Orations of Gregory of Nazianzus/In Defence of His Flight to Pontus
by Gregory of Nazianzus
translated by Charles E. Browne & James E. Swallow
For having undertaken to contend on behalf of God, the Supreme Being, and of salvation, and of the primary hope of us all, the more fervent they are in the faith, the more hostile are they to what is said, supposing that a submissive spirit indicates, not piety, but treason to the truth, and therefore they would sacrifice anything rather than their private convictions, and the accustomed doctrines in which they have been educated. I am now referring to those who are moderate and not utterly depraved in disposition, who, if they have erred in regard to the truth, have erred from piety, who have zeal, though not according to knowledge, who will possibly be of the number of those not excessively condemned, and not beaten with many stripes, because it is not through vice or depravity that they have failed to do the will of their Lord; and these perchance would be persuaded and forsake the pious opinion which is the cause of their hostility, if some reason either from their own minds, or from others, were to take hold of them, and at a critical moment, like iron from flint, strike fire from a mind which is pregnant and worthy of the light, for thus a little spark would quickly kindle the torch of truth within it.
But what is to be said of those who, from vain glory or arrogance, speak unrighteousness against the most High, arming themselves with the insolence of Jannes and Jambres, not against Moses, but against the truth, and rising in opposition to sound doctrine? Or of the third class, who through ignorance and, its consequence, temerity, rush headlong against every form of doctrine in swinish fashion, and trample under foot the fair pearls of the truth?
What again of those who come with no private idea, or form of words, better or worse, in regard to God, but listen to all kinds of doctrines and teachers, with the intention of selecting from all what is best and safest, in reliance upon no better judges of the truth than themselves? They are, in consequence, borne and turned about hither and thither by one plausible idea after another, and, after being deluged and trodden down by all kinds of doctrine, and having rung the changes on a long succession of teachers and formulæ, which they throw to the winds as readily as dust, their ears and minds at last are wearied out, and, O what folly! they become equally disgusted with all forms of doctrine, and assume the wretched character of deriding and despising our faith as unstable and unsound; passing in their ignorance from the teachers to the doctrine: as if anyone whose eyes were diseased, or whose ears had been injured, were to complain of the sun for being dim and not shining, or of sounds for being inharmonious and feeble.
Accordingly, to impress the truth upon a soul when it is still fresh, like wax not yet subjected to the seal, is an easier task than inscribing pious doctrine on the top of inscriptions—I mean wrong doctrines and dogmas—with the result that the former are confused and thrown into disorder by the latter. It is better indeed to tread a road which is smooth and well trodden than one which is untrodden and rough, or to plough land which has often been cleft and broken up by the plough: but a soul to be written upon should be free from the inscription of harmful doctrines, or the deeply cut marks of vice: otherwise the pious inscriber would have a twofold task, the erasure of the former impressions and the substitution of others which are more excellent, and more worthy to abide. So numerous are they whose wickedness is shown, not only by yielding to their passions, but even by their utterances, and so numerous the forms and characters of wickedness, and so considerable the task of one who has been intrusted with this office of educating and taking charge of souls. Indeed I have omitted the majority of the details, lest my speech should be unnecessarily burdensome.
If anyone were to undertake to tame and train an animal of many forms and shapes, compounded of many animals of various sizes and degrees of tameness and wildness, his principal task, involving a considerable struggle, would be the government of so extraordinary and heterogeneous a nature, since each of the animals of which it is compounded would, according to its nature or habit, be differently affected with joy, pleasure or dislike, by the same words, or food, or stroking with the hand, or whistling, or other modes of treatment. And what must the master of such an animal do, but show himself manifold and various in his knowledge, and apply to each a treatment suitable for it, so as successfully to lead and preserve the beast? And since the common body of the church is composed of many different characters and minds, like a single animal compounded of discordant parts, it is absolutely necessary that its ruler should be at once simple in his uprightness in all respects, and as far as possible manifold and varied in his treatment of individuals, and in dealing with all in an appropriate and suitable manner.
For some need to be fed with the milk of the most simple and elementary doctrines, viz., those who are in habit babes and, so to say, new-made, and unable to bear the manly food of the word: nay, if it were presented to them beyond their strength, they would probably be overwhelmed and oppressed, owing to the inability of their mind, as is the case with our material bodies, to digest and appropriate what is offered to it, and so would lose even their original power. Others require the wisdom which is spoken among the perfect, and the higher and more solid food, since their senses have been sufficiently exercised to discern truth and falsehood, and if they were made to drink milk, and fed on the vegetable diet of invalids, they would be annoyed. And with good reason, for they would not be strengthened according to Christ, nor make that laudable increase, which the Word produces in one who is rightly fed, by making him a perfect man, and bringing him to the measure of spiritual stature.
And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, able to corrupt the word of truth, and mix the wine, which maketh glad the heart of man, with water, mix, that is, our doctrine with what is common and cheap, and debased, and stale, and tasteless, in order to turn the adulteration to our profit, and accommodate ourselves to those who meet us, and curry favor with everyone, becoming ventriloquists and chatterers, who serve their own pleasures by words uttered from the earth, and sinking into the earth, and, to gain the special good will of the multitude, injuring in the highest degree, nay, ruining ourselves, and shedding the innocent blood of simpler souls, which will be required at our hands.
Besides, we are aware that it is better to offer our own reins toothers more skilful than ourselves, than, while inexperienced, to guide the course of others, and rather to give a kindly hearing than stir an untrained tongue; and after a discussion of these points with advisers who are, I fancy, of no mean worth, and, at any rate, wish us well, we preferred to learn those canons of speech and action which we did not know, rather than undertake to teach them in our ignorance. For it is delightful to have the reasoning of the aged come to one even until the depth of old age, able, as it is, to aid a soul new to piety. Accordingly, to undertake the training of others before being sufficiently trained oneself, and to learn, as men say, the potter’s art on a wine-jar, that is, to practise ourselves in piety at the expense of others’ souls seems to me to be excessive folly or excessive rashness—folly, if we are not even aware of our own ignorance; rashness, if in spite of this knowledge we venture on the task.
Nay, the wiser of the Hebrews tell us that there was of old among the Hebrews a most excellent and praiseworthy law, that every age was not entrusted with the whole of Scripture, inasmuch as this would not be the more profitable course, since the whole of it is not at once intelligible to everyone, and its more recondite parts would, by their apparent meaning, do a very great injury to most people. Some portions therefore, whose exterior is unexceptionable, are from the first permitted and common to all; while others are only entrusted to those who have attained their twenty-fifth year, viz., such as hide their mystical beauty under a mean-looking cloak, to be the reward of diligence and an illustrious life; flashing forth and presenting itself only to those whose mind has been purified, on the ground that this age alone can be superior to the body, and properly rise from the letter to the spirit.
Among us, however, there is no boundary line between giving and receiving instruction, like the stones of old between the tribes within and beyond the Jordan: nor is a certain part entrusted to some, another to others; nor any rule for degrees of experience; but the matter has been so disturbed and thrown into confusion, that most of us, not to say all, almost before we have lost our childish curls and lisp, before we have entered the house of God, before we know even the names of the Sacred Books, before we have learnt the character and authors of the Old and New Testaments: (for my present point is not our want of cleansing from the mire and marks of spiritual shame which our viciousness has contracted) if, I say, we have furnished ourselves with two or three expressions of pious authors, and that by hearsay, not by study; if we have had a brief experience of David, or clad ourselves properly in a cloaklet, or are wearing at least a philosopher’s girdle, or have girt about us some form and appearance of piety—phew! how we take the chair and show our spirit! Samuel was holy even in his swaddling-clothes: we are at once wise teachers, of high estimation in Divine things, the first of scribes and lawyers; we ordain ourselves men of heaven and seek to be called Rabbi by men; the letter is nowhere, everything is to be understood spiritually, and our dreams are utter drivel, and we should be annoyed if we were not lauded to excess. This is the case with the better and more simple of us: what of those who are more spiritual and noble? After frequently condemning us, as men of no account, they have forsaken us, and abhor fellowship with impious people such as we are.
Now, if we were to speak gently to one of them, advancing, as follows, step by step in argument: “Tell me, my good sir, do you call dancing anything, and flute-laying?” “Certainly,” they would say. “What then of wisdom and being wise, which we venture to define as a knowledge of things divine and human?” This also they will admit. “Are then these accomplishments better than and superior to wisdom, or wisdom by far better than these?” “Better even than all things,” I know well that they will say. Up to this point they are judicious. “Well, dancing and flute-playing require to be taught and learnt, a process which takes time, and much toil in the sweat of the brow, and sometimes the payment of fees, and entreaties for initiation, and long absence from home, and all else which must be done and borne for the acquisition of experience: but as for wisdom, which is chief of all things, and holds in her embrace everything which is good, so that even God himself prefers this title to all the names which He is called; are we to suppose that it is a matter of such slight consequence, and so accessible, that we need but wish, and we would be wise?” “It would be utter folly to do so.” If we, or any learned and prudent man, were to say this to them, and try by degrees to cleanse them from their error, it would be sowing upon rocks, and speaking to ears of men who will not hear: so far are they from being even wise enough to perceive their own ignorance. And we may rightly, in my opinion, apply to them the saying of Solomon: There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, a man wise in his own conceit; and a still greater evil is to charge with the instruction of others a man who is not even aware of his own ignorance.
This is a state of mind which demands, in special degree, our tears and groans, and has often stirred my pity, from the conviction that imagination robs us in great measure of reality, and that vain glory is a great hindrance to men’s attainment of virtue. To heal and stay this disease needs a Peter or Paul, those great disciples of Christ, who in addition to guidance in word and deed, received their grace, and became all things to all men, that they might gain all. But for other men like ourselves, it is a great thing to be rightly guided and led by those who have been charged with the correction and setting right of things such as these.
Since, however, I have mentioned Paul, and men like him, I will, with your permission, pass by all others who have been foremost as lawgivers, prophets, or leaders, or in any similar office—for instance, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, the Judges, Samuel, David, the company of Prophets, John, the Twelve Apostles, and their successors, who with many toils and labors exercised their authority, each in his own time; all these I pass by, to set forth Paul as the witness to my assertions, and for us to consider by his example how important a matter is the care of souls, and whether it requires slight attention and little judgment. But that we may recognize and perceive this, let us hear what Paul himself says of Paul.
I say nothing of his labours, his watchings, his sufferings in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, his assailants from without, his adversaries within. I pass over the persecutions, councils, prisons, bonds, accusers, tribunals, the daily and hourly deaths, the basket, the stonings, beatings with rods, the travelling about, the perils by land and sea, the deep, the shipwrecks, the perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from his countrymen, perils among false brethren, the living by his own hands, the gospel without charge, the being a spectacle to both angels and men, set in the midst between God and men to champion His cause, and to unite them to Him, and make them His own peculiar people, beside those things that are without. For who could worthily detail these matters, the daily pressure, the individual solicitude, the care of all the churches, the universal sympathy, and brotherly love? Did anyone stumble, Paul also was weak; did another suffer scandal, it was Paul who was on fire.
What of the laboriousness of his teaching? The manifold character of his ministry? His loving kindness? And on the other hand his strictness? And the combination and blending of the two; in such wise that his gentleness should not enervate, nor his severity exasperate? He gives laws for slaves and masters, rulers and ruled, husbands and wives, parents and children, marriage and celibacy, self-discipline and indulgence, wisdom and ignorance, circumcision and uncircumcision, Christ and the world, the flesh and the spirit. On behalf of some he gives thanks, others he upbraids. Some he names his joy and crown, others he charges with folly. Some who hold a straight course he accompanies, sharing in their zeal; others he checks, who are going wrong. At one time he excommunicates, at another he confirms his love; at one time he grieves, at another rejoices; at one time he feeds with milk, at another he handles mysteries; at one time he condescends, at another he raises to his own level; at one time he threatens a rod, at another he offers the spirit of meekness; at one time he is haughty toward the lofty, at another lowly toward the lowly. Now he is least of the apostles, now he offers a proof of Christ speaking in him; now he longs for departure and is being poured forth as a libation, now he thinks it more necessary for their sakes to abide in the flesh. For he seeks not his own interests, but those of his children, whom he has begotten in Christ by the gospel. This is the aim of all his spiritual authority, in everything to neglect his own in comparison with the advantage of others.
He glories in his infirmities and distresses. He takes pleasure in the dying of Jesus, as if it were a kind of ornament. He is lofty in carnal things, he rejoices in things spiritual; he is not rude in knowledge, and claims to see in a mirror, darkly. He is bold in spirit, and buffets his body, throwing it as an antagonist. What is the lesson and instruction he would thus impress upon us? Not to be proud of earthly things, or puffed up by knowledge, or excite the flesh against the spirit. He fights for all, prays for all, is jealous for all, is kindled on behalf of all, whether without law, or under the law; a preacher of the Gentiles, a patron of the Jews. He even was exceedingly bold on behalf of his brethren according to the flesh, if I may myself be bold enough to say so, in his loving prayer that they might in his stead be brought to Christ. What magnanimity! what fervor of spirit! He imitates Christ, who became a curse for us, who took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses; or, to use more measured terms, he is ready, next to Christ, to suffer anything, even as one of the ungodly, for them, if only they be saved.
Why should I enter into detail? He lived not to himself, but to Christ and his preaching. He crucified the world to himself, and being crucified to the world and the things which are seen, he thought all things little, and too small to be desired; even though from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum he had fully preached the Gospel, even though he had been prematurely caught up to the third heaven, and had a vision of Paradise, and had heard unspeakable words. Such was Paul, and everyone of like spirit with him. But we fear that, in comparison with them, we may be foolish princes of Zoan, or extortioners, who exact the fruits of the ground, or falsely bless the people: and further make themselves happy, and confuse the way of your feet, or mockers ruling over you, or children in authority, immature in mind, not even having bread and clothing enough to be rulers over any; or prophets teaching lies, or rebellious princes, deserving to share the reproach of their elders for the straitness of the famine, or priests very far from speaking comfortably to Jerusalem, according to the reproaches and protests urged by Isaiah, who was purged by the Seraphim with a live coal.
Is the undertaking then so serious and laborious to a sensitive and sad heart—a very rottenness to the bones of a sensible man: while the danger is slight, and a fall not worth consideration? Nay the blessed Hosea inspires me with serious alarm, where he says that to us priests and rulers pertaineth the judgment, because we have been a snare to the watchtower; and as a net spread upon Tabor, which has been firmly fixed by the hunters of men’s souls, and he threatens to cut off the wicked prophets, and devour their judges with fire, and to cease for a while from anointing a king and princes, because they ruled for themselves, and not by Him.
Hence again the divine Micah, unable to brook the building of Zion with blood, however you interpret the phrase, and of Jerusalem with iniquity, while the heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests teach for hire, and the prophets divine for money—what does he say will be the result of this? Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem be as a lodge in a garden, and the mountain of the house be reckoned as a glade in a thicket. He bewails also the scarcity of the upright, there being scarcely a stalk or a gleaning grape left, since both the prince asketh, and the judge curries favour, so that his language is almost the same as the mighty David’s: Save me, O Lord, for the godly man ceaseth: and says that therefore their blessings shall fail them, as if wasted by the moth.
Joel again summons us to wailing, and will have the ministers of the altar lament under the presence of famine: so far is he from allowing us to revel in the misfortunes of others: and, after sanctifying a fast, calling a solemn assembly, and gathering the old men, the children, and those of tender age, we ourselves must further haunt the temple in sackcloth and ashes, prostrated right humbly on the ground, because the field is wasted, and the meat-offering and the drink-offering is cut off from the house of the Lord, till we draw down mercy by our humiliation.
What of Habakkuk? He utters more heated words, and is impatient with God Himself, and cries down, as it were our good Lord, because of the injustice of the judges. O Lord, how long shall I cry and Thou wilt not hear? Shall I cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save? Why dost Thou show me toil and labour, causing me to look upon perverseness and impiety? Judgment has been given against me, and the judge is a spoiler. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth. Then comes the denunciation, and what follows upon it. Behold, ye despisers, and regard, and wonder marvellously, and vanish away, for I work a work. But why need I quote the whole of the denunciation? A little further on, however, for I think it best to add this to what has been said, after upbraiding and lamenting many of those who are in some respect unjust or depraved, he upbraids the leaders and teachers of wickedness, stigmatising vice as a foul disorder, and an intoxication and aberration of mind; charging them with giving their neighbours drink in order to look upon the darkness of their soul, and the dens of creeping things and wild beasts, viz.: the dwelling places of wicked thoughts. Such indeed they are, and such teachings do they discuss with us.
How can it be right to pass by Malachi, who at one time brings bitter charges against the priests, and reproaches them with despising the name of the Lord, and explains wherein they did this, by offering polluted bread upon the altar, and meat which is not firstfruits, which they would not have offered to one of their governors, or, if they had offered it, they would have been dishonoured; yet offering these in fulfilment of a vow to the King of the universe, to wit, the lame and the sick, and the deformed, which are utterly profane and loathsome. Again he reminds them of the covenant of God, a covenant of life and peace, with the sons of Levi, and that they should serve Him in fear, and stand in awe of the manifestation of His Name. The law of truth, he says, was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips; he walked with me uprightly in peace, and turned away many from iniquity: for the priest’s lips shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth. And how honourable and at the same time how fearful is the cause! for he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty. Although I pass over the following imprecations, as strongly worded, yet I am afraid of their truth. This however may be cited without offence, to our profit. Is it right, he says, to regard your sacrifice, and receive it with good will at your hands, as if he were most highly incensed, and rejecting their ministrations owing to their wickedness.
Whenever I remember Zechariah, I shudder at the reaping-hook, and likewise at his testimony against the priests, his hints in reference to the celebrated Joshua, the high priest, whom he represents as stripped of filthy and unbecoming garments and then clothed in rich priestly apparel. As for the words and charges to Joshua which he puts into the angel’s mouth, let them be treated with silent respect, as referring perhaps to a greater  and higher object than those who are many priests: but even at his right hand stood the devil, to resist him. A fact, in my eyes, of no slight significance, and demanding no slight fear and watchfulness.
Who is so bold and adamantine of soul as not to tremble and be abashed at the charges and reproaches deliberately urged against the rest of the shepherds. A voice, he says, of the howling of the shepherds, for their glory is spoiled. A voice of the roaring of lions, for this hath befallen them. Does he not all but hear the wailing as if close at hand, and himself wail with the afflicted. A little further is a more striking and impassioned strain. Feed, he says, the flock of slaughter, whose possessors slay them without repentance, and they that sell them say, “Blessed be the Lord, for we are rich:” and their own shepherds are without feeling for them. Therefore, I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord Almighty. And again: Awake, O sword, against the shepherds, and smite the shepherds, and scatter the sheep, and I will turn My Hand upon the shepherds; and, Mine anger is kindled against the shepherds, and I will visit the lambs: adding to the threat those who rule over the people. So industriously does he apply himself to his task that he cannot easily free himself from denunciations, and I am afraid that, did I refer to the whole series, I should exhaust your patience. This must then suffice for Zechariah.
Passing by the elders in the book of Daniel; for it is better to pass them by, together with the Lord’s righteous sentence and declaration concerning them, that wickedness came from Babylon from ancient judges, who seemed to govern the people; how are we affected by Ezekiel, the beholder and expositor of the mighty mysteries and visions? By his injunction to the watchmen not to keep silence concerning vice and the sword impending over it, a course which would profit neither themselves nor the sinners; but rather to keep watch and forewarn, and thus benefit, at any rate those who gave warning, if not both those who spoke and those who heard?
What of his further invective against the shepherds, Woe shall come upon woe, and rumour upon rumour, then shall they seek a vision of the prophet, but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients, and again, in these terms, Son of man, say unto her, thou art a land that is not watered, nor hath rain come upon thee in the day of indignation: whose princes in the midst of her are like roaring lions, ravening the prey, devouring souls in their might. And a little further on: Her priests have violated My laws and profaned My holy things, they have put no difference between the holy and profane, but all things were alike to them, and they hid their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I was profaned among them. He threatens that He will consume both the wall and them that daubed it, that is, those who sin and those who throw a cloak over them; as the evil rulers and priests have done, who caused the house of Israel to err according to their own hearts which are estranged in their lusts.
I also refrain from entering into his discussion of those who feed themselves, devour the milk, clothe themselves with the wool, kill them that are fat, but feed not the flock, strengthen not the diseased, nor bind up that which is broken, nor bring again that which is driven away, nor seek that which is lost, nor keep watch over that which is strong, but oppress them with rigour, and destroy them with their pressure; so that, because there was no shepherd, the sheep were scattered over every plain and mountain, and became meat for all the fowls and beasts, because there was no one to seek for them and bring them back. What is the consequence? As I live, saith the Lord, because these things are so, and My flock became a prey, behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require Myflock at their hands, and will gather them and make them My own: but theshepherds shall suffer such and such things, as bad shepherds ought.
However, to avoid unreasonably prolonging my discourse, by an enumeration of all the prophets, and of the words of them all, I will mention but one more, who was known before he was formed, and sanctified from the womb, Jeremiah: and will pass over the rest. He longs for water over his head, and a fountain of tears for his eyes, that he may adequately weep for Israel; and no less does he bewail the depravity of its rulers.
God speaks to him in reproof of the priests: The priests said not, Where is the Lord, and they that handled the law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me. Again He says to him: The pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord, and therefore all their flock did not understand, and was scattered. Again, Many pastors have destroyed My vineyard, and have polluted My pleasant portion, till it was reduced to a trackless wilderness. He further inveighs against the pastors again: Woe be to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! Therefore thus saith the Lord against them that feed My people: Ye have scattered My flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold I will visit upon you the evil of your doings. Moreover he bids the shepherds to howl, and the rams of the flock to lament, because the days of their slaughter are accomplished.
Why need I speak of the things of ancient days? Who can test himself by the rules and standards which Paul laid down for bishops and presbyters, that they are to be temperate, soberminded, not given to wine, no strikers, apt to teach, blameless in all things, and beyond the reach of the wicked, without finding considerable deflection from the straight line of the rules? What of the regulations of Jesus for his disciples, when He sends them to preach? The main object of these is—not to enter into particulars—that they should be of such virtue, so simple and modest, and in a word, so heavenly, that the gospel should make its way, no less by their character than by their preaching.
I am alarmed by the reproaches of the Pharisees, the conviction of the Scribes. For it is disgraceful for us, who ought greatly surpass them, as we are bidden, if we desire the kingdom of heaven, to be found more deeply sunk in vice: so that we deserve to be called serpents, a generation of vipers, and blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, or sepulchres foul within, in spite of our external comeliness, or platters outwardly clean, and everything else, which they are, or which is laid to their charge.
With these thoughts I am occupied night and day: they waste my marrow, and feed upon my flesh, and will not allow me to be confident or to look up. They depress my soul, and abase my mind, and fetter my tongue, and make me consider, not the position of a prelate, or the guidance and direction of others, which is far beyond my powers; but how I myself am to escape the wrath to come, and to scrape off from myself somewhat of the rust of vice. A man must himself be cleansed, before cleansing others: himself become wise, that he may make others wise; become light, and then give light: draw near to God, and so bring others near; be hallowed, then hallow them; be possessed of hands to lead others by the hand, of wisdom to give advice.
When will this be, say they who are swift but not sure in every thing, readily building up, readily throwing down. When will the lamp be upon its stand, and where is the talent? For so they call the grace. Those who speak thus are more fervent in friendship than in reverence. You ask me, you men of exceeding courage, when these things shall be, and what account I give of them? Not even extreme old age would be too long a limit to assign. For hoary hairs combined with prudence are better than inexperienced youth, well-reasoned hesitation than inconsiderate haste, and a brief reign than a long tyranny: just as a small portion honourably won is better than considerable possessions which are dishonourable and uncertain, a little gold than a great weight of lead, a little light than much darkness.
But this speed, in its untrustworthiness and excessive haste, is in danger of being like the seeds which fell upon the rock, and, because they had no depth of earth, sprang up at once, but could not bear even the first heat of the sun; or like the foundation laid upon the sand, which could not even make a slight resistance to the rain and the winds. Woe to thee, O city, whose king is a child, says Solomon. Be not hasty of speech, says Solomon again, asserting that hastiness of speech is less serious than heated action. And who, in spite of all this, demands haste rather than security and utility? Who can mould, as clay-figures are modelled in a single day, the defender of the truth, who is to take his stand with Angels, and give glory with Archangels, and cause the sacrifice to ascend to the altar on high, and share the priesthood of Christ, and renew the creature, and set forth the image, and create inhabitants for the world above, aye and, greatest of all, be God, and make others to be God?
I know Whose ministers we are, and where we are placed, and whither we are guides. I know the height of God, and the weakness of man, and, on the contrary, his power. Heaven is high, and the earth deep; and who of those who have been cast down by sin shall ascend? Who that is as yet surrounded by the gloom here below, and by the grossness of the flesh can purely gaze with his whole mind upon that whole mind, and amid unstable and visible things hold intercourse with the stable and invisible? For hardly may one of those who have been most specially purged, behold here even an image of the Good, as men see the sun in the water. Who hath measured the water with his hand, and the heaven with a span, and the whole earth in a measure? Who hath weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? What is the place of his rest? and to whom shall he be likened?
Who is it, Who made all things by His Word, and formed man by His Wisdom, and gathered into one things scattered abroad, and mingled dust with spirit, and compounded an animal visible and invisible, temporal and immortal, earthly and heavenly, able to attain to God but not to comprehend Him, drawing near and yet afar off. I said, I will be wise, says Solomon, but she (i.e. Wisdom) was far from me beyond what is: and, Verily, he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. For the joy of what we have discovered is no greater than the pain of what escapes us; a pain, I imagine, like that felt by those who are dragged, while yet thirsty, from the water, or are unable to retain what they think they hold, or are suddenly left in the dark by a flash of lightning.
This depressed and kept me humble, and persuaded me that it was better to hear the voice of praise than to be an expounder of truths beyond my power; the majesty, and the height, and the dignity, and the pure natures scarce able to contain the brightness of God, Whom the deep covers, Whose secret place is darkness, since He is the purest light, which most men cannot approach unto; Who is in all this universe, and again is beyond the universe; Who is all goodness, and beyond all goodness; Who enlightens the mind, and escapes the quickness and height of the mind, ever retiring as much as He is apprehended, and by His flight and stealing away when grasped, withdrawing to the things above one who is enamoured of Him.
Such and so great is the object of our longing zeal, and such a man should he be, who prepares and conducts souls to their espousals. For myself, I feared to be cast, bound hand and foot, from the bride-chamber, for not having on a wedding-garment, and for having rashly intruded among those who there sit at meat. And yet I had been invited from my youth, if I may speak of what most men know not, and had been cast upon Him from the womb, and presented by the promise of my mother, afterwards confirmed in the hour of danger: and my longing grew up with it, and my reason agreed to it, and I gave as an offering my all to Him Who had won me and saved me, my property, my fame, my health, my very words, from which I only gained the advantage of being able to despise them, and of having something in comparison of which I preferred Christ. And the words of God were made sweet as honeycombs to me, and I cried after knowledge and lifted up my voice for wisdom. There was moreover the moderation of anger, the curbing of the tongue, the restraint of the eyes, the discipline of the belly, and the trampling under foot of the glory which clings to the earth. I speak foolishly, but it shall be said, in these pursuits I was perhaps not inferior to many.
One branch of philosophy is, however, too high for me, the commission to guide and govern souls—and before I have rightly learned to submit to a shepherd, or have had my soul duly cleansed, the charge of caring for a flock: especially in times like these, when a man, seeing everyone else rushing hither and thither in confusion, is content to flee from the melee and escape, in sheltered retirement, from the storm and gloom of the wicked one: when the members are at war with one another, and the slight remains of love, which once existed, have departed, and priest is a mere empty name, since, as it is said, contempt has been poured upon princes.
Would that it were merely empty! And now may their blasphemy fall upon the head of the ungodly! All fear has been banished from souls, shamelessness has taken its place, and knowledge and the deep things of the Spirit are at the disposal of anyone who will; and we all become pious by simply condemning the impiety of others; and we claim the services of ungodly judges, and fling that which is holy to the dogs, and cast pearls before swine, by publishing divine things in the hearing of profane souls, and, wretches that we are, carefully fulfil the prayers of our enemies, and are not ashamed to go a whoring with our own inventions. Moabites and Ammonites, who were not permitted even to enter the Church of the Lord, frequent our most holy rites. We have opened to all not the gates of righteousness, but, doors of railing and partizan arrogance; and the first place among us is given, not to one who in the fear of God refrains from even an idle word, but to him who can revile his neighbour most fluently, whether explicitly, or by covert allusion; who rolls beneath his tongue mischief and iniquity, or to speak more accurately, the poison of asps.