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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

SAID Ioasaph unto the elder, ‘How then shall I be able to send before me thither treasures of money and riches, that, when I depart hence I may find these unharmed and unwasted for my enjoyment? How must I show my hatred for things present and lay hold on things eternal? This make thou right plain unto me.’ Quoth Barlaam, ‘The sending before thee of money to that eternal home is wrought by the hands of the poor. For thus saith one of the prophets, Daniel the wise, unto the king of Babylon, “Wherefore, O Prince, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and redeem thy sins by almsgiving, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.” The Saviour also saith, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” And, in divers places, the Master maketh much mention of almsgiving and liberality to the poor, as we learn in the Gospel. Thus shalt thou most surely send all thy treasure before thee by the hands of the needy, for whatsoever thou shalt do unto these the Master counteth done unto himself, and will reward thee manifold; for, in the recompense of benefits, he ever surpasseth them that love him. So in this manner by seizing for awhile the treasures of the darkness of this world, in whose slavery for a long time past thou hast been miserable, thou shalt by these means make good provision for thy journey, and by plundering another’s goods thou shalt store all up for thyself, with things fleeting and transient purchasing for thyself things that are stable and enduring. Afterwards, God working with thee, thou shalt perceive the uncertainty and inconstancy of the world, and saying farewell to all, shalt remove thy barque to anchor in the future, and, passing by the things that pass away, thou shalt hold to the things that we look for, the things that abide. Thou shalt depart from darkness and the shadow of death, and hate the world and the ruler of the world; and, counting thy perishable flesh thine enemy, thou shalt run toward the light that is unapproachable, and taking the Cross on thy shoulders, shalt follow Christ without looking back, that thou mayest also be glorified with him, and be made inheritor of the life that never changeth nor deceiveth.’

Ioasaph said, ‘When thou spakest a minute past of despising all things, and taking up such a life of toil, was that an old tradition handed down from the teaching of the Apostles, or is this a late invention of your wits, which ye have chosen for yourselves as a more excellent way?’

The elder answered and said, ‘I teach thee no law introduced but yesterday, God forbid! but one given unto us of old. For when a certain rich young man asked the Lord, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and boasted that he had observed all that was written in the Law, Jesus said unto him, “One thing thou lackest yet. Go sell all that thou hast and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, take up thy cross and follow me.” But when the young man heard this he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, “How hardly shall they which have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God!” So, when all the Saints heard this command, they thought fit by all means to withdraw from this hardness of riches. They parted with all their goods, and by this distribution of their riches to the poor, laid up for themselves eternal riches; and they took up their Cross and followed Christ, some being made perfect by martyrdom, even as I have already told thee; and some by the practice of self-denial falling not a whit short of those others in the life of the true philosophy. Know thou, then, that this is a command of Christ our King and God, which leadeth us from things corruptible and maketh us partakers of things everlasting.’

Said Ioasaph, ‘If, then, this kind of philosophy be so ancient and so salutary, how cometh it that so few folk now-a-days follow it?’

The elder answered, ‘Many have followed, and do follow it; but the greatest part hesitate and draw back. For few, saith the Lord, are the travellers along the strait and narrow way, but along the wide and broad way many. For they that have once been taken prisoners by the love of money, and the evils that come from the love of pleasure, and are given up to idle and vain glory, are hardly to be torn therefrom, seeing that they have of their own free will sold themselves as slaves to a strange master, and setting themselves on the opposite side to God, who gave these commands, are held in bondage to that other. For the soul that hath once rejected her own salvation, and given the reins to unreasonable lusts, is carried about hither and thither. Therefore saith the prophet, mourning the folly that encompasseth such souls, and lamenting the thick darkness that lieth on them, “O ye sons of men, how long will ye be of heavy heart? Why love ye vanity, and seek after leasing?” And in the same tone as he, but adding thereto some thing of his own, one of our wise teachers, a most excellent divine, crieth aloud to all, as from some exceeding high place of vantage, “O ye sons of men, how long will ye be of heavy heart? Why love ye vanity and seek after leasing? Trow ye that this present life, and luxury, and these shreds of glory, and petty lordship and false prosperity are any great thing?”—things which no more belong to those that possess them than to them that hope for them, nor to these latter any more than to those who never thought of them: things like the dust carried and whirled about to and fro by the tempest, or vanishing as the smoke, or delusive as a dream, or intangible as a shadow; which, when absent, need not be despaired of by them that have them not, and, when present cannot be trusted by their owners.

‘This then was the commandment of the Saviour; this the preaching of the Prophets and Apostles; in such wise do all the Saints, by word and deed, constrain us to enter the unerring road of virtue. And though few walk therein and more choose the broad way that leadeth to destruction, yet not for this shall the life of this divine philosophy be minished in fame. But as the sun, rising to shine on all, doth bounteously send forth his beams, inviting all to enjoy his light, even so doth our true philosophy, like the sun, lead with her light those that are her lovers, and warmeth and brighteneth them. But if any shut their eyes, and will not behold the light thereof, not for that must the sun be blamed, or scorned by others: still less shall the glory of his brightness be dishonoured through their silliness. But while they, self-deprived of light, grope like blind men along a wall, and fall into many a ditch, and scratch out their eyes on many a bramble bush, the sun, firmly established on his own glory, shall illuminate them that gaze upon his beams with unveiled face. Even so shineth the light of Christ on all men abundantly, imparting to us of his lustre. But every man shareth thereof in proportion to his desire and zeal. For the Sun of righteousness disappointeth none of them that would fix their gaze on him, yet doth he not compel those who willingly choose darkness; but every man, so long as he is in this present life, desireth him by his own free will and choice.’

Ioasaph asked, ‘What is free will and what is choice?’ The elder answered, ‘Free will is the willing of a reasonable soul, moving without hindrance toward whatever it wisheth, whether to virtue or to vice, the soul being thus constituted by the Creator. Free will again is the sovran motion of an intelligent soul. Choice is desire accompanied by deliberation, or deliberation accompanied by desire for things that lie in our power; for in choosing we desire that which we have deliberately preferred. Deliberation is a motion towards enquiry about actions possible to us; a man deliberateth whether he ought to pursue an object or no. Then he judgeth which is the better, and so ariseth judgement. Then he is inclined towards it, and loveth that which was so judged by the deliberative faculty, and this is called resolve; for, if he judge a thing, and yet be not inclined toward the thing that he hath judged, and love it not, it is not called resolve. Then, after inclination toward it, there ariseth choice or rather selection. For choice is to choose one or other of two things in view, and to select this rather than that. And it is manifest that choice is deliberation plus discrimination, and this from the very etymology. For that which is the “object of choice” is the thing chosen before the other thing. And no man preferreth a thing without deliberation, nor maketh a choice without having conceived a preference. For, since we are not zealous to carry into action all that seemeth good to us, choice only ariseth and the deliberately preferred only becometh the chosen, when desire is added thereto. Thus we conclude that choice is desire accompanied by deliberation for things that lie in our power; in choosing we desire that which we have deliberately preferred. All deliberation aimeth at action and dependeth on action; and thus deliberation goeth before all choice, and choice before all action. For this reason not only our actions, but also our thoughts, inasmuch as they give occasion for choice, bring in their train crowns or punishments. For the beginning of sin and righteous dealing is choice, exercised in action possible to us. Where the power of activity is ours, there too are the actions that follow that activity in our power. Virtuous activities are in our power, therefore in our power are virtues also; for we are absolute masters over all our souls’ affairs and all our deliberations. Since then it is of free will that men deliberate, and of free will that men choose, a man partaketh of the light divine, and advanceth in the practice of this philosophy in exact measure of his choice, for there are differences of choice. And even as water-springs, issuing from the hollows of the earth, sometimes gush forth from the surface soil, and sometimes from a lower source, and at other times from a great depth, and even as some of these waters bubble forth continuously, and their taste is sweet, while others that come from deep wells are brackish or sulphurous, even as some pour forth in abundance while others flow drop by drop, thus, understand thou, is it also with our choice. Some choices are swift and exceeding fervent, others languid and cold: some have a bias entirely toward virtue, while others incline with all their force to its opposite. And like in nature to these choices are the ensuing impulses to action.’








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