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Chapter X.

Not far from the desert, and close to the Nile, there are numerous monasteries. For the most part, the monks there dwell together in companies of a hundred; and their highest rule is to live under the orders of their Abbot, to do nothing by their own inclination, but to depend in all things on his will and authority. If it so happens that any of them form in their minds a lofty ideal of virtue, so as to wish to betake themselves to the desert to live a solitary life, they do not venture to act on this desire except with the permission of the Abbot. In fact, this is the first of virtues in their estimation,—to live in obedience to the will of another. To those who betake themselves to the desert, bread or some other kind of food is furnished by the command of that Abbot. Now, it so happened that, in those days during which I had come thither, the Abbot had sent bread to a certain person who had withdrawn to the desert, and had erected a tent for himself not more than six miles from the monastery. This bread was sent by the hands of two boys, the elder of whom was fifteen, and the younger twelve years of age. As these boys were returning home, an asp of remarkable size encountered them, but they were not the least afraid on meeting it; and moving up to their very feet, as if charmed by some melody, it laid down its dark-green neck before them. The younger of the boys laid hold of it with his hand, and, wrapping it in his dress, went on his way with it. Then, entering the monastery with the air of a conqueror, and meeting with the brethren, while all looked on, he opened out his dress, and set down the imprisoned beast, not without some appearance of boastfulness. But while the rest of the spectators extolled the faith and virtue of the children, 29the Abbot, with deeper insight, and to prevent them at such a tender age from being puffed up with pride, subjected both to punishment. This he did after blaming them much for having publicly revealed what the Lord had wrought through their instrumentality. He declared that that was not to be attributed to their faith, but to the Divine power; and added that they should rather learn to serve God in humility, and not to glory in signs and wonders; for that a sense of their own weakness was better than any vainglorious exhibition of power.

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