Fifty Spiritual Homilies. Homily 16
10 min read
10 min read
That spiritual persons are subject to temptations and to the adversities which spring from the first sin.
1. All spiritual substances, that is to say, of angels, and human souls, and devils, were made by the Creator innocent and perfectly simple. The fact that some of them turned to evil was an after-effect of their free will. It was by their own choice that they departed from the right way of thinking. If we say that they were so made by the Creator, we say that God is an unjust judge for sending Satan to the fire. There are certain heretics who say that matter is without beginning, and that matter is the root, and that the root is power, and an evenly matched power. To this you may fairly reply, “Which then is the conquering power? Certainly that of God. Then the vanquished is no longer a match, either in duration or in power.” Those who say that evil is a substantive thing, know nothing. To God there is no substantive evil, according to His divine freedom from passion; but in us it works with full force and makes itself felt, suggesting all foul concupiscences. It is not mixed up with us, however, as some say, like the mixture of wine with water; it is as corn by itself and tares by themselves, though both in the same field; as in a house, the thief in one part, and the master in another.
2. Here is a well-spring running with clear water, and there is mud under it. When one stirs the mud, the whole well-spring is fouled. So the soul, when stirred, is fouled and mingled with evil, and Satan becomes one thing with the soul, both being spirits, in the act of fornication or of murder. For this reason, he that is joined to the harlot is one body. But at another moment the soul subsists by itself, penitent for what it has done, and weeps and prays, and remembers God. For if the soul were always plunged in evil, how could it act thus? since Satan is never willing that men should come to repentance, for he knows no compassion. The wife according to agreement with her husband becomes one with him, but at another moment they are parted; because it often happens that one of them dies and the other lives. Something of the same kind takes place in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. They become one Spirit, for he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. This takes place when the man is swallowed up in grace.
3. There are some, however, who have a taste of God, but are still subject to the influence of the enemy, and think it strange, in their lack of experience, that after the visitation of God they should still be subject to doubts about the mysteries of Christianity. Those who have grown old in them do not think it strange. As skilled husbandmen, from long experience, in a season of plenty are not entirely without care, but look forward to times of dearth and short supplies, and, on the other hand, when those times of dearth and short supplies overtake them, are not very despondent, in view of changes for the better, so in the spiritual realm, when the soul falls into divers temptations, it neither considers it strange, nor is despondent, because it knows that it is permitted on sufferance to be tested and disciplined by evil. On the other hand, when it is in much wealth and contentment it is not without care, but looks forward to the coming change.
The sun, which is a bodily and created thing, shines down into unsavoury places, where there are mud and impurities, without being injured or defiled; how much rather does the pure and holy Spirit keep company with the soul, when still subject to influence from the wicked one, without contracting anything from them. The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
4. When therefore a man is deep in, and is rich in, grace there is still a remnant of evil with him. He has a helper at hand to succour him. So when one is in adversities and in great billows of suffering, he ought not to despond; for if he does, sin thrives and makes more way in him. But when one has constant hope in God, the evil diminishes and dries out. That some are palsied or maimed, in fever or sickness, this is a consequence of sin. For sin is the root of all evils, and the passions caused by the desires of the soul and by evil thoughts are owing to it. If there is a running spring, and the places about it are moist and boggy, yet when the weather gets hot, the spring and the places near it dry up. So with God’s servants, upon whom grace abounds, this grace dries up the desire which comes from the wicked one, and that which comes from nature likewise; since now the men of God are greater than the first Adam.
5. God is infinite and incomprehensible. He shows Himself everywhere, in the mountains, and in the sea, and beneath the deep; yet not by change of place, like the angels who come down from heaven to the earth. He is in heaven, and He is here. But you will say to me, “How can God be in hell? or how can He be in the darkness, or in Satan, or in places that are unsavoury?” I answer that He is impassible and contains all things, for He is infinite, while Satan, being His creature, is tied. That which is good is not soiled, nor darkened. If you say that He does not contain all things, including hell and Satan, you make Him limited with regard to that place where the wicked one is, so that we have to look for another, above Him. God must be everywhere; but because of the mystery of the Godhead and the fineness in Him, the darkness, though contained in Him, comprehends Him not; nor can the evil partake of His purity, even though it be in Him. To God there is no such thing as a substantive evil, since He is in nothing injured by it.
6. To us, however, evil is a reality, because it dwells and works in the heart, suggesting wicked and defiling thoughts, and not allowing us to pray purely, but bringing our mind into captivity to this world. It has clothed itself with our souls, and touched even our bones and members. As Satan therefore is in the air, and God is in no way injured by being there also, so sin is in the soul, and the grace of God is there likewise, without suffering any injury. As a servant near his master is always in fear because of being so near, and does nothing without him, so ought we to refer our thoughts to our Master, Christ, who knows the heart, and to disclose them to Him, and to have within the hope and confidence that “He is my glory, and He is my Father, and He is my riches.” Thou oughtest continually to have in thy conscience care and fear. Even if a man has not the grace of God so firmly planted and fixed in him, that night and day the thing which hourly guides and wakens and directs him to good things is joined to his soul as by a natural bond, at least, let him see to it that he has this care, this fear, this labour, this contrition of heart continually fixed, as an unalterable fact of nature.
7. Like a bee secretly forming her comb in the hive, grace secretly forms in hearts the love of herself, and changes them from bitterness to sweetness, from roughness to smoothness. As a silversmith and engraver, engraving a plate, partly covers up the various little animals that he is cutting, but when he has finished, displays it flashing with the light, so the Lord, the true artificer, engraves our hearts, and silently makes them new, until they pass away from the body, and then the beauty of the soul is shown. Those who wish to construct bowls, and to depict animals upon them, first make their design in wax, and then cast them after the likeness, so that the work is finished in accordance with that design. So sin, though it is a spirit, has an image, and assumes many forms; and in the same manner the inner man is like one of these animals, with an image and a shape, for the inner man is a likeness of the outer. Great then is the vessel, and precious, since in it alone of all the creatures the Lord was well pleased. And the good thoughts of the soul are like precious stones and pearls, and the impure thoughts are filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness and ill-savour.
8. Christians then are of another world, sons of the heavenly Adam, a new race, children of the Holy Ghost, shining brethren of Christ, like their Father, the heavenly shining Adam. Of that city, of that kindred, of that power, they are not of this world, but of another world. He Himself says, Ye are not of this world, even as I am not of this world. But as a merchant on a voyage of many stages, in the multiplication of his merchandise, sends to his friends to procure him houses, gardens, clothes that he requires, and when he sets out for home, brings with him great wealth, and his friends and kinsfolk welcome him with great rejoicing, so in spiritual things, if any are making the heavenly wealth their merchandise, their fellow citizens, the spirits of saints and angels, are aware of it, and say with admiration, “Our brethren on the earth have come into great wealth.” So they, having the Lord with them at their departure, come with mighty rejoicing to those above, and those who belong to the Lord receive them, having prepared for them there houses, and gardens, and clothes all bright and costly.
9. We need sobriety in all things, then, in order that the good things that we seem to have may not turn to our hurt. For those who are naturally kind, unless they secure themselves, are gradually drawn aside by their very kindness; and those who have wisdom are deceived by their wisdom. A man must be well tempered together in all directions, kindness with severity, wisdom with discretion, word with deed, in everything to trust in the Lord, not in himself. For virtue is seasoned with many different spices, as an article of necessary diet is seasoned with condiment of some kind—not with honey only, but with pepper sometimes—and so is found good for food.
10. Those who say that sin is not in man, are like people plunged under a deluge of many waters, who will not acknowledge it, but say, “We heard a sound of waters.” Plunged under the depth of the waves of evil, they say that sin is not in their mind or thoughts. There is a difference between those who have a theory and talk, but are not seasoned with the salt of heaven—who discourse of a royal table, but have never eaten or enjoyed it—and a man who has had a sight of the king himself, to whom the treasures have been opened, and he has entered in, and inherited them, and eaten and drunk of the costly viands.
11. If a mother has an only son, very handsome, wise, adorned with all things good, upon whom she sets all her hopes, and it falls out that she buries him, then endless distress comes upon her, and mourning that cannot be comforted. So ought the mind, when the soul has died to God, to take up mourning and tears, endless distress, to have a contrite heart, to be in fear and care, and at the same time to have a hunger and thirst for what is good continually. Such an one passes into the hands of God’s grace and of hope, and he no longer remains in that mourning, but rejoices as one that finds a treasure, and again trembles for fear he should lose it, for the thieves are coming. Like a man who has suffered many losses by thieves, and has got away from them with much difficulty, and after this has come into great affluence and a large fortune, and has no more dread of loss because of his abundant wealth; so spiritual men, after first passing through many temptations and dreadful places, and then filled with grace and replete with good things, are no longer in terror of those who would plunder them, since their wealth is not small; yet they fear, not with the beginner’s fear of evil spirits, but with fear and care how to employ the spiritual gifts entrusted to them.
12. Such an one despises himself beyond all sinners, and holds this notion implanted in him as if by nature, and the farther he advances in the knowledge of God, the more he considers himself an ignoramus, and the more he learns, the less he thinks he knows. It is grace which ministers this effect, and makes it like a part of nature in the soul. As a little child is carried by a strong young man, and he who carries it takes it about wherever he pleases, so the grace that works in the deep carries the soul, and lifts it up to the heavens, to the perfect world, to the everlasting rest. But even in grace there are measures and degrees of rank. The commander-in-chief, who has access to the king, differs from the captain. As a house that is filled with smoke discharges it also into the open air, so the evil compressed into the soul is discharged without and produces fruits. As those to whom is committed the government of a province or of the royal treasury are all the time in anxiety lest they should after all offend the king, so those who have been entrusted with a spiritual work are always in anxiety, and though they are at rest, are as if they had never found it. For the kingdom of darkness which had broken into the city of the soul, and the barbarous forces which keep possession of its ranges, are in course of expulsion from it. 13. Christ the King sends to avenge the city, and throws the usurpers into chains, and settles heavenly troops and an armament of holy spirits there, as in their own country; and then the sun shines in the heart, and its rays run through into all the members; and so a deep peace is the reigning power there.
But the man’s resolution in combat and strife, and his genuine worth, and his goodwill towards God, are then shown when grace withdraws and he will still be brave and cry to God. You, when you hear that there are rivers of dragons, and mouths of lions, and the dark forces beneath the heaven, and fire that burns and crackles in the members, think nothing of it, not knowing that unless you receive the earnest of the Holy Spirit, they hold your soul as it departs from the body, and do not suffer you to rise to heaven. In like manner, when you hear of the dignity of the soul, how precious the intelligent substance is, you do not understand that it was not of angels, but of human nature, that He said, Let Us make after Our image and likeness, and that heaven and earth pass away, but that you were called to immortality, and adoption and brotherhood, and marriage with the King. In the world around us, all that belongs to the bridegroom is the bride’s; and all that belongs to the Lord, no matter what it is, He commits to you. He came to your aid in person, to call you up above; and you neither consider nor understand your dignity. Justly the inspired man mourns over your fall, saying, Man being in honour hath no understanding, but is compared unto the beasts without reason, and is made like unto them. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, for ever. Amen.