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

NOW by the side of this Chronius, who is [mentioned] above, there used to dwell a certain man who was called James the Lame, and he was an exceedingly learned man; now both of these men knew the blessed Anthony.

And it came to pass one day that there happened to be there also Paphnutius, who is described as a man who watered gardens by machines, and who possessed the gift of knowledge to such a degree that he knew how to expound the Books of the Old and New Testaments without reading from them; and he was such a gentle man that his meekness overcame the gift of prophecy which was found with him; now the former was voluntary, and the latter was an act of Divine grace. And of this man it was said that he possessed spiritual excellence to such a degree that for a period of eighty years he did not own two tunics. Now when I and the blessed man Evagrius came to these men we desired to learn the reasons for the stumblings of the brethren and for their transgressions against the strict rules of the ascetic life.

And it came to pass in those same days that Chaeremon the anchorite departed from the world whilst he was sitting on his seat and holding his work in his hand.

And it came to pass that another brother was buried by a fall of earth when he was digging a well.

And another died of want of water as he was coming from Scete.

And in addition to these [we wished to learn] concerning the matter of Stephen, which ought not to be spoken about, for he fell into foul lasciviousness.

And [we asked] concerning Eucarpius, and those which concerned Hero the Alexandrian, and the Palestinian, and Ptolemy the Egyptian, who were in Scete. And we were asking among ourselves the question, “What is the reason why men live lives of this kind in the desert, whereby some receive injury mentally, and some are ensnared by lasciviousness?” Whereupon Paphnutius, that man of great learning, made answer unto us in the following words, saying, All the various things which take place in the world must be divided into two categories, for some happen through the direct Will of God, and the others by His permission only; the things which are wrought to the praise of God, especially happen by the direct desire of God, but all those which appertain to loss (or injury), and danger, and to matters which produce tribulation take place by the permission of God. Now permission ariseth from a fault on the part of the mind. For it is impossible for the man who thinketh rightly to fall into foul sins, or into the error which ariseth from the devils, for all of these take place through a corrupt intent (or disposition), and through the [love of the] approval of the children of men, and by the daring of the thoughts, [which] hope to make perfect spiritual excellence. Such men fall into reprehensible wickedness, and God permitteth them so to do, that they may be a help unto others, that when they feel the difference which hath come upon them through this permission, they may rememberthemselves and may turn again unto spiritual excellence, either that which existeth in the mind, or that which existeth in deeds. And sometimes it is the mind which sinneth, that is to say, when that sin which taketh place is committed with evil intent; and sometimes it is the deeds themselves which must be rejected, as, for example, when they are performed in a manner which is quite beyond everything which is right and seemly, and this latter case happeneth frequently. Thus a man of lust will, with corrupt design, give alms unto young women in order that he may fulfil his foul desire, even though at the beginning he may say, ‘It is a beautiful act for us to offer help to the maiden who is an orphan, and alone [in the world] and in misery.’ And again it may happen that a man may begin to do alms with a good and acceptable intent to those who are sick, or to those who have lost their riches and become poor, and that though he giveth his gift in a niggardly manner, and may murmur [at the expense] and wax wroth, his motive in giving will be found to be a right one. Now the deed is not [to be thought] equal to the motive. For it is right for the man who would shew mercy to make his gift gladly and with a good eye.”

And they also spoke the following: “There is a difference between the gifts which exist in various souls. Some of them possess keenness of mind, and some of them find it exceedingly easy and simple to acquire the habits of ascetic self-denial, or to do that which is difficult for other souls to do; but when a man maketh use of [his] gift of keenness of mind without a good object for so doing, or when he exerteth his faculty of performing things because it is easy for him to do so, or when men exercise the gifts which they have received, they do not ascribe, as would be right, the correctness of their spiritual excellences unto God, but to their own desire, and to their own keenness of mind. And those to whom it is sufficient to perform fair works are permitted by the Divine Providence to be caught in a snare, either by filthy deeds or filthy passions, or by the contempt or by the disgrace which cometh unto them from the children of men, so that through the shame and the contempt which [they receive] from the multitude they may little by little and by degrees cast away from them their boasting about the spiritual excellence which they imagine they possess.

For he who is inflated and unduly exalted at the keenness of speech [which he possesseth] doth not ascribe to God, as is right, such keenness, or the discovery of the knowledge which is from Him, but to his own training, forsooth, or to his own naturally keen disposition; [therefore] doth God remove from him the Angel of His Divine Providence, and the Angel being separated from him, this man is immediately vanquished by his Adversary, and he who was [unduly] lifted up in his keenness [of mind and speech] falleth into lasciviousness, or into some kind of filthy passion, because he was [unduly] exalted. And because he was lifted up, and because the witness of chastity hath separated himself from him, the things which are said by him become unworthy of credence, and those who fear God flee from the teaching of the mouth of the man who is in this condition, even as they would flee from a fountain which is full of leeches, so that there may be fulfilled that which is written, ‘Unto the sinner God saith, What hast thou to do with the Books of My Commandments? (Psalm 50:16.) For thou hast taken My covenant in thy mouth.’

“For in very truth the souls of those who are moved by passions are like unto fountains of divers kinds; the souls of gluttons and of those who live in impurity and drunkenness are like unto muddy springs; and the souls of those who love money and are avaricious are like unto wells which are full of frogs; and the souls of those who live in envy and pride, even though there be found in their nature a facility for receiving doctrine, are like unto wells which breed snakes, and which, even though their flow be continual, no man is able to drink from because of the bitterness of their manners and habits. And because of this the blessed man David asked and entreated God togive him three things: graciousness (orsweetness), knowledge, and instruction. [For without graciousness knowledge hath no use], and if a man whose manner of life is thus correct shall himself lift from off himself the cause of the permission [from God], which is boasting, and shall take upon himself humility, and shall recognize his true capacity, and shall not, at the same time, exalt himself over any man, and shall confess (or give thanks unto) God, the witness of knowledge will return unto him again.”

“Now this is the behaviour of spiritual excellence. For the spiritual words of a chaste mode of life do not permit to grow up together with them the parched spear-grasses, and ears of corn which have been smitten by the south wind (or drought), and which by reason of their appearance make men think they are full, whilst there is no [flour of] bread in them. Every lapse (or calamity) which taketh place, either through the tongue, or through some feeling, or through some action, or through the whole body, taketh place in proportion to the measure of a man’s pride, and by the permission of God, Who showeth compassion upon those who commit themselves to His Divine Providence. For if, in addition to their skill in ordering their speech and their keenness of nature, the Lord were also to testify to the beauty of their words by never permitting them to fall, the arrogance with which they would exalt themselves in impurity would probably surpass that of the devils.”

And the following also did these men of the house of Abbâ Paphnutius say unto us: “When thou seest evil deeds and acts, that is to say, the conversation of him who leadeth an evil life [and knowest] that they are fair and exceedingly plausible, remember the Devil who, [as we learn] from the Holy Scriptures, spake with Christ [St. Matthew 4:3ff.], and also the testimony which saith, ‘Now the serpent was the most subtle (Genesis 3:1) of all the serpents which were on the earth,’ and that it was by reason of his subtlety that destruction came upon him, because he possessed no otherquality of excellence which attached itself closely to his cunning. For it is meet that the believing man who feareth God should ponder upon that which God giveth unto him. And let him speak that which he meditateth, and let him do that which he speaketh. For if to the asseveration of words there be not attached a brotherhood in acts and deeds, it is bread without salt, which cannot be eaten, lest digestion be disturbed, even as the blessed man Job said, ‘Can the thing which is insipid be eaten without salt? Or, is there any taste in the juice of the ox-tongue plant?’ (Job 6:6.) Even thus polished words possess no savour whatsoever unless they be made complete by works.

Now therefore there is one kind of permission which hideth spiritual excellence in order that it may be revealed, as, for example, that of Job concerning which God made known when He said unto him (Job 40:8ff.), ‘Blame not My judgement, and think not that I have done these things unto thee for any other reason than that it might be known that thou art righteous. Thou wast known unto Me because I see secret things, but thou wast not revealed unto the children of men, because they thought that thou didst care exceedingly for riches that thou mightest make perfect Mypleasure; it was for this reason that I brought upon thee the trial of stripping thee of thy riches so that I might shew them thy gratitude towards Me, and thy patient endurance.’

“And there is another kind of permission [which God giveth] in order to drive out pride (or arrogance), as in the case of Paul, for the blessed Paul was permitted by means of distractions and a goad, and he fell into divers tribulations, and he said, ‘There hath been given to me a goad in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, (2 Corinthians 12:7) to buffet me so that I may not be [unduly] exalted,’ lest through the superfluity of the revelations, and signs, and gratifications [of the spirit], and prosperity and honours which were found with him, he might become lax and fall into arrogance. And the paralytic was permitted because of sin, even according to what our Redeemer said unto him, ‘Behold, thou art whole; sin no more’ (St. John 5:14). And Judas was permitted because he held money (St. Matthew 27:5) in greater esteem than life, and because of this he hanged himself. And Esau (Genesis 25:32) was permitted, and he fell into filthy desire because he honoured the dung of the bowels more than the divine birthright. Therefore, because the blessed Paul understood all these things, did he say concerning men, ‘Because they have not decided within themselves that they will know God, He hath delivered them over unto an empty understanding so that they may work that which is unseemly’ (Romans 1:21–28). And concerning other men who think that the knowledge of God is in them, together with the corrupt mind which they possess, he said, ‘Because they have known God, and have not praised Him as God, and given thanks unto Him, He hath delivered them over unto the passions of disgrace.’ ”

Therefore from these things it is meet that we should know that it is impossible for a man to stumble and fall into filthy desire without the permission of the Providence of God.

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