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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

A.D. 324.—THOSE who at this period had embraced monasticism, manifested the glory of the Church, and evidenced the truth of their doctrines, by their virtuous line of conduct. Indeed, the most useful thing that has been received by man from God is their philosophy. They neglected many branches of mathematics and the technicalities of dialectics, because they regarded such studies as superfluous, and as a useless expenditure of time, seeing that they contribute nothing towards the better regulation of life and conduct. They applied themselves exclusively to the cultivation of natural and useful science, in order that they might mitigate if not eradicate evil. They invariably refrained from accounting any action or principle as good which occupies a middle place between virtue and vice, for they delighted only in what is good and virtuous. They regarded every man as wicked, who, though he abstain from evil, does not do good. They practised virtue, not only in word but in deed, and sought not honour of man. They manfully subjugated the passions of the soul, yielding neither to the necessities of nature, nor to the weakness of the body. Being strengthened by divine assistance, they lived in ceaseless contemplation of the Creator, night and day worshipping Him, and offering up prayers and supplications. Pure in heart and blameless in conduct, they faithfully performed their religious duties, and despised such outward observances as lustrations and instruments of sprinkling, for they believed that sin alone requires purging. They lived above the reach of the external casualties to which we are liable, and held, as it were, all things under their control; and were not therefore diverted from the path they had selected by the accidents of life or by the force of necessity. They never revenged themselves when injured, nor complained when suffering from disease or privations, but rather rejoiced in such trials, and endured them with patience and meekness. They accustomed themselves to be content with little, and approximated as nearly to God as is possible to human nature. They regarded this life only as a journey, and were not therefore solicitous about acquiring wealth, or amassing more than necessity required. They admired the beauty and simplicity of nature, but their hope was placed in heaven and the blessedness of the future. Wholly absorbed in the worship of God, they revolted from obscene language; and as they had banished evil practices, so they would not allow such things to be even named. They limited, as far as possible, the demands of nature, and compelled the body to be satisfied with moderate supplies. They overcame intemperance by temperance, injustice by justice, and falsehood by truth, and attained the happy medium in all things. They dwelt in harmony and fellowship with their neighbours. They provided for their friends and strangers, imparted to those who were in want, according to their need, and comforted the afflicted. As they were diligent in all things, and zealous in seeking the supreme good, their instructions, though clothed in modesty and prudence, and devoid of vain and meritricious eloquence, possessed power, like sovereign medicines, in healing the moral diseases of their audience; they spoke, too, with fear and reverence, and eschewed all strife, raillery and anger. Indeed, it is but reasonable to suppress all irrational emotions, and to subdue carnal and natural passions. Elias the prophet and John the Baptist were the authors, as some say, of this sublime philosophy. Philo the Pythagorean relates, that in his time the most virtuous of the Hebrews assembled from all parts of the world, and settled in a tract of country situated on a hill near Lake Mareotis, for the purpose of living as philosophers. He describes their dwellings, their regulations and their customs, as similar to those which we now meet with among the monks of Egypt. He says that from the moment they began to apply to the study of philosophy, they gave up their property to their relatives, relinquished business and society, and, quitting the cities, dwelt in fields and in gardens. They had also, he informs us, sacred edifices which were called monasteries, in which they dwelt apart and alone, occupied in celebrating the holy mysteries, and in worshipping God with psalms and hymns. They never tasted food before sunset, and some only took food every third day, or even at longer intervals. Finally, he says that on certain days they lay on the ground and abstained from wine and the flesh of animals; that their food was bread, salt, and hyssop, and their drink, water; and that there were aged virgins among them, who, for the sake of philosophy, had refrained from marriage. In this narrative, Philo seems to describe certain Jews who had embraced Christianity, and yet retained the customs of their nation, for no vestiges of this manner of life are to be found elsewhere; and hence I conclude that this philosophy flourished in Egypt from this period. Others, however, assert that this mode of life originated from the persecutions for the sake of religion which arose from time to time, and by which many were compelled to flee to the mountains and deserts and forests, and adopt these customs.








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