Document: Letter 38
Date: after 386
Addressee: Simplicianus
English Translation: FC 26.303-307
Summary of Contents: Stresses the theme that goodness and holiness are true freedoms, while sin is slavery

We seem to have become involved in a philosophic debate when, taking the text of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle, we discussed the statement: “every wise man is free.” Later, however, when I was reading the Epistle of Peter the Apostle, I noticed that every wise man is also rich. And he does not exclude the other sex, for he says that women do not have all their wealth in jewels, but in the good dispositions of the heart: “Let not theirs be the outward adornment of braiding the hair, or of wearing gold, or of putting on robes; but let it be the inner life of the heart.”

Those two, namely, the man of inner life and the rich man, require no use of riches for themselves. He has mentioned very beautifully “the inner life of the heart” because the whole man of wisdom is hidden, just as wisdom herself is unseen but understood. No one before Peter used such an expression in speaking of the man of inner life. The exterior man has many parts in him; the interior man is filled with wisdom, with favors, with beauty.

“In the imperishableness of a quiet and gentle spirit,” he says, “which is of great price in the sight of God,” he is truly rich who can appear rich in the sight of God, under whose gaze the earth is a miniature and the universe itself small God alone knows the man of possessions, the one rich in immortality, the one storing up the fruit of virtues, not riches. What is so rich in God’s sight as the peaceful and modest spirit which is never disturbed? Does not that man appear to be rich who has peace of soul, the tranquility of repose, so that he longs for nothing, is stirred by no storm of passion, tires not of the old, seeks the new, and always by desire becomes poor in the midst of the greatest riches?

Truly that is a rich peace which surpasses all understanding. A rich peace, a rich dignity, a rich faith: “The faithfulman has the whole world for his possession”; it is a rich simplicity, for those are riches of a simplicity which nothing scatters, which entertain no despondent thought, or suspicious or fraudulent one, but pours itself out with pure affection.

There is a rich excellence upon which one feeds if he has saved the heavenly riches of his inheritance. To use the older examples from Scripture, he says: “Blessed is the man whom the Lord corrects: refuse not therefore the chastising of God. In famine he shall deliver thee from death; and in battle, from the hand of the sword. He shall hide you from the scourge of the tongue. You shall not be afraid of wild beasts and you shall know that your house will be in peace.” When you have subdued the body’s sins and passions which war against the spirit, your habitation will be free from trouble, your house will have no stumbling block, your seed will not be fruitless, your descendants will be like the smell of a plentiful field, your place of burial will be a harvest. Indeed, when others realize that their fruits have failed, then will the heap of your ripe grain be brought to the heavenly storerooms.

The righteous always gain rewards; the unjust go begging. The one gains righteousness; he gains God’s command to the poor and needy. But the fool does not own even what he thinks he has. Does he possess riches, do you think, if he broods over his wealth day and night and is tormented by a wretched miser’s worries? He is actually in need; although he appears wealthy in the opinion of others, he is poor in his own. He makes no use of what he has, but, while grasping one thing, he longs for another. What enjoyment of riches is there when there is no limit to one’s longing? No one is rich if he cannot take from this life what he has, because what is left here is not ours but another’s.

Henoch was rich, for he took away with him what he had and carried all his wealth of blessing in heavenly vessels, and “He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his heart.” Elias was rich, for he drove aloft to the heavenly abodes carrying the treasury of his virtues in a fiery chariot. Even he has left no small wealth to his heir, while he himself lost none of it. Would anyone call him a pauper either then or when he was sent to the widow to be fed by her, when he himself needed food for his daily sustenance? When at his prayer heaven was opened and shut? When at his word the pot of meal and cruet of oil did not fail for three years, but abounded, for it was not diminished but replenished by use? Would anyone call him poor at whose wish fire came down [from heaven], and rivers which he approached did not close in on him, but went back to their source, letting the Prophet cross with dry feet?

An ancient story tells of the two neighbors, King Achab and a poor man Naboth. Which of these do we consider the poorer, which the richer: the one who had been endowed with a king’s measure of wealth, insatiable and unsatisfied with his wealth, who longed for the little vineyard of the poor man; or the other, heartily despising a “king’s fortune of

much gold” and imperial wealth, who was satisfied with his vineyard? Does he not seem richer and more a king, since he had enough for himself and regulated his desires so that he wanted nothing which belonged to others? But was he not very poor whose gold was of no account, while he considered the other’s vines of priceless value? Understand why he was so very poor: because riches amassed unjustly are disgorged, but the root of the righteous remains, and flourishes like a palm tree.

Is he not more in need than the poor man who passes away like a shadow? The wicked man is praised today; tomorrow he will not exist nor will any trace of him be found. What does being rich mean except “spreading out,” “overflowing”? Is he rich who is depressed in soul? Is not one so depressed held in confinement? In confinement what overflowing is possible? He is not rich who does not overflow. So David very aptly says: “The powerful have become poor and have hungered,” because, when men have the treasures of the heavenly Scriptures and do not have understanding, they become poor, they become hungry.

There is nothing richer than the wise man’s condition, nothing poorer than the fool’s. Since the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, what can be richer than that? And the Apostle, too, says brilliantly: “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God.” Brilliantly, too, David rejoiced in the way of divine precepts as if he were amid all riches. In definite terms, too, does Moses rejoice who says: “Nephthali will be among those who receive abundance.” Nephthali is interpreted in Latin as “abundance” or “diffusion.” Therefore, where there is abundance, there is a sufficiency; where there is the hunger of desire, there is unfulfilled longing; there, in fact, is poverty. Then, because there is scarcely a desire for money or things of this world which reaches satisfaction, he adds: “And he will be filled with blessing.”

In these terms the Apostle Peter showed that women’s ornament consists not in gold and silver and garments, but in the inner and hidden life of the heart. Let no woman, therefore, lay aside the garb of piety, the adornment of grace, the inheritance of everlasting life.

Farewell, and love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.303-307, adapted by SMT

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Last updated: 5-12-2011

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