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Chapter V.—On Contempt for Pain, Poverty, and Other External Things.
Fit objects for admiration are the Stoics, who say that the soul is not affected by the body, either to vice by disease, or to virtue by health; but both these things, they say, are indifferent. And indeed Job, through exceeding continence, and excellence of faith, when from rich he became poor, from being held in honour dishonoured, from being comely unsightly, and sick from being healthy, is depicted as a good example, putting the Tempter to shame, blessing his Creator; bearing what came second, as the first, and most clearly teaching that it is possible for the gnostic to make an excellent use of all circumstances. And that ancient achievements are proposed as images for our correction, the apostle shows, when he says, “So that my bonds in Christ are become manifest in all the palace, and to all the rest; and several of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear,”26992699 Phil. i. 13, 14.—since martyrs’ testimonies are examples of conversion gloriously sanctified. “For what things the Scripture speaks were written for our instruction, that we, through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures, might have the hope of consolation.”27002700 Rom. xv. 4. When pain is present, the soul appears to decline from it, and to deem release from present pain a precious thing. At that moment it slackens from studies, when the other virtues also are neglected. And yet we do not say that it is virtue itself which suffers, for virtue is not affected by disease. But he who is partaker of both, of virtue and the disease, is afflicted by the pressure of the latter; and if he who has not yet attained the habit of self-command be not a high-souled man, he is distraught; and the inability to endure it is found equivalent to fleeing from it.
The same holds good also in the case of poverty. For it compels the soul to desist from necessary things, I mean contemplation and from pure sinlessness, forcing him, who has not wholly dedicated himself to God in love, to occupy himself about provisions; as, again, health and abundance of necessaries keep the soul free and unimpeded, and capable of making a good use of what is at hand. “For,” says the apostle, “such shall have trouble in the flesh. But I spare you. For I would have you without anxiety, in order to decorum and assiduity for the Lord, without distraction.”27012701 1 Cor. vii. 28, 32, 35.
These things, then, are to be abstained from, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the body; and care for the body is exercised for the sake of the soul, to which it has reference. For on this account it is necessary for the man who lives as a gnostic to know what is suitable. Since the fact that pleasure is not a good thing is admitted from the fact that certain pleasures are evil, by this reason good appears evil, and evil good. And then, if we choose some pleasures and shun others, it is not every pleasure that is a good thing.
Similarly, also, the same rule holds with pains, some of which we endure, and others we shun. But choice and avoidance are exercised according to knowledge; so that it is not pleasure that is the good thing, but knowledge by which we shall choose a pleasure at a certain time, and of a certain kind. Now the martyr chooses the pleasure that exists in prospect through the present pain. If pain is conceived as existing in thirst, and pleasure in drinking, the pain that has preceded becomes the efficient cause of pleasure. But evil cannot be the efficient cause of good. Neither, then, is the one thing nor the other evil. Simonides accordingly (as also Aristotle) writes, “that to be in good health is the best thing, and the second best thing is to be handsome, and the third best thing is to be rich without cheating.”
And Theognis of Megara says:—
“You must, to escape poverty, throw
Yourself, O Cyrnus, down from
The steep rocks into the deep sea.”
On the other hand, Antiphanes, the comic poet, says, “Plutus (Wealth), when it has taken hold of those who see better than others, makes them blind.” Now by the poets he is proclaimed as blind from his birth:—
“And brought him forth blind who saw not the sun.”
Says the Chalcidian Euphorion:—
“Riches, then, and extravagant luxuries,
Were for men the worst training for manliness.”
Wrote Euripides in Alexander:—
“And it is said,
Penury has attained wisdom through misfortune;
But much wealth will capture not
Sparta alone, but every city.”
“It is not then the only coin that mortals have, that which is white silver or golden, but virtue too,” as Sophocles says.
Our holy Saviour applied poverty and riches, and the like, both to spiritual things and objects of sense. For when He said, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,”27022702 Matt. v. 10. He clearly taught us in every circumstance to seek for the martyr who, if poor for righteousness’ sake, witnesses that the righteousness which he loves is a good thing; and if he “hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake,” testifies that righteousness is the best thing. Likewise he, that weeps and mourns for righteousness’ sake, testifies to the best law that it is beautiful. As, then, “those that are persecuted,” so also “those that hunger and thirst” for righteousness’ sake, are called “blessed” by Him who approves of the true desire, which not even famine can put a stop to. And if “they hunger after righteousness itself,” they are blessed. “And blessed are the poor,” whether “in spirit” or in circumstance”—that is, if for righteousness’ sake. It is not the poor simply, but those that have wished to become poor for righteousness’ sake, that He pronounces blessed—those who have despised the honours of this world in order to attain “the good;” likewise also those who, through chastity, have become comely in person and character, and those who are of noble birth, and honourable, having through righteousness attained to adoption, and therefore “have received power to become the sons of God,”27032703 John. i. 12. and “to tread on serpents and scorpions,” and to rule over demons and “the host of the adversary.”27042704 Luke x. 19. And, in fine, the Lord’s discipline27052705 [Canons Apostolical (so called), li. liii. But see Elucidation I.] draws the soul away gladly from the body, even if it wrench itself away in its removal. “For he that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life shall find it,”27062706 [Matt. x. 39; John xii. 25. S.] if we only join that which is mortal of us with the immortality of God. It is the will of God [that we should attain] the knowledge of God, which is the communication of immortality. He therefore, who, in accordance with the word of repentance, knows his life to be sinful will lose it—losing it from sin, from which it is wrenched; but losing it, will find it, according to the obedience which lives again to faith, but dies to sin. This, then, is what it is “to find one’s life,” “to know one’s self.”
The conversion, however, which leads to divine things, the Stoics say, is affected by a change, the soul being changed to wisdom. And Plato: “On the soul taking a turn to what is better, and a change from a kind of nocturnal day.” Now the philosophers also allow the good man an exit from life in accordance with reason, in the case of one depriving him of active exertion, so that the hope of action is no longer left him. And the judge who compels us to deny Him whom we love, I regard as showing who is and who is not the friend of God. In that case there is not left ground for even examining what one prefers—the menaces of man or the love of God. And abstinence from vicious acts is found, somehow, [to result in] the diminution and extinction of vicious propensities, their energy being destroyed by inaction. And this is the import of “Sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and come, follow Me”27072707 Matt. xix. 21.—that is, follow what is said by the Lord. Some say that by what “thou hast” He designated the things in the soul, of a nature not akin to it, though how these are bestowed on the poor they are not able to say. For God dispenses to all according to desert, His distribution being righteous. Despising, therefore, the possessions which God apportions to thee in thy magnificence, comply with what is spoken by me; haste to the ascent of the Spirit, being not only justified by abstinence from what is evil, but in addition also perfected, by Christlike beneficence.27082708 κυριακῆ εὐποιῖᾳ In this instance He convicted the man, who boasted that he had fulfilled the injunctions of the law, of not loving his neighbour; and it is by beneficence that the love which, according to the gnostic ascending scale, is Lord of the Sabbath, proclaims itself.27092709 [If love, exerting itself in doing good, overruled the letter of the Sabbatic law, rise to this supremacy of love, which is, of itself, “the fulfilling of the law.”] We must then, according to my view, have recourse to the word of salvation neither from fear of punishment nor promise of a gift, but on account of the good itself. Such, as do so, stand on the right hand of the sanctuary; but those who think that by the gift of what is perishable they shall receive in exchange what belongs to immortality are in the parable of the two brothers called “hirelings.” And is there not some light thrown here on the expression “in the likeness and image,” in the fact that some live according to the likeness of Christ, while those who stand on the left hand live according to their image? There are then two things proceeding from the truth, one root lying beneath both,—the choice being, however, not equal, or rather the difference that is in the choice not being equal. To choose by way of imitation differs, as appears to me, from the choice of him who chooses according to knowledge, as that which is set on fire differs from that which is illuminated. Israel, then, is the light of the likeness which is according to the Scripture. But the image is another thing. What means the parable of Lazarus, by showing the image of the rich and poor? And what the saying, “No man can serve two masters, God and Mammon?”—the Lord so terming the love of money. For instance, the covetous, who were invited, responded not to the invitation to the supper, not because of their possessing property, but of their inordinate affection to what they possessed. “The foxes,” then, have holes. He called those evil and earthly men who are occupied about the wealth which is mined and dug from the ground, foxes. Thus also, in reference to Herod: “Go, tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and perform cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.”27102710 Luke xiii. 32. For He applied the name “fowls of the air” to those who were distinct from the other birds—those really pure, those that have the power of flying to the knowledge of the heavenly Word. For not riches only, but also honour, and marriage, and poverty, have ten thousand cares for him who is unfit for them.27112711 [He regards the estate of marriage and the estate of poverty, as gifts redounding to the benefit of those who accept them as such, and adapt themselves to the same, as stewards.] And those cares He indicated in the parable of the fourfold seed, when He said that “the seed of the word which fell unto the thorns” and hedges was choked by them, and could not bring forth fruit. It is therefore necessary to learn how to make use of every occurrence, so as by a good life, according to knowledge, to be trained for the state of eternal life. For it said, “I saw the wicked exalted and towering as the cedars of Lebanon; and I passed,” says the Scripture, “and, lo, he was not; and I sought him, and his place was not found. Keep innocence, and look on uprightness: for there is a remnant to the man of peace.”27122712 Ps. xxxvii. 35–37. Such will he be who believes unfeignedly with his whole heart, and is tranquil in his whole soul. “For the different people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from the Lord.”27132713 Isa. xxix. 13 (ὁ ἔτερος inserted). “They bless with their mouth, but they curse in their heart.”27142714 Ps. lxii. 4. “They loved Him with their mouth, and lied to Him with their tongue; but their heart was not right with Him, and they were not faithful to His covenant.” Wherefore “let the false lips become speechless, and let the Lord destroy the boastful tongue: those who say, We shall magnify our tongue, and our lips are our own; who is Lord over us? For the affliction of the poor and the groaning of the needy now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety; I will speak out in his case.”27152715 Ps. xii. 3–5. For it is to the humble that Christ belongs, who do not exalt themselves against His flock. “Lay not up for yourselves, therefore, treasures on the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break through and steal,”27162716 Matt. vi. 19. says the Lord, in reproach perchance of the covetous, and perchance also of those who are simply anxious and full of cares, and those too who indulge their bodies. For amours, and diseases, and evil thoughts “break through” the mind and the whole man. But our true “treasure” is where what is allied to our mind is, since it bestows the communicative power of righteousness, showing that we must assign to the habit of our old conversation what we have acquired by it, and have recourse to God, beseeching mercy. He is, in truth, “the bag that waxeth not old,” the provisions of eternal life, “the treasure that faileth not in heaven.”27172717 Luke xii. 33. “For I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,”27182718 Rom. ix. 15. saith the Lord. And they say those things to those who wish to be poor for righteousness’ sake. For they have heard in the commandment that “the broad and wide way leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in by it.”27192719 Matt. vii. 13. It is not of anything else that the assertion is made, but of profligacy, and love of women, and love of glory, and ambition, and similar passions. For so He says, “Fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; and whose shall those things be which thou hast prepared?”27202720 Luke xii. 20. And the commandment is expressed in these very words, “Take heed, therefore, of covetousness. For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of those things which he possesses. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”27212721 Matt. xvi. 26. “Wherefore I say, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for your body, what ye shall put on. For your life is more than meat, and your body than raiment.”27222722 Matt. vi. 31; Luke xii. 22, 23. And again, “For your Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” “But seek first the kingdom of heaven, and its righteousness,” for these are the great things, and the things which are small and appertain to this life “shall be added to you.”27232723 Matt. vi. 32, 33; Luke xii. 30, 31. Does He not plainly then exhort us to follow the gnostic life, and enjoin us to seek the truth in word and deed? Therefore Christ, who trains the soul, reckons one rich, not by his gifts, but by his choice. It is said, therefore, that Zaccheus, or, according to some, Matthew, the chief of the publicans, on hearing that the Lord had deigned to come to him, said, “Lord, and if I have taken anything by false accusation, I restore him fourfold;” on which the Saviour said, “The Son of man, on coming to-day, has found that which was lost.”27242724 Luke xix. 8, 9, 10. Again, on seeing the rich cast into the treasury according to their wealth, and the widow two mites, He said “that the widow had cast in more than they all,” for “they had contributed of their abundance, but she of her destitution.” And because He brought all things to bear on the discipline of the soul, He said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”27252725 Matt. v. 5. And the meek are those who have quelled the battle of unbelief in the soul, the battle of wrath, and lust, and the other forms that are subject to them. And He praises those meek by choice, not by necessity. For there are with the Lord both rewards and “many mansions,” corresponding to men’s lives. “Whosoever shall receive,” says He, “a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward; and whosoever shall receive a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man’s reward; and whoso shall receive one of the least of these my disciples, shall not lose his reward.”27262726 Matt. x. 41, 42. And again, the differences of virtue according to merit, and the noble rewards, He indicated by the hours unequal in number; and in addition, by the equal reward given to each of the labourers—that is, salvation, which is meant by the penny—He indicated the equality of justice; and the difference of those called He intimated, by those who worked for unequal portions of time. They shall work, therefore, in accordance with the appropriate mansions of which they have been deemed worthy as rewards, being fellow-workers in the ineffable administration and service.27272727 Translated as completed, and amended by Heinsius. In the text it is plainly mutilated and corrupt. “Those, then,” says Plato, “who seem called to a holy life, are those who, freed and released from those earthly localities as from prisons, have reached the pure dwelling-place on high.” In clearer terms again he expresses the same thing: “Those who by philosophy have been sufficiently purged from those things, live without bodies entirely for all time. Although they are enveloped in certain shapes; in the case of some, of air, and others, of fire.” He adds further: “And they reach abodes fairer than those, which it is not easy, nor is there sufficient time now to describe.” Whence with reason, “blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted;”27282728 Matt. v. 4. for they who have repented of their former evil life shall attain to “the calling” (κλῆσιν), for this is the meaning of being comforted (παρακληθῆναι). And there are two styles of penitents.27292729 [Clement describes the attrition of the schoolmen (which they say suffices) with the contrition exacted by the Gospel. He knows nothing but the latter, as having promise of the Comforter.] That which is more common is fear on account of what is done; but the other which is more special, the shame which the spirit feels in itself arising from conscience. Whether then, here or elsewhere (for no place is devoid of the beneficence of God), He again says, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” And mercy is not, as some of the philosophers have imagined, pain on account of others’ calamities, but rather something good, as the prophets say. For it is said, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”27302730 Hos. vi. 6; Matt. ix. 13, xii. 7. And He27312731 [Matt. v. 7. S.] means by the merciful, not only those who do acts of mercy, but those who wish to do them, though they be not able; who do as far as purpose is concerned. For sometimes we wish by the gift of money or by personal effort to do mercy, as to assist one in want, or help one who is sick, or stand by one who is in any emergency; and are not able either from poverty, or disease, or old age (for this also is natural disease), to carry out our purpose, in reference to the things to which we are impelled, being unable to conduct them to the end we wished. Those, who have entertained the wish whose purpose is equal, share in the same honour with those who have the ability, although others have the advantage in point of resources.27322732 [A cheering comment on the widow’s mites, and the apostolic principle of 2 Cor. viii. 12.] And since there are two paths of reaching the perfection of salvation, works and knowledge, He called the “pure in heart blessed, for they shall see God.”27332733 [Matt. v. 8. S.] And if we really look to the truth of the matter, knowledge is the purification of the leading faculty of the soul, and is a good activity. Some things accordingly are good in themselves, and others by participation in what is good, as we say good actions are good. But without things intermediate which hold the place of material, neither good nor bad actions are constituted, such I mean as life, and health, and other necessary things or circumstantials. Pure then as respects corporeal lusts, and pure in respect of holy thoughts, he means those are, who attain to the knowledge of God, when the chief faculty of the soul has nothing spurious to stand in the way of its power. When, therefore, he who partakes gnostically of this holy quality devotes himself to contemplation, communing in purity with the divine, he enters more nearly into the state of impassible identity, so as no longer to have science and possess knowledge, but to be science and knowledge.
“Blessed, then, are the peacemakers,”27342734 [Matt. v. 9. S]. who have subdued and tamed the law which wars against the disposition of the mind, the menaces of anger, and the baits of lust, and the other passions which war against the reason; who, having lived in the knowledge both of good works and true reason, shall be reinstated in adoption, which is dearer. It follows that the perfect peacemaking is that which keeps unchanged in all circumstances what is peaceful; calls Providence holy and good; and has its being in the knowledge of divine and human affairs, by which it deems the opposites that are in the world to be the fairest harmony of creation. They also are peacemakers, who teach those who war against the stratagems of sin to have recourse to faith and peace. And it is the sum of all virtue, in my opinion, when the Lord teaches us that for love to God we must gnostically despise death. “Blessed are they,” says He, “who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for they shall be called the sons of God;”27352735 Matt. v. 10. or, as some of those who transpose the Gospels27362736 [Note that thus in the second century there were those (scholiasts) who interlined and transposed the Gospels, in mss.] say, “Blessed are they who are persecuted by righteousness, for they shall be perfect.” And, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for my sake; for they shall have a place where they shall not be persecuted.” And, “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, when they shall separate you, when they shall cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake;”27372737 Luke vi. 22. if we do not detest our persecutors, and undergo punishments at their hands, not hating them under the idea that we have been put to trial more tardily than we looked for; but knowing this also, that every instance of trial is an occasion for testifying.
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