The Conferences Of John Cassian by John Cassian
Chapter VIII. Of the various fruits of penitence.
For after that grace of baptism which is common to all, and that most precious gift of martyrdom which is gained by being washed in blood, there are many fruits of penitence by which we can succeed in expiating our sins. For eternal salvation is not only promised to the bare fact of penitence, of which the blessed Apostle Peter says: |Repent and be converted that your sins may be forgiven;| and John the Baptist and the Lord Himself: |Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand:| but also by the affection of love is the weight of our sins overwhelmed: for |charity covers a multitude of sins.| In the same way also by the fruits of almsgiving a remedy is provided for our wounds, because |As water extinguishes fire, so does almsgiving extinguish sin.| So also by the shedding of tears is gained the washing away of offences, for |Every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with tears.| Finally to show that they are not shed in vain, he adds: |Depart from me all ye that work iniquity, for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping:| Moreover by means of confession of sins, their absolution is granted: for |I said: I will confess against myself my sin to the Lord: and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart;| and again: |Declare thine iniquities first, that thou mayest be justified.| By afflicting the heart and body also is forgiveness of sins committed in like manner obtained, for he says: |Look on my humility and my labour, and forgive me all my sins;| and more especially by amendment of life: |Take away,| he says, |the evil of your thoughts from mine eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed: judge the orphan, defend the widow. And come, reason with Me, saith the Lord: and though your sins were as scarlet, yet shall they be as white as snow, though they were red as crimson, they shall be as white as wool.| Sometimes too the pardon of our sins is obtained by the intercession of the saints, for |if a man knows his brother to sin a sin not unto death, he asks, and He will give to him his life, for him that sinneth not unto death;| and again: |Is any sick among you? Let him send for the Elders of the Church and they shall pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.| Sometimes too by the virtue of compassion and faith the stains of sin are removed, according to this passage: |By compassion and faith sins are purged away.| And often by the conversion and salvation of those who are saved by our warnings and preaching: |For he who converts a sinner from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and cover a multitude of sins.| Moreover by pardon and forgiveness on our part we obtain pardon of our sins: |For if ye forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your sins.| You see then what great means of obtaining mercy the compassion of our Saviour has laid open to us, so that no one when longing for salvation need be crushed by despair, as he sees himself called to life by so many remedies. For if you plead that owing to weakness of the flesh you cannot get rid of your sins by fasting, and you cannot say: |My knees are weak from fasting, and my flesh is changed for oil; for I have eaten ashes for my bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,| then atone for them by profuse almsgiving. If you have nothing that you can give to the needy (although the claims of want and poverty exclude none from this office, since the two mites of the widow are ranked higher than the splendid gifts of the rich, and the Lord promises that He will give a reward for a cup of cold water), at least you can purge them away by amendment of life. But if you cannot secure perfection in goodness by the eradication of all your faults, you can show a pious anxiety for the good and salvation of another. But if you complain that you are not equal to this service, you can cover your sins by the affection of love. And if in this also some sluggishness of mind makes you weak, at least you should submissively with a feeling of humility entreat for remedies for your wounds by the prayers and intercession of the saints. Finally who is there who cannot humbly say: |I have acknowledged my sin: and mine unrighteousness have I not hid;| so that by this confession he may be able also to add this: |And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart.| But if shame holds you back, and you blush to reveal them before men, you should not cease to confess them with constant supplication to Him from Whom they cannot be hid, and to say to Him: |I acknowledge mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee;| as He is wont to heal them without any publication which brings shame, and to forgive sins without any reproaching. And further besides that ready and sure aid the Divine condescension has afforded us another also that is still easier, and has entrusted the possession of the remedy to our own will, so that we can infer from our own feelings the forgiveness of our offences, when we say to Him: |Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.| Whoever then desires to obtain forgiveness of his sins, should study to fit himself for it by these means. Let not the stubbornness of an obdurate heart turn away any from the saving remedy and the fount of so much goodness, because even if we have done all these things, they will not be able to expiate our offences, unless they are blotted out by the goodness and mercy of the Lord, who when He sees the service of pious efforts offered by us with a humble heart, supports our small and puny efforts with the utmost bounty, and says: |I even I am He that blotteth out thine iniquities for Mine own sake, and I will remember thy sins no more.| Whoever then is aiming at this condition, which we have mentioned, will seek the grace of satisfaction by daily fasting and mortification of heart and body, for, as it is written, |Without shedding of blood there is no remission;| and this not without good reason. For |flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.| And therefore one who would withhold |the sword of the spirit which is the word of God| from this shedding of blood certainly comes under the lash of that curse of Jeremiah's; for |Cursed,| says he |is he who withholds his sword from blood.| For this is the sword which for our good sheds that bad blood whereby the material of our sins lives; and cuts off and pares away everything carnal and earthly which it finds to have grown up in the members of our soul; and makes men die to sin and live to God, and flourish with spiritual virtues. And so he will begin to weep no more at the recollection of former sins, but at the hope of what is to come, and, thinking less of past evils than of good things to come, will shed tears not from sorrow at his sins, but from delight in that eternal joy, and |forgetting those things which are behind,| i.e., carnal sins, will press on |to those before,| i.e., to spiritual gifts and virtues.