THE VIRTUE OF THE SOUL which is called patience is so great a gift of God that it is even said to belong to Him who bestows it, in that He waits for the wicked to amend. So, although God cannot suffer, and patience surely has its name from suffering (patiendo), we not only faithfully believe in a patient God, but also steadfastly acknowledge Him to be such. Who can explain in words the nature and the quantity of God’s patience? We say He is impassible, yet not impatient; nay, rather, extremely patient. His patience is indescribable, yet it exists as does His jealousy, His wrath, and any characteristic of this kind. But, if we conceive of these qualities as they exist in us, He has none of them. We do not experience these feelings without annoyance, but far be it from us to suspect an impassible God of suffering any annoyance. Just as He is jealous without any ill will, as He is angry without being emotionally upset, as He pities without grieving, as He is sorry without correcting any fault, so He is patient without suffering at all. Now, then, as far as the Lord grants it and the brevity of the present treatise allows, I shall explain the nature of the human patience which we can attain and which we ought to possess.
The patience of man which is good, praiseworthy, and deserving the name of virtue is said to be that by which we endure evils with equanimity so as not to abandon, through a lack of equanimity, the good through which we arrive at the better. By their unwillingness to suffer evil, the impatient do not effect their deliverance from it; instead, they bring upon themselves the suffering of more grievous ills. But the patient, who prefer to bear wrongs without committing them rather than to commit them by not enduring them, both lessen what they suffer in patience and escape worse things by which, through impatience, they would be submerged. In yielding to evils that are brief and passing, they do not destroy the good which is great and eternal, for ‘the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared,’ the Apostle says, ‘with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.’ And he also says: ‘our present light affliction, which is for the moment, prepares for us an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all measure.’
Let us then see, dearly beloved, what hardships men endure with labor and pain for the vicious objects of their love. The more they think of these as a means of greater happiness, the more unhappily do they covet them. How many extreme dangers and difficulties do they bear with the utmost patience for the sake of false riches, how many for empty honors, how many out of devotion to public games and shows! We see men eager for money, glory, and lust, who, to attain their desires and to keep what they have acquired, suffer, not through absolute need but with a culpable will, the heat of the sun, rain, icy cold, billows and stormy tempests, the bitterness and uncertainty of wars, the strokes of terrific blows and dreadful wounds. But these insane acts, somehow, seem licit.
Avarice, ambition, luxury, and a passionate interest in various sports are considered blameless, unless they are the source of some crime or outrage which is forbidden by the laws of man. Why, indeed, the man who, without defrauding anyone, has suffered and worked intensely either to secure or to increase his wealth, to win or retain honors, either by vying in a contest or by hunting, or by presenting some praiseworthy theatrical contest, because of the vanity of the people is in no way restrained by criticism, but is extolled with additional glory. As Scripture says: ‘the sinner is praised in the desires of his soul.’ Strong desires make labor and suffering tolerable. And no one voluntarily undertakes to suffer torture except for what will bring delight. But, as I said, those desires for whose fulfilment men, passionately aflame, patiently endure many hardships and much bitterness are considered licit and lawful.
And, as to acts that are openly criminal, why do men endure many grievious ills, not to punish, but to perpetrate, them? Do not the writers of secular literature relate that a certain well-born parricide of his native land was able to suffer hunger, thirst and cold to an almost incredible degree, and this body was equally tolerant of want, cold, and vigils?1 Why should I mention highway robbers, all of whom spend sleepless nights lying in wait for travelers? And to catch the harmless passersby they plant their bodies and minds, fixed on thoughts of harm, under any darkened sky. And some of them are said so to torture one another that their training to avoid punishment in no way differs from punishment. They are, perhaps, not tortured as much by the judge who tries to wrest truth from them under torment as they are by their own associates so that, even under torment, they will not betray them. Yet, in all these instances, their patience is to be marveled at rather than praised; nay, neither marveled at nor praised, for it is not patience. Their endurance is to be marveled at; their patience, denied. There is nothing there rightly deserving praise, nothing profitable for imitation, and you will judge the soul more rightly deserving of severer punishment the more it subjects its instruments of vice. For, patience is the attendant of wisdom, not the handmaid of passion. Patience is the friend of a good conscience, not the enemy of innocence.
Whenever, then, you see someone suffering patiently, do not immediately praise that patience, for true patience is recognized only through its cause. When this is good, then you have true patience. When the cause is untainted by passion, one can easily distinguish true patience from false. But, when it is maintained in a criminal act, then it is much misrepresented in name. For, all who suffer are not sharers in patience, as all who know are sharers in knowledge. Those who suffer in the right way merit praise for their true patience; they are crowned with the reward of patience.
And when men bear up wonderfully in the face of many dreadful sufferings, now for their unlawful desires or even crimes, and again for their temporal well-being in this life, they well remind us how much we ought to endure for the good life, so that even afterwards it can be eternal and unlimited by time, secure in true happiness without the loss of any advantage. The Lord says: ‘By your patience you will win your souls.’1 He does not say: ‘your homes, your luxuries,’ but ‘your souls.’ If, then, the soul suffers so much to possess the means by which it may be lost, how much ought it to suffer that it may not be lost. Then, to mention something blameless, if the soul suffers so much for the wellbeing of its own flesh at the hands of doctors cutting or burning the same, how much should it bear for its own safety amid the fury of any enemies whatsoever. Doctors, by inflicting pain on the body, try to keep it from death, while its enemies, on the other hand, by threatening the body with punishment and death, are working for the eternal death of the body and soul in hell.
Wise and foreseeing counsel for the body scorns, for justice sake, its temporal welfare, and patiently endures punishment and death for the same reason. It is, indeed, of the redemption of the body which will occur at the end of the world that the Apostle speaks when he says: ‘we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.’ And then he adds: ‘For in hope were we saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. For how can a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’
When, therefore, anything evil tortures us, without in turn extorting evil from us, not only do we possess our souls through patience, but, when through suffering the body itself is afflicted or lost temporarily, it actually regains lasting stability and happiness, and through death and pain it secures inviolable health and endless happiness. Hence, when our Lord Jesus exhorted His martyrs to patience, He even promised them integrity of the body without the loss, not of a limb, let me say, but even of a single hair of their heads. ‘Amen, I say to you,’ were His words, ‘not a hair of your head shall perish.’1 And ‘since no one,’ as the Apostle says, ‘ever hated his own flesh,’2 a faithful man more by patience than impatience keeps vigilant watch over the state of his flesh and sees compensation for the losses of this present life, however serious they may be, in the inestimable gain of future incorruption.
Though patience is a virtue of the soul, the soul practices it partly in itself, and partly in its body. It practices patience in its very self whenever, without touching or harming the body, it is incited by any adversities or by filthy acts or goading words to do or to say something inexpedient or unbecoming, and it patiently bears all these attacks in order not to do evil in word or deed.
By this patience we are supported even when we are in sound health, for, amid the stumbling blocks of this world, our true happiness is deferred. Hence that saying I mentioned a little while back: ‘If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ With this patience holy David endured the insults of one abusing him, and, though he could easily have wreaked vengeance on him, he not only did not do this, but even calmed another who was grieved and disturbed on his account, and used his royal power to forbid rather than to exercise vengeance. He was not then suffering from any bodily disease or wound. But he did recognize the time of humility and accepted the will of God for whose sake he drank in the bitter reproach with the utmost patience.
The Lord taught this patience, too, when He told the servants who were disturbed at the mixture of cockle and wished to gather it in that the householder had replied: ‘Let both grow together until the harvest.’ One has to bear with patience that which cannot be removed in a hurry. And He Himself furnished and offered an example of this very patience when, before His passion, He bore with the diabolic Judas as a thief before He exposed him as a traitor. And before undergoing bonds and the cross and death, He did not refuse his deceitful lips the kiss of peace. All these instances and others, which it would be tiresome to relate, belong to that kind of patience in which the mind bears patiently not its own sins, but, without any hurt to the body, of course, any kind of wrongs from without.
There is another kind of patience, however, by which the very same soul endures any troublesome or annoying sufferings in the body, not, as in the case of foolish or malicious men, to attain empty honors or to perpetrate crimes, but, as our Lord has said, ‘for justice sake.’ In both kinds, the holy martyrs were exercised. They were overwhelmed with the insults of the wicked in which the soul, the body being untouched, sustained, as it were, certain blows as its own; and, in the body, they were fettered, they were imprisoned, they were beset with hunger and thirst, they were tortured, cut to pieces, lacerated, burned, butchered. Yet, with a faithfulness that remained unmoved, they subjected their minds to God while they suffered in the flesh whatever cruelty came into the minds of their assailants.
There is, indeed, a greater challenge to patience when an invisible enemy, by pursuit and rage, urges one to sin, but this enemy can be overcome openly and in broad day by not consenting. But the Devil himself through the sons of infidelity as well as through his own instruments, pursues the sons of light and attacks in hiding, pressing on secretly with rage so that a sin, in thought or word, may be committed against God.
Such was the experience of holy Job, tried as he was by both types of temptations, but steadfast in both by the strength of his patience and unconquered through the arms of his faithfulness. At first, though his body was unharmed, he lost all his possessions, so that by the loss of all things which men are wont to esteem of value his soul might be crushed before his flesh was tortured, and so that he might rebel against God after having been deprived of that for which he was thought to worship Him. He was stricken, too, by the sudden death of all his sons, so that at one stroke he lost those whom he had received one by one, as though their goodly number was not to be for a source of happiness, but a means of increasing his woe. Struck down with this misfortune, he remained immovable in God, fixed on the will of Him whom he could not lose except by his own free will. And, instead of the things which he lost, he possessed Him who took them away, in whom he discovered what had never perished. For, he had not been stripped by one who desired to harm him, but by Him who had given him power.
Now the enemy attacked his body. He touched not the things that were extrinsic to man, but the man himself wherever he could. From head to foot, Job burned with pain, worms swarmed in his flesh, matter oozed out. But there remained in his rotting body a soul untouched, which accepted with inviolate faithfulness and unshaken patience the horrible tortures of the wasting flesh. His wife was there. She brought no help to her husband, but went on blaspheming God. Skilled in wrong-doing, the Devil had not deserted her when he had destroyed her sons, for he had learned with Eve how necessary woman was for the tempter. But, this time he did not find another Adam whom he could entice through a woman. This man was more on his guard in his pains than the other had been in the groves [of delight]; the latter was overcome in his enjoyment, the former overcame in his suffering; the one consented to pleasure, the other did not give in under torture. And his friends came, not to console him in his misfortune, but to cast suspicion on his woes. They did not believe that he, suffering so grievously, was innocent. Their tongues were not silent, but in his terrific bodily suffering they assailed him with false charges which his own conscience did not admit. He, enduring in his flesh the pains and in his heart the errors of his proud friends, chided his wife’s foolishness, taught his friends wisdom, and everywhere preserved his patience.
At him let those men look who bring death upon themselves when they are being sought out to be given life, and who, by taking away their present life, reject also the life to come. For, if they were being forced to deny Christ or to do anything contrary to justice, they ought, as true martyrs, to bear all things patiently rather than to inflict death upon themselves in their impatience. If he could have done it righteously to escape evil, holy Job would have destroyed himself so that he might have escaped such diabolic cruelty in his own possessions, in his own sons, in his own limbs. But he did not do it. Far be it that a wise man commit against himself what not even his foolish wife suggested. Because, if she had suggested it, she would deservedly have had the reply which she heard on suggesting blasphemy: ‘Thou hast spoken like one of the foolish women: if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?’ And, had he lost his patience either by blaspheming, as she had wished, or by killing himself, which she had not dared to suggest, he would have died and would be among those about whom it has been said: ‘Woe to them that have lost patience.’ And he would have increased rather than escaped punishment, for, after the death of his body, he would be hurried away to the penalties of blasphemers or homicides or the more grievous ones of parricides.
For, if parricide is more heinous than any homicide in that one slays not merely a man, but one’s neighbor, and in that type of murder one’s guilt is more serious the closer the person one has destroyed, then without doubt he is a worse sinner who commits suicide, for no one is closer to a man than himself. What now are those wretched men doing, who suffer self-inflicted punishments here and afterwards pay the penalty due, not only for their impiety toward God but also for their cruelty toward themselves? And then they look for the glory of martyrdom! Even if they were suffering persecution in order to bear witness to Christ, and killed themselves so as not to suffer anything from their persecutors, it would rightly be said of them: ‘Woe to those who have lost patience.’ For, how could the reward of patience be given to them justly if it was impatient suffering that was to be crowned. Or if he murders himself, a crime which he is forbidden to commit against a neighbor, how will he, to whom it has been said: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ be judged innocent?
The faithful, therefore, are to hear from Holy Scrip ture the precepts of patience: ‘Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure: that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.’ And in another place one reads: ‘My son, reject not the correction of the Lord: and do not faint when thou art chastised by him: For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth: and he scourges every son whom he accepts.’ What is here rendered as ‘son whom he accepts’ is equivalent to ‘acceptable men’ in the quotation given above. For, it is just that we who were dismissed from the pristine happiness of paradise because of our bold appetite for pleasures should be taken back through the humble endurance of difficulties, fugitives through our own evil-doing, returning through suffering evils, there acting contrary to justice, here suffering for justice sake.
We must find out whence true patience, worthy of the name, is to be had. There are those who attribute it to the powers of man’s will, not those which men have from divine assistance, but from their own free will. But, that is an arrogant error. It is the error of the rich about which the psalm speaks: ‘a reproach to the rich, and contempt to the proud.’ It is not the patience of the poor which ‘shall not perish forever.’ For, the poor receive it from the wealthy One to whom it is said: ‘Thou art my God, for thou hast no need of my goods,’ from whom ‘is every best gift and every perfect gift,’ on whom the poor and needy man calls, who praises His name, and by seeking, by asking, by knocking, says: ‘Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the sinner and out of the hand of the transgressor of the law and of the unjust. For thou art my patience, O Lord: my hope, from my youth.’
The rich and those who disdain being needy before the Lord should not receive true patience from Him. Glorying in their own false patience, they wish ‘to confound the counsel of the poor man, but the Lord is his hope.’ Since they are men and attribute so much to themselves, that is, to their human will, they do not tend to apply to themselves the words of Scripture: ‘Cursed be every man that trusteth in man.’ For, even if sometimes in order not to displease men or to suffer worse ills, they bear up under things that are hard and rugged, or else in pleasing themselves and loving their own presumption they suffer these same evils with an arrogant will, that which the blessed James the Apostle said about wisdom must be said to them about their patience: ‘This is not the wisdom that descends from above. It is earthly, sensual, devilish.’ For, why is there not a false patience of the proud just as there is a false wisdom of the proud? He who is the source of true wisdom is also the source of true patience. And to Him the man who is poor in spirit sings: ‘My soul is subject to God: for from him is my patience.’
In reply, they say: Just as man’s will without any help of God endures, either in soul or body, many grievous and dreadful things through the powers of its own free will so that it may enjoy the sinful delights of this mortal life, why does not this very same will of man, in the same way, by the same powers of its free will, without awaiting divine help but sufficient in its natural powers, why does it not bear the pain or suffering inflicted on it patiently for justice sake and for life eternal? Or, they say: Is the will of the wicked, without God’s help, strong enough to enable them to submit to torture for iniquity’s sake, and that before they are tortured by others? Or is the will of those who love dilly-dallying in this life strong enough, without the help of God, for them to persevere in lies amid atrocious and lengthy torments in order to avoid the death sentence which would result from a confession of their crimes? And is the will of the just not strong enough, without strength from above, to endure any punishments whatsoever either for the beauty of justice itself or for the love of eternal life?
Those who say this do not realize that each of the wicked is hardened to endure whatever evils to the extent that he lusts after the world, and, likewise, each of the just is more courageous to endure whatever evils in so far as he possesses a greater love of God. But, the lust for the world has its beginning in the will’s choice, proceeding from the pleasure of the will, with a foundation built up on a chain of habits. ‘The charity of God,’ however, ‘is poured forth in our hearts’ surely not from us, but ‘through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Furthermore, the patience of the just is from Him through whom their charity is poured out. Praising and commending this charity, the Apostle says that among its other good qualities it also ‘bears with all things.’ Charity, he says, is magnanimous. A little later he says ‘it bears with all things.’
The greater the charity of God that the saints possess, the more do they endure all things for Him whom they love; the stronger the desire of the world in sinners, the more they endure all things for the sake of their lusts. The true patience of the just is from the same source as the charity of God which is in them, and the false patience of the unjust is from the same source as is their lust of the world. For this reason, John the Apostle says: ‘Do not love the world nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life; which is not from the Father but from the world.’
The stronger and more vehement the lust, then, which is not from the Father but from the world, the more does each one become willing to accept all annoyances and griefs in pursuing the object of his desires. This patience, then, as we have said before, does not come from above. But the patience of the faithful, coming down from above, is from the father of lights. And so, that is earthly, this is heavenly; that animal, this spiritual; that devilish, this deifying—since the lust by which sinners suffer all things stubbornly is from the world. The charity by which the righteous bravely suffer all things is, however, from God. So the human will, without the help of God, can be sufficient and hardier for the man of false patience in that it is more lustful, and with it he sustains evils more tolerably in so far as it itself deteriorates. But, for the man with true patience, the human will does not suffice unless it is aided and inflamed from above, for the Holy Spirit is its fire, and, unless enkindled by Him, it loves impassible good, it cannot bear the evil it suffers.
As divine eloquence testifies, ‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.’ Whoever, then, asserts that it is possible to possess the love of God without the help of God, what else is he asserting than that God can be possessed without God? And what Christian would say this which no insane person would dare to say? Rejoicing, therefore, with the Apostles, true, pious, faithful patience says through the mouth of the saints: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword? Even as it is written, “For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter.” But in all these things we overcome because of him who has loved us.’ Not, then, through ourselves, but through ‘Him who has loved us.’ Then he continues, adding: ‘For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This is that charity of God ‘which is poured forth in our hearts,’ not by us, but ‘by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ But the lust for evil, for whose sake false patience is in them, is, as John the Apostle says: ‘not from the Father but from the world.’
Here, some one will say: If the lust for evil is from the world, and through this lust men endure all evils to satisfy their lustful desires, how can it be said to be of their own will?—as if they themselves were not of the world though they love the world, deserted as it is by Him through whom the world was made, ‘for they serve a creature rather than the Creature who is blessed forever.’ So, if by the word ‘world’ John the Apostle meant lovers of the world, their will, which is their own, is surely of the world. Or, if by the ‘world’ he meant the heavens and the earth and everything in them, that is, if he included all creation, the will of the creature, not being that of the Creator, is without doubt of the world. For this reason, the Lord says: ‘You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world.’ To the Apostles He says: ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own.’ But, that they would not ask more for themselves than their measure demanded, and that they might not think that His saying: ‘they are not of this world’ referred to nature instead of grace, He said: ‘you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.’ They were, therefore, of the world, for they were chosen out of the world that they might not be of the world.
But the Apostle, showing that this choice is based not on the merits of those who have excelled in good works, but is, rather, an election of grace, speaks thus: ‘at the present time there is a remnant left, selected out of grace. And if out of grace, then not in virtue of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.’ This is the election of grace, that is, the election by which men are chosen through the grace of God. This is, I say, the election of grace by which one advances beyond all good, human merits. If it is given for any outstanding merits, it is no longer a gratuitous gift, but is rendered as due. For this reason, one cannot use the term ‘grace’ in its true sense when ‘the reward,’ as the same Apostle says, ‘is not credited as a favor but as something due.’ But, if, in order to be true grace, that is, gratuitous, it finds nothing in man which would rightly claim it as his due—and this is clearly understood in that saying, ‘For nothing shalt thou save them’—surely it itself bestows merit and is not given according to merit. It also anticipates faith from which all good works begin, for ‘the just man,’ as Scripture says, ‘shall live in his faith.’
Furthermore, grace not only aids the just, but it also justifies the impious. So, even when it helps the just and he seems to be repaid for his merits, it does not cease to be grace, since it aids its own free gift. For the sake of this grace, which precedes every good, human act, Christ was not only slain by the wicked but He even died for them. And before He died He chose Apostles, not just men, but men to be justified, to whom He said: ‘I have chosen you of the world.’ To them He said: ‘you are not of this world,’ and then, lest they should think that they had never been ‘of the world,’ He added at once: ‘But I have chosen you out of the world.’ Surely, their not being of this world was a grace conferred on them by His election. If, then, they had been chosen for their own justice, not through His grace, they would not have been chosen out of the world, since they would already have been ‘not of the world,’ if they were already just. Then, they would have been elected for being just; they themselves, taking the lead, would have already chosen their Master. For, who can be just unless he chooses justice? ‘For Christ is the consummation of the Law unto justice for everyone who believes,’ ‘who has become for us God-given wisdom, and justice and sanctification and redemption; so that, just as it is written, “Let him who takes pride, take pride in the Lord.” ’ He, then, is our justice.
So, before the Incarnation of the Word, the just of old were justified in this faith of Christ and in this true justice, which for us is Christ, for they believed that this would occur which we believe has occurred: ‘For by grace they have been saved through faith; and that not from themselves, for it is the gift of God; not as the outcome of works, lest anyone may boast.’ Their good works did not anticipate the mercy of God, but followed it. Surely, they themselves heard, they themselves wrote, long before Christ had come in the flesh: ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will show pity to whom I will show pity.’ From these words of God the Apostle Paul was to say, much later: ‘So then there is question not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God showing mercy.’
There are also the words of those who spoke long before Christ had come in the flesh: ‘My God, his mercy shall prevent me.’ How can they, by whose charity Christ was foreannounced to us, be aliens to the faith of Christ, for without faith in Him there has never been nor can there ever be any just man. Were the Apostles, then, chosen by Christ as already just before they themselves had chosen Him that they could be chosen as just, because without Him they could not be just? It did not so happen. Indeed, He Himself says to them: ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.’ So, the Apostle John says: ‘not that we have loved God, but that He has first loved us.’
What, therefore, is man, using his own will in this life, before he chooses and loves God, except an unjust and impious creature? What is man, I say?—a creature wandering from the Creator unless his Creator is mindful of him and freely chooses and loves him. Of himself he cannot choose or love unless first he be prepared by being chosen and loved, for by choosing blindness he loses his sight, and in his love for laziness he soon grows tired. But, someone may say: How can God take the initiative in choosing and loving the unjust to justify them, since Scripture says: ‘Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity.’ How, do we think, except in a wonderful and ineffable way? Yet, can we not also see that a good doctor both hates and loves the sick? He hates him because he is sick; he loves him in order to rid him of his illness.
(20) These things have been said for the sake of charity. Without it, there can be no true patience in us, since in the good it is the charity of God which bears all things just as in the bad it is the lustful desire for the world. But this charity is in us through the Holy Spirit ‘who has been given to us.’ Hence, our patience is from Him from whom our charity comes. But, whenever the lust of the world patiently sustains the burdens of any calamity, it glories in the strength of its own will as from a stultifying disease, not from rugged health. That glorying is an unhealthy thing; it is not of patience but of madness. That will seems more tolerant of bitter sufferings in so far as it is more desirous of temporal goods, but is empty of those that are eternal.
If the unclean and diabolic spirit harries and inflames it with false visions and suggestions, and as a partner in a malign conspiracy makes man’s will, either demented through error or afire with the desire of some worldly pleasure, sustain marvelously what seems intolerable, even so it does not follow that the will cannot be bad without the instigation of another spirit, and that an unclean one, just as the will cannot be good without the help of the Holy Spirit. For, that a will can be bad, without any spirit seducing or inciting it, is clearly demonstrated in the Devil himself, who is found to have become a devil through no other devil than his own will. For, whether it be carried away by lust, recalled by fear, poured out in joy, or contracted by grief, in all these disturbances of the mind a bad will endures and bears lightly what is, to others and at another time, more grievous. It can, too, without the impulse of another spirit, seduce itself by slipping, through defect, from the higher things into the lower, and the more pleasant it esteems what it desires to attain, or fears to lose, or rejoices to have gained, or, having lost, grieves over, so much the more patiently will it bear for its sake the suffering which it considers as small in comparison with the pleasure to be enjoyed. For, whatever that is, it is of a creature, whose will is known. And in some way the creature that is loved is very near to the creature that loves it, tending by familiar contact and close association to experience its sweetness.
The pleasure of the Creator about which Scripture says ‘thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure’ is of a very different kind. It is not, like us, something created. Unless, then, love of it is given to us from above, there is no source whence we can secure it. Similarly, the good will, by which we love God, cannot exist in man unless God works in him to so will. This, then, is good will, that is, a will faithfully subjected to God, a will inflamed by the holines of divine ardor, a will which loves God and its neighbor for God’s sake. And this, either with the love with which the Apostle Peter replies: ‘Lord, thou knowest that I love thee’—or with the fear with which the Apostle Paul says: ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’—or with joy, as he says: ‘Rejoicing in hope, be patient in tribulation’—or with sorrow, the sort that Paul says he suffered for his brethren in great measure, for, whatever bitterness and harshness one suffers, it is the love of God ‘that endures all things’ which is not poured into our hearts except ‘through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’
So, with no doubt on piety’s part, as the charity of those who love holily is the gift of God, equally so is the patience of those who faithfully endure. Divine Scripture does not deceive nor is it deceived, and it testifies to this truth in the books of the Old Testament where God is told: ‘Thou art my patience,’ and ‘from him is my patience,’ and where another Prophet says we receive the spirit of fortitude. In the Epistles of the Apostle, too, we read: ‘You have been given the favor on Christ’s behalf—not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.’ Therefore, the soul should not be puffed up over what it hears is a gift, as though it were something all its own.
But if anyone, lacking the charity which belongs to the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace by which the Catholic Church is closely united, and firmly established in some schism, suffers tribulation, narrowness, hunger, nakedness, persecution, perils, imprisonment, chains, torments, or the sword, or flames, or beasts, or the cross itself, from fear of the eternal fires of hell, and all this in order not to deny Christ, in no way is his patience to be blamed. Rather, it is to be praised. We cannot say that it would have have been better for him to have denied Christ and have suffered none of these evils which he endured in confessing Him, but we must conclude that perchance the future judgment will be more lenient to him than if he had denied Christ to avoid all this, according to that saying of the Apostle: ‘If I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing.’ The words ‘it profits nothing’ are understood to refer to obtaining the kingdom of heaven, not to more resignation in suffering the penalties of the last judgment.
But, one rightly can ask whether that patience is a gift of God or whether it is to be attributed to the powers of the human will. I mean that patience by which each one separated from the Church suffers temporal punishment for fear of eternal punishment, not for the error which has separated him, but for the truth of the sacrament or the word which has remained with him. We must be on our guard lest, if we call that patience the gift of God, those who possess it are also believed to belong to the kingdom of God. And if we deny that that patience is a gift of God, we are forced to admit that there can be something good in the will of man without the help and gift of God. For, it is good for a man to believe he will have to suffer eternal punishment if he denies Christ, and for him to endure and make light of any punishment whatsoever for that faith.
As it must not be denied, then, that this is a gift of God, so it must be understood that there are some gifts of God which belong to the sons of that Jerusalem which is above, is free, and mother of us all.
These are, in a certain measure, the hereditary treasures in which we are the heirs of God ‘and joint heirs with Christ.’ There are others which can be received even by the sons of concubines, to whom the carnal Jews and schismatics can be compared. It is true that sacred Scripture says: ‘Cast out the slave-girl and her son, for the son of the slave-girl shall not be heir with my son Isaac.’ And God said to Abraham: ‘Through Isaac shall thy posterity bear thy name.’ This the Apostle interpreted to mean: ‘they are not the sons of God who are the children of the flesh, but it is the children of promise who are reckoned as a posterity,’ that we might understand that the seed of Abraham, according to Isaac, belongs, for Christ’s sake, to the sons of God who are the body of Christ and His members, that is, the one Church of God, true, complete, Catholic, clinging to a devout faith, not that which works through pride or fear, but that which works through love. Still, when Abraham dismissed the sons of the concubines from his son Isaac, rewards were given to them in some measure that they might not be left entirely empty-handed, but not to the extent that they might be regarded as heirs.
Thus, we read: ‘And Abraham gave all his possessions to Isaac his son: ‘And to the children of the concubines he gave gifts, and separated them from Isaac his son.’ If, then, we are the sons of the free Jerusalem, let us realize that some gifts belong to those who are disinherited; others, to the heirs. For, they are heirs to whom it is said: ‘You have not received a spirit of bondage so as to be again in fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by virtue of which we cry: “Abba! Father!” ’6
Let us cry out, therefore, with the spirit of charity, and, until we come to the inheritance in which we are to abide forever, let us be liberal in love, not patient with a servile fear. Let us cry out, as long as we are poor, until we are enriched with that inheritance. We have indeed received wonderful pledges, for to enrich us Christ Himself became poor, and after He was lifted up to the riches which are above He sent the Holy Spirit to inspire holy desires within our hearts. As to the poor who still believe without yet contemplating, who still hope without yet possessing, who still ardently desire without reigning in happiness, who still hunger and thirst without being satiated, ‘the patience of those poor, I say, ‘shall not perish forever.’ ‘Shall not perish’ is said not because there will be patience there where there will be nothing to be endured, but because it will not be unfruitful. It will have eternal fruit, and so ‘shall not perish forever,’ He who labors in vain says rightly: ‘I have lost so much labor,’ when what he expects from his labor proves disappointing. But he who attains what he expected from his work, says, congratulating himself: ‘I have not lost my labor.’ The labor is said not to have been lost, not because it remains forever, but because it was not expended in vain. So, also, the patience of the poor of Christ, who are to be the enriched heirs of Christ, will not perish forever, not because there we will be commanded to bear things patiently, but because in return for what we have patiently endured here we will there enjoy eternal happiness. He who gives temporal patience to our will will not put an end to eternal happiness, because both are of Him and are bestowed on charity, which is itself a gift. Amen.
Augustine of Hippo, Treatises on Various Subjects, 1952, 16, 237–264.