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Chapter XXII.

The answer on the way to keep control over abstinence.

Theonas: If we weigh everything that we do, by a reasonable judgment of the mind, and on the purity of our heart always consult not the opinions of other people but our own conscience, that interval for refreshment is sure not to interfere with our proper strictness, if only, as was said, our pure mind impartially considers the right limits of indulgence and abstinence, and fairly checks excess in either, and with real discrimination discerns whether the weight of the delicacies is a burden upon our spirits, or whether too much austerity in abstaining weighs down the other side, i.e., that of the body, and either depresses or raises that side which it sees to be raised or weighed down. For our Lord would have nothing done to His honour and glory without being tempered by judgment, for “the honour of a 512king loveth judgment,”21942194    Ps. xcviii. (xcix.) 4. and therefore Solomon, the wisest of men, urges us not to let our judgment incline to either side, saying: “Honour God with thy righteous labours and offer to Him of the fruits of thy righteousness.”21952195    Prov. iii. 9. For we have residing in our conscience an uncorrupt and true judge who sometimes, when all are wrong, is the only person not deceived as to the state of our purity. And so with all care and pains we should preserve a constant purpose in our circumspect heart for fear lest if the judgment of our discretion goes wrong, we may be fired with the desire for an ill-considered abstinence, or allured by the wish for an excessive relaxation, and so weigh the substance of our strength in the tongue of an unfair balance; but we should place in one of the scales our purity of soul, and in the other our bodily strength, and weigh them both in the true judgment of conscience, so that we may not perversely incline the scale of fairness to either side, either to undue strictness or to excessive relaxation, from the preponderating desire for one or the other, and so have this said to us by reason of excessive strictness or relaxation: “If thou offerest rightly, but dost not divide rightly, hast thou not sinned?”21962196    Gen. iv. 7 (xxx.) For those offerings of fasts, which we thoughtlessly extort by violently tearing our bowels, and fancy that we rightly offer to the Lord, these He execrates who “loves mercy and judgment” saying: “I the Lord love judgment, but I hate robbery in a burnt offering.”21972197    Ps. xxxii. (xxxiii.) 5; Is. lxi. 8. Those also who take the main part of their offerings, i.e., their offices and actions, to benefit the flesh for their own use, but leave the remains of them and a tiny portion for the Lord, these the Divine Word thus condemns as fraudulent workmen: “Cursed is he that doeth the work of the Lord fraudulently.”21982198    Jer. xlviii. 10. It is not then without reason that the Lord reproves him who thus deceives himself by unfair considerations, saying: “But vain are the children of men: the children of men are liars upon the balances that they may deceive.”21992199    Ps. lxi. (lxii.) 10. And therefore the blessed Apostle warns us to keep hold of the reins of discretion and not to be attracted by excess and swerve to either side, saying: “Your reasonable service.”22002200    Rom. xii. 1. And the giver of the law similarly forbids the same thing, saying: “Let the balance be just and the weights equal, the bushel just and the sextarius equal,”22012201    Lev. xix. 36. and Solomon also gives a like opinion on this matter: “Great and small weights and double measures are both unclean before the Lord, and one who uses them shall be hindered in his contrivances.”22022202    Prov. xx. 10, 11. Further not only in the way in which we have said, but also in this must we strive not to have unfair weights in our hearts, nor double measures in the storehouse of our conscience, i.e., not to overwhelm those, to whom we are to preach the word of the Lord, with precepts that are too strict and heavier than we ourselves can bear, while we take for granted that for ourselves those things which have to do with the rule of strictness are to be softened by a freer allowance of relaxation. For when we do this, what is it but to weigh and measure the goods and fruits of the Lord’s commands in a double weight and measure? For if we dispense them in one way to ourselves and in another to our brethren, we are rightly blamed by the Lord because we have unfair balances and double measures, in accordance with the saying of Solomon which tells us that “A double weight is an abomination to the Lord, and a deceitful balance is not good in His sight.”22032203    Ib. 23. In this way also we plainly incur the guilt of using a deceitful weight and a double measure, if out of the desire for the praise of men, we make a show before the brethren of greater strictness than what we practice in private in our own cells, trying to appear more abstinent and holier in the sight of men than in the sight of God, an evil which we should not only avoid but actually loathe. But meanwhile as we have wandered some way from the question before us, let us return to the point from which we started.

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