Self Control (continued) Book V (Sexual Temptation begins further down page)
V.iv.36. Once when there had been a celebration of Mass in abba Antony's mountain, there was a little wine left over which one of the seniors poured into a small cup and took to abba Sisoe, who when he was offered it drank it. A second time he accepted and drank, but on being offered it a third time he refused, saying, "Easy, brother, don't you know where Satan is?"
V.iv.37 A certain brother asked abba Sisoe what he should do because certain of the brothers out of kindness frequently asked him to stay for a meal after church.
"That's burdensome", the old man said.
And his disciple, Abraham, said, "If a brother goes to church on the Saturday and Sunday and drinks three cups of wine afterwards, would that be too much?"
"That wouldn't be too much, if it weren't for Satan," the old man said.
V.iv.38 Often when abba Sisoe's disciple said to him, "Come on, father, it's time to eat", he would reply, "Are you sure we haven't eaten already, my son?" And when the disciple assured him they hadn't the old man would say, "Well, if we haven't eaten, bring the food and let's eat."
V.iv.39. Abba Sisoe once confidently asserted that for thirty years he had not prayed to God about his sins without saying, 'Lord, Jesus, protect me from my own tongue.'
"And even now," he said, "day after day I fail and transgress because of it."
V.iv.40. (Also in III.46) Abba Silvanus and his disciple Zacharias once came to a certain monastery where they gave them some refreshment before they went on. And as they travelled on the disciple came upon a pool and desired to drink. But abba Silvanus said to him, "Zacharias, today is a fast day,"
"Haven't we just been eating to day, father?" he replied.
And the old man said, "The food which we have just taken was out of charity. As for us, my son, let us keep to our fast."
V.iv.41 Holy Syncletica said, "The precept which above all we ought to hold fast is to maintain our chastity. Even among worldly people chastity may be kept, but it can be totally unprofitable if they sin in all their other senses, by inordinately leering and laughing indecently."
V.iv.42 Again she said, "Just as strong medicine can drive out bodily poisons, so fasting and prayer can drive out squalid thoughts from the soul."
V.iv.43 Again she said, "Don't be led astray by the delicacies of this world which rich people use, however beneficial they might be in themselves. For they tickle their palates by seasoning their food with all manner of clever spices. But as for you, avoid a superfluity of such delights by means of fasting and disinterest in food. Neither be stuffed full of bread or hanker after wine."
V.iv.44. (Also in VII.xxxii.4) Abba Sisoe said, "The main point of our pilgrimage is that we should learn to guard our tongue."
V.iv.45. Abba Hyperichius said, "Just a terrible lion can be put to the test by wild asses, so can a monk by thoughts of self-satisfaction."
V.iv.46. Again he said, "Fasting serves the monk as a bridle against sin. If you put off fasting, you become like a stallion, overcome by sexual desire."
V.iv.47. Again he said, "The monk's body is dried up by fasting, but his soul is drawn upwards from the depths. The fasting of the monk dries up the springs of desire."
V.iv.48. Again he said, "A chaste monk is honoured on earth, and in heaven is honoured by the Most High with a crown."
V.iv.49 The same man said, "The monk who can't hold his tongue when angry won't be able to restrain his bodily desires either."
V.iv.50 Again he said, "Let not your mouth bring forth evil words any more than a vine might bring forth thorns."
V.iv.51 Again he said, "Eating flesh and drinking wine is no better than devouring the life of your brother by slandering him."
V.iv.52. Again he said, "The serpent whispering to Eve drove her from Paradise. Similarly, if you speak evil of your neighbour you imperil your own soul no less than the soul of anyone who listens to you."
V.iv.53 Once on a feast day in Scete an old man was offered a cup of wine which he thrust away from him, saying, "Take this death-dealing stuff away." When the other people at table saw this they refrained from drinking also.
V.iv.54. On another occasion a small vessel of newly made wine was brought in to be poured into the brothers' cups. And a certain brother coming in saw that they had accepted the wine and ran off into the cellar just as it collapsed on him. Hearing the noise the brothers ran in and found him lying there half dead and began to revile him, saying, "Serves you right for trying to make out you are somebody."
But the Abbot stood up for him, saying, "Leave the brother alone. He's done a good work. And as the Lord lives, this cellar will not be rebuilt during my time so that the world may know that all because of a cup of wine a cellar collapsed in Scete."
V.iv.55 The presbyter of Scete once went to Alexandria to see the bishop. And on his return to Scete the brethren asked him, "How was it in the city?"
"Believe me, brothers," he replied, "I looked on the face of no one but the bishop."
Hearing this they were puzzled and asked, "What about all those crowds of people?"
As a reminder and encouragement to the forgetful the presbyter replied, "I disciplined my curiosity and refrained from looking at them."
The brothers took the point of this story and renewed the custody of their eyes.
V.iv.56 One old man was once visiting another, who then said to his disciple, "Prepare a little lentil soup."
And he did so.
"And soak a little bread in it for us."
And he soaked it.
And while they went on talking of spiritual matters the food stayed there until the sixth hour of the next day, when the old man once more said to his disciple, "Prepare a little lentil soup, my son."
"I've already done that yesterday," he replied.
Only then did they rise and take some food.
V.iv.57. (A longer version of this story appears in III.6) Another old man visited a certain father who cooked a little lentil soup and then said, "Let us do the work of God first and then eat."
So one of them recited the complete psalter, and the other recited two of the major prophets off by heart. When morning was come the visitor departed, both of them having forgotten completely about the food.
V.iv.58. (A longer version of this story appears in III.4) A certain brother felt hungry one morning but refused to allow himself to eat until the third hour. And when the third hour was come he forced himself to fast until the sixth hour, when he soaked some bread and sat down ready to eat. But then he got up again, saying, "No, I'll wait till the ninth hour."
At the ninth hour as he said the prayers he saw the power of the devil rising up from him like a puff of smoke, and the pangs of his hunger immediately ceased.
V.iv.59. (Also in III.51) A certain old man fell ill and could eat nothing for quite some time, so that his disciple begged him to be allowed to make something for him to eat. And he went away to make some rolls out of a little flour (de farinula lenticulam et zippulas). There was a vessel hanging there with some honey in it, and also another one containing rancid oil (raphanaleum), which was the only one, he could see in the dim light. In mistake the brother put the rancid oil in his mixture instead of the honey. When the old man had tasted it he ate in silence and the disciple urged him to eat some more. He forced himself to do so and the disciple urged him a third time. Unable to manage any more he said, "Truly, I can't, my son."
The disciple kept on urging him, saying, "It's good for you, father. Look I'll eat some with you."
But when he had tasted it and realised what he had done he fell on his face and said, "Woe is me, father. I might have killed you. And because you didn't say anything I might have had a terrible sin on my shoulders."
But the old man said, "Don't worry, my son. If God had wanted me to eat honey it would have been honey that you put in those little rolls."
V.iv.60 (Also in III.50) It was told of a certain old man that he once had a hankering after cucumbers. And when he had got one he first of all hung it up where he could see it, to show that he was not the slave of his appetite. So he conquered himself, and did penance for having been overcome by desire in the first place.
V.iv.61. (Also in III.33) A brother once went to visit his sick sister in her monastery. She was one who was utterly steadfast, and had no desire to see any man, or give occasion to her brother to find himself in the midst of a lot of women for her sake, so she sent him a message, "Go, brother, and pray for me, for by the grace of Christ I shall see you in the kingdom of heaven."
V.iv.62. A monk once met some nuns as he went on a journey, and when he saw them he made a detour out of way. And the Abbess said to him, "If you had been a perfect monk you wouldn't have looked at us so closely as even to notice whether we were women or not."
V.iv.63. Some brothers once went into Alexandria at the invitation of Archbishop Theophilus, who made a speech to his guests about destroying pagan temples. And when they dined with the Archbishop they were served with a dish containing pieces of veal, which they were unwittingly eating until the Archbishop picked up a morsel of the meat and offered it to the old man sitting next to him saying, "Here's a really choice piece of meat for you to eat, father."
But they all replied, "Up to now we thought we eating olives. But if it really is meat we can't eat it."
And all refused to eat any more.
V.iv.64. A certain brother had some fresh loaves of bread in his cell and invited some of the seniors to eat with him. And when they had each eaten a slice they stopped. The brother, aware of how severe their fasting usually was, began very humbly to urge them for the love of God to eat that day till they were satisfied. And they ate another ten slices. See, then, how true monks, single-minded ascetics, could for the love of God eat more than was their custom.
V.iv.65. An old man was sick of a very serious disease such that he was coughing up blood. And a certain brother brought him some dried fruit and made it into a dish which he offered him, saying, "Try it. It will do you good."
The old man looked at him for a long time and said, "To be quite honest I would rather that the Lord would let me remain in this illness for another thirty years."
And there was no way that the old man in his illness would agree to eat even a little of such food, so that the brother had to take back what he had brought and return to his own cell.
V.iv.66. A brother happened to visit another old man who had been a hermit for a very long time, and found him ill. So he bathed his face and made a tasty dish out of some food which he had brought with him. When the old man saw this he said, "Truly, brother, I had forgotten that human beings could turn to food for consolation." And when offered a cup of wine he wept saying, "I had thought to live out my days without drinking wine."
V.iv.67. An old man decided to go without water for forty days. And when it got to be very hot he rinsed out a water jar, filled it with water and hung it up where he could see it. When his brothers asked why, he replied, "Looking at what I desire and not taking it I am able to put up with the greatest heat and thus earn a greater reward from the Lord."
V.iv.68. A certain brother going on a journey with his already aged mother came to a river which the old woman couldn't face wading through. So her son wrapped his hands up in his cloak lest he should make any contact with his mother's body and carried her across the river. His mother asked him why he had done that to his hands
"Because a woman's body is like a fire," and he replied. "In the very act of touching you I would have found phantasies of other women coming into my mind."
V.iv.69. One of the fathers told how there was a certain brother who having fasted all Holy Week came to the liturgy on the Saturday, but left after receiving communion so that he wouldn't have to eat with his brethren in the church. And afterwards when alone he ate only a few vegetables sprinkled with salt and no bread.
V.iv.70 Some brothers gathered once in Scete eating dates and one of them who was ill with much fasting coughed up some phlegm which accidentally landed on another brother who was tempted to complain about having been spat upon. But in order to overcome his thoughts he picked up the spittle, put it in his mouth and swallowed it, saying to himself, "Lest you say something to your brother which might upset him, consume this unappetising thing."
Libellus 5: Sexual Temptation
V.v.1. Abbot Antony said, "I reckon that the body is permeated by a natural power of movement, which does not operate except as the mind directs it, and whose significance in the body is only that of a movement which is not governed by outside influences. But there is another power of movement which comes from the body being nourished and aroused by food and drink which heat the blood and excite the body in its actions. Wherefore the Apostle says, 'Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess' (Eph.5.18). And again in the Gospel the Lord commands his disciples, 'But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness' (Luke 21.34). There is yet a third power of movement for those who are struggling to order their lives which comes from the wiles and treachery of the demons. So you need to know that there are three kinds of bodily movement, one natural, one from eating too much, and one from the demons."
V.v.2. Abba Gerontius Petrensis said, "There are many who, being tempted by the thoughts of bodily pleasure, do not allow the body to be affected but who nevertheless sin in their minds. They maintain virginity in their bodies but think thoughts of sex (secundum animum fornicantur). It is a good thing, therefore, beloved brethren, to do as it is written, 'Keep thy heart with all diligence'"(Proverbs 4.23).
V.v.3. Abba Cassian told of how abba Moses said, "It is a good thing not to conceal your thoughts but to reveal them to an old man of spirituality and discretion, not merely to someone who is old in years. There are many who trusted and confided simply in someone who was old but who had no experience. Instead of getting consolation they were driven to final despair."
V.v.4. There was a certain brother who was most zealous in ordering his life. And when he was grievously troubled by the demon of sex he went to a certain old man and told him his thoughts. When this expert heard, he was indignant and called the brother a miserable wretch unworthy of the monk's habit to entertain such thoughts. The brother, hearing this, despaired of himself, left his cell and began to go back to the world. But by the mercy of God, abba Apollo met him, and seeing that he was upset and unhappy he asked him, "Brother, why so sad?"
In great confusion of mind he was at first unwilling to answer, but in the face of much questioning by the old man as to what the matter was he at last confessed, saying, "I am bothered by thoughts of sex, and I confessed to that old man and according to him there is no hope of salvation for me, so in despair I'm going back to the world."
When father Apollo heard this he talked and reasoned with him like a wise physician, saying, "Don't be too dumbfounded, or despairing of yourself. Even at my age and state of life I can be greatly troubled by thoughts such as these. Don't collapse in this time of testing; it can be cured not so much by human advice as by the mercy of God. But just for today grant me one request: go back to your cell."
This the brother did. Abba Apollo however hastened to the cell of that old man who had sown despair and standing outside prayed the Lord, "Lord, who allows us to be tempted for our good, turn the battle which this brother has suffered against this old man, that in his old age he may learn from experience what he didn't learn long since, that you must have compassion on those who are troubled by this sort of temptation."
Having completed his prayer he saw an Ethiopian standing by the cell casting arrows against this old man, who, severely wounded, began to stagger about here and there as if drunk with wine. Unable to bear it any longer he rushed out of the cell and began to return to the world by the same road as the young brother had taken. But abba Apollo, knowing what was happening, met him, and running up to him asked, "Where are you going? And what is the reason for the agitated state you are in?"
But he, sensing that the holy man knew all about what was happening, could say nothing for very shame.
"Go back to your cell," said abba Apollo, "and acknowledge your own weakness, recognise it as part of yourself. For either you have been overlooked by the devil up till now, or else despised as being so lacking in virtue as to be unworthy of striving against him. Did I say 'strife'? You weren't even able to put up with his attacks for a single day! But all this happened to you because when that young man was attacked by our common adversary, instead of giving him helpful advice against the devil as you ought, you drove him into despair, forgetful of that wise precept by which we are bidden to save those on a pathway towards death and neglect not to redeem the condemned (Proverbs 14). Nor have you heeded the sayings of our Saviour, 'A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoking flax he shall not quench' (Matthew 12.20). No one can withstand the attacks of the enemy, or quench and contain the fire of rebellious nature, unless the grace of God comes to the aid of our natural infirmity, which in all our prayer we beg God in his mercy to heal in us, and that he may turn away from us the attacks launched against us, for it is of him that we are cast down and again restored to the way of salvation, it is he who strikes and then heals us with his hands, he humbles and exalts, he kills and makes alive, he leads us down to the depths and raises us up again" (1 Kings 2).
Having said this he prayed, and at once the old man was freed from that battle. And abba Apollo urged him to seek from the Lord a tongue of discretion, so that he might know when the time was right for giving a sermon.
V.v.5. Syrus Alexandrinus, when asked about sexual thoughts replied thus, "If you didn't have thoughts you would be a hopeless case, since those who are freed from thoughts are those who have moved into deeds, that is, those who have sinned in the body are the ones who have not fought against thoughts of sin, or turned them down. The one who sins in the body has gone beyond being troubled by thoughts."
V.v.6. An old man questioned a brother, saying, "Are you in the habit of talking with a woman?"
"No," the brother replied. "In my thoughts are phantasies both old and new, and some memories, which disturb me with images of women."
The old man replied, "Fear not the dead past, but fly from the living present, that is, consenting to and committing sin - and cast your prayer net wider."
V.v.7. Abba Matthois told of a certain brother who came to him and said that a scandalmonger was worse than a fornicator, to which he replied, "That's a difficult one."
The brother asked, "How would you see it, then?"
The old man said, "Scandal-mongering is indeed an evil, but can be quickly cured if the offender does penance and repents, confessing that he has spoken evil. Sexual sin however brings instant death."
V.v.8. (Also in III.59) Abba Pastor said, "Just as a prince's armour bearer (spatharius) stands before him always in full armour, so ought the soul always to stand ready against the demon of sexual sin."
V.v.9. (Also in III.63 & VII.i.9) A brother once came to abba Pastor and said, "What shall I do, father? For I am troubled by sexual temptation. And I went to abba Hybistio who said, 'You ought not to let such things dwell with you any longer.'"
Abba Pastor said, "The deeds of abba Hybistio are lifted up to the Angels in heaven and have taken him out of sight. You and I however are still struggling. But if a monk guards his stomach and his tongue and stays in solitude he will be saved from death."
V.v.10. It was told of Amma Sara that for thirteen years she was severely attacked by the demon of sexual temptation but she never prayed to be released from this battle; she only kept on saying, "Lord give me strength."
V.v.11. It was also told about her that she was attacked by an even more hostile and threatening demon of sexual temptation filling her head with worldly deceptions. But abating nothing of her fear of God and her profession of chastity she went to pray in her inner chamber and saw the demon of fornication in bodily form, who said to her, "You have conquered me, Sara."
But she replied, "Not I but Christ my Lord."
V.v.12. A certain brother goaded by sexual temptation felt that it was like having a burning fire in his heart night and day, but he went on battling, giving no assent or concession to his thoughts, until after many days the thoughts subsided, unable to prevail over the brother's perseverance. And at once it was as if a great light was lit in his heart.
Home List of Contents Next Top of Page