The Text That The Internet Refuses To Publish & Does Not Want You To Read: Book VI The Spirit of Fornication by St. John Cassian:



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Book VI The Spirit of Fornication by St. John Cassian:

I. Our second struggle, according to the tradition of the fathers, is against the spirit of fornication. This savage war is longer than the others and of greater duration, and it is completely won by only a few because, although it begins its battles against humankind from the first onset of puberty, it is not terminated until the other vices have been overcome.  For twofold is the attack that rises in aggression, armed with a doubled viciousness. And therefore it must be resisted by a doubled force since, inasmuch as it gains in strength by the weakness of both body and soul, it cannot be overcome except by struggling on these two fronts. For bodily fasting alone is not sufficient to procure and posses the purity of perfect chastity unless it is preceded by a contrite spirit and by persevering prayer against this most unclean spirit; then there must be constant meditation on Scripture, and to this should be added spiritual knowledge, as well as toilsome manual labor, which restrains and recalls the feckless wanderings of the heart; and before all else there must have been laid a foundation of true humility, without which there can never be a victory over any vice.

II. For the corrective to this vice comes principally from the perfection of the heart; it is there, according to the Lord's words, that the poison of this malady is produced. "From the heart," he says, "come forth evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness," and so forth. This, then, is the first thing to be rectified, whence the spring of life and of death is known to begin flowing, as Solomon say: "Guard your heart with all care, for there are the wellsprings of life." For the flesh is attendant upon its will and command. Hence the frugality of fasting must be practiced with very great zeal lest, if the flesh be filled with an excess of food, it be found at odds with salutary precepts of the soul and insolently reject the governance of its own spirit. But if we place all our emphasis on the discipline of the body alone and the soul has not, in similar fashion, fasted from other vices and been occupied with divine meditation and spiritual pursuits, we shall never be able to mount to that most lofty height of true integrity, since that which is most important in us is hindering our body's purity.  It behooves us, then, to clean first, in the Lord's words, "the inside of the cup and the dish so that the outside may become clean as well."

III. The other vices are usually purged away by contact with and by the daily discipline of human beings, and to a certain extent they are cured by disgust at the lapse itself.  For example the maladies of anger, sadness,and impatience are healed by a meditative heart and by constant watchfulness but also by involvement with the brothers and by their continual challenges, and when they are frequently shown to be active and are often rebuked they quite speedily find their way to health. But this disease requires solitude and distance, along with affliction of the body and contrition of heart, so that, once the dangerous fever of seething emotions has passed, a state of integral health may be acquired.  For just as it is often beneficial for those who are suffering from a particular illness not even to see harmful,lest they conceive a deadly desire from the sight of them, so stillness and solitude are particularly helpful in driving out this disease. Thus a sickly mind, no longer besieged by different images and on its way to a purer contemplative vision,will more easily be able to pull out the noxious shoot of desire by its roots.

IV. 1. Yet no one should think from this that we are denying that there are also those who are abstinent in communities of the brothers. That this is the case we freely confess.  For it is one thing to be abstinent and another to be chaste and, to put it in this way, to pass over to a disposition of integrity and incorruption.  This is a virtue that is bestowed in a very special manner only on those who remain virgins in both flesh and mind, as both Johns are known to have been in the New Testament, and also Elijah, Jeremiah, and Daniel in the Old.  Not unjustifiably will they also be numbered among those who, after having experienced corruption, have attained to a similar degree of purity through lengthy toil and effort and by way of integrity of mind and body, and who do not feel the stings of the flesh in the form of an onslaught of base desire but only in the form of a movement of nature.

2. We say that this state can be attained with great difficultly by the multitude.  But whether it is impossible is for each individual to know, based not on our assertion but on a thorough examination of his own conscience. We, however, do not doubt that there are many who are abstinent and who extinguish and suppress the attacks of the flesh, which they endure either infrequently or every day, out of fear of hell and desire for the kingdom of heaven.  These persons, the elders declare, are able not to be completely overwhelmed by the impulses of vice, but they also assert that they cannot ever be safe and invulnerable. For it is inevitable that, if a person is engaged in battle, he himself will sometimes be shaken even though he often conquers and overcomes the enemy.

V. Hence, if it is in our heart to undertake the spiritual struggle lawfully along with the Apostle, we should strive with all our mind's energy to overcome this most unclean spirit, trusting not in our own strength (for human effort is unable to accomplish this) but in the Lord's help.  For the soul cannot escape being attacked by this vice until it realizes that waging this war is beyond its own powers and that it cannot obtain the victory by its own toil and effort, without the assistance and protection of the Lord.

VI.  In truth,although grace and victory are in the Lord's in all those who progress in virtue and in the conquest of every vice, it is abundantly clear, from both the words of the fathers and the experience of purification itself, that there is a special favor and gift of God accorded to those who have deserved to gain it. For this is, to a certain degree, a departure from the flesh for one who is dwelling in the body, and it is beyond nature for one is encompassed by fragile flesh not to feel the stings of the flesh. And therefore it is impossible for a person, so to say, to fly by his own wings to such a lofty and heavenly prize if the Lord's grace has not brought him, thanks to the gift of chastity, out of the earthly mire.  For by no virtue do fleshly human beings so nearly approximate and imitate the way of life of the angelic spirits as by the deserts and grace of chastity,whereby those who are still living on earth have, according to the Apostle, "their citizenship in the heavens" and possess here in their frail flesh what it is promised that the holy ones will have in the world to come once they have laid aside their fleshly corruptions.

VII. 1. Listen to what the Apostle has to say: "Everyone who fights in the games abstains from everything" (I Corinthians 9:25). Let us consider what he meant by "everything" so that we can gain instruction about the spiritual contest by comparing it with the fleshly one. For those who strive to fight lawfully in the visible contest do not have the freedom to use all the foods that their desire for pleasure suggests but only those that the discipline of the games permits. And they must abstain not only from forbidden foods, drunkenness, and every kind of intoxication but also from all laziness, idleness, and slothfulness, in order that their strength may grow from daily exercises and constant meditation.

2. Thus they are removed from all worry and sadness and from worldly affairs, as well as from conjugal feelings and activity, so that they may be aware of nothing other than the practice of their discipline and be utterly uninvolved in any sort of mundane concern, hoping only to obtain from him who presides over the games their daily portion of food, the glory of a crown, and worthy prizes as a reward for their victory. To such an extent do they keep themselves pure from all the contamination of sexual intercourse that, when they are getting ready to contend in the games, they cover their loins with lead sheets lest perchance they be deceived by nocturnal fancies in their dreams and diminish the strength that they have acquired over a long period; the inflexibility of the metal, when applied to the genitals, is able to inhibit the shameful liquid. They know that they will certainly be overcome and be unable to pursue the contest in question if their strength has been reduced and if a misleading and harmful pleasurable image has ruined the firm chastity that they have provided for.

VIII. And so, if we have grasped the discipline of this world's games, which the blessed Apostle used as a model when he wished to instruct us, teaching us how much strictness was involved in it, how much diligence and how much care, what ought we to do, with what purity does it behoove us to watch over the chastity of our body and soul, when we must daily eat the flesh of the all-holy Lamb, which even the commands of the old law permit no one who is unclean to touch! For in Leviticus it is thus commanded: "Everyone who is clean shall eat flesh, but whatever soul in which there is uncleanness eats of the flesh of the saving sacrifice, which is the Lord's, shall perish before the Lord" (Leviticus 7:19-20). How great, then, is the gift of integrity, without which even those who were under the Old Testament could not engage in the typical sacrifices and those who desire to strive for this world's corruptible crown cannot be crowned!

IX. And so, first of all, the hidden places of our heart must be very carefully purified. For what those others wish to acquire in terms of purity of body, we must ourselves possess in the depths of our conscience. It is there that the Lord sits as arbiter and overseer and constantly observes the progress and struggle of our contest. Thus we shall not, by careless thoughts, permit to take root within us what we shudder to allow in the open, and we shall not be contaminated by a hidden acquiescence in matters that shame us when they are publicly known. Although they could escape the notice of human beings, nonetheless they cannot be concealed from the knowledge of the holy angels and of almighty God Himself, in regard to which there are no secrets.

X. It will be a clear sign and a full proof of this purity if either no unlawful image occurs to us as we lie at rest and released in slumber or at lest, when one does surface, it does not arouse any movements of desire. For although a disturbance of this kind may not be accounted as fully evil and sinful, it is nonetheless the sign of an as yet imperfect mind and an indication of vice that has not been totally purified when this sort of delusion comes about by way of deceiving images.

XI. For the character of our thoughts, which is rather negligently paid heed to in the midst of the day's distractions, is made trial of in the calm of night. Consequently, when some delusion of this sort occurs, guilt must not be imputed to sleep. This is, rather, the result of past negligence and the manifestation of a disease hidden within. The night was not the first to give it birth, but the relaxation of sleep brought it forth to the surface from the hidden depths of the soul. It reveals the hidden fevers of seething emotion, which we contract when we have been fed the whole day through with harmful thoughts. In this respect it is like bodily ill health, which does not usually occur at the moment when it seems to make its appearance but which is contracted as the result of past negligence, when someone has foolishly eaten unhealthful food and has placed himself in contact with evil and deadly humors.

XII. On this account God, the Creator and Author of the human race, being better acquainted than anyone else with the nature of his own handiwork and with how it could be corrected, applied the remedy to the spot where he knew that the causes for the malady were produced in the first place, when he said: "Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." On observing our wanton eyes he blamed not them so much as that inner sense which makes bad use of them to see. For the heart that sees in order to lust is feeble and wounded by the dart of pleasure. By its own viciousness it diverts the gift of sight rightly bestowed on it by the Creator to the working of wicked deeds and takes advantage of vision to produce in itself the hidden disease of desire.  Hence this salutary command is enjoined on the person whose viciousness gives rise, under the pretext of a look, to the worst of maladies. For it is not said: "Guard your eyes with all care." It would surely have been necessary to keep special watch over them if the disposition of lust arose from them. But in fact the eyes do nothing more than offer the soul the simple possibility of seeing,and so it is said: "Guard your heart with all care." Thus medicine is applied chiefly to the spot where the misuse of the eyes' function certainly occurs.

XIII. 1. This, then, will be the first means of promoting this purification - that, when the recollection of the female sex steals into our mind by the devil's subtle and clever insinuation, through the remembrance, first of all, of our own mother , our sister,or our relatives, and even of holy women,we must at once hasten to cast it out from within us. Otherwise, if we tarry over it for any length of time, the one who seduces us into evil deeds, having once seized upon the occasion of sex, will subtly move the mind and cause it to sink down to those persons by whom he can plant wicked thoughts.  Hence we must be mindful of that precept: "Guard your heart with all care." And, in accord with God's first commandment, we must keep a careful lookout for the serpent's harmful head" - namely, the beginnings of evil thoughts, by which the devil attempts to creep into our souls; nor should we, through heedlessness, allow into our heart the rest of his body - namely, an assent to pleasure that, if it is let in, will undoubtedly kill our now captive mind with a poisonous bite.

2. It Behooves us as well to destroy the sinners in our land -namely, our fleshly feelings - on the morning of their birth, as they emerge, and, while they are still young, to dash the children of Babylon against the rock. Unless they are killed at a very tender age they will, with our acquiescence,rise up to our harm as stronger adults,and they will certainly not be overcome without great pain and effort. For long as the man who is strong and armed - that is, our spirit - keeps watch over his house and secures the depths of his heart by the fear of God, all his property will be safe - namely, the profits of his labor and the virtues that he has acquired over a long period.But if someone who is stronger comes upon him and overcomes him - namely,the devil, through the assent of our thoughts - he will take away the arms in which he trusted - namely, the recollection of Scripture and the fear of God - and he will divide the spoils,which means that he will disperse the deserts of his virtues by the contrary vices,whatever they may be.

XIV. And, passing over everything that has been put into Holy Scripture in praise of this virtue (for it is not my purpose to elaborate the praise of chastity but, following the traditions of the fathers, to explain its character, how it is to be acquired and maintained, and what its end is), I shall mention only one phrase of the blessed Apostle, from which it will be clear how,  when he was writing to the Thessalonians, he preferred it every other virtue, commending it in words of great nobility.

XV. 1. "This is," he says, "the will of God, your sanctification," And lest perchance we be in doubt about or find obscure what he means by sanctification, whether it be righteousness of love or humility or patience ( for sanctification is believed to be acquired in all these virtues), he says and clearly indicates what he really means by sanctification: " This is the will of God, your sanctification - that you abstain," he says,"from fornication, that each of you know how to posses his vessel in honor and sanctification, not in the passion of lust, as do the pagans who are ignorant of God." See what praises he bestows on it, referring to it as the honor of the vessel - that is, our body - and as sanctification. Hence, on the other hand, the person  who is in the passion of lust stands in shamefulness and impurity and is a stranger to sanctification.

2. In a third place, shortly thereafter,he refers to it again as holiness and says: "God has not called us to shamefulness but to holiness.  And so the one who spurns this spurns not man but God, who has also given us his Holy Spirit." He joins an inviolable authority to this precept of his when he says: "The one spurns this" (that is, what I said about holiness) "spurns not man" (meaning me who command this) "but God, who speaks in me," who has also designated our heart as a dwelling for his Holy Spirit. You see with what simple and pure words and with what great commendations and praises he extols it.  First he attributes sanctification to this virtue in particular; then he declares that, by it, the vessel of our body must be freed from uncleanness,and that, third, once shamefulness and reproachful behavior have been cast aside, it will abide in honor and sanctification; finally he points out that in this way the Holy Spirit will dwell in our heart, which is the highest and perfect reward and the recompense of blessedness.

XVI.  Although this book is drawing to a close, I shall mention something else in addition to the foregoing testimony of the same Apostle,which is similar to it.When writing to the Hebrews he says:"Pursue peace with everyone, as well as holiness, without which no one will see God." Here too he clearly declares that without holiness which usually refers to integrity of mind and purity of body, God cannot be seen at all. And all the more is this so inasmuch as he adds here, in explanation of his intent: "Lest anyone be a fornicator or profane like Esau."

XVII. And,to the degree that the reward of chastity is lofty and heavenly, it is assailed by ambushes of adversaries that are all the more serious. Therefore it is to our advantage to cling not only to bodily abstinence but also, with frequent groans and prayers, to a contrite heart.  It is thus that the furnace of our flesh, which the Babylonian king does not cease to heat up with the impulses of carnal suggestions,will be extinguished when the dew of the Holy Spirit descends into our hearts.

XVIII. For, as the elders say that this cannot be grasped unless a foundation of humility has first been laid in our heart, so also do they declare that we cannot attain to the source of true knowledge as long as the root of the vice in question occupies the depths of our soul. Indeed, it is possible to find integrity without the grace of knowledge, but it is impossible to possess spiritual knowledge without integral chastity, because there are different gifts and because there is not one grace of the Holy Spirit that is given to everyone, but rather that which each person is worthy and capable of, thanks to his own effort and toil.  Although the apostles, nonetheless the gift of knowledge was superabundant in Paul, because he made himself capable of it by his intelligent effort and toil.

XIX. Some strong words of Saint Basil, the bishop of Caesarea, are apropos. He said: "I do not know woman, but I am not a virgin."  Well indeed did he understand that the incorruption of the flesh consists not so much in abstaining from woman as it does in integrity of heart, which ever and truly preserves the incorrupt holiness of the body by both the fear of God and the love of chastity.

XX. And so this is the end of integrity and its perfect proof - if, as we are sleeping, no pleasurable titillation creeps up on us, and, while we are unconscious, there is no filthy product of nature's requirements.Just as it is beyond nature to remove this completely and to cut it off permanently,so it is a matter of the highest virtue to limit it to the unavoidable and very rare requirements of nature,which customarily strike the monk once very two months.  Let it be understood, however, that this is in conformity with our own experience and not with the view of the elders, by whom even the aforementioned intervals were considered very short. Otherwise, if we chose to set forth what we received or their want of zeal, had less experience of this purity would probably believe that we were describing something incredible or impossible.

XXI. We shall be able to maintain this state constantly and never exceed the manner and time set by nature, which was discussed above, if we think of God as the overseer of and as aware of not only our hidden deeds but also all our thoughts, both of the day and of the night, and if we believe that we are accountable to him for everything that goes on in our hearts, just as we are for our deeds ad acts.

XXII. This is incumbent upon us, then and we must fight against the movements of the soul and the impulses of the flesh until the condition of the flesh submits to the requirements of nature and does not arose pleasure, expelling excess matter without any harmful wantonness and not doing battle with chastity. But the mind should know that it has not yet arrived at the integral and unalloyed perfection of chastity as long as, when it sleeps,it is deceived by imaginary sights.

XXIII. Hence, in order that these illusions may not creep up on us as we sleep, we must constantly maintain a moderate and regular fast. For whoever exceeds the measure of strictness will inevitably exceed the measure of relaxation as well. When a person is caught in the grip of this immoderation he will certainly fall away from the very balanced state of tranquility,and at one time he will be in want from too great an emptiness, while at another he will be swelled up with abundance of food.  For with a change in our eating habits there is inevitably a change in the nature of our purity as well.  Then we must hold constantly to a humble and patient heart and be attentive and careful during the day with respect to anger and other passions.  For where the poison of wrath makes an inroad the fire of lasciviousness will certainly penetrate too.  But above all a watchful concern is necessary at night. For just as purity and carefulness during the day prepare the way for nocturnal chastity, so nocturnal watchfulness establishes a strong and secure condition for the heart and for its daytime observances.

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