Keep Site Running

Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

WHEN the king heard these words, and saw the steadfastness, and unbuxomness of his son, who yielded neither to flattery, nor persuasion, nor threat, he marvelled indeed at the persuasiveness of his speech and his irrefutable answers, and was convicted by his own conscience secretly assuring him that Ioasaph spake truly and aright. But he was dragged back by his evil habit and passions, which, from long use, had taken firm grip on him, and held him in as with bit and bridle, and suffered him not to behold the light of truth. So he left no stone unturned, as the saying is, and adhered to his old purpose, determining to put into action the plot which he and Araches had between them devised. Said he to his son, ‘Although, child, thou oughtest in all points simply to give in to my commands, yet, because thou art stubborn and disobedient, and hast thus stiffly opposed me, insisting that thine own opinion should prevail over all, bid we now farewell to vain insistance, and let persuasion be now our policy. And, forasmuch as Barlaam, thy deceiver, is here, my prisoner in iron chains, I will make a great assembly, and summon all our people and your Galileans, to one place; and I will charge heralds to proclaim expressly that none of the Christians shall fear, but that all shall muster without dread; and we will hold debate together. If your side win, then shall ye and your Barlaam gain your desires; but if ye lose, then shall ye with right good will yield yourselves to my commands.’

But this truly wise and prudent youth, forewarned, by the heavenly vision sent him, of his father’s mischief, replied, ‘The Lord’s will be done! Be it according to thy command! May our good God and Lord himself vouchsafe that we wander not from the right way, for my soul trusteth in him, and he shall be merciful unto me.’ There and then did the king command all, whether idolaters or Christians, to assemble. Letters were despatched in all quarters: heralds proclaimed it in every village town that no Christian need fear any secret surprise, but all might come together without fear, as friends and kindred, for the honest and unrestrained enquiry that should be held with their chief and captain, Barlaam. In like manner also he summoned the initiate and the temple-keepers of his idols, and wise men of the Chaldeans and Indians that were in all his kingdom, beside certain augurs, sorcerers and seers, that they might get the better of the Christians.

Then were there gathered together multitudes that held his loathly religion; but of the Christians was there found one only that came to the help of the supposed Barlaam. His name was Barachias. For of the Faithful, some were dead, having fallen victims to the fury of the governors of the cities; and some were hiding in mountains and dens, in dread of the terrors hanging over them; while others had feared the threats of the king, and durst not adventure themselves into the light of day, but were worshippers by night, serving Christ in secret, and in no wise boldly confessing him. So noble-hearted Barachias came alone to the contest, to help and champion the truth.

The king sat down before all on a doom-stool high and exalted, and bade his son sit beside him. He, in reverence and awe of his father, consented not thereto, but sat near him on the ground. There stood the learned in the wisdom which God hath made foolish, whose unwise hearts had gone astray, as saith the Apostle; for, ‘professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.’ These were assembled for to join argument with the king’s son and his fellows, and on them was fulfilled the proverb, ‘Gazelle against lion.’ The one made the most High his house of defence, and his hope was under the shadow of his wings; while the others trusted in the princes of this world, who are made of none effect, and in the ruler of the darkness of this world, to whom they have subjected themselves miserably and wretchedly.

Now came on Nachor, in the disguise of Barlaam; and the king’s side were like to reach their goal; but, once again, very different was the ordering of the wise providence of God. When all the company was come, thus spake the king to his orators and philosophers, or rather to the deceivers of his people, and fools at heart, ‘Behold now, there lieth before you a contest, even the mightiest of contests; for one of two things shall befall you. If ye establish our cause, and prove Barlaam and his friends to be in error, ye shall have your fill of glory and honour from us and all the senate, and shall be crowned with crowns of victory. But if ye be worsted, in all ignominy ye shall pitiably perish, and all your goods shall be given to the people, that your memorial may be clean blotted out from off the earth. Your bodies will I give to be devoured by wild beasts and your children will I deliver to perpetual slavery.’

When the king had thus spoken, his son said, ‘A righteous doom hast thou judged this day, O king. The Lord establish this thy mind! I too have the same bidding for my teacher.’ And, turning round to Nachor, who was supposed to be Barlaam, he said, ‘Thou knowest, Barlaam, in what splendour and luxury thou foundest me. With many a speech thou persuadedst me to leave my father’s laws and customs, and to serve an unknown God, drawn by the promise of some unspeakable and eternal blessings, to follow thy doctrines and to provoke to anger my father and lord. Now therefore consider that thou art weighed in the balance. If thou overcome in the wrestling, and prove that the doctrines, which thou hast taught me, be true, and show that they, that try a fall with us, be in error, thou shalt be magnified as no man heretofore, and shalt be entitled “herald of truth”; and I will abide in thy doctrine and serve Christ, even as thou didst preach, until my dying breath. But if thou be worsted, by foul play or fair, and thus bring shame on me to-day, speedily will I avenge me of mine injury; with mine own hands will I quickly tear out thy heart and thy tongue, and throw them with the residue of thy carcase to be meat for the dogs, that others may be lessoned by thee not to cozen the sons of kings.’

When Nachor heard these words, he was exceeding sorrowful and downcast, seeing himself falling into the destruction that he had made for other, and being drawn into the net that he had laid privily, and feeling the sword entering into his own soul. So he took counsel with himself, and determined rather to take the side of the king’s son, and make it to prevail, that he might avoid the danger hanging over him, because the prince was doubtless able to requite him, should he be found to provoke him. But this was all the work of divine providence that was wisely establishing our cause by the mouth of our adversaries. For when these idol priests and Nachor crossed words, like another Barlaam, who, of old in the time of Balak, when purposing to curse Israel, loaded him with manifold blessings, so did Nachor mightily resist these unwise and unlearned wise men.

There sat the king upon his throne, his son beside him, as we have said. There beside him stood these unwise orators who had whetted their tongues like a sharp sword, to destroy truth, and who (as saith Esay) conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. There were gathered innumerable multitudes, come to view the contest and see which side should carry off the victory. Then one of the orators, the most eminent of all his fellows, said unto Nachor, ‘Art thou that Barlaam which hath so shamelessly and audaciously blasphemed our gods, and hath enmeshed our king’s well beloved son in the net of error; and taught him to serve the Crucified?’ Nachor answered, ‘I am he, I am Barlaam, that, as thou sayest, doth set your gods at nought: but the king’s son have I not enmeshed in error; but rather from error have I delivered him, and brought him to the true God.’ The orator replied, ‘When the great and marvellous men, who have discovered all knowledge of wisdom, do call them high and immortal gods, and when all the kings and honourable men upon earth do worship and adore them, how waggest thou tongue against them, and, in brief, how durst thou be so mighty brazen-faced? What is the manner of thy proof that the Crucified is God, and these be none?’ Then replied Nachor, disdaining even to answer the speaker. He beckoned with his hand to the multitude to keep silence, and opening his mouth, like Balaam’s ass, spake that which he had not purposed to say, and thus addressed the king.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved