In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men,
All Commentaries on Job 4:13 Go To Job 4
Gregory The Dialogist
53. The horror of a vision of the night is the shuddering of secret contemplation. For the higher the elevation, whereat the mind of man contemplates the things that are eternal, so much the more, terror-struck at her temporal deeds, she shrinks with dread, in that she thoroughly discovers herself guilty, in proportion as she sees herself to have been out of harmony with that light, which shines in the midst of darkness [intermicat] above her, and then it happens that the mind being enlightened entertains the greater fear, as it more clearly sees by how much it is at variance with the rule of truth. And she, that before seemed as it were more secure in seeing nothing, trembles with sore affright from her very own proficiency itself. Though, whatever her progress in virtue, she does not as yet compass any clear insight into eternity, but still sees with the indistinctness of a certain shadowy imagining. And hence this same is called a vision of the night. For as we have also said above, in the night we see doubtfully, but in the day we see steadily. Therefore because, as regards the contemplating the ray of the interior Sun, the cloud of our corruption interposes itself, nor does the unchangeable Light burst forth such as It is to the weak eyes of our mind, we as it were still behold God ‘in a vision of the night,’ since most surely we go darkling under a doubtful sight. Yet though the mind may have conceived but a distant idea concerning Him, yet in contemplation of His Greatness, she recoils with dread, and is filled with a greater awe, in that she feels herself unequal even to the very skirts of the view of Him. And falling back upon herself, she is drawn to Him with closer bonds of love, Whose marvellous sweetness, being unable to bear, she has but just tasted of under an indistinct vision. But, because she never attains to such an height of elevation, unless the importunate and clamorous throng of carnal desires be first brought under governance, it is rightly added,
When deep sleep falleth upon men.
54. Whoever is bent to do the things which are of the world, is, as it were, awake, but he, that seeking inward rest eschews the riot of this world, sleeps as it were. But first we must know that, in holy Scripture, sleep, when put figuratively, is understood in three senses. For sometimes we have expressed by sleep the death of the flesh, sometimes the stupefaction of neglect, and sometimes tranquillity of life, upon the earthly desires being trodden underfoot. Thus, by the designation of sleep or slumbering the death of the flesh is implied; as when Paul says, And I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. [1 Thess. 4, 13] And soon after, Even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. [ver. 14] Again, by sleep is designated the stupefaction of neglect; as where it is said by that same Paul, Now it is high time to awake out of sleep. [Rom. 13, 11] And again, Awake, ye righteous [Vulg.], and sin not. [1 Cor. 15, 34] By sleep too is represented tranquillity of life, when the carnal desires are trodden down; as where these words are uttered by the voice of the spouse in the Song of Songs, I sleep, but my heart waketh. [Cant. 5, 2] For, in truth, in proportion as the holy mind withholds itself from the turmoil of temporal desire, the more thoroughly it attains to know the things of the interior, and is the more quick and awake to inward concerns, the more it withdraws itself out of sight from external disquietude. And this is well represented by Jacob sleeping on his journey. He put a stone to his head and slept. He beheld a ladder from the earth fixed in heaven, the Lord resting upon the ladder, Angels also ascending and descending. For to ‘sleep on a journey’ is, in the passage of this present life, to rest from the love of things temporal. To sleep on a journey is, in the course of our passing days, to close those eyes of the mind to the desire of visible objects, which the seducer opened to the first of mankind, saying, For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened. [Gen. 3, 5] And hence it is soon afterwards added, She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened. [ver. 6, 7.] For sin opened the eyes of concupiscence, which innocence kept shut. But to ‘see Angels ascending and descending,’ is to mark the citizens of the land above, either with what love they cleave to their Creator above them, or with what fellow-feeling in charity they condescend to aid our infirmities.
55. And it is very deserving of observation, that he that ‘lays his head upon a stone,’ is he who sees the Angels in his sleep, surely because that same person by resting from external works penetrates internal truths, who with mind intent, which is the governing Principle of man, looks to the imitating of his Redeemer. For to ‘lay the head upon a stone’ is to cleave to Christ in mind. Since they that are withdrawn from this life's sphere of action, yet whom no love transports above, may have sleep, but can never see the Angels, because they despise to keep their head upon a stone. For there are some, who fly indeed the business of the world, but exercise themselves in no virtues. These, indeed, sleep from stupefaction, not from serious design, and therefore they never behold the things of the interior, because they have laid their head, not upon a stone, but upon the earth. Whose lot it most frequently is, that in proportion as they rest more secure from outward actions, the more amply they are gathering in themselves from idleness an uproar of unclean thoughts. And thus under the likeness of Judaea the Prophet bewails the soul stupefied by indolence, where he says, The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths. [Lam. 1, 7] For by the precept of the Law there is a cessation from outward work upon the Sabbath Day. Thus her ‘enemies looking on mock at her sabbaths,’ when evil spirits pervert the very waste hours of vacancy to unlawful thoughts. So that every soul, in proportion as it is supposed to be devoted to the service of God, by being removed from external action, the more it drudges to their tyranny, by entertaining unlawful thoughts. But good men, who sleep to the works of the world, not from inertness, but from virtue, are more laborious in their sleep than they would be awake. For herein, that by abandoning they are made superior to this world's doings, they daily fight against themselves, maintaining a brave conflict, that the mind be not rendered dull by neglect, nor, subdued by indolence, cool down to the harbouring of impure desires, nor in good desires themselves be more full of fervour than is right, nor by sparing itself under the pretext of discretion, may slacken its endeavour after perfection. These are the things she is employed withal: she both wholly withdraws herself from the restless appetite of this world, and gives over the turmoil of earthly actions, and in pursuit of tranquillity, bent on virtuous attainments, she sleeps waking. For she is never led on to contemplate internal things, unless she be heedfully withdrawn from those, which entwine themselves about her without. And it is hence that Truth declares by His own mouth, No man can serve two Masters. [Matt. 6, 20] Hence Paul saith, No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him that hath chosen him to be a soldier. [2 Tim. 2, 4] Hence the Lord charges us by the Prophet, saying, Be still [Vacate, be at leisure], and know that I am the Lord. [Ps. 46, 10] Therefore, because inward knowledge is not cognisable by us, except there be a rest from outward embarrasments, the season of the hidden word, and of the whisperings of God, is in this place rightly set forth, when it is said, In the horror of a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in that truly our mind is never caught away after the force and power of inward contemplation, unless it be first carefully lulled to rest from all agitation of earthly desires. But the human mind, lifted on high by the engine as it were of its contemplation, in proportion as it sees things higher above itself, the more terribly it trembles in itself.