Chapter IV, Eusebius (continued), Book IX
(Publius begins further down page)
"If you love God," said Ammianus, "I will show you a way whereby you may burn with love even more, and serve him whom you love. For it seems to me that all your care and industry is directed towards yourself, and lays you open to the charge of too great a self-love. But the divine law bids us love our neighbour. This is the essence of the true gift of charity, however many works you undertake to perform (Romans 13.9-10). And Paul calls this the fulfilment of the law (Galatians 5.14). Indeed the Lord himself in the sacred Gospel urged Peter, who professed to love him more than the others, to feed his sheep (John 21.15). And he rebukes those who do not do this, saying through the Prophet, 'You shepherds, is it not yourselves you are feeding, not the sheep?' (Ezekiel 34.2). It was on that account that he commanded the great Elijah to turn from the life of solitude and go among the ungodly (1 Kings 18.1), and following Elijah, he sent John, famous for so many works, to the banks of the Jordan, where he baptised and preached (Matthew 3.1). So then seeing that you too are an ardent lover of God who made you, bring on many others to be lovers of God along with you, for this would be greatly pleasing to the family of God. Moreover he also called Ezekiel to be a watchman and to testify to the wicked (Ezekiel 3.17); Jonah he commanded to hasten to Nineveh, and when he refused took him there under duress."
This and similar arguments softened the divine man's resistance. He abandoned his prison of his own accord, and Ammianus led him out and took him away and entrusted to him the care of his fellow-monks. I don't know which to admire more, the self effacing nature of the one, or the obedience of the other and the fact that he was willing to be persuaded. The one forbore the leadership, preferring rather to be among those who obeyed, avoiding the dangers of high position; the great Eusebius, who had turned away from mixing with the multitude, gave that up, and, conquered by the demands of charity, accepted the oversight of the flock and guided their common life. He did not need to make use of long speeches in his teaching; his look was often enough sufficient to restore quickly even the laziest to the path of virtue, for those who knew him say that he was always of a grave countenance, able to strike fear into those who confronted him.
He himself took food only every third or fourth day, but those living with him he bade to eat every other day. He urged everyone to pray assiduously to God and to fill every minute with this work. The set offices should be said in common, and in the intervening spaces of the day each one should pray to God and seek for salvation, whether under the shade of some tree, or near some rock or wherever they might be, either standing up or lying down. And he taught that each part of the body should be trained to do only such things as were according to reason. To make this more obvious to everyone I shall just mention one story about him:
He and the admirable Ammianus would sit on a rock, and one would read out stories from the divine gospels while the other would explain the meaning of some of the more difficult bits. On one occasion Eusebius' attention was distracted by gazing at some farmers working in a field below. When Ammianus had read a portion of the gospel and asked for his comments, Eusebius asked him to read it again.
"It's obvious," said Ammianus, " that you have been so taken up with looking at the ploughmen that you have not heard a word I have said."
From that time onwards he made a rule for his eyes that they should not gaze out over the fields, or enjoy the beauty of the heavens and the sight of the starry skies, but keep them directed to a narrow path, traditionally of only a handbreadth's width, which would be conducive to prayer. From then on he did not allow himself to stray from this path, and they say that he lived according to this law for the next forty years. In order to force himself to keep to this intention, he constructed an iron chain to put round his neck in addition to the chain which he already wore round his loins, so that weighed down by them he would carefully keep his eyes always directed to the ground. This was the punishment he inflicted on himself for gazing at those farmers.
Many more things besides were told me by those who knew him and understood his way of life. That great old Acacius whom I have mentioned before also told me that when he saw how curved his back was he asked him what was the point of never allowing himself to look at the sky or look out over the fields, and never to deviate from this narrow way.
"I started these things up against the machinations of the evil enemy," he replied. "I was trying to distract his attention towards things of lesser importance in order to prevent him from making war against me in the big things, such as trying to rob me of temperance and justice, stirring up anger in me, making me burn with lust, making me arrogant and swell with pride and anything else he might devise against my soul. For if he had conquered me in these lesser things it would not have caused me any great harm, but if he had been conquered it would have made him look the more ridiculous for not having been able to come out on top even in matters so trifling. I realised that this type of warfare was less dangerous, for I would not have been seriously damaged if I slipped up slightly. So I transferred to this type of warfare, as I would not be very greatly damaged if I did slip up and look at the fields or the sky; he could not strike me down or destroy me in such matters, there are not any death dealing weapons in them, lacking any sharp iron points as they do."
The great Acacius assured me he had heard Eusebius say all this, to the admiration of his wisdom, warlike virtue and experience. Therefore he repeated it to anyone who wanted to learn about such things, as being something admirable and worthy of being committed to memory.
His reputation spread into all parts and attracted many lovers of virtue to him, especially Agrippa and Jacobus Persa, outstanding leaders of the flock, divine men who succeeded the old man Julianus whose story we have told above. After Julianus came to the end of this life and passed to the life above they hastened to the great Eusebius, rightly considering it better to be ruled than to rule in a position of superiority.
In what I have already said about Jacobus I briefly summed up his virtues, but now I shall show more plainly how great was his love of wisdom. For as the divine Eusebius was on the point of leaving this world he asked Jacobus to take on the leadership of the flock. But he refused this responsibility, and unable to satisfy those who wanted him to take it on, went to another flock, preferring to be fed rather than to feed, and came thus to the end of his life after many years.
It was Agrippa who took this leadership on, a man adorned with many good qualities, especially purity of soul by means of which he eagerly sought after the vision of divine beauty and burned with the fire of love. His cheeks were perpetually furrowed by tears. After feeding that chosen, divine flock for many years he departed this life, and the divine David took on the leadership. I myself was able to profit from his personality.
He was a man who truly followed the injunction of the Apostle to 'mortify his members which were on earth' (Colossians 3.5). He had benefited so much from the teaching of the great Eusebius that he lived for forty-five years in the monastery without any outbursts of anger in all that time. Even after he had taken on the leadership no one ever saw him in a state of agitation, even though there were many things that might have upset him. A hundred and fifty men were nurtured by his skill. Some, helped by his excellent and unsurpassed virtue, were able to imitate him in 'having his conversation in heaven' (Philippians 3.20). Others took wings for the first time and were taught how to rise above the world and fly. But if it became obvious that out of the many who were taught such divine things some were failing (for it is hardly possible that those attempting this life should always be faultless), that divine man remained completely unmoved; nothing that happened could make him lose his temper. I know this not merely by hearsay but from experience. I had long desired to visit this community, and when I did so with several other pilgrims who followed the same way of life as I did, we stayed a whole week with this divine man and never saw his expression change once. He was never either convulsed with mirth or bowed down by sorrow. His eyes likewise were never sometimes screwed up and savage, sometimes twinkling, but maintained unwaveringly a serene and straightforward expression.
I think I have said enough to demonstrate his tranquillity of soul, and some might think that nothing ever moved him at all. So I must needs tell you something which happened while we were there. That divine man was having a session with us expounding on the love of wisdom, and considering the question of what was the highest form of living the evangelical life, when the presentation of his opinions was interrupted by one Publius, a Roman by race, a man of impeccable morals, endowed with the honour of the priesthood and holding the second highest position in that hierarchy [illius praefecturae secundas partes obtinens]. He spoke forcefully against the divine David, saying that his mildness was a common scandal, and that his clemency was disastrous for everyone, and that his idea of the highest form of the love of wisdom was not good sense [modestia] but madness [amentia]. But David's composure was rock-like. He listened to the argument, was not in the least bit injured by such words, which by their very nature are designed to cause injury. The expression on his face did not change, he did not refuse to continue with the conference, but answered his opponent with a calm voice and gentle words which gave outward expression to his serenity of soul. He spoke as one who could bring healing to whoever wanted it. Along with those who came with me, I speak, as you can see, as one who thinks healing was needed.
How could anyone have shown greater gentleness of spirit? As one of the highest rank he put up with insults from one of the second rank in the presence of many guests who heard these insults, and yet was not subject to any angry outburst or upset which might have overcome the equanimity of even the greatest and highest spiritual virtue. The divine Apostle himself, when dealing with the weakness of human nature, controlled though it should be by laws appropriate to that nature, said 'Be angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath' (Ephesians 4.26 & Psalms 4.4). For he knew that it is part of our nature to be moved by anger even when we do not want to be, and that the law does not help us in making difficult decisions which we might not even be able to carry out. He allowed a whole day in which to be moved by the natural storms of anger, expecting it be constrained by reason, to be held in as with a bridle, and not allowed to be given its full expression. But this divine man contended with the law as laid down and 'leapt over the wall' (Psalms 18.29). Not content with allowing his anger to last till evening, he did not allow himself to be angry at all. Such was the result of having been taught by the great Eusebius.
I saw many others in that house who loved and emulated his love of wisdom, some in the flower of youth, others in extreme old age. Even those who had got to the age of ninety were reluctant to modify their laborious way of life, but maintained with great credit the disciplines of their youth, praising God day and night, and performing their sacred duties, surviving on unattractive food taken every two days.
To prevent this story becoming unduly prolonged let me omit some who do not really deserve to be passed over, but are worthy of being praised and celebrated. I will just mention one more who lived in that divine place, a man called Amman who hailed from the tribe of Ishmael. He had not, however, been driven out from the house of Abraham as had he from whom his tribe is named (Genesis 16.11), but shared in the inheritance of his father Isaac, or rather, he had taken the kingdom of heaven by storm (Matthew 11.12). He had persevered in the practice of monastic discipline under someone called Marosas, whose life in the desert gave them both an excellent opportunity to develop. Marosas gave up acting as superior to others, and with Amman came to this monastery [sc. Eusebius' monastery], where he lived for but a short while with diligent discipline and outstanding distinction before departing this life. Amman however lived for another thirty-eight years. His enthusiasm for the work was as great as if he had only just begun. Day by day he never wore shoes. In wintertime he would sit in the shade, in the heat of summer he would sit in the sun, and would endure the scorching fire of it as if it were the gentlest of Zephyr breezes. He did not allow himself to drink any water, he did not even eat the sort of food which was used by others who abstained from water (for they used to eat food which was well soaked in water), but ate the sane food as everyone else. Eating such small quantities, sufficient to give him a reasonable amount of energy, he deemed water to be superfluous. His loins were bound with heavy iron chains, he rarely sat down, night and day he either stood or knelt, offering the Lord the sacrifice of prayer. He never reclined [sc. at meals], and no one night or day ever saw him lying down completely. And indeed, when he was made leader of the choir, did he not apply himself to this labour with prompt and eager attention, giving an example of his love of wisdom to those under him?
This is what those outstanding warriors were like whom the divine Eusebius, as their schoolmaster and trainer, was able to offer to the Lord. He produced many more like that, and sent them as teachers to other monasteries, where they filled those sacred landscapes with spiritual meadows, giving off a sweet scented odour. So although this house of monastic training was originally in the East, it seems to have become an embryonic love of wisdom, coming to birth in the West and South, as if forming a choir of stars encircling the moon, giving praise to their creator, some in Greek, some in the language of the place where they lived. But I am attempting things beyond my capabilities in my desire to portray all the noble deeds which sprang from that divine soul.
So I put a stop to this narrative and turn to another, confident of the benefits to be gained as I beg to share in blessings from these great men.
At that same time there was a certain Publius who was very comely to look upon, and blessed with a soul appropriate for such a body, or rather, giving proof in the body of the admirable qualities of his soul. He was of a senatorial family, born in Zeugma, a city associated with Xerxes, whose fame is everywhere known. Xerxes while fighting in a Grecian war and wanting to send his army across the River Euphrates gathered a great number of ships, joined them together and thus made a bridge over the river. He called the place Zeugma, that is, 'Bridge', and the city takes its name from that.
Coming from such a city and born into such a family, Publius took possession of a site high up about thirty miles from the city, where he built himself a little dwelling place, and then sold everything left to him by his father: house, possessions, flocks, clothing, vessels both of silver and bronze, and everything else there was. In accordance with the divine law he shared it all out among the needy and freed himself from all worldly cares, taking upon himself one single care only, to serve him who had called him. Night and day he turned things over in his mind, planning and devising means of growing in this service, with the result that he daily took on more and more. Each day became fuller and more intense, which he found to be sweet and pleasurable, though never enough to satisfy him completely. No one ever saw him idle at any time during the day. If he wasn't praying he was psalmodising, if not psalmodising he was praying, both of these things alternating with the reading of the divine scriptures. Besides this, he saw to the needs of visitors who came to him and carried out other necessary tasks. As he went on in this kind of life he became an example of virtue to anyone who had a mind to follow him, and like a singing bird he enticed into his saving net many others like him.
Right from the beginning, however, he did not let anyone share his dwelling place but built little huts for them at a suitable distance nearby. He bade each person who came to him to live by himself, constantly visiting them, and keeping a sharp eye out lest anyone should be changing this custom. They say also that he took with him a pair of scales and carefully weighed out the bread, and if he found anyone with more of it than he should he would be very angry and call them gluttons. He taught that they should never eat and drink to satiety but take only so much as was necessary to sustain the life of the body. And if ever he found anyone using flour instead of bran, he labelled them accursed as if they had been enjoying Sybaritic delights. And at night he would appear unexpectedly outside the door and if he found anyone to be awake and praising God he went away again, but if he found anyone asleep he would bang on the door and give him a tongue-lashing, telling him he was taking far more care of his body than he needed.
This was a great labour for him, and on this account some of those who were of the same mind and opinion as he made a suggestion that he should build one house for all of them. They urged that those who were scattered about could be much more closely and carefully governed, and he would be freed from a considerable burden of care. The plan was approved by this most wise man. He gathered them all together, pulling down their small huts and building one house for the whole company, so that they could live together and encourage each other. While one strove to be gentle, another might season his gentleness with zeal; one who could demonstrate the value of keeping vigil might also take on the discipline of fasting.
"In this way," he said, "each of us may make up for what is lacking in the others, and strive towards the perfecting of our virtues."
In the same way, while one sold bread in the market place of the city, another sold vegetables, one had clothes to sell, another made shoes. Each one contributed to the smoothness of the life by seeing to the needs of the other. Someone who had clothes to spare could receive shoes in exchange, another who needed vegetables could buy them with bread. We all of us need to share our best attributes with each other.
They all fought the ascetic battle using the same language, praising God in Greek. But when some of those using the local language were smitten with a desire to take part in this organised life they came in a body to ask that they might also be admitted to the community and benefit from their teaching. Their request was granted, and mindful of the saying of the Lord, 'Go and teach all nations' (Matthew 28.19), he built another house next to the first for them to live in. He then built a chapel and divided them into two choirs, but bade them offer the morning and evening prayers together at the same time at the beginning and end of each day, each section using their own language, but singing the psalms alternately. This arrangement continued up to the present day. The passing of time, which often tends to bring changes, in fact brought no alteration, for those who later came to be in charge never took it into their heads to make any changes in what Publius had laid down. And this stayed the same throughout not just two or three but many changes of leadership.
When Publius finally won the victory and passed on to realms free from all strife, the leadership went to Theotecnus who spoke Greek and Aphthonius who spoke Syrian, both of whom were of such virtue as to be living icons or statues. But in dealing with those who were already there as well as those who came in from outside, neither of them would claim that Publius' death meant that they were putting themselves forward as express copies of the sort of life he had lived. Theotecnus did not live very long, and his leadership passed to Theodotus. Aphthonius however lasted for a long time, caring for the flock and ruling according to the laws already laid down. Theodotus came from Armenia, and when he saw how the monastic life was ordered became the first of those who were ruled by the great Theotecnus, after whose death, as I have said, he took on the leadership. He was such an adornment to this position that he almost eclipsed the fame of those who had gone before.
The Love of God so filled his being and wounded him with fiery darts, that day and night he poured forth tears of compunction. He was so full of spiritual grace that when he was praying everyone else who was present fell silent, in order to listen only to his sacred words, reckoning that just to listen to him was a good prayer. Who could be so obstinate as not to be won over by those genuine words so sincerely uttered, softening all disobedience and hardness of heart and leading towards the service of God? He daily increased his labours, opening his treasures full of such good things. After feeding the flock for twenty-five years he was gathered to his fathers in a good old age, as the Scriptures put it (Genesis 25.8), having taken up the reins from Theotecnus, whose nephew he was, although a brother in the way he behaved.
After the divine Aphthonius had presided over the choir for forty years he was made a bishop [sedem accepit pontificalem], but he did not change his monastic habit, nor his woven tunic, nor his goatskin cloak, and he kept to the same diet as he had always been used to. And although he had accepted this great pastoral responsibility he by no means neglected his own flock. He frequently came back to them, now settling a quarrel which had arisen among them, now consoling someone who had suffered an injury, now giving spiritual teaching to his companions. And he shared in all the common tasks: sewing, cleansing lentils, washing the harvested grain, and all the other things of that sort. He was a great ornament to the pontificate, and when he departed to the gate of heaven it was with a full load of virtues.
And what should I say about Theotecnus, and Gregory who followed him! The latter from his youth up gathered to himself all kinds of virtues, exceeding all his predecessors in glory, and even to this day he continues to labour in his extreme old age, just as if he were still in the flower of youth. Throughout his life he steadfastly refused to eat fruit, and would not even accept sour wine or dried grapes, and drank no milk either fresh or in the form of cheese. For this was the way in which the great Publius had decided to live. They approved of using olive oil at Pentecost, but refused it at other times.
These are the things I have learnt about the great Publius, some by hearsay. and some from the disciples of his that I met. In these disciples I recognised the teacher, in these athletes I learned about the trainer.
I think it would be a shame to have remained silent about a man of such value to the world. I have told his story for those who have never heard of him, so that I can enable them to derive benefit from it, and also that I might prepare a memorial for myself. For I have taken to heart what the Lord said: 'Whoever confesses me before men, him shall I also confess before my father in heaven' (Matthew 10.32), and I am in no doubt that since I have made the memory of them known among men they also will remember me before the God of all.
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