Book VII. OF THE SPIRIT OF
Chapter I. How
our warfare with covetousness is a foreign one, and how this fault is
not a natural one in man,
as the other faults are.
Our third conflict is against covetousness which we can
describe as the love of money; a foreign warfare, and one outside of
our nature, and in the case of a monk originating only from the state
of a corrupt and sluggish mind, and often from the beginning of his
renunciation being unsatisfactory, and his love towards God being
lukewarm at its foundation. For the rest of the incitements to sin
planted in human nature seem to have their commencement as it were
congenital with us, and somehow being deeply rooted in our flesh, and
almost coeval with our birth, anticipate our powers of discerning good
and evil, and although in very early days they attack a man, yet they
are overcome with a long struggle.
But this disease coming upon us at a later period, and
approaching the soul from without, as it can be the more easily guarded
against and resisted, so; if it is disregarded and once allowed to gain
an entrance into the heart, is the more dangerous to every one, and
with the greater difficulty expelled. For it becomes "a root of all
gives rise to a multiplicity of incitements to sin.
For example, do not we see those natural impulses of the flesh
not only in boys in whom innocence still anticipates the discernment of
good and evil, but even in little children and infants, who although
they have not even the slightest approach to lust within them, yet show
that the impulses of the flesh exist in them and are naturally excited?
Do not we also see that the deadly pricks of anger already exist in
full vigour likewise in little children? and before they have learnt
the virtue of patience, we see that they are disturbed by wrongs, and
feel affronts offered to them even by way of a joke; and sometimes,
although strength is lacking to them, the desire to avenge themselves
is not wanting, when anger excites them. Nor do I say this to lay the
blame on their natural state, but to point out that of these impulses
which proceed from us, some are implanted in us for a useful purpose,
while some are introduced from without, through the fault of
carelessness and the desire of an evil will. For these carnal impulses,
of which we spoke above, were with a useful purpose implanted in our
bodies by the providence of the Creator, viz.: for perpetuating the
race, and raising up children for posterity: and not for committing
adulteries and debaucheries, which the authority of the law also
condemns. The pricks of anger too, do we not see that they have been
most wisely given to us, that being enraged at our sins and mistakes,
we may apply ourselves the rather to virtues and spiritual exercises,
showing forth all love towards God, and patience towards our brethren?
We know too how great is the use of sorrow, which is reckoned among the
other vices, when it is turned to an opposite use. For on the one hand,
when it is in accordance with the fear of God it is most needful, and
on the other, when it is in accordance with the world, most pernicious;
as the Apostle teaches us when he says that "the sorrow which is
according to God worketh repentance that is steadfast unto salvation,
but the sorrow of the world worketh death."
Chapter IV. That we can say
that there exist in us some natural faults, without wronging the
IF then we say that these impulses were implanted in us by the
Creator, He will not on that account seem blameworthy, if we choose
wrongly to abuse them, and to pervert them to harmful purposes, and are
ready to be made sorry by means of the useless Cains of this world, and
not by means of showing penitence and the correction of our faults: or
at least if we are angry not with ourselves (which would be profitable)
but with our brethren in defiance of God's command. For in the case of
iron, which is given us for good and useful purposes, if any one should
pervert it for murdering the innocent, one would not therefore blame
the maker of the metal because man had used to injure others that which
he had provided for good and useful purposes of living happily.
Chapter V. Of the faults
which are contracted through our own fault, without natural impulses.
But we affirm that some faults grow up without any natural
occasion giving birth to them, but simply from the free choice of a
corrupt and evil will, as envy and this very sin of covetousness; which
are caught (so to speak) from without, having no origination in us from
natural instincts. But these, in proportion as they are easily guarded
against and readily avoided, just so do they make wretched the mind
that they have got hold of and seized, and hardly do they suffer it to
get at the remedies which would cure it: either because these who are
wounded by persons whom they might either have ignored, or avoided, or
easily overcome, do not deserve to be healed by a speedy cure, or else
because, having laid the foundations badly, they are unworthy to raise
an edifice of virtue and reach the summit of perfection.
Wherefore let not this evil seem of no account or unimportant
to anybody: for as it can easily be avoided, so if it has once got hold
of any one, it scarcely suffers him to get at the remedies for curing
it. For it is a regular nest of sins, and a "root of all kinds of
evil," andbecomes a hopeless incitement to wickedness, as the Apostle
says, "Covetousness," i.e. the love of money, "is a root of all kinds
Chapter VII. Of the source
from which covetousness springs, and of the evils of which it is itself
When then this vice has got hold of the slack and lukewarm
soul of some monk, it begins by tempting him in regard of a small sum
of money, giving him excellent and almost reasonable excuses why he
ought to retain some money for himself. For he complains that what is
provided in the monastery is not sufficient, and can scarcely be
endured by a sound and sturdy body. What is he to do if ill health
comes on, and he has no special store of his own to support him in his
weakness? He says that the allowance of the monastery is but meagre,
and that there is the greatest carelessness about the sick: and if he
has not something of his own so that he can look after the wants of his
body, he will perish miserably. The dress which is allowed him is
insufficient, unless he has provided something with which to procure
another. Lastly, he says that he cannot possibly remain for long in the
same place and monastery, and that unless he has secured the money for
his journey, and the cost of his removal over the sea, he cannot move
when he wants to, and, detained by the compulsion of want, will
henceforth drag out a wretched and wearisome existence without making
the slightest advance: that he cannot without indignity be supported by
another's substance, as a pauper and one in want. And so when he has
bamboozled himself with such thoughts as these, he racks his brains to
think how he can acquire at least one penny. Then he anxiously searches
for some special work which he can do without the Abbot knowing
anything about it. And selling it secretly, and so securing the coveted
coin, he torments himself worse and worse in thinking how he can double
it: puzzled as to where to deposit it, or to whom to intrust it. Then
he is oppressed with a still weightier care as to what to buy with it,
or by what transaction he can double it. And when this has turned out
as he wished, a still more greedy craving for gold springs up, and is
more and more keenly excited, as his store of money grows larger and
larger. For with the increase of wealth the mania of covetousness
increases. Then next he has forebodings of a long life, and an
enfeebled old age, and infirmities of all sorts, and long drawn out,
which will be insupportable in old age, unless a large store of money
has been laid by in youth. And so the wretched soul is agitated, and
held fast, as it were, in a serpent's toils, while it endeavours to add
to that heap which it has unlawfully secured, by still more unlawful
care, and itself gives birth to plagues which inflame it more sorely,
and being entirely absorbed in the quest of gain, pays attention to
nothing but how to get money with which to fly3 as quickly
possible from the discipline of the monastery, never keeping faith
where there is a gleam of hope of money to be got. For this it shrinks
not from the crime of lying, perjury, and theft, of breaking a promise,
of giving way to injurious bursts of passion. If the man has dropped
away at all from the hope of gain, he has no scruples about
transgressing the bounds of humility, and through it all gold and the
love of gain become to him his god, as the belly does to others.
Wherefore the blessed Apostle, looking out on the deadly poison of this
pest, not only says that it is a root of all kinds of evil, but also
calls it the worship of idols, saying "And covetousness (which in Greek
is called filarguri/a) which is the
worship of idols."4
You see then to what a downfall this madness step by step leads, so
that by the voice of the Apostle it is actually declared to be the
worship of idols and false gods, because passing over the image and
likeness of God (which one who serves God with devotion ought to
preserve undefiled in himself), it chooses to love and care for images
stamped on gold instead of God.
With such strides then in a downward direction he goes from
bad to worse, and at last cares not to retain I will not say the virtue
but even the shadow of humility, charity, and obedience; and is
displeased with everything, and murmurs and groans over every work; and
now i having cast off all reverence, like a bad-tempered horse, dashes
off headlong and unbridled: and discontented with his daily food and
usual clothing, announces that he wall not put up with it any longer.
He declares that God is not only there, and that his salvation is not
confined to that place, where, if he does not take himself off pretty
quickly from it, he deeply laments that he will soon die.
And so having money to provide for his wanderings, with the
assistance of which he has fitted himself as it were with wings, and
now being quite ready for his move, he answers impertinently to all
commands, and behaves himself like a stranger and a visitor, and
whatever he sees needing improvement, he despises and treats with
contempt. And though he has a supply of money secretly hidden, yet he
complains that he has neither shoes nor clothes, and is indignant that
they are given out to him so slowly. And if it happens that through the
management of the superior some of these are given first to one who is
known to have nothing whatever, he is still more inflamed with burning
rage, and thinks that he is despised as a stranger; nor is he contented
to turn his hand to any work, but finds fault with everything which
the needs of the monastery require to be done. Then of set purpose he
looks out for opportunities of being offended and angry, lest he might
seem to have gone forth from the discipline of the monastery for a
trivial reason. And not content to take his departure by himself alone,
lest it should be thought that he has left as it were from his own
fault, he never stops corrupting as many as he can by clandestine
conferences. But if the severity of the weather interferes with his
journey and travels, he remains all the time in suspense and anxiety of
heart, and never stops sowing and exciting discontent; as he thinks
that he will only find consolation for his departure and an excuse for
his fickleness in the bad character and defects of the monastery.
Chapter X. Of the toils
which a deserter from a monastery must undergo through covetousness,
though he used formerly to murmur at the very slightest tasks.
And SO he is driven about, and more and more inflamed with the
love of his money, which when it is acquired, never allows a monk
either to remain in a monastery or to live under the discipline of a
rule. And when separating him like some wild beast from the rest of the
herd, it has made him through want of companions an animal fit for
prey, and caused him to be easily eaten up, as he is deprived of fellow
lodgers, it forces him, who once thought it beneath him to perform the
slight duties of the monastery, to labour without stopping night and
day, through hope of gain; it suffers him to keep no services of
prayer, no system of fasting, no rule of vigils; it does not allow him
to fulfil the duties of seemly intercession, If only he can satisfy the
madness of avarice, and supply his daily wants; inflaming the more the
fire of covetousness, while believing that it will be extinguished by
Hence many are led on over an abrupt precipice, and by an
irrevocable fall, to death, and not content to possess by themselves
that money which they either never had before, or which by a bad
beginning they kept back, they seek for women to dwell with them, to
preserve what they have unjustifiably amassed .or retained. And they
implicate themselves in so many harmful and dangerous occupations, that
they are cast down even to the depths of hell, while they refuse to
acquiesce in that saying of the Apostle, that "having food and clothing
they should be content" with that which the thrift of the monastery
supplied, but "wishing to become rich they fall into temptation and the
snare of the devil, and many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which
drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money," i.e.
covetousness, "is a root of all kinds of evil, which some coveting have
erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows."5
I know of one, who thinks himself a monk, and what is worse
flatters himself on his perfection, who had been received into a
monastery, and when charged by his Abbot not to turn his thoughts back
to those things which he had given up and renounced, but to free
himself from covetousness, the root of all kinds of evil, and from
earthly snares; and when told that if he wished to be cleansed from his
former passions, by which he saw that he was from time to time
grievously oppressed, he should cease from caring about those things
which even formerly were not his own, entangled in the chains of which
he certainly could not make progress towards purifying himself of his
faults: with an angry expression he did not hesitate to answer, "If you
have that with which you can support others, why do you forbid me to
have it as well?"6
But let not this seem superfluous or objectionable to any one.
For unless the different kinds of sins are first explained, and the
origin and causes of diseases traced out, the proper healing remedies
cannot be applied to the sick, nor can the preservation of perfect
health be secured by the strong. For both these matters and many others
besides these are generally put forward for the instruction of the
younger brethren by the elders in their conferences, as they have had
experience of numberless falls and the ruin of all sorts of people. And
often recognizing in ourselves many of these things, when the elders
explained and showed them, as men who were themselves disquieted7
by the same
passions, we were cured without any shame or confusion on our part,
since without saying anything we learnt both the remedies and the
causes of the sins which beset us, which we have passed over and said
nothing about, not from fear of the brethren, but lestour book should
chance to fall into the hands of some who have had no instruction in
this way of life, and might disclose to inexperienced persons what
ought to be known only to those who are toiling and striving to reach
the heights of perfection.
And SO this disease and unhealthy state is threefold, and is
condemned with equal abhorrence by all the fathers. One feature is
this, of which we described the taint above, which by deceiving
wretched folk persuades them to hoard though they never had anything of
their own when they lived in the world. Another, which forces men
afterwards to resume and once more desire those things which in the
early days of their renunciation of the world they gave up. A third,
which springing from a faulty and hurtful beginning and making a bad
start, does not suffer those whom it has once infected with this
luke-warmness of mind to strip themselves of all their worldly goods,
through fear of poverty and want of faith; and those who keep back
money and property which they certainly ought to have renounced and
forsaken, it never allows to arrive at the perfection of the gospel.
And we find in Holy Scripture instances of these three catastrophes
which were visited with no light punishment. For when Gehazi wished to
acquire what he had never had before, not only did he fail to obtain
the gift of prophecy which it would have been his to receive from his
master by hereditary succession, but on the contrary he was covered by
the curse of the holy Elisha with a perpetual leprosy: while Judas,
wanting to resume the possession of the wealth which he had formerly
cast away when he followed Christ, not only fell into betraying the
Lord, and lost his apostolic rank, but also was not allowed to close
his life with the common lot of all but ended it by a violent death.
But Ananias and Sapphira, keeping back a part of that which was formerly
their own, were at the Apostle's word punished with death.
Chapter XV. Of the
difference between one who renounces the world badly and one who does
not renounce it at all.
OF those then who say that they have renounced this world, and
afterwards being overcome by want of faith are afraid of losing their
worldly goods, a charge is given mystically in Deuteronomy. "If any man
is afraid and of a fearful heart let him not go forth to war: let him
go back and return home, lest he make the hearts of his brethren to
fear as he himself is timid and frightened."8 What can one
plainer than this testimony? Does not Scripture clearly prefer that
they should not take on them even the earliest stages of this
profession and its name, rather than by their persuasion and bad
example turn others back from the perfection of the gospel, and weaken
them by their faithless terror. And so they are bidden to withdraw from
the battle and return to their homes, because a man cannot fight the
Lord's battle with a double heart. For "a double-minded man is unstable
in all his ways."9
And thinking, according to that Parable in the Gospel,10
that he who goes
forth with ten thousand men against a king who comes with twenty
thousand, cannot possibly fight, they should, while he is yet a great
way off, ask for peace; that is, it is better for them not even to take
the first step towards renunciation, rather than afterwards following
it up coldly, to involve themselves in still greater dangers. For "it
is better not to vow, than to vow and not pay."11 But finely
one described as coming with ten thousand and the other with twenty.
For the number of sins which attack us is far larger than that of the
virtues which fight for us. But "no man can serve God and Mammon."12
And "no man
putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom
Chapter XVI. Of the
authority under which those shelter themselves who object to stripping
themselves of their goods.
These then try to make out a case for their original avarice,
by some authority from Holy Scripture, which they interpret with base
ingenuity, in their desire to wrest and pervert to their own purposes a
saying of the Apostle or rather of the Lord Himself: and, not adapting
their own life or understanding to the meaning of the Scripture, but
making the meaning of Scripture bend to the desires of their own lust,
they try to make it to correspond to their own views, and say that it
is written, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."14
And by an entirely
wrong interpretation of this they think that they can weaken the force
of that saying of the Lord in which he says: "If thou wilt be perfect,
go sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have
treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."15 And they think
that under colour of this they need not deprive themselves of their
riches: declaring indeed that they are more blessed if, supported by
that which originally belonged to them, they give to others also out of
their superabundance. And while they are shy of embracing with the
Apostle that glorious state of abnegation for Christ's sake, they will
not be content either with manual labour or the sparing diet of the
monastery. And the only thing is that these must either know that they
are deceiving themselves, and have not really renounced the world while
they are clinging to their former riches; or, if they really and truly
want to make trial of the monastic life, they must give up and forsake
all these things and keep back nothing of that which they have
renounced, and, with the Apostle, glory "in hunger and thirst, in cold
As if he (who, by his assertion that he was endowed with the
privileges of a Roman citizen from his birth, testifies that he was no
mean person according to this world's rank) might not likewise have
been supported by the property which formerly belonged to him! And as
if those men who were possessors of lands and houses in Jerusalem and
sold everything and kept back nothing whatever for themselves, and
brought the price of them and laid it at the feet of the apostles,
might not have supplied their bodily necessities from their own
property, had this been considered the best plan by the apostles, or
had they themselves deemed it preferable! But they gave up all their
property at once, and preferred to be supported by their own labour,
and by the contributions of the Gentiles, of whose collection the holy
Apostle speaks in writing to the Romans, and declaring his own office
in this matter to them, and urging them on likewise to make this
collection: "But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For
it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain
contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem: it has pleased
them indeed, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles are made
partakers of their spiritual things, they ought also to minister to
them in carnal things."17
To the Corinthians also he shows the same anxiety about this, and urges
them the more diligently to prepare before his arrival a collection,
which he was intending to send for their needs. "But concerning the
collection for the saints, as I appointed to the churches of Galatia,
so also do ye. Let each one of you on the first day of the week put
apart with himself, laying up what it shall well please him, that when
I come the collections be not then to be made. But when I come
whomsoever you shall approve by your letters, them I will send to carry
your grace to Jerusalem." And that he may stimulate them to make a
larger collection, he adds, "But if it be meet that I also go, they
shall go with me:"18
meaning if your offering is of such a character as to deserve to be
taken there by my ministration. To the Galatians too, he testifies that
when he was settling the division of the ministry of preaching with the
apostles, he had arranged this with James, Peter, and John: that he
should undertake the preaching to the Gentiles, but should never
repudiate care and anxious thought for the poor who were at Jerusalem,
who for Christ's sake gave up all their goods, and submitted to
voluntary poverty. "And when they saw," said he, "the grace of God
which was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be
pillars, gave to me and to Barnabas the right hand: of fellowship, that
we should preach to the: Gentiles, but they to those of the
circumcision: only they would that we should be mindful of the poor." A
matter which he testifies that he attended to most carefully, saying,
"which also I was anxious of myself to do."19 Who then are
more blessed, those who but lately were gathered out of the number of
the heathen, and being unable to climb to the heights of the perfection
of the gospel, clung to their own property, in whose case it was
considered a great thing by the Apostle if at least they were
restrained from the worship of idols, and from fornication, and from
things strangled, and from blood,20 and had embraced
the faith of Christ, with their goods and all: or those who live up to
the demands of the gospel, and carry the Lord's cross daily, and want
nothing out of their property to remain for their own use? And if the
blessed Apostle himself, bound with chains and fetters, or hampered by
the difficulties of travelling, and for these reasons not being able to
provide with his hands, as he generally did, for the supply of his
food, declares that he received that which supplied his wants from the
brethren who came from Macedonia; "For that which was lacking to me,"
he says, "the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied:"21
and to the
Philippians he says: "For ye Philippians know also that in the
beginning of the gospel, when I came from Macedonia, no church
communicated with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you
only; because even in Thessalonica once and again you sent to supply my
this was so) then, according to the notion of these men, which they have
formed in the coldness of their heart, will those men really be more
blessed than the Apostle, because it is found that they have ministered
to him of their substance? But this no one will venture to assert,
however big a fool he may be.
Chapter XVIII. That if we
want to imitate the apostles we ought not to live according to our own
but to follow their example.
Wherefore if we want to obey the gospel precept, and to show
ourselves the followers of the Apostle and the whole primitive church,
or of the fathers who in our own days succeeded to their virtues and
perfection, we should not acquiesce in our own prescriptions, promising
ourselves perfection from this wretched and lukewarm condition of ours:
but following their footsteps, we should by no means aim at looking
after our own interests, but should seek out the discipline and system
of a monastery, that we may in very truth renounce this world;
preserving nothing of those things which we have despised through the
temptation of want of faith; and should look for our daily food, not
from any store of money of our own, but from our own labours.
A saying of S. Basil, the
Bishop, directed against Syncletius.23
There is current a saying of S. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea,
directed against a certain Syncletius, who was growing indifferent with
the sort of luke-warmness of which we have spoken; who, though he
professed to have renounced this world, had yet kept back for himself
some of his property, not liking to be supported by the labour of his
own hands, and to acquire true humility by stripping himself and by
grinding toil, and the subjection of the monastery: "You have," said
he, "spoilt Syncletius, and not made a monk."
And so if we want to strive lawfully in our spiritual combat,
let us expel this dangerous enemy also from our hearts. For to overcome
him does not so much show great virtue, as to be beaten by him is
shameful and disgraceful. For when you are overpowered by a strong man,
though there is grief in being overthrown, and distress at the loss of
victory, yet some consolation may be derived by the vanquished from the
strength of their opponent. But if the enemy is a poor creature, and
the struggle a feeble one, besides the grief for defeat there is
confusion of a more disgraceful character, and a shame which is worse
And in this case it will be the greatest victory and a lasting
triumph, if, as is said, the conscience of the monk is not defiled by
the possession of the smallest coin. For it is an impossibility for him
who, overcome in the matter of a small possession, has once admitted
into his heart a root of evil desire, not to be inflamed presently with
the heat of a still greater desire. For the soldier of Christ will be
victorious and in safety, and free from all the attacks of desire, so
long as this most evil spirit does not implant in his heart a seed of
this desire. Wherefore, though in the matter of all kinds of sins we
ought ordinarily to watch the serpent's head,24 yet in this
all we should be more keenly on our guard. For if it has been admitted
it will grow by feeding on itself, and will kindle for itself a worse
fire. And so we must not only guard against the possession of
money, but also must expel from our souls the desire for it.
For we should not so much avoid the results of covetousness, as cut off
by the roots all disposition towards it. For it will do no good not to
possess money, if there exists in us the desire for getting it.
For it is possible even for one who has no money to be by no
means free from the malady of covetousness, and for the blessing of
penury to do him no good, because he has not been able to root out the
sin of cupidity: delighting in the advantages of poverty, not in the
merit of the virtue, and satisfied with the burden of necessity, not
without coldness of heart. For just as the word of the gospel declares
of those who are not defiled in body, that they are adulterers in heart;25
so it is possible
that those who are in no way pressed down with the weight of money may
be condemned with the covetous in disposition and intent. For it was
the opportunity of possessing which was wanting in their case, and not
the will for it: which latter is always crowned by God, rather than
compulsion. And so we must use all diligence lest the fruits of our
labours should be destroyed to no purpose. For it is a wretched thing
to have endured the effects of poverty and want, but to have lost their
fruits, through the fault of a shattered will.
Would you like to know how dangerously and harmfully that
incitement, unless it has been carefully eradicated, will shoot up for
the destruction of its owner, and put forth all sorts of branches of
different sins? Look at Judas, reckoned among the number of the
apostles, and see how because he would not bruise the deadly head of
this serpent it destroyed him with its poison, and how when he was
caught in the snares of concupiscence, it drove him into sin and a
headlong downfall, so that he was persuaded to sell the Redeemer of the
world and the author of man's salvation for thirty pieces of silver.
And he could never have been impelled to this heinous sin of the
betrayal if he had not been contaminated by the sin of covetousness:
nor would he have made himself wickedly guilty of betraying26
the Lord, unless
he had first accustomed himself to rob the bag intrusted to him.
This is a sufficiently dreadful and clear instance of this
tyranny, which, when once the mind is taken prisoner by it, allows it
to keep to no rules of honesty, nor to be satisfied with any additions
to its gains. For we must seek to put an end to this madness, not by
riches, but by stripping ourselves of them. Lastly, when he (viz.
Judas) had received the bag set apart for the distribution to the poor,
and intrusted to his care for this purpose, that he might at least
satisfy himself with plenty of money, and set a limit to his avarice,
yet his plentiful supply only broke out into a still greedier
incitement of desire, so that he was ready no longer secretly to rob
the bag, but actually to sell the Lord Himself. For the madness of this
avarice is not satisfied with any amount of riches.
Chapter XXV. Of the deaths
of Ananias and Sapphira, and Judas, which they underwent through the
impulse of covetousness.
Lastly, the chief of the apostles, taught by these instances,
and knowing that one who has any avarice cannot bridle it, and that it
cannot be put an end to by a large or small sum of money, but only by
the virtue of renunciation of everything, punished with death Ananias
and Sapphira, who were mentioned before, because they had kept back
something out of their property, that that death which Judas had
voluntarily met with for the sin of betraying the Lord, they might also
undergo for their lying avarice.27 How closely do the
sin and punishment correspond in each case! In the one case treachery,
in the other falsehood, was the result of covetousness. In the one case
the truth is betrayed, in the other the sin of lying is committed. For
though the issues of their deeds may appear different, yet they
coincide in having one and the same aim. For the one, in order to
escape poverty, desired to take back what he had forsaken; the others,
for fear lest they might become poor, tried to keep back something out
of their property, which they should have either offered to the Apostle
in good faith, or have given entirely to the brethren. And so in each
case there follows the judgment of death; because each sin sprang from
the root of covetousness. And so if against those who did not covet
other persons' goods, but tried to be sparing of their own, and had no
desire to acquire, but only the wish to retain, there
went forth so severe a sentence, what should we think of those who
desire to amass wealth, without ever having had any of their own, and,
making a show of poverty before men, are before God convicted of being
rich, through the passion of avarice?
And such are seen to be lepers in spirit and heart, after the
likeness of Gehazi, who, desiring the uncertain riches of this world,
was covered with the taint of foul leprosy, through which he left us a
clear example that every soul which is defiled with the stain of
cupidity is covered with the spiritual leprosy of sin, and is counted
as unclean before God with a perpetual curse.
Chapter XXVII. Scripture
proofs by which one who is aiming at perfection is taught not to take
back again what he has given up and renounced.
IF then through the desire of perfection you have forsaken all
things and followed Christ who says to thee, "Go sell all that thou
hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and
come follow me,"28
why, having put your hand to the plough, do you look back, so that you
will be declared by the voice of the same Lord not to be fit for the
kingdom of heaven?29
When secure on the top of the gospel roof, why do you descend to carry
away something from the house, from those things, namely, which
beforetime you despised? When you are out in the field and working at
the virtues, why do you run back and try to clothe yourself again with
what belongs to this world, which you stripped off when you renounced
it?30 But if
you were hindered by poverty from having anything to give up, still
less ought you to amass what you never had before. For by the grace of
the Lord you were for this purpose made ready that you might hasten to
him the more readily, being hampered by no snares of wealth. But let no
one who is wanting in this be disappointed; for there is no one who has
not something to give up. He has renounced all the possessions of this
world, whoever has thoroughly eradicated the desire to possess them.
Chapter XXVIII. That the
victory over covetousness can only be gained by stripping one's self
bare of everything.
This then is the perfect victory over covetousness: not to
allow a gleam from the very smallest scrap of it to remain in our
heart, as we know that we shall have no further power of quenching it,
if we cherish even the tiniest bit of a spark of it in us.
And we can only preserve this virtue unimpaired if we remain
in a monastery, and as the Apostle says, having food and clothing, are
Keeping then in mind the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira let
us dread keeping back any of those things which we gave up and vowed
utterly to forsake. Let us also fear the example of Gehazi, who for the
sin of covetousness was chastised with the punishment of perpetual
leprosy. From this let us beware of acquiring that wealth which we
never formerly possessed. Moreover also dreading both the fault and the
death of Judas, let us with all the power that we have avoid taking
back any of that wealth which once we east away from us. Above all,
considering the state of our weak and shifty nature, let us beware lest
the day of the Lord come upon us as a thief in the night,32
and find our
conscience defiled even by a single penny; for this would make void all
the fruits of our renunciation of the world, and cause that which was
said to the rich man in the gospel to be directed towards us also by
the voice of the Lord: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be
required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast
And taking no thought for the morrow, let us never allow ourselves to
be enticed away from the rule of the Coenobium.
Chapter XXXI. That no one
can get the better of covetousness unless he stays in the Coenobium:
and how one can remain there.
But we shall certainly not be suffered to do this, nor even to
remain under the rule of a system, unless the virtue of patience, which
can only spring from humility as its source, is first securely fixed
and established in us. For the one teaches us not to trouble any one
else; the other, to endure with magnanimity wrongs offered to us.
1 1 Tim. vi. 10.
2 2 Cor. vii. 10.
3 1 Tim. vi. 10.
4 The the same danger is strongly spoken of
by S. Basil in the "Monastic Constitutions" c. xxxiv., a passage which
should be compared with the one above.
5 Col. iii. 5.
6 1 Tim. vi. 8-10.
7 Cur prohibes (Petschenig). Gazaeus
8 Pulsarentur (Petschenig). The text
of Gazaeus has pulsaremur.
9 Deut. xx. 8.
10 S. James i. 8.
11 S. Luke xiv. 31, 32.
12 Eccl. v. 4 (LXX.).
13 S. Matt. vi. 24.
14 S. Luke ix. 62.
15 Acts xx. 35.
16 S. Matt. xix. 21.
17 2 Cor. ii. 27.
18 Rom. xv. 25-27.
19 1 Cor. xvi. 1-4.
20 Gal. ii. 9, 10.
22 Acts xv. 20.
23 2 Cor. xi. 9.
24 Phil. iv. 15, 16.
25 Petschenig's text has Syncletium
as a proper name. Gazaeus, however, thinks that it should be Syncleticum;
or Senator and in the saying of S. Basil at the close of the chapter
actually reads (apparently without any ms. authority), Et Senatorem,
26 Gen. iii. 15.
27 S. Matt. v. 28.
28 Negationis (Petschenig). Another
reading is necationis.
29 Cf. Acts v.
30 Matt. xix. 21.
31 Cf. S. Luke ix. 62.
32 Cf. S. Luke xvii. 31.
33 1 Tim. vi. 8.BOOK 8