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Mystic Treatises

Isaac of Nineveh: Mystic Treatises (L)

Trad. A. J. Wensinck

segunda-feira 18 de outubro de 2021

Isaac of Nineveh, Mystic Treatises

SHORT SECTIONS CONTAINING VARIOUS CONSIDERATIONS IN WHICH IS SHOWN THE INJURY CAUSED BY FOOLISH ZEAL UNDER THE PRETEXT OF FEAR OF GOD AND THE PROFIT ORIGINATING IN QUIET­NESS; TOGETHER WITH OTHER SUBJECTS

A zealous? man will never reach peace of mind?. And he that is destitute of peace is also destitute of gladness. Peace of mind is called complete health, zeal is the contrary of peace. He, therefore, that is moved by zeal suffers from a severe illness. Before thou art? deemed, o man, to move thy zeal against the illness of others, thou has driven away health from thyself. Thou hast rather to bestow care? upon the healing of thyself. If thou desirest however to heal the sick, know that those who are sick, are in want of nursing more than in want of vituperation. So, whilst thou doest not help others, thou vexest thyself by a severe illness. Zeal is not counted among man as a form? of wisdom, but as one of the illnesses of the soul, namely a narrow mindedness and a great ignorance?. The principle? of divine? wisdom is quietness? acquired by magnanimity, and the endurance of human? weaknesses. Ye, therefore, that are strong, bear the loads of the sick, and direct the transgressor in a meek spirit. The Apostle counts among the fruits of the Holy Spirit peace and patience. (Gal. 5.22)

A heart full of suffering? on account of its insufficiency regarding manifest bodily labours, is the acme of all bodily labours.

Bodily labours, without mental suffering, are as a body? without a soul.

He that suffers in his heart and is lax regarding his senses, is as a sick man whose body is aching and whose mouth indulges in all obnoxious kinds of food. He that suffers in his heart and is lax regarding his senses, is as a man who has an only son and?slays him with his own hands limb by limb.

Suffering of the mind is an honourable gift from God?; and he that bears it together with, the duties it imposes, is as a man who bears holiness in his limbs. A man who is dominated by his tongue? in all things?, good and evil?, is not deemed worthy of this gift.

Repentance along, with intercourse is as a pierced jar.

Blame along with a gift is a knife concealed in honey.

Chastity and intercourse with women? are as a lioness and a lamb in one house?.


Labours and depravity before God are as a man who slaughters a son before his father?. He that is sick in his soul and directs his comrades, is as a blind? man that shows the way?.

Compassion and justice? in one soul are as a man adoring God and idols? in one house. Everywhere? compassion is the enemy of justice.

Justice is the equality of the even scale which gives to every man as he deserves without deviation to any side and without any consideration of a reward for it.

Compassion is an affection? which is stirred by bounty and which goes out to every one for their support?. It does not repay him that has deserved evil?. To him that has deserved good, it gives a double portion. If the former stands on the side of righteousness, then the latter is on the side of evil. As stubbles and fire? cannot remain together in one room, so justice and compassion cannot in one soul.

As a grain of sand does not balance a load of gold, so the effect of God’s justice does not counterbalance His compassion.

As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins? of ail flesh as compared with God’s mind.

As a fountain that flows abundantly is not dammed by a handful of earth?, so the mercy of the Creator? is not vanquished by the wickedness of the creatures.

As one that sows in the sea and expects that be shall reap, so is he that prays while preserving rancour.

As the flames of the fire cannot be checked from going upwards, so the prayers of the merciful cannot be checked from ascending towards heaven?.


As the violence? of water? in a narrow place?, so is the force of anger when it has found a place in our mind.

He that has humility in his heart, has become dead to the world?. He that is dead to the world, is dead to affections. To him that is dead in his heart regarding his relatives, Satan is dead. He that has found envy has also found him that found it for the first? time.

There? is a humility that has its origin? in the fear? of God and there is a humility that arises through the love? of God. Some people are made humble by their fear, others by their joy? in Him. The former live? with limbs subdued and ordered senses and in perpetual contrition of heart; the latter in full exuberance and with an exulting heart which is never checked. Love does not know bashfulness; these, therefore, do not know how to regulate or to order? their limbs. Love naturally pos­sesses frankness and oblivion of measure?.

Blessed is he that has found Thee, thou harbour of all joys.

Beloved of God is the congregation of the humble, as the congregation of the seraphs.

A chaste body is dearer to God than a pure? offering. Both, however, prepare a dwelling?place for the Trinity? in the soul. Walk with thy friends? in a reserved attitude; in doing so thou wilt be of profit unto thyself and unto them. Foe usually under the pretext of friendship the soul casts off the reins of watchfulness.

Be cautious regarding intercourse; it is not always profitable. In the congregation honour silence?; for it prevents many wrongs.


Be not so cautious regarding the belly, as regarding sight. Inner war is in any respect? easier.

Do not believe, o brother, that inner deliberations can be regulated without the regulation of the body.

Fear customs rather than enemies. He that fosters a custom is as one fostering fire. Both display their vigour when they have acquired free play?. When custom, however, has been repelled the first time it demands access?, thou wilt find it weaker, a second time. But if thou fulfillest its desire the first time, thou wilt find it stronger when it demands access unto thee the second time. Under all circumstances this recollection will strengthen thee.

Help proceeding from watchfulness is better than help proceeding from labours.

Be not friends with one that loves laughter and derision; for he will drag thee towards lax customs. Be not joyous with him whose behaviour is lax; but be cautious against hating him. If he desires to remain standing, try to help him; and care for his existence?, until death?. If thou art yet ill, thou hast not to play the physician; stretch the end? of thy staff to him and so on.

Speak with watchfulness before a boaster and one who is sick with envy. For while thou speakest he gives in his heart thy words? the explanation he desires. He seizes the opportunity to make? others stumble, even through beautiful things in thee.

And thy words will be changed in his mind into opportunities of illnesses.


Frown upon him that begins to speak to thee concerning his brothers. Doing so thou wilt be found cautious by God and by him.

If thou givest something to one who is poor, let gladness of face and kind words and encouragement for his suffering precede thy gift. When thou doest this, by thy gift the delight of his mind will be greater than the want of his body.

On the day that thou openest thy mouth to speak against a man, deem thy soul as dead to God and void? of all thy labours: even if it is thought? that thou art moved to speak by the desire to direct and to build. Wherefore should a man demolish his own building and order that of his neighbour?

On the day that thou sufferest on behalf of a man in any way, be it on behalf of the good? or on behalf of the wicked, in body or in mind, deem thyself on that day to be a martyr and as one that has been deemed worthy of confessorship for the sake of Christ  . Remember? that Christ   died for the wicked, according to the words of the scripture, not for the good. Behold how great a thing? it is to suffer for the evil and to do good to the sinners, even greater than to do this for the righteous. The Apostle reminds thee of this as of an amazing thing.

If thou art able to acquire righteousness within thyself, be not anxious to seek other righteousness.

Anterior to all thy deeds are chasteness of body and purity of heart. Without them every deed is vain before God.

Any work which thou performest without deliberation? and examination - know that thy labour? upon it is vain even though it be beautiful. God counts as righteousness every matter? of discrimination, not fortuitous performances.


A lamp in the sun? - the righteous who is not wise.

Seed on a rock? - prayer of one harbouring rancour.

A tree without fruits - an ascetic without compassion.

A venomous arrow - vituperation that has its origin in envy.

A hidden snare - the praise of the cunning.

A foolish counsellor - a blind watchman.

Sorrow?, of heart - sitting with sinners.

A sweet fountain - intercourse with the wise.

A wise counsellor - a wall to rely upon.

A foolish friend - a treasure of deficiency.

Better it is to see? a mourning assembly than to see a wise man clinging to a fool.

Better it is to dwell with the beasts than to dwell with people affected by envy.

Better it is to dwell in a grave? than to dwell with people who behave in a depraved way.

Sit with vultures but not with those who are covetous.

Associate with the murderer, but not with the quarrelsome.

Have intercourse with the swine, but not with the loquacious. Better’ is the young of the swine than the mouth of the loquacious.

Sit amidst lions, but not amidst the haughty.

Be the persecuted, not the persecutor.

Be the crucified, not the crucifyer.

Be treated unjustly rather than treat unjustly.

Be the oppressed, not the oppressor.

Be peaceful, not a zealot.

Deal beneficiently, not justly. Justice does not belong to the behaviour of Christianity? and no mention is made of it in the doctrine of Christ  .


Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep; this is a sign? of serenity. With the sick, be as if sick; with the sinners practise mourning and with the converted rejoice.

Be a friend of all men, but a solitary in thy mind.

Join in the suffering of all men, but hold thy body far from all men.

Do not vituperate any one and do not direct any one, not even those who are very evil in their behaviour.

Spread thy mantle over the sinner and cover him.

If thou art not able to take upon thee his transgressions and to receive? chastisement in his stead, at least suffer exposure, in order not to expose him.

Do not quarrel for the sake of the belly.

Do not hate for the sake of honour.

Do not love to be a judge?.

Thou must know, o my brother, that we stay indoors in order not to know? the evil deeds of men. For when we consider all men as good, we shall reach purity in our mind. But if we also become vituperators and chastisers and judges and vindicators, persecutators and critics, in what respect then is dwelling in the towns? inferior? to abiding in the desert?

If thou art not quiet in thy heart, be quiet with thy tongue.

If thou art not able to be a ruler of thy deliberations, be a ruler of thy senses.

If thou art not a solitary in mind, be a solitary in body.

If thou art not able to labour with thy body, suffer in thy mind. If thou art not able to watch on thy feet, watch on thy bed.

If thou hast no sufficient power to fast during the night, fast at least in the evening. And if thou hast no force for fasting in the evening, be on thy guard at least against satiety.


If thou art no saint in thy heart, be a saint in thy body. If thou art no mourner in thy heart, let at least thy face be clad with mourning.

If thou art not able to justify thyself, then speak as a sinner.

If thou art not a peacemaker, be at least not a disturber.

If thou art not able to be valiant?, be a humble man in thy mind.

If thou art not a victor, be not wrath with the vanquished.

If thou hast no sufficient power to shut the mouth of him that speaks against his neighbour, guard at least thyself, lest thou become his partner.

Know that if fire goes out from thee and kindles others, the souls of all those to whom some of this fire has been imparted, will be demanded at thy hands. And if thou doest not throw out fire, but doest agree with him that does, and compliest with his deed, thou wilt be his partner in judgment.

If thou lovest peace, be peaceful. And if thou hast been deemed worthy of peace, rejoice at all times. Pray for insight, not for gold.

Be clad with humility, not with byssus. Acquire peace, not a kingdom

No one has insight without being? humble. He that is not humble, has no insight. No one is humble without having peace; he that has no peace is not humble either. No one has peace without rejoicing. While men walk in all the ways which there are in this world, they do not find peace, until they approach unto hope in God. The heart does not acquire peace from vexations and offences, until it approaches unto this place. But hope will give them peace and pour gladness into their heart. This is what that adorable mouth, full of holiness, has said: come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matt 11.28). Draw near to the hope which is in me, and desist from the many? ways, and ye will have rest from labours and from fear. Hope in God elevates the heart. Fear of Hell breaks it.


The light? of the mind gives birth to faith?. Faith gives birth to the consolation of hope. Hope makes the heart strong. Faith is the revelation? of insight. When the mind is dark, faith is hidden, and fear reigns in us and cuts off our hope. Faith through instruction does not free a man from presumption and doubts; only that faith which dawns by insight. It is called the revelation of truth?.

As long as faith understands God as God, through the revelation of insight, fear will not approach unto the heart. When we are left in darkness and we lose this insight that we may become humble, fear assails us which brings us near to humility and repentance.

The son of God has borne the cross and sinners have acquired courage in repentance.

If the habit? of repentance has driven away the anger of the King, he will not now reject your sincere mind. If the habit of humility can drive away God’s anger from him who knows himself not to be true, how much more will this be the case with you who are suffering in truth for your trespasses. Sufficient is the suffering of the mind in place of all bodily labours, according to the word? of the commentator (i.e., Theodore).


A temple of grace is he that is mingled with God by constantly thinking of that which belongs to him. What is thinking of that which belongs to him? It is the constant hunting after his rest; suffering at all times; the toil of constant care concerning those things which always remain imperfect on account of the wretchedness of nature?; the constant sorrow at these things which the mind bears under strong emotions and which it places before itself with humble contrition as an offering during prayer. As much as possible it despises the care of the body, according to its power. Such is he that bears in his soul the constant recollection of God, as the blessed Basil, the bishop, says.

Prayer without distraction is that prayer which produces in the soul the constant thought of God. For also this is God’s incarnation, that He dwells in us by our constant recollection of Him with painstaking care of the heart, seeking His pleasure. Involuntary evil deliberations have their origin in previous laxity.

O men and brothers, ye that desire to give some rest to the body in the way of recreation, for the sake of the service of God, in order to acquire force and to return to your service - let us not weaken our perfect? watchfulness during the few days of rest, giving our whole self? to relaxation as if we were men who have not the intention? to return unto their service.

Those who in the time of peace are wounded by arrows, are the people who. bear the cause? of this in themselves, namely wilful freedom? of speech. And the dirty clothes? with which they See themselves clad in a holy place (namely at the time when God is astir in their soul) are those which they have woven in the time of relaxation. The things which put us to shame when, at the time of pure prayer, we wish to offer them, are those with which we have accustomed ourselves at the time when we esteemed our senses too low.


Watchfulness helps a man more than labours; and relaxation injures him more than rest. In rest there arise internal wars which a man is. able to overcome vexing though they may be to him. For as soon as he gives up rest and returns to the place of labour, they are put to silence and flee from him. Not so it is with that which is born from relaxation, though relaxation is born from rest. For as long as man is in the place of his freedom, be is able to lay hand on himself and place himself under the order of his laws?; he is still in the place of his freedom. But when he is relaxed, he has left the place of freedom. If a man does not throw away completely all his watchfulness, he is not compelled against his will to comply with those things which he does not like. And if he does not completely give up the domain of his freedom, be will not be assailed by accidents?, which bind him so that he is not able to withstand necessity?. Do not give up the place of freedom on account of any of thy senses, o man; else thou willst not be able to return thereto. Rest injures the novices only; relaxation also the perfect and the aged. Those who let themselves be directed to the comfort of bad? deliberations, may find the way back by watchfulness and gain the height of good behaviour. But as for those who, confiding in their labours, have neglected cautiousness, and have been captivated by the relaxations of life, after )they had walked on) the height of behaviour, some have been wounded in the country of the enemies and have died during the time of peace, others have set out for the sake of the merchandise of life, and have exposed their soul to offence.


We have no difficulties when we trespass in a thing, but only when we persevere in it. Trespasses will sometimes happen even to the cautious.

But clinging to them is utter death. Suffering which we endure for the sake of things in which we transgress fortuitously, are counted as pure service on out part, by the grace that sustains our life.

He that sins a second time expecting forgiveness walks with God cunningly. Unexpectedly the rope of punishment will be thrown upon him and he will not reach the time for which he had hoped.

If a man’s senses are lax, his heart is also lax. The service of the heart is a bond of the outward members, if a man performs it with discrimination as the Fathers who were before us. This is known from other tokens which are seen in him: namely that he is not entangled in bodily profits, that he does not love money, and that he is wholly void of anger. Where on the contrary these three are found: the love of bodily profits to a small or to a large extent, and quick anger, and giving way to the belly (even in the case of the former saints), know that the relaxation in outward things originates in inward lack of patience, not in the baseness of the discriminating soul. How else ’could it be possible that such a one did not possess disregard of bodily things, and quietness?


To expose oneself to disdain discriminately is to be freed from all things, to disregard life and to love men.

If thou endurest willingly injuries? for the sake of God, thou art pure within.

If thou doest not despise any one on account of his stains, thou art surely a free man.

If thou doest not run to encounter those who honour thee, and if thou art not moved by meeting those who do not concord with thee, thou art really dead to this life.

Watchfulness with discrimination is better than all kinds of behaviour to all kinds of men.

Do not hate the sinner; we are all worthy of condemnation. If thou art moved for the sake of God, weep over him. Why shoudst thou hate him? Thou meanst to hate his sins? Pray on his behalf, that thou mayest resemble Christ  , who was not angry with sinners but prayed on their behalf. Hast thou not seen how He wept for Jerusalem ? In many things we are made mock of by Satan. Why should we hate them that are made mock of like ourselves by the same one that makes mock of us? Why hatest thou the sinner, o man? Perhaps because he is not righteous as thou art? And how art thou righteous, that hast no love? And if thou hast love, why doest thou not weep for him, instead of persecuting him? It is through ignorance that some people, reputed to be discriminating, are moved by the deeds of sinners.


Be a herald of God’s goodness?, because He provides for thee who art not worthy of it. And though thou art guilty? of many things, it is not known that he is desirous of revenge. And for the few thinks in which thou showest good will, he remunerates thee with many. Do not call God just anymore, for His justice is not known in His dealings with thee. Though David   called Him just and righteous, still His son has made it clear to us that He is good and kind. For He is kind towards the evil and the miscreant. How callest thou God just when thou comest across the section on the hire of the workmen? Friend, I do thee no wrong. I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Or is thy eye? evil because I am? good (Matt. 20.13-15)? How can any one call God just if he come across the story? of the prodigal son? When he had spent all in fornication, it was only on account of the contrition he showed that the father ran to throw himself at his neck and made him lord of all his possessions. No one else can say concerning Him that he doubts His goodness. His son testifies this concerning Him. How could there be justice in God, when Christ   died for us who were sinners? If He is compassionate here, we believe that there will be no change in Him. Far be it from us that we should wickedly think? that God could not possibly be compassionate. God’s properties are not liable to variations as those of mortals. It is not possible that He sometimes should not possess a thing, and afterwards should possess it, or that what He possesses should diminish or increase as that which creatures possess. But that which God possesses, is with Him from eternity?, and it is with Him for ever, as also the blessed commentator (Theodore) says in his exposition on the creation.


Fear before His love, not before the reputation of harshness with which He has been charged. Love Him because it is our duty to love Him; not for those things which He will give, but also because of those which we have received. Even if He had made this world only for our sake, who could sufficiently tell His bounty? Where is the remuneration for Him in our deeds? Who has persuaded Him beforehand to bring us into existence? And who will intercede with Him for our sake when we shall be in a state of oblivion as if we were not? Who will stir our destruction into life? And from where will the impulse of knowledge? be cast into what is dust? O the wonder of God’s compassion. O the amazement of the bounty of our Creator. O the power of His almightiness. O His immeasurable kindness regarding our nature, that He also brings sinners into existence! Who can sufficiently tell His praise, who quickens the sinner and abuser who had become dust without motion? so as to participate? of a laudable, recognizing and rational mode? of existence; that changes scattered dust into a being exalted above perception?; that makes scattered senses a rational nature with quick motion? If the sinner is not able to understand His quickening power, lie can be content with His grace.

Where is Hell which can make us suffer? And what is the torment which can overcome in us His fear, vanquish the joy at His love? And what is Hell as compared with the grace of resurrection, which will restore us to life after Sheol and make this corruptible to be clad with incorruptibility, and make rise in glory what was lying in the contempt of Sheol? Ye understanding?, come and wonder. Who has an intellect? wise enough to wonder? Come and let us wonder at the grace of our Creator. The retribution? of the sinners is this, that He repays them with resurrection instead of with justice. And those that have trampled upon His laws are clad by Him with the glory of perfection instead of with the body. This grace after we had sinned is greater than that which brought our being into existence when we were not yet.

Glory to Thy immeasurable grace. Now the floods of Thy grace make me silent without any emotion remaining, not even thankfulness. With what mouth shall we thank Thee, good king who lovest our life? Glory to Thee in both the worlds? which Thou hast created for our education? and for our delight, from all those that Thou hast brought into existence to know Thy glory, now and at all times, world without end, Amen.


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