Lenten Reading: Macarius the Great. Homily 17

Concerning the spiritual unction of Christians, and their glory, and that without Christ it is impossible to be saved or to become a partaker of eternal life.


1. Perfect Christians, who have been permitted to arrive at measures of perfection and to come very near the King, these are continually consecrated to the cross of Christ. As in the days of the prophets the unction was more precious than all things else, since unction made them kings and prophets, so now spiritual men, who are anointed with the heavenly unction, become Christs according to grace, so that they too are kings, and prophets of heavenly mysteries. These are sons, and lords, and gods, made prisoners and captives,1 plunged deep, crucified, consecrated. If the anointing of oil, which came from a material plant, a visible tree, had such force that those who were anointed received dignity beyond dispute—for it was a fixed rule, so that they were appointed kings; David, for instance, after being anointed, immediately fell into persecutions and was afflicted, and then after seven years became king—how much more do all who are anointed in mind and the inner man with the hallowing and cheering oil of gladness2 the heavenly spiritual oil, receive the stamp of that kingdom of the imperishable and everlasting power, the earnest of the Spirit3 the Holy Spirit the Comforter. He is called the Comforter, because He comforts and cheers those who are in afflictions.

2. These, being anointed from the tree of life, Jesus Christ, the heavenly plant, are privileged to come to measures of perfection, the measures of the kingdom and the adoption, truly sharers of the secrets of the heavenly King, having free access to the Almighty, entering into His palace, where the angels and the spirits of the saints are, even while they are still in this world. Although they have not yet received the perfect inheritance prepared for them in that age, they are sure, from the earnest which they have now received, as if already crowned and reigning; and being about to reign with Christ, they are not surprised at the abundance and freedom of the Spirit. Why? Because while still in the flesh they had that relish of sweetness, and that effectual working of power.

3. When a man is a friend of the emperor, employed about the palace, acquainted with his secrets, and seeing his purple, if that man is made emperor himself and crowned, he is not surprised or taken aback, since he has long been exercised in the secrets of the palace. No boorish or uneducated person, or stranger to the secret, can go in and reign, but only those of experience and training. So Christians, who in that age are to reign, are not surprised, having already learned the secrets of grace. When man first transgressed the commandment, the devil covered the soul all over with a covering of darkness. Then grace comes, and wholly removes the veil, so that the soul, now cleared, and regaining its proper nature, created without blemish and clear, continually beholds clearly with its clear eyes the glory of the true light and the true sun of righteousness4 beaming in the heart itself.

4. As at the end of the world the firmament is removed and the righteous thenceforth live in the kingdom and the light and the glory, seeing nothing else but how Christ in glory is always on the right hand of the Father, so these men even now are caught away into that age, and are taken captive, and behold all the beauties and the wonders that are done there. On earth as we are, we have our citizenship in heaven,5 spending our time and activities in that world, so far as the mind and the inner man are concerned. As the visible eye, when clear, always clearly sees the sun, so the mind perfectly cleansed always sees the glory of the light of Christ, and is with the Lord night and day, in like manner as the Lord's body united with the Godhead is always with the Holy Spirit. Men do not, however, attain these measures in a moment, but with labor and pains and much contention. Some there are who have grace with them working and abiding, yet evil also is with them inwardly, and the two modes of citizenship, of light and of darkness, are at work upon the same heart.

5. But you will say to me, "What communion hath light with darkness?6 Where is the divine light darkened or troubled; and the undefiled and pure, where is it defiled?" It is written, The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not7 We must not therefore think of these things under a single aspect and without dissection. So great is the repose of some men in God's grace that they become stronger than the evil that is with them, and having a gift of prayer and much repose in God, at another moment they are under the influence of evil thoughts, and are deceived by sin, though they are still in the grace of God. Light-minded people, who have not learned the business, when grace to some extent works upon them, imagine that there is no more such a thing as sin. But those who have discretion and are prudent dare not deny that even when we have the grace of God we are liable to the influence of foul and polluting thoughts.

6. We have often found among the brethren that they have found such gladness and grace that for five or six years, they say, concupiscence had withered away, and after this, when they supposed that they were free from it, the evil, which had been concealed, set upon them, and they were all on fire with concupiscence, so that they were surprised, and said, "After so long a time, whence did this evil rise against us?" No man of sound mind dares to say, "While grace is with me, I am completely set free from sin." Both the two characters are at work upon the mind. People of no experience in these matters, when grace has had some little effect upon them, imagine that they have already conquered, and are perfect Christians. For my part, I say that the fact is this; when the sun is in the sky, shining in a clear air, and clouds come about him and cover him, and make the air thick, and yet the sun, far within, is not robbed either of his light or of his proper being, so is it with those who are not completely cleansed. Being in the grace of God, and yet held by sin beneath the surface, they have the natural motions and their actual thoughts strong towards God, and yet are not entirely belonging to good.

7. And on the other hand some who under the surface are held by the good side, the side of grace, are still in bondage and subjection to bad thoughts and the side of evil.

It needs great discretion, therefore, to know by experience that this is the state of the case. I assure you that even the apostles, though they had the Comforter, were not entirely without anxiety. With joy and gladness they had fear and trembling, proceeding from grace itself, not from the side of evil; but the same grace secured them, that they might not swerve, though it were but a little. If a man throws a bit of a stone against a wall, it does not injure the wall or move it from its place. A dart flung at one who wears a breast-plate hurts neither the iron nor the wearer's body; it strikes and bounds back. So even though a fragment of evil got near the apostles, it did not injure them, because they were clothed with the perfect power of Christ, and they, being themselves perfect, were at liberty to work their righteousnesses.

8. Since then some will have it that after grace the soul is without anxiety, God requires the will of the soul, even in the perfect, for the service of the Spirit, that they may act in agreement. The apostle says, Quench not the Spirit.8 Some among them were unwilling to be burdensome to others; some walked for themselves; others took from men of the world and distributed to the poor. This was a worthier part. Some who have grace care only about themselves, others endeavor to benefit their neighbor’s souls also. These are far superior to the others. Some who have grace, for God's name's sake deliver up their bodies to mockeries and sufferings. These again are above those. Some in the pursuit of virtue are disposed to boast and to be honored of men, saying that they are Christians and partake of the Holy Spirit. Others endeavor to hide themselves even from meeting men. These are much superior to those others. You see how even in perfection goodwill towards God completed by the natural will is found superior and in greater abundance.

If a man clothed in beggarly garments should see himself in a vision rich, and on waking from sleep should see himself again poor and naked, so those who utter a spiritual discourse seem to speak suitably enough, but if they have not the thing they discourse about verified in their mind by tasting and power and personal experience, they stand in a vain show. Or like a woman decked out in silks and arrayed in pearls, who offers herself in a place of ill fame, the heart of these men is a resort of unclean spirits, while they set themselves up to discourse of righteousness, when they have never had a glimpse of the realities.

10. A fish cannot live out of the water; no one can walk without feet, or see light without eyes, or speak without a tongue, or hear without ears. So without the Lord Jesus, and the working of divine power, no one can know the mysteries and wisdom of God, or be rich and a Christian. The wise, the warriors, the brave men, the philosophers of God, are those who are led and shepherded in the inner man by the divine power. The philosophers of the Greeks learn to make speeches; others are rude in speech9 but rejoicing and exulting in the grace of God, men of piety. Let us judge which are the better. The kingdom of God, it says, is not in word, but in deed and in power.10

n. For a man to say, "This bread is made of corn," is easy enough. He should tell us how bread is prepared in detail, and baked. To talk of freedom from passions, and of perfection, is easy; but in experience to be brought to perfection is the lot of few. The gospel says in short compass, "Thou shalt not be angry; thou shalt not covet. If any man smite thee on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If any man judge to take away thy cloak, give him thy coat also."11 The apostle, tracing out how the work of cleansing should be done, little by little with patience and perseverance, teaches at large, first feeding with milk, like babes, then carrying on to growth and to full age. The gospel said that the garment was made of wool; the apostle declared in detail, how it is made.

12. So those who utter spiritual discourses, without tasting what they discourse of, are like a man who travels on a desert plain, assailed by burning heat, and being thirsty, draws a picture of a running stream of water, with a sketch of himself drinking, when all the while his lips are parched, and his tongue also, by the thirst that possesses him; or as if a man should discourse of honey, that it is sweet, though never having tasted it, he does not know the force of the sweetness. Such is the case with those who make discourse about perfection, and rejoicing, or freedom from passions, without having the effectual working and personal knowledge of them. The things are not all as they describe them. When a man of that kind is once permitted to find himself in the reality, he judges in his own mind: "I have not found it to be as I supposed. I discoursed in one way, and the Spirit works in another."

13. For Christianity is indeed meat and drink; and the more a man eats of it, the more his mind is allured by the sweetness, and is not to be restrained or satisfied, but asks for more, without ever being filled, and goes on eating. If a man is thirsty, and there is given him a pleasant draught, then, when he has begun to taste it, he gets the more eagerly close to the drink, more ardent for it than before. And indeed the tasting of the Spirit is well-nigh without a limit, so that it is really like the supposed case. And these are not mere words. This is the practical working of the Holy Spirit mysteriously ministering in the mind.

Some imagine that because they abstain from marriage and other visible things, they are already saints. That is not so. Evil still lives and lifts itself up in the mind and in the heart. The saint is one who is cleansed and sanctified in the inner man. For where truth raises its head, there error attacks, endeavoring to conceal and obscure it.

14. When the Jews possessed the priesthood, then those of that nation were persecuted and afflicted, because they stood firm in the truth, Eleazar and the Maccabees. Now that after the cross and the veil the Spirit has departed from them, the truth has been revealed here and works here. So those of this nation are persecuted in turn. The persecution and affliction which befell that nation was that the lovers of the truth might witness to it. For how shall the truth appear, unless it has adversaries who are false and oppose the truth? Even among the brethren there are some who endure sufferings and afflictions, and yet have need of much wariness, lest they fall. One of the brethren was once at prayer with a certain person, and was taken captive by divine power, and caught away, and saw the city of Jerusalem above, and shining figures, and infinite light, and heard a voice, saying, "This is the place of repose of the righteous;" and shortly after, he was puffed up, and imagined that what he had seen concerned himself, and after that, he was found to fall into the nethermost depths of sin, into a thousand evil things.

15. If one who had been inside and aloft fell thus, how can the ordinary man say, "By fasting, and making myself a stranger, and dispersing my property, I am a saint already"? Mere abstention from evil things is not perfection—only if thou hast entered into thy ruined mind, and hast slain the serpent that lies under the mind beneath the surface of the thoughts, and burrows into what we call the secret chambers and storehouses of the soul and murders thee—for the heart is a deep gulf only, I say, if thou hast killed him, and cast out all the uncleanness that was in thee. All the philosophers, and the law, and the prophets, and the coming of the Savior, have to do with purity. There is no man, Jew or Greek, that does not love purity, though they cannot be pure. We must go on seeking how and by what means the purity of the heart may be gained. Certainly no other way than through Him who was crucified for us. He is the way, the life, the truth, the door, the pearl, the living heavenly bread. Without that truth it is impossible to know truth, or to be saved. As therefore in regard to the outer man and visible affairs thou didst renounce all and hast distributed thy property, so in the matter of worldly wisdom, if thou hast knowledge and the force of words, thou oughtest to cast all away, and to esteem them as nothing, that so thou mayest be built up by the foolishness of preaching12 which preaching is the true wisdom, which has not the pride of words, but has a power that works effectually by means of the holy cross. Glory be to the consubstantial Trinity for ever. Amen.

1 That is, to grace and to God.

2 Heb. i. 9.

3 2 Cor. v. 5.

4 Mal. 4:2.

5 Phil. 3:20

6 2 Cor. 4:14.

7 John 1:5; cp. Homily 16:3.

8 1 Thess. 5:19.

9 2 Cor. 6:6.

10 i Cor. 4:20.

11 Matt. 5:39 ff.

12 1 Cor. 1:21.

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