Blessed martyrs elect, along with the nourishment for the body which our Lady Mother the Church from her breast, as well as individual brethren from their private resources, furnish you in prison, accept also from me some offering that will contribute to the sustenance of the spirit. For it is not good that the flesh be feasted while the spirit goes hungry. Indeed, if care is bestowed on that which is weak, there is all the more reason not to neglect that which is still weaker.
(2) Not that I am specially entitled to exhort you. Yet, even the most accomplished gladiators are spurred on not only by their trainers and managers but also from afar by people inexperienced in this art and by all who choose, without the slightest need for it, with the result that hints issuing from the crowd have often proved profitable for them
(3) In the first place, then, O blessed, 'do not grieve the Holy Spirit who has entered prison with you. For, if He had not accompanied you there in your present trial, you would not be there today. See to it, therefore, that He remain with you there and so lead you out of that place to the Lord.
(4) Indeed, the prison is the Devil's house too, where he keeps his household. But you have come to the prison for the very purpose of trampling upon him right in his own house. For you have engaged him in battle already outside the prison and trampled him underfoot.
(5) Let him, therefore, not say: 'Now that they are in my domain, I will tempt them with base hatreds, with defections or dissensions among themselves.' Let him flee from your presence, and let him, coiled and numb, like a snake that is driven out by charms or smoke, hide away in the depths of his den. Do not allow him the good fortune in his own kingdom of setting you against one another, but let him find you fortified by the arms of peace among yourselves, because peace among yourselves means war with him.
(6) Some, not able to find this peace in the Church, are accustomed to seek it from the martyrs in prison. For this reason, too, then, you ought to possess, cherish and preserve it among yourselves that you may perhaps be able to bestow it upon others also.
(1) Other attachments, equally burdensome to the spirit, may have accompanied you to the prison gate; so far your relatives, too, may have escorted you. From that very moment on you have been separated from the very world. How much more, then, from its spirit and its ways and doings? Nor let this separation from the world trouble you. For, if we reflect that it is the very world that is more truly a prison, we shall realize that you have left a prison rather than entered one.
(2) The world holds the greater darkness, blinding men's hearts. The world puts on the heavier chains, fettering the very souls of men. The world breathes forth the fouler impurities--human lusts.
(3) Finally, the world contains the larger number of criminals, namely, the entire human race. In fact, it awaits sentence not from the proconsul but from God.
(4) Wherefore, O blessed consider yourselves as having been transferred from prison to what we may call a place of safety. Darkness is there, but you are light; fetters are there, but you are free before God. It breathes forth a foul smell, but you are an odor of sweetness. There the judge is expected at every moment, but you are going to pass sentence upon the judges themselves.
(5) There sadness may come upon the man who sighs for the pleasures of the world The Christian, however even when he is outside the prison, has renounced the world and, when in prison, even prison itself. It does not matter what part of the world you are in, you who are apart from the world.
(6) And if you have missed some of the enjoyments o life, remember that it is the way of business to suffer one losses in order to make larger profits. I say nothing yet about the reward to which God invites the martyrs. Meanwhile, let us compare the life in the world with that in prison to see if the spirit does not gain more in prison than the flesh loses there.
(7) In fact, owing to the solicitude of the Church and the charity of the brethren, the flesh does not miss there what it ought to have, while, in addition, the spirit obtains what is always beneficial to the faith: you do not look at strange gods; you do not chance upon their images; you do not, even by mere physical contact, participate in heathen holidays; you are not plagued by the foul fumes of the sacrificial banquets, not tormented by the noise of the spectacles, nor by the atrocity or frenzy or shamelessness of those taking part in the celebrations; your eyes do not fall on houses of lewdness; you are free from inducements to sin, from temptations, from unholy reminiscences, free, indeed, even from persecution.
(8) The prison now offers to the Christian what the desert once gave to the Prophets. Our Lord Himself quite often spent time in solitude to pray there more freely, to be there away from the world. In fact, it was in a secluded place that He manifested His glory to His disciples. Let us drop the name 'prison' and call it a place of seclusion.
(9) Though the body is confined, though the flesh is detained, there is nothing that is not open to the spirit. In spirit wander about, in spirit take a walk, setting before yourselves not shady promenades and long porticoes but that path which leads to God. As often as you walk that path, you will not be in prison.
(10) The leg does not feel the fetter when the spirit is in heaven. The spirit carries about the whole man and brings him wherever he wishes. And where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. There, then, let our heart be where we would have our treasure.
(1) Granted now, O blessed, that even to Christians the prison is unpleasant--yet, we were called to the service in the army of the living God in the very moment when we gave response to the words of the sacramental oath. No soldier goes out to war encumbered with luxuries, nor does he march to the line of battle from the sleeping chamber, but from light and cramped tents where every kind of austerity, discomfort, and inconvenience is experienced.
(2) Even in time of peace soldiers are toughened to warfare by toils and hardships: by marching in arms, by practicing swift maneuvers in the field, by digging a trench, by joining closely together to form a tortoise-shield. Everything is set in sweating toil, lest bodies and minds be frightened at having to pass from shade to sunshine, from sunshine to icy cold, from the tunic to the breastplate, from hushed silence to the warcry, from rest to the din of battle.
(3) In like manner, O blessed, consider whatever is hard in your present situation as an exercise of your powers of mind and body. You are about to enter a noble contest in which the living God acts the part of superintendent and the Holy Spirit is your trainer, a contest whose crown is eternity, whose prize is angelic nature, citizenship in heaven and glory for ever and ever.
(4) And so your Master, Jesus Christ, who has anointed you with His Spirit and has brought you to this training ground, has resolved, before the day of the contest, to take you from a softer way of life to a harsher treatment that your strength may be increased. For athletes, too, are set apart for more rigid training that they may apply themselves to the building up of their physical strength. They are kept from lavish living, from more tempting dishes, from more pleasurable drinks. They are urged on, they are subjected to torturing toils, they are worn out: the more strenuously they have exerted themselves, the greater is their hope of victory.
(5) And they do this, says the Apostle, to win a perishable crown. We who are about to win an eternal one recognize in the prison our training ground, that we may be led forth to the actual contest before the seat of the presiding judge well practiced in all hardships, because strength is built up by austerity, but destroyed by softness.
THE character of the times in which we live is such as to call forth from us even this admonition, that we ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being "approved." Groundless, therefore, and inconsiderate is the offence of the many who are scandalized by the very fact that heresies prevail to such a degree. How great (might their offence have been) if they had not existed. When it has been determined that a thing must by all means be, it receives the (final) cause for which it has its being. This secures the power through which it exists, in such a way that it is impossible for it not to have existence. . . .
On this point, however, we dwell no longer, since it is the same Paul who, in his Epistle to the Galatians, counts "heresies" among "the sins of the flesh," who also intimates to Titus, that "a man who is a heretic" must be "rejected after the first admonition," on the ground that "he that is such is perverted, and committeth sin, as a self-condemned man." Indeed, in almost every epistle, when enjoining on us (the duty) of avoiding false doctrines, he sharply condemns heresies. Of these the practical effects are false doctrines, called in Greek heresies, a word used in the sense of that choice which a man makes when he either teaches them (to others) or takes up with them (for himself). For this reason it is that he calls the heretic condemned, because he has himself chosen that for which he is condemned. We, however, are not permitted to cherish any object after our own will, nor yet to make choice of that which another has introduced of his private fancy. In the Lord's apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ. If, therefore, even "an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel" (than theirs), he would be called accursed by us. The Holy Ghost had even then foreseen that there would be in a certain virgin (called) Philumene an angel of deceit, "transformed into an angel of light," by whose miracles and illusions Apelles was led (when) he introduced his new heresy.
These were the ingenious arts of "spiritual wickednesses," wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have "to wrestle," as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility. . . . Nor do I risk contradiction in saying that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God in such a manner as to furnish materials for heretics, inasmuch as I read that "there must be heresies, which there cannot be without the Scriptures.
The question will arise, By whom is to be interpreted the sense
of the passages which make for heresies? By the devil, of course, to
whom pertain those wiles which pervert the truth, and who, by the
mystic rites of his idols, vies even with the essential portions of
the sacraments of God. He, too, baptizes some--that is, his own
believers and faithful followers; he promises the putting away of
sins by a layer (of his own); and if my memory still serves me,
Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan,) sets his marks on the
foreheads of his soldiers; celebrates also the oblation of bread,
and introduces an image of a resurrection, and before a sword wreathes a crown. What also must we say
to (Satan's) limiting his chief priest to a single marriage? He,
too, has his virgins; he, too, has his proficients in continence.
Suppose now we revolve in our minds the superstitions of Numa
Pompilius, and consider his priestly offices and badges and
privileges, his sacrificial services, too, and the instruments and
vessels of the sacrifices themselves, and the curious rites of his
expiations and vows: is it not clear to us that the devil imitated
the well-known moroseness of the Jewish law? Since, therefore he has
Shown such emulation in his great aim of expressing, in the concerns
of his idolatry, those very things of which consists the
administration of Christ's sacraments, it follows, of course, that
the same being, possessing still the same genius, both set his heart
upon, and succeeded in, adapting to his profane and rival creed the
very documents of divine things and of the Christian saints--his
interpretation from their interpretations, his words from their
words, his parables from their parables. For this reason, then, no
one ought to doubt, either that "spiritual wickednesses," from which
also heresies come, have been introduced by the devil, or that there
is any real difference between heresies and idolatry, seeing that
they appertain both to the same author and the same work that
idolatry does. They either pretend that there is another god in
opposition to the Creator, or, even if they acknowledge that the
Creator is the one only God, they treat of Him as a different being
from what He is in truth. The consequence is, that every lie which
they speak of God is in a certain sense a sort of idolatry