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Chapter XXIII.

Now the details of the life of him who has chosen to live in such a philosophy as this, the things to be avoided, the exercises to be engaged in, the rules of temperance, the whole method of the training, and all the daily regimen which contributes towards this great end, has been dealt with in certain written manuals of instruction for the benefit of those who love details. Yet there is a plainer guide to be found than verbal instruction; and that is practice: and there is nothing vexatious in the maxim that when we are undertaking a long journey or voyage we should get an instructor. “But,” says the Apostle 1505 , “the word is nigh thee;” the grace begins at home; there is the manufactory of all the virtues; there this life has become exquisitely refined by a continual progress towards consummate perfection; there, whether men are silent or whether they speak, there is large opportunity for being instructed in this heavenly citizenship through the actual practice of it. Any theory divorced from living examples, however admirably it may be dressed out, is like the unbreathing statue, with its show of a blooming complexion impressed in tints and colours; but the man who acts as well as teaches, as the Gospel tells us, he is the man who is truly living, and has the bloom of beauty, and is efficient and stirring. It is to him that we must go, if we mean, according to the saying 1506 of Scripture, to “retain” virginity. One who wants to learn a foreign language is not a competent instructor of himself; he gets himself taught by experts, and can then talk with foreigners. So, for this high life, which does not advance in nature’s groove, but is estranged from her by the novelty of its course, a man cannot be instructed thoroughly unless he puts himself into the hands of one who has himself led it in perfection; and indeed in all the other professions of life the candidate is more likely to achieve success if he gets from tutors a scientific knowledge of each part of the subject of his choice, than if he undertook to study it by himself; and this particular profession 1507 is not one where everything is so clear that judgment as to our best course in it is necessarily left to ourselves; it is one where to hazard a step into the unknown at once brings us into danger. The science of medicine once did not exist; it has come into being by the experiments which men have made, and has gradually been revealed through their various observations; the healing and the harmful drug became known from the attestation of those who had tried them, and this distinction was adopted into the theory of the art, so that the close observation of former practitioners became a precept for those who succeeded; and now any one who studies to attain this art is under no necessity to ascertain at his own peril the power of any drug, whether it be a poison or a medicine; he has only to learn from others the known facts, and may then practise with success. It is so also with that medicine of the soul, philosophy, from which we learn the remedy for every weakness that can touch the soul. We need not hunt after a knowledge of these remedies by dint of guess-work and surmisings; we have abundant means of learning them from him who by a long and rich experience has gained the possession which we seek. In any matter youth is generally a giddy 1508 guide; and it would not be easy to p. 369 find anything of importance succeeding, in which gray hairs have not been called in to share in the deliberations. Even in all other undertakings we must, in proportion to their greater importance, take the more precaution against failure; for in them too the thoughtless designs of youth have brought loss; on property, for instance; or have compelled the surrender of a position in the world, and even of renown. But in this mighty and sublime ambition it is not property, or secular glory lasting for its hour, or any external fortune, that is at stake;—of such things 1509 , whether they settle themselves well or the reverse, the wise take small account;—here rashness can affect the soul itself; and we run the awful hazard, not of losing any of those other things whose recovery even may perhaps be possible, but of ruining our very selves and making the soul a bankrupt. A man who has spent or lost his patrimony does not despair, as long as he is in the land of the living, of perchance coming again through contrivances into his former competence; but the man who has ejected himself from this calling, deprives himself as well of all hope of a return to better things. Therefore, since most embrace virginity while still young and unformed in understanding, this before anything else should be their employment, to search out a fitting guide and master of this way, lest, in their present ignorance, they should wander from the direct route, and strike out new paths of their own in trackless wilds 1510 . “Two are better than one,” says the Preacher 1511 ; but a single one is easily vanquished by the foe who infests the path which leads to God; and verily “woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up 1512 .” Some ere now in their enthusiasm for the stricter life have shown a dexterous alacrity; but, as if in the very moment of their choice they had already touched perfection, their pride has had a shocking fall 1513 , and they have been tripped up from madly deluding themselves into thinking that that to which their own mind inclined them was the true beauty. In this number are those whom Wisdom calls the “slothful ones 1514 ,” who bestrew their “way” with “thorns”; who think it a moral loss to be anxious about keeping the commandments; who erase from their own minds the Apostolic teaching, and instead of eating the bread of their own honest earning fix on that of others, and make their idleness itself into an art of living. From this number, too, come the Dreamers, who put more faith in the illusions of their dreams 1515 than in the Gospel teaching, and style their own phantasies “revelations.” Hence, too, those who “creep into the houses”; and again others who suppose virtue to consist in savage bearishness, and have never known the fruits of long-suffering and humility of spirit. Who could enumerate all the pitfalls into which any one might slip, from refusing to have recourse to men of godly celebrity? Why, we have known ascetics of this class who have persisted in their fasting even unto death, as if “with such sacrifices God were well pleased 1516 ;” and, again, others who rush off into the extreme diametrically opposite, practising celibacy in name only and leading a life in no way different from the secular; for they not only indulge in the pleasures of the table, but are openly known to have a woman in their houses 1517 ; and they call such a friendship a brotherly affection, as if, forsooth, they could veil their own thought, which is inclined to evil, under a sacred term. It is owing to them that this pure and holy profession of virginity is “blasphemed amongst the Gentiles 1518 .”



Rom. x. 8: λλύς σου τὸ ῥ& 210·μά ἐστιν, ἐν τῷ στόματί σου καὶ ἐν τῇ καρδί& 139· σου. Cf. Deut. xxx. 14.


κατὰ τὸν ἐροῦντα λόγον (Codd. Reg. and Mor. αἱροῦντα). This alludes to Prov. 3:18, Prov. 4:6Prov. iii. 18, rather than Prov. iv. 6.


οὐ γὰρ ἐναργές ἐστι τὸ ἐπιτήδευμα τοῦτο, ὥστε κατ᾽ ἀνάγκην, κ.τ.λ. The alternative reading is ν ἀρχαῖς. It has been suggested to read, τε γὰρτότε (for τοῦτο), and understand an aposiopesis in the next sentence; thus—“For when our undertaking is clear and simple, then we must entrust to ourselves the decision of what is best. But when the attempt at the unknown is not unattended with risk—(then we want a guide).” Billius. But this is very awkward.


Livineius had conjectured that πισφαλὴς must be supplied, from a quotation of this passage in Antonius Monachus, Sententiæ, serm. 20, and in Abbas Maximus, Capita, serm. 41; and this is confirmed by Codd. Reg. and Morell.


ν καὶ κατὰ γνώμην καὶ ὡς ἑτέρως διοικουμένων ὀλίγος τοῖς σωφρονοῦσιν ὁ λόγος. The Latin here has “quas quidem res ego sane despicio, exiguamque harum tanquam extrinsecus venientium)” &c.; evidently καταγνοίην must have been in the text used.


νοδίας τινὰς καινοτομήσωσιν (νοδί& 139·, ἀνοδίαις, is frequent in Polybius; the word is not found elsewhere in other cases).


Ecclesiastes iv. 9.


Ecclesiastes iv. 10. Gregory supports the Vulgate, which has “quia cum ceciderit, non habet sublevantem se.”


τερῷ πτώματι, euphemistically.


Prov. xv. 19.


The alternative reading is τῶν θηρίων; but νείρων is confirmed by three of the Codd. Cf. Theodoret, lib. 4, Hæretic. fab., of the Messaliani; and lib. 4, Histor. c. 10, πνῳ δὲ σφᾶς αὐτοὺς ἐκδίδοντες τὰς τῶν ὀνείρων φαντασίας προφητείας ἀποκαλοῦσι


Heb. xiii. 16.


See Chrysostom, Lib. Πρὸς τοὺς συνεισάκτους ἔχοντας.


τῶν ἔξωθεν. Cf. Rom. ii. 24

Next: Chapter XXIV