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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

AGAIN therefore Barlaam took up his parable and said, ‘If thou wilt learn who is my Master, it is Jesus Christ the Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, “the blessed and only potentate, the King of kings, and Lords of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto”; who with the Father and the Holy Ghost is glorified. I am not one of those who proclaim from the house-top their wild rout of gods, and worship lifeless and dumb idols, but one God do I acknowledge and confess, in three persons glorified, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but in one nature and substance, in one glory and kingdom undivided. He then is in three persons one God, without beginning, and without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, immutable and incorporeal, invisible, infinite, incomprehensible, alone good and righteous, who created all things out of nothing, whether visible or invisible. First, he made the heavenly and invisible powers, countless multitudes, immaterial and bodiless, ministering spirits of the majesty of God. Afterward he created this visible world, heaven and earth and sea, which also he made glorious with light and richly adorned it; the heavens with the sun, moon and stars, and the earth with all manner of herbs and divers living beasts, and the sea in turn with all kinds of fishes. “He spake the word and these all were made; he commanded and they were created.” Then with his own hands he created man, taking dust of the ground for the fashioning of his body, but by his own in-breathing giving him a reasonable and intelligent soul, which, as it is written, was made after the image and likeness of God: after his image, because of reason and free will; after his likeness, because of the likeness of virtue, in its degree, to God. Him he endowed with free will and immortality and appointed sovran over everything upon earth; and from man he made woman, to be an helpmeet of like nature for him.

‘And he planted a garden eastward in Eden, full of delight and all heart’s ease, and set therein the man whom he had formed, and commanded him freely to eat of all the heavenly trees therein, but forbade him wholly the taste of a certain one which was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thus saying, “In the day that ye eat thereof ye shall surely die.” But one of the aforesaid angel powers, the marshall of one host, though he bore in himself no trace of natural evil from his Maker’s hand but had been created for good, yet by his own free and deliberate choice turned aside from good to evil, and was stirred up by madness to the desire to take up arms against his Lord God. Wherefore he was cast out of his rank and dignity, and in the stead of his former blissful glory and angelick name received the name of the “Devil” and “Satan” for his title. God banished him as unworthy of the glory above. And together with him there was drawn away and hurled forth a great multitude of the company of angels under him, who were evil of choice, and chose, in place of good, to follow in the rebellion of their leader. These were called Devils, as being deluders and deceivers.

‘Thus then did the devil utterly renounce the good, and assume an evil nature; and he conceived spite against man, seeing himself hurled from such glory, and man raised to such honour; and he schemed to oust him from that blissful state. So he took the serpent for the workshop of his own guile. Through him he conversed with the woman, and persuaded her to eat of that forbidden tree in the hope of being as God, and through her he deceived Adam also, for that was the first man’s name. So Adam ate of the tree of disobedience, and was banished by his Maker from that pleasant garden, and, in lieu of those happy days and that immortal life, fell alas! into this life of misery and woe, and at the last received sentence of death. Thenceforth the devil waxed strong and boastful through his victory; and, as the race of man multiplied, he prompted them in all manner of wickedness. So, wishing to cut short the growth of sin, God brought a deluge on the earth, and destroyed every living soul. But one single righteous man did God find in that generation; and him, with wife and children, he saved alive in an Ark, and established him on a desolate earth. But, when the human race again began to multiply, they forgat God, and ran into worse excess of wickedness, being in subjection to divers sins and strange delusions, and wandering apart into many branches of error.

‘Some deemed that everything moved by mere chance, and taught that there was no Providence, since there was no master to govern. Others brought in fate, and committed everything to the stars at birth. Others worshipped many evil deities subject to many passions, to the end that they might have them to advocate their own passions and shameful deeds, whose forms they moulded, and whose dumb figures and senseless idols they set up, and enclosed them in temples, and did homage to them, “serving the creature more than the Creator.” Some worshipped the sun, moon and stars which God fixed, for to give light to our earthly sphere; things without soul or sense, enlightened and sustained by the providence of God, but unable to accomplish anything of themselves. Others again worshipped fire and water, and the other elements, things without soul or sense; and men, possest of soul and reason, were not ashamed to worship the like of these. Others assigned worship to beasts, creeping and four-footed things, proving themselves more beastly than the things that they worshipped. Others made them images of vile and worthless men, and named them gods, some of whom they called males, and some females, and they themselves set them forth as adulterers, murderers, victims of anger, jealousy, wrath, slayers of fathers, slayers of brothers, thieves and robbers, lame and maim, sorcerers and madmen. Others they showed dead, struck by thunderbolts, or beating their breasts, or being mourned over, or in enslavement to mankind, or exiled, or, for foul and shameful purposes, taking the forms of animals. Whence men, taking occasion by the gods themselves, took heart to pollute themselves in all manner of uncleanness. So an horrible darkness overspread our race in those times, and “there was none that did understand and seek after God.”

‘Now in that generation one Abraham alone was found strong in his spiritual senses; and by contemplation of Creation he recognized the Creator. When he considered heaven, earth and sea, the sun, moon and the like, he marvelled at their harmonious ordering. Seeing the world, and all that therein is, he could not believe that it had been created, and was upheld, by its own power, nor did he ascribe such a fair ordering to earthly elements or lifeless idols. But therein he recognized the true God, and understood him to be the maker and sustainer of the whole. And God, approving his fair wisdom and right judgement, manifested himself unto him, not as he essentially is (for it is impossible for a created being to see God), but by certain manifestations in material forms, as he alone can, and he planted in Abraham more perfect knowledge; he magnified him and made him his own servant. Which Abraham in turn handed down to his children his own righteousness, and taught them to know the true God. Wherefore also the Lord was pleased to multiply his seed beyond measure, and called them “a peculiar people,” and brought them forth out of bondage to the Egyptian nation, and to one Pharaoh a tyrant, by strange and terrible signs and wonders wrought by the hand of Moses and Aaron, holy men, honoured with the gift of prophecy; by whom also he punished the Egyptians in fashion worthy of their wickedness, and led the Israelites (for thus the people descended from Abraham were called) through the Red Sea upon dry land, the waters dividing and making a wall on the right hand and a wall on the left. But when Pharaoh and the Egyptians pursued and went in after them, the waters returned and utterly destroyed them. Then with exceeding mighty miracles and divine manifestations by the space of forty years he led the people in the wilderness, and fed them with bread from heaven, and gave the Law divinely written on tables of stone, which he delivered unto Moses on the mount, “a type and shadow of things to come” leading men away from idols and all manner of wickedness, and teaching them to worship only the one true God, and to cleave to good works. By such wondrous deeds, he brought them into a certain goodly land, the which he had promised aforetime to Abraham the patriarch, that he would give it unto his seed. And the task were long, to tell of all the mighty and marvellous works full of glory and wonder, without number, which he shewed unto them, by which it was his pleasure to pluck the human race from all unlawful worship and practice, and to bring men back to their first estate. But even so our nature was in bondage by its freedom to err, and death had dominion over mankind, delivering all to the tyranny of the devil, and to the damnation of hell.

‘So when we had sunk to this depth of misfortune and misery, we were not forgotten by him that formed and brought us out of nothing into being, nor did he suffer his own handiwork utterly to perish. By the good pleasure of our God and Father, and the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, the only-begotten Son, even the Word of God, which is in the bosom of the Father, being of one substance with the Father and with the Holy Ghost, he that was before all worlds, without beginning, who was in the beginning, and was with God even the Father, and was God, he, I say, condescended toward his servants with an unspeakable and incomprehensible condescension; and, being perfect God, was made perfect man, of the Holy Ghost, and of Mary the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, not of the seed of man, nor of the will of man, nor by carnal union, being conceived in the Virgin’s undefiled womb, of the Holy Ghost; as also, before his conception, one of the Archangels was sent to announce to the Virgin that miraculous conception and ineffable birth. For without seed was the Son of God conceived of the Holy Ghost, and in the Virgin’s womb he formed for himself a fleshy body, animate with a reasonable and intelligent soul, and thence came forth in one substance, but in two natures, perfect God and perfect man, and preserved undefined, even after birth, the virginity of her that bore him. He, being made of like passions with ourselves in all things, yet without sin, took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses. For, since by sin death entered into the world, need was that he, that should redeem the world, should be without sin, and not by sin subject unto death.

‘When he had lived thirty years among men, he was baptized in the river Jordan by John, an holy man, and great above all the prophets. And when he was baptized there came a voice from heaven, from God, even the Father, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in likeness of a dove. From that time forth he began to do great signs and wonders, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, casting out devils, healing the lame and maim, cleansing lepers, and everywhere renewing our out-worn nature, instructing men both by word and deed, and teaching the way of virtue, turning men from destruction and guiding their feet toward life eternal. Wherefore also he chose twelve disciples, whom he called Apostles, and commanded them to preach the kingdom of heaven which he came upon earth to declare, and to make heavenly us who are low and earthly, by virtue of his Incarnation.

‘But, through envy of his marvellous and divine conversation and endless miracles, the chief priests and rulers of the Jews (amongst whom also he dwelt, on whom he had wrought his aforesaid signs and miracles), in their madness forgetting all, condemned him to death, having seized one of the Twelve to betray him. And, when they had taken him, they delivered him to the Gentiles, him that was the life of the world, he of his free will consenting thereto; for he came for our sakes to suffer all things, that he might free us from sufferings. But when they had done him much despite, at the last they condemned him to the Cross. All this he endured in the nature of that flesh which he took from us, his divine nature remaining free of suffering: for, being of two natures, both the divine and that which he took from us, his human nature suffered, while his Godhead continued free from suffering and death. So our Lord Jesus Christ, being without sin, was crucified in the flesh, for he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; and he was not subject unto death, for by sin, as I have said before, came death into the world; but for our sakes he suffered death in the flesh, that he might redeem us from the tyranny of death. He descended into hell, and having harrowed it, he delivered thence souls that had been imprisoned therein for ages long. He was buried, and on the third day he rose again, vanquishing death and granting us the victory over death: and he, the giver of immortality, having made flesh immortal, was seen of his disciples, and bestowed upon them peace, and, through them, peace on the whole human race.

‘After forty days he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to reward every man according to his works. After his glorious Ascension into heaven he sent forth upon his disciples the Holy Ghost in likeness of fire, and they began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. From thence by his grace they were scattered abroad among all nations, and preached the true Catholic Faith, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and teaching them to observe all the commandments of the Saviour. So they gave light to the people that wandered in darkness, and abolished the superstitious error of idolatry. Though the enemy chafeth under his defeat, and even now stirreth up war against us, the faithful, yet is his power grown feeble, and his swords have at last failed him by the power of Christ. Lo, in few words I have made known unto thee my Master, my God, and my Saviour; but thou shalt know him more perfectly, if thou wilt receive his grace into thy soul, and gain the blessing to become his servant.’

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