Document: Letter 28
Date: c. 387
Addressee: Iranaeus
English Translation: FC 26.454-458
Summary of Contents: Answers to various questions posed by Iranaeus

In the writings of some teachers we find the doctrine of Pytahgoras in which he forbade his disciples to enter upon the common path trodden by ordinary people. It is well known whence he drew this principle. According to the opinion of most persons, he was a Jew by birth and therefore drew the teachings of his school from the learning of this people. Further, he is so highly esteemed among philosophers that they say he has scarcely met his equal. He had read in

Exodus that Moses was bidden by God’s command: “Put off the shoes from your feet.” The same bidding was given to Josue the son of Nun namely, that they who desired to walk the way of the Lord should shake off the dust of the road trampled by men. He had also read the command given to Moses to ascend the mountain with the priests while the people stayed behind. God first separated the priests from the people and then commanded Moses to enter the cloud.

You see, then, the separation. See how among priests one looks for nothing of a vulgar nature, nothing ordinary, nothing in common with the interests and practice and character of the undisciplined multitude. The priestly dignity demands a prudent demeanor, different from that of the crowd, a serious mode of life, an especial sense of gravity. How can the priest expect the people to honor him if he possesses no quality different from the people? Why should a man admire you if he sees his own qualities in you; if he sees nothing in you which he does not discover first in himself; if he finds in you, whom he thinks he should respect, the very thing of which he is ashamed in himself?

Let us tread beyond the opinions of the common herd, and let us avoid the thoroughfares of ordinary living, and the routes of the beaten road, and the footpath of the crowd where he travels whose day is swifter than the courier, of whom it is said: “He fled away and did not see.” Let us find for ourselves the road where the conversations of the proud cannot approach, where the works of the wicked are not encountered, the road which no polluted person spoils, defiling it with the stain of his own sloth, smeared with the smoke of wickedness, his soul darkened and falling into ruin, while he has no taste for virtue, since he thinks he should look at it askance and not receive it with direct regard and wide open arms. And (as many do, who seem to themselves witty and polite, transforming the beauty of wisdom into the ugliness of guile) such a person does not look upon true grace, but, lying in darkness, even in the light of day he does not put his trust in those who live, for he is among the people of Thema and Saba who fall and turn from truth, as Job says: “See the paths of Thema and Saba, they will fall into con- fusion if they have their hope in cities and riches. You have risen up against me without mercy, but seeing my wounds you are afraid.”

Let us abandon the devious paths of those who wander, the dust of those that fail, who have often fallen in the desert while they searched. Let us turn and follow the road of wisdom, the way which the children of those who boast and glorify themselves have not trodden, the way which is unacquainted with destruction and knows not death. God has marked this: “The depth says: It is not in me. And the sea says: It is not with me.” But if you seek the path of wisdom and discipline, love of God and submission to Him is wisdom; to keep from sin is discipline.

What is the advantage for us of this way of the world where there is trial, for the life of man is a trial. It is more empty than vain tales to live in houses of clay, to spend our days and nights in quest of wealth, to think always of wealth, and, like hired servants, to want our wages each day, and, as they say crickets do, to live on the winds of pleasure. Living from day to day, they give vent to their complaints like crickets in the springtime. To what else can we compare men of no gravity or discipline except to say that they are like crickets born for death each day, complaining rather than speaking? Under the heat of burning desires they lull themselves with songs that do them harm, and they soon die, bearing no fruit, possessed of no grace. Their paths are dangerous and intertwined like the paths of serpents which drag their bodies along in poisonous folds, coiling themselves into a knot of wickedness, unable to raise themselves to heavenly things.

Let us enter the gates of the Lord, the gates of justice, where the just man enters and gives thanks to the Lord. Few enter here, so the Lord said: “Narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it.” But wide is the gate and broad the way which many take leading to death and carrying there its travelers. Let our road be more narrow, our virtues more abundant, our path more sure, our faith more lofty, our line more restricted, our strength of soul overflowing, our ways straight, because the course of virtue is unswerving. Thus, Solomon says: “Oh, you who leave the right way.”

Let our course take us to regions above, because it is better to ascend. Finally, as was read today: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt.” Surely, it is not wrong to go to Egypt, but to change to the ways of the Egyptians, to change to the violence of their treachery and to the ugliness of their wantonness this is wrong. He that changes in this way descends, and one who descends falls. Let us keep away, then, from the Egyptian who is a man, but [let us] not [keep away] from God. Even the king of Egypt himself fell under the dominion of his own vices and in comparison with him Moses was accounted a god, ruling over kingdoms and subjecting powers to himself. So we read that it was said to Moses: “I shall make thee a God to Pharaoh.”

Farewell, and love us, as you do, with the affection of a son.

Translation from FC 26.454-458, adapted by SMT

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