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Which treats of joy with respect to temporal blessings. Describes how joy in them must be directed to God.
The first kind of blessing of which we have spoken is temporal. And by temporal blessings we here understand riches, rank, office and other things that men desire; and children, relatives, marriages, etc.: all of which are things wherein the will may rejoice. But it is clear how vain a thing it is for men to rejoice in riches, titles, rank, office and other such things which they are wont to desire; for, if a man were the better servant of God for being rich, he ought to rejoice in riches; but in fact they are rather a cause for his giving offence to God, even as the Wise Man teaches, saying: ‘Son, if thou be rich, thou shalt not be free from sin.’537537Ecclesiasticus xi, 10. Although it is true that temporal blessings do not necessarily of themselves cause sin, yet, through the frailty of its affections, the heart of man habitually clings to them and fails God (which is a sin, for to fail God is sin); it is for this cause that the Wise Man says: ‘Thou shalt not be free from sin.’ For this reason the Lord described riches, in the Gospel, as thorns,538538St. Matthew xiii, 22; St. Luke viii, 14. in order to show that he who touches them539539[Lit., ‘handles them.’] with the will shall be wounded by some sin. And that exclamation which He makes in the Gospel, saying: ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter the Kingdom of the heavens’ — that is to say, they that have joy in riches — clearly shows that man must not rejoice in riches, since he exposes himself thereby to such great peril.540540St. Matthew xix, 23; St. Luke xviii, 24. And David, in order to withdraw us from this peril, said likewise: ‘If riches abound, set not your heart on them.’541541Psalm lxi, 11 [A.V., lxii, 10]. And I will not here quote further testimony on so clear a matter.
2. For in that case I should never cease quoting Scripture, nor should I cease describing the evils which Solomon imputes to riches in Ecclesiastes. Solomon was a man who had possessed great riches, and, knowing well what they were, said: ‘All things that are under the sun are vanity of vanities, vexation of spirit and vain solicitude of the mind.’542542Ecclesiastes i, 14. And he that loves riches, he said, shall reap no fruit from them.543543Ecclesiastes v, 9. And he adds that riches are kept to the hurt of their owner,544544Ecclesiastes v, 12. as we see in the Gospel, where it was said from Heaven to the man that rejoiced because he had kept many fruits for many years: ‘Fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee to give account thereof, and whose shall be that which thou has provided?’545545St. Luke xii, 20. And finally, David teaches us the same, saying: ‘Let us have no envy when our neighbour becomes rich, for it will profit him nothing in the life to come;’546546Psalm xlviii, 17-18 [A.V., xlix, 16-17]. meaning thereby that we might rather have pity on him.
3. It follows, then, that a man must neither rejoice in riches when he has them, nor when his brother has them, unless they help them to serve God. For if ever it is allowable to rejoice in them, it will be when they are spent and employed in the service of God, for otherwise no profit will be derived from them. And the same is to be understood of other blessings (titles, offices, etc.), in all of which it is vain to rejoice if a man feel not that God is the better served because of them and the way to eternal life is made more secure. And as it cannot be clearly known if this is so (if God is better served, etc.), it would be a vain thing to rejoice in these things deliberately, since such a joy cannot be reasonable. For, as the Lord says: ‘If a man gain all the world, he may yet lose his soul.’547547St. Matthew xvi, 26. There is naught, then, wherein to rejoice save in the fact that God is better served.
4. Neither is there cause for rejoicing in children because they are many, or rich, or endowed with natural graces and talents and the good things of fortune, but only if they serve God. For Absalom, the son of David, found neither his beauty nor his riches nor his lineage of any service to him because he served not God.5485482 Kings [A.V., 2 Samuel] xiv, 25. Hence it was a vain thing to have rejoiced in such a son. For this reason it is also a vain thing for men to desire to have children, as do some who trouble and disturb everyone with their desire for them, since they know not if such children will be good and serve God. Nor do they know if their satisfaction in them will be turned into pain; nor if the comfort and consolation which they should have from them will change to disquiet and trial; and the honour which they should bring them, into dishonour; nor if they will cause them to give greater offence to God, as happens to many. Of these Christ says that they go round about the sea and the land to enrich them and to make them doubly the children of perdition which they are themselves.549549St. Matthew xxiii, 15.
5. Wherefore, though all things smile upon a man and all that he does turns out prosperously, he ought to have misgivings rather than to rejoice; for these things increase the occasion and peril of his forgetting God. For this cause Solomon says, in Ecclesiastes, that he was cautious: ‘Laughter I counted error and to rejoicing I said, “Why art thou vainly deceived?”’550550Ecclesiastes ii, 2. Which is as though he had said: When things smiled upon me I counted it error and deception to rejoice in them; for without doubt it is a great error and folly on the part of a man if he rejoice when things are bright and pleasant for him, knowing not of a certainty that there will come to him thence some eternal good. The heart of the fool, says the Wise Man, is where there is mirth, but that of the wise man is where there is sorrow.551551Ecclesiastes vii, 5. For mirth blinds the heart and allows it not to consider things and ponder them; but sadness makes a man open his eyes and look at the profit and the harm of them. And hence it is that, as he himself says, anger is better than laughter.552552Ecclesiastes vii, 4. Wherefore it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for in the former is figured the end of all men,553553Ecclesiastes vii, 3. as the Wise Man says likewise.
6. It would therefore be vanity for a woman or her husband to rejoice in their marriage when they know not clearly that they are serving God better thereby. They ought rather to feel confounded, since matrimony is a cause, as Saint Paul says, whereby each one sets his heart upon the other and keeps it not wholly with God. Wherefore he says: ‘If thou shouldst find thyself free from a wife, desire not to seek a wife; while he that has one already should walk with such freedom of heart as though he had her not.’5545541 Corinthians vii, 27. This, together with what we have said concerning temporal blessings, he teaches us himself, in these words: ‘This is certain; as I say to you, brethren, the time is short; it remaineth that they also who have wives be as if they had none; and they that weep, as them that weep not; and they that rejoice, as them that rejoice not; and they that buy, as them that possess not; and they that use this world, as them that use it not.’5555551 Corinthians vii, 29-30. All this he says to show us that we must not set our rejoicings upon any other thing than that which tends to the service of God, since the rest is vanity and a thing which profits not; for joy that is not according to God can bring the soul no profit.556556[Lit., ‘bring it no profit.’]
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