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“And His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then say the Scribes that Elias must first come?”
Not then from the Scriptures did they know this, but the Scribes used to explain themselves, and this saying was reported abroad amongst the ignorant people; as about Christ also.
Wherefore the Samaritan woman also said, “Messiah cometh; when He is come, He will tell us all things:”22152215 John iv. 25.and they themselves asked John, “Art thou Elias, or the Prophet?”22162216 John i. 21. For the saying, as I said, prevailed, both that concerning the Christ and that concerning Elias, not however rightly interpreted by them.
For the Scriptures speak of two advents of Christ, both this that is past, and that which is to come; and declaring these Paul said, “The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly.”22172217 Titus ii. 11, 12. [The Homily omits “to all men.”] Behold the one, hear how he declares the other also; for having said these things, he added, “Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”22182218 Tit. ii. 13. And the prophets too mention both; of the one, however, that is, of the second, they say Elias will be the forerunner. For of the first, John was forerunner; whom Christ called also Elias, not because he was Elias, but because he was fulfilling the ministry of that prophet. For as the one shall be forerunner of the second advent, so was the other too of the first. But the Scribes, confusing these things and perverting the people, made mention of that other only to the people, the second advent, and said, “If this man is the Christ, Elias ought to have come beforehand.” Therefore the disciples too speak as follows, “How then say the Scribes, Elias must first come?”
What then is the solution, which Christ alleged? “Elias indeed cometh then, before my second advent; and now too is Elias come;” so calling John.
In this sense Elias is come: but if thou wouldest seek the Tishbite, he is coming. Wherefore also He said, “Elias truly cometh, and shall restore all things.”22202220 Matt. xvii. 11. [R.V., “Elijah indeed cometh,” etc.] All what things? Such as the Prophet Malachi spake of; for “I will send you,” saith He, “Elias the Tishbite, who shall restore the heart of father to son, lest I come and utterly smite the earth.”22212221 Mal. iv. 5, 6, LXX.
Seest thou the accuracy of prophetical language? how, because Christ called John, Elias, by reasoning of their community of office, lest thou shouldest suppose this to be the meaning of the prophet too in this place, He added His country also, saying, “the Tishbite;”22222222 [The Hebrew does not have this; the argument rests on the inaccurate rendering of the LXX.]whereas John was not a Tishbite. And herewith He sets down another sign also, saying, “Lest I come and utterly smite the earth,” signifying His second and dreadful advent. For in the first He came not to smite the earth. For, “I came not,” saith He, “to judge the world, but to save the world.”22232223 John xii. 47.
To show therefore that the Tishbite comes before that other advent, which hath the judgment, He said this. And the reason too of his coming He teaches withal. And what is this reason? That when He is come, he may persuade the Jews to believe in Christ, and that they may not all utterly perish at His coming. Wherefore He too, guiding them on to that remembrance, saith, “And he shall restore all things;” that is, shall correct the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being.
Hence the extreme accuracy of his expression; in that he said not, “He will restore the heart of the son to the father,” but “of the father to the son.”22242224 See LXX. For the Jews being fathers of the apostles, his meaning is, that he will restore to the doctrines of their sons, that is, of the apostles, the hearts of the fathers, that is, the Jewish people’s mind.22252225 As to Elijah’s future coming, see St. Just. Mart. Dial. adv. Tryph. p. 268, ed. Paris, 1636: Tert. de Anim. 35; de Resur. Carnis, 22; Origen (more doubtfully) in St. Matt. tom. 13, iii. 572; in St. Joan. tom. 3, iv. 92. St. Jer. in St. Matt. xi, 15, (t. 7, 70. Vallars. 1771), but doubtingly; in loco, p. 132, more positively; St. Aug. in St. Joan. Tr. iv. 5, 6. de Civ. Dei, 20, 29: who speaks positively of his coming to convert the Jews, as being “a most common topic in the mouths and hearts of the faithful.”
“But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then they understood that He spake to them of John.”22262226 Matt. xvii. 12, 13.
And yet neither the Scribes said this, nor the Scriptures; but because now they were sharper and more attentive to His sayings, they quickly caught His meaning.
And whence did the disciples know this? He had already told them, “He is Elias, which was for to come;”22272227 Matt. xi. 14.but here, that he hath come; and again, that “Elias cometh and will restore all things.” But be not thou troubled, nor imagine that His statement wavers, though at one time He said, “he will come,” at another, “he hath come.” For all these things are true. Since when He saith, “Elias indeed cometh, and will restore all things,” He means Elias himself, and the conversion of the Jews which is then to take place; but when He saith, “Which was for to come,” He calls John, Elias, with regard to the manner of his administration. Yea, and so the prophets used to call every one of their approved kings, David;22282228 This refers apparently to such texts as Jer. xxx. 9; Ezek. xxxiv. 23, 24, xxxvii. 24; Hos. iii. 5.and the Jews, “rulers of Sodom,”22292229 Isa. i. 10.and “sons of Ethiopians;”22302230 Amos ix. 7.because of their ways. For as the other shall be forerunner of the second advent, so was this of the first.
2. And not for this only doth He call him Elias everywhere, but to signify His perfect agreement with the Old Testament, and that this advent too is according to prophecy.
Wherefore also He adds again, “He came, and they knew him not, but have done unto him all things whatsoever they listed.”22312231 Matt. xvii. 12. What means, “call things whatsoever they listed?” They cast him into prison, they used him despitefully, they slew him, they brought his head in a charger.
“Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them.” Seest thou how again He in due season reminds them of His passion, laying up for them great store of comfort from the passion of John. And not in this way only, but also by presently working great miracles. Yea, and whensoever He speaks of His passion, presently He works miracles, both after those sayings and before them; and in many places one may find Him to have kept this rule.
“Then,” for instance, it saith, “He began to signify how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and be killed, and suffer many things.”22322232 Matt. xvi. 21.“Then:” when? when He was confessed to be Christ, and the Son of God.
Again on the mountain, when He had shown them the marvellous vision, and the prophets had been discoursing of His glory, He reminded them of His passion. For having spoken of the history concerning John, He added, “Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them.”
And after a little while again, when He had cast out the devil, which His disciples were not able to cast out; for then too, “As they abode in Galilee,” so it saith, “Jesus said unto them, The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinful22332233 [“Sinful” (ἁμαρτωλν) is omitted in some mss. of the Homily. It does not occur in Matt. xvii. 22, but is taken from Luke xxiv. 7. Comp. Homily LVIII. at the beginning.—R.]men, and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall rise again.”22342234 Matt. xvii. 23.
Now in doing this, He by the greatness of the miracles was abating the excess of their sorrow, and in every way consoling them; even as here also, by the mention of John’s death, He afforded them much consolation.
But should any one say, “Wherefore did He not even now raise up Elias and send him, witnessing as He doth so great good of his coming?” we should reply, that even as it was, while thinking Christ to be Elias, they did not believe Him. For “some say,” such are the words, “that Thou art Elias, and others, Jeremias.”22352235 Matt. xvi. 14. And indeed between John and Elias, there was no difference but the time only. “Then how will they believe at that time?” it may be said. Why, “he will restore all things,” not simply by being recognized, but also because the glory of Christ will have been growing more intense up to that day, and will be among all clearer than the sun. When therefore, preceded by such an opinion and expectation, he comes making the same proclamation as John, and himself also announcing Jesus, they will more easily receive his sayings. But in saying, “They knew him not,” He is excusing also what was done in His own case.22362236 Comp. Luke xxiii. 24.
And not in this way only doth He console them, but also by pointing out that John’s sufferings at their hands, whatever they are, are undeserved; and by His throwing into the shade what would annoy them, by means of two signs, the one on the mountain, the other just about to take place.
But when they heard these things, they do not ask Him when Elias cometh; being straitened either by grief at His passion, or by fear. For on many occasions, upon seeing Him unwilling to speak a thing clearly, they are silent, and so an end. For instance, when during their abode in Galilee He said, “The Son of Man shall be betrayed, and they shall kill Him;”22372237 Matt. xvii. 22, 23.it is added by Mark, “That they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask Him;”22382238 Mark ix. 32.by Luke, “That it was hid from them, that they might not perceive it, and they feared to ask Him of that saying.”22392239 Luke ix. 45.
3. “And when they were come to the multitude, there came to Him a man, kneeling down to Him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic, and sore vexed;22402240 [R.V., “for he is epileptic, and suffereth grievously.”]for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him unto Thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”22412241 Matt. xvii. 14–16.
This man the Scripture signifies to be exceedingly weak in faith; and this is many ways evident; from Christ’s saying, “All things are possible to him that believeth;”22422242 Mark ix. 23.from the saying of the man himself that approached, “Help Thou mine unbelief:”22432243 Mark ix. 24.from Christ’s commanding the devil to “enter no more into him;”22442244 Mark ix. 25.and from the man’s saying again to Christ, “If Thou canst.”22452245 Mark ix. 22.“Yet if his unbelief was the cause,” it may be said, “that the devil went not out, why doth He blame the disciples?” Signifying, that even without persons to bring the sick in faith, they might in many instances work a cure. For as the faith of the person presenting oftentimes availed for receiving the cure, even from inferior ministers; so the power of the doers oftentimes sufficed, even without belief in those who came to work the miracle.
And both these things are signified in the Scripture. For both they of the company of Cornelius by their faith drew unto themselves the grace of the Spirit; and in the case of Eliseus22462246 2 Kings xiii. 21.again, when none had believed, a dead man rose again. For as to those that cast him down, not for faith but for cowardice did they cast him, unintentionally and by chance, for fear of the band of robbers, and so they fled: while the person himself that was cast in was dead, yet by the mere virtue of the holy body the dead man arose.
Whence it is clear in this case, that even the disciples were weak; but not all; for the pillars22472247 Gal. ii. 9.were not present there. And see this man’s want of consideration, from another circumstance again, how before the multitude he pleads to Jesus against His disciples, saying, “I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”
But He, acquitting them of the charges before the people, imputes the greater part to him. For, “O faithless and perverse generation,” these are His words, “how long shall I be with you?”22482248 Matt. xvii. 17.not aiming at his person only, lest He should confound the man, but also at all the Jews. For indeed many of those present might probably be offended, and have undue thoughts of them.
But when He said, “How long shall I be with you,” He indicates again death to be welcome to Him, and the thing an object of desire, and His departure longed for, and that not crucifixion, but being with them, is grievous.
He stopped not however at the accusations; but what saith He? “Bring him hither to me.”22492249 Mark ix. 21. And Himself moreover asks him, “how long time he is thus;” both making a plea for His disciples, and leading the other to a good hope, and that he might believe in his attaining deliverance from the evil.
And He suffers him to be torn, not for display (accordingly, when a crowd began to gather, He proceeded to rebuke him), but for the father’s own sake, that when he should see the evil spirit disturbed at Christ’s mere call, so at least, if in no other way, he might be led to believe the coming miracle.
And because he had said, “Of a child,” and, “If thou canst help me,” Christ saith, “To him that believeth, all things are possible,”22502250 Mark ix. 23.again giving the complaint a turn against him. And whereas when the leper said, “If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,”22512251 Matt. viii. 2.bearing witness to His authority Christ commending him, and confirming His words, said, “I will, be thou clean;” in this man’s case, upon his uttering a speech in no way worthy of His power,—“If Thou canst, help me,”—see how He corrects it, as not rightly spoken. For what saith He? “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”22522252 Mark ix. 23. [The word πιστεσαι is read here; The R.V. has a briefer reading. The entire passage in Mark shows many variations of text.—R.] What He saith is like this: “Such abundance of power is with me, that I can even make others work these miracles. So that if thou believe as one ought, even thou thyself art able,” saith He, “to heal both this one, and many others.” And having thus said, He set free the possessed of the devil.
But do thou not only from this observe His providence and His beneficence, but also from that other time, during which He allowed the devil to be in him. Since surely, unless the man had been favored with much providential care even then, he would have perished long ago; for “it cast him both into the fire,” so it is said, “and into the water.” And he that dared this would assuredly have destroyed the man too, unless even in so great madness God had put on him His strong curb: as indeed was the case with those naked men that were running in the deserts and cutting themselves with stones.
And if he call him “a lunatic,” trouble not thyself at all, for it is the father of the possessed who speaks the word. How then saith the evangelist also, “He healed many that were lunatic?”22532253 Matt. iv. 24. [σεληνιαζομνου; the same term occurs here, and is the basis of the comment.—R.] Denominating them according to the impression of the multitude. For the evil spirit, to bring a reproach upon nature,22542254 το στοιχεουπαραφερομνη.by wine? For the weaker the vessel, the more entire the shipwreck, whether she be free or a slave. For the free woman behaves herself unseemly in the midst of her slaves as spectators, and the slave again in like manner in the midst of the slaves, and they cause the gifts of God to be blasphemously spoken of by foolish men.
For instance, I hear many say, when these excesses happen, “Would there were no wine.” O folly! O madness! When other men sin, dost thou find fault with God’s gifts? And what great madness is this? What? did the wine, O man, produce this evil? Not the wine, but the intemperance of such as take an evil delight in it. Say then, “Would there were no drunkenness, no luxury;” but if thou say, “Would there were no wine,” thou wilt say, going on by degrees, “Would there were no steel, because of the murderers; no night, because of the thieves; no light, because of the informers; no women, because of adulteries;” and, in a word, thou wilt destroy all.
But do not so; for this is of a satanical mind; do not find fault with the wine, but with the drunkenness; and when thou hast found this self-same man sober, sketch out all his unseemliness, and say unto him, Wine was given, that we might be cheerful, not that we might behave ourselves unseemly; that we might laugh, not that we might be a laughingstock; that we might be healthful, not that we might be diseased; that we might correct the weakness of our body, not cast down the might of our soul.
God honored thee with the gift, why disgrace thyself with the excess thereof? Hear what Paul saith, “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities.”22552255 1 Tim. v. 23. But if that saint, even when oppressed with disease, and enduring successive sicknesses, partook not of wine, until his Teacher suffered him; what excuse shall we have, who are drunken in health? To him indeed He said, “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake;” but to each of you who are drunken, He will say, “Use little wine, for thy fornications, thy frequent filthy talking, for the other wicked desires to which drunkenness is wont to give birth.” But if ye are not willing, for these reasons, to abstain; at least on account of the despondencies which come of it, and the vexations, do ye abstain. For wine was given for gladness, “Yea, wine,” so it is said, “maketh glad the heart of man:”22562256 Ps. civ. 15.but ye mar even this excellence in it. For what kind of gladness is it to be beside one’s self, and to have innumerable vexations, and to see all things whirling round, and to be oppressed with giddiness, and like those that have a fever, to require some who may drench their heads with oil?22572257 Lightfoot, Harmony, A.D., 43. t. i. p. 333, seems to show from Talmudic writers, that anointing was regularly used among the Jews, either as a remedy or as a charm, in complaints of the head especially; and he uses the fact to explain St. James v. 15.
6. These things are not said by me to all: or rather they are said to all, not because all are drunken, God forbid; but because they who do not drink take no thought of the drunken. Therefore even against you do I rather inveigh, that are in health; since the physician too leaves the sick, and addresses his discourse to them that are sitting by them. To you therefore do I direct my speech, entreating you neither to be at any time over-taken by this passion, and to draw up22582258 ἀνιμθαι.as by cords those who have been so overtaken, that they be not found worse than the brutes. For they indeed seek nothing more than what is needful, but these have become even more brutish than they, overpassing the boundaries of moderation. For how much better is the ass than these men? how much better the dog! For indeed each of these animals, and of all others, whether it need to eat, or to drink, acknowledges sufficiency for a limit, and goes not on beyond what it needs; and though there are innumerable persons to constrain, it will not endure to go on to excess.
In this respect then we are worse even than the brutes, by the judgment not of them that are in health only, but even by our own. For that ye have judged yourselves to be baser than both dogs and asses,22592259 [The Oxford edition reads “apes,” obviously a typographical error. The Greek word is ὄνωντν γνσιν.revealed to Peter, He doth hereby again confirm. And neither at this did He stop, but by His very condescension declares this self-same truth; an instance of exceeding wisdom.
For after thus speaking, He saith, “But lest we should offend them, go thou and cast an hook into the sea, and take up the fish that first cometh up, and thou shalt find therein a piece of money;22602260 Literally, a stater, = 4 drachmas. [R.V., “shekel, Greek, stater.”]that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”22612261 Matt. xvii. 27. [Slightly abridged.]
See how He neither declines the tribute, nor simply commands to pay it, but having first proved Himself not liable to it, then He gives it: the one to save the people, the other, those around Him, from offense. For He gives it not at all as a debt, but as doing the best22622262 διορθνμενο .for their weakness. Elsewhere, however, He despises the offense, when He was discoursing of meats,22632263 Matt. xv. 11.teaching us to know at what seasons we ought to consider them that are offended, and at what to disregard them.
And indeed by the very mode of giving He discloses Himself again. For wherefore doth He not command him to give of what they have laid up? That, as I have said, herein also He might signify Himself to be God of all, and the sea also to be under His rule. For He had indeed signified this even already, by His rebuke, and by His commanding this same Peter to walk on the waves; but He now again signifies the self-same thing, though in another way, yet so as to cause herein great amazement. For neither was it a small thing, to foretell that the first, who out of those depths should come in his way, would be the fish that would pay the tribute; and having cast forth His commandment like a net into that abyss, to bring up the one that bore the piece of money; but it was of a divine and unutterable power, thus to make even the sea bear gifts, and that its subjection to Him should be shown on all hands, as well when in its madness it was silent,22642264 Matt. viii. 26.and when, though fierce, it received its fellow servant;22652265 Matt. xiv. 29.as now again, when it makes payment in His behalf to them that are demanding it.
“And give unto them,” He saith, “for me and thee.” Seest thou the exceeding greatness of the honor? See also the self-command of Peter’s mind. For this point Mark, the follower of this apostle, doth not appear to have set down, because it indicated the great honor paid to him; but while of the denial he wrote as well as the rest, the things that make him illustrious he hath passed over in silence, his master perhaps entreating him not to mention the great things about himself. And He used the phrase, “for me and thee,” because Peter too was a firstborn child.
Now as thou art amazed at Christ’s power, so I bid thee admire also the disciple’s faith, that to a thing beyond possibility he so gave ear. For indeed it was very far beyond possibility by nature. Wherefore also in requital for his faith, He joined him to Himself in the payment of the tribute.
3. “In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”22662266 Matt. xviii. 1. [R.V., “Who then is greatest (Greek, greater).” Compare the comment.—R.]
The disciples experienced some feeling of human weakness; wherefore the evangelist also adds this note, saying, “In that hour;” when He had preferred him to all. For of James too, and John, one was a firstborn son, but no such thing as this had He done for them.
Then, being ashamed to avow their feeling, they say not indeed openly, “Wherefore hast thou preferred Peter to us?” or, “Is he greater than we are?” for they were ashamed; but indefinitely they ask, “Who then is greater?” For when they saw the three preferred, they felt nothing of the kind; but now that the honor had come round to one, they were vexed. And not for this only, but there were many other things which they put together to kindle that feeling. For to him He had said, “I will give thee the keys;”22672267 Matt. xvi. 19.to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona;” to him here, “Give unto them for me and thee;” and seeing too in general how freely he was allowed to speak, it somewhat fretted them.
And if Mark saith,22682268 Mark ix. 34.that they did not ask, but reasoned in themselves, that is nothing contrary to this. For it is likely that they did both the one and the other, and whereas before, on another occasion, they had had this feeling, both once and twice, that now they did both declare it, and reason among themselves.
But to thee I say, “Look not to the charge against them only, but consider this too; first, that they seek none of the things of this world; next, that even this passion they afterwards laid aside, and give up the first place one to another.” But we are not able to attain so much as unto their faults, neither do we seek, “who is greatest22692269 [μεζων “greater.”]in the kingdom of heaven;” but, who is greatest22702270 [R.V., “Except ye turn, and become as little children,” but Chrysostom substitutes “this little child.”—R.]in the earthly kingdom, who is wealthiest, who most powerful.
What then saith Christ? He unveils their conscience, and replies to their feeling, not merely to their words. “For He called a little child unto Him,” saith the Scripture, “and said, Except ye be converted, and become as this little child, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”22712271 Matt. xviii. 2, 3.“Why, you,” He saith, “inquire who is greatest, and are contentious for first honors; but I pronounce him, that is not become lowest of all, unworthy so much as to enter in thither.”
And full well doth He both allege that pattern, and not allege it only, but also set the child in the midst, by the very sight abashing them, and persuading them to be in like manner lowly and artless. Since both from envy the little child is pure, and from vainglory, and from longing for the first place; and he is possessed of the greatest of virtues, simplicity, and whatever is artless and lowly.
Not courage then only is wanted, nor wisdom, but this virtue also, humility I mean, and simplicity. Yea, and the things that belong to our salvation halt even in the chiefest point, if these be not with us.
The little child, whether it be insulted and beaten, or honored and glorified, neither by the one is it moved to impatience or envy, nor by the other lifted up.
Seest thou how again He calls us on to all natural excellencies, indicating that of free choice it is possible to attain them, and so silences the wicked frenzy of the Manichæans? For if nature be an evil thing, wherefore doth He draw from hence His patterns of severe goodness?
And the child which He set in the midst I suppose to have been a very young child indeed, free from all these passions. For such a little child is free from pride and the mad desire of glory, and envy, and contentiousness, and all such passions, and having many virtues, simplicity, humility, unworldliness,22722272 ἀπραγμοσνην .prides itself upon none of them; which is a twofold severity of goodness; to have these things, and not to be puffed up about them.
Wherefore He brought it in, and set it in the midst; and not at this merely did He conclude His discourse, but carries further this admonition, saying, “And whoso shall receive such a little child in my name, receiveth me.”22732273 Matt. xviii. 5. [“one such little child,” rec. text; so R.V.]
“For know,” saith He, “that not only, if ye yourselves become like this, shall ye receive a great reward; but also if for my sake ye honor others who are such, even for your honor to them do I appoint unto you a kingdom as your recompence.” Or rather, He sets down what is far greater, saying, “he receiveth me. So exceedingly dear to me is all that is lowly and artless.” For by “a little child,” here, He means the men that are thus simple and lowly, and abject and contemptible in the judgment of the common sort.
4. After this, to obtain yet more acceptance for His saying, He establishes it not by the honor only, but also by the punishment, going on to say, “And whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”22742274 Matt. xviii. 6. [R.V., “but whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe in me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone (Greek, a millstone turned by an ass) should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” The Greek text of Chrysostom agrees very closely with the received, but omits “which believe in me.”—R.]
“For as they,” saith He, “who honor these for my sake, have heaven, or rather an honor greater than the very kingdom; even so they likewise who dishonor them (for this is to offend them), shall suffer the extremity of punishment. And marvel thou not at His calling the affront “an offense;”22752275 [σκνδαλον, “stumbling block.”]for many feeble-minded persons have suffered no ordinary offense from being treated with slight and insult. To heighten therefore and aggravate the blame, He states the mischief arising therefrom.
And He doth not go on to express the punishment in the same way, but from the things familiar to us, He indicates how intolerable it is. For when He would touch the grosser sort most sharply, He brings sensible images. Wherefore here also, meaning to indicate the greatness of the punishment they shall undergo, and to strike into the arrogance of those that despise them, He brought forward a kind of sensible punishment, that of the millstone, and of the drowning. Yet surely it were suitable to what had gone before to have said, “He that receiveth not one of these little ones, receiveth not me;” a thing bitterer than any punishment; but since the very unfeeling, and exceeding gross, were not so much penetrated by this, terrible as it is, He puts “a millstone,” and “a drowning.” And He said not, “A millstone shall be hanged about his neck,” but, “It were better for him”22762276 [συμφερε ατ, “it is profitable for him.”]to undergo this; implying that another evil, more grievous than this, awaits him; and if this be unbearable, much more that.
Seest thou how in both respects He made His threat terrible, first by the comparison with the known image rendering it more distinct, then by the excess on its side presenting it to the fancy as far greater than that visible one. Seest thou how He plucks up by the root the spirit of arrogance; how He heals the ulcer of vainglory; how He instructs us in nothing to set our heart on the first honors; how He persuades such as covet them in everything to follow after the lowest place?
5. For nothing is worse than arrogance.22772277 ἀπονοα. This even takes men out of their natural senses, and brings upon them the character of fools; or rather, it really makes them to be utterly like idiots.
For like as, if any one, being three cubits in stature, were to strive to be higher than the mountains, or actually to think it, and draw himself up, as overpassing their summits, we should seek no other proof of his being out of his senses; so also when thou seest a man arrogant, and thinking himself superior to all, and accounting it a degradation to live with other people, seek not thou after that to see any other proof of that man’s madness. Why, he is much more ridiculous than any natural fool, inasmuch as he absolutely creates this his disease on purpose. And not in this only is he wretched, but because he doth without feeling it fall into the very gulf of wickedness.
For when will such an one come to due knowledge of any sin? when will he perceive that he is offending? Nay, rather he is as a vile and captive slave, whom the devil having caught goes off with, and makes him altogether a prey, buffetting him on every side, and encompassing him with ten thousand insults.
For unto such great folly doth he lead them in the end, as to get them to be haughty towards their children, and wives, and towards their own forefathers. And others, on the contrary, He causes to be puffed up by the distinction of their ancestors. Now, what can be more foolish than this? when from opposite causes people are alike puffed up, the one sort because they had mean persons for fathers, grandfathers, and ancestors; and the other because theirs were glorious and distinguished? How then may one abate in each case the swelling sore? By saying to these last, “Go farther back than your grandfather, and immediate ancestors, and you will find perchance many cooks, and drivers of asses, and shopkeepers:” but to the former, that are puffed up by the meanness of their forefathers, the contrary again; “And thou again, if thou proceed farther up among thy forefathers, wilt find many far more illustrious than thou art.”
For that nature hath this course, come let me prove it to thee even from the Scriptures. Solomon was son of a king, and of an illustrious king, but that king’s father was one of the vile and ignoble. And his grandfather on his mother’s side in like manner; for else he would not have given his daughter to a mere soldier. And if thou wert to go up again higher from these mean persons, thou wilt see the race more illustrious and royal. So in Saul’s case too, so in many others also, one shall come to this result. Let us not then pride ourselves herein. For what is birth? tell me. Nothing, but a name only without a substance; and this ye will know in that day. But because that day is not yet come, let us now even from the things present persuade you, that hence arises no superiority. For should war overtake us, should famine, should anything else, all these inflated conceits of noble birth are put to the proof: should disease, should pestilence come upon us, it knows not how to distinguish between the rich and the poor, the glorious and inglorious, the high born and him that is not such; neither doth death, nor the other reverses of fortune, but they all rise up alike against all; and if I may say something that is even marvellous, against the rich more of the two. For by how much they are less exercised in these things, so much the more do they perish, when overtaken by them. And the fear too is greater with the rich. For none so tremble at princes as they; and at multitudes, not less than at princes, yea rather much more; many such houses in fact have been subverted alike by the wrath of multitudes and the threatening of princes. But the poor man is exempt from both these kinds of troubled waters.
6. Wherefore let alone this nobility, and if thou wouldest show me that thou art noble, show the freedom of thy soul, such as that blessed man had (and he a poor man), who said to Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother Philip’s wife;”22782278 Mark vi. 18.such as he was possessed of, who before him was like him, and after him shall be so again; who said to Ahab, “I do not trouble Israel, but thou, and thy father’s house;”22792279 1 Kings xviii. 18.such as the prophets had, such as all the apostles.
But not like this are the souls of them that are slaves to wealth, but as they that are under ten thousand tutors, and taskmasters, so these dare not so much as lift up their eye, and speak boldly in behalf of virtue. For the love of riches, and that of glory, and that of other things, looking terribly on them, make them slavish flatterers; there being nothing which so takes away liberty, as entanglement in worldly affairs, and the wearing what are accounted marks of distinction. For such an one hath not one master, nor two, nor three, but ten thousand.
And if ye would fain even number them, let us bring in some one of those that are in honor in kings’ courts, and let him have both very much wealth, and great power, and a birthplace excelling others, and distinction of ancestry, and let him be looked up to by all men. Now then let us see, if this be not the very person to be more in slavery than all; and let us set in comparison with him, not a slave merely, but a slave’s slave, for many though servants have slaves. This slave’s slave then for his part hath but one master. And what though that one be not a freeman? yet he is but one, and the other looks only to his pleasure. For albeit his master’s master seem to have power over him, yet for the present he obeys one only; and if matters between them two are well, he will abide in security all his life. But our man hath not one or two only, but many, and more grievous masters. And first he is in care about the sovereign himself. And it is not the same to have a mean person for a master, as to have a king, whose ears are buzzed into by many, and who becomes a property now to this set and now to that.
Our man, though conscious of nothing, suspects all; both his comrades and his subordinates; both his friends and his enemies.
But the other man too, you may say, fears his master. But how is it the same thing, to have one or many, to make one timorous? Or rather, if a man inquire carefully, he will not find so much as one. How, and in what sense? Whereas that slave hath no one that desires to put him out of that service of his, and to introduce himself (whence neither hath he any one to plot against him therein); these have not even any other pursuit, but to unsettle him that is more approved and more beloved by their ruler. Wherefore also he must needs flatter all, his superiors, his equals, his friends. For where envy is, and love of glory, there even sincere friendship has no strength. For as those of the same craft cannot love one another with a perfect and genuine love, so is it with rivals in honor also, and with them that long for the same among worldly objects. Whence also great is the war within.
Seest thou what a swarm of masters, and of hard masters? Wilt thou that I show thee yet another, more grievous than this? They that are behind him, all of them strive to get before him: all that are before him, to hinder him from coming nearer them, and passing them by.
7. But O marvel! I undertook indeed to show you masters, but our discourse, we find, coming on and waxing eager, hath performed more than my undertaking, pointing out foes instead of masters; or rather the same persons both as foes and as masters. For while they are courted like masters, they are terrible as foes, and they plot against us as enemies. When then any one hath the same persons both as masters, and as enemies, what can be worse than this calamity? The slave indeed, though he be subject to command, yet nevertheless hath the advantage of care and good-will on the part of them who give him orders; but these, while they receive commands, are made enemies, and are set one against another; and that so much more grievously than those in battles, in that they both wound secretly, and in the mask of friends they treat men as their enemies would do, and oftentimes make themselves credit of the calamity of others.
But not such are our circumstances; rather should another fare ill, there are many to grieve with him: should he obtain distinction, many to find pleasure with him. Not so again the apostle: “For whether,” saith he, “one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”22802280 1 Cor. xii. 26. And the words of him who gives these admonitions, are at one time, “What is my hope or joy? are not even ye?”22812281 1 Thes. ii. 19.at another, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord;”22822282 1 Thes. iii. 8.at another, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you;”22832283 2 Cor. ii. 4.and, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?”22842284 2 Cor. xi. 29.
Wherefore then do we still endure the tempest and the billows of the world without, and not run to this calm haven, and leaving the names of good things, go on to the very things themselves? For glory, and dignity, and wealth, and credit, and all such things, are names with them, but with us realities; just as the grievous things, death and dishonor and poverty, and whatever else is like them, are names indeed with us, but realities with them.
And, if thou wilt, let us first bring forward glory, so lovely and desirable with all of them. And I speak not of its being short-lived, and soon put out, but when it is in its bloom, then show it me. Take not away the daubings and colored lines of the harlot, but bring her forward decked out, and exhibit her to us, for me thereupon to expose her deformity. Well then, of course thou wilt tell of her array, and her many lictors, and the heralds’ voice, and the listening of all classes, and the silence kept by the populace, and the blows given to all that come in one’s way, and the universal gazing. Are not these her splendors? Come then, let us examine whether these things be not vain, and a mere unprofitable imagination. For wherein is the person we speak of the better for these things, either in body, or in soul? for this constitutes the man. Will he then be taller hereby, or stronger, or healthier, or swifter, or will he have his senses keener, and more piercing? Nay, no one could say this. Let us go then to the soul, if haply we may find there any advantage occurring herefrom. What then? Will such a one be more temperate, more gentle, more prudent, through that kind of attendance? By no means, but rather quite the contrary. For not as in the body, so also is the result here. For there the body indeed gains nothing in respect of its proper excellence; but here the mischief is not only the soul’s reaping no good fruit, but also its actually receiving much evil therefrom: hurried as it is by such means into haughtiness, and vainglory, and folly, and wrath, and ten thousand faults like them.
“But he rejoices,” thou wilt say, “and exults in these things, and they brighten him up.” The crowning point22852285 κολοφνα.of his evils lies in that word of thine, and the incurable part of the disease. For he that rejoices in these things, would be unwilling however easily to be released from that which is the ground of his evils; yea, he hath blocked up against himself the way of healing by this delight. So that here most of all is the mischief, that he is not even pained, but rather rejoices, when the diseases are growing upon him.
For neither is rejoicing always a good thing; since even thieves rejoice in stealing, and an adulterer in defiling his neighbor’s marriage bed, and the covetous in spoiling by violence, and the manslayer in murdering. Let us not then look whether he rejoice, but whether it be for something profitable, lest22862286 [The Greek text has διασκεψμεθα, which the translator has ignored: “Let us consider well, lest,” etc.—R.]perchance we find his joy to be such as that of the adulterer and the thief.
For wherefore, tell me, doth he rejoice? For his credit with the multitude, because he can puff himself up, and be gazed upon? Nay, what can be worse than this desire, and this ill-placed fondness? or if it be no bad thing, ye must leave off deriding the vainglorious and aspersing them with continual mockeries: ye must leave off uttering imprecations on the haughty and contemptuous. But ye would not endure it. Well then, they too deserve plenty of censure, though they have plenty of lictors. And all this I have said of the more tolerable sort of rulers; since the greater part of them we shall find transgressing more grievously than either robbers, or murderers, or adulterers, or spoilers of tombs, from not making a good use of their power. For indeed both their thefts are more shameless, and their butcheries more hardened, and their impurities far more enormous than the others; and they dig through, not one wall, but estates and houses without end, their prerogative making it very easy to them.
And they serve a most grievous servitude, both stooping basely under their passions,22872287 [Some mss. insert here: κα το συνδολου τπτοντε φειδ, “and beating the fellow servants unsparingly.” But it is put in brackets by Field.—R.]and trembling at all their accomplices. For he only is free, and he only a ruler, and more kingly than all kings, who is delivered from his passions.
Knowing then these things, let us follow after the true freedom, and deliver ourselves from the evil slavery, and let us account neither pomp of power nor dominion of wealth, nor any other such thing, to be blessed; but virtue only. For thus shall we both enjoy security here, and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
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