Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume XI/John Cassian/Conferences of John Cassian, Part I/Conference III/Chapter 7
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How we can attain perfection in each of these sorts of renunciations.
Wherefore it will not be of much advantage to us that we have made our first renunciation with the utmost devotion and faith, if we do not complete the second with the same zeal and ardour. And so when we have succeeded in this, we shall be able to arrive at the third as well, in which we go forth from the house of our former parent, (who, as we know well, was our father from our very birth, after the old man, when we were “by nature children of wrath, as others also,”) and fix our whole mental gaze on things celestial. And of this father Scripture says to Jerusalem which had despised God the true Father, “Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite;” and in the gospel we read “Ye are of your father the devil and the lusts of your father ye love to do.” And when we have left him, as we pass from things visible to things unseen we shall be able to say with the Apostle: “But we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved we have a habitation from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” and this also, which we quoted a little while ago: “But our conversation is in heaven, whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, who will reform the body of our low estate made like to the body of His glory,” and this of the blessed David: “For I am a sojourner upon the earth,” and “a stranger as all my fathers were;” so that we may in accordance with the Lord’s word be made like those of whom the Lord speaks to His Father in the gospel as follows: “They are not of the world, as I am not of the world,” and again to the Apostles themselves: “If ye were of this world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of this world, therefore the world hateth you.” Of this third renunciation then we shall succeed in reaching the perfection, whenever our soul is sullied by no stain of carnal coarseness, but, all such having been carefully eliminated, it has been freed from every earthly quality and desire, and by constant meditation on things Divine, and spiritual contemplation has so far passed on to things unseen, that in its earnest seeking after things above and things spiritual it no longer feels that it is prisoned in this fragile flesh, and bodily form, but is caught up into such an ecstasy as not only to hear no words with the outward ear, or to busy itself with gazing on the forms of things present, but not even to see things close at hand, or large objects straight before the very eyes. And of this no one can understand the truth and force, except one who has made trial of what has been said, under the teaching of experience; viz., one, the eyes of whose soul the Lord has turned away from all things present, so that he no longer considers them as things that will soon pass away, but as things that are already done with, and sees them vanish into nothing, like misty smoke; and like Enoch, “walking with God,” and “translated” from human life and fashions, not “be found” amid the vanities of this life. And that this actually happened corporeally in the case of Enoch the book of Genesis thus tells us. “And Enoch walked with God, and was not found, for God translated him.” And the Apostle also says: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death,” the death namely of which the Lord says in the gospel: “He that liveth and believeth in me shall not die eternally.” Wherefore, if we are anxious to attain true perfection, we ought to look to it that as we have outwardly with the body made light of parents, home, the riches and pleasures of the world, we may
also inwardly with the heart forsake all these things and never be drawn back by any desires to those things which we have forsaken, as those who were led up by Moses, though they did not literally go back, are yet said to have returned in heart to Egypt; viz., by forsaking God who had led them forth with such mighty signs, and by worshipping the idols of Egypt of which they had thought scorn, as Scripture says: “And in their hearts they turned back into Egypt, saying to Aaron: Make us gods to go before us,” for we should fall into like condemnation with those who, while dwelling in the wilderness, after they had tasted manna from heaven, lusted after the filthy food of sins, and of mean baseness, and should seem together with them to murmur in the same way: “It was well with us in Egypt, when we sat over the flesh pots and ate the onions, and garlic, and cucumbers, and melons:” A form of speech, which, although it referred primarily to that people, we yet see fulfilled today in our own case and mode of life: for everyone who after renouncing this world turns back to his old desires, and reverts to his former likings asserts in heart and act the very same thing that they did, and says “It was well with me in Egypt,” and I am afraid that the number of these will be as large as that of the multitudes of backsliders of whom we read under Moses, for though they were reckoned as six hundred and three thousand armed men who came out of Egypt, of this number not more than two entered the land of promise. Wherefore we should be careful to take examples of goodness from those who are few and far between, because according to that figure of which we have spoken in the gospel “Many are called but few” are said to be “chosen.” A renunciation then in body alone, and a mere change of place from Egypt will not do us any good, if we do not succeed in achieving that renunciation in heart, which is far higher and more valuable. For of that mere bodily renunciation of which we have spoken the apostle declares as follows: “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, but have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” And the blessed Apostle would never have said this had it not been that he foresaw by the spirit that some who had given all their goods to feed the poor would not be able to attain to evangelical perfection and the lofty heights of charity, because while pride or impatience ruled over their hearts they were not careful to purify themselves from their former sins, and unrestrained habits, and on that account could never attain to that love of God which never faileth, and these, as they fall short in this second stage of renunciation, can still less reach that third stage which is most certainly far higher. But consider too in your minds with great care the fact that he did not simply say “If I bestow my goods.” For it might perhaps be thought that he spoke of one who had not fulfilled the command of the gospel, but had kept back something for himself, as some half-hearted persons do. But he says “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,” i.e., even if my renunciation of those earthly riches be perfect. And to this renunciation he adds something still greater: “And though I give my body to be burned, but have not charity, I am nothing:” As if he had said in other words, though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor in accordance with that command in the gospel, where we are told “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven,” renouncing them so as to keep back nothing at all for myself, and though to this distribution (of my goods) I should by the burning of my flesh add martyrdom so as to give up my body for Christ, and yet be impatient, or passionate or envious or proud, or excited by wrongs done by others, or seek what is mine, or indulge in evil thoughts, or not be ready and patient in bearing all that can be inflicted on me, this renunciation and the burning of the outer man will profit me nothing, while the inner man is still involved in the former sins, because, while in the fervour of the early days of my conversion I made light of the mere worldly substance, which is said to be not good or evil in itself but indifferent, I took no care to cast out in like manner the injurious powers of a bad heart, or to attain to that love of the Lord which is patient, which is “kind, which envieth not, is not puffed up, is not soon angry, dealeth not perversely, seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil,” which “beareth all things, endureth all things,” and which lastly never suffers him who follows after it to fall by the deceitfulness of sin.
- Eph. ii. 3.
- Ezek. xvi. 3.
- S. John viii. 44.
- 2 Cor. v. 1.
- Phil. iii. 20, 21.
- Ps. cxviii. (cxix.) 19; Ps. xxxviii. (xxxix.) 13.
- S. John xvii. 16.
- S. John xv. 19.
- Gen. v. 24 (LXX.); Heb. xi. 5; S. John xi. 26.
- Acts vii. 39, 40.
- Numb. xi. 18; Exod. xvi. 3; Numb. xi. 5.
- S. Matt. xxii. 14.
- 1 Cor. xiii. 3.
- S. Matt. xix. 21.
- 1 Cor. xiii. 4–7.