CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA
THE PERFECT PERSON’S RULE OF LIFE
The perfect person does not only, try to avoid evil. Nor does he do good for fear of punishment, still less in order to qualify for the hope of a promised reward.
The perfect person does good through love.
His actions are not motivated by desire for personal benefit, so he does not have personal advantage as his aim. But as soon as he has realized the beauty of doing good, he does it with all his energies and in all that he does.
He is not interested in fame, or a good reputation, or a human or divine reward.
The rule of life for a perfect person is to be the image and likeness of God.
Clement of Alexandria
Miscellaneous Studies, 4, 22, 135ff. (Stählin II, p.3o8)
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM
THE DOOR THAT OPENS THE WAY TO THE FATHER
Those who believe in one God the Father Almighty ought to believe in his only-begotten Son. Jesus says: ‘I am the door. No one can come to the Father but by me.’ (Jn 10,9; 14,6).
Anyone who does not accept the door cannot possibly reach the Father. Anyone who wishes to pray to the Father should adore the Son, or his prayer is not accepted.
The Son is called Christ, which means anointed, that is consecrated. He was not anointed by human hands but consecrated by the Father to become a priest for ever. He died, but he did not remain, as all human beings do, in the underworld. He is the only one free among the dead.
The Saviour becomes all things to all, according to the need of each: to those who ask for.joy, he becomes the vine; to those who wish to enter, he becomes the door; to those who are under the weight of sin, he becomes a lamb, a lamb slain for them. He becomes all things to all, but he remains nonetheless what he is.
He is called by a twofold name: Jesus because he gives us salvation, and Christ because he is priest.
He is the healer of bodies and the doctor of souls.
As he made whole those who were physically blind, so he gave light to their minds. As he gave the lame the chance to walk, so he urges the steps of sinners in the direction of the way of penitence.
Cyril of Jerusalem
Catecheses, 10, 1ff. (PG53, 660)
EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS
WHAT THE SOUL IS IN THE BODY, CHRISTIANS ARE IN THE WORLD
WHAT the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body; and so are Christians through the cities of the world. The soul indeed dwells in the body, but is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. The soul sojourns as an invisible garrison in the visible body; and Christians are known abiding in the world, but their religion abides invisible. The flesh hates the soul and wars against it, without provocation, because it is hindered in its indulgence in pleasures, and the world without provocation hates Christians because they wage war against its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it and its members, and Christians love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, and it preserves the body, and Christians are kept in the world as in a prison, and they preserve the world.The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians sojourn in the midst of corruptible things, looking for incorruption in the heavens. The soul, injured by meats and drink, is made stronger, and Christians buffeted day by day are even thereby made perfect. For God ordained them to this discipline, which, therefore, it is not lawful For them to, shun.
Epistle to Diognetus
DIADOCHUS OF PHOTICA
THE SECRET OF THE PEACE WE NEED
Those who are engaged in spiritual warfare must always keep their hearts tranquil. Only then can the mind sift the impulses it receives and store in the treasure house of thememory those that are good and come from God, while rejecting altogether those that are perverse and devilish.
When the sea is calm, the fisherman's eyes can see the movements of the fish deep down, so that hardly any of them can escape. But when the sea is ruffled by the wind, the turmoil of the waves hides from sight the creatures that would easily have been seen if the sea wore the smile of calm. The skill of the fisherman is of little use in rough weather.
Something of the same sort happens with the soul, especially when it is stirred to the depths by anger.
At the beginning of a storm, oil is poured on the waters to calm them, and in fact the oil defeats their commotion. In this way, when the soul receives the anointing of the gift of the Holy Spirit, it gladly gives in to this inexpressible and untroubled sweetness. And even if it is continually attacked by temptation it maintains its peace and joy.
Diadochus of Photica Spiritual Works, 23 (SC5b, pp.27ff.)
LOOK AT A PILOT IN A STORM,
or a soldier on the battlefield, or an athlete in the arena. No one can tell what you are capable of, no, not even your own self, unless you are exercised with afflictions of various kinds. There is need of trial in order to become acquainted with oneself. No one has ever learnt what he could do, except by trying. Great men rejoice at times in adversity, just as brave soldiers exult in battle. Virtue is greedy of danger, and thinks of whither it is advancing, not of what it will have to endure, since whatever it endures is a part of its glory. How can I tell what advance you have made in trust towards God, if all things turn out as you desire? How can I tell what courage you have to bear poverty, if you are rolling in riches? How can I tell what constancy you have to endure ignominy, and disgrace, and universal hatred, if you reach old age amid the approbation of all, and pass your life without an enemy? . . . Our trust shines most conspicuously at that time when flowing blood proclaims wounds, when waves beat into the frail ship, when we are encompassed with difficulties: this is the place, and this is the time, for trust.
AT THE GARDEN GATE
‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for training in righteousness.’ 2 Tim. 3:16. The soul therefore gains great advantage from the reading of the Bible.
‘Like a tree planted by streams of water,’ Ps. 1:3 the soul is irrigated by the Bible and acquires vigour, produces tasty fruit, namely, true faith, and is beautified with a thousand green leaves, namely, actions that please God.
The Bible, in fact, leads us towards pure holiness and holy actions. In it we find encouragement to all the virtues and the warning to flee from evil.
The Bible is a scented garden, delightful, beautiful. It enchants our ears with birdsong in a sweet, divine and spiritual harmony, it touches our heart, comforts us in sorrow, soothes us in a moment of anger, and fills us with eternal joy.
Let us knock at its gate with diligence and with perseverance. Let us not be discouraged from knocking. 'I'he latch will be opened.
If we have read a page of the Bible two or three times and have not understood it, let us not be tired of reading it again and meditating on it. Let us seek in the fountain of this garden ‘a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ John 4:14. We shall taste a.joy that will never dry up, because the grace of the Bible garden is inexhaustible.
John Damascene On the Orthodox Faith, 4, 7 (PG94, 1176ff.)
MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR
THE HOLY CHURCH …
includes many people, men, women and children without number. They are all quite different frorn one another, in birth, in size, in nationality and language, in style of living and age, in trades and opinions, in clothes and customs, in knowledge and rank, in welfare and in appearance. They are nonetheless all of them in the selfsame Church. Thanks to her, they are all reborn, newly created in the Spirit. The Church grants to all of them without distinction the grace of belonging in Christ and of taking his name by calling themselves Christians.
Faith, moreover, puts us in a position which is extremely simple, and incapable of separation, in such a way that the differences between us seem not to exist, because everything is gathered together into the Church and reconciled in her.
No one lives alone any more, no one is separated from the others, but all are mutually joined together as brothers and sisters in the simple and indivisible power of faith.
Of the first Church,Scripture says: "The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" Acts 1:32 in such a way that all the many members looked like a single body, truly worthy of Christ himself, our true Head. And speaking of the action of Christ in the Church, the Apostle asserts: "There is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek, neither circumcised nor uncircumcised, neither barbarian nor Scythian, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is all and in all." cf. Gal. 3:~8; Col. 3:11. Christ with the unique power of goodness and with infinite wisdom reunites everything in himself, as the centre from which the rays go out.
Maximus the Confessor
MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR
RIGHT USE NOT MISUSE
It is important to understand the right use of external objects and pictures of them in our imagination.
The reasonable use of them produces for its fruit the virtues of chastity, charity and right knowledge.
Their unreasonable use results in debauchery, hatred and ignorance.
It is through the measure in which we misuse the powers of the soul, namely its desire, emotion, reason, that the vices install themselves: ignorance and folly in the reasoning faculty, hatred and debauchery in the desires and emotions. Their right use, on the contrary, produces right knowledge and prudence, charity and chastity.
Nothing that God has created is in itself bad. Food is not bad, gluttony is; the procreation of children is not bad, lechery is; wealth is not bad, avarice is; glory is not bad, only vainglory is.
So you see nothing is bad in itself, only the misuse of it, which is the soul’s negligence in cultivating its true nature.
Maximus the Confessor Centuries on Charity, 3, 1 (SC9, p.123)
PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA
LIFE IS A DREAM WITH MANY CHANGES OF SCENE
I am not telling a lie: human life is a dream.
In our dreams we look without seeing, we listen, without hearing, we taste and touch without tasting or touching, we speak without saying anything, we wa1k without moving. We seem to be moving normally even though we stay still and to be making our habitual gestures even though we are not. The mind invents realities that are entirely imaginary.
When we are awake, our thoughts are like these dreams. They come and go. They meet and part. They fly away before we can catch them.
Nor is our body any different from a dream. Is not its beauty likely to go rotten before it is ripe? Is not its health continually being threatened with illness? How little it takes to destroy its strength! How easily its senses deterioiate!
Our careers are no less precarious. Often a single day is enough to scatter a great work to the winds. Many people who are held in respect and honour with a sudden change of events fall into disgrace. The greatest kingdoms on earth have been destroyed in a short time.
If we have so many changes of scene in life, and so many dark experiences, we ought to learn to distinguish what is virtuous from what is base, what is good from what is bad, what is just from what is unjust.
I give you an example of what I mean. Do you possess a lot of money? If so, give it away because the beauty of riches consists not in money-boxes but in helping the poor. Are you short of money? Be careful not to envy the rich. And do not despair, because human affairs are always changing into their opposites.y
Philo of Alexandria, Thesaurus Patrum VII.
PROCLUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE
IF CHRIST HAD NOT BEEN BORN OF WOMAN…
A God who was nor only God, and a man who was not simply man, was born of woman.
By being born he formed the gate of salvation from what had at one time been the way in for sin. Where in fact the serpent by exploiting human disobedience had infused his poison, there the Word entered through obedience and built a living temple. From the womb of a woman had come forth the original son of sin, Cain; and £rom the womb of a woman, without seed, there came into the light the Christ, the redeemer of the human race.
Let us not be ashamed that he was born of a woman. That.birth was for us the beginning of salvation.
If Christ had not been born of woman, he would not have died either, and would not "by death have destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." - Heb. 2:14.
Proclus of Constantinople, Homily on the Mother of God (PG6S, 679ff.)
Inside us evil is at work suggesting unworthy inclinations. However, it is not in us in the same way as, to take an example, water mixes with wine. Evil is in us without being mixed with good.
We are a field in which wheat and weeds are growing separately. We are a house in which there is a thief, but also the owner. We are a spring which rises from the middle of the mud, but pours out pure water.
All the same, it is enough to stir up the mud and the spring is fouled. It is the same with the soul. If the evil is spread, it forms a unity with the soul and makes it dirty. With our consent, evil is united with the soul; they become accomplices.
Yet there comes a moment when the soul can free itself and remain separate again: in repentance, contrition, prayer, recourse to God. The soul could not benefit from these habits if it were always sunk in evil.
It is like marriage. A woman is united with a man and they become one flesh. But when one of them dies, the other is left alone.
But union with the Holy Spirit is complete. So let us become a single spirit with him. Let us be wholly absorbed by grace.
Pseudo-Marcarius Homily 16, 1 (PG34, 613)
SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS
IF YOU THINK YOU ARE HUMBLE THAT MEANS YOU ARE NOT
A monk said: "Every time you feel a sense of superiority or a touch of vanity, examine your conscience. Ask yourself if you are keeping all the commandments, if you are loving your enemies and weeping for their faults, if you consider yourself an unprofitable servant and the worst sinner in the world. But even after this examination of conscience, do not take too high an opinion of yourself as if you were perfect: such an idea would wreck everything!"
Another monk said: "Whoever is praised and honoured more than is deserved suffers a great loss, while the one who does not receive honours from others will be glorified in heaven."
People asked a monk: "What is humility?" He replied: "Humility is if a brother or sister sins against you and you forgive them before they come to ask you to."
A brother asked a monk: "What is humility?" The monk said: "To do good to whoever does evil to us." The brother insisted: "And if one does not achieve as much?" The monk's reply was: "Then go away and try to keep your mouth shut."
Sayings of the Desert Fathers,nos. 165ff. (PG65)
HUMANITY AS WITNESS TO THE UNKNOWN
When we consider how human beings are made, we are filled with wonder at the wisdom of the Creator that is revealed in us.
Suffice it to observe the different functions of the senses which all stem from one centre, the brain, and report back to it all sorts of perceptions: sight, smell, taste, touch…, and also to observe the other organs of the body both internal and external; and the memory, that recalls numerous disparate elements without confusing or altering them; and the number of thoughts which do not cancel each other out but reappear at the right moment.
We cannot refrain from exclaiming with the Psalmist: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, O Lord: it is high, I cannot attain it." (Ps. 139, 6)
In fact, no one will ever succeed in explaining completely the harmony that is displayed in our bodies or the subtlety that is apparent in our soul. Innumerable thinkers have written on this point. Even so, what has been said is but a small part of what remains to be said, for human reason cannot attain to divine wisdom.
So this is the Psalmist’s attitude: he praises God for what he understands but confesses himself overwhelmed by it; it is not possible for him to encompass all the marvels which are to be seen in humanity.
Such an admission is in itself an appropriate hymn of praise.
The Cure of Pagan Diseases,5, 81 (SC57, p.252)
AS THE EYE NEEDS LIGHT
To see visible objects we need the eyes of the body.
To understand intelligible truths we need the eyes of the mind.
To have the vision of divine things we cannot do without faith.
What the eye is for the body, faith is for reason.
To be more precise: the eye needs the light which puts it in contact with visible things; reason needs faith to show it divine things.
Theodoret The Cure of Pagan Diseases, I, 78 (SC57, 124)
LET EVERY DAY BE LOVE’S CHRISTMAS
In the Song of Songs the Brid.e, that is the Church, cries to her maidens, that is to humanity: ‘I adjure you, daughters!’ [Song of Songs, 2,7] Why ever does she adjure the maidens? I adjure you, daughters: waken my love, and make him arise.’It is as though the Bride were saying: ‘How long is love asleep in you? In me love is not asleep, for I am wounded by love. But in you, in you love for your spouse, for Christ, this love is asteep.
‘I adjure you: waken the love which is in you, and after you have woken it make it rise up!
‘When the Creator of all things created you, he planted in your hearts the seeds of love. But now in you love is asleep.'
The Word of God is asleep in those who do not believe and in all those of doubtful Heart, while it is awake in the saints. It sleeps in those who are shaken by storms, but it awakes the moment they cry out those who want to be saved and who are looking for this to waken their spouse:
When he is asleep there is tempest, death and despair. The moment he is awake, peace returns. The raging of the waters is hushed. He commands the adverse winds and the wrath of the waves falls silent.
Origen Homily on the Song of Songs, 2, 9 (SC37, 96ff.)
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