Step 04


1. It is to the athletes who combat for Jesus Christ, that our discourse henceforth will be addressed, according to the order which we propose to follow in this work. As the flower precedes the fruit; so retirement from the world, whether in body by change of residence, or in spirit only, always precedes obedience. It is, indeed, upon these two virtues, as upon wings of gold, that the virtuous soul soars without drooping to heaven. Perhaps it was of these virtues, that the Royal Prophet sung in his plaintive but melodious song. “Who will give to me wings like a dove, and I will fly” by my actions in God’s service, “and be at rest” by contemplation and humility.1

2. Here I beg permission to state briefly, what are the spiritual weapons of these generous combatants. Their buckler is their faith and confidence in God and in their superior. By it they repel all thoughts of infidelity and disobedience. The sword, which they always hold drawn from its scabbard, is the sword of the Spirit, with which they slay every suggestion of self-will, the moment it springs into existence. Their cuirass is meekness and patience by which their hearts are defended, so as not to be disturbed by the injuries, the insults, or the malice of men. Their helmet is the prayer of their superior, which protects the head against the assaults of temptation. They, likewise, remain firm in their position, without any undue attachment; ready to spend themselves in the service of charity, or to stand immoveable in contemplation and prayer.

3. Obedience is a perfect renouncement of our own will, which renouncement is visible even in our outward actions. Or it may be termed the mortification or the slaying of the body by the authority or direction of the soul. Obedience is simply going about any thing, without any judgment of our own. It is a voluntary death, a life exempt from all curiosity, a confidence in danger, an excellent appeal to mercy, without any premeditation, when about to appear before God. It is a happy freedom from the fear of death, a secure voyage, even when our eyelids are closed in sleep, upon the ocean of the world. Obedience buries self-will in the grave, and raises humility to life. He who is truly obedient is never contradictory, never uses his own judgment, either in things, good and lawful, or in things apparently evil; because he is, as it were, dead to himself. And we may be sure, that the Christian who has died this holy death of obedience, will not tremble when summoned before God’s tribunal, to give an account of his actions. In short, obedience is the wise and discreet renunciation of our own judgment.

4. The commencement of this mortification or mastery of our own will, as it includes the subjection both of body and soul, is attended with much self-denial and hard labour. Its progress is sometimes through difficulties, and at other times peaceable, and without opposition. But its termination is always free from trouble, free from all sorrow and repugnance. The only anxiety, the only grief which the obedient man, who is dead and yet lives, experiences, is when he detects himself doing his own will; for he dreads exceedingly the responsibility of following such a guide, such a master.

5. All you who have undertaken to despoil yourselves of this clothing of self-will, like the gladiators for the combat, and to take your places in the gymnasium of spiritual exercises, all you who have freely subjected yourselves to the yoke of Jesus Christ, all you who have relieved your own shoulders of their burdens, that you may place them upon the shoulders of another in the person of your superior, all you who have deliberately signed the contract of your servitude, which is to bring you to the enjoyment of true liberty, all you who have crossed the vast sea of the world, supported upon its stormy waves by the hand of another, be convinced that the way which you have chosen is the very shortest, though not the easiest; and that there is but one turn in this straight path by which you can go astray, and this turn is called confidence in our own judgment, and complacency in our own conduct. He who has made an absolute renunciation of his own wishes in things good, spiritual, and agreeable to God, has already reached, by anticipation, the termination of his course of probation, even before he has commenced it; for obedience consists in mistrusting his own judgment in every thing, however good it may be, and this to the end of his life.

6. When we wish to bend our shoulders to the yoke of Jesus Christ, and to confide to another the direction of our souls, through our wish to attain humility, and to walk in the sure path to salvation, we ought, if we possess any adroitness, any prudence, to examine carefully before entering this path, the qualifications of him who we choose for our guide and director. We ought, if I may be allowed to say so, to tempt him in every possible manner, lest falling into the hands of a common mariner instead of a pilot--of a person sick himself instead of a physician, of a man who is the slave of his passions in place of one who has obtained a victory over them, we mistake the stormy sea for the tranquil port, and suffer an inevitable shipwreck. But when we have commenced the career of piety and obedience, let us no longer judge the actions of the virtuous director, who has been the object of our choice, although we may occasionally see in him the slight faults incidental to every mortal and wayfaring man; for we shall certainly derive no fruit from our obedience, if we continually sit in judgment upon his actions.

7. It is absolutely necessary for those who wish to preserve an entire and unshaken confidence in their directors, to engrave so indelibly on their hearts the good deeds which they see them perform, that nothing may be able to efface them from their memory. So that when the wicked spirits would inspire us with mistrust in these our spiritual guides, we may at once arrest their accusations, by recollecting the virtues which we have witnessed in these servants of God. For the more prompt and active the body is in its exercises, the more is confidence strengthened and increased in the heart. But if any one loses this confidence he will fall, because that which has not faith for its foundation is not solid, is not worthy of a supernatural reward. If the thought of judging your director in some particular circumstances arises in your mind, reject it as you would the sin of impurity, and never give the least encouragement, the least admittance, the least opening to this baneful serpent. Say boldly to this monster, that you have received no authority to judge the actions of your spiritual father; on the contrary, he has been appointed to sit in judgment upon yours. I am not commissioned to be his judge; but he is deputed to be mine.

8. Our fathers have informed us that, in the chanting of the psalms, we may find weapons well adapted for our defence; in prayer, a wall of strength to protect us; and in the flow of our heartfelt tears, a bath which will cleanse us from sin. But obedience they have called an act of faith, a confession of our Divine Saviour, without which no one, subject to his passions, shall see God.

9. He who is submissive to the authority of a superior, passes judgment whenever there is any difference of opinion against himself, because his obedience is perfect, and grounded upon the love of God. Though he humbly believes that there is much imperfection in his obedience, yet he feels confident that he will not have to render an account to God of the judgments which he has pronounced upon himself. If the superior continues his reprimands, all may go on well, but if he remains silent, I dare not mention the consequences. They who are obedient in simplicity of heart for the love of God, happily complete their illustrious course, without giving the wicked spirits any encouragement by the reflections and opinions made upon those over them in authority.

10. Before all things let us manifest our faults to our superior, the proper and appointed judge of them, and to no one else. Let us, however, be ready to make them known to all the world, if this were commanded. For when wounds are probed and examined in a good light, they will not fester, but heal and close up.


11. Being one day in the monastery of an excellent superior and charitable pastor, I heard him pronounce a most severe judgment. For it happened whilst I was there, a robber had just arrived in order to embrace the life of a solitary. The prudent superior and wise physician ordered him to remain perfectly quiet during seven days, that he might consider at leisure the kind of life practised in that house. At the expiration of this time he called the robber to him in private, and asked him if he would be content to remain with them. Judging from the sincerity of his answer, that he was well disposed, he interrogated him again upon the crimes which he had committed in the world, and convinced that he had confessed them all candidly, and with good heart, he further said to him to try his humility: “I wish you to make a confession of these crimes publicly to all the brethren.” This poor sinner, who had conceived a real hatred of his sins, and a generous contempt of the confusion which he might experience in so doing, promised to comply with the will of the superior, without hesitation. “Yea,” he added, “ if you wish me to make a confession in the very midst of the city of Alexandria, I will do it.” The holy abbot assembled the brethren in the church, to the number of two hundred and thirty; and during the celebration of the divine mysteries, (for it was Sunday,) after the reading of the Gospel, he ordered the criminal, now purified from his sins, to be brought before them. Some of the brethren led him by a cord, striking him as they went along, a few gentle blows. His hands were tied behind his back; he was clothed in a rough garment, made of the skins of beasts, and his head was covered with ashes. This spectacle took all present by surprise, and filled them with astonishment, because they knew not what was the matter, and they immediately broke forth into sighs and lamentations. When the penitent had reached the door of the church, the prudent director and charitable superior cried out in a loud voice: “Remember where you are; for you are not worthy to enter this hallowed temple.” Such a speech from so good a pastor, and in so sacred a place, struck the poor robber with such terror, that he thought he heard not the voice of man, but a peal of thunder. And he assured us afterwards with an oath, that he threw himself on his face upon the ground, and was almost dead with fear and trembling. Whilst he was thus prostrate, and watering the earth with his tears, the admirable physician who sought in all this severity the salvation of the penitent, and an occasion of presenting to others a living model of an efficacious and sincere humility, commanded him to detail minutely, and in presence of all that were there, all the faults which he had ever committed. This injunction filled him with horror, and struck with astonishment all who heard him relate such enormous and unheard of crimes. For he confessed not only to violations of the law of nature, and to instances of brutality beyond what might be conceived of rational creatures, but also to poisonings, murders and other execrable misdeeds, which it is not prudent for the ear to hear, nor for the pen to write. Immediately after this confession the superior ordered his hair to be cut off, and that then he should be received among the brethren.

12. Having admired the wisdom of this holy abbot, I asked him, in private, what was his motive in producing this extraordinary spectacle. This good physician of souls replied: “I have done it for two reasons. The first reason is, that the shame of this public confession may deliver his soul from the future and eternal shame which, I have no doubt, has been accomplished. For even before he arose from the ground, on which he was prostrate, he had obtained from God the pardon of his sins. Do not, dear brother, call this in question. For one of the solitaries, who was present, assured me that he had seen a man with a forbidding aspect, who held in one hand a written paper, and in the other a pen, with which he effaced each sin recorded on that paper as soon as it was confessed by the penitent robber prostrate upon the earth. And this very justly, since it is written: ‘I have acknowledged my sin to thee, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin’2 The other reason is, that having some religious in my monastery, who have not yet declared publicly their sins, I was anxious by this example to animate them to do so, since without such confession, they will not obtain the pardon of their offences.”3



13. I saw many things worthy of admiration, and of being treasured up in the memory, in the excellent superior above mentioned, and in his holy community. I will endeavour to relate to you the greater part of them, for I dwelt sufficiently long in their monastery carefully to note their conduct and the discipline of their house, and I could not refrain from wondering how these men, still inhabitants of the earth, were able to imitate so well the inhabitants of the celestial Sion. They were bound together by the indissoluble chain of Christian friendship; and what was worthy of notice, this mutual affection was exempt from all indiscreet freedom in their words, and without any vain and unprofitable conversation. Their first care was not to wound the consciences of their brethren. If, however, any of them appeared to entertain an aversion towards another, the abbot sent him as a criminal into exile, to a monastery at some distance from his own. One of them having one day spoken injuriously of another in presence of the superior, this holy man commanded him to be immediately driven from his presence, saying that he had no wish to harbour two demons in the same monastery, the one visible and the other invisible.

14. I have witnessed, amongst these saints, things which were both truly profitable and admirable. I have seen a society of brethren whom the Holy Spirit of God had united together, and who possessed in a marvelous degree, that which was most perfect both in the active and contemplative life. They so spent themselves in the practice of all kinds of virtues, and in the meditation of holy things, that they had no need of any admonition from their superior, for they animated one another with a fervour and a vigilance almost divine. They had concerted, regulated, and settled among themselves, certain private and holy practices. If it happened in the absence of the abbot, that any one commenced to speak disrespectfully of another, or to condemn him through rash judgment, or to say against him foolish words, some brother would indicate to him his fault by a secret sign, without any other perceiving it, and thus restrain him within the bounds of duty. But if it happened that the delinquent did not understand the sign of him who reprehended him, the same brother who had given the sign, would prostrate before him, and then go away. When they sometimes held conversation together, the meditation of death, and the thought of the eternal judgment, were the ordinary and inexhaustible topics of their discourse.

15. I will not conceal the admirable and singular virtue of the cook of this monastery. When I saw him in his occupations, and in the services of the kitchen, preserve perpetual recollection of mind, and shed continual tears, I besought him to tell me how he obtained from God so great a grace. Overpowered by my importunity, he replied: “I never felt that I was doing this service for men, but for God. And as I am myself condemned and judged worthy of no repose, the fire which is constantly before me, unceasingly reminds me of the eternal flames of hell.”

16. Listen to another rare and pious custom of the solitaries of this monastery. When at table, they discontinued not their spiritual meditations; and these excellent religious took every care, by secret signs and gestures, to remind each other of that which was necessary to rekindle in them the spirit of prayer. And this they did not only at table, but every time they met or assembled together.

17. When any one committed a fault, many of the brethren would beseech him to allow them to take charge of his fault, and to give an account of it to their father superior as if it were their own, that they might receive from him the proper reprimand and chastisement. When the holy abbot discovered this charitable conduct of his brethren, he became less severe in his corrections, knowing that he whom he reprimanded, was not the guilty one. Yea it was not without difficulty that he could sometimes discover the real delinquent.

18. We never heard these religious hold any profane conversation or use jesting language. If there arose a dispute, some one passing by would prostrate upon the ground, and by this exterior humiliation calm the minds of the disputants, and dispel the risings of their anger. But if he thought that there remained in their hearts, any resentment from their contention, he would inform the superior next in authority to the abbot, and he would dispose them to be reconciled before set of sun. If, however, this superior could not bend the stubbornness of their hearts, he would deprive them of food until they were friends, or he would expel them from the monastery.

19. This discipline, so strict and so praiseworthy, was not sterile, but produced abundant fruit visible to every one. For we beheld many of these saints, who shone as models both in the active and the contemplative life, equally humble and discreet. There was witnessed amongst them a sight which filled one with a reverence accompanied with fear and which appeared more angelic than human. It was that of old men, whose countenances were illuminated with a majesty worthy of respect, running like children to receive the commands of their superior, and whose greatest glory was their submission and their humility. I saw there, men who had passed fifty years under obedience. Having asked them to tell me what consolation they had drawn from the painful exercise of this virtue, some of them replied, that having descended into the abyss of humility, they were now entirely free from all agitation of mind, and warfare of the passions; others said, that they had a perfect insensibility to injuries and insults.

20. I have recognised among these holy men, those who were worthy of being held in eternal remembrance, who, with hair white as snow, and countenances like angels, had acquired by the fervour of their labours and the grace of God, a perfect innocence, a wise simplicity, which displayed no want of reason, no childish levity, usually charged upon old men in the world. Outwardly, there was a delightful sweetness playing upon their features, a wonderful display of goodness, a pleasant cheerfulness, without the shadow of disguise, study, or artfulness, whether in their words or in their manners. Such complete openness of character is seldom found among men. With respect to their interior, they sighed after God and their superior only, like simple, innocent children, who love their parents with extreme affection. But upon evil spirits and upon wickedness, they looked down with the frown of contempt.

21. My whole life would not suffice (O holy pastor, and you his faithful flock, so dear to God) to relate the virtues, the heroic actions of these eminent solitaries. Yet it is better that I should embellish my discourse and excite you to the love of God, by the recital of their labours and struggles, than by my own mean and contemptible exhortations; since that which is imperfect receives a dignity, a polish from that which is perfect. I merely ask this favour that you will not think any thing I have written imaginary and fabulous, because if doubt be cast upon the truth of the narrative, the fruit is at once destroyed. We will now resume our discourse.


22. I found in the above monastery a person of quality, named Isidore, who had been one of the magistrates of Alexandria, and who many years ago retired from the world, and sought an asylum in this house. The holy abbot who received him, saw that his disposition was lively and active for mischief, and that he was naturally uncouth, harsh, and proud. By prudent management he made him see that a person by skill may elude the cunning of the devil. For this purpose the good abbot said to Isidore, “If you have taken a firm resolution to bear the yoke of Jesus Christ, I wish you above all things to practice obedience.” Isidore replied: “Most holy father, I place myself in your hands as iron in the hands of the workman in the forge.” The wise superior, pleased with the similitude, immediately placed him, to test his sincerity, upon the anvil, by subjecting him to the following proof. “I command you, my dear brother,” he said, “to kneel down at the gate of the monastery before all that may enter in or depart from it, and to say to them, “My father, I beg you to pray for me, because my soul is subject to spiritual epilepsy.” Isidore obeyed this injunction, as an angel would obey God. When he had spent seven years in this exercise, and attained to a very profound humility, and a lively compunction of heart, the excellent superior wished, after such a trial, and such incomparable patience, that he should be received among the brethren, and even admitted to sacred orders. But the penitent besought him most earnestly, both by his own entreaties and those of others, to leave him, miserable wretch as he was, to complete his religious career, in the continuance of the same penance indicating pretty clearly that the end of his trial was at hand, and that God would soon call him to himself, which, indeed, happened shortly. For after the abbot granted his request, he died at the expiration of ten days, and ascended to the glory of heaven by his contempt of the fading glory of earth. Seven days after his death, he appeared, and called to him the porter of the monastery, to whom he had previously said: “If I have found favour with God, we shall soon be united together in heaven, never more to be separated.” His prediction was fulfilled. For God wished to testify in an evident manner to the merit both of his obedience, in enduring without shame, so deep an abasement, and of his humility which had made him a true imitator of Jesus Christ.

23. Having one day, before his death, asked of Isidore, what were the interior exercises of his soul, during the time he was kneeling at the gate, he frankly told me, from the motive that I might perhaps derive some benefit from the recital. “During the first year,” he said, “I represented myself as sold into bondage, in punishment of my sins. This feeling that I was a slave, caused me so much bitterness and vexation of spirit, that I had the greatest repugnance to my position, and my blood would sometimes gush from my mouth, when I prostrated at the feet of the brethren, to perform my penance. After the first year, I felt little or no sadness, dejection, or pain; because I entertained the hope that God would reward my patience. When the second year had passed, the prevailing sentiment of my heart was that I was unworthy to dwell in the monastery, to see or converse with the brethren, or to be admitted to a participation of the Divine Mysteries, or even to look any one in the face. For this reason I kept my eyes fixed upon the ground, my mind deeply humbled, asking those who entered or departed from the monastery to pray for me.”


24. Being one day seated near the first superior at table, he whispered in my ear: “Would you wish to see heavenly wisdom shining forth in venerable old age?” I instantly answered Yes. He then called to him a good father, named Laurence, who was at the second table, who had spent forty-eight years in his monastery, and who was the second priest of the Church. Laurence came immediately, and putting himself on his knees before the abbot, received his benediction. When he arose, the abbot said not to him a single word, but left him standing near the table, and without food. This was at the commencement of dinner; and the old man continued in this position more than an hour, indeed, I might say two hours. This sight filled me with confusion, and I could scarcely take my eyes from that holy and venerable religious. His hair was white as snow; and he bent beneath the weight of eighty years. He remained in the same posture until the end of dinner, without any one making to him a single observation. When we rose from table, the superior commanded him to go and find the penitent Isidore, of whom we have just spoken, and to tell him to recite the beginning of the thirty-ninth Psalm: “With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and He was attentive to me.”

25. As I was somewhat malicious, I ventured to tempt the holy old man by asking him what he was thinking of, whilst standing so long near the table. “I regarded my superior,” he said, “as the image of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I did not consider the injunction as coming from man, but from God Himself. Hence it seemed to me, dear father, that I was not standing before the table of men, but before the altar of God, upon which I was continually offering my prayers during the time you were noticing me. I did not so much as conceive a wrong thought against my superior, on account of the confidence which I have in his prudence, and the love which I bear him, having learnt from the apostle, that the love of our neighbour ‘thinketh no evil’.4 And you yourself know, dear father, that the more any one yields himself willingly to simplicity of heart, and to innocency of life, the more difficult will it be for the devil to find an entrance into his soul.”


26. Such, in truth, was that just and holy pastor, the abbot of the afore-mentioned monastery, that God made him the faithful shepherd of many worthy sheep. Amongst these was the housekeeper or cellarer. He had superior wisdom with an extraordinary sweetness of temper. The abbot, desirous that his humility should serve as a model to others, reprimanded him, though guilty of no fault, with much severity and apparent anger; and at a very unseasonable hour, ordered, to the surprise of every one, that he should be expelled from the Church. As I knew this good brother’s innocence, I called the abbot aside, and undertook to defend him who was guilty of no crime. The wise superior replied, “I am fully aware, my dear friend, that the cellarer has in no way transgressed; but as it would not be right for a father to take the bread out of the mouth of his famishing child, so would it be equally unjust for a superior to deprive those entrusted to his care of those gems in their crown of glory, which it is in his power to procure, by subjecting them to reproaches and humiliations, mockery and contempt; provided he is confident that they will bear these trials with patience. By such conduct he would be guilty of three grievous acts of injustice. In the first place, he would deprive himself of the reward which a prudent and charitable reprehension of his brethren would otherwise merit for him. In the second place, he would deprive his brethren of a bright and living example of exalted virtue, from which they would be able to gather good and abundant fruit. In the third place, the greatest loss would be this; they who are most patient in trials and labours, when not exercised for some considerable time in this virtue, when not reprimanded nor humbled by their superior through his esteem of their piety, lose both their mildness and their patience. Their souls may be compared to a very rich and fertile soil, which if left without the waters of humility, will soon become cold and sterile, and produce nothing but the briars and thorns of pride and self-complacency. Hence this admonition of St. Paul to Timothy: “Be instant in season and out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.”5

27. I objected, that it might happen in this degenerate age, and through the infirmity of our nature, that many hearing themselves reprehended without reason, or even with reason, would abandon the monastery. This wise and prudent director of religious souls answered: “A monk whom Jesus Christ has united to his superior, by the bonds of faith and love, will preserve this union even at the price of his blood; particularly if the superior has been the physician whom God employed to heal that brother’s wounds; mindful of that which is written by the great Apostle of the Gentiles: ‘For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor any other thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’6 But if a religious be bound by no such ties to his superior, I wonder how he can continue with any degree of benefit in a house, in which he is retained merely by a false and deceitful obedience. Certainly I had reason to know that this excellent superior was not deceived in his judgment, since he had conducted to perfection, and offered to Jesus Christ many souls, the pure oblations which he had so happily consecrated.

28. Let us hearken to the wisdom of God, and express our astonishment that it should be found in vessels of clay. When in this monastery, I contemplated with admiration the faith, the patience, the invincible fortitude with which the young religious endured contempt, and allowed themselves to be expelled the company of their brethren; and this not only by their superior, but even by those far beneath them.


29. One day beholding a brother, called Abbacyrus, who had lived in the monastery fifteen years, ill-treated by almost every body, and sometimes driven away from table by those who had care of the refectory, because he was too apt to speak, I asked him, for my own edification, the reason of this bad usage, and said to him: “Why, brother, are you driven almost every day from table, and not infrequently even sent to bed without your supper?” He replied, “Believe me, my father, I am not treated in this manner through any rudeness, but through a charitable motive on the part of my brethren to prove me, and to ascertain if I can faithfully perform the duties of a religious life. This is the reason why, knowing the intention of my superior and of the community, I bear these trials so cheerfully. I have already spent fifteen years in this house, without taking umbrage at the manner in which I have been treated; for I have heard the brethren declare, that they would try for thirty years continuously one who came to join them from the world. And certainly, dear father, it is with good reason, since we never can be perfect, if we do not pass through the fire which separates the dross from the pure metal.

30. This excellent religious was living two years after I came to the monastery; he then went to repose in the bosom of God, repeating to the assembled brethren, as his spirit was about to take its flight to the realms of bliss: “I return thanks to God and to you for having tried and proved me in the manner in which you have, for my salvation. It is now seventeen years since I was assailed by the temptations of the devil.” The abbot, the upright judge of the virtues of his disciples, ordered Abbacyrus to be buried as a confessor, near to the bodies of the holy fathers that reposed in the monastery.


31. I should give offence to those endued with love and zeal for heroic virtue, were I to pass over in silence the holy exercises and memorable combats of Macedonius, the first among the deacons of the monastery. This servant of God, so favoured by his Divine Master, having asked his superior, two days before the Feast of the Epiphany, permission to go to Alexandria, upon some particular business, and having promised to return immediately to prepare all that was necessary for the approaching solemnity, found so many obstacles thrust in his way by the enemy of mankind, that he could not possibly return by the time appointed. It was not till two days after the feast that he re-entered his monastery. The superior suspended him from his office, and placed him below the novices. This deacon so patient, this archdeacon of constancy and humility, received this penance with so much calmness and serenity of mind, that it might have been upon another, and not upon himself, that it had been imposed. Having continued under this censure during forty days, the worthy abbot reinstated him in his office, and in the exercise of his duties. But on the following day the penitent deacon besought him with much earnestness to leave him as he was, alleging as the ground of this request, that he had committed in Alexandria a crime which was unpardonable. Although the prudent superior knew that this was merely a subterfuge that he might be allowed to continue in his humiliation and abasement, yet yielded to this praiseworthy desire of fervour and humility in Macedonius. Thus we beheld in the rank of novices, a man venerable in age, conjuring all his brethren with great simplicity and sincerity to pray to God for him, because he had been unfaithful and had fallen into the sin of disobedience. The chief and secret motive so candidly mentioned to me utterly unworthy of his confidence, which induced Macedonius to enter upon this humiliating penance with so much ardour, is best stated in his own words: “I was never at any time,” he said, “less assaulted by the troubles and commotions of our spiritual warfare, nor more sensibly affected by the sweet illuminations of heavenly light. It is the happy condition of the good angels never to fall, and as some say, not to have it in their power to fall. But our lot is unhappily to fall, and then to rise again. The devils fell never more to rise.”

32. The cellarer of the monastery also related an adventure which happened to himself. “When I was young,” he said, “and had the care of cattle, I fell into a fault which was dangerous to my soul. But as I was not accustomed to conceal the serpent sin within my bosom, I took it at once by the tail, and presented it to my spiritual physician. Having looked at me with a smile, and given me a slight blow on the cheek, he said: ‘Go, my son, and continue your ordinary occupation, as you were wont, without fear.’ I believed his words with an ardent faith, and in a few days received the assurance that my soul was healed, so that I thenceforth ran in the way of divine perfection with joy and trembling.”

33. As there are many species in each particular genus of those things which God has created, so in a religious house there are various degrees and methods in the growth of holiness, and different inclinations and interior motions to be resisted and overcome. Hence the prudent abbot, having observed that some of the brethren were fond of showing themselves through ostentation to seculars, who visited the monastery, humbled them in the very presence of these visitors, by assailing them with the most cutting reproaches, and by employing them in the very lowest and most humiliating services. After this they would run away immediately when they saw any strangers enter the house. It was, indeed, astonishing to behold how vain-glory thus tormented itself, by hiding itself from the sight of men.


34. There was in the monastery which we have been praising so highly, an excellent old man, named Menas, who was next in authority to the abbot. He had dwelt in the monastery fifty-nine years, and exercised at various times all the offices of the house. It pleased God that I should not be deprived of the prayers of this holy man, whom He called to Himself seven days before my departure. Three days after his death, whilst we were celebrating the funeral service, there exhaled from his body a most sweet and delicious odour. The abbot ordered the coffin to be opened, when we saw exude from the soles of the feet of this saint, two streams of oil as fragrant as some delightful perfume. At this sight the superior, so skillful in the science of a spiritual life, said to us: “You are witnesses that the labours and perspiration of his feet have been as precious ointment which he offered to God, and God graciously accepted these presents.” The brethren then related many virtuous actions of this saint, among which we will mention the following. One day as Menas, who had been absent from his monastery, returned home, he went about evening to the abbot’s room, knelt down, and asked the accustomed benediction. The abbot, desirous of trying his patience, left him upon his knees till the hour for office, when he gave him his blessing, with permission to rise, reproaching him, however, at the same time, with the love of ostentation and vanity, and with being impatient. The superior knew that Menas would endure all this mortification with a noble mind, but he had recourse to this pious stratagem for the edification of others. One of the disciples of this saint assured me of the truth of this narrative, as well as of all the others related in the life of his excellent master, adding, that having been tempted to ask him if, whilst on his knees before his superior, he did not fall asleep, the holy man replied, No; but during that time he had recited the whole of the Psalter, that is, the whole of the Psalms.


35. As the emerald and other precious stones adorn and give lustre to the crown of royalty, so do I wish to embellish my narrative with the edifying maxims and sayings of the holy religious among whom I dwelt in order to be trained in the way of perfection. Having one day engaged some of the more virtuous of the ancients to give me their opinion respecting the life of the anchorites, they smilingly replied: “Dear father, rude and unspiritual as we are, we have embraced a life as rustic as ourselves. And our motive for this was, that we ought to be satisfied with undertaking a warfare proportioned to our strength, and that it is far easier to fight with men, who sometimes become angry and cross with each other, and immediately repent of their hastiness, than with demons, who are always in a rage against us, and always armed for deadly warfare.”

36. Another of these pious religious worthy of eternal remembrance, who cherished a great affection for me in our Lord, and who spoke to me with great freedom, said one day with much feeling: “If you, who are so prudent, felt the energy of him who could say from his heart, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me’;7 if the Holy Spirit were to descend upon you in the dew of His sanctifying grace, as He formerly did upon the Blessed Virgin; if the power of the Most High filled you, as it did her pure soul, with patience, you would lay aside your garments, take a towel, and gird yourself in imitation of Jesus Christ at His last supper, that you might learn from Him obedience; you would rise from table, that is, from the repose of solitude, in order to wash the feet of your brethren, with the sentiments of a humble and contrite heart, or rather you would prostrate at their feet with feelings of profound humility. Place over your heart careful guards that will never sleep. Check the wanderings of the human mind, which is never steady amidst the distractions that are caused by the bodily senses. Be tranquil amidst the commotions of your own earthly tabernacle, and view with a serene mind the dangers and the storms which threaten you from without. Curb in the tongue with the chain of silence, lest its audaciousness should embroil you in contention and quarrelling. Fight not once in the day, but seventy times seven, against this unruly member. Carry the cross in your heart, and so fix it therein as an anvil upon its stock, that you may resist every stroke from the hammer of temptation, and be proof against the affronts, calumnies, and injuries which may aim at you their blows one after the other, whilst you suffer no disturbance of temper, but retain your usual calmness and constancy of soul. Cast off your own will, as you would an old garment, and enter upon your heavenly career, disencumbered of every thing that is likely to impede your progress. Arm yourself with a firm confidence in Him who is to crown you after your victory. Let this confidence, which is a virtue very scarce, be your strong and impenetrable breast-plate, against all the doubts and mistrusts that may assail the mind. Rein in with the bridle of continency the sensual inclinations, which will otherwise hurry you into the shameful sins of impurity. Shut out, by timely meditation, the curiosity of the eyes, which are perpetually roving in quest of great and beautiful objects. Keep down, by your solicitude for your salvation, all inquisitiveness of mind, which is ever ready to condemn others, whilst it flatters and favours itself in its own negligence. Let your actions testify to your neighbour the sincerity of your affections, by showing him all the charity and kindness in your power. All men, dear father, will acknowledge us for the disciples of Jesus Christ if, within the sphere of our society, we have charity one towards another.” He then said: “Come, come, and dwell with us. Come and drink forthwith contempt and humiliation like living water. Remember that holy David having sought for that which was most pleasant under the sun, concluded his search with this question: What is there delightful on earth? He answers by this beautiful exclamation: ‘How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.’8 If it is not permitted that we should enjoy this wonderful patience and obedience, let us, at least, sensible of our weakness, dwell in solitude, far from the advantage ground of these holy combatants of a religious life, and whilst admiring their happy lot, let us implore for them the grace of patience.” This good father and master of a spiritual life in this manner convinced me, by his excellent observations, drawn from the evangelists and the prophets, and still further by the amiability of his friendship, that nothing was to be compared to the happiness of obedience, and I yielded to the force of his arguments, and embraced his opinion.

37. Before leaving these choice pieces of instruction, which are as a paradise of delights, and entering again amongst the thorns and briars of my own discourses, so devoid of interest and utility, it is proper I should mention one virtue of these good fathers, from which we may derive considerable profit. The abbot having noticed certain brothers conversing together during office, at which I many times assisted, commanded them to remain at the gate of the monastery during a whole week, and to prostrate, in the manner of penitents, before all who should enter or depart from the house. And these brothers were in sacred orders, yes, some of them priests.

38. Having one day remarked that one of the brethren was much more attentive to the chanting of the Psalms than the rest, that he appeared to be inflamed with an extraordinary devotion, and that more especially when the office was being commenced, he seemed by his gestures, and the visible movement of his features, to be speaking to some one. I asked him to tell me the reason of this. Not wishing to conceal from me that which might promote my spiritual benefit, he replied: “My father, I have a practice, when I begin the office, of collecting my wandering thoughts, and of concentrating the faculties of my soul, by saying to them: ‘Come, let us adore the Lord and fall down before Him; let us joyfully sing to God our Saviour.’”9

39. I was curious, likewise, in noting the actions of him who had care of the refectory, and I observed several small tablets attached to his girdle. Upon these, I was told, that he wrote the thoughts which recurred to his mind during the day, and that he referred them all to the abbot. Indeed, he was not the only one who adopted this practice. Many others did it by the wish of their holy superior.

40. One of the solitaries having been expelled the house by the command of the abbot, because he had falsely accused to him a brother of employing his time in nothing but foolery and talking, remained seven days at the door of the monastery, imploring without intermission, that his fault might be pardoned, and that he might be allowed to reenter. The good abbot, burning with love for the souls of his brethren, having learnt all the circumstances of the case and knowing that the poor brother had eaten nothing during six days, declared to him, that if he had a sincere desire of being readmitted into the monastery, he must be received among the penitents. The brother, animated by the true spirit of repentance, gladly accepted the proposal, and was conducted by the superior into that dwelling set apart for those who did penance for offences committed after their profession. Since I have alluded to this monastic penitentiary, a short description of it will not be out of place.


41. It was distant about a mile from the great monastery, and was called ‘the prison’. All human consolations were absolutely banished its precincts. There was seen no fire, no wine, no oil, nor any other nourishment but bread and raw legumes. The abbot sent to this penitentiary those who after their entrance into religion, had fallen into some grievous transgression. They did not dwell in a common apartment, but each one by himself, or at most, two together. They were confined in this enclosure, without even being allowed to depart from it, until God had given some evident indication of their reconciliation with Him. The abbot placed over them a person of distinction, named Isaac, who endeavoured to form in their minds the habit of constant prayer. They were plentifully supplied with palm leaves, from which they made baskets, to prevent depression of spirits and disgust of the religious state. Behold the life, the position, and the discipline of those, who truly sought to see the face of the God of Jacob.

42. To admire the labours of the saints is, indeed, very praiseworthy; but to endeavour to imitate them is exceedingly profitable to our eternal welfare. To wish, however, at once, without any training, to be masters of their holy and severe discipline, is both foolish and impossible.

43. When reprehension stirs up our resentment and makes us sad, let us repress this over sensitivity and unjust grief, by the lively sorrow which we ought to entertain for our sins. Let us hope that God, seeing the violence which we have done to ourselves for His sake, will vouchsafe to pardon them, and turn into joy those feelings of vexation which are ready to disturb the peace that reigns in our hearts, “according to the multitude of my sorrows,” says the Royal Prophet, “Thy comforts have given joy to my heart.”10 Again these consoling words: “We have rejoiced in the days in which Thou has humbled us; for the years in which we have seen evils. Look upon Thy servants and upon their works; and direct their children. Let the lightness of the Lord God be upon us; and direct Thou the works of our hands over us; yea the work of our hands do Thou direct.”11

44. Happy the religious, who every day does violence to himself in the sight of God, in supporting injustice and contempt with patience! During the endless day of eternity, he will be filled with the joy of the martyrs, he will be crowned with the glory of the angels. Happy the solitary, who, at all times, deems himself worthy of humiliation and abasement! Yes, happy the monk, who dies completely to his own will, and places himself entirely in the hands of him, whom God has appointed to be his father and his master! His place shall be at the right hand of Jesus Christ in heaven. But he who will not receive reprehension whether just or unjust, renounces his salvation; whereas he who submits to it with humility, whether it be painful or not, will obtain the pardon of his sins.

45. Present to God in spirit and with sincerity, your love of your spiritual father, and your confidence in his direction, and God will communicate this affection to him by some secret inspiration, and will prompt him by grace to unite himself familiarly with you, by that very disposition which you cherish towards him.

46. He who discloses all his temptations, and exposes to the view of his superior the serpents that would fain make their lurking place in his bosom, proves, in the clearest manner, the unshaken nature of his confidence. But he who keeps them locked up in his heart, wanders from the light, and follows the path which leads to perdition.

47. If you wish to know, whether any one has true and fraternal charity towards his neighbour, you will be sure to see him weep, when his brother has committed a fault, and to rejoice when he is advancing in virtue, and in the grace with which God has enriched him.

48. He who, in conversation, maintains too stiffly his own opinion, though he may be right, must know that he is labouring under the same disease as the devil, which is pride. If this fault has been committed with his equals, he may be easily corrected and cured of it by the timely counsel of the ancients. But if with the seniors, and with the more wise among the ancients, the evil is incurable; no remedies will avail for his amendment.

49. The religious who is not humble in his words is not guarded in his actions. For he who is unfaithful in small matters, will be unfaithful and untractable in things of greater consequence. His labour will be in vain; and he will derive no other fruit from his obedience but condemnation.

50. If any one, by a perfect submission to his director, has preserved an upright conscience, he will have no fear of death. He will wait for it each day, as for a pleasant sleep, or as the entrance into a new and happy life. For he is convinced, that when he shall depart from this world it will not be from him, but from his superior, that God will exact an account of his actions.

51. When any one, in the name of God, receives from his spiritual father some office or employment, without any unjust influence being used to induce his acceptance, and falls into some fault which he did not expect, he must not blame the superior who gave him the employment or the weapon, but himself who accepted it; since it was given to him, that he might therewith combat the enemy; whereas he has turned it against himself and pierced with it his own heart. But if the occupation was in a manner forced upon him, and he yielded purely through the love of God, after explaining to the superior his weakness and incapacity, let him be of good courage; for though he should fall, the fall will not be mortal.

52. I forgot, my dear friends, to place before you some delicious bread for the nourishment of your souls, in relating the virtues of certain holy religious, who I saw doing, for the love of God, the lowest and most humiliating actions. In this manner they were prepared to endure injuries without any annoyance or perturbation of mind.

53. The religious who is always resolved to confess his faults, be they whatever they may, employs this resolution as a bridle to the commission of sin. For when we wish to hide our transgressions in the secret recesses of our heart, we shall sin without fear, whenever we are not seen. On the other hand, when, during the absence of our superior, we represent him to the mind as present, and on that account avoid every thing that would be displeasing to him, whether in our conversation, and intercourse with one another, or in our sleep, or in our food, we practise a true and sincere obedience. Unruly children generally consider the absence of their master a time of joy; whereas those directed towards virtue lament it as a disadvantage and check upon their progress.

54. Having inquired from one of the most virtuous of the fathers, in what manner humility is to be the companion of obedience, he replied: “when he who is equally obedient and grateful to his spiritual director, raises the dead to life, possesses the gift of tears, and is delivered from every thing which excites the passions and is the occasion of temptation, he will attribute all these favours to the prayers of his spiritual father, and thus guard himself from dashing against the rock of presumption.

55. The anchorite is not in a position so favourable to the practice of this interior humility. For vanity, which is a flattering opinion of one’s self, has greater power over him, by the belief it is through his own virtue and exertion that his actions are accomplished.

56. When he who is under the guidance of a superior, has avoided all the deceitful snares of the devil, he will thenceforth and for ever be obedient.

57. The devil assaults in various ways those who make professions of obedience. At one time he troubles their minds with foul representations against chastity, and fills their hearts with sadness and vexation; at another time he makes those who are usually meek, turbulent and restive, and leaves them dry and destitute of piety, impatient for their meals, negligent in prayer, addicted to sleepiness, and with their souls obscured by mental darkness. In short, he endeavours to persuade them that they derive no fruit from their obedience, that they are receding instead of advancing. Thus would he gladly withhold them from their daily exercises and accustomed warfare. For he does not leave them time to reflect, that what appears to them the best, is often withholden from them by the wise dispensation of Divine Providence, that there may be laid in their souls the solid foundation of humility.

58. When we have battled by our perseverance these onslaughts of our infernal enemy, he assumes another shape, and endeavours to beguile us by some new artifice. For I have seen religious, who, through their obedience, had obtained from God profound sentiments of repentance, who were mild, continent, full of fervour, free from the strife of the passions, and inflamed with the love of God, secretly persuaded by the devil, that they were then fully prepared for the solitude of the anchorites, and sufficiently strong to acquire in this solitude sovereign peace of soul, and complete mastery over their passions. Permitting themselves to be deluded by these specious reasons, they left the tranquil haven of their monastery for the boisterous sea of the hermitage. There, tossed upon the surges of impure thoughts and diabolical temptations, without any pilot to guide them, they suffered the total shipwreck of their souls.

59. As rivers carry polluted waters into the sea, so do the passions carry their filthy streams into our souls. Hence the soul, like the sea, must be agitated and put in commotion, that the impurities left in it by the passions may be washed back by the waves upon the shore. And let us remember that a tempest is always followed by a calm.

60. He who, at one time, obeys his spiritual father, and at another, disobeys him, resembles the man, who now applies to his eyes medicinal water, and then quick-lime. “When one buildeth up,‘ saith the wise man, “and another pulleth down; what profit have they but the labour?”12

61. You who are the obedient children of the Lord, do not permit yourselves to be deluded by the demon of vanity, nor mention your faults to your superior under the guise of a third person. For we cannot escape the eternal confusion due to sin, unless we first undergo the momentary confusion of confession. Discover and lay bare your wounds to your spiritual physician. Say to him, without shame, “This is my own fault; this the wound of my own soul. It happened entirely through my own negligence. I cannot attribute it to any one else. I must confess it to be wholly mine, without seeking any excuse from the suggestions of men, or from the malice of the devil, or from any weakness or infirmity of body. It occurred entirely through my own cowardice and tepidity.”

62. In your confession, be in appearance, in manner, and disposition, like a criminal. With your eyes fixed upon the ground, bathe, if possible, the feet of your judge and physician, as you would those of Jesus Christ, with the tears of compunction.

63. The ordinary stratagem of the devil is to induce us either to conceal our sins, or to mention them in the third person, or to remove the blame from ourselves and attach it to others.

64. If custom is all-powerful, and carries everything down the stream with it, it may become, in the exercise of virtue, even more irresistible, since we then have the assistance and protection of God’s divine grace.

65. My son, if from the commencement of thy religious career, thou hast not devoted thyself with thy whole heart to humiliation, thou hast not certainly laboured long in acquiring peace and tranquility from the passions which war against the soul.

66. Do not disdain to confess your sins, with a good will, and with a humble and modest countenance, to him who has power to heal your soul of its maladies, as you would do to God Himself. For I have seen criminals, who, by their sad and dejected looks, by the candid confession of their guilt, and by their fervent and humble supplications for mercy, have mollified the severity of their judge, and obtained from him clemency and compassion. Hence St. John, the precursor of Christ, obliged those who came to him to confess their sins before he administered baptism. He did not require this confession for any purpose of his own; but for their advantage and salvation.

67. Be not astonished, if, after your confession, you should have much to battle with; for it is far better that we should have to fight with the corruption of the body only, which humbles us, than with the spirit which inflates us with pride.

68. If the lives of the holy fathers and anchorites of the desert are read for your edification, let not this recital animate you with too much zeal and excite you to embrace that kind of life which is above your strength. For you are now marching under the standard of St. Stephen, the first martyr, by the austerity of your mortification and penance. If you fall or receive a wound, leave not the battlefield, that is, your monastery; for then you are in most need of a physician. For he who by the aid and guidance of his superior has preserved himself from fall or wound, would, probably, without such help and direction, have been defeated, and have lost his soul.

69. When we have been so far overcome, as to be thrown to the ground, the devil immediately prompts us to hide ourselves in the desert, alleging our fall as a sufficient motive for this step, when nothing can be more imprudent than to forsake our monastery. For the object of this enemy of our salvation is to inflict upon us, whilst thus prostrate, a deadly wound.

70. When our spiritual physician declares his inability to heal the maladies of our souls, it is necessary to try another; since few or none can recover their health without the aid of a physician. May we not, indeed, suppose that, if a vessel steered by a skillful pilot escaped shipwreck, it would have been lost without such able guidance at the helm?

71. Obedience brings forth humility; and humility produces peace of soul, by the subjugation of the passions, according to the testimony of the Royal Prophet; “The Lord was mindful of us in our affliction; and hath redeemed us from our enemies.”13

72. The infirm in mind, who, having experienced the skill of their spiritual physician, and having received benefit from his treatment, leave him before their perfect restoration to health, to place themselves under some one else, deserve severe chastisement from God. Do not, therefore, withdraw from the salutary care of him who has offered and consecrated you to the Lord. For never, during the whole of your life, should there be any one, towards whom you entertain a more respectful affection.

73. As it is extremely dangerous for a young and inexperienced soldier to separate himself from his regiment, and fight single handedly with the enemy; so is it equally perilous for a young religious who has not yet learnt how to repel the violent assaults of the passions, to withdraw himself from the company of his brethren, to fight alone, and in the desert, the devil and his army of infernal spirits. The one runs the risk of losing the life of the body; the other, the life of the soul. “It is better, therefore,” says the Wise man, “that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society.”14 Certainly it is better that a son should have the assistance of his father, in subduing his depraved inclinations, by the divine grace and operation of the Holy Spirit, than to be left to his own individual exertions. He who takes away the guide from the blind, the pastor from his flock, the father from his child, the physician from the sick, the pilot from the ship, evidently exposes them to the danger of being lost. In like manner, he who attempts to combat with the spirit of darkness, alone and without the aid of his director, will certainly be vanquished.

74. They who are present for the first time in the consulting room of the physician, observe what are their own ailments. So they who enter the school of their spiritual physician, consider attentively what is the humility which has brought them there. For to those who are suffering from bodily indisposition, the cessation of their pain is a sure sign of their recovery. So likewise to those who are sick in mind, the increase of that humility by which they censure and condemn themselves, will be the best proof of their restoration to health.

75. Let your conscience by the mirror in which you behold the nature of your obedience; and with this be satisfied.

76. They who in the solitude of the desert, live under the guidance of a master, have to defend themselves merely from the assaults of demons, who alone are openly opposed to their salvation; whereas they who reside in a monastery, have to combat both with evil spirits and with men. The first observe with care the precepts of their master, whose eye is always upon them; whilst the latter not infrequently go contrary to the orders of their superior, during his absence. Nevertheless, if they who live in community are fervent and patient in their labours, they will readily repair any want of duty, by the mild manner in which they endure mortification and contradiction from their brethren; and thereby carry off the prize of a double crown.

77. Let us guard our souls with every possible care. For when a monastery, which is the port of salvation, is filled with religious, it is easy for them to fret and annoy one another, particularly for those who are troubled with bile, and easily provoked to anger.

78. Let us studiously observe a profound silence in the presence of our superior, and thereby prove to him that we are both ignorant and mute. For the lover of silence is the friend of wisdom; and is continually receiving new light from above.

79. I have observed a religious, whilst listening to his superior relating some pious story for his edification, interrupt him in his narrative; and I despaired of ever seeing in that religious a true submission of heart; because, instead of having become more humble by his religious profession, he had become inflated with greater pride.

80. Let us search with all diligence, and consider with all the exactitude it is possible, at what time, and on what occasion, we ought to prefer labour to prayer. To make such a preference, on every occasion, would be injudicious.

81. When you are in company with your brethren, be watchful not to appear more just than they; otherwise you will commit two evils. You will make them regret that they have not your apparent justice; and you will expose yourself to vanity and presumption.

82. Be fervent, but fervent in spirit, without any visible display in your actions, signs, words, and gestures. Do not even yield in private to the extraordinary motions of fervour, unless you are really secure from the danger of despising your neighbour. But if you feel inclined to this contempt, conform as much as possible to your brethren, lest you be unlike them in vanity alone.

83. I have heard a wicked religious take praise to himself, in the presence of others, for the good actions of his master. But instead of reaping glory from another man’s field, he brought upon himself nothing but shame and disgrace; for every one asked, how it happened, that so worthless and unfruitful a branch, had grown from so excellent a tree.

84. We must not believe ourselves patient merely because we suffer meekly the humiliating reprimands of our superior. No; then only are we truly patient, when we can endure with resignation, contempt, and injuries from all persons, no matter what they may be. We bear much from our spiritual father, through our reverence and respect for him, and from a sense of our duty.

85. Receive with cheerfulness from the hand of your brethren the bitter waters of humiliation and contempt, and they will be changed for your sanctification into the wholesome waters of life, which will purify your soul from all malignant and corrupted humours. Then will a perfect purity adorn your heart, and the light of God will shine perpetually upon your soul.

86. He who beholds many disciples united in the bonds of Christian friendship, obeying him as their master, must not on that account be vainglorious. For thieves are always on the watch around us. Let these words of Jesus Christ be impressed deeply in your memory. “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.”15 Then only when we have completed our earthly pilgrimage, shall we know what judgment to form of our labours.

87. A monastery is a celestial paradise. For this reason we ought to dedicate to God all the affections of our hearts, as angels consecrate themselves entirely to His service. In this paradise, some feel their hearts, at times, dry as summer’s dust, and hard as flint; whilst others are wonderfully consoled, by God, with lively sentiments of compunction. This spiritual dryness is permitted by God in the first of these persons, that they may not be caught in the snare of vainglory, and the tears of holy compunction are given to the latter, that the burden of their labours may become easy and lightsome.

88. A small fire will melt much wax: so a little humiliation will frequently soften the hardness and insensibility of our stony hearts.

89. I saw two persons conceal themselves, that they might observe the labours of certain valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ, and listen to their penitential sighs and moanings. One was anxious to become an imitator of their virtues, the other to deride them in public, and turn them by his raillery from the services which they were rendering to God.

90. Do not affect, to the annoyance of your neighbour, an unseasonable and uncalled for silence. When told to hasten your speed, do not walk slowly, lest the quick movement of others, although violent and headlong, should be more supportable than your lagging pace. Thus, according to the testimony of Job, natural slowness and a dilatory disposition are oftentimes detrimental to one class of persons, whilst too much haste is equally baneful to others. In reflecting upon this subject, I have been astonished at the fecundity of our corruption, and the multiplicity of our disorders.

91. In community we cannot derive so much profit from the chanting of the Psalms as from prayer, because the confusion of many voices distracts the attention, and allows not the mind time to comprehend the full meaning of the words.

92. Struggle continually against the levity of your mind, and restrain its roving imaginations, that you may possess interior recollection of spirit, and the command of your thoughts. Be not, therefore, discouraged if your interior recollection is sometimes diverted from its proper object by wandering thoughts. On the contrary, show your courage by constantly calling the mind to its duty and self-possession. It is the privilege of angels alone never to lose that steadfastness of attention, which is the bond of their perpetual union with God.

93. He who from his heart is resolved to endure a thousand deaths, sooner than abandon the combat which he has undertaken for the security of his salvation, and which he purposes to continue till the last breath of life, will not easily incur the inconveniences which we have pointed out. For inconstancy of mind with the unhappy disposition of wandering from place to place, is the source of all our falls and misfortunes. Fickleness in the change of residence argues the want of virtue, for nothing causes in the soul greater sterility in the fruits of divine grace than instability.

94. When you meet with a spiritual physician, and a monastery, with which you are unacquainted, appear as a stranger passing by. Secretly, however, examine the disposition and conduct of its members. If, when you know them, you perceive that they are the workmen of heaven and the ministers of salvation, and that they applied the proper remedies to your disorders, most especially to the inflation of pride, join yourself to them without fear. Nay, sell yourself to them, and seal the contract with the gold of your humility, the written indenture of your obedience, and the bond of your service and labour. Let angels be the witnesses, and tear in pieces the miserable document which rendered you the slave of your own will. For if you wander about without any settled residence, you will forfeit the price at which you have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. Let this monastery in which you have found so much benefit to your immortal soul, be your tomb, the place of your burial. The dead leave not their graves until the general resurrection. If any religious have left the monastery which they had chosen for their sepulchre, remember that they died a second death. Let us pray earnestly that we may not incur a similar misfortune.

95. When the cowardly and the slothful find the commands of their superior painful and laborious, they prefer prayer to labour. But when they are ordered to do anything easy and light, they fly from prayer as they would do from fire.

96. Of those who are appointed to some particular duty or office in a monastery, some will readily transfer it to their brother for his consolation and peace, when they are desired; others will abandon it through idleness, some through vainglory, and others will leave it of their own accord, and joy.

97. If you have engaged by mutual promises to dwell with any one, and you perceive that you are making no progress in his society, and that the eye of your mind is receiving no new light from heaven, make no delay in dissolving the partnership, though it be true that the really virtuous Christian is virtuous wherever he may be, whilst the wicked man is virtuous nowhere. Injuries and calumnies, even in the world, cause many divisions and enmities; but in monasteries the intemperance of the tongue is the cause of all the disgusts and antipathies which are experienced in a religious life. If you can once subdue this little member there is no place in which you may not be free from the violence of the passions. But if the tongue obtain the mastery, you will be in danger till the hour of your death.

98. The Lord enlightens the eyes of those who are blindly obedient, that they may behold the virtues of their director, but shades them that they may not perceive his faults. The devil, the enemy of all that is good, pursues the opposite course.

99. Let us, dear friends, draw an illustration of perfect obedience, from quicksilver, which is perpetually in motion, which sinks below all others liquids, and suffers no mixture from other ingredients.

100. They who are active and fervent are always more watchful over themselves than over others, lest the unfavourable judgment they might form of their brethren who are negligent, should draw down upon their own conduct a heavier condemnation than the negligence of those whom they would thus judge might deserve. I imagine that Lot was justified, because, whilst dwelling amongst the wicked, he did not condemn them.

101. We should endeavour at all times, but more especially whilst chanting the Psalms, and reciting the Divine Office, to preserve peace and tranquillity of mind. For the evil spirits are always intent upon destroying the efficacy of our prayers by vexation and distraction of spirit, which render our supplications of no avail. He who serves his neighbour in obedience to God, is present with men in body, but in spirit, whilst at prayer, knocks at the gate of heaven.

102. Injuries and humiliations are to the obedient soul like the wholesome bitterness of wormwood. But to those who love things sweet and agreeable, praise, honour, and esteem, are as mild and delicious honey. Now what is the nature of these two things? Wormwood purifies the blood and cleanses the body from all its bad humours, whilst honey produces bile, and deranges the whole of the bodily system.

103. We should have, purely through our love of God, a firm confidence in those who have received the charge of our souls; although they may sometimes command things contrary to our wishes, and apparently opposed to our salvation. For it is then, that our faith and confidence in our director are tried by our humility, as metal is tried by the fire of the furnace. Indeed no better proof can be given of this faith and confidence, than to obey, without hesitation, the commands of our superior, however contrary they may be to our desire and expectation.

104. As obedience, according to our previous observation, produces humility; so humility according to Cassian16 produces discretion, which enkindles a light in the soul, and enables it to see all things clearly; yea, which even draws aside the curtain of the present, and opens to the vision a foresight of future events. Who, when he beholds these ample rewards, will hesitate to enter the gymnasium or school of holy obedience? Of this great virtue the bard of Sion sings: “In Thy sweetness, O God, Thou has provided for him that is humbly obedient.”17

105. Constantly remember the generous soldier of Jesus Christ, who had a master so severe, that he never heard from his lips these words of charity; “brother, thou mayest be saved;” but who each day heard God Himself whisper to his soul, not merely-”thou mayest be saved,” which, at most, is simply a wish and an uncertainty, but the consoling words, “you will be saved,” a certain and confirmed truth.

106. Amongst those who make profession of obedience, there are some who will deceive themselves if not careful; when, knowing the easy disposition of their superior, they solicit from him the employment most in accordance with their own wishes. Hence let me remind them, that whilst they obtain their own will, they forfeit the crown which otherwise would have been due to their vow of obedience. For true obedience is the renouncement of self interest, self will, and hypocrisy.

107. Some religious, when they have obtained from their superior what they wanted, have a serious scruple, whether their request was agreeable to his wish, and on this account decline the permission which they have received. Others, on the contrary, with a similar doubt on their mind, make no difficulty upon the matter, and go and do that which was allowed through the condescension of their superior. Reflect within yourself which is the more virtuous conduct.

108. It is impossible that the devil should act contrary to his own will which is to do mischief. In proof of this, we may refer to the example of the solitaries who, having supported with fervour the burden of a religious life, either alone in the desert, or in the brotherhood of a monastery, have, at his suggestion, abandoned their holy state, and now lead a life of negligence and relaxation. When we wish to depart from any particular place, because it has become dangerous to our eternal welfare, this wicked enemy opposes our design; and his opposition is a sure sign that our present state is one of peace with him. But our perseverance in our determination is the signal for his assault, and our mutual declaration of war.


109. I wish not to be guilty of covetousness by reserving to myself that which ought to be made public, and which is calculated to promote general edification. I learnt the facts which I am about to relate from the illustrious John, the Sabaite, whom you very well know, dear fathers, to be a person exempt from all hypocrisy and disguise, and as sincere and truthful in his words as he is pure and holy in his actions.

“There was,” he said, “in a monastery in Asia, in which I dwelt before I came here, an old religious, very negligent and very disorderly in his conduct. In saying this I do not judge his interior, but merely state his outward behaviour and visible actions. It happened, by what means I know not, that he had a disciple called Acacius, who endured from this rude old man such treatment as would appear almost incredible. For the master not only tried his disciple by insulting and humiliating reproaches, but beat him with blows, and every day committed against him some new outrage. I saw that Acacius was hourly exposed to all the cruelties which slave drivers exercise upon their slaves, and when I met him I often said to him, ‘Well, brother, how do you do on today?’ He would make no answer, but immediately show me, at one time, his black and swollen eyes, at another his neck, bruised, and the rest of his body covered with livid spots and swellings. As I knew his patience and his courage, I was accustomed to say to him, ‘All’s well, all’s well. Suffer with patience, and great will be your reward.’ When he had spent nine years under this hard taskmaster, he slept happily in the Lord, and was buried in the cemetery of the fathers. Five days after his death, his master said to an ancient solitary, of distinguished virtue, whom he was then visiting: ‘Brother Acacius, father, died a few days ago.’ The other replied, ‘I cannot believe it.’ ‘Come, then,’ rejoined the master, ‘and see him.’ The ancient solitary arose and went with him to the burial ground, where, speaking to Acacius, as if he were yet living, (as in truth he was, for he slept the sleep of the just), he said: ‘Tell me, brother Acacius, are you dead?’ Upon which the brother, no less obedient after death than before answered the holy solitary: ‘How can a faithful disciple of obedience die?’ At these words the master of Acacius was so struck with fear, that, falling prostrate upon the ground, he bathed it with a flood of tears. He afterwards asked permission from the superior of the Lavra18 to reside in a cell near the grave of Acacius, where he spent the remainder of his life in a most edifying and exemplary manner, saying continually to the other fathers, ‘I am guilty of murder.‘ I believe that this very John the Sabaite was himself the person who spoke to the corpse of Acacius. For this great saint related to me, in the third person, that, which I plainly discovered afterwards, had happened to himself in the following instance.


110. “There dwelt in the same monastery in Asia, another religious, who had for his master a solitary of a meek and placid disposition. Seeing that this gentle master treated him with honour and respect, and avoided everything that might be painful to him, or a subject of mortification, he prudently reflected how pernicious such conduct had been to many souls. Feeling assured that his departure would not be displeasing to the kind old man, for he had another disciple besides himself, he forthwith asked permission to retire to some other monastery. Having parted from his master in friendship, he made use of his letters of recommendation, in obtaining admittance into another house in the province of Pontus. During the first night in this new residence, he saw in his sleep a certain person urging him to pay his debts, which, upon a strict examination, were found to be a hundred pounds. As soon as he awoke he penetrated the purport of the vision, and said to himself: ‘Poor Antiochus,’ (for this was the name assumed by John in his narrative,) ‘Poor Antiochus, it is but too true that thou hast many debts yet to pay.’ “I remained,” he continued, “in this monastery three years, doing everything that was commanded, without demur or discrimination. All that time I was treated with contempt, and received much ill usage, for I was the only stranger in the monastery. At the expiration of this term, I beheld another vision, in which a person gave me credit for ten pounds, which he subtracted from my debt. This also was intelligible, and I said to myself, ‘So much of my debt is discharged. When, alas! shall I be able to pay the remainder? Poor Antiochus, thou hast many more labours and humiliations to suffer than thou hast yet endured!” Then I began to feign myself a fool, without, however, neglecting any of my duties. When these unfeeling religious saw me so willing to do their bidding, they imposed upon me the most laborious employments of the monastery. At the termination of thirteen years, I beheld again in my sleep the persons I saw in my first vision, who gave me a receipt for the whole of my debt. The remembrance of that which I owed had, during this period, made me endure with cheerfulness all the bad treatment which I had experienced from the community.”

Behold, my father, what John, the Sabaite, that marvel of wisdom, related to me under the name of Antiochus, though he himself was the individual, who, by his generous patience, had obtained the discharge of his debts, that is, the remission of his sins.


111. Listen to the manner in which this saint acquired discernment and heavenly light by his perfect obedience. Whilst he was residing in the monastery of St. Sabas, three young religious came to place themselves under his direction. He received them with a smiling countenance, and in the true spirit of hospitality, provided them with every refreshment necessary after the fatigues of their journey. At the end of three days he said to them: “Pardon me, dear brothers, if I cannot grant what you demand. For I am too wicked to be allowed to receive any one under my care and tuition.” As they knew the eminent virtue of the holy old man, they were not scandalized at the reason which he alleged for his refusal. Hence they desisted not from their entreaties to be admitted amongst his disciples. When, however, they could not prevail, they threw themselves at his feet, and besought him at least to lay down a few rules for their conduct, to point out in what manner they ought to live and the place into which they ought to retire. Overcome by their earnest supplications, and convinced that they would receive his advice with humility and obedience, the old man said to the first: “My son, God wishes you to serve Him in a hermitage in the wilderness, under the guidance and discipline of a master.” To the second: “Go you, my son, and sell your own will, and give it entirely to God. Take up your cross with patience dwell in a monastery amongst a community of brethren, and you will undoubtedly have great treasure in heaven.: To the third he gave this counsel: “Constantly remember these words of your Redeemer: ‘He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved.’19

Go, then, in the name of our Lord, and choose for your master the most severe and the most ill-natured person you can find, and never withdraw from his direction. Drink in each day, as if they were milk and honey, all the humiliations and outrages you may experience at his hands.” The brother asked: “If the solitary whom you, father, recommend me to select, should lead a negligent life what must I then do?” The holy old man replied: “When you see him commit an infidelity against the law of God, do not for that abandon him but say within yourself: ‘My soul, for what art thou here seeking?’ And you will feel all vanity subside, and the fire of concupiscence entirely die away.

112. Let all who fear the Lord strive with all their might to make progress in this holy career, lest not learning virtue in the school of virtue, they acquire only the spirit of degeneracy and libertinism, of refined and ingenious malice, of fervent and subtle activity for wickedness. Let us not be astonished that this is sometimes the unhappy result. For as long as any one remains a citizen, a fisherman or a peasant the enemies of his king will not be eager to assault him. But when they see him clothed in the regimentals of his prince, and enrolled under his standard, and provided with proper armour, they will rush upon him with fury, and make every exertion to accomplish his destruction. Hence the soldier of Christ must not be found at his post sleeping.

113. I have seen simple and innocent youths and children with good and peaceful dispositions, who came to be ingrafted with knowledge and wisdom, to be trained up in pious discipline, and to imbibe useful and salutary instruction, learn nothing but craftiness and immorality, by their manners being allowed to be corrupted by evil communications. He who has a quick understanding will readily divine my meaning.

114. It is impossible that they who apply their whole mind to the science of salvation, should not make advancement. Some are permitted to perceive their progress, whilst from others, by a particular dispensation of Providence, it is altogether concealed. A good banker has no need of counting every evening his loss or gain, because he writes down each hour the transactions that are passing, and the total of these hours gives the product of the whole day.

115. A bad religious, observing himself treated with mockery and reproach, felt a strong pique against those who thus insulted him. Nat daring, however, to make any opposition, though he sincerely wished it, he fell upon his knees before the persons who thus provoked him, and asked their pardon, not from a sense of humility, but a desire to be free from persecution. When you receive humiliation and abasement keep silence. When the fire of severe correction is applied to your soul, suffer patiently, for it will not pain you by its visible burning so much as it will purify you by its holy light. When this operation has been completed by your spiritual physician, then kneel down and ask his pardon. For it might be that whilst he is speaking to you with considerable zeal and warmth, he would not take well your prostrate supplication.

116. They who dwell in community should unceasingly strive for the mastery over their passions, especially over their loquacity and anger, because these two find in company much that is calculated to encourage them and make them willful.

117. The devil prompts those under the yoke of obedience to excel in some eminent virtue of which they are incapable. He likewise tempts anchorites to practice virtues not at all suitable to their state. If we look into the interior of the first, we shall perceive them by an aberration of mind sighing for the solitude of the desert, the most austere abstinence, sublime prayer, most profound humiliation, constant meditation on death, continual compunction, complete subjugation of anger, absolute silence, and the chastity of angels. Not being permitted by Divine Providence to attain to, during the first years of their religious life, the summit of these virtues, they imprudently, and without any reason, withdraw from the society of their brethren. Thus are they deceived by the devil, lest by perseverance they should attain those virtues which they are anxious to possess before the proper time. The same restless spirit fills the minds of anchorites with a high idea of those religious who live under obedience, picturing to their imaginations the excellency of their hospitality, the mutual services they render each others, their fraternal friendship, which harmoniously unites them into one body, their tender care of the sick, that by such artifice he may entice them from their solitude.

118. Few, indeed, are they who lead an eremitical life, guided by the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Hence this mode of life is proper for those alone who are favoured by special graces and consolations, that they may endure with cheerfulness and fortitude the labours and trials which await them.

119. It is prudent for us to judge what superiors are proper for the direction of our souls from the nature of our passions, and then to employ our discernment in their selection. If you are prone to sins of the flesh, choose for your director one who practices great corporal austerities, and who is inflexible in his strict observance of sobriety, rather than one who performs miracles, and who is fond of receiving and entertaining with hospitality guests and strangers. If you are naturally proud and disdainful, select for your master him who is rude and severe in his manners, and not one who is mild and affectionate. Be not ambitious to have for your spiritual guide one who has the gift of prophecy, or who, by an extraordinary discernment, can see far into the future. But seek him who is really humble, and who by his own example, as well as by the favourable nature of his residence in some retired locality, is capable of healing your maladies. Obey him with the same spirit which was possessed by the holy Abbacyrus, whom we have already mentioned, and believe that your superior is always prepared to tempt you and to put your virtue to the trial. This single reflection will preserve you from ever failing in the duty of obedience. If, when your superior rebukes you, you conceive for him greater love and confidence, it is a certain sign that the Holy Spirit visibly swells in your soul, which is already filled and fortified by the power of the Most High.

120. Do not, however, glory and rejoice when you support with patience the reproaches and humiliations of your superior, but rather weep and lament, that you have given occasion for this displeasure of your master. Be not surprised that I should say, “It is better to sin against God, than against your spiritual director”, for this doctrine has the example and authority of Moses in its favour. When we offend God, our spiritual father can obtain for us a reconciliation, but when we offend this minister of reconciliation, we have no one to restore us to God’s friendship. The case, however, may be termed reciprocal, for God can incline the heart of our superior to mercy and forgiveness; whilst the latter can obtain for us the clemency and compassion of God.

121. Let us examine with care the occasions when we ought to receive with thankfulness, and with a placid silence, the reprehension of our superior, and when we ought to inform him of the truth which has been mistaken. For my part, it seems the best to be silent under all reprimands that are humiliating; because such are occasions of great profit to our souls. But when others are reprehended, we should defend the innocent, that we may preserve that indissoluble bond of charity which ties together the society of a holy brotherhood.

122. There are none who can inform us so well of the utility of obedience, as they who have abandoned it in practice. For then they are fully sensible of the heaven in which they dwelt, and the state of felicity from which they have fallen.

123. He who strenuously labours to conquer his passions, and to draw nearer and nearer to God, believes that every day in which he has to suffer no humiliation, is to him a grievous loss. For as trees strike deeper their roots into the ground, the more violently the wind blows upon them; so do those who are in the school of obedience become stronger and more immoveable in mind, the more severely they are tried and exercised by humiliation.

124. The solitary, who, finding himself too weak to dwell alone in the wilderness, retires from it, that he may consecrate himself to holy obedience in a monastery, is like a blind man who has recovered his sight without any painful operation, and opened his eyes to behold Jesus Christ.

125. Dear brethren, valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ, who are pursuing your holy career, stop a moment, I beseech you, in your march, and listen to the wise man thus cheering you onward: “God hath tried you, and found you worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace hath He proved you, and as a victim of holocaust hath He received you, and in time there shall be respect had to you.”--Wisdom iii. 6

The number of steps is now equal to the number of the Evangelists. Be courageous, athletes and continue your course without fear. St. John ran before St. Peter to the tomb of their Divine Master. In like manner obedience precedes repentance. St. John was the type of obedience; St. Peter, of repentance.

  1. Psalm liv. 7.

  2. Ps. xxxi. 5.

  3. It is most probable, that as the robber was a public sinner, so were the religious the abbot alludes to, and, for this reason he sought from them a public confession.

  4. I Corinthians xiii. 5.

  5. 2 Timothy iv. 2.

  6. Romans viii. 38.

  7. Philippians iv. 13.

  8. Psalm cxxxii. I.

  9. Psalm xciv.

  10. Psalm xciii. 19.

  11. Psalm lxxxix. 15.

  12. Ecclesiastes xxxiv. 28.

  13. Psalm cxxxv. 23.

  14. Ecclesiastes iv. 9.

  15. Luke xvii. 10.

  16. Collat. ii.c.10.

  17. Psalm lxvii. 12 - Septuagint Translation

  18. The Lavra was a monastery composed of many cells, adjoining, but distinct from each other. Every brother lived entirely in his own cell, whereas, in the ordinary monastery, there was a common refectory, and a common dormitory. The monasteries of the anchorites had cells a considerable distance from each other.

  19. Matthew x. 22.


Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
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