Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter IV. The discourse of the old man on the state of the soul and its excellence.
The discourse of the old man on the state of the soul and its excellence.
Serenus: It is dangerous to jump to a conclusion and lay down the law hastily on the nature of anything before you have properly discussed the subject and considered its true character. Nor should you, looking only at your own weakness, hazard a conjecture instead of pronouncing a judgment based on the character and value of the practice itself, and others experience of it. For if anyone, who was ignorant of swimming but knew that the weight of his body could not be supported by water, wished from the proof which his inexperience afforded, to lay down that no one composed of solid flesh could possibly be supported on the liquid element, we ought not therefore to think his opinion a true one, which he seemed to bring forward in accordance with his own experience, since this can be shown to be not merely not impossible but actually extremely easily done by others, by the clearest proofs and ocular demonstration. And so the νοῦς, i.e., the mind, is defined as ἀεικίνητος καὶ πολυκίνητος, i.e., ever shifting and very shifting: as it is thus described in the so called wisdom of Solomon in other words: καὶ γεῶδες σκῆνος βρίθει νοῦν πολυφρόντιδα , i.e., “And the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth on many things.” 1437 This then in accordance with its nature can never remain idle, but unless provision is made where it may exercise its motions and have what will continually occupy it, it must by its own fickleness wander about and stray over all kinds of things until, accustomed by long practice and daily use—in which you say that you have toiled without result—it tries and learns what food for the memory it ought to prepare, toward which it may bring back its unwearied flight and acquire strength for remaining, and thus may succeed in driving away the hostile suggestion of the enemy by which it is distracted, and in persisting in that state and condition which it yearns for. We ought not then to ascribe this wandering inclination of our heart either to human nature or to God its Creator. For it is a true statement of Scripture, that “God made man upright; but they themselves found out many thoughts.” 1438 The character of these then depends on us ourselves, for it says “a good thought comes near to those that know it, but a prudent man will find it.” 1439 For where anything is subject to our prudence and industry so that it can be found out, there if it is not found out, we ought certainly to set it down to our own laziness or carelessness and not to the fault of our nature. And with this meaning the Psalmist also is in agreement, when he says: “Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee: in his heart he hath disposed his ascents.” 1440 You see then that it lies in our power to dispose in our hearts either ascents, i.e., thoughts that belong to God, or descents; viz., those that sink down to carnal and earthly things. And if this was not in our power the Lord would not have rebuked the Pharisees, saying “Why do ye think evil in your hearts?” 1441 nor would He have given this charge by the prophet, saying: “Take away the evil of your thoughts from mine eyes;” and “How long shall wicked thoughts remain in you?” 1442 Nor would the character of them as of our works be taken into consideration in the day of judgment in our case as the Lord threatens by Isaiah: “Lo, I come to gather together their works and thoughts together with all nations and tongues;” 1443 nor would it be right that we should be condemned or defended by their evidence in that terrible and dreadful examination, as the blessed Apostle says: “Their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men according to my gospel.” 1444
Wisdom ix. 15.363:1438
Eccl. vii. 29 (LXX.).363:1439
Prov. xix. 7 (LXX.).363:1440
S. Matt. ix. 4.363:1442
Isa. 1:16, Jer. 4:14.363:1443
Is. lxvi. 18.363:1444
Rom. 2:15, 16.
Next: Chapter V. On the perfection of the soul, as drawn from the comparison of the Centurion in the gospel.
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