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Argument XVI.—Gregory Laments His Departure Under a Threefold Comparison; Likening It to Adam’s Departure Out of Paradise. 37To the Prodigal Son’s Abandonment of His Father’s House, and to the Deportation of the Jews into Babylon.
Here, truly, is the paradise of comfort; here are true gladness and pleasure, as we have enjoyed them during this period which is now at its end—no short space indeed in itself, and yet all too short if this is really to be its conclusion, when we depart and leave this place behind us. For I know not what has possessed me, or what offence has been committed by me, that I should now be going away—that I should now be put away. I know not what I should say, unless it be that I am like a second Adam and have begun to talk, outside of paradise. How excellent might my life be, were I but a listener to the addresses of my teacher, and silent myself! Would that even now I could have learned to be mute and speechless, rather than to present this new spectacle of making the teacher the hearer! For what concern had I with such a harangue as this? and what obligation was there upon me to make such an address, when it became me not to depart, but to cleave fast to the place? But these things seem like the transgressions that sprung from the pristine deceit, and the penalties of these primeval offences still await me here. Do I not appear to myself to be disobedient255255 ἀπειθεῖν. Bengel and Hœschelius read ἀπελθεῖν, withdraw. in daring thus to overpass the words of God, when I ought to abide in them, and hold by them? And in that I withdraw, I flee from this blessed life, even as the primeval man fled from the face of God, and I return to the soil from which I was taken. Therefore shall I have to eat of the soil all the days of my life there, and I shall have to till the soil—the very soil which produces thorns and thistles for me, that is to say, pains and reproachful anxieties—set loose as I shall be from cares that are good and noble. And what I left behind me before, to that I now return—to the soil, as it were, from which I came, and to my common relationships here below, and to my father’s house—leaving the good soil, where of old I knew not that the good fatherland lay; leaving also the relations in whom at a later period I began to recognise the true kinsmen of my soul, and the house, too, of him who is in truth our father, in which the father abides, and is piously honoured and revered by the genuine sons, whose desire it also is to abide therein. But I, destitute alike of all piety and worthiness, am going forth from the number of these, and am turning back to what is behind, and am retracing my steps. It is recorded that a certain son, receiving from his father the portion of goods that fell to him proportionately with the other heir, his brother, departed, by his own determination, into a strange country far distant from his father; and, living there in riot, he scattered his ancestral substance, and utterly wasted it; and at last, under the pressure of want, he hired himself as a swine-herd; and being driven to extremity by hunger, he longed to share the food given to the swine, but could not touch it. Thus did he pay the penalty of his dissolute life, when he had to exchange his father’s table, which was a princely one, for something he had not looked forward to—the sustenance of swine and serfs. And we also seem to have some such fortune before us, now that we are departing, and that, too, without the full portion that falls to us. For though we have not received all that we ought, we are nevertheless going away, leaving behind us what is noble and dear with you and beside you, and taking in exchange only what is inferior. For all things melancholy will now meet us in succession,—tumult and confusion instead of peace, and an unregulated life instead of one of tranquillity and harmony, and a hard bondage, and the slavery of market-places, and lawsuits, and crowds, instead of this freedom; and neither pleasure nor any sort of leisure shall remain to us for the pursuit of nobler objects. Neither shall we have to speak of the words of inspiration, but we shall have to speak of the works of men,—a thing which has been deemed simply a bane by the prophet,256256 ἁπλοῦς ἀρά τις εἶναι νενόμισται ἀνδρὶ προφήτῃ. Migne refers us to Ps. xvii.—and in our case, indeed, those of wicked men. And truly we shall have night in place of day, and darkness in place of the clear light, and grief instead of the festive assembly; and in place of a fatherland, a hostile country will receive us, in which I shall have no liberty to sing my sacred song,257257 Ps. cxxxvii. for how could I sing it in a land strange to my soul, in which the sojourners have no permission to approach God? but only to weep and mourn, as I call to mind the different state of things here, if indeed even that shall be in my power. We read258258 2 Kings xxiv.; xxv. that enemies once assailed a great and sacred city, in which the worship of God was observed, and dragged away its inhabitants, both singers and prophets,259259 θεολόγους, used probably of the prophets here—namely of Ezekiel, Daniel, and others carried into exile with the people. On this usage, see Suicer’s Thesaurus, under the word θεολόγος, where from the pseudo-Areopagite Dionysius he cites the sentence, τῶν θεολόγων εἷς, ὁ Ζαχαρίας, and again, ἕτέρος τῶν θεολόγων ᾽Ιεζεκιήλ. into their own country, which was Babylon. And it is narrated that these captives, when they were detained in the land, refused, even when asked by their conquerors, to sing the divine song, or to play in a profane country, and hung their harps on the willow-trees, and wept by the rivers of Babylon. Like one of these I verily seem to myself to be, as I am cast forth from this city, and from this sacred 38fatherland of mine, where both by day and by night the holy laws are declared, and hymns and songs and spiritual words are heard; where also there is perpetual sunlight; where by day in waking vision260260 The text is, καὶ φῶς τὸ ἡλιακὸν καὶ τὸ διηνεκὲς, ἡμέρας ὕπερ ἡμῶν προσομιλούντων τοῖς θείος μυστηρίοις καὶ νυκτὸς ὧν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ εἶδέ τε καὶ ἔπραξεν ἡ ψυχὴ ταῖς φαντασίαις κατεχομένων . Bengel proposes ὕπαρ for ὕπερ, so as to keep the antithesis between ἡμέρας ὕπαρ and νυκτὸς φαντασίαις; and taking ἡμέρας and νυκτός as temporal genitives, he renders the whole thus: cum interdiu, per visa, divinis aderamus sacramentis: et noctu earum rerum, quas viderat de die atque egerat anima, imaginibus detinebamur. we have access to the mysteries of God, and by night in dreams261261 [“In dreams I still renew the rites,” etc.—William Croswell.] we are still occupied with what the soul has seen and handled in the day; and where, in short, the inspiration of divine things prevails over all continually. From this city, I say, I am cast forth, and borne captive to a strange land, where I shall have no power to pipe:262262 αὐλεῖν. The Jews had the harp, and so the word ψάλλειν is used of them in the preceding. But here, in speaking of himself, Gregory adopts the term οὔτε αὐλεῖν, ne tibia quidem canere. Bengel supposes that the verb is changed in order to convey the idea, that while the Jews only had to give up the use of instruments expressive of joyful feeling, Gregory feared he would himself be unable to play even on those of a mournful tone,—for in ancient times the pipe or flute was chiefly appropriated to strains of grief and sadness. for, like these men of old, I shall have to hang my instrument on the willows, and the rivers shall be my place of sojourn, and I shall have to work in mud, and shall have no heart to sing hymns, even though I remember them; yea, it may be that, through constant occupation with other subjects, I shall forget even them, like one spoiled of memory itself. And would that, in going away, I only went away against my will, as a captive is wont to do; but I go away also of my own will, and not by constraint of another; and by my own act I am dispossessed of this city, when it is in my option to remain in it. Perchance, too, in leaving this place, I may be going to prosecute no safe journey, as it sometimes fares with one who quits some safe and peaceful city; and it is indeed but too likely that, in journeying, I may fall into the hands of robbers, and be taken prisoner, and be stripped and wounded with many strokes, and be cast forth to lie half-dead somewhere.
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