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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

AGAIN said Ioasaph, ‘The Lord God prosper thee, O thou wisest of men! For thou hast gladdened my soul with thine apt and excellent sayings. Wherefore sketch me yet another picture of the vanity of the world, and how a man may pass through it in peace and safety.’

Barlaam took up his parable and said, ‘Hear then a similitude of this matter too. I once heard tell of a great city whose citizens had, from old time, the custom of taking some foreigner and stranger, who knew nothing of their laws and traditions, and of making him their king, to enjoy absolute power, and follow his own will and pleasure without hindrance, until the completion of a year. Then suddenly, while he was living with never a care in rioting and wantonness, without fear, and alway supposing that his reign would only terminate with his life, they would rise up against him, strip him bare of his royal robes, lead him in procession up and down the city, and thence dispatch him beyond their borders into a distant great island; there, for lack of food and raiment, in hunger and nakedness he would waste miserably away, the luxury and pleasure so unexpectedly showered upon him changed as unexpectedly into woe. In accordance therefore with the unbroken custom of these citizens, a certain man was ordained to the kingship. But his mind was fertile of understanding, and he was not carried away by this sudden access of prosperity, nor did he emulate the heedlessness of the kings that had gone before him, and had been miserably expelled, but his soul was plunged in care and trouble how he might order his affairs. After long and careful search, he learned from a wise counsellor the custom of the citizens, and the place of perpetual banishment, and was taught of him without guile how to ensure himself against this fate. So with this knowledge that within a very little while he must reach that island and leave to strangers this kingdom among strangers, he opened the treasures whereof he had absolute and unforbidden use, and took a great store of money and huge masses of gold and silver and precious stones and delivered the same to trusty servants and sent them before him to the island whither he was bound. When the appointed year came to an end, the citizens rose against him, and sent him naked into banishment like those that went before him. But while the rest of these foolish kings, kings only for a season, were sore anhungred, he, that had timely deposited his wealth, passed his time in continual plenty mid dainties free of expense, and, rid of all fear of those mutinous and evil citizens, could count himself happy on his wise forethought.

‘Understand thou, therefore, that the city is this vain and deceitful world; that the citizens are the principalities and powers of the devils, the rulers of the darkness of this world, who entice us by the soft bait of pleasure, and counsel us to consider corruptible and perishable things as incorruptible, as though the enjoyment that cometh from them were co-existent with us, and immortal as we. Thus then are we deceived; we have taken no thought concerning the things which are abiding and eternal, and have laid up in store for ourselves no treasure for that life beyond, when of a sudden there standeth over us the doom of death. Then, then at last do those evil and cruel citizens of darkness, that received us, dispatch us stript of all worldly goods,—for all our time has been wasted on their service—and carry us off “to a dark land and a gloomy, to a land of eternal darkness, where there is no light, nor can one behold the life of men.” As for that good counsellor, who made known all the truth and taught that sagacious and wise king the way of salvation, understand thou that I, thy poor and humble servant, am he, who am come hither for to shew thee the good and infallible way to lead thee to things eternal and unending, and to counsel thee to lay up all thy treasure there; and I am come to lead thee away from the error of this world, which, to my woe, I also loved, and clave to its pleasures and delights. But, when I perceived, with the unerring eyes of my mind how all human life is wasted in these things that come and go; when I saw that no man hath aught that is stable and stedfast, neither the rich in his wealth, nor the mighty in his strength, nor the wise in his wisdom, nor the prosperous in his prosperity, nor the luxurious in his wantonness, nor he that dreameth of security of life in that vain and feeble security of his dreams, nor any man in any of those things that men on earth commend (’tis like the boundless rush of torrents that discharge themselves into the deep sea, thus fleeting and temporary are all present things); then, I say, I understood that all such things are vanity, and that their enjoyment is naught; and, that even as the past is all buried in oblivion, be it past glory, or past kingship, or the splendour of rank, or amplitude of power, or arrogance of tyranny, or aught else like them, so also present things will vanish in the darkness of the days to come. And, as I am myself of the present, I also shall doubtless be subject to its accustomed change; and, even as my fathers before me were not allowed to take delight for ever in the present world, so also shall it be with me. For I have observed how this tyrannical and troublesome world treateth mankind, shifting men hither and thither, from wealth to poverty, and from poverty to honour, carrying some out of life and bringing others in, rejecting some that are wise and understanding, making the honourable and illustrious dishonoured and despised, but seating others who are unwise and of no understanding upon a throne of honour, and making the dishonoured and obscure to be honoured of all.

‘One may see how the race of mankind may never abide before the face of the cruel tyranny of the world. But, as when a dove fleeing from an eagle or a hawk, flitteth from place to place, now beating against this tree, now against that bush, and then anon against the clefts of the rocks and all manner of bramble-thorns, and, nowhere finding any safe place of refuge, is wearied with continual tossing and crossing to and fro, so are they which are flustered by the present world. They labour painfully under unreasoning impulse, on no sure or firm bases: they know not to what goal they are driving, nor whither this vain life leadeth them; this vain life, whereto they have in miserable folly subjected themselves, choosing evil instead of good, and pursuing vice instead of goodness; and they know not who shall gather the fruits of their many idle labours, whether it be a kinsman or a stranger, and, as oft times it haps, not even a friend or acquaintance at all, but an enemy and foeman.

‘On all these things, and others akin to them, I held judgement in the tribunal of my soul, and I came to hate my whole life that had been wasted in these vanities, while I still lived engrossed in earthly things. But when I had put off from my soul the lust thereof, and cast it from me, then was there revealed unto me the true good, to fear God and do his will; for this I saw to be the fountain of all good. This also is called the beginning of wisdom, and perfect wisdom. For life is without pain and reproach to those that hold by her, and safe to those who lean upon her as upon the Lord. So, when I had set my reason on the unerring way of the commandments of the Lord, and had surely learned that there is nothing forward or perverse therein, and that it is not full of chasms and rocks, nor of thorns and thistles, but lieth altogether smooth and even, rejoicing the eyes of the traveller with the brightest sights, making beautiful his feet, and shoeing them with “the preparation of the Gospel of peace,” that he may walk safely and without delay, this way, then, I rightly chose above all others, and began to rebuild my soul’s habitation, which had fallen into ruin and decay.

‘In such wise was I devising mine estate, and establishing mine unstable mind, when I heard the words of a wise teacher calling loudly to me thus, “Come ye out,” said he, “all ye that will to be saved. Be ye separate from the vanity of the world, for the fashion thereof quickly passeth away, and behold it shall not be. Come ye out, without turning back, not for nothing and without reward, but winning supplies for travelling to life eternal, for ye are like to journey a long road, needing much supplies from hence, and to arrive at the place eternal that hath two regions, wherein are many mansions; one of which places God hath prepared for them that love him and keep his commandments, full of all manner of good things; and they that attain thereto shall live for ever in incorruption, enjoying immortality without death, where pain and sorrow and sighing are fled away. But the other place is full of darkness and tribulation and pain, prepared for the devil and his angels, wherein also shall be cast they who by evil deeds have deserved it, who have bartered the incorruptible and eternal for the present world, and have made themselves fuel for eternal fire.”

‘When I heard this voice, and recognized the truth, I did my diligence to attain to that abode, that is free from all pain and sorrow, and full of security and all good things, whereof I have knowledge now only in part, being but a babe in my spiritual life, and seeing the sights yonder as through mirrors and riddles; but when that which is perfect is come, and I shall see face to face, then that which is in part shall be done away. Wherefore I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord; for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and of death, and hath opened mine eyes to see clearly that the will of the flesh is death, but the will of the Spirit is life and peace. And even as I did discern the vanity of present things and hate them with a perfect hatred, so likewise I counsel thee to decide thereon, that thou mayest treat them as something alien and quickly passing away, and mayest remove all thy store from earth and lay up for thyself in the incorruptible world a treasure that can not be stolen, wealth inexhaustible, in that place whither thou must shortly fare, that when thou comest thither thou mayest not be destitute, but be laden with riches, after the manner of that aptest of parables that I lately showed thee.’

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