The Conferences Of John Cassian by John Cassian
Chapter XVI. The answer to the effect that bad men cannot possess true knowledge.
Nesteros: One who does not carefully weigh every word of the opinions uttered cannot rightly discover the value of the assertion. For we said to begin with that men of this sort only possess skill in disputation and ornaments of speech; but cannot penetrate to the very heart of Scripture and the mysteries of its spiritual meanings. For true knowledge is only acquired by true worshippers of God; and certainly this people does not possess it to whom it is said: |Hear, O, foolish people, thou who hast no heart: ye who having eyes see not, and having ears, hear not.| And again: |Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I also will reject thee from acting as My priest.| For as it is said that in Christ |all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid,| how can we hold that he who has scorned to find Christ, or, when He is found blasphemes Him with impious lips, or at least defiles the Catholic faith by his impure deeds, has acquired spiritual knowledge? |For the Spirit of God will avoid deception, and dwelleth not in a body that is subject to sin.| There is then no way of arriving at spiritual knowledge but this which one of the prophets has finely described: |Sow to yourselves for righteousness: reap the hope of life. Enlighten yourselves with the light of knowledge.| First then we must sow for righteousness, i.e., by works of righteousness we must extend practical perfection; next we must reap the hope of life, i.e., by the expulsion of carnal sins must gather the fruits of spiritual virtues: and so we shall succeed in enlightening ourselves with the light of knowledge. And the Psalmist also sees that this system ought to be followed, when he says: |Blessed are they that are undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that seek His testimonies.| For he does not say in the first place: |Blessed are they that seek His testimonies, and afterwards add: Blessed are they that are undefiled in the way;| but he begins by saying: |Blessed are they that are undefiled in the way;| and by this clearly shows that no one can properly come to seek God's testimonies unless he first walks undefiled in the way of Christ by his practical life. Those therefore whom you mentioned do not possess that knowledge which the impure cannot attain, but pseudonumon , i.e., what is falsely so called, of which the blessed Apostle speaks: |O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thee, avoiding profane novelties of words, and oppositions of the knowledge that is falsely so called;| which is in the Greek tas antitheseis tes pseudonumou gnoseos. Of those then who seem to acquire some show of knowledge or of those who while they devote themselves diligently to reading the sacred volume and to committing the Scriptures to memory, yet forsake not carnal sins, it is well said in Proverbs: |Like as a golden ring in a swine's snout so is the beauty of an evil-disposed woman.| For what does it profit a man to gain the ornaments of heavenly eloquence and the most precious beauty of the Scriptures if by clinging to filthy deeds and thoughts he destroys it by burying it in the foulest ground, or defiles it by the dirty wallowing of his own lusts? For the result will be that which is an ornament to those who rightly use it, is not only unable to adorn them, but actually becomes dirty by the increased filth and mud. For |from the mouth of a sinner praise is not comely;| as to him it is said by the prophet: |Wherefore dost thou declare My righteous acts, and takest My covenant in thy lips?| of souls like this, who never possess in any lasting fashion the fear of the Lord of which it is said: |the fear of the Lord is instruction and wisdom,| and yet try to get at the meaning of Scripture by continual meditation on them, it is appropriately asked in Proverbs: |What use are riches to a fool? For a senseless man cannot possess wisdom.| But so far is this true and spiritual knowledge removed from that worldly erudition, which is defiled by the stains of carnal sins, that we know that it has sometimes flourished most grandly in some who were without eloquence and almost illiterate. And this is very clearly shown by the case of the Apostles and many holy men, who did not spread themselves out with an empty show of leaves, but were bowed down by the weight of the true fruits of spiritual knowledge: of whom it is written in the Acts of the Apostles: |But when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were ignorant and unlearned men, they were astonished.| And therefore if you are anxious to attain to that never-failing fragrance, you must first strive with all your might to obtain from the Lord the purity of chastity. For no one, in whom the love of carnal passions and especially of fornication still holds sway, can acquire spiritual knowledge. For |in a good heart wisdom will rest;| and: |He that feareth the Lord shall find knowledge with righteousness.| But that we must attain to spiritual knowledge in the order of which we have already spoken, we are taught also by the blessed Apostle. For when he wanted not merely to draw up a list of all his own virtues, but rather to describe their order, that he might explain which follows what, and which gives birth to what, after some others he proceeds as follows: |In watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in long suffering, in gentleness, in the Holy Ghost, in love unfeigned.| And by this enumeration of virtues he evidently meant to teach us that we must come from watchings and fastings to chastity, from chastity to knowledge, from knowledge to long suffering, from long suffering to gentleness, from gentleness to the Holy Ghost, from the Holy Ghost to the rewards of love unfeigned. When then by this system and in this order you too have come to spiritual knowledge, you will certainly have, as we said, not barren or idle learning but what is vigorous and fruitful; and the seed of the word of salvation which has been committed by you to the hearts of your hearers, will be watered by the plentiful showers of the Holy Ghost that will follow; and, according to this that the prophet promised, |the rain will be given to your seed, wherever you shall sow in the land, and the bread of the corn of the land shall be most plentiful and fat.|