, to the advantage of his own madness. If, on the other hand, someone makes a distinction and says that the Father in one, the Son another, and the Holy spirit a third, up gets Arius twisting the distinction of Persons into a difference of Substance. We must shun and avoid the impious confounding of the Persons by the one party and the senseless division of the substance by the other by confessing that the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is one, then adding thereunto a Trinity of Persons. For then, we shall be able to fortify ourselves against the attacks of both heretics.
I could tell you of many other adversaries which would leave the field covered with wounds unless you fight with courage and with care. Why should any one describe the idle speculations of our own people? These are not less than the attacks upon us from outside and they cause the teacher even more trouble. Some people, out of idle curiosity, are rashly bent upon busying themselves about matters which are neither possible for them to know, nor of any advantage to them even if they understand them. Others demand from God an account for His judgement and force themselves to sound the depth of that abyss which is unfathomable. For the Psalmist says: "Thy judgements are a great deep."4 You will find that few are deeply concerned about faith and practice, but the majority go in for these elaborate theories, and investigate questions to which there is no answer, and whose very investigation rouses Godís anger. For when we make a determined effort to learn what He does not wish us to know, we fail to succeed ó for how should we succeed against the will of God? There only remains for us the danger arising form our inquiry.
But for all that, when anyone uses authority to silence people who pursue these enigmas, he gets a reputation for pride and ignorance. At such times, much tact is needed on the Bishopís part so that he may lead his people away from the unprofitable questions and escape the criticisms I have mentioned. In short, to meet all these difficulties, there is no help given but that of speech, and if anyone is deprived of this power, the souls of those under him ó I mean the weaker and more meddlesome kind ó are not better off than ships storm-tossed at sea. The priest should do all that lies in him to gain this power.
Basil: Why then was not St. Paul eager to attain perfection in this art? He makes no secret of his poverty of speech, but distinctly confesses himself to be unskilled.5And he says this when writing to the Corinthians who were admired for their eloquence and prided themselves on it.
John: This is the very excuse that has ruined most men and made them remiss in the study of true doctrine. For while they failed to fathom the depths of the Apostleís mind, or to understand the meaning of his words, they have passed all their time slumbering and yawning, and paying respect not to that ignorance which St. Paul acknowledged, but a form from which no man under heaven was ever as free.
But let the statement stand for the moment. In the meantime, granting that St. Paul was in this respect as unskilled as they would have him to be, what has that to do with the present argument? He had a greater power than speech, a power which was able to effect greater results. By his mere presence, and without a word, he terrified the devils. If the men of today were all to join forces, they could not, with their infinite prayers and tears, do the wonders that once were done by the handkerchief of St. Paul. He too, by his prayers, raised the dead and wrought such other miracles, that he was held to be a god by the heathen. Before he departed this life, he was thought worthy to be caught up as far as the third heaven and to listen to such words which are not lawful for mortal ears to hear. But as for the men of today, not that I would say anything harsh or severe, for indeed I do not speak by way of insult to them but only in wonder, how is it that they do not shudder when they compare themselves with so great a man? For if we pass over the miracles and turn to the life of this blessed saint, and examine his angelic conversation, it is in this, rather than in his miracles, that we will find this Christian athlete a conqueror. How can one describe his zeal and forbearance, his constant perils, his continual cares and incessant anxiety for the Churches, his sympathy with the weak, his many tribulations, his unexampled persecutions, and his daily deaths? What place in the world, which continent or sea remained ignorant of the struggles of this righteous man? Even the desert knew him and often sheltered him in time of danger. He endured every form of attack, and achieved every kind of victory, and there was never any end to his contests and his triumphs.
But I do not know how I let myself insult him. For his achievements surpass all description, and beyond mine in particular, just as the masters of eloquence surpass me. Nevertheless, since that holy apostle will not judge me by my results but by my intentions, I will not stop until I have stated one more fact which surpasses anything yet mentioned. And what is that? After so many exploits, after such a multitude of victories, he prayed that he might go into hell and be delivered to eternal punishment, to bring it about that those Jews who had often stoned him, and done what they could to murder him, might be saved and come to Christ. Who so longed for Christ as he did, if indeed we may call it longing and not as something nobler? Shall we, then, continue to compare ourselves with this saint after such great grace was imparted on him from above? What could be more presumptuous than that!
Now, I will try to prove that he was not so unskilled as some men think. The unskilled person in menís estimation, is not only one who is unpracticed in the tricks of profane oratory, but also one who does not understand how to contend for the defense of the true faith. And they are right. But St. Paul did not say that he was unskilled in both these qualities but in one only. In support of this, he made a careful distinction saying that he was "inexpert in speech but not in knowledge." Now, if I were demanding in any one bishop the polish of Isocrates and the grandeur of Demosthenes, the dignity of Thucydides and the sublimity of Plato, St. Paul would be strong evidence against me. But in fact, I pass by all such matters and the superfluous embellishments of pagan writers. I take no account of diction or style. Let a manís diction be poor and his composition simple and unadorned, but let him not be unskilled in the knowledge and accurate statement of doctrine. Do not let him deprive the saint in order to screen his own sloth of the greatest of his gifts and the sum of his praises.
Tell me, how did he confound the Jews dwelling in Damascus when he had not yet begun to work miracles? How did he confute the Grecians? Why was he sent to Tarsus? Was it not because he was so mighty and victorious by his words, that he routed his adversaries to such an extent that they were not able to bear their defeat, and were provoked to kill him? At that time, he had not begun to work miracles, and no one could say that the masses looked upon him with astonishment because of any glory belonging to his mighty works, or that the people who opposed him were overpowered by his reputation. For at that time he conquered by the power of argument only. How did he contend and successfully dispute with those who tried to live like Jews in Antioch?6 Did not the Areopagite, inhabitants of Athens,7 that most devoted al all cities to the gods, follow him with his wife because of his speech alone? Was it not owing to the discourse which they heard? And when Eutychus came to fall from the window, was it not because he was engrossed until midnight in the word of his teaching? What happened at Thessalonica and Corinth, in Ephesus and in Rome itself? Did he not spend whole days and nights in interpreting the Scriptures? Need we mention his disputes with the Epicureans and Stoics? If I wanted to tell all, my account would stretch to an unreasonable length. When St. Paul appears to have made much use of argument, both before working miracles and after, how can anyone dare to pronounce him unskilled at speaking, the man whose sermons and disputations were exceedingly admired by all who heard them? Why did the Lycaonians believe him to be Hermes? The idea that he and Barnabas were gods was due to their miracles; but the idea that he was Hermes was due not to his miracles but to his eloquence.
In what did St. Paul surpass the rest of the Apostles? And how does it come about that throughout the whole world he is on everyoneís lips? How is it that not merely among ourselves, but also among Jews and Greeks too, he is the wonder of wonders? Is it not because of the power of his Epistles? As long as the human race remains, he will never stop helping the faithful as he has always helped, not only from his own time but also to the end of times, those who shall believe until the second coming of Christ. His writings fortify the Churches all over the world like a wall of steel. Even now he stands amongst us as a most noble champion, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, casting down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God. All this he does by those Epistles, full of wonder and divine wisdom, which he has left for us.
His writings are not only useful to us for the refutation of false doctrine and the confirmation of the truth, but they help us greatly towards living a good life. For by the use of them, the bishops of today educate and train the chaste virgin whom St. Paul himself espoused to Christ and led her to the state of spiritual beauty. By them, they also ward off the diseases which beset her and preserve the good health she has obtained. Such are the medicines and their efficacy left to us by this so-called unskilled man. Those who constantly use them know their power.
From all this, it is evident that St. Paul had taken great diligence and zeal to the study of which we have been speaking. But hear also what he says to his disciple in a letter: "Give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching."8 And he shows the usefulness of this by adding: "For in doing this, thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee." Again he says: "The Lordís servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing."9 He proceeds to say: "But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them, and that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise."10 And again, "Every Scripture is inspired of God and is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete."11 Hear what he adds to his further to his directions to Titus about the appointment of bishops: "For the bishop must be holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to convict even the gainsayers."12 But how shall anyone who is as unskillful as these men pretend, be able to convict the gainsayers and to stop their mouths? And what need is there to give attention to reading and to the Holy Scriptures if such a lack of skill is to be welcome among us? Such arguments are mere pretence and excuse, the marks of idleness and sloth.
Basil: But this charge is given to the priests.
John: Well, our argument just now is about priests. But to learn that he gives the same charge to those under his authority, hear the advice he gives others in another epistle: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom," and again, "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one." And the command to be ready to give and answer was given to all alike. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, "Build each other up even as also ye do. But when he speaks of priests, he says, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching." The ultimate aim of their teaching is to bring their disciples, by what they do and say, to that blessed state of life which Christ commanded. Example alone is not enough to instruct others. This statement is not mine but our Saviorís own word. For he says, "Whosoever shall do and teach, he shall be called great." Now if doing were the same as teaching, the second word would be superfluous. It would have been enough to say, "whosoever shall do." But in fact, by distinguishing the two, he shows that practice is one thing and doctrine another and that each requires the other to complete edification.
Do you recall what the chosen vessel of Christ said to the elders of Ephesus? "Wherefore, watch ye, remembering that by the space of three years, I ceased not to admonish everyone of you, night and day, with tears." What need was there for tears or for admonition when the Apostleís life shone so bright? His holy life might be a great inducement to men to keep the commandments, yet I dare not say that this alone could achieve everything. But when conflict arises on matters of doctrine and all combatants rely on the same scriptures, what weight will anyoneís life carry then? What then will be the good of his many labors when after all his exertions he falls into heresy through sheer inexperience and is cut off from the body of the Church, as I know many have done. Of what profit then will his patience be to him? None at all, no more, in fact, than a sound faith coupled with a corrupt life. That is the chief reason why anyone who has the responsibility of teaching others must be experienced in these doctrinal conflicts. For though he himself stands secure and is not injured by his opponents, yet, when the multitude under his direction see their leader defeated and unable to answer them, they will not be apt to blame his incapacity for the defeat but they will fault the doctrines themselves. So by reason of the inexperience of one, great numbers are brought to ruin. Though they do not entirely go over to the adversary, they are forced to doubt matters in which formerly they firmly believed. Those whom they used to approach with unswerving confidence, they can no longer attend to with the same steadfastness. In consequence of their leaderís defeat, so great a storm enters their souls that the evil leads at last to shipwreck. What dire destruction and what terrible fire is heaped on that wretched manís head for every soul that is lost, since you know it all perfectly well.
Is it, then, due to pride, is it due to vainglory, if I refused to be the cause of the destruction of so many souls, and to earn for myself a greater punishment than that which now awaits me in the world to come? Who could say so? No one, unless he wanted to cast idle aspersions and speculate upon other menís misfortunes.
1. Col. 1.24. 2. 1Pet. 3.15. 3. The Stoics, against whom John Chrysostom wrote six homilies.
4. Ps. 36.6. 5. 2Cor. 11.6. 6. Gal. 2.11ff. 7. Acts 17.34. 8. 1Tim. 4.13.
9. 2Tim. 2.24. 10. 2Tim. 3.14-15. 11. 2Tim. 3.16-17. 12. Titus 1.7-9.
13. Col. 3.16. 14. Col. 4.6. 15. 1Pet. 3.15. 16. 1Thess. 5.11.
17. 1Tim. 5.17. 18. Matt. 5.19. 19. Cf. Acts 9.15.
20. Acts. 20.31.
13. Temptations of the Teacher.
Ihave given sufficient proof of the experience needed by the teacher in contending for the truth. I have to mention however, one more matter which is a cause of untold dangers. Though, for my own part, I should rather say that the thing itself is not the cause so much as those who do not know how to use it properly. Of itself, it is a help to salvation and has many benefits whenever you find earnest and good men who know how to correctly handle it. And what then do I mean by this? It is the expenditure of great labor upon the preparation of sermons delivered to the congregation.
To begin with, the majority of those who are under the authority of the preachers refuse to treat them as their teachers. They rise above the status of disciples and assume that of spectators sitting in judgement on secular speech making. So in church they divide and become partisans, as some side with one preacher and others side with another, listening to their words with favor or dislike. And this is not the only difficulty, but there is another no less serious. If it happens to any preacher to weave into his sermons any part of other menís work, he is exposed to greater disgrace than those who steal money. And often, when he has not borrowed anything at all, he suffers on bare suspicion the fate of a thief. But why do I speak of the work of others when he is not permitted to use his own resources without variety? For most people are accustomed to listen for pleasure and not for profit, like adjudicators of a play or concert. The power of eloquence, which we rejected just now, becomes more desirable in a church than when professors of rhetoric are made to contend against each other!
Here, too, a man should have loftiness of mind, far exceeding my own littleness of spirit, if he is to correct this disorderly and unprofitable pleasure on the part of the multitude, and to divert their attention to something more useful, so that his people may follow and defer to him and not that he will be governed by their desires. It is not possible to acquire this power except by two means: contempt of praise and the force of eloquence. If either of these is lacking, the remaining one becomes useless owing to its divorce from the other. If a preacher is indifferent to praise and yet cannot produce the kind of teaching which is "with grace, seasoned with salt,"1 he is despised by the multitude, and gets no advantage from his own nobility of mind. If on the other hand he is successful as a preacher and is overcome by the thought of applause, harm is equally done in turn both to himself and to the multitude. Because of his passion for praise, he aims to speak more for the praise than for than the profit of his listeners. The man who neither lets good opinion influence him, nor is skillful in speaking, does not yield to the pleasure of the multitude and is unable to give them any real benefit because he has nothing to say. And equally, the man who is carried away with desire for praise, though he is able to render the multitude better service, chooses instead to provide nothing but entertainment. That is the price he pays for thunders of applause.
The best kind of Bishop must then be strong in both these points so that neither may supplant the other. When he stands up in the congregation and speaks words calculated to make the careless wince, the good of what he has spoken is immediately wasted when he stumbles and stops and is forced to blush at his failure. For they who are rebuked, being galled by what he has told them, and unable to retaliate on him in any other way, taunt him for his lack of skill, thereby thinking to screen their shame by doing so. Like a good charioteer, the preacher should have come to an accurate judgment about both these qualities in order that he may be able to deal with them as need requires. For when he is irreproachable in the eyes of all, he will be able, with all the authority he desires both punish or pardon all those in his charge. But without this it will not be easy to do.
But this nobility of soul must not only display indifference to praise, but should go further in order that the benefit is not in turn fruitless. What else then must he be indifferent to? Slander and envy. The right course is neither to show excessive fear and anxiety over ill-directed abuse, as the bishop undergoes some groundless censure, nor should he simply ignore it.
We should try to extinguish criticisms at once even if they are false and are leveled at us by the common people. For nothing will magnify a good or evil report as much as an undisciplined mob. Being accustomed to hear and speak without stopping to make inquiry, they repeat at random everything which comes in their way without any regard for the truth. Therefore, the Bishop must not disregard the multitude, but rather nip their evil suspicions in the bud by convincing his accusers, however unreasonable they may be. We must admit nothing which is able to dispel an ill-favored report. But if, when we have done all this, they who blame us will not be persuaded, we must then resort to contempt. For anyone who goes halfway to meet humiliation by things like this will never be able to achieve anything fine or admirable. For despondency and constant cares have a mighty power to numb the soul and reduce it to utter impotence.
The priest should treat those whom he rules as a father treats very young children. Their insults, or blows, or tears do not disturb us, nor do we think much of their laughter and approval. And so with these people, we should not be puffed up by their praise nor cast down by their censure, when it comes form them out of season. This is not easy, my friend, and I think it may be even impossible. For I donít know whether any man ever succeeded in not enjoying praise. If he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help being pained and distraught at losing it. For people who revel in being rich take it hard when they fall into poverty and those who are used to luxury cannot bear to live shabbily. So, too, men who long for applause, not only when they are blamed without a cause, but when they fail to be constantly praised. This is especially so when they have been brought up on praise, or when they hear others being praised.
How many annoyances and how many pangs do you suppose a man endures if he enters the lists of preaching with this ambition for applause? It is no more possible for the sea to be without waves than a man to be without cares and grief. For though the preacher may have great ability, which is rarely found, not even in this case is he released form perpetual toil. For the art of speaking does not come by nature, but by study, and even if a man reaches a high standard in it, still it may forsake him unless he cultivates his power by constant application and exercise. So there is greater labor for the gifted than for the unlearned. There is not the same degree of loss for both, but it varies in proportion to their attainments. No one would blame the unskillful for turning out nothing remarkable. But gifted speakers are pursued by frequent complaints from all unless they continually surpass the expectations which everyone has of them. Besides this, the unskillful meet with great praise for small performances, while the efforts of the others, unless they are wonderful and startling, not only fail to win applause but meet with many fault-finders.
For the congregation set themselves to be critics, not so much in judgement of what is said as on the reputation of the preacher, so that whenever anyone excels all others in his oratorical powers, he then needs above all painstaking care. For this man is not allowed to avail himself of the usual human plea that one cannot succeed in everything. On the contrary, if his sermons do not correspond to the great expectations formed of him, he will go away without having gained anything but countless jeers and censures. No one ever takes it into consideration that dejection and pain, anxiety and often anger may step in and dim the clearness of his thoughts and prevent his productions from coming forth unalloyed. On the whole, being but a man, he cannot invariably reach the same standard, or always be successful, but naturally, he must sometimes fall short of the mark, and fall below the standard of his level of ability. People are unwilling to allow for any of these factors, as I said, but charge him with faults as if they were sitting in judgement on an angel. In other cases to, a man is apt to overlook the good performances of his neighborís successes, however many or great, and if a defect appears, even if it is accidental and however long since it last occurred, it is quickly perceived and never forgotten. So small and trifling matters have often lessened the glory of many and great achievements.
You see, my dear friend, that the man who is powerful in preaching has all the more need than others of greater study. And besides study, he also needs greater tolerance than any of those I have so far mentioned. For plenty of people are constantly springing up against him in a vain and senseless spirit. They hate him without having anything against him except his general popularity. He must bear their acrimonious envy with composure for they are not able to hide this cursed hatred which they entertain without reason. They revile, censure and slander him in private and defame him in public, and the mind, which has begun to be pained and exasperated on every one of these occasions, will not escape being corrupted by grief. For they will not only revenge themselves by their own acts, but will try to do so through others as well. They often choose someone who has no speaking ability and extol him with their praises and admire him beyond his worth. Some do this through sheer ignorance, others through ignorance and envy, in order to ruin the good reputation of the speaker as they do not want to win admiration for one who does not deserve it.
And that noble-minded man has not only to struggle against these, but often against the ignorance of the whole multitude. For it is impossible that all those who come together should consist of learned men, but the chances are that the larger part of the congregation is composed of unlearned people. Even the rest who are clearer headed than these, fall as far short of men of critical ability, as the remainder again fall short of them. Scarcely one or two present have acquired real discrimination. So it is inevitable that he who preaches better than other carries away less applause and possibly goes home without being praised at all. He must be prepared to meet such anomalies with a noble spirit and forgive those who commit them in ignorance, and to weep for those who acquiesce in them on account of envy as wretched and pitiable creatures, and letting neither make him think the less of his powers. For if a pre-eminently good painter, superior to all in his art, sees the portrait which he has painted with great care held up to ridicule, he ought not to be dejected or to regard his painting as poor because of the judgement of the ignorant. Just as little, would he consider a really poor work to be something wonderful and charming because of the astonishment of the unlearned who admired it?
Let the best craftsman be the judge of his own handiwork, and let his productions be judged to be good or poor according to the mind which designed them. But let him not even consider the erroneous and inartistic opinion of the outside world. So too the man who has accepted the task of teaching should pay no attention to the commendation of outsiders any more than he should let them cause him dejection. When he has labored at his sermons so that he may please God, as this alone should be his rule and standard in preaching and not applause and commendation, let him not repudiate their applause if he should be approved by men. But if his hearers do not accord it, let him not seek it or be grieved by it. It will be sufficient encouragement for his efforts, and one greater than anything else, if his conscience tells him that he is organizing and regulating his teachings to please God. For in fact if he has already been overtaken by the desire for indiscriminate praise, neither will his great efforts nor his powers of speech be of any use. For the soul, being unable to bear the senseless criticisms of the multitude grows slack and casts aside all earnestness about preaching. So a preacher must train himself above all else to despise praise. For without this, to know how to preach is not enough to ensure the preservation of that power.
And if anyone would examine accurately the man who lacks this gift of eloquence, you will find he needs to be indifferent to praise no less than the other. For he will inevitably make many mistakes if he lets himself be dominated by popular opinion. For not having the energy to match the eloquence of reputed preachers, he will refrain from forming ill designs against them, from envying them, and from blaming them without reason, and from many such discreditable practices. He will venture anything, even if it costs him his soul, for the sake of bringing down their fame to the level of his own insignificance. Besides this, he will give up his exertions about his work because a kind of numbness has taken over his spirit. For much toil rewarded by scanty praise is sufficient to cast down a man who cannot despise praise and put him into a deep lethargy when he toils hard but earns all the less approbation. When a farmer labors on poor land and is forced to farm a rocky plot, he soon gives up his toil unless he is full of enthusiasm for his work or is driven on by fear of starvation.
If those who are able to speak with considerable power need such constant practice for the preservation of their talent, what about someone who has absolutely no materials at hand but is forced in the midst of his efforts to meditate? What difficulty and confusion, what trouble will he experience in order that he may be able, at great labor, to collect a few ideas! And if any of his colleagues of inferior rank who are under his authority can excel him in this particular work, he really needs to be divinely inspired to avoid being seized with envy or thrown into dejection. For if one who is placed in a position of higher dignity is surpassed by his inferior in rank, it would require no ordinary character, and certainly not mine, to bear this with dignity. If indeed the man who outstrips him in reputation is unassuming and very modest, the suffering is more easily borne. But if he is bold, and boastful, and vainglorious, his superior may well pray daily to die, as his life will be so embittered by insulting him to his face, by mocking him behind his back, and by detracting frequently form his authority, and aiming to be everything himself. But in all these circumstances, he who has fluency in preaching, and the earnest attention of the multitude, and the affection of those under his charge, has the greatest security. Do you not know what a passion for oratory has recently burst in upon the minds of Christians? Do you not know that its exponents are respected above everyone else, not just by outsiders but by those of the household of faith? How, then, could anyone endure the deep disgrace of having his sermon received with blank silence and feelings of boredom, while they wait for the end of the sermon as a release from work; whereas they listen to someone elseís sermon, however long, with eagerness and are annoyed when he is about to finish, and quite exasperated when he decides to say no more?
Perhaps this seems to you a trifling, negligible matter, because of your inexperience. Yet it is enough to quench zeal, and to paralyse the powers of the mind unless a man withdraws himself from all human passions and studies to pattern himself after those incorporeal powers who are neither pursued by envy, or longing for fame, nor by any other morbid feeling. If there is anyone capable of subduing this elusive, invincible wild beast so difficult to capture, so unconquerable and fierce ó that is to say public fame ó and to cut off its many heads or rather prevent their growth, he will be easily able to repel these many violent assaults and enjoy a quiet haven of rest. But he who has not freed himself from this monster, involves his soul in struggles of various kinds, in perpetual agitation, and in the burden of despondency and of other passions. Why should I detail the rest of these difficulties, which no one will be able to describe or learn unless he has had actual experience of them?
1. Col. 4.6.
14. The Need for Purity.
Our condition here then is such as you have heard. But how shall we fare in the world to come when we are compelled to give account for each of those who have been entrusted to us? For our penalty is not limited to shame but eternal punishment awaits us as well. As for the passage: "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit to them, for they watch in behalf of your souls as they that shall give account.1The fear of this threat is continually agitating my soul. If he causes just one only to stumble, and even the least man of all, it is better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.2And if all who wound the conscience of the brethren sin against Christ Himself,3 what then will be the fate and what kind of penalty with they pay who destroy not one, or two, or three, but great multitudes? They cannot even plead inexperience, or take refuge in a plea of ignorance, or make force and constraint their excuse. If possible, it would be more suitable for someone under their charge to use this excuse for his own sins, than for Bishops to use it in the case of the sins of others. And why? Because he who has been appointed to rectify the ignorance of others, and to warn them beforehand of the approaching conflict with the devil, will not be able to make ignorance his excuse or say, "I did not hear the clarion," or "I did not foresee the conflict." For as Ezekiel says, he is appointed for this very purpose to sound the alarm for others and give warning of trouble ahead.4 Even though only one perishes, his chastisement is inevitable. "For if the watchman sees the sword come, and blows not the trumpet nor warns the people, and the sword comes and takes any person; he indeed is taken away for his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchmanís hand."5
Stop pushing me, then, towards such inevitable punishment. For we are not discussing an army or a kingdom but an office which requires angelic virtue. For the soul of the priest ought to be purer than the rays of the sun in order that the Holy Spirit may not leave him desolate, and that he may be able to say, "I live; yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me."6
Even hermits living in the desert, far away from the city and the marketplace and the tumult they cause, and who enjoy at all times a haven of rest and peace, are not willing to rely on the security of that manner of life, but add innumerable other safeguards, hedging themselves in all around. They take care to speak and act with great circumspection, so that to the utmost extent of human power they may draw near to God with assurance and with unstained purity. How much power and strength do you think the ordained priest needs to be able to tear his soul away from defilement and keep its spiritual beauty unsullied? He needs far greater purity than they do. For he who has the greater need is subject to more temptations which can defile him, unless he renders his soul inaccessible to them by using constant self-denial and strict self-discipline. For beauty of face, elegance of movement, an affected gait and lisping voice, pencilled eyebrows and painted cheeks, elaborate braiding and dyeing of hair, expensive clothes, a variety of golden ornaments, and the glory of precious stones and the scent of perfumes, and all those other matters to which womankind devote themselves, are enough to disorder the spirit unless it happens to be hardened against this through much austerity and self-restraint. It is not surprising that things like these should distract a man. But on the other hand, it is thoroughly strange and bewildering that the devil should be able to hit and shoot down the souls of men by the very opposite of these! Before now, some men who have escaped these snares have been caught in others widely differing from these. For even a neglected appearance, unkempt hair, slovenly clothing, an unpainted face, simple behavior and homely language, an unstudied gait and unaffected voice, a life of poverty, and a despised, unprotected and lonely existence, have first drawn the beholder to pity, and next to utter ruin. Many who have escaped the first kind of snare in the way of gold ornaments and perfumes, and apparel and all the other things I mentioned, have been easily trapped by these widely differing things and have perished.
Both by penury and wealth, both by the adornment and the neglect of personal appearance, both by studied and unaffected manners, in short by all those means which I have enumerated, turmoil is aroused in the soul of the beholder, and its artifices surround him on every side. Where will he get a respite with so many snares surrounding him? What hiding place can he find? I do not say this just to avoid being forcibly seized by them, as this is not so difficult, but to keep his own mind undisturbed by defiling thoughts?
I pass over honors which are the cause of countless evils. For those which come from the hands of women damage the vigor of self-restraint and often overthrow it when a man does not know how to watch constantly against insidious temptations. As for the honors bestowed by men, unless a man receives them with great dignity, he is seized with two contrary emotions, servile flattery and senseless pride. To those who patronize him, he is obliged to cringe, and towards his inferiors, he is puffed up on account of the honors bestowed by his patrons and is thrust into the pit of arrogance.
I have mentioned these matters, but no one could properly learn how much harm they do without actual experience. For not only these temptations, but also others far more numerous and perilous than these, inevitably attack men who lead their lives in the world. Anyone who is content with solitude has freedom from all this, and if at any time a strange thought creates a representation of this kind, the image is faint and easily suppressed, because there is no fuel added to the flame from without, arising from the external world. For the monk has but himself to fear for. Should he be forced to have the care of others, they are very few, and if they are many, they are still less than those in our Churches. They give him who is set over them, much lighter anxiety about them, not only because of their small numbers, but also because they are free from worldly concerns. They have neither wife nor children, nor any such thing to care about. This makes them very obedient to their rulers and permits them to share the same abode with them, so that someone can carefully watch and correct their failings. The constant supervision of a teacher contributes considerably to their virtue. But of those who are subject to a Priest, most of them are hampered with the cares of this life, and this makes them more sluggish in the performance of spiritual duties. Therefore, the Priest must sow every day, so to speak, in order through sheer repetition, the word of doctrine may be grasped by those who hear. For excessive wealth, great power, and indolence arising from luxury, as well as many other things, chokes the seeds that are sown. Often too, the thick growth of thorns does not allow what is sown to fall even upon the surface of the soil. Again, the reverse happens because of much distress, the pinch of poverty, constant insults, and other troubles take the mind away from concern about things divine. Not even a fraction of their peopleís sins can become apparent to the priests. How could it be otherwise, they do not know the majority even by sight?
Such are the difficulties of their duties towards the people. But if you inquire about his relations with God, you will find these difficulties as nothing since these require a greater and more thorough earnestness. What sort of man ought someone to be who acts as an ambassador, not only on behalf of the whole city but of the whole world, and prays God to be merciful to the sins of all men, not only the living but also the departed? For I think that even the boldness of speech of Moses or Elijah is adequate for this great intercession. He approaches God as if he were the father of all men, responsible for the whole world, beseeching that wars may end everywhere, that tumults cease, supplicating for peace and prosperity, and a speedy deliverance from all the ills, private of public, that threaten man. He must surpass in every respect all those for whom he intercedes, as one in authority ought to surpass those under his charge. Whenever he invokes the Holy Spirit, and offers the most dread sacrifice, and constantly handles the common Master of all, tell me what rank should we give him? What purity and what real piety must we demand of him? Consider what manner of hands ought to minister in these things and what kind of tongue utters such words. Ought not the soul, which receives so great a spirit, be purer and holier than anything in the world? At such a time angels stand by the Priest, and the whole sanctuary and the space about the altar is filled with the powers of heaven in honor of Him who lies there.
For the very rites which are being served at that moment is proof of this. I myself have heard someone relate that an old, venerable man, accustomed to see revelations, used to say that he was unworthy of such visions. At that very moment, as far as possible, he saw a multitude of angels, clothed in shining robes, encircle the altar and bending down, as one might see soldiers in the presence of their king. For my part, I believe it. Moreover, someone else told me, and not from hearsay but as one who had been judged worthy to see and hear it, that if those who are about to depart this earth happen to partake of the Mysteries with a pure conscience, angels escort them away when they breathe their last breath.
Do you not tremble to introduce a soul into so sacred a mystery, and to advance to the dignity of the Priesthood one robed in filthy raiment whom Christ has shut out form the general company of guests?7 The soul of the Priest should blaze like a light beaming over the whole world. But my soul has such darkness enveloping it because of my evil conscience that it is always cast down and never able to look up with confidence to its Lord. Priests are the salt of the earth. But who could readily tolerate my lack of understanding, my complete inexperience, except you with your excessive regard for me? For the Priest ought not only to be blameless as befits one chosen for so high a ministry, but also very discreet, and skilled in many matters. He must be as well versed in the affairs of this life as they who are engaged in the world, and yet be more detached from them than the monks who have taken to the mountains.
Since he must mix with men who have married and are bringing up children, who keep servants and are surrounded with wealth, who take part in public life and hold high office, he must be a many sided man. I say many-sided, not a charlatan, a flatterer, or a hypocrite, but absolutely open and assured, able to adapt himself profitably where the circumstances of the case requires it, and to be both kind or severe. It is not possible to treat all those under his charge in the same way, any more than physicians can deal with all their patients alike, or a helmsman to know only one way of battling with the winds. For, indeed, continual storms beset this ship of ours, and these storms do not only attack from the outside but are engendered within. Great condescension and circumspection are both needed. And all of these different matters have one end in view, the glory of God and the edification of the Church.
5. Cf. Ezek. 3.17. 6. Gal. 2.20. 7. Matt. 22.11.
15. The Contrast Between Bishop and Monk.
The monksí exertion is great and the strain severe, but if you compare their labors with the priestly office, you will find the difference as great as between a king and a commoner. In their case, although the task is hard, still the conflict is shared between soul and body, or rather the greater part of it is accomplished by the condition of the body. And if the body is not strong, enthusiasm remains pent up and is unable to come out into action. The habit of prolonged fasting, sleeping on the ground, vigils, abstention from washing, great toil and all other means which tend towards the mortification of the flesh are impossible if the intending ascetic is not strong. But in the case we are considering, purity of soul is the business in hand and no bodily vigor is required to show its excellence. How does bodily strength help us not to be self-willed, or proud, or headstrong, but to be sober, prudent, and orderly and everything else with which St. Paul filled out the picture of the perfect Priest? Yet no one could say this of the virtues of the recluse.
As jugglers need a lot of implements ó wheels, ropes and daggers ó the philosopher has his entire art stored in his mind and needs nothing from outside. So in our case, the monk requires both a good bodily constitution, and a place suitable for his course of life, so that he may not be too far from human society and may still have quiet and solitude, and may not miss the most suitable climate. For nothing is so unbearable to a body worn with fasting than a climate which is not equable. I need not mention what trouble he is compelled to take in the provision of clothing and daily food since the aim is total self-sufficiency. But the Priest will require none of these things for his own use. He avoids needless difficulties, shares in all innocent occupations while his skill is stored up in the treasure house of his soul.
If anyone admires a solitary life and the avoidance of crowded society, I quite admit that such a life is a token of patience but not sufficient proof of complete fortitude of soul. For the man who sits at the helm in the harbor does not yet give sure proof of his skill. But if one is able to guide his ship safely in the midst of the sea, no one will deny him the title of a first-class helmsman. We need not, then, give lavish or excessive admiration to the monk because, by keeping to himself, he is undisturbed and does not commit many serious sins. He has nothing which irritates and excites his soul. But if a man has devoted himself to the whole community, and has been compelled to bear the sins of many, and still remains steadfast and firm, guiding his soul in the tempest as in a calm, he is the one who deserves applause and admiration from all, for he has given sufficient proof of his own prowess.
Therefore, do not be surprised that I, who avoid the market-place and crowded society, have not many accusers. I should have no claim to admiration if I did not commit sin because I was sleeping, or did not fall because I was not wrestling, nor was wounded only because I was not fighting! Tell me, who can speak against me and reveal my depravity? This roof? This little cell? They cannot break into speech. Would my mother, who knows my character best of all? Well, I am neither in communication with her, nor have we ever quarreled. And even if this happened, no mother is so heartless and lacking in affection for her child that she would, without a compelling reason to constrain her, or any person to urge her to such an act, revile and accuse before all the son she has bred, and borne, and brought up. Yet if were to examine my soul carefully, he would discover much that is corrupt, as you yourself know quite well, though you are in the habit of extolling me with praises before all.
To prove that I am not saying this out of mere modesty, remember how often I told you when this subject was being discussed between us, that if any one were to give me the choice of where I would rather gain distinction, either in the government of the Church or in monastic life, I should go for the former every time. I have never ceased commending those who have been able to discharge this office well. No one will deny that I should never have run away from what I counted blessed, if I had been competent to undertake it.
But what am I to do? There is nothing so prejudicial to the oversight of the Church as this inactivity and negligence of mine, which others think to be a sort of self-discipline, but which I hold to be a veil for my own worthlessness, covering my many defects, and keeping them from becoming obvious. When a man is accustomed to enjoy such great freedom from business and living a life of leisure, even though he has a noble nature, his inexperience confuses him, and he looses a great deal of his natural ability. And when he is also a man of slow intellect, and inexperienced in this kind of conflict as I am, he will carry on this ministry which he has received no better than a statue.
Wherefore, of those who have come to such great trial from that school, few have distinguished themselves. Most of them fail under the test and endure bitter and hard troubles. And it is not surprising. For the trials and discipline are not concerned with the same things. Anyone who is contending is no different from an untrained man. He who thus enters this arena should despise glory, be superior to anger, and should be full of discretion. Anyone who lives a monastic life has no scope to exercise these qualities. He has but few to provoke him, so shat he may practice restraining the force of his anger, or to admire and applaud him, so that he may be trained to scorn the praises of the multitudes. There is no taking account in their case of the discretion which is required in the Church. When they enter these conflicts of which they have never had practical experience, they are bewildered, and dazed, and grow helpless. They make no progress towards virtue and may often lose the good qualities they had when they started.
Basil: What then! Shall we set the administration of the Church to those who move in society and whose minds are set on mundane things, who are adepts at strife and abuse, who are full of countless tricks and accustomed to a life of luxury?
John: Hush, my dear friend! These men must not even be considered when the Priesthood is under discussion, but only those who mix and associate with all sorts of people and still keep their purity undefiled, and their unworldliness, their holiness, constancy and sobriety unshaken, and the other good qualities that belong to monks. He who has many defects but is able to hide them by means of his seclusion, and to make them ineffectual because he does not associate with anyone, will achieve nothing when he returns to social life except to become a laughing-stock and will run greater risks than that. This very nearly happened to me, but Godís providence rescued me from that hazard.
For it is not possible for someone who is so conspicuously placed in this position to escape notice. Everything is detected, and as fire tests metals, so the touchstone of the ministry distinguishes menís souls. If a man is passionate or mean, or conceited or boastful, or anything else of the kind, it unveils all his shortcomings and speedily lays them bare. Not only does it lay them bare, but it actually makes them more tough and intractable. For bodily wounds become harder to heal if they are chafed, and equally the diseases of the soul, if provoked and irritate, naturally grow more irksome and force their victims deeper into sin. They rouse a man, if he is not on his guard, to the love of glory, to boastfulness and avarice, and they lead him to on to luxury, self-indulgence, and indolence, and step by step to worse faults than these that are their natural offspring.
Many of the circumstances in society have the power to upset the balance of the mind and to hinder its straight course. First of all, there is the company of women. For it is not possible for the Bishop, who is concerned with the whole flock, to only care for the men and neglect the women as they require greater vigilance because of their propensity to sins. On the contrary, the man appointed to administer a Bishopric must give as much thought, if not more, to the spiritual well-being of women. He must visit them in sickness, comfort them in sorrow, reprove them when indolent, and help them when overburdened. In such cases, the evil one will find many opportunities of approach if a man did not fortify himself with a strict guard. For the eye, not only of the unchaste but of the modest woman, can pierce and disturb the soul. Flatteries unman him and courtesies enslave him, and fervent love, which springs from all good, becomes the cause of countless evils to those who misuse it.
It has sometimes happened, too, that continual cares have dulled the keenness of the intellect and made its wings heavier than lead, while anger has burst in like smoke and taken possession of the inner man. Why mention the harm caused by grief, insults, abuse, and criticism from high and low, from the wise and foolish? Those who are wanting in correct judgment are particularly fond of censuring and will not readily accept explanations. But the wise prelate should not think lightly of these. He should clear himself with all men of the charges which they bring against him, with great forbearance and meekness, pardoning their unreasonable faultfinding, rather than being indignant and angry about it.
For if St. Paul feared that he might incur the suspicion of theft among his disciples, and so procured others for the management of the money "in order that no man should blame us in the matter of this bounty which is ministered by us,"1must we not do everything we can to remove evil suspicions, however false, unreasonable and foreign to our thought they may be? We are not so utterly removed from sin as St. Paul was of theft, and yet however far he was from this evil practice, he did not disregard the absurd and insane suspicions of the world. For it certainly was madness to have any such unreasonable suspicion about that blessed and wonderful soul. But in spite of this, he sweeps away all possible grounds for suspicion, although it was so absurd and no one who was in his senses would have entertained it. He did not disregard the folly of the multitudes nor did he say: "Who would ever think of suspecting me of any such thing, since everyone reveres and admires me, both for my miracles and for my virtuous life?" Quite the contrary. He foresaw and expected this base suspicion and pulled it up by the roots, or rather he did not suffer it," he said, "not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sigh of men."2 We must show just as much zeal as this, or even more, to uproot and prevent evil reports, and to foresee their source and be able to remove the pretexts from which they spring, and not to wait for them to be established and bandied about on everyoneís lips. For then, it is not easy to destroy them, but very difficult and perhaps impossible. Nor is it done without damage, because it happens after popular suspicion has done its worst.
But how far shall I continue pursuing the unattainable? To enumerate all the difficulties in this direction is like trying to measure the ocean. Even if a man were absolutely free form human passion, which is impossible, he is forced to undergo countless trials to correct the failings of others. And when his own frailties are added, look at the abyss of his toils and anxieties, and all that he must suffer he must endure if he wishes to subdue the evils in himself and in those around him.
16. The Conclusion of Johnís Apologia.
Basil: Do you mean that now, since you live by yourself, you have no need of toil and no anxieties?
John: I have them even now. How could a human being, living this troublesome life, be free from anxieties and conflicts? But it is not quite the same thing for man to be plunged into a boundless ocean and to cross a river. The difference between the two kinds of anxiety is as great as that. At present, if I should like to become helpful to others, if I could, and this is an object of much prayer to me. But if I cannot be of use to anyone else, I shall be satisfied if I am at least allowed to save my own soul and rescue it from the deep.
Basil: Do you seem to think that this is a great work? But do you suppose you will be saved at all if you are never of any use to anyone else?
John: That was well and nobly spoken. I cannot myself believe that it is possible for anyone to be saved who has not labored for the salvation of his neighbor. It did not profit the wretched man in the Gospel that he had not diminished his talent; but the perished because he had not increased it and returned it doubled to his master. Nevertheless, I think that my punishment will be milder when I am called to account for not saving others than it would be for destroying the souls of others, as well as my own, by becoming far worse after so great an honor. At present, I believe that my punishment will be proportioned to the amount of my sins, but after receiving this office, I fear it would not be double or triple, but many times as much, for having caused many to stumble and for accepting greater honor and then offending God who bestowed it on me.
For this very reason, God accused the Israelites more vehemently, and showed that they deserved greater punishment because they sinned after receiving so many honors which He bestowed on them. He said, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon you your iniquities,"1and again, "I took of your sons for prophets and of your young men for consecration."2 And before the time of the prophets, when he wanted to show that sins received a much heavier penalty when they occur in the case of the priests than when they are committed by ordinary people, he commanded as great a sacrifice to be offered for the priests than in the case of the laity.3 This explicitly proves that the priestís wounds require greater help, indeed as much as those of all the people together. They would not have required greater help if they had not been more serious, and their seriousness is not increased by their nature, but through the dignity of their priesthood.
But why speak of the men engaged in the ministry? For the daughters of the Priests, who have no part in the Priestly office, incur a far more severe penalty than others for the same sins because of their fathersí priestly office. The offence is the same, namely fornication in both cases, when committed by them and the daughters of ordinary people, but their punishment is far greater.4 You see how thoroughly God proves to you that He demands much greater punishment for the ruler than for the ruled. He who for the sake of the Priest punishes the priestís daughter more severely than others, obviously will not demand of the priest, to whom she owes the increased penalty, just the same punishment as He demands of others, but one far more severe. That is only natural, for the damage does not merely involve him alone, but destroys the souls of the weaker brethren and of them who look up to him. This was what Ezekiel wanted to teach us, when he distinguished the judgement of the rams from that of the sheep.5
Do you think my fears are well founded? In addition to what has been said, if at present it costs me hard labor so that I should not be completely overwhelmed by the passions of my soul, I endure the toil and do not shun the conflict. For even now, I am overtaken by vainglory, but I often recover and see that I have been overcome, and sometimes I rebuke my soul for having been enslaved. Vicious desires attack me even now, but they kindle only a languid flame as my bodily eyes cannot obtain fuel for the fire. I am utterly removed from speaking ill of others or heaving evil spoken since I have no one to talk with, and to be sure, these walls cannot utter a sound! But it is not so easy to avoid danger although there is nobody to provoke me. For often when the memory of outrageous men and what they have done comes upon me, it makes my blood boil. But this does not last long, for I very soon restrain my temper and persuade it to be calm by saying that it is futile and utterly despicable to ignore our own faults and meddle with those of our neighbors. But if I come among the multitudes and am intercepted by innumerable distractions, I shall not be able to have the benefit from my own admonitions, nor hit upon the thoughts that teach me sense. Men, who are driven over a precipice by a torrent or some other force, can foresee the destruction which finally awaits them, but are unable to contrive any means to help themselves. So when I have tumbled into the great tumult of my passions, I shall be able to
see at a glance my chastisement increasing daily. Yet it will no longer be as easy to master myself as before and to rebuke diseases of this sort raging on every side. For my soul is weak and puny, and falls an easy victim, not only to these passions, but to envy which is the bitterest of all. It does not know how to bear insults and honors with moderation, but is inordinately exalted by the one and dejected by the other.
When savage beasts are vigorous and in good condition, they overcome all creatures that fight against them, especially those that are feeble and unskilled, yet if you weaken them by starvation, you lull their spirits and quench most of their vigor, so that an animal of no great courage can undertake the conflict and battle with them. So it is also with the passions of the soul. If anyone weakens them, he makes them amenable to right reason; but he who nourishes them carefully, makes his battle with them harder and renders them so formidable that he lives his life in bondage and fear. What then is the food of these wild beasts? Of vainglory, it is honor and praise; of pride, excessive authority and power; of envy, the reputation of oneís neighbors; of covetousness, the generosity of donors; of wantonness, luxury, and the constant society of women; and other passions have other food. If I come into society, all these passions will attack me, and will tear my soul to pieces, and will be the more formidable and make my battle with them harder. Whereas if I stay here, by the grace of God they will be subdued, and they will be left with nothing than their snarl.
For these reasons, I keep to this cell and am inaccessible, self-contained, and unsociable, and I put up with hearing a host of other complaints like these. I would gladly silence them, and feel vexed and grieved because I cannot. For it is not easy for me to become sociable and at the same time to remain secure as I am now. Therefore, I beseech you to pity rather than to disparage the victim of such a perplexity.
Have I not yet persuaded you? Then the time has now come to utter to you the only thing which I have left unspoken. Perhaps many people will find it hard to believe, but even so, I shall not be ashamed to make it public. Although what I say is proof of an evil conscience and of many sins, yet since God who is about to judge us knows everything accurately, what advantage can I get from menís ignorance? And what is this secret? From the day on which you did impart to me the suspicion of the bishopric, my whole system has frequently been in danger of prostration ó such was the terror and the bewilderment that gripped my spirit.
When I considered the glory of the Bride of Christ, her purity, her spiritual beauty, her wisdom and her fair demeanor, and when I calculated my own faults, I did not stop grieving for her and for myself, and in continual distress and perplexity, I argued with myself like this:
"Who gave them this advice? Why did the Church of God make such a mistake? How did she so provoke her Master as to be handed over to me, the most worthless of men, and to endure such terrible disgrace?"
As I turned this over in my mind again and again, and could not bear the very thought of so horrible a thing, I lay mute, like an epileptic, unable to see or hear. When this condition of utter helplessness left me, even though at times it would abate, tears and bewilderment succeeded it. And after I had wept my fill, the terror again returned, agitating and deranging and convulsing my mind. That is the sort of distraction I have been living in recently, and you did not know, and thought I was spending my time in perfect calm. But now, I will try to disclose to you the tempest of my soul. Perhaps when you hear it you will forgive me and forget my misdeeds. But how, oh how shall I disclose it? If you wanted to truly see it, you could only do so by laying bare my heart. Since that cannot be done, I will try to show you, by some faint image, as far as I can, the fog of bewilderment I am in; and you must try to infer my bewilderment from this image.
Suppose the daughter of the king who rules the whole earth beneath the sun is betrothed to someone. Suppose this girl is so wonderfully beautiful as to surpass all humanity, and in this excels by far the whole of womankind. And suppose she has so virtuous a character that she leaves far behind all men who have even been or ever shall be, and the charm of her disposition goes beyond all ideals of philosophy as the loveliness of her face eclipses all bodily beauty. Her suitor is enamoured of the girl for these reasons, and quite apart from them is deeply in love with her too, and by his passion puts into the shade the most ardent lovers that ever were. Then while he is on fire with the spell she casts, he is told by someone that the wonderful girl he loves is about to be married to some vile outcast of mongrel birth, crippled in body and in every way utterly worthless. Have I brought before your mind some faint idea of my grief? Will it do if I end my simile at this point? It is enough, I think, to describe my bewilderment, and that was the only point of the comparison. But to show you the extent of my terror and dismay, let me go on now with another illustration.
Imagine an army composed of infantry, cavalry, and marines. Lest the muster of its triremes blot out the sea, while the regiments of its infantry and cavalry smother the broad plains and the very heights of the mountains. Let the bronze of its armor flash back at the sun, and the glitter of the helmets and shields mirror the rays that stream down. Let the clash of spears and the neighing of horses reach the very sky, and let neither sea nor land be visible, but everywhere bronze and steel. Against all this let the enemy be arrayed, a wild and barbarous horde, and let the hour of conflict be at hand.
Suppose someone suddenly seizes a raw lad, brought up in the fields, knowing nothing except the use of the shepherdís pipe and crook. He invests him in brazen mail, leads him round the whole camp, and shows him companies and captains, archers, slingers, officers, generals, infantry, cavalry, spearmen, ships and their captains, the soldiers crowded on the ships, and the multitude of engines of war ready on board. He also points out the enemyís full array, their menacing faces, their strange type of weapons and their vast numbers, and the ravines, sheer cliffs and mountain tracks. Again he points out on the enemyís side horses flying by magic, infantry borne through the air, and witchcraft of every power and form. He describes all the disasters of war too: the cloud of spears, the showers of arrows, the great mist and darkness, the pitch-black night caused by the multitude of missiles blotting out of the sunís rays by their sheer density, the dust blinding the eyes no less than this darkness, the torrents of blood, the groans of those who fall, the battle-cries of those who stand, the heaps of the slain, chariot wheels bathed in blood, horses and riders thrown headlong by the multitude of dead bodies, the ground a scene of general confusion, blood, and bows and arrows, hoofs of horses and heads of men lying together, a human arm and a chariot wheel, a helmet and a transfixed chest, swords spattered with human brains and the broken head of an arrow with an eye transfixed upon it.
Let him describe too all the perils of the fleet: some ships ablaze in mid-sea and sinking with their armed crews, the roar of the waves, the cries of the sailors, the shouts of the soldiers, the foam of the waves mixed with blood and dashing over into all the ships, the corpses on the decks, some sinking, some floating, some washed ashore, and others washed about by the waves and obstructing the passage of the ships. And when he has been carefully instructed in all the tragedies of war, let him go on to describe the horrors of captivity and slavery which is worse than any kind of death. And when he has said all, let him give the lad the order to mount his horse at once and take command of all that armament. Do you think that raw youth will be adequate for that command? Do you not think he will faint at the first glance?
Do not imagine that I have exaggerated the matter by my account, nor suppose that because we are shut up in this body, as in some prison house, we can see nothing of the invisible world, and that what has been said is overstated. You would have seen a much vaster and much more terrifying conflict than this if you had been able to see, with these material eyes, the devilís most gloomy battle array and its furious onset. For there is no brass or iron there, no horses or chariots or wheels, nor fire and darts. These are visible things, but there are other much more fearful engines than these. One does not need against these enemies breastplate or shield, sword and spear. Yet only the sight of this accursed array is enough to paralyse the soul unless it happens to be very noble, and enjoy to a high degree, the providential care of God even more than his own courage.
If it were possible to strip off this body or even to keep it, and see clearly and fearlessly with the naked eye the whole of the devilís battle array and the warfare he wages against us, you would not see torrents of blood, nor dead bodies, but so many fallen souls, and such disastrous wounds that the whole of that description of warfare which I have now described to you would be mere childís play and sport rather than war. So many are smitten every day, and the wounds in the two cases do not bring about the same death. The difference between the two corresponds with the difference between soul from the body. When the soul receives a blow and falls it does not lie as a lifeless body, but the ravaging of an evil conscience immediately torments it, and after its release from this world, it is delivered over to eternal punishment and the hour of judgement. And if anyone feels no pain at the devilís blows, his danger is increased by his lack of sensation. For the man who does not smart at the first blow will readily receive a second, and after that a third. Whenever the evil one finds a soul supine and indifferent to his previous attacks, he never stops striking until that man breathes his last.
If you care to investigate this method of attack, you will find it is far more severe and varied than it seems. No one else knows as many variations of trickery and deceit as that evil one. This is how he has gained his great power. No one can feel such implacable hatred for his worst enemies as the evil one feels for the human race. And if you investigate the vehemence with which he fights, here again it would be ludicrous to compare men with him. But if any one picked out the most ferocious and savage of beasts and compared tem with the devilís frenzy, he will find them gentle and tame by comparison, such rage does he breathe out when he attacks our souls. Then again, the period of the battle is short, and even in that short period there are many respites. For the approach of the night and the weariness of slaughter, time taken for food, and many other things naturally bring the soldier to a standstill so that he can remove his armor and breather a little, refresh himself with food and drink, and recover his former strength. But in the case of the evil one, you must never lay down your armour nor is it possible to even take sleep if you want to remain forever unhurt. You must do one of two things: either take off your armor and so fall or perish, or stand always armed and ever watchful. For he always stands with his forces marshaled, watching for our indolence, and laboring more zealously for our destruction than we do for our salvation. The fact that he is unseen by us, and that his attacks are very sudden, are a source of countless evils to those who are not continually on guard, and proves that this kind of warfare is far more difficult than the other.
Did you then want me to lead Christís soldiers? Truly that would have been to act as the devilís general. For whenever the man who ought to marshal and order others is the most inexperienced and feeble of all, he betrays by his inexperience the men who have been entrusted to his charge, and so acts the devilís general rather than Christís.
But why are you sighing and weeping? For my present position does not deserve commiseration but gladness and joy.
Basil: But not mine! My position deserves countless lamentations. For I am hardly able yet to grasp just how deep in misfortune you have brought me. I came to you wanting to learn what excuse I should make on my behalf to those who find fault with you, but instead you are sending me back loaded with one care on top of another. I am no longer concerned about the excuses I shall make to them for you but with the excuse I shall make to God for myself and my own sins. I beg and implore your help, if you care for me at all, "if there is any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any tender mercies and compassion."6 For you know that it was you yourself, more than anyone, who brought me into this danger. Give me a helping hand. Say or do something to restore me and do not allow yourself to leave me alone for a moment, but now more than ever before, share your life with me.
But I smiled and said: "What can I offer? How can I help you to carry so heavy a burden? And yet, since such is your desire, take courage, my dear friend, for whenever it proves possible for you to have a respite from the cares of your office, I will come to your side and encourage you, and nothing shall be left undone that lies within my power."
At this he wept even more and rose to go. Then having embraced him and kissed his head, I led him out urging him to bear his lot bravely. "For I trust in Christ," I said, "who has called you and set you over His own sheep, that you will gain such assurance from this ministry that when I stand in peril on the last Day, you will receive me into your everlasting habitation."
1. Amos 3.2. 2. Amos 2.11 (LXX). 3. Lev. 4.3, 14. 4. Lev. 21.9.
4. Lev. 21.9. 5. Ezek. 34.17. 6. Phil. 2.1.