Isaac the Syrian: Trials and temptations Wednesday, Apr 2 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3Hardships for the sake of the good are loved as the good itself.

Nobody can acquire real renunciation save him that is determined in his mind to bear troubles with pleasure.

Nobody can bear trouble save him that believes that there is something more excellent than bodily consolation which he shall acquire in reward for trouble.

Everyone that has devoted himself to renunciation, will first perceive the love of trouble stir within himself; thereupon the thought of renouncing all worldly things will take shape in him.

Everyone who comes near unto trouble will at first be confirmed in faith; then he will come near unto trouble.

He that renounces worldly things without renouncing the senses, sight and hearing, he prepares twofold trouble for himself and he will find tribulation in a twofold measure.

Or rather: while he refrains from the use of things, he delights in them through the senses; and by the affections which they cause he experiences the same from them that he had to endure in reality before; because the recollection of their customs is not effaced from the mind.

If then imaginary representations existing in the mind alone can torture man, apart from the things corresponding to them in reality, what shall we say when the real things are close at hand?

[…] The hard temptations into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts.

If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift.

As great temptations have been withdrawn from it, so large gifts are also withdrawn from it. God never gives a large gift and small temptations.So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts.

Thus from the hardships to which you have been subjected you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. In accordance with affection is consolation.

What then? Temptation, then gifts ; or gifts and afterwards temptation? Temptation does not come if the soul has not received secretly greatness above its previous rank, as well as the spirit of adoption as sons.

We have a proof of it in the temptation of our Lord and of the Apostles; for they were not allowed to be tempted before they had received the Comforter. Those who partake of good have also to bear temptations.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 39, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck (slightly adapted).

Augustine of Hippo: Praying in Words Tuesday, Jan 14 2014 

St Augustine of AfricaIn most cases prayer consists more in groaning than in speaking, in tears rather than in words.

But…words are necessary, that by them we may be assisted in considering and observing what we ask, not as means by which we expect that God is to be either informed or moved to compliance.

When, therefore, we say: “Hallowed be Thy name,” we admonish ourselves to desire that His name, which is always holy, may be also among men esteemed holy, that is to say, not despised; which is an advantage not to God, but to men.

When we say: “Thy kingdom come,” which shall certainly come whether we wish it or not, we do by these words stir up our own desires for that kingdom, that it may come to us, and that we may be found worthy to reign in it.

When we say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray for ourselves that He would give us the grace of obedience, that His will may be done by us in the same way as it is done in heavenly places by His angels.

When we say: “Give us this day our daily bread,” the word “this day” signifies for the present time, in which we ask either for that competency of temporal blessings which I have spoken of before (“bread” being used to designate the whole of those blessings, because of its constituting so important a part of them),

or the sacrament of believers, which is in this present time necessary, but necessary in order to obtain the felicity not of the present time, but of eternity.

When we say: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we remind ourselves both what we should ask, and what we should do in order that we may be worthy to receive what we ask.

When we say: “Lead us not into temptation,” we admonish ourselves to seek that we may not, through being deprived of God’s help, be either ensnared to consent or compelled to yield to temptation.

When we say: “Deliver us from evil,” we admonish ourselves to consider that we are not yet enjoying that good estate in which we shall experience no evil.

And this petition, which stands last in the Lord’s Prayer, is so comprehensive that a Christian, in whatsoever affliction he be placed, may in using it give utterance to his groans and find vent for his tears – may begin with this petition, go on with it, and with it conclude his prayer.

For it was necessary that by the use of these words the things which they signify should be kept before our memory.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Letter to Proba, X, 20 – XI, 21 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Anselm of Canterbury: With an Unwearying Love Thou Shouldst be Mindful of God Monday, Apr 22 2013 

Anselm_of_Canterbury,_sealAwake, my soul, awake! show thy spirit, arouse thy senses, shake off the sluggishness of that deadly heaviness that is upon thee, begin to take care for thy salvation.

Let the idleness of vain imaginations be put to flight, let go of sloth, hold fast to diligence.

Be instant in holy meditations, cleave to the good things which are of God: leaving that which is temporal, give heed to that which is eternal.

Now in this godly employment of thy mind, to what canst thou turn thy thoughts more wholesomely and profitably than to the sweet contemplations of thy Creator’s immeasurable benefits toward thee.

Consider therefore the greatness and dignity that He bestowed upon thee at the beginning of thy creation; and judge for thyself with what love and reverence He ought to be worshipped.

For when, as He was creating and ordering the whole world of things visible and invisible, He had determined to create the nature of man, He took high counsel concerning the dignity of thy condition, forasmuch as He determined to honour thee more highly than all other creatures that are in the world.

Behold therefore to what greatness thou wast created, and again consider what manner of love thou oughtest to render therefore.

Let Us make man, saith God, in Our image, after Our likeness.

If thou art not aroused by this word of thy Creator, if thou art not at so unspeakable a goodness of condescension in Him towards thee, set all on fire of love towards Him, if thy whole heart is not inflamed with longing after Him, what shall I say? Shall I count thee asleep, or rather dead?

[…] God if, considering that He is good, we study to be good; if, knowing that He is righteous, we endeavour to be righteous; if, beholding His mercy, we give ourselves to mercy.

But how can we be in His image. Hearken. God is mindful of Himself, understandeth Himself, loveth Himself.

And thou too, if thou after thy measure art mindful of God, understandest God, lovest God, then wilt thou be in His image; for thou wilt be striving to do that which God ever doth.

Man ought to make this the end of all his life, to be mindful of the Chief Good, to understand it and to love it; to this should every thought, every motion of the heart be bent, be whetted, be conformed:

that with an unwearying love thou shouldst be mindful of God, understand God, love God, and so for thy health set forth the dignity of thy creation, wherein thou wast created after the image of God.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): Meditations, 1,1. 

Basil the Great: The Continual Remembrance of God is a Holy Thing Thursday, Aug 23 2012 

St-Basil-the-GreatThe continual remembrance of God is a holy thing, and of this pious remembrance there can never be enough for the soul that loves God.

But to put into words the things of God is a bold undertaking.

For our mind falls far below what is needed for this; while at the same time, words but feebly convey the thoughts of the mind.

If therefore our understanding is left so far behind by the greatness of the things of God, and if our words are weaker than our understanding, how should we not be silent, for fear that the wonders of the things of God should be in danger through the feebleness of our words?

Though the desire to give glory to God is implanted by nature in every rational creature, nevertheless we all alike are unable to praise Him fittingly.

But though we differ one from another in our desire to praise and serve God, yet there is no one so blinds himself, so deceives himself, as to think that he has attained to the summit of human understanding.

Rather, the further we advance in knowledge, the more clearly we perceive our own insignificance.

So it was with Abraham. So it was with Moses. For when it was given to them to see God, as far as man can see God, then especially did they humble themselves:

Abraham spoke of himself as dust and ashes (Gen. xviii. 27), and Moses said he was a stammerer and slow of tongue (Exod. iv. 10).

For he knew the poverty of his tongue, and that it was unable to serve the greatness of the things he had grasped with his mind.

But since every ear is now open to hear me speak of the things of God, and since there is never enough in the Church of hearing of these things…, we must therefore speak as best we can.

But we shall speak, not of God as He is, but of God as far as it is possible for us to know Him.

For though we cannot with mortal eyes see all that lies between heaven and earth, yet there is no reason why we should not look upon what we can see.

So with our few words we shall now endeavour to fulfil what is required of us in the service of God.

But in every word of ours we humbly bow before the majesty of His Divine Nature.

For not even the tongue of Angels, whatever they may be, nor the tongues of Archangels, joined to those of every reasoning creature, would be able to describe its least part, much less attain to speak of the Whole.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15,1, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. (PG 31) @ Lectionary Central.

Evagrius the Solitary: Keep Powerful Guard Over Your Memory Monday, Jun 4 2012 

If you long to pray, renounce everything at once (cf. Lk 14:33) so that you may inherit all.

Pray [1] first, for purification from the passions;

[2] and second, for deliverance from ignorance and forgetfulness;

[3] and third, for deliverance from all temptation and abandonment.

In your prayer seek only righteousness and the kingdom, namely, virtue and knowledge; and all the rest will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).

It is just to pray not only for your own purification, but also to pray for your own kindred, so as to imitate the angelic way.

[…] Whether you pray with brothers or by yourself, struggle to pray not only in the customary way, but also with perception.

Perception in prayer is concentration (sunnoia), with reverence and compunction and distress of soul, as you confess your failures with silent groans.

If the intellect (nous) is still staring around at the time of prayer, it does not yet know how to pray as a monk; it is still a secular, decorating the exterior tabernacle (cf. Mt 23:27).

When you pray, keep powerful guard over your memory: in this way, instead of placing its own passions before you, it will, instead, move you to the knowledge that you stand before God.

For the nous is easily, naturally disarmed and plundered by the memory at the time of prayer.

When you are praying the memory brings you fantasies of either: [1] ancient issues; [2] or new worries; [3] or the face of one who has distressed you.

The demon is very malignant towards any person who prays, and it employs every means to defeat his purpose.

It does not cease [1] moving thoughts (noemata) of matters through the memory and [2] stirring up all the passions through the flesh, so as to be able to impede his excellent course and his departure to God.

When, despite all his efforts, the malevolent demon is unable to hinder the prayer of one who is earnest, it lets up for a time and then takes its revenge when he finishes praying. It either:

[1] enflames him with anger, thus ruining the excellent state that, through prayer, has been welded together in him;

[2] or it entices him to some irrational pleasure and so commits an outrage on the nous.

Having prayed properly, expect what is improper; and stand courageously to keep guard over your harvest.

Indeed from the beginning you were assigned this: namely, to work and keep guard (Gen. 2:15).  So do not leave your work unguarded after your labor, otherwise you do not receive any benefit from praying.

Evagrius Ponticus (345-399): On Prayer, 37-49, translated by Luke Dysinger OSB.

Diadochus of Photiké: We Pray in the Spirit Who Teaches Us to Cry Without Ceasing “Abba, Father” Saturday, Jun 2 2012 

diadochus-of-photikeInitiatory joy is one thing, the joy of perfection is another. The first is not exempt from fantasy, while the second has the strength of humility.

Between the two joys comes a ‘godly sorrow’ (2 Cor. 7:10) and active tears; ‘For in much wisdom is much knowledge; and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow’ (Eccles. 1:18).

The soul…is first summoned to the struggle by the initiatory joy and then rebuked and tested by the truth of the Holy Spirit, as regards both its past sins and the vain distractions in which it still indulges.

[…] The soul is tested by divine rebuke as in a furnace, and through fervent remembrance of God it actively experiences the joy exempt from fantasy.

When the soul is disturbed by anger, confused by drunkenness, or sunk in deep depression, the intellect cannot hold fast to the remembrance of God no matter how hard we try to force it.

Completely darkened by the violence of the passions, it loses totally the form of perception which is proper to it.

Thus our desire that our intellect should keep the remembrance of God cannot make any impression, because the recollective faculty of our mind has been hardened by the rawness of the passions.

But, on the other hand, when the soul has attained freedom from these passions, then, even though the intellect is momentarily deprived by forgetfulness of the object of its longing, it at once resumes its proper activity.

The soul now has grace itself to share its meditation and to repeat with it the words ‘Lord Jesus’, just as a mother teaches her child to repeat with her the word ‘father’, instead of prattling in his usual way, until she has formed in him the habit of calling for his father even in his sleep.

This is why the Apostle says: ‘Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities; for we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with cries that cannot be uttered’ (Rom. 8:26).

Since we are but children as regards perfection in the virtue of prayer, we have need of the Spirit’s aid so that all our thoughts may be concentrated and gladdened by His inexpressible sweetness, and so that with all our being we may aspire to the remembrance and love of our God and Father.

For, as St Paul says, it is in the Spirit that we pray when we are taught by Him to cry without ceasing to God the Father, ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8:15).

Diadochus of Photiké (c.400-before 486): On Spiritual Perfection chs 60-61, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979).


Aelred of Rievaulx: The Memory of His Passion in Our Heart Friday, Mar 2 2012 

Rievaulx Abbey

After the people of Israel left Egypt with Moses at their head, the Amalekites, a savage race, came and did battle against them.

Moses sent an army against them, while he himself went up on to a mountain to pray for them and raised his hands to the Lord.

And it came to pass that while he kept his hands raised, the people of Israel were triumphant but whenever he lowered his hands Amalek started to win.

Why was it, do you think, that the raising of his hands possessed such grace? Without doubt God usually takes more account of the attachments of the mind than of the postures of the body.

Why was it then? Did his prayer have no effect before God unless he raised his hands? That lifting up of his hands had such an effect that their enemies could not withstand the Israelites.

The reason why this lifting up of hands had such force was that it signified the raising of the hands of him who said in the psalm, The lifting up of my hands is like an evening sacrifice.

For, when evening had already come upon the world, his sweetest hands were stretched out on the Cross and there was offered up that evening sacrifice that took away the sins of the whole world.

So that raising of Moses’ hands signified the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ who went up on to a mountain to pray because he ascended into heaven to plead our cause with the Father.

There he lifts up his hands so that Amalek – that is, the devil – will not be able to vanquish us.

For there he appears in God’s sight on our behalf and re­presents to him the Passion that he underwent for us.

As for us, brothers, as long as…our fight is against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of the dark things of the world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens, we need to have our Lord lifting up his hands within us.

That is to say, the remembrance of his Passion should be continually present in our minds.

We can be quite sure, my brothers…that as long as the memory of his Passion is in our heart, as long as our hope is directed to where Christ is pleading our cause at the right hand of the Father, the spiritual Amalek – that is, the devil – will not be able to vanquish us.

And therefore…let us see that this attachment, this remembrance, does not through some negligence on our part grow lukewarm in us.

For then we shall immediately grow faint and our enemy will gain the upper hand and cause us distress.

Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 – 1167): Sermon 13.27-29 (1st Clairvaux Coll.); tr. Berkeley & Pennington, from Cistercian Fathers 58, from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Wednesday in 2nd Week of Lent, Year 2.

Nilus the Ascetic: The Attention Paid by the Mind that Seeks Prayer will Find Prayer Saturday, Dec 3 2011 

During prayer, your memory will bring you either fantasies of past things or recent cares or the face of the one who had grieved you.

Therefore, guard your memory well, so that it does not present you with its own cares.

And continuously urge yourself to remain aware in Whose presence it is standing, because it is very natural for the mind to be easily carried away by memory during the time of prayer.

The attention paid by the mind that seeks prayer will find prayer, because prayer follows attention more than anything else.

Let us therefore ensure that we willingly strive to acquire attention.

At times, by remaining standing during prayer, you can immediately concentrate and pray well; at other times, you may strive very hard, but not achieve your purpose.

This occurs, so that you may ask for prayer with greater zeal; and after acquiring it, to have it as your inalienable achievement.

[…] A true prayer is said by the one who always offers his first thought as a sacrifice to God.

Do not pray for your desires to be realized, because they certainly do not agree with the will of God;

but rather, as you were taught, say in your prayer: “Let Your Will be done” (Matt 6:10), and for every single thing, you should likewise ask God that His Will be done, because He wants whatever is best and beneficial for your soul.

I have often asked God through prayer for something I thought to be good. And I insisted illogically on asking for it, thus violating the divine will.

I would not let God provide whatever He knew would be to my benefit.

And so, having received what I had asked for, I afterwards felt very sorry that I had not asked that His Will be done, because things did not turn out as I had thought they would.

What is benevolent, if not God? Let us therefore entrust all our needs with Him and everything will go well, as the benevolent One definitely also bestows beneficial gifts.

In your prayer, ask only for the justice and the Kingdom of God – in other words, virtue and divine knowledge – and all the rest will then be added to you.

Entrust the needs of your body to God, and that will reveal to Him that you also entrust the needs of your spirit.

Nilus the Ascetic of Sinai (d. c.430): On Prayer, trans. Holy Monastery of the Paraklete Oropos, Attica (Greece).


Bernard of Clairvaux: “Why So Downcast, My Soul? Why Do You Sigh Within Me?” Tuesday, Aug 2 2011 

(following on from here)

Who indeed can comprehend what an abundance of goodness is contained in that brief expression: “God will be all in all”?

Not to speak of the body, I discern in the soul three faculties, the reason, the will, the memory, and these three may be said to be identified with the soul itself.

Everyone who is guided by the Spirit realizes how greatly in the present life these three are lacking in integrity and perfection.

And what reason can there be for this, except that God is not yet “all in all”?

Hence it comes about that the reason very often falters in its judgments, the will is agitated by a fourfold perturbation and the memory confused by its endless forgetfulness.

Man, noble though he be, was unwillingly been subjected to this triple form of futility, but hope nonetheless was left to him.

For he who satisfies with good the desire of the soul will one day himself be for the reason, fullness of light, for the will, the fullness of peace, for the memory, eternity’s uninterrupted flow.

Truth! Love! Eternity! Oh blessed and beatifying Trinity!

To you the wretched trinity that I bear within me sends up its doleful yearnings because of the unhappiness of its exile.

Departing from you, in what errors, what pains, what fears it has involved itself!

[…] And still, why so downcast, my soul, why do you sigh within me?

Put your hope in God. I shall praise him yet, when error will have gone from the reason, pain from the will, and every trace of fear from the memory.

Then will come that state for which we hope, with its admirable serenity, its fullness of delight, its endless security.

The God who is truth is the source of the first of these gifts; the God who is love, of the second; the God who is all-powerful, of the third.

And so it will come to pass that God will be all in all, for the reason will receive unquenchable light, the will imperturbable peace, the memory an unfailing fountain from which it will draw eternally.

I wonder if it seems right to you that we should assign that first operation to the Son, the second to the Holy Spirit, the last to the Father.

[…] Consider too that the children of this world experience a corresponding threefold temptation from the allurements of the flesh, the glitter of life in the world, the self-fulfillment patterned on Satan.

These three include all the artifices by which the present life deceives its unhappy lovers, even as St John proclaimed: “All that is in the world is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Sermons on the Song of Songs, 11, 5-6.

John Cassian: Your Soul will be Carried Forward to the Ark of the Divine Covenant and to the Priestly Kingdom Saturday, Oct 23 2010 

You must by all means strive to get rid of all anxiety and worldly thoughts, and give yourself over…continuously, to sacred reading.

Then continual meditation will fill your heart, and fashion you so to speak after its own likeness, making of it, as it were:

Firstly, an ark of the testimony, which has within it two tables of stone – the constant assurance of the two testaments;

Secondly, a golden pot – a pure and undefiled memory – which preserves by a constant tenacity the manna stored up in it – the enduring and heavenly sweetness of the spiritual sense and the bread of angels;

Thirdly, the rod of Aaron – the saving standard of Jesus Christ our true High Priest, that ever buds with the freshness of immortal memory.

This is the rod which after it had been cut from the root of Jesse, died and flourished again with a more vigorous life.

All these are guarded by two Cherubim – the fulness of historical and spiritual knowledge. For the Cherubim mean a multitude of knowledge.

These continually protect the mercy seat of God – the peace of your heart – and overshadow it from all the assaults of spiritual wickedness.

And so your soul will be carried forward not only to the ark of the Divine Covenant, but also to the priestly kingdom.

Owing to its unbroken love of purity being as it were engrossed in spiritual studies, it will fulfil the command given to the priests, enjoined as follows by the giver of the Law:

And he shall not go forth from the sanctuary, lest he pollute the Sanctuary of God (Lev. 21:12) – that is, his heart, in which the Lord promised that he would ever dwell, saying: I will dwell in them and will walk among them (2 Cor. 5:16).

Wherefore the whole series of the Holy Scriptures should be diligently committed to memory and ceaselessly repeated.

This continual meditation will bring us a twofold fruit:

First, that while the attention of the mind is taken up in reading and preparing the lessons it cannot possibly be taken captive in any snares of bad thoughts.

Second, that those things which were read over and frequently repeated and which, while we were trying to commit them to memory, we could not understand (because the mind was at that time taken up), we can afterward see more clearly, when we are free from the distraction of all acts and visions, and especially when we reflect on them in silence in our meditation by night.

So that when we are at rest, and as it were plunged in the stupor of sleep, there is revealed to us the understanding of the most secret meanings, of which in our waking hours we had not the remotest conception.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 14,10.

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