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Testimonies from the Apostle concerning the spirit of accidie.
The blessed Apostle, like a true and spiritual physician, either seeing this disease, which springs from the spirit of accidie, already creeping in, or foreseeing, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, that it would arise among monks, is quick to anticipate it by the healing medicines of his directions. For in writing to the Thessalonians, and at first, like a skilful and excellent physician, applying to the infirmity of his patients the soothing and gentle remedy of his words, and beginning with charity, and praising them in that point, that968968 Quousque is used as equivalent to donec, again in Conf. XXIII. xii. this deadly wound, having been treated with a milder remedy, might lose its angry festering and more easily bear severer treatment, he says: “But concerning brotherly charity ye have no need that I write to you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another. For this ye do toward all the brethren in the whole of Macedonia.”969969 1 Thess. iv. 9, 10. He first began with the soothing application of praise, and made their ears submissive and ready for the remedy of the healing words. Then he proceeds: “But we ask you, brethren, to abound more.” Thus far he soothes them with kind and gentle words; for fear lest he should find them not yet prepared to receive their perfect cure. Why is it that you ask, O Apostle, that they may abound more in charity, of which you had said above, “But concerning brotherly charity we have no need to write to you”? And why is it necessary that you should say to them: “But we ask you to abound more,” when they did not need to be written to at all on this matter? especially as you add the reason why they do not need it, saying, “For you yourselves have been taught of God to love one another.” And you add a third thing still more important: that not only have they been taught of God, but also that they fulfil in deed that which they are taught. “For ye do this,” he says, not to one or two, but “to all the brethren;” and not to your own citizens and friends only, but “in the whole of Macedonia.” Tell us then, I pray, why it is that you so particularly begin with this. Again he proceeds, “But we ask you, brethren, to abound the more.” And with difficulty at last he breaks out into that at which he was driving before: “and that ye take pains to be quiet.” He gave the first aim. Then he adds a second, “and to do your own business;” and a third as well: “and work with your own hands, as we commanded you;” a fourth: “and to walk honestly towards those that are without;” a fifth: “and to covet no man’s goods.” Lo, we can see through that hesitation, which made him with these preludes put off uttering what his mind was full of: “And that ye take pains to be quiet;” i.e., that you stop in your cells, and be not disturbed by rumours, which generally spring from the wishes and gossip of idle persons, and so yourselves disturb others. 269And, “to do your own business,” you should not want to require curiously of the world’s actions, or, examining the lives of others, want to spend your strength, not on bettering yourselves and aiming at virtue, but on depreciating your brethren. “And work with your own hands, as we charged you;” to secure that which he had warned them above not to do; i.e., that they should not be restless and anxious about other people’s affairs, nor walk dishonestly towards those without, nor covet another man’s goods, he now adds and says, “and work with your own hands, as we charged you.” For he has clearly shown that leisure the reason why those things were done which he blamed above. For no one can be restless or anxious about other people’s affairs, but one who is not satisfied to apply himself to the work of his own hands. He adds also a fourth evil, which springs also from this leisure, i.e., that they should not walk dishonestly: when he says: “And that ye walk honestly towards those without.” He cannot possibly walk honestly, even among those who are men of this world, who is not content to cling to the seclusion of his cell and the work of his own hands; but he is sure to be dishonest, while he seeks his needful food; and to take pains to flatter, to follow up news and gossip, to seek for opportunities for chattering and stories by means of which he may gain a footing and obtain an entrance into the houses of others. “And that you should not covet another man’s goods.” He is sure to look with envious eyes on another’s gifts and boons, who does not care to secure sufficient for his daily food by the dutiful and peaceful labour of his hands. You see what conditions, and how serious and shameful ones, spring solely from the malady of leisure. Lastly, those very people, whom in his first Epistle he had treated with the gentle application of his words, in his second Epistle he endeavours to heal with severer and sterner remedies, as those who had not profited by more gentle treatment; and he no longer applies the treatment of gentle words, no mild and kindly expressions, as these, “But we ask you, brethren,” but “We adjure you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly.”970970 2 Thess. iii. 6. There he asks; here he adjures. There is the kindness of one who is persuading; here the sternness of one protesting and threatening. “We adjure you, brethren:” because, when we first asked you, you scorned to listen; now at least obey our threats. And this adjuration he renders terrible, not by his bare word, but by the imprecation of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: for fear lest they might again scorn it, as merely man’s word, and think that it was not of much importance. And forthwith, like a well-skilled physician with festering limbs, to which he could not apply the remedy of a mild treatment, he tries to cure by an incision with a spiritual knife, saying, “that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not according to the tradition which ye received of us.” And so he bids them withdraw from those who will not make time for work, and to cut them off like limbs tainted with the festering sores of leisure: lest the malady of idleness, like some deadly contagion, might infect even the healthy portion of their limbs, by the gradual advance of infection. And when he is going to speak of those who will not work with their own hands and eat their bread in quietness, from whom he urges them to withdraw, hear with what reproaches he brands them at starting. First he calls them “disorderly,” and “not walking according to the tradition.” In other words, he stigmatizes them as obstinate, since they will not walk according to his appointment; and “dishonest,” i.e., not keeping to the right and proper times for going out, and visiting, and talking. For a disorderly person is sure to be subject to all those faults. “And not according to the tradition which they received from us.” And in this he stamps them as in some sort rebellious, and despisers, who scorned to keep the tradition which they had received from him, and would not follow that which they not only remembered that the master had taught in word, but which they knew that he had performed in deed. “For you yourselves know how ye ought to be followers of us.” He heaps up an immense pile of censure when he asserts that they did not observe that which was still in their memory, and which not only had they learned by verbal instruction, but also had received by the incitement of his example in working.
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