As he is going to reply to the slanders of his opponents he implores the aid of Divine grace to teach a prayer to be used by those who undertake to dispute with heretics.
As it happens to those who having escaped the perils of the sea, are in terror of the sands that stretch before the harbour, or the rocks that line the shore, so it is in my case that,—as I have kept to the last some of the slanders of the heretics,—although I have reached the limit of the work which I set myself, yet I am beginning to dread the close, which I had longed to reach. But, as the Prophet says, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do to me,” 2594 so we will not fear the pitfalls which crafty heretics have dug in front of us, nor the paths thickly strewn with horrid thorns. For as they make our road difficult but do not close it, there is before us the p. 604 trouble of clearing them away, rather than the fear of not being able to do so. For when, as we are walking feebly along the right road, they come in our way, and frighten the walkers rather than hurt them, our work and business has more to do in clearing them away, than to fear from the difficulty of this: And so, laying our hands upon that monstrous head of the deadly serpent, and longing to lay hold of all the limbs that are entangled in the huge folds and coils of his body, again and again do we pray to Thee, O Lord Jesus, to whom we have ever prayed, that Thou wouldst give us words by opening our mouth “to the pulling down of strongholds, destroying counsels, and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto Thine obedience:” 2595 for he is indeed free, who has begun to be led captive by Thee. Do Thou then be present to this work of thine, and to those of Thine who are striving for Thee above the measure of their strength. Grant us to bruise the gaping mouths of this new serpent, and its neck that swells with deadly poison, O Thou who makest the feet of believers to tread unharmed on serpents and scorpions, and to go upon the adder and basilisk, to tread under foot the lion and the dragon. 2596 And grant that through the fearless boldness of steadfast innocence, the sucking child may play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child thrust his hand into the den of the basilisk. 2597 Grant then to us also that we may thrust our hands unharmed into the den of this monstrous and most wicked basilisk; and if it has in any holes, i.e., in the human heart, a lurking or resting place, or has laid its eggs there, or left a trace of its slimy course, do Thou remove from them all the foul and deadly pollution of this most noxious serpent. Take away the uncleanness their blasphemy has brought on them, and purify with the fan of Thy sacred cleansing 2598 the souls that are plunged in stinking mud, so that the “dens of thieves” may become “houses of prayer:” 2599 and that in those which are now, as is written, the dwellings where hedgehogs and monsters, 2600 and satyrs, and all kinds of strange creatures dwell, there the gifts of Thy Holy Spirit, namely the beauty of faith and holiness may shine forth. And as once Thou didst destroy idolatry and cast out images, and make shrines of virtue out of the temples of devils, and let into the dens of serpents and scorpions the rays of shining light, and make out of the dens of error and shame the homes of beauty and splendour, so do Thou pour upon all whose eyes the darkness of heretical obstinacy has blinded, the light of Thy compassion and truth, that they may at length with clear and unveiled sight behold the great and life-giving mystery of Thine Incarnation, and so come to know Thee to have been born as Very man of that sacred womb of a pure Virgin, and yet to acknowledge that Thou wast always Very God.
2 Cor. 10:4, 5.604:2596
Cf. Luke 10:19, Ps. 91:13.604:2597
Isa. xi. 8.604:2598
Cf. Mal. 3:2, 3.604:2599
S. Matt. xxi. 13.604:2600
Onocentauri: the allusion is to Isa. 34:14, 15. Cf. Jerome in Esaiam, Bk. X.