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Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Ninive

Isaac of Ninive : SIX TREATISES ON THE BEHAVIOR OF EXCELLENCE (II)

A. J. Wensinck

segunda-feira 18 de outubro de 2021, por Cardoso de Castro

      

Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Ninve. Translated by A. J. Wensinck from Bedjan’s syriac text with an introduction and registers. Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen, 1923.

      

Gratefulness on the part of the recipient spurs on the giver to bestow gifts larger than before. He who embezzles petty things is also false and fraudulent concerning things of importance.

The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health.

Many are the pains of the hard heart; and when the sick one resists the physician, his torments will be augmented.

There is no sin which cannot be pardoned except that one which lacks repentance, and there is no gift which is not augmented save that which remains without acknowledgement. For the portion of the fool is small in his eyes.

Think constantly of those who are superior to thee in excellence, so thou mayest see thyself at all times as being less, than they are. And be aware at all times of the heavy troubles of those whose vexations are difficult and serious, so that thou mayest become grateful for the small ones found with thyself and thou mayest be able to bear them with joy.

When thou art in a state of subjection and languid and dejected, and thou art bound and fettered before thy foe in mournful wretchedness and laborious service of sin, then recall to thy mind the previous times of firmness: how thou shewest painstaking even concerning small things and how thou were moved with zeal against the obstructors in thy course: how thou utteredst sighs on account of the small things which were despised by thee as accidental and thy whole person was winding a wreath of victory over these things. Then, by these and similar recollections, thy soul will be aroused as from the depth, and be clad with the flame of zeal; and it will rise from its immersion as if from the dead, and stretch itself and return to its former state, in hot strife   against Satan   and sin.

Recollect the fall of the strong, that thou mayest remain humble under thy virtues. And think of the heavy sins of those who fell and repented; and of the praise and honor they received afterwards, so that thou mayest acquire courage during thy repentance.

Be a persecutor of thy self; then thy foe will be driven away from thee.

Be on peaceful terms with thy soul; then heaven and earth will be on peaceful terms with thee. Be zealous to enter the treasury within thee; then thou wilt see that which is in heaven. For the former and the latter are one, and entering thou wilt see both. The ladder unto the Kingdom is hidden within thee and within thy soul. Dive into thyself (freed) from sin; there thou wilt find steps along which thou canst ascend.

What the things of the world-to-be are, the scriptures do not explain. How we may acquire the faculty to perceive their delight even now, without change of nature or local transition, they teach us plainly.

Though they call these things by beloved names of glorious things which are delightful and esteemed by us, in order to spur us on, still by saying that the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard (I Cor. 2,9) and so on, they show us that the things-to-be are not equal to any of the present things, by their being incomprehensible. They have to be reckoned by us as giving us even now spiritual delight, not the enjoyment of those things in themselves, such as are found outside the being of the receivers and promised us for the future state. Otherwise "The Kingdom of God   is within you" (Luke 17,21) and "Thy Kingdom come" (Matth. 6,10) would teach us that we possess within us a pledge of the delight which is in those things. For it is necessary that there be a resemblance between these and the pledge, partial for the present though it be, yet to be complete in the future. Again the word "as through a glass" (I Cor. 13,12) shows us the comparability anyhow, even if they are not one in essence. If now, according to the trustworthy testimonies of the commentators of the scriptures, this is due to an intelligible influence of the Holy Ghost  , and is a part of that total one, then - apart from the spiritual influence that by intelligible apprehension forms a communication between the Holy Ghost and those who are influenced - the delight of the saints in the world is not occasioned by any sensible   mediator, be it senses or sense  -organs, save only the wombs which contain all in defined order, which we may call the profusion of light, though not the intelligible profusion.

A friend of excellence is not he, who zealously practices beautiful things, but who gladly accepts the evil things adhering to him. Patiently to bear troubles for the sake of excellence, is not so great as this that through the determination of the good will, the mind be not confused by the allurements of exciting things.

For repentance which comes after the taking away of freedom, never can be a source of joy nor can it be reckoned as a redemption of those who rue.

Protect the sinner without doing him wrong. But strengthen his courage for life; then the mercy of the Lord will bear thee (An idea   which recurs in the work).

Support with thy word the weak and the distressed in spirit whenever thou canst, then the hand that bears the universe will support thee. Participate with those who are suffering in heart, in passionate prayer and mourning of the heart; then before thy demand a fountain of grace will be opened.

Be strenuous in prayer at all time before God, with a heart full of chaste deliberations mingled with passion; then He will preserve thy mind from impure thoughts, so that the way of God be not disordered in thee. Occupy thy gaze with constant intercourse with intelligent recitation (of the scriptures), lest, on account of idleness, the sight of foreign things defile thy look.

Do not tempt thy mind, for the sake of examination, by consideration of impure seductive thoughts, thinking that thou shalt not be vanquished. Even wise men have been perturbed in this place and deviated. Do not take fire in thy bosom, as hath been said (Proverbs 6, 27). Without severe bodily trouble, it is hard for the untrained youth to be bound under the yoke of saintliness.

The sign of the beginning of darkness of mind manifests itself in the soul   by dejection, in the first place with regard to service and prayer. For it is not possible that the way in thy soul towards error should be opened if thou hast not fallen in this point first. Then, being bereft of God’s help - which (else) affords a way unto Him - thou wilt easily fall into the hands of the foes. And further, being without care for the matters of excellence, thou wilt be carried towards the contrary things in every manner. Departing, from any side, is the beginning (of approaching) to the opposite one. Let the service of excellence be firm in thy soul; meditate on it and so on.

Show thy weakness before God at all times, lest strangers come to examine thy strength while thou art separated from thy helper.

The service of the cross is a double one. And this is in accordance with its twofold nature which is divided into two parts: patience in face of bodily troubles, which is accomplished through the instrumentality of the anger of the soul (Cf. The Book of the Dove, p. 524/5); this is called practice. And: the subtle intellectual service, in intercourse with God, constant prayer and so on, which is performed with the desiring part   (Cf. The Book of the Dove, p. 524/5) and called theory. The one purifies the affectable part (Cf. The Book of the Dove, p. 524/5) by the strength of zeal; the other clears the intellectual part (Cf. The Book of the Dove, p. 524/5) by the influence of the love of the soul, which is the natural appetite.

Every one, who, before being trained in the former part, passes to the latter, on account of the pleasures it affords, desiringly - or rather negligently - causes (God’s) anger to blow against him because, before having mortified his members on the earth (Cf. Colossians 3, 5), i. e. before healing the illness of his deliberations by endurance under the labors and the shame of the cross, he has dared to occupy his mind with the glory of the cross. This is what has been said by the ancient saints: If the mind desires to ascend the cross before the senses have become silent on account of weakness, the anger of God will strike it.

By the fact of the ascension of the cross causing anger he does not point to the first part, namely, the bearing of troubles patiently (which is the crucifying of the body) but to the theoretical ascension which is the second part, and which is (truly) subsequent to the healing" of the soul. For he who hastens to meditate with his heart vain imaginations concerning future things, while his mind is still stained by reprehensible passions, will be reduced to silence on his way by punishment, because, before having purified his mind by means of the trials met in subduing the carnal desires, on account of what he has heard and read merely, he has hastened headlong to tread a path full of darkness, being blind - a way which exposes to danger day and night even those whose sight is sound and full of light, and who possess Grace as their guide, while their eyes are full of tears, and with prayer and weeping they convert night into day, on account of the danger of the course and the hard rocks they meet, and the phantoms of sham truth   that are frequently found on the way among those who pretend to be true. For divine things present themselves spontaneously, without thy perceiving them, if the place of the heart be pure and undefiled.

If the small pupil of thy soul has not been purified, do not venture to look at the globe of the sun, lest thou be bereft even of the usual sight, which is simple faith and humbleness and confession of the heart and light service in accordance with thy power (Faith, confession and work are also the three elements which are enumerated as the constituents of Islam. Cf. Ghazali, Ihya, I, 109), and thou be cast into one of the intelligible places, which is the darkness without God, like him who ventured to go to the meal in sordid habits (This sentence occurs also, with slight variations, on p. 50 and 521 sq. In the last passage it shows its sententious character in an evident way, for here the context is not written in the 2nd person. Its sententious character appears also from the fact that it occurs three times in Isaac’s book. Indeed it is not Isaac’s spiritual property, but a popular sentence in Hellenistic literature.).

From labor and watchfulness springs purity of deliberations. And from purity of deliberations inward light. And from here the mind is guided by Grace towards that which it is not allowed to the senses either to teach or to learn.

Let excellence be reckoned by thee as the body, contemplation as the soul. The two (form) one complete spiritual man, composed of sensible and intelligible parts. And as it is not possible that the soul reach existence and birth without the accomplished formation of the body, so it is not possible that contemplation, the second soul, the spirit of revelations, be formed in the womb of the intellect which receives the fullness of spiritual seed, without the corporeal performance of excellence, the dwelling place of the knowledge which receives revelations.

Contemplation is the apprehension of the divine mysteries which are hidden in the things spoken.

When thou hearest of being far from the world, of leaving the world, of being pure from the world, thou art first in need is of learning and knowing - not after the fashion of a novice, but with the impulses of gnosis   - what the term world means, how many different meanings the word conveys. Then thou wilt be able thyself to know, in how far thou art distant from or connected with the world. If a man know not first what the world is, he cannot understand with how many limbs he is bound to or far from it.

There are many who think themselves wholly devoid of the world in their behavior because on two or three points they refrain from it. (This is) because they have not understood nor perceived with discernment that they are dead to the world in one or two limbs, while others are living in the body of the world. Therefore they even cannot perceive their affections and ’ because they do not perceive them they are not anxious to be cured from them.

The world is said by speculative examination to be the extension of a common name unto distinct affections. If we wash to call the affections by a common name we call them world; if we mention the affections separately, we call them by their separate names.

The affections are parts of the usual current of the world. Where they have ceased, there the world ’s current has ceased. They are : love of riches; gathering of possessions; fatness of the body giving rise to the tendency towards carnal desire; love of honour which is the source of envy; exercising government; r9 pride and haughtiness of magistracy; folly; glory among men, which is the cause of choler, bodily fear.

Where their current has been dammed, there the world, after their example, has to some extent ceased to be maintained and to exist. In the same way as some of the saints, who though being alive, yet are dead; for they are alive bodily, but they do not live carnally. See in which of those thou art alive; then thou shalt know in how many parts thou art living to the world and in how many thou art dead.

When thou hast learned what the world is, thou wilt be instructed in these distinctions and also concerning thy being bound to the world or thv being free from it.

In short: the world is bodily behavior and carnal thoughts. For the overcoming of the world is also to be recognised in these two: viz. from the change of behavior and from the alteration of the impulses.

From the impulses of thy mind to the things towards which; its impulses go astray, thou canst understand the measure of thy behavior: viz. to which things thy nature turns without labor; which are the constant inclinations and which are those set into motion fortuitously; whether the mind is the agent for the apprehension of incorporeal impulses only, or whether it works wholly through matter; whether this materiality is an affected state, or whether the impulses are but the stamps of the mind’s service to the body, so that the mind, not of its own will, is hallucinating concerning those faculties by which it performs virtues and from which, in a sound state, it derives 20 its motive for fervour and concentration of thought, so that the mind can act corporeally, even with the loftiest aim, because of its lack of experience, even though it be in no affected state; and whether the mind is not distressed by the unseen touch of the stamps of the imaginations, in view of its excessive radiance in God, which is wont to cut off vain recollections.

The short descriptions of this chapter are sufficient for a man’s illumination if he be quiet and intelligent; and the}’ outweigh many books.

Bodily fear is strong in man, so strong that it often withholds him from praiseworthy and honorable things. But when it is face to face with psychic fear it is absorbed by it as coldness by the force of a flame.


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