Select Works And Letters Or Athanasius by Athanasius
17. Better to pray in a building than in the desert.
Now then, I would also meet the other and only remaining objection of my accuser. He says, the building was not completed, and prayer ought not to have been made there. But the Lord said, But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut the door .' What then will the accuser answer? or rather what will all prudent and true Christians say? Let your Majesty ask the opinion of such: for it is written of the other, The foolish person will speak foolishness ;' but of these, Ask counsel of all that are wise .' When the Churches were too small, and the people so numerous as they were, and desirous to go forth into the deserts, what ought I to have done? The desert has no doors, and all who choose may pass through it, but the Lord's house is enclosed with walls and doors, and marks the difference between the pious and the profane. Will not every wise person then, as well as your Piety, Sire, give the preference to the latter place? For they know that here prayer is lawfully offered, while a suspicion of irregularity attaches to it there. Unless indeed no place proper for it existed, and the worshippers dwelt only in the desert, as was the case with Israel; although after the tabernacle was built, they also had thenceforth a place set apart for prayer. O Christ, Lord and true King of kings, Only-begotten Son of God, Word and Wisdom of the Father, I am accused because the people prayed Thy gracious favour, and through Thee besought Thy Father, who is God over all, to save Thy servant, the most religious Constantius. But thanks be to Thy goodness, that it is for this that I am blamed, and for the keeping of Thy laws. Heavier had been the blame, and more true had been the charge, had we passed by the place which the Emperor was building, and gone forth into the desert to pray. How would the accuser then have vented his folly! With what apparent reason would he have said, He despised the place which you are building; he does not approve of your undertaking; he passed it by in derision; he pointed to the desert to supply the want of room; he prevented the people when they wished to offer up their prayers.' This is what he wished to say, and sought an occasion of saying it; and finding none he is vexed, and so forthwith invents a charge against me. Had he been able to say this, he would have confounded me with shame; as now he injures me, copying the accuser's ways, and watching for an occasion against those that pray. Thus has he perverted to a wicked purpose his knowledge of Daniel's history. But he has been deceived; for he ignorantly imagined, that Babylonian practices were in fashion with you, and knew not that you are a friend of the blessed Daniel, and worship the same God, and do not forbid, but wish all men to pray, knowing that the prayer of all is, that you may continue to reign in perpetual peace and safety.