The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 13 (August 2010)  |   Issue Editor: Larry Swain

Pseudo-Basil's De admonitio ad filium spiritualem: A New English Translation

Dr. James Francis LePree

Department of History, The City College of New York

© 2010 by James Francis LePree. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2010 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

Abstract:  The De admonitio ad filium spiritualem has not received serious attention in modern scholarship. Yet this important late fifth century spiritual text not only borrowed extensively from earlier sources such as the fourth century Vita s. Antonii (Life of St. Antony), the fourth century Regula s. Basilii (Rule of St. Basil) and the fourth century Epistolae (Letters) of Paulinus of Nola, but also played an important role in providing models of spirituality for the Regula s. Benedicti (Rule of St. Benedict), as well as numerous Merovingian and Carolingian sources. Although a partial Old English translation of the text attributed to the hand of the Anglo-Saxon Aelfric (c.957–1010) exists and Jean-Marie Baguenard presented the scholarly community with a modern French translation in 1994, this study constitutes the first complete modern English translation of the De admonitio ad filium spiritualem based on Paul Lehmann's critical Latin edition of 1955.


Authorship, Scope and Structure of the De admonition ad filium spiritualem

§1.  The Pseudo-Basil's Admonition to a Spiritual Son is a short manual of spiritual edification, possibly written for a young cenobitic monk about to undertake the anchoretic life.1 Once widely thought to be a Latin translation by Rufinus, presbyter of Aquileia, of an original work of Bishop Basil of Caesarea (an error which may have been responsible for its survival in the Middle Ages), it is now generally believed, primarily because of Adalbert de Vogüé's convincing study, to be an original Latin work, written about the year 500 and attributed to the hand of Abbot Porcarius of Lérins. Such an identification is based, as de Vogüé has observed, on close similarities, both in expression and structure, between Porcarius's Monita or Counsels and the De admonitio (de Vogüé 2003, 419–420).2

§2.  According to Jean-Marie Baguenard, the De admonitio was first printed in the appendix of L. Holste's 1661 edition of Benedict of Aniane's Codex regularum while M. Brockie based his 1759 edition on the earlier work of Holste. The De admonitio was later printed in the Patrologia Latina (103: 638–700), where J.P. Migne followed the Holste-Brockie edition (Baguenard 1994, 310–311) and, as mentioned previously, in Paul Lehmann's more recent German edition (Lehmann 1955). As Locherbie-Cameron has noted, "an incomplete old English translation, probably by the Anglo-Saxon Aelfric (c. 957–1010), exists in one old English manuscript, two later copies and in one published and revised edition (Locherbie-Cameron 2000).

§3.  Based on the research of Lehmann, the De admonitio survives today in eight manuscripts. They include:

§4.  Centered on the fundamental premise that salvation is only obtainable by the avoidance of vices and cultivation of virtues, the De admonitio served as a mirror for its young monastic reader which would enable him to contemplate the health or sickness of his soul, thus permitting him to walk the road of virtue from the earthly to the heavenly kingdom. A close study of the text itself reveals that the prologue and twenty chapters of the De admonitio project a literary landscape diverse in both tone and style. The treatise is strictly theological in nature, presenting vivid eschatological overtones with a fundamental underlying theme maintaining cultivation of virtues and avoidance of vices as prerequisites for the attainment of eternal salvation.

§5.  In chapter nine, for instance, Pseudo-Basil warns his young reader not to be enslaved by cupidity of the love of money and goes on to warn him that "riches of this world are strangers to us, for our possession is the kingdom of heaven" (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 9; Alcuin Epistolae, 251).3 The author adds that numerous Old and New Testament figures such as Saul, Ahab, and Judas jeopardized their salvation through acts of selfishness and greed (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 11). Chapter ten treats the virtue of humility and its opposite, the vice of pride. According to Pseudo-Basil, "the humble man is like God and carries him in his heart, while the prideful man, because he is hateful to God, is an imitator of the Devil" (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 10).4 In chapter eleven, Pseudo-Basil closely associates prayer with humility when he exhorts his spiritual son to approach God in prayer and humbly prostrate himself in God's presence, lest what he asks he feels he deserves because of his own merits (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 11).5 In chapter fourteen, Pseudo-Basil warns his monastic novice about the dangers inherent in excessive eating and drinking: i.e. the sin of gluttony (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 14). Chapter thirteen underscores the spiritual importance of avoiding gluttony during fasting and keeping vigils, "We cannot maintain proper vigils when our stomach is burdened down by food and drink, but overcome by sleep we lose the benefits of the vigils and cause great harm to our soul" (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 13; Smaragdus Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti (Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict), 4).6

§6.  Turning to the prologue of the De admonitio, Pseudo-Basil, anticipating later monastic sources such as the Rule of St. Benedict, warns his spiritual son in the following manner:

Listen, son, to the admonition of your father and incline your ear to my words and listen to all that you hear with a believing heart. For I desire to instruct you about the meaning of the spiritual army and how you should serve your king. I do not instruct you in a new doctrine but one passed down from my fathers (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, prologue; Regula s. Benedicti, prologue).7

§7.  Pseudo-Basil's idea of a spiritual army receives further discussion in chapter one where he distinguishes the militia spirituali (the heavenly army) from the militia terrena (the earthly army). For instance, "while earthly soldiers serve an earthly king and obey all his orders, those who serve the heavenly king guard heavenly precepts. While earthly soldiers battle against earthly enemies with earthly arms, you battle against a spiritual enemy with spiritual arms" (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 1; Smaragdus, Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti, 1).8

§8.  Pseudo-Basil concludes his treatise with the contemplation of death where, seemingly influenced by the fourth century Life of St. Antony, he begins by admonishing his spiritual son to always let his final day turn constantly before his eyes and ends with the following advice:

When you rise in the morning, don't worry about the arrival of evening. When you lie down to rest at night, don't count on the arrival of dawn and you can more easily avoid all vices. Always let your heart meditate on heavenly things so it may lead you to the heavenly road of virtue (Pseudo-Basil De admonitio 20; Life of St. Antony, 19).

Sources of the De admonition ad filium spiritualem and its Influence on Later Merovingian and Carolingian Spirituality

§9.  As Adalbert de Vogüé indicated in his masterful study on the Literary History of the Monastic Movement in Antiquity, the earliest source that seemed to have influenced the Pseudo-Basil may have been the mid-fourth century Latin recension of Athanasius' Life of St. Antony. A parallel study of chapter twenty of the De admonitio and chapter nineteen of the Life of St. Antony seems to confirm this:

Life of St. Antony, 19 De admonitio ad filium spiritualem, 20
Semper et ante oculos habentes Diem iudicii. Cotidie surgentes putabimus nos non remanere usque ad vesperam, et iterum cum coeperimus dormire, arbitremur non nos posses surgere mane. Natura incerta est vita nostra, quae enumerator cotidie a providentia Dei. Sic ergo disponentes nos et taliter cotidie viventes, non peccabimus. Semper ante oculos versatus ultimus dies. Cum enim diluculo surrexeris, ad vesperam te ambigas pervenire, et cum in lectulo ad quiescendum membra posueris, noli confidere de lucis adventu et facilius poteris te refrenare ab omnibus vitiis.9

§10.  De Vogüé also noted the influence of the fourth century Regula s. Basilii (Rule of St. Basil) and the fourth century author Paulinus of Nola, notably in his twenty-fifth epistle on Pseudo-Basil's De admonitio. First let us compare the parallels between chapter twelve of the De admonitio on fasting and chapter two of the Rule of St. Basil:

De Admonitio ad filium spiritualem, 12 Regula s. Basilii, 2.76
Si enim cogitationes sordidae conturbaverint cor tuum et coartaverint te quod est inlicitum perpetrare, per orationes et vigilias depelluntur ab anima tua. Omni ergo custodia oportet nos servare cor nostrum, ne forte desiderium dei mala desideria et sordidae cogitationes depellant nostris animis ac detrudant.10

Now let us compare the prologue of the De admonitio with Paulinus's twenty-fifth epistle:

De Admonitio ad filium spiritualem, prologue Paulinus of Nola Ep. 25.8
Audi, fili, admonitionem patris tui et inclina aurem tuam ad verba mea, adcommoda mihi libenter auditum tuum et corde credulo cuncta quae dicuntur ausculta. Cupio enim te instruere, quae sit spiritalis militia et quibus modis regi tuo debeas militare. Audi ergo, fili mi, et inclina aurem tuam mihi et disrumpe omnia vincula tua, quaecumque in hoc saeculo te inplicatum tenent; commuta in melius militiam, ut aeterno regi incipias militare.11

§11.  Although the De admonitio remains an obscure text and has not been widely discussed in modern scholarship, compelling evidence suggests that it was a significant factor in defining the spirituality of major writers and compilers during the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. For instance, it has long been recognized that Benedict in the prologue of his sixth-century rule borrowed extensively from the prologue of the De admonitio. To confirm this, let us compare the prologues of both texts.

Regula s. Benedicti, prologue De admonitio ad filium spiritualem, prologue
Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistra et inclina aurem cordis tui et admonitionem pii patris libenter excipe et efficaciter comple, ut ad eum per oboedientiae laborem redeas, a quo per inoboedientiae desidiam recesseras ad te ergo nunc mihi sermo dirigitur, quisquis abrenuntians propriis voluntatibus domino Christo vero regi militaturus oboedienetiae fortissimo atque praeclara arma. Audi, fili, admonitionem patris tui et inclina aurem tuam ad verba mea, adcommoda mihi libenter auditum tuum et corde credulo cuncta dicuntur ausculta. Cupio enim te instruere, quae sit spiritalis militia et quibus modis regi tuo debeas militare. Intentissime ergo audiat sensus tuus et animam tuam nullus praegravet somnus, sed ad vigilandum excita eam et ad stadium intellegendi sermonum meorum sapiens esto.

Patriarch Paulinus of Aquileia was also indebted to Pseudo-Basil's De admonitio for many passages in his eighth-century Liber exhortationis (Book of Exhortations), a mirror of princes addressed to Duke Erich of Friuli, concerned primarily with the cultivation of virtues and the avoidance of vices. The following example will suffice to demonstrate Paulinus's close dependence on the De admonitio:

De admonitio ad filium spiritualem, 1 Liber exhortationis, 20
Miles terrenus contra hostem visibilem pergit ad bellum, tecum vero hostis invisibilis cottidie dimicando non desinit. Ille contra carnem et sanguinem est dimicatio, tibi vero adversus spiritalia nequitia in caelestibus est conluctatio. Ille contra hostem carnalem carnalibus armis utitur, tu vero contra hostem spiritalem armis spiritalibus indiges. Tu miles terrenus contra hostem visibilem pergis ad pugnam; cum illo vero hostis invisibilis quotidie dimicare non cessat. Tu contra corporis tui inimicos pugnare decertas, armis utens carnalibus; illius vero adversus diabolum est colluctatio cum armis spiritalibus.12

§12.  Henri Rochais has argued that Alcuin, in his treatise on virtues and vices, borrowed from the De admonitio through the florilegia of the seventh century Liber scintillarum (Book of Sparks), while I have offered evidence that Alcuin in his letter dated 801–802, drew from the full text of the De admonitio. Finally, I, Pius Engelbert and Alfred Spannagel have detected traces of the De admonitio in Abbot Smaragdus of St. Mihiel's Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti (Rochais 1951, 81–86; LePree 2008; Spannagel and Engelbert 1974, 103, 117).

Pseudo-Basil's Admonition to a Spiritual Son


§13.  Give heed, son, to the admonition of your father, and incline your ear to my words, devote your hearing to me willingly and listen to all things that are said with a believing heart. For I desire to teach you what the spiritual army is and in what ways you should fight for your king. Let your mind attend most intently and let no sleep weigh heavily upon you. But arose your soul to watchfulness and be wise in the pursuit of understanding my words. These words are not from me, but proceed from divine origins; nor am I instructing you in a new doctrine but those things which I learned from my fathers. For if you have sent these things into your heart, your journeys will be directed in peace nor will any evils approach you, and all adversity of the spirit will depart far from you.13

Chapter 1

Concerning the Spiritual Army

§14.  Therefore, son, if you wish to fight for the Lord, you should fight for him above all others. For just as those who fight for an earthly king obey all his orders, so those who fight for the heavenly king ought to guard his heavenly precepts.14 An earthly soldier is sent to a place prepared and ready, nor will he dare to excuse himself for the sake of a wife and children. How much more a soldier of Christ ought to obey the command of his king without any impediment. An earthly soldier goes to war against a visible army; an invisible enemy does not cease daily from fighting with you. They fight against flesh and blood; you must struggle against spiritual weakness in the heavenly army. They use worldly arms against a worldly enemy; you truly need spiritual arms against a spiritual enemy (Smaragdus Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti, prologue, 3). He wears on his head an iron helmet into battle, but your helmet is Christ who is your head. He puts on a breastplate so that he may not be wounded, but you are surrounded by the breastplate of faith: of Christ. He sends a lance and arrows against his adversary, you throw against your adversary divine eloquence, striking him with prophetic words. You shall say, "the lord is my helper and I shall perceive my enemies" (Psalms 117:7).

§15.  He, until he wages the fight, does not throw his arms from him lest he be wounded by an adversary, so you should never be unarmed because your enemy is more cunning than that one.

§16.  His enemy fights for a time; in truth, your enemy, as long as you are standing in the course of this life, he does not cease to fight with you. His arms are laborious and heavy to carry; your arms are light and agreeable to carry. He, when he has conquered his adversary, returns home to his wife and children. When your enemy has been prostrated, you will enter into the kingdom of heaven with all the saints. He accepts a worldly reward for worldly labor; you, in fact, receive a spiritual reward for spiritual labor. The monk, who "soldiering for God" casts earthy deeds from himself and does not entangle himself in secular affairs, expects a heavenly reward. "For it is difficult to serve two masters nor is anyone serving Mammon able to bear spiritual arms" (Matthew 6:24) "but the yoke of Christ is easy and light" (Matthew 11:30). For the latter rejects and casts far from him the sweet and light yoke of Christ and whatever is heavy and onerous to his soul seems sweet and light. Such a man is wounded by his own weapons, and because he loves danger, he goes off to his death.

§17.  Consider for which king you have chosen to fight. How much higher is the celestial king than a terrestrial king? How much more excellent is the position of your army than the earthly army? "If you think to build a lofty tower, prepare the expenses for the structure so that having started the building, you may lead it to perfection, lest when to those passing by, you may come into derision and your enemies rejoice about you" (Luke 14:28–30). This tower is not built of stones but from the virtues of the soul nor does the expense require gold or silver but faithful conduct. For earthly wealth stops many from building it.

Chapter 2

Concerning Virtue of the Soul

§18.  One consideration for you, son: nor should you desire to serve one lord, lest you should be eager to please anyone in your life if not that one only.15 Don't occupy your mind with diverse things. Separate yourself in all ways from carnal love so that carnal love does not exclude you from the love of God. Expel all vices from your mind so that you can obtain virtues. Hear therefore what the virtues are and the great benefit they bestow on the soul.

  1. It is a virtue of the soul to love God and to hate those whom God does not love.
  2. It is a virtue of the soul to pursue patience and to avoid impatience.
  3. It is a virtue of the soul to maintain purity of the body as well as that of the soul.
  4. It is a virtue of the soul to despise vainglory and to treat as contemptible all worldly possessions.
  5. It is a virtue of the soul to pursue humility and to detest the arrogance of pride.
  6. It is a virtue of the soul to embrace the truth and to flee all lies.
  7. It is a virtue of the soul to restrain anger and to repress fury.
  8. It is a virtue of the soul to love peace and to abhor envy.
  9. It is a virtue of the soul to turn away from all foolishness and embrace divine wisdom.
  10. It is a virtue of the soul to subject all carnal desire to the soul.
  11. It is a virtue of the soul to shun avarice and to willingly embrace poverty.

§19.  Therefore these virtues you will be able to obtain if you will have neglected worldly cares and will have preferred heavenly things to transitory and worldly things, and if you willingly occupy yourself with the praises of God and you will have meditated upon his judgments intensely day and night. "You will be like a tree which has been planted by rivers of waters" (Psalms 1:3), and all spiritual benefits will arise in you, and instead of being a servant, you will be called a friend of God.

Chapter 3

Concerning the Love of God

§20.  Of all the virtues, love God so that you may please him in all your actions. For if a man joined in marriage hurries to please his wife, a monk ought to please Christ much more in all ways. "Who loves God obeys his precepts" (1 John 2:5). For God does not wish to be loved with words only but with a pure heart and just words. For he who says "I love God" but does not heed his mandates is a liar. For this kind of man deceives himself and leads himself astray. For God is an inspector of the heart, not words, and he loves those who serve him with simplicity of heart. If we love our earthly parents with such affection, because they endured suffering for us for a short time, surely our heavenly father must be loved by us much more. The fact that they loved us was a blessing of Christ who is the best bestower of all things. For before we were born into this world, he, by his providence, prepared our parents for our coming by whose love we might be nourished.

§21.  But when an infant has been born, a mother's breasts are filled with milk by the will of God. Therefore, let us love God who fashioned our parents with his own hands, and all the things which daily benefit us, we ascribe to his blessings. For let us love our parents like our own children if they do not prevent us from entering Christ's service; if they try to prevent this, let the burial rites not be owed to them by us. Christ must be loved above parents because parents do not bestow upon us that which Christ has given us. And who can properly recount his blessings and how much he bestowed upon us and who does not cease from granting us favors daily. For seeing us overwhelmed by numerous sins, God did not abandon us but forgave our transgressions. Nor when we wandered into diverse errors and alienated ourselves from him, did God turn his face from us.

§22.  When we were already driven into the precipice of death, he called us to eternal life and when ungrateful for his blessings and we turned from him, he sought us out and when he was sitting on the celestial throne, for our sake he descended to earth and came in such humility that he assumed human form, and he who holds the earth in his fist and measures out the span of heaven with his open hand had no place to rest his head. Although he was rich, he became poor and through him we became rich. And he who will come in the clouds to judge the living and the dead endured the judgment of men. Although he could rest from all his labors, he worked incessantly on our behalf. He is the fountain of eternal life for all those who thirst. Yet when he was thirsty, he had to ask a Samaritan woman for water. He who satisfied our own hunger with his own flesh suffered hunger for us when he was tempted in the wilderness. And he whom the angels serve in heaven with the father deemed himself worthy to serve men on earth. His hand, through which so many virtuous acts were performed, was nailed to the cross for our redemption. To his mellifluous mouth, through which he announced his doctrine of salvation, the impious offered all for food. He who harmed and injured no one was beaten and, although innocent, suffered abuse. And he whose command rose all the dead, by his own will, he suffered death by crucifixion. Therefore he endured all these things so that he might grant us eternal life and although he bestowed endless blessings on us, he required nothing from us except that we love and serve him with our temple unblemished so that he may always dwell in us and we might remain in him. Christ does not demand gold or silver from us. If we have those things, he requires us to distribute them to the needy. He seeks us, he desires us, he wishes to rest in us.

Chapter 4

Concerning the Love of Your Neighbor

§23.  Son, let us approach him and join in his desire. Let us love ourselves and our neighbors. For who loves his neighbor is called a son of God; but who on the contrary hates his neighbor is called a son of the Devil. He who loves his brother has a calm heart; he who hates his brother is surrounded by a great storm. He is a kind man who suffers a wrong and considers it to be of no account; but he who is a wicked man when he hears of his neighbor's achievements considers them to be insignificant. Who is filled with love proceeds with a tranquil mind and serene face; however, an angry man walks filled with rage.

§24.  You, son, pursue kindness in your life and love your neighbor as yourself. Think of each man as your brother so that you may not sin in your life; do what benefits him, not you. For what you don't want to happen to you, you should not wish to happen to your neighbor. If you see him engaged in good words, congratulate him and express your joy to him. If he should suffer some adversity, share his suffering and make his sadness yours. Expel all malice from your mind and don't let the flames of hatred trouble your heart. Don't unleash anger against the weak and those subject to you but always consider them members of your own household. Don't, on one hand kiss your brother on the lips while on the other hand, plan treachery against him. For a deceitful man speaks peaceful words from his mouth and yet secretly plans to overthrow his neighbor. Therefore by these actions, God is provoked to anger. For purity of mind places one in the presence of God. He casts out everything that is a product of a false heart.

Chapter 5

Concerning the Pursuit of Peace

§25.  You, son, therefore send all falsehood far from you and don't desire to overthrow your neighbor or to hurt or tear to pieces your member. Call your member your brother.16

§26.  If, when as a man, you have been angry, do not stay angry until evening, but reconcile yourself to peace and drive all rage from your mind. For who embraces peace in his mind prepares room for Christ because Christ is peace and wishes to rest in peace. An envious man is cursed in many ways. A peaceful man is always in a state of tranquility, an envious man is like a ship when it is tossed by the waves of the sea. A peaceful man possesses an untroubled mind. On the other hand, an envious man is always confused. He who follows peace is safe and protected everywhere; an envious man rages uselessly like an insatiable wolf.

§27.  The peaceful man is like a vine burdened with abundant fruit. An envious man because of wealth is subject to unhappiness and insatiable desire. As much as the peaceful man is pleased rejoicing in the Lord, so the envious man is reduced to poverty, wasting away. While a peaceful man is recognized by his abundance of joy, an envious man is known by his withered appearance and face full of anger. A peaceful man merits the company of angels while the envious man is worthy only to be the comrade of demons.

§28.  For peace flees from and disturbs all discord and envy is filled with anger. By the splendor of peace, all darkness is dispelled and where envy has settled there is obscurity and external shadows. Follow, therefore, son, the desirable name of peace so that you can acquire the benefits of peace and avoid envy lest you be filled with evil desires. For God made you an animal capable of reason who can distinguish between good and evil so that you may choose the best and avoid what is useless. May you examine everything, keeping all that is good and avoiding every kind of evil.

Chapter 6

Concerning Patience

§29.  Son, seize patience which is the greatest virtue of the soul so that you can climb to the height of perfection. Therefore if you wish to have patience, I first advise you to turn your attention to the divine mandates. Don't think God's mandates are false but let your heart always be guarded by them. Don't let any adversity of the world turn you from the precepts and mandates of God and from the love which is in Jesus Christ; nor should you exalt yourself in prosperous times but exercise moderation in both. Everything that has been inflicted upon you in the name of religion, receive it freely and with obedience. Although it will have been beyond your power, don't reject or avoid it. But tell faithfully the cause of your inability to him who inflicted it upon you so that although it will have been burdensome to him, by his moderation, it may be lightened so that you may be free from the vice of contradiction. Patience is the grand remedy for the soul; impatience, however, causes destruction of the heart. Through patience, the hope of future possessions is expected and it embraces the visible as well as the invisible.

Chapter 7

Concerning Moderation and Purity

§30.  Son, may you maintain purity in all things so that you may see God standing in glory. May your heart be cleansed of all pollution. So that you do not allow the enemy to enter you, turn your eyes away from vile and abominable sights and don't be attracted by the faces of beautiful women lest through such attraction you pay the terrible penalty of eternal punishment. Remember to whom you dedicated your members and don't mix them together with those of women. Avoid therefore a woman's love lest her love shut you out from the love of God. Don't scorn the least and consider them worthless lest you fall little by little. Don't go to the homes of virgins and spend time with them reciting long and leisurely stories, lest through much talk, both of your minds may be defiled. Don't receive my words with a closed mind or consider my speech foolish, but believe me and receive my words with joy.

§31.  If a clerk or a monk will have approached the homes of women unsuitably and allow a virgin to approach them, they risk losing their former reputation and what they freely promised to God they lose. For men of this sort can no longer prepare a mansion in them for the Lord, but they will be abandoned like a dry stick. Did the Lord ever rape anyone of their virginity unwillingly? This gift is offered to Christ voluntarily from one's own will, already it is not in your will to give nor is it allowed to profane anything promised to God because it is now in Christ's will. A man will not sin if he has not promised a vow. If however, you have promised a vow, don't hesitate to fulfill it, because the Lord will require it nor does he wish you to defile your members which were dedicated to him. See therefore that a beautiful body does not seduce you and you lose the beauty of your soul. Don't gaze upon a woman's appearance with a wicked eye, lest death enters into your soul through your windows. Don't listen to their words lest you harbor wickedness in your soul. Don't desire to touch a woman's flesh lest by her touch, your heart becomes inflamed and you sink with your soul into perdition. For just as hay which is placed near fire burns, thus, he who touches a woman's flesh cannot escape the damnation of his own soul, and although he may have escaped with a pure body, he leaves with a corrupt mind and heart.

Chapter 8

Concerning Fleeing the Love of This World

§32.  Tell me son, I beg you, what profit can the soul receive from loving worldly beauty? Surely it is like hay when it has been struck by the heat of summer: it dries up and little by little; it loses its pristine state. The appearance of human nature is also like this. With the advent of old age, every pure beauty of florid youth is destroyed and what you loved before, you now find hateful, and when death comes, then all beauty will be totally destroyed and then you will recognize that what you loved vainly before was merely an illusion. When you have seen an entire body swelling and smelling, surely contemplating it will have struck you with great horror. Surely you will hold your nose, not able to bear the most oppressive smell. After a while, where is all the delight? See if there is anywhere a visible sign of that original appearance. Where is the sweetness of luxury and opulence of banquets? Where are the flattering words which mollify guileless hearts? Where are the sweet words which imparted sorrow to lovers? Where are the immoderate laughter and repulsive jokes? Where is the unbridled and useless joy? As if anything could ever compare to crossing running water.

§33.  This is the end of the beautiful body which you loved. This is the end of corporeal pleasures. Turn away therefore your soul from obscene loves and turn your love to the most splendid beauty of Christ so that the rays of his splendor may illuminate your heart and all darkness may be driven from you. This beauty must be loved, son, which usually pours out spiritual joy to souls. This beauty must be embraced in all ways from whence serenity and tranquility is acquired. Let us avoid destructive beauty, lest all kinds of evil be inflicted on us. For many admiring the appearance of women have been shipwrecked from the path of righteousness. Many with their ornaments of pleasure have suffered the destruction of their souls and from the height of perfection; they have been plunged into the depths of Hell. Son, beware of the things which you see cause men to perish. Don't drink from the cup which has caused the ruin of many. Don't take food which you have seen causes wickedness to others. Don't set foot on the journey where you have seen many others shipwrecked. Avoid the snares which you see have captured the rest. Ask the Lord for a prudent heart and watchful mind so that you are not unaware of the deceit and cunning of the devil and your foot may not step into his net.

§34.  A wise man does not consider beauty of the body but of the soul. A foolish man however embraces worldly possessions. A wise man spurns a woman full of gestures. A foolish man, however, desiring her is wretchedly cast down. A prudent man averts his eyes from an imprudent woman. However, a foolish man who looks at her excessively is dissolved, like fire dissolves wax. Therefore you, son, look out for wicked sights and false beauty in all ways. For the soul will be hurled down if you pay attention to beauty. Christ is not interested in the beauty of the body but in the beauty of the soul. Therefore, son, possess spiritual beauty because that will please God.

Chapter 9

Concerning the Fleeing of Avarice

§35.  Son, beware of cupidity and don't be a slave to the love of money. Turn your heart away from all avarice lest you be condemned as an adulterer and worshipper of idols. Don't love riches lest you offend him to whom you dedicated your body and mind equally. Don't desire those things which call you away and separate you from God. Don't love earthly riches lest you lose the riches of heaven. Many desiring the possessions of another are deprived of their own. The riches of this world are foreign to us for our possession is the kingdom of heaven (Alcuin Epistolae, 251). Don't seek the possessions of others lest you become a stranger to yours. Be content with daily provisions. Whatever is in excess is a hindrance to your purpose. Cast it out. Don't desire to become rich lest you fall into temptation and into the snares of the Devil. Beware of avarice because greed has been called by the apostle, "the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). A greedy man has a venal soul. If he finds the time, he commits murder, and like one who pours water on the ground, he pours out the blood of his neighbor. Many struck by the flame of avarice have fallen into the danger of death.

§36.  Because of avarice, Achan, the son of Charmi was stoned with all the members of his household (Joshua 7:24–25). Because of avarice, Saul became alienated from the Lord and was finally expelled from the royal heights and destroyed by his enemies. Ahab, because of avarice, seized Naboth's vineyard and for this sinful act, he was wounded in battle and died (2 Kings 9:21–26). Truly our Lord and savior wished to shut out the love of money from the hearts of the Pharisees but because they were too greedy, they mocked his salutary warnings. For although Christ, who called the rich to heaven, had told they had to sell their riches, avarice did not allow them to enter (Matthew 19:21–24). The breast of Judas so burned with the passion of avarice, he surrendered the Lord who bestowed on him so many blessings, into the hands of the wicked (Matthew 26:14). For a greedy man is similar to an inferno. An inferno will devour all: it is never satisfied. Although all treasures will have flowed upon the greedy, he will not be satisfied. Son, alienate yourself from this vice and freely receive the poor voluntarily. Don't be idle and lazy but work with your hands so that what you have you may give to the needy. Give with moderation according to your ability. As much as has been entrusted to you will be asked of you. For no one expects from you what you do not possess. It is an abomination before Christ to acquire alms unjustly, but alms faithfully acquired is pleasing to him.

§37.  Son, he does not possess the good art of compassion if he has obtained alms in such a manner. For there are some who, plundering others, pretend they are keeping the money as alms and when they oppress others, they pretend to feel sorry for them. But God is not pleased with their words and he curses and abhors their insincere heart. You, son, may give a little from your labors. This will be pleasing and acceptable to God. Don't boast when you give alms to the needy, nor should you consider yourself better than he to whom you loaned money. But in all your works, humble yourself before God because what is done with pride will not be pleasing to God. However, that which is done with humility is acceptable to him.

Chapter 10

§38.  Son, pursue humility before all else which is the height of all virtues so that you can climb to the summit of perfection. Since just institutions cannot be completed except through humility. The labors of any many times accomplished through pride are considered to be of no account. A humble man is similar to God and confesses his sin in the temple. The proud man, however, since he is odious to God, is similar to the Devil. The humble man, although he seems most vile in appearance, is glorious in virtues. The proud man, although he seems distinguished and elegant in appearance, nevertheless, by his words, shows himself to be useless and through his mouth and his movements, his pride is recognized; and by his words, his shallowness is made known. He always desires to be praised by man, and for his virtues, which he is a stranger to, he desires to be commended. He does not allow himself to be subject to anyone. He attempts to raise himself to a higher position. But because he cannot obtain it by his own merits, he hurries to obtain it through solicitation.

§39.  Always walking puffed up, both empty and vain like a ship without a helmsman when it is tossed by the waves, so he is carried around in all his actions. On the contrary, a humble man rejects all earthly honors and considers himself lower than all men. For although he appears insignificant in appearance, he is considered eminent in God's presence, and when he has carried out all the mandates of God, he says "I am a useless slave," and he declares he has accomplished nothing and hurries to conceal all the virtues of his soul. But God makes known all his work and discloses his extraordinary accomplishments. God will exalt him and make him renowned, and when he prays, God will provide what he asks for.

Chapter 11

Concerning Prayer

§40.  Moreover, you son, when you approach the Lord to pray, prostrate yourself humbly in his sight lest you request something based purely on your own merits. And if there is any thought of good work in your consciousness, hide it so that with your silence, God may reward you many times over. Quickly reveal your sins so that God may destroy them when you have confessed them. Don't wish to vindicate yourself when you approach him to pray so that like the Pharisee, you may not escape condemnation. Be mindful of the publicani and pray for yourself as he did and emulate him so that you may receive a pardon for your sins.17 Don't pray to God who knows all hidden things with a loud voice. Let the shout of your heart strike his ears lest you draw out before him long words, because excessive speaking will not please God, but only the purest heart. Cast out all malice from your heart and whatever anger you harbor against your brother, relinquish it.

§41.  There is a certain kind of serpent when he goes to drink water, before he approaches the spring, he vomits all his poison. Imitate therefore the cunning of this serpent and cast out all the most poisonous venom from your soul. Forgive your fellow servant the debt of 100 denarii so that you may be forgiven the debt of 10,000 talents, and as much as you desire to be God, be more like your fellow servant. In addition whatever work you have begun to do, first call upon God and don't forget to give thanks when you have finished it.

Chapter 12

Concerning Vigils

§42.  Seek God and call upon him with all your heart and you will find him. Nor when you have possessed him should you let him go so that your thoughts will be filled with his love. Pursue this goal in your life so that you may offer pure prayer to God, lest superfluous thoughts thoroughly trouble your heart; nor should your mind be drawn into diverse places. For remember you are standing under the scrutiny of God who knows the heart's secrets and the hidden places of the mind. Be vigilant in God's sight during prayer and psalms. Don't let sleep overwhelm your soul, and don't let your thoughts and speech be discordant, but they should be in agreement and your words should reflect both. "Just as it is not possible to serve two masters," (Matthew 6:24) thus it is not possible for duplicitous prayer to reach the ears of God.

§43.  You should not be idle nor at leisure any time during the day as well as night. It is proper for you to stay alert so that you can easily flee imminent temptation. For if vulgar thoughts trouble your heart and compel you to do what is forbidden, let them be driven from your soul by prayers and vigils. For prayer is the grand protection of the soul. Through the purest prayers, all those things which are most useful to us are granted by God and all those things harmful are driven far from us. During psalms and spiritual songs, sing vigilantly before the Lord so that you can notice easily the virtue of the psalms. All hardness of the heart will be softened by their sweetness. Then you will have a sweet voice and you will sing, "How sweet your elegance is in my voice and like honey in my mouth" (Psalms 119:103). But you won't be able to feel this sweetness unless you sing with the greatest vigilance and wisdom. For the mouth will taste food. Thoughts differ from words. For just as flesh is nourished by carnal food, so the interior man is fed and nourished by divine eloquence. But you will need all these holy vigils, son, and avoid useless vigils. Those vigils are useless which wound and cause the soul to perish, if anyone will have kept vigils around scandalous thoughts and attempt to commit some wicked deed. But you avoid such vigils so that you can aspire to be holy in all your acts and it is appropriate for you to keep vigils in all your movements. Lest when overwhelmed by sleep, you desire eagerly to please men. You should not attempt to please anyone except God himself. In the works which you consider to do, consider God first. Examine diligently what you think is favorable to God and is right before God to carry it out. If, in fact, it has been discovered to be against him, expel it from your soul. Dispel all your meddlesome thoughts daily and if you feel yourself laden with the guilt of sins, flee immediately to penance.

§44.  Son, I am unwilling that you should expose yourself to sins in the daylight and whatever evil you have harbored, go and seek penance for it and quickly expel it from your heart. Don't desire to say: "This is not a great sin which I am only thinking about because in the Lord's sight, nothing is hidden. Don't allow evil thoughts to grow in you nor should you neglect them as if they were insignificant. For who rejects the least sin, little by little will advance to greater sins. Don't despise the serpent's bite lest his poison be sprinkled in your heart. Cut out the thickets of spines from the field of your heart lest they grow deep roots in you. Know that your heart is the Lord's field and cultivate it with spiritual discipline. Don't allow tares to take root in the Lord's field. If therefore you have been vigilant about such things, you will achieve spiritual perfection.18

Chapter 13

Concerning Fasting

§45.  Son, to keep proper vigils, much fasting is necessary. For just as a soldier, burdened by a great weight, is impeded from going off to war, thus a monk is impeded from carrying out vigils properly when his senses have become dulled from an overabundance of food. Overcome by sleep, we lose all the benefits of our vigils and bring great detriment to our soul (Smaragdus Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti, 4).19 Endeavor to join fasting with vigils so that you can fill your spirit with all virtue and your flesh is subject to your soul just as a maid is subject to her mistress. Don't give strength to your body so that it can wage war against your spirit, but subject the flesh to the spirit and obey its orders. Don't make the maid fat lest she have contempt for the mistress, and in all her actions let her be subject to her mistress. For just as bridles are placed on horses to restrain them, let us place the bridle of fasting on our body.

§46.  For just as a charioteer, if he has loosened the bridle of the horses, running very rapidly they will rush headlong off the precipice with him, the soul also, if it has not placed a bridle on the body, will rush headlong into Hell. Be therefore a most skilled charioteer to your body so that you can step upon the path of righteousness. For excessive food not only harms the body but also the soul. For often the stomach is weakened by the desire for food. Through excessive food, we endure an abundance of blood and many afflictions. For just as excessive food is harmful to both body and spirit, thus fasting supplies a remedy and brings both under our control. As much as we are able, son, we should flee the pleasures of the world and the opulence of food, lest when tormented in the fires of Hell, we seek a drop of water and obtain no relief.

Chapter 14

Concerning Drunkenness

§47.  Let us flee drunkenness lest we stumble into the sin of luxury. For God created wine not for intoxication but for joy of the heart. For the apostle [Paul] instructed Timothy to use wine in moderation and then for ailments of the stomach and for his other frequent infirmities. Let us not be driven to destruction by that which was meant to heal our body. For many have brought about weakness of the body through excessive drinking of wine, nor were they able to maintain their original dignity because first, they were not able to temper the flame of their throat and committed murder through wine and sometimes ended up taking their own lives. Others will have been captured by demons through wine.

§48.  Drunkenness is nothing other than a most manifest demon. The drunk thinks he is in need of something good when he has been hurled headlong off the precipice. Through drunkenness, the mouth curses and insults neighbors, the mind is altered and the tongue speaks childish things. What, I ask you, is held in lower esteem than the drunkenness of demons? For a man of this sort when he has thought about drinking, he drinks. Consider a fish which hurries with greedy jaws to eat food and suddenly finds a hook inside his jaws and a bird when it is captured in a net for food. Like the fish and the bird, a man who is drunk receives an enemy within him through wine which incites him to commit the most detestable acts. Through wine, a rational man is taken over by an irrational animal. You, son, show sobriety in all things so that it may cause you to be virtuous in all that you do.

Chapter 15

Concerning Pride

§49.  But beware of this, son, that your abstinence from food does not fill you with arrogance against others, lest when you seem to abstain from carnal food, your breast is filled with vices. For great is the confusion of the soul if when it has gained control of the body, it is at the same time under the control of vices. What appears to kill the appetite for food can overwhelm the soul with passions and what seems to conquer love of the flesh can plant the seeds of envy in the heart. For a temperate man avoids passions of the body as well as the soul, for he seems to be dependent on both. There is no spiritual perfection: if one part is sublime, the other cast down. If a man shines in one part and in another part is seized by the darkness of vices. For who desires to have a virtuous body first should have a virtuous soul. For a man will accomplish nothing if he has a virtuous body and a corrupt soul.

§50.  If a city has been fortified on one side and destroyed on another, it gives the enemy an opportunity to enter. And if a ship is solid with strong joints, but it has one perforated plank, it will fill with water and sink. Truly a temperate man rejects all things that are vain nor does he pursue any worldly glory, he suppresses anger and rage and he abhors envy. He would rather endure suffering than dissolve the chain of love. He does not utter disparaging remarks about his neighbor, nor does he willingly listen to others slandering them. He desires always to avoid vices and he urges himself on to cultivate virtues of the soul.

Chapter 16

Concerning Moderate Speech

§51.  You, son, present yourself in such a way that when you wish to fast and when you have abstained from food, refrain from forbidden words. Put all blasphemy far from you lest superfluous words proceed from your mouth. Remember that for our idle words, we must render an account to God on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 12:36).20 Don't get into the habit of using your tongue, which was created to bless and praise God, to slander anyone. Don't speak about things in an assembly which you are ignorant of, but in times of trouble, let suitable words pour from your mouth so that all those listening may give thanks. Restrain your tongue from all vainglory, lest those who hear you, trembling, harden their ears and you cause confusion before all. You should not expose them to molestation or accustom them to the worst form of speech. Because this practice, which has been established by long usage, cannot be avoided without much exertion.

Chapter 17

Concerning Vain Glory

§52.  Don't laugh with loose lips, son. For it is madness to laugh out loud. But show joy of the mind only by smiling, lest you wish to joke continuously like a small boy. For it is not proper for those who are trying to achieve perfection to joke like a small boy. Be a small boy in cunning and a perfect man in understanding. In a certain way show yourself as an old man, in a certain way show yourself as a small boy. Playing is characteristic of a small boy, mourning is characteristic of a perfect man. But present sorrow generates eternal joy. A joke causes the soul to relax and neglect God's precepts. Nor with sinning can the sinner remember God's mandates, but forgetting them, he does not urge himself to do penance and, little by little, he is deprived of all blessings. Where there has been immoderate joking and laughing, compunction of the heart will have no place. Where there have been tears, spiritual fire is kindled which illuminates the secrets of the mind and destroys all vices. Then with heavenly desire, he eagerly joins with the love of Christ and while living on earth thinks about heavenly things. He despises worldly pleasures and concentrates on future rewards.

§53.  For death to him is as sweet as the present life, he desires to be released and to be with Christ whom living in the flesh he had carried within his temple. See therefore how much benefit weeping and tears bring and how much destruction laughter and joking will bring. For who chooses to laugh here will weep bitterly afterwards; who has wished to mourn here will rejoice in the world to come. For our savior called those who mourn blessed and who now tells them to weep joyfully on the Judgment Day. Don't therefore let puerile laughter and joking delight you, but the chanting of spiritual readings. Don't let empty words make you laugh, but may you quote the virtues of perfect men and may they serve as a mirror for your own life and character. For he is called perfect not who is perfect in age but who is always perfect in understanding. A childish age does not define your maturity if you have been perfect in understanding, nor does an advanced age define your maturity if you have been a child perfect in understanding. For when David was a boy and had a perfect heart with the Lord, he was elected King of Israel. And Saul when he was perfect in age because he was perfect in wickedness, he was cast down from the heights of royalty. The elders were already ancient who tried to violate Susanna, but Daniel while still a child detected their crime and condemned them. And our Lord having entered Jerusalem was praised by children. For a tree is allowed to grow for many years; if it has been fruitless, it is cut down. If however, it has been young and fertile, it is cultivated so that it may produce more fruit.

Chapter 18

Concerning Avoiding the Company of the Wicked

§54.  Son, may your soul delight in the fellowship of the chaste and may you never turn your ear away from their conversations. For their words are the words of life and those who freely heed them will merit salvation for their soul. For just as the rising sun dispels the darkness, so the doctrine of these holy men expels shadows from your thoughts. I beg you, don't avoid the company of such men so that by their admonitions, your mind may be elevated to heaven and you can despise the insignificant glory of this transitory world and the virtues of the soul will consume your thoughts.

§55.  Avoid those men who you see neglecting God's mandates, who are dead to virtues, and seem to live only for their passions. Who rejoice for their own reasons and deprive themselves of divine joy. You should not mingle with men of this sort, nor should you constantly speak with them unless you think you can recall them from the path of ignorance. The rest, if you are not able to do this, avoid like a public enemy. For often the whole flock is contaminated by one sick sheep, and a small amount of deceit turns great sweetness into bitterness and a little leaven corrupts the whole mass. For the Lord God ordered you to pay heed to such leaven. This leaven is understood to be the doctrine of very wicked men. For although such men may seem distinguished and noble in appearance and may offer sweet words to you in an elegant manner, their false hearts are exposed by their subsequent actions. For a man is known not by his words but by his deeds. Then as many as possible cunningly hurry to hide their vices and among certain people they seem extraordinary, but only seem that way at the time. When truly they have carried a serpent within their bosom for a long time, struck by his bite, they swell up and stand exposed for all to see because nothing is hidden that will not be revealed.

Chapter 19

About Repressing Anger and Delaying Repentance

§56.  If anyone has committed wicked acts against you, don't be angry at him or seek retribution even if you can, but rather feel sorry for him because God will be angry with him. For who has endured evil patiently will receive a heavenly crown in the future. Who however has inflicted evil will be condemned on the Day of Judgment. Let not your soul be troubled by worldly misfortunes or let transitory things soften the vigor of your patience but fear rather misfortune if you fail to carry out your resolve, and when you feel yourself laden with guilt from sins, it should not disturb you to turn to penitence. For who has repented here will not repent on the Day of Judgment. For the Lord receives those running to penitence peacefully. Don't think about saying: "As long as I maintain my youthful vigor, I shall indulge in pleasures of the flesh. Afterwards, in old age, I will repent of my wicked deeds. For the Lord is pious and has much compassion and will no longer remember my sins." Don't dwell on such thoughts, my son because it is the height of foolishness. What man knows the time of his death? For not all of us will be deprived of the light of this world in old age. We will not all be of the same age when we leave this world. No matter what age a man will be called, he must render an account for his actions. For no one in Hell will confess to the Lord. As a result, don't hesitate to confess your sins.

Chapter 20

Concerning the Contemplation of Death

§57.  Always let the last day turn before your eyes. For when you have risen at dawn, don't be certain about the arrival of the evening. And when you have gone to bed to rest, don't count on the arrival of the morning and you will be able to restrain yourself from all vices. Always let your heart meditate on heavenly promises so that they may direct you to the road of virtue (Life of Saint Anthony, 19). All the earthly possessions you have, transfer them into heavenly mansions and when you set out there may you enjoy the fruits of your good works. Begin to prepare yourself for the journey so that when you have been called, you may hurry willingly and without delay to the Lord. Then, soon after your soul has been freed from its prison of flesh, you will meet a chorus of angels and a whole army of saints will embrace you and lead you to pray to the true judge.

§58.  Then peace and the greatest security will surround you and you will not fear the fiery darts of the Devil. The fierceness of the barbarians will not fill you with terror. You will not be afraid of your most ferocious enemies who desire to end lives; not iron, fire, the cruel face of the executioner, not famine, thirst, not any disease of the flesh. You will not fear the envy of men, nor the snare of the wicked, not the enchanted words of prostitutes, neither will the flesh be able to overcome your spirit. You will not fear the danger of the sea or any misfortunes whatsoever. But all these fears are laid to rest when your soul has cast off its burden of flesh. Then the Holy Spirit for whom you had made a mansion within your own body a short time before will prepare a heavenly mansion for you. And rejoicing you will wait for the future Day of Judgment on which all souls will receive the rewards for their actions.

§59.  But on that day, sinners and the impious will seek penitence in vain, adulterers and fornicators will wail, but they won't be able to find any rest. The insatiable and avaricious will weep bitterly, but they will receive no pardon for their wickedness. All will be greatly afflicted who followed the will of their flesh. They who were enslaved to vices and passions will suffer sorrow and great torment for eternity. While eternal rewards will be given you, they will be enslaved in the fires of Hell for their crimes. "What the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man which God has prepared for those loving him, you will see face to face" (1 Corinthians 2:9).


1.   It was not unusual for a monk to have learned his lessons of spiritual service within the confines of a cenobium before embarking on the solitary path of an anchorite. For the development of this theme, see Jerome Epistolae, 125.9. John Cassian also speaks in similar terms in his eighteenth conference when he notes how the blessed Piamun filled him with a burning desire to leave the elementary schools of the cenobitic monasteries and advance to the higher learning of the anchorites, see Cassian Conférences, 18.16.  [Back]

2.   For Basil as the author of the De admonitio, see the discussion of André Wilmart 1910, 226–233, and the remarks of Paul Lehmann 1955, 3–21. Lehmann clearly follows closely the earlier argument of Wilmart. De Vogüé, on the other hand, took a different approach, basing his identification on the close rememblances between, as discussed earlier, the De admonitio and the Monita of Porcarius. For his argument, see de Vogüé 1981/1982, 19–34. For a fuller discussion, see de Vogüé's most recent study 2003, 419–420 and Mark Decogliano 2003, 30–58.  [Back]

3.   See Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 9: "Alienae sint a nobis huius saeculi facultates, nostra autem posssessio regnum caelorum est." Alcuin apparently knew the Pseudo-Basil's De admonitio well since he copied this phrase almost verbatim from the full text and seemingly not through any known florilegia. For Alcuin's version see Alcuin Epistolae, 251: "Alienae sunt a nobis huius seculi facultates. Nihil enim intulimus in hunc mundum, haud dubium, quic nec auferre quid possumus. Nostra autem posssessio regnum caelorum." "The riches of this world are foreign to us. We bring nothing into this world and we can carry nothing out, for our possession is the kingdom of heaven." See also Jerome Epistolae, 22: "Aliena nobis auri argentique sunt pondera, nostra possession spiritalis est…" "The burdens of gold and silver are foreign to us, our possession is spiritual…" Given the evidence presented here, the view of modern scholars such as Donald Bullough, the latest biographer of Alcuin, that the De admonitio has not been identified in any of Alcuin's writings is somewhat surprising, see Bullough 2004, 267.  [Back]

4.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 10: "Vir humiis deo est similis et in templo pectoris sui gestate um. Superbus autem cum sit deo odibilis, diabolo similis est."  [Back]

5.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 11: "Tu autem, fili cum accesseris ad precandum dominum prosterne te humiliter in conspectus eius, ne postules quicquam quasi ex gratia meritorum tuorum."  [Back]

6.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 13: "Non enim possumus vigilare, cum fuerit dapibus venter noster onustus, sed oppressi somno vigiliarum fructus amittimus et maximum detrimentum animae nostrae adquirimus." This passage of the Pseudo-Basil seems to have inspired the ninth century Abbot Smaragdus of St. Mihiel's Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, where in chapter four, he discusses Benedict's teachings on the same topic, see Smaragdus Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti, 4: "Non enim possumus vigilare cum dapibus fuerit venter noster onustus; sed oppressi somno vigiliarum fructus amittimus, et maximum detrimentum animae nostrae adquirimus." "For a monk cannot hold vigils properly when his stomach is laden with sumptuous meals; for drowsy monks lose the spiritual benefits of their vigils to the great detriment of their souls."  [Back]

7.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, prologue: "Audi, fili, admonitionem patris tui et inclina aurem tuam ad verba mea, adcommoda mihi libenter auditum tuum et corde credulo quae dicuntur ausculta. Cupio enim te instruere, quae sit spiritualis militia et quibus modis regi tuo debeas militare. Neque enim novam doctrinam instruam te, sed ea quae didici a patribus meis." Compare Regula s. Benedicti, prologue: "Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri et inclina aurem cordis tui et admonitionem pii patris libenter excipe et efficaciter comple, ut ad eum per oboedientiae laborem redeas a quo per inoboedientiae laborem redeas, a quo per inoboedientiae desidiam recesseras. Ad te ergo hunc mihi sermo dirigitur. Quisquis abrenuntians propriis voluntatibus domino Christo vero regi militaturus oboedientiae fortissimo atque praeclara arma sumis." Here I am following the translation of Kardong 1996, 3: "Listen, oh my son, to the teachings of your master and turn to them with the ear of your heart. Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and put it into action. Thus you will return by the labor of obedience to the one from whom you drifted through the inertia of disobedience. Now then I address my words to you. Whoever is willing to renounce self-will and take up the powerful and shining weapons of obedience to fight for the Lord Christ, the true king." Benedict of Nursia compiled the rule of St. Benedict around 550 for his followers at Monte Cassino in northern Italy. Drawing upon the Holy Scriptures, earlier monastic rules and the writings of church fathers such as Augustine, Jerome and John Cassian, it served as a primary model for western monasticism. Early Carolingian writers such as Bishop Hincmar of Reims, Bishop Jonas of Orléans and Abbot Smaragdus of St. Mihiel relied on it extensively for their own original exegetical methodology, often tailoring, editing and adapting the teachings of Benedict for their own audiences and to underscore contemporary theological controversies. The origin of the phrases shared by Pseudo-Basil and Benedict seems to be scriptural. See Proverbs 4:20.  [Back]

8.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 1: "Sicut enim qui militant regi terreno, omnibus iussis eius oboediunt, sic et qui militant regi caelesti debent custodire praecepta caelestia…" "…Ille contra hostem carnalem carnalibus armis utitur, tu vero contra hostem spiritualem armis spiritalibus indiges…" "While earthly soldiers fight for an earthly king and obey all his orders, those who fight for the heavenly king guard heavenly precepts…" "…while earthly soldiers battle against earthly enemies with earthly arms, you battle against a spiritual enemy with spiritual arms…" Compare Smaragdus Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti, 1.  [Back]

9.   Life of Saint Anthony, 19: "For if we live dying, we will not sin. Rising daily, let us think we will not remain until evening. And again, when we have begun to sleep, let us not think we will rise in the morning. The nature of our life is uncertain which is enumerated daily by the providence of God. Therefore, forming up our ranks in this manner, we will not sin." Compare Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 20: "Let the day of your death turn always before your eyes. When you have risen in the morning, don't worry whether the evening will arrive and when you have gone to sleep, don't put your trust in the arrival of the dawn and you will be able to refrain from all vices." Hoppenbrouwer's edition is the most recent critical edition of the Life of Saint Anthony. It is based on the oldest Latin recension of the Life of Saint Anthony discovered in Rome by André Wilmart who convincingly demonstrated it to be an anonymous work dating to the first quarter of the fourth century. For his analysis, see Wilmart 1914, 153–173. Written around 356 by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria amid the political and religious turmoil of post-Constantinian Christianity, the Life of Saint Anthony takes us back to the purer spirituality of the apostolic age. The subject of the biography, St. Antony is portrayed as an anchoretic monk who, shorn of all worldly possessions, retreats to the Egyptian desert to battle demons and seek a higher spirituality, shunning vices and cultivating virtues. The subject matter of the Life of Saint Anthony indeed takes us back to the dawn of monasticism and through its Latin recension not only served as an important paradigm for later western Christian hagiography, but extensively influenced the development and spread of western monasticism as is evident in the pages of the sixth century Rule of St. Benedict and, as we have seen, Pseudo-Basil's De admonitio.  [Back]

10.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 12: "For if vulgar thoughts trouble your heart and compel you to do what is forbidden, let them be driven from your soul by prayers and vigils"; Regula s. Basilii (Rule of St. Basil), 2.76: "We should always guard our heart in all things, lest evil desires and wicked thoughts drive the desire of God from our souls." The Rule of St. Basil was written around 346 by Bishop Basil of Caesarea. It consisted of questions posed by monastic novices, followed by responses of the master. The topics of the Rule dealt primary with avoidance of vices and cultivation of virtues. The Rule provided the blueprint for cenobitic monasticism throughout the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Its importance as a model for western monasticism as well can be estimated by Benedict's words when he stresses the need for monks to read the Rule of St. Basil as well as the Conferences and Institutes of John Cassian so they can learn obedience and the virtues necessary for salvation. See Regula s. Benedicti, 73. For more on the significance of St Basil's Rule, see Marilyn Dunn 2000, 34–41 and de Vogüé 1996, 247–294.  [Back]

11.   Pseudo-Basil De admonitio, 20: "Give heed son, to the admonition of your father, and incline your ear to my words, devote your hearing to me willingly and listen to all things that are said with a believing heart. For I desire to teach you what the spiritual army is and in what ways you should fight for your king." Compare Paulinus of Nola Epistolae 25:8: "Heed me my son and incline your ear to me and burst all your chains and whatever involvements in this world hold you back. Change to a better army so that you may begin to fight for (as a spiritual soldier) the eternal king." According to de Vogüé, Paulinus of Nola was born in Bordeaux in 354 and died in Nola, outside Naples around 431. Descended from a prominent senatorial family, he served as governor of Campagna, turned to the monastic life in 391 and was ordained Bishop of Nola around 410. His correspondence affords us a rare glimpse into the world of Late Antiquity. Paulinus's letters not only tell us that individuals from many walks of life were turning to monasticism, but also provide evidence for the cooperation between monks and the secular clergy. The letters permit us to see the symbiotic interpenetration of the two kinds of life already observed in the career of St. Martin of Tours. The Martinian model of the monk bishop, builder of churches and monasteries, is clearly reflected in the person of Paulinus of Nola. Here in his twenty-fifth letter, Paulinus's efforts to persuade an anonymous soldier to abandon the world for the monastic life served as a model of spirituality for Pseudo-Basil as he guided his spiritual son onto the road to eternal salvation, see de Vogüé 1997, 158.  [Back]

12.   Pseudo-Basil Ad admonitio, 1: "An earthly soldier goes to war against a visible army, an invisible enemy does not cease daily from fighting with you. They fight against flesh and blood, you must struggle against spiritual weakness in the heavenly army. They use worldly arms against a worldly enemy. You truly need spiritual arms against a spiritual army." Compare Liber exhortationis, 20: "You, an earthly soldier go to war against a visible enemy; a spiritual soldier does not cease to do battle daily with an invisible enemy. You fight against worldly enemies using secular arms. A spiritual soldier struggles against the devil with spiritual arms."  [Back]

13.   The phrase, "audi fili, admonitionem patris tui et inclina aurem tuam ad verba mea," "give heed, son to the admonition of your father and incline your ear to my words" is commonplace in patristic and monastic literature. See Regula s. Benedicti, prologue: "Obsculta o fili, praecepta magistra et inclina aurem cordis tui et admonitionem pii patris libenter excipe," "Heed, o son, the precepts of your master and incline the ear of your heart and hear the admonition of a pious father; Jerome Epistolae 22 (Letter to Eustochia): Audi filia, et vide et inclina aurem tuam et obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui," "Heed daughter and see and incline your ear and forget your people and the home of your father." The origin of the phrase is apparently biblical. See Proverbs 4:20: "Fili mi ausculta sermones meos et ad eloquia mea inclina aurem tuam," "My son, heed my words and incline your ear to my eloquence."  [Back]

14.   Here the verb militare means to fight rather than to serve. According to Father Terrence Kardong in his translation and commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, "Although the primary meaning of militare in classical Latin was to make war, there was always a secondary meaning 'to serve,' which came to predominate in the patristic period. Nevertheless, the term probably retains its martial meaning since Benedict uses militare in conjunction with weapons of obedience and the battle against sin." Since the Pseudo-Basil uses militare in a similar context, I have chosen to follow Kardong's interpretation (1996, 9). For a further study on the translation of militare in the classical and patristic periods, see Manning 1962, 135–138.  [Back]

15.   Here it should be noted that illi soli is referring back to uni domino or Christ. Pseudo-Basil generally makes this connection throughout the text.  [Back]

16.   "Tuum membrum" refers to the concept that we are all members in the one body of Christ. For the biblical reference which is Pauline, see 1 Corinthians 12:12: "Sicut enim corpus unum est et membra. Habet multa omnia autem membra corporis cum sint multa unum corpus sunt ita est Christus." "For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  [Back]

17.   Publicani refers to tax collectors. They were known during the time of the Roman Republic and the Empire. The Roman government usually farmed out the right to collect taxes in the provinces to the highest bidder, who was then allowed to keep a certain percentage. The publicani often came from the provincial ranks and were often spoken of in disparaging terms as was the most famous Publicanus, Matthew in the New Testament. They were referred to numerous times in the gospels by Jesus, although not always negatively.  [Back]

18.   Pseudo-Basil uses the expression "cutting out the spines from the field of your heart," to metaphorically represent the eradication of sins. Such a practice is commonly found in the pages of early Carolingian writers such as Alcuin. See Alcuin Epistolae, 258, 311.  [Back]

19.   Food comes from the Latin daps, dapis. Daps can also signify a solemn feast for religious purposes, a sacrificial feast or merely a banquet or feast. It is the latter which Pseudo-Basil seems to be referring to which leads to the vice of excessive eating and thus endangering a monk's eternal salvation.  [Back]

20.   The source for this is Matthew 12:36: "Dico autem vobis quoniam omne verbum otiosum quod locuti fuering hominess reddent rationem de eo in die iudicii ex verbis enim tuis iustificaberis et ex verbis tuis condemnaberis." "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they hall give an account on the day of judgment. For by thy words they shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."  [Back]

Works Cited

Alcuin. 1895/1994. Epistolae. Ed. Ernst Dümmler. Vol. 4, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae Karolini Aevi II. Berlin: Weidmann.  [Back]

Athanasius. 1960. La plus ancienne versione latine de la vie de s. Antoine par s. Athanase. Editions de critique textuelle. Ed. H. Hoppenbrouwers. Latinitas Christinaorum Primaeva 14. Nijmegen: Dekkers and Van De Vegt.  [Back]

Basil of Caesarea. 1986. Basili regula a Rufino latine versa. Ed. Klaus Zelzer. Corpus Scriptorium Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 76. Vienna: Hoelder-Pichler-Tempsky.  [Back]

Benedict of Nursia. 1977. Regula s. Benedicti. Ed Rudolph Hanslik. Corpus Scriptorium Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 75. Vienna: Hoelder-Pichler-Tempsky.  [Back]

Bullough, Donald A. 2004. Alcuin: achievement and reputation. Leiden: Brill.  [Back]

Cassian, John. 1955–1959. Conférences. Ed. and trans. E. Pichery. Sources Chrétiennes 42, 54, 64. Paris: Éditions du Cerf.  [Back]

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Dunn, Marilyn. 2000. The emergence of monasticism: from the desert fathers to the early Middle Ages. Oxford: Blackwell.  [Back]

Jerome. 1996. Epistolae. Ed. Isidor Hilberg. Corpus Scriptorem Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 54–56.1. Vienna: Vienna Academy of Science.  [Back]

Kardong, Terrence. 1996. Benedict's Rule: a translation and commentary. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.  [Back]

LePree, James. 2008. Two recently discovered passages of the Pseudo-Basil's Admonition to a Spiritual Son (De admonitio ad filium spiritualem) in Smaragdus' Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict (Expositio in regulam s. Benedicti) and the Letters (Epistolae) of Alcuin. The Heroic Age 11.  [Back]

Locherbie-Cameron, M.A. 2000. From Caesarea to Eynsham: a consideration of the proposed route(s) of the Admonition to a Spiritual Son to Anglo-Saxon England. The Heroic Age 3.  [Back]

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———. 1994. L'admonition à un fils spirituel. Trans. Jean-Marie Baguenard. In Dans la tradition Basilienne les constitutions ascétiques. L'admonition à un fils spirituel et autres écrits. Spiritualité Orientales 58. Bégrolles-en-Mauges (Maine-et-Loire): Abbaye de Bellefontaine.  [Back]

Rochais, Henri. 1951. Le liber de virtutibus et vitiis d'Alcuin. Note pour l'Étude des sources. Revue Mabillon 41:77–86.  [Back]

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