Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
BY ST. JOHN CASSIAN
CONFERENCE OF ABBOT PAPHNUTIUS. ON THE THREE SORTS OF RENUNCIATIONS.
Of the life and conduct of Abbot Paphnutius.
In that choir of saints who shine like brilliant stars in the night of this world, we have seen the holy Paphnutius, like some great luminary, shining with the brightness of knowledge. For he was a presbyter of our company, I mean of those whose abode was in the desert of Scete, where he lived to extreme old age, without ever moving from his cell, of which he had taken possession when still young, and which was five miles from the church, even to nearer districts; nor was he when worn out with years hindered by the distance from going to Church on Saturday or Sunday. But not wanting to return from thence empty handed he would lay on his shoulders a bucket of water to last him all the week, and carry it back to his cell, and even when he was past ninety would not suffer it to be fetched by the labour of younger men. He then from his earliest youth threw himself into the monastic discipline with such fervour that when he had spent only a short time in it, he was endowed with the virtue of submission, as well as the knowledge of all good qualities. For by the practice of humility and obedience he mortified all his desires, and by this stamped out all his faults and acquired every virtue which the monastic system and the teaching of the ancient fathers produces, and, inflamed with desire for still further advances, he was eager to penetrate into the recesses of the desert, so that, with no human companions to disturb him, he might be more readily united to the Lord, to whom he longed to be inseparably joined, even while he still lived in the society of the brethren. And there once more in his excessive fervour he outstripped the virtues of the Anchorites, and in his eager desire for continual divine meditation avoided the sight of them: and he plunged into solitary places yet wilder and more inaccessible, and hid himself for a long while in them, so that, as the Anchorites themselves only with great difficulty caught a glimpse of him every now and then, the belief was that he enjoyed and delighted in the daily society of angels, and because of this remarkable characteristic of his he was surnamed by them the Buffalo.
Of the discourse of the same old man, and our reply to it.
As then we were anxious to learn from his teaching, we came in some agitation to his cell towards evening. And after a short silence he began to commend our undertaking, because we had left our homes, and had visited so many countries out of love for the Lord, and were endeavouring with all our might to endure want and the trials of the desert, and to imitate their severe life, which even those who had been born and bred in the same state of want and penury, could scarcely put up with; and we replied that we had come for his teaching and instruction in order that we might be to some extent initiated in the customs of so great a man, and in that perfection which we had known from many evidences to exist in him, not that we might be honoured by any commendations to which we had no right, or be puffed up with any elation of mind, (with which we were sometimes exercised in our own cells at the suggestion of our enemy) in consequence of any words of his. Wherefore we begged him rather to lay before us what would make us humble and contrite, and not what would flatter us and puff us up.
The statement of Abbot Paphnutius on the three kinds of vocations, and the three sorts of renunciations.
Then The Blessed Paphnutius: There are, said he, three kinds of vocations. And we know that there are three sorts of renunciations as well, which are necessary to a monk, whatever his vocation may be. And we ought diligently to examine first the reason for which we said that there were three kinds of vocations, that when we are sure that we are summoned to God's service in the first stage of our vocation, we may take care that our life is in harmony with the exalted height to which we are called, for it will be of no use to have made a good beginning if we do not show forth an end corresponding to it. But if we feel that only in the last resort have we been dragged away from a worldly life, then, as it appears that we rest on a less satisfactory beginning as regards religion, so must we proportionately make the more earnest endeavours to rouse ourselves with spiritual fervour to make a better end. It is well too on every ground for us to know secondly the manner of the threefold renunciations because we shall never be able to attain perfection, if we are ignorant of it or if we know it, but do not attempt to carry it out in act.
An explanation of the three callings.
To make clear therefore the main differences between these three kinds of calling, the first is from God, the second comes through man, the third is from compulsion. And a calling is from God whenever some inspiration has taken possession of our heart, and even while we are asleep stirs in us at desire for eternal life and salvation, and bids us follow God and cleave to His commandments with life-giving contrition: as we read in Holy Scripture that Abraham was called by the voice of the Lord from his native country, and all his dear relations, and his father's house; when the Lord said
Get you out from your country and from your kinsfolk and from your father's house. Genesis 12:1 And in this way we have heard that the blessed Antony also was called, the occasion of whose conversion was received from God alone. For on entering a church he there heard in the Gospel the Lord saying:
Whoever hates not father and mother and children and wife and lands, yea and his own soul also, cannot be my disciple; and
if you will be perfect, go sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me: And with heartfelt contrition he took this charge of the Lord as if specially aimed at him, and at once gave up everything and followed Christ, without any incitement thereto from the advice and teaching of men. The second kind of calling is that which we said took place through man; viz., when we are stirred up by the example of some of the saints, and their advice, and thus inflamed with the desire of salvation: and by this we never forget that by the grace of the Lord we ourselves were summoned, as we were aroused by the advice and good example of the above-mentioned saint, to give ourselves up to this aim and calling; and in this way also we find in Holy Scripture that it was through Moses that the children of Israel were delivered from the Egyptian bondage. But the third kind of calling is that which comes from compulsion, when we have been involved in the riches and pleasures of this life, and temptations suddenly come upon us and either threaten us with peril of death, or smite us with the loss and confiscation of our goods, or strike us down with the death of those dear to us, and thus at length even against our will we are driven to turn to God whom we scorned to follow in the days of our wealth. And of this compulsory call we often find instances in Scripture, when we read that on account of their sins the children of Israel were given up by the Lord to their enemies; and that on account of their tyranny and savage cruelty they turned again, and cried to the Lord. And it says:
The Lord sent them a Saviour, called Ehud, the son of Gera, the son of Jemini, who used the left hand as well as the right: and again we are told,
they cried unto the Lord, who raised them up a Saviour and delivered them, to wit, Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. And it is of such that the Psalm speaks:
When He slew them, then they sought Him: and they returned and came to Him early in the morning: and they remembered that God was their helper, and the most High God their redeemer. And again:
And they cried unto the Lord when they were troubled, and He delivered them out of their distress.
How the first of these calls is of no use to a sluggard, and the last is no hindrance to one who is in earnest.
Of these three calls then, although the two former may seem to rest on better principles, yet sometimes we find that even by the third grade, which seems the lowest and the coldest, men have been made perfect and most earnest in spirit, and have become like those who made an admirable beginning in approaching the Lord's service, and passed the rest of their lives also in most laudable fervour of spirit: and again we find that from the higher grade very many have grown cold, and often have come to a miserable end. And just as it was no hindrance to the former class that they seemed to be converted not of their own free will, but by force and compulsion, in as much as the loving kindness of the Lord secured for them the opportunity for repentance, so too to the latter it was of no avail that the early days of their conversion were so bright, because they were not careful to bring the remainder of their life to a suitable end. For in the case of Abbot Moses, who lived in a spot in the wilderness called Calamus, nothing was wanting to his merits and perfect bliss, in consequence of the fact that he was driven to flee to the monastery through fear of death, which was hanging over him because of a murder; for he made such use of his compulsory conversion that with ready zeal he turned it into a voluntary one and climbed the topmost heights of perfection. As also on the other hand; to very many, whose names I ought not to mention, it has been of no avail that they entered on the Lord's service with better beginning than this, as afterwards sloth and hardness of heart crept over them, and they fell into a dangerous state of torpor, and the bottomless pit of death, an instance of which we see clearly indicated in the call of the Apostles. For of what good was it to Judas that he had of his own free will embraced the highest grade of the Apostolate in the same way in which Peter and the rest of the Apostles had been summoned, as he allowed the splendid beginning of his call to terminate in a ruinous end of cupidity and covetousness, and as a cruel murderer even rushed into the betrayal of the Lord? Or what hindrance was it to Paul that he was suddenly blinded, and seemed to be drawn against his will into the way of salvation, as afterwards he followed the Lord with complete fervour of soul, and having begun by compulsion completed it by a free and voluntary devotion, and terminated with a magnificent end a life that was rendered glorious by such great deeds? Everything therefore depends upon the end; in which one who was consecrated by a noble conversion at the outset may through carelessness turn out a failure, and one who was compelled by necessity to adopt the monastic life may through fear of God and earnestness be made perfect.
An account of the three sorts of renunciations.
We must now speak of the renunciations, of which tradition and the authority of Holy Scripture show us three, and which every one of us ought with the utmost zeal to make complete. The first is that by which as far as the body is concerned we make light of all the wealth and goods of this world; the second, that by which we reject the fashions and vices and former affections of soul and flesh; the third, that by which we detach our soul from all present and visible things, and contemplate only things to come, and set our heart on what is invisible. And we read that the Lord charged Abraham to do all these three at once, when He said to him
Get you out from your country, and your kinsfolk, and your father's house. Genesis 12:1 First He said
from your country, i.e., from the goods of this world, and earthly riches: secondly,
from your kinsfolk, i.e., from this former life and habits and sins, which cling to us from our very birth and are joined to us as it were by ties of affinity and kinship: thirdly,
from your father's house, i.e., from all the recollection of this world, which the sight of the eyes can afford. For of the two fathers, i.e., of the one who is to be forsaken, and of the one who is to be sought, David thus speaks in the person of God:
Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget also your own people and your father's house: for the person who says
Hearken, O daughter, is certainly a Father; and yet he bears witness that the one, whose house and people he urges should be forgotten, is none the less father of his daughter. And this happens when being dead with Christ to the rudiments of this world, we no longer, as the Apostle says, regard
the things which are seen, but those which are not seen, for the things which are not seen are eternal, 2 Corinthians 4:18 and going forth in heart from this temporal and visible home, turn our eyes and heart towards that in which we are to remain forever. And this we shall succeed in doing when, while we walk in the flesh, we are no longer at war with the Lord according to the flesh, proclaiming in deed and actions the truth of that saying of the blessed Apostle
Our conversation is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 To these three sorts of renunciations the three books of Solomon suitably correspond. For Proverbs answers to the first renunciation, as in it the desires for carnal things and earthly sins are repressed; to the second Ecclesiastes corresponds, as there everything which is done under the sun is declared to be vanity; to the third the Song of Songs, in which the soul soaring above all things visible, is actually joined to the word of God by the contemplation of heavenly things.
How we can attain perfection in each of these sorts of renunciations.
Wherefore it will not be of much advantage to us that we have made our first renunciation with the utmost devotion and faith, if we do not complete the second with the same zeal and ardour. And so when we have succeeded in this, we shall be able to arrive at the third as well, in which we go forth from the house of our former parent, (who, as we know well, was our father from our very birth, after the old man, when we were
by nature children of wrath, as others also, Ephesians 2:3) and fix our whole mental gaze on things celestial. And of this father Scripture says to Jerusalem which had despised God the true Father,
Your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite; Ezekiel 16:3 and in the gospel we read John 8:44 And when we have left him, as we pass from things visible to things unseen we shall be able to say with the Apostle:
But we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved we have a habitation from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, 2 Corinthians 5:1 and this also, which we quoted a little while ago:
But our conversation is in heaven, whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, who will reform the body of our low estate made like to the body of His glory, Philippians 3:20-21 and this of the blessed David:
For I am a sojourner upon the earth, and
a stranger as all my fathers were; so that we may in accordance with the Lord's word be made like those of whom the Lord speaks to His Father in the gospel as follows:
They are not of the world, as I am not of the world, John 17:16 and again to the Apostles themselves:
If you were of this world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of this world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19 Of this third renunciation then we shall succeed in reaching the perfection, whenever our soul is sullied by no stain of carnal coarseness, but, all such having been carefully eliminated, it has been freed from every earthly quality and desire, and by constant meditation on things Divine, and spiritual contemplation has so far passed on to things unseen, that in its earnest seeking after things above and things spiritual it no longer feels that it is prisoned in this fragile flesh, and bodily form, but is caught up into such an ecstasy as not only to hear no words with the outward ear, or to busy itself with gazing on the forms of things present, but not even to see things close at hand, or large objects straight before the very eyes. And of this no one can understand the truth and force, except one who has made trial of what has been said, under the teaching of experience; viz., one, the eyes of whose soul the Lord has turned away from all things present, so that he no longer considers them as things that will soon pass away, but as things that are already done with, and sees them vanish into nothing, like misty smoke; and like Enoch,
walking with God, and
translated from human life and fashions, not
be found amid the vanities of this life. And that this actually happened corporeally in the case of Enoch the book of Genesis thus tells us. true perfection, we ought to look to it that as we have outwardly with the body made light of parents, home, the riches and pleasures of the world, we may also inwardly with the heart forsake all these things and never be drawn back by any desires to those things which we have forsaken, as those who were led up by Moses, though they did not literally go back, are yet said to have returned in heart to Egypt; viz., by forsaking God who had led them forth with such mighty signs, and by worshipping the idols of Egypt of which they had thought scorn, as Scripture says: Acts 7:39-40 for we should fall into like condemnation with those who, while dwelling in the wilderness, after they had tasted manna from heaven, lusted after the filthy food of sins, and of mean baseness, and should seem together with them to murmur in the same way:
It was well with us in Egypt, when we sat over the flesh pots and ate the onions, and garlic, and cucumbers, and melons: A form of speech, which, although it referred primarily to that people, we yet see fulfilled today in our own case and mode of life: for everyone who after renouncing this world turns back to his old desires, and reverts to his former likings asserts in heart and act the very same thing that they did, and says
It was well with me in Egypt, and I am afraid that the number of these will be as large as that of the multitudes of backsliders of whom we read under Moses, for though they were reckoned as six hundred and three thousand armed men who came out of Egypt, of this number not more than two entered the land of promise. Wherefore we should be careful to take examples of goodness from those who are few and far between, because according to that figure of which we have spoken in the gospel
Many are called but few are said to be
chosen. Matthew 22:14 A renunciation then in body alone, and a mere change of place from Egypt will not do us any good, if we do not succeed in achieving that renunciation in heart, which is far higher and more valuable. For of that mere bodily renunciation of which we have spoken the apostle declares as follows:
Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, but have not charity, it profits me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3 And the blessed Apostle would never have said this had it not been that he foresaw by the spirit that some who had given all their goods to feed the poor would not be able to attain to evangelical perfection and the lofty heights of charity, because while pride or impatience ruled over their hearts they were not careful to purify themselves from their former sins, and unrestrained habits, and on that account could never attain to that love of God which never fails, and these, as they fall short in this second stage of renunciation, can still less reach that third stage which is most certainly far higher. But consider too in your minds with great care the fact that he did not simply say
If I bestow my goods. For it might perhaps be thought that he spoke of one who had not fulfilled the command of the gospel, but had kept back something for himself, as some half-hearted persons do. But he says
Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, i.e., even if my renunciation of those earthly riches be perfect. And to this renunciation he adds something still greater:
And though I give my body to be burned, but have not charity, I am nothing: As if he had said in other words, though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor in accordance with that command in the gospel, where we are told
If you will be perfect, go sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, Matthew 19:21 renouncing them so as to keep back nothing at all for myself, and though to this distribution (of my goods) I should by the burning of my flesh add martyrdom so as to give up my body for Christ, and yet be impatient, or passionate or envious or proud, or excited by wrongs done by others, or seek what is mine, or indulge in evil thoughts, or not be ready and patient in bearing all that can be inflicted on me, this renunciation and the burning of the outer man will profit me nothing, while the inner man is still involved in the former sins, because, while in the fervour of the early days of my conversion I made light of the mere worldly substance, which is said to be not good or evil in itself but indifferent, I took no care to cast out in like manner the injurious powers of a bad heart, or to attain to that love of the Lord which is patient, which is
kind, which envies not, is not puffed up, is not soon angry, deals not perversely, seeks not her own, thinks no evil, which
bears all things, endures all things, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and which lastly never suffers him who follows after it to fall by the deceitfulness of sin.
Of our very own possessions in which the beauty of the soul is seen or its foulness.
We ought then to take the utmost care that our inner man as well may cast off and make away with all those possessions of its sins, which it acquired in its former life: which as they continually cling to body and soul are our very own, and, unless we reject them and cut them off while we are still in the flesh, will not cease to accompany us after death. For as good qualities, or charity itself which is their source, may be gained in this world, and after the close of this life make the man who loves it lovely and glorious, so our faults transmit to that eternal remembrance a mind darkened and stained with foul colors. For the beauty or ugliness of the soul is the product of its virtues or its vices, the color it takes from which either makes it so glorious, that it may well hear from the prophet
And the king shall have pleasure in your beauty, or so black, and foul, and ugly, that it must surely acknowledge the stench of its shame, and say
My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness, and the Lord Himself says to it
Why is not the wound of the daughter of my people closed? Jeremiah 8:22 And therefore these are our very own possessions, which continually remain with the soul, which no king and no enemy can either give or take away from us. These are our very own possessions which not even death itself can part from the soul, but by renouncing which we can attain to perfection, and by clinging to which we shall suffer the punishment of eternal death.
Of three sorts of possessions.
Riches and possessions are taken in Holy Scripture in three different ways, i.e., as good, bad, and indifferent. Those are bad, of which it is said:
The rich have wanted and have suffered hunger, and
Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation: Luke 6:24 and to have cast off these riches is the height of perfection; and a distinction which belongs to those poor who are commended in the gospel by the Lord's saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Matthew 5:3 and in the Psalm:
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and again:
The poor and needy shall praise your name. Those riches are good, to acquire which is the work of great virtue and merit, and the righteous possessor of which is praised by David who says
The generation of the righteous shall be blessed: glory and riches are in his house, and his righteousness remains for ever: and again
the ransom of a man's life are his riches. Proverbs 13:8 And of these riches it is said in the Apocalypse to him who has them not and to his shame is poor and naked:
I will begin, says he,
to vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say I am rich and wealthy and have need of nothing: and know not that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I counsel you to buy of me gold fire-tried, that you may be made rich, and may be clothed in white garments, and that the shame of your nakedness may not appear. Revelation 3:16-18 There are some also which are indifferent, i.e., which may be made either good or bad: for they are made either one or the other in accordance with the will and character of those who use them: of which the blessed, Apostle says
Charge the rich of this world not to be high-minded nor to trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in God (who gives us abundantly all things to enjoy), to do good, to give easily, to communicate to others, to lay up in store for themselves a good foundation that they may lay hold on the true life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 These are what the rich man in the gospel kept, and never distributed to the poor — while the beggar Lazarus was lying at his gate and desiring to be fed with his crumbs; and so he was condemned to the unbearable flames and everlasting heat of hell-fire.
That none can become perfect merely through the first grade of renunciation.
In leaving then these visible goods of the world we forsake not our own wealth, but that which is not ours, although we boast of it as either gained by our own exertions or inherited by us from our forefathers. For as I said nothing is our own, save this only which we possess with our heart, and which cleaves to our soul, and therefore cannot be taken away from us by any one. But Christ speaks in terms of censure of those visible riches, to those who clutch them as if they were their own, and refuse to share them with those in want.
If you have not been faithful in what is another's, who will give to you what is your own? Luke 16:12 Plainly then it is not only daily experience which teaches us that these riches are not our own, but this saying of our Lord also, by the very title which it gives them. But concerning visible and worthless riches Peter says to the Lord:
Lo, we have left all and followed you. What shall we have therefore? Matthew 19:27 when it is clear that they had left nothing but their miserable broken nets. And unless this expression
all is understood to refer to that renunciation of sins which is really great and important, we shall not find that the Apostles had left anything of any value, or that the Lord had any reason for bestowing on them the blessing of so great glory, that they were allowed to hear from Him that
in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. If then those, who have completely renounced their earthly and visible goods, cannot for sufficient reason attain to Apostolic charity, nor climb with readiness and vigour to that third stage of renunciation which is still higher and belongs to but few, what should those think of themselves, who do not even make that first step (which is very easy) a thorough one, but keep together with their old want of faith, their former sordid riches, and fancy that they can boast of the mere name of monks? The first renunciation then of which we spoke is of what is not our own, and therefore is not enough of itself to confer perfection on the renunciant, unless he advances to the second, which is really and truly a renunciation of what belongs to us. And when we have made sure of this by the expulsion of all our faults, we shall mount to the heights of the third renunciation also, whereby we rise above not merely all those things which are done in this world or specially belong to men, but even that whole universe around us which is esteemed so glorious, and shall with heart and soul look down upon it as subject to vanity and destined soon to pass away; as we look, as the Apostle says,
not on those things which are seen, but on those which are not seen: for the things that are seen, are temporal, and the things which are not seen are eternal; 2 Corinthians 4:18 that so we may be found worthy to hear that highest utterance, which was spoken to Abraham:
and come into a land which I will show you, Genesis 12:1 which clearly shows that unless a man has made those three former renunciations with all earnestness of mind, he cannot attain to this fourth, which is granted as a reward and privilege to one whose renunciation is perfect, that he may be found worthy to enter the land of promise which no longer bears for him the thorns and thistles of sins; which after all the passions have been driven out is acquired by purity of heart even in the body, and which no good deeds or exertions of man's efforts (can gain), but which the Lord Himself promises to show, saying
And come into the land which I will show to you: which clearly proves that the beginning of our salvation results from the call of the Lord, Who says
Get you out from your country, and that the completion of perfection and purity is His gift in the same way, as He says
And come into the land which I will show you, i.e., not one you yourself can know or discover by your own efforts, but one which I will show not only to one who is ignorant of it, but even to one who is not looking for it. And from this we clearly gather that as we hasten to the way of salvation through being stirred up by the inspiration of the Lord, so too it is under the guidance of His direction and illumination that we attain to the perfection of the highest bliss.
A question on the free will of man and the grace of God.
The answer on the economy of Divine Grace, with free will still remaining in us.
Paphnutius: This would fairly influence us, if in every work and practice, the beginning and the end were everything, and there were no middle in between. And so as we know that God creates opportunities of salvation in various ways, it is in our power to make use of the opportunities granted to us by heaven more or less earnestly. For just as the offer came from God Who called him
get you out of your country, so the obedience was on the part of Abraham who went forth; and as the fact that the saying
Come into the land was carried into action, was the work of him who obeyed, so the addition of the words
which I will show you came from the grace of God Who commanded or promised it. But it is well for us to be sure that although we practise every virtue with unceasing efforts, yet with all our exertions and zeal we can never arrive at perfection, nor is mere human diligence and toil of itself sufficient to deserve to reach the splendid reward of bliss, unless we have secured it by means of the co-operation of the Lord, and His directing our heart to what is right. And so we ought every moment to pray and say with David
Order my steps in your paths that my footsteps slip not: and
He has set my feet upon a rock and ordered my goings: that He Who is the unseen ruler of the human heart may vouchsafe to turn to the desire of virtue that will of ours, which is more readily inclined to vice either through want of knowledge of what is good, or through the delights of passion. And we read this in a verse in which the prophet sings very plainly:
Being pushed I was overturned that I might fall, where the weakness of our free will is shown. And
the Lord sustained me: again this shows that the Lord's help is always joined to it, and by this, that we may not be altogether destroyed by our free will, when He sees that we have stumbled, He sustains and supports us, as it were by stretching out His hand. And again:
If I said my foot was moved; viz., from the slippery character of the will,
Your mercy, O Lord, helped me. Once more he joins on the help of God to his own weakness, as he confesses that it was not owing to his own efforts but to the mercy of God, that the foot of his faith was not moved. And again:
According to the multitude of the sorrows which I had in my heart, which sprang most certainly from my free will,
Your comforts have refreshed my soul, i.e., by coming through Your inspiration into my heart, and laying open the view of future blessings which You have prepared for them who labour in Your name, they not only removed all anxiety from my heart, but actually conferred upon it the greatest delight. And again: free will he would have dwelt in hell, had he not been saved by the assistance and protection of the Lord. For
By the Lord, and not by free-will,
are a man's steps directed, and
although the righteous fall at least by free will,
he shall not be cast away. And why? Because
the Lord upholds him with His hand: and this is to say with the utmost clearness: None of the righteous are sufficient of themselves to acquire righteousness, unless every moment when they stumble and fall the Divine mercy supports them with His hands, that they may not utterly collapse and perish, when they have been cast down through the weakness of free will.
That the ordering of our way comes from God.
And truly the saints have never said that it was by their own efforts that they secured the direction of the way in which they walked in their course towards advance and perfection of virtue, but rather they prayed for it from the Lord, saying
Direct me in Your truth, and
direct my way in your sight. But someone else declares that he discovered this very fact not only by faith, but also by experience, and as it were from the very nature of things:
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not his: neither is it in a man to walk and to direct his steps. Jeremiah 10:23 And the Lord Himself says to Israel:
I will direct him like a green fir-tree: from Me is your fruit found. Hosea 14:9
That knowledge of the law is given by the guidance and illumination of the Lord.
The knowledge also of the law itself they daily endeavour to gain not by diligence in reading, but by the guidance and illumination of God as they say to Him:
Show me Your ways, O Lord, and teach me Your paths: and
open my eyes: and I shall see the wondrous things of Your law: and
teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; and again:
Who teaches man knowledge.
That the understanding, by means of which we can recognize God's commands, and the performance of a good will are both gifts from the Lord.
Further the blessed David asks of the Lord that he may gain that very understanding, by which he can recognize God's commands which, he well knew, were written in the book of the law, and he says
I am Your servant: O give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments. Certainly he was in possession of understanding, which had been granted to him by nature, and also had at his fingers' ends a knowledge of God's commands which were preserved in writing in the law: and still he prayed the Lord that he might learn this more thoroughly as he knew that what came to him by nature would never be sufficient for him, unless his understanding was enlightened by the Lord by a daily illumination from Him, to understand the law spiritually and to recognize His commands more clearly, as the
chosen vessel also declares very plainly this which we are insisting on.
For it is God which works in you both to will and to do according to good will. Philippians 2:13 What could well be clearer than the assertion that both our good will and the completion of our work are fully wrought in us by the Lord? And again Philippians 1:29 Here also he declares that the beginning of our conversion and faith, and the endurance of suffering is a gift to us from the Lord. And David too, as he knows this, similarly prays that the same thing may be granted to him by God's mercy.
Strengthen, O God, that which You have wrought in us: showing that it is not enough for the beginning of our salvation to be granted by the gift and grace of God, unless it has been continued and ended by the same pity and continual help from Him. For not free will but the Lord
looses them that are bound. No strength of ours, but the Lord
raises them that are fallen: no diligence in reading, but
the Lord enlightens the blind: where the Greeks have κύριος σοφοῖ τυφλούς, i.e.,
the Lord makes wise the blind: no care on our part, but
the Lord cares for the stranger: no courage of ours, but
the Lord assists (or supports) all those who are down. But this we say, not to slight our zeal and efforts and diligence, as if they were applied unnecessarily and foolishly, but that we may know that we cannot strive without the help of God, nor can our efforts be of any use in securing the great reward of purity, unless it has been granted to us by the assistance and mercy of the Lord: for
a horse is prepared for the day of battle: but help comes from the Lord, Proverbs 21:31
for no man can prevail by strength. 1 Samuel 2:9 We ought then always to sing with the blessed David:
My strength and my praise is not my free will, but
the Lord, and He has become my salvation. And the teacher of the Gentiles was not ignorant of this when he declared that he was made capable of the ministry of the New Testament not by his own merits or efforts but by the mercy of God.
Not says he, that we are capable of thinking anything of ourselves as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, which can be put in less good Latin but more forcibly,
our capability is of God, and then there follows:
Who also made us capable ministers of the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6
That faith itself must be given us by the Lord.
But so thoroughly did the Apostles realize that everything which concerns salvation was given them by the Lord, that they even asked that faith itself should be granted from the Lord, saying:
Add to us faith Luke 17:5 as they did not imagine that it could be gained by free will, but believed that it would be bestowed by the free gift of God. Lastly the Author of man's salvation teaches us how feeble and weak and insufficient our faith would be unless it were strengthened by the aid of the Lord, when He says to Peter
Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed to my Father that your faith fail not. Luke 22:31-32 And another finding that this was happening in his own case, and seeing that his faith was being driven by the waves of unbelief on the rocks which would cause a fearful shipwreck, asks of the same Lord an aid to his faith, saying
Lord, help mine unbelief. Mark 9:23 So thoroughly then did those Apostles and men in the gospel realize that everything which is good is brought to perfection by the aid of the Lord, and not imagine that they could preserve their faith unharmed by their own strength or free will that they prayed that it might be helped or granted to them by the Lord. And if in Peter's case there was need of the Lord's help that it might not fail, who will be so presumptuous and blind as to fancy that he has no need of daily assistance from the Lord in order to preserve it? Especially as the Lord Himself has made this clear in the gospel, saying:
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, so no more can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 And again:
for without me you can do nothing. How foolish and wicked then it is to attribute any good action to our own diligence and not to God's grace and assistance, is clearly shown by the Lord's saying, which lays down that no one can show forth the fruits of the Spirit without His inspiration and co-operation. For
every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. James 1:17 And Zechariah too says,
For whatever is good is His, and what is excellent is from Him. And so the blessed Apostle consistently says:
What do you have which you did not receive? But if you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 1 Corinthians 4:7
That temperateness and the endurance of temptations must be given to us by the Lord.
And that all the endurance, with which we can bear the temptations brought upon us, depends not so much on our own strength as on the mercy and guidance of God, the blessed Apostle thus declares:
No temptation has come upon you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation make also a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 And that God fits and strengthens our souls for every good work, and works in us all those things which are pleasing to Him, the same Apostle teaches:
May the God of peace who brought out of darkness the great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, in the blood of the everlasting Testament, fit you in all goodness, working in you what is well-pleasing in His sight. Hebrews 13:20-21 And that the same thing may happen to the Thessalonians he prays as follows, saying:
Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father who has loved us and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope in grace, exhort your hearts, and confirm you in every good word and work. 2 Thessalonians 2:15-16
That the continual fear of God must be bestowed on us by the Lord.
And lastly the prophet Jeremiah, speaking in the person of God, clearly testifies that even the fear of God, by which we can hold fast to Him, is shed upon us by the Lord: saying as follows:
And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me all days: and that it may be well with them and with their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them and will not cease to do them good: and I will give My fear in their hearts that they may not revolt from Me. Jeremiah 32:39-40 Ezekiel also says:
And I will give them one heart, and will put a new spirit in their bowels: and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh: that they may walk in My commandments, and keep My judgments and do them: and that they may be My people, and I may be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20
That the beginning of our good will and its completion comes from God.
And this plainly teaches us that the beginning of our good will is given to us by the inspiration of the Lord, when He draws us towards the way of salvation either by His own act, or by the exhortations of some man, or by compulsion; and that the consummation of our good deeds is granted by Him in the same way: but that it is in our own power to follow up the encouragement and assistance of God with more or less zeal, and that accordingly we are rightly visited either with reward or with punishment, because we have been either careless or careful to correspond to His design and providential arrangement made for us with such kindly regard. And this is clearly and plainly described in Deuteronomy.
When, says he,
the Lord your God shall have brought you into the land which you are going to possess, and shall have destroyed many nations before you, the Hittite, and the Gergeshite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations much more numerous than you are and stronger than you, and the Lord your God shall have delivered them to you, you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no league with them. Neither shall you make marriage with them. Deuteronomy 7:1-3 So then Scripture declares that it is the free gift of God that they are brought into the land of promise, that many nations are destroyed before them, that nations more numerous and mightier than the people of Israel are given up into their hands. But whether Israel utterly destroys them, or whether it preserves them alive and spares them, and whether or no it makes a league with them, and makes marriages with them or not, it declares lies in their own power. And by this testimony we can clearly see what we ought to ascribe to free will, and what to the design and daily assistance of the Lord, and that it belongs to divine grace to give us opportunities of salvation and prosperous undertakings and victory: but that it is ours to follow up the blessings which God gives us with earnestness or indifference. And this same fact we see is plainly taught in the healing of the blind men. For the fact that Jesus passed by them, was a free gift of Divine providence and condescension. But the fact that they cried out and said
Have mercy on us, Lord, you son of David, Matthew 20:31 was an act of their own faith and belief. That they received the sight of their eyes was a gift of Divine pity. But that after the reception of any blessing, the grace of God, and the use of free will both remain, the case of the ten lepers, who were all healed alike, shows us. For when one of them through goodness of will returned thanks, the Lord looking for the nine, and praising the one, showed that He was ever anxious to help even those who were unmindful of His kindness. For even this is a gift of His visitation; viz., that he receives and commends the grateful one, and looks for and censures those who are thankless.
That nothing can be done in this world without God.
But it is right for us to hold with unswerving faith that nothing whatever is done in this world without God. For we must acknowledge that everything is done either by His will or by His permission, i.e., we must believe that whatever is good is carried out by the will of God and by His aid, and whatever is the reverse is done by His permission, when the Divine Protection is withdrawn from us for our sins and the hardness of our hearts, and suffers the devil and the shameful passions of the body to lord it over us. And the words of the Apostle most assuredly teach us this, when he says:
Because they did not like to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient. And the Lord Himself says by the prophet:
An objection on the power of free will.
Germanus: This passage very clearly shows the freedom of the will, where it is said
If My people would have hearkened unto Me, and elsewhere
But My people would not hear My voice. For when He says
If they would have heard He shows that the decision to yield or not to yield lay in their own power. How then is it true that our salvation does not depend upon ourselves, if God Himself has given us the power either to hearken or not to hearken?
The answer; viz., that our free will always has need of the help of the Lord.
Paphnutius: You have shrewdly enough noticed how it is said
If they would have hearkened to Me: but have not sufficiently considered either who it is who speaks to one who does or does not hearken; or what follows:
I should soon have put down their enemies, and laid My hand on those that trouble them. Let no one then try by a false interpretation to twist that which we brought forward to prove that nothing can be done without the Lord, nor take it in support of free will, in such a way as to try to take away from man the grace of God and His daily oversight, through this test:
But My people did not hear My voice, and again:
If My people would have hearkened unto Me, and if Israel would have walked in My ways, etc.: but let him consider that just as the power of free will is evidenced by the disobedience of the people, so the daily oversight of God who declares and admonishes him is also shown. For where He says
If My people would have hearkened unto Me He clearly implies that He had spoken to them before. And this the Lord was wont to do not only by means of the written law, but also by daily exhortations, as this which is given by Isaiah:
All day long have I stretched forth My hands to a disobedient and gain-saying people. Isaiah 65:2 Both points then can be supported from this passage, where it says:
If My people would have hearkened, and if Israel had walked in My ways, I should soon have put down their enemies, and laid My hand on those that trouble them. For just as free will is shown by the disobedience of the people, so the government of God and His assistance is made clear by the beginning and end of the verse, where He implies that He had spoken to them before, and that afterwards He would put down their enemies, if they would have hearkened unto Him. For we have no wish to do away with man's free will by what we have said, but only to establish the fact that the assistance and grace of God are necessary to it every day and hour. When he had instructed us with this discourse Abbot Paphnutius dismissed us from his cell before midnight in a state of contrition rather than of liveliness; insisting on this as the chief lesson in his discourse; viz., that when we fancied that by making perfect the first renunciation (which we were endeavouring to do with all our powers), we could climb the heights of perfection, we should make the discovery that we had not yet even begun to dream of the heights to which a monk can rise, since after we had learned some few things about the second renunciation, we should find out that we had not before this even heard a word of the third stage, in which all perfection is comprised, and which in many ways far exceeds these lower ones.
Source. Translated by C.S. Gibson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/350803.htm>.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.