"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Superior Way

"There were Paesius and Isaias, sons of a Spanish merchant. When their father died, they divided the estate they held, namely five thousand coins, clothes and slaves. They deliberated and planned together: 'Brother, what kind of life shall we lead? If we become merchants, such as our father was, we will still be entrusting our work to others. Then we would risk harm at the hands of pirates on the high seas. Come, let us take up the monastic life so that we may profit by our father's goods and still not lose our souls.'

"The prospect of monastic life pleased them, but they found themselves in disagreement. For when they had divided the property, they each had in mind to please God, but by taking different ways of life.

"Now the one shared everything among the monasteries, churches, and prisons; he learned a trade so that he might provide bread for himself and he spent his time at ascetic practices and prayer. The other, however, made no distribution of his share, but built a monastery for himself and took in a few brethren. Then he took in every stranger, every invalid, every old man, and every poor one as well, setting up three or four tables every Saturday and Sunday. In this way he spent his money.

"After they were both dead, various pronouncements were made about them as though they had both been perfect. Some preferred one, some the other. Then rivalry developed among the brethren in regard to the eulogies. They went to the blessed Pambo and entrusted the judgment to him, thinking to learn from him which was the better way of life. He told them: 'Both were perfect. One showed the work of Abraham; the other, that of Elias.'

"One faction said: 'By your feet, we implore you, how can they be equal?' And this group considered the ascetic to be greater, and insisted that he did what the Gospel commanded, selling all and giving to the poor, and every hour both day and night carried the cross and followed the Saviour even in his prayers. But the others argued heatedly, saying that Isaias had shared everything with the needy and even used to sit on the highways and gather together the oppressed. Not only did he relieve his own soul, but many others as well by tending the sick and helping them.

"Pambo told them: 'Again I say to you, they are both equal. I firmly insist to each of you that the one, if he had not lived so ascetically, would not be worthy to be compared with the goodness of the other. As for the other, he refreshed strangers, and thereby himself as well, and even if he appeared to carry the load of toil, he had also its relief thereafter. Wait until I have a revelation from God, and then come back and learn it.'

"They returned some days later and he told them: 'I saw both of them standing in Paradise in the presence of God'." 

Palladius: The Lausiac History (a seminal work archiving the Desert Fathers -- early Christian monks who lived in the Egyptian desert -- written in 419-420 by Palladius of Galatia, at the request of Lausus, chamberlain at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II), chapter 14 (Newman press: New York, 1964) pp. 49-51.

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