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Crates of Thebes | Jerome, Against Jovinianus Book 2

That there is no difference (morally) between one who fasts and one who takes food with thanksgiving. Jovinian has quoted many texts of Scripture to show that God has made animals for men's food. But there are many other uses of animals besides food. And there are many warnings like 1 Cor. vi. 13, as to the danger arising from food. There are among the heathen many instances of abstinence. They recognize the evil of sensual allurements, and often, like Crates the Theban, have cast away what would tempt them; the senses, they teach, should be subject to reason; and, that except for athletes (Christians do not want to be like Milo of Crotona) bread and water suffice. Horace, Xenophon and other eminent Greeks, the Essenes and the Brahmans, as well as philosophers like Diogenes, testify to the value of abstinence. The Old Testament stories of Esau's pottage, of the lusting of Israel for the flesh-pots of Egypt, and those in the New Testament of Anna, Cornelius, etc., commend abstinence. If some heretics inculcate fasting in such a way as to despise the gifts of God, and weak Christians are not to be judged for their use of flesh, those who seek the higher life will find a help in abstinence.

Hence it was that Crates the famous Theban, after throwing into the sea a considerable weight of gold, exclaimed, “Go to the bottom, you evil lusts: I will drown you that you may not drown me.” But if anyone thinks to enjoy keenly meat and drink in excess, and at the same time to devote himself to philosophy, that is to say, to live in luxury and yet not to be hampered by the vices attendant on luxury, he deceives himself. For if it be the case that even when far distant from them we are frequently caught in the snares of nature, and are compelled to desire those things of which we have a scant supply: what folly it is to think we are free when we are surrounded by the nets of pleasure! We think of what we see, hear, smell, taste, handle, and are led to desire the thing which affords us pleasure. That the mind sees and hears, and that we can neither hear nor see anything unless our senses are fixed upon the objects of sight and hearing, is an old saw. It is difficult, or rather impossible, when we are swimming in luxury and pleasure not to think of what we are doing: and it is an idle pretence which some men put forward that they can take their fill of pleasure with their faith and purity and mental uprightness unimpaired. It is a violation of nature to revel in pleasure, and the Apostle gives a caution against this very thing when he says, 1 Timothy 5:6 “She that gives herself to pleasure is dead while she lives.”

Translated by W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.)

crates_of_thebes/jerome_against_jovinianus_book_2.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 23:19 (external edit)