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Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Ninive


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.


Blessed is the man who knows his weakness. This knowledge becomes for him the foundation and the beginning (of his coming) unto all good and beautiful things. When a man knows and perceives that he really and in truth is weak, then he restrains his soul from profuseness which is dissipation of knowledge and he will augment the watchfulness of his soul.

Unless a man has been remiss in some small thing and a slight negligence has appeared in him and tempters have surrounded him either with temptations that arouse bodily affections or with temptations which stir the affectable power of the soul, he cannot perceive his own weakness, Then, however, he recognizes the greatness of God’s help by comparing it with his own weakness.

Thus if he sees that his heart does not rest from fear, even though he be provident and very cautious, withdrawing and hiding his soul in innumerable apartments and providing his soul with causes of trust, then he understands and knows that this whole impulse of his heart denotes some other thing which is lacking and which is very necessary to him, viz. that he needs other help. For the heart testifies to (this) within, by the fear that moves in it, denoting the lack of something. And therefore he cannot remain in confidence. For the help of God is necessary for deliverance.

When he knows that he needs divine help, he will frequently pray. And by much beseeching the heart becomes humble. For there is no man who is needy and asking, without being humble. And God will not despise a broken and contrite heart. Until the heart has become humble, it will not rest from distraction. Humility restrains the heart. And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him. And when mercy draws near, the heart will perceive help at once, because some confidence and force will also move in it. When it perceives that divine help approach unto it and that He is its support and its helper, then the heart will be filled with faith at once. Then it will see and understand that prayer is the port of help, the fountain of salvation, the treasure of confidence, the sheet-anchor amidst the storms, the light in the darkness, the stick of the weak, the shelter at the time of temptations, the medicine at the time of illness, the shield of protection in the battle, the sharp arrow against the enemies.

And because by prayer he has found the entrance unto all this good, he will delight in prayer of faith for ever more, while his heart exults in confidence, not blindly and with words only, as it had been till then.

When he knows this, he possesses prayer as a treasure within his soul. And from joy he changes the tenor of prayer into sounds of thanksgiving. And the following word has been said by the sage among the saints, Mar Evagrius  , who did every thing which he did with a purpose: Prayer is a joy that gives place to thanksgivings. Concerning this prayer, which takes place after receiving the knowledge of God, he says: This prayer that gives place (to thanksgiving), in which a man does not pray nor act as in the other passionate prayers which he prayed, perceiving grace, consists therein-that in the heart, which is filled with joy and ecstasy, frequently emotions of thanksgivings and gratitude stir themselves, in the silence of kneelings. Then, on account of the inner ardour, which is set in motion by wonder at the understanding of God’s bounties, he will of a sudden raise up his voice and praise without being wearied, while the inner ardour gives place to thanksgivings also of the tongue; and so he will give utterance (to his feelings) long and wonderfully. Who has experienced these things clearly, not dimly, and has noted them with intelligence, will understand when I say that it occurs without variation, for it has been experienced many times. And furthermore (such a man) will leave idle things and be constantly with God, without a break, in constant prayer, fearing that he will be bereft of the current of its helping forces.

All these beautiful things are born from a man’s perceiving his own weakness. For from this, because of his longing for help, he turns to God with beseechings. And as he brings near his spirit unto God, He comes nigh unto him with His gifts. And He does not take away from him His inspiration, because of his great humility. For as a widow unto the judge, he cries at all times: avenge me on my adversary. Therefore God, the merciful, necessarily will delay his petitions, that he have the better reason to approach unto Him. And because of his need he will constantly remain at the fountain of help, while God grants some of his demands quickly, others not: (He grants) those concerning which He knows that they are necessary for life, the rest He delays. And in some cases He withholds from him the ardour of his enemies, and in others He gives an opening to temptations, that this, as I have said, should be a cause for approaching unto God, and that he should become prudent by temptations. And this is what is said in the scripture: The Lord left many peoples and He did not destroy them at once, nor did He give them into the hand of Joshua, in order to test Israel by them so that the generations of the children of Israel should learn war.

As for the righteous who is not acquainted with his weakness, all his affairs are in peril. He is not far from falling, the destroying lion is not removed from him nor the demon of haughtiness. Who lacks knowledge of his weakness, lacks humility. Who lacks humility, lacks perfection. Who lacks perfection is still in a state of peril. And the enemy can attack him at every quarter, because his town is not fortified with iron bolts nor with a brazen lintel.

Neither is humility to be acquired except through the causes which bring about a continually broken heart and destroy the deliberations of presumption. Without humility the service of man cannot be sealed: the seal of the spirit has not yet been placed on the charter of his freedom, he is still a slave and his service cannot be established without his being made humble, neither can he acquire wisdom without temptations, neither can he reach humility without wisdom. Therefore God necessarily sends the saints things which cause humility and brokenness of heart and passionate prayer without distraction. Sometimes he afflicts them by accidents that arise from the natural affections or by transgressions arising from impure deliberations; sometimes by disdain or by idle oppressions which they have to endure from men, or by bodily pains; sometimes by poverty or need of necessary things; sometimes by vehement affections of fear in the open war of the demons which He allows in order to keep them continually in motion, or by terrible varying states of which one is still more strong and sorrowful and hard than the other.

All these things happen, that man should have a reason for being humble, lest he should sleep in neglect either of things present from which the struggler suffers, or of fear of things to be. Therefore temptations will necessarily be profitable unto men. Now I do not say, that, in order to have a cause of humility, he ought to let loose his will unto evil things, with the purpose of humbling himself by the recollection of them, or that he should hasten unto other temptations. But it is beautiful for him that, apart from his performing good works, he should constantly spur himself and remember that he is a creature and naturally prone to be seduced. And whosoever is a creature, requires an external power, viz. to help him. And he who requires external help, the deficiency of his own nature is manifest. And every one who knows that he is deficient, to him humility is becoming in order to receive what he needs from Him who is able to give it.

If he knows all these things from the beginning and looks to them at all times, he will not sleep. And if he does not sleep, he will not be delivered into the hand of the powers which endanger his vigilance. Therefore it is becoming for him no that goes the way of God, that he confess and reproach and rebuke his soul for all (evils) that overtake him, knowing that either because of his negligence it is excited by the tempter by order of the Governor, or because he has exalted himself. Therefore he shall not leap up nor be shaken, but keep his soul quiet without accusation (of God), lest his evil be doubled. For there is not iniquity with God, on the contrary, He is the fountain of justice.

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