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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

AGAIN therefore the king was seized with despondency, and again he was like to abjure his whole way of life; and with strange thoughts he went again unto his own palace. But the evil spirits, that had been sent out by Theudas for to attack the young saint, returned to him, and, lovers of leasing though they were, confessed their shameful defeat, for they bare visible tokens of their defeat, upon their evil countenance. Said Theudas, ‘And be ye so weak and puny that ye cannot get the better of one young stripling?’ Then did the evil spirits, constrained, to their sorrow, by the might of God, bring to light the truth, saying, ‘We cannot abide even the sight of the might of Christ, and the symbol of his Passion, which they call the Cross. For, when that sign is made, immediately all we, the princes of the air, and the rulers of the darkness of the world, are utterly routed and discomfited, even before the sign is completed. When we first fell upon this youth, we vexed him sore; but when he called on Christ for help, and armed him with the sign of the Cross, he routed us in angry wise, and stablished himself in safety. So incontinent we found a weapon, wherewith our chief did once confront the first-made man and prevailed against him. And verily we should have made this young man’s hope vain; but again Christ was called on for help, and he consumed us in the fire of his wrath from above, and put us to flight. We have determined to approach the prince no more.’ Thus, then, did the evil spirits plainly make known unto Theudas all that was come to pass.

But the king, perplexed on every side, again summoned Theudas, and said, ‘Most wisest of men, all that seemed good to thee have we fulfilled, but have found no help therein. But now, if thou hast any device left, we will make trial thereof. Peradventure I shall find some escape from this evil.’

Then did Theudas ask for a meeting with his son; and on the morrow the king took him and went forth to visit the prince. The king sat down and provoked debate, upbraiding and chiding him for his disobedience and stubbornness of mind. When Ioasaph again maintained his case, and loudly declared that he valued nothing so much as the love of Christ, Theudas came forward and said, ‘Wherefore, Ioasaph, dost thou despise our immortal gods, that thou hast departed from their worship, and, thus incensing thy father the king, art become hateful to all the people? Dost thou not owe thy life to the gods? And did they not present thee to the king in answer to his prayer, thus redeeming him from the bondage of childlessness?’ While this Theudas, waxen old in wickedness, was putting forth these many vain arguments and useless propositions, and weaving words about the preaching of the Gospel, desiring to turn it into mockery, and magnify idolatry, Ioasaph, the son of the heavenly king, and citizen of that city which the Lord hath builded and not man, waited a while and then said unto him,

‘Give ear, thou abyss of error, blacker than the darkness that may be felt, thou seed of Babylon, child of the building of the tower of Chalané, whereby the world was confounded, foolish and pitiable dotard, whose sins out-weigh the iniquity of the five cities that were destroyed by fire and brimstone. Why wouldest thou mock at the preaching of salvation, whereby darkness hath been made light, the wanderers have found the way, they that were lost in dire captivity have been recalled. Tell me whether is better? To worship God Almighty, with the only-begotten Son and the Holy Ghost, God uncreate and immortal, the beginning and well-spring of good, whose power is beyond compare, and his glory incomprehensible, before whom stand thousand thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand of Angels and heavenly hosts, and heaven and earth are full of his glory, by whom all things were brought into being out of nothing, by whom everything is upheld and sustained and ordered by his providence; or to serve deadly devils and lifeless idols, whose glory and boast is in adultery and the corrupting of boys, and other works of iniquity that have been recorded concerning your gods in the books of your superstition? Have ye no modesty, ye miserable men, fuel for unquenchable fire, true copy of the Chaldean race, have ye no shame to worship dead images, the works of men’s hands? Ye have carvèd stone and graven wood and called it God. Next ye take the best bullock out of your folds, or (may be) some other of your fairest beasts, and in your folly make sacrifice to your dead divinity. Your sacrifice is of more value than your idol; for the image was fashioned by man, but the beast was created by God. How much wiser is the unreasonable beast than thou the reasonable man? For it knoweth the hand that feedeth it, but thou knowest not that God by whom thou wast created out of nothing, by whom thou livest, and art preserved; and thou callest God that which thou sawest, but now, smitten by steel, and burnt and moulded in the fire, and beaten with hammers, which thou hast covered around with silver and gold, and raised from the ground, and set on high. Then, falling upon the earth, thou liest baser than the base stone, worshipping not God but thine own dead and lifeless handiwork. Or rather, the idol hath no right to be called even dead, for how can that have died which never lived? Thou shouldest invent some new name worthy of such madness. Thy stone god is broken asunder; thy potsherd god shattered; thy brazen god rusteth; thy gold or silver god is melted down. Aye, and thy gods are sold, some for a paltry, others for a great price. Not their divinity but their material giveth them value. But who buyeth God? Who offereth God for sale? And how is that god that cannot move called God? Seest thou not that the god that standeth cannot sit, and the god that sitteth cannot stand?

‘Be ashamed, thou fool, and lay thine hand upon thy mouth, thou victim of folly, that commendest such things as these. Estranged from the truth, thou hast been led astray by false images, fashioning statues and attaching to the works of thine own hands the name of God. O wretched man, return to thy senses, and learn that thou art older than the god made by thee. This is downright madness. Being a man, thou hast persuaded thyself that thou canst make God. How can this be? Thou makest not God, but the likeness of a man, or of some beast, sans tongue, sans throat, sans brains, sans inwards, so that it is the similitude neither of a man, nor of a beast, but only a thing of no use and sheer vanity. Why therefore flatterest thou things that cannot feel? Why sittest thou at the feet of things that cannot move and help thee? But for the skill of the mason, or timber-wright, or hammer-smith, thou hadst not had a god. Had there been no warders nigh at hand, thou hadst lost thy god. He, to whom many a populous city of fools prayeth as God to guard it, the same hath suite of guards at hand to save him from being stolen. And if he be of silver or gold, he is carefully guarded; but if of stone or clay or any other less costly ware, he guardeth himself, for with you, no doubt, a god of clay is stronger than one of gold.

‘Do we not, then, well to laugh you to scorn, or rather to weep over you, as men blind and without understanding? Your deeds are deeds of madness and not of piety. Your man of war maketh to himself an image after the similitude of a warrior, and calleth it Ares. And the lecher, making a symbol of his own soul, deifieth his vice and calleth it Aphrodite. Another, in honour of his own love of wine, fashioneth an idol which he calleth Dionysus. Likewise lovers of all other evil things set up idols of their own lusts; for they name their lusts their gods. And therefore, before their altars, there are lascivious dances, and strains of lewd songs with mad revelries. Who could recount in order their abominable doings? Who could endure to defile his lips by the repeating of their filthy communications? But these are manifest to all, even if we hold our peace. These be thine objects of worship, O Theudas, who art more senseless than thine idols. Before these thou biddest me fall down and worship. This verily is the counsel of thine iniquity and senseless mind. But thou thyself shalt be like unto them, and all such as put their trust in them.

‘As for me, I will serve my God, and to him will I wholly sacrifice myself, to God, the Creator and protector of all things through our Lord Jesus Christ, my hope, by whom we have access unto the Father of lights, in the Holy Ghost: by whom we have been redeemed from bitter slavery by his blood. For if he had not humbled himself so far as to take the form of a servant, we had not received the adoption of sons. But he humbled himself for our sake, not considering the Godhead a thing to be grasped, but he remained that which he was, and took on himself that which he was not, and conversed with men, and mounted the Cross in his flesh, and was laid in the sepulchre by the space of three days; he descended into hell, and brought out from thence them whom the fierce prince of this world held prisoners, sold into bondage by sin. What harm then befell him thereby that thou thinkest to make mock of him? Seest thou not yonder sun, into how many a barren and filthy place he darteth his rays? Upon how many a stinking corpse doth he cast his eye? Hath he therefore any stain of reproach? Doth he not dry and shrivel up filth and rottenness, and give light to dark places, himself the while unharmed and incapable of receiving any defilement? And what of fire? Doth it not take iron, which is black and cold in itself, and work it into white heat and harden it? Doth it receive any of the properties of the iron? When the iron is smitten and beaten with hammers is the fire any the worse, or doth it in any way suffer harm?

‘If, then, these created and corruptible things take no hurt from contact with things commoner than themselves, with what reason dost thou, O foolish and stony-hearted man, presume to mock at me for saying that the Son, the Word of God, never departing from the Father’s glory, but remaining the same God, for the salvation of men hath taken upon him the flesh of man, to the end that he may make men partakers of his divine and intelligent nature and may lead our substance out of the nether parts of hell, and honour it with heavenly glory; to the end that by taking of our flesh he may ensnare and defeat the ruler of the darkness of this world, and free our race from his tyranny. Wherefore, I tell thee, without suffering he met the suffering of the Cross, presenting therein his two natures. For, as man, he was crucified; but, as God, he darkened the sun, shook the earth, and raised from their graves many bodies that had fallen asleep. Again, as man, he died; but, as God, after that he had harried hell, he rose again. Wherefore also the prophet cried, Hell is in bitterness at having met thee below: for it was put to bitter derision, supposing that it had received a mere man, but finding God, and being made suddenly empty and led captive. Therefore, as God, he rose again, and ascended into heaven, from whence he was never parted. And our nature, so worthless and senseless beyond everything, so graceless and dishonoured, hath he made higher than all things, and established it upon a throne of honour, with immortal honour shining round. What harm therefore came to God, the Word, that thou blasphemest without a blush? Go to! Better were it to make this confession, and to worship such a God, who is good and a lover of mankind, who commandeth righteousness, enjoineth continency, ordaineth chastity, teacheth mercy, giveth faith, preacheth peace; who is called and is himself the very truth, the very love, the very goodness. Him were it not better to worship than thy gods of many evil passions, of shameful names and shameful lives? Woe unto you that are more stony hearted than the stones, and more senseless than the senseless, sons of perdition, inheritors of darkness! But blessed am I, and all Christian folk, having a good God and a lover of mankind! They that serve him, though, for a season in this life they endure evil, yet shall they reap the immortal harvest of recompense in the kingdom of unending and divine felicity.’

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