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Chapter XX.—The True Gnostic Exercises Patience and Self-Restraint.
Endurance also itself forces its way to the divine likeness, reaping as its fruit impassibility through patience, if what is related of Ananias be kept in mind; who belonged to a number, of whom Daniel the prophet, filled with divine faith, was one. Daniel dwelt at Babylon, as Lot at Sodom, and Abraham, who a little after became the friend of God, in the land of Chaldea. The king of the Babylonians let Daniel down into a pit full of wild beasts; the King of all, the faithful Lord, took him up unharmed. Such patience will the Gnostic, as a Gnostic, possess. He will bless when under trial, like the noble Job; like Jonas, when swallowed up by the whale, he will pray, and faith will restore him to prophesy to the Ninevites; and though shut up with lions, he will tame the wild beasts; though cast into the fire, he will be besprinkled with dew, but not consumed. He will give his testimony by night; he will testify by day; by word, by life, by conduct, he will testify. Dwelling with the Lord23852385 Substituting ὤν for ἐν τῷ Κυρίῳ after σύνοικος. he will continue his familiar friend, sharing the same hearth according to the Spirit; pure in the flesh, pure in heart, sanctified in word. “The world,” it is said, “is crucified to him, and he to the world.”23862386 [Gal vi. 14. S.] He, bearing about the cross of the Saviour, will follow the Lord’s footsteps, as God, having become holy of holies.
The divine law, then, while keeping in mind all virtue, trains man especially to self-restraint, laying this as the foundation of the virtues; and disciplines us beforehand to the attainment of self-restraint by forbidding us to partake of such things as are by nature fat, as the breed of swine, which is full-fleshed. For such a use is assigned to epicures. It is accordingly said that one of the philosophers, giving the etymology of ὗς (sow), said that it was θύς, as being fit only for slaughter (θύσιν) and killing; for life was given to this animal for no other purpose than that it might swell in flesh. Similarly, repressing our desires, it forbade partaking of fishes which have neither fins nor scales; for these surpass other fishes in fleshiness and fatness. From this it was, in my opinion, that the mysteries not only prohibited touching certain animals, but also withdrew certain parts of those slain in sacrifice, for reasons which are known to the initiated. If, then, we are to exercise control over the belly, and what is below the belly, it is clear that we have of old heard from the Lord that we are to check lust by the law.
And this will be completely effected, if we unfeignedly condemn what is the fuel of lust: I mean pleasure. Now they say that the idea of it is a gentle and bland excitement, accompanied with some sensation. Enthralled by this, Menelaus, they say, after the capture of Troy, having rushed to put Helen to death, as having been the cause of such calamities, was nevertheless not able to effect it, being subdued by her beauty, which made him think of pleasure. Whence the tragedians, jeering, exclaimed insultingly against him:—
“But thou, when on her breast thou lookedst, thy sword
Didst cast away, and with a kiss the traitress,
“Was the sword then by beauty blunted?”
And I agree with Antisthenes when he says, “Could I catch Aphrodite, I would shoot her; for she has destroyed many of our beautiful and good women.” And he says that “Love23882388 Ἐρως, Cupid. is a vice of nature, and the wretches who fall under its power call the disease a deity.” For in these words it is shown that stupid people are overcome from ignorance of pleasure, to which we ought to give no admittance, even though it be called a god, that is, though it be given by God for the necessity of procreation. And Xenophon, expressly calling pleasure a vice, says: “Wretch, what good dost thou know, or what honourable aim hast thou? which does not even wait for the appetite for sweet things, eating before being hungry, drinking before being thirsty; and that thou mayest eat pleasantly, seeking out fine cooks; and that thou mayest drink pleasantly, procuring costly wines; and in summer runnest about seeking snow; and that thou mayest sleep pleasantly, not only providest soft beds, but also supports23892389 Or, “carpets.” Xenoph., Memorabilia, II. i. 30; The Words of Virtue to Vice. to the couches.” Whence, as Aristo said, “against the whole tetrachord of pleasure, pain, fear, and lust, there is need of much exercise and struggle.”
“For it is these, it is these that go through our bowels,
And throw into disorder men’s hearts.”
“For the minds of those even who are deemed grave, pleasure makes waxen,” according to Plato; since “each pleasure and pain nails to the body the soul” of the man, that does not sever and crucify himself from the passions. “He that loses his life,” says the Lord, “shall save it;” either giving it up by exposing it to danger for the Lord’s sake, as He did for us, or loosing it from fellowship with its habitual life. For if you would loose, and withdraw, and separate (for this is what the cross means) your soul from the delight and pleasure that is in this life, you will possess it, found and resting in the looked-for hope. And this would be the exercise of death, if we would be content with those desires which are measured according to nature alone, which do not pass the limit of those which are in accordance with nature—by going to excess, or going against nature—in which the possibility of sinning arises. “We must therefore put on the panoply of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; since the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down reasonings, and every lofty thing which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity unto the obedience of Christ,”23902390 Eph. vi. 11. says the divine apostle. There is need of a man who shall use in a praiseworthy and discriminating manner the things from which passions take their rise, as riches and poverty, honour and dishonour, health and sickness, life and death, toil and pleasure. For, in order that we may treat things, that are different, indifferently, there is need of a great difference in us, as having been previously afflicted with much feebleness, and in the distortion of a bad training and nurture ignorantly indulged ourselves. The simple word, then, of our philosophy declares the passions to be impressions on the soul that is soft and yielding, and, as it were, the signatures of the spiritual powers with whom we have to struggle. For it is the business, in my opinion, of the malificent powers to endeavour to produce somewhat of their own constitution in everything, so as to overcome and make their own those who have renounced them. And it follows, as might be expected, that some are worsted; but in the case of those who engage in the contest with more athletic energy, the powers mentioned above, after carrying on the conflict in all forms, and advancing even as far as the crown wading in gore, decline the battle, and admire the victors.
For of objects that are moved, some are moved by impulse and appearance, as animals; and some by transposition, as inanimate objects. And of things without life, plants, they say, are moved by transposition in order to growth, if we will concede to them that plants are without life. To stones, then, belongs a permanent state. Plants have a nature; and the irrational animals possess impulse and perception, and likewise the two characteristics already specified.23912391 i.e., Permanent state and nature. But the reasoning faculty, being peculiar to the human soul, ought not to be impelled similarly with the irrational animals, but ought to discriminate appearances, and not to be carried away by them. The powers, then, of which we have spoken hold out beautiful sights, and honours, and adulteries, and pleasures, and such like alluring phantasies before facile spirits;23922392 [See Epiphan., Opp., ii. 391, ed. Oehler.] as those who drive away cattle hold out branches to them. Then, having beguiled those incapable of distinguishing the true from the false pleasure, and the fading and meretricious from the holy beauty, they lead them into slavery. And each deceit, by pressing constantly on the spirit, impresses its image on it; and the soul unwittingly carries about the image of the passion, which takes its rise from the bait and our consent.
The adherents of Basilides are in the habit of 372calling the passions appendages: saying that these are in essence certain spirits attached to the rational soul, through some original perturbation and confusion; and that, again, other bastard and heterogeneous natures of spirits grow on to them, like that of the wolf, the ape, the lion, the goat, whose properties showing themselves around the soul, they say, assimilate the lusts of the soul to the likeness of the animals. For they imitate the actions of those whose properties they bear. And not only are they associated with the impulses and perceptions of the irrational animals, but they affect23932393 Or, vie with. the motions and the beauties of plants, on account of their bearing also the properties of plants attached to them. They have also the properties of a particular state, as the hardness of steel. But against this dogma we shall argue subsequently, when we treat of the soul. At present this only needs to be pointed out, that man, according to Basilides, preserves the appearance of a wooden horse, according to the poetic myth, embracing as he does in one body a host of such different spirits. Accordingly, Basilides’ son himself, Isidorus, in his book, About the Soul attached to us, while agreeing in the dogma, as if condemning himself, writes in these words: “For if I persuade any one that the soul is undivided, and that the passions of the wicked are occasioned by the violence of the appendages, the worthless among men will have no slight pretence for saying, ‘I was compelled, I was carried away, I did it against my will, I acted unwillingly;’ though he himself led the desire of evil things, and did not fight against the assaults of the appendages. But we must, by acquiring superiority in the rational part, show ourselves masters of the inferior creation in us.” For he too lays down the hypothesis of two souls in us, like the Pythagoreans, at whom we shall glance afterwards.
Valentinus too, in a letter to certain people, writes in these very words respecting the appendages: “There is one good, by whose presence23942394 παρουσιᾳ substituted by Grabe for παῤῥησίᾳ. is the manifestation, which is by the Son, and by Him alone can the heart become pure, by the expulsion of every evil spirit from the heart: for the multitude of spirits dwelling in it do not suffer it to be pure; but each of them performs his own deeds, insulting it oft with unseemly lusts. And the heart seems to be treated somewhat like a caravanserai. For the latter has holes and ruts made in it, and is often filled with dung; men living filthily in it, and taking no care for the place as belonging to others. So fares it with the heart as long as there is no thought taken for it, being unclean, and the abode of many demons. But when the only good Father visits it, it is sanctified, and gleams with light. And he who possesses such a heart is so blessed, that “he shall see God.”23952395 Matt. v. 8. [On the Beatitudes, see book iv. cap. 6, infra.]
What, then, let them tell us, is the cause of such a soul not being cared for from the beginning? Either that it is not worthy (and somehow a care for it comes to it as from repentance), or it is a saved nature, as he would have it; and this, of necessity, from the beginning, being cared for by reason of its affinity, afforded no entrance to the impure spirits, unless by being forced and found feeble. For were he to grant that on repentance it preferred what was better, he will say this unwillingly, being what the truth we hold teaches; namely, that salvation is from a change due to obedience, but not from nature. For as the exhalations which arise from the earth, and from marshes, gather into mists and cloudy masses; so the vapours of fleshly lusts bring on the soul an evil condition, scattering about the idols of pleasure before the soul. Accordingly they spread darkness over the light of intelligence, the spirit attracting the exhalations that arise from lust, and thickening the masses of the passions by persistency in pleasures. Gold is not taken from the earth in the lump, but is purified by smelting; then, when made pure, it is called gold, the earth being purified. For “Ask, and it shall be given you,”23962396 Matt. vii. 7. it is said to those who are able of themselves to choose what is best. And how we say that the powers of the devil, and the unclean spirits, sow into the sinner’s soul, requires no more words from me, on adducing as a witness the apostolic Barnabas (and he was one of the seventy,23972397 [See note, book ii. cap. 7, p. 352, supra.] and a fellow-worker of Paul), who speaks in these words: “Before we believed in God, the dwelling-place of our heart was unstable, truly a temple built with hands. For it was full of idolatry, and was a house of demons, through doing what was opposed to God.”23982398 Barnabas, Epist., cap. xvi. vol. i. p. 147.
He says, then, that sinners exercise activities appropriate to demons; but he does not say that the spirits themselves dwell in the soul of the unbeliever. Wherefore he also adds, “See that the temple of the Lord be gloriously built. Learn, having received remission of sins; and having set our hope on the Name, let us become new, created again from the beginning.” For what he says is not that demons are driven out of us, but that the sins which like them we commit before believing are remitted. Rightly thus he puts in opposition what follows: “Wherefore God truly dwells in our home. He dwells in us. How? The word of His faith, the calling of His promise, the wisdom of His statutes, the 373commandments of His communication, [dwell in us].”
“I know that I have come upon a heresy; and its chief was wont to say that he fought with pleasure by pleasure, this worthy Gnostic advancing on pleasure in feigned combat, for he said he was a Gnostic; since he said it was no great thing for a man that had not tried pleasure to abstain from it, but for one who had mixed in it not to be overcome [was something]; and that therefore by means of it he trained himself in it. The wretched man knew not that he was deceiving himself by the artfulness of voluptuousness. To this opinion, then, manifestly Aristippus the Cyrenian adhered—that of the sophist who boasted of the truth. Accordingly, when reproached for continually cohabiting with the Corinthian courtezan, he said, “I possess Lais, and am not possessed by her.”
Such also are those (who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert,23992399 [Clement does not credit the apostasy of the deacon Nicolas (Acts vi. 5), though others of the Fathers surrender him to the Nicolaitans. See book iii. cap. iv. infra.] “that the flesh must be abused.” But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they, abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self-indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buried in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man. For in what do they differ from Sardanapalus, whose life is shown in the epigram:—
“I have what I ate—what I enjoyed wantonly;
And the pleasures I felt in love. But those
Many objects of happiness are left,
For I too am dust, who ruled great Ninus.”
For the feeling of pleasure is not at all a necessity, but the accompaniment of certain natural needs—hunger, thirst, cold, marriage. If, then, it were possible to drink without it, or take food, or beget children, no other need of it could be shown. For pleasure is neither a function, nor a state, nor any part of us; but has been introduced into life as an auxiliary, as they say salt was to season food. But when it casts off restraint and rules the house, it generates first concupiscence, which is an irrational propension and impulse towards that which gratifies it; and it induced Epicurus to lay down pleasure as the aim of the philosopher. Accordingly he deifies a sound condition of body, and the certain hope respecting it. For what else is luxury than the voluptuous gluttony and the superfluous abundance of those who are abandoned to self-indulgence? Diogenes writes significantly in a tragedy:—
“Who to the pleasures of effeminate
And filthy luxury attached in heart,
Wish not to undergo the slightest toil.”
And what follows, expressed indeed in foul language, but in a manner worthy of the voluptuaries.
Wherefore the divine law appears to me necessarily to menace with fear, that, by caution and attention, the philosopher may acquire and retain absence of anxiety, continuing without fall and without sin in all things. For peace and freedom are not otherwise won, than by ceaseless and unyielding struggles with our lusts. For these stout and Olympic antagonists are keener than wasps, so to speak; and Pleasure especially, not by day only, but by night, is in dreams with witchcraft ensnaringly plotting and biting. How, then, can the Greeks any more be right in running down the law, when they themselves teach that Pleasure is the slave of fear? Socrates accordingly bids “people guard against enticements to eat when they are not hungry, and to drink when not thirsty, and the glances and kisses of the fair, as fitted to inject a deadlier poison than that of scorpions and spiders.” And Antisthenes chose rather “to be demented than delighted.” And the Theban Crates says:—
“Master these, exulting in the disposition of the soul,
Vanquished neither by gold nor by languishing love,
Nor are they any longer attendants to the wanton.”
And at length infers:—
“Those, unenslaved and unbended by servile Pleasure,
Love the immortal kingdom and freedom.”
And the comic poets attest, while they depreciate the teaching of Zeno the Stoic, to be to the following effect:—
“For he philosophizes a vain philosophy:
He teaches to want food, and gets pupils
One loaf, and for seasoning a dry fig, and to drink water.”
All these, then, are not ashamed clearly to confess the advantage which accrues from caution. And the wisdom which is true and not contrary to reason, trusting not in mere words and oracular utterances, but in invulnerable armour of defence and energetic mysteries, and devoting itself to divine commands, and exercise, and practice, receives a divine power according to its inspiration from the Word.374
Already, then, the ægis of the poetic Jove is described as
“Dreadful, crowned all around by Terror,
And on it Strife and Prowess, and chilling Rout;
On it, too, the Gorgon’s head, dread monster,
But to those, who are able rightly to understand salvation, I know not what will appear dearer than the gravity of the Law, and Reverence, which is its daughter. For when one is said to pitch too high, as also the Lord says, with reference to certain; so that some of those whose desires are towards Him may not sing out of pitch and tune, I do not understand it as pitching too high in reality, but only as spoken with reference to such as will not take up the divine yoke. For to those, who are unstrung and feeble, what is medium seems too high; and to those, who are unrighteous, what befalls them seems severe justice. For those, who, on account of the favour they entertain for sins, are prone to pardon, suppose truth to be harshness, and severity to be savageness, and him who does not sin with them, and is not dragged with them, to be pitiless. Tragedy writes therefore well of Pluto:—
“And to what sort of a deity wilt thou come,24022402 After this comes ὼς ἔρωτα, which yields no meaning, and has been variously amended, but not satisfactorily. Most likely some words have dropped out of the text. [The note in ed. Migne, nevertheless, is worth consultation.] dost thou ask,
Who knows neither clemency nor favour,
But loves bare justice alone.”
For although you are not yet able to do the things enjoined by the Law, yet, considering that the noblest examples are set before us in it, we are able to nourish and increase the love of liberty; and so we shall profit more eagerly as far as we can, inviting some things, imitating some things, and fearing others. For thus the righteous of the olden time, who lived according to the law, “were not from a storied oak, or from a rock;” because they wish to philosophize truly, took and devoted themselves entirely to God, and were classified under faith. Zeno said well of the Indians, that he would rather have seen one Indian roasted, than have learned the whole of the arguments about bearing pain. But we have exhibited before our eyes every day abundant sources of martyrs that are burnt, impaled, beheaded. All these the fear inspired by the law,—leading as a pædagogue to Christ, trained so as to manifest their piety by their blood. “God stood in the congregation of the gods; He judgeth in the midst of the gods.”24032403 Ps. lxxxii. 1. Who are they? Those that are superior to Pleasure, who rise above the passions, who know what they do—the Gnostics, who are greater than the world. “I said, Ye are Gods; and all sons of the Highest.”24042404 Ps. lxxxii. 6. To whom speaks the Lord? To those who reject as far as possible all that is of man. And the apostle says, “For ye are not any longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit.”24052405 Rom. viii. 9. And again he says, “Though in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.”24062406 2 Cor. x. 3. “For flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”24072407 1 Cor. xv. 50. “Lo, ye shall die like men,” the Spirit has said, confuting us.
We must then exercise ourselves in taking care about those things which fall under the power of the passions, fleeing like those who are truly philosophers such articles of food as excite lust, and dissolute licentiousness in chambering and luxury; and the sensations that tend to luxury, which are a solid reward to others, must no longer be so to us. For God’s greatest gift is self-restraint. For He Himself has said, “I will neyer leave thee, nor forsake thee,”24082408 Heb. xiii. 5. as having judged thee worthy according to the true election. Thus, then, while we attempt piously to advance, we shall have put on us the mild yoke of the Lord from faith to faith, one charioteer driving each of us onward to salvation, that the meet fruit of beatitude may be won. “Exercise is” according to Hippocrates of Cos, “not only the health of the body, but of the soul—fearlessness of labours—a ravenous appetite for food.”
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