St. Gregory the Great on Contemplation

from Book V of his Moralia in Job 



Job Ch. 4  Ver. 12.  Now a hidden word was spoken to me.


50.  For the invisible Son is called ‘the hidden Word,’ concerning Whom John saith, In the beginning was the Word. [John 1, 1]  Which he the same person teaches to be ‘hidden’ in that he adds, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  But this ‘hidden Word’ is delivered to the minds of the Elect, when the power of the Only-Begotten Son is made manifest to believers.  By ‘the hidden word’ we may also understand the communication of inward Inspiration, concerning which it is said by John, His anointing teacheth you of all things. [1 John 2, 27]  Which same inspiration on being communicated to the mind of man lifts it up, and putting down all temporal interests inflames it with eternal desires, that nothing may any longer yield it satisfaction but the things that are above, and that it may look down upon all, that, from human corruption, is in a state of uproar below.  And so to hear ‘the hidden word’ is to receive in the heart the utterance of the Holy Spirit.  Which same indeed can never be known save by him, by whom it may be possessed.  And hence it is said by the voice of Truth concerning this hidden utterance, And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with, you for ever; even The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive. [John 14, 16. 17.]  For as that ‘Comforter,’ after the Ascension of the Mediator, being another Consoler of mankind, is in Himself invisible, so He inflames each one that He has filled to long after the invisible things.  And because worldly hearts are set upon the things that are seen alone, the world receiveth Him not, because it doth not rise up to the love of the things that are unseen.  For worldly minds, in proportion as they spread themselves out in interests without, contract the bosom of the heart against the admission of Him.  And because out of mankind there are few indeed, who, being purified from the pollution of earthly desires, are opened by that purification to the receiving of the Holy Spirit, this word is called ‘a hidden word,’ since, surely, there are particular persons that receive that in the heart, which the generality of men know nothing of.  Or truly this same inspiration of the Holy Spirit is ‘a hidden word,’ in that it may be felt, but cannot be expressed by the noise of speech.  When, then, the inspiration of God lifts up the soul without noise, ‘a hidden word’ is heard, in that the utterance of the Spirit sounds silently in the ear of the heart.  And hence it is added;

And mine ear as it were stealthily received the veins of the whispering thereof.


51.  The ear of the heart ‘receives stealthily the veins of heavenly whispering,’ in that both in a moment and in secret the inspired soul is made to know the subtle quality of the inward utterance.  For except it bury itself from external objects of desire, it fails to enter into the internal things.  It is both hidden that it may hear, and it hears that it may be hidden; in that at one and the same time being withdrawn from the visible world its eyes are upon the invisible, and being replenished with the unseen, it entertains a perfect contempt for what is visible.  But it is to be observed that he does not say, Mine ear received as it were by stealth the whispering thereof; but the veins of the whispering thereof; for ‘the whispering of the hidden word’ is the very utterance of inward Inspiration itself; but ‘the veins of the whispering’ is the name for the sources of the occasions whereby that inspiration itself is conveyed to the mind.  For it is as if It opened ‘the veins of its whispering,’ when God secretly communicates to us in what ways He enters into the ear of our understandings.  Thus at one time He pierces us with love, at another time with terror.  Sometimes He shews us how little the present scene of things is, and lifts up our hearts to desire the eternal world, sometimes He first points to the things of eternity, that these of time may after that grow worthless in our eyes.  Sometimes He discloses to us our own evil deeds, and thence draws us on even to the point of feeling sorrow for the evil deeds of others also.  Sometimes He presents to our eyes the evil deeds of others, and reforms us from our own wickedness, pierced with a wonderful feeling of compunction.  And so to ‘hear the veins of Divine whispering by stealth,’ is to be made to know the secret methods of divine Inspiration, at once gently and secretly.


52.  Though we may interpret whether ‘the whispering’ or ‘the veins of whispering’ in another way yet.  For he that ‘whispers’ is speaking in secret, and he does not give out, but imitates a voice.  We, therefore, so long as we are beset by the corruptions of the flesh, in no wise behold the brightness of the Divine Power, as it abides unchangeable in itself, in that the eye of our weakness cannot endure that which shines above us with intolerable lustre from the ray of His Eternal Being.  And so when the Almighty shews Himself to us by the chinks of contemplation, He does not speak to us, but whispers, in that though He does not fully develope Himself, yet something of Himself He does reveal to the mind of man.  But then He no longer whispers at all, but speaks, when His appearance is manifested to us in certainty.  It is hence that Truth saith in the Gospel, I shall shew you plainly of the Father. [John 16, 25]  Hence John saith, For we shall see Him as He is. [1 John 3, 2] Hence Paul saith, Then shall I know even as also I am known. [1 Cor. 13, 12.]  Now in this present time, the Divine whispering has as many veins for our ears as the works of creation, which the Divine Being Himself is Lord of; for while we view all things that are created, we are lifted up in admiration of the Creator.  For as water that flows in a slender stream is sought by being bored for through veins, with a view to increase it, and as it pours forth the more copiously, in proportion as it finds the veins more open, so we, whilst we heedfully gather the knowledge of the Divine Being from the contemplation of His creation, as it were open to ourselves the ‘veins of His whispering,’ in that by the things that we see have been made, we are led to marvel at the excellency of the Maker, and by the objects that are in public view, that issues forth to us, which is hidden in concealment.  For He bursts out to us in a kind of sound as it were, whilst He displays His works to be considered by us, wherein He betokens Himself in a measure, in that He shews how Incomprehensible He is.  Therefore, because we cannot take thought of Him as He deserves, we hear not His voice, yea, scarcely His whispering.  For because we are not equal to form a full and perfect estimate of the very things that are created, it is rightly said, Mine ear as it were by stealth received the veins of whispering; in that being cast forth from the delights of paradise, and visited with the punishment of blindness, we scarcely take in ‘the veins of whispering;’ since His very marvellous works themselves we consider but hastily and slightly.  But we must bear in mind, that in proportion as the soul being lifted up contemplates His excellency, so being held back it shrinks from His righteous perfectness [rectitudinem].  And hence it is rightly added;

Ver.13.  In the horror of a vision of the night.


53.  The horror of a vision of the night is the shuddering of secret contemplation.  For the higher the elevation, whereat the mind of man contemplates the things that are eternal, so much the more, terror-struck at her temporal deeds, she shrinks with dread, in that she thoroughly discovers herself guilty, in proportion as she sees herself to have been out of harmony with that light, which shines in the midst of darkness [intermicat] above her, and then it happens that the mind being enlightened entertains the greater fear, as it more clearly sees by how much it is at variance with the rule of truth.  And she, that before seemed as it were more secure in seeing nothing, trembles with sore affright from her very own proficiency itself.  Though, whatever her progress in virtue, she does not as yet compass any clear insight into eternity, but still sees with the indistinctness of a certain shadowy imagining.  And hence this same is called a vision of the night.  For as we have also said above, in the night we see doubtfully, but in the day we see steadily.  Therefore because, as regards the contemplating the ray of the interior Sun, the cloud of our corruption interposes itself, nor does the unchangeable Light burst forth such as It is to the weak eyes of our mind, we as it were still behold God ‘in a vision of the night,’ since most surely we go darkling under a doubtful sight.  Yet though the mind may have conceived but a distant idea concerning Him, yet in contemplation of His Greatness, she recoils with dread, and is filled with a greater awe, in that she feels herself unequal even to the very skirts of the view of Him.  And falling back upon herself, she is drawn to Him with closer bonds of love, Whose marvellous sweetness, being unable to bear, she has but just tasted of under an indistinct vision.  But, because she never attains to such an height of elevation, unless the importunate and clamorous throng of carnal desires be first brought under governance, it is rightly added,

When deep sleep falleth upon men.


54.  Whoever is bent to do the things which are of the world, is, as it were, awake, but he, that seeking inward rest eschews the riot of this world, sleeps as it were.  But first we must know that, in holy Scripture, sleep, when put figuratively, is understood in three senses.  For sometimes we have expressed by sleep the death of the flesh, sometimes the stupefaction of neglect, and sometimes tranquillity of life, upon the earthly desires being trodden underfoot.  Thus, by the designation of sleep or slumbering the death of the flesh is implied; as when Paul says, And I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. [1 Thess. 4, 13] And soon after, Even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. [ver. 14]  Again, by sleep is designated the stupefaction of neglect; as where it is said by that same Paul, Now it is high time to awake out of sleep. [Rom. 13, 11]  And again, Awake, ye righteous [Vulg.], and sin not. [1 Cor. 15, 34]  By sleep too is represented tranquillity of life, when the carnal desires are trodden down; as where these words are uttered by the voice of the spouse in the Song of Songs, I sleep, but my heart waketh. [Cant. 5, 2]  For, in truth, in proportion as the holy mind withholds itself from the turmoil of temporal desire, the more thoroughly it attains to know the things of the interior, and is the more quick and awake to inward concerns, the more it withdraws itself out of sight from external disquietude.  And this is well represented by Jacob sleeping on his journey.  He put a stone to his head and slept.  He beheld a ladder from the earth fixed in heaven, the Lord resting upon the ladder, Angels also ascending and descending.  For to ‘sleep on a journey’ is, in the passage of this present life, to rest from the love of things temporal.  To sleep on a journey is, in the course of our passing days, to close those eyes of the mind to the desire of visible objects, which the seducer opened to the first of mankind, saying, For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened. [Gen. 3, 5]  And hence it is soon afterwards added, She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.  And the eyes of them both were opened. [ver. 6, 7.]  For sin opened the eyes of concupiscence, which innocence kept shut.  But to ‘see Angels ascending and descending,’ is to mark the citizens of the land above, either with what love they cleave to their Creator above them, or with what fellow-feeling in charity they condescend to aid our infirmities.


55.  And it is very deserving of observation, that he that ‘lays his head upon a stone,’ is he who sees the Angels in his sleep, surely because that same person by resting from external works penetrates internal truths, who with mind intent, which is the governing Principle of man, looks to the imitating of his Redeemer.  For to ‘lay the head upon a stone’ is to cleave to Christ in mind.  Since they that are withdrawn from this life's sphere of action, yet whom no love transports above, may have sleep, but can never see the Angels, because they despise to keep their head upon a stone.  For there are some, who fly indeed the business of the world, but exercise themselves in no virtues.  These, indeed, sleep from stupefaction, not from serious design, and therefore they never behold the things of the interior, because they have laid their head, not upon a stone, but upon the earth.  Whose lot it most frequently is, that in proportion as they rest more secure from outward actions, the more amply they are gathering in themselves from idleness an uproar of unclean thoughts.  And thus under the likeness of Judaea the Prophet bewails the soul stupefied by indolence, where he says, The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths. [Lam. 1, 7]  For by the precept of the Law there is a cessation from outward work upon the Sabbath Day.  Thus her ‘enemies looking on mock at her sabbaths,’ when evil spirits pervert the very waste hours of vacancy to unlawful thoughts.  So that every soul, in proportion as it is supposed to be devoted to the service of God, by being removed from external action, the more it drudges to their tyranny, by entertaining unlawful thoughts.  But good men, who sleep to the works of the world, not from inertness, but from virtue, are more laborious in their sleep than they would be awake.  For herein, that by abandoning they are made superior to this world's doings, they daily fight against themselves, maintaining a brave conflict, that the mind be not rendered dull by neglect, nor, subdued by indolence, cool down to the harbouring of impure desires, nor in good desires themselves be more full of fervour than is right, nor by sparing itself under the pretext of discretion, may slacken its endeavour after perfection.  These are the things she is employed withal: she both wholly withdraws herself from the restless appetite of this world, and gives over the turmoil of earthly actions, and in pursuit of tranquillity, bent on virtuous attainments, she sleeps waking.  For she is never led on to contemplate internal things, unless she be heedfully withdrawn from those, which entwine themselves about her without.  And it is hence that Truth declares by His own mouth, No man can serve two Masters. [Matt. 6, 20]  Hence Paul saith, No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him that hath chosen him to be a soldier. [2 Tim. 2, 4]  Hence the Lord charges us by the Prophet, saying, Be still [Vacate, be at leisure], and know that I am the Lord. [Ps. 46, 10]  Therefore, because inward knowledge is not cognisable by us, except there be a rest from outward embarrasments, the season of the hidden word, and of the whisperings of God, is in this place rightly set forth, when it is said, In the horror of a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in that truly our mind is never caught away after the force and power of inward contemplation, unless it be first carefully lulled to rest from all agitation of earthly desires.  But the human mind, lifted on high by the engine as it were of its contemplation, in proportion as it sees things higher above itself, the more terribly it trembles in itself.  And hence it is fitly added,

Ver. 14.  Fear came upon me and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.


56.  What is denoted by ‘bones’ but strong deeds?  Of which also it is said by the Prophet, He keepeth all their bones. [Ps. 34, 20]  And it often happens that the things which men do, they reckon to be of some account, because they know not, how keen is the discernment of His inward sifting; but when, transported on the wings of contemplation, they behold things above, in some sort they melt away from the security they felt in their presumption, and quake in sight of God the more, in proportion as they do not even reckon their excellences fit for the searching eye of Him, Whom they behold.  For it is hence that he, who had gained ground in doing strong deeds, being lifted up by the Spirit, exclaimed, All my hones shall say, Lord, who is like unto Thee? [Ps. 35, 10]  As though he said, ‘My flesh is without words, in that my infirmities are wholly silent before Thee, but my bones sing the praises of Thy greatness.  In that the very things, which I thought to be strong in me, tremble at the view of Thee.’  It is hence that Manoah shrinking at the vision of the Angel, says, We shall surely die, for we have seen The Lord. [Judg. 13, 22. 23.]  Whom his wife immediately comforts, with these words, If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering, and a meat-offering at our hand.  But how is it that the man becomes fearful at the vision of the Angel, and the woman bold; but that as often as heavenly things are shewn us, the spirit indeed is shaken with affright, yet hope has confidence?  For hope lifts itself to dare greater feats from the same cause, whereby the spirit is troubled, in that it sees the first the things that are above.  Therefore because, when the mind, being lifted on high, beholds the higher depths of the secrets of heaven, all that is most solid of human strength trembles, it is well said here, Fear came upon me and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.  As though it were expressed in plain words; ‘When I perceived the secrets of inmost subtlety, in that quarter where I thought myself in my own eyes strong, I faltered in the sight of the Judge.’  For contemplating the strictness of Divine Justice, we justly fear even for the very works themselves, which we flattered ourselves we had so done that they were strong.  For our uprightness, when drawn parallel to the inward rule, if it meets with strict judgment, comes cross, with many sinuosities of its windings, to the inward uprightness.  And hence, when Paul both perceived that he had the bones of the several virtues, and yet that these same bones trembled under the searching scrutiny, he saith, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment; yea, I judge not mine own self; for I know nothing against myself: [1 Cor. 4, 3. 4.]  Yet because, when the ‘veins’ of the divine ‘whispering’ were heard, these same bones quaked, he thereupon added, For I am not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.  As though be were to say, ‘I remember that I have done light things, yet I presume not on my merits; for our life is brought to the scrutiny of Him, under Whom even the bones of our strength are dismayed.


57.  But when the mind is suspended in contemplation, when, exceeding the narrow limits of the flesh, with all the power of her ken, she strains to find something of the freedom of interior security, she cannot for long rest standing above herself, because though the spirit carries her on high, yet the flesh sinks her down below by the yet remaining weight of her corruption.  And hence it is added,

Ver. 15.  And as a spirit passed before my face, the hair of my flesh stood up.


58.  ‘A spirit passes before our face,’ when we are brought to the knowledge of invisible things, and yet see these same not stedfastly, but with a hasty glance.  For not even in the sweetness of inward contemplation does the mind remain fixed for long, in that being made to recoil by the very immensity of the light it is called back to itself.  And when it tastes that inward sweetness, it is on fire with love, it longs to mount above itself, yet it falls back in broken state to the darkness of its frailty.  And advancing in high perfection, it sees that it cannot yet see that which it ardently loves, which yet it would not love ardently did it not in some sort see the same.  Thus the spirit is not stationary, but ‘passes by;’ because our contemplation both discloses to us, that pant thereafter, the heavenly light, and forthwith conceals the same from us failing from weakness.  And because in this life, whatever degree of virtue a man may have advanced to, he still feels the sting of corruption, For the corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things [Wisd. 9, 15]; therefore it is rightly added,

The hair of my flesh stood up.


59.  For ‘the hairs of the flesh’ are all the superfluities of human corruption.  ‘The hairs of the flesh’ are the imaginations of the former life, which we so cut away from the mind, that we let no grief for the loss of them disturb our peace.  And it is well said by Moses, Let the Levites shave [Vulg. thus] all the hairs of their flesh. [Numb. 8, 7]  For a ‘Levite’ is rendered ‘taken.’  And thus it behoves the ‘Levites’ to shave all ‘the hairs of the flesh,’ in that he who is ‘taken’ into the divine ministrations, ought to shew himself clear of all imaginations of the flesh before the eyes of God, that the mind never put forth unlawful thoughts, and so deform the fair appearance of the soul as it were by sprouting hairs.  But whatever perfection of holy living may have raised the condition of any man, yet there still springs up to him from his old state of life somewhat to bear.  And hence the same hairs of the Levites are commanded to be shaven, not to be plucked out, for the roots still remain in the flesh to the shaven hairs, and grow again to be again cut off, in that while we are to use great diligence in cutting off all rank thoughts, yet they never can be wholly and entirely cut off.  For the flesh is ever engendering a rank produce, which the spirit should ever be cutting away with the knife of heedfulness.  Yet it is then that we see these things with more exactness, when we penetrate into the heights of contemplation; and hence it is rightly said, Whilst a Spirit passed before my face, the hair of my flesh stood up.


60.  For when the human mind is lifted up on the tower of contemplation, it the more cruelly torments itself for its superfluities, in proportion as it perceives that which it loves to be infinitely refined; and when it beholds that beautiful Being, which it longs for, above its own height, it severely judges every thing infirm in itself, which it bore with tranquillity before.  Therefore when ‘the Spirit passeth by,’ ‘the hairs quake,’ in that before the power of compunction, all rank thoughts flee away, that nought that is loose, nought that is dissipated, any longer gives pleasure, for severity of inward visitings kindles the inspired soul even against its own self; and when that which riseth up in the heart of an unlawful kind, is cut away with unintermitted strictness, it very often happens that the invigorated soul enters into its ray of contemplation with a somewhat larger range, and almost arrests the spirit which was ‘passing by.’  Yet does not this same lingering of contemplation fully discover the force of the Divine nature, for its vastness transcends all human powers thus enlarged and elevated.  And hence it is well added;

Ver. 16.  There stood a certain one, but I could not discern the form thereof.  [V. thus]


61.  For we do not speak of a certain one, saving surely in the case of him, whom we are either unwilling or unable to express.  Now with what feeling it is here said a certain one, is clearly set forth, in that it immediately comes in, but I could not discern the form thereof.  For the human soul, being by the sin of the first of mankind banished from the joys of paradise, lost the light of the invisible, and poured itself out entire in the love of the visible, and was darkened in the interior sight, in proportion as it was dissipated without, to the deformment of itself.  Whence it comes to pass that it knows nothing, saving the things that it acquaints itself with by the palpable touch, so to say, of the bodily eyes.  For man, who, had he been willing to have kept the commandment, would even in his flesh have been a spiritual being, by sinning was rendered even in soul carnal, so as to imagine such things only as he derives to the soul through the images of bodily substances.  For body is the property of heaven, earth, water, animals, and all the visible things; which he unceasingly beholds; and while the delighted mind wholly precipitates itself into these, it waxes gross, loses the fineness of the inward sense; and whereas it is now no longer able to erect itself to things on high, it willingly lies prostrate in its weakness in things below.  But when with marvellous efforts it strives to rise up from the same, it is great indeed, if the soul, thrusting aside the bodily form, be brought to the knowledge of itself, so as to think of itself without a bodily figure, and by thus thinking of itself to prepare itself a pathway to contemplate the substance of Eternity.


62.  Now in this way it shews itself to its own eyes as a kind of ladder, whereby in ascending from outward things to pass into itself, and from itself to tend unto its Maker.  For when the mind quits bodily images, entering into itself, it mounts up to no mean height; for though the soul be incorporeal, yet because she is incorporate with the body, she is known by that property of hers, which is confined within the local bounds of the flesh.  And whereas she forgets things known, acquaints herself with such as are unknown, remembers what has been consigned to oblivion, entertains mirth after sadness, is adjudged to punishment [addicitur] after joy; she herself shews by her own diversity in herself, how widely she is removed from the Substance of eternal Unchangeableness.  Which is always the same, even as It Is; Which every where present, every where invisible, every where whole and entire, every where incomprehensible, is by the longing mind discerned without seeing, heard without uncertainty, taken in without motion, touched without bodily substance, held without locality.  Now when the mind that is used to corporeal objects represents to itself this same Substance, it is loaded with the phantasms of divers images.  And whilst it banishes these from the eyes of its attention with the hand of discernment, making every thing give place thereto, it at last beholds It in some degree.  And if it does not as yet apprehend what It is, it has surely learnt what It is not.  And so because the mind is carried away into unaccustomed ground, when it pries into the Essence of the Deity, it is rightly said here, A certain one stood, but I could not discern the form thereof.


63.  And it is well said, it stood still; for every created thing, in that it is made out of nothing, and of itself tends to nothing, has not the property to stand, but to run to an end.  But a creature endowed with reason, by this very circumstance, that it is created after the image of its Maker, is fixed that 

it should not pass into nothing.  Now no irrational creature is ever fixed, but only, so long as, by the service of its appearing, it is completing the form and fashion of the universe, it is delayed in passing away.  For though heaven and earth abide henceforth and for ever, still they are at this present time of themselves hastening on to nought; yet for the use of those, whom they serve, they remain to be changed for the better.  To ‘stand’ then is the attribute of the Creator alone, through Whom all thing's pass away, Himself never passing away, and in Whom some things are held fast, that they should not pass away.  Hence our Redeemer, because the fixed state of His Divine Nature could not be comprehended by the human mind, shewed this to us as it were in passing, by coming to us, by being created, born, dead, buried, by rising again, and returning to the heavenly realms.  Which He well shadowed out in the Gospel by the enlightening the blind man, to whom when passing on He vouchsafed a hearing, but it was standing still that He healed his eyes.  For by the economy of His Human Nature He had His passing on, but the standing by the power of His Divine Nature, in that He is every where present.  Thus the Lord is said to hear the complaints of our blind condition in passing, in that being made Man He has compassion on human misery; but He restores light to the eyes standing still, in that He enlightens the darkness of our frail state by the efficacy of His Divine Nature.  It is well then that, after it has been said, Then a spirit passed before my face, it should be added, but I could not discern the form thereof.  As if it were in plain words, ‘Him, Whom I perceived in passing, I discovered never to pass.’  He then that ‘passes’ is the same as He that ‘stands still.’  He ‘passes,’ in that when known He cannot be detained, He ‘stands still,’ in that, so far as He is known, He is seen to be unchangeable.  Therefore, because He, That is ever the Same, is seen by a hasty glance, God at the same time appears both passing and standing still.  Or surely His ‘standing’ is His never varying with any change; as it is said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM.  And as James represents Him, saying, With Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. [Jam. 1, 17] Now whereas every man, that apprehends something of the Eternal Being by contemplation, beholds the Same through His coeternal Image, it is rightly subjoined;

An image was before mine eyes.


64.  For the Image of the Father is the Son, as Moses teaches in the case of man at his creation; So God created man in His own Image; in the Image of God created He him. [Gen. 1, 27]  And as the Wise Man, in the setting forth of Wisdom, saith concerning the same Son, For She is the brightness of the everlasting light. [Wisd. 7, 26]  And as Paul hath it, Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express Image of His Person. [Heb. 1, 3] When then His Eternity is perceived as far as the capability of our frail nature admits, His Image is set before the eyes of the mind, in that when we really strain towards the Father, as far as we receive Him we see Him by His Image, i.e. by His Son, And by That Image, Which was born of Himself without beginning, we strive in some sort to obtain a glimpse of Him, Who hath neither beginning nor ending.  And hence this same Truth saith in the Gospel, No man cometh to the Father but by Me. [John 14, 6]  And it is well added,

And I heard the voice as it were of a light breath.


65.  For what is signified by ‘the voice of a light breath,’ but the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, Which proceeding from the Father, and receiving of that which belongeth to the Son, is gently imparted to the knowledge of our frail nature?  Yet when It came upon the Apostles, It is demonstrated by an outward sound, like a vehement blast, where it is said, And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind. [Acts 2, 2]  For when the Holy Spirit imparts Itself to the knowledge of frail humanity, It is both represented by ‘the sound of a rushing mighty wind,’ and also by the ‘voice of a gentle breath,’ clearly, in that when It comes, It is both ‘vehement’ and ‘gentle;’ ‘gentle,’ in that It tempers the knowledge of Itself to our perceptions, so as to be in some sort brought under our cognizance; ‘vehement,’ in that however It may temper that same, yet by Its coming, It confounds while It illumines the darkness of our frail condition.  For It touches us but lightly by Its enlightening influence, yet it shakes our emptiness with fearful might.


66.  So God's voice is heard as if of ‘a light breath,’ in that the Divine Being never imparts Himself as He is to those that contemplate Him while still in this life, but to the purblind eyes of our mind He discovers His brightness but scantily.  Which is well represented by the very receiving of the Law itself, when it is said that Moses ascended, and God descended upon the Mount.  For ‘the Mount’ is our very contemplation itself, whereinto we ascend, that we may be elevated to see those things which are beyond our frail nature; but the Lord descends thereupon, in that, when we advance much, He discloses some little concerning Himself to our perceptions, if either ‘little’ or ‘somewhat’ can be said to be in Him, Who, being always One and abiding the Same, cannot be understood by parts, and yet is said to be participated by His faithful servants, whereas ‘part’ is nowise admissible in His Substance.  But because we are unable to express Him with perfect speech, being hindered by the scanty measure of our human nature, as by the impotency of the infant state, we give back an echo of Him in some sort with stammering utterance.  But that when we are lifted up in high contemplation, it is somewhat refined that we attain unto in the knowledge of the Eternal One, is shewn by the words of Sacred Story, when the illustrious Prophet Elijah is instructed in the knowledge of God.  For when the Lord promised him that He would pass by before him, saying, And, behold, the Lord passeth by, a great and strong wind rending the mountains, and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord;  He thereupon added, But the Lord is not in the wind: and after the wind a quaking, but the Lord is not in the quaking: and after the quaking a fire, but the Lord is not in the fire: and after the fire, a still small voice. [1 Kings 19, 11. 12.] [V. the whisper of a gentle air]  For the wind before the Lord overturns the mountains, and shatters the rocks, in that the affright, which rushes in upon us from His coming, both casts down the exaltation of our hearts, and melts their hardness.  But the Lord is said not to be in the ‘wind of quaking’ and in the fire, but it is not denied that He is ‘in the still small voice,’ in that verily when the mind is hung aloft in the height of contemplation, whatever it has power to see perfectly and completely is not God, but when it sees something of great fineness, this is the same as that he hears belonging to the incomprehensible substance of the Deity.  For we as it were perceive a still small voice, when by a moment's contemplation we taste with finest sense the savour of incomprehensible truth.  Accordingly then only is there truth in what we know concerning God, when we are made sensible that we cannot know any thing fully concerning Him.  Hence it is well added in that place, And it was so when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood at the entering in of the cave.  After the still small voice, the Prophet covers his face with his mantle, because in that very refined contemplation he learns in what a cloak of ignorance man is shrouded; for to draw the mantle over the face is to veil the mind by the consideration of its own infirmity, that it may never presume to seek things above it, that it never rashly open the eyes of the understanding beyond itself, but close them with a feeling of awe to that which it cannot apprehend.  And he, in doing such things, is described to have stood at the entering in of the cave.  For what is our cave but this dwelling-place of our corrupt nature, wherein we are still held fast from remaining oldness?  But when we begin to take in something of the knowledge of the Divine Being, we as it were already stand ‘in the entering in of our cave;’ for whereas we cannot make perfect progress, yet panting after the knowledge of the truth, we already catch something of the breath of liberty.  So to ‘stand at the entering in of the cave,’ is, forcing aside the obstruction of our corrupt nature, to begin to issue forth to the knowledge of the truth.  And hence upon the cloud descending on the Tabernacle, the Israelites seeing it afar off are related to have stood at the entering in of their tents, [Ex. 33, 9] in that they, who in some sort behold the coming of the Deity, as it were already issue forth from the habitation of the flesh.  Therefore because with whatever amplitude of virtue the human mind may have enlarged its compass, yet it scarcely knows the very outermost extremes that belong to the interior things, it is rightly said here, And I heard the voice as of a light breath; but as at the time that the knowledge of the Deity shews us after all but little concerning Itself, It is perfectly instructing the ignorance of our infirmness; let him that ‘heard the voice of a light breath,’ declare all that he learnt by that same hearing.  It goes on;

Ver. 17.  Shall mortal man be more just than God?  Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?


67.  Human righteousness compared with the righteousness of God is unrighteousness, for even a candle is seen to shine bright in the dark, but being set in the ray of the sun its light is darkened.  What then did Eliphaz learn when he was transported in contemplation, saving that man cannot be justified in comparison with God?  For we believe that what we do outwardly is righteous, but when we never at all acquaint ourselves with the things of the interior, we are as it were blind whilst set in the ray of the sun.  But when we, little as we can, discern the one, it is not a little [non utcunque] that we judge the others, in that a man judges the darkness more exactly, in proportion as the brightness [A.B.C.D. ‘reality’] of light is more truly manifested to him.  For he, that seeth light, knoweth what to account of the darkness, as he, that is ignorant of the whiteness of light, lets pass even dark objects for light ones.  And it is rightly added, Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?  For whoso murmurs at the stroke, what does he, but charge the justice of the striker?  Thus a man accounts himself more pure than his Maker, if he stirs complaint against the scourge, and without doubt he makes Him give place to himself, Whose judgment he blames in the case of his own affliction.  Thus, that man may never dare charge his Judge with offence, let him humbly bethink himself that He is the Author of Nature; for He, That with marvellous skill made man out of nothing, does not pitilessly afflict him that He has made; which Eliphaz then learnt when he ‘heard the voice as it were of a light breath.’  For by the contemplation of the greatness of God we learn, how humbly we should abase ourselves with fear under His visitation.  And he, that hath a taste of things above, bears with resignation all events below, in that he perfectly sees within, whereat he should reckon that which he does without.  For he miscounts himself righteous, who knows not the rule of the Supreme Righteousness.  And it often happens that a piece of wood is counted straight, if it be not applied to the rule; but so soon as it is put thereto, we discover the degree of distortion wherewith it swells out, in that, truly, the straight line cuts off and condemns that, which the cheated eye approved as good.  Thus Eliphaz, in that he beheld things above, delivered a strict judgment on all below, and though it was not rightly he reproved blessed Job, yet by comparison with the Creator of all things he rightly describes the measure of the creature, saying,

Ver.  18, 19.  Behold, His servants are not stedfast, and in His Angels He found folly: How much more in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which shall be consumed as by the moth?


68.  Though the Angelical nature, by being fixed in contemplation of the Creator, remains unchangeable in its own state, yet hereby, that it is a created being, it admits in itself the variableness of change.  Now to be changed is to go from one thing into another, and to be without stability in one's self.  For every single being tends to some other thing by steps, as many in number as it is subject to motions of change.  And it is only the Incomprehensible Nature, which knows not to be moved from its fixed state, in that It knows not to be changed from this, that It is always the Same.  For if the essence of the Angels had been strange to the motion of change, being created well by its Maker, it would never have fallen in the case of reprobate spirits from the tower of its blessed estate.  But Almighty God in a marvellous manner framed the nature of the highest spiritual existences good, yet at the same time capable of change; that both they, that refused to remain, might meet with ruin, and they, that continued in their own state of creation, might henceforth be stablished therein more worthily in proportion as it was owing to their own choice, and become so much the more meritorious in God's sight, as they had staid the motion of their mutability by the stablishing of the will.  Whereas then this very Angelical nature too is in itself mutable, which same mutability it has hereby overcome, in that it is bound by the chains of love to Him, Who is ever the Same, it is now rightly said, Behold, His servants are not stedfast.  And there is forthwith added a proof of this same mutability, in that it is brought in from the case of the apostate spirits, And in His Angels He found folly.  And from the fall of these He rightly draws the consideration of human frailty, when he appends thereto; How much more in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation, is earthly, which shall be consumed as by the moth.  For we inhabit houses of clay, in that we subsist in earthly bodies.  Which Paul considering saith well; But we have this treasure in earthen vessels. [2 Cor. 4, 7]  And again, For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands. [5, 1]  ‘The earthly foundation’ too is the substance of the flesh; which the Psalmist had earnestly contemplated in himself, when he said, My bones are not hid from Thee, which Thou madest in secret, and my substance in the lower parts of the earth. [Ps. 139, 15]  Now the moth springs from the garment, and in its production destroys that very garment, whereupon it is produced.  And the flesh is as a kind of garment to the soul, but this same garment has withal its moth, in that from itself there arises carnal temptation, whereby it is rent and torn.  For our garment is as it were consumed by a kind of moth of its own, in that the corruptible flesh engendereth temptation, and by this is brought to destruction.  Man is consumed as if by a moth, in that he has arising from himself that, whereby he is to be broken in pieces.  As though it were in plain words, 'If those spirits cannot be of themselves unchangeable, which are kept down by no infirmity of the flesh, by what inconceivable temerity do men account themselves to hold on stedfastly in good, who, wherein they have their understanding elevating them on high, have the clog of carnal frailty acting as an impediment to them, so that through the evil, of a corrupting tendency they contain a cause in themselves, whence they turn old from the interior newness?


69.  The holy Doctors may likewise be understood by ‘the Angels,’ according as it is said by the Prophet, For the Priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, far he is the Angel [Angelus] of the Lord of hosts.  With whatever degree of virtue these may shine, they can never be altogether without sin, so long as they are engaged in the journey of this life, in that their step is doubtless brought into contact either with the mire of unlawful practice, or with the dust of the thought of the heart.  Now they ‘dwell in houses of clay,’ who rejoice in this ensnaring life of the flesh.  Paul had been brought to contemn the inhabiting this house of clay, when he said, But our conversation is in heaven. [Phil. 3, 20]  Let him say then, Behold, His servants are not stedfast, and in His Angels He hath found folly: how much more in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are consumed as by the moth?  As if he had said in plain words, ‘If the pathway of the present life cannot be passed through without defilement by those, who proclaiming the things of eternity, gird themselves up to encounter those of time, what evils do they undergo, who rejoice to be plunged in the delights of the fleshly habitation?   ‘For His servants are not stedfast,’ for when the mind strains toward things on high, it is dissipated by the conceits of its own flesh, so that oftentimes whilst the mind pants after the things of the interior, while it looks at heavenly objects alone, smitten by a momentary carnal delight, it lies low severed from itself, and he that felt joy that he had surmounted the hindrances of his frailty, prostrated by an unexpected wound, is only filled with woe.  Perverseness then is found even in His Angels, so long as those very men, who proclaim His truth, the surprisals of a deceitful life do at times lie heavy on.  So then if even those are smitten by the wickedness of this world, whom a holy purpose presents erect against the same, with what strokes are not they pierced, whom nothing less than [ipsa] delight in their frailty brings to the ground before its darts?  And these are well described to be ‘consumed,’ as it were, ‘with a moth.’  For a moth does mischief, and makes no sound.  So the minds of the wicked, in that they neglect to take account of their own losses, lose their soundness, as it were, without knowing it.  For they are losing innocency from the heart, truth from the lips, continency from the flesh, and in the course of time, life from the sum of their age.  But they see not one whit that they are unceasingly letting go these same, in that they are busied with all their heart in temporal concerns.  Thus they are ‘consumed as it were with a moth,’ in that they suffer the canker of sin without sound, whilst they remain ignorant what losses in life and innocency of heart they are undergoing.  Hence it is well added,

Ver. 20.  They shall be cut off from morning to evening.


70.  For the sinner is ‘cut off from morning to evening,’ in that from the beginning of his life to the end thereof he is ever getting wounded by the commission of sin.  For the reprobate by increase in wickedness are at all times redoubling blows upon themselves, cut off by which, they may fall headlong into the pit.  And it is well said of them by the Psalmist, Bloody and deceitful men shall not halve their days. [Ps. 55, 23]  For to ‘halve our days’ is to part off the time of our life misspent in pleasure, for the purpose of penitential mourning, and in parting off to recover the same to a good use.  But the wicked never ‘halve their days,’ in that not even in the end of their time do they change their frowardness of heart.  Contrary whereunto Paul rightly exhorts, saying, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. [Eph. 5, 16]  For we ‘redeem the time,’ when by tears we recover our past life, which by rioting we had lost.  It goes on,

And because none understandeth, they perish for ever.


71.  That is to say, ‘none’ of those, who ‘shall be cut off from morning unto evening.’  ‘None understandeth,’ whether of those that perish, or of those who follow the lost ways of the perishing.  Whence it is elsewhere written, The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering. [Is. 57, 1]  Thus, whereas the wicked are set upon temporal things alone, and are unconcerned to learn what blessings are in store for the Elect for everlasting, while they look to the affliction of the just, but never learn what is the recompense of that affliction, they put forth the foot of their conversation into the pit, for they willingly shut their eyes to the light of understanding.  For being decoyed by foolish pleasures, whilst for objects, which they see, they entertain an affection, which belongs to time, being meanwhile strangers to themselves, they never see whereunto they are hurrying for all eternity.  It is possible too that by the morning may be denoted the prosperous fortune of this world, and by the evening the adverse fortune thereof.  So then ‘the wicked are cut off from morning to evening,’ in that by running riot through prosperity they are brought to ruin, and being made impatient by adversity they are lifted up to madness.  These would never be cut off from morning to evening, by sin, if they either took prosperity for the salve or adversity for the knife to their sore.


72.  But forasmuch as the assemblage of the human race is never so forsaken, that the whole is let to go to destruction, there be some, that look down upon the enjoyments [c] of the present life, even when they are present, consider that they are transient, and in the love of the eternal world tread them underfoot.  And while they set the step of judgment on this first stage, they mount with invigorated soul to a loftier height, so that they not only contemn all temporal things, for that they must be quickly parted with, but have no desire to attach themselves thereto, even if they might last for ever.  And they withdraw their love from the things created in beauty, because they stretch forth by the steps of the heart toward the Father of all Beauty Himself.  And there are some that love the good things of the present life, yet never in any wise attain unto them, who pant after temporal blessings with all their hearts' desire, who covet the glory of the world, yet never can make themselves master thereof.  For these, so to speak, the heart draws them on to seek the world, the world drives them back to search out the heart.  For it often chances that, being bruised by those very adversities which they suffer, they are brought back to reason, and returning back into themselves, they consider how little there is in that, which they were seeking after, and forthwith betake themselves to weeping for the foolishness of their desire, and conceive the stronger yearnings for eternal things, in proportion to the folly in which they grieve that they once spent themselves for those of time.  Hence, the wicked having been described, it is well added,

Ver. 21.  But they that have been left shall be taken away from among them. 


73.  Whom else do we understand by ‘the left,’ but all the despised of this world?  whom whilst the present life chooses not for any use of honour, it ‘leaves’ as being the least and most worthless.  But the Lord is said to ‘take away those that are left’ of the world, in that He condescends to make choice of the despised of this life, as Paul bears witness, saying, Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath, chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty. [1 Cor. 1, 26. 27.]  Which is well represented in the Book of Kings by the Egyptian servant fainting in the way, whom the Amalekite abandons taken sick upon the journey, but David finds, refreshes with food, and makes the guide of his route; he pursues the Amalekite, finds him feasting, and utterly destroys him [1 Sam. 30, 13].  For what does it mean that the Egyptian servant of the Amalekite turns faint upon the journey, but that the lover of this present world, covered with the blackness of his sins, is often abandoned in weakness and contempt by the same world, so that he is no longer able to run therewith, but being broken down by adversity, grows helpless.  But David finds him, in that our Redeemer, Who is in a true sense ‘strong of hand,’ sometimes turns to the love of Himself those, whom He finds despised as to the glory of the world, in that He refreshes them with the knowledge of the Word.  He chose him the guide of his way, in that He makes him even the preacher of Himself.  And he, that had no power to follow the Amalekite, becomes the guide of David, in that he, whom the world forsook as worthless, not only when converted entertains the Lord in his affections [suas mentes, al. su mente], but by preaching Him brings Him home even to the hearts of others also.  And with this same guide David discovers and annihilates the Amalekite as he feasted, in that Christ breaks up the joy of the world by those very men as preachers, whom that world scorned to have for its companions.  Therefore because it very often happens that those, whom the world abandons, are chosen of the Lord, it is rightly said in this place, Those, that may have been left, shall be taken from amongst them.  It proceeds;

They shall die, even without wisdom.


74.  How is it that he set forth above the death of the wicked, saying, Because none understandeth they shall perish for ever; and concerning the Elect of God thereupon subjoined, And they that have been left shall be taken away from among them; yet forthwith adds that which cannot accord with those Elect ones, saying, They shall die even without wisdom?  For if they be taken away from among the wicked by the hand of God, how are they said ‘to die without wisdom?’  Why, doubtless it is the fashion of Holy Writ, in relating any thing, after inserting a sentence that concerns another case, to return straightway to its former subject.  Thus after he had said, And because there is none that understandeth, they shall perish for ever; he immediately brought in the lot of the Elect, saying, But they that have been left shall be taken away from among them.  And again directing the eye of his meaning to that destruction of the wicked, which he had foretold, he suddenly subjoined, they shall die, even without wisdom.  As if he said, Those of whom I said that ‘not understanding, they should perish for ever,’ will assuredly ‘die without wisdom.’  But we shall the better shew that this is at times the way with Holy Writ, if we produce therefrom a similar instance to this.  For when Paul the Apostle was counselling his beloved disciple for the settling the offices of the Church, that he might not by chance without due order promote any to Holy Orders, he said, Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins.  Keep thyself pure. [1 Tim. 5, 22]  And forthwith directing his words to his bodily infirmities, he says, Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thine often infirmities. [ver. 23]  And he immediately subjoins; Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment, and some men they follow after.  [ver. 24]  What connection then has that, which he added concerning the sins of different men being hidden and manifest, with this, that he forbad him in his weak health to drink water?  but that after the insertion of a clause concerning his weakness of health he came back again at the end to that, which he had said above, Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins.  For in order to shew with what anxious heed these same sins are to be inquired into, after introducing a charge to prudence directed against the annoyance of bad health, he straightway put in, that in some men they lay exposed to view, in some hidden from sight, saying, Some men's sins are open beforehand going before to judgment, and some men they follow after.  As then in this sentence Paul does not chime in with these same words, to which, speaking of the weakness of Timothy's health, he subjoined it, but he has returned to that which he made mention of before after an interruption; so when in this place Eliphaz said concerning the Elect, They that have been left shall be taken from among them, by subjoining thereupon, they die even without wisdom; he forthwith recurs to that, which he delivered concerning the wicked, saying, And because none understandeth, they shall perish for ever.


75.  Now it is for this reason that the wicked look down upon the Elect, because they are going toward a life that is invisible through a death that is visible; of whom it is well said in this place, They die even without wisdom.  As though it were said in plain words, “They equally indeed eschew death and wisdom; and wisdom they wholly get quit of, but they do not escape the snares of death.  And whereas doomed, as they are, to die one day, they might in dying have received life, while they dread the death, which will most surely come, they part both with life and wisdom together.”  But, on the other hand, the righteous die in wisdom, for that death, which they cannot wholly avoid, when it threatens them for the sake of the truth, they refuse to put off to a later day, and whilst they undergo the same with resignation, they turn the punishment of their race into an instrument of virtue; that life may be received back from the same quarter, whence, for the deserts of the first sin, it is forced to its end.  But because Eliphaz delivered these things with a true meaning against the wicked; in accounting blessed Job to be worthy of blame, he puffed himself up in pride of wisdom.  And hence, after declarations so good and righteous, he subjoins words of mocking, and says,

Chap. V. 1.  Call now, if there be any that will answer thee.


76.  For Almighty God often passes by the prayer of that man in his trouble, who slights His precepts in the season of rest.  Hence it is written, He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.  Now for us ‘to call,’ is to beseech God with humble prayer; but for God to ‘answer,’ is to vouchsafe an accomplishment to our prayers; and so he says, Call now, if any will answer thee.  As though he said in plain words, ‘However thou mayest cry out in thy distress, thou hast not God answering thee, in that the voice in tribulation findeth not Him, Whom the mind in tranquillity disregarded.  Where he adds in yet further derision,

And turn thee to some one of the Saints?


77.  As though he said in scorn, ‘The Saints too thou canst never obtain for abettors in thy distress, whom thou wouldest not have for companions in thy mirth.  And after this mocking he forthwith adds the sentence, saying,

Ver. 2.  For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly man.




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