Ch. 3: Hilarion




I would gladly, did space allow, give more biographies from among those of the Egyptian hermits: but it seems best, having shown the reader Antony as the father of Egyptian monachism, to go on to his great pupil Hilarion, the father of monachism in Palestine. His life stands written at length by St. Jerome, who himself died a monk at Bethlehem; and is composed happily in a less ambitious and less rugged style than that of Paul, not without elements of beauty, even of tragedy.


PROLOGUE

Remember me in thy holy prayers, glory and honour of virgins, nun Asella. Before beginning to write the life of the blessed Hilarion, I invoke the Holy Spirit which dwelt in him, that, as he largely bestowed virtues on Hilarion, he may give to me speech wherewith to relate them; so that his deeds may be equalled by my language. For those who (as Crispus says) "have wrought virtues" are held to have been worthily praised in proportion to the words in which famous intellects have been able to extol them. Alexander the Great, the Macedonian (whom Daniel calls either the brass, or the leopard, or the he-goat), on coming to the tomb of Achilles, "Happy art thou, youth," he said, "who hast been blest with a great herald of thy worth"--meaning Homer. But I have to tell the conversation and life of such and so great a man, that even Homer, were he here, would either envy my matter, or succumb under it.

For although St. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamina in Cyprus, who had much intercourse with Hilarion, has written his praise in a short epistle, which is commonly read, yet it is one thing to praise the dead in general phrases, another to relate his special virtues. We therefore set to work rather to his advantage than to his injury; and despise those evil-speakers who lately carped at Paul, and will perhaps now carp at my Hilarion, unjustly blaming the former for his solitary life, and the latter for his intercourse with men; in order that the one, who was never seen, may be supposed not to have existed; the other, who was seen by many, may be held cheap. This was the way of their ancestors likewise, the Pharisees, who were neither satisfied with John's desert life and fasting, nor with the Lord Saviour's public life, eating and drinking. But I shall lay my hand to the work which I have determined, and pass by, with stopped ears, the hounds of Scylla. I pray that thou mayest persevere in Christ, and be mindful of me in thy prayers, most sacred virgin.


THE LIFE

Hilarion was born in the village of Thabatha, which lies about five miles to the south of Gaza, in Palestine. He had parents given to the worship of idols, and blossomed (as the saying is) a rose among the thorns. Sent by them to Alexandria, he was entrusted to a grammarian, and there, as far as his years allowed, gave proof of great intellect and good morals. He was soon dear to all, and skilled in the art of speaking. And, what is more than all, he believed in the Lord Jesus, and delighted neither in the madness of the circus, in the blood of the arena, or in the luxury of the theatre: but all his heart was in the congregation of the Church.

But hearing the then famous name of Antony, which was carried throughout all Egypt, he was fired with a longing to visit him, and went to the desert. As soon as he saw him he changed his dress, and stayed with him about two months, watching the order of his life, and the purity of his manner; how frequent he was in prayers, how humble in receiving brethren, severe in reproving them, eager in exhorting them; and how no infirmity ever broke through his continence, and the coarseness of his food. But, unable to bear longer the crowd which assembled round Antony, for various diseases and attacks of devils, he said that it was not consistent to endure in the desert the crowds of cities, but that he must rather begin where Antony had begun. Antony, as a valiant man, was receiving the reward of victory: he had not yet begun to serve as a soldier. He returned, therefore, with certain monks to his own country; and, finding his parents dead, gave away part of his substance to the brethren, part to the poor, and kept nothing at all for himself, fearing what is told in the Acts of the Apostles, the example or punishment, of Ananias and Sapphira; and especially mindful of the Lord's saying--"He that leaveth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."

He was then fifteen years old. So, naked, but armed in Christ, he entered the desert, which, seven miles from Maiuma, the port of Gaza, turns away to the left of those who go along the shore towards Egypt. And though the place was blood-stained by robbers, and his relations and friends warned him of the imminent danger, he despised death, in order to escape death. All wondered at his spirit, wondered at his youth. Save that a certain fire of the bosom and spark of faith glittered in his eyes, his cheeks were smooth, his body delicate and thin, unable to bear any injury, and liable to be overcome by even a light chill or heat.

So, covering his limbs only with a sackcloth, and having a cloak of skin, which the blessed Antony had given him at starting, and a rustic cloak, between the sea and the swamp, he enjoyed the vast and terrible solitude, feeding on only fifteen figs after the setting of the sun; and because the region was, as has been said above, of ill- repute from robberies, no man had ever stayed before in that place. The devil, seeing what he was doing and whither he had gone, was tormented. And though he, who of old boasted, saying, "I shall ascend into heaven, I shall sit above the stars of heaven, and shall be like unto the Most High," now saw that he had been conquered by a boy, and trampled under foot by him, ere, on account of his youth, he could commit sin. He therefore began to tempt his senses; but he, enraged with himself, and beating his breast with his fist, as if he could drive out thoughts by blows, "I will force thee, mine ass," said he, "not to kick; and feed thee with straw, not barley. I will wear thee out with hunger and thirst; I will burden thee with heavy loads; I will hunt thee through heat and cold, till thou thinkest more of food than of play." He therefore sustained his fainting spirit with the juice of herbs and a few figs, after each three or four days, praying frequently, and singing psalms, and digging the ground with a mattock, to double the labour of fasting by that of work. At the same time, by weaving baskets of rushes, he imitated the discipline of the Egyptian monks, and the Apostle's saying--"He that will not work, neither let him eat"--till he was so attenuated, and his body so exhausted, that it scarce clung to his bones.

One night he began to hear the crying {108} of infants, the bleating of sheep, the wailing of women, the roaring of lions, the murmur of an army, and utterly portentous and barbarous voices; so that he shrank frightened by the sound ere he saw aught. He understood these to be the insults of devils; and, falling on his knees, he signed the cross of Christ on his forehead, and armed with that helmet, and girt with the breastplate of faith, he fought more valiantly as he lay, longing somehow to see what he shuddered to hear, and looking round him with anxious eyes: when, without warning, by the bright moonshine he saw a chariot with fiery horses rushing upon him. But when he had called on Jesus, the earth opened suddenly, and the whole pomp was swallowed up before his eyes. Then said he, "The horse and his rider he hath drowned in the sea;" and "Some glory themselves in chariots, and some in horses: but we in the name of the Lord our God." Many were his temptations, and various, by day and night, the snares of the devils. If we were to tell them all, they would make the volume too long. How often did women appear to him; how often plenteous banquets when he was hungry. Sometimes as he prayed, a howling wolf ran past him, or a barking fox; or as he sang, a fight of gladiators made a show for him: and one of them, as if slain, falling at his feet, prayed for sepulture. He prayed once with his head bowed to the ground, and-- as is the nature of man--his mind wandered from his prayer, and thought of I know not what, when a mocking rider leaped on his back, and spurring his sides, and whipping his neck, "Come," he cries, "come, run! why do you sleep?" and, laughing loudly over him, asked him if he were tired, or would have a feed of barley.

So from his sixteenth to his twentieth year, he was sheltered from the heat and rain in a tiny cabin, which he had woven of rush and sedge. Afterwards he built a little cell, which remains to this day, four feet wide and five feet high--that is, lower than his own stature--and somewhat longer than his small body needed, so that you would believe it to be a tomb rather than a dwelling. He cut his hair only once a year, on Easter-day, and lay till his death on the bare ground and a layer of rushes, never washing the sack in which he was clothed, and saying that it was superfluous to seek for cleanliness in haircloth. Nor did he change his tunic, till the first was utterly in rags. He knew the Scriptures by heart, and recited them after his prayers and psalms as if God were present. And, because it would take up too much time to tell his great deeds one by one, I will give a short account of them.

[Then follows a series of miracles, similar to those attributed to St. Antony, and, indeed, to all these great Hermit Fathers. But it is unnecessary to relate more wonders which the reader cannot be expected to believe. These miracles, however, according to St. Jerome, were the foundations of Hilarion's fame and public career. For he says, "When they were noised abroad, people flowed to him eagerly from Syria to Egypt, so that many believed in Christ, and professed themselves to be monks--for no one had known of a monk in Syria before the holy Hilarion. He was the first founder and teacher of this conversation and study in the province. The Lord Jesus had in Egypt the old man Antony; he had in Palestine the young Hilarion . . . He was raised, indeed, by the Lord to such a glory, that the blessed Antony, hearing of his conversation, wrote to him, and willingly received his letters; and if rich people came to him from the parts of Syria, he said to them, 'Why have you chosen to trouble yourselves by coming so far, when you have at home my son Hilarion?' So by his example innumerable monasteries arose throughout all Palestine, and all monks came eagerly to him . . . But what a care he had, not to pass by any brother, however humble or however poor, may be shown by this; that once going into the Desert of Kadesh, to visit one of his disciples, he came, with an infinite crowd of monks, to Elusa, on the very day, as it chanced, on which a yearly solemnity had gathered all the people of the town to the Temple of Venus; for they honour her on account of the morning star, to the worship of which the nation of the Saracens is devoted. The town itself too is said to be in great part semi- barbarous, on account of its remote situation. Hearing, then, that the holy Hilarion was passing by--for he had often cured Saracens possessed with daemons--they came out to meet him in crowds, with their wives and children, bowing their necks, and crying in the Syrian tongue, 'Barech!' that is, 'Bless!' He received them courteously and humbly, entreating them to worship God rather than stones, and wept abundantly, looking up to heaven, and promising them that, if they would believe in Christ, he would come oftener to them. Wonderful was the grace of the Lord. They would not let him depart till he had laid the foundations of a future church, and their priest, crowned as he was, had been consecrated with the sign of Christ.

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He was now sixty-three years old. He saw about him a great monastery, a multitude of brethren, and crowds who came to be healed of diseases and unclean spirits, filling the solitude around; but he wept daily, and remembered with incredible regret his ancient life. "I have returned to the world," he said, "and received my reward in this life. All Palestine and the neighbouring provinces think me to be worth somewhat; while I possess a farm and household goods, under the pretext of the brethren's advantage." On which the brethren, and especially Hesychius, who bore him a wondrous love, watched him narrowly.

When he had lived thus sadly for two years, Aristaeneta, the Prefect's wife, came to him, wishing him to go with her to Antony, "I would go," he said, weeping, "if I were not held in the prison of this monastery, and if it were of any use. For two days since, the whole world was robbed of such a father." She believed him, and stopped. And Antony's death was confirmed a few days after. Others may wonder at the signs and portents which he did, at his incredible abstinence, his silence, his miracles: I am astonished at nothing so much as that he was able to trample under foot that glory and honour.

Bishops and clergy, monks and Christian matrons (a great temptation), people of the common sort, great men, too, and judges crowded to him, to receive from him blessed bread or oil. But he was thinking of nothing but the desert, till one day he determined to set out, and taking an ass (for he was so shrunk with fasting that he could hardly walk), he tried to go his way. The news got wind; the desolation and destruction of Palestine would ensue; ten thousand souls, men and women, tried to stop his way; but he would not hear them. Smiting on the ground with his staff, he said, "I will not make my God a liar. I cannot bear to see churches ruined, the altars of Christ trampled down, the blood of my sons spilt." All who heard thought that some secret revelation had been made to him: but yet they would not let him go. Whereon he would neither eat nor drink, and for seven days he persevered fasting, till he had his wish, and set out for Bethulia, with forty monks, who could march without food till sundown. On the fifth day he came to Pelusium, then to the camp Thebatrum, to see Dracontius; and then to Babylon to see Philo. These two were bishops and confessors exiled by Constantius, who favoured the Arian heresy. Then he came to Aphroditon, where he met Barsanes the deacon, who used to carry water to Antony on dromedaries, and heard from him that the anniversary Antony's death was near, and would be celebrated by a vigil at his tomb. Then through a vast and horrible wilderness, he went for three days to a very high mountain, and found there two monks, Isaac and Pelusianus, of whom Isaac had been Antony's interpreter.

A high and rocky hill it was, with fountains gushing out at its foot. Some of them the sand sucked up; some formed a little rill, with palms without number on its banks. There you might have seen the old man wandering to and fro with Antony's disciples. "Here," they said, "he used to sing, here to pray, here to work, here to sit when tired. These vines, these shrubs, he planted himself; that plot he laid out with his own hands. This pond to water the garden he made with heavy toil; that hoe he kept for many years." Hilarion lay on his bed, and kissed the couch, as if it were still warm. Antony's cell was only large enough to let a man lie down in it; and on the mountain top, reached by a difficult and winding stair, were two other cells of the same size, cut in the stony rock, to which he used to retire from the visitors and disciples, when they came to the garden. "You see," said Isaac, "this orchard, with shrubs and vegetables. Three years since a troop of wild asses laid it waste. He bade one of their leaders stop; and beat it with his staff. 'Why do you eat,' he asked it, 'what you did not sow?' And after that the asses, though they came to drink the waters, never touched his plants."

Then Hilarion asked them to show him Antony's grave. They led him apart; but whether they showed it to him, no man knows. They hid it, they said, by Antony's command, lest one Pergamius, who was the richest man of those parts, should take the corpse to his villa, and build a chapel over it.

Then he went back to Aphroditon, and with only two brothers, dwelt in the desert, in such abstinence and silence that (so he said) he then first began to serve Christ. Now it was then three years since the heaven had been shut, and the earth dried up: so that they said commonly, the very elements mourned the death of Antony. But Hilarion's fame spread to them; and a great multitude, brown and shrunken with famine, cried to him for rain, as to the blessed Antony's successor. He saw them, and grieved over them; and lifting up his hand to heaven, obtained rain at once. But the thirsty and sandy land, as soon as it was watered by showers, sent forth such a crowd of serpents and venomous animals that people without number were stung, and would have died, had they not run together to Hilarion. With oil blessed by him, the husbandmen and shepherds touched their wounds, and all were surely healed.

But when he saw that he was marvellously honoured, he went to Alexandria, meaning to cross the desert to the further oasis. And because since he was a monk he had never stayed in a city, he turned aside to some brethren known to him in the Brucheion {115} not far from Alexandria. They received him with joy: but, when night came on, they suddenly heard him bid his disciples saddle the ass. In vain they entreated, threw themselves across the threshold. His only answer was, that he was hastening away, lest he should bring them into trouble; they would soon know that he had not departed without good reason. The next day, men of Gaza came with the Prefect's lictors, burst into the monastery, and when they found him not--"Is it not true," they said, "what we heard? He is a sorcerer, and knows the future." For the citizens of Gaza, after Hilarion was gone, and Julian had succeeded to the empire, had destroyed his monastery, and begged from the Emperor the death of Hilarion and Hesychius. So letters had been sent forth, to seek them throughout the world.

So Hilarion went by the pathless wilderness into the Oasis; {116} and after a year, more or less--because his fame had gone before him even there, and he could not lie hid in the East--he was minded to sail away to lonely islands, that the sea at least might hide what the land would not.

But just then Hadrian, his disciple, came from Palestine, telling him that Julian was slain, and that a Christian emperor was reigning; so that he ought to return to the relics of his monastery. But he abhorred the thought; and, hiring a camel, went over the vast desert to Paraetonia, a sea town of Libya. Then the wretched Hadrian, wishing to go back to Palestine and get himself glory under his master's name, packed up all that the brethren had sent by him to his master, and went secretly away. But--as a terror to those who despise their masters--he shortly after died of jaundice.

Then, with Zananas alone, Hilarion went on board ship to sail for Sicily. And when, almost in the middle of Adria, {117a} he was going to sell the Gospels which he had written out with his own hand when young, to pay his fare withal, then the captain's son was possessed with a devil, and cried out, "Hilarion, servant of God, why can we not be safe from thee even at sea? Give me a little respite till I come to the shore, lest, if I be cast out here, I fall headlong into the abyss." Then said he, "If my God lets thee stay, stay. But if he cast thee out, why dost thou lay the blame on me, a sinner and a beggar?" Then he made the captain and the crew promise not to betray him: and the devil was cast out. But the captain would take no fare when he saw that they had nought but those Gospels, and the clothes on their backs. And so Hilarion came to Pachynum, a cape of Sicily, {117b} and fled twenty miles inland into a deserted farm; and there every day gathered a bundle of firewood, and put it on Zananas's back, who took it to the town, and bought a little bread thereby.

But it happened, according to that which is written, "A city set on an hill cannot be hid," one Scutarius was tormented by a devil in the Basilica of St. Peter at Rome; and the unclean spirit cried out in him, "A few days since Hilarion, the servant of Christ, landed in Sicily, and no man knows him, and he thinks himself hid. I will go and betray him." And forthwith he took ship with his slaves, and came to Pachynum, and, by the leading of the devil, threw himself down before the old man's hut, and was cured.

The frequency of his signs in Sicily drew to him sick people and religious men in multitudes; and one of the chief men was cured of dropsy the same day that he came, and offered Hilarion boundless gifts: but he obeyed the Saviour's saying, "Freely ye have received; freely give."

While this was happening in Sicily, Hesychius, his disciple, was seeking the old man through the world, searching the shores, penetrating the desert, and only certain that, wherever he was, he could not long be hid. So, after three years were past, he heard at Methone {118} from a Jew, who was selling old clothes, that a prophet of the Christians had appeared in Sicily, working such wonders that he was thought to be one of the old saints. But he could give no description of him, having only heard common report. He sailed for Pachynum, and there, in a cottage on the shore, heard of Hilarion's fame--that which most surprised all being that, after so many signs and miracles, he had not accepted even a bit of bread from any man.

So, "not to make the story too long," as says St. Jerome, Hesychius fell at his master's knees, and watered his feet with tears, till at last he raised him up. But two or three days after he heard from Zananas, how the old man could dwell no longer in these regions, but was minded to go to some barbarous nation, where both his name and his speech should be unknown. So he took him to Epidaurus, {119a} a city of Dalmatia, where he lay a few days in a little farm, and yet could not be hid; for a dragon of wondrous size--one of those which, in the country speech, they call boas, because they are so huge that they can swallow an ox--laid waste the province, and devoured not only herds and flocks, but husbandmen and shepherds, which he drew to him by the force of his breath. {119b} Hilarion commanded a pile of wood to be prepared, and having prayed to Christ, and called the beast forth, commanded him to ascend the pile, and having put fire under, burnt him before all the people. Then fretting over what he should do, or whither he should turn, he went alone over the world in imagination, and mourned that, when his tongue was silent, his miracles still spoke.

In those days, at the earthquake over the whole world, which befell after Julian's death, the sea broke its bounds; and, as if God was threatening another flood, or all was returning to the primaeval chaos, ships were carried up steep rocks, and hung there. But when the Epidauritans saw roaring waves and mountains of water borne towards the shore, fearing lest the town should be utterly overthrown, they went out to the old man, and, as if they were leading him out to battle, stationed him on the shore. And when he had marked three signs of the Cross upon the sand, and stretched out his hands against the waves, it is past belief to what a height the sea swelled, and stood up before him, and then, raging long as if indignant at the barrier, fell back little by little into itself.

All Epidaurus, and all that region, talk of this to this day; and mothers teach it their children, that they may hand it down to posterity. Truly, that which was said to the Apostles, "If ye believe, ye shall say to this mountain, Be removed, and cast into the sea; and it shall be done," can be fulfilled even to the letter, if we have the faith of the Apostles, and such as the Lord commanded them to have. For which is more strange, that a mountain should descend into the sea; or that mountains of water should stiffen of a sudden, and, firm as a rock only at an old man's feet, should flow softly everywhere else? All the city wondered; and the greatness of the sign was bruited abroad even at Salo.

When the old man discovered that, he fled secretly by night in a little boat, and finding a merchantman after two days, sailed for Cyprus. Between Maleae and Cythera {121} they were met by pirates, who had left their vessels under the shore, and came up in two large galleys, worked not with sails, but oars. As the rowers swept the billows, all on board began to tremble, weep, run about, get handspikes ready, and, as if one messenger was not enough, vie with each other in telling the old man that pirates were at hand. He looked out at them and smiled. Then turning to his disciples, "O ye of little faith," he said; "wherefore do ye doubt? Are these more in number than Pharaoh's army? Yet they were all drowned when God so willed." While he spoke, the hostile keels, with foaming beaks, were but a short stone's throw off. He then stood on the ship's bow, and stretching out his hand against them, "Let it be enough," he said, "to have come thus far."

O wondrous faith! The boats instantly sprang back, and made stern- way, although the oars impelled them in the opposite direction. The pirates were astonished, having no wish to return back-foremost, and struggled with all their might to reach the ship; but were carried to the shore again, much faster than they had come.

I pass over the rest, lest by telling every story I make the volume too long. This only I will say, that, while he sailed prosperously through the Cyclades, he heard the voices of foul spirits, calling here and there out of the towns and villages, and running together on the beaches. So he came to Paphos, the city of Cyprus, famous once in poets' songs, which now, shaken down by frequent earthquakes, only shows what it has been of yore by the foundations of its ruins. There he dwelt meanly near the second milestone out of the city, rejoicing much that he was living quietly for a few days. But not three weeks were past, ere throughout the whole island whosoever had unclean spirits began to cry that Hilarion the servant of Christ was come, and that they must hasten to him. Salonica, Curium, Lapetha, and the other towns, all cried this together, most saying that they knew Hilarion, and that he was truly a servant of God; but where he was they knew not. Within a month, nearly 200 men and women were gathered together to him. Whom when he saw, grieving that they would not suffer him to rest, raging, as it were to revenge himself, he scourged them with such an instancy of prayer, that some were cured at once, some after two or three days, and all within a week.

So staying there two years, and always meditating flight, he sent Hesychius to Palestine, to salute the brethren, visit the ashes of the monastery, and return in the spring. When he returned, and Hilarion was longing to sail again to Egypt,--that is, to the cattle pastures, {123a} because there is no Christian there, but only a fierce and barbarous folk,--he persuaded the old man rather to withdraw into some more secret spot in the island itself. And looking round it long till he had examined it all over, he led him away twelve miles from the sea, among lonely and rough mountains, where they could hardly climb up, creeping on hands and knees. When they were within, they beheld a spot terrible and very lonely, surrounded with trees, which had, too, waters falling from the brow of a cliff, and a most pleasant little garden, and many fruit-trees- -the fruit of which, however, Hilarion never ate--and near it the ruin of a very ancient temple, {123b} out of which (so he and his disciples averred) the voices of so many daemons resounded day and night, that you would have fancied an army there. With which he was exceedingly delighted, because he had his foes close to him; and dwelt therein five years; and (while Hesychius often visited him) he was much cheered up in this last period of his life, because owing to the roughness and difficulty of the ground, and the multitude of ghosts (as was commonly reported), few, or none, ever dare climb up to him.

But one day, going out of the little garden, he saw a man paralytic in all his limbs, lying before the gate; and having asked Hesychius who he was, and how he had come, he was told that the man was the steward of a small estate, and that to him the garden, in which they were, belonged. Hilarion, weeping over him, and stretching a hand to him as he lay, said, "I say to thee, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, arise and walk." Wonderful was the rapidity of the effect. The words were yet in his mouth, when the limbs, strengthened, raised the man upon his feet. As soon as it was known, the needs of many conquered the difficulty of the ground, and the want of a path, while all in the neighbourhood watched nothing so carefully, as that he should not by some plan slip away from them. For the report had been spread about him, that he could not remain long in the same place; which nevertheless he did not do from any caprice, or childishness, but to escape honour and importunity; for he always longed after silence, and an ignoble life.

So, in the eightieth year of his age, while Hesychius was absent, he wrote a short letter, by way of testament, with his own hand, leaving to Hesychius all his riches; namely, his Gospel-book, and a sackcloth-shirt, hood, and mantle. For his servant had died a few days before. Many religious men came to him from Paphos while he was sick, especially because they had heard that he had said that now he was going to migrate to the Lord, and be freed from the chains of the body. There came also Constantia, a high-born lady, whose son-in-law and daughter he had delivered from death by anointing them with oil. And he made them all swear, that he should not be kept an hour after his death, but covered up with earth in that same garden, clothed, as he was, in his haircloth shirt, hood, and rustic cloak. And now little heat was left in his body, and nothing of a living man was left, except his reason: and yet, with open eyes, he went on saying, "Go forth, what fearest thou? Go forth, my soul, what doubtest thou? Nigh seventy years hast thou served Christ, and dost thou fear death?" With these words, he breathed out his soul. They covered him forthwith in earth, and told them in the city that he was buried, before it was known that he was dead.

The holy man Hesychius heard this in Palestine; reached Cyprus; and pretending, in order to prevent suspicion on the part of the neighbours, who guarded the spot diligently, that he wished to dwell in that same garden, he, after some ten months, with extreme peril of his life, stole the corpse. He carried it to Maiuma, followed by whole crowds of monks and townsfolk, and placed it in the old monastery, with the shirt, hood, and cloak unhurt; the whole body perfect, as if alive, and fragrant with such strong odour, that it seemed to have had unguents poured over it.

I think that I ought not, in the end of my book, to be silent about the devotion of that most holy woman Constantia, who, hearing that the body of Hilarion, the servant of God, was gone to Palestine, straightway gave up the ghost, proving by her very death her true love for the servant of God. For she was wont to pass nights in watching his sepulchre, and to converse with him as if he were present, in order to assist her prayers. You may see, even to this day, a wonderful contention between the folk of Palestine and the Cypriots, the former saying that they have the body, the latter that they have the soul, of Hilarion. And yet, in both places, great signs are worked daily; but most in the little garden in Cyprus; perhaps because he loved that place the best.

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Such is the story of Hilarion. His name still lingers in "the place he loved the best." "To this day," I quote this fact from M. de Montalembert's work, "the Cypriots, confounding in their memories legends of good and of evil, the victories of the soul and the triumph of the senses, give to the ruins of one of those strong castles built by the Lusignans, which command their isle, the double name of the Castle of St. Hilarion, and the Castle of the God of Love." But how intense must have been the longing for solitude which drove the old man to travel on foot from Syria to the Egyptian desert, across the pathless westward waste, even to the Oasis and the utmost limits of the Egyptian province; and then to Sicily, to the Adriatic, and at last to a distant isle of Greece. And shall we blame him for that longing? He seems to have done his duty earnestly, according to his own light, towards his fellow-creatures whenever he met them. But he seems to have found that noise and crowd, display and honour, were not altogether wholesome for his own soul; and in order that he might be a better man he desired again and again to flee, that he might collect himself, and be alone with Nature and with God. We, here in England, like the old Greeks and Romans, dwellers in the busy mart of civilized life, have got to regard mere bustle as so integral an element of human life, that we consider a love of solitude a mark of eccentricity, and, if we meet any one who loves to be alone, are afraid that he must needs be going mad: and that with too great solitude comes the danger of too great self-consciousness, and even at last of insanity, none can doubt. But still we must remember, on the other hand, that without solitude, without contemplation, without habitual collection and re- collection of our own selves from time to time, no great purpose is carried out, and no great work can be done; and that it is the bustle and hurry of our modern life which causes shallow thought, unstable purpose, and wasted energy, in too many who would be better and wiser, stronger and happier, if they would devote more time to silence and meditation; if they would commune with their own heart in their chamber, and be still. Even in art and in mechanical science, those who have done great work upon the earth have been men given to solitary meditation. When Brindley, the engineer, it is said, had a difficult problem to solve, he used to go to bed, and stay there till he had worked it out. Turner, the greatest nature- painter of this or any other age, spent hours upon hours in mere contemplation of nature, without using his pencil at all. It is said of him that he was seen to spend a whole day, sitting upon a rock, and throwing pebbles into a lake; and when at evening his fellow painters showed their day's sketches, and rallied him upon having done nothing, he answered them, "I have done this at least: I have learnt how a lake looks when pebbles are thrown into it." And if this silent labour, this steadfast thought are required even for outward arts and sciences, how much more for the highest of all arts, the deepest of all sciences, that which involves the questions--who are we? and where are we? who is God? and what are we to God, and He to us?--namely, the science of being good, which deals not with time merely, but with eternity. No retirement, no loneliness, no period of earnest and solemn meditation, can be misspent which helps us towards that goal.

And therefore it was that Hilarion longed to be alone; alone with God; and with Nature, which spoke to him of God. For these old hermits, though they neither talked nor wrote concerning scenery, nor painted pictures of it as we do now, had many of them a clear and intense instinct of the beauty and the meaning of outward Nature; as Antony surely had when he said that the world around was his book, wherein he read the mysteries of God. Hilarion seems, from his story, to have had a special craving for the sea. Perhaps his early sojourn on the low sandhills of the Philistine shore, as he watched the tideless Mediterranean, rolling and breaking for ever upon the same beach, had taught him to say with the old prophet as he thought of the wicked and still half idolatrous cities of the Philistine shore, "Fear ye not? saith the Lord; Will ye not tremble at my presence who have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, for a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it? And though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over. But this people has a revolted and rebellious heart, they are revolted and gone." Perhaps again, looking down from the sunny Sicilian cliffs of Taormino, or through the pine-clad gulfs and gullies of the Cypriote hills upon the blue Mediterranean below,

"And watching from his mountain wall The wrinkled sea beneath him crawl,"

he had enjoyed and profited by all those images which that sight has called up in so many minds before and since. To him it may be, as to the Psalmist, the storm-swept sea pictured the instability of mortal things, while secure upon his cliff he said with the Psalmist, "The Lord hath set my feet upon a rock, and ordered my goings;" and again, "The wicked are like a troubled sea, casting up mire and dirt." Often, again, looking upon that far horizon, must his soul have been drawn, as many a soul has been drawn since, to it, and beyond it, as it were into a region of boundless freedom and perfect peace, while he said again with David, "Oh that I had wings like a dove; then would I flee away and be at rest!" and so have found, in the contemplation of the wide ocean, a substitute at least for the contemplation of those Eastern deserts which seemed the proper home for the solitary and meditative philosopher.

For indeed in no northern country can such situations be found for the monastic cell as can be found in those great deserts which stretch from Syria to Arabia, from Arabia to Egypt, from Egypt to Africa properly so called. Here and there a northern hermit found, as Hilarion found, a fitting home by the seaside, on some lonely island or storm-beat rock, like St. Cuthbert, off the coast of Northumberland; like St. Rule, on his rock at St. Andrew's; and St. Columba, with his ever-venerable company of missionaries, on Iona. But inland, the fens and the forests were foul, unwholesome, depressing, the haunts of fever, ague, delirium, as St. Guthlac found at Crowland, and St. Godric at Finkhale. {130} The vast pine- woods which clothe the Alpine slopes, the vast forests of beech and oak which then spread over France and Germany, gave in time shelter to many a holy hermit. But their gloom, their unwholesomeness, and the severity of the climate, produced in them, as in most northern ascetics, a temper of mind more melancholy, and often more fierce; more given to passionate devotion, but more given also to dark superstition and cruel self-torture, than the genial climate of the desert produced in old monks of the East. When we think of St. Antony upon his mountain, we must not picture to ourselves, unless we, too, have been in the East, such a mountain as we have ever seen. We must not think of a brown northern moorland, sad, savage, storm-swept, snow-buried, save in the brief and uncertain summer months. We must not picture to ourselves an Alp, with thundering avalanches, roaring torrents, fierce alternations of heat and cold, uninhabitable by mortal man, save during that short period of the year when the maidens in the sennhutt watch the cattle upon the upland pastures. We must picture to ourselves mountains blazing day after day, month after month, beneath the glorious sun and cloudless sky, in an air so invigorating that the Arabs can still support life there upon a few dates each day; and where, as has been said,--"Man needs there hardly to eat, drink, or sleep, for the act of breathing will give life enough;" an atmosphere of such telescopic clearness as to explain many of the strange stories which have been lately told of Antony's seemingly preternatural powers of vision; a colouring, which, when painters dare to put it on canvas, seems to our eyes, accustomed to the quiet greys and greens of England, exaggerated and impossible--distant mountains, pink and lilac, quivering in pale blue haze--vast sheets of yellow sand, across which the lonely rock or a troop of wild asses or gazelles throw intense blue-black shadows--rocks and cliffs not shrouded, as here, in soil, much less in grass and trees, or spotted with lichens and stained with veins; but keeping each stone its natural colour, as it wastes--if, indeed, it wastes at all--under the action of the all but rainless air, which has left the paintings on the old Egyptian temples fresh and clear for thousands of years; rocks, orange and purple, black, white, and yellow; and again and again beyond them {131} glimpses, it may be, of the black Nile, and of the long green garden of Egypt, and of the dark blue sea. The eastward view from Antony's old home must be one of the most glorious in the world, save for its want of verdure and of life. For Antony, as he looked across the blue waters of the Gulf of Akaba, across which, far above, the Israelites had passed in old times, could see the sacred goal of their pilgrimage, the red granite peaks of Sinai, flaming against the blue sky with that intensity of hue which is scarcely exaggerated, it is said, by the bright scarlet colour in which Sinai is always painted in mediaeval illuminations.

But the gorgeousness of colouring, though it may interest us, was not, of course, what produced the deepest effect upon the minds of those old hermits. They enjoyed Nature, not so much for her beauty, as for her perfect peace. Day by day the rocks remained the same. Silently out of the Eastern desert, day by day, the rising sun threw aloft those arrows of light, which the old Greeks had named "the rosy fingers of the dawn." Silently he passed in full blaze almost above their heads throughout the day; and silently he dipped behind the western desert in a glory of crimson and orange, green and purple; and without an interval of twilight, in a moment, all the land was dark, and the stars leapt out, not twinkling as in our damper climate here, but hanging like balls of white fire in that purple southern night, through which one seems to look beyond the stars into the infinite abyss, and towards the throne of God himself. Day after day, night after night, that gorgeous pageant passed over the poor hermit's head without a sound; and though sun and moon and planet might change their places as the year rolled round, the earth beneath his feet seemed not to change. Every morning he saw the same peaks in the distance, the same rocks, the same sand-heaps around his feet. He never heard the tinkle of a running stream. For weeks together he did not even hear the rushing of the wind. Now and then a storm might sweep up the pass, whirling the sand in eddies, and making the desert for a while literally a "howling wilderness;" and when that was passed all was as it had been before. The very change of seasons must have been little marked to him, save by the motions, if he cared to watch them, of the stars above; for vegetation there was none to mark the difference between summer and winter. In spring of course the solitary date-palm here and there threw out its spathe of young green leaves, to add to the number of those which, grey or brown, hung drooping down the stem, withering but not decaying for many a year in that dry atmosphere; or perhaps the accacia bushes looked somewhat gayer for a few weeks, and the Retama broom, from which as well as from the palm leaves he plaited his baskets, threw out its yearly crop of twigs; but any greenness there might be in the vegetation of spring, turned grey in a few weeks beneath that burning sun; and be rest of the year was one perpetual summer of dust and glare and rest. Amid such scenes they had full time for thought. Nature and man alike left it in peace; while the labour required for sustaining life (and the monk wished for nothing more than to sustain mere life) was very light. Wherever water could be found, the hot sun and the fertile soil would repay by abundant crops, perhaps twice in the year, the toil of scratching the ground and putting in the seed. Moreover, the labour of the husbandman, so far from being adverse to the contemplative life, is of all occupations, it may be, that which promotes most quiet and wholesome meditation in the mind which cares to meditate. The life of the desert, when once the passions of youth were conquered, seems to have been not only a happy, but a healthy one. And when we remember that the monk, clothed from head to foot in woollen, and sheltered, too, by his sheepskin cape, escaped those violent changes of temperature which produce in the East so many fatal diseases, and which were so deadly to the linen-clothed inhabitants of the green lowlands of the Nile, we need not be surprised when we read of the vast longevity of many of the old abbots; and of their death, not by disease, but by gentle, and as it were wholesome natural decay.

But if their life was easy, it was surely not ill-spent. If having few wants, and those soon supplied, they found too much time for the luxury of quiet thought, those need not blame them, who having many wants, and those also easily supplied, are wont to spend their superfluous leisure in any luxury save that of thought, above all save that of thought concerning God. For it was upon God that these men, whatever their defects or ignorances may have been, had set their minds. That man was sent into the world to know and to love, to obey and thereby to glorify, the Maker of his being, was the cardinal point of their creed, as it has been of every creed which ever exercised any beneficial influence on the minds of men. Dean Milman in his "History of Christianity," vol. iii. page 294, has, while justly severe upon the failings and mistakes of the Eastern monks, pointed out with equal justice that the great desire of knowing God was the prime motive in the mind of all their best men:--

"In some regions of the East, the sultry and oppressive heat, the general relaxation of the physical system, dispose constitutions of a certain temperament to a dreamy inertness. The indolence and prostration of the body produce a kind of activity in the mind, if that may properly be called activity which is merely giving loose to the imagination and the emotions as they follow out the wild train of incoherent thought, or are agitated by impulses of spontaneous and ungoverned feeling. Ascetic Christianity ministered new aliment to this common propensity. It gave an object, both vague and determinate enough to stimulate, yet never to satisfy or exhaust. The regularity of stated hours of prayer, and of a kind of idle industry, weaving mats or plaiting baskets, alternated with periods of morbid reflection on the moral state of the soul, and of mystic communion with the Deity. It cannot indeed be wondered that this new revelation, as it were, of the Deity, this profound and rational certainty of his existence, this infelt consciousness of his perpetual presence, these as yet unknown impressions of his infinity, his power, and his love, should give a higher character to this eremitical enthusiasm, and attract men of loftier and more vigorous minds within its sphere. It was not merely the pusillanimous dread of encountering the trials of life which urged the humbler spirits to seek a safe retirement; or the natural love of peace, and the weariness and satiety of life, which commended this seclusion to those who were too gentle to mingle in, or who were exhausted with, the unprofitable turmoil of the world; nor was it always the anxiety to mortify the rebellious and refractory body with more advantage. The one absorbing idea of the Majesty of the Godhead almost seemed to swallow up all other considerations. The transcendent nature of the Triune Deity, the relation of the different persons of the Godhead to each other, seemed the only worthy object of men's contemplative faculties."

And surely the contemplation of the Godhead is no unworthy occupation for the immortal soul of any human being. But it would be unjust to these hermits did we fancy that their religion consisted merely even in this; much less that it consisted merely in dreams and visions, or in mere stated hours of prayer. That all did not fulfil the ideal of their profession is to be expected, and is frankly confessed by the writers of the Lives of the Fathers; that there were serious faults, even great crimes, among them is not denied. Those who wrote concerning them were so sure that they were on the whole good men, that they were not at all afraid of saying that some of them were bad,--not afraid, even, of recording, though only in dark hints, the reason why the Arab tribes around once rose and laid waste six churches with their monasteries in the neighbourhood of Scetis. St. Jerome in like manner does not hesitate to pour out bitter complaints against many of the monks in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem. It is notorious, too, that many became monks merely to escape slavery, hunger, or conscription into the army: Unruly and fanatical spirits, too, grew fond of wandering. Bands of monks on the great roads and public places of the empire, Massalians or Gyrovagi, as they were called, wandered from province to province, and cell to cell, living on the alms which they extorted from the pious, and making up too often for protracted fasts by outbursts of gluttony and drunkenness. And doubtless the average monk, even when well-conducted himself and in a well-conducted monastery, was, like average men of every creed, rank, or occupation, a very common-place person, acting from very mixed and often very questionable motives; and valuing his shaven crown and his sheepskin cloak, his regular hours of prayer and his implicit obedience to his abbot, more highly than he valued the fear and the love of God.

It is so in every creed. With some, even now, the strict observance of the Sabbath; with others, outward reverence at the Holy Communion; with others, the frequent hearing of sermons which suit heir own views; with others, continual reading of pious books (on the lessons of which they do not act), covers, instead of charity, a multitude of sins. But the saint, abbot, or father among these hermits was essentially the man who was not a common-place person; who was more than an ascetic, and more than a formalist; who could pierce beyond the letter to the spirit, and see, beyond all forms of doctrine or modes of life, that virtue was the one thing needful.

The Historia Lausiaca and the Pratum Spirituale have many a story and many a saying as weighty, beautiful, and instructive now as they were fifteen hundred years ago; stories which show that graces and virtues such as the world had never seen before, save in the persecuted and half-unknown Christians of the first three centuries, were cultivated to noble fruitfulness by the monks of the East. For their humility, obedience, and reverence for their superiors it is not wise to praise them just now; for those are qualities which are not at present considered virtues, but rather (save by the soldier) somewhat abject vices; and indeed they often carried them, as they did their abstinence, to an extravagant pitch. But it must be remembered, in fairness, that if they obeyed their supposed superiors, they had first chosen their superiors themselves; that as the becoming a monk at all was an assertion of self-will and independence, whether for good or evil, so their reverence for their abbots was a voluntary loyalty to one who they fancied had a right to rule them, because he was wiser and better than they; a feeling which some have found not degrading, but ennobling; and the parent, not of servility, but of true freedom. And as for the obsolete virtue of humility, that still remains true which a voice said to Antony, when he saw the snares which were spread over the whole earth, and asked, sighing, "Who can pass safely over these?" and the voice answered, "Humility alone."

For the rest, if the Sermon on the Mount mean anything, as a practical rule of life for Christian men, then these monks were surely justified in trying to obey it, for to obey it they surely tried.

The Words of the Elders, to which I have already alluded, and the Lausiaca of Palladius likewise, are full of precious scraps of moral wisdom, sayings, and anecdotes, full of nobleness, purity, pathos, insight into character, and often instinct with a quiet humour, which seems to have been, in the Old world, peculiar to the Egyptians, as it is, in the New, almost peculiar to the old- fashioned God-fearing Scotsman.

Take these examples, chosen almost at random.

Serapion the Sindonite was so called because he wore nothing but a sindon, or linen shirt. Though he could not read, he could say all the Scriptures by heart. He could not (says Palladius) sit quiet in his cell, but wandered over the world in utter poverty, so that he "attained to perfect impassibility, for with that nature he was born; for there are differences of natures, not of substances."

So says Palladius, and goes on to tell how Serapion sold himself to certain play-actors for twenty gold pieces, and laboured for them as a slave till he had won them to Christ, and made them renounce the theatre; after which he made his converts give the money to the poor, and went his way.

On one of his journeys he came to Athens, and, having neither money nor goods, starved there for three days. But on the fourth he went up, seemingly to the Areopagus, and cried, "Men of Athens, help!" And when the crowd questioned him, he told them that he had, since he left Egypt, fallen into the hands of three usurers, two of whom he had satisfied, but the third would not leave him.

On being promised assistance, he told them that his three usurers were avarice, sensuality, and hunger. Of the two first he was rid, having neither money nor passions: but, as he had eaten nothing for three days, the third was beginning to be troublesome, and demanded its usual debt, without paying which he could not well live; whereon certain philosophers, seemly amused by his apologue, gave him a gold coin. He went to a baker's shop, laid down the coin, took up a loaf, and went out of Athens for ever. Then the philosophers knew that he was endowed with true virtue; and when they had paid the baker the price of the loaf, got back their gold.

When he went into Lacedaemon, he heard that a great man there was a Manichaean, with all his family, though otherwise a good man. To him Serapion sold himself as a slave, and within two years converted him and his wife, who thenceforth treated him not as a slave, but as their own brother.

After awhile, this "Spiritual adamant," as Palladius calls him, bought his freedom of them, and sailed for Rome. At sundown first the sailors, and then the passengers, brought out each man his provisions, and ate. Serapion sat still. The crew fancied that he was sea-sick; but when he had passed a second, third, and fourth day fasting, they asked, "Man, why do you not eat?" "Because I have nothing to eat." They thought that some one had stolen his baggage: but when they found that the man had absolutely nothing, they began to ask him not only how he would keep alive, but how he would pay his fare. He only answered, "That he had nothing; that they might cast him out of the ship where they had found him."

But they answered, "Not for a hundred gold pieces, so favourable was the wind," and fed him all the way to Rome, where we lose sight of him and his humour.

To go on with almost chance quotations:--

Some monks were eating at a festival, and one said to the serving man, "I eat nothing cooked; tell them to bring me salt." The serving man began to talk loudly: "That brother eats no cooked meat; bring him a little salt." Quoth Abbot Theodore: "It were more better for thee, brother, to eat meat in thy cell than to hear thyself talked about in the presence of thy brethren."

Again: a brother came to Abbot Silvanus, in Mount Sinai, and found the brethren working, and said, "Why labour you for the meat which perisheth? Mary chose the good part." The abbot said, "Give him a book to read, and put him in an empty cell." About the ninth hour the brother looked out, to see if he would be called to eat, and at last came to the abbot, and asked, "Do not the brethren eat to-day, abbot?" "Yes." "Then why was not I called?" Then quoth Abbot Silvanus: "Thou art a spiritual man: and needest not their food. We are carnal, and must eat, because we work: but thou hast chosen the better part." Whereat the monk was ashamed.

As was also John the dwarf, who wanted to be "without care like the angels, doing nothing but praise God." So he threw away his cloak, left his brother the abbot, and went into the desert. But after seven days he came back, and knocked at the door. "Who is there?" asked his brother. "John." "Nay, John is turned into an angel, and is no more among men." So he left him outside all night; and in the morning gave him to understand that if he was a man he must work, but that if he was an angel, he had no need to live in a cell.

Consider again the saying of the great Antony, when some brethren were praising another in his presence. But Antony tried him, and found that he could not bear an injury. Then said the old man, "Brother, thou art like a house with an ornamented porch, while the thieves break into it by the back door."

Or this, of Abbot Isidore, when the devil tempted him to despair, and told him that he would be lost after all: "If I do go into torment, I shall still find you below me there."

Or this, of Zeno the Syrian, when some Egyptian monks came to him and began accusing themselves: "The Egyptians hide the virtues which they have, and confess vices which they have not. The Syrians and Greeks boast of virtues which they have not, and hide vices which they have."

Or this: One old man said to another, "I am dead to this world." "Do not trust yourself," quoth the other, "till you are out of this world. If you are dead, the devil is not."

Two old men lived in the same cell, and had never disagreed. Said one to the other, "Let us have just one quarrel, like other men." Quoth the other: "I do not know what a quarrel is like." Quoth the first: "Here--I will put a brick between us, and say that it is mine: and you shall say it is not mine; and over that let us have a contention and a squabble." But when they put the brick between them, and one said, "It is mine," the other said, "I hope it is mine." And when the first said, "It is mine, it is not yours," he answered, "If it is yours, take it." So they could not find out how to have a quarrel.

Anger, malice, revenge, were accursed things in the eyes of these men. There was enough of them, and too much, among their monks; but far less, doubt not, than in the world outside. For within the monastery it was preached against, repressed, punished; and when repented of, forgiven, with loving warnings and wise rules against future transgression.

Abbot Agathon used to say, "I never went to sleep with a quarrel against any man; nor did I, as far as lay in me, let one who had a quarrel against me sleep till he had made peace."

Abbot Isaac was asked why the devils feared him so much. "Since I was made a monk," he said, "I settled with myself that no angry word should come out of my mouth."

An old man said, "Anger arises from these four things: from the lust of avarice, in giving and receiving; from loving one's own opinion; from wishing to be honoured; and from fancying oneself a teacher and hoping to be wiser than everybody. And anger obscures human reason by these four ways: if a man hate his neighbour; or if he envy him; or if he look on him as nought; or if he speak evil of him."

A brother being injured by another, came to Abbot Sidonius, told his story, and said, "I wish to avenge myself, father." The abbot begged him to leave vengeance to God: but when he refused, said, "Then let us pray." Whereon the old man rose, and said, "God, thou art not necessary to us any longer, that thou shouldest be careful of us: for we, as this brother says, both will and can avenge ourselves." At which that brother fell at his feet, and begged pardon, promising never to strive with his enemy.

Abbot Poemen said often, "Let malice never overcome thee. If any man do thee harm, repay him with good, that thou mayest conquer evil with good."

In a congregation at Scetis, when many men's lives and conversation had been talked over, Abbot Pior held his tongue. After it was over, he went out, and filled a sack with sand, and put it on his back. Then he took a little bag, filled it likewise with sand, and carried it before him. And when the brethren asked him what he meant, he said, "The sack behind is my own sins, which are very many: yet I have cast them behind my back, and will not see them, nor weep over them. But I have put these few sins of my brother's before my eyes, and am tormenting myself over them, and condemning my brother."

A brother having committed a fault, went to Antony, and his brethren followed, upbraiding him, and wanting to bring him back; while he denied having done the wrong. Abbot Paphnutius was there, and spoke a parable to them:--

"I saw on the river bank a man sunk in the mud up to his knees. And men came to pull him out, and thrust him in up to the neck."

Then said Antony of Paphnutius, "Behold a man who can indeed save souls."

Abbot Macarius was going up to the mountain of Nitria, and sent his disciple on before. The disciple met an idol-priest hurrying on, and carrying a great beam: to whom he cried, "Where art thou running, devil?" At which he was wroth, and beat him so that he left him half dead, and then ran on, and met Macarius, who said, "Salvation to thee, labourer, salvation!" He answered, wondering, "What good hast thou seen in me that thou salutest me?" "Because I saw thee working and running, though ignorantly." To whom the priest said, "Touched by thy salutation, I knew thee to be a great servant of God; for another--I know not who--miserable monk met me and insulted me, and I gave him blows for his words." Then laying hold of Macarius's feet he said, "Unless thou make me a monk I will not leave hold of thee."

After all, of the best of these men are told (with much honesty) many sayings which show that they felt in their minds and hearts that the spirit was above the letter: sayings which show that they had at least at times glimpses of a simpler and more possible virtue; foretastes of a perfection more human, and it may be more divine.

"Better," said Abbot Hyperichius, "to eat flesh and drink wine, than to eat our brethren's flesh with bitter words."

A brother asked an elder, "Give me, father one thing which I may keep, and be saved thereby." The elder answered, "If thou canst be injured and insulted, and hear and be silent, that is a great thing, and above all the other commandments."

One of the elders used to say, "Whatever a man shrinks from let him not do to another. Dost thou shrink if any man detracts from thee? Speak not ill of another. Dost thou shrink if any man slanders thee, or if any man takes aught from thee? Do not that or the like to another man. For he that shall have kept this saying, will find it suffice for his salvation."

"The nearer," said Abbot Muthues, "a man approaches God, the more he will see himself to be a sinner."

Abbot Sisois, when he lay dying, begged to live a little longer, that he might repent; and when they wondered, he told them that he had not yet even begun repentance. Whereby they saw that he was perfect in the fear of the Lord.

But the most startling confession of all must have been that wrung from the famous Macarius the elder. He had been asked once by a brother, to tell him a rule by which he might be saved; and his answer had been this:--to fly from men, to sit in his cell, and to lament for his sins continually; and, what was above all virtues, to keep his tongue in order as well as his appetite.

But (whether before or after that answer is not said) he gained a deeper insight into true virtue, on the day when (like Antony when he was reproved by the example of the tanner in Alexandria) he heard a voice telling him that he was inferior to two women who dwelt in the nearest town. Catching up his staff, like Antony, he went off to see the wonder. The women, when questioned by him as to their works, were astonished. They had been simply good wives for years past, married to two brothers, and living in the same house. But when pressed by him, they confessed that they had never said a foul word to each other, and never quarrelled. At one time they had agreed together to retire into a nunnery, but could not, for all their prayers, obtain the consent of their husbands. On which they had both made an oath, that they would never, to their deaths, speak one worldly word.

Which when the blessed Macarius had heard, he said, "In truth there is neither virgin, nor married woman, nor monk, nor secular; but God only requires the intention, and ministers the spirit of life to all."



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Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
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