On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: 170 Texts (Philokalia, Vol 1)

St. Anthony the Great Character of Men and the Virtuous Lifeby St. Anthony the Great –

1. Men are often called intelligent wrongly. Intelligent men are not those who are erudite in the sayings and books of the wise men of old, but those who have an intelligent soul and can discriminate between good and evil. They avoid what is sinful and harms the soul; and with deep gratitude to God they resolutely adhere by dint of practice to what is good and benefits the soul. These men alone should truly be called intelligent.

2. The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.

3. We have received from God self-control, forbearance, restraint, fortitude, patience, and the like, which are great and holy powers, helping us to resist the enemy’s attacks. If we cultivate these powers and have them at our disposal, we do not regard anything that befalls us as painful, grievous or unbearable, realizing that it is human and can be overcome by the virtues within us. The unintelligent do not take this into account; they do not understand that all things happen for our benefit, rightly and as they should, so that our virtues may shine and we ourselves be crowned by God.

You should realize that the acquisition of material things and their lavish use is only a short-lived fantasy, and that a virtuous way of life, conforming to God’s will, surpasses all wealth. When you reflect on this and keep it in mind constantly, you will not grumble, whine or blame anyone, but will thank God for everything, seeing that those who rely on repute and riches are worse off than yourself. For desire, love of glory and ignorance constitute the worst passion of the soul.

The intelligent man, examining himself, determines what is appropriate and profitable to him, what is proper and beneficial to the soul, and what is foreign to it. Thus he avoids what is foreign and harmful to the soul and cuts him off from immortality.

The more frugal a man’s life, the happier he is, for he is not troubled by a host of cares; slaves, farm-workers or herds. For when we are attached to such things and harassed by the problems they raise, we blame God. But because of our self-willed desire we cultivate death and remain wandering in the darkness of a life of sin, not recognizing our true self.

. One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life; but one should say that it is not easy. Nor do those who have reached it find it easy to maintain. Those who are devout and whose intellect enjoys the love of God participate in the life of virtue; the ordinary intellect, however, is worldly and vacillating, producing both good and evil thoughts, because it is changeful by nature and directed towards material things. But the intellect that enjoys the love of God punishes the evil which arises spontaneously because of man’s indolence.

The uneducated and foolish regard instruction as ridiculous and do not want to receive it, because it would show up their uncouthness, and they want everyone to be like themselves. Likewise those who are dissipated in their life and habits are anxious to prove that everyone else is worse than themselves, seeking to present themselves as innocent in comparison with all the sinners around them. The lax soul is turbid and perishes through wickedness, since it contains within itself profligacy, pride, insatiate desire, anger, impetuosity, frenzy, murderousness, querulousness, jealousy, greed, rapacity, self-pity, lying, sensual pleasure, sloth, dejection, cowardice, morbidity, hatred, censoriousness, debility, delusion, ignorance, deceit and forgetfulness of God. Through these and suchlike evils the wretched soul is punished when it is separated from God.

Those who aim to practice the life of virtue and holiness should not incur condemnation by pretending to a piety which they do not possess. But like painters and sculptors they should manifest their virtue and holiness through their works, and should shun all evil pleasures as snares.

A wealthy man of good family, who lacks inward discipline and all virtue in his way of life, is regarded by those with spiritual understanding as under an evil influence; likewise a man who happens to be poor or a slave, but is graced with discipline of soul and with virtue in his life, is regarded as blessed. And just as strangers traveling in a foreign country lose their way, so those who do not cultivate the life of virtue are led astray by their desires and get completely lost.

Those who can train the ignorant and inspire them with a love for instruction and discipline should be called molders of men. So too should those who reform the dissolute, remodeling their life to one of virtue, conforming to God’s will. For gentleness and self-control are a blessing and a sure hope for the souls of men.

A man should strive to practice the life of virtue in a genuine way; for when this is achieved it is easy to acquire knowledge about God. When a man reveres God with all his heart and with faith, he receives through God’s providence the power to control anger and desire; for it is desire and anger which are the cause of all evils.

A human being is someone who possesses spiritual intelligence or is willing to be rectified. One who cannot be rectified is inhuman. Such people must be avoided: because they live in vice, they can never attain immortality.

When the intelligence is truly operative, we can properly be called human beings. When it is not operative, we differ from animals only in respect of our physical form and our speech. An intelligent man should realize that he is immortal and should hate all shameful desires, which are the cause of death in men.

Every craftsman displays his skill through the material he uses: one man, for instance, displays it in timber, another in copper, another in gold and silver. Likewise we who are taught the life of holiness ought to show that we are human beings not merely by virtue of our bodily appearance, but because our souls are truly intelligent. The truly intelligent soul, which enjoys the love of God, knows everything in life in a direct and immediate way; it lovingly woos God’s favor, sincerely gives Him thanks, and aspires with all its strength towards Him.

When navigating, helmsmen use a mark in order to avoid reefs or rocks. Likewise those who aspire to the life of holiness must mark carefully what they ought to do and what they ought to avoid; and, cutting off evil thoughts from the soul, they must grasp that the true, divine laws exist for their profit.

Helmsmen and charioteers gain proficiency through practice and diligence. Likewise those who seek the life of holiness must take care to study and practice what conforms to God’s will. For he who so wishes, and has grasped that it is possible, can with this faith attain incorruptibility.

Regard as free not those whose status makes them outwardly free, but those who are free in their character and conduct. For we should not call men in authority truly free when they are wicked or dissolute, since they are slaves to worldly passions. Freedom and happiness of soul consist in genuine purity and detachment from transitory things.

Keep in mind that you must always be setting an example through your moral life and your actions. For the sick find and recognize good doctors, not just through their words, but through their actions.

Holiness and intelligence of soul are to be recognized from a man’s eye, walk, voice, laugh, the way he spends his time and the company he keeps. Everything is transformed and reflects an inner beauty. For the intellect which enjoys the love of God is a watchful gate-keeper and bars entry to evil and defiling thoughts.

Examine and test your inward character; and always keep in mind that human authorities have power over the body alone and not over the soul. Therefore, should they command you to commit murders or other foul, unjust and soul-corrupting acts, you must not obey them, even if they torture your body. For God created the soul free and endowed with the power to choose between good and evil.

The intelligent soul endeavors to free itself from error, delusion, boastfulness, deceit, from jealousy, rapacity and the like, which are works of the demons and of man’s evil intent. Everything is successfully achieved through persistent study and practice when one’s desire is not impelled towards base pleasures.

Those who lead a life of frugality and of self-privation deliver themselves from dangers and have no need of protection. By overcoming all desire, they easily find the path that leads to God.

Intelligent men have no need to listen to much talk, but should attend only to that which is profitable and guided by God’s will. For in this way men regain life and eternal light.

Those who seek to lead a life of holiness, enjoying the love of God, should free themselves from presumption and all empty and false self-esteem, and should try to correct their life and way of thinking. For an intellect that steadfastly enjoys the love of God is a way of ascent to Him.

There is no profit in studying doctrines unless the life of one’s soul is acceptable and conforms to God’s will. The cause of all evils is delusion, self-deception and ignorance of God.

Concentration on holiness of living, together with attentive-ness to the soul, lead to goodness and the love of God. For he who seeks God finds Him by overcoming all desires through persistence in prayer. Such a man does not fear demons.

Those who are deluded by worldly hopes, and know how to practice the life of holiness only in theory, are like those who employ drugs and medical instruments without knowing how to use them or bothering to learn. Therefore, we must never blame our birth, or anyone but ourselves, for our sinful actions, because if the soul chooses to be indolent, it cannot resist temptation.

A man who cannot discriminate between good and evil has no right to judge who is good and who evil. The man who knows God is good. If someone is not good, he knows nothing of God and never will; for the way to know God is by means of goodness.

Men who are good and enjoy the love of God rebuke evildoers to their face. But when evil-doers are not present, such people neither criticize them nor allow others to do so.

When talking with others all harshness should be avoided; for modesty and self-restraint adorn an intelligent person even more than a young girl. An intellect that enjoys the love of God is a light that shines on the soul, just as the sun shines on the body.

Whatever passion arises in your soul, remember that those who have correct judgment, and want to keep secure what they have, take delight not in the ephemeral acquisition of material things, but in true and sound beliefs. It is these that make them happy. For wealth may be seized and stolen by more powerful men, whereas holiness of soul is the only possession which is safe and cannot be stolen, and which saves after death those who have it. Fantasies about wealth and other pleasures do not delude those who understand this.

Those who are inconstant and uninstructed should not argue with intelligent men. An intelligent man is one who conforms to God and mostly keeps silent; when he speaks he says very little, and only what is necessary and acceptable to God.

Those who pursue a life of holiness, enjoying the love of God, cultivate the virtues of the soul, because the soul is their own possession and an eternal delight. In addition, whenever possible they take pleasure in such transitory things as come to them through God’s will and gift. Even if these things are rather scanty, they use them gladly and gratefully. Luxurious meals nourish the body; but knowledge of God, self-control, goodness, beneficence, devoutness and gentleness deify the soul.

Rulers who use force to make men undertake foul and soul-corrupting acts have no dominion over the soul because it is created with freedom of will. They may fetter the body, but not the power of decision, of which the intelligent man is the arbiter through God who created him. Because of this he is stronger than any authority, necessity or force.

Those who consider it a misfortune to lose children, slaves, money or any other of their belongings, must realize that in the first place they should be satisfied with what is given them by God; and then, when they have to give it back, they should be ready to do so gratefully, without any indignation at being deprived of it, or rather at giving it back – for since they have been enjoying the use of what was not their own, they are now in fact returning it.

A good man does not sell his inner freedom for money, even if he happens to be offered a huge sum. For things belonging to this life are like a dream, and the fantasies of wealth are uncertain and short-lived.

Those who are truly men must endeavor to live with holiness and love of God, so that their holy life shines before others. Since men take pains to decorate white garments with narrow purple stripes which stand out and attract attention, how much more assiduously should they cultivate the virtues of the soul.

Sensible people should examine carefully both their strength and the degree of alertness of their soul’s powers; in this way they should make ready to resist the passions in accordance with the strength implanted in their nature by God. It is self-control which resists beauty and all desire harmful to the soul, it is fortitude which resists pain and want; it is forbearance which resists abuse and anger; and so on.

A man cannot become good and wise immediately, but only through much effort, reflection, experience, time, practice and desire for virtuous action. The man who is good and enjoys the love of God, and who truly knows Him, never ceases to do ungrudgingly all that accords with His will. Such men are rare.

Men of dull wits should not despair of themselves and become lazy, disdaining the life of virtue and of love for God as being unattainable and incomprehensible to them. They should, instead, exercise such powers as they possess and cultivate themselves. For even if they cannot attain the highest level in respect of virtue and salvation, they may, through practice and aspiration, become either better or at least not worse, which is no small profit for the soul.

Through his intelligence man is linked to that power which is ineffable and divine; and through his bodily nature he has kinship with the animals. A few men – those who are perfect and intelligent – endeavor both to root their mind in God the Savior and to keep their kinship with Him; and this is manifest through their actions and holiness of life. But most men, being foolish in soul, have renounced that divine and immortal sonship, turning towards a deadly, disastrous and short-lived kinship with the body. Concerning themselves, like animals, with material things and enslaved by sensual pleasures, they separate themselves from God; and through their desires they drag down their soul from heaven to the abyss.

The man of intelligence, being deeply concerned for participation in the divine and union with it, will never become engrossed with anything earthly or base, but has his intellect always turned towards the heavenly and eternal. And he knows it is God’s will that man should be saved, this divine will being the cause of all that is good and the source of the eternal blessings granted to men.

When you find someone arguing, and contesting what is true and self-evident, break off the dispute and give way to such a man, since his intellect has been petrified. For just as bad water ruins good wines, so harmful talk corrupts those who are virtuous in life and character.

If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.

Those who scorn to grasp what is profitable and salutary are considered to be ill. Those, on the other hand, who comprehend the truth but insolently enjoy dispute, have an intelligence that is dead; and their behavior has become brutish. They do not know God and their soul has not been illumined.

God, by His Logos, created the different kinds of animals to meet the variety of our needs: some for our food, others for our service. And He created man to apprehend them and their actions and to appraise them gratefully. Man should therefore strive not to die, like the non-rational animals, without having attained some apprehension of
God and His works. One must know that God is omnipotent; nothing can resist Him who is omnipotent. For man’s salvation, out of nothing He created and creates by His Logos all that He wills.

Celestial beings are immortal because they have divine goodness within them; whereas earthly beings have become mortal because of the self-incurred evil within them. This evil comes to the mindless through their laziness and ignorance of God.

Death, when understood by men, is deathlessness; but, when not understood by the foolish, it is death. It is not this death that must be feared, but the loss of the soul, which is ignorance of God. This is indeed disaster for the soul.

Evil is a passion found in matter, and so it is not possible for a body to come into being free from evil. The intelligent soul, grasping this, strives to free itself from the evil burden of matter; and when it is free from this burden, it comes to know the God of all, and keeps watch on the body as being an enemy and does not yield to it. Then the soul is crowned by God for having conquered the passions of evil and of matter.

When the soul has come to recognize evil it hates it like the stench of a foul beast; but he who does not recognize evil loves it, and it holds him captive, making a slave of its lover. Then the unfortunate and wretched man can neither see nor understand his true interest, but imagines that this evil is an adornment, and so he is happy.

The pure soul, because of its innate goodness, is illumined and made resplendent by God; and then the intellect apprehends what is good and begets thoughts that accord with God’s will. But when the soul is defiled by evil, and God turns away from it, or rather the soul separates itself from God, evil demons enter its thought processes and suggest unholy acts to it: adultery, murder, robbery, sacrilege and other such demonic acts.

Those who know God are filled with good impulses; desiring the heavenly, they despise worldly objects. Such men neither like nor are liked by many people. Consequently numbers of idiots not only hate but also ridicule them. And they patiently endure all that comes from their poverty, knowing that what seems to many to be bad, for them is good. For he who comprehends the celestial believes in God, knowing that all are creatures of His will; whereas he who does not comprehend the celestial never believes that the world is a work of God and was made for man’s salvation.

Those who are full of evil and drunk with ignorance do not know God, and their soul is not watchful. God is spiritual; and though He is invisible, He is clearly manifest in visible things, as the soul is manifest in the body. And just as it is impossible for a body to subsist without a soul, so it is impossible for any thing that is visible and has being to subsist without God.

Why was man created? In order that, by apprehending God’s creatures, he might contemplate and glorify Him who created them for man’s sake. The intellect responsive to God’s love is an invisible blessing given by God to those whose life by its virtue commends itself to Him.

A man is free if he is not a slave to sensual pleasures, but through good judgment and self-restraint masters the body and with true gratitude is satisfied with what God gives him, even though it is quite scanty. If the soul and the intellect that enjoys the love of God are in harmony, the whole body is peaceful even against its wishes; then, should the soul so want, every bodily impulse is extinguished.

When men are not satisfied with what they need so as to remain alive but desire more, they enslave themselves to passions that disturb the soul, inflicting upon it thoughts and fantasies that what they have is inadequate. And just as tunics that are too large hinder runners in a race, so the desire for more than one needs does not allow one’s soul to struggle or to be saved.

Any circumstance in which a man finds himself unwillingly is a prison and a punishment for him. So be content with whatever circumstances you may now be in, lest by being ungrateful you punish yourself unwittingly. This contentment can be achieved in but one way: through detachment from worldly things.

Just as God has given us sight in order that we may recognize visible things – what is white, and what black – so, too, He has given us intelligence in order that we may discern what benefits the soul. Desire, detached from the intelligence, begets sensual pleasure, and does not allow the soul to be saved or to attain union with God.

What takes place according to nature is not sinful; sin always involves man’s deliberate choice. It is not a sin to eat; it is a sin to eat without gratitude, and not in an orderly and restrained manner such as will enable the body to be kept alive without inducing evil thoughts. It is not a sin to use one’s eyes with purity; it is a sin to look with envy, arrogance and insatiable desire. It is a sin to listen not peacefully, but angrily; it is a sin to guide the tongue, not towards thanksgiving and prayer, but towards backbiting; it is a sin to- employ the hands, not for acts of compassion, but for murders and robberies. And thus every part of the body sins when by man’s own choice it performs not good but evil acts, contrary to God’s will.

If you doubt that every act performed is observed by God, you must reflect that although you are a man and but dust, nonetheless you can watch and perceive many places at the same time; how much more, then, can God observe, since all things appear to Him as a mustard seed appears to man, and He gives life and food to all creatures as He wills?

When you close the doors of your dwelling and are alone, you should know that there is present with you the angel whom God has appointed for each man; the Greeks call him the personal daemon. This angel, who is sleepless and cannot be deceived, is always present with you; he sees all things and is not hindered by darkness. You should know, too, that with him is God, who is in every place; for there is no place and nothing material in which God is not, since He is greater than all things and holds all men in His hand.

If soldiers remain loyal to Caesar because he feeds them, how much more ought we to try ceaselessly to give thanks to God with lips that are never silent, and to praise Him who created all things for man’s sake?

A virtuous way of life and gratitude towards God are fruits of man that are pleasing to God. The fruits of the earth are not brought to perfection immediately, but by time, rain and care; similarly, the fruits of men ripen through ascetic practice, study, time, perseverance, self-control and patience. And if, because of all you do, anyone should ever think that you are a devout man, distrust yourself so long as you are in the body, and think that nothing about you is pleasing to God. For you must know that it is not easy for anyone to keep himself sinless until the end.

65. Nothing is more precious to man than intelligence. Its power is such as to enable us to adore God through intelligent speech and thanksgiving. By contrast, when we use futile or slanderous speech we condemn our soul. Now it is characteristic of an obtuse man to lay the blame for his sins on the conditions of his birth or on something else, while in fact his words and actions are evil through his own free choice.

If we try to cure bodily passions in order to avoid the ridicule of people we chance to meet, how much more should we try to cure the passions of the soul; for when we are judged face to face by God we shall not wish to be found worthless and ridiculous. Since we have free will, although we may desire to perform evil actions, we can avoid doing so; and it is in our power to live in accordance with God’s will. Moreover, no one can ever force us to do what is evil against our will. It is through this struggle against evil that we shall become worthy to serve God and live like angels in heaven.

If you so wish, you are a slave of the passions; and if you so wish, you are free and do not yield to the passions. For God created you with free will; and he who overcomes the passions of the flesh is crowned with incorruption. If there were no passions there would be no virtues, and no crowns awarded by God to those who are worthy.

Those who know what is good, and yet do not see what is to their benefit, are blind in soul and their power of discrimination has become petrified. Hence we should pay no attention to them, lest we too become blind and so are constrained to fall heedlessly into the same faults.

We should not become angry with those who sin, even if what they do is criminal and deserves punishment. On the contrary, for the sake of justice we ought to correct and, if need be, punish them ourselves or get others to do so. But we should not become angry or excited; for anger acts only in accordance with passion, and not in accordance with good judgment and justice. Moreover, we should not approve those who show more mercy than is proper. The wicked must be punished for the sake of what is good and just, but not as a result of the personal passion of anger.

To gain possession of one’s soul is the only acquisition which is safe and inviolable. It is achieved through a way of life that is holy and conforms to God’s will through spiritual knowledge and the practice of good actions. By contrast, wealth is a blind guide and a foolish counselor, and he who uses wealth in an evil and self-indulgent manner loses his obtuse soul.

Men must not acquire anything superfluous or, if they possess it, must know with certainty that all things in this life are by nature perishable, and easily plundered, lost or broken; and they must not be disheartened by anything that happens.

You should know that the body’s sufferings belong to it by nature, inasmuch as it is corruptible and material. The disciplined soul must, therefore, gratefully show itself persevering and patient under such sufferings, and must not blame God for having created the body.

Those who compete in the Olympic games are not crowned after achieving victory over their first opponent, or their second or third, but only after they have defeated every one of their competitors. In the same way, therefore, all who wish to be crowned by God must train their souls to be disciplined in respect not only of bodily matters, but also of love of gain, rapacity, mode of life, envy, self-esteem, abuse, death and all such things.

We should not pursue a godly and virtuous way of life in order to win human praise, but we should choose it for the sake of our soul’s salvation: for death is daily before our eyes, and human affairs are unpredictable.

We can choose to live with self-discipline, but we cannot become wealthy simply by an act of choice. Must we then condemn our soul by pursuing or even desiring a wealth which we cannot acquire by an act of choice, and which in any case is but a short-lived fantasy? How foolishly we act, not realizing that the first of all the virtues is humility, just as the first of all the passions is gluttony and desire for worldly things,

Intelligent people must ceaselessly remember that by enduring slight and passing sufferings in this life, we gain the greatest joy and eternal bliss after death. Therefore, if a man falls when struggling against the passions and wishing to be crowned by God, he should not lose heart and remain fallen, despairing of himself, but should rise and begin again the struggle to win his crown. Until his last breath he should rise whenever he has fallen; for bodily toil is a weapon used by the virtues, and brings salvation to the soul.

If they are worthy, ordinary people and ascetics are provided through the circumstances of their life with the opportunities to be crowned by God. Hence, during this life they must make their faculties dead to all worldly things; for a dead man never concerns himself with anything worldly.

A soul engaged in spiritual training, being deiform, must not cower with fear in the face of the passions, lest it be derided for cowardice; since if it is disturbed by fantasies of worldly things, the soul strays from its course. For the virtues of the soul lead to eternal blessings, while our self-willed vices result in eternal punishments.

Man is attacked by his senses through the soul’s passions. The bodily senses are five: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Through these five senses the unhappy soul is taken captive when it succumbs to its four passions. These four passions are self-esteem, levity, anger and cowardice. When, therefore, a man through sound judgment and reflection has shown good generalship, he controls and defeats the passions. Then he is no longer attacked but his soul is at peace; and he is crowned by God, because he has conquered.

When people come to an inn, some receive beds; others, having no bed, sleep on the ground, and these too snore just as much as those who sleep on beds. But when, after their night’s stay, they leave the inn early next morning, all set off alike, each taking with him only what belongs to him. In the same way, all who come into this life, both those who live modestly, and those who enjoy wealth and ostentation, leave this life like an inn: each takes with him none of its pleasures and riches, but only his own past actions whether good or bad.

If you are in a position of high authority, do not lightly threaten someone with death, knowing as you do that by nature you, too, are subject to death and that the soul sheds the body as if shedding its last garment. Since you know this, be gentle and merciful, always giving thanks to God. For he who has no compassion has no virtue.

To escape death is impossible. Knowing this, those who are truly intelligent and practiced in virtue and in spiritual thought accept death uncomplainingly, without fear or grief, recognizing that it is inevitable and delivers them from the evils of this life.

We must not hate those who ignore the way of life which is good and conforms to God’s will, and who pay no heed to the teachings that are true and divine. Rather, we must show mercy to them as being crippled in discrimination and blind in heart and mind. For in accepting evil as good, they are destroyed by ignorance; and, being wretched and obtuse in soul, they do not know God.

Do not try to teach people at large about devoutness and right living. I say this, not because I begrudge them such teaching, but because I think that you will appear ridiculous to the stupid. For like delights in like: few – indeed, hardly any – listen to such instruction. It is better therefore not to speak at all about what God wills for man’s salvation.

The soul suffers with the body, but the body does not suffer with the soul. Thus, when the body is cut, the soul suffers too; and when the body is vigorous and healthy, the soul shares its well-being. But when the soul thinks, the body is not involved and does not think with it; for thinking is a passion or property of the soul, as also are ignorance, arrogance, unbelief, greed, hatred, envy, anger, apathy, self-esteem, love of honor, contentiousness and the perception of goodness. All these are energized through the soul.

When meditating on divine realities, be full of goodness, free from envy, devout, self-restrained, gentle, as generous as possible, kindly, peaceable, and so on. For to conform to God through such qualities, and not to judge anyone or to say that he is wicked and has sinned, is to render the soul inviolate. One should search out one’s own faults and scrutinize one’s own way of life, to see whether it conforms to God. What concern is it of ours if another man is wicked?

He who is truly a man tries to be devout; and he is devout when he does not desire what is alien to him. Everything created is alien to man. He is superior to all creatures because he is an image of God. A man is the image of God when he lives rightly and in a way that conforms to God. But he cannot live like this unless he detaches himself from worldly things. Now a man whose intellect enjoys the love of God is fully aware that everything beneficial to his soul and all his devoutness come from this detachment. Such a man does not blame another for sins he himself commits. This is the sign of a soul in which salvation is at work.

88. Those who contrive to gain possession of transitory things by force are also attached to their desire to act viciously. They ignore the death and destruction of their own soul, and do not consider what is to their interest or reflect on what men suffer after death because of wickedness.

Evil is a passion adherent to matter, but God is not the cause of evil. He has given men knowledge and understanding, the power of discriminating between good and evil, and free will. It is man’s negligence and indolence that give birth to evil passions, while God is in no way the cause. The demons, like most men, have become evil as a result of the free choice of their own will.

The man who lives devoutly does not allow evil to slip into his soul; and, no evil being present, his soul is safe from danger and harm. Such a man is dominated neither by demon nor by fate, for God delivers him from all evil and, protected like a god, he lives unharmed. If he is praised, he laughs within himself at those who praise him; if he is execrated, he does not defend himself against those who mock him, and he never gets angry at what they say.

Evil clings closely to one’s nature, just as verdigris to copper and dirt to the body. But the coppersmith does not create the verdigris, nor do parents create the dirt. Likewise, it is not God who has created evil. He has given man knowledge and discrimination so that he may avoid evil, knowing that it harms and punishes him. Thus when you see someone enjoying power and wealth, mind you are never deluded by some demon into thinking him happy. Quickly bring death before your eyes, and you will never have a desire for any evil or worldly object.

Our God has granted immortality to those in heaven, but for those on earth He has created mutability, giving life and movement to the whole of creation; and all this for man’s sake. So do not be ensnared by the worldly fantasies of the demon who insinuates evil recollections into the soul, but immediately call to mind the blessings of heaven and say to yourself: ‘If I so wish, it is in my power to win even this struggle against passion; but I shall not win if I am set on fulfilling my own desire.’ So struggle in this way, since it can save your soul.

Life is the union and conjuncture between intellect, soul and body, while death is not the destruction of these elements so conjoined, but the dissolution of their inter-relationship; for they are all saved through and in God, even after this dissolution.

The intellect is not the soul, but a gift of God that saves the soul; and the intellect that conforms to God goes on ahead of the soul and counsels it to despise what is transitory, material and corruptible, and to turn all its desire towards eternal, incorruptible and immaterial blessings. And the intellect teaches man while still in the body to perceive and contemplate divine and heavenly realities, and everything else as well, through itself. Thus the intellect that enjoys the love of God is the benefactor and savior of the human soul.

When the soul is in the body it is at once darkened and ravaged by pain and pleasure. Pain and pleasure are like the humours of the body. But the intellect that enjoys the love of God, counterattacking, gives pain to the body and saves the soul, like a physician who cuts and cauterizes bodies.

There are some souls which the intelligence does not control, and the intellect does not govern, in such a way as to check and restrain their passions – that is, pain and pleasure. These souls perish like mindless animals, since the intelligence is carried away by the passions like a charioteer who loses control over his horses.

The greatest sickness of the soul, its ruin and perdition, is not to know God, who created all things for man and gave him the gifts of intellect and intelligence. Winged through these gifts, man is linked to God, knowing Him and praising Him.

Soul is in the body, intellect is in the soul, and intelligence is in the intellect. When God is known and praised through all these, He makes the soul immortal, granting it incorruptibility and eternal delight; for God has granted the gift of being to all creatures solely through His goodness.

God, being full of goodness and ungrudging bounty, not only created man with free will but also endowed him with the capacity to conform to God if he so wishes. It is the absence of wickedness in man which conforms him to God. If, then, man praises the good actions and virtues of a soul which is holy and enjoys the love of God, and if he condemns ugly and wicked deeds, how much more so does God, who wishes for man’s salvation.

Whatever is good man receives from God, who is goodness itself: this is why man was created by God. But he attracts evils to himself out of himself and out of the wickedness, desire and obtuseness within him.

The unintelligent soul, though immortal and the master of the body, becomes the body’s slave through sensual pleasure. It does not realize that what delights the body harms the soul; but, stupid and obtuse, it seeks out such delight.

God is good, man wicked. There is no evil in heaven, and no goodness on earth. Therefore the intelligent man chooses the better part and acknowledges the God of all; he thanks and praises God, and before death he hates the body; and he does not allow his evil senses to carry out their desires, for he knows their destructiveness and their strength.

The wicked man delights in excess while he despises justice. He takes no account of the uncertainty, inconstancy and brevity of life, nor does he reflect that death cannot be bribed and is inexorable. And if an old man is shameless and stupid, he is like rotten wood and no use for anything.

We savor pleasure and joy to the degree to which we taste affliction. One does not drink with pleasure unless one is thirsty, nor eat with pleasure unless hungry, nor sleep soundly unless very drowsy, nor feel joy without grief beforehand. Likewise we shall not enjoy eternal blessings unless we despise transient things.

Intelligence is the servant of the intellect: whatever the intellect wills, the intelligence conceives and expresses.

The intellect sees all things, including the celestial. Nothing darkens it except sin. To the pure intellect nothing is incomprehensible, just as for the intelligence nothing is beyond expression.

By virtue of his body man is mortal; and by virtue of his intellect and intelligence he is immortal. Through silence you come to understanding; having understood, you give expression. It is in silence that the intellect gives birth to the intelligence; and the thankful intelligence offered to God is man’s salvation.

He who says foolish things has no intellect, for he speaks without understanding. So learn what it befits you to do in order to save your soul.

The intelligence which is wedded to the intellect and which gives help to the soul is a gift of God. But the intelligence which is full of babbling and which investigates the measurements and distances of sky and earth, and the size of the sun and the stars, characterizes a man who labors in vain. Fruitlessly vaunting himself, he pursues what is without profit, as if wishing to draw water with a sieve; for no man can resolve these matters.

Only the man who pursues holiness, who knows and glorifies God who created him for salvation and life, can perceive heaven and understand heavenly things. For a man who enjoys the love of God is fully aware that nothing exists without God. God, being infinite, is everywhere and in all things.

As man comes naked out of his mother’s womb, so the soul comes naked out of the body. One soul comes out pure and luminous; another, blemished by faults; a third, black with its many sins. Thus the soul that is intelligent and enjoys the love of God reflects and meditates on the evils that follow death, and leads a devout life in order not to be entangled with them and so condemned. But unbelievers, fools that they are, commit impious and sinful acts, ignoring what is to come.

Just as when you leave the womb you no longer remember what pertains to the womb, so when you leave the body you no longer remember what pertains to the body.

When you left the womb you grew in bodily strength and excellence; equally, when leaving the body, if you are pure and unblemished you will grow in strength and incorruptibility, living in heaven.

Just as the body has to be born when it has completed its time in the womb, so the soul has to leave the body when it has completed in the body the time assigned to it by God.

According to how you treat the soul while it is in the body, so will it treat you when it leaves the body. He who has treated his body here softly and indulgently has treated himself ill after death. For, like a fool, he has condemned his soul.

Just as a body cannot grow perfectly if it leaves its mother’s womb in a crippled state, so a soul cannot be saved or united with God if it leaves the body without attaining to knowledge of God through a virtuous way of life.

The body, when it is united with the soul, comes from the darkness of the womb into the light. But the soul, when it is united with the body, is bound up in the body’s darkness. Therefore we must hate and discipline the body as an enemy that fights against the soul. For over-indulgence in foods and delicacies excites the passions of vice in men, whereas restraint of the belly humbles these passions and saves the soul.

The body sees by means of the eyes, and the soul by means of the intellect. A body without eyes is blind, and cannot see the sun shining on earth and ocean or enjoy its light. Likewise the soul without a pure intellect and a holy way of life is blind: it does not apprehend God, Creator and Benefactor of all, or glorify Him, and it cannot enjoy His incorruptibility and eternal blessings.

Ignorance of God is obtuseness and stupidity of soul. For ignorance gives birth to evil, while from knowledge of God comes that goodness which saves the soul. If you are anxious to cut off your desires through watchfulness and knowledge of God, then your intellect will be concentrated upon the virtues. But if, drunk through ignorance of God, you try to fulfill your evil desires for self-indulgence, you will perish like a beast because you disregard the evils that will befall you after death.

Providence is manifested in events which occur in accordance with divine necessity – such as the daily rising and setting of the sun, and the yielding of fruits by the earth. Law, similarly, is manifested in events which occur in accordance with human necessity. Everything has been created for man’s sake.

Since God is good, whatever He does. He does for man’s sake. But whatever man does, he does for his own sake, both what is good and what is evil. Do not be astonished at the well-being of the wicked: you must realize that just as states employ executioners and, while not approving their terrible profession, use them to punish those who deserve it, in the same way God allows the wicked to tyrannize others in the worldly sphere as a means of punishing the impious. Afterwards He delivers the wicked also to judgment, because they have made people suffer in order to serve not God, but their own wickedness.

If those who worship idols knew and understood in their hearts what they worship, they would not be beguiled away from true reverence. Instead, seeing the beauty, order and divine providence of what God has made and is making, they would have acknowledged Him who created all this for man.

Man, in so far as he is bad and unjust, is capable of killing. But God never ceases granting life even to the unworthy. Bounteous and full of goodness by nature, He willed that the world should be made and it was made. And it is made for man and his salvation.

A true man is one who understands that the body is corruptible and short-lived, whereas the soul is divine and immortal and, while being God’s breath, is joined to the body to be tested and deified. Now he who has understood what the soul is regulates his life in a way that is just and conforms to God; not submitting to the body, but seeing God with his intellect, he contemplates noetically the eternal blessings granted to the soul by God.

God, being eternally good and bounteous, gave man power over good and evil. He made him the gift of spiritual knowledge, so that, through contemplating the world and what is in it, he might come to know Him who created all things for man’s sake. But the impious are free to choose not to know. They are free to disbelieve, to make mistakes and to conceive ideas which are contrary to the truth. Such is the degree to which man has power over good and evil.

God has ordained that the soul should be filled with intellect as the body grows, so that man may choose from good and evil what conforms to God. A soul which does not choose the good has no intellect. Hence, all bodies have souls, but not every soul has intellect. An intellect enjoying the love of God is present in the self-controlled, the holy, the just, the pure, the good, the merciful and the devout. The presence of intellect helps a man towards God.

127. One thing alone is not possible for man: to be deathless. But it is possible for him to attain union with God, provided that he realizes that he can do so. For if he seeks God with his intellect, with faith and love and through a life of holiness, man can enter into communion with God. [This should be understood as referring to the body and not to the soul; indeed, the body will also be rendered deathless after the final resurrection [note by St Nikodimos].

128. The eye perceives the visible; the intellect apprehends the invisible. The intellect that enjoys the love of God is the light of the soul. He who has such an intellect is illumined in his heart, and sees God with his intellect.

No good man is immoral; but if a man is not good, he will certainly be evil and a lover of the body. The first virtue is to reject the demands of the flesh. If we detach ourselves from transitory, corruptible and material things – by our own free choice and not through lack of means to indulge in them – this makes us heirs of eternal and incorruptible blessings.

If someone possesses intellect, he knows himself and what he is; and he knows, too, that man is subject to corruption. And he who knows himself knows all things: he knows that all things are created by God and made for man’s salvation. For it lies in man’s power correctly to apprehend all things and to hold correct beliefs concerning them. Such a man knows with certainty that those who detach themselves from worldly things must endure some slight hardship in this present life, but after death they receive from God eternal blessedness and peace.

Just as the body is dead without the soul, so the soul without the intellect is inert and cannot receive God.

Only to man does God listen. Only to man does God manifest Himself. God loves man and, wherever man may be. God too is there. Man alone is counted worthy to worship God. For man’s sake God transforms Himself.

For man’s sake God has created everything: earth and heaven and the beauty of the stars. Men cultivate the earth for themselves; but if they fail to recognize how great is God’s providence, their souls lack all spiritual understanding.

Goodness is hidden, as are the things in heaven. Evil is manifest, as are earthly things. Goodness is that with which nothing can be compared. The man who possesses intellect always chooses what is best. Man alone, by virtue of his intellect, can attain an understanding of God and His creation.

The intellect manifests itself in the soul, and nature in the body. The soul is divinized through the intellect, but the nature of the body makes the soul grow slack. Nature is present in all bodies, but intellect is not present in every soul; and so not every soul is saved.

The soul is in the world because it is begotten; but the intellect transcends the world, because it is unbegotten. The soul which understands the world and wishes to be saved constantly reflects upon this as her inviolable rule: the time for combat and testing is now, and it is not possible to bribe the Judge, and a man’s soul may be either saved or lost through some small and shameful indulgence.

On earth God has established birth and death; and in heaven, providence and necessity. All things were made for the sake of man and his salvation. Since God is not Himself in need of any good thing, it was for man that He created heaven, earth and the four elements, freely granting to him the enjoyment of every blessing.

The mortal is inferior to the immortal, yet the immortal serves the mortal: thus the four elements serve man, through the inherent goodness of God the Creator and His love for man.

A man whose destitution deprives him of the power to inflict harm is not therefore to be regarded as holy. But when someone has the power to inflict harm yet refrains from doing so, out of reverence for God sparing those who are weaker, he is greatly rewarded after death.

Through the love of God our Creator, there are many ways that bring men to salvation, converting their souls and leading them up to heaven. For men’s souls are rewarded for virtue and punished for sin.

The Son is in the Father, and the Spirit is in the Son, and the Father is in both. Through faith man knows all the invisible and intelligible realities. Faith involves a voluntary assent of the soul.

Men who are forced by need or circumstance to swim across a great river emerge safely if they are sober and watchful; and even if there are violent currents and they are briefly submerged, they save themselves by grasping the vegetation that grows on the banks. But if they happen to be drunk, then however well trained they may be as swimmers they are overcome by the wine; the current sucks them under and they lose their life. In the same way the soul, finding herself dragged down by the currents of worldly distractions, needs to regain sobriety, awakening from sinful materiality. She should come to know herself: that, though she is divine and immortal, yet to test her God has joined her to a body, short-lived, mortal and subject to many passions. If, drunken with ignorance, indifferent to her true self, not understanding what she is, she lets herself be dragged down by sensual pleasures, she perishes and loses her salvation. For, like the current of a river, the body often drags us down into shameful pleasures.

When the soul endowed with intelligence firmly exercises her freedom of choice in the right way, and reins in like a charioteer the incensive and the appetitive aspects of her nature, restraining and controlling her passionate impulses, she receives a crown of victory; and as a reward for all her labors, she is granted life in heaven by God her Creator.

The truly intelligent soul is not disturbed when she sees the success of the wicked and the prosperity of the worthless. Unlike the stupid, she is not deluded by the gratification enjoyed by such people in this life. For she understands clearly the inconstancy of fortune, the uncertainty and brevity of life, and the unbribability of the Judge; and she is confident that God will not fail to provide her with the nourishment she needs.

The life of the body, and the enjoyment of great wealth and worldly power are death to the soul. But toil, patient endurance, privation accepted with thankfulness, and the death of the body are life and eternal delight to the soul.

The soul endowed with intelligence, indifferent to the material world and this swiftly-passing life, chooses the delight of heaven and the eternal life that is conferred on her by God because of her holiness.

People with filthy clothes soil the coats of those who rub against them. Likewise, the immoral and wicked, when they come into contact with the simple-minded and speak to them about evil, defile such people’s souls through their talk.

The beginning of sin is desire, and this destroys our soul. The beginning of salvation and of the heavenly kingdom for the soul is love.

149. Just as copper, when it has long lain unused and idle, and has not been cared for properly, deteriorates and becomes unserviceable and ugly with verdigris, so it is with the soul when she remains idle, neglecting holiness of life and conversion to God. By her evil actions she deprives herself of God’s protection; and just as copper is rotted away by verdigris, so is she rotted away by the evil that idleness produces in the material body, and she becomes ugly, unserviceable and incapable of attaining salvation.

God is good, dispassionate and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, while turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right to imagine that God feels pleasure or displeasure in a human way. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who punish us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actions and our turning to God we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.

The truly devout soul knows the God of all. True devotion is simply to do God’s will. This means to gain knowledge of God by being free from envy, self-restrained, gentle, as generous as possible, kindly, not quarrelsome, and by acquiring whatever else accords with God’s will.

The knowledge and fear of God are a cure for material passions. As long as ignorance of God is present in the soul, the passions remain incurable and rot the soul away; for evil in the soul is like a festering wound. God is not responsible for this, since He has given to man spiritual understanding and knowledge.

God has filled man with spiritual understanding and knowledge, for He seeks to purify man from his passions and deliberate wickedness; and in His love He desires to transform the mortal into the immortal.

The intellect in a pure, devout soul truly sees God the unbegotten, invisible and ineffable, who is the sole purity in the pure of heart.

Holiness, salvation and a crown of incorruption are given to the man who bears misfortunes cheerfully and with thankfulness. To control anger, the tongue, the belly and sensual pleasures is of the utmost benefit to the soul.

God’s providence controls the universe. It is present everywhere. Providence is the sovereign Logos of God, imprinting form on the unformed materiality of the world, making and fashioning all things. Matter could not have acquired an articulated structure were it not for the directing power of the Logos, who is the Image, Intellect, Wisdom and Providence of God.

Desire that has its origin in the mind is the source of dark passions. And when the soul is engrossed in such desire, she forgets her own nature, that she is a breath of God; and so she is Carried away into sin, in her folly not considering the evils that she will suffer after death.

Godlessness and love of praise are the worst and most incurable disease of the soul and lead to her destruction. The desire for evil signifies a lack of what is good. Goodness consists in doing with all our heart whatever is right and pleasing to the God of all.

Man alone is capable of communion with God. For to man alone among the living creatures does God speak – at night through dreams, by day through the intellect. And He uses every means to foretell and prefigure the future blessings that will be given to those worthy of Him.

For one who has faith and determination, it is not difficult to gain spiritual understanding of God. If you wish to contemplate Him, look at the providential harmony in all the things created by His Logos. All are for man’s sake.

A man is called holy if he is pure from sin and evil. The highest attainment of man’s soul and that which most accords with God’s will is for there to be no evil in him.

A name designates one particular thing or person. Thus it is foolish to think that God, who is one and unique, has any other name, The name ‘God’ designates Him who has no origin, and who created all things for man’s sake.

If you are conscious of sinful actions in yourself, cut the sinfulness out of your soul by thinking of the blessings that you hope to receive. For God is just and compassionate.

A man knows God and is known by Him in so far as he makes every effort not to be separated from God; and he will succeed in this if he is good in every way and refrains from all sensual pleasure, not because he lacks the means to indulge such pleasure, but because of his own determination and self-control.

Do good to one who wrongs you, and God will be your friend. Never slander your enemy. Practice love, restraint and moderation, patience, self-control and the like. For this is knowledge of God: to follow Him through humility and other such virtues. These are the actions not of every man, but of one whose soul possesses spiritual understanding.

Because some people impiously dare to say that plants and vegetables have a soul, I will write briefly about this for the guidance of the simple. Plants have a natural life, but they do not have a soul. Man is called an intelligent animal because he has intellect and is capable of acquiring knowledge. The other animals and the birds can make sounds because they possess breath and soul. All things that are subject to growth and decline are alive; but the fact that they live and grow does not necessarily mean that they all have souls. There are four categories of living beings. The first are immortal and have souls, such as angels. The second have intellect, soul and breath, such as men. The third have breath and soul, such as animals. The fourth have only life, such as plants. The life of plants is without soul, breath, intellect or immortality. These four attributes, on the other hand, presuppose the possession of life. Every human soul is in continual movement.

167. When images of some sensual pleasure arise in you, watch yourself so as not to be carried away by it. Pause a little, think about death, and reflect how much better it is consciously to overcome this illusory pleasure.

Just as passion is present in the process of generation – for whatever comes into being in this world must also perish – so likewise evil is present in every passion. Do not therefore say that God is powerless to extirpate evil: to say that is to talk stupid nonsense. All these passions pertain to materiality; yet there was no need for God to extirpate matter. He has, however, extirpated evil from men for their own good, by granting them intellect, understanding, spiritual knowledge, and the power to discern what is good, so that, realizing the harm that comes from evil, they may avoid it. But the fool pursues evil and is proud of doing so: he is like someone caught in a snare, who struggles helplessly in its toils. So he is never able to look up, and to see and know God, who has created all things that man may be saved and deified.

169. Mortal creatures know in advance that they must die, and they resent the fact. The saintly soul is granted immortality because of her holiness, but mortality befalls the foolish and unhappy soul because of her sins.

When you go to bed with a contented mind, recall the blessings and generous providence of God; be filled with holy thoughts and great joy. Then, while your body sleeps, your soul will keep watch; the closing of your eyes will bring you a true vision of God; your silence will be pregnant with sanctity, and in your sleep you will continue consciously to glorify the God of all with the full strength of your soul. For when evil is absent from man, his thankfulness is by itself more pleasing to God than any lavish sacrifice. To Him be glory through all the ages. Amen.

From the Appendix of The Philokalia Volume 1. The Philokalia— Greek for “love of the beautiful – holy – exalted”— was first assembled at Mount Athos by Ss. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Makarios of Corinth. It is a collection of writings, centering on practicing the virtues and spiritual living. It is an important spiritual and theological resource for all Orthodox Christians that complements the Holy Scriptures and other writings of the Apostles, Saints, and Fathers of the Orthodox Church.

St. Anthony the Great Character of Men and the Virtuous Life