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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

‘A CERTAIN king was grieved and exceeding sad at heart, because that he had no male issue, deeming this no small misfortune. While he was in this condition, there was born to him a son, and the king’s soul was filled with joy thereat. Then they that were learned amongst his physicians told him that, if for the first twelve winters the boy saw the sun or fire, he should entirely lose his sight, for this was proved by the condition of his eyes. Hearing this, the king, they say, caused a little house, full of dark chambers, to be hewn out of the rock, and therein enclosed his child together with the men that nursed him, and until the twelve winters were past, never suffered him to see the least ray of light. After the fulfilment of the twelve winters, the king brought forth from his little house his son that had never seen a single object, and ordered his waiting men to show the boy everything after his kind; men in one place, women in another; elsewhere gold and silver; in another place, pearls and precious stones, fine and ornamental vestments, splendid chariots with horses from the royal stables, with golden bridles and purple caparisons, mounted by armed soldiers; also droves of oxen and flocks of sheep. In brief, row after row, they showed the boy everything. Now, as he asked what each of these was called, the king’s esquires and guards made known unto him each by name: but when he desired to learn what women were called, the king’s spearman, they say, wittily replied that they were called, “Devils that deceive men.” But the boy’s heart was smitten with the love of these above all the rest. So, when they had gone round everywhere, and brought him again unto the king, the king asked, which of all these sights had pleased him most. “What,” answered the boy, “but the Devils that deceive men? Nothing that I have seen to-day hath fired my heart with such love as these.” The king was astonished at the saying of the boy, to think how masterful a thing the love of women is. Therefore think not to subdue thy son in any other way than this.’

The king heard this tale gladly; and there were brought before him some chosen damsels, young and exceeding beautiful. These he bedizened with dazzling ornaments and trained in all winsome ways: and then he turned out of the palace all his son’s squires and serving men, and set these women in their stead. These flocked around the prince, embraced him, and provoked him to filthy wantonness, by their walk and talk inviting him to dalliaunce. Besides these, he had no man at whom to look, or with whom to converse or break his fast: for these damsels were his all. Thus did the king. But Theudas went home to his evil den, and, dipping into his books that had virtue to work such magic, he called up one of his wicked spirits and sent him forth, for to battle with the soldier of Christ. But the wretch little knew what laughter he should create against himself, and to what shame he should be put, with the whole devilish troop under him. So the evil spirit, taking to him other spirits more wicked than himself, entered the bed chamber of this noble youth, and attacked him by kindling right furiously the furnace of his flesh. The evil one plied the bellows from within: while the damsels, fair of face, but uncomely of soul, supplied the evil fuel from without.

But Ioasaph’s pure soul was disturbed to feel the touch of evil, and to see the warlike host of strange thoughts that was charging down upon him. And he sought to find deliverance from this great mischief, and to present himself pure unto Christ, and not defile in the mire of sinful lust that holy apparel, wherein the grace of holy Baptism had clothed him. Immediately he set love against love, the divine against the lascivious; and he called to remembrance the beauty and unspeakable glory of Christ, the immortal bridegroom of virgin souls, and of that bride chamber and marriage, from whence they that have stained their wedding garment shall be piteously cast out, bound hand and foot, into outer darkness. When he had thought thereon, and shed bitter tears, he smote upon his breast, driving out evil thoughts, as good-for-nothing drones from the hive. Then he rose, and spread out his hands unto heaven, with fervent tears and groans calling upon God to help him, and he said, ‘Lord Almighty, who alone art powerful and merciful, the hope of the hopeless, and the help of the helpless, remember me thine unprofitable servant at this hour, and look upon, me with a gracious countenance, and deliver my soul from the sword of the devil, and my darling from the paw of the dog: suffer me not to fall into the hands of mine enemies, and let not them that hate me triumph over me. Leave me not to be destroyed in iniquities, and to dishonour my body which I swore to present unto thee chaste. For for thee I yearn; thee I worship, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, now and for evermore, and world without end.’ When he had added the Amen, he felt heavenly comfort stealing over him from above, and the evil thoughts withdrew, and he continued in prayer until early morn. Being ware of the devices of the crafty foe, he began more and more to afflict his body by abstinence from meat and drink, and by other severities, standing in prayer all the night long, and reminding himself of his covenants made with God, and picturing in his mind the glory of the righteous yonder, and recounting to himself the full terrors of the Gehenna wherewith the wicked are threatened; all this, that the enemy might not find his soul lying fallow and untilled, and thus easily sow therein the seeds of evil thoughts, and befoul the cleanness of his mind. So, when the enemy was in great straits on every side, and altogether in despair of taking this noble youth, like a cunning knave, he proceeded to another more subtil device, he that is for ever wicked, and never stinteth to contrive mischief and hurt. For he made furious endeavour to carry out the orders that Theudas had given him, and once more prepared his drugs, and on this wise.

The devil entered into the heart of one of the young damsels. Of all she was the most seemly, a king’s daughter, carried away captive from her own country, given to king Abenner as a great prize, and sent by him, being of ripe beauty, to his own son, for to cause him to slip or to trip. Of her the deceiver took possession, and whispered in her ear suggestions that plainly showed the wisdom and understanding of her mind; for the evil one easily pursueth all devices that make for wickedness. Then the evil spirit attacked the king’s son on the right hand, and gave him a potion to make him love the maiden, by reason—so he pretended—of her prudence and discretion and of her nobility and royal blood that yet had not saved her from banishment and loss of glory. Moreover the devil secretly sowed in Ioasaph’s heart thoughts that he might recover her from idolatry, and make her a Christian.

But these were all stratagems of the wily serpent. For the king’s son, being in this frame of mind, could see in himself no unclean thought or passionate affection for the damsel, but only sympathy and pity for her misfortune, and the ruin of her soul, and knew not that this matter was a device of the devil; for verily he is darkness, and feigneth to be light. So he began to commune with the damsel, and talk with her over the oracles of the knowledge of God, and said, ‘Lady, be thou acquainted with the ever-living God, and perish not in the error of these idols; but know thy Lord, and the Maker of all this world, and thou shalt be happy, the bride of the immortal bridegroom.’ While he exhorted her with many such-like words, immediately the evil spirit whispered to the girl that she should spread under his feet the nets of deceit to drag his blessed soul into the pit of lust, as he once did to our first parent by means of Eve, thus miserably banishing him, alas! from Paradise and God, and making him to become subject to death in lieu of bliss and everlasting life.

When the damsel heard Ioasaph’s words fulfilled with all wisdom, being without understanding, she understood them not, but made answer thus, becoming the tongue and mouth-piece of the evil one: ‘If, sir, thou takest thought for my salvation, and desirest to bring me to thy God, and to save my poor soul, do thou also thyself grant me one request, and straightway I will bid good-bye to my fathers’ gods, and join thy God, serving him until my last breath; and thou shalt receive recompense for my salvation, and for my turning to God-ward.’

Lady, and what is thy request?’ said he. But she, setting her whole self, figure, look and voice in a fashion to charm him, answered, ‘Be thou joined with me in the bonds of wedlock, and I will joyfully follow out thy behests.’

‘In vain, O Lady,’ said he, ‘hast thou made this hard request. For though I earnestly care for thy salvation, and long to heave thee from the depth of perdition, yet to pollute my body through unclean union is grievous for me, and utterly impossible.’

She, seeking to make the way straight and smooth for him, cried, ‘Why dost thou, who are so wise, talk thus? Wherefore speakest thou of defilement and shameful intercourse? I am not unacquainted with the Christian books: nay, I have met with many volumes in mine own country, and have heard the discourses of many Christians. What, is it not written in one of your books, “Marriage is honourable, and the bed undefiled”? and, “It is better to marry than to burn”? and again, “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”? Do not your Scriptures teach that all the righteous men of old, patriarchs and prophets, were wedded? Is it not written that the mighty Peter, whom ye call Prince of the Apostles, was a married man? Who, then, hath persuaded thee to call this defilement? Methink, sir, thou strayest utterly away from the truth of your doctrines.’

‘Yea, Lady,’ said he, ‘all this is even as thou sayest. It is permitted to all who will to live in wedlock, but not to them that have once made promise to Christ to be virgins. For myself, ever since I was cleansed in the laver of Holy Baptism from the sins of my youth and ignorance, I have resolved to present myself pure to Christ, and how shall I dare break my covenants with God?’

Again quoth the damsel, ‘Let this also be thy pleasure, as thou wilt. But fulfil me one other small and trivial desire of mine, if thou art in very truth minded for to save my soul. Keep company with me this one night only, and grant me to revel in thy beauty, and do thou in turn take thy fill of my comeliness. And I give thee my word, that, with daybreak, I will become a Christian, and forsake all the worship of my gods. Not only shalt thou be pardoned for this dealing, but thou shalt receive recompense from thy God because of my salvation, for thy Scripture saith, “There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” If, therefore, there is joy in heaven over the conversion of a sinner, shall not great recompense be due to the causer of that conversion? Yea, so it is: and dispute it not. Did not even the Apostles, the leaders of your religion, do many a thing by dispensation, at times transgressing a commandment on account of a greater one? Is not Paul said to have circumcised Timothy on account of a greater dispensation? And yet circumcision hath been reckoned by Christians as unlawful, but yet he did not decline so to do. And many other such things shalt thou find in thy Scriptures. If then in very sooth, as thou sayest, thou seekest to save my soul, fulfil me this my small desire. And although I seek to be joined with thee in the full estate of matrimony, yet, sith this is contrary to thy mind, I will never constrain thee again, but will do everything that liketh thee. For the rest, do not thou utterly abhor me; but hearken to me for the nonce, and thou shalt deliver me from superstitious error, and thou shalt do whatever seemeth thee good hereafter all the days of thy life.’

Thus spake she; for indeed she had, for her adviser, one to whom she lent a privy ear, and the pirate was well versed in Scripture, being verily the creator and teacher of iniquity. Thus then she spake with fawning words entangling him, right and left, around with her toils and meshes, and she began to shake the citadel of his soul, and to slacken his tension of purpose, and to soften the temper of his mind. Then the sower of these evil tares, and enemy of the righteous, when he saw the young man’s heart wavering, was full of joy, and straightway called to the evil spirits that were with him, crying, ‘Look you how yond damsel hasteth to bring to pass all that we were unable to accomplish! Hither! fall we now furiously upon him: for we shall find none other season so favourable to perform the will of him that sent us.’ Thus spake this crafty spirit to his hounds: and straightway they lept on that soldier of Christ, disquieting all the powers of his soul, inspiring him with vehement love for the damsel, and kindling within him the fiercest fire of lust.

When Ioasaph saw that he was greatly inflamed, and was being led captive into sin, and perceived that his thoughts about the salvation of the damsel and her conversion to God had been set like bait on hook to hide the deed which she purposed, and were troubling him with the suggestion of the enemy, that, for the salvation of a soul, it was not sin for once to lie with a woman, then in the agony of his soul he drew a deep and lamentable groan, and nerved himself to pray, and with streams of tears running down his cheeks, he cried aloud to him that is able to save them that trust in him, saying, ‘On thee, O Lord, have I set my trust: let me not be confounded for ever; neither let mine enemies triumph over me, that hold by thy right hand. But stand thou by me at this hour, and according to thy will make straight my path, that thy glorious and dreadful name may be glorified in me thy servant, because thou art blessed for ever. Amen.’

Now when he had prayed in tears for many hours, and often bent the knee, he sunk down upon the pavement. After he had slumbered awhile, he saw himself carried off by certain dread men, and passing through places which he had never heretofore beheld. He stood in a mighty plain, all a-bloom with fresh and fragrant flowers, where he descried all manner of plants of divers colours, charged with strange and marvellous fruits, pleasant to the eye and inviting to the touch. The leaves of the trees rustled clearly in a gentle breeze, and, as they shook, sent forth a gracious perfume that cloyed not the sense. Thrones were set there, fashioned of the purest gold and costly stones, throwing out never so bright a lustre, and radiant settles among wondrous couches too beautiful to be described. And beside them there were running waters exceeding clear, and delightful to the eye. When these dread men had led him through this great and wondrous plain, they brought him to a city that glistered with light unspeakable, whose walls were of dazzling gold, with high uprear’d parapets, built of gems such as man hath never seen. Ah! who could describe the beauty and brightness of that city? Light, ever shooting from above, filled all her streets with bright rays; and winged squadrons, each of them itself a light, dwelt in this city, making such melody as mortal ear ne’er heard. And Ioasaph heard a voice crying, ‘This is the rest of the righteous: this the gladness of them that have pleased the Lord.’ When these dread men had carried him out from thence, they spake of taking him back to earth. But he, that had lost his heart to that scene of joyaunce and heartsease, exclaimed, ‘Reave me not, reave me not, I pray you, of this unspeakable joy, but grant me also to dwell in one corner of this mighty city.’ But they said, ‘It is impossible for thee to be there now; but, with much toil and sweat, thou shalt come hither, if thou constrain thyself.’

Thus spake they; and again they crossed that mighty plain, and bare him to regions of darkness and utter woe, where sorrow matched the brightness which he had seen above. There was darkness without a ray of light, and utter gloom, and the whole place was full of tribulation and trouble. There blazed a glowing furnace of fire, and there crept the worm of torment. Revengeful powers were set over the furnace, and there were some that were burning piteously in the fire, and a voice was heard, saying, ‘This is the place of sinners; this the punishment for them that have defiled themselves by foul practices.’ Hereupon Ioasaph was carried thence by his guides; and, when he came to himself, immediately he trembled from head to foot, and, like a river, the tears fell from his eyes, and all the comeliness of that wanton damsel and her fellows was grown more loathsome to him than filth and rottenness. And as he mused in his heart on the memory of the visions, in longing for the good and in terror of the evil, he lay on his bed utterly unable to arise.

Then was the king informed of his son’s sickness; and he came and asked what ailed him. And Ioasaph told him his vision, and said, ‘Wherefore hast thou laid a net for my feet, and bowed down my soul? If the Lord had not helped me, my soul had well nigh dwelt in hell. But how loving is God unto Israel, even unto such as are of a true heart! He hath delivered me that am lowly from the midst of the dogs. For I was sore troubled and I fell on sleep: but God my Saviour from on high hath visited me, and showed me what joy they lose that provoke him and to what punishments they subject themselves. And now, O my father, since thou hast stopped thine ears not to hear the voice that will charm thee to good, at least forbid me not to walk the straight road. For this I desire, this I long for, to forsake all, and reach that place, where Barlaam the servant of Christ hath his dwelling, and with him to finish what remaineth of my life. But if thou keep me back by force, thou shalt quickly see me die of grief and despair, and thou shalt be no more called father, nor have me to thy son.’

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