Chapter XXI Jacobus (continued), Book IX
He lived for some time with the incomparable Maro [see Chapter XVI], and absorbed his divine teaching, but soon outshone his teacher by even greater works. He sheltered within the walls of a former pagan temple, where he constructed a tent out of skins which he used as protection against the rain and snow. He was able to make use of the tent, the temple and the shelter of the walls, but the only roof he had was the sky. All the winds of heaven beat down upon him; now he was soaked by the rain, now frozen by ice and snow, now scorched and burnt by the rays of the sun, always enduring all these things with fortitude, as if wrestling with the body of someone else, striving to subdue the nature of that body by the power of his mind. Clad in this mortal and vulnerable [passibile] body, he lived a life beyond suffering [impassibile], concentrating on the spiritual life dwelling in his flesh [vitam incorpoream in corpore], and therefore able to proclaim with St Paul: 'We walk in the flesh but we do not fight according to the flesh, for our weapons are not of the flesh but of the power of God for the destruction of our defences, destroying the thoughts and every other high thing which vaunt themselves against the knowledge of God, but rather taking captive the whole mind into obedience towards God' (2 Corinthians 10.4-5). He fought these supernatural battles by attending to every least detail of everything he did. Shut up in his narrow dwelling, freeing his mind from the tumult of external affairs, fixing his mind securely on the memory of God, he thus contrived to move towards perfect and absolute virtue.
After working hard for a while and getting used to the idea that such works were good for him, he began to enter into more severe testings. For he moved on to this mountain thirty miles from the city, where his reputation as someone to be venerated began to grow. Whereas before he had been unknown and quite unproductive, now he was believed to have received such blessings that the topsoil was almost all gone because the crowds of people who came to him were in the habit of carrying off handfuls of it as holy relics. All who came to him could see that he lived there with no cave, no tent, no shelter, no ditch and bank, no protective hedge around him, but in full view of everyone he prayed or stood in silence, then sat, then stood, in sickness or in health, so that it was plain to all who saw him that he had conquered all his natural impulses. Nor would anybody, however freely brought up, find it easy to discharge their bodily waste in the presence of other people unless they were exercised in the very highest way of life. And I say this not as having learnt it from anyone else, for I saw him myself.
Fourteen years ago he fell seriously ill. It affected him like everyone else who is provided with a mortal body. It was a time of fierce summer heat, and the rays of the sun burnt even more fiercely, for the winds had died down and the air was absolutely still. His illness was caused by a superfluity of yellow bile, which pressed down on his intestine and infected it. Then I saw how great was his patience. For a great number of villagers had gathered in order to meet this glorious man, but he just sat there not quite sure what to do: whether to obey the force of nature which was compelling him to go apart, or whether consideration for the people should lead him to stay where he was in the same state and difficulty. Realising his dilemma I urged the people to go away; some needed a lot of encouragement to do so, some less, but in the end I had to order them solemnly on my authority as a priest. The divine man, however, even before they had all gone, was overcome by the force of nature, but he remained perfectly unworried. It was nightfall before they were compelled to go home.
The next day when I went to him the heat was even greater than before, and his fever was being fed and increased by this exterior heat, so pretending to have a headache I told him I could hardly bear the force of the sun's rays, and begged him to let me have some kind of shelter. He took three long reeds and fixed two woven blankets to them, thus providing some shade.
"Go in under that," he said.
"It would not be right, father," I said, "for a strong young man like me to take advantage of such a shelter while you are suffering such a violent fever. It is you who could do with the shelter, but you sit there suffering the full force of the sun. If you want me to enjoy the shade come and keep me company in this little tent, for I would like to stay with you but the force of the sun's rays prevents me."
He yielded to my request at these words, and accepted the remedy I had planned for him. When we were enjoying the shade together, I spoke to him again.
"I think I shall have to lie down," I said. "My buttocks can't put up with sitting down for long without becoming sore."
"Well, lie down then," he said.
"I don't think I could allow myself to lie down if you stayed sitting up," I said. "So if you want me to take advantage of that relief, let us lie down together, father. Then I shan't have to blush because I am the only one lying down."
By these words I undermined his resistance and got him to rest himself by lying down. I used those deceiving words only because he was ill, in the hope of lifting his spirits. I put my hand inside his clothing in order to rub his back, and found that he was carrying a considerable weight of iron hanging from his neck and loins. There were also other circular chains hanging from his neck, two in front and two behind, at an angle from the lower chains, so that where the two circles met they formed a letter X. He also had some chains from his elbows down to his hands. At the sight of these burdens weighing many talents, I begged him to give his body some respite.
"You can't go on wearing these voluntary burdens at the same time as bearing this involuntary illness," I said. "Let the fever fulfil for now the same function as the iron. When the fever is gone then you might return to imposing on the body the labour of carrying the iron."
He agreed to this as well, taking them off to an accompaniment of many short prayers. But then, after a few more days of illness he began to get better.
Later on, he fell into a much more serious illness, and many people gathered from various different places in the hope of being able to carry off his body. When news of this reached the city, soldiers and civilians all came rushing out, the soldiers armed with their military weapons, the civilians with any other weapon they could find. They drew up in an ordered line of battle, throwing spears and hurling stones, not deliberately wounding but trying to instil fear. Having driven them off they put that athlete of famous victories on to a litter and brought him into the city. He was completely unaware of what they were doing; nor had he been conscious when the people were coming after relics. They came to the church of the prophets and put his litter in the monastery next door.
Somebody came to Berhoea, which is where I was then, to tell me about everything that had happened, and he told me Jacobus was dead. I hastened away and journeyed all night until at dawn I met up with him at last. He did not speak, nor was he aware of anyone about him. I spoke to him and prayed for his good health in the name of the great Acacius. At once he opened his eyes and asked what had happened to him and how long I had been there. When I replied to him he closed his eyes again.
Towards evening on the third day he asked where he was, and when we told him he became quite agitated, and asked to be taken back to his mountain immediately. Since I was wanting to stay with him for good and serve him, I ordered the litter to be brought for him to be taken back to where he wanted to be. Then I witnessed how completely alien to this beloved leader of mine was any ambition or desire for glory. For next day I offered him some broth made from barley- groats to build up his strength a little. He refused to take it, for he never ate anything hot as he had forbidden himself the use of fire. When he refused I spoke to him.
"Do this for our sake, father," I said, "for we are united in wanting nothing but your good health. For you are not only set before us as an example, but you aid us through your prayers and mediate the goodness of God to us. If you find it difficult to accept something which you are not used to, try and put up with it all the same, father. For this also is a part of the search for wisdom. In taking thought for your food while in good health, you have conquered any inordinate appetites; Now that you don't seem to want anything, show some flexibility by having something to eat."
As I was speaking, the man of God, Polychronius [see Chapter XXIV] arrived, and he backed me up in what I was saying. He said that he would be willing to try some first, even though it was still morning, and he was one who often went for a week before taking any food. Jacobus was convinced by what we were saying, and did drink a bowlful of the broth, though he did so with eyes screwed up, as one does when drinking something bitter.
He was unable to walk because of his weakness, but we persuaded him to wash his feet, and I think that the result of this task was that our eyes were opened further into the way of his wisdom. One of those who were ministering to him wanted to put a screen round the bath to shield him from view
"Why are you putting a screen round the bath?" he asked.
"So that you won't be seen by those coming to visit you," was the reply.
"God forbid, my son," he said, "that you should conceal from men what is open to the God of all. Him alone do I wish to serve, I care nothing for human glory. What use is it to me if they should think that there is more due to my hard works and practices than to God himself? They will not give me any reward for my labours, it is God from whom comes all."
Who can refrain from admiring both his teaching and the mind which produced them, so far above any thought of human glory?
I remember something else that happened once. It was long past vesper time, and he was sitting with his plate in front of him eating his lentils steeped in water, which was his usual food, when he saw in the distance someone coming. It was the man from the city in charge of collecting military taxes. Jacobus did not put his food down, but continued to eat as usual. He had a vision which led him to believe that his visitor was a demon, whom he therefore berated as an enemy. But he kept on eating his lentils to show that he was not afraid. The visitor begged for mercy, even while still being vigorously cursed.
"I am only human," he said, "and I swear on oath that I have just left the city before vespers to get here now at this time."
"Well, be of good heart, then and stop looking so frightened. Come, be my guest and share my meal, as long as you will go away again when asked."
And he gave him his right hand and offered him some lentils. It was in acts like this that he drove from his heart any trace of vainglory.
I hardly need mention how he was able to bear all kinds of testings. Sometimes he would lie prone, buried under a snowfall of three days and nights, praying to God, but unwilling to be seen in anything other than the rags which he customarily wore. Sometimes his neighbours had to dig him out with shovels and mattocks from the snow which was covering him, and then wake him up and get him moving again. Labours like this brought him gifts of divine grace which everyone wished to have a share in. His blessing drove out many fevers, many illnesses ceased and totally disappeared, many demons were put to flight, and water which he had blessed was a powerful remedy.
Is there anyone who has not heard about the boy whom he raised from the dead by prayer? His parents lived in one of the city's suburbs and had had many children who had all died an early death. When this last son was born the father ran to the man of God praying that he might have a long life and promising to dedicate him to God should he live. But when he was four years old the boy died. The father was absent at the time, but as he came back he saw the boy's body being carried out, and snatched him up out of the litter.
"I have to fulfil my promise," he said, "and give him to the man of God even though he is dead."
He carried him away and laid him down before those holy feet, repeating what he had earlier said to the bearers of the litter. The divine man placed the body before him, bent his knees and lay prone, praying to the God of the living and the dead. In the evening the boy uttered a cry and called for his father. The divine man knew that God had heard his prayers and restored the boy to life, and he worshipped him who listens to those who fear him and hears their prayers. He finished his prayers and returned the boy to his father. I am a witness to this; I heard the father telling the tale. He told this apostolic miracle to many others knowing that the more people who heard it, the more it would be passed on to others.
Later on I also enjoyed his help. I will mention one or two things, which I think it would be ungenerous of me to pass over in silence, without sharing the benefit of them.
That accursed Marcion was planting many thornbushes of false doctrine about in the region of Cyrus at this time, and I was trying to pluck them out by the roots, and it was causing me a lot of hard work as I used every device I possibly could. There were those in my flock who ought to have loved me but who poured scorn on anything I might say prophetically; I was praying, but they were returning evil for good and hatred in exchange for my love. They were using powerful magic, relying on the aid of malignant demons, but not trying to wage war by way of visions. For a demon bent on destruction came to me by night and simply shouted in the Syrian language.
"Why are you fighting with Marcion? What have you taken up arms against him for? What harm has he ever done you? Give up your warfare. Stop being so malevolent. Discover the advantages of peace. You must know that I have dug a defensive ditch around you, to prevent me from seeing the chorus of martyrs and the great Jacob protecting you."
"Did you hear that?" I said to one of our company sleeping next to me.
"Yes, indeed," he said. "I heard everything. And I got up and looked around to see if I could find out who was talking. And then for your sake I stopped, because I thought you were asleep."
So then we both got up and looked around, but we could not see anyone moving, and we could no longer hear anyone talking. The others living with us had also heard what was said.
We understood that the "chorus of martyrs" referred to a flask hanging near my bed, which contained oil which had been collected from many martyrs, and which was a source of blessing. And around my shoulders was the short cloak which had belonged to the great Jacob. For me it was more powerful than any adamantine lock. I tried to go into the village, and found that there were many forces preventing me from going in. I sent a message to my 'Isaiah', begging him to give me his divine help.
" Be of good heart," was his reply. "All those encumbrances like spider webs have been wiped out. I have had a revelation from the Lord tonight, not in a dream, but in actual fact. For when I had begun singing the psalms I saw a large serpent in the place where you are, breathing out a kind of fire in front of it, stretching from the West to the East, flying through the air. When I had completed three prayers I saw it turn and form itself into a circle, with its tail in its mouth. When I had come to the end of the eighth prayer I saw it split in two and disappear in a cloud of smoke."
That was his vision. We saw how it worked out in practice. For in the morning, at the command of the chief of demons, there appeared those who were of the Marcion sect (though now they belong to the apostolic band), stretching out from the West, with their swords bared against us. At the third hour of the day, on a sudden impulse, they seemed to be concerned only with the safety of their own skins, like a serpent with its tail in its mouth, and at the eighth hour they scattered, leaving us free to go into the village. There we found a serpent made out of brass which they had been worshipping. When they had taken up arms against the maker and creator of the universe, they had begun to make a cult out of this dreadful serpent as being the enemy of God. This tale shows the blessings I received from this venerable chief among men.
Now that my tale has entered the realms of divine revelation, well then, I shall tell you what I heard from his own lips - lips which cannot tell a lie. He did not tell me these things from any desire to boast (for his divine soul was not remotely sullied by any vice), but simply because the usefulness of it compelled him to disclose what he would much rather have kept secret. I was humbly begging him to pray to the God of all to provide me with a harvest free from weeds and liberate me completely from the seeds of heresy. For the errors of the abominable Marcion vexed me greatly, and were becoming very strong.
"You don't need me or anyone else to intercede for you," he said in answer to my plea, "when you have the glorious John Baptist, precursor of the Word, offering prayers for you without ceasing. "
"But I have faith in your prayers," I said, "just as much as in the prayers of other holy apostles and prophets whose relics we have recently been given."
"Be of good heart," he said. "All you need are the prayers of John the Baptist."
But I would not be silenced, and kept on questioning him more closely.
"Why John the Baptist, particularly?" I asked.
"How I would love to embrace and kiss his adorable relics," he said.
"I won't bring them to you," I said, "unless you promise to tell me what you see."
And he promised, and next day I brought to him what he wanted. He sent everyone away and spoke to me alone.
"It was you who accepted these relics to be the defenders of our city when they came here from Phoenicia and Palestine, accompanied by a choir singing psalms, but it did occur to me to wonder whether they really were relics of the Baptist or of some other martyr with the same name. Next day I was standing to sing the psalms when I saw a figure dressed in white who spoke to me:
"'Brother Jacobus, why did you not come out to meet us?'
"'Who are you?' I asked.
"'We came recently from Phoenicia and Palestine, and everyone welcomed us eagerly, pastor and people, citizens and country dwellers. You were the only one who did not take part in the welcome, and what's more you sowed doubts in the minds of other people.'
"'I may not have been present with you and the others. but I do honour you and I worship the God of all.'
"He came again the next day at the same time.
"'Look, brother Jacobus,' he said, 'at the figure standing nearby, dressed in clothing as white as snow.'
"This figure was wearing vestments and gesturing as if he was baptising, and I divined it was John the Baptist.
"'Yes, it is John the Baptist, as you realised,' he said. 'And when you went to the village that night to confront those traitors, you had prayed that I should offer earnest prayers to God, and I spent all night beseeching the Lord.'
"Then I heard a voice saying, 'Fear not, Jacobus, it is indeed John the Baptist praying for you all night to the God of all. If the audacity of the devil had not been put to flight by his intercessions, there would have been a great slaughter.'"
Having told me this he then urged that I should be the only one to know about it, and that I was not to tell anyone else. But because it is such a beneficial story I have told many people, and now I even write it down.
He also said that he had seen the patriarch Joseph, his hair and beard grey, shining brightly in his old age, famed as the greatest in virtue among the saints.
"When I named him as the greatest among those who were with him in procession," said Jacobus, "he himself said he was the least."
He also told me about the great number of various kinds of attack made on him by the demons.
"On my first encounter with these beings," he said, "I saw a naked shape like an Ethiopian, shooting flames out of his eyes. As I looked at him I was terrified, but turned immediately to prayer. And during the whole time he appeared to me I was completely unable to take any food. After seven or eight days I was still fasting, until at last I felt able to despise his filthy insults. I sat down and took some food. He was infuriated by the strength of my spirit, and threatened to beat me with rods.
"'If that is what the God of all allows you to do', I said, 'strike, and I will gladly accept the blow as coming from God. But if it is not permitted to you, stop persecuting the soldiers of Christ immediately.'
"At this he fled. But he continued to keep on attacking me secretly. For there was someone who brought me water twice a week, and the demon met him disguised as me, took the water from him and then poured it out. After this had happened not just twice but thrice I was suffering grievously from thirst. I asked my usual water carrier why he had not brought me any water for the last fifteen days, and he told me he had brought it three or four times and I had taken it from him.
"'And where was I, when I took it from you,' I asked.
"And he named the spot.
"'Even if you see me coming to meet you a thousand times', I said, 'don't hand the water pot over except in this place that you see me now.'
"After these open and irritating attacks, he tried some other methods as well. He shouted loudly at me by night.
"'I will make you stink so foully, and inflict such slanderous reputation on you that nobody will want to come near you,'
"'Thank you very much,' I said. 'You have unwittingly bestowed a great benefit on me, for you have seen to it that I shall be all the more occupied with the remembrance of God. The more leisure time I have the more time I can spend in perpetual contemplation of the divine beauty.'
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