PAPHNUTIUS. You come opportunely, illustrious Abbess. I was just seeking you.
ABBESS. You are most welcome, venerated Father Paphnutius. Blessed is your visit, beloved of the Most High.
PAPHNUTIUS. May the grace of Him Who is Father of all pour into your heart the beatitude of everlasting peace!
ABBESS. And what has brought your holiness to my humble dwelling?
PAPHNUTIUS. I need your help.
ABBESS. Speak but the word. You will find me eager to do all in my power to carry out your wishes.
PAPHNUTIUS. Oh, Abbess, I have brought you a little wild gazelle who has been snatched half dead from the jaws of wolves. Show it compassion, nurse it with all your tenderness, until it has shed its rough goatskin and put on the soft fleece of a lamb.
ABBESS. Explain yourself further.
PAPHNUTIUS. You see this woman. From her youth she has led the life of a harlot. She has given herself up to base pleasures———
ABBESS. What misery!
PAPHNUTIUS. She cannot offer the excuse that she was a Pagan to whom such pleasures bring no remorse of conscience. She wore the baptismal robes of a child of God when she gave herself to the flames of profane love. She was not tempted. She chose this evil life. She was ruined by her own will.
ABBESS. She is the more unfortunate.
PAPHNUTIUS. Yet such is the power of Christ, that at His word, of which my poor mouth was the instrument, she has fled from the surroundings which were her damnation. Obedient as a child, she has followed me. She has abandoned lust and ease and idle luxury. She is resolved to live chastely.
ABBESS. Glory to the Author of the marvellous change!
PAPHNUTIUS. Amen. But since the maladies of the soul, like those of the body, need physic for their cure, we must minister to this soul diseased by years of lust. It must be removed from the foul breath of the world. A narrow cell, solitude, silence—these must be her lot henceforth. She must learn to know herself and her sins.
ABBESS. You are right. Such a penance is necessary.
PAPHNUTIUS. Will you give orders for a little cell to be made ready as soon as possible?
ABBESS. Yes, my father. It shall be done as quickly as we can.
PAPHNUTIUS. There must be no entrance, no opening of any kind, except a small window through which she can receive the food that will be brought her on certain days at certain fixed hours. A pound of bread, and water according to her need.
ABBESS. Forgive me, dear father in God, but I fear she will not be able to endure such a rigorous life. The soul may be willing, but that fastidious mind, that delicate body used to luxury, how can we expect them to submit?
PAPHNUTIUS. Have no fear. We know that grave sin demands a grave remedy.
ABBESS. That is true, yet are we not told also to hasten slowly?
PAPHNUTIUS. Good mother, I am already weary of delay. What if her lovers should pursue her? What if she be drawn back into the abyss? I am impatient to see her enclosed.
ABBESS. Nothing stands in the way of your enclosing her now. The cell which you told us to prepare is ready.
PAPHNUTIUS. Then enter, Thais! This is just such a refuge as we spoke of on our journey. It is the very place for you. There is room and more than room here for you to weep over your sins.
THAIS. How small it is! How dark! How can a delicate woman live in such a place?
PAPHNUTIUS. You are not pleased with your new dwelling! You shudder at the thought of entering! Oh, Thais, have you not wandered long enough without restraint? Is it not right that you should now be confined in this narrow, solitary cell, where you will find true freedom?
THAIS. I have been so long accustomed to pleasure and distraction. My mind is still a slave to the senses.
PAPHNUTIUS. The more need to rein it, to discipline it, until it ceases to rebel.
THAIS. I do not rebel—but my weakness revolts against one thing here.
PAPHNUTIUS. Of what do you speak?
THAIS. I am ashamed to say.
PAPHNUTIUS. Speak, Thais! Be ashamed of nothing but your sins.
THAIS. Good father, what could be more repugnant than to have to attend to all the needs of the body in this one little room. . . . It will soon be uninhabitable.
PAPHNUTIUS. Fear the cruel punishments of the soul, and cease to dread transitory evils.
THAIS. My weakness makes me shudder.
PAPHNUTIUS. The sweetness of your guilty pleasures was far more bitter and foul.
THAIS. I know it is just. What grieves me most is that I shall not have one clean sweet spot in which to call upon the sweet name of God.
PAPHNUTIUS. Have a care, Thais, or your confidence may become presumption. Should polluted lips utter so easily the name of the unpolluted Godhead?
THAIS. Oh, how can I hope for pardon! Who will pity me—who save me! What shall I do if I am forbidden to invoke Him against Whom only I have sinned! To whom should I pray if not to Him.
PAPHNUTIUS. You must indeed pray to Him, but with tears, not with words. Let not a tinkling voice, but the mighty roar of a contrite heart sound in the ear of God.
THAIS. I desire His pardon. Surely I may ask for it?
PAPHNUTIUS. Oh, Thais, the more perfectly you humble yourself, the more swiftly you will win it! Let your heart be all prayer, but let your lips say only this: “O God Who made me, pity me!”
THAIS. O God, Who made me, pity me! He alone can save me from defeat in this hard struggle!
PAPHNUTIUS. Fight manfully, and you will gain a glorious victory.
THAIS. It is your part to to pray for me! Pray I may earn the victor’s palm.
PAPHNUTIUS. Vou need not remind me.
THAIS. Give me some hope!
PAPHNUTIUS. Courage! The palm will soon be in this humble hand. It is time for me to return to the desert I owe a duty to my dear disciples. I know their hearts are torn by my absence. Yes, I must go. Venerable Abbess, I trust this captive to your charity and tenderness. I beg you to take the best care of her. Sustain her delicate body with necessaries. Refresh her soul with the luxuries of divine knowledge.
ABBESS. Have no anxiety about her, for I will cherish her with a mother’s love and tendeness.
PAPHNUTIUS. I go then.
ABBESS. In peace.