St Symeon Metaphrastis: Paraphrase of the Homilies of St Makarios of Egypt: V: Love
84. Having outwardly renounced visible things and given away your goods, you must in the same way also renounce your inner prepossessions and attitudes. If you have acquired worldly wisdom or material knowledge, you must reject it. If you have put your trust in earthly privileges, give them up, humbling and belittling yourself. In this way you can discover what St Paul meant by the 'folly' of the Gospel; for in this folly you will find true wisdom, which resides not in fine words but in the power of the Cross that is active as an actual reality in those found worthy to achieve such wisdom. As St Paul says, Christ's Cross is 'a stumbling-block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks, but to those who are saved it is God's power and wisdom' (cf I Cor. I :21-24).
85. Even if you have tasted things celestial and partaken of divine wisdom, and your soul is at rest, do not exalt yourself or grow overconfident, thinking that you have already reached your goal and understand all truth, lest St Paul's words also apply to you: 'You are sated already, you are already rich, you have reigned as kings without us. Would that you did reign, so that we could reign with you' (1 Cor. 4:8). Even if you have been given some taste, regard yourself as still not yet a Christian; and do not just think this superficially, but let it be as though planted and established permanently in your mind.
86. A lover of riches is never satisfied, no matter how many possessions he accumulates, but the more he acquires daily, the more his appetite increases; and a person forcibly pulled away from a stream of pure water before he has quenched his thirst feels even more thirsty. In a similar way, once one has experienced the taste of God, one can never be satisfied or have enough of it, but however much one is enriched by this wealth one still feels oneself to be poor. Christians do not set great store by their own lives, but regard themselves rather as rightly set at nought by God and as everyone's servants. God rejoices greatly at this, and takes His repose in the soul because of its humility. If therefore you attain something or are enriched, do not on this account presume you are something or have something. Presumption is an abomination to the Lord, and it was this that originally expelled man from paradise when he heard the serpent say, 'You will be like gods' (Gen. 3:5), and put his trust in this vain hope. Have you not learnt how your God and King, and the very Son of God, emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave (cf Phil. 2:7)? How He became poor, was ranked among criminals, and suffered? If this is what happened to God, do you think that man. formed of flesh and blood, who is but earth and ashes, totally without goodness and wholly depraved, has reason to be proud and boastful? If you have understanding you will recognize that even what you have received from God is not your own, since you were given it by another; and should He think fit, it will certainly be taken away from you again. Attribute, therefore, every blessing to God and every evil to your own weakness.
87. That treasure which St Paul said we hold in pots of clay (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7) is the sanctifying power of the Spirit which while still in the flesh he was enabled to receive. Again St Paul says:'... who has been made by God our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption' (1 Cor. 1:30). He who finds and possesses this supernal treasure of the Spirit can accomplish all righteous acts and works prescribed by the commandments, not only in purity and faultlessly, but also without any suffering or exertion, whereas before he was far from accomplishing them in such a painless way. For no one, however he tries, can truly cultivate spiritual fruits before participating in the Holy Spirit But everyone should put pressure on himself, striving to advance with endurance and faith, and fervently beseeching Christ that he may acquire this heavenly treasure; for in it and through it he can accomplish, as was said, every righteous act in purity and perfectly, without toil or distress.
88. Whenever those who possess in themselves the divine riches of the Spirit take part in spiritual discussion, they draw as it were on their inner treasure-house and share their wealth with their hearers. Those, however, who do not have stored in the sanctuary of their heart the treasure from which springs forth the bounty of divine thoughts, mysteries and inspired words, but who cull what they say from the Scriptures, speak merely from the tip of the tongue; or if they have listened to spiritual men, they preen themselves with what others have said, putting it forward as though it were their own and claiming interest on someone else's capital. Their listeners can enjoy what they say without great effort, but they themselves, when they have finished speaking, prove to be like paupers. For they have simply repeated what they have taken from others, without acquiring treasures of their own from which they could first derive pleasure themselves and which they could then communicate profitably to others. For this reason we must first ask God that these true riches may dwell within us, and then we can readily benefit others and speak to them of spiritual matters and divine mysteries. For God's goodness delights to dwell in every believer. As Christ said: 'He who loves Me will be loved by My Father; and I will love him and disclose Myself to him' (John 14:21); and again: 'I and My Father will come to him, and take up Our abode with him' (John 14:23).
89. Those who are privileged to become children of God and to have Christ shining forth within them are guided by varied and differing qualities of the Spirit, and are cherished by grace in the secret places of the heart. The seeming joys of the world arc not to be compared with the experience of divine grace in the soul. Those who share in this grace are sometimes filled with an inexpressible and nameless joy and exultation, as if they were at some royal banquet; sometimes they feel like bride and bridegroom delighting together spiritually; and sometimes like bodiless angels, since the body has become so weightless and light that it seems that they are not clothed with it. Sometimes it seems that they are in some realm greatly rejoicing and drunk with the inexpressible drunkenness of the mysteries of the Spirit; and then at other times they are full of grief, weeping and lamenting as they intercede for man's salvation. For, burning with the divine love of the Spirit for all men, they take into themselves the grief of all Adam; and sometimes they are kindled by the Spirit with such untold love and delight that, were it at all possible, they would clasp everyone to their breast, not making any distinction between who is good and who is bad; and sometimes they so disparage themselves that they regard themselves as the least of all men. Now they are consumed with unutterable spiritual joy; and now, like some mighty warrior donning royal armor, marching to war and putting the enemy to flight, they arm themselves with the weapons of the Spirit, attack their invisible enemies and tread them underfoot. Now they are embraced by great tranquility and stillness, peace nourishes them and they experience great delight; and now they acquire understanding, divine wisdom and unsearchable spiritual knowledge. In short, it is impossible to describe the grace of Christ by which they are illumined. At other times they can appear to be like any ordinary person. Divine grace, taking in them many different forms, teaches and disciplines the soul so as to present it perfect, pure and spotless to the heavenly Father.
90. All these workings of the Spirit are characteristic of those at a high level and very close to perfection. For these manifold blessings of grace are variously but unceasingly made active in such people by the Spirit, one spiritual energy succeeding another. When the soul attains spiritual perfection, totally purged of all the passions and wholly united and commingled with the Holy Spirit, the Intercessor, in ineffable communion, then through this commingling with the Spirit the soul is itself enabled to become spirit: it becomes all light, all spirit, all joy, repose, exultation, all love, all tenderness, all goodness and kindness. It is as though it had been swallowed up in the virtues belonging to the power of the Holy Spirit as a stone in the depths of the sea is surrounded by water. Totally united in this way to the Holy Spirit, such people are assimilated to Christ Himself, maintaining the virtues of the Spirit immutable in themselves and revealing their fruits to all. Since through the Spirit they have been made inwardly spotless and pure in heart, it is impossible for them to produce outwardly the fruits of evil: always and through all things the fruits of the Spirit will be manifest in them. Such is the state of spiritual perfection, such the fullness of Christ that St Paul exhorts us to attain when he says: '... so that you may be filled with the whole fullness of Christ' (cf. Eph. 3:19); and again: '... until we all attain to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Eph. 4:13).
91. There are times when, simply after kneeling down, we find our heart filled with divine energy and our soul delights in the Lord as a bride with the bridegroom: in Isaiah's words, 'As the bridegroom delights in the bride, so will the Lord delight in you' (Isa. 62:5. LXX). A man may be occupied throughout the day, and devote himself for but a single hour to prayer, and still be carried away inwardly by it, entering into the infinite depths of the other world. He experiences then an ineffable and measureless delight; his intellect, wholly suspended and ravished, is overwhelmed, and during the time he is in this state he is mindless of every worldly concern. For his thoughts are filled, as we said, with numberless incomprehensible realities and are taken captive by them. In that hour his soul through prayer becomes one with his prayer and is carried away with it.
92. If it is asked whether it is possible for such a person always to be in this state, it should be said that he is never without grace; it is rooted and established in him as though it were part of his nature. Although single, it adapts itself in many ways, according to what is most profitable for him. Sometimes its fire bums in him strongly, sometimes faintly; and its light sometimes shines brightly and sometimes diminishes and wanes, always as God wills, even though the lamp itself bums inextinguishably. When it shines more vividly, then the man himself appears even more intoxicated with God's love. Sometimes the fire that bums unceasingly in the heart manifests itself with a more inward and deeper light, so that the whole man, swallowed up by this sweetness and vision, is no longer in himself, but seems to the world like an uncouth fool because of the overpowering love and delight that floods his soul, and because of the deep mysteries which he has been privileged to share. It often happens at such a time that he attains the measure of perfection and is free and secure from all sinfulness. Afterwards, grace contracts in a certain manner, and the veil of the contrary power spreads itself over him.
93. Grace operates in the following way. Suppose that a person attains perfection on ascending to the twelfth step. You reach this level and remain there for a time; but grace again withdraws, so you go down one step, and stand on the eleventh. The wonders of the higher step have been revealed to you, and you have had experience of them. But if you had remained on that step for ever, it would not have been possible for you to submit to the charge and burden of teaching; you would not have been able to hear or speak anything, or to concern yourself with the least thing, but could only have lain in some comer, enraptured and intoxicated. You were not allowed to remain on that final step so that you would have time to devote to the care and instruction of the brethren.
94. If on hearing about the kingdom of heaven we are brought to tears, do not let us be content with these tears, or think that we hear well with our ears or see well with our eyes, and that we need nothing further. For there are other ears, other eyes, other tears, just as there is another mind and another soul. I am referring to the divine and heavenly Spirit, that hears and weeps, prays and knows, and that truly carries out God's will. When the Lord promised the great gift of the Spirit to the apostles. He said: 'I am going; but the Intercessor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything' (John 14:26); and: 'I still have much to tell you, but its burden is more than you can bear now. When, however. He who is the Spirit of truth comes. He will guide you into all the truth' (John 16:12-13). He, therefore, will pray, and He will weep. For, as St Paul says, 'we do not know what to pray for as we should; but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with cries that cannot be uttered' (Rom. 8:26). God's will is clear only to the Spirit. Again, as St Paul says: 'No one but the Spirit of God knows about the things of God' (1 Cor. 2:11). When, as promised, on the day of Pentecost the Paraclete made Himself present and the power of the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the souls of the apostles, the veil of sinfulness was once and for all removed from them, their passions were annulled and the eyes of their heart were opened. Henceforth they were filled with wisdom and made perfect by the Spirit: through Him they knew how to carry out God's will, and through Him they were initiated into all truth, for He directed and reigned in their souls. Thus, when we are brought to tears on hearing God's word, let us entreat Christ with unwavering faith and in the expectation that the Spirit, who truly hears and prays according to God's will and purpose, will indeed come to us.
95. There is a certain cloud-like power, fine as air, that lightly covers the intellect; and even though the lamp of grace always bums and shines in a man, as we said, yet this power covers its light like a veil in such a way that he is forced to confess that he is not perfect or wholly free from sin, but is, so to speak, both free and not free. This, certainly, does not happen without God's assent but is, on the contrary, in accordance with divine providence. Sometimes the dividing wall (cf. Eph. 2: 14) is loosened and shattered, sometimes it is not entirely broken down. Nor is prayer always equally effective: sometimes grace is kindled more brightly, confers greater blessings, and refreshes more fully, and sometimes it is duller and less strong, as grace itself ordains according to what is of most profit to the person concerned. At certain times I have attained the level of perfection and have tasted and experienced the age to be; but never yet have I known any Christian who is perfect or absolutely free. Even if one finds refreshment in grace and is enabled to share in mysteries and revelations, and experiences the great sweetness of grace, sin still dwells within one. Those who because of surpassing grace and the light that shines within them think that they are perfect and free do so from lack of experience. As I have said, I have never yet encountered anyone who was absolutely free; but, having at certain times partially attained that level of which I have spoken, I know from experience what the perfected man is.
96. Whenever you hear about the communion of bridegroom and bride, about dancing, music and feasting, do not take these things in a material or worldly manner: they are spoken of simply by way of illustration, as a condescension to our understanding. For the things they denote are spiritual and inexpressible, indiscernible to corporeal eyes, and these illustrations help holy and faithful souls to perceive what is meant. The communion itself of the Holy Spirit, celestial treasures, the dances and festivals of the angels-these things are clear only to those who have experience of them; to the uninitiated they are totally beyond comprehension. Thus you must listen with reverence to what is said about them, until through faith you are enabled to attain them; then you will know, with the actual experience of the soul's eyes, in what blessings and mysteries the souls of Christians can share even during this present life. When in the resurrection their body becomes spiritual, it too is enabled to attain, behold and, so to speak, grasp these things.
97. When our soul's own intrinsic qualities and fruits-prayer, love, faith, vigilance, fasting and the other expressions of the virtues-mingle and commune in the fellowship of the Spirit, they effuse a rich perfume, like burning incense. At the same time it then becomes easy for us to live in accordance with God's will, whereas without the Holy Spirit this is impossible, as we have already said. Before a woman is married she acts in accordance with her own will and desires; but once married she lives under the direction of her husband, abandoning her self-will. Similarly the soul has its own will, and its own laws and activities; but when it becomes worthy of uniting with Christ the heavenly bridegroom, it submits to His law and is obedient no longer to its own will but to that of Christ.
98. The wedding garment about which Christ speaks (cf. Matt. 22:11-12) signifies the grace of the Holy Spirit: the man who is not worthy of wearing it has no part in the celestial marriage and in the spiritual wedding-feast.
99. We should eagerly drink spiritual wine and become drunk with a sober-minded drunkenness so that, just as those glutted with ordinary wine become more talkative, we too, brim-full with this spiritual wine, may speak of the divine mysteries. Thy cup has made me drunk as with the strongest wine', says the psalmist (Ps. 23:5. LXX).
100. The soul that is 'poor in spirit' (Matt. 5:3) is aware of its own wounds, perceives the encompassing darkness of the passions, and always calls upon the Lord for deliverance. It endures suffering, and does not delight in any of the good things of this world, but seeks out only the good doctor and entrusts itself to His treatment. How can the wounded soul become fair and seemly, and fit to live with Christ, except by truly recognizing its wounds and poverty and by recovering the state in which it was originally created? If it does not take pleasure in the wounds and weals of the passions, or defend its faults, the Lord will not call it to account for these things, but will come and heal it, restoring its dispassion and its incorruptible beauty. Only it must not deliberately associate with past acts of passion or give its consent to the passions that are still active within it; but with all its strength it must call upon the Lord, so that through His Holy Spirit it may be granted liberation from all the passions. Such is the soul that is called blessed; but alas for the soul that is unaware of its wounds and that in its endless sinfulness and obduracy does not think that it has anything evil within it: the good doctor will not visit it or heal it, since it does not seek Him out or have any concern for its wounds, because it thinks it is well and in good health. As the Lord said: 'It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick' (Matt. 9: 12).
101. Truly blessed and zealous for life and for surpassing joy are those who through fervent faith and virtuous conduct receive consciously and expenentially the knowledge of the celestial mysteries of the Spirit and whose citizenship is in heaven (cf Phil. 3:20). Clearly they excel all other men; for who among the powerful or the wise or the prudent could ascend to heaven while still on earth, and perform spiritual works there and have sight of the beauty of the Spirit'? Such a person may appear poor, utterly poor, may be regarded as nothing and be totally unrecognized by his neighbors; but falling on his face before the Lord he rises to heaven under the guidance of the Spirit and with assurance of soul, dehghting in his mind with its wonders, occupying himseh' there, hving there, having his citizenship there, as St Paul puts it. For he says: 'Our citizenship is in heaven' (Phil. 3:20); and he also says: 'The eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard, and man's heart has not grasped the things that God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit' (1 Cor. 2:9-10). These are the truly wise and powerful, these are the noble and the prudent.
102. Even apart from these celestial gifts distinguishing the saints from other living people, there are further ways of recognizing their superiority. For instance, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, summoned to him all the peoples to worship the image that he had set up (cf Dan. 3:1-30). But God in His wisdom so disposed things that the virtue of three children should be made known to everyone and should teach everyone that there is one true God, who dwells in the heavens. Three children, captive and deprived of their liberty, spoke out boldly before him; and while everyone else, in great fear, worshipped the image, and even if not convinced did not dare to say anything, but was virtually speechless, like beasts dragged along by the nose, these children behaved very differently. They did not want their refusal to worship the image to go unrecognized or to escape notice, but they declared in the hearing of all: 'We do not worship your gods, king, nor will we bow down before the golden image that you have set up.' Yet the terrible furnace into which they were cast as punishment was not a furnace for them and did not manifest its normal function; but as if reverencing the children it kept them free from harm. And everyone, including the king himself, through them recognized the true God. Not only those on earth, but the angelic choirs themselves were amazed at these children. For the angels are not absent when the saints perform their acts of courage, but keep them company, as St Paul confirms when he says: 'We have become a spectacle... to angels and men' (1 Cor. 4:9). Another example of how saints are to be distinguished is that of Elijah who, though but a single man, prevailed over a great number of false prophets when the fire came down from heaven (cf. I Kgs. 18:38). And Moses prevailed over all Egypt and Pharaoh the tyrant (cf. Exod. chs. 5-13). Similarly Lot (cf. Gen. ch. 19) and Noah (cf. Gen. chs. 6-7) and many others, despite their apparent weakness, overcame many powerful and notable people.
103. Unless something of a different nature comes to its help, every phenomenon retains its inherent imperfection and deficiency. Thus God's inexpressible wisdom has shown forth in symbols and images through visible things that human nature in itself cannot manifest the full glory of the virtues and the spiritual beauty of holiness unless it has the assistance of God's helping hand. If the earth abides by itself, not receiving the farmer's attention and the assistance of rain and sun, it is unfit and incapable of bearing fruit; and every house would be filled with darkness but for the light of the sun, which is not of its own nature; and other things are in a similar state. In the same way, human nature, which in itself is powerless to produce the fruits of the virtues in their full perfection, needs the spiritual husbandman of our souls; in other words, it needs the Spirit of Christ, and this Spirit is of a totally different nature from our own, for we are created while He is uncreated. Skillfully tilling the hearts of the faithful so that they surrender their whole will to Him, He enables them to produce perfect spiritual fruits, while He makes His light shine in the soul's dwelling-place that has been darkened by the passions.
104. The warfare and struggle in which Christians are engaged is twofold. First, it is against visible things, for these excite, titillate and entice the soul to become attached to them and to take pleasure in them. And, second, it is against the principalities and powers of the terrible lord of this world (cf. Eph. 6: 12).
105. The glory that shone from the face of Moses (cf. Exod. 34:29-30) was a prefiguring of the true glory of the Holy Spirit. Just as it was impossible then for anyone to gaze at it, so now the darkness of the passions cannot bear the same glory shining in the souls of Christians, but is put to flight, repulsed by its brilliance.
106. The truly sincere and devout Christian who has tasted the sweetness of divine things, whose soul is infused and mingled with grace, and who has entrasted his whole being to the purposes of grace, hates every worldly thing. Whether it is gold or silver, honor or glory, esteem or praise, or anything else, he is superior to it, and none of these things is able to captivate him; for he has experienced other riches and another honor and glory, his soul is nourished by an incorruptible delight, and through the fellowship of the Spirit he has full and conscious assurance.
107. In understanding, spiritual knowledge and discrimination, such a person differs as much from other men as an intelligent herdsman differs from witless cattle; for he partakes of another Spirit and another intellect, of another understanding, and of a wisdom that is not the wisdom of this world. As St Paul says: 'We proclaim wisdom to those who are perfect; not the wisdom of this world, or of the doomed rulers of this world; but we proclaim the secret wisdom of God' (cf I Cor. 2:6-7). For this reason, such a person differs in everything from those who are dominated by the spirit of the world, however intelhgent or wise they are. Again as St Paul says (cf. I Cor. 2:15), he judges all men, he knows from what source he speaks and where he stands and among whom he is. Those dominated by the spirit of the world, on the other hand, have no power to know and judge him; this is possible only for one who possesses as he does the Spirit of divinity. As St Paul puts it: 'We interpret spiritual things to those who possess the Spirit. The worldly man does not accept spiritual things: they are folly to him... But the spiritual man judges all things, while he is himself judged by no one' (1 Cor. 2:13-15).
108. It is altogether impossible to attain the Holy Spirit unless you alienate yourself from all the things of this world and dedicate yourself to the pursuit of Christ's love. The intellect must divest itself of every material concern and give its attention solely to achieving this one goal, thus becoming worthy of uniting in one spirit with Christ. As St Paul writes: 'He who cleaves to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him' (1 Cor. 6:17). The soul that is wholly attached to some worldly thing like riches or glory or natural affection is not able to escape and transcend the darkness of the powers of evil.
109. Truly sincere and devout souls cannot endure even a slight slackening of their longing for the Lord but, with their attention riveted entirely to His Cross, they seek to grow ever more fully conscious of their spiritual progress. Wounded by their longing and, so to speak, hungering for the righteousness of the virtues and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, they place no reliance on themselves and do not think they are anything even though they have been vouchsafed divine mysteries and partake of celestial felicity and grace. But the more they are enabled by grace to receive spiritual gifts, the more insatiable and diligent becomes their pursuit of heavenly realities; and the more they are aware of their spiritual progress, the more fervent grows their desire to participate in these realities. Spiritually enriched, they feel themselves to be poor. As Scripture puts it: 'Those who eat Me will still be hungry and those who drink Me will still be thirsty' (Ecclus. 24:21).
110. Such souls are not only granted complete freedom from the passions but also perfectly acquire the illumination and communion of the Holy Spirit in the fullness of grace. But souls that are sluggish and indolent and do not seek in this life, and while still in the flesh, to achieve through patient endurance and long-suffering the heart's sanctrfication not just partially but totally, cannot hope to commune in the Holy Spirit with full consciousness and assurance, or to be delivered from the passions of evil through the Spirit. Such sluggish and indolent souls, even though granted divine grace, are deceived by evil and cease to trouble themselves further: because they have received grace and enjoy the solace and spiritual sweetness that it confers, they grow complacent, not mortifying their heart or humbling their thought, and not thirsting and aspiring after the full measure of dispassion. Content with this slight solace of grace, they progress not in humility but in self-inflation, and are sometimes stripped even of the gift they have been given. With the truly devout soul it is different: even if it practices a thousand works of righteousness, crushes the body with extreme fasting and the most demanding vigils, and is vouchsafed various gifts, revelations and mysteries of the Spirit, it is so modest that it feels it has not yet even embarked on the spiritual path or acquired any of the virtues; and it craves insatiably for divine love.
111. No one can attain such a state as this swiftly or easily: it can only be reached by way of many hardships and struggles, after much time and diligence, testing and temptation, thus bringing one to the full measure of dispassion. It is he who has thus been sifted by every kind of suffering and tribulation, and who has courageously endured all the trials of evil, that is finally found worthy to receive the great blessings, gifts and riches of the Spirit and to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
112. The soul that has not yet acquired this citizenship in heaven and is not yet conscious of the heart's sanctification should be full of sorrow and should implore Christ fervently, that it may attain this blessing as well as the energy of the Spirit that is manifest in the intellect in the form of inexpressible visions. According to ecclesiastical law, those who are conquered by bodily sins are initially excluded from communion by the priest; then, when they have shown the appropriate repentance, they are allowed to communicate once more. Those, however, who have not stumbled but have lived in purity may advance to priesthood and take their place within the sanctuary, officiating before the Lord at the Liturgy. We can apply the same distinction to inner communion in the Holy Spirit. Speaking of this, St Paul says: 'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and communion in the Holy Spirit...' (2 Cor. 15:14). Thus the Holy Trinity dwells in the pure soul, divine grace assisting. It dwells in the soul, not as it is in itself, for the Trinity is infinite and cannot be embraced by any created thing, but according to man's capacity and receptivity. Whenever the intellect turns aside from the pursuit of God's will and purpose, and grieves the Spirit, it is cast out and excommunicated from spiritual felicity: God's grace and love, and all the energy of the Holy Spirit, withdraw, and the intellect is delivered up to afflictions, trials and evil powers until the soul again walks in the path of the Spirit. When through confession and self-abasement it has shown that it is repentant, then it is again enabled to receive the visitation of grace and celestial felicity, even more than before. But should the soul not grieve the Spirit in any way, but live acceptably, rejecting every evil thought and cleaving continually to the Lord, rightly and fittingly will it go forward, receiving unutterable gifts and advancing from glory to glory and from peace to greater peace. Finally, when it has attained the full measure of the Christian life, it will be ranged among the perfect liturgists and faultless ministers of Christ in His eternal kingdom.
113. Visible things are figures and reflections of invisible things. Thus the visible church figures and reflects the church of the heart, the visible priest the true priest of Christ's grace; and so on. In the visible church, if the readings, psalms and other parts of the appointed rite do not succeed one another in the proper sequence, then it is not possible for the priest to proceed with the celebration of the divine sacrament of Christ's body and blood; and even if the rest of the order of the service is properly carried out, but the mystical thanksgiving of the sacrifice is not offered by the priest and there is no communion in the body of Christ, then the ecclesiastical rite has not been fulfilled and again the celebration of the sacrament is deficient. One must look on the life of the Christian in a similar way. He may have fasted, kept vigils, chanted the psalms, carried out every ascetic practice and acquired every virtue; but if the mystic working of the Spirit has not been consummated by grace with full consciousness and spiritual peace on the altar of his heart, all his ascetic practice is ineffectual and virtually fruitless, for the joy of the Spirit is not mystically active in his heart.
114. Fasting is good and so are vigils, ascetic practice and voluntary exile. But all these things are but the start, the prelude to the citizenship of heaven, so that it is altogether senseless to put one's trust merely in them. It sometimes happens that we attain a certain state of grace but that evil, as we said above, lying in ambush within us, plays a trick on us: it deliberately withdraws and remains inactive, thus making us think that our intellect has been cleansed. In this way it produces in us the self-conceit of perfection, whereupon it stealthily attacks us and carries us down to the lowest depths of the earth. It often happens that young soldiers or brigands resort to tricks against the enemy: they set up ambushes and, catching their opponents unexpectedly from behind and surrounding them, they slaughter them. If that is what they do, then how much more skilled must evil be, that has dedicated itself for thousands of years to the crucial task of destroying souls. It knows exactly how to devise such ambushes in the secret places of the heart, sometimes keeping quiet and inactive deliberately in order to entice the soul into the self-conceit of perfection. Indeed, the cardinal rule of the Christian life is not to put one's trust in acts of righteousness even if one practices all of them, or to imagine that one has done anything great; and even if one participates in grace, one must not think that one has achieved anything or reached the goal. On the contrary, one should then hunger and thirst, grieve and weep even more, and be totally contrite in heart.
115. The spiritual state is like some royal palace that possesses many exterior courts, vestibules and outer residences; then there are various inner buildings, usually housing the royal robes and the treasure; and then, yet farther within, are the king's living quarters. Someone still in the outer courts and apartments may think he has reached the inner chambers, but he would be wrong. The same is true where the spiritual life is concerned. Those struggling against greed and sleep, and continually occupied with psalms and prayers, should not think that they have already attained the final place of rest: they are still in the exterior courts and vestibules, and have not even reached the place where the royal robes and treasure are kept. Even if they are found worthy of some spiritual grace, again this should not deceive them into thinking that they have attained their goal. They must examine to see whether they have found the treasure in the pot of clay (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7), whether they have put on the purple robe of the Spirit, whether they have seen the king and are at peace.
Again, our soul has depths and many faculties. When sin insinuates itself, it lays hold of all these faculties and all the heart's thoughts. Then we ask for the grace of the Spirit: it is granted and perhaps embraces two of the soul's faculties. If we lack experience we fancy that this grace we have invoked has laid hold of all the soul's faculties and that sin has been completely uprooted; we do not realize that most of our soul is still subject to sin. For, as has been shown many times, it is possible for grace to be ceaselessly active, as the eye is in the body, and yet for the evil that despoils the mind to coexist with it. Hence, if we do not know how to discriminate, we fancy that we have attained something great and begin to think highly of ourselves, deluding ourselves that we have reached the final stage of purification, though this is very far from the truth. As has been said, one of the devil's ploys is to withdraw deliberately for a certain time and to remain inactive, thus promoting the conceit of perfection in those pursuing the spiritual way. But does the man who plants a vineyard immediately gather grapes? Or does he who sows seeds in the earth at once reap the harvest? Does the new-born child attain maturity straight away? Think how Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God Himself, descended from the heights of glory to suffering, dishonor, crucifixion and death; and how because of this self-abasement He was taken up again and set at the right hand of the Father. But the evil serpent, that first sowed in Adam the desire for divinity (cf. Gen. 3:5), dragged him down into disgrace through this presumption. Think about these things and try to protect yourself as much as you can, keeping your heart always in a state of humility and contrition.