Saint Gregory the Great
  • Roman Pontiff
  • Moralia
  • or
  • Commentary on the Book of Blessed Job
  • * * * * * *
  • Epistle
  • to the most reverend and holy Leander,[1]
  • brother and fellow bishop,
  • from Gregory,
  • servant of the servants of God[2]
  • 1. Long ago in Constantinople I got to know you, blessed brother. The official business of the Holy See detained me there, while you came as a representative in matters involving the conversion of the Visigoths. I poured out into your ears everything that troubled me about my life:[3] I told you how I had long fended off the grace that would convert me, and how even after I was touched by the longing for heaven I chose to stay hidden beneath worldly garb. I had already been shown the love of eternity that should fill my desires, but the chains of long-bred habit kept me from altering my outer way of life. While my heart forced me to go on serving this world (at least to all appearances) many worldly pressures began to arise that threatened to bind me to this world not in appearance only but (what is more burdensome) in mind as well. Finally I fled all that in my anxiety and sought the cloister's harbor. I thought, in vain as it turned out, that I had finally abandoned the things of the world and come to shore naked from the shipwreck that is this life. But often a storm arises and the waves blast a carelessly moored ship away from even the safest port. Thus suddenly I found myself, under cover of Holy Orders, back on the sea of secular affairs. I learned (by losing it) how tightly we should embrace the quiet of the monastery that I had taken for granted. The duty of obedience was invoked to persuade me to accept ordination to the sacred ministry of the altar. I took orders in deference to the church's authority, when I would have shunned the task and fled again if I could have done so with impunity. The ministry of the altar was a burden, so it was against my will and in the face of my resistence that the added weight of pastoral office was imposed. I bear these burdens now with greater difficulty, as I sense myself unequal to the task and know none of the consolation that comes from self-confidence. because the times are in turmoil, as the end draws near and evils multiply, even those of us who are thought the servants of inner mysteries are entangled by superficial anxieties. So it came about, at the time I entered the ordained ministry, that quite contrary to my expectations my taking the burden of orders meant that now I could serve with fewer restraints in a very worldly palace. To be sure, many of my brethren from the monastery followed me there to Constantinople, bound by brotherly love: I see behind this a divine mercy providing that their example would be like an anchor cable to me, binding me fast to the serene shore of prayer even as I was tossed by the unending battering of secular business. I would flee to their companionship from the rolling waves of worldly affairs as to anchorage in a safe harbor. Though my mission had taken me away from the monastery and had all but destroyed the life of quiet I had known, at least in the midst of my brethren a breath of compunction gave me life again each day as I spoke to them on the scripture we were studying. They were pleased (but it was you who inspired them, as you recall) to drive me by their constant requests to comment on the book of blessed Job and, as far as truth should give me strength, to reveal the book's mysteries in all their profundity for my brothers. To the burden of their request, they added as well the requirement that I should not only shake loose from the words of the historical narrative their allegorical meaning, but should also direct the allegorical interpretation towards moral edification; and that I should also (still another weighty burden) support my interpretations with other scriptural texts and should even interject expositions of those passages if they seemed complicated enough to require unraveling.

    2. But soon I found myself facing in this obscure book (never before expounded) so great and so many difficulties that, beaten down and wearied merely by the weightiness of what I had heard,[4] I confess that I gave it up. But suddenly, as I lay trapped between anxiety and devotion, I lifted my thoughts to the giver of gifts and at once put off all my hesitation, certain that a task enjoined by charity (speaking from the hearts of my brothers) could not be impossible. To be sure, I despaired of my fitness for the task, but in that despairing of myself I rose up all the more courageously to hope in him by whom the tongues of the dumb are loosed, who makes infants eloquent, and who turned the loud, crude brayings of an ass into the intelligent sounds of human conversation.[5] How surprising is it, after all, for him to grant insight to a foolish man when he could proclaim his truth, when he chose, even through the mouths of beasts of burden? Braced by this thought, I was now eager to drink from so deep a fountain. Although the ones who urged me to speak surpassed me by far in the lives they led, I still saw no harm in letting a lead pipe, so to speak, bring running water for human needs. So it was that in short order I expounded the first parts of the book in talks for the assembled brethren and then, because I found my time a little freer, I dictated my exposition of the rest of the book. Later, when there was more time, I went back revising all that had been taken down in my presence as I spoke into books, adding much new material, taking away a little, and leaving a fair amount as it was. I had taken care in dictating the last books to keep the style consistent with that of the first books delivered viva voce, so I went over the talks and diligently brought them up to the standard of the dictated material and kept the dictated material from being too much at variance with the oral style of the rest. The one part trimmed, the other part polished, together they formed a consistent whole though produced in different fashions. But I did leave the third part of the work [i.e., books 11-16] almost as I delivered it as talks because my brethren urged me to leave them unemended and go on to other things. I completed this work in thirty-five books and six volumes, answering their multiple requests that I speak now as a simple expositor of the text, now as a guide on the ascent of contemplation, and now as as moral preceptor. Often I seem to defer the expository part and pay a little more attention to the contemplative and moral dimensions of the work; but whoever speaks about God must take care to seek out whatever will form the conduct of his hearers. He must consider it the proper order to digress usefully from his set path whenever a chance for edification offers itself. The commentator on divine eloquence ought indeed to model his behavior on that of a river: river that runs along through its banks often encounters receptive valleys to one side where it can divert its course for a time, then when it has flooded the hollows it plunges back into narrow banks later on; this is just how the commentator on God's word should behave if he should chance upon an opportunity for seemly edification. He should turn the flow of his words out into the broad valley and then return to his course when he sees the fields of related instruction sufficiently watered.

    3. The reader must realize that some things are expounded here as simple historical narrative, some things examined for their allegorical signification, and some things discussed only for their moral import--but that of course some things are explored carefully in all three ways. First we lay the foundations of historical fact; then we lift up the mind to the citadel of faith through allegory; finally through the exposition of the moral sense we dress the edifice in its colored raiment. The utterances of Truth are nothing but nourishment to refresh the soul. Expounding the text in various ways we offer dishes for the palate of different kinds, so that we may banish the reader's boredom as we might that of a jaded guest at a banquet, who selects what he considers most attractive from the many things set out for him. Sometimes we neglect to expound the overt historical sense lest we be retarded getting to deeper matters. Sometimes passages cannot be expounded literally because when they are taken in that superficial way they offer no instruction to the reader but only generate error.[6] See how it is said, "Before him even those who hold up the earth bow down."[7] But everyone knows that a man like Job believes none of the empty fables of the poets about the mass of the world being held up by the sweating giants. Or consider how he says, when he is sorely smitten, "My soul yearns for the noose and my bones for death."[8] Who in his right mind would think a man with such a reputation for virtue, whom we know to have received the rewards of long-suffering from the judge who judges the heart, could choose to end his life by hanging himself at a time of trial? Sometimes indeed the very words of the text warn us against taking a text literally. For example, Job says, "Perish the day on which I was born and the night in which it was said, 'A man is conceived.'"[9] And a little later he adds: "May fog cover it, and may it be shrouded in bitterness."[10] And he goes on cursing that same night: "Let that night be solitary."[11] But the day of his birth, swept along in the course of time, could not stand still for a minute: how could he ask that it be covered with fog? It had slipped away and existed no longer, and even if it still continued to exist in the natural world could never be aware of bitterness. It is clear that he cannot be speaking of insensate days when he hopes they be smitten with a sense of bitterness. And if the night of his conception had passed away with all the other nights, how could he pray for it to be solitary? Nothing can keep it fixed in the passage of time, so nothing can separate it from the procession of other nights. At another place he says, "How long will it be before you spare me and leave me alone to gulp down my own saliva?"[12] A little before he had said, "Things my soul disdained to touch are now my food in my need."[13] But everyone knows it is easier to swallow saliva than food, so it is incredible that someone who says he has been eating food should claim he cannot even swallow his saliva. In another place he says: "I have sinned: what shall I do for you, o guardian of mankind?"[14] Or again: "Do you wish to devour me for the sins of my adolescence?"[15] And in another answer he adds: "My heart has never reproached me in my whole life."[16] How can he confess publicly that he has sinned and yet claim that he has heard no reproach from his heart in his whole life? Sinful deeds and a clear conscience do not ordinarily go together. But undoubtedly the words of the literal text, when they do not agree with each other, show that something else is to be sought in them. It is as if they said to us, "When you see us apparently embarrassed and contradictory, look within us for that which is coherent and consistent."[17]

    4. Sometimes, of course, the reader who neglects to take the words of the text literally hides the light he had been offered, and while he struggles mightily to find something hidden inside, he loses the thing he could have found on the outside without difficulty. The holy man says: "Did I deny the poor the alms they craved, keep the widow waiting for her pittance, devour my mouthful alone with never an orphan boy to share it? Did I spurn the naked who were ready to perish of cold, too poor to find clothing? Did I never earn thanks from the back that went bare until fleece of my flock warmed it?"[18] If we twist these words violently to an allegorical sense, we render all the deeds of his mercy insignificant. This is how divine speech sometimes stirs up the clever with mysteries, but more often provides consolation for the simple with the obvious. It has out in the open food for children but keeps hidden away the things that fill the minds of the eminent with awe. Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim. As each separate passage provides the opportunity, so the order of this commentary will change its direction designedly to find the sense of the divine words more truly by adapting itself as circumstances demand.

    5. And so I send this commentary to your reverence, not because I think it due and worthy, but because I remember you asked for it and I promised to send it. Whatever your holiness finds half-baked or crude in its pages, please forgive it all the more quickly for knowing that it is written by one who is not well. When illness wears at the body, the mind is troubled and even the energy for speaking grows feeble.[19] Many years have now run their course while I have been troubled by frequent disorders of the stomach. I am bothered at all hours by weakness from the enfeebling of my digestion, and I struggle to draw breath in the midst of mild but constant fevers. In the midst of these troubles, I think with care of the words of scripture, "Every son found acceptable by God is scourged."[20] The more I am weighed down by present troubles, the more confidently I breathe with hope of eternal comfort. And perhaps this was the divine plan, that in my trials I should tell of the trials of Job and that I would better understand the mind of one so scourged if I felt the lash myself. But those who consider the matter rightly will at least recognize that bodily disease lessens in no small measure the energy I have for my work, and that when the flesh is scarcely strong enough to speak, the mind cannot express itself adequately. For what is the body's task if it is not to be the instrument of the heart? However skillful a musician may be, he cannot exercise his art unless the instruments are attuned to his touch: an organ cannot echo with the strains commanded of it by a skilled hand nor does the air give voice to his art if the pipes are cracked and broken. Even more so is the tone of my commentary afflicted when the weakness of the instrument so far debilitates my power of speech that there is no art of skill left to give order to this work. As you glance over these words, do not, I beseech you, look for the leafy ornament of eloquence, for it is forbidden to plant trees in the temple of God[21] and scripture restrains the frivolous, empty babbling of its commentators accordingly. Surely we all know how, when the stalks of grain are allowed to run to leafy riot, the grains of wheat within are small and poor. So it is that I have studied to neglect the art of speaking itself, which teachers who confine themselves to externals inculcate. Even the style of this letter proves that I have not worked at keeping my M's from running together,[22] I have not shunned the inelegancies they call barbarisms, and I have refused to keep my prepositions and cases straight, for I consider it most unseemly to hold the words of the heavenly oracle hostage to the rules of Donatus.[23] Translators never observe these rules in the authoritative text of scripture. Since our commentary begins with the scriptural text, it is altogether appropriate that the child thus brought forth should resembles its mother. I use the new translation for my text.[24] But when the argument suggests it, I take my proof-texts sometimes from the new version, sometimes from the old; since the apostolic see, over which (by God's will) I preside, uses both versions, my own work should be supported by both.


    I. 1. Many people often ask who is to be considered the author of the book of blessed Job. Some conjecture that Moses was the author of this book, while others opt for one of the prophets. In the book of Genesis, one Jobab is said to have descended from the family of Esau and succeeded Bale the son of Beor as king;[25] thus they believe that this was the blessed Job and that he lived long before the time of Moses. But they are ignorant of the habit of sacred scripture in mentioning briefly in earlier sections things to be pursued much later on, after other things have been treated in detail. So this Jobab is recorded to have lived before there were kings in Israel, but in no way did he live before the Law, when in fact he is shown to have lived in the time of the Judges in Israel. Some people look at this uncautiously and think that Moses wrote Job's history as if of someone long before his own age; the result is that they think the man who brought forth the precepts of the Law for our instruction also used the story of a gentile to pass on a model of virtue for us. But some, as I said, think the writer of this work was one of the prophets, claiming that no one could penetrate such mystic words of God unles the spirit of prophecy had lifted his soul to higher things.

    2. But who wrote these words is quite a pointless question when we believe confidently that the Holy Spirit is the true author of the book. The writer is the one who dictates things to be written. The writer is the one who inspires the book and recounts through the voice of the scribe the deeds we are to imitate. We might read the words of some great man in his letters but ask by what pen they were written; but it would be ridiculous not to recognize the author and attend to the contents and to go on asking by just what sort of pen the words were pressed onto the page. Since we know the substance of the story and know that the Holy Spirit is the author, if we go on asking who the scribe was what else are we doing than reading the text and asking about the pen?

    3. We are closer to the truth if we think that blessed Job himself, who endured these spiritual battles, is the one who recounted the tale of his accomplished victory. It ought not to bother you that it says in this book things like, "Job said," or, "Job endured this and that." It is customary in sacred scripture for those who write to speak about themselves in the third person. Thus Moses says, "Moses was more gentle than all the people who dwell upon the earth."[26] Thus John said, "The disciple, whom Jesus loved."[27] Thus Luke said that there were two disciples walking down the road, Cleophas and another;[28] the other one is shown by his reticence (in the opinion of some) to be Luke himself. The writers of the sacred words, stirred by the impulse of the Holy Spirit, thus bear witness concerning themselves in scripture as if they spoke of others: The Holy Spirit therefore spoke of Moses through Moses himself; the Holy Spirit spoke through John of John himself. Paul likewise insinuates that it is not on his own account that he speaks: "Must you have proof that it is Christ who speaks through me?"[29] This is why the angel who is said to have appeared to Moses is sometimes called an angel, sometimes the Lord himself: He was an angel for his outward speech; but he was called the Lord insofar as the Lord presided within and furnished the power of speech itself. The figure who spoke from the heart is called an angel for its obedience and the Lord for its inspiration.

    David also says, "Listen, my people, to my law; give ear to the words of my mouth."[30] It was not David's law, or David's people, but David assumed the person on whose behalf he was speaking and spoke with the authority of the one by whose inspiration he was filled. We see this happen daily in the church if we watch carefully. Standing in the midst of the congregation, a reader cries out: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."[31] Surely he is not really saying that he himself is God nor is he abrogating the rules of truth in this, because he claims with his voice the mastery proper to the one to whom he offers his service with his reading. So the writers of the sacred words are filled with the Holy Spirit and pulled upwards, and speak of themselves as though from outside themselves, as if of strangers. So also blessed Job, inspired by the Holy Spirit, could write of his own deeds, which were themselves really the gifts of the Spirit from above, as if they were not his own. The things he spoke of were someone else's, insofar as he was speaking as a man of things that were God's. The one who spoke was someone else, insofar as it was the Holy Spirit that recounted things that were a man's.

    II. 4. But we ought to put all this aside and get on to considering the facts of the sacred history. All people, by the very fact that they are human, must acknowledge their creator, whose will they serve all the more devotedly for recognizing that they are in themselves nothing. But see how we creatures fail to acknowledge God: Commandments were given, but we failed to obey the commandments. Models are proposed, but we fail to imitate them as well, even though they come to us from people who lived under the Law. (Because God has spoken openly to those who lived under the Law, we think ourselves immune from those commandments since they were not proclaimed specially to us.) And so a gentile is brought in as an example to confound our impudence: thus, although people under the Law refuse to obey the Law, we should at least be stirred by the sight of one who lived by the Law's precepts even beyond the reach of the Law.[32] The Law was given to people who went astray; to those who go astray even under the Law the example is proposed of those who are beyond the Law, so that--because we have failed to respect our place in creation--we are still admonished by the precepts of the Law, and--because we sneered at obeying those precepts--we are still thrown into confusion by models and, as I said, not by models taken from among those whom the Law bound but from among those whom no law restrained from sin.

    5. Divine providence hems us in on all sides, heads off our excuses and shuts off every escape for our human shiftiness. This gentile man, beyond the Law, is brought before us to confound the depravity of those who are under the Law. The prophet put it briefly and well: "Blush, oh Sidon, says the sea,"[33] for Sidon represents the solidity of life under the Law, but the sea represents the life of the gentiles. The sea tells Sidon to blush because the life of the gentiles rebukes the life of people under the Law, the deeds of laymen rebuke the deeds of the monks when monks, for all their vows, do not abide by what they hear in the commandments, while laymen order their lives in accord with rules by which they are in no way bound.[34]

    The authority of this book is made clear from the unshakeable sacred page itself. Through Ezechiel the prophet it is said that three men alone would be set free: Noe, Daniel and Job.[35] Not undeservedly is a virtuous gentile mentioned among biographies of the Jews by the authority we revere, for just as our Redeemer came to redeem both Jew and gentile, so also he willed that his prophecy be spoken by Jew and gentile as well. Thus would be proclaimed among each people the one who one day would suffer on behalf of both people.

    6. Relying on the greatest strength, this man Job was known to himself and to God; but if he had not been scourged, we would never have heard of him. Virtue acts quietly but the reputation of virtue is stirred up by the whip. Left alone, Job kept what he was to himself; beset by troubles, he brought the sweet odor of his fortitude to the notice of all. It is that way with ointments that do not spread their scent abroad unless they are stirred up and with incenses that do not give off their aroma unless they are burned: just so holy men make known the aroma of their virtues in the midst of their tribulations. The gospel puts it well: "If you will have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Go away from here,' and it will go away."[36] Unless the grain of mustard seed is ground down its strength is never known. Leave it alone and it is mild, but grind it and it burns and shows the bitterness that lay hidden within. So every saint, when left unassailed, seems worthless and meek, but when the flail of persecution strikes him, right away you sense the true flavor of the man. Whatever had seemed weak and worthless before is transformed into a fervent zeal for virtue. The things he had gladly concealed in time of tranquillity he is forced to reveal under pressure of tribulation. So the prophet well said, "By day the Lord commanded his mercy, and at night he declared it."[37] The mercy of the Lord is commanded by day, because we learn about it in quiet times; but it is declared by night, because the gift that is received in peacetime is made known in time of trial.

    III. 7. But we must consider a little more carefully why Job suffered so many wounds, he who kept himself blameless by guarding his virtues so carefully and well. He possessed the virtue of humility, for he himself says, "Did I refuse to submit to judgment with a man-servant of mine or woman-servant, when they had a complaint to bring?"[38] He showed hospitality, as he testifies, "No stranger stayed outside, for my door was open to the traveler."[39] He observed strict discipline, as he indicates: "Princes stopped speaking and placed a finger over their lips."[40] He was strong but gentle: "When I was sitting like a king, with my retinue about, I would comfort those who mourned."[41] He was abundantly generous with alms, as he hints: "Did I sit over my meal alone with never an orphan boy to share it?"[42] Though he had performed all the commands of virtue, one thing was lacking to him: that he should learn to give thanks even in time of suffering. It was clear that he knew how to serve God in the midst of blessings, but it was appropriate that a severe test should find out whether he would remain devoted to God even under the blows of misfortune. Pain reveals whether the professed loves of the untroubled are genuine. The enemy sought to make him yield but only made him advance. The Lord generously allowed the thing the devil had sought so wickedly, for when the enemy asked for Job to destroy him, by his temptations he only succeeded in enhancing Job's merits. For it is written: "In all this Job did not sin with his lips."[43] To be sure, some of his responses seem harsh to unskilled readers; but they do not know how to understand devoutly the words of the holy as they are spoken. They do not know how to imagine themselves in the place of the just man as he grieves and so cannot interpret the words of his grief correctly. Only one who shares the suffering can accurately read the mind of the sufferer.

    8. So some believe Job to have sinned in his words, since they pay careless attention, for if they reproach the answers of blessed Job, they actually claim that the Lord's judgment of him was mistaken, for the Lord said to the devil, "Have you considered my servant Job? For there is none like him on the earth, a man simple and upright, who fears God and draws back from all evil-doing."[44] The devil answers: "Has Job revered God for nothing? Haven't you built walls around him, and all his household? . . . But reach out your hand and touch him and see if he does not curse you to your face."[45] So the enemy tried his strength against blessed Job but was really entering a contest against God. Between God and the devil Job stood as the object of their contest. What is it to assert that the holy man sinned with his words in the midst of his trials but to accuse God, who had taken Job's side, of a transgression? God wished to take up the cause of the man who suffered temptation (and who had honored him before) and God allowed the one he singled out to be tested by these scourges. If Job is said to have gone astray, the God who praised him must have given in, even though the gifts attest that Job sinned in no way--who does not know that sin deserves not rewards but penalties?--for the one who deserved to receive back twice what he had lost[46] shows, by that reward, that everything he had said had been not vice but virtue. To this assertion it may be added that he also intervened for his erring friends.[47] For if someone is in the midst of grave sins, he does not wash away others' sins while he is weighted down by his own. He is shown to have been spotless in himself if he could win forgiveness for others.

    But if some readers are unhappy that Job tells the story of his own virtues, consider this: that in the midst of the ruin of such wealth, so wounded in body, surrounded by so many corpses of his children, with his friends coming to console him but bursting out with rebuke, he was sorely pressed to despair of his own life. Afflicted by such losses, he had to bear the insulting words of reproach as well. (For those who had come to console him, while they decried what they thought was his misconduct, drove him utterly to desperation.) If he recalls his virtues then, it is not to blow himself up with boasting, but to bring hope back to his heart when it was almost overwhelmed by suffering and rejection. The mind is smitten with a terrible sword of despair when it is pressed down by the trials of wrath from above and attacked from without by insulting voices. Blessed Job, therefore, pierced by the arrows of so many griefs, fearing he would be undone by his critics, called himself back to confidence by looking back over his past life. He did not fall into the vice of arrogance because he fights against the temptation to despair inwardly by using outwardly the words of those who had praised him, so that by mentioning the good things he had done he would not despair of the good he had sought.

    IV. 9. But now let us follow the sequence of his temptation. The enemy was raging and struggling mightily to subdue the stout heart of the holy man. He brought to bear every possible instrument of temptation: He took away his wealth, killed his children, wounded his flesh, goaded his wife, brought in friends to console him, and then stirred them up to harsh rebukes. The devil kept another friend, even more bitterly reproachful, for the last and most bitter attack, in order that by smiting the heart with frequent blows he would keep opening new wounds. Because he saw Job was a powerful man in the world, the devil thought he could be reached by the loss of his wealth, but even the death of his ten children did not shake him. Seeing that bereavement only inspired Job to praise God the more, he attacked the health of his body. But then seeing that the body's sufferings could not affect the man's spirit, he stirred up the wife.

    It is as though he saw that a city he wished to sack was too strongly fortified. By inflicting so many blows externally he was, so to speak, bringing up the army outside the walls, but by inflaming the wife's mind he corrupted, so to speak, the hearts of the citizens within. Thus we can learn from the rules of warfare what to expect in battles for the soul. The enemy goes on the rampage and surrounds the city with his armies. If then he sees the battlements unshaken he turns to other schemes of warfare to weaken the resolve of the people within so that when he brings his forces to bear from outside, he will also have assistance within. As the battle rages outside, he relies on those within whose betrayal will lead to the capture of the forsaken city.

    10. So each time bad news came to Job, it was like a battering ram pounding the city wall. The devil corrupted the hearts of citizens within when he sought to destroy the fortifications of the city with the wife's persuasive voice. He brought the force of arms to bear from without and used the poison of bad advice within, to capture the city the more quickly by attacking from without and from within simultaneously. Because words are often more damaging than wounds, he fortified himself further with the voices of Job's friends, as has been said. But since they were men of mature years and Job was thus less grieved at their words, so the young Eliu was brought in to smite Job's holy heart with a more penetrating wound from a stronger young right arm. See how many weapons of temptation the raging enemy found to use against that invincible strength! See how many siege machines he brought up! See how many spears he let fly! But in the midst of all this, Job's mind remained imperturbed, the city stood unvanquished.

    V. 11. When enemies plan a frontal assault, they also send some of their forces secretly around to attack the flanks more boldly while the defenders concentrate on repelling the frontal assault. The wounds and losses Job suffered in this war were in this way like the frontal assault, while the taunts he bore from his counselors came like a sneak attack from the side. But Job persisted in all this fortified by the shield of his imperturbability, fending off the swords coming from all directions. He considered the loss of his wealth in silence, he grieved at the death of the flesh in his children without losing control of himself, he endured the sufferings of the flesh in himself patiently, and he offered prudent admonishment to the flesh when it offered wicked persuasion in the person of his wife.

    On top of this, his friends burst out with harsh reproach and in fact added to his grief even though they had come to alleviate it. But the holy man turned all the devices of temptation into instruments to enhance his virtue. His patience was tested through the wounds he suffered, while his wisdom was exercised in answering the words of wife and friends. He fought back boldly on all fronts, surmounting the losses of the flesh with his strength and the words that wounded with his powers of reason. (His friends, who had come to console but who went so far as to rebuke, should be thought to have erred out of ignorance rather than malice. We must not believe a man like Job would have wicked friends, but when they could not understand the cause of his suffering, they fell into error.)

    12. There are various kinds of blows we suffer in this world: (1) some by which the sinner is struck for his punishment but not for his correction; (2) some by which a sinner is smitten so that he will mend his ways; (3) some by which someone is afflicted not to correct past faults but to prevent future ones; (4) some by which neither past sins are punished nor future sins prevented but for which the strength of a deliverer, coming unexpectedly at the end of the trials, is the more ardently loved, and when an innocent man is worn down by tribulation, the sum of his merits grows and grows. (1) Sometimes we see a sinner punished without hope of rehabilitation, as when it was said to a Judea on the brink of disaster, "I have smitten you with the blow of your enemy, with cruel punishment."[48] And again: "Why do you cry out to me that you are so worn down? Your grief is beyond healing."[49]

    (2) Sometimes a sinner is punished in order to make him mend his ways; it is said to one in the gospel, "Behold you are made whole; now sin no more lest something worse should happen to you."[50] The words of the savior indicate that it was the magnitude of the preceding sins that demanded the punishment.

    (3) Sometimes someone is smitten not to wash away past sins but to prevent future ones. Paul says this openly of himself: "And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me."[51] He does not say, because he was proud, but lest he might become proud, clearly showing that he was hindered by that sting from committing a sin rather than that it was meant to wash away one already committed.

    (4) But once in a while someone is smitten for neither past nor potential wrongdoing, but simply so that the power of divine strength might be shown by the way the trial breaks off. So it is said to the Lord in the gospel of the man born blind, "Did this one sin, or his parents, that he might be born blind?" The Lord answered: "Neither this one sinned, nor his parents, but so that the power of God might be made known."[52] What does this demonstration of God's power do but enhance through trial the virtue of the victim? Since no past iniquity is washed away, great strength is brought out of patience.

    So it is that blessed Job is first extolled by the judge, then handed over to the tempter. God addresses Job as a friend and rewards him after the whole trial is over, showing clearly how much he benefitted from the trial. The friends of blessed Job, because they could not distinguish these categories of tribulation, thought Job was smitten for his sins; and while they tried to claim God was just in his punishments, they were compelled in their ignorance to blame blessed Job since they did not know that he had been smitten in order for his punishment to bring about greater praise of the glory of God, not his punishment for sins he had never committed. They found forgiveness the more easily, because they had sinned out of ignorance rather than malice. Divine justice humiliated their pride all the more, in that it is only through the agency of the man they had despised that they are restored to grace. The mind of the haughty is vigorously put in its place if it is subordinated to one over whom it has boasted.

    VI. 13. In this story of the wonders of divine providence we can see how the stars come out to illuminate the darkness of this life one at a time, until at the end of the night the Redeemer of the human race rises like the true daystar. The night passes adorned by the grandeur and beauty of the sky through which the stars run their rising and setting courses. Each of these men came forth like a star in his own time to lighten the shadows of our night: Abel came to show us innocence, Enoch to teach purity in action, Noah to show patient hope and labor, Abraham to show obedience, Isaac to demonstrate the chastity of the married life, Jacob to show us how to bear up under our labors, Joseph to pay back good for evil, Moses to show us gentleness, Joshua to build confidence in adversity, and finally Job to show patience under misfortunes. See how we see the stars shining in the heavens! They let us walk along the pathways of our night sure of foot, for providence brings so many just men to our attention the way the heavens bring out so many stars over the shadows of sin. Then the true daystar rises proclaiming the eternal dawn for us, divinely gleaming brighter than all the other stars.

    14. All the chosen people went on ahead of the daystar, proclaiming it by their words and deeds. There was no just man who was not figuratively a messenger of his coming. It was fitting that they should all reveal by their lives the goodness from which all good people came and which they knew would be for the good of all. It is given without consideration of merits and held forever: possessed forever: therefore it should be proclaimed unceasingly, that all ages should proclaim what the end of the ages will make known for the redemption of all. So it was even for blessed Job, who shows us so many of the mysteries of the incarnation, that he should proclaim the Redeemer in his voice and resemble him in his way of life. His sufferings foretold Christ's passion, and he foretold the sacraments of that passion the more truthfully because he did not merely prophesy by speaking but by enduring.

    But because our Redeemer revealed himself to be one person in union with his church (for of him it is said, "He is the head of us all,"[53] and of his church it is said, "The body of Christ, which is the church"[54]), whoever signifies in his own person Christ sometimes stands for the head and sometimes for the body, so that he has the voice not only of the head but also of the body. Thus Isaiah the prophet, speaking the words of that same Lord, says, "He placed a crown on my head as on a bridegroom and as a bride he decorated me with jewels."[55] For the Lord is the groom (as head) and also the bride (as body), so therefore sometimes Job speaks of the head, sometimes he shifts clearly and suddenly to speak for the body. And again, sometimes when he is speaking of the body, suddenly he rises to speak for the head.

    Blessed Job with his body presents a figure of the coming Redeemer; but his wife, urging him to curse God, stands for those who live according to the flesh, who dwell within the holy church despite their wayward lives; placed alongside the just by their creed, they harass them all the more by their deeds. They are all the harder for the faithful to tolerate, since they cannot simply be avoided by them and must be endured within the church.

    15. His friends who come inveighing against him with their supposed consolation give us a portrait of the heretics who do the work of seduction under the pretext of giving counsel. They speak to Job as if on the Lord's behalf, but they are not approved by the Lord; for all heretics struggle to defend God but really offend him. This is said clearly of them by Job himself: "I wish to take up the issue with God, but first I will prove to you what you are, forgers of lies and adherents of perverse opinions."[56] It is clear that they represent the heretics in their error, for the holy man convicts them of enslavement to the cultivation of perverted dogmas. Every heretic opposes the truth of God just in the way he tries to defend Him, as the psalmist attests: "May you destroy your enemy and your defender."[57] The one who attacks the God he preaches is both enemy and defender at once.

    VII. 16. Even blessed Job's name demonstrates that he bears the image of the coming Redeemer. 'Job' is translated 'Sufferer.'[58] That suffering expresses the passion of the Mediator and the toils of the holy church, a church tormented by the manifold vexations of this life. His friends also reveal by their names what their deeds deserve. 'Eliphaz' in Latin means 'contempt of the Lord.' What else do heretics do, believing false things of God, despising him in their pride. 'Baldad' is translated 'oldness alone.' This is a good name for every heretic who speaks of God to become a prophet not out of right intention but in a desire for earthly glory. They are stirred to speak not by the zeal of the new man but by the depravity of the old life. 'Sophar' in Latin is 'destruction of the watchtower' or 'destroying the lookout.' The minds of the faithful lift themselves up to contemplate lofty things, but when the words of the heretics try to lead those who contemplate wisely astray, they are trying to tear down the watchtower.

    Thus in the names of the three friends of Job three varieties of heretical ruin are expressed. Unless they despised God, they would not think perverse things of him; unless they bore oldness in their hearts, they would not err in their understanding of the new life; and unless they destroyed the observation of good things, in no way would God's judgments reproach them with so strict a verdict for the errors of their words. Despising God, they maintain themselves in their oldness. Maintaining their oldness, they corrupt their contemplation of what is right by their wicked words.

    VIII. 17. Heretics sometimes, drenched by God's generous grace, come back to the unity of the holy church; the reconciliation of the friends signifies this well.[59] Blessed Job is commanded to pray for them, because the sacrifices of heretics cannot be acceptable to God unless they are offered on their behalf by the hands of the universal church. They find a saving remedy through the merits of the church they had once assailed in combat with their barbed words. Seven sacrifices are said to have been offered on their behalf, because when in their confession they accept the Holy Spirit with his seven gifts they are, so to speak, making expiation with seven offerings.[60] Thus in John's Apocalypse the universal church is represented by the number of seven churches.[61] Thus Solomon says of Wisdom, "Wisdom has builded herself a house, and carved out seven pillars."[62] The number of sacrifices by which the heretics were reconciled demonstrates what they were before, when they could not be joined to the perfection of sevenfold grace except by coming back from where they had strayed.

    18. It is well said, that bulls and rams were offered for them. The bull stands for the stiff neck of pride, the ram for the leaders of flocks that follow. To sacrifice bulls and rams for the friends is to destroy their haughty guidance, so they might be humble themselves and leave off deceiving the hearts of innocent followers. Rearing their heads, they had shied away from the unity of the church and dragged weak people after them like flocks that follow. Let them come to blessed Job (that is, let them return to the church) and offer bulls and rams by sevens for the slaughter; thus they destroy their swollen pride in leadership with humility's aid to join the universal church.

    IX. 19. Eliu stands for any arrogant person, giving expression to good thoughts but led astray to foolish words of pride. There are many like him inside the holy church who refuse to proclaim properly the truths they believe. So Eliu is rebuked by divine dispraise and no sacrifice is offered for him, for he is arrogant though faithful. For the truth of his belief he is within the church, but for the stumbling block of swollen pride he is unacceptable to God. Eliu is rebuked with reproach, therefore, but sacrifice does not restore him, because he already believes what he should believe but heavenly justice drives him away on account of his flood of words. Thus it is that Eliu in Latin is aptly rendered. "This is my God" or "God, the Lord." Arrogant people inside the church proclaim God truly with their belief but flee him by their pride of life. What is it to call someone by name "This is my God" if not to proclaim openly the God in whom he believes? Or what is it to call someone "God, the Lord" if not to believe in God's divinity and testify to the Lord's incarnation?

    X. 20. After the loss of Job's possessions, after all his bereavements, after all the suffering of his wounds, after all his angry debates, it is good that he is consoled by twofold repayment. In just this way does the holy church, while it is still in this world, receive twofold reward for the trials it sustains, when all the gentile nations have been brought into its midst, at the end of time, and the church converts even the hearts of the Jews to its cause. Thus it is written, "Until the fulness of nations enters and so all Israel is saved."[63] Then the church shall receive twofold when, with the trials of the present age ended, it rises not only to the soul's rejoicing but even to the bliss of their bodies. So the prophet says well: "They will possess twofold in their land."[64] The saints in the land of the living have twofold possession, rejoicing in happiness of mind and body simultaneously. This is why John, when in the Apocalypse he sees the souls of the blessed crying out before the resurrection of their bodies, says he saw them each receiving long robes and adds, "And there given to each of them long white robes and it was said to them that they should be at rest for yet a little while until the number of their fellow servants and brethren should be filled."[65] They are said each to receive robes before the resurrection because they enjoy so far only the happiness of the spirit. They will receive double when, in perfect joy of the spirit, they are dressed as well with incorruptible flesh.

    21. The trials of blessed Job are described but the length of time they last is not mentioned, for the holy church is seen to be tested in this life but no one knows how much longer the trial will persist. Thus it is spoken from the mouth of Truth:[66] "It is not yours to know the times or the moments which the father has set in his power."[67] Through the sufferings of blessed Job we are taught what we have learned from experience. Through the silence concerning the length of time he suffered, we are taught what we ought not to know.

    We have prolonged the preface so that our discourse might, so to speak, sketch and outline the whole of the work. But because we have come to the beginning of our commentary, even after going on this long,[68] we should first plant the root of history so that we might later sate our souls on the fruit of allegory.[69]

    First Part Containing Five Books

    Book One[70]

    I.1. There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job. (1.1)

    To say where the saint lived is mentioned to indicate the special value of his virtue. Who would not know that Hus is a land of pagans? Pagans live bound to their sins by their ignorance of their creator. So let it be said where Job lived, to add to his praises the assertion that he was good in the midst of the wicked. It is not specially praiseworthy to be good in the midst of the just, but rather to be good in the midst of the wicked. Just as it is a graver fault not to be good in the midst of the good, so it is a tremendous distinction to have been good in the midst of the wicked. Hence blessed Job bears witness of himself as he says, "I was the brother of dragons, the companion of ostriches."[71]

    For the same reason, Peter exalted Lot with great praise, finding him good among the reprobate: "Yet he saved Lot, an innocent man who was overborne by the violence of the unspeakably wicked; in all he saw and heard he was righteous, though he lived among men whose lawless doings, day after day, tormented that righteous spirit."[72] Nothing could torment that spirit if not hearing and seeing the vile deeds of his neighbors. And nevertheless he is called innocent in all he saw and heard because the life of the wicked touched the eyes and ears of the just man with no delight, only pain.

    So also Paul says to his disciples: "In the midst of a vile and perverse nation, in which you shine out like stars to the world."[73]

    So also it is said to the angel of the church of Pergamum: "I know where you live, in the seat of satan; and you keep my name and have not denied my faith."[74]

    So also it is said in praise of the holy church by the bridegroom in the canticle of love: "Like a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters."[75]

    It is fitting therefore that blessed Job is said, by the mention of his pagan land, to have lived among the wicked so that, as the bridegroom proclaimed, we could see how he grew like a lily among thorns. Here it adds at once, quite correctly:

    II.2. Simple and upright. (1.1)

    Some, indeed, are so simple that they do not know what is right, but rather they abandon the innocence of true simplicity when they fail to rise to the upright life of virtue because they lack the cautiousness of uprightness and so cannot remain innocent through their simplicity alone.

    So it is that Paul admonishes his disciples: "I want you to be wise in goodness, and simple in evil."[76] So also he says elsewhere: "Do not become childish in your thoughts, but be children in matters of evil."[77]

    So it is that the Truth himself taught the disciples: "Be prudent like serpents and simple like doves."[78] Two things are necessarily combined in that warning, so that the cleverness of the serpent might instruct the simplicity of the dove, and that, in turn, the simplicity of the dove might restrain the cleverness of the serpent.

    This is why the holy spirit makes its presence known to men not only in the form of a dove, but also in the form of fire.[79] The dove symbolizes simplicity, the fire zeal. The spirit is manifested in the dove and in the fire because whoever are full of the spirit are a servants to the gentleness of simplicity in such a way that they are still fired with the zeal of uprightness against the faults of sinners.

    III.3. Fearing God and drawing back from all evil. (1.1)

    To fear God is to omit none of the good that is to be done. Thus it is said through Solomon: "The man who fears God neglects nothing."[80] But because there are some who do certain good deeds but still fail to refrain from other evils, after Job is said to have feared God he is also said to have drawn back from all evil. It is written, "Turn away from evil and do good,"[81] for good deeds stained by a mixture of evil are not acceptable to God. Thus Solomon: "Who sins in one thing, loses much that is good."[82] Hence James witnesses: "Whoever keeps the whole law, but sins on one point, is made liable to the whole."[83] Hence Paul: "A little yeast corrupts the whole mass."[84] Thus to show how pure Job was in his good deeds, it is vigorously declared that he was innocent of evil.

    4. It is the habit of those who are going to tell us of a wrestling match first to describe the combatants' physiques: they tell us how broad and strong the chest is, in what good condition, how large the biceps are, how the belly below is neither weighed down by a paunch nor weakened by wasting away. When they have first shown us how suited the bodies are for the match, then they can tell us about the mighty blows. Since our athlete was setting out to struggle against the devil, the author of the sacred text, as if telling of a show in the arena, enumerates his spiritual virtues and describes his mental physique. Thus he says, "Simple and upright, fearing God and drawing back from all evil." When we know the condition of his limbs, we too can predict the coming victory by his strong condition.

    IV.5. Seven sons were born to him, and three daughters. (1.2)

    A large family often stirs the heart of a parent to greed. The more heirs he is blessed with, the more he is stirred to try to build a great estate. To show the holiness of mind of blessed Job, he is proclaimed and shown to have been a just man and shown again to have been the father of a large family. At the very outset of the book he is said to have been devout in offering sacrifice, and later he is reported, in his own words, to have been generous with gifts. We should recognize the great strength he was endowed with when we think how not even love for his many children could make him cling to his property.

    V.6. His wealth included seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred she-asses, and a huge household. (1.3)

    We know that greater losses drive the mind to greater grief. To show how great was his virtue, Job is said to have had a great deal of property to lose so patiently. Nothing is ever lost so calmly unless it is possessed without being loved. First he is said to have had great wealth, then he is said to have lost it patiently; if he lost it without grief, he must not have loved it when he had it.

    Note also how the riches of the heart are listed before material wealth. Abounding riches usually lead men away from the fear of God by scattering their thoughts, and someone whose thoughts are scattered cannot keep his attention fixed on the things within. Truth itself spoke this truth, explaining the parable of the sower: "The seed which is sown among spines, that is, the one who hears the word, and yet the cares of this world and the deception of riches stifle the word and make it fruitless."[85] So see how blessed Job is said to have had much wealth and a little later is said to have persisted devotedly in offering divine sacrifices.

    7. Consider the holiness of this man, so distracted by many concerns and so sedulous in his performance of his duties to God. The command to leave everything behind[86] had not yet been proclaimed, but Job obeyed the force of that command in his heart, abandoning with a tranquil heart the wealth he had possessed without becoming infatuated with it.

    VI.8. For he was a great man among all the peoples of the east. (1.3)

    Who does not know that the peoples of the east are astonishingly rich? To be great among the peoples of the east means that he was richer than the rich.

    VII.9. And his sons went out and made feasting at their homes, taking turns each on his own day. And they sent to invite their three sisters to eat and drink along with them. (1.4)

    Great wealth is often a great source of discord among brothers. It speaks highly of the father's upbringing of his children that the father is called wealthy and the sons said to have been at peace with each other. Though there was wealth to be divided among them, undivided love filled all their hearts.

    VIII.10. And when their days of feasting had gone full circle, Job sent and blessed them; rising up at first light he made burnt offerings for each of them. (1.5)

    When it is said that he "sent to them and blessed them," it is clear what discipline he exercised by his presence, when he was so solicitous of them at a distance. But we should observe carefully that, when the days of feasting were over, the purifying holocaust was offered for each. The holy man knew that it is scarcely possible to have feasting without some fault ensuing. He knew that the banquet tables were to be atoned for by great purifying sacrifices. Whatever the sons had done to taint themselves in their feasting the father washed away by immolating his sacrificial victims. There are surely some vices that either cannot be kept out of great dinners, or can be kept out only with immense difficulty. Some immoderate pleasure almost always accompanies feasting, for while the body relaxes over the delights of repast, the heart is let go for hollow joys. So it is written, "The people sat down to eat and rose up for frivolity."[87]

    11. Unbridled speech almost always comes with banquets: when the belly is filled, the tongue is unleashed. This is why the rich man in the nether world is said to have asked for water, saying, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and refresh my tongue, for I am tormented by this fire."[88] Before he was said to have banqueted splendidly every day and afterwards he begs for a drop of water on his tongue. As we said, unbridled speech runs free at banquets, so the penalty points to the crime, when the man, whom Truth had said was accustomed to splendid daily feasting, senses the fire most with his tongue.

    Those who tune the harmony of stringed instruments have such skill that often they can pluck one string and another one, placed far away with many intervening strings, resonates in harmony. When the one gives sound, the other, in tune to the same melody, echoes back at the same time with the others silent. So often scripture often speaks of both virtues and vices, noting one thing explicitly, hinting at another implicitly. No mention is made explicitly of the fault of loose speech against the rich man, but when the penalty is said to have afflicted his tongue, the greater fault among all the ones of his feasting is identified.

    12. When the seven brothers are said to have made their feasting through the week and come to the end of the week, Job is said to have offered seven sacrifices. The literal sense indicates clearly that blessed Job, offering his sacrifice on the eighth day, celebrates the mystery of the resurrection. The day we now call the Lord's day is the third day after the death of the Redeemer, but in the order of creation it is the eighth day--and also the first. But because it comes around after the seventh, it is more precisely called the eighth. The one who offers seven sacrifices on the eighth day is clearly being shown to have served the Lord, full of the sevenfold grace of the spirit, hoping in the resurrection. Thus psalms are said to have been written "for the octave" when they recount the joy of the resurrection.[89] But because the sons of Job were so well protected by the discipline of their father's upbringing that they could neither sin in their deeds nor in their words when they were feasting, it is clearly added:

    IX.13. For he said, 'Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.' (1.5)

    It shows that the sons were perfect in thought and deed, when their father feared only for their thoughts. Because we ought not judge rashly of the hearts of others, we see that the holy man does not say, "Who have cursed in their hearts," but only, "Perhaps my sons have . . . cursed God in their hearts." So it is well said through Paul: "Do not judge before the time when the Lord comes to shine upon the things hidden in shadows and make known the counsels of the hearts."[90] Whoever wanders from the path of righteousness in his thoughts sins in the shadows. We should be the more wary of rebuking the thoughts of others out loud, the more we know that our sight cannot penetrate the shadows of another's thoughts. But note in this text carefully how sharply the father could discipline the deeds of his sons, when he could be so concerned to purify their hearts. What can those leaders of the church say to this, the ones who do not even know the outward doings of their flock? What excuse can they have in mind if they do not even cure the open wounds in the deeds of the ones committed to them?

    Finally, to show that the saint persisted in this good work, it is added:

    X.14. So Job acted all the days of his life. (1.5)

    Indeed it is written, "The one who perseveres even to the end--this one will be saved."[91] In his sacrifices, we see his good works; in all the days of his sacrificing, we see the perseverance of that good work.

    We have run over all this briefly, following the historical sense of the text. Now the order of our commentary demands that we go back to the beginning and unveil the secrets of allegory.

    XI.15. There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job. (1.1)

    We believe that all these things took place as a matter of historical truth, but now let us consider, as a matter of allegorical meaning, how they achieved fulfillment. As we said, Job is translated "sufferer," Hus is translated "counsellor." By his name blessed Job stands for the one of whom the prophet said, "He has borne our suffering."[92] He lives in the land of Hus because he rules the hearts of the people with the judgment of a counsellor. Indeed, Paul says that Christ is the "strength and wisdom of God."[93] And wisdom itself says (through Solomon): "I, wisdom, dwell in counsel and am present in learned thoughts."[94] Job dwells in the land of Hus, inasmuch as wisdom, which bore the suffering of the passion on our behalf, dwells in the hearts of those devoted to the counsels of life.

    XII.16. He was a man simple and upright. (1.1)

    By uprightness justice is meant, by simplicity is meant gentleness. Often when we pursue the right path of justice we abandon gentleness, and when we try to keep our gentleness we leave the straight path of justice. The incarnate Lord clung to simplicity with righteousness, for he lost neither the strictness of his justice through gentleness, nor gentleness by the strict exercise of justice. When they wanted to tempt him by bringing before him the woman caught in adultery, hoping he would lapse into either unrighteousness or mercilessness, he avoided both traps, saying, "Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone against her."[95] "Let he who is without sin" ensures simple kindliness, but zealous justice is guaranteed by "cast the first stone against her." So it was said through the prophet: "Press on, go forward with success, and rule by your truth and kindness and justice."[96] Following the Truth, Job preserved gentleness with justice, so neither the zeal of his righteousness would be dragged down by the weight of gentleness, nor would the solidity of gentleness be disturbed by zeal for righteousness.

    XIII.17. Who feared God and drew back from all evil-doing. (1.1)

    For it is written of him, "And the spirit of the fear of the Lord shall fill him."[97] For the incarnate Lord shows in himself all that he breathes into us, giving persuasive example for the commands he speaks. In his human nature, our Redeemer feared God, for he had taken on a humble human spirit in order to redeem the pride of man. This action is well described by what it says here, that Job drew back from all evil-doing. He drew back from evil-doing, not by his deeds but by the way he rebuked evil when he encountered it, for he left behind the old life of human society that he found when he came into the world and planted the new life which he brought with him in the lives of his followers.

    XIV. 18. Seven sons were born to him, and three daughters. (1.2)

    What does the number seven stand for if not the whole of perfection? We should pass over the arguments of human reason for the perfection of this number (they say it is perfect because it is made up of the first even number [4] and the first uneven one [3], from the first which can be divided and the first which cannot be divided). We certainly know that holy scripture is in the habit of using the number seven as a symbol of perfection. Thus it asserts that the Lord rested from his labors on the seventh day; thus the seventh day is given to men for their rest, that is, for the sabbath. This is why the jubilee year, in which the fulness of repose is signified, is completed by seven sevens with the addition of the number one (sign of our unity).[98]

    19. Seven sons were born to him. (1.2)

    These are the apostles going forth manfully to preach. When they accomplish the commands of perfection they symbolize the sturdy life of the higher sex. This is why there were twelve of them chosen to be filled with the seven-fold grace of the spirit, for the number seven is closely related to the number twelve. The parts of the number seven [4+3] multiplied together come to twelve. Whether you take four three times or three four times, seven turns into twelve. Thus the holy apostles, who were sent to preach the three persons of God to the four corners of the world, were chosen twelve in number, so that even by their number they should symbolize the perfection they preached by their words and deeds.

    20. And three daughters were born to him. (1.2)

    What shall we take the daughters for, if not the flock of less-gifted faithful? Even if they do not stay the course for the perfection of good works by strength and virtue, they cling tenaciously to the faith they know in the trinity. In the seven sons we see the rank of preachers, but in the three daughters the multitude of hearers.

    The three daughters can also stand for the three classes of the faithful. After the sons the daughters are named because after the courage displayed by the apostles there came three classes of the faithful in the church's life: pastors, the continent,[99] and the married. This is why the prophet Ezechiel says that he heard three men were set free: Noe, Daniel, and Job.[100] Noe, who guided the ark through the waves, stands for the order of leaders who, while they preside over the people to set a pattern for living, govern the holy church in the midst of the breakers of temptation. Daniel, who is praised for his wonderful continence, represents the life of the ascetic who, abandoning all the things of this world, despises Babylon and lords over it in the citadel of his spirit. Job then stands for the life of the virtuous lay people in married life, who do good works with the things they possess of this world, following the path of this world to the heavenly fatherland. Since the three orders of the faithful come after the holy apostles, so it is appropriate that after the seven sons the three daughters should be mentioned.

    XV.21. His wealth included seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels. (1.3)

    In mentioning the daughters, the text makes the general point that faithful hearers of the word are gathered from all walks of life, now the same point is made more clearly by the catalogue of animals that follows. The seven thousand sheep symbolize the perfect innocence of those who come to the fulness of grace from the pastures of the Law.[101] The three thousand camels stand for the twisted wickedness of the pagans coming to the abundance of faith.

    For in sacred scripture the camel stands sometimes for the Lord, sometimes for the pagan peoples.[102] The camel stands for the Lord when it is said to the Jews opposing him by the Lord himself, "You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel."[103] The gnat buzzes and wounds, while the camel freely bows down to pick up its burdens. The Jews strained at a gnat because they asked for a seditious thief to be let go; but they swallowed a camel because they shouted out to try to destroy the one who had come down freely to bear the burdens of our mortality.[104]

    Again, the camel stands for the pagans: So Rebecca is borne on a camel coming to Isaac,[105] for the church hurrying to Christ from among the pagans is found in all the twisted byways of the old sinful life. When she sees Isaac, she climbs down, for when the pagans recognized the Lord they abandoned their vices and sought the depths of humility from the heights of hauteur. Blushing, she was veiled by a cloak because in his presence she was embarrassed for her past life. So it was said to the same pagans through the apostle, "What profit do you have then in those things for which now you blush?"[106] Since therefore, we take the sheep to be the Hebrews coming from the pastures of the Law to the new faith, there is no reason why we should not take the camels to be the pagan peoples, perverse in their ways and bowed down under the cult of idols. Indeed it is because they had found within themselves the gods they would worship that they resemble the camel: they create from within the burden which they carry on their back.

    22. The camels can also stand for the Samaritans, because they are a mixed breed;[107] for camels chew their cud but their hoof is uncloven. Samaritans also "chew their cud" because they accept the words of the Law in part; and they have an uncloven hoof because in part they despise the Law. They bear a weighty burden on the back, in the spirit, because in everything they do, they labor without hope of eternity. They know nothing of faith in the resurrection. What can be weightier and more burdensome that to suffer the affliction of the pasing age and have no expectation of joyful reward to relieve the mind? Because the Lord appeared in the flesh and filled the Jewish nation with the grace of perfection and led some of the Samaritans to the knowledge of faith by showing his wondrous works, it is rightly hinted here, in the shadow that expresses Truth, that Job possessed seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels.

    XVI.23 Five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred she-asses. (1.3)

    It has already been said above that the number fifty, which comes from seven sevens and a single added unit, stands for repose. The whole of perfection is expressed by the number ten. But since the perfection of repose is promised to the faithful, then fifty multiplied by ten leads us to five hundred.

    Sometimes oxen in scripture stand for the obtuseness of the inane, sometimes for the life of those who do good. Because the ox stands for the vapidity of the foolish, it was rightly said through Solomon: "Immediately he follows her like an ox led to the sacrifice."[108] On the other hand the commandment of the Law given through Moses refers to the life of the worker of good through the ox this way: "You shall not bind the mouth of the ox treading out the corn on the threshing floor."[109] The same thing is also said openly: "The workman is worthy of his reward."[110]

    The ass sometimes stands for the laziness of the foolish, sometimes for the unchecked self-indulgence of the wanton, sometimes for the simplicity of the pagans. Asses stand for the laziness of the foolish when it is said through Moses," You shall not plow with the ox and the ass at the same time,"[111] as if to say, 'You shall not lump together the wise and the foolish when you preach lest you make the one who cannot understand become an obstacle to the one who can.' The unchecked self-indulgence of the wanton is symbolized by asses when the prophet says, "In the flesh they resemble asses."[112] Finally, the ass stands for the simpicity of the pagan when the Lord is said to have ridden on the ass on his way into Jerusalem. To come to Jerusalem sitting on an ass is to possess the simple hearts of the pagans and by holding them and guiding them to lead them to the vision of peace.[113] A single, ready example suffices to show all this, for by the oxen the workers of Judea are meant and through the ass the pagan peoples: it is said through the prophet, "The ox knows his owner and the ass knows the corral of his master."[114] Who is the ox if not the Jewish people whose necks were bowed down by the yoke of the Law? And who is the ass if not the pagan, whom any rustler finds a brute animal without any sense and leads him astray where he will. The ox knows his owner and the ass recognizes the corral of his master, for the Hebrew people found the God whom they had worshipped but not known, while the pagans accepted the forage of the Law which they had not had. So what was said earlier when sheep and camels were mentioned is repeated here in the name of the ox and ass.

    24. Judea possessed oxen before the coming of the Redeemer because she sent out workers to preach, to whom the voice of Truth spoke: "Woe to you, hypocrites, who wander the seas and the deserts to make a single convert; and when you have made him one, you make him a son of the devil twice as much as yourself."[115] The yoke of the Law pressed down on them heavily, because they obeyed the outward commands of the literal text. To them the voice of Truth says: "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I shall refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me that I am gentle and humble of heart."[116] The five hundred yoke of oxen mentioned here stand for the repose which is promised in the gospel to those who labor well, for those who bow their necks to the yoke of the Redeemer are going directly to their rest. The five hundred she-asses are mentioned, because the pagan peoples are brought together and, in their desire to come to a state of rest, willingly bear the burden of all the commandments. That the pagan nations want this repose is well indicated by Jacob's address to his sons in a spirit of prophecy: "Issachar lies secure within its own confines, like an ass of great strength; so pleasant he finds his resting-place, so fair his land, he is willing to bow his shoulder to the yoke."[117] To lie secure within one's own territory is to rest secure in the expectation of the end of the world, seeking nothing from the things we now busy ourselves with, yearning for the last things. The ass of great strength finds his resting-place pleasant and his land fair when pagan simplicity girds itself up in strength for good works to seek the homeland of eternal life. He puts his shoulder to the yoke because when he catches a glimpse of the heavenly repose he subjects himself to burdensome commands in his works. Whatever the faint-hearted find unbearable, the hope of reward shows to be light and easy. Since gentility is brought together with Judea for eternal rest in the number of the elect, it is right to have mention made of the five hundred yoke of oxen and the five hundred asses.

    XVII.25. And a huge household. (1.3)

    Why does he mention all the flocks of animals first and the household last? To show us that first the foolish people of the world are brought to know the faith, and then only are the clever called. Paul bears witness to this: "Not many of you are wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish of the world in order to confound the wise."[118] The very founders of the church are said to have been illiterate, so the Redeemer could show to all his preachers that it is not their words but the substance of their words that should persuade the believing peoples to follow the path of life.

    XVIII.26 For he was a great man among all the peoples of the east. (1.3)

    The prophet attests that our redeemer is called 'The East': "And behold a man whose name is Oriens [The East]."[119] All those who gather in this 'East' are rightly called easterners. But because men are only men, it is rightly said of the East who was God and man: "He was a great man among all the peoples of the east." This is the same as saying openly, 'He excels all those who are born to God in faith; for it is not adoption (as it is for the others) but divine nature that exalts him.' Even if by his humanity he seemed to resemble the others, nevertheless in divinity he remained unique above all others.

    XIX.27. And his sons went out and made feasting at their homes. (1.4)

    The sons go forth to make feasting at their homes when the apostles go forth to preach in all the corners of the world, serving banquets of their virtues to their hearers as though to dinner-guests. To those same sons it was said of the hungry people: "Give them something to eat."[120] And again: "I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they pass out on the road."[121] This means, 'They are to receive the word of consolation in your preaching, lest they should succumb to the burdens of this life through fasting from the food of truth.' Again, Truth said to these same sons: "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for that which lasts for eternal life."[122]

    How these banquets are given is shown when it is added:

    XX.28. Taking turns each on his own day. (1.4)

    If the darkness of ignorance is without doubt the night of the heart, understanding is rightly called the day. So it is said through Paul: "One man makes a distinction between this day and that. Another regards all days alike."[123] This is the same as saying, 'One understands some things but misses others, but another understands all things possible just as they are to be seen.' Each son gives a banquet on his own day, because each holy preacher feeds the minds of his hearers with helpings of truth according to the measure of his own enlightenment and understanding. Paul was making a banquet on his own day when he said, "They will be more blessed if they abide as they are, in my judgment."[124] He admonished each one to think of his own day when he said, "Each one should rest fully content in his own opinion."[125]

    XXI.29. And they sent to invite their three sisters to eat and drink along with them. (1.4)

    The sons call their sisters to the feasting because the holy apostles preach the joys of heavenly nourishment to weaker hearers and feed their minds with helpings of divine eloquence when they see them going without the fodder of Truth. It is well put: "to eat and drink along with them." Holy scripture is sometimes food for us, sometimes drink. It is food in its darker passages, where it is broken by our exposition and swallowed down when we chew it over. But it is drink in the clearer passages which are taken in just as they are found. The prophet saw scripture to be a kind of food which is broken in commentary, when he said: "Children have sought bread and there was no one to break it for them,"[126] i.e., some weaker brethren wanted the sturdier sayings of scripture to be broken up for them by a commentator but could not find someone to do so. The prophet considered scripture to be like drink when he said, "All ye who thirst, come to the waters."[127] If the obvious commands were not drink, the Truth would not have said himself, "If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink."[128] The prophet saw that food and drink were lacking to Judea when he said, "Her nobles have perished with hunger and the masses are dried up with thirst."[129] It is a matter for the few, to understand the harder and more obscure passages; but the many can understand the simple stories. And so the nobles of Judea perished not out of thirst but hunger, because those who were seen to be in charge, while they had given themselves over entirely to understanding the outer surface of the Law, did not take anything to eat from the inmost mysteries. With the great ones falling away from understanding the inner mysteries, the understanding of the little ones even for the surface meanings dried up, and so it is rightly added, "The masses are dried up with thirst." This is as if to say, 'The mob ceased to care about their behavior, they sought not even the ready waters of history.'

    The ones who complained to an accusing judge and said, "We have eaten and drunk in your presence,"[130] were claiming to have understood both the hidden and the open commands of sacred scripture. This is added openly just afterwards: "And you have taught in our courtyards."[131] Because therefore the holy words are broken up by the commentator in their darker places, and because in their clearer places they are drunk down as they are found, it was right to say, "And they sent to invite their sisters to eat and drink along with them." This is as if to say, 'They brought the weaker brethren to themselves by gentle persuasion, so that they might feed the stronger with contemplation and nourish the weaker with history.'

    XXII. 30. And when their days of feasting had gone full circle, Job sent to them and blessed them; rising up at first light he made burnt offerings for each of them. (1.5)

    The days of feasting go full circle when the ministry of preaching is accomplished. When the banquets were over, Job made burnt offerings for his sons just as the Redeemer prayed to the father for the apostles when they came back from preaching.[132] It is apt to say that he sent to them and blessed them because when Christ infused the holy spirit, which came forth from him,[133] into the hearts of his disciples, he cleansed whatever faults might have lain within. Dawn is the suitable time for rising to make burnt offerings, for our Redeemer, by offering the prayer of his intervention for us, banished the night of error and threw light into the shadowy places of the human spirit. Thus the mind might avoid even a secret taint from any contagion of sin, even from the gift of preaching, as might arise if the apostles had claimed for themselves the credit for their deeds and in so doing lost the fruit of their labors.

    XXIII.31. For he said, 'Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.' (1.5)

    To curse God is to attribute the glory of his gifts to yourself. This is why the Lord washed the feet of his holy apostles after he had taught them, to show openly that the dust of sin attaches itself often even to one who does good works, and the preaching that purifies the hearts of the listeners winds up soiling the feet of the preachers. Very often some of those who exhort the faithful by their words find themselves puffed up within, even if only slightly, at the thought that it is through them that the purifying grace comes. When they purify the deeds of others by their words, they pick up the dust of an evil thought while on a journey that is altogether good. Washing the feet of the disciples after teaching them, the Lord washed away the dust from their thoughts and purified their hearts from secret pride. This interpretation is not weakened by the fact that it is said, with the omniscience of the Mediator, "perhaps." The Lord knows all things, but in his speech he takes on human ignorance and teaches in this way, speaking sometimes as though he shared our doubts, as when he says, "Do you think that the son of man, when hecomes, will find faith on the earth?"[134] After the feasting, therefore, Job offers sacrifice for his sons and says, "Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts;" that is, our Redeemer, after he had protected his preachers from the evils that threatened them, sheltered them even from temptation that might come from the good things they had done.

    XXIV.32. So Job acted all the days of his life. (1.5)

    Job did not stint his sacrificing all the days of his life, just as the Redeemer offers constant sacrifice on our behalf, the Redeemer who displays to the Father unceasingly that he has taken flesh for our benefit. That very incarnation is the sacrifice of our purification; when our Lord shows himself to be a man, he intervenes and cleanses us of our sins. And by the mystery of his humanity he makes perpetual sacrifice, for the things which he purifies are eternal.


    33. In the preface to our commentary, we said that Job could be taken as a figure for the Lord's head and for his body, that is, for both Christ and the church. After considering how he stands for the head [Christ], now we shall consider how he stands for the body [the church], that is, for ourselves. From the story of the text we learn wondrous things; from the head we learn what to believe; so now let us take from the body an understanding of how we should live. For we must take what we read and assimilate it within, so that when the spirit is excited by what it hears, we may hasten to accomplish in our lives what we have heard.

    XXV.34. There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job. (1.1)

    If Job means 'sufferer' and Hus 'counsellor', then the two names together can stand for any one of the elect; for the person who hastens towards eternity while suffering the sorrows of the passing world clearly has a soul filled with of counsel. There are those who are heedless of their behavior and chase after things that fade while either ignoring or despising eternal things: they feel no compunction and they have no good counsel. While they ignore the heavenly things they have lost, they think themselves (poor wretches!) to be in the midst of goodness. They never turn the eyes of the mind towards the light of truth for which they were created. They never turn the gaze of their longing to contemplate the eternal homeland, but abandon themselves to the things they find around them. They begin to love their place of exile instead of their homeland, and so they boast of the blindness they endure as if it were the clearest vision.

    On the other hand, the elect see that things that fade are as nothing and so they struggle towards the goal for which they were created. Nothing but God will satisfy them. When their thoughts are wearied by the struggle to understand they find repose in their hope and contemplation as they seek to be received among the citizens of the heavenly city. Still attached to the world in the body, they climb in their hearts beyond this world, lament the tribulations of the exile they suffer, and impel themselves upwards towards the lofty homeland by the constant prodding of love. When the sufferer sees that the thing he has lost is eternal, he discovers the counsel that saves him, to despise this temporal world that flashes past. The more the knowledge of good counsel grows and he flees the perishing world, the more he suffers because he has not yet reached the things that abide. So it is well put through Solomon: "Who adds to learning, adds to suffering."[135] The one who knows the highest things, which he does not yet have, grieves the more at the lowest things, to which he is yet bound.

    35. So it is fitting to say that Job lived in the land of Hus, for the heart of the elect is kept suffering by the counsel of knowledge. Notice of course that there is no suffering for the mind in headlong action. The people who live free of all counsel, who abandon themselves headlong to the vagaries of this world, are burdened for the moment by no painful thoughts. It is the one who cautiously looks to the best counsel who watches himself most carefully in every thing he does. Lest some sudden and unpleasant result should come of what he does, he feels his way ahead gently in his thoughts, concerned that fear not keep him from doing what must be done, that haste not drive him to do what should be put off, that wicked desires not prevail in open combat: lest good deeds lead him into the ambush laid to trip him by empty pride. Job lives in the land of Hus when the mind of the elect is burdened with suffering as it struggles down the path of good counsel.

    XXVI.36. He was a man simple and upright, who feared God and drew back from all evil-doing. (1.1)

    Whoever seeks the eternal home lives in simplicity and rectitude: simple in deeds, upright in faith, sincere in good works accomplished here below, righteous in lofty things thought and felt within. There are those who are devious in their good deeds, when they seek from them not inner satisfaction but public approval. Of them it was well said through a certain wise man: "Woe to the sinner walking the earth by a double path."[136] The sinner walks the earth by a double path when his deeds are God's but his thoughts are the world's. So it is well said:

    37. Who feared God and drew back from all evil-doing. (1.1)

    The holy church of the elect enters on the path of innocence and righteousness in fear, but comes to its end with charity.[137] For the church to draw back from evil-doing entirely is to begin, in the love of God, to want not to sin. But when the church does good deeds out of fear, it has not drawn back from evil entirely, for it sins to the extent that it would sin if it could do so with impunity. Job is rightly said to fear God, but then is said to have drawn back from all evil-doing, for charity follows fear and the fault which had lingered in the mind is banished by the firm purpose of right-thinking. And because every vice is crushed by fear, but the virtues spring from charity, it is fittingly added:

    XXVII.38. Seven sons were born to him and three daughters. (1.2)

    Seven sons are born for us[138] when the seven virtues of the Holy Spirit quicken to life in us through the conception of right thinking. The prophet counts up this inner progeny that comes from the fertility of the Spirit, saying: "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and devotion; and the spirit of the fear of the Lord shall fill him."[139] When wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, devotion and fear of the Lord spring to life for us through the coming of the Spirit, it is like the generation of a long-lived progeny in the mind, which keeps alive our noble lineage from heaven by giving us to share the love of eternity. These seven sons have three sisters in our hearts, because whatever these virtues generate is joined to the three theological virtues of hope, faith and charity. The seven sons cannot achieve the perfection of the number ten unless everything they do is done in hope, faith and charity. Because the thought of good works soon accompanies this abundance of virtues that go on before, it is rightly added:

    XXVIII.39. His wealth included seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels. (1.3)

    We can recognize here the accuracy of the historical narrative, while still imitating in the spirit what comes to our hearing through ears of the flesh. We possess seven thousand sheep when in perfect purity of heart we feed our innocent thoughts within on the long-sought food of Truth.

    40. We will possess three thousand camels, if we can subdue everything lofty and twisted that is within us to the authority of faith and bow down willingly in humble longing that comes from knowledge of the trinity. We possess camels if we humbly lay down all our lofty thoughts. We surely possess camels when we turn our thoughts to compassion for our brother's weakness so that, bearing one another's burdens, we might know how to come to the aid of another's troubles.[140] The camel has uncloven hoof but chews his cud: he can stand for the just arrangement of earthly affairs, which have something in them of what is worldly and something of what is Godly, and thus can best be symbolized by a common beast. Earthly affairs cannot be conducted, even in the service of eternity, without some distress and confusion. The mind is confused for the moment but an eternal reward awaits; so also a common beast is subject to the Law in some ways, but is beyond its reach in others. The hoof is uncloven, because the mind does not entirely separate itself from earthly affairs, but it still chews its cud, because by managing temporal affairs well it hopes for heaven with certainty and confidence. So earthly affairs, like the camel, are in accord with the Law at the top, but out of step at the bottom. What the just seek in this life belongs to heaven, but their search is carried on in the midst of things of this world. When we subordinate our earthly affairs to our knowledge of the trinity, we are "owning camels" with our faith.

    XXIX.41. Five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred she-asses. (1.3)

    Yoke of oxen we own and use when the virtues work in harmony to plow up the hard soil of the mind. We possess five hundred she-asses when we restrain our wanton appetites and hold every stirring of the flesh immediately in check by the spiritual power of the heart. Put another way, to own she-asses is to keep our simple thoughts in check, which walk along sluggishly, innocent of loftier understanding, but for that very reason reach out to bear our brother's burdens all the more kindly. There are many who do not understand lofty things but submit themselves all the more humbly to the outer works of charity. It is good therefore to take the she-asses, slow-moving animals given to bearing burdens, as simple thoughts, for it is often by recognizing our own ignorance that we learn to put up with others' burdens the more readily. When the heights of wisdom do not draw us up and away, our mind cheerfully bends itself to tolerate the sluggishness of another's heart. So the yoke of oxen and the she-asses amount to five-hundred in number, showing how the number of the jubilee applies itself both to the things we understand prudently and the things we humbly fail to grasp, as we seek the peace of eternal rest.

    XXX.42. And a huge household. (1.3)

    We possess a great household when we keep our countless imaginings under rational control and keep from letting the sheer number of them get the better of us, lest they upset the natural order and take over all our thoughts. A great household is a good symbol for abundance of such notions. We know that when the mistress is away, the tongues of the maids rattle on, silence is unheard of, the assigned tasks are neglected, and the whole routine of the household is thrown into confusion. If the mistress comes home suddenly, soon the babbling tongues fall silent and all return to their tasks. They go back to their jobs as if they had never left them. So if reason abandons the mind for a moment as the mistress leaves a house, the racket of fantasies grows like the chattering crowd of maids. But when reason returns to the mind, soon the riotous confusion is kept in check. Just as the maids slink back to their assigned tasks in silence, so also fancies of the mind are once again subordinated to their own appropriate uses. We possess a great household when we subject our boundless ideas rightly to the arbitration of reason. When we do this conscientiously, we struggle to become like the angels in our discernment. Thus it follows naturally:

    XXXI.43. For he was a great man among all the peoples of the east. (1.3)

    We become great men among all the peoples of the east when we pierce the cloud of fleshly corruption with the eye of discernment and join ourselves to those spirits who cling to the light of The East insofar as we can. Thus it was said through Paul, "Our true life is in heaven."[141] Whoever runs after earthly things that fade, chases the setting sun; but whoever longs for things above shows that he lives in the east. The one who seeks to advance among the citizens of heaven, and does not look to advance in the midst of those who seek base and fading things, is the one who becomes a great man, not among the peoples of the west but among the peoples of the east.

    XXXII.44. And his sons went out and made feasting at their homes, taking turns each on his own day. (1.4)

    The sons make feasting in their homes when the individual virtues offer food in turn to the mind--which is why it adds, "taking turns each on his own day." For the day of each son is the particular light shed by each virtue. To recount the gifts of the sevenfold grace briefly,[142] wisdom has one day, understanding another, counsel another, strength another, knowledge another, devotion another, fear another. Wisdom and understanding are not the same thing, for many share the wisdom of eternity but do not understand it fully. Wisdom gives a banquet on its day, by penetrating what the heart has heard, by bringing light and comfort in the darkness. Counsel makes feasting on its own day because it fills the mind with reason by checking rash thought and action. Strength takes its turn because it offers the food of confidence to the hesitating mind in the way it does not fear adversity. Knowledge conquers the hunger of ignorance in the belly of the mind. Devotion fills the belly of the heart with the works of mercy. Fear keeps after the mind to shun pride in present things, but comforts it with the food of hope for the future.

    45. I think it should be noted further of this banqueting of the sons that they take turns feeding each other. Every individual virtue would be left destitute if it were not aided by the others. Wisdom is a feeble thing, if it lacks understanding; and understanding is almost useless if it does not arise from wisdom, for when it goes among lofty matters without the ballast of wisdom, its own light-footedness carries it aloft to a ruinous fall.

    Counsel is worthless if strength is lacking, for it cannot realize its discoveries in good works without strength and energy; on the other hand, strength is destroyed if it is not supported by counsel, for the more it sees it can do, the more it rushes to ruin itself without the moderating force of reason.

    Knowledge is nothing if it does not have the service of devotion, for if it forgets to follow up faithfully on the good things it has considered, it leaves itself painfully vulnerable to adverse judgment. And devotion is useless if it lacks the discrimination of knowledge, for if there is no knowledge, devotion knows not how to act mercifully.

    Unless fear is accompanied by all these virtues, it will rouse itself to no good work, lie torpid and inert, fearful in the face of all things.

    So one virtue is strengthened by another reciprocally; so it is appropriate that the sons made feasting in turn for each other. When the one virtue encourages the other--that is what is meant by saying that many children took turns giving feasts for the others.

    46. And they sent to invite their three sisters to eat and drink along with them. (1.4)

    Just as our virtues summon hope, faith and charity to join them in all that they do, so the active sons invite their sisters to the feasting, so that faith, hope and charity might rejoice in the good work that each virtue accomplishes. They gather strength from the food by becoming more confident in good works; and when they look to be drenched by the liquor of contemplation after a surfeit of good works--this is like drinking from the heady cup.

    But what can there be in this life that we do without even the slightest taint of contagion? Sometimes even in the good things we do we are brought closer to sin, for they make our mind rejoice and create a kind of security, and when the mind is freed from care it grows slack in laziness. Sometimes good works pollute us with a touch of pride and make us the more abject in the presence of God the more they puff us up with pride for ourselves. So the text adds:

    XXXIV.48. And when their days of feasting had gone full circle, Job sent to them and blessed them. (1.5)

    When the week of feasting is complete, Job sends to the sons to bless them; that is to say, to follow up the deeds of virtue with careful consideration and to purify everything that has been done by careful examination of conscience. In this way we avoid thinking that bad things are good and avoid thinking that things truly good are good enough when they still lack perfection. So often the mind is deceived either by the fact of evil or by apparent abundance of goodness. But prayer is more successful than thought for considering the virtues; we can often examine our inner secrets better by prayer than by discursive thought. When the mind is lifted up by the power of compunction to consider higher things, it can contemplate everything which is below itself and in itself all the more clearly.

    XXXV.49 Rising up at first light he made burnt offerings for each of them. (1.5)

    We rise at first light when, irradiated by the light of compunction, we abandon the night of our humanity and open the eyes of the mind to rays of the true light. We offer burnt offerings for each son when we offer to the Lord our prayer as a sacrificial victim for each of our virtues: lest wisdom fill us with pride, lest understanding go astray in its swift career, lest counsel should find confusion in abundance, lest strength should become rash with self-confidence, lest knowledge without love should puff us up, lest devotion should twist itself around and lead us away from the path of righteousness, lest fear, more timorous than it should be, should plunge us in the pit of despair. When therefore we pour out our prayers to the Lord for each virtue's purity, what else are we doing that offering burnt offering according to the number of the sons, for each of them? For holocaustum ("burnt offering") means something all burned up. To make burnt offerings therefore is to inflame the whole mind with the fire of compunction so that the heart may burn on the altar of love and sear away our polluted thoughts as if they were the sins of our own children.

    50. But the only ones who know how to do this are those who keep a close and careful check on their inner thoughts before letting those thoughts turn to action; the only ones who know this are the ones who stoutly fortify their minds. Thus it is fitting that Isboseth is said to have been wiped out by unexpected death, Isboseth of whom scripture says that he had a female, not a male, door-keeper: "And now Baana and Rechab, sons of Remmon the Berothite, entered Isboseth's house when the sun was at its full heat; Isboseth himself was abed, taking his noonday sleep. They entered the house and the woman that kept the door had fallen asleep over the corn she was cleaning. Taking ears of corn, Rechab and Baana made their way in secretly, and smote him in the groin."[143] The woman who kept the door was cleaning corn: that is, the watchman of the mind in its discernment was separating virtues from vices. When she fell asleep, she allowed the ones who were bringing death to her own lord to enter: that is, when the attentive discernment wavers, the way lies open to evil spirits to destroy the soul. Coming in they pick up ears of corn: that is, soon they take away the kernels of good thoughts. And they smite him in the groin: that is, they slaughter the virtue of the heart with the delights of the flesh. For to smite someone in the groin is to permeate the life of the mind with the delights of the flesh. But Isboseth would never have fallen to this kind of attack had he not placed a woman to guard the door, that is, set a weak guardian over the approaches to the mind. Virile energy should watch over the gateway to the heart, energy which neither the sleep of negligence nor the error of ignorance can overcome.

    It is appropriate that the one who was laid open to enemy swords by a woman guard should be called Isboseth: the name means "man of confusion." Someone is a "man of confusion" if he is not protected by fortifications of the mind. While he thinks he is acting virtuously, the vices sneak in unnoticed and murder him. The mind must be fortified with every virtue lest the insidious enemy should enter by the doorway of disorderly thought. Hence Solomon says: "Guard your heart with every protection, since life comes forth from it."[144] It is appropriate that we regard our virtues closely from the moment we undertake to exercise them, lest they should come from an evil source, even if their outward form is righteous. So it follows appropriately:

    XXXVI.51. For he said, 'Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.' (1.5)

    Sons curse in their hearts, when our good works spring from thoughts that are not good, when they put forth goodness for the world to see, but work wickedness in secret. The sons curse God when our minds think that what they have comes from themselves. The sons curse God when our minds admit that their strength comes from God but still seek praise for themselves for the gifts they have from him. The ancient enemy has three ways of attacking our good deeds in order to render the good we do before men worthless in the eyes of the judge within.

    Sometimes he pollutes the intention of a good work so that the whole action comes out impure and polluted because he has tainted its source.

    Sometimes he cannot taint the intention of the deed and so plants himself in our path as we go, so that as we go out, confident in a righteous intention, we might be the more readily attacked by some attached vice, as if from ambush.

    Sometimes the devil neither taints our intention nor trips us up along the way, but lays a trap for us at the conclusion of the good work. He pretends to be absent from the house of the heart when we consider the act, or from the path of the deed as we accomplish it, so that he can the more cleverly waylay us at the end of the deed. He draws back and makes us more confident, and then pierces us suddenly with a bitter and incurable wound.

    52. He pollutes the intention of a good work when he sees the hearts of men readily deceived and offers to their desires a breath of passing applause, so that they might turn aside in their good deeds to pursue the lowest things with their intentions all twisted up. It is thus that it is said through the prophet, with Judea as a symbol of every soul caught in the noose of bad intentions: "They have become her enemies at the outset."[145] This is as if to say openly, 'When a good deed is not undertaken with good intention, the evil spirits rule over the soul from the first moment of the thought.' They possess it the more firmly because they hold sway from the beginning.

    53. When the devil does not succeed in tainting our intentions, he places traps on our path and covers them up to lead the heart astray to vice in the midst of a good deed. We start out with one intention but wind up accomplishing something far different from what we intended. Very often the praise of mankind interferes with a good work, changing the mind of the doer, and though unsought, nevertheless delights by its presence. The mind of the doer of the good deed is shaken by that delight and all the vigor of its innermost intentions is scattered to the winds.

    Often we set out to be just but anger sneaks up on us and while the zeal of righteousness stirs up the mind too much, the whole of our serenity and inner peace is wounded.

    Often sadness creeps up on sobriety of heart and covers everything that the mind had set out with good intention to do with a gloomy veil. This sadness is sometimes driven away all the more slowly because it comes late to the burdened mind.

    Very often immoderate glee comes with good works and drives the mind to exult more than is fitting and the gravity the matter is lost sight of. The psalmist saw these traps in the way of those who start out well, and said rightly in the fulness of prophetic spirit: "They have hidden traps for me on the path I walk."[146] Jeremiah insinuates the same thing well and subtly, relating historical events and meaning them to show what happens within us: "There came eighty men from Sichem, Silo, and Samaria, beards shaven, garments rent, in mourning all of them, with bloodless offerings and incense for the Lord's house. Out came Ismahel son of Nathanias from Masphath to meet them, and wept ever as he went. 'Come,' said he, 'to Godolias son of Ahicam!' And when they had reached the middle of the town he slew them."[147] Shaving their beards: abandoning confidence in their own strength. Rending their garments: not sparing themselves in the destruction of outer seemliness. Coming to offer incense and bloodless offerings to the Lord's house: promising to add prayer to works in sacrifice to the Lord. But if they do not know how to look about themselves cautiously on the way of holy devotion, Ismahel, the son of Nathanias, comes to meet them: some evil spirit or other, by the example of his leader (namely, Satan) born of the error of pride, comes out with the snare of deception. Thus it is well said of him: "and wept ever as he went." For he was able to smite and slay the minds of the devout by hiding himself beneath a veil of virtue. He pretends to associate with those who truly grieve and hence is admitted to the inmost recesses of the heart; there he slays whatever virtue he finds there. He often promises to lead us to higher things, and so says, "Come to Godolias son of Ahicam!" And while he promises greater things he takes away lesser; so it says, "when they came to the middle of the town he slew them." Slaying the men who come to offer gifts to God in the center of the city: unless minds given to the works of God guard themselves with great circumspection, the enemy sneaks in and they lose their life on the very journey they make bearing the offerings of devotion. There is no escape from the hand of this enemy except by swift recourse to penance. So it is well added below: "Ten men were found among them who said to Ismahel: 'Do not kill us, for we have treasures of wheat, barley,oil, and honey hidden in a field, and he did not kill them."[148] A treasure in the field is like the hope of repentance--because it is unseen, it is like a treasure buried in the field of the heart. The ones who had treasures in the field were saved, for the ones who come to their senses full of laments after their incautiousness leads them to vice do not die as prisoners.

    54. But when the ancient enemy smites us not at the outset of our journey (in our intentions), nor catches us up on the way, he spreads tighter nets for us at the end of the journey, which he besieges with greater wickedness as he realizes he has only this one chance left to trap us. The prophet saw these traps waiting for him at the end of the road when he said, "They shall watch out for the tip of my heel."[149] The tip of the heel is the very end of the body and signifies the culmination of our action. Whether it is evil spirits or wicked men (followers of the devils in their pride), they watch the tip of our heel when they plot to spoil the completion of a good deed. So to the serpent it is said, "She shall regard your head and you shall regard the tip of her heel."[150] To keep an eye on the head of the serpent is to watch for the beginnings of his temptation and to uproot them from the approaches of the heart with careful consideration. When he is caught at the outset, he still seeks to bite the tip of the heel, for even if he does not make the intent waver with his first suggestion, he tries to deceive us in the end. But if once the heart is corrupted in its intent, the middle and end of the following action are held securely by the clever villain, since he succeeds in seeing the whole tree bear fruit for him by poisoning the root. We must watch with the greatest care that the mind devoted to good works should not be polluted with wicked intentions and should thus become the basis of the saying, "Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This is the same as saying openly, 'There is no good done outwardly if the innocent victim is not immolated on the altar of the heart within in the eyes of God.' In every virtue it is to be considered whether the river of action comes forth pure from the fount of thought. It is to be looked to with all concern that the eye of the heart be kept pure of the dust of malice, lest the good deeds it seeks to show to men should be twisted back upon themselves through the evil of a wicked intention.

    55. And so we must be concerned that our good deeds not be few, nor unexamined, so that we not be found sterile in accomplishing only a few things or foolish for leaving them unexamined. Thus it was said to Moses, "Provide thyself with spices, storax, and burnt shell, and sweet-smelling galbanum, and pure frankincense, all in equal weight, and make incense compounded with all the perfumer's art, well tempered together, unadulterate."[151] We make incense of spices when we reek of an abundance of virtues at the altar of good works. This incense becomes well tempered and unadulterate because insofar as one virtue is joined to another, so much so do we display the incense of good works candidly. Thus it is appropriately added: "And when you beat the whole into a fine dust, place some of it in the presence of the tabernacle."[152] We grind down all our spices into fine powder when we work at our good deeds on the pestle of the heart with secret earnestness. We consider whether they are truly good. To reduce spices to powder is to think over our virtues and subject them to the care of a thorough examination of conscience. Note was is said of the same powder: "Place some of it in the presence of the temple." Our good deeds are truly pleasing in the sight of the judge when the mind goes over them and reduces them to a powder like these spices, to keep the good we do from being crude and heavy, so that it may spread forth its odor the more abundantly than if the hand of consideration had not ground it down. This is why the virtue of the bride is praised in the voice of the groom: "Who is she, who makes her way up by the desert road, erect as a column of smoke that is all myrrh and incense and those sweet scents the perfumer knows?"[153] The holy church goes forth erect like a column of smoke going up from incense when it advances every day in the righteousness of an incense that is within it and does not go astray into vagrant thoughts, but keeps itself in check in its inmost heart with the rod of discipline. By constantly thinking and considering its acts, the church has myrrh and incense in its works but powder in its thoughts. This is what is said another time to Moses of those who offer sacrifice: "Let the victim be skinned, let its bones be ground into dust."[154] We skin the victim when we take away the appearance of virtue from before the eyes of our mind. We break its bones into pieces when we examine carefully its inwards and think of it piece by piece. We must be careful lest when we have conquered evil we should be tripped up by good things with their enticements: lest perhaps they should flood out and betray themselves, lest they should be taken unawares, lest they should wander from the path, lest through weariness they should lose the merit of their former labor. The mind should carefully watch in all things and persevere in the foresight of its circumspection. So it is well added:

    XXXVII.56. So Job acted all the days of his life. (1.5)

    Good things are done in vain if they are laid aside before the end of the day, just as it is vain for the runner to fly swiftly but fall aside before he reaches the finish line. This is what is said of the reprobate: "Woe to those who have lost their substance."[155] This is what Truth says to his chosen ones: "You are the ones who abided with me in my temptations."[156] This is why Joseph, who is said to have remained just in the midst of his brothers even to the end, is the only one said to have had a coat down to his ankles.[157] Just as a coat thrown over the shoulders covers the ankles, so also good deeds cover us in the eyes of God even to the end of our life. This is why we are commanded through Moses to offer the tail of the victim on the altar,[158] so that we might accomplish every good thing we set out to do by persevering to the end. The things we have well begun are to be pursued all days, so that when wickedness is driven away in battle, the victory of goodness itself may be held in a steady hand.

    57. We have gone over this text in the three senses, offering various nutriments from which the hungering soul may take what it pleases. We ask this one thing, that those who rise to the heights of spiritual understanding not forget to maintain due reverence for the historical narrative.