Ilias the Presbyter: A Gnomic Anthology
Here you will find, if you truly search,
Allowing spring, a pure fount of moral teaching.
1. No Christian believing rightly in God should ever be off his guard. He should always be on the look-out for temptation, so that when it comes he will not be surprised or disturbed, but will gladly endure the toil and affliction it causes, and so will understand what he is saying when he chants with the prophet: 'Prove me, Lord, and try me' (Ps. 26:2. LXX). For the prophet did not say, 'Thy correction has destroyed me', but, 'it has upheld me to the end' (Ps. 18:35. LXX).
2. The first step towards excellence is fear of God, the last is loving desire for Him.
3. The first step towards perfection is spiritual knowledge put into practice and practice imbued with spiritual knowledge. For practice without such knowledge is of no value, and so is such knowledge when unaccompanied by practice.
4. Practice where the body is concerned consists of fasting and vigil; where the mouth is concerned it consists of psalmody. But prayer is better than psalmody, and silence is more valuable than speech. In the case of the hands, practice is what they do uncomplainingly; and of the feet, it is what they do as soon as they are urged to do it.
5. Where the soul is concerned, practice is self-control accompanied by simplicity, and simplicity animated by self-control.
6. In the case of the intellect, practice is prayer in contemplation and contemplation in prayer.
7. Mercy and truth precede all the other virtues. They in their turn produce humility and so discrimination; for, according to the fathers, discrimination comes from humility. Without discrimination, neither practice nor spiritual knowledge can fulfill its purpose. For practice uncontrolled by such knowledge strays here and there aimlessly, like a calf; while knowledge that refuses to clothe itself in the honorable vesture of practice lacks nobility, however much it may pretend to possess it.
8. A courageous soul acts correctly when it is master of both practice and contemplation, like a woman who keeps two lamps burning throughout her life. But a soul debilitated by sensual pleasure fails to do what it should.
9. Suffering deliberately embraced cannot free the soul totally from sin unless the soul is also tried in the fire of suffering that comes unchosen. For the soul is like a sword: if it does not go 'through fire and water' (Ps. 66:12. LXX) - that is, through suffering deliberately embraced and suffering that comes unchosen - it cannot but be shattered by the blows of fortune.
10. Trials and temptations subject to our volition are chiefly caused by health, wealth and reputation, and those beyond our control by sickness, material losses and slander. Some people are helped by these things, others are destroyed by them.
11. Desire and distress subsist in the soul; sensual pleasure and pain in the body. Sensual pleasure gives rise to pain, and pain to sensual pleasure (for, wanting to escape the wearisome feeling of pain, we take refuge in sensual pleasure); while desire results in distress.
12. The virtuous may appear to be bad, but essentially they are good; superficially the self-important and pleasure- loving may appear to be good, but basically they are evil.
13. The person who hates evil commits it but seldom and then not intentionally. But the person attached to the causes of evil commits it frequently and deliberately.
14. Those who deliberately refuse to repent sin continually; those who sin without meaning to not only repent with all their heart, but also do not often have cause to repent.
15. Let your words combine insight and self-awareness, so that the peaceable divine Logos may not be ashamed to enshrine Himself in them because of their brashness and lack of restraint.
16. A person may have sullied his soul with words even if he has not degraded it by actions; and he may still be impure in his thoughts even if he watches over his words. For there are three different ways of sinning.
17. You will not be able to perceive the face of virtue so long as you still look on vice with a feeling of pleasure. But vice will appear hateful to you when you hunger for the taste of virtue and avert your gaze from every form of evil.
18. Demons wage war against the soul primarily through thoughts, not through things; for things fight against us in their own right. Hearing and sight are responsible for the warfare waged through things, habit and the demons for that waged through thoughts.
19. The soul is liable to sin in three ways: in actions, in words, and in thoughts. We attain freedom from sin in six ways: by preserving the purity of the five senses and of the spoken word. Whoever succeeds in doing this is indeed perfect, capable also of keeping every aspect of the body under control.
20. The soul's non-intelligent or passible aspect consists of the five senses and the faculty of speech. When in a state of dispassion, the faculty of speech is preserved fully integrated with the soul's passible aspect; but when in an impassioned state, it receives the evil influences that the passible aspect communicates to it.
21. The body cannot be purified without fasting and vigil, the soul without mercy and truth, and the intellect without contemplation of God and communion with Him. These pairs constitute the principal virtues in these three aspects of the human person.
22. When the soul moves in obedience to these virtues, her citadel - patient endurance - is not disturbed by temptations. 'You will gain possession of your souls through your patient endurance' (Luke 21:19), says the Logos. Otherwise the soul will be shaken by fits of cowardice, as an unwalled city is by a distant uproar.
23. Not all those who are discreet in their words are also circumspect in their thought. Nor are all those who are circumspect in their thought also discreet where their external senses are concerned. For although all men are subject to the senses, not all pay them the same amount of tribute. In their artlessness, most men do not know the price the senses demand for what they supply.
24. Although moral judgment is by nature indivisible, there are none the less different degrees of it One person may be given more of it, another less, so that practical virtue, having grown with the help of the principal virtues, may bring to fruition in each person the goodness of which he is capable. But most people fail to a greater or lesser degree to practice the virtues, and the degree of moral judgment granted to them varies accordingly.
25. Few are circumspect with regard to what is according to nature, but many with regard to what is contrary to nature. For having expended out of fear all their intrinsic quota of circumspection on what is contrary to nature, they have little left to exercise with regard to what is according to nature. Indeed, they expend most of it on superfluous things and what is by nature worthless.
26. A sense of the right moment and a sense of proportion go hand in hand with an intelligent silence. Truth is the banquet of all the three together. Where there is such a banquet, the father of lies, confronting a soul as it departs from this life, will not find in it any of the things he looks for.
27. A truly merciful person is not one that deliberately gives away superfluous things, but one that forgives those who deprive him of what he needs.
28. Some men through acts of charity acquire spiritual wealth by means of material wealth; others renounce their material wealth altogether on becoming aware of the spiritual wealth that is inexhaustible.
29. Everyone likes to be rich in spiritual blessings, but it is grievous to be rich in such blessings and not to be allowed to enjoy them for long.
30. From the outside a soul may appear to be healthy, while within, in the depths of consciousness, it may suffer from some hidden sickness. It can be healed from the outside through being pierced by reproof, and from within through the renewal of the intellect. Whoever, then, rejects such reproof, and shamelessly continues to lie on his bed in the sickroom of lethargy, is a fool.
31. Do not be angry with a person who unwittingly operates on you like a surgeon. Look rather at the abomination he has removed and, blaming yourself, bless him because through God's grace he has been of such service to you.
32. If you are concerned for your soul's health, do not despair of your sickness as though it were incurable; but apply to it the potent medicine of ascetic effort and you will get rid of it.
33. Do not shun the person who opportunely berates you; but go to him and he will show you how much evil lies hidden from your consciousness. Once you have swallowed the bitter and nauseous draught, you will taste the sweet nourishment of health.
34. The greater the pain that you feel, the more you should welcome the person whose reproof makes you feel it. For he is bringing about within you that total purification without which your intellect cannot attain the pure state of prayer.
35. When you are reproved, you ought either to remain silent, or else gently to defend yourself to your accuser — not indeed in order to gain his approval, but to help him rise up in case he has stumbled by reproving you in ignorance.
36. If someone is rightly offended with you, but you repent before he calls on you to do so, you lose nothing; but if you repent only after you have been asked to, you forfeit half the harvest. If you never cause estrangement by giving offence to others, you recover all the seed that you sowed; but if you always put the blame on yourself, you gain in addition more than you originally laid out.
37. A haughty person is not aware of his faults, or a humble person of his good Qualities. An evil ignorance blinds the first, an ignorance pleasing to God blinds the second.
38. As regards his good qualities, the proud man does not want to be compared with his equals; but as regards his failings, he is quite content to be compared with those worse than himself.
39. Reproof strengthens the soul, whereas praise debilitates it and makes it even more sluggish in its spiritual struggle.
40. The substance of wealth is gold; of virtue, humility. Just as he who lacks gold is poor, even though this may not be outwardly apparent, so the spiritual aspirant who lacks humility is not virtuous.
41. Lacking gold, a merchant is not a merchant, even though he may be very skilful in trading; similarly, lacking humility, a spiritual aspirant will never possess the joys of virtue, however great the confidence he places in his own intelligence.
42. The higher a man ascends in humility, the lower he appears in his own eyes; but if he lacks humility, the higher he appears. The humble man does not wish to be compared even with the most lowly, and is grieved when he is given first place at table (cf Luke 14:7-10).
43. It is good for the spiritual aspirant to regard a task as beyond him, but to be in his actions superior to this diffidence. In this way he will both earn men's respect and in God's sight will be 'a worker who has no cause to be ashamed' (2 Tim. 2:25).
44. He who is afraid of being cast out of the bridal chamber as an interloper (cf. Matt. 22:11-13) should either carry out all God's commandments, or else should strive to fulfill just one of them - humility.
45. Combine simplicity with self-control, and unite truth with humility, and you will keep house with justice, at whose table every other virtue likes to gather.
46. Truth without humility is blind. That is why it becomes contentious: it tries to support itself on something, and finds nothing except rancor.
47. A good character testifies to the beauty of virtue, just as soundness of body bears witness to a peaceful soul.
48. It is best not to go astray at all. Second best is not to hide your error through shame, or be shameless about it, but to humble yourself and, when reproved, to reprove yourself likewise, gladly accepting the punishment. If you do not do this, everything you offer to God is valueless.
49. In addition to voluntary suffering, you must also accept that which comes against your will - I mean slander, material losses and sickness. For if you do not accept these but rebel against them, you are like someone who wants to eat his bread only with honey, never with salt. Such a man does not always have pleasure as his companion, but always has nausea as his neighbor.
50. He who washes his neighbor's garment with inspired words, or who sews it up by contributing to his needs, has the outward appearance of a servant, but is really a master. But when he acts in this way he must be careful to do so truly as a servant, lest by growing conceited he loses both his reward and his proper rank.
51. Just as faith gives substance to the things for which we hope (cf. Heb. 11:1), so moral judgment gives substance to the soul and humility to virtue. And it is extraordinary how things perfect in themselves become imperfect when deprived of the qualities that should be associated with them.
52. 'The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in' (Ps. 121:8): that is. He will enable you by means of self-control to watch over the food you-take in and the words you give out. For the person who exercises self-control over food and speech escapes the desire that enters through the eyes, and calms the anger that issues from a disordered mind. The spiritual aspirant must exercise the greatest care and exert himself in every way in relation to these two passions. By so doing he will strengthen his practice of the virtues and put his contemplation on a sound basis.
53. Some are most careful about the food they take in but negligent about the words they give out. To adapt Ecclesiastes (11:10. LXX), such men do not know how to remove anger from the heart or desire from the flesh. Only through the removal of these things is a pure heart established within us by the renewing Spirit (cf Ps. 51:10).
54. You can achieve frugality by lowering the quantity of your food, and smlessness in speech by raising the quality of your silence.
55. Sear your loins by abstaining from food, and prove your heart by controlling your speech, and you will succeed in bringing the desiring and incensive powers of your soul into the service of what is noble and good.
56. Sexual desire diminishes in the spiritual aspirant once the body has passed its prime; but gluttony continues unless properly disciplined. You must try to prevent the disgrace of the effect by removing its cause; otherwise in the life to come you will be found lacking in the virtue of self-control and will be covered with shame.
57. The ascetic has to know when and by means of what foods to treat the body as an enemy, when to encourage it as a friend, and when to succor it as an invalid. Otherwise he may unwittingly offer to the friend what is proper for the enemy, or to the enemy what is proper for the friend, and to the invalid what is proper for either of the other two; and having alienated all three he may find them fighting against him in time of temptation.
58. If, when eating, the nourishment in your food is more important to you than its savor, then the grace of tears will be given to you and you will begin to find spiritual refreshment; and you will forget all other taste, relishing its sweetness beyond that of anything else.
59. The tears of the man who scatters his energies dry up, but they gush forth in the man who keeps to the narrow path (cf. Matt. 7:13-14).
60. Neither the sinner nor the righteous man is free from remorse: the first, because he has not altogether abandoned evil; the second, because he has not yet attained perfection.
61. Among the things that lie within our power are the virtues of prayer and silence; among the things that depend for the most part not on us, but on the constitution of the body, are fasting and vigil. Hence the spiritual aspirant must try to attain whatever is more accessible to him.
62. Patience is the house of the soul, for in it the soul is safeguarded. Humility is the soul's wealth, for the soul is nourished through it.
63. If you do not bear criticism patiently, you will not be honored with praise. If before indulging in pleasure you reflect on the pain inherent in it, you will escape the distress to which it gives birth.
64. Do not fetter yourself to a small thing and you will not be enslaved to a greater one. For the greater evil is built up only on the basis of the smaller.
63. By being mindful of greater evils, you will also be fearful of smaller ones; but if you give way to the greater evils, you will shamefully indulge in the lesser as well.
66. You will not be able to attain the greater virtues until you have fully achieved those which lie within your power.
67. In those in whom mercy and truth prevail, everything is godlike; for truth judges no one without mercy, while mercy never manifests compassion apart from truth.
68. Having united simplicity and self-control, you will experience the blessing which their union produces.
69. You will not be able to cut down the passions attacking you unless you first leave unfilled the soil from which they are fed.
70. Some try to purify only the matter of the body, others that of the soul as well. The first gain a certain control with regard to the actual committing of a sin, the second with regard to the passion behind it. But extremely few gain control over the underlying desire.
71. Passionateness is the evil matter of the body; self-indulgence, that of the soul; impassioned craving, that of the intellect. Touch is responsible for the first; the rest of the senses for the second; and a perverse disposition for the third.
72. The self-indulgent man is close to the impassioned man; and the man of impassioned craving to the self- indulgent man. Far from all three is the dispassionate man.
73. The impassioned man is strongly prone to sin in thought, even though for the time being he does not sin outwardly. The self-indulgent man actually commits the sin suggested in thought, even though he suffers inwardly. The man of impassioned craving is given over freely or, rather, servilely, to .the various modes of sinning. The dispassionate man is not dominated by any of these degrees of passion.
74. Passionateness is removed from the soul through fasting and prayer, self-indulgence through vigil and silence; and impassioned craving through stillness and attentiveness. Dispassion is established through remembrance of God.
75. Words of eternal life drop from the lips of dispassion like honey from the honeycomb (cf. Song of Songs 4:11). Who then is worthy of touching her lip with his own, of lying between her breasts (cf. Song of Songs 1:13), and smelling the fragrance of her clothes (cf. Song of Songs 4: 10, I 1) - that is to say, of rejoicing in the laws of the virtues which are, it is said, superior to all the perfumes perceived by the senses?
76. Many may be stripped of the coat of self-love, but few of the coat of worldly display; while only the dispassionate are free from self-esteem, the last coat of all.
77. Every soul will be stripped of the visible body; but only the soul that has indulged but sparsely in the pleasures of this life will be stripped of the body of sin.
78. All who live will die; but to sin will die only those who have consciously hated it.
79. Who will see himself stripped of sin prior to the ordinary death of the body? And prior to the future stripping, who is there that knows himself and his own nature?
Prayer unites with the Bridegroom
A soul wounded by nuptial love.
80. The deiform soul, placed as it is on the frontier between sensible and spiritual light, is enabled through the former to see and do what pertains to the body, and through the latter what pertains to the Spirit. But as a result of man's inveterate habit of mind, the light of the Spirit has grown dim within the soul, whereas the light of the sensible world shines more brightly within it. Consequently, it cannot fix its attention totally on things divine unless it is wholly united with intelligible light during prayer. In this way, it is compelled to stand midway between darkness and light, linked to spiritual light through participation, and to sensible light by means of the fantasy.
81. An intellect subject to passion cannot penetrate the narrow gate of prayer until it abandons the cares to which it has attached itself. So long as it remains continually occupied with bodily matters, it will inflict suffering on itself.
82. Let prayer inhere in the intellect as a ray in the sun. If the intellect lacks prayer, then worldly cares, like 'clouds driven-about by the wind and bringing no rain' (Jude, verse 12), deprive it of its native luminosity.
83. Strength to pray lies in the deliberate privation of food, and strength to go without food lies in not seeing or hearing about worldly things except when strictly necessary. He who is negligent in this fails to build his fasting on a firm foundation, and so he brings about the collapse of the whole edifice of prayer, which itself is based on fasting.
84. If the intellect does not become detached from all sensible things, it cannot rise upwards and realize its true dignity.
85. Fasting corresponds to daylight, because it is clearly manifest; prayer corresponds to night, because it is invisible. He who practices each of these rightly, the one in conjunction with the other, will attain his goal, the city from which 'pain, sorrow and sighing have fled away' (Isa. 35:10. LXX).
86. Spiritual work can exist even without bodily labor. Blessed, therefore, is the man who regards spiritual work as superior to physical work: through the first he makes up for any deficiency where the second is concerned, because he lives the hidden life of prayer that is manifest to God.
87. St Paul exhorts us to persevere in the faith, to rejoice in hope, and to persist steadfastly in prayer (cf. Rom. 12:12), so that the blessing of joy may be with us. If this is so, then he who fails to persevere lacks faith, and he who does not rejoice lacks hope. For he has abandoned prayer-the source of joy -by not persisting in it.
88. If the intellect has become so closely attached to worldly thoughts through its inveterate involvement with them, how intimate would it not become with prayer if it prayed unceasingly? For, it is said, the intellect will flourish in whatever it makes its constant occupation.
89. Because of long absence from its true home, the intellect has forgotten the luminosity it enjoyed there; hence it must once more become oblivious to things in this world and hasten back to its true home through prayer.
90. Sometimes prayer will fail to bring spiritual refreshment to the intellect, just as a mother's breasts, when they cease to give milk, will not solace her child. At other times the intellect in prayer is like a child that sleeps contentedly in its mother's arms.
91. In the contrite bridal-bed of the virtuous life the bride-prayer - says to her lover: 'I will give you my breasts if you dedicate yourself wholly to me' (cf. Song of Songs 7: 12).
92. You cannot become intimate with prayer unless you have renounced all material things.
93. During prayer alienate yourself from everything except life and breath if you want to be with the intellect alone.
94. Evidence of an intellect devoted to God is its absorption in the single-phrased Jesus Prayer; of an adroit intelligence, opportune speech; of a non-attached sense-perception, simplicity in taste. When such evidence is present in all three cases, the soul's powers are said to be in good health.
95. The nature of the person who prays must be supple and malleable, like that of children, so that it is receptive to the development brought about by prayer. Thus, if you want to be united with prayer, do not be neghgent.
96. Not all have the same purpose in prayer: one man has one purpose, another has another. One prays that, if possible, his heart may always be absorbed in prayer; another, that he may even transcend prayer; and a third, that he may not be hindered by thoughts during prayer. But all pray either to be preserved in what is good, or not to be carried away by evil.
97. If everyone is humbled by prayer-for he who prays with humility is brought to compunction-it follows that anyone outwardly boastful is not praying in a state of humility.
98. Bearing in mind the widow who persuaded the cruel judge to avenge her (cf Luke 18:2-5), the man who prays will never lose heart because the blessings to be gained through prayer are slow in arriving.
99. Prayer deserts you if you give attention to thoughts within and to conversations without. But if you largely ignore both in order to concentrate on it, it will return to you.
100. Unless the-words of prayer penetrate to the soul's depths no tears will moisten your cheeks.
101. Corn will spring up for the fanner who has hidden seed in the earth; tears will flow for the monk who diligently attends to the words of prayer.
102. The key to the kingdom of heaven is prayer. He who uses this key as he should sees what blessings the kingdom holds in store for those who love it. He who has no communion with the kingdom gives his attention merely to worldly matters.
103. The intellect cannot say boldly to God at the time of prayer: 'Thou hast burst my bonds asunder; I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of praise' (Ps. 116:16-17. LXX), unless out of a desire for higher things it frees itself from cowardice, indolence, excessive sleep and gluttony, all of which lead it to sin.
104. He who is distracted during prayer stands outside the first veil. He who undistractedly offers the single- phrased Jesus Prayer is within the veil. But he alone has glimpsed the holy of holies who, with his natural thoughts at rest, contemplates that which transcends every intellect, and who has in this way been granted to some extent a vision of the divine light.
105. Whenever the soul, paying no attention to external things, is concentrated in prayer, then a kind of flame surrounds it, as fire surrounds iron, and makes it wholly incandescent. The soul remains the same, but can no longer be touched, just as red-hot iron cannot be touched by the hand.
106. Blessed is he who in this life is granted the experience of this state and who sees his body, which by nature is of clay, become incandescent through grace.
107. To beginners the law of prayer is burdensome, like a despotic master; but to the more advanced it is like an erotic force, impelling those smitten by it as a hungry man is impelled towards a rich banquet. 108. To those who genuinely practice the virtues, prayer is sometimes like an overshadowing cloud (cf. Exod. 13:21) that keeps off inflammatory thoughts; at other times, bedewing them as it were with tears, it grants them spiritual visions.
109. The music of the lute sounds sweet to the outer ear; but a soul in which during prayer there is no sound of mystical invocation in the Spirit has not attained true compunction. It is only when 'we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us' (Rom. 8:26), that we are brought to this state of compunction.
Exalted as it reads these texts
The intellect is radiant with spiritual contemplation.
1. The man of spiritual knowledge must recognize when his intellect is in the realm of intellection, when it is in that of thought, and when in that of sense-perception. And in each case he must recognize whether it is there at the right time or at the wrong time.
2. When the intellect is not in the realm of intellection, it is generally in that of thought. And when it is in the realm of thought, it is not in that of intellection. But when it is in the realm of sense-perception, it is associated with all manner of visible and material things.
3. By means of intellection the intellect attains spiritual realities; through thought the reason grasps what is rational. Sense-perception is involved with practical and material realities by means of the fantasy.
4. When the intellect is self-concentrated, it contemplates neither the objects of sense-perception nor those of the rational faculty; on the contrary, it contemplates pure intellects and the rays of divine light flowing with peace and joy.
5. The intellection of an object is one thing, the rational apprehension of that object is another, and the object perceived is a third. The first constitutes the essence, the second is an attribute of the essence, and the third comprises the distinctive subject matter.
6. Given free rein, the intellect is insatiable. But when it is confined to one path - that of prayer - and has not yet reached its goal, it feels cramped, and implores its partner to let it enjoy the things from which it has been withheld.
7. When the intellect has been drawn down from the realm above. it will not return thither unless it is completely detached from worldly things through concentration on things divine.
8. If you cannot make your soul dwell only on thoughts kindred to it, at least keep your body to itself, and reflect continually upon the wretchedness to which it is subject. For thus, by God's mercy, you will in time be able to return to your original nobility.
9. The man engaged in ascetic practice can readily submit his intellect to prayer, while the contemplative can readily submit prayer to the intellect. The first restricts his perception of visible forms, while the second directs his soul's attention towards the inner essences concealed in such forms. Alternatively, the first compels the intellect to apprehend the inner essences of corporeal realities, while the second persuades it to grasp those of incorporeal beings. The inner essences of corporeal realities are also incorporeal, with respect both to their specific qualities and to their essential being.
10. When you free your intellect from self-indulgence in the body, in food and possessions, then whatever you do will be regarded by God as a pure offering. In exchange, the eyes of your heart will be opened, and you will be able clearly to meditate on the divine principles inscribed within it; and their sweetness to your spiritual taste will be greater than that of honey.
11. You will not be able to make your intellect rise above physical and material things, and even above the desire for necessary food, until you introduce it into the pure realm of the righteous. Then mindfulness of death and of God will fill the earthy heart and cleanse it of all profligate desire.
12. There is nothing more fearful than the thought of death, or more wonderful than remembrance of God. For the first induces the grief that leads us to salvation, and the second bestows gladness. 'I remembered God,' says the prophet, 'and I rejoiced' (Ps. 77:3. LXX). And Sirach says: 'Be mindful of your death and you will not sin' (Ecclus. 7:36). You cannot possess the remembrance of God until you have experienced the astrmgency of the thought of death.
13. Until the intellect has seen God's glory with 'unveiled face' (2 Cor. 3:18), the soul cannot say from experience of that glory: 'I shall exult in the Lord, I shall delight in His salvation' (cf. Ps. 35:9. LXX). For its heart is still shrouded in self-love, so that the world's foundations - the inner essences of things - cannot be revealed to it. And it will not be free from this shroud until it has undergone both voluntary and involuntary sufferings.
14. The leader of the people of Israel first must flee from Egypt (the actual committing of sin), next must cross over the Red Sea (servitude through attachment), and thirdly must dwell in the desert - the desert lying between the impulses to sin and the outward fulfillment of these impulses. Only then, sending ahead his visual and visionary force, can he spy out the promised land - dispassion (cf Josh. 2:1).
15. Those who dwell in the desert - those who abstain from the actual committing of evil - possess the blessings of the promised land only by hearsay. Those who have spied out these blessings with the soul's perception have attained the contemplation of visible things. But those who have been privileged actually to enter the promised land feed in full consciousness on the milk and honey that flows within it (cf. Exod. 3:8) - that is to say, on the inner essences of both corporeal and incorporeal realities.
16. A man still subject to physical impulses has not yet been crucified with Christ (cf. Gal. 2:20), and if he still drags natural thoughts along with him he has not yet been buried with Him. How then can he be raised up with Christ, to live in newness of life?
17. The three most comprehensive virtues of the soul are prayer, silence and fasting. Thus you should refresh yourself with the contemplation of created realities when you relax from prayer; with conversation about the life of virtue when you relax from silence; and with such food as is permitted when you relax from fasting.
18. So long as the intellect dwells among divine realities, it preserves its likeness to God, being filled with goodness and compassion. When it descends to the realm of things perceived by the senses - provided its descent has been opportune and apt - it can give and receive experience and then, strengthened by this, it can return to itself. But when its descent has been inopportune and unnecessary, it acts like an inept general who fails to use most of his fighting force.
19. The paradise of dispassion hidden within us is an image of that in which the righteous will dwell. None the less, not all who fail to enter the first will be excluded from the second.
20. The rays of the visible sun cannot penetrate a shuttered house. Nor will the rays of the spiritual sun penetrate the soul unless its senses are closed to visible things.
21. The man of spiritual knowledge is one who descends from the realm of intellection to that of sense-perception in a sublime manner and who raises his soul heavenwards with humility.
22. Traversing the fields a bee gathers the ingredients for honey; traversing the ages the soul infuses sweetness into the mind.
23. A deer that has eaten a snake rashes to water in order to neutralize the poison; but a soul wounded by the arrows of God drinks deep draughts of ceaseless longmg for her assailant.
24. Unimpassioned thoughts arise in one living in a state of self-unity; reasoned calculations in one living in a state of self-division. But when all thoughts have been expelled from the fragmented soul, only incorporeal intellects commune with it, revealing to it the principles of providence and judgment that constitute the foundations of the world.
25. One living in a state of self-division cannot avoid the distinction between male and female; but this may be done by one living in a state of self-unity, when the distinction between male and female is suppressed through attaining the divine likeness in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 5:28). 26. Thoughts pertain neither to the non-rational aspect of the soul (for they do not occur in non-rational animals), nor to its intellectual aspect (since they are not to be found in angels). Being products of the reason, they use the imagination as a ladder, and so ascend from the world of the senses to the intellect, conveying to the latter the observations which they have derived from sense -perception; then they redescend from the intellect down to the world of the senses, communicating to it the intellect's principles.
27. When the ship of smfulness is overwhelmed by the flood of tears, evil thoughts will react like people drowning in the waves and trying to grasp hold of something so as to keep afloat.
28. Thoughts gather about the soul according to its underlying quality: either they are like pirates and try to sink it, or they are like oarsmen and try to help it when it is in danger. The first tow it out into the open sea of sinful thoughts; the second steer it back to the nearest calm shore they can find.
29. Unless the soul strips itself of the thoughts that lead up to self-esteem - which is the worst of the seven evil thoughts - it will not be able to strip off this seventh thought either; and so it will not be able to clothe itself in the eighth thought, called by St Paul 'our house that is from heaven'. Only those who have divested themselves of material things are able 'with heartfelt sighs' to clothe themselves in this eighth thought (cf. 2 Cor. 5:2-4).
30. Angelic thoughts accompany perfect prayer; spiritual thoughts, intermediate prayer; and thoughts about nature, the prayer of beginners.
31. The quality of the grain is usually evident in the ear of corn; similarly, the purity of contemplation is usually evident in prayer. The grain is surrounded by a spear-like sheath in order to prevent the birds from eating it; contemplation is armed with spiritual thoughts through which to destroy the temptations that attack it.
32. Through the practice of the virtues the outward aspects of the soul become like the silver-coated wings of a dove. Through contemplation its inward and intelligible aspects become golden. But the soul that has not in this way regained its beauty cannot soar aloft and come to rest in the abode of the blessed.
Here is a meadow full of the fruits
Of spiritual practice and contemplation.
33. In olden times men were instructed to offer in the temple the firstfruits of the threshing-floor and the wine- press (of. Num. 18:12). Likewise we ought now to offer God self-control and truth as the firstfruits of ascetic practice, and love and prayer as the firstfruits of the virtue of contemplation. Through the first we repulse the assaults of mindless desire and anger; through the second we vanquish empty thoughts and the snares into which they lead us.
34. The first stage of ascetic practice is marked by self-control and truthfulness; the intermediate stage by moderation and humblemindedness; the final stage by freedom from thoughts and the sanctification of the body.
35. Ascetic practice consists not merely in managing to do what is right, but also in doing it rightly: the doer must concern himself with timeliness and congruity.
36. To contemplate is to perceive not only the existing state of corporeal realities but also the ultimate goal of their inner principles.
37. Ascetic practice cannot be consolidated without contemplation, and contemplation cannot be genuine without ascetic practice. For practice must be based on intelligence, and contemplation on practice. In this way evil will be powerless to disrupt practice, and contemplation will be prolific in acts of goodness.
38. The goal of ascetic practice is the mortification of the passions; of spiritual knowledge, the contemplation of the virtues.
39. Ascetic practice is to contemplation as matter is to form; and contemplation is to ascetic practice as the eye is to the face.
40. Many compete for practical virtue, but only one receives the prize: he who seeks to attain its goal through contemplation.
41. The man engaged in ascetic practice drinks the draught of compunction during prayer, but the contemplative gets drunk with the best cup (cf. Ps. 23:5. LXX). The first meditates on things that are according to nature, while the second ignores even himself during prayer.
42. The man engaged in ascetic practice cannot persist in spiritual contemplation for long. He is like a person who is being given hospitality but must shortly leave his host's house.
43. When praying, men engaged in ascetic practice are as it were entering the gate of God's commandments; but contemplatives when praising God stand as though in the courts of the virtues. The first give thanks because they have been freed of their fetters, the second because they have also taken captive those who waged war against them.
44. You must be governed by both ascetic practice and contemplation. Otherwise you will be like a ship voyaging without the right sails: either it risks being overturned by the violence of the winds because its sails are too large, or it fails to take advantage of the breeze because they are too small.
45. By the oarsmen of the spiritual ship understand devout thoughts. By oars understand the vital powers of the soul: the incensive and the desiring powers, and the will and free choice. The man engaged in ascetic practice is always in need of these, whereas the contemplative does not always need them. For during prayer the contemplative bids farewell to everything: himself holding the tiller of discernment he keeps awake throughout the night of contemplation, offering praises to Him who holds all things together. And perhaps he sings some love song to his soul as he watches the swell of the salty sea and the tumult of the waves, and marvels at the righteous judgments of God.
46. The person at a stage intermediate between ascetic practice and contemplation does not make the voyage entirely by means of oars, nor entirely by means of spiritual sails, but with the aid of both. Because he possesses a measure of contemplation, he gladly endures the hardships of ascetic practice; and because he is assisted by ascetic practice, he equally accepts the reasons for the shortcomings of his contemplation.
47. The contemplative, with his will assisted by nature as though by a current, voyages without difficulty. But the man engaged in ascetic practice, finding his resolution undermined by his attachment to sensible things, is much troubled by the waves of his thoughts; indeed, he almost falls into despair because of their violence.
48. Land that is not well tilled is unlikely to yield a good crop of clean grain; and unless the man engaged in ascetic practice proceeds diligently and without ostentation, he will not enjoy a bountiful harvest of good clean fruit as the result of his prayer.
49. The mind engaged in the unremitting practice of prayer is like well-trodden earth: such earth will be smooth and welcoming to tender feet, while the mind will then be untarnished and receptive to pure prayer.
50. In relation to material things, the intellect is assisted by thought; but in relation to immaterial things, thought, unless repudiated, will be like 'a thorn in the flesh' (2 Cor. 12:7) to the intellect.
51. The man engaged in ascetic practice finds that during prayer the knowledge of sensible things covers his heart like a veil, which he is unable to remove because of his attachment to these things. Only the contemplative man, owing to his non-attachment, can to some degree see the glory of God 'with unveiled face' (2 Cor. 3:18).
52. Prayer combined with spiritual contemplation constitutes the promised land in which there flows, like 'milk and honey' (Exod. 3:8), the spiritual knowledge of the principles of God's providence and judgment. Prayer combined with a certain measure of natural contemplation is Egypt, in which those who pray still encounter the memory of their grosser desires. Simple prayer is manna in the desert (cf Num. I 1 :7). Since it is unvarying, this manna does not disclose to the impatient the promised blessings for which they long; but for those who persevere with such restricted food, it imparts most excellent and abiding nourishment.
53. Ascetic practice combined with contemplation is like the body united to its ruling spirit. Without contemplation, it is like flesh dominated by a spirit of self-will.
54. Sense-perception is the forecourt of the deiform soul; the reason is her temple; and the intellect, her high priest. The intellect is to be found in the forecourt when held captive by inept thoughts; in the temple when circumscribed by thoughts that are apposite. When it is free from both, it is privileged to enter the holy sanctuary.
55. There is a sound of grief and lamentation in the house of the soul still at the stage of ascetic practice, because of the suffering it endures; but in the house of the contemplative soul 'a voice of exultation and thanksgiving' (cf Ps. 42:4. LXX) is heard, because of its spiritual knowledge.
56. On account of his sufferings, the man engaged in ascetic practice wants to leave this life and to be with Christ; the contemplative, on the contrary, is quite content to remain in the flesh, both because of the joy that he receives from prayer, and because of the use that he can be to his fellow-men (cf. Phil. I :23-24).
57. Where people of greater intelligence are concerned, contemplation precedes ascetic practice, whereas in the case of the more obtuse, ascetic practice precedes contemplation. Both contemplation and ascetic practice lead to the same auspicious conclusion; but this is attained more quickly by those in whom contemplation precedes ascetic practice.
58. Paradise is the contemplation of intelligible realities. During prayer the man of spiritual understanding enters into it as into his own home; but the man engaged in ascetic practice is like a passer-by: he wants to look in, but is prevented by the wall of his spiritual immaturity.
59. Bodily passions are like wild animals, while passions of the soul are like birds. The man engaged in ascetic practice can keep the animals out of the noetic vineyard; but unless he enters into a state of spiritual contemplation, he cannot keep the birds away, however much he strives to guard himself inwardly.
60. The man engaged in ascetic practice cannot rise above ethical propriety, unless he goes beyond the natural law-as Abraham went forth from his own land-and beyond his own limited state of development-as Abraham left his kinsmen (cf. Gen. 12:1). In this way, as a mark of God's approval, he will be liberated from the all-embracing hold of pleasure; for it is this veil of pleasure, wrapped around us from our birth, that prevents us from receiving complete freedom.
61. When spring comes, a colt cannot bear being confined to the stable and feeding out of the manger. Similarly, the newly-initiated intellect cannot long bear being confined to prayer: like the colt, it would gladly go out into the fields of natural contemplation, there to devote itself to psalmody and spiritual reading.
62. Ascetic practice girds the soul's vital powers with fasting and vigil, while contemplative virtue keep the spiritual powers burning like lamps by means of silence and prayer. The vital powers have the reason as their tutor, the spiritual powers have the indwelling Logos as their bridal escort.
63. The uninitiated intellect is not permitted to enter the ripe vineyard of prayer. It is given access only - and barely - to the literal repetition of the psalms, as a poor man is allowed to glean the small grapes left on the vines.
64. Just as not all those who have audience with a king can also dine with him, so not all those who have attained a certain familiarity with prayer will rise to contemplation during it.
65. Apt silence bridles anger; moderation in food bridles mindless desire; and the single-phrased Jesus Prayer bridles unruly thought.
66. The man who dives into the sea for pearls will fail in his efforts unless he first strips off his clothes; similarly, the man who plunges into the sea of spiritual knowledge in search of the pearl of wisdom will fail to find it unless he strips himself of his attachment to the world of the senses.
67. The intellect that encloses itself within the mind during prayer is like a bridegroom conversing with the bride inside the bridal chamber. But the intellect that is not allowed to enter stands dejectedly outside, crying:' 'Who will lead me into the walled city'?' (Ps. 60:9). Who will guide me until I no longer see vanities and delusions during prayer'?'
68. As food without salt is to the taste, so is prayer without compunction to the intellect.
69. The soul still in pursuit of prayer is like a woman in the pains of childbirth; but the soul that has attained prayer is like a woman who has given birth and is full of joy on account of her child.
70. In olden times the Amorites used to come down from the mountain and attack those trying to force their way through (cf Deut. I :44). In our days evil forgetfulness repulses those who, before attaining purity, attempt to rise to higher form-free prayer.
71. The demons are extremely hostile to pure prayer. Moreover, it is not the host of psalms that can terrify them, as an army might terriiy an external enemy; it is the alliance of the intellect with the reason and of the reason with sense-perception.
72. Prayer free from passion is like sustaining bread to those who pray; prayer combined with some degree of contemplation is like nourishing oil; and prayer that is free of forms is like sweet-smelling wine. Those who drink deeply of this wine are rapt out of themselves.
73. It is said of the wild ass that it scorns the crowds in the city, and of the unicorn that it cannot be fettered by anyone (cf Job 39:7-9). Similarly, the intellect, having mastered thoughts both natural and contrary to nature, mocks their vanity, and during prayer cannot be dominated by any of the objects of sense-perception. 74. Shaking a stick at dogs provokes their fury; forcing oneseh' to pray in purity provokes the fury of the demons.
75. The spiritual aspirant must restrain his senses through frugality and his intellect through the single-phrased Jesus Prayer. Having in this way detached himself from the passions, he will find himself caught up to the Lord during prayer.
76. Those who indulge their passions, being materially -minded, are distracted during prayer by their thoughts as by frogs. Those who restrain their passions are gladdened during prayer by the changing forms of contemplation, which are like nightingales moving from one branch to another. But in the dispassionate there is silence and great quiescence of both thought and intellection during prayer.
77. In olden times, when Miriam, the sister of Moses, saw the fall of the enemy, she took up a timbrel and led the women who sang the victory-songs (cf. Exod. 15:20-21). In our days, when the soul overcomes the passions, love - the highest of the virtues - rises up to praise it. As though taking up the lyre, it embarks upon the contemplation that long ago has been appointed for it as a hard-won addition to its beauty; and it ceaselessly glorifies God, rejoicing with its sister-virtues.
78. When through continuous prayer the words of the psalms are brought down into the heart, then the heart like good soil begins to produce by itself various (lowers: roses, the vision of incorporeal realities; lilies, the luminosity of corporeal realities; and violets, the many judgments of God, hard to understand.
79. A flame gives light so long as it is wedded to matter. But the ' soul becomes God's shrine only when free from matter. The flame rises up so long as it has something to bum on; the soul is raised upward until it is consummated in divine love.
80. A soul that has denied itself completely, and has been raised above creation wholly to the realm of prayer, does not descend whenever it wishes: it descends when He who weighs and measures all our affairs judges it to be right.
81. When listlessness is expelled from the soul, and malice from the mind, then the intellect, naked in simplicity, innocent and totally stripped of the veil of shame, sings a new song to God, with joyful gratitude celebrating the forefeast and inauguration of the life to come.
82. When the soul that prays begins to respond to the higher divine realities, then, like the bride in the Song of Songs, it sings to its companions: 'My Beloved stretched His hand through the opening, and my womb trembled because of Him' (Song of Songs 5:4).
83. As a soldier returning from war unburdens himself of his arms, so the man engaged in ascetic practice unburdens himself of thoughts when he attains to contemplation. For as the first has no need of arms except in time of war, so the second has no need of thoughts unless he reverts to the things apprehended by the senses.
84. The man engaged in ascetic practice sees corporeal realities in terms of their relations; the contemplative sees them in terms of their nature. Only the spiritually illumined grasps the inner principles of what the other two perceive.
85. Incorporeal realities may be apprehended in the logoi or inner principles of corporeal realities; but in incorporeal realities may be apprehended the supraessential Logos to whom every diligent soul urgently strives to return.
86. The inner principles of corporeal realities are concealed like bones within objects apprehended by the senses: no one who has not transcended attachment to sensible things can see them.
87. A soldier casts off his arms when he has ceased fighting; the contemplative casts off thoughts when he returns to the Lord.
88. A general becomes despondent when he fails to capture any booty in war; so does the mm engaged in ascetic practice when he fails to attain spiritual contemplation in prayer.
89. When bitten by some wild animal, a deer runs swiftly to earthly springs of water; a soul wounded by the most tender arrow of prayer hastens towards the light of incorporeal realities.
90. Just as the eye cannot see a grain of wheat unless the eyelids are open, so the practical intellect cannot see its own nature unless stripped of the attachment to sensible things that obscures its vision.
91. The stars are hidden when the sun rises, and thoughts vanish when the intellect returns to its own realm.
92. When the stage of ascetic practice has been fulfilled, spiritual visions flood the intellect like the sun's rays coming over the horizon; even though they are native to it, and embrace it because of its purity, they appear to come from outside.
93. If on descending from the realm of vision to attend to practical matters the contemplative intellect were to speak of what it has experienced, it would say such things as: 'What is more wondrous than divine beauty, or more lovely than the sense of God's magnificence? What longing is so keen and unbearable as that engendered by God in a soul purified of every vice and truly able to say: 'I am wounded with love'?' (Song of Songs 2:5. LXX).
94. 'My heart grew warm within me and a fire was kindled during my meditation' (Ps. 39:3. LXX). So may speak the man who has no difficulty in following God through prayer and who has no desire for temporal life.
95. When it has rejected evil, let the soul still engaged in ascetic struggle repeat the words of the Song to the malicious demons and thoughts that forcibly try to turn its attention once more to vanities and delusion: 'I have taken off my coat; how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; how can I make them dirty?' (Song of Songs 5:3).
96. The soul that enjoys God's love is bold enough to say to Him: Tell me. Good Shepherd, where You graze Your Sheep, and where You rest Your lambs at noon, so that by following them I may avoid becoming like one encircled by the flocks of Your companions' (cf. Song of Songs I :7. LXX).
97. The soul still engaged in ascetic struggle, trying to hold fast to the words of prayer and not being able to do so. cries out like the soul in the Song: 'By night on my bed I sought Him whom I love; I sought Him but I did not find Him; I called Him, but He did not listen to me. I will rise now through more strenuous prayer and will go about the city, in the wide streets and the market-places, and will look for my Beloved. Perhaps I shall find Him who is present in all things and beyond all things; and I will feast on the vision of His glory' (cf. Song of Songs 3:1-2. LXX).
98. When the soul begins to be all tears from the joy that accompanies prayer, it grows bold and, like a bride to her bridegroom, cries: 'Let my Beloved come down mto His garden, and let Him feed on the hard-won consolation of my tears as though on choice fruit' (cf Song of Songs 5:1. LXX).
99. When the soul still engaged in ascetic struggle begins to be struck with wonder at the Creator because of the magnificence and beauty of created things, and to savor the delight that comes from them, it too cries in astonishment: 'How beautiful You are, my Bridegroom, paradise of Your Father: You are a flower of the field and a cedar of His, like the cedars of Lebanon. I yearned for His shadow, and I sat down, and His fruit was sweet in my mouth' (cf Song of Songs 2:1-3. LXX).
100. If someone who receives a king in his house becomes in this way illustrious, admired of all and full of joy, how much more so will the soul that, when purified, receives the King of kings, according to His unfailing promise? But it must guard itself with great care, casting out everything that does not seem to please Him, and introducing everything that does.
101. If a person is expecting to be summoned tomorrow by the king, will he have any concern other than to consider what he will say in order to please the king? A soul that takes careful note of this will not be found unprepared when it comes before the future judgment seat.
102. Blessed is the soul that, because it expects its Lord daily, thinks nothing of the day's toil or of the night's, since He is going to appear in the morning.
103. God sees all men, but only those see God who perceive nothing during prayer. God listens to those who see Him, while those to whom He does not listen do not see Him. Blessed is the man who believes that he is seen by God; for his foot will not slip (cf. Ps. 73:2) unless this is God's will.
104. The blessings of the kingdom within us-which the world-loving eye has not seen, and the presumptuous ear has not heard, and which have not entered into a heart empty of the Holy Spirit (cf. I Cor. 2:9) - are a pledge and foretaste of the blessings to be given by God to the righteous in the kingdom that is to come. If we do not savor the first, which are the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22), we will not be able to enjoy the second.
105. The thoughts of those engaged in ascetic practice are like deer. Deer sometimes go up into the mountains because they are frightened of hunters, and sometimes down to the valleys because they want what they can find there. Similarly those engaged in ascetic practice can neither be constantly in a state of spiritual contemplation, for they are still immature, nor be constantly in a state of natural contemplation, for they do not always seek relaxation. The thoughts of contemplatives, however, disdain inferior forms of contemplation.
106. Raindrops moisten the furrows, and tear-laden sighs rising from tile heart soften the soul's state during prayer.
107. No one can contemplate the Triune Divinity unless his vision transcends the material dyad as well as the material monad; and he will not transcend the latter unless he has integrated the intellections of his intellect.
108. It is less hard to check the downward flow of a river than for one who prays to check the turbulence of the intellect when he wishes, preventing it from fragmenting itself among visible things and concentrating it on the higher realities kindred to it. This is so in spite of the fact that to check the flow of a river is contrary to nature, while to check the turbulence of the intellect accords with nature.
109. Those who inwardly purify the intellect by ignoring what is visible are filled with such wonder and such joy that they would not be able to find room for anything earthly, even though they were to be flooded with all the things over which people fight.
110. Simply to speak of the laws of nature is enough to arouse deep admiration. But when they are fully understood, they are as fields full of flowers, whose lavish blossoms give out a spiritual sweetness like nectar from heaven.
111. Bees surround their queen among fresh meadow-flowers; and the soul that is unceasingly in a state of compunction is surrounded and assisted by the angelic powers, for it is kindred to them.
112. Within the visible world, man is as it were a second world; and the same is true of thought within the intelligible world. For man is the herald of heaven and earth, and of all that is in them; while thought interprets the intellect and sense-perception, and all that pertains to them. Without man and thought both the sensible and the intelligible worlds would be inarticulate.
113. A person released from long captivity is not so full of joy as the intellect freed from its attachment to sensible things and winging its way towards the heavenly realm that is its native land.
114. A person who prays, not with attention, but distractedly, will regard the psalms as uncouth; and from the point of view of the psalms he will appear equally uncouth. Both will be considered mad by the demons.
115. Those to whom the world is crucified are not the same as those who are crucified to the world (cf Gal. 6:14). For the first, the nails are fasting and vigils; for the second, they are to shed every possession and to be treated with contempt. Without the second, the sufferings involved in the first are useless.
116. No one can pray purely if he is constrained by the passions of ostentation and ambition. For the attachments and frivolous thoughts in which these passions involve him will twine around him like ropes, and during prayer will drag his intellect down like a fettered bird that is trying to fly.
117. The intellect cannot be peaceful during prayer unless it has acquired self-control and love. With God's help the first strives to put an end to the body's hostility towards the soul, the second to our hostility towards our fellow- men. Upon the man who has in this way established peace within himself, 'the peace that surpasses the intellect' (Phil. 4:7) then descends and, according to God's promise, takes up its abode in him.
118. The person struggling to enter the kingdom of God must excel in works of righteousness: in almsgiving, by providing out of his own paucity; and in suffering for the sake of peace, by responding to trials with patient endurance in the Lord.
119. Neither one who falls short of virtue because of negligence nor one who out of presumption oversteps it will reach the harbor of dispassion. Indeed, no one will enjoy the blessings of righteousness who tries to attain them by means of either deficiency or excess.
120. Land cannot make a farmer wealthy merely by yielding the equivalent to the grain which he has sown, or even by adding to it slightly; it can do so only by multiplying it. Similarly, the achievements of one engaged in ascetic practice cannot make him righteous unless his diligence towards God exceeds his natural propensity.
121. Not everyone who does not love his neighbor actually hates him, and not everyone who does not hate his neighbor is able to love him. It is one thing to envy one's neighbor's progress, and another to refrain from hindering it. The height of malice consists not simply in being galled at one's neighbor's superiority, but also in traducing his good qualities by saying that they are not good at all.
122. Bodily passions are one thing, passions of the soul another. Passions according to nature are other than those which are contrary to nature. The person who repulses the former, but does not take account of the latter, is like a man who sets up a high thick fence to keep wild animals out, but wishes joy to the birds eating the finest grapes in his spiritual vineyard.
123. First the soul imagines evil, then desires it, then feels pleasure or pain with respect to it, then becomes fully conscious of it, and finally unites with it either outwardly or inwardly. Thoughts accompany all these phases, except that of the initial stimulus. If this is repudiated, none of the evil that follows will be actualized.
124. Those who are approaching dispassion will be troubled only by fantasies; those who restrain their passions, by desires; those who indulge their passions, by entanglements. Those who misuse what they have to meet their needs, but feel remorse for it, are conscious of the evil they do; those who feel no remorse unite with evil.
125. Pleasure has its seat in every part of the body, but does not disturb everyone in the same way. In some people, it disturbs more the desiring aspect of the soul; in others, the incensive aspect; and in others, the intelligence. It does this through gluttony, bad temper and malice, the source of all the unholy passions.
126. Like the gates of a city, we have to open the organs of sense -perception in order to satisfy essential needs; but in so doing we must take care not to give access at the same time to warlike tribes that seek to attack us.
127. Pleasure is the mother of desire; bad temper, of anger; malice, of jealousy. Whoever does not struggle against the ringleaders will not be left in peace by their subordinates; nor can you restrain the passions if you practice the commandments only because you are forced to do so.
128. Those who repulse provocations prevent thoughts from entering the spiritual vineyard like marauding animals and ruining it. Those who couple with provocations, but do not take pleasure in them, simply allow the animals to enter, though not to touch any of the things inside. Those who enjoyably commune with the passions through thoughts, yet do not reach the point of giving assent to them, are like men who, after allowing a wild boar to come through the fence into the vineyard, have stopped him from taking his fill of the grapes but then have found him more than they can control. Such people often end by giving assent to the passions.
129. If you still have to give thought to the exercising of self-control you have not yet attained simplicity. Only one engaged in ascetic struggle, it is said, has to exercise self-control (cf I Cor. 9:25), not one who is spiritually perfect. A person engaged in ascetic struggle is like a man who has a vineyard or corn-land not among other vineyards or other farms, but somewhere out on its own, and which for this reason needs much guarding and watching. No one, however, touches the vineyard of the person who has attained simplicity: it is like that of a king or some other awesome potentate, whose very name is enough to make thieves and passers-by shudder at the thought of trying to enter it.
130. Many ascend the cross of mortification, but few consent to be nailed to it. For many submit to hardships and afflictions of their own choosing; but only those who have died completely to this world and to the respite it offers readily submit to the sufferings that come against their will.
131. Many have removed all their 'coats of skin' (Gen. 3:21) except the last, that of self-esteem. This is cast off only by those who are disgusted with what produces it: their own self-satisfaction.
132. The person who is offered bodily comfort and men's praise, but refuses to accept them, has been stripped of the final coat, that of self-esteem. To him is granted the grace of being clothed, even in this present life, with the splendor of the heavenly dwelling-place, longed for with so many sighs.
133. The energy or capacity for an action is one thing, and the action or thing energized is another. A sin actually committed is an example of the second, while some form of self-indulgence that is activated only inwardly, not outwardly, is an example of the first. Someone dominated by such self-indulgence is like a person who, although not turned out of his own property, yet has to pay tribute to others who control what he holds dear. 134. When the sense of taste is the chief purveyor of pleasure, the other senses are bound to follow in its wake. This is so even if the reproductive organs of those who are less hot-blooded, such as the elderly, appear to be unmoved and free from excitement because they have dried up. Yet the sterile woman who commits adultery will not be judged chaste from the fact that she does not produce children. We would say that only the person free from passion within, and not seduced by what he sees, is entirely chaste.
135. The state of the desiring aspect of the soul is revealed through food, gestures and speech; through what appeals and what does not appeal; through taste, sight and hearing, both by the use it' makes of them and by the way it misuses them, and even by the neutral attitude it adopts towards them.
136. Where fear does not lead the way, thoughts will be in a state of confusion, like sheep that have no shepherd. Where fear leads the way or goes with them, they will be under control and in good order within the fold.
137. Fear is the son of faith and the shepherd of the commandments. He who is without faith will not be found worthy to be a sheep of the Lord's pasture.
138. Some possess only the rudiments of spiritual qualities, some possess them partially, while others possess them in a complete form. The first are like an ordinary soldier, the second like an officer without any money: the soldier can barely defend his home from those who try to damage it, while the officer is not treated with due respect when he meets others.
139. Those who exhort us, imperfect as we are, to indulge the pleasures of the palate, act like people who encourage us to reopen wounds that are healed, or to scratch an itch because of the enjoyment it gives, or to eat foods which increase fever, or to fence off our spiritual vineyard but to allow the impulses of the flesh to enter like a wild boar and devour our good thoughts like grapes. We must not give way to them; nor must we yield to the importunate flattery of men and passions. Rather, we must strengthen the fence through self-control, until the wild animals - the carnal passions - stop their howling, and vain thoughts no longer descend like birds and despoil the vineyard of our soul, rich as it is with the contemplative vision bestowed on it by our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory throughout the ages. Amen.