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Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Ninive

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

Trad. A. J. Wensinck

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

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

V

God has made great the honor of man, by the twofold teachings he has given him. And from every side He has opened for him a door through which he has access unto knowledge.

Ask from nature a true witness concerning thyself, then thou wilt not err. If thou goest yet astray, let thyself be taught by that second witness who will bring thee back to the way from which thou hast erred.

A distracted heart cannot help but erring. And wisdom will not open its gate before it.

He who is able to understand through essential knowledge to what a degree of equality all men will come in the end, will not seek another teacher concerning the contemptability of the world. The first book given by God to the rational beings, is the nature of the created things. Written teachings have been added only after aberration.

He who does not willingly remain far from things causing sin will be drawn towards them involuntarily. Things causing sin are wine and women, riches and bodily health. They are not to be called sin in themselves, but on account of man’s weakness and their unlawful use, nature is easily drawn by them - more easily than by any other thing - towards different sins and therefore there is need of peculiar caution in regard of them. If thou rememberst continually and recognisest truly that thou art weak, thou wilt never overstep the borders prescribed by watchfulness. Despised above all things among men is poverty. But much more despised by God is haughtiness of heart and a disdainful spirit.

Among men riches are honored; by God a humble soul.

When thou intendest to begin with one of the virtues, first prepare thyself, lest, by the evil things which it causes, thou shouldst fall into doubt concerning the truth.

If the Evil one sees some one beginning with one of the virtues in the fervour of faith, he attacks him by vehement and terrible temptations, with the intention that he be frightened by them, so that the love of his mind may abate and his fervour not rise again to bring him near to the works of God. And thus, because of fear of temptations accompanying good works (he hopes that) nobody will practise them anymore. Thou, however, prepare thyself to meet the evil things accompanying virtues, bravely and strongly; and then begin. If thou doest not expect evil things, do not begin with excellence. The man who is in doubt concerning the Lord, is persecuted by his own shadow; at the time of satiety he will be hungry and at the time of peace his ruin will be heavy. But whoever confides in God, his heart will be strong and his honor will be manifest before the crowds and his glory before his enemies.

The commandments of God are better than the treasures of the whole earth. He who acquires His laws   in his heart, will find the Lord in them. He who meditates upon God in the night, will acquire Him as a housemate. He who is pliable to; His will, will find the angels of heaven his teachers.

He who trembles before sins will pass without stumbling-even through a dangerous place and at the time of darkness he will find a light within himself. If any one tremble before sins, his footsteps will be guarded by the Lord and mercy will precede his failures. He whose faults are small in his own eyes will fall into those which are worse than the former ones and it will be necessary that he pay for them sevenfold. Sow alms in humility and thou wilt reap mercy in the court of justice. Whereby thou hast lost goods, thereby thou shalt acquire them again. If thou hast to pay a penny to God in some way or other, He will not accept a pearl from thee in its place. For in this case that thing; is necessary.

If thou hast lost chastity, let not fornication take its place. If thou givest alms as a reparation, He will not accept them from thee; He postulates saintliness for saintliness. And if thou wrongest not the poor, let not unjust possession take the place of that. While thou art refraining from bread, let not injustice usurp its place so that thou must struggle with some other thing.

Oppression is eradicated by compassion and renunciation. If thou leavest the plant in its place, thou wilt have to struggle with some other thing, according to the word of the great teacher Mar Afrem.

Take care not to tight against heat during summer in clothes destined for winter. Thus each will reap, with the contrary of that with which he sows injustice. And every illness he will combat with its peculiar antidotum. Now thou art deadly wounded by envy; while thou strugglest against sleep. When sin is still green, eradicate it, lest it cover the whole ground. He who neglects an evil thing while it is small, will find it at last a hard master and he will go in bonds before it. He who treats it severely in the beginning, will easily rule it. He who bears injustice with gladness while victory is in his hand, he has received from God the consolation of his faith clearly manifested. And he who bears oppression in humility, has reached perfection. The angels will admire him. There is no profitable action more difficult and more meritorious. Do not believe thyself strong before thou hast been led into temptations and thou hast found thyself steadfast in them. In all things thou hast to try thyself in this way. Acquire glory on account of the faith of thy heart, then thou wilt tread upon the neck of thy enemies, and thou wilt find thy mind humble. Do not confide in thy strength lest thou be left to the weakness of thy nature and thou learnest thy weakness in thy fall; nor in thy knowledge, lest thou be surrounded in thought with hidden ambushes and becomest confused.

Acquire a humble tongue; then disdain will never hurt thee; and pleasant lips, then thou wilt be found a friend of every one. Do not boast of any thing with thy tongue, because among creatures there is nothing exempt from change; and thy shame will be double when thou art found the contrary (of what thou didst boast of). Everything of which thou boastest before men, will surely be altered by God, so that thou mayest have a cause for humility so that thou judge God’s knowledge to be all, and believe not that there is anything true in creatures. And when thou thinkest thus, thy eyes will at all times be fixed upon Him.

(Divine) care surrounds all men at all times; but it is not seen, save only by those who have purified themselves from sins and think of God perpetually. To these then it is revealed clearly; for when they have been led into great temptations for the sake of truth, then they receive a faculty of perception clearly as if with the eyes of the flesh. (They receive it) when they want it, in a sensible way, in accordance with the kind and the cause of the temptation, in order to strengthen their courage. As in the case of Jacob and Joshua the son of Nun, Hananya and his companions, Petrus and others, to whom the figure of a man appeared in order to encourage them and to console their faith.

If thou sayest that these things were acts of Providence of a universal nature, let then the holy martyrs console thee, who sometimes together, sometimes one by one in separate places have suffered for God. Not only a hidden force was with them, by which the members of their bodies were fortified against being hanged in irons and against torments of all kinds, things beyond natural power - but sometimes also holy angels were seen by them manifestly, in order that every man should know that God’s care is with those who suffer for His sake for any reason, so that they themselves might receive encouragement and their torturers be ashamed. For as the former were made conspicuous by such visions, to the same degree the latter were tormented by their endurance.

And what shall we say about many of the solitaries and strangers and true monks, who have made waste land habitable and an encamping ground of the angels, who visited them on account of their worthy behavior? As true comrades (serving) one Lord the heavenly hosts mingled (with them) in their dwelling place, solitaries who during their whole life loved solitude, who made holes and rocks their dwelling places, who gladly suffered cold and heat for the love of God. And because they left the earth and loved heaven like the angels, the angels have not concealed themselves from their sight. But sometimes they taught them concerning behavior. And again they answered the questions they asked them concerning other things. And sometimes the angels showed them the way when they wandered through the desert; sometimes they delivered them from temptations; sometimes they saved them from some net of danger which suddenly, without their foreseeing it, threatened them, some serpent for instance, or falling from a rock, or a stone that suddenly fell down with violence from a height.

Sometimes, also under the attacks of the open battles of Satan the angels showed themselves to them manifestly, and clearly announced that they were sent in order to help them and encouraged them by their words. Sometimes also they cured their pain and healed some injuries which had befallen them in some way or other, by the touch of their hands. Sometimes again they imparted to their bodies, which had been weakened by abstention from all food, by their words or by the sudden touch of their hands, a force foreign to nature, adducing in some secret way a force unto the lowered nature. Sometimes they brought them food, warm bread and olives, and to some of them various fruits. Others they informed concerning the time of their death. And how long must be the enumeration of things concerning the love of the holy angels towards our race and concerning the care they showed unto the righteous, as great brothers who fostered and guarded their little ones. All this serves to make clear for every one how near God is to His friends and how much care He bestows on those who entrust their life to His hands and follow Him with a serene heart.

If it is certain to thee and thou believest that God cares for thee, thou needest not be anxious for thy body nor have care concerning the guiding of thyself by means. But if thou doubtest this and desirest to care for thyself, without God, thou art more wretched than any man, and what does life mean to thee? Throw thy care on God, that thou be strengthened against all fear. He who once has entrusted his life to Sod, will dwell in mental peace.

Without renunciating possessions, the soul cannot be liberated from confusion of thought. And without quiescence of the senses, peace of mind cannot be perceived. And without entering into temptations, spiritual wisdom cannot be acquired. And without constant reciting, subtlety of thought cannot be earned. And without the deliberations being set at peace the mind cannot be moved by hidden mysteries. And without the confidence of faith one cannot venture to throw his soul amidst sorrowful and hard circumstances. Without the practical experience of God’s care the heart is not able to confide in God. And when the soul does not taste sufferings for the sake of Christ, it is not united with Him in knowledge.

Deem him a man of God, who constantly takes upon himself the lot of want, being moved by great compassion. He who does good to the poor finds God his provider. He who suffers want for His sake finds Him to be a great treasure. God does not need anything; only He rejoices when anyone satisfies or honors His image (NT: viz. man) for His sake.

When anyone asks thee and thou hast, do not say in thy heart: I will keep it for myself in order to have more comfort by it and I will let him pass quickly; God will provide for him from another; I will bestow it upon myself. Do not speak thus. For in this way think iniquitous men, and people who do not know God deliberate thus, fostering such thoughts. But a righteous man does not give his honor to another one nor does he let slip the opportunity for bounty. God will provide for him certainly in some other way; if He knows that he is in trouble. God will not abandon any one. But thou art willing immediately to leave God’s honor and to throw His bounty from thee. On the other hand rejoice if thou possessest and give, saying: Glory to thee, o God, who hast granted unto me that I find some one to comfort. And if thou possessest not, rejoice the more, thanking God with many thanksgivings, saying: I thank thee, o God, who hast granted me the honor of becoming poor for Thy sake, and who hast deemed me worthy to taste sufferings enjoined in Thy commandments namely illnesses and poverty such as the saints have tasted who have gone this way.

And if thou art ill, say: Blessed are those who find in the things which God sends us for our profit, the aim for which God has destined them. God sends sickness for the sake of the health of the soul.

One of the saints once said: The following I have taken as a sign. When a solitary does not serve God in the right way, and is not zealous in His works, God certainly will send him a temptation to occupy his thoughts, lest he be wholly idle and, by complete idleness, his mind turn aside to thinking of the things of the left hand. But if he is not willing to think of excellence, the influence of the temptations will cause him to think of it and not to think of idle things. This God does with every man who loves Him. When He sees that he begins to disdain His works, he sends a Heavy sorrow in order to make him wise and to chastise him. Therefore, when such le call to Him, He does not pay attention, nor does He hasten to free them, till they have become weary and know they have to bear these things on account of their neglect. ’When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear’. Even if this was said to others, still it is certainly applicable to those who leave the way. But if God is so compassionate, why do we then so frequently knock at His door in trouble and pray, and yet He turns away from our prayer? He says: Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. Remember the Lord at all times, then He will remember thee when evil approaches unto thee. He has made thy nature a receptacle of accident. And in the world where He has created and left thee He has made frequent the causes of accidents and temptations. He has made thy nature a small receptacle of these things. Evil things are not far from thee, neither are they a few in number. For they rise from within thee when He gives a sign, and from under thy feet and from the place where thou art standing. But like one eyelid is near the other, so temptations are near the children of men.

With wisdom God has provided these things for thee in this way, for thy profit, that thou mayest continually knock at His door and that, for fear of sorrowful events, the thought of Him may constantly recur to thy mind and thou be near to God in constant prayer and sanctified by constant thought of Him in thy heart.

And when thou callest unto Him and He answers thee, thou will know that thy saviour is God. And thou wilt perceive thy God who has created thee and is thy provider and preserver, therein that He has made in thy behalf two worlds. One for thy instruction, as it were a school for a short time; and another one, a paternal home and thy abode for ever and ever.

He has not made thee apathetic, lest thou shouldst desire divine rank and receive what Satan received. Nor has He made thee incapable of error or, lest thou shoudst be like the beings which are bound and thou shouldst receive thy good and thy evil without profit or remuneration as the other corporeal beings on the earth. How many blows and humiliations together with thanksgivings are born from the capacity for affections, and fear, and also error, is manifest for every one so that it should be known that our zeal for righteousness and our turning- aside from evil are of our will, and that the honor and disdain, caused thereby, should be put to our credit. Thus we are put to shame and we fear on account of disdain; but we thank God and press towards the good on account of honor.

All these instructions He has multiplied for thee, lest freed from them on account of thy not needing them or thy nature not being capable of them, exalted above fear and affecting-things, thou shouldst forget God and turn away from Him and invent many gods. For though subjected to affections and want, which scourges were sent against them on account of paltry riches and short-lived temporal power and precarious health, - still many have not only invented many gods, but have even ventured in their insanity to pretend to be of divine nature.

Therefore He has turned thee away from all these things through that which troubles thee from time to time, lest He should be angry with thee on account of thy turning aside and destroy thee from before Him in punishment.

I omit the ungodliness and the sins that arise from health and lack of fear and comfort, even though that which has been mentioned above should not happen (NT: viz. that creatures pretend to be of divine nature). Therefore, by sufferings and distress He has caused thee frequently to recall Him in thy heart; and by fear of adversities He incites thee to turn towards the gate of his mercy. By liberating thee from these (troubles) He sows in thee causes of love unto Him. And when thou hast found love he brings thee near to the honor of the sons; He shows thee the richness of His bounty and the steadfastness of His care for thee. Then He will make thee perceive the holiness of His honor and the hidden mysteries of the nature of His greatness. How shouldst thou have become acquainted with these things if there had not been adversities? For through these the love of God is able to increase, viz. by understanding His acts of bounty and by recalling His various acts of care. All this good is born for thee from things causing grief, if thou knowest to give thanks.

Therefore remember God, that He may remember thee constantly; and when He remembers thee and saves thee, thou wilt receive all these goods. Forget Him not in idle distraction, lest He also forget thee in thy temptations.

In prosperity be near to Him and obedient, that thou mayest have freedom of speech with Him in trouble because of thy constantly being near to Him in thy heart by means of thy prayer. Sit before His face all thy time, thinking of Him and recollecting Him in thy heart, lest, seeing Him only after long thou shouldst lack freedom of speech with Him on account of bashfulness. A high degree of freedom of speech is born from constant intercourse. Constant intercourse with men is of a bodily nature; that with God is psychic meditation and offerings n prayers.

On account if its intensity this meditation is sometimes mingled with ecstasy. For the heart of those who seek the Lord rejoices. Seek the Lord, ye sinners and be strengthened in hope in your thoughts. Seek His face by repentance at all time and you will be sanctified by the holiness of His face and you will be purified from your unrighteousness. Speed unto the Lord, ye unrighteous, the Lord who forgives unrighteousness and effaces sins. For He has sworn: I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that he turn from his way and live. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious and disobedient people. And why will ye die, O house of Jacob? Turn unto me, then I will turn unto you). And by Ezekiel He says: When the wicked turns from his way unto the Lord and do that which is lawful and right, the sins he has committed will not be remembered but he shall live, sayeth the Lord. Thus it is also with the righteous; when he turneth from his righteousness and comitteth sin and iniquity, the righteousness he has done will not be remembered but I will lay a stumbling block before him and by the iniquity he has done he shall die if he remains steadfast in it. Why is this? Because the iniquitous will not stumble on account of his iniquity after he turns unto the Lord. But the righteousness of the righteous will not save him when he sins, if he builds his building on that foundation.

And to Jeremia He spake thus: Take a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee, from the day of Josia the king of Juda even unto this day. It may be that (the house of Juda) will hear and fear and they may return every man from his evil way and turn again unto me, that I may forgive their sins. And the sage has said: He that covereth his sins, shall not prosper. But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy from God.

And Jesaja, who was rich in revelations, says: Seek ye the Lord and call ye upon Him when ye have found Him. And when He is near let the sinner forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him turn unto me and I will have mercy upon him and to our God for He will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are my ways your ways. Wherefore do ye spend money on that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good. Come unto me, hear and your soul shall live. When thou keepest the ways of the Lord and doest His will, then thou wilt confide in the Lord. Then thou wilt call on Him and He will answer thee; thou wilt cry and He will say: Lo, here I am.

The wicked when evil befalls him has confidence in God to call on Him. And he, is not able to expect His salvation, because he has left His ways in the days of his prosperity. Seek a helper for thyself before thou hast to struggle. Seek a physician for thyself before thou art ill. Pray before distress has reached thee; then in the time of distress thou wilt find prayer (?) and it will answer thee. Pray and ask before thou stumblest. Prepare thy gifts before thou makest a vow, they are thy provisions.

The ark was constructed in time of peace. A hundred years before its wood was planted. So when anger came, the wicked who had been comfortable in their wickedness, were confounded. But the ark was a refuse for the righteous.

The wicked shuts his mouth during prayer. Inward baseness takes away freedom of speech from the heart.

Steadfastness of the heart makes tears of joy to flow during the imploration (of God).

Strong endurance of injustice borne by free will purifies the heart. Endurance of injustice is based on contempt for the world. That a man remains steadfast during oppression without being distressed, is caused by the fact that the heart begins to see the truth. Joy on account of oppression and injustice-borne by free will, exalts the heart. No one can bear oppression and injustice with a glad will, save those whose deliberations have wholly become dead to the world.

Those whose thoughts are wholly filled with the odour of this life, are made to blaze with anger at once through vain glory; or they fall into thoughts of spite, born of (the love of vain glory), O how difficult is this excellence, and how honored it is with God! He who denies this behaviour, has to go abroad and to leave his country. It is difficult for a man to accomplish this exalted excellence in his country; the eminent and the strong only are able to bear the grief that is born of this behaviour, among their acquaintances and also those who in their lifetime have become dead to this life and have abandoned hope of the consolation of this time. As Grace is near to humility, so are difficult accidents to haughtiness.

The heart of the Lord is towards the humble, to comfort them. The face of the Lord is against the haughty to humiliate them. Humility receives compassion, continually. But hardness of heart and unbelief meet hardships continually that seem hopeless till of a sudden evil rises against them and they are delivered to destruction.

Make thyself small among men, then He will exalt thee even above the heads of the people. Let thy prostration be low before all men and be the first to salute; then thou wilt be honored more than he who brings gold from Ophir. Be despised and rejected in thine own eyes, then thou wilt see the glory of God within thyself.

Where humility sprouts, there glory will rise. If thou strivest publicly after dishonor among men he will make thy honor great. And if thou art humble in thy heart, He will show thee His glory in thy heart. Be disdained in thy greatness, not great in thy being disdained. Learn to be disdained, while being full of the honor of the Lord; not, to be honored while being injured by ulcers within. Reject honour, then thou wilt be honored. Do not love it, lest thou be rejected. If thou pursuest honor, it will flee from thee. If thou fleest from it, it will rise for thee from the place where thou hidest thyself and it will be a herald of thy humility to every one.

If thou givest thyself to disdain in order to be honored, the Lord will confound thee. If thou rejectest thyself for the sake of truth He will command the creatures to praise thee. And they will reveal to thee the glory of the creator who from eternity speaks through them and they will glorify thee as the creator, because thou art His thrue image.

Has anyone found a man whose behaviour is exalted, who is despised among men and who is enlightened and wise and poor in spirit? Blessed is he who has humbled himself in all things, for he will be magnified in all things. He who has humbled and made himself small for the sake of God, will be glorified by God. And whoever for His sake is hungry and thirsty, He will give to drink him from His good a wine causing- a drunkenness that never leaves those who drink it. And he who goes naked for His sake will be clad by Him with a garment of glory. And he who is poor and indigent for His sake, his consolation will be established in His true richness. Make thyself disdained for the sake of God, then thy glory will be great, even if thou doest not perceive it.

During thy whole life deem thyself as a sinner, then thou wilt found to be a righteous man during thy whole life. Be despised though wise, and do not err in thy wisdom. Be simple in thy wisdom and do not assume the appearance of being wise if thou art simple. If humility elevates the despised how, much more will it elevate the honored.

Flee from praise, then thou wilt be praised. Fear haughtiness, then thou wilt be exalted. For pride was not assigned to the children of man, nor haughtiness of heart to those born from a woman.

If thou hast voluntarily renunciated the whole body of the world, do not quarrel with anyone concerning small parts of it.

If thou hast rejected glory, flee from those who hunt praise.

Flee from possessors as from possessions. Depart from the luxurious, as from luxury. Flee from the lascivious, as from fornication. If the memory of their habits troubles the mind, how much more if one see and be near to them. Be near to the excellent; through them thou wilt be near unto God.

Be an ascete with the humble, to learn from his ways. If to see his habits is profitable to those who see him, how much more the character of his behaviour and teachings received from his very lips.

Love the poor; through them thou wilt find mercy. Do not approach unto the quarrelsome, lest thou be compelled to leave thy peaceful customs.

Flee not from the ugliness of the illness of the sick, for thou art also clad with flesh. Do not contend with the bitter in heart, lest thou be beaten with the rod with which they are beaten and seeking a consolator, wilt not find any. Do not reject the cripples lest thou enter Sheol with them.

Love the sinners but reject their works. Do not despise them because of their shortcomings, lest thou be tempted by the same. Remember that thou sharest in the stink of Adam and that thou too art clad with his illness. To him who needs passionate prayer and soft words, do not give blame in stead, lest thou cause his destruction and his soul be demanded from thy hand. Resemble the physicians who use cold medicines against symptoms of fever.

Compel thyself to show honor to thy fellow man, when thou meetest him; and kiss his hand and his foot, and warm thy heart with love unto him, piously. And take his hands several times and place them upon thy eyes and caress them with great honor. And attribute to his person beautiful things, that do not belong to him. And also when he is absent, speak about him fine and beautiful things and call him by several honorable names. By these things and the like, thou compellest him not only unto the desire of beautiful things, since he will be ashamed of the renown thou imputest him without his deserving it and so thou wilt be able to sow in him the seed of excellent things, but by means of these habits and the like to which thou accustomest thyself, thou wilt found in thyself peaceful and humble customs and be liberated from many severe struggles, against which others learn to guard themselves by steady works. And not only this. But if he, who receives these honors from thee, has any shortcoming or fault of will, he will easily acquire from thee healing, if thou lettest him clearly perceive (it) but for an instant only; for he will be ashamed because of the honor shown to him and because of the sign of love he constantly perceives in thee.

This be thy aim regarding all men. And when thou becomest angry at any one and zealous for the sake of faith, or on account of his evil works, or thou reprehendest and vituperatest him, then be cautious. We all have a just judge in heaven. But if thou art merciful and seekest to turn him unto the truth, thou hast to suffer for him. And with tears and in love thou must speak to him without being enraged against him, effacing all sign of hostility from thy face. Love does not know how to be angry; it is not indignant, it does not despise so as to cause suffering. Wherever the sign of love and knowledge is present, it is profound humility rising from the inner mind.


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