Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

Fifty Spiritual Homilies Of Saint Macarius The Egyptian

THE name of Macarius (= “Blessed”) was a common one among the Christians of the fourth and following centuries, especially in Egypt. Two men of the name stand out as twin giants of the ascetic life of that age and country. They are distinguished from each other as Macarius the Egyptian and Macarius the Alexandrian. An “Egyptian” means one who belonged to the ancient race of Egypt—a “Copt”; an Alexandrian means one who belonged to the Greek colony planted in that city. The two were friends and nearly contemporaries, though the Alexandrian was somewhat the younger. The Egyptian Macarius was born about the year 300.

Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis, friend of St. Chrysostom, and historian of the religious life of the wilderness, begins his account of the two by saying that he hesitates to relate what he has to say of them, lest he should be thought a liar, so great and wonderful was their history. Palladius was not personally acquainted with the Egyptian. He says that he knew the Alexandrian, but that the other died a year before his own entrance into the Nitrian desert, which was about the year 390. But he was familiar with the locality, and with the people who knew the great ascetic.

“First,” he says, “I will speak of the Egyptian, who lived to the age of ninety years. Sixty of these he spent in the desert, having retired to it as a young man of thirty. He was gifted with such discernment as to be called ‘Age-in-Youth,’ because he made such swift progress. At the age of forty he received the grace of conquering evil spirits, and of healings and predictions. He was also admitted to the priesthood.”

Palladius proceeds to relate instances of the exercise of these gifts.

“Two disciples accompanied him into the inner desert, called Scetis. One of them served him close at hand, because of those who came to be cured; the other studied in an adjoining cell. In process of time Macarius had a prophetic vision, and said to the man who served him, whose name was John, ‘Hearken to me, brother John, and bear with my admonition. Thou art in temptation; and the spirit of covetousness tempts thee. I have seen it; and I know that if thou bearest with me, thou wilt be perfected in this place, and wilt be glorified, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. But if thou shalt neglect to hear me, upon thee shall come the end of Gehazi, with whose disease thou art afflicted.’ It came to pass after the death of Macarius, indeed fifteen or twenty years after, that he neglected the warning. He used for himself what belonged to the poor, and was so covered with elephantiasis that no whole spot could be found on his body on which a finger could be put. This was the prophecy of Macarius … [Macarius] was said to be continually in trance, and to spend far more time with God than in things below.”

Palladius then tells a curious story of a man whose wife had been bewitched and turned to all appearance into a mare. The man bridled her and took her to Macarius. The brethren standing near the cell rebuked him for bringing the animal; but Macarius said to them, “Horses you are, and have horses’ eyes. It is a woman, and only transformed to the eyes of those who are deceived.”

“And he blessed water,” the narrative continues, “and poured it over the naked woman’s head, and prayed over her, and immediately made her appear a woman to everybody. Then he gave her some food, and made her eat it, and sent her away, thanking the Lord, in her own husband’s company. And he gave her this advice: ‘Never miss going to church. Never be away from communion. This happened to you because for five weeks you had not gone to the mysteries.’

“Another feature of his asceticism. He made an underground passage from his cell, half a furlong in length, and constructed a cave at the end of it. This took him a long time. If too many people troubled him, he would slip secretly out of the cell, and go into the cave, where nobody could find him. One of his devoted disciples told me the story, and said that on the way to the cave he would say four-and-twenty prayers, and four-and-twenty on the way back.”

Palladius adds that he was said to have brought a dead man back to life, in order to convince some one who would not believe in the resurrection; and that on one occasion he healed a boy of strangely disordered appetite, which was attributed to a particular species of devil. When the affliction stopped, Macarius asked the mother how much she wished the boy to eat. She answered, “Ten pounds of bread.” Macarius told her it was too much; and, fasting and praying over him for a week, he allowed him to eat three pounds, and sent him back to work.

Palladius had been the disciple of Evagrius Ponticus, who had in turn been a disciple to the two Macarii. The account of these two masters given by Evagrius himself has been in part incorporated by Socrates in the fourth book of his Ecclesiastical History. Socrates adds to what we have learned from Palladius that Macarius the Egyptian was a native of “Upper” Egypt, and that with all his piety he was somewhat austere in his dealings with those who resorted to him. This is doubtless recorded on the authority of Evagrius. Evagrius, in a fragment preserved by Socrates, relates one or two incidents in his intercourse with the master. He says:—

“That chosen vessel, the aged Macarius of Egypt, once asked me how it is that in remembering the wrongs done to us by men we ruin our powers of memory, but take no harm by remembering the wrongs done by devils. I was at a loss for an answer, and begged him to tell me the reason. He answered, ‘It is because the former is contrary to nature; the latter is in accordance with our mental constitution.’ When I first met with this holy father, Macarius, it was the very height of noon, and I was burning with excessive heat, and I asked for some water to drink. He answered, ‘Be content with the shade. There are many people travelling now, by land or by sea, who have not even that.’ Then, when I was discussing self-discipline with him, he said, ‘Be of good courage, my child. For twenty years without a break I have never had as much food, or drink, or sleep, as I liked. My bread I have eaten by weight, and my water by measure; and I have snatched a little sleep, leaning against the wall.’ ”

In the year 373—the year in which the great Athanasius died—this peaceful life of the wilderness was rudely invaded. The Emperor Valens knew that the ascetics of the Nitrian desert formed a great stronghold of the Athanasian belief, and determined to break it up. Orders were given for the expulsion of Macarius the Egyptian and Macarius the Alexandrian, “the fathers of the monks.”

“These two were banished to an island which had no Christian inhabitant. In the island there happened to be a temple, and a priest in it whom all the people revered as a god. When the two men of God came to the island, all the demons there were in confusion and terror. The following incident occurred at that very time. The priest’s daughter was suddenly possessed by a devil and went mad. She overthrew everything. She was uncontrollable, and could not by any means be kept quiet, but shouted at the top of her voice, and said to those men of God, ‘Why have you come to drive us hence also?’ The men showed once more in that place the special work which they had received of the grace of God. They expelled the devil from the maiden, and gave her over to her father in good health, and brought both the priest and all those who lived there in the island to the faith of Christianity. They immediately cast out the images, transformed the appearance of the sanctuary into the character of a church, and were baptized and instructed in everything belonging to Christianity with rejoicing. Thus those wonderful men, when banished for the faith of the One Substance, were themselves the more approved, and saved others also, and made the faith yet more sure.”

A few more particulars about Macarius may be gathered from the ancient collections of Apophthegms of the Fathers, printed by Migne in the same volume with the works of Macarius, but it is not always possible to be sure that the Macarius referred to is the great Egyptian, nor whether the anecdotes have any historical foundation.

One of them gives, as from Macarius himself, the account of his withdrawal into the desert of Scetis. When he was a young man, he had settled himself in a cell in some part of Egypt, and the people of the place seized him and made him their clericus. Not wishing to undertake the duty, he removed to another spot, where a pious man, who had not renounced the world, attached himself to him and helped him in the basket-making by which he earned his livelihood. It happened that a girl in the village had fallen into sin, and alleged that she had been seduced by “the anchorite.” “Then they came out and took me into the village, and hung sooty kitchen pots round my neck, and handles of broken wine-jars, and paraded me round every quarter of the village, beating me and saying, ‘This monk has seduced our girl. Have him, have him.’ They beat me nearly to death. One of the old men came and said, ‘How long will you go on beating the strange monk?’ The man who served me was following behind me with shame, for they were insulting him much and saying, ‘Look at this anchorite whose part you took; what has he done?’ The girl’s parents said, ‘We shall not let him off till he gives us a surety for her maintenance’; and I told my helper, and he became surety for me. When I got to my cell, I gave him all the baskets I had, saying, ‘Sell them, and give my wife to eat.’ And I said to my mind, ‘Macarius, see, thou hast found thyself a wife; thou must work a bit harder to support her’; and I worked night and day, and gave it her.” When the time came for the birth of the child, the girl confessed that she had been lying, and wanted all the village to go to him to make amends. “And when I heard that, not to be troubled with the men, I arose and fled into the Scetis here. That was the original cause of my coming hither.”

Another anecdote relates that Macarius one day came from Scetis to the Nitrian hills, to attend the celebration of the eucharist by the abbot Pambo. “And the old man said, ‘Speak a word to the brethren, father.’ He answered, ‘I have not yet become a monk, though I have seen monks. Once as I was sitting in my cell at Scetis, my thoughts troubled me, saying, Go into the desert, and see what you shall see there. I stayed fighting with the thought five years, saying, Perhaps it comes from demons. But when the thought persisted, I went into the desert, and found there a lake of water, and an island in the middle of it; and the beasts of the desert came to drink of it; and among them I saw two naked men; and my body was afraid, for I thought they were spirits. But when they saw me afraid, they spoke to me: Fear not; we too are men. And I said to them, Whence are ye, and how came ye into this desert? And they said, We belong to a convent, and we made an agreement and came out hither, now forty years ago. One of us is an Egyptian, the other a Libyan. And they asked me, saying, How is the world? and does the water [of the Nile] come in its season, and has the world its plenty? I said, Yes; and I asked them, How can I become a monk? and I said to them, I am weak, and cannot do like you. And they said to me, And if you cannot do like us, sit in your cell and weep for your sins. And I asked them, When winter comes, are ye not cold? and when the hot weather comes, are not your bodies burned? But they said, It was God who made this ordinance for us, and we are neither cold in winter, nor does the heat in summer hurt us. So, as I said, I have not yet become a monk, but I have seen monks. Forgive me, brethren.’ ”

“Some of the fathers once asked the abbot Macarius the Egyptian, ‘How is it that whether you eat or whether you fast, your body is dry?’ The aged man answered, ‘The stick which pokes the faggots in the fire gets eaten throughout with the fire; so, if a man cleanses his mind with the fear of God, the fear of God itself eats up his body.’ ”

“They said that the abbot Macarius the Egyptian, going up from Scetis with a load of baskets, was so tired that he sat down and prayed, saying, ‘O God, Thou knowest that I cannot’; and immediately he was found at the river.”

“It is said that two brethren at Scetis went wrong, and the abbot Macarius the City Man [i. e. the Alexandrian] expelled them. Certain men came and told the great abbot, Macarius the Egyptian. He said, ‘They are not expelled; it is Macarius that is expelled.’ For he loved him. The abbot Macarius heard that he had been expelled by the old man, and fled to the marsh. So the great abbot Macarius went out, and found him bitten by the mosquitoes, and said to him, ‘Thou didst expel the brethren, and they had to retire to the village. I expelled thee, and thou fleddest hither like a pretty maiden to her chamber. I called the brethren, and enquired of them, and they assured me that they had not done the thing. Take heed, brother, that thou be not mocked of devils; for thou sawest nothing. Do penance for thy fault.’ He answered, ‘If thou wilt, give me a penance.’ The old man, seeing his humility, said, ‘Go, and fast for three weeks, eating once a week,’ knowing that this was his constant practice, to fast all the week days.”

“A brother once met abbot Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, ‘Abba, say something to me that I may be saved.’ The old man said, ‘Go to the burying-ground and revile the dead.’ The brother went, and reviled them, and threw stones at them, and came and reported to the old man. He said to him, ‘Did they not answer thee?’ He said, ‘No.’ The old man said, ‘Go again to-morrow and praise them.’ So the brother went, and praised them, calling them apostles, and saints, and righteous men, and came to the old man, and said, ‘I praised them.’ And he said to him, ‘Did they make no answer?’ The brother said, ‘No.’ The old man said, ‘Thou knowest how much thou didst insult them, and they answered nothing, and how much thou didst praise them, and they spake nothing to thee. If thou wouldest be saved, become thou dead like them. Reck nothing of the wrongs done by men, nor of their praise, any more than the dead do; and thou mayest be saved.’ ”

“Once as the abbot Macarius was passing through Egypt with some brethren, he heard a child say to his mother, ‘Amma, a rich man loves me, and I hate him; and a poor man hates me, and I love him.’ The abbot Macarius wondered when he heard it. The brethren said to him, ‘What was there to wonder at in the saying, father?’ The old man said to them, ‘Truly, our Lord is rich and loves us, and we will not listen to Him; but our enemy the devil is poor and hates us, and we love his uncleanness.’ ”

“Once upon a time, the abbot Macarius visited the abbot Antony, and after conversing with him returned to Scetis. The fathers came out to meet him, and as they talked, the old man said to them, ‘I told the abbot Antony that we have no offering [of the eucharist] in our place.’ And the fathers began to talk of other things, and did not enquire of the old man what he had answered; and the old man did not tell them. One of the fathers has said that when fathers see that the brethren do not ask them questions about a thing that would do them good, they constrain themselves to begin the subject, but if the brethren then do not constrain them [to continue], they say no more, that they may not be found like those who speak when no one asks them, and the conversation is only froth.”

“The abbot Vitimius related that the abbot said: Once, as I sat at Scetis, two young strangers came down there. One had a beard, the other the beginnings of a beard. They came to me, saying, ‘Where is the cell of abbot Macarius?’ And I said, ‘What do you want with him?’ They said, ‘We have heard of him and of Scetis, and we came to see him.’ I said, ‘I am he.’ And they begged pardon, saying, ‘We wish to stay here.’ Seeing that they looked delicately nurtured, and as if they came from a home of wealth, I said to them, ‘You cannot settle here.’ The elder of them said, ‘If we cannot settle here, we must go elsewhere.’ I said to my own thoughts, ‘Why should I persecute them and be a cause of offence to them? The difficulties will soon make them run away of themselves.’ And I said to them, ‘Come, make yourselves a cell, if you can.’ They said, ‘Show us a place, and we will make one.’ The old man gave them a hatchet, and a wrap full of bread, and some salt, and showed them a hard piece of rock, saying, ‘Quarry here, and fetch yourselves wood from the marsh, and make a thatch, and settle.’ I thought to myself, he said, that they would take themselves off because of the labour. But they asked me, what they should work at here. I said, ‘Plaiting,’ and I took palm leaves from the marsh, and showed them how to start a plait, and how to sew them up, and said, ‘Make your baskets, and give them to the guards, and they will bring you bread.’ Then I went away. But they patiently did all that I had told them, and they never came to me for three years. And I remained wrestling with my thoughts, saying, How then are they getting on with their business, that they have not come to ask advice? Those from afar come to me, but these who are near have never come. Nor did they go to others. They only went to church, in silence, to receive the offering. And I prayed to God, with a week of fasting, to show me their business; and after the week I arose and went to them, to see how they were situated. When I knocked, they opened, and greeted me in silence, and I said a prayer and sat down. And the elder beckoned to the younger to go out, and sat down to weave his plait without saying a word. And at the hour of none he knocked, and the younger came, and made a little gruel, and at a sign from the elder he set a table, and put on it three biscuits, and stood in silence. Then I said, ‘Rise, let us eat’; and we stood and ate; and he brought the water-bowl, and we drank. When evening came, they said to me, ‘Art thou going?’ I said, ‘No, I will sleep here.’ And they laid me a mat by myself apart, and another for themselves in a corner, and they took off their girdles, and their wrappers, and laid themselves down together on their mat before me. When they were laid down, I prayed to God to show me their business; and the roof was opened, and it became as light as day, but they did not see the light. And when they thought that I was asleep, the elder touched the younger one on the side, and they got up, and girded themselves, and stretched their hands towards heaven. And I saw them, without their seeing me. And I beheld the devils coming at the younger one like flies: some attempted to settle on his mouth, and some on his eyes; and I beheld an angel of the Lord holding a sword of fire, and making a rampart round him, and driving off the devils. They could not get near the elder. About daybreak they lay down, and I made as though I awoke, and they likewise. The elder said to me this and no more, ‘Wouldest thou that we should say the twelve psalms?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And the younger sang five psalms of six verses and an Alleluia, and at each verse a torch of fire came out of his mouth and went up to heaven. Likewise when the elder opened his mouth to sing, there came out like a cable of fire and reached to heaven. I also repeated a little by heart; and as I went out I said, ‘Pray for me.’ They bowed to me in silence. So I knew that the elder one was perfect, but that the enemy was still warring with the younger. A few days later, the elder brother fell asleep; and on the third day after, the younger; and when some of the fathers visited the abbot Macarius, he took them to their cell, saying, ‘Come, see the martyrdom of the little strangers.’ ”

“The abbot Paphnutius, the disciple of the abbot Macarius, related that the old man said, ‘When I was a boy, I was tending calves with the other boys, and they went to steal figs; and as they ran, one of the figs dropped, and I picked it up and ate it; and when I remember it, I sit and weep.’ ”

“They related of abbot Macarius the Egyptian, that one day he was going up from Scetis to the Nitrian hills, and when he drew near the place, he said to his disciple, ‘Go a little in front.’ And as he walked in front, he met a certain heathen priest, and the brother called out to him, crying, ‘Aha, devil, where art thou running?’ The man turned, and beat him well, and left him half killed, and took up his stick and ran. When he got a little further, the abbot Macarius met him, and said to him, ‘Salvation to thee, weary one.’ Surprised at this, the man came to him and said, ‘What good sawest thou in me, that thou didst accost me?’ The old man said to him, ‘Because I saw thee tired, and thou knowest not that thy labour is in vain.’ The other said to him, ‘And I was touched by thy salutation, and saw that thou art on God’s side; but another bad monk met me and insulted me, and I beat him to death.’ And the old man knew that it was his disciple. Then the priest seized him by the feet and said, ‘I will not leave thee till thou makest a monk of me.’ Then they went up to where the monk was, and they carried him, and brought him into the church of the hill. And when they saw the priest with him, they were astonished; and they made him a monk, and many of the heathens became Christians because of him. Therefore the abbot Macarius said that a bad word makes even good people bad, but a good word turns bad people into good.”

Such was the man. It was hardly to be expected that he would prove to be a great writer. Neither Evagrius nor Palladius makes mention of any literary work of his. Gennadius, who about a hundred years later composed a little book of biographical notices of Christian authors, knew of “only one epistle” of Macarius, addressed “to younger men of his profession,” in which he taught that by continual striving against everything that is agreeable in this life, together with prayer to God, it is possible to gain a kind of natural purity, to which self-restraint becomes easy. This epistle cannot now with certainty be identified. As a matter of fact, a considerable number of epistles and other short writings exist, either in Greek or in Syriac and other translations, which are ascribed to Macarius. Of their genuineness it is not necessary here to dispute. It is quite possible that at least one prayer contained in Migne’s edition of his works is really his.

The ascription of our Homilies to Macarius the Egyptian rests upon no external evidence. It rests only upon the manuscripts containing them and the internal evidence which they present. That internal evidence has been well drawn out by Bishop Gore in the Journal of Theological Studies, vol. viii. p, 85 ff., and is shown to accord with the date and circumstances of Macarius. The author is one who has known men who suffered in the great persecution, the persecution of Diocletian, which began in 303 (Hom. XXVII. 15). The wars from which he draws his illustrations are those between the Roman and the Persian empires, still equal rivals for dominion (Hom. XV. 46, XXVII. 22). There are no signs of the Nestorian controversy having come into Egypt. The scenery is exactly that of the Egypt of the fourth century, with its educational system (Hom. XV. 42), its nomenclature for the months (Hom. V. 9, cp. XLVII. 7), its collectors of customs-duties, worse there than anywhere, lying in wait to pounce upon wayfarers like devils on bad men when they die (Hom. XLIII. 9), particularly of the Egypt of the desert and its special temptations, its belief in angels and devils, its sometimes quaint, sometimes (we may hope) misleading reminiscences or imaginations of the secular life which had been left behind, its spiritual ambitions.

It is, however, difficult to make sure whether Macarius himself wrote the Homilies down in their present form. That they represent addresses actually delivered appears clearly. Passages from the Apophthegmata above quoted show that Macarius was often invited to “speak a word,” to “say something,” to monks whom he visited. These Homilies are for the most part such as might well have been delivered on occasions of the kind. The fervour and directness of the appeal in most of them does not suggest composition in the cell, with no concrete hearers in view. And many of them consist largely in questions and answers. The questions are often only remotely connected with the subject with which the Homily begins. It appears as if the enquirer had long been bursting with his question, and seized the opportunity of the great teacher’s visit, irrespective of the matter in hand. Some disciple skilled in shorthand has taken notes of what passed, and thrown them into the form of a “Homily,” which means, strictly, a conversation. Yet, on the other hand, the last of the fifty Homilies concludes by describing either that Homily itself or the whole collection as being of the nature of an “epistle,” addressed to a body of well-disposed readers. In the Bodleian MS., as a kind of title to the collection, occur the words “First Epistle of our holy father Macarius the Egyptian to the Abbot Symeon of Mesopotamia of Syria,” and the seven additional Homilies, first printed by Mr. Marriott in 1918, are prefaced in that MS. and in its daughter at Holkham by the words, “A Second Epistle of the same divine monk our father Macarius to the Abbot Symeon, the ascetic of Mesopotamia of Syria, and to the rest of the brethren that are with him.” It has even been contended that the fifty Homilies are the “one epistle” of which Gennadius knew. As the “second epistle” undoubtedly contains matter belonging to a date later than the death of Macarius, it might have been conjectured that both collections were put together in the fifth century by a disciple of the great abbot, and sent, with an interval of time between them, to the Syrian ascetic. But the first Homily of the second collection begins in proper letter form, “Macarius to the beloved and like-minded brethren in the Lord. Peace be multiplied unto you exceeding abundantly from the Lord,” etc. Macarius must therefore himself have sent the collections in some form or other to his correspondents. How the later matter got into the second collection need not concern us at present. The fifty Homilies contain no such perplexing element. They are homogeneous in form, thought, and style, and there appears to be nothing in them inconsistent with their attribution to the great Egyptian. At the same time, it is possible that some of the prolixities and unnecessary repetitions which occasionally mar the artistic effect of the Homilies may be due to the hand of Symeon Metaphrastes, or whoever it was that inserted into his collection the fourth of the seven new Homilies. Perhaps it was the same hand which threw the material which he found into the form of the present fifty. Some of the fifty are so long that they could hardly have been delivered as they stand, while others are so short as to appear to be fragments. Some have so little internal cohesion that they might well have been made up of disjointed pieces, or be the result of a succession of “questions” which are not recorded in the MSS. as we now have them. The headings of the Homilies may be the work of the same editor. But in spite of these defects of form the Homilies as a whole bear the stamp of individuality, and proceed from a master mind.

The Homilies are well described as “spiritual” Homilies. That is their purpose and their character. They are not dogmatic; they are not controversial; they are not expository; they are not concerned with the politics or the expansion of the church; they have little to say about the Christian’s duty to his fellow-men. There is a strange aloofness about them. The struggles of the Nicene faith against Arianism, the last struggle of Paganism against Christianity under Julian, the Meletian schism which rent the church of Egypt in twain, wake no echo in them. They have but one object, to help to bring individual souls to God in perfect self-subdual and absolute devotion.

The persons to whom they are addressed are all monks Macarius can, indeed, contemplate the possibility of people in the world being saved. Saints of God, he says, may be found sitting in the theatres, apparently looking on at the performance, while their hearts are holding intercourse with God (XV. 8, cp. XXIX. 1). It is part of Christian perfection to pass no judgment upon those who remain in the world, not even upon those whose lives are notoriously bad (XVIII. 8, cp. XLII. 2). But to Macarius and those to whom he speaks it is the obvious and only natural thing, that when a man hears the word of God, he should forsake the world as they themselves had done, and withdraw to the wilderness. The call of the Gospel can scarcely take any other form (XI. 6 ff.). Christian and monk are almost convertible terms (XXXVIII. 1). For a system of social ethics a man must go to some other teacher than Macarius. God and the soul, the soul and God—this is his topic.

Even about God Macarius does not give much direct teaching. He rather assumes that his hearers know the truth, and only need to apply it. “God is infinite and incomprehensible” (XVI. 5), and is therefore even “in” hell, “in” Satan: to exclude Him would be to limit Him. Macarius labours to explain, when questioned, how this can be. His doctrine of the relation between the Divine Persons is wholly that of Athanasius, though it is implied rather than taught. Once the great key-word is used, in passing, in an ascription: “Glory to the consubstantial Trinity for ever” (XVII. 15). That the Son is all that this word implies is seen from the way in which Macarius passes from the one Person to the other, so that sometimes it is not easy to say at once which he is speaking of. He dwells with delight upon the Incarnation, which brought God within man’s reach. “The infinite, inaccessible, uncreated God, through His infinite and inconceivable kindness, embodied Himself, and, if I may say so, diminished Himself from His inaccessible glory, to make it possible for Him to be united with His visible creatures” (IV. 9 ff.). It was the outcome of a charity and a compassion which extends to all mankind. The Lord wills to beget all men anew of the seed of His Godhead, and is grieved if they will not come to the new birth, after all that He suffered for them (XXX. 2 ff.). “God and the holy angels are in tears” over such souls (I. 11). The mode of the Incarnation was full of significance: “instead of bringing with Him a body from heaven, the Lord made a new thing from the Ever-Virgin Mary, and put this on” (XI. 9). In it He endured unlimited humiliation: “the Lord Himself, who is the Way, and is God, when He came for thy sake, not for His own … see to what humiliation He came.… When they spat in His face, and put on Him the crown of thorns … God for thy sake humbled Himself” (XXVI. 25 ff.). His manhood was no fiction. If at one time Macarius seems to attribute Christ’s overthrow of Satan to His divine immunity to evil (XXVI. 15), at another he takes a deeper view: as the serpent overcame Adam by pride and self-esteem, so “Christ took upon Him the form of a servant and conquered the devil by humility” (XXVII. 5). Macarius makes no attempt to formulate a doctrine of the Atonement. It is enough for him that Christ’s death is a conquest of death, because death had no claim upon Him, as it has upon us (XI. 10); that we are saved by it like the bird in the Law which was dipped in the blood of its fellow (XLVII. 2), or the Israelites whose houses were sealed by the blood of the Passover (XLVII. 8). There is no salvation except in Christ. This is everywhere the doctrine of Macarius: with true evangelical fervour he returns again and again to the cry, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (e.g. XXVIII. 6). Yet it is not to what Christ once did for us that Macarius most characteristically turns, but to what He is, to what He is now. He exhausts the power of language to set this forth: “Himself in thee made all things—Paradise, Tree of Life, pearl, crown, builder, husbandman, sufferer, incapable of suffering, man, God, wine and living water, lamb, bridegroom, warrior, armour, Christ all in all” (XXXI. 4). His teaching of the person and work of the Spirit is rich and abundant, but presents no novelty. Once there appears a trace of the primitive (but not scriptural) identification of the Holy Spirit with the as yet not incarnate Word (XII. 6. ff). Frequently, like the New Testament itself, Macarius passes from the action of the Spirit to that of Christ, or from the action of Christ to that of the Spirit, without noting the transition. It is not that he is unaware of the difference; but for the moment the mode of the divine operation does not concern him. What the Spirit does, God does.

The aloofness of these Homilies extends even to the church and its ordinances. Not that Macarius despises them. In one place he speaks of Peter as having succeeded Moses and Aaron—and Caiaphas—as trustee of “Christ’s new church and the true priesthood”; but it is in order to show that even such an one, so long as he is in the flesh, has reason to fear lest he should fail (XXVI. 23). Once he refers to resorting “to the place of prayer”; but it is to insist that the Christian ought to “have the remembrance of God” quite as much with him when walking, or eating, or talking (XLIII. 3). That he valued the reception of the holy eucharist is certain from the story told by Palladius of the woman who had laid herself open to bewitchment by going for five weeks without it (p. vii). When asked to explain what it was that eye had not seen, nor ear heard, till Christianity came, he answers among other things that the Old Testament saints never knew “that in the church bread and wine should be offered, the symbol of [the Redeemer’s] flesh and blood, and that those who partake of the visible bread eat spiritually the flesh of the Lord” (XXVII. 17). But there is nothing in these Homilies like the wonderful Fourth Book of the Imitatio Christi. In general, when Macarius speaks of Christ as the bread of life, the reference is mystical, not sacramental. “The Lord,” he says, “embodies Himself even in meat and drink”; but He makes Himself “meat” for the refreshment of the faithful in the same sense as He becomes a well of water springing up within them (IV. 12). Baptism, like the eucharist, is one of the peculiar glories of Christianity; but it is the “baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” (XXVII. 17), of which the sacrament of baptism—no doubt through the fault of the recipients—often falls deplorably short. Here is the appeal to facts. “If you say … that after baptism evil is no more at liberty to argue in the heart, do you not know that from the advent of the Lord to this day all that have been baptized have had bad thoughts at times?… All the worldly people dwelling within the pale of the church, are their hearts spotless and pure?” (XV. 14). The seal, the unction, which form a part of the initiatory sacrament of the church, are represented in these Homilies only by their spiritual counterparts. We must seek “to have the brand and seal of the Lord upon us” (XII. 13). If the anointing oil under the Old Testament made men kings, how much more profit is there in the only unction for which Macarius seems to care, the unction of the inner man with the Holy Ghost the Comforter (XVII. 1, cp. XV. 35). It has been well pointed out by a modern teacher of the religion of experience that St. Paul nowhere appeals “to the man already in Christ to seek the baptism of the Spirit.” But this is what Macarius does again and again. To find the new birth, to become a Christian, to be made a child of God, to receive the gift of the Spirit, this is the object of every effort. It is not the equipment with which a man under the gospel starts on his career towards perfection; it is the crowning grace which perfects him after he has passed faithfully through a thousand temptations and years of self-mastery (e.g. IX. 10, 13; XI. 6), to be sought by incessant prayer.

In a life such as Macarius contemplates, Holy Scripture naturally occupies an important place. He is not himself one of the great interpreters of Scripture, but he has a wide range of acquaintance with it. “Reading” is one of the normal occupations of those whom he addresses; it is of course the reading of the Bible (III. 1, 2; cp. XXIX. 6). The Bible is given us by God, as a king may send a letter to inform his subjects of privileges to be had on application. It is ill for those who know the offer and will not avail themselves of it (XXXIX. 1). Macarius uses the promises with all the literal earnestness of a Bunyan or a John Newton. When Satan seeks to depress us by reminding us of our sins, we are to answer, “I have the testimonies of the Lord in writing, that say, I desire not the death of the sinner” (XI. 15). But the true Christian will not rest his assurance only upon the written word, but will seek the impression of the Spirit upon his inner consciousness (XV. 20). It is a natural and holy impulse which makes a believer wish to impart to others the word which has proved helpful to himself; and Macarius draws an unfavourable picture of the man who is so intoxicated with the revelations made to him that he is unable to think of the needs of others or to minister the word to them (VIII. 4). But he has heart-searching things to say about those who attempt to edify others by “words borrowed from various parts of the Bible” without having themselves the experience of their spiritual force (XVIII. 5). When all is said and done, Macarius teaches that even the most inspired words, full of divine efficacy, are inadequate to convey all that they suggest. “The word is like a shadow of the truth of Christ” (XXX. 1).

It is in dealing with human nature and its strivings after perfection that Macarius is seen at his greatest, though even here we are not to look for a logical system, or an exact science. A few broad principles are postulated; and the rest is the result of experience. The nomenclature is not, as a rule, the nomenclature of the schools of philosophy. It is tentative, a little wavering, the outcome of the noble experiment, still new, of the solitudes of the desert.

And first, Macarius insists upon the greatness of the human soul. It is no part of Christian humility to think meanly of what we are by nature. Quite the contrary. “The soul in itself is neither of the nature of the Godhead, nor of the nature of the darkness of wickedness, but is a creature intellectual, beauteous, great, and wonderful, a fair likeness and image of God” (I. 7). However wonderful God’s other creations are, God does not find in them satisfaction and “rest,” as He does in the soul of man—no, not even in Michael and Gabriel (XV. 22). This is a point to which Macarius returns so frequently that it seems to be taken from an authority like that of Scripture (see e.g. XVI. 7, XXVI. 1, XLV. 5). The worth of the soul can only be measured by the price which God was prepared to pay for it (XV. 43 ff.). It is akin to God, though with a folly which the animals do not share it does not recognise its kindred (XLV. 5, 6). Its “subtilty” is so great that earthly wisdom fails to comprehend it (XLIX. 4). It is capable of infinite distention under the power of the Spirit (XLVI. 5). Even without the help of grace, it moves at large throughout all creation, annihilating space in its fleetness and nimbleness (XLVI. 4; cp. XII. 12). This belief must be borne in mind when we find Macarius elsewhere asserting that souls, like the angels, or the devils, have a “body” of their own. (IV. 9; cp. VII. 7). It is his way of asserting that each has its special characteristics, limitations, and idiosyncrasies, which give it a kind of outline, and, in the case of man, prescribe also the bodily configuration.

“For soul is form, and doth the body make.”

From the current psychology of the schools Macarius borrows the word which describes the intelligence as the guiding or ruling principle of the soul (ἡγεμονικόν XXV. 3; cp. XL. 5). But he has hardly made the definition his own. He loves rather to dwell upon the complexity of man’s inner constitution. “The soul has many members, intelligence, conscience, will, thoughts accusing and excusing; but all these are dependent upon one factor (εἰς ἔνα λογισμόν).” This “factor” is what we should call the personality, or ego. Macarius calls it the soul. “They are members of the soul, and the soul is one, the inward man” (VII. 8): the mind is “the eye of the soul” (ibid.). Elsewhere Macarius gives a different enumeration. The soul s ruling, or “more kingly,” factors “are the will, the conscience, the intelligence, and the faculty of love” (I. 3). Elsewhere again he speaks of “the five rational (or spiritual) senses of the soul,” corresponding to the physical senses of the body (IV. 7), but without specifying them. In one place he seems to make conscience the supreme governing power of the soul; or perhaps he identifies it with the intelligence when the intelligence is brought to bear upon the moral aspects of conduct. “The heart has a captain in the intelligence, the conscience which is ever judging us.… It is the intelligence and conscience that chides and guides the heart, and calls from sleep the natural faculties.… For the soul has many members, though it is but one” (XV. 33, 34). Macarius never tires of impressing this unity of the soul in its multiplicity of “members” (e.g. XV. 7, XLI. 1, L. 4).

Such is the constitution of the soul; but as things are, it is all plunged into disorder. No one has ever taken more seriously the doctrine of the Fall than Macarius does. It would be scarcely an exaggeration to say that there is some reference to it on every page. To “the transgression of the commandment” all our disasters and our difficulties are traced. It has vitiated our moral nature. “One thing foreign to our nature, the disaster of the passions, we have received into ourselves through the first man’s disobedience, and it has taken its place as almost a part of our nature by long custom and propensity” (IV. 8). “From the time that Adam transgressed the commandment the serpent entered in and made himself master of the house, and became like a second soul beside the soul” (XV. 35). Through man, the mischief penetrated to all creation. “When the evil word came to Adam … he first received it by the outward hearing, then it penetrated through his heart, and took possession of all his being. When he was thus seized, creation, which served him and ministered to him, was seized with him. Through him, death reigned over every soul, and defaced every image of Adam” (XI. 5). The taint has become hereditary. Macarius knows of some “who say that evil is not born and bred in man” (XV. 21), but they are mistaken. “We all are his sons of that dark race; … the malady from which he suffered, we all who are of Adam’s seed suffer from the same” (XXX. 8, cp. XXIV. 2). It rendered man liable to bodily disease, (XLVIII. 5). Its primary effect upon the soul, from which all flows, is to “darken” it. By this Macarius means that the Fall has dulled all man’s perceptions, especially with regard to moral truth. Man has so lost this perception as to be unconscious of the loss. “The world that you see round you, from the king to the beggar, are all in confusion and disorder and battle, and none of them knows the reason, or that it is the manifestation of the evil which crept in through Adam’s disobedience, the sting of death.… The sin that crept in works upon the inner man without being detected.… Men are not aware that they are doing these things at the instigation of a foreign force. They think it all to be natural, and that they do these things of their own determination, while [Christians] know very well the source of these movements. The world is subject to the lust of evil, and knows it not” (XV. 48 ff.). Macarius does not admit that the evil which has invaded us is actually a substantive thing (ἐνυπόστατον): those who so affirm know nothing. “To God there is no substantive evil … but in us it works with full force and makes itself felt, suggesting all foul concupiscence” (XVI. 1). It is “a kind of invisible power of Satan, and a reality (οὐσία)” (XV. 49). “To us evil is a real thing, because it dwells and works in the heart, suggesting wicked and defiling thoughts, and not allowing us to pray purely, but bringing our mind into captivity to this world. It has clothed itself with our souls, and touched even our bones and members” (XVI. 6), It is like a kind of evil leaven which has grown and increased with the increase of the race “to such an extent that they have come to think that there is no God, and to worship inanimate stones, and to be unable so much as to take in the notion of a God” (XXIV. 2).

The case was desperate; but Macarius says that not all was lost. That could not be, so long as man “lives, and discerns, and has the power of will” (XXVI. 1). The contest which gathers round the names of Augustine and Pelagius had not begun; but Macarius had already heard of some who went too far in their depreciation of fallen nature. “It is not as some say, who are led astray by wrong teachings, that man is dead once for all, and cannot accomplish anything good whatever” (XLVI. 3). What Macarius thought that man could still do we shall see presently; but meanwhile the utmost that he could do could not avail to restore or save him. No evangelical Christian of modern times can be more emphatic on the point than he. “Only the appearing of Christ is able to cleanse soul and body” (XLV. 3). “If thou hadst been able to do it, what need was there of the coming of the Lord? As the eye cannot see without light, as a man cannot speak without a tongue, or hear without ears … so he cannot be saved without Jesus, nor enter into the kingdom of heaven” (III. 4). “If any one takes his stand upon his own righteousness and redemption, not looking for the righteousness of God, which is the Lord (as the apostle says, ‘Who is made to us righteousness and redemption’) he labours in vain and to no purpose. All the dream of a righteousness of his own is at the last day manifested as nothing but filthy rags” (XX. 3). Man “was so sore wounded that none could cure him, but the Lord only” (ibid. 5), “Moses came, but he could not bestow a complete cure.… Every righteousness of the soul [under the law] was unavailing to heal man, until the Saviour came, the true Physician, who cures without cost, who gave Himself a ransom for mankind” (ibid. 6; cp. XXX. 8).

What, then, is man’s part in the work, and what, besides the cost of the Incarnation and the Sacrifice, is God’s? Where does grace come in, and where the will of man?

It must be remembered that the aim of Macarius is strictly practical, that he is not setting forth a scheme of Christian doctrine, but appealing to companies of men whose temptation is to think that they have done all that is required of them in renouncing the world, and to become indolent and secure. This may be a reason why he does not make much of the ideas of predestination and election and vocation, and of the initial grace which starts the Christian on his distinguishing career. Such thoughts lead naturally to complacency. His view is that all men would like to be good (XVII. 15), though they will not take the trouble to become so. Mere wishing will not do it. A man may wish to fly, but he cannot. “So the will is present with a man to be pure and blameless and without spot; but he has not the power” (II. 3). Some men, indeed, are bad because they choose to be bad; but others are bad in spite of themselves. They fight against it and resent it, but do not succeed in overcoming it. “These are far nobler and more honourable in God’s eyes than the other” (XXVII. 2), and no doubt receive a better lot hereafter from a righteous Judge, whose awards in heaven and hell admit of infinite gradations (XL. 3 ff.). Even among those who hear the call of the gospel, not all respond to it. “If merely hearing made a man to belong without more ado to the good, then all the theatre-people and the whoremongers will go into the kingdom and the life” (XXVII. 20). The call, then, goes out universally, but only particular souls benefit by it, namely those who choose to accept it.

The freedom of the will is a main article in the creed of Macarius. Nothing takes it away. God Himself respects it. He will do nothing to force it. The apostles would have been glad to heal all the sick in the places that they came to; but they were not allowed, for if they had done so, faith would have been extorted from everybody. “Men and their free will would have been planted in God’s service by compulsory force” (XXVI. 6). If Christians did not die, like others, “the whole world would come over by a kind of compulsion, not by a voluntary decision.” Providence orders things thus, “that the freedom of will which God gave man at the beginning might abide” (XV. 39 ff.). “If it were possible to succeed without effort, Christianity would no longer be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. There would be no faith and unbelief. You would make man a creature of necessity,” like the sun and the earth, for which there can be no praise or blame, reward or punishment (XXVII. 21, cp. XV. 22). From the outset to the finish, all depends upon man’s free will.

Macarius accordingly represents God as waiting upon the movement of man’s will. God and the devil both desire to gain him. “The soul is in the middle between the two subsistences, and to whichever side the will of the soul inclines, of that side it becomes a possession and a son” (XXVI. 24). It is like a babe on the floor, which cannot get up and go to its mother, but has just the power to roll towards her and cry to her, and when God sees that movement of the soul, He comes to it and takes it up (XLVI. 3). Man cannot do a great deal, but what he can do, he must. “It is not possible or within a man’s competence to root out sin by his own power, [but] to wrestle against it, to fight against it, to give and receive blows, is thine; to uproot is God’s” (III. 4, cp. XXVII. 22). “That the war comes upon you is not your doing; but to hate it is; and then the Lord, seeing your mind, that you are striving … parts death from your soul” (XXVI. 18). “What is man’s working? To renounce, to go out of the world, to pray when it is hard, to be on the watch, to love God and the brethren—this is his own doing,” though he needs much in addition (ibid., 19, cp. XLVI. 2). God therefore meets man’s natural efforts with a corresponding grace. “The things which you do yourself are all very well, and acceptable to God, but they are not quite pure. For instance, you love God, but not perfectly. The Lord comes and gives a love which is unchangeable, the heavenly love. You pray in the natural manner, with wandering and doubt. God gives you the pure prayer, in spirit and in truth” (XXVI. 21). “The man to whom He gives help is the one who turns away from material pleasures and from his former habits, who drags his mind at all times to the Lord, whether it will or no, who denies himself, and seeks the Lord only. This is the man whom He keeps under His care” (IV. 5). Again and again Macarius speaks of help coming “when the Lord sees” that the soul is in earnest, but He holds His hand till then.

If it should seem that too much is thus left for man to do, Macarius answers that nothing is required of him but what lies within his power. He often uses the expression that man is a “match” for the power opposed to him. “The mind, as I have said many times, is an even match for it, and possesses a power that is well balanced against sin, to withstand and repel its suggestions. If you say that the opposing power is too strong, and that evil has complete sovereignty over man, you make God unrighteous, when He condemns man for submitting to Satan.… ‘It is as though a young man should wrestle with a little child, and the child, when he is worsted, is condemned for getting worsted. This is a great injustice.’ I tell you that the human mind is a good match for the enemy, and evenly balanced against him; and a soul of that kind, when it seeks, finds help and succour, and redemption is vouchsafed to it. The contest and struggle is not an unequal one” (III. 5). The description takes almost an epic form. The Persians and the Romans are in opposing camps, and “two winged youths of equal powers “come out and engage in a struggle between the lines: “so the opposing force and the mind are in equipoise” (XXVII. 22). Macarius repeats a former simile. “Those who say that sin is like a mighty giant, and the soul like a little child, are wrong. If things were so ill-matched … the Lawgiver would be unjust, in having given man a law to struggle against Satan” (ibid., cp. XV. 23). The tempter is, after all, in God’s hands, and God only “lets him loose upon men by a kind of measure,” as a man suits the burden to his beast (XXVI. 3).

Macarius holds out no great hope of the struggle being ended before death. On the one hand, Satan is remorseless and relentless in his siege; and, on the other, man always remains free to change. “You see how alterable this nature is. You find it inclining to evil, you find it again inclining to good. In both cases it is in a position to assent to such action as it likes. Nature is susceptible both of good and of evil, either of Divine grace or of the contrary power, but is under no compulsion” (XV. 25). “In the depth of wickedness and the bondage of sin a man is at liberty to turn to what is good. A man bound over to the Holy Spirit, and inebriated with heavenly things, has power to turn to evil” (ibid., 36, cp. 40). “I assure you that freedom of choice remains even in perfect Christians, who are subjugated to what is good and intoxicated with it.… You may believe me that even the apostles, perfected as they were in grace, were not hindered by that grace from doing as they desired.” Macarius gives instances of the apostles’ wrongdoing. When questioned upon the point, he answers that the apostles “could not sin”—no doubt in the sense of giving themselves up to it—“because they could not choose to sin, being in light and in such grace. I do not say that grace in them was weak. What I say is that grace permits even perfect spiritual persons to have the use of their will, and power to do what they choose, and to turn in which direction they like. And human nature, which is weak, has power to turn, even when good is present with it” (XXVII. 9 ff.). He tells many warning tales of men who had received high measures of grace, and fallen away.

The purpose of this continual warfare is, of course, to test the sincerity and steadfastness of man’s will. This thought recurs continually, and hardly needs illustration. “Man’s resolution in combat and strife, and his genuine worth, and his goodwill towards God, are then shown when grace withdraws and he will still be brave and cry to God” (XVI. 13). So Macarius interprets the story of Job. “So it is still with those who endure afflictions and temptations; Satan is ashamed and sorry, because he has got nothing by it. The Lord begins to reason with him: ‘Behold I suffered thee to tempt him. Wast thou able to do anything?’ ” (XXVI. 8). It seems to be God’s way to give the minimum of grace that will be effective. This is partly to check spiritual pride. “The Lord knows the man’s weakness, that he is easily lifted up. Therefore He withdraws, and permits the man to be exercised and put to trouble” (XXVII. 8). But it has a more general purpose. “In order that your free will and your liberty may be tested, which way it inclines, grace makes way for sin” (ibid., 9). “Grace purposely withdraws, for the man’s good, and he enters into training, and [eventually] becomes a Christian” (XXVII. 20). To some, “even when they have withdrawn from the world,—and pass their time in much perseverance in prayer and fasting … God does not immediately grant the grace and the refreshment and rejoicing of the Spirit, being patient with them,” in the sense of Luke 18:7, i. e., being willing to spend time over the business, instead of hurrying it on, “and reserving the gift. This He does not idly, nor unseasonably, nor at random, but with unspeakable wisdom, for the testing of their free will, to see whether they have counted God faithful and true who promised” (XXIX. 2, cp. XLVII. 13).

All this reserve on God’s part, and laying so much upon the will of man, might seem to lead up to something like a doctrine of human merit. Nothing could be further from the teaching of Macarius. All is of God’s doing. “Never think that you have been beforehand with the Lord in your virtue; it is He that worketh in you both to will and to do” (XXXVII. 9). Is that not prevenient grace? In a noble passage Macarius speaks of the inconceivable “minuteness “of God, which goes into every particular to effect the salvation of man. He arranges for the afflictions which make a man think of giving up the world. Then He teaches him that there is an inward renuntiation to be made, as well as the outward. “And when thou deemest thyself to have done all by renouncing, the Lord taketh account with thee. ‘Why dost thou boast? Did not I create thy body and thy soul? Did not I make the gold and silver? What hast thou done?’ The soul begins to make confession, and to beseech the Lord and say, ‘All things are Thine. The house I am in is Thine. My clothes are Thine. From Thee is my food, and of Thee am I supplied for every need.’ Then the Lord begins to reply, ‘I thank thee. The goods are thine own. The goodwill is thine own; and because of thy love towards Me, since thou hast made Me thy refuge, come, I will now give thee what hitherto neither thou hast gained, nor do men have it upon earth. Take Me, thy Lord, with thine own soul, that thou mayest ever be with Me in joy and gladness’ ” (XXXII. 8). Again, “This is the part of man, that whether he fasts, or keeps watch, or prays, or does some fine thing, he should ascribe all to the Lord and say, ‘If God had not enabled me, I could not have fasted, or prayed, or gone out of the world.’ In this way, God, seeing your intention, that you ascribe to God the things that are yours, which you do of your own nature, bestows upon you in return the things that are His, the spiritual things, the divine and heavenly things” (XXVI. 20). Although the language may not be quite that of St. Augustine or of the Council of Orange, Macarius does not differ from them in meaning. The Lord, he says, “secretly helps” the man in his striving (XXI. 5). “Whatever the soul may think fit to do of itself, whatever care and pains it may take … without the cooperation of the Spirit … it is of no use for the heavenly places” (XXIV. 5). Indeed St. Augustine’s famous saying, Fac quod iubes, is almost verbally anticipated by Macarius when he speaks of the man who comes at last to doing all the commandments with ease, and then corrects himself, “or rather, the Lord in him does His own commandments” (XIX. 2).

The result of this conception is a profound humility. The nearer a man approaches to perfection, the more he is conscious how ill he has corresponded to the divine influence, and that whatever success may have been gained is due to that influence, and not to himself. And the humility thus formed combines with an ardent longing for better and better things. “The soul that really loves God and Christ … esteems itself as having wrought nothing, by reason of its insatiable aspiration after God. Though it should exhaust the body with fastings, with watchings, its attitude towards the virtues is as if it had not yet even begun to labour for them” (X. 4). “Until a man … makes progress, he is not poor in spirit, but has some opinion of himself; but … grace itself teaches him to be poor in spirit, which means that a man, being righteous and chosen of God, does not esteem himself to be anything, but holds his soul in abasement and disregard, as if he knew nothing and had nothing, though he knows and has” (XII. 3). “The sign of Christianity is this … to say continually, ‘It is not mine; another has put this treasure in my charge. I am a poor man, and when He pleases, He takes it from me … I am not fit for this sun to shine upon me.’ This is the sign of Christianity, this humility” (XV. 37; cp. XXVI. 11, XLI. 2). “Such an one despises himself beyond all sinners, and holds this notion implanted in him as if by nature, and the further he advances in the knowledge of God, the more he considers himself an ignoramus. It is grace which ministers this effect, and makes it like a part of nature in the soul” (XVII. 12; cp. XXVII. 5). This was Christ’s way of conquering the devil, “and howsoever thou mayest be humbled, thou wilt never do anything like thy Master” (XXVI. 26). The author of the Pilgrim’s Progress was not the first to teach that “he that is down need fear no fall.” Macarius had taught the safety of humility before him. “The humble never falls. Whence indeed could he fall, being lower than all? A proud mind is a great humiliation; a humble mind is a great exaltation and honour and dignity” (XIX. 8).

The Homilies contain some wonderful passages about “the measures of perfection,” which Macarius and his hearers were endeavouring to reach. The Eighth Homily is given up to the subject. Macarius appears to be about to describe the various stages in the spiritual progress. But if that was his intention he does not carry it into effect. He leaves the “measures” undefined, but gives glimpses of spiritual experience which surpass “measurement.” Yet he avows that he has never seen “a perfect Christian, one completely free” (VIII. 5). A daring disciple ventures to ask Macarius in what “measures” he is himself. The reply can only be read with awe. There are other places, however, where Macarius defines the highest point as the attainment of “charity” or “love.” By it he means an absolute and entire love of God for God’s own sake. It is characteristic of him to regard it as a thing not of degrees or of progressive attainment, but marking a positive and well-ascertained position. Other gifts “serve only as inducements” to attain it. “Those who are contented with them are but children, though in the light. Many of the brethren have come to such measures, and had gifts of healing and revelation and prophecy, and because they did not reach the perfect charity, wherein lies the bond of perfectness, war came upon them … and they fell. But if any one reaches the perfect love, that man is from thenceforth fast bound, and is the captive of grace” (XXVI. 16; cp. XXVII. 14). As a bride is not satisfied with her bridegroom’s gifts, but craves for the bridegroom himself, “so the soul … receives as an earnest from the Spirit gifts of healings, it may be, or of knowledge, or of revelation, but it is not satisfied with these, until it attains the complete union, namely charity, which can never change nor fail, and which sets those who have longed for it free from passion and from agitation” (XLV. 7).

Hard though it is to attain these “perfect measures,” Macarius will not let us be daunted by the difficulties. A more encouraging teacher it would not be easy to find. “Every day a man should have the hope and the joy and the expectation of the coming kingdom and deliverance, and to say, ‘If to-day I have not been delivered, I shall to-morrow.’ … If a man does not keep before his eyes the joy and the hope … he cannot endure” (XXVI. 11). One great element of evangelical comfort is, indeed, scarcely mentioned by name in the Homilies—the forgiveness of sins. But the substance of it is always there, implied in the patient kindness and helpfulness of God towards the striving soul. The striving is everything. We must “not disbelieve that the grace of God has pleasure even in sinners when they repent; for that which is bestowed according to grace is not measured by comparison with previous infirmity; otherwise grace is no more grace” (XXXVII. 7). By an anticipation of some of the most encouraging passages of Robert Browning, Macarius bids us think that the virtuous soul is accepted “not because of what it has done, but because of what it has desired” (ibid., 9).

It has been said above that Macarius in these Homilies is not much concerned with what man owes to man. His main preoccupation is with the struggle of the solitary soul to find God and to love Him aright. But Macarius discloses, if but incidentally, the Christian’s concern for other men. His hearers, cut off from parents and kinsfolk, whom the Homilies treat unsympathetically, as only so many encumbrances to be shaken off, live in some kind of community, sometimes thirty together under a governor (III. 1). He encourages them to seek the judgment of a spiritual man upon their state (XLVIII. 2). It is their duty to be considerate for each other—for instance, not to pray in such a manner as to disturb the brethren around them (VI. 3). To have an eye to the spiritual advantage of the brethren is better than to be wholly wrapped up in the pursuit of one’s own (ibid., 4; cp. VIII. 4). Instead of judging or envying others, we ought to feel that all are contributing to the welfare of all, whatever the work assigned to us and to them may be (III.). “Though grace works after a different manner in each individual Christian … yet all are of one city, of the same mind, of the same tongue, recognising one another” (XII. 4). This fellowship extends beyond the visible world. As a merchant abroad sends word home to prepare for his return, so “if any are making the heavenly wealth their merchandise, their fellow citizens, the spirits of saints and angels, are aware of it, and say with admiration, ‘Our brethren on the earth have come into great wealth.’ So they … come with mighty rejoicing to those above, and those who belong to the Lord receive them, having prepared for them there houses, and gardens, and clothes, all bright and costly” (XVI. 8). But it cannot be said that the relation of the Christian to his fellow creatures occupies a prominent part in the teaching of these Homilies. Macarius is even jealous that it should not become too prominent. “Even the much-loved brethren, whom such a soul has under its eye, if they hinder it from that love [of God], it turns from them, in a sense.” Here speaks that aloofness of spirit which allowed two “little strangers” to live for three years within a bowshot without once interfering in their inward concerns.

Enough has been said about the nature of the teaching of these Homilies. They leave upon the reader an impression of the tremendous reality of the contest in which the Christian is engaged. Macarius insists frequently that these things are not to be regarded as matters of words, or doctrines, or systems, but as practical truths of which the force ought to be felt in experience (I. 10, 11). It is of comparatively little account to have right theories on religious subjects. “It is one thing to give descriptive accounts with a certain head-knowledge and correct notions, and another, in substance and reality, in full experience, and in the inward man, and in the mind, to possess the treasure and the grace and the taste and the effectual working of the Holy Ghost” (XXVII. 12). As Bishop Gore has said, these Homilies “constitute one of the best guides to the spiritual life that the church possesses.”

The fifty Homilies were first printed at Paris in 1559, by Morel, from a MS. in the French King’s library. In 1562 a Latin translation by Picus was added; and in 1699 J. G. Pritius published at Leipzig an edition of the works of Macarius then known, or attributed to him, containing, amongst other pieces, the fifty Homilies. This was the standard edition, till 1850, when H. J. Floss published at Köln a new and improved edition, reprinted with further improvements and enrichments in Migne’s Patrologia Græca, vol. xxxiv.

The text as given in Migne has been taken as the basis of the present translation. But the translator has employed in addition the two MSS. now to be found in English libraries. The first of these is in the Bodleian Library (Cod. Baroccianus, 213). The second is at Holkham, and belongs to the Earl of Leicester, who kindly allowed the translator to collate it. The Holkham MS. is a direct transcript of the Bodleian, and only varies from it in a few places. Where these MSS. differ from Floss’s text, their reading has generally been found superior, and has been followed accordingly. As the translator has wished the book to be rather a book of spiritual edification for the general reader than an aid to the critical student, he has usually refrained from calling attention to textual points. Those who have Migne’s text before them will kindly remember this when the translation silently parts company with that text.

The work of Macarius has received but scanty attention from English scholars and divines. The article upon him and his Alexandrian namesake in the Dictionary of Christian Biography is little short of a scandal. Even so admirable and judicious a book as Dr. Swete’s Patristic Study makes no reference to him. No edition of any text of his had appeared by an English hand till Mr. G. L. Marriott in 1918 published from the Harvard University Press the seven additional Homilies contained in the Bodleian and Holkham MSS. The one happy exception to this conspiracy of neglect is the translation of the fifty Homilies “by a Presbyter of the Church of England,” published in 1721. The “Presbyter” was Thomas Haywood, and he used the Bodleian MS. as the basis of his translation. His book, entitled Primitive Morality, or, The Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian, is now not often found. The copy which the present translator is fortunate enough to possess was given to him by the late Bishop of Gibraltar, William Edward Collins, who picked it up on a bookstall. As long ago as 1893 the translator had remarked, in his book on The Relation of Confirmation to Baptism, that “it seems strange that his Homilies have never been brought to the knowledge of the modern church as a companion volume to the Imitation of Christ.” He did not then know the work of Haywood. When he began the present translation he was in hopes that he would not find it necessary to do more than modernise, with some corrections, the translation of his predecessor. The hope proved illusory; and though he has often borrowed a racy word or phrase from the “Presbyter,” he has been compelled to work independently.

Perhaps some apology is needed for a certain freedom in the translation. No attempt has been made to represent the same Greek word by the same English one throughout. Certain words recur again and again, such as ἀναπαύεσθαι or ἐπαναπαύεσθαι, εὐδοκία, πληροφορία, νοῦς, πάθη, λογισμός. They bear various shades of meaning, according to the context, and it has been felt useless, to aim at a rigid uniformity of rendering. The translator has wished to make the meaning and spirit of the saint felt through the English sentences, rather than to secure a pedantic and tiresome literalness.

God grant that those who read may be moved to that “insatiable” desire after Him which breathes in all the Homilies. “If you believe that these things are true, as indeed they are, take heed to yourself, whether your soul has found the light to guide it, and the true meat and drink, which is the Lord. If you have not, seek night and day, that you may receive” (XXXIII. 4).

Since this book was set in type, two French scholars, Dom Ville-court and Dom Wilmart, have endeavoured to prove that these Homilies are in fact a manual of the sect of the Massalians or Euchites, who were condemned by various councils of the fourth and fifth centuries. Their history may be seen in the Dictionary of Christian Biography, under the name Euchites. The work of these two scholars is noticed, and accepted as convincing, by the Rev. G. L. Marriott in the Journal of Theological Studies for April, 1921.

That certain propositions taken from these Homilies, and from the seven others referred to on p. xviii, were used by the Euchites, and (as used by them) condemned, is certain. St. John Damascene, in his de Haeresibus (vol. I, p. 95 in Le Quien’s edition of his works), gives eighteen propositions of the Massalians “collected from a book of theirs.” He does not name the author of the book. It would seem likely that it was the book called Asceticus, from which extracts were read at the Council of Ephesus in 431. If so, the Asceticus must have been largely based on these Homilies.

The second of the propositions, for instance, is “that Satan and the devils have hold of the mind of men, and the nature of men is capable of communion with the spirits of wickedness.” The first half of this sentence, severed from its context, is taken from Hom. XXVII, 19; the second half occurs a few lines lower down in the same section. The eighteenth proposition is based upon Hom. VIII, 3: it runs, “That the Saviour may be manifested to those at prayer in light, and that a man was found at a certain time standing by the altar and that three loaves were offered to him, kneaded with oil.” Parallels to most of the other propositions could be found in the Homilies.

Not all of them, however, are taken from the Homilies, so that the Homilies cannot themselves be the Euchite book from which St. John’s propositions are extracted. The origin of the Euchites, as known to history, was in Mesopotamia. Our Homilies were not composed in that country. The words of the title quoted on p. xviii, “Epistle … to the Abbot Symeon of Mesopotamia in Syria,” are sufficient proof that they came from elsewhere. A certain Symeon, according to Theodoret, was among the founders of the sect. It was a common name in the East, but the Symeon to whom the Homilies were sent may well have made a harmful use of them, in a heretical direction. Because they lent themselves to such treatment is not a sufficient reason for doubting the authorship of Macarius, nor for ceasing, as Dom Wilmart regretfully does, to regard the author as a doctor of the Catholic Church.

June 11, 1921.



              1.              THE AUTHOR

              2.              HIS WRITINGS

              3.              HIS TEACHING

              4.              THE TEXT AND TRANSLATION


An allegorical interpretation of the vision described in the prophet Ezekiel


Concerning the kingdom of darkness, that is, of sin, and that God alone is able to take away sin from us, and to deliver us out of the bondage of the evil prince


That the brethren ought to live in sincerity, simplicity, love, and peace with each other, and to carry on contest and war in their inward thoughts


Christians ought to accomplish their race in this world with heed and care, that they may gain heavenly praises from God and angels


A great difference between Christians and the men of this world. Those who have the spirit of the world are in heart and mind bound in earthly bonds, but the others long after the love of the heavenly Father, having Him only before their eyes with much desire


Those who desire to please God, ought to offer their prayers in peace and quietness, in gentleness and wisdom, and not to give scandal to others by the use of loud outcries. The Homily also contains two questions, whether the thrones and crowns are actual created things, and concerning the twelve thrones of Israel


Concerning the loving-kindness of Christ towards men. The Homily also contains certain questions and answers


Concerning things which befall Christians at prayer, and concerning the measures of perfection, whether it is possible for Christians to reach the perfect measure


That the promises and prophecies of God are accomplished through manifold trial and temptation, and that those who cleave to God alone are delivered from the temptation of the evil one


By lowliness of mind and earnestness the gifts of the Divine grace are preserved, but by pride and sloth they are destroyed


That the power of the Holy Ghost in man’s heart is like fire; and what things we need, in order to distinguish the thoughts that spring up in the heart; and concerning the dead serpent fixed by Moses at the top of the pole, which was a type of Christ. The Homily contains two dialogues, one between Christ and the evil one, Satan; the other between sinners and the same


Concerning the state of Adam before he transgressed God’s commandment, and after he had lost both his own image and the heavenly. The Homily contains some very profitable questions


What fruit God expects from Christians


Those who give their thoughts and their mind to God do so in the hope that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened, and God vouchsafes to them mysteries in the greatest sanctity and purity, and imparts to them of His grace. What we who desire to attain the good things of heaven ought to do. Then the apostles and the prophets are compared to the sun’s rays coming in at a window. The Homily also teaches what is Satan’s “Earth,” and what that of the angels, and that both are intangible and invisible


This Homily teaches at large how the soul ought to behave herself in holiness and chastity and purity towards her Spouse Christ Jesus, the Saviour of the world. It contains also certain discussions full of great instruction, viz., Whether at the resurrection all the members are raised up, and a great many more concerning Evil, and Grace, and Free Will, and the dignity of human nature


That spiritual persons are subject to temptations and to the adversities which spring from the first sin


Concerning the spiritual unction of Christians, and their glory, and that without Christ it is impossible to be saved or to become a partaker of eternal life


Concerning the Christian’s treasure, which is Christ and the Holy Ghost, who practises them in various ways to come to perfection


Christians who desire to make progress and to grow ought to force themselves to every good thing, so as to deliver themselves from indwelling sin, and to be filled with the Holy Ghost


Only Christ, the true Physician of the inner man, can heal the soul, and array it in the garment of grace


A Christian man has a twofold warfare set before him, an inward and an outward, the latter, in withdrawing from earthly distractions; the former, in the heart, against the suggestions of the spirits of wickedness


Concerning the twofold state of those who depart out of this life


As only those born of the seed royal can wear the costly royal pearl, so only the children of God are allowed to wear the pearl of heaven


The state of Christians is like merchandise, and like leaven. As merchants amass earthly gains, so Christians gather together their thoughts that were scattered about the world. As leaven turns the whole lump into leaven, so the leaven of sin permeates the whole race of Adam; but Christ puts a heavenly leaven of goodness in faithful souls


This Homily teaches that no man, without being strengthened by Christ, is capable of overcoming the stumbling-blocks of the evil one, and what those who desire the divine glory must do. It teaches also that through Adam’s disobedience we came down into bondage to carnal passions, from which we are delivered by the mystery that is in the Cross. It instructs us besides that the power of tears and of the divine fire is great


Concerning the worth and value, the power and efficiency of the immortal soul, and how it is tempted by Satan and obtains deliverance from the temptations. It contains also some questions full of very great instruction


This Homily, like the foregoing, describes at length the dignity and status of a Christian man. Then it teaches many useful things concerning freewill, intermixing some questions full of divine wisdom


This Homily describes and bewails the calamity of the soul, that by reason of sin the Lord does not dwell in it; and concerning John the Baptist, that none among those born of women is greater than he


God works the dispensations of grace upon mankind after a twofold manner, intending to require the fruits of it by a just judgment


The soul that is to enter into the kingdom of God must be born of the Holy Ghost; and how this is effected


The believer ought to be changed in mind, and to gather up all his thoughts in God; for in these all service of God consists


The glory of Christians abides even now in their souls, and will be manifested at the time of resurrection, and will glorify their bodies in correspondence with their piety


We ought to pray to God continually and with attention


Concerning the glory of Christians, which shall be vouchsafed to their bodies at the resurrection, and they shall be enlightened, together with the soul


Concerning the old Sabbath and the new


Concerning the twofold resurrection of souls and bodies, and of the divers glory of the risen


Concerning Paradise and the spiritual law


Great exactness and intelligence is required to discern true Christians, and who these are


Why the Holy Scripture was given to us by God


That all the virtues and all the vices are bound each to other, and like a chain are linked one to another


Very deep are the secret chambers of the soul, which grows in proportion with the growth of grace or of wickednesses


Not external things, but internal, advance or injure a man, namely, the Spirit of grace or the spirit of wickedness


Concerning the progress of a Christian man, the whole power of which depends upon the heart, as is here described in various ways


What change and renewal is wrought in a Christian man by Christ, who has healed the afflictions and diseases of the soul


No art, no wealth of this world, but only the appearing of Christ, is able to cure man, whose great kinship with God this Homily sets forth


Concerning the difference between God’s word and the world’s, and between God’s children and the children of this world


An allegorical interpretation of the things done under the Law


Concerning perfect faith in God


It is not enough to have got rid of the pleasures of this world, unless a man gets the blessedness of the other


It is God that works wonders through His saints

Copyright ©1999-2016 e-Catholic2000.com