The following comes from the Vitae Patrum (Life of the
Fathers), compiled, in Latin, in 1628 by Heribert Rosweyde, S.J., from
sources dating to the third and fourth centuries.
There was a
certain brother who was most zealous in ordering his life. And when he
was grievously troubled by the demon of sex he went to a certain old
man and told him his thoughts. When this expert heard, he was indignant
and called the brother a miserable wretch unworthy of the monk's habit
to entertain such thoughts.
The brother, hearing this, despaired of himself, left his cell and
began to go back to the world. But by the mercy of God, Abba Apollo met
him, and seeing that he was upset and unhappy he asked him, "Brother,
why so sad?"
In great confusion of mind he was at first unwilling to answer, but in
the face of much questioning by the old man as to what the matter was
he at last confessed, saying, "I am bothered by thoughts of sex, and I
confessed to that old man and according to him there is no hope of
salvation for me, so in despair I'm going back to the world."
When Father Apollo heard this he talked and reasoned with him like a
wise physician, saying, "Don't be too dumbfounded, or despairing of
yourself. Even at my age and state of life I can be greatly troubled by
thoughts such as these. Don't collapse in this time of testing; it can
be cured not so much by human advice as by the mercy of God. But just
for today grant me one request: go back to your cell."
This the brother did.
Abba Apollo, however, hastened to the cell of that old man who had sown
despair and, standing outside, prayed the Lord, "Lord, Who allows us to
be tempted for our good, turn the battle which this brother has
suffered against this old man, that in his old age he may learn from
experience what he didn't learn long since: that you must have
compassion on those who are troubled by this sort of temptation."
Having completed his prayer he saw an Ethiopian standing by the cell
casting arrows against this old man, who, severely wounded, began to
stagger about here and there as if drunk with wine. Unable to bear it
any longer the old man rushed out of the cell and began to return to
the world by the same road as the young brother had taken.
But Abba Apollo, knowing what was happening, met him, and running up to
him asked, "Where are you going? And what is the reason for the
agitated state you are in?"
But he, sensing that the holy man knew all about what was happening,
could say nothing for very shame.
"Go back to your cell," said Abba Apollo, "and acknowledge your own
weakness, recognise it as part of yourself. For either you have been
overlooked by the devil up till now, or else despised as being so
lacking in virtue as to be unworthy of striving against him. Did I say
'strive'? You weren't even able to put up with his attacks for a single
day! But all this happened to you because when that young man was
attacked by our common adversary, instead of giving him helpful advice
against the devil as you ought, you drove him into despair, forgetful
of that wise precept by which we are bidden to save those on a pathway
towards death and neglect not to redeem the condemned. Nor have you
heeded the sayings of our Saviour, 'A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoking flax he shall not quench'. No one can withstand the
attacks of the enemy, or quench and contain the fire of rebellious
nature, unless the grace of God comes to the aid of our natural
infirmity, which in all our prayer we beg God in his mercy to heal in
us, and that He may turn away from us the attacks launched against us,
for it is of Him that we are cast down and again restored to the way of
salvation, it is He Who strikes and then heals us with His hands, He
humbles and exalts, He kills and makes alive, He leads us down to the
depths and raises us up again".
Having said this he prayed, and at once the old man was freed from that
And Abba Apollo urged him to seek from the Lord a tongue of discretion,
so that he might know when the time was right for giving a sermon.
~~ Translated by
Benedict Baker, may he rest in peace.