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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

THEUDAS said unto him, ‘Behold, it is evident that our religion was instituted by many mighty wise men, and interpreters, marvellous in virtue and learning; and all the kings and rulers of the earth have received it as good and sure in every point. But that of the Galileans was preached by some country peasants, poor and common men, a mere handful, not exceeding twelve in number. How then should one prefer the preaching of these few obscure countrymen to the ordinance of the many that are mighty and brilliantly wise? What is the proof that your teachers be right and the others wrong?’

Again the king’s son made answer, ‘Belike, Theudas, thou art the ass of the proverb, that heard but heeded not the harp; or rather the adder that stoppeth her ears, that she may not hear the voice of the charmers. Well, therefore, spake the prophet concerning thee. If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, then mayest thou also do good, that hast been taught to do evil. Thou fool and blind, why doth not the force of truth bring thee to thy senses? The very fact that your foul idols are commended by many men of marvellous wisdom, and established by kings, while the Gospel is preached by a few men of no mark, sheweth the might of our religion and the weakness and deadliness of your wicked doctrines. Because your side, despite its having wise advocates and mighty champions, is dying down, and waxing weak, whilst our religion, though possessed of no human help, shineth from afar brighter than the sun, and hath won the fulness of the world. If it had been set up by orators and philosophers, and had had kings for its succour, thou that art evil wouldst have found occasion to declare that it was wholly of human power. But now, seeing, as thou dost, that the holy Gospel, though composed but by common fisher men, and persecuted by every tyrant, hath after this won the whole world—for its sound hath gone out into all lands, and its words into the ends of the world—what canst thou say but that it is a divine and unconquerable power establishing its own cause for the salvation of mankind? But what proof seekest thou, O fool, that thy prophets are liars and ours true, better than the truths I have told thee? Except thy cause had been vain talk and falsehood, it could not, possessing such human support as it did, have suffered loss and decline. For he saith, “I have seen the ungodly in great power, and exalted like the cedars of Libanus: and I went by and lo, he was gone: and I sought him but his place could no where be found.”

‘Concerning you, the defenders of idolatry, were these words spoken by the prophet. For a very, very little while and your place shall not be found: but like as the smoke vanisheth, and like as wax melteth in face of the fire, so shall ye fail. But, as touching the divine law of the Gospel, thus saith the Lord, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” And again the Psalmist saith, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou endurest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed, but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail!” And those divine preachers of the coming of Christ, those wise fishers of the world, whose nets drew all men from the depths of deceit, whom thou, in thy vileness and bondage to sin, dost vilify, did by signs and wonders and manifold powers shine as the sun in the world, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, motion to the lame, and life to the dead. Their shadows alone healed all the ailments of men. The devils, whom ye dread as gods, they not only cast forth from men’s bodies, but even drave out of the world itself by the sign of the cross, whereby they destroyed all sorcery, and rendered witchcraft powerless. And these men, by curing every disease of man by the power of Christ, and renewing all creation, are rightly admired as preachers of truth by all men of sound mind. But what hast thou thyself to say of thy wise men and orators, whose wisdom God hath made foolish, the advocates of the devil? What worthy memorial have they bequeathed to the world? Tell me. And what canst thou tell of them but unreason and shamefulness, and vain craft that with glosing words concealeth the mire of their unsavoury worship?

‘Moreover such of your poets as have been able to soar a little above this great madness have said, with more truth, that they, which are called gods, were men; and because certain of them had been rulers of regions and cities, and others had done something of no great account in their lifetime, men were so deceived as to call them gods. It standeth on record that the man Seruch was the first to bring in the use of images. For it is said that in the old times he honoured those who had achieved some memorable deed of courage, friendship, or any other such virtue, with statues and pillars. But after generations forgat the intention of their ancestors: and, whereas it was only for remembrance sake that they had set up statues and pillars to the doers of noble deeds, now they were, little by little, led astray through the working of the prince of evil, the devil, and treated as immortal gods men of like passions and corruptible as themselves and further devised sacrifices and drink offerings for them,—the devils, thou mayest know, taking up their abode in these images and diverting to themselves these honours and sacrifices. Accordingly these devils persuade men, who refuse to have God in their knowledge, to consider them as gods for two reasons: first, that they may be glorified by this title (for they are puffed up with arrogance, and delight to be honoured as gods) next, that they may drag their poor dupes into the unquenchable fire prepared for themselves. Hence they teach men all iniquity and filthiness, seeing that they have once subjected themselves to their deceit. So when men have arrived at this pinnacle of evil, they, being darkened, set up every man an idol of his own vice and his own lust, and call it a god. They were abominable in their error, more abominable in the absurdity of the objects that they chose to worship, until the Lord came, and of his tender mercy redeemed us that trust in him from this wicked and deadly error, and taught men the true knowledge of God. For there is no salvation except in him, and there is none other God, neither in heaven, nor in earth, except him only, the Maker of all, who moveth all things by the word of his power: for he saith, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made stedfast, and all the power of them by the breath of his mouth,” and, “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” ’

When Theudas had heard these sayings, and seen that the word was full of divine wisdom, like one thunder-struck, he was smitten dumb. Now late in time, and with difficulty, came he to understand his own misery, for the word of salvation had touched the darkened vision of his heart, and there fell upon him deep remorse for his past sins. He renounced the error of his idols, and ran towards the light of godliness, and from henceforth departed from his miserable life, and made himself as bitter an enemy of vile affections and sorceries as he had been before their devoted friend. For at this season he stood up in the midst of the assembly, and cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Verily, O king, the Spirit of God dwelleth in thy son. Verily, we are defeated, and have no further apology, and have no strength to face the words that he hath uttered. Mighty therefore, in sooth, is the God of the Christians: mighty is their faith: mighty are their mysteries.’

Then he turned him round toward the king’s son and said, ‘Tell me now, thou man, whose soul is enlightened, will Christ accept me, if I forsake my evil deeds and turn to him?’ ‘Yea,’ said that preacher of truth; ‘Yea, he receiveth thee and all that turn to him. And he not only receiveth thee, but he goeth out to meet thee returning out of the way of iniquity, as though it were a son returning from a far country. And he falleth on his neck and kisseth him, and he strippeth him of the shameful robe of sin, and putteth on him a cloak of brightest glory, making mystic gladness for the powers on high, keeping feast for the return of the lost sheep. The Lord himself saith, “There is exceeding great joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”: and again, “I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And he saith also by the prophet, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, and the ungodly, but that he should turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil way. And why will ye die, O house of Israel?” For the wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him in the day that he turneth from his wickedness, if he do righteousness and walk in the statutes of life, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he hath committed shall be remembered against him. Because he hath done the decree of righteousness, he shall live thereby. And again he saith by the mouth of another prophet, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil: learn to do well. Come now, and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool.” Such therefore being the promises made by God to them that turn to him, tarry not, O thou man, nor make delay: but draw nigh to Christ, our loving God, and be enlightened, and thy face shall not be ashamed. For as soon as thou goest down into the laver of Holy Baptism, all the defilement of the old man, and all the burden of thy many sins, is buried in the water, and passeth into nothingness, and thou comest up from thence a new man, pure from all pollution, with no spot or wrinkle of sin upon thee; and thenceforward it is in thy power ever to keep for thyself the purity that thou gainest hereby through the tender mercy of our God.’

When Theudas had been thus instructed, he went out immediately and gat him to his evil den, and took his magical books, and, because they were the beginnings of all evil, and the store-houses of devilish mysteries, burnt them with fire. And he betook himself to the cave of that same holy man, to whom Nachor also had resorted, and told him that which had befallen him, casting dust upon his head, and groaning deeply, and watering himself with his tears, and telling the aged man the full tale of his loathly deeds. He, well skilled in the saving of a soul and the snatching it from the jaw of the wily serpent, charmed away his sorrow with words of salvation, and pledged him forgiveness and promised him a merciful Judge. Then, after he had instructed and charged him to fast many days, he cleansed him in Holy Baptism. And all the days of his life Theudas heartily repented him of his misdeeds, with tears and sighs seeking the favour of God.

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