Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Fathers on Reading Scripture, VII (a)

The first of four installments of St Symeon the New Theologian's twenty-fourth discourse, "On Spiritual Knowledge":
How the treasure of the Spirit hidden in the letter of Holy Writ is not plain to all, even if they are wiling, but only to those who possess Him who "opens the mind to understand the Scripture" (Lk 24:45).

Brethren and fathers,

Spiritual knowledge is like a house built in the midst of secular and pagan knowledge, in which there is laid up, like a solid and well-secured chest, the knowledge of the inspired Scriptures and the inestimable riches they contain. Those who enter into the house will never at all be able to see those treasures unless this chest is opened for them. But it does not belong to human wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 2:13) ever to be able to open it, so that the riches of the Spirit deposited in it remain unknown to all who are worldly.

A man might pick up the entire chest and carry it on his shoulders without knowing what treasure is contained in it. So a person may read the Scriptures and commit them all to memory and carry them with him as if they were but one psalm, and yet be ignorant of the gift of the Holy Spirit hidden in them. It is not by the chest that its contents are exposed, nor is it by the Scripture that the contents of Scripture become clear. How is this so? Listen!

You see a small chest, firmly secured on every side. By means of its weight and its external beauty you conjecture, or perhaps believe from what you have heard, that it contains a treasure. You pick it up quickly and go off with it. But tell me, what will it profit you if you constantly carry it about closed and locked without opening it? As long as you live you will never see the treasure it contains; you will not see the sparkling of its precious stones, the luster of its pearls, the flashing gleams of its gold. What will you profit, if you are not found worthy to take even a small part of it to buy some food or clothing? But if, as we have said, you carry the chest about with you entirely sealed, even though it is filled with a great and costly treasure, will you not be worn out with hunger, thirst, and nakedness? You will not profit at all!

Pay heed to me, brother, and apply this to spiritual things. Think of the chest as the Gospel of Christ and the other divine Scriptures. In them is enclosed and sealed up eternal life together with the unutterable and eternal blessings which it contains, though unseen by physical eyes. As the Lord's word says, "Search the Scriptures, for in them is eternal life" (Jn 5:39). As for the man who carries the chest about in the memory of his soul as in a chest containing God's commandments as precious stones (cf. Ps 19:11) wherein is eternal life. For Christ's words are light and life, as He Himself says, "He who does not obey the Son shall not see life" (Jn 3:36). Together with the commandments [it contains] the virtues, like pearls.
Taken from this edition.

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