The Conferences Of John Cassian by John Cassian
Chapter XII. Wherein we must do penance for a time only; and wherein it can have no end.
But that description of the forgetfulness spoken of only has to do with capital offences, which are also condemned by the mosaic law, the inclination to which is destroyed and put an end to by a good life, and so also the penance for them has an end. But for those small offences in which, as it is written, |the righteous falls seven times and will rise again| penitence will never cease. For either through ignorance, or forgetfulness, or thought, or word, or surprise, or necessity, or weakness of the flesh, or defilement in a dream, we often fall every day either against our will or voluntarily; offences for which David also prays the Lord, and asks for purification and pardon, and says: |Who can understand sins? from my secret ones cleanse me; and from those of others spare Thy servant;| and the Apostle: |For the good which I would I do not, and the evil which I would not, that I do.| For which also the same man exclaims with a sigh |O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?| For we slip into these so easily as it were by a law of nature, that however carefully and guardedly we are on the lookout against them, we cannot altogether avoid them. Since it was of these that one of the disciples, whom Jesus loved, declared and laid down absolutely saying: |If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and His word is not in us.| Further for a man who is anxious to reach the heights of perfection it will not greatly help him to have arrived at the end of penitence, i.e., to restrain himself from unlawful acts, unless he has always urged himself forward in unwearied course to those virtues whereby we come to the signs of satisfaction. For it will not be enough for a man to have kept himself clear from those foul stains of sins which the Lord hates, unless he has also secured by purity of heart and perfect Apostolical love that sweet fragrance of virtue in which the Lord delights. Thus far Abbot Pinufius discoursed on the marks of satisfaction and the end of penitence. And although he pressed us with anxious love to decide to stay in his Coenobium, yet when he could not retain us, as we were incited by the fame of the desert of Scete, he sent us on our way.