Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Ascetic and Moral Treatises.: Chapter XI
Now those who take a superficial and unreflecting view of things observe the outward appearance of anything they meet, e.g. of a man, and then trouble themselves no more about him. The view they have taken of the bulk of his body is enough to make them think that they know all about him. But the penetrating and scientific mind will not trust to the eyes alone the task of taking the measure of reality; it will not stop at appearances, nor count that which is not seen amongst unrealities. It inquires into the qualities of the mans soul. It takes those of its characteristics which have been developed by his bodily constitution, both in combination and singly; first singly, by analysis, and then in that living combination which makes the personality of the subject. As regards the inquiry into the nature of beauty, we see, again, that the man of half-grown intelligence, when he observes an object which is bathed in the glow of a seeming beauty, thinks that that object is in its essence beautiful, no matter what it is that so prepossesses him with the pleasure of the eye. He will not go deeper into the subject. But the other, whose minds eye is clear, and who can inspect such appearances, will neglect those elements which are the material only upon which the Form of Beauty works; to him they will be but the ladder by which he climbs to the prospect of that Intellectual Beauty, in accordance with their share in which all other beauties get their existence and their name. But for the majority, I take it, who live all their lives with such obtuse faculties of thinking, it is a difficult thing to perform this feat of mental analysis and of discriminating the material vehicle from the immanent beauty, and thereby of grasping the actual nature of the Beautiful; and if any one wants to know the exact source of all the false and pernicious conceptions of it, he would find it in nothing else but this, viz. the absence, in the souls faculties of feeling, of that exact training which would enable them to distinguish between true Beauty and the reverse. Owing to this men give up all search after the true Beauty. Some slide into mere sensuality. Others incline in their desires to dead metallic coin. Others limit their imagination of the beautiful to worldly honours, fame, and power. There is another class which is enthusiastic about art and science. The most debased make their gluttony the test of what is good. But he who turns from all grosser thoughts and all passionate longings after what is seeming, and explores the nature of the beauty which is simple, immaterial, formless, would never make a mistake like that when he has to choose between all the objects of desire; he would never be so misled by these attractions as not to see the transient character of their pleasures and not to win his way to an utter contempt for every one of them. This, then, is the path to lead us to the discovery of the Beautiful. All other objects that attract mens love, be they never so fashionable, be they prized never so much and embraced never so eagerly, must be p. 356 left below us, as too low, too fleeting, to employ the powers of loving which we possess; not indeed that those powers are to be locked up within us unused and motionless; but only that they must first be cleansed from all lower longings; then we must lift them to that height to which sense can never reach. Admiration even of the beauty of the heavens, and of the dazzling sunbeams, and, indeed, of any fair phenomenon, will then cease. The beauty noticed there will be but as the hand to lead us to the love of the supernal Beauty whose glory the heavens and the firmament declare, and whose secret the whole creation sings. The climbing soul, leaving all that she has grasped already as too narrow for her needs, will thus grasp the idea of that magnificence which is exalted far above the heavens. But how can any one reach to this, whose ambitions creep below? How can any one fly up into the heavens, who has not the wings of heaven and is not already buoyant and lofty-minded by reason of a heavenly calling? Few can be such strangers to evangelic mysteries as not to know that there is but one vehicle on which mans soul can mount into the heavens, viz. the self-made likeness in himself to the descending Dove, whose wings 1402 David the Prophet also longed for. This is the allegorical name used in Scripture for the power of the Holy Spirit; whether it be because not a drop of gall 1403 is found in that bird, or because it cannot bear any noisome smell, as close observers tell us. He therefore who keeps away from all bitterness and all the noisome effluvia of the flesh, and raises himself on the aforesaid wings above all low earthly ambitions, or, more than that, above the whole universe itself, will be the man to find that which is alone worth loving, and to become himself as beautiful as the Beauty which he has touched and entered, and to be made bright and luminous himself in the communion of the real Light. We are told by those who have studied the subject, that those gleams which follow each other so fast through the air at night and which some call shooting stars 1404 , are nothing but the air itself streaming into the upper regions of the sky under stress of some particular blasts. They say that the fiery track is traced along the sky when those blasts ignite in the ether. In like manner, then, as this air round the earth is forced upwards by some blast and changes into the pure splendour of the ether, so the mind of man leaves this murky miry world, and under the stress of the spirit becomes pure and luminous in contact with the true and supernal Purity; in such an atmosphere it even itself emits light, and is so filled with radiance, that it becomes itself a Light, according to the promise of our Lord that “the righteous should shine forth as the sun 1405 .” We see this even here, in the case of a mirror, or a sheet of water, or any smooth surface that can reflect the light; when they receive the sunbeam they beam themselves; but they would not do this if any stain marred their pure and shining surface. We shall become then as the light, in our nearness to Christs true light, if we leave this dark atmosphere of the earth and dwell above; and we shall be light, as our Lord says somewhere to His disciples 1406 , if the true Light that shineth in the dark comes down even to us; unless, that is, any foulness of sin spreading over our hearts should dim the brightness of our light. Perhaps these examples have led us gradually on to the discovery that we can be changed into something better than ourselves; and it has been proved as well that this union of the soul with the incorruptible Deity can be accomplished in no other way but by herself attaining by her virgin state to the utmost purity possible,—a state which, being like God, will enable her to grasp that to which it is like, while she places herself like a mirror beneath the purity of God, and moulds her own beauty at the touch and the sight of the Archetype of all beauty. Take a character strong enough to turn from all that is human, from persons, from wealth, from the pursuits of Art and Science, even from whatever in moral practice and in legislation is viewed as right (for still in all of them error in the apprehension of the Beautiful comes in, sense being the criterion); such a character will feel as a passionate lover only towards that Beauty which has no source but Itself, which is not such at one particular time or relatively only, which is Beautiful from, and through, and in itself, not such at one moment and in the next ceasing to be such, above all increase and addition, incapable of change and alteration. I venture to affirm that, to one who has cleansed all the powers of his being from every form of vice, the Beauty which is essential, the source of every beauty and every good, will become visible. The visual eye, purged from its blinding humour, can clearly discern objects even on the p. 357 distant sky 1407 ; so to the soul by virtue of her innocence there comes the power of taking in that Light; and the real Virginity, the real zeal for chastity, ends in no other goal than this, viz. the power thereby of seeing God. No one in fact is so mentally blind as not to understand that without telling; viz. that the God of the Universe is the only absolute, and primal, and unrivalled 1408 Beauty and Goodness. All, maybe, know that; but there are those who, as might have been expected, wish besides this to discover, if possible, a process by which we may be actually guided to it. Well, the Divine books are full of such instruction for our guidance; and besides that many of the Saints cast the refulgence of their own lives, like lamps, upon the path for those who are “walking with God 1409 .” But each may gather in abundance for himself suggestions towards this end out of either Covenant in the inspired writings; the Prophets and the Law are full of them; and also the Gospel and the Traditions of the Apostles. What we ourselves have conjectured in following out the thoughts of those inspired utterances is this.
Ps. lv. 6.356:1403
Cf. Augustine, Tract. 6 in Joann.: “Columba fel non habet. Simon habebat; ideo separatus est a columbæ visceribus.” Aristotle asserts the contrary; but even Galen denies that it possesses a bladder (lib. de atr. bil. sub fin.).356:1404
διᾴττοντας, corrected by Livineius, the transcriber of the Vatican ms., for διατάττοντας. Cf. Arist. Meteor. I. iv: καὶ ὁμοίως κατὰ πλάτος καὶ βάθος οἱ δοκοῦντες ἀστέρες διᾴττειν γίνονται: and, in the same chapter, διαθέοντες ἀστέρες. Cf. Seneca. Nat. Quæst. iii. 14: “Videmus ergo Stellarum longos a tergo albescere tractus. Hæc velut stellæ exsiliunt et transvolant.” This and much else, in the preceding and following notes to this treatise, is taken from those of Fronto Ducæus, printed in the Paris Edit. The Paris Editors, Fronto Ducæus and Claude Morell, used Livineius edition (1574) of this treatise, which is based on the Vatican Cod. and Bricmans (of Cologne); and they corrected from the Cod. of F. Morell, Regius Professor of Theology; and from the Cod. Regius.356:1405
S. Matt. xiii. 43.356:1406
S. John 9:5, John 1:9.357:1407
τὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ τηλαυγῶς καθορᾶται. The same word in S. Mark viii. 25 (“clearly”) evidently refers to the second stage of recovered sight, the power of seeing the perspective. The mss. reading is ἐν τῷ ἁγίω, for which ἀέρι and ἡλί& 251· have been conjectured; οὐρανῷ is due to Galesinius; there is a similar place in Dio Chrys. (de regno et tyrann.): “impaired sight,” he says, “cannot see even what is quite close, ὑγιὲς δὲ οὖσα μέχρις οὐρανοῦ τε καὶ ἀστέρων ἐξικνεῖται, i.e. the distant sky. Just above, ἀποῤ& 191·υψαμένῳ (purged) is a better reading than ἀποῤ& 191·ιψαμένῳ, and supported by F. Morells ms.357:1408
Gen. v. 24; vi. 9.
Next: Chapter XII
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