Monday, March 15, 2021


The Five Gates

Cyril Mango (1928-2021), Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981), pp. 224-225, with notes on p. 300:
The human soul was visualized as a citadel that had to be vigilantly guarded against external attack. Its weakest points were its gates which were five in number, corresponding to the five senses. The first gate, that of speech, needed to be fortified by the braces and cross-bars consisting in the constant recitation of Holy Scripture: in this way all undesirable entrants would be excluded. The second gate was that of hearing: it was essential not to admit through it any idle gossip or anything unseemly. The third gate, that of smell, had to be bolted in the face of all sweet scents which had the effect of slackening the 'tension' of the soul. The gate of sight was particularly exposed; hence it was important to see as few women as possible and avoid the theatre. The proper function of sight was to behold the beauties of nature. The fifth gate, that of touch, had to be guarded against soft clothing, comfortable beds and contact with other human bodies. It was not, however, sufficient to keep watch at the gates; the citizens living within the citadel of the soul had to observe 'stringent and fearsome laws' and to obey their own 'magistrates'.28 Equally negative prescriptions applied to the morality of the body. A man had to abstain from fornication, drunkenness and gluttony, a woman from the use of perfume and artificial adornment. The body required only such care as was sufficient for the preservation of health.29

Among the many vices and failings to which human beings are prone, some were viewed with a degree of reprobation that may appear to us rather bizarre. It is not perhaps surprising that in a period when foodstuffs were generally in short supply, gluttony should have been considered a grave sin, but it is not so evident to us that it leads to impure desires and licentiousness and is the gateway to all evil. Yet such was the prevalent opinion, and it was held that just as smoke drives away bees, so the glutton drives away from himself the grace of the Holy Spirit.30 Outspokenness (parrhēsia) was also regarded as a great failing as was the sin to which monks were particularly subject, namely indifference of boredom (akêdia). On the other hand, mourning (penthos) was considered a virtue, especially necessary for monks, but commendable in everyone. Strangest of all is the condemnation of laughter: 'It is generally forbidden to Christians to laugh, and particularly to monks.'31 Christ, it seems, had never laughed. At the most, one could allow oneself to smile as did the Syrian saint Julian Sabas when he heard news of the death of Julian the Apostate.32

28 John Chrysostom, De inani gloria, ed. A.-M. Malingrey, §23ff.

29 John Chrysostom, In epist. I ad Timoth. hom, iv, PG lxii, 524.

30 Antiochus, Pandectes, ch. 4, PG lxxxix, 1444.

31 Ibid., ch. 95, col. 1721. See discussion in I. Hausherr, Penthos, Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 132 (Rome, 1944), 109ff.

32 Theodoret, Historia religiosa, ed. P. Canivet and A. Leroy-Molinghen, ii.14, vol. i (Paris, 1977), 224-6.
On n. 31, see also Anselm Hufstader's translation of Irénée Hausherr, Penthos: The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1982), pp. 95 ff., for much interesting information on laughter.

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