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

The Paradise Of The Holy Fathers Volumes 1 and 2 by Saint Athanasius Of Alexandria

LET the following be before thy mind in all [thine] acts, and thou shalt sin in no particular.

I. To do good to the fool and to bury the dead; both are alike.

II. It is meet that a man should put on armour over the breast, and the word of our Redeemer Christ [over] grief; armour and shield will hide the breast, but [only] faith and action [can hide] the soul.

III. As it is possible to see the skill of the painter on a small tablet, so a small gift [sheweth] the greatness of the disposition of the soul.

IV. Have no confidence in the belief that that which is placed outside thy soul is thy possession.

V. Clothes and raiment drape statues, but habits and manners drape men.

VI. An evil word is the beginning of evil deeds.

VII. Speak thou according to what is right, and where it is right, and concerning the things which are right, and hearken not unto that which is not right.

VIII. It is better to shake a stone vainly than [to utter a vain] word, and it is better to be under subjection to the Barbarians than to evil passions.

IX. The excellence of a horse is made apparent in battle, and the disposition of a friend is put to the test in tribulation.

X. It is impossible to divide the sea, and it is also impossible to still the waves thereof, although for them it is always easy [to still themselves].

XI. The wise and God-fearing man is he who hateth that which is not right.

XII. The gentle and gracious man is he who treadeth pride under foot; but he who is set upon that which is the contrary of this is one who is governed by arrogance.

XIII. Constant prayer is the strength, and the armour, and the wall of the soul.

XIV. Wine maketh warm the body, and the word of God [warmeth] the soul.

XV. Know thou that not even much time will bring oblivion upon one act which thou wouldst hide.

XVI. The believing mind is a temple of God which it is meet for a man to adorn daily and to burn incense therein, inasmuch as it is God Who dwelleth there.

And numbers upon numbers of books at divers times and in various ways have they left unto the habitations of men, and some of them are according to the Mind which is above and Divine Grace, and were [written] for the edification and protection of those who wished to [follow] carefully after the faith and the doctrine of our Redeemer, and some of them are according to the adulation of the children of men, and the corrupt mind which is mad after the lusts of the body, [and some of them] are for the consolation of those who destroy vainglory; but others are from some vain madness and the agency (or operation) of that evil Devil who hateth the things which are good, and [their writers] made use of arrogance and hatred, and in order to corrupt the children of men whose minds have been laid waste and who have no understanding they introduced [them] that they might defile the purity of the holy Catholic Church, and hinder its pure life and deeds of ascetic excellence.

And, moreover, it hath seemed to me—I who fall short of the hope which is in Christ, and who am shamefaced before the command of thy great mindedness—O thou man who lovest doctrine, that I ought first of all to narrate to thee the story of how I was reared, and concerning the gradual growth of my mind of such excellence as I possess towards God. I lived a life of rule and was in a monastery of solitary brethren for the first part of my life, that is to say until the thirty-third year of my age, and I served the office of Bishop for twenty years; thus the whole period of my life hath included fifty-six years.

It is, therefore, absolutely necessary, inasmuch as it hath seemed to me that thou art very anxious to hear the triumphs of the holy Fathers, because of the divine and spiritual profit [which is therein], that I should tell thee in writing [concerning] the men and the women, of whom some I have myself seen, and concerning others of whom I have heard from believing men, and concerning others whom I have met with when I was travelling about in the land of Egypt, and in Libya, and in the Thebaïd, and also in the region of Syene, and among those who are called men of Tabenna, and afterwards in Mesopotamia, and in Palestine, and in Syria, and among these in the countries of the West, and among the Romans, and among the people of the Campagna. And I must also set down in writing with careful exactitude the history of everything which appertaineth closely to these men from the very beginning and set before thee as an example that which will be a most excellent memorial and a benefit of the soul, that is to say, a sure and certain binding up, so that by means of it thou mayest be able to dispel from thy soul all the slumber of error, which cometh into being through irrational desire, and all the doubts of the soul in respect of faith, and sluggishness in respect of the things which are useful, and all loathing and littleness of soul concerning habits of virtue, that is to say, keenness of wrath and perturbation and animal ferocity and empty fear.

Then shalt thou flee from the vain and corrupt delight of this world, and through [thy] constant eager desire thou shalt draw nigh to the hope which is in God; and thou shalt govern thyself in the desire of the fear of God, and those who are with thee, and those who are under thine authority, and moreover, unto him that feareth God thou wilt become king. For through these triumphs all those who have become friends of Christ shall hasten to be united unto Him, and they shall also look for the loosing of the soul from the body, for it is well known that daily [they will do this], even as it is written, “I am constrained by the good desire which I possess [to wish] to become free and to be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). And exceedingly excellent is all that which is said, “Make ready thy works for [thy] going forth, and prepare thy field” (Proverbs 24:27). For he who remembereth death continually, [and keepeth in his mind the knowledge] that he must most certainly die, will neither be negligent of nor commit sin in respect of great matters, even according to what is said, “In all thy words remember thine end, and thou wilt never commit sin” (Ecclesiasticus 7:31). And beside all these things I will add this also, so that thou mayest not belittle the tradition of this our faulty history, and mayest not hold in contempt the simplicity and want of polish of the language [thereof]; for this matter appertaineth not to the divine doctrine (or teaching), that we should compose speech with wise skill, but we should strengthen the mind with sure and certain words of understanding, according to that which is said, “Open thy mouth with the word of truth, and judge every man in a sound manner” (Proverbs 31:9); and moreover “thou shalt not forget the narratives of the old men, because they also have them from their fathers” (Ecclesiasticus 8:9).

I therefore, O thou lover of doctrine, thou godly man, have lighted upon many things with the holy men, not through making use of ordinary thought, but by making journeys [among them] which have lasted thirty days, yea, even thirty days twice told. And [I say it], as before God, that in travels and journeyings I would have trodden the whole of the territory of the Greeks so that I might have the opportunity of conversing with each of the lovers of God, and I would have undertaken the labour of a journey such as this gratefully so that I might be able to traffic for a profit (or benefit) which I did not possess. For if that man who was far more excellent than I am, and perhaps far more excellent than the whole world, and who in his life and works, and in his knowledge, and in his wise opinions of the Spirit, and in his faith which was in Christ, surpassed many, I mean the blessed man Paul, who in order that he might see James, and Cephas (Peter), and John made a journey from Tarsus to Judæa, and it is well known that he related the fact of this journey somewhat as a boast when he was declaring abroad and revealing his labours in order that he might stimulate those who were living lives sluggish and indolent in respect of spiritual excellence, and when he said, “I went up to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18) that I might see Cephas (Peter),” not that he was denying the spiritual excellence of Peter of which he had received [information] by report, but because he was longing for converse with him also. [Now, if this Paul had need of converse with Peter], how much more did I, who am a debtor of ten thousand talents, need to do this (i.e., to visit the holy men), for the sake of the benefit, not for the sake of any good which I could do them but for the sake of the advantage which I the sinful man should myself gain? And moreover, the things which writers have written down about the holy Fathers, I mean Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and Elijah, and the other saints, were not composed and narrated to glorify them, but that those who should peruse them might profit thereby.

Therefore, O chaste and believing man, Lausus, thou servant of God, knowing these things, and having also instructed thyself in many others, be convinced by our discourse also and let the matters thereof be laid up in thy God-fearing mind as in a secure storehouse which is not wont to be disturbed by evil things of divers kinds, either visible or invisible, and which only constant prayer and the converse which concerneth the service of the soul can make to be moved.

For many of these brethren who in the fear of God won spiritual excellence, and who waxed great in ascetic labours and lovingkindness, and who were famed (or boasted) because of their perfect chastity and virginity, and who protracted to great length their meditations upon the Holy Scriptures, and placed their trust upon [their] strenuousness in spiritual doctrine, were never held to be worthy of the state of impassibility, because they served with a mind which possessed not discretion and employed only the form of the fear of God, and because they were diseased with the love of external converse, wherefrom are produced all vices which enter [into a man] from without, and which eradicate that which is the mother of the service which taketh place in the soul.

Be strong, therefore, in all wisdom, and nourish not thy soul in the riches which thou hast made (or gotten), having made them sufficiently little by means of the gifts to those who are needy, so that the ministration which ariseth therefrom may perfect the service of excellence, for [this] cometh into being neither through any urging whatsoever, nor through the foolish thoughts of any form whatsoever for the sake of vainglory. And do not bind thyself to [do] anything under a penalty [secured] by oaths as many men do, as for example those who for the sake of vainglory strive eagerly neither to eat nor to drink, for though by the force of [such] oaths they may bring their feeble will into subjection, through this same thing they fall miserably, either by means of pleasures and the loathing [which followeth thereafter], or through the sickness of the body, or else through the delightful gratification of some lust they bring forth falsehood. And as thou receivest [what is good] according to reason, so according to reason shalt thou make thyself to be remote [from what is evil], and thou shalt never sin at all; for by the word of God shall all motions of fear be extinguished, and thou shalt draw nigh unto the things which bring [thee] profit, and shalt trample down those which would cause [thee] loss. For for the righteous the Law was not laid down.

It is better to drink wine in moderation than to drink water immoderately, and it appeareth to me that those who drink wine in moderation are holy men, and that those who pridefully use water in an immoderate fashion are depraved and pleasure-loving. Do not therefore ascribe blame or praise to the eating [or not eating] of food, or to the drinking [or not drinking] of wine, but ascribe praise, or woe, unto those who make use properly or improperly of meat and drink. Joseph in olden time drank wine with the Egyptians, and was in no way injured in his mind thereby, for he took good heed unto [the admonitions of] his understanding; but Pythagoras, and Diogenes, and Plato, and with them also the Manichaeans, and other sects of philosophers [did not], and they came thereby to such a pitch of licentiousness and vainglory that they even forgot the God of the universe and worshipped soulless images. On the other hand, the blessed Apostle Peter and those who were with him drew nigh to wine and made use thereof, and because of this the Jews reproached our Lord, the Redeemer of all [men] and their Teacher, and made complaints against Him, saying, “Why do not Thy disciples fast like John?” (St. Matthew 9:14; St. Mark 2:18.) And again they lifted themselves up (?) against the disciples and blamed them, saying, “Why doth your master eat and drink with tax-gatherers and sinners?” (St. Matthew 9:11; 10:18, 19.) Now they did not make their complaints about bread and water only, but also about wine and delicate viands, for it is evident that they only wanted to lay blame upon the disciples in everything.

Thereupon our Redeemer made answer, and said, “John came in the path of righteousness, neither eating nor drinking”—now it is well known that flesh and wine [are here referred to], for it was impossible for him to live without food of other kinds—“and ye say that he hath a devil in him; and the Son of Man hath come, eating and drinking, and [ye] say, ‘Behold a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ ” What then is it right for us to do, so that we may neither go after those who make complaints [of our acts], nor after those who praise them? For we must either fast with John according to discretion, even though the Jews said that there was a devil in him, and that he was certainly mad, or we must drink wine with Christ with knowledge, if the body shall have need thereof, even though the children of men shall say concerning us, “Behold a glutton and a winebibber.” For in very truth neither the eating of food nor the abstaining therefrom is anything, but the faith and love which are made perfect in works; for when a man followeth after faith wholly by actions, he who eateth and drinketh is blameless for faith’s sake, for everything which is not of faith is sin. But perhaps one of those who love the carnal lusts, or perhaps one of those who sin not, will say that if they eat in faith, or if they do anything else by the irrational thought of the carnal appetite, or through a corrupt intent, those who support themselves on faith commit sin. Now our Redeemer made a distinction, saying, “By their fruit ye shall know them” (St. Matthew 7:20); and the fruits may be recognized by the word of God, and by spiritual wisdom, according to the word of the blessed Apostle, who said, “Love, peace, gladness, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, patient endurance” (Galatians 5:22, 23)—these are the fruits of the Spirit according to the word of the Apostle.

Whosoever then is eager to possess these fruits will never, without reason and without thought on any occasion, eat flesh, or drink wine, or dwell with a man with evil intent. Moreover, the blessed Paul saith, “Whosoever is about to strive in a contest preserveth his mind free from every other thought, and thus keepeth his body healthy, and maketh himself to be remote from the things which would make him fat” (Compare 1 Corinthians 9:25, 27). But if he fall into sickness, or into severe sufferings, or he become a companion unto afflictions which fight against him externally, he must then make use of meat and drink by way of a binding up, and a healing medicine for the things which work tribulation for him. Let us then keep ourselves remote from the evil things which are wrought in the soul, I mean anger, and envy, and vainglory, and dejection, and evil discourse, and the suspicion which is not seemly, for whilst a man is giving thanks unto God he cannot commit sin.

Now therefore, having spoken sufficiently concerning these things, I have another entreaty to bring nigh unto the love of doctrine which is in thee, that is to say, I would that thou didst flee with all thy strength from the converse of men from whom thou canst gain no benefit, although their outside skin be ornamented with various patterns; even if they be orthodox they will cause thee to suffer loss, and if they be heretics that loss will be very much greater. And although they appear to be exceedingly aged, and their bodies be shrivelled and withered, and it may seem to thee that thou canst not in any way be injured by them because of the beautiful dispositions which are in them, that which is in them and which appeareth to thee to be a small matter, will do thee an injury; for thou shalt become lax in thy mind in respect of them, and whilst laughing at them thou wilt become unduly exalted, and that thou shouldst be driven to arrogance would be a loss for thee. Follow then after the mind of pious men and women who shine with the light which entereth in through the windows, so that by means of these, like a book the lines of which are extremely close together, thou mayest be able clearly to see what is in thy heart by comparison with them, either of sluggishness or strenuousness. For there are very many things which testify concerning spiritual excellence, [such as] the colour of the face which blossometh with ascetic labours, and the manner in which the apparel is put on, and a peaceable manner, and a mode of speech which is not inflated, and modesty of the countenance, and a discourse which is not crooked, and cheerfulness of the mind, and an understanding which is full of knowledge; by these things both thine own fair beauty will be made strong, and also all those who follow after the goal of the fear of God, even though they be [living] in a state of negligence or in some other similar [vice]. For, according to the word of the wise man, the behaviour of a man, and the gait of his legs, and the laughter of his mouth testify concerning him (Ecclesiasticus 19:30).

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com