14. For of the diversified and manifold affliction which befalls the saints, I have reasons eight in number to declare unto your love. Therefore let all direct themselves to me with the strictest attention, knowing that there will be no pardon nor excuse left us hereafter for stumbling at the things which happen, if after all, when there are so many reasons, we are just as much perplexed and disturbed as if there were not one to be found.
The first reason then is, that God permits them to suffer evil, that they may not too easily be exalted into presumption, by the greatness of their good works and miracles.
The second, that others may not have a greater opinion of them than belongs to human nature, and take them to be gods and not men.
The third, that the power of God may be made manifest, in prevailing, and overcoming, and advancing the word preached, through the efficacy of men who are infirm and in bonds.
The fourth, that the endurance of these themselves may become more striking, serving God, as they do, not for a reward; but showing even such right-mindedness as to give proof of their undiminished good will towards Him after so many evils.
The fifth, that our minds may be wise concerning the doctrine of a resurrection. For when thou seest a just man, and one abounding in virtue, suffering ten thousand evils, and thus departing the present life, thou art altogether compelled, though unwillingly, to think somewhat of the future judgment; for if men do not suffer those who have laboured for themselves, to depart without wages and recompense; much more cannot God design, that those who have so greatly laboured should be sent away uncrowned. But if He cannot intend to deprive those of the recompense of their labours eventually, there must needs be a time, after the end of the life here, in which they will receive the recompense of their present labours.
The sixth, that all who fall into adversity may have a sufficient consolation and alleviation, by looking at such persons, and remembering what sufferings have befallen them.
The seventh, that when we exhort you to the virtue of such persons, and we say to every one of you, “Imitate Paul, emulate Peter,” ye may not, on account of the surpassing character of their good works, sloth-fully shrink from such an imitation of them, as deeming them to have been partakers of a different nature.
The eighth, that when it is necessary to call any blessed, or the reverse, we may learn whom we ought to account happy, and whom unhappy and wretched.
These then are the reasons; but it is necessary to establish them all from the Scriptures, and to show with exactness that all that has been said on this subject is not an invention of human reasoning, but the very sentence of the Scriptures. For thus will what we say be at once more deserving of credit, and sink the deeper into your minds.
15. That tribulation then is profitable to the saints, that they may exercise moderation and lowliness, and that they may not be puffed up by their miracles and good works, and that God permits it for this end; we may hear David the prophet, and Paul saying the same. The former says, “It is good for me, Lord, that I have been in trouble, that I might learn thy statutes:”27 and the latter having said, “I was caught up into the third heaven, and” transported to Paradise, goes on to say, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.”28 What can be clearer than this? “That I might not be exalted above measure,” for this reason, saith he, God permitted “the messengers of Satan to buffet me;” by messengers of Satan, indeed, he means not particular demons, but men29 ministering for the devil, the unbelievers, the tyrants, the heathens, who perseveringly molested, and unceasingly worried him. And what he says is just this: “God was able to repress these persecutions and successive tribulations; but since I had been caught up into the third heaven, and transported to Paradise, lest through the abundance of these revelations I might be lifted up and think much of myself, he permitted these persecutions, and suffered these messengers of Satan to buffet me with persecutions and afflictions, that I might not be too much exalted.” For although Paul and Peter, and all that are like them, be holy and wonderful men, as indeed they are, yet they are but men, and require much caution lest they should be too easily exalted; and as saints more than others. For nothing is so apt to exalt to presumption as a conscience full of good works, and a soul that lives in confidence. To the end, therefore, that these might suffer nothing of this kind, God permitted that there should be temptations and tribulations; these being powerful to keep them down, and to persuade to the exercise of moderation in all things.
16. That this very particular also contributes much to the showing forth of God’s power, you may learn even from the same Apostle, who told us the former. In order that you may not say, (what indeed unbelievers think), that God in permitting this, is some infirm being, and suffers such persons to be continually afflicted, from not being able to deliver His own from dangers: this very thing, I say, observe how Paul has demonstrated by means of these events, showing not only that the events were far from accusing Him of weakness, but that they proved His power more strikingly to all. For having said, “There was given me a thorn in the flesh; a messenger of Satan to buffet me,” and having thus signified his repeated trials, he goes on to add, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me; and He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is perfected in weakness.”30 “My power,” He means, “is seen then when ye are in weakness; and yet through you, who seem to grow weak, the word preached is magnified, and is sown in all quarters.” When therefore he was led to the dungeon, after having received a great number of stripes, he took prisoner the keeper of the prison.31 His feet were in the stocks, and his hands in the chain; and the prison shook at midnight while they were singing hymns. See you, how His power was perfected in weakness? If Paul had been at large, and had shaken that building, the thing would not have been so wonderful. “For this reason,” He saith, “remain bound; and the walls shall be shaken on every side, and the prisoners shall be loosed; in order that My power may appear the greater, when through thee, confined and in fetters, all that are in bonds shall be loosed.” This very circumstance then it was which at the time astounded the keeper of the prison, that being so forcibly confined, he, through prayer alone, prevailed to shake the foundations, and throw open the doors of the prison, and to unbind all the prisoners. Nor is this the only occasion. But with Peter too, and Paul himself, as well as the other disciples, one may see this occurring constantly; and in the midst of persecution, the grace of God ever flourishing, and appearing by the side of the tribulations, and thus proclaiming His power. Wherefore He saith, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is perfected in weakness.”
17. But to show that many would be too often ready to imagine things of them above human nature, unless they saw them enduring such afflictions, hear how Paul was afraid on this very point; “For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool, but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.”32 But what is it that he means? I am able, he declares, to speak of far greater miracles; but I am unwilling; lest the magnitude of the miracles should raise too high a notion of me among men. For this reason Peter also, when they33 had restored the lame man, and all were wondering at them, in order to restrain the people, and persuade them that they had exhibited nothing of this power of themselves, or from their native strength, says, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?”34 And again at Lystra, the people were not only filled with astonishment, but led forth bulls, after crowning them with garlands, and were preparing to offer sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas. Observe the malice of the Devil. By those very same persons through whom the Lord was at work, to purge out ungodliness from the world, by the same did that enemy try to introduce it, again persuading them to take men for gods; which was what he had done in former times. And this is especially that which introduced the principle and root of idolatry. For many after having had success in wars, and set up trophies, and built cities, and done divers other benefits of this kind to the people of those times, came to be esteemed gods by the multitude, and were honoured with temples, and altars; and the whole catalogue of the Grecian gods is made up of such men. That this, therefore, may not be done towards the Saints,35 God permitted them constantly to be banished,—to be scourged,—to fall into diseases; that the abundance of bodily infirmity, and the multiplicity of those temptations, might convince those who were then with them, both that they were men, who wrought such wonders, and that they contributed nothing of their own power; but that it was mere grace, that wrought through them all these miracles. For if they took men for gods, who had done but mean and vile things, much rather would they have thought these to be such, had they suffered nothing proper to humanity, when they performed miracles, such as no one had ever before Seen or heard of. For if when they were scourged, thrown down precipices, imprisoned, banished, and placed in peril every day, there were, notwithstanding, some who fell into this impious opinion, how much rather would they have been thus regarded, had they endured nothing which belongs to human nature !
18. This then is the third cause of affliction; and the fourth is, that the saints might not be supposed to serve God from a hope of present prosperity. For many of those who live in debauchery, when blamed as they often are by many, and invited to the labours of virtue; and when they hear the saints commended for their cheerfulness under great hardships,36 attack their character on this ground; and not men only, but the devil himself hath taken up this suspicion. For when Job was surrounded with great wealth, and enjoyed much opulence, that wicked demon,37 being reproached by God on his account, and having nothing to say; when he could neither answer the accusations against himself, nor impugn the virtue of this just man; took refuge at once in this defence, speaking thus, “Doth Job fear thee for nought? Hast thou not made an hedge about him on all sides.”38 “For reward then,” saith he, “that man is virtuous, enjoying thereby so much opulence.” What then did God? Being desirous to show, that it was not for reward that his saints serve Him, He stripped him of all his opulence; gave him over to poverty; and permitted him to fall into grievous disease. Afterwards reproving him,39 that he had suspected thus without cause, He saith, “He let holdeth fast his integrity; to no purpose didst thou move me to destroy his substance.” For it is a sufficient reward, and compensation to the saints, that they are serving God; since this indeed to the lover is reward enough, to love the object of his love;40 and he seeks nothing besides, nor accounts anything greater than this. And if such be the case with regard to a man, much more in relation to God; which therefore that God might demonstrate, He gave more than the devil asked; for the latter said, “Put forth thine hand, and touch him;”41 but God said not thus, but, “I deliver him unto thee.” For just as in the contests42 of the outer world, the combatants that are vigorous, and in high condition of body,43 are not so well discerned, when they are enwrapt all around with the garment soaked in oil; but when casting this aside, they are brought forward unclothed into the arena; then above all they strike the spectators on every side with astonishment at the proportion of their limbs, there being no longer anything to conceal them; so also was it with Job. When he was enveloped in all that wealth, it was not visible to the many, what a man he was. But when, like the wrestler, that strips off his garment, he threw it aside, and came naked to the conflicts of piety, thus unclothed, he astonished all who saw him;44 so that the very theatre of angels shouted at beholding his fortitude of soul, and applauded him as he won his crown! For, as I have already observed, he was not so well seen of men, when clad in all that wealth, as when, casting it away like a garment, he exhibited himself naked as it were in a theatre, in the midst of the world, and all admired his vigor of soul, evidenced as this was not only by his being stripped of all things, but by the conflict, and by his patience in respect of his infirmity. And as I said before, God Himself did not smite him; in order that the devil might not again say, “Thou hast spared him, and hast not inflicted so great a trial as was necessary:” but he gave to the adversary the destruction of his cattle, and power over his flesh. “I am sure,” saith He, “of this wrestler; therefore I do not forbid thee to impose on him whatever struggles thou desirest.” But as those who are well skilled in the sports of the palaestra, and have reason to rely on their art and bodily strength, often do not seize their antagonists upright, nor take an equal advantage, but suffer them to take them by the middle,45 that they may make a more splendid conquest; so also God gave to the devil to take this saint by the waist, that when he had overcome, after an attack so greatly to his disadvantage, and stretched his adversary on the ground, his crown might be so much the more glorious!
19. It is tried gold! Try it as thou desirest; examine it as thou wishest, thou wilt not find in it any dross. This shows us not only the fortitude of others, but also brings much farther46 consolation; for what saith Christ, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for in like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.”47 Again, Paul writing to the Macedonians in his desire to console them, says, “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which are in Judea. For ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.”48 And again, he consoles the Hebrews in like manner, reckoning up all the just who had lived49 in furnaces; in pits; in deserts; in mountains; in caves; in hunger; and in poverty.50 For communion of suffering brings some consolation to the fallen.
20. But that this also introduces arguments for the resurrection, hear the same Paul again, saying, “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what shall it profit me if the dead are not raised.”51 And further, “If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men the most miserable.”52 We suffer, he tells us, innumerable evils during the present life; if then there is no other life to be hoped for, what can be more wretched than our condition? Hence it is evident that our affairs are not bounded Within the limits of this present state; and this becomes manifest from our trials. For God could never suffer those who have endured so many and so great evils, and who have spent all the present life in trials and dangers without number, to be without a recompense of far greater gifts; and if he could not suffer this, it is certain that he has prepared another, a better and brighter life, inwhich he will crown those who have wrestled in the cause of godliness, and proclaim theirpraises in the presence of the whole world. So that when you see a just man straitened and afflicted; and in sickness, and in poverty, as well as innumerable other woes, till he ends this present life; say to thyself, that if there were no resurrection and judgment, God would not have permitted one, who endured such great evils for His sake, to depart hence without enjoying any good thing; from whence it is evident, that for such He has prepared another life, and one which is sweeter and much more endurable. For if it were not so, then he would not suffer many of the wicked to luxuriate through the present life; and many of the just to remain in ten thousand ills: but since there is provided another life, in which he is about to recompense every man according to his deserts; one for his wickedness, another for his virtue; on that account he forbears, while he sees the former enduring evil, and the latter living in luxury.
21. And that other53 reason too I wilt endeavor to bring forward from the Scriptures. But what was it? It was, that we might not say, when exhorted to the same virtue, that they were partakers of another nature, or were not men. On this account, a certain one speaking of the great Elias, says, “Elias was a man of like passions with us.”54 Do you perceive, that he shows from a communion of suffering,55 that he was the same kind of man that we are? And again, “I too am a man of like passions with you.”56 And this guarantees a community of nature.
22. But that you may learn that this also teaches us to consider those blessed whom we ought to consider blessed, is evident from hence. For when you hear Paul saying, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffetted, and have no certain dwelling place.”57 And again; “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteheth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;”58 it is certain that it is not those who are enjoying quietness, but those who are in affliction for God’s sake, and who are in tribulation, whom we must applaud, emulating those who live virtuously, and cultivate piety. For so speaks the prophet: “Their right hand is a right hand of iniquity. Their daughters beautified, ornamented after the similitude of a temple. Their garners full, bursting from one into another; their sheep fruitful; abundant in their streets; their oxen fat. There is no breaking down of the fence, nor passage through; nor clamor in their streets. They call the people blessed whose affairs are in this state.”59 But what dost thou say, O prophet? “Blessed,” saith he, “the people whose God is the Lord;” not the people affluent in wealth, but one adorned with godliness;60 that people, saith he, I esteem happy, although they suffer innumerable hardships!
23. But if it were necessary to add a ninth61 reason, we might say, that this tribulation maketh those who are troubled more approved; “For tribulation worketh patience; and patience, probation; and probation, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed.”62 Do you see that the probation, which comes of tribulation, fixes in us the hope of the good things to come, and that the abiding in trials causes us to have a good hope of the future? So that I did not say rashly, that these tribulations themselves mark out to us hopes of a resurrection, and make those who are tried the better; for, he saith, “as gold is tried in a furnace, so an acceptable man in the furnace of humiliation.”63
24. There is besides a tenth reason to mention; and what is it, but the one I have before frequently referred to? viz. that if we have any spots, we thus put them away. And the patriarch, making this matter plain, said to the rich man, “Lazarus hath received64 his evil things,”65 hence “he is comforted.” And besides this, we may find another reason, which is to this effect; that our crowns and rewards are thus increased. For in proportion as tribulations are more intense, so also are the rewards augmented; yea, even far more: “for the sufferings of the present time,” it is said, “are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”66 Thus many then being the reasons which we have to advance for the afflictions of the saints, let us not take our trials amiss, or be distressed, or disturbed on account of them; but both ourselves discipline our own souls, and teach others to do the same.
25. And if, O beloved, thou seest a man living in virtue, keeping fast hold of spiritual wisdom, pleasing God, yet suffering innumerable ills, do not stumble! And although thou seest any one devoting himself to spiritual affairs, and about to achieve something useful, yet presently supplanted, be not discouraged! For I know there are many who ofttimes propose a question to this effect: “Such a one,” say they, “was performing a pilgrimage to some Martyr’s shrine; and whilst conveying money to the poor, met with a shipwreck, and lost all. Another man, in doing the like, fell among robbers, and scarcely saved his life, leaving the place in a state of nudity.” What then should we say? Why that in neither of these cases need one be sad. For if the one met with a shipwreck, yet he hath the fruit of his righteousness complete inasmuch as he fulfilled all his own part. He collected the money together, he stowed it away,67 he took it with him, he departed on his pilgrimage; but the shipwreck that followed was not of his own will. “But why did God permit it?” In order that he might make the man approved. “But,” says one, “the poor were deprived of the money.” Thou dost not so care for the poor, as the God who made them? for if they were deprived of these things, He is able to provide a greater supply of wealth for them from another quarter.
26. Let us not then call Him to account for what He does; but let us give Him glory in all things. For it is not lightly and to no purpose that He often permits such events. But beside that He does not overlook those that would have enjoyed comfort from such wealth; and instead of it, affords them some other supply of sustenance; He also makes him who suffers the shipwreck more approved, and provides him a greater reward; inasmuch as the giving thanks to God, when one falls into such calamities, is a far greater matter than giving alms. For not what we give in alms only, but whatever we have been deprived of by others, and borne it with fortitude; this too brings us much fruit. And that you may learn, that the latter is indeed the greater thing, I will make it evident from what befell Job. He, when a possessor of wealth, opened his house to the poor, and whatever he had he bestowed; but he was not so illustrious when he opened his house to the poor, as when, upon hearing that his house had fallen down, he did not take it impatiently. He was not illustrious when he clad the naked with the fleece of his flock, as he was illustrious and renowned when he heard that the fire had fallen, and consumed all his flocks, and yet gave thanks. Before, he was a lover of man; now, he was a lover of Wisdom. Before, he had compassion on the poor; but now he gave thanks to the Lord! And he did not say to himself, “Why is it that this hath happened? The flocks are consumed from which thousands of the poor were supported; and if I was unworthy to enjoy such plenty, at least He should have spared me for the sake of the partakers.”
27. Nothing of this sort did Job utter, no nor think, because he knew that God was dispensing all things for good. That you may learn, moreover, that he gave a heavier blow to the devil after this, when, being stripped of all things, he gave thanks, than when, being in possession of them, he gave alms; observe, that when he was in possession, the devil could utter a certain suspicion, and however false, he yet could utter it: “Doth Job serve thee for nought?” But when he had taken all, and stripped him of everything, and the man yet retained the same good will towards God, from that time his shameless mouth was stopped, and had nothing further to allege. For the just man was more illustrious than in his former state.68 For to bear nobly and thankfully the privation of all things, is a far greater thing than it was to give alms whilst living in affluence; and it has been accordingly demonstrated in the case of this just man. Before, there was much benignity to his fellow-servants; now, there was exceeding love shown towards the Lord!