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Pseudo-Macarius: the Fifty Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter

Pseudo-Macarius: the Fifty Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter

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NOTE the actual TEXT after INTRO> starts at PAGE 30//1992//298 pages//
George A. Maloney, S.J., provides a great service by bringing to the public the first modern English translation of the spiritual homilies and Great Letter of Pseudo- Macarius, a Syrian monk of the fourth century whose identity is still the subject of scholarly investigation.
The Fifty Homilies, in the form of a practical, monastic pedagogy, reveal the typical traits of Eastern Christian asceticism, with particular emphasis on the spiritual combat, the action of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of interior prayer. The Great Letter discusses the purging of the passions to bring the Christian into a state of tranquility and integration, and addresses the monastic community with instructions regarding organization, humility, and prayer.
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1) THE AUTHOR
The anonymous author who was thought at first to be Macarius the Great, founder of Scete, was in fact a spiritual writer who lived in the region between Mesopotamia and eastern Asia- Minor in the second half of the fourth or in the beginning of the fifth century. The name of Symeon of Mesopotamia, a promotor of Messialianism, has been suggested because there are in these writings questionable opinions and ideas very close to Messalianism. The attribution to Symeon, however, rests on shaky premises. However it may be, Pseudo-Macarius is surely a profoundly spiritual person with a good knowledge of human nature. He was very well educated, had learnt much from his own milieu and from his reading and contacts with others. His writings reveal him as an imaginative person, with an artist's eye, who thinks pictorially rather than conceptually as he treats of the Bible, nature or society, but possessed of a very clear idea of the theology of the Trinity. He is clearly also a good teacher who can make sublime doctrine come alive. His rather large body of writings has had a great influence on posterity.
According to these writings, he was the head of communities of ascetics. There are indications which would lead us to believe that he practised a sort of ascetic exile. He seems to have some knowledge of Basil's writings as there are certain similarities in their works both in vocabulary and ideas; moreover, a text of Gregory of Nyssa seems to speak of Mesopotamian ascetics, "Like Abraham they have left country, family, and the whole world, and keep their eyes fixed on heaven.... their lips are vowed to silence... and they have a remarkable power over spirits." We have seen too that Gregory's Hypotyposis or De Instituto is a parallel version of Macarius' Great Letter. Probably Gregory's paraphrase was intended to put the writings of Macarius through the mill once more in order to distance it from Messalianism.
NOTE the actual TEXT after INTRO> starts at PAGE 30//1992//298 pages//
George A. Maloney, S.J., provides a great service by bringing to the public the first modern English translation of the spiritual homilies and Great Letter of Pseudo- Macarius, a Syrian monk of the fourth century whose identity is still the subject of scholarly investigation.
The Fifty Homilies, in the form of a practical, monastic pedagogy, reveal the typical traits of Eastern Christian asceticism, with particular emphasis on the spiritual combat, the action of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of interior prayer. The Great Letter discusses the purging of the passions to bring the Christian into a state of tranquility and integration, and addresses the monastic community with instructions regarding organization, humility, and prayer.
-
1) THE AUTHOR
The anonymous author who was thought at first to be Macarius the Great, founder of Scete, was in fact a spiritual writer who lived in the region between Mesopotamia and eastern Asia- Minor in the second half of the fourth or in the beginning of the fifth century. The name of Symeon of Mesopotamia, a promotor of Messialianism, has been suggested because there are in these writings questionable opinions and ideas very close to Messalianism. The attribution to Symeon, however, rests on shaky premises. However it may be, Pseudo-Macarius is surely a profoundly spiritual person with a good knowledge of human nature. He was very well educated, had learnt much from his own milieu and from his reading and contacts with others. His writings reveal him as an imaginative person, with an artist's eye, who thinks pictorially rather than conceptually as he treats of the Bible, nature or society, but possessed of a very clear idea of the theology of the Trinity. He is clearly also a good teacher who can make sublime doctrine come alive. His rather large body of writings has had a great influence on posterity.
According to these writings, he was the head of communities of ascetics. There are indications which would lead us to believe that he practised a sort of ascetic exile. He seems to have some knowledge of Basil's writings as there are certain similarities in their works both in vocabulary and ideas; moreover, a text of Gregory of Nyssa seems to speak of Mesopotamian ascetics, "Like Abraham they have left country, family, and the whole world, and keep their eyes fixed on heaven.... their lips are vowed to silence... and they have a remarkable power over spirits." We have seen too that Gregory's Hypotyposis or De Instituto is a parallel version of Macarius' Great Letter. Probably Gregory's paraphrase was intended to put the writings of Macarius through the mill once more in order to distance it from Messalianism.

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Published by: Hermit WithoutA permit on Mar 09, 2011
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04/05/2013

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Paradise and the spiritual law.

1. "The friendship of the world," as it is written, "is enmity with God" ( Jas 4:4). Therefore, Scripture
enjoins everyone to "guard his own heart with all diligence" (Prv 4:23), so that anyone, guarding the
word within him like a paradise, may enjoy the grace not to listen to the serpent that creeps around

144

inside, enticing him with things that lead to pleasure, whereby the anger that slays a brother is
engendered, and the soul that gives birth to it, itself dies. But may he have the grace rather to listen
to the Lord saying: "Be concerned with faith and hope through which love of God and of man is
engendered which bestows eternal - 206- life." Into this paradise Noah entered, keeping the
commandment and working, and through love he was redeemed from God's anger. Observing this
paradise, Abraham heard the voice of God. Keeping this, Moses received God's glory reflected in his
countenance. Similarly David, keeping this, strove, and from there he conquered over his enemies.
Even Saul, as long as he watched his heart, prospered. But when he finally transgressed, in the end
he was abandoned. For the Word of God comes to each person in a proportionate measure. As long
as a person possesses the Word, he is held by the Word, and as long as he keeps it, so long is he
guarded.

2. For this reason the choir of holy prophets, Apostles, and martyrs guarded the Word in their hearts,
concerned about nothing else. They disdained the things of the earth and abided in the
commandment of the Holy Spirit. And they preferred the Spirit's love of God and the good, not
merely in word or in empty knowledge, but in word and deed through all things. Instead of riches
they chose poverty; instead of glory, ignominy; instead of pleasure, suffering, and also for that
reason they chose love in place of God's anger.

For as they hated the pleasant things of life, 87

they loved those who took such things away from
them as though they were cooperating with their own goal, even though they failed to "know good
and evil" (Gn 3:5). For they neither turned away those who were good nor accused the evil ones,
since they regarded all as ambassadors of the Master's providential order. Therefore, toward all they
had a sympathetic attitude. When they heard the Lord saying, "Forgive and it will be forgiven you"
(Lk 6:37), then they regarded those who injured them as benefactors since they received from them
the occasion for their own forgiveness. When again they heard, "As you would wish that men do to
you, do also unto them" (Mt 7:12), then they loved good persons consciously. Forgetting their own
self-righteousness and seeking the righteousness of God, they consequently also found love naturally
included in it.

3. For the Lord, in commanding many things regarding love, enjoined us to seek the "righteousness
of God" (Mt 6:33). For he knows that it is the mother of love. There is no other way to be saved
except through the neighbor as he has commanded: "Forgive and it will be forgiven you" (Lk 6:37).
This is the spiritual law which has been written in faithful hearts, "the fulfillment of the first law"
(Rom 13:10). For he says, "I did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it" (Mt 5:17). How is it to
be fulfilled? Teach me the first Law by seizing the occasion to bless the one who sinned, who
condemned his injustice. For it says: "In - 207- whatsoever you judge another, you condemn
yourself. In whatever he remits, it will be remitted him" (Rom 2:1). For the Law thus says: "In the
midst of judgment, judgment, and in the midst of forgiveness, forgiveness" (Dt 17:8).

4. The fullness, therefore, of the Law consists in forgiveness. We have called it the first Law, not
because God set up two laws for men, but one law, which is spiritual by its nature, but in regard to
retribution it gives to each person the retribution which is just, forgiveness given to the one forgiving
and contending to the one who contends. For it says: "With the chosen you are chosen and with the
perverse you shall wrestle" (Ps 18:26). Therefore, those who spiritually fulfilled the Law and in
proportion as they participated in grace loved with a spiritual love not only those who did good to
them, but also those who reproached and persecuted them, looking forward to receive the gift of
good things. Of good things, I say, not because they forgave the wrongs done to them, but because
they also did good to the persons who did wrong to them. For they offered them to God as the means

145

whereby they fulfilled the beatitude, as it says: "Blessed are you when they shall revile you and
persecute you" (Mt 5:11).

5. They were taught to so think by means of a spiritual law. For while they patiently endured and
maintained an attitude of meekness, the Lord, seeing the patience of the heart engaged in warfare
and the love that lessened none of its ardor, broke through "the middle wall of partition" (Eph 2:14).
And they got rid of so great a hatred with the result that their love was no longer forced but served as
a help. In a word, the Lord took control over "the sword that turned every way" (Gn 3:24) which
excited the thoughts. And they "entered into the inner sanctuary of the veil where the forerunner on
our behalf had entered" (Heb 6:19), namely, the Lord. And they enjoyed the fruits of the Spirit.
Having seen the things to come in the certainty of the heart, no longer as the Apostle says, "in a
mirror and darkly" (1 Cor 13:12), they spoke of "what eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the things
that have entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor
2:9). But I will ask this amazing question.

6. Question: If these things have not entered into the heart of man, how do you know them,
especially when you confess as in the Acts that you are men with the same passions as other men
(Acts 14:15)?

Answer: But listen to the answer that Paul gives. He says: "But God has revealed them to us by his
Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:10). Lest any one should
say that the - 208- Spirit was given to them as Apostles, while we are by our nature incapable of it,
he says elsewhere as he prays: "May God grant you to be strengthened with might according to the
richness of his glory in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hearts" (Eph 3:16). And
again: "But the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor 3:17). And
again: "But if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, he is not of him" (Rom 8:9).

7. Let us, therefore, beg that we may partake of the Holy Spirit in the full certainty and awareness
and that we may enter in where we came out, and that henceforth the serpent may be turned away
from us, the destroyer of the mind, the plotter of vainglory, the spirit of worry and complaint. Let us
pray that, having believed with certainty, we may keep the commandments of the Lord and we may
grow up in him "unto the perfect man, unto the measure of maturity" (Eph 4:13), so that we may no
longer be dominated by the deceit of this world, but we may be in the full certainty of the Spirit.
May we no longer lack faith that the grace of God takes pleasure also in the sinners who repent. For
what is granted through grace is not measured by comparison with former infirmity, "otherwise
grace is not grace" (Rom 11:5). But believing in the all‐ powerful God, may we approach with a
simple and not overly solicitous heart him who through faith grants the grace of participating in the
Spirit and not through the merit of works done. For it says, "You have received the Spirit, not by the
works of the law, but by the hearing of faith" (Gal 3:2).

8. Question: You said that all the things are spiritually hidden in the soul. What, therefore, is the
meaning of: "I wish to speak five words in the church with my understanding" (1 Cor 14:19)?

Answer: Church is understood in two ways: the assembly of the faithful, and the soul taken together
as a whole. When, therefore, it is understood spiritually of the human person, church means man
taken as a whole. "Five words" refer to the whole complex of virtues that build up the total person in
various ways. For just as he who speaks in the Lord through five words comprehends all wisdom, so
he who obeys the Lord builds up all piety by means of the five virtues. For they are five and embrace
all the others. First is prayer, then temperance, almsgiving, poverty, long-suffering. When spoken

146

with longing and desire, these are words of the soul which are spoken by the Lord and are heard in
the heart. The Lord works and then the Spirit speaks in the mind and the heart, in proportion as it
desires and also performs concretely.

9. And as these virtues embrace all other virtues, so also do they - 209- beget each other. For if the
first is missing, all the others fall apart. Likewise, through the second the others follow and so on.
For how shall anyone pray if he is not working under the Spirit? And Scripture bears me out when it
says, "No one can say Jesus is Lord except through the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). Moreover, how
will a person persevere patiently in temperance if he does not pray and receives no help? And
whoever is not self-disciplined, how shall he give alms to the hungry or the oppressed? And he who
does not give alms will not willingly accept poverty. And again, anger is similar to the desire of
money, whether one actually possesses it or not. But the virtuous person is thus built up into the
Church, not because of what he has done, but because of what he has desired. For it is not his own
work that saves a person, but he who grants to him the power. If, therefore, anyone bears "the marks
of the Lord" (Gal 6:17), let him not regard himself as anything, even if he has succeeded in any
undertaking, but let him rely only on having loved and striven to attempt to do. Therefore, do not
think that you have preceded the Lord in virtue according to him who says: "It is he who works in
you, both to will and to do for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13).

10. Question: What, therefore, does Scripture command a man to do?

Answer: We earlier said that according to his nature a person has the power to desire and this God
demands. Therefore, God commands that a person should first know, and when he knows, he should
love and should strive with his will. But in order that the mind be activated or endure toil or
complete any work, the grace of the Lord is given to the person who desires and believes. The will
of man, therefore, is like a support inserted into his nature. When the will is lacking, God himself
does nothing, because of man's free will, even though he could. The successful working of the Spirit
depends on man's will. 88

Again, if we give our whole will, he credits us with the whole work.

Wonderful is God in all things and he is totally beyond our understanding. But we strive to explain a
portion of his wonderful works, relying on Scripture or rather instructed by it. For it says, "Who has
known the mind of the Lord?" (Rom 11:34). But he himself says, "How often I have wished to
gather up your children and you would not" (Mt 23:37). So from this let us believe that it is he who
gathers us up. He demands of us only the desire. But what manifests the will except freely willed
labor?

11. Take the example of an iron tool. As it is used to saw wood, to chop, to cultivate, to plant, it
becomes worn out. But there is someone - 210- else who puts it in motion and guides it. And when it
is shattered, he fires it and fashions it anew. So likewise also man, when he becomes worn out and
overcome by work that is good, still it is the Lord who works secretly in him. And when he is
exhausted from his labor and totally done in, the Lord consoles his heart and renews him, as the
Prophet says: "Shall the axe boast of itself apart from the one who wields it or the saw exalt itself
apart from the one who draws it?" (Is 10:15).

So is it also in the case of evil, when a man obeys it and is open to it. Then Satan draws him and
sharpens him as a robber does his sword. We have compared the heart to iron because of its
insensitivity to things and its great hardness. But we should not be ignorant of him who holds us as
insensitive iron. (If we did, we would not change so quickly from the word of the vinedresser to the
temptation of the evil one.) But rather, like the ox and the ass, we should know him who drives and

147

directs us according to his disposition. For it says: "The ox knows its owner and the ass its master's
crib, but Israel does not know me" (Is 1:3). Let us, then, beg for the knowledge of God and for
instruction in the spiritual law in order to accomplish his holy commandments, glorifying the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.

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