So that his life abhors bread, and his soul the choicest food.
Read Chapter 33
Gregory The Dialogist
49. As if he were to say in so many words; A mind under affliction believes that every thing which used easily to satisfy, and give it pleasure, is turned into bitterness. For by bread is understood in holy Scripture sometimes the Lord Himself, sometimes spiritual grace, sometimes the instruction of divine teaching, sometimes the preaching of heretics, sometimes sustenance for this present life, sometimes the agreeableness of worldly pleasure. The Lord is signified by bread, as He Himself says in the Gospel, I am the living Bread, Who came down from heaven. [John 6, 51]
Again, by bread is understood the grace of spiritual gifts, as is said by the Prophet, Who stoppeth his ears, that he should not hear of blood, and shutteth his eyes that he should not see evil, he shall dwell in high places, his high place shall be the munitions of rocks, bread is given to him. [Is. 33, 15. 16.] For what is to close his ears, not to hear blood, except to refuse consent to those persuasive sins which spring from flesh and blood? or what to close his eyes, not to behold evil, but to disapprove of every thing which is contrary to uprightness? Such an one will dwell in high places; for though the flesh still confines him to things below, he has already fixed his mind on things above. His high place is the munitions of rocks, because he who tramples beneath his feet his longings for worldly conversation, raises himself to his heavenly country by the patterns of the fathers who have gone before. And because he is satisfied with spiritual grace through the gift of contemplation, it is rightly subjoined, Bread is given him; that is, he enjoys the refreshment of spiritual grace, because he has raised himself above the goods of the world, by hoping for those of heaven. Hence also the Lord says of Holy Church by David, I will satisfy her poor with bread; [Ps. 132, 15] because the humble-minded who dwell therein are filled with the refreshment of spiritual gifts. Again, by bread is set forth the instruction of heavenly doctrine, as is said by the Prophet, Ye who dwell in the land of the South, meet with bread him that is flying away. [Is. 21, 14] For they dwell in the land of the South who, placed within Holy Church, are breathed upon by the love of the Spirit from on high. But he is flying, who is wishing to escape from the evils of this world. He then who dwells in the land of the South, should meet with bread him that is flying; that is, he who is already full of the Holy Spirit within the Church, should console with words of instruction the man who is endeavouring to escape from his evil ways. To meet with bread him that is flying, is surely to offer the food of sound doctrine to one who is in fear of eternal punishments, and at one while to restrain his pride by fear, and at another to comfort his fears by encouragement. But because by bread is not unfitly understood the refreshment of holy Scripture, it is said by the same Prophet to the Jews who looked only to the letter, Wherefore do ye spend your money, but not in bread. [Is. 55, 2] As though he were saying, Ye consider the holy words, but not for refreshment, because while ye carefully guard the outward letter alone, ye lose that richness of inward refreshment which results from the spiritual meaning. Whence it is properly subjoined in that passage, And your labour for that which satisfieth not.
But again by bread is designated the preaching of heretics; as by Solomon the woman who typifies the congregation [‘ecclesiae’] the heretics, and calls together the foolish, says, Eat ye gladly bread in secret. Or, as is written in our translation, Stolen waters are sweeter, and hidden bread is more pleasant. [Prov. 9, 17] For there are some heresies which are afraid to preach their views openly, and give a greater flavour [‘condiunt’] to their words in the minds of the weak the more they keep them back, as if through greater reverence. Whence it is not improperly said, Eat ye gladly bread in secret. For the secret words of the heretics are more relished by miserable hearts, the more they are not possessed by them in common with other people.
But again, by bread is understood the support of this present life; as Jacob, on his way to Laban, says, O Lord God, if Thou shalt have given me bread to eat, and raiment to put on. [Gen. 28, 20] And as the Lord says in the Gospel to the crowds which were following Him, Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. [John 6, 26] For they had been filled of the seven loaves. And in their persons the Lord expresses His detestation of those within Holy Church, who approaching to the Lord by holy ministrations, do not by those ministrations seek to gain higher virtue, but only sustenance for this present life: nor do they think what example they should imitate in their conduct, but what gains they may obtain so as to be satisfied. For to follow the Lord from being filled with the loaves, is to have gained temporal support from Holy Church. And to seek the Lord not for the miracles’ sake, but for bread, is for people to be eager for religious offices, not for the sake of increasing their virtues, but of acquiring a means of support.
Again, by bread is understood the agreeableness of human pleasure. Whence the Prophet Jeremiah said, while lamenting the abandoned habits of the congregation; All her people sighs and seeks for bread; they have given all their precious things for food to revive the soul. [Lam. 1, 11] For the people sighs and seeks for bread, whilst the wicked multitude of men is afflicted, because it is not satisfied, to its heart’s desire, with the pleasantness of the present life. And it gives all its precious things for food, because it bows down the virtues of its mind to the desire of transitory pleasure. And it endeavours to revive the soul: because it strives to satisfy its own perverse desires. And hence he immediately well adds in the words of that elect multitude, See, O Lord, and consider, that I am become vile. For the People of God becomes vile, when, as the number of the ungodly increases, it engages, in their persons, not in high and heavenly employments, but in worthless and worldly pursuits.
50. What else then does Eliu mean by bread, but the pleasures of this life? For after having stated the power of temptation, he immediately subjoined, His bread becomes abominable to him in his life, and to his soul the food which before it desired: because, in truth, all the sweetness he used before to enjoy from the prosperity of his life, afterwards becomes bitter by the power of temptation. For sometimes whatever joy, and whatever virtue seemed to smile on him, is suddenly lost through fear of temptation, and the sorrowful mind, as if deprived of these very virtues, is possessed by grief alone. For when it is assailed somewhat more violently by the force of temptation, because it cannot put forth the strength of its usual courage, it laments for it as if it were already lost; and feeling itself emptied of itself, it learns its own weakness, from this its emptiness. And thence it is immediately broken off, as it were, from every pleasure, and loathing the dainty morsels of former delight, takes its fill of that grief which alone it eagerly desires. For every one, when success in holy living smiles favourably on him, is full of mirth: and this very mirth refreshes the mind like pleasurable food. But when he is assailed more sharply by imminent temptation, all joy is through the loathing of grief rejected by his mind, though it used before to rejoice as though fully satisfied with that very joy. Because then a man, when tempted, casts out from the mouth of his heart all pleasurable food, and nothing else gives him pleasure but knowing and lamenting himself, it is well said, Bread becomes abominable to him in his life, and to his soul the food which before it desired.
51. But, as we said before, we are allowed to be thus tempted under the government of the secret dispensation, in order that we, who by the Divine gift are making progress in virtue, may call to mind what we are by our own natural infirmity: and that all who produce the deeds of virtue, from having received of the gift, may offer the sacrifice of humility from a remembrance of our own weakness. But sometimes, after we have increased in strength, not only are we assailed by sins, but chastised by scourges. But when we are assailed by sins, we are dealt with by a merciful dispensation, to keep us from being elated by those virtues, in which we are making progress. But when we are scourged with the rod, we are warned, by the chastisement of evil, not to be led away with the blandishments of the world. Whilst our sins tempt us, they bring low the virtues, which are gaining strength within us; whilst scourges try us, they root out the pleasures of this world which are rising in our heart. We learn by our sins, which tempt us, what we are of ourselves; by the scourges, which smite us, what we should avoid in this world. We are restrained by the one from inward pride, we are kept back by the other from desiring any thing without us. As long then as we are in this life, we must needs be scourged by the rod, and at times tempted by our sins. For both in the tortures of the scourge, and in our struggle with our sins, not only does our weakness become known to us, but we learn also what progress we have made in virtue. For no one, when at rest, is conscious of his powers. For if there is no contest, no opportunities arise for making trial of our virtues. He who boasts of his bravery in peace, is but a short-sighted warrior. Since then the quality of our strength is often made known by sufferings of the rod.