Document: Letter 30
Date: c. 387
Addressee: Iranaeus
English Translation: FC 26.448-454
Summary of Contents: Answers to various questions posed by Iranaeus

When I had finished my last letter and directed it to be delivered to you, the words which the Lord spoke by the prophet Aggeus came to my mind: “Is it time for you to dwell in carved houses?” What is the meaning of this except that we should dwell on high, not in cavernous dwelling places or beneath the earth. Those who dwell below the earth cannot build the temple of God, and their saying is: “The time has not yet come for building the house of the Lord.” It is a mark of sensual people to seek underground dwellings, longing for summer’s coolness because, enervated by indulgences and requiring shady depths, they cannot otherwise bear the heat. Again, the slothful carry on low pursuits beneath the earth. And, finally, dark and shady places suit them best wherein they feel that their sins are concealed, according to the saying: “Darkness compasses me about like walls. Whom shall I fear?’ Their hope of this is vain, since God sees the hidden depths of the abyss and discovers all things before they take place.

Neither Elias nor Eliseus lived in underground dwellings. The one carried the dead son of the widow into an upper chamber where he abode and there restored him to life. The other had a chamber prepared for him in the upper part of the house by that great woman, the Sunamitess, as Scripture bears witness. There she won the privilege of conceiving a son, for she was barren, and there also she saw the miracle of her child’s restoration to life. What should I say of Peter, who went up to the roof at the sixth hour and learned there the mystery of the baptism of the Gentiles? On the other hand, the murderer Absalom set up a pillar to himself in the valley of the king, and was thrown into a ditch when he was slain. Thus the saints go up to the Lord, the wicked go down to sin; the saints are on the mountains, the guilty in the valleys. For he is the God of the mountains and not the God of the valleys.”

Those who dwelt in the houses of the plain where God does not dwell could not have the house of God within them, for this is the house which God sought from them so that they might build up themselves and rear within themselves the temple of God from living stones of faith. He did not want buildings made with earthen walls or wooden roofs, for the hand of an enemy would have been able to overthrow them. He wanted that temple which is built in the hearts of men, to whom it may be said: “You are the temple of God,” in which the Lord Jesus might dwell and from there set out to redeem all mankind. There also could be prepared a sacred chamber in the womb of the Virgin where the King of heaven might live and a human body become the temple of God, which though it was destroyed, might yet be restored to life on the third day.

Sensual persons who dwell in vaulted houses and take delight in coffered silver ceilings do not build a house like this. As they despise plain silver, so do they despise a simple dwelling place. They add to the site of their homes; adding more and more, they join one house with another, one estate with another; they dig up the ground so that the very earth itself gives way for their dwelling, and, like children of the earth, they are laid up within her womb and hidden within her flesh. Plainly it was of them that Jeremiah said: “Woe to them who build their house by injustice!” The man who builds with justice builds not on earth but in heaven.

“You have built, says the Prophet, “a house, to measure its upper story, airy and marked with windows, roofed with cedar and painted with vermilion.” That man measures the upper story who has contemplated the judgment of God and judges the judgment of the humble and of the poor. But the man who goes in search of gain and of the blood of the innocent does not build his roofs with judgment, nor keep a due measure, because he has not Christ. He does not try to inhale the breath of divine grace, nor does he look for the brightness of the full light. He does not have his chambers painted with vermilion and it cannot be said to him: “Your lips are like scarlet lace.”

“One of this sort,” it is said, “will not be buried,” for he has entrenched himself in the earth and buried himself in a tomb when alive, as it were, depriving himself of repose in a tomb when he is dead. Having laid himself away in the pit of bodily pleasure, he has not found that tomb from which one can rise. A man of this sort does not build a temple to God, because he does not know the time of his correction. How can such men build a temple, since like wild beasts and animals they have taken themselves into the caves and lairs of beasts and wild animals, burying themselves like serpents in pits, digging into the earth in the manner of a cunning fox?

The man who dies before his time does not build his tomb, for, although he lives, he is dead. He does not hear the words of Aggeus, interpreted the banqueter, for he does not enter the tabernacle of God “with the voice of joy and praise: the noise of one feasting.” How does he hear His voice if he does not see His works? If he saw them he would hear the Word which was put within his grasp, he would rejoice in His acts, whereby ‘he knocked and it was opened to him,” and he would have gone down Into his soul that he might feed therein upon the food of sincerity and truth.

Because he has failed to hear, the word of Aggeus again comes, saying: “Rise from houses embossed and carved with wickedness, and go up to the mount of heavenly Scriptures and hew the tree of wisdom, the tree of life, the tree of knowledge. Make straight your ways, order your actions so that they may have the due order which is necessary and useful for building the house of God.”

Unless you do this, heaven will not give her rain, that is to say, the heavenly message which comes down on the hay like dew will not cool the fevered motions of the passions of your body, nor extinguish the fiery darts of your various desires, and the earth, the soul, will not bear its fruit, for it dries up unless it is well-watered with the Word of God and sprinkled with heavenly dew, the fullness of spiritual grace.

And because he knew how slothful they are who dwell beneath the earth in the dark abodes of pleasure, he said: “I will stir up for them the spirit of Zorobabel of the tribe of Judah, and Josue the son of Josadec, the high priest,” so that they will be encouraged to build the house of God, for, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Zorobabel means that ‘overflowing fountain’ on the hilltop; it is like the fountain of life and the Word of

God, “through which are all things, and from which are all things, and all things in it.” This ‘overflowing fountain’ says: “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink,” drink, that is, from the stream of an unfailing flood. We read, too, of Zabulon, ‘a stream by night,’ that is to say, ‘prophetic.’ It is made clear now by the mingling of the waters in which was swallowed up the vanity typified by Jezabel, who was opposed to the truth and hostile to the utterances of the Prophets. She herself was so torn by the teeth of dogs that no trace of her remained, but her whole frame along with every mark of her posterity was blotted out. Zorobabel himself, of the tribe of Judah, and Josue the high priest, both designated by a tribe and name, seem to represent two persons, although mention is made of only one. He who is almighty is born from the Almighty, as Redeemer is born of the Virgin, being the same in the diversity of His two divisible natures, and He, like the Giant of Salvation, has fulfilled the verity of the one Son of God.

When He was on the point of calling from the dead the saintly Zorobabel, He said: “Once more I will move heaven and earth, and seas and desert.” He had moved them before when He delivered His people from Egypt, when there was a pillar of fire in the sky, a path through the waves, a wall on the sea, a road in the water, and in the desert a harvest of heavenly food provided each day, and a rock melted into streams of water. He moved these, too, during the Passion of the Lord Jesus, when the sky was covered with darkness, the sun was veiled in shadows, rocks were rent, graves opened, the dead rose again, and the dragon vanquished on its own waters saw the fishers of men not only sailing, but even walking without peril, on the sea.

The dry land was moved, too, when the barren Gentile nations began to ripen with the harvest of devotion and faith, There was a movement of the desert and the Gentiles, and so great and so powerful was the preaching of the Apostles whom He had sent to call the Gentiles that “their sound went forth unto all the earth and their strains unto the farthest bounds of the world.” So great was the movement of the desert, I say, that more were the children of the desolate than of her who had a husband; it made the desert flower like a lily; and the elect of the Gentiles entered into the places left by the people where the remnants were saved through election to grace.

“I will fill this house,” he says, “with my silver and gold,” with the word of God which is like silver tried by fire, and by the brilliance of the true light, shining like spiritual gold, in the secret hearts of the saints. These riches He confers on His Church, the riches by which the treasures of her heart are filled and the glory of her house is become greater than the glory which in times past the chosen people enjoyed.

Peace and tranquility of soul are more than all the glory of the house, for peace surpasses all understanding. This is that peace beyond all peace which will be given after the third moving of heaven, sea, earth, and dry land, when He will destroy all the Powers and Principalities. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” and the whole figure of this world. Every man will rise up against his brother with the sword, that is, with the word which penetrates the marrow of his soul, to destroy what is opposed, namely, the chariot of Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, as Zacharias says. And such will be the peace over all the passions of the body which are not in opposition, and over the minds of unbelievers, who are not a hindrance, that Christ will be formed in all, and will make an offering of the hearts of all men in submission to His Father.

So it is mystically said to Him alone: “I will take you, O Zorobabcl, and I will make you as a signet ring, for I have chosen you.” For, when our soul becomes so peaceful that it is said to her: “Return, return, O Sulamitess,” which means ‘peaceful,’ or to your own name ‘Irenic,’ then she will receive Christ like a signet ring upon her, for He is the image of God. Then she will be according to that image, because heavenly is the heavenly man. And we need to bear the image of the heavenly one, that is, peace.

And that we may know that this is true you have in the Canticles to the soul, now fully perfect, what I wish the Lord Jesus may say to you: “Put me as a seal upon thy arm.” May peace glow in your heart, Christ in your works, and may there be formed in you wisdom and justice and redemption.

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.448-454, adapted by SMT

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Last updated: 5-7-2011

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