Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
A Metaphrase of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
A Metaphrase of the Book of Ecclesiastes.1
These words speaketh Solomon, the son of David the king and prophet, to the whole Church of God, a prince most honoured, and a prophet most wise above all men. How vain and fruitless are the affairs of men, and all pursuits that occupy man! For there is not one who can tell of any profit attaching to those things which men who creep on earth strive by body and soul to attain to, in servitude all the while to what is transient, and undesirous of considering aught heavenly with the noble eye of the soul. And the life of men weareth away, as day by day, and in the periods of hours and years, and the determinate courses of the sun, some are ever coming, and others passing away. And the matter is like the transit of torrents as they fall into the measureless deep of the sea with a mighty noise. And all things that have been constituted by God for the sake of men abide the same: as, for instance, I that man is born of earth, and departs to earth again; that the earth itself continues stable; that the sun accomplishes its circuit about it perfectly, and rolls round to the same mark again; and that the winds3 in like manner, and the mighty rivers which flow into the sea, and the breezes that beat upon it, all act without forcing it to pass beyond its limits, and without themselves also violating their appointed laws. And these things, indeed, as bearing upon the good of this life of ours, are established thus fittingly. But those things which are of men's devising, whether words or deeds, have no measure. And there is a plenteous multitude of words, but there is no profit from random and foolish talking. But the race of men is naturally insatiate in its thirst both for speaking and for hearing what is spoken; and it is man's habit, too, to desire to look with idle eyes on all that happens. What can occur afterwards, or what can be wrought by men which has not been done already? What new thing is there worthy of mention, of which there has never yet been experience? For I think there is nothing which one may call new, or which, on considering it, one shall discover to be strange or unknown to those of old. But as former things are buried in oblivion, so also things that are now subsistent will in the course of time vanish utterly from the knowledge of those who shall come after us. And I speak not these things unadvisedly, as acting now the preacher.4 But all these things were carefully pondered by me when entrusted with the kingdom of the Hebrews in Jerusalem. And I examined diligently, and considered discreetly, the nature of all that is on earth, and I perceived it to be most various;5 and I saw that to man it is given to labour upon earth, ever carried about by all different occasions of toil, and with no result of his work. And all things here below are full of the spirit of strangeness and abomination, so that it is not possible for one to retrieve them now; nay, rather it is not possible for one at all to conceive what utter vanity6 has taken possession of all human affairs. For once. on a time I communed with myself, and thought that then I was wiser in this than all that were before me, and I was expert in understanding parables and the natures of things. But I learned that I gave myself to such pursuits to no purpose, and that if wisdom follows knowledge, so troubles attend on wisdom.
Judging, therefore, that it stood thus with this matter, I decided to turn to another mariner of life, and to give myself to pleasure, and to take experience of various delights. And now I learned that all such things are vain; and I put a check on laughter, when it ran on carelessly; and restrained pleasure, according to the rule of moderation, and was bitterly wroth against it. And when I perceived that the soul is able to arrest the body in its disposition to intoxication and wine-bibbing, and that temperance makes lust its subject, I sought earnestly to observe what object of true worth and of real excellence is set before men, which they shall attain to in this present life. For I passed through all those other objects which are deemed worthiest, such as the erecting of lofty houses and the planting of vines, and in addition, the laying out of pleasure-grounds, and the acquisition and culture of all manner of fruit-bearing trees; and among them also large reservoirs for the reception of water were constructed, and distributed so as to secure the plentiful irrigation of the trees. And I surrounded myself also with many domestics, both man-servants and maid-servants; and some of them I procured from abroad, and others I possessed and employed as born in my own house. And herds of four-fooled creatures, as well of cattle as of sheep, more numerous than any of those of old acquired, were made my property. And treasures of gold and silver flowed in upon me; and I made the kings of all nations my dependants and tributaries. And very many choirs of male and female singers were trained to yield me pleasure by the practice of all-harmonious song. And I had banquetings; and for the service of this part of my pleasure, I got me select cup-bearers of both sexes beyond my reckoning,-so far did I surpass in these things those who reigned before me in Jerusalem. And thus it happened that the interests of wisdom declined with me, while the claims of evil appetency increased. For when I yielded myself to every allurement of the eyes, and to the violent passions of the heart, that make their attack from all quarters, and surrendered myself to the hopes held out by pleasures, I also made my will the bond-slave of all miserable delights. For thus my judgment was brought to such a wretched pass, that I thought these things good, and that it was proper for me to engage in them. At length, awaking and recovering my sight, I perceived that the things I had in hand were l altogether sinful and very evil, and the deeds of a spirit not good. For now none of all the objects of men's choice seems to me worthy of approval, or greatly to be desired by a just mind. Wherefore, having pondered at once the advantages of wisdom and the ills of folly, I should with reason admire that man greatly, who, being borne on in a thoughtless course, and afterwards arresting himself, should return to right and duty. For wisdom and folly, are widely separated, and they are as different from each other as day is from night. He, therefore, who makes choice of virtue, is like one who sees all things plainly, and looks upward, and who holdeth his ways in the time of clearest light. But he, on the other hand, who has involved himself in wickedness, is like a man who wanders helplessly about in a moonless night, as one who is blind, and deprived of the sight of things by his darkness.7 And when I considered the end of each of these modes of life, I found there was no profit in the latter;8 and by setting myself to be the companion of the foolish, I saw that I should receive the wages of folly. For what advantage is there in those thoughts, or what profit is there in the multitude of words, where the streams of foolish speaking are flowing, as it were, from the fountain of folly? Moreover, there is nothing common to the wise man and to the fool, neither as regards the memory of men, nor as regards the recompense of God. And as to all the affairs of men, when they are yet apparently but beginning to be, the end at once surprises them. Yet the wise man is never partaker of the same end with the foolish. Then also did I hate all my life, that had been consumed in vanities, and which I had spent with a mind engrossed in earthly anxieties. For, to speak in brief, all my affairs have been wrought by me with labour and pain, as the efforts of thoughtless impulse; and some other person, it may be a wise man or a fool, will succeed to them, I mean, the chill fruits of my toils. But when I cut myself off from these things, and cast them away, then did that real good which is set before man show itself to me,-namely, the knowledge of wisdom and the possession of manly virtue.9 And if a man neglects these things, and is inflamed with the passion for other things, such a man makes choice of evil instead of good, and goes after what is bad instead of what is excellent, and after trouble instead of peace; for he is distracted by every manner of disturbance, and is burdened with continual anxieties night and day, with oppressive labours of body as well as with ceaseless cares of mind,-his heart moving in constant agitation, by reason of the strange and senseless affairs that occupy him. For the perfect good does not consist in eating and drinking, although it is true that it is from God that their sustenance cometh to men; for none of those things which are given for our maintenance subsist without His providence. But the good man who gets wisdom from God, gets also heavenly enjoyment; while, on the other hand, the evil man. smitten with ills divinely inflicted, and afflicted with the disease of lust, toils to amass much, and is quick to put him to shame who is honoured by God in presence of the Lord of all, proffering useless gifts, and making things deceitful and vain the pursuits of his own miserable soul.
For this present time is filled with all things that are most contrary10 to each other-births and deaths, the growth of plants and their uprooting, cures and killings, the building up and the pulling down of houses, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing. At this moment a man gathers of earth's products, and at another casts them away; and at one time he ardently desireth the beauty of woman, and at another he hateth it. Now he seeketh something, and again he loseth it; and now he keepeth, and again he casteth away; at one time he slayeth, and at another he is slain; he speaketh, and again he is silent; he loveth, and again he hateth. For the affairs of men are at one time in a condition of war, and at another in a condition of peace; while their fortunes are so inconstant, that from bearing the semblance of good, they change quickly into acknowledged ills. Let us have done, therefore, with vain labours. For all these things, as appears to me, are set to madden men, as it were, with their poisoned stings. And the ungodly observer of the times and seasons is agape for this world,11 exerting himself above measure to destroy the image12 of God, as one who has chosen to contend against it13 from the beginning onward to the end.14 I am persuaded, therefore, that the greatest good for man is cheerfulness and well-doing, and that this shortlived enjoyment, which alone is possible to us, comes from God only, if righteousness direct our doings. But as to those everlasting and incorruptible things which God hath firmly established, it is not possible either to take aught from them or to add aught to them. And to men in general, those things, in sooth, are fearful and wonderful;15 and those things indeed which have been, abide so; and those which are to be, have already been, as regards His foreknowledge. Moreover, the man who is injured has God as his helper. I saw in the lower parts the pit of punishment which receives the impious, but a different place allotted for the pious. And I thought with myself, that with God all things are judged and determined to be equal; that the righteous and the unrighteous, and objects with reason and without reason, are alike in His judgment. For that their time is measured out equally to all, and death impends over them, and in this the races of beasts and men are alike in the judgment of God, and differ from each other only in the matter of articulate speech; and all things else happen alike to them, and death receives all equally, not more so in the case of the other kinds of creatures than in that of men. For they have all the same breath of life, and men have nothing more; but all are, in one word, vain, deriving their present condition16 from the same earth, and destined to perish, and return to the same earth again. For it is uncertain regarding the souls of men, whether they shall fly upwards; and regarding the others which the unreasoning creatures possess, whether they shall fall downward. And it seemed to me, that there is no other good save pleasure, and the enjoyment of things present. For I did not think it possible for a man, when once he has tasted death, to return again to the enjoyment of these things.17
And leaving all these reflections, I considered and turned in aversion from all the forms of oppression18 which are done among men; whence some receiving injury weep and lament, who are struck down by violence in utter default of those who protect them, or who should by all means comfort them in their trouble.19 And the men who make might their right20 are exalted to an eminence, from which, however, they shall also fall. Yea, of the unrighteous and audacious, those who are dead fare better than those who are still alive. And better than both these is he who, being destined to be like them, has not yet come into being, since he has not yet touched the wickedness which prevails among men. And it became clear to me also how great is the envy which follows a man from his neighbours, like the sting of a wicked spirit; and I saw that he who receives it, and takes it as it were into his breast, has nothing else but to eat his own heart, and tear it, and consume both soul and body, finding inconsolable vexation in the good fortune of others.21 And a wise man would choose to have one of his hands full, if it were with ease and quietness, rather than both of them with travail and with the villany of a treacherous spirit. Moreover, there is yet another thing which I know to happen contrary to what is fitting, by reason of the evil will of man. He who is left entirely alone, having neither brother nor son, but prospered with large possessions, lives on in the spirit of insatiable avarice, and refuses l to give himself in any way whatever to goodness. Gladly, therefore, would I ask such an one for what reason he labours thus, fleeing with headlong speed22 from the doing of anything good, and distracted by the many various passions for making gain23 Far better than such are those who have taken up an order of life in common,24 from which they may reap the best blessings. For when two men devote themselves in the right spirit to the same objects, though some mischance befalls the one, he has still at least no slight alleviation in having his companion by him. And the greatest of all calamities to a man in evil fortune is the want of a friend to help and cheer him.25 And those who live together both double the good fortune that befalls them, and lessen the pressure of the storm of disagreeable events; so that in the day they are distinguished for their frank confidence in each other, and in the night they appear notable for their cheerfulness.26 But he who leads a solitary life passes a species of existence full of terror to himself; not perceiving that if one should fall upon men welded closely together, he adopts a rash and perilous course, and that it is not easy to snap the threefold cord.27 Moreover, I put a poor youth, if he be wise, before an aged prince devoid of wisdom, to whose thoughts it has never occured that it is possible that a man may be raised from the prison to the throne, and that the very man who has exercised his power unrighteously shall at a later period be righteously cast out. For it may happen that those who are subject to a youth, who is at the same time sensible, shall be free from trouble,-those, I mean, who are his elders.28 Moreover, they who are born later cannot praise another, of whom they have had no experience,29 and are led by an unreasoning judgment, and by the impulse of a contrary spirit. But in exercising the preacher's office, keep thou this before thine eyes, that thine own life be rightly directed, and that thou prayest in behalf of the foolish, that they may get understanding, and know how to shun the doings of the wicked.
Moreover, it is a good thing to use the tongue sparingly, and to keep a calm and rightly balanced30 heart in the exercise of speech.31 For it is not right to give utterance in words to things that are foolish and absurd, or to all that occur to the mind; but we ought to know and reflect, that though we are far separated from heaven, we speak in the hearing of God, and that it is good for us to speak without offence. For as dreams and visions of many kinds attend manifold cares of mind, so also silly talking is conjoined with folly. Moreover, see to it, that a promise made with a vow be made good in fact. This, too, is proper to fools, that they are unreliable. But be thou true to thy word, knowing that it is ranch better for thee not to vow or promise to do anything, than to vow and then fail of performance. And thou oughtest by all means to avoid the flood of base words, seeing that God will hear them. For the man who makes such things his study gets no more benefit by them than to see his doings brought to nought by God. For as the multitude of dreams is vain, so also the multitude of words. But the fear of God is man's salvation, though it is rarely found. Wherefore thou oughtest not to wonder though thou seest the poor oppressed, and the judges misinterpreting the law. But thou oughtest to avoid the appearance of surpassing those who are in power. For even should this prove to be the case, yet, from the terrible ills that shall befall thee, wickedness of itself will not deliver thee. But even as property acquired by violence is a most hurtful as well as impious possession, so the man who lusteth after money never finds satisfaction for his passion, nor good-will from his neighbours, even though he may have amassed the greatest possible wealth. For this also is vanity. But goodness greatly rejoiceth those who hold by it, and makes them strong,32 imparting to them the capacity of seeing through33 all things. And it is a great matter also not to be engrossed by such anxieties: for the poor man, even should he be a slave, and unable to fill his belly plentifully, enjoys at least the kind refreshment of sleep; but the lust of riches is attended by sleepless nights and anxieties of mind. And what could there be then more absurd, than with much anxiety and trouble to amass wealth, and keep it with jealous care, if all the while one is but maintaining the occasion of countless evils to himself? And this wealth, besides, must needs perish some time or other, and be lost, whether he who has acquired it has children or not;34 and the man himself, however unwillingly, is doomed to die, and return to earth in the selfsame condition in which it was his lot once to come into being.35 And the fact that he is destined thus to leave earth with empty hands, will make the evil all the sorer to him, as he fails to consider that an end is appointed for his life similar to its beginning, and that he toils to no profit, and labours rather for the wind, as it were, than for the advancement of his own real interest, wasting his whole life in most unholy lusts and irrational passions, and withal in troubles and pains. And, to speak shortly, his days are darkness to such a man, and his life is sorrow. Yet this is in itself good, and by no means to be despised. For it is the gift of God, that a man should be able to reap with gladness of mind the fruits of his labours, receiving thus possessions bestowed by God, and not acquired by force.36 For neither is such a than afflicted with troubles, nor is he for the most part the slave of evil thoughts; but he measures out his life by good deeds, being of good heart37 in all things, and rejoicing in the gift of God.
Moreover, I shall exhibit in discourse the ill-fortune that most of all prevails among men. While God may supply a man with all that is according to his mind, and deprive him of no object which may in any manner appeal to his desires, whether it be wealth, or honour, or any other of those things for which men distract themselves; yet the man, while thus prospered in all things, as though the only ill inflicted on him from heaven were just the inability to enjoy them, may but husband them for his fellow, and fall without profit either to himself or to his neighbours. This I reckon to be a strong proof and clear sign of surpassing evil. The man who has borne without blame the name of father of very many children, and spent a long life, and has not had his soul filled with good for so long time, and has had no experience of death meanwhile,38 -this man I should not envy either his numerous offspring or his length of days; nay, I should say that the untimely birth that falls from a woman's womb is better than he. For as that came in with vanity, so it also departeth secretly in oblivion, without having tasted the ills of life or looked on the sun. And this is a lighter evil than for the wicked man not to know what is good, even though he measure his life by thousands of years.39 And the end of both is death. The fool is proved above all things by his finding no satisfaction in any lust. But the discreet man is not held captive by these passions. Yet, for the most part, righteousness of life leads a man to poverty. And the sight of curious eyes deranges40 many, inflaming their mind, and drawing them on to vain pursuits by the empty desire of show.41 Moreover, the things which are now are known already; and it be comes apparent that than is unable to contend with those that are above him. And, verily, inanities have their course among men, which only increase the folly of those who occupy themselves with them.
For though a man should be by no means greatly advantaged by knowing all in this life that is destined to befall him according to his mind (let us suppose such a case), nevertheless with the officious activity of men he devises means for prying into and gaining an apparent acquaintance with the things that are to happen after a person's death. Moreover, a good name is more pleasant to the mind42 than oil to the body; and the end of life is better than the birth, and to mourn is more desirable than to revel, and to be with the sorrowing is better than to be with the drunken. For this is the fact, that he who comes to the end of life has no further care about alight around him. And discreet anger is to be preferred to laughter; for by the severe disposition of countenance the soul is kept upright43 The souls of the wise, indeed, are sad and downcast, but those of fools are elated, and given loose to merriment. And yet it is far more desirable to receive blame from one wise man, than to become a hearer of a whole chorus of worthless and miserable men in their songs. For the laughter of fools is like the crackling of many thorns burning in a fierce fire. This, too, is misery, yea the greatest of evils, namely oppression;44 for it intrigues against the souls of the wise, and attempts to ruin the noble way of life45 which the good pursue. Moreover, it is right to commend not the man who begins, but the man who finishes a speech;46 and what s moderate ought to approve itself to the mind, and not what is swollen and inflated. Again, one ought certainly to keep wrath in check, and not suffer himself to be carried rashly into anger, the slaves of which are fools. More over, they are in error who assert that a better manner of life was given to those before us, and they fail to see that wisdom is widely different from mere abundance of possessions, and that it is as much more lustrous47 than these, as silver shines more brightly than its shadow. For the life of man hath its excellence48 not in the acquisition of perishable riches, but in wisdom. And who shall be able, tell me, to declare the providence of God, which is so great and so beneficent? or who shall be able to recall the things which seem to have been passed by of God? And in the former days of my vanity I considered all things, and saw a righteous man continuing in his righteousness, and ceasing not from it until death, but even suffering injury by reason thereof, and a wicked man perishing with his wickedness. Moreover, it is proper that the righteous man should not seem to be so overmuch, nor exceedingly and above measure wise, that he may not, as in making some slip, seem to sin many times over. And be not thou audacious and precipitate, lest an untimely death surprise thee. It is the greatest of all good to take hold of God, and by abiding in Him to sin in nothing. For to touch things undefiled with an impure hand is abomination. But he who in the fear of God submits himself,49 escapes all that is contrary. Wisdom availeth more in the way of help than a band of the most powerful men in a city, and it often also pardons righteously those who fail in duty. For there is not one that stumbleth not.50 Also it becomes thee in no way to attend upon the words of the impious, that thou mayest not become an ear-witness51 of words spoken against thyself, such as the foolish talk of a wicked servant, and being thus stung in heart, have recourse afterwards thyself to cursing in turn in many actions. And all these things have I known, having received wisdom from God, which afterwards I lost, and was no longer able to be the same.52 For wisdom fled from me to an infinite distance, and into a measureless deep, so that I could no longer get hold of it. Wherefore afterwards I abstained altogether from seeking it; and I no longer thought of considering the follies and the vain counsels of the impious, and their weary, distracted life. And being thus disposed, I was borne on to the things themselves; and being seized with a fatal passion, I knew woman-that she is like a snare or some such other object.53 For her heart ensnares those who pass her; and if she but join hand to hand, she holds one as securely as though she dragged him on bound with chains.54 And from her you can secure your deliverance only by finding a propitious and watchful superintendent in God;55 for he who is enslaved by sin cannot (otherwise) escape its grasp. Moreover, among all women I sought for the chastity56 proper to them, and I found it in none. And verily a person may find one man chaste among a thousand, but a woman never.57 And this above all things I observed, that men being made by God simple58 in mind, contract59 for themselves manifold reasonings and infinite questionings, and while professing to seek wisdom, waste their life in vain words.
Moreover, wisdom, when it is found in a man, shows itself also in its possessor's face, and makes his countenance to shine; as, on the other hand, effrontery convicts the man in whom it has taken up its abode, so soon as he is seen, as one worthy of hatred. And it is on every account right to give careful heed to the words of the king, and by all manner of means to avoid an oath, especially one taken in the name of God. It may be fit at the same time to notice an evil word, but then it is necessary to guard against any blasphemy against God. For it will not be possible to find fault with Him when He inflicts any penalty, nor to gainsay the decrees of the Only Lord and King. But it will be better and more profitable for a man to abide by the holy commandments, and to keep himself apart from the words of the wicked. For the wise man knows and discerneth beforehand the judgment, which shall come at the right time, and sees that it shall be just. For all things in the life of men await the retribution from above; but the wicked man does not seem to know verily60 that as there is a mighty providence over him, nothing in the future shall be hid. He knoweth not indeed the things which shall be; for no man shall be able to announce any one of them to him duly: for no one shall be found so strong as to be able to prevent the angel who spoils him of his life;61 neither shall any means be devised for cancelling in any way the appointed time of death. But even as the man who is captured in the midst of the battle can only see flight cut off on every side, so all the impiety of man perisheth utterly together. And I am astonished, as often as I contemplate what and how great things men have studied to do for the hurt of their neighbours. But this I know, that the impious are snatched prematurely from this life, and put out of the way because they have given themselves to vanity. For whereas the providential judgment62 of God does not overtake all speedily, by reason of His great long-suffering, and the wicked is not punished immediately on the commission of his offences,-for this reason he thinks that he may sin the more, as though he were to get off with impunity, not understanding that the transgressor shall not escape the knowledge of God even after a long interval. This, moreover, is the chief good, to reverence God; for if once the impious man fall away from Him, he shall not be suffered long to misuse his own folly. But a most vicious and false opinion often prevails among men concerning both the righteous and the unrighteous. For they form a judgment contrary to truth regarding each of them; and the man who is really righteous does not get the credit of being so, while, on the other hand, the impious man is deemed prudent and upright. And this I judge to be among the most grievous of errors. Once, indeed, I thought that the chief good consisted in eating and drinking, and that he was most highly favoured of God who should enjoy these things to the utmost in his life; and I fancied that this kind of enjoyment was the only comfort in life. And, accordingly, I gave heed to nothing but to this conceit, so that neither by night nor by day did I withdraw myself from all those things which have ever been discovered to minister luxurious delights to men. And this much I learned thereby, that the man who mingles in these things shall by no means be able, however sorely he may labour with them, to find the real good.
Now I thought at that time that all men were judged worthy of the same things. And if any wise man practised righteousness, and withdrew himself from unrighteousness, and as being sagacious avoided hatred with all (which, indeed, is a thing well pleasing to God), this man seemed to me to labour in vain. For there seemed to be one end for the righteous and for the impious, for the good and for the evil, for the pure and for the impure, for him that worshipped63 God, and for him that worshipped not. For as the unrighteous man and the good, the man who sweareth a false oath, and the man who avoids swearing altogether, were suspected by me to be driving toward the same end, a certain sinister opinion stole secretly into my mind, that all men come to their end in a similar way. But now I know that these are the reflections of fools, and errors and deceits. And they assert largely, that he who is dead has perished utterly, and that the living is to be preferred to the dead, even though he may lie in darkness, and pass his life-journey after the fashion of a dog, which is better at least than a dead lion. For the living know this at any rate, that they are to die; but the dead know not anything, and there is no reward proposed to them after they have completed their necessary course. Also hatred and love with the dead have their end; for their envy has perished, and their life also is extinguished. And he has a portion in nothing who has once gone hence. Error harping still on such a string, gives also such counsel as this: What meanest thou, O man, that thou dost not enjoy thyself delicately, and gorge thyself with all manner of pleasant food, and fill thyself to the full with wine? Dost thou not perceive that these things are given us from God for our unrestrained enjoyment? Put on newly washed attire, and anoint thy head with myrrh, and see this woman and that, and pass thy vain life vainly.64 For nothing else remaineth for thee but this, neither here nor after death. But avail thou thyself of all that chanceth; for neither shall any one take account of thee for these things, nor are the things that are done by men known at all outside the circle of men. And Hades, whatever that may he, whereunto we are said to depart, has neither wisdom nor understanding. These are the things which men of vanity speak. But I know assuredly, that neither shall they who seem the swiftest accomplish that great race; nor shall those who are esteemed mighty and terrible in the judgment of men, overcome in that terrible battle. Neither, again, is prudence proved by abundance of bread, nor is understanding wont to consort with riches. Nor do I congratulate those who think that all shall find the same things befall them. But certainly those who indulge such thoughts seem to me to be asleep, and to fail to consider that, caught suddenly like fishes and birds, they will be consumed with woes, and meet speedily their proper retribution. Also I estimate wisdom at so high a price, that I should deem a small and poorly-peopled city, even though besieged also by a mighty king with his forces, to be indeed great and powerful, if it had but one wise man, however poor, among its citizens. For such a man would be able to deliver his city both from enemies and from entrenchments. And other men, it may be, do not recognise that wise man, poor as he is; but for my part I greatly prefer the power that resides in wisdom, to this might of the mere multitude of the people. Here, however, wisdom, as it dwells with poverty, is held in dishonour. But hereafter it shall be heard speaking with more authoritative voice than princes and despots who seek after things evil. For wisdom is also stronger than iron; while the folly of one individual works danger for many, even though he be an object of contempt to many.65
Moreover, flies falling into myrrh, and suffocated therein, make both the appearance of that pleasant ointment and the anointing therewith an unseemly thing;66 and to be mindful of wisdom and of folly together is in no way proper. The wise man, indeed, is his own leader to right actions; but the fool inclines to erring courses, and will never make his folly available as a guide to what is noble. Yea, his thoughts also are vain and full of folly. But if ever a hostile spirit fall upon thee, my friend, withstand it courageously, knowing that God is able to propitiate67 even a mighty multitude of offences. These also are the deeds of the prince and father of all wickedness: that the fool is set on high, while the man richly gifted with wisdom is humbled; and that the slaves of sin are seen riding on horseback, while men dedicated to God walk on foot in dishonour, the wicked exulting the while. But if any one devises another's hurt, he forgets that he is preparing a snare for himself first and alone. And he who wrecks another's safety, shall fall by the bite of a serpent. But he who removeth stones, indeed shall undergo no light labour;68 and be who cleaveth wood shall bear danger with him in his own weapon. And if it chance that the axe spring out of the handle,69 he who engages in such work shall be put to trouble, gathering for no good70 and having to put to more of his iniquitous and shortlived strength.71 The bite of a serpent, again, is stealthy; and the charmers will not soothe the pain, for they are vain. But the good man doeth good works for himself and for his neighbours alike; while the fool shall sink into destruction through his folly. And when he has once opened his mouth, he begins foolishly and soon comes to an end, exhibiting his senselessness in all. Moreover, it is impossible for man to know anything, or to learn from man either what has been from the beginning, or what shall be in the future. For who shall be the declarer thereof? Besides, the man who knows not to go to the good city, sustains evil in the eyes and in the whole countenance. And I prophesy woes to that city the king of which is a youth, and its rulers gluttons. But I call the good land blessed, the king of which is the son of the free: there those who are entrusted with the power of ruling shall reap what is good in due season. But the sluggard and the idler become scoffers, and make the house decay; and misusing all things for the purposes of their own gluttony, like the ready slaves of money,72 for a small price they are content to do all that is base and abject. It is also right to obey kings and rulers or potentates, and not to be bitter against them, nor to utter any offensive word against them. For there is ever the risk that what has been spoken in secret may somehow become public. For swift and winged messengers convey all things to Him who alone is King both rich and mighty, discharging therein a service which is at once spiritual and reasonable.
Moreover, it is a righteous thing to give (to the needy) of thy bread, and of those things which are necessary for the support of man's life. For though thou seemest forthwith to waste it upon some persons, as if thou didst cast thy bread upon the water, yet in the progress of time thy kindness shall be seen to be not unprofitable for thee. Also give liberally, and give a portion of thy means to many; for thou knowest not what the coming day doeth. The clouds, again, do not keep back their plenteous rains, but discharge their showers upon the earth. Nor does a tree stand for ever; but even though men may spare it, it shall be overturned by the wind at any rate. But many desire also to know beforehand what is to come from the heavens; and there have been those who, scrutinizing the clouds and waiting for the wind, have had nought to do with reaping and winnowing, putting their trust in vanity, and being all incapable of knowing aught of what may come from God in the future; just as men cannot tell what the woman with child shall bring forth. But sow thou in season, and thus reap thy fruits whenever the time for that comes on. For it is not manifest what shall be better than those among all natural things.73 Would, indeed, that all things turned out well! Truly, when a man considers with himself that the sun is good, and that this life is sweet, and that it is a pleasant thing to have many years wherein one can delight himself continually, and that death is a terror and an endless evil, and a thing that brings us to nought, he thinks that he ought to enjoy himself in all the present and apparent pleasures of life. And he gives this counsel also to the young, that they should use to the uttermost74 the season of their youth, by giving up their minds to all manner of pleasure, and indulge their passions, and do all that seemeth good in their own eyes, and look upon that which delighteth, and avert themselves from that which is not so. But to such a man I shall say this much: Senseless art thou, my friend, in that thou dost not look for the judgment that shall come from God upon all these things. And profligacy and licentiousness are evil, and the filthy wantonness of our bodies carries death in it. For folly attends on youth, and folly leads to destruction.
Moreover, it is fight that thou shouldest fear God while thou art yet young, before thou givest thyself over to evil things, and before the great and terrible day of God cometh, when the sun shall no longer shine, neither the moon, nor the rest of the stars, but when in that storm and commotion of all things, the powers above shall be moved, that is, the angels who guard the world; so that the mighty men shall fail, and the women shall cease their labours, and shall flee into the dark places of their dwellings, and shall have all the doors shut. And a woman shall be restrained from grinding by fear, and shall speak with the weakest voice, like the tiniest bird; and all the impure women shall sink into the earth; and cities and their blood-stained governments shall wait for the vengeance that comes from above, while the most bitter and bloody of all times hangs over them like a blossoming almond, and continuous punishments impend like a multitude of flying locusts, and the transgressors are cast out of the way like a black and despicable caper-plant. And the good man shall depart with rejoicing to his own everlasting habitation; but the vile shall fill all their places with wailing, and neither silver laid up in store, nor proved gold, shall be of use any more. For a mighty stroke75 shall fall upon all things, even to the pitcher that standeth by the well, and the wheel of the vessel which may chance to have been left in the hollow, when the course of time comes to its end76 and the ablution-bearing period of a life that is like water has passed away.77 And for men who lie on earth there is but one salvation, that their souls acknowledge and wing their way to Him by whom they have been made. I say, then, again what I have said already, that man's estate is altogether vain, and that nothing can exceed the utter vanity which attaches to the objects of man's inventions. And superfluous is my labour in preaching discreetly, inasmuch as I am attempting to instruct a people here, so indisposed to receive either teaching or healing. And truly the noble man is needed for the understanding of the words of wisdom. Moreover, I, though already aged, and having passed a long life, laboured to find out those things which are well-pleasing to God, by means of the mysteries of the truth. And I know that the mind is no less quickened and stimulated by the precepts of the wise, than the body is wont to be when the goad is applied, or a nail is fastened in it.78 And some will render again those wise lessons which they have received from one good pastor and teacher, as if all with one mouth and in mutual concord set forth in larger detail the truths committed to them. But in many words there is no profit. Neither do I counsel thee, my friend, to write down vain things about what is fitting,79 from which there in nothing to be gained but weary labour. But, in fine, I shall require to use some such conclusion as this: O men, behold, I charge you now expressly and shortly, that ye fear God, who is at once the Lord and the Overseer80 of all, and that ye keep also His commandments; and that ye believe that all shall be judged severally in the future, and that every man shall receive the just recompense for his deeds, whether they be good or whether they be evil.81
Next: Canonical Epistle.
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