I made myself great works; I built houses; I planted vineyards:
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Didymus the Blind
If one wants to understand houses as good deeds, then every good deed is the house of its owner. Those who “hear the words of Jesus and do them” … build their foundation on a rock. Since virtue as a whole is one, one who strives after it builds one house, establishing it upon the rock, upon God’s unbreakable Word, that is, upon Christ.
The confession about planting vines encompasses a great catalogue of effects on the person. The text includes in its meaning the full extent and nature of the effects caused by wine. Who in the world does not know that once wine immoderately exceeds what is necessary, it is tinder for licentiousness, the means to selfindulgence, injury to youth, deformity to age, dishonor for women, a poison inducing madness, sustenance for insanity, destruction to the soul, death to the understanding, estrangement from virtue? From it comes unjustified mirth, lamentation without reason, senseless tears, unfounded boasting, shameless lying, craving for the unreal, expectation of the impracticable, monstrous threats, groundless fear, unawareness of what is really to be feared, unreasonable jealousy, excessive bonhomie, the promise of impossible things—not to mention the unseemly nodding of the head, the shaky, topheavy gait, the indecency due to immoderate intake, uncontrolled movement of the limbs, the...
Whether [Solomon] really did these things or made the story up for our benefit, so that the argument might reach its logical conclusion, I cannot say precisely. Nevertheless he does speak of things with which nobody who was aiming at virtue would willingly be associated. However, whether it is by benevolent design that he discusses things that had not happened as if they had, and condemns them as though he had experienced them, in order that we might turn away from desire for what is condemned before the experience, or whether he deliberately lowered himself to the enjoyment of such things, so as to train his senses rigorously by using alien things, it is for each to decide freely for himself, whichever conjecture he likes to pursue. If however anyone were to say that Solomon really was involved in the practical experience of pleasures, I would agree.
Serve God with tears, that you may be able to wash away your sins. I know that many mock us, saying, “Shed tears.” Therefore it is a time for tears. I know also that they are disgusted, who say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” It is not I that say it, but he who had had the experience of all things says thus: “I built for me houses, I planted vineyards, I made me pools of water, [I had] men servants and women servants.” And what then after all these things? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Let us mourn therefore, beloved, let us mourn in order that we may laugh indeed, that we may rejoice indeed in the time of unmixed joy. For with this joy [here] grief is altogether mingled, and never is it possible to find it pure. But that is simple and undeceiving joy: it has nothing treacherous, nor any admixture.
Hear what Solomon says, who knew the present world by actual experience. “I built houses, I planted vineyards, I made gardens, and orchards and pools of water. I gathered also silver and gold. I got myself men singers and women singers, and flocks and herds.” There was no one who lived in greater luxury or higher glory. There was no one so wise or so powerful, no one who saw all things so succeeding to his heart’s desire. What then? He had no enjoyment from all these things. What after all does he say of it himself? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Vanity not simply but superlatively. Let us believe him, and lay hold on that in which there is no vanity, in which there is truth; and what is based upon a solid rock, where there is no old age or decline but all things bloom and flourish, without decay, or waxing old, or approaching dissolution. Let us, I beseech you, love God with genuine affection, not from fear of hell but from desire of the kingdom. For what is comparable to seeing...
“Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” Hear also what the prophet says, “He heaps up riches and knows not who shall gather them.” Such is “vanity of vanities,” your splendid buildings, your vast and overflowing riches, the herds of slaves that bustle along the public square, your pomp and vainglory, your high thoughts and your ostentation. For all these are vain; they came not from the hand of God but are of our own creating. But why then are they vain? Because they have no useful end. Riches are vain when they are spent upon luxury; but they cease to be vain when they are “dispersed and given to the needy.”