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Chapter III.—Which are the Better, the Continent, or Those Who Delight in Tranquillity of Life? Contests the Peril of Chastity: the Felicity of Tranquillity; Purified and Tranquil Minds Gods: They Who Shall See God; Virtue Disciplined by Temptations.
Euboulios. Deservedly, O Gregorion, has Thekla borne off the chief prize.
Gregorion. Deservedly indeed.
Euboulios. But what about the stranger Telmisiake?28152815 In Jahn, Telmesiake.—Tr. [Comp. p. 356, n. 2, infra.] Tell me, was she not listening from without? I wonder if she could keep silence on hearing of this banquet, and would not forthwith, as a bird flies to its food, listen to the things which were spoken.
Gregorion. The report is that she was present with Methodios28162816 [Contrast the shameful close of Plato’s Symposium.] when he inquired respecting these things of Arete. But it is a good as well as a happy thing to have such a mistress and guide as Arete, that is virtue.
Euboulios. But, Gregorion, which shall we say are the better, those who without lust govern concupiscence, or those who under the assaults of concupiscence continue pure?
Gregorion. For my part, I think those who are free from lust, for they have their mind undefiled, and are altogether uncorrupted, sinning in no respect.
Euboulios. Well, I swear by chastity, and wisely, O Gregorion. But lest in any wise I hinder you, if I gainsay your words, it is that I may the better learn, and that no one hereafter may refute me.
Gregorion. Gainsay me as you will, you have my permission. For, Euboulios, I think that I know sufficient to teach you that he who is not concupiscent is better than he who is. If I cannot, then there is no one who can convince you.
Euboulios. Bless me! I am glad that you answer me so magnanimously, and show how wealthy you are as regards wisdom.
Gregorion. A mere chatterer, so you seem to be, O Euboulios.
Euboulios. Why so?
Gregorion. Because you ask rather for the sake of amusement than of truth.
Euboulios. Speak fair, I pray you, my good friend; for I greatly admire your wisdom and renown. I say this because, with reference to the things that many wise men often dispute among themselves, you say that you not only understand them, but also vaunt that you can teach another.
Gregorion. Now tell me truly whether it is a difficulty with you to receive the opinion, that they who are not concupiscent excel those who 354are concupiscent, and yet restrain themselves? or are you joking?
Euboulios. How so, when I tell you that I do not know? But, come, tell me, O wisest lady, in what do the non-concupiscent and chaste excel the concupiscent who live chastely?
Gregorion. Because, in the first place, they have the soul itself pure, and the Holy Spirit always dwells in it, seeing that it is not distracted and disturbed by fancies and unrestrained thoughts, so as to pollute the mind. But they are in every way inaccessible to lust, both as to their flesh and to their heart, enjoying tranquillity from passions. But they who are allured from without, through the sense of sight, with fancies, and receiving lust flowing like a stream into the heart, are often not less polluted, even when they think that they contend and fight against pleasures, being vanquished in their mind.
Euboulios. Shall we then say that they who serenely live and are not disturbed by lusts are pure?
Gregorion. Certainly. For these28172817 Matt. v. 8. are they whom God makes gods in the beatitudes; they who believe in Him without doubt. And He says that they shall look upon God with confidence, because they bring in nothing that darkens or confuses the eye of the soul for the beholding of God; but all desire of things secular being eliminated, they not only, as I said, preserve the flesh pure from carnal connection, but even the heart, in which, especially, as in a temple, the Holy Spirit rests and dwells, is open to no unclean thoughts.
Euboulios. Stay now; for I think that from hence we shall the better go on to the discovery of what things are truly the best; and, tell me, do you call anyone a good pilot?
Gregorion. I certainly do.
Euboulios. Whether is it he that saves his vessel in great and perplexing storms, or is it he who does so in a breathless calm?
Gregorion. He that does so in a great and perplexing storm.
Euboulios. Shall we not then say that the soul, which is deluged with the surging waves of the passions, and yet does not, on that account, weary or grow faint, but direct her vessel—that is, the flesh—nobly into the port of chastity, is better and more estimable than he that navigates in calm weather?
Gregorion. We will say so.
Euboulios. For to be prepared against the entrance of the gales of the Evil Spirit, and not to be cast away or overcome, but to refer all to Christ, and strongly to contend against pleasures, brings greater praise than he wins who lives a virgin life calmly and with ease.
Gregorion. It appears so.
Euboulios. And what saith the Lord? Does He not seem to show that he who retains continence, though concupiscent, excels him who, having no concupiscence, leads a virgin life?
Gregorion. Where does He say so?
Euboulios. Where, comparing a wise man to a house well founded, He declares him immoveable because he cannot be overthrown by rains, and floods, and winds; likening, as it would seem, these storms to lusts, but the immoveable and unshaken firmness of the soul in chastity to the rock.
Gregorion. You appear to speak what is true.
Euboulios. And what say you of the physician? Do you not call him the best who has been proved in great diseases, and has healed many patients?
Gregorion. I do.
Euboulios. But the one who has never at any time practised, nor ever had the sick in his hands, is he not still in all respects the inferior?
Euboulios. Then we may certainly say that a soul which is contained by a concupiscent body, and which appeases with the medicaments of temperance the disorders arising from the heat of lusts, carries off the palm for healing, over one to whose lot it has fallen to govern aright a body which is free from lust.28182818 [Recur to what is said of Origen and his epoch on p. 224, vol. iv. of this series.]
Gregorion. It must be allowed.
Euboulios. And how is it in wrestling? Whether is the better wrestler he who has many and strong antagonists, and continually is contending without being worsted, or he who has no opponents?
Gregorion. Manifestly he who wrestles.
Euboulios. And, in wrestling, is not the athlete who contends the more experienced?
Gregorion. It must be granted.
Euboulios. Therefore it is clear that he whose soul contends against the impulses of lust, and is not borne down by it, but draws back and sets himself in array against it, appears stronger than he who does not lust.28192819 [Recur to what is said of Origen and his epoch on p. 224, vol. iv. of this series.]
Euboulios. What then? Does it not appear to you, Gregorion, that there is more courage in being valiant against the assaults of base desires?
Gregorion. Yes, indeed.
Euboulios. Is not this courage the strength of virtue?
Gregorion. Plainly so.
Euboulios. Therefore, if endurance be the strength of virtue, is not the soul, which is troubled by lusts, and yet perseveres against them, stronger than that which is not so troubled?
Euboulios. And if stronger, then better?
Euboulios. Therefore the soul which is concupiscent, and exercises self-control, as appears from what has been said, is better than that which is not concupiscent, and exercises self-control.28202820 [Here is our author’s conclusive condemnation of Origen, whose great mistake, I have supposed, gave occasion to this extraordinary work. Possibly the epoch of Anthony had revived such discussions when this was written.]
Gregorion. You speak truly, and I shall desire still more fully to discourse with you concerning these things. If, therefore, it pleases you, tomorrow I will come again to hear respecting them. Now, however, as you see, it is time to betake ourselves to the care of the outward man.
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