(26) Why did Hagar flee from her face? (#Ge 16:6). It is not every soul which is capable of proper respect and of submitting to salutary discipline, but the mind which is gentle, and good-tempered, and consistent loves reproof, and becomes more and more attached to those who correct it. But the stubborn soul becomes malignant and hates them, and turns from them, and flees away from them, preferring those discourses which are agreeable rather than those which tend to his advantage, and looking upon them as more excellent.
(27) What is the meaning of the statement, “The angel of the Lord found her sitting by a fountain of water in the desert in the way to Sur?” (#Ge 16:7). All these statements are as it were symbols by which the sacred writer indicates that the wellinstructed soul, which is the possession of virtue, is nevertheless not yet able to discern the beauty of her mistress. They are, I say, symbols; I mean the statements that she was found, and that she was found by an angel in the desert, and in no other way than that leading to Sur. However we must begin with what is plain. Now the too subtle sophist and the real lover of disputations is commonly unable to be detected by reason of his artifices and sophistical persuasions, with which he is accustomed to deceive and perplex men. But he who, being free from bad habits, has only an eager desire for obtaining instruction by the course of encyclical training, although he is difficult to be detected, is yet not altogether incapable of being so; for perdition is near at hand to him who cannot be detected, but safety to him who can be discovered, especially when he is sought for and found by a more holy and more excellent spirit. And who is more holy and more excellent than the angel of the Lord? For it is to him that it has been entrusted to seek out the erring soul, the soul which, on account of its presumed erudition, is continually ignorant of her whom it ought to respect, but still she could be susceptible of correction and amendment; for which object she was sought out. Nor was she found imperfect, but ready to the hand, since the soul was found which had fled from perfect virtue, not being able to submit to discipline. But the third symbol takes place after she is found and after the discovery has been made by an angel, namely, in the fact of her being found by a fountain, that is to say, by nature; for it is nature which bestows on clever people abilities in proportion to the industry of each individual, effacing unseasonable learning, which is no learning at all: and praise is implied in the very place in which the soul is found, which is thirsting after genius and after its placid law, wishing to draw water while in the society of those who drink wine; for thus it associates with those who feed upon and are delighted with the exercise of proper training, where nature itself affords sufficient nourishment, namely, education and instruction as if from a fountain. The fourth symbol is contained in the fact that the discovery took place in the desert; since difficulty coming over each of the outward senses, together with an influx of each separate desire, represses the mind, and does not permit it to drink pure water: but when it cannot avoid these things as in the desert, it acquiesces, and, abandoning the thoughts which agitated and perplexed it, it becomes convalescent, so as to receive a hope not only of life, but even of eternal life. The fifth symbol is contained in the fact that she was found in the way; for dispositions which are incorrigible are led by devious paths; but that one which can be changed for the better, lo! it proceeds along the road which leads to virtue, and that road is like a fortified wall and guardian to the souls which are capable of being saved, for Sur means a fortified wall. Do you not see, then, that the whole is a symbolical, or indeed a legitimate, figure of an improving soul? And, in fact, the soul which is improving does not perish as one which is wholly foolish does; for if the divine word be found by it, then again it seeks it; and he who is not pure and clean in his habits and disposition, flees from the divine word; but yet he has a fountain of water in which he washes away his vices and wickednesses, drawing from thence the fertility of the law. Besides this, it loves the desert, to which it has fled from its vices and wickednesses, and when it has once beheld the way of virtue it returns from the devious paths of wickedness. And all these things are fortified walls and bulwarks to it, so as to protect it from being ever injured by any words of circumstances which attack it, and from suffering any damage.