Saint John Chrysostom : HOMILY VIII. ROM. IV. 1, 2.

"What shall we then say that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the
flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath
whereof to glory; but not before God."

HE had said (5 Mss. eipen), that the world had become guilty before
God, and that all had sinned, and that boasting was excluded and
that it was impossible to be saved otherwise than by faith. He is now
intent upon showing that this salvation, so far from being matter of
shame, was even the cause of a bright glory, and a greater than that
through works. For since the being saved, yet with shame, had
somewhat of dejection in it, he next takes away this suspicion too.
And indeed he has hinted at the same already, by calling it not barely
salvation, but "righteousness. Therein" (he says) "is the
righteousness of God revealed." (Rom. i. 17.) For he that is saved as
a righteous man has a confidence accompanying his salvation. And
he calls it not "righteousness" only, but also the setting forth of the
righteousness of God. But God is set forth in things which are
glorious and shining, and great. However, he nevertheless draws
support for this from what he is at present upon, and carries his
discourse forward by the method of question.
And this he is always
in the habit of doing both for clearness sake, and for the sake of
confidence in what is said. Above, for instance, he did it, where he
says, "What advantage then hath the Jew?" (ib. iii. 1.) and, "What
then have we more than they?" (ib. 9) and again, "where then is
boasting? it is excluded" (Rom. iii. 27): and here, "what then shall we
say that Abraham our father?" etc. Now since the Jews kept turning
over and over the fact, that the Patriarch, and friend of God, was the
first to receive circumcision, he wishes to show, that it was by faith
that he too was justified. And this was quite a vantage ground to
insist upon (periousia nikhs pollhs). For for a person who had no
works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person
richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but
from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of
faith in a strong light. And this is why he passes by all the others,
and leads his discourse back to this man. And he calls him "father,
as pertaining to the flesh," to throw them out of the genuine
relationship (suggeuias guhsias) to him, and to pave the Gentiles'
way to kinsmanship with him. And then he says, "For if Abraham
were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory: but not before
God." After saying that God "justified the circumcision by faith and
the uncircumcision through faith," and making the same sufficiently
sure in what he said before, he now proves it by Abraham more
clearly than he promised, and pitches the battle for faith against
works, and makes this righteous man the subject of the whole
struggle; and that not without special meaning. Wherefore also he
sets him up very high by calling him "forefather," and putting a
constraint upon them to comply with him in all points. For, Tell me
not, he would say, about the Jews, nor bring this man or that before
For I will go up to the very head of all, and the source whence
circumcision took its rise. For "if Abraham," he says, "was justified
by works, he hath whereof to glory: but not before God." What is
here said is not plain, and so one must make it plainer. For there are
two "gloryings," one of works, and one of faith. After saying then, "if
he was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before
God;" he points out that he might have whereof to glory from faith
also, yea and much greater reason for it. For the great power of Paul
is especially displayed in this, that he turns what is objected to the
other side, and shows that what seemed rather to be on the side of
salvation by works, viz. glorying or boldness of claim (parrhsiazesqai)
(parrhsiazes-qai) belonged much more truly to that by faith. For
he that glorieth in his works has his own labors to put forward: but
he that finds his honor in having faith in God, has a much greater
ground for glorying to show, in that it is God that he glorifieth and
magnifieth. For those things which the nature of the visible world
tells him not of, in receiving these by faith in Him, he at once
displays sincere love towards Him, and heralds His power clearly
forth. Now this is the character of the noblest soul, and the
philosophic spirit, and lofty mind. For to abstain from stealing and
murdering is trifling sort of acquirement, but to believe that it is
possible for God to do things impossible requires a soul of no mean
stature, and earnestly affected towards Him; for this is a sign of
sincere love. For he indeed honors God, who fulfils the
commandments, but he doth so in a much greater degree who thus
followeth wisdom (filosofpn) by his faith. The former obeys Him, but
the latter receives that opinion of Him which is fitting, and glorifies
Him, and feels wonder at Him more than that evinced by works. For
that glorying pertains to him that does aright, but this glorifieth God,
and lieth wholly in Him. For he glorieth at conceiving great things
concerning Him, which redound to His glory. And this is why he
speaks of having whereof to glory before God. And not for this only,
but also for another reason: for he who is a believer glorieth again,
not only because he loveth God in sincerity, but also because he
hath enjoyed great honor and love from him. For as be shows his
love to Him by having great thoughts about Him, (for this is a proof
of love), so doth God also love him, though deserving to suffer for
countless sins, not in freeing him from punishment only, but even by
making him righteous. He then hath whereof to glory, as having been
counted worthy of mighty love.
Ver. 4. "For to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace,
but of debt."
Then is not this last the greatest? he means. By no means: for it is to
the believer that it is reckoned. But it would not have been reckoned,
unless there were something that he contributed himself. And so he
too hath God for his debtor, and debtor too for no common things,
but great and high ones. For to show his high-mindedness and
spiritual understanding, he does not say "to him that believeth"
merely, but Ver. 5. "To him that believeth on Him that justifieth the
For reflect how great a thing it is to be persuaded and have full
confidence that God is able on a sudden not to free a man who has
lived in impiety from punishment only, but even to make him just,
and to count him worthy of those immortal honors. Do not then
suppose that this one is lowered in that it is not reckoned unto the
former of grace. For this is the very thing that makes the believer
glorious; the fact of his enjoying so great grace, of his displaying so
great faith. And note too that the recompense is greater. For to the
former a reward is given, to the latter righteousness. Now
righteousness is much greater than a reward. For righteousness is a
recompense which most fully comprehends several rewards.
Therefore after proving this from Abraham, he introduces David also
as giving his suffrage in favor of the statement made. What then doth
David say? and whom doth he pronounce blessed? is it him that
triumphs in works, or him that hath enjoyed grace? him that hath
obtained pardon and a gift? And when I speak of blessedness, I
mean the chiefest of all good things; for as righteousness is greater
than a reward, so is blessedness greater than righteousness. Having
then shown that the righteousness is better, not owing to Abraham's
having received it only but also from reasonings (for he hath whereof
to boast, he says, before God); he again uses another mode of
showing that it is more dignified, by bringing David in to give his
suffrage this way. For he also, he says, pronounces him blessed who
is so made righteous, saying, Ver. 7. "Blessed are they whose
iniquities are forgiven."
And he seems to be bringing a testimony beside his purpose. For it
does not say, Blessed are they whose faith is reckoned for
righteousness. But he does so on purpose, not through
inadvertency, to show the greater superiority. For if he be blessed
that by grace received forgiveness, much more is he that is made
just, and that exhibits faith. For where blessedness is, there all
shame is removed, and there is much glory, since blessedness is a
greater degree both of reward and of glory. And for this cause what
is the advantage of the other he states as unwritten, "Now to him that
worketh is the reward reckoned not of grace;" but what the
advantage of the faithful is, he brings Scriptural testimony to prove,
saying, As David saith, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are
forgiven, and whose sins are covered." What, he means, is it that you
say? Is it that "it is not of debt but of grace that he receives
forgiveness?" But see it is this person who is pronounced blessed.
For he would not have pronounced him so, unless he saw him in the
enjoyment of great glory. And he does not say this "forgiveness"
then comes upon the circumcision; but what saith he?
Ver. 9. "Cometh this blessedness then" (which is the greater thing)
"upon the cirCumcision or upon the uncircumcision?"
For now the subject of enquiry is, With whom is this good and great
thing to be found; is it with the circumcision or with the
uncircumcision? And notice its superiority! For he shows that it is
so far from shunning the uncircumcision, that it even dwelt gladly
with it before the circumcision. For since he that pronounced it
blessed was David, who was himself also in a state of circumcision,
and he was speaking to those in that state, see how eagerly Paul
contends for applying what he said to the uncircumcised. For after
joining the ascription of blessedness to righteousness, and showing
that they are one and the same thing, he enquires how Abraham
came to be righteous. For if the ascription of blessedness belong to
the righteous, and Abraham was made righteous, let us see how he
was made righteous, as uncircumcised or circumcised?
Uncircumcised, he says.
"For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness."
After mentioning the Scripture above (for he said, "What saith the
Scripture? Abraham believed in God, and it was counted unto him
for righteousness,") here he goes on to secure also the judgment of
the speakers, and shows that justification took place in the
uncircumcision. Then from these grounds he solves another
objection which is starting up. For if when in uncircumcision, one
might say he was justified, to what purpose was the circumcision
brought in?
Ver. 11. "He received it," he says, "a sign and seal of the
righteousness that was by the faith, which he had being yet
See you how he shows the Jews to be as it were of the class of
parasites (i.e. guests), rather than those in uncircumcision, and that
these were added to the others? For if he was justified and crowned
while in uncircumcision, the Jews came in afterwards, Abraham is
then the father first of the uncircumcised, which through faith
appertain to him, and then of those in the circumcision. For he is a
forefather of two lines. See you faith lightening up? for till it came
the patriarch was not justified. See you the uncircumcision offering
no hindrance? for he was uncircumcised, yet was not hindered from
being justified. The circumcision therefore is behind the faith. And
why wonder that it is behind the faith, when it is even behind the
uncircumcision. Nor is it behind faith only, but very far inferior to it,
even so far as the sign is to the reality of which it is the sign; for
instance, as the seal is to the soldier. (See Hom. iii. on 2 Cor. at the
end.) And why, he says, did he want a seal then? He did not want it
himself. For what purpose then did he receive it? With a view to his
being the father alike of them that believe in uncircumcision and in
circumcision. But not of those in circumcision absolutely: wherefore
he goes on to say, "To them who are not of the circumcision only?
For if to the uncircumcised, it is not in that he is uncircumcised that
he is their father, although justified in uncircumcision; but in that
they imitated his faith; much less is it owing to circumcision that he
is the forefather of those in the state of circumcision, unless faith
also be added. For he says that the reason of his receiving
circumcision was that either of us two parties might have him for a
forefather, and that those in the uncircumcision might not thrust
aside those in the circumcision. See how the former had him for their
forefather first. Now if the circumcision be of dignity owing to its
preaching righteousness, the uncircumcision even hath no small
preeminence in having received it before the circumcision. Then wilt
thou be able to have him as a forefather when thou walkest in the
steps of that faith, and art not contentious, nor a causer of division
in bringing in the Law. What faith? tell me.
Ver. 12. "Which he had being yet uncircumcised."
Here again he lays low the lofty spirit of the Jews by reminding them
of the time of the justification. And he well says, "the steps," that you
as well as Abraham may believe in the resurrection of bodies that are
dead. For he also displayed his faith upon this point. And so if you
reject the uncircumcision, be informed for certain that the
circumcision is of no more use unto you. For if you follow not in the
steps of his faith, though you were ten thousand times in a state of
circumcision, you will not be Abraham's offspring. For even he
received the circumcision for this end, that the man in a state of
uncircumcision might not cast thee off. Do not then demand this of
him too." For it was you whom the thing was to be an assistance to,
not he. But he calls it a sign of the righteousness. And this also was
for thy sake, since now it is not even this: for thou then wert in need
of bodily signs, but now there is no need of them. "And was it not
possible," one might say, "from his faith to learn the goodness of his
soul?" Yes, it was possible but thou stoodest in need of this addition
also. For since thou didst not imitate the goodness of his soul, and
weft not able to see it, a sensible circumcision was given thee, that,
after having become accustomed to this of the body, thou mightest
by little and little be led on to the true love of wisdom in the soul
also, and that having with much seriousness received it as a very
great privilege, thou mightest be instructed to imitate and revere
thine ancestor. This object then had God not only in the
circumcision, but in all the other rites. the sacrifices, I mean, and the
sabbath, and feasts. Now that it was for thy sake that he received the
circumcision, learn from the sequel. For after saying that he received
a sign and a seal, he gives the reason also as follows. That he might
be the father of the circumcision--to those who received the spiritual
circumcision also, since if you have only this (i.e. the carnal), no
farther good will come to you. For this is then a sign, when the
reality of which it is the sign is found with thee, that is, faith; since if
thou have not this, the sign to thee has no longer the power of a
sign, for what is it to be the sign of? or what the seal of, when there
is nothing to be sealed? much as if you were to show one a purse
with a seal to it, when there was nothing laid up within. And so the
circumcision is ridiculous if there be no faith within. For if it be a
sign of righteousness, but you have not righteousness, then you
have no sign either. For the reason of your receiving a sign was that
you might seek diligently for that reality whereof you have the sign:
so that if you had been sure of diligently seeking thereafter without
it, then you had not needed it. But this is not the only thing that
circumcision proclaims, namely righteousness, but righteousness in
even an uncircumcised man. Circumcision then does but proclaim,
that there is no need of circumcision.
Vet. 14. "For if they which are of the Law be heirs, faith is made void,
and the promise made of none effect."
He had shown that faith is necessary, that it is older than
circumcision, that it is more mighty than the Law, that it establisheth
the Law. For if all sinned, it was necessary: if one being
uncircumcised was justified, it is older: if the knowledge of sin is by
the Law and yet it was without the Law made evident, it is more
mighty: if it has testimony borne to it by the Law, and establisheth
the Law, it is not opposed to it, but friendly and allied to it. Again, be
shows upon other grounds too that it was not even possible by the
Law to attain to the inheritance, and after having matched it with the
circumcision, and gained it the victory, he brings it besides into
contrast with the Law in these words, "For if they which are of the
Law be heirs, faith is made void." To prevent them anyone from
saying that one may have faith and also keep up the Law, he shows
this to be impracticable. For he that clings to the Law, as if of saving
force, does disparagement to faith's power; and so he says, "faith is
made void," that is, there is no need of salvation by grace. For then it
cannot show forth its own proper power; "and the promise is made
of none effect." This is because the Jew might say, What need have I
of faith? If then this held, the things that were promised, would be
taken away along with faith. See how in all points he combats with
them from the early times and from the Patriarch. For having shown
from thence that righteousness and faith went together in the
inheritance, he now shows that the promise did likewise. For to
prevent the Jew from saying, What matters it to me if Abraham was
justified by faith? Paul says, neither can what you are interested
with, the promise of the inheritance, come into effect apart from it:
which was what scared them most. But what promise is he speaking
of? That of his being "the heir of the world," and that in him all
should be blessed. And how does he say that this promise is made
of none effect?
Ver. 15. "Because the Law worketh wrath: for where no Law is, there
is no transgression."
Now if it worketh wrath, and renders them liable for transgression, it
is plain that it makes them so to a Curse also. But they that are liable
under a curse, and punishments, and transgression, are not worthy
of inheriting, but of being punished and rejected. What then
happens? faith comes, drawing on it the grace, so that the promise
comes into effect. For where grace is, there is a remitting, and where
remitting is, there is no punishment. Punishment then being
removed, and righteousness succeeding from faith, there is no
obstacle to our becoming heirs of the promise.
Vet. 16. "Therefore it is of faith," he says, "that it might be by grace;
to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed."
You see that it is not the Law only that faith establisheth, but the
promise of God also that it will not allow to fall to the ground. But the
Law, on the other hand, by being kept to unseasonably, makes even
the faith of none effect, and hindereth the promise. By this he shows
that faith, so far from being superfluous, is even necessary to that
degree, that without it there is no being saved. For the Law worketh
wrath, as all have transgressed it. But this doth not even suffer wrath
to arise at all: for "where no Law is," he says, "there is no
transgression." Do you see how he not only does away with sin after
it has existed, but does not even allow it to be produced? And this is
why he says "by grace." For what end? Not with a view to their being
put to shame, but to the end that the promise might be sure to all the
seed. Here he lays down two blessings, both that the things given
are sure, and also that they are to all the seed, so gathering in those
of (he Gentiles, and showing that the Jews are without, if they
contend against the faith. For this is a surer thing than that. For faith
doeth thee no hurt (be not contentious), but even now thou art in
danger from the Law, it preserves thee. Next having said, "to all the
seed," he defines what seed he meaneth. That which is of faith, he
says, so blending with it their relationship to the Gentiles, and
showing that they must not be proud of Abraham who do not believe
as he did. And see a third thing which faith effected besides. It
makes the relationship to that righteous man more definite (akri
beste-ran), and holds him up as the ancestor of a more numerous
issue. And this is why he does not say merely Abraham, but "our
father," ours who believe. Then he also seals what he has said by the
testimony- Ver. 17. "As it is written," he says, "I have made thee a
father of many nations."
Do you observe that this was ordered by Providence from of old?
What then, he means, does He say this on account of the
Ishmaelites, or of the Amalekites, or of the Hagarenes? This
however, as he goes on he proves more distinctly not to be said of
these. But as yet he presses forward to another point, by which
means he proves this very thing by defining the mode of the
relationship, and establishing it with a vast reach of mind. What then
does he say?
"Before (or, answering to, katenan
But his meaning is something of this sort, as God is not the God of a
part, but the Father of all, so is he also. And again, as God is a father
not by way of the relationship of nature, but by way of the affiance of
faith, so is he also inasmuch as it is obedience that makes him father
of us all. For since they thought nothing of this relationship, as
clinging to that grosser one, he shows that this is the truer
relationship by lifting his discourse up to God. And along with this
he makes it plain that this was the reward of faith that he received.
Consequently, if it were not so, and he were the father of all the
dwellers upon earth, the expression before (or answering to) would
be out of place, while the gift of God would be curtailed. For the
"before," is equivalent to "alike with." Since where is the marvel,
pray, in a man's being the father of those sprung from himself? This
is what is every man's lot. But the extraordinary thing is, that those
whom by nature he had not, them he received by the gift of God. And
so if thou wouldest believe that the patriarch was honored, believe
that he is the father of all. But after saying, "before Him Whom he
believed, even God," he does not pause here, but goes on thus;
"Who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as
though they were," so laying beforehand his foundations for
discoursing upon the resurrection. And it was serviceable also to his
present purpose. For if He could "quicken the dead" and bring in
"those things that were not as though they were," then could He also
make those who were not born of him to be his children. And this is
why he does not say, bringing in the things which are not, but calling
them, so showing the greater ease of it. For as it is easy to us to call
the things which are by name, so to Him it is easy, yea, and much
easier to give a subsistence to things that are not. But after saying,
that the gift of God was great and unspeakable, and having
discoursed concerning His power, he shows farther that Abraham's
faith was deserving of the gift, that you may not suppose him to have
been honored without reason. And after raising the attention of his
hearers to prevent the Jew from clamoring and making doubts, and
saying, "And how is it possible for those who are not children to
become children?" he passes on to speak of the patriarch, and says,
Ver. 18. "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become
the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So
shall thy seed be."
How was it that he "believed in hope against hope?" It was against
man's hope, in hope which is of God. (For he is showing the loftiness
of the action, and leaving no room for disbelieving what is said.)
Things which are contrary to one another, yet faith blends them
together. But if he were speaking about such as were from Ishmael,
this language would be superfluous: for it was not by faith but by
nature that they were begotten. But he bringeth Isaac also before us.
For it was not concerning those nations that he believed, but
concerning him who was to be from his barren wife. If then it be a
reward to be father of many nations, it would be so of those nations
clearly of whom he so believed. For that you may know that he is
speaking of them, listen to what follows.
Ver. 19. "And being not weak in faith, he considered his own body
now dead."
Do you see how he gives the obstacles, as well as the high spirit of
the righteous man which surmounts all? "Against hope," he says,
was that which was promised: this is the first obstacle. For Abraham
had no other person who had received a son in this way to look to.
They that were after him looked to him, but he to no one, save to God
only. And this is why he said, "against hope." Then, "his body now
dead." This is a second. And, "the deadness of Sarah's womb." This
is a third, aye and a fourth obstacle.
Ver. 20. "But he staggered not at the promise of God through
unbelief." For God neither gave any proof nor made any sign, but
there were only bare words promising such things as nature did not
hold out any hopes of. Yet still he says, "he staggered not." He does
not say, "He did not disbelieve," but, "He staggered not," that is, he
neither doubted nor hesitated though the hindrances were so great.
From this we learn, that if God promise even countless
impossibilities, and he that heareth doth not receive them, it is not
the nature of things that is to blame, but the unreasonableness of
him who receiveth them not. "But was strong in faith." See the
pertinacity of Paul. For since this discourse was about them that
work and them that believe, he shows that the believer works more
than the other, and requires more power, and great strength, and
sustains no common degree of labor. For they counted faith
worthless, as having no labor in it. Insisting then upon this, he
shows that it is not only he that succeeds in temperance, or any
other virtue of this sort, but he that displays faith also who requires
even greater power. For as the one needs strength to beat off the
reasonings of intemperance, so hath the faithful also need of a soul
endued with power, that he may thrust aside the suggestions of
unbelief. How then did he become "strong?" By trusting the matter,
he replies, to faith and not to reasonings: else he had fallen. But how
came he to thrive in faith itself? By giving glory to God, he says.
Ver. 21. "And being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He
was able also to perform."
Abstaining then from curious questionings is glorifying God, as
indulging in them is transgressing. But if by entering into curious
questions, and searching out things below, we fail to glorify Him,
much more if we be over curious in the matter of the Lord's
generation, shall we suffer to the utmost for our insolence. For if the
type of the resurrection is not to be searched into, much less those
untterable and awestriking subjects. And he does not use file word
"believed" merely, but, "being fully persuaded." For such a thing is
faith, it is clearer than the demonstration by reasons, and persuades
more fully. For it is not possible for another reasoning succeeding to
it to shake it afterwards. He indeed that is persuaded with words may
have his persuasion altered too by them. But he that stays himself
upon faith, hath henceforward fortified his hearing against words
that may do hurt to it.
Having said then, that he was justified by faith, he shows that he
glorified God by that faith; which is a thing specially belonging to a
good life. For, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see
your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven." (Matt.
v. 16.) But lo! this is shown also to belong to faith! Again, as works
need power, so doth faith. For in their case the body often shareth
the toil, but in the faith the well-doing belongeth to the soul alone.
And so the labor is greater, since it has no one to share the
struggles with it. Do you observe how he shows that all that
belonged to works attached to faith in a far greater degree, as having
whereof to glory before God,--requiring power and labor,--and again,
glorifying God?
And after saying, that "what He had promised, He is able also to
perform," he seems to me to speak beforehand of things to come.
For it is not things present merely that He promises, but also things
to come. For the present are a type of the other. It is then a sign of a
weak, little, and pitiful mind not to believe. And so when any make
faith a charge against us, let us make want of faith a charge against
them in return, as pitiful, and little-minded, and foolish, and weak,
and no better in disposition than asses. For as believing belongs to a
lofty and high-born soul, so disbelieving doth to a most
unreasonable and worthless one, and such as is sunken drowsily
(katenhnegmenhs) into the senselessness of brutes. Therefore
having left these, let us imitate the Patriarch, and glorify God as he
gave Him glory. And what does it mean, gave Him glory? He held in
mind His majesty, His boundless power. And having formed a just
conception of Him, he was also "fully persuaded" about His
Let us then also glorify Him by faith as well as by works, that we may
also attain to the reward of being glorified by Him. "For them that
glorify Me, I will glorify" (1 Sam. ii. 30), He says: and indeed, if there
were no reward, the very privilege of glorifying God were itself a
glory. For if men take a pride in the mere fact of speaking eulogies of
kings, even if there be no other fruit of it; consider how glorious it
must be, that our Lord is glorified by us: as again, how great a
punishment to cause Him to be by our means blasphemed. And yet
this very being glorified, He wisheth to be brought about for our
sakes, since He doth not need it Himself. For what distance dost
thou suppose to be between God and man? as great as that between
men and worms? or as great as between Angels and worms? But
when I have mentioned a distance even thus great, I have not at all
expressed it: since to express its greatness is impossible. Would
you, now, wish to have a great and marked reputation among
worms? Surely not. If then thou that lovest glory, wouldest not wish
for this, how should He Who is far removed from this passion, and
so much farther above us, stand in need of glory from thee?
Nevertheless, free from the want of it as He is, still He saith that He
desireth it for thy sake. For if He endured for thy sake to become a
slave, why wonder that He upon the same ground layeth claim to the
other particulars also? For He counts nothing unworthy of Himself
which may be conducive to our salvation. Since then we aware of
this, let us shun sin altogether, because by reason of it He is
blasphemed. For it says, "flee from sin, as from the face of a serpent:
if thou comest too near unto it, it will bite thee" (Ecclus. xxi. 2): for it
is not it that comes to us, but we that desert to it. God has so
ordered things that the Devil should not prevail over us by
compulsion (Gr. tyranny): since else none would have stood against
his might. And on this account He set him a distant abode, as a kind
of robber and tyrant. And unless he find a person unarmed and
solitary for his assaults, he doth not venture to attack him. Except he
see us travelling by the desert," he has not the courage to come near
us. But the desert and place of the Devil is nothing else than sin. We
then have need of the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the
sword of the Spirit, not only that we may not get evil intreated, but
that ever should he be minded to leap upon us, we may cut off his
head. Need we have of continual prayer that he may be bruised
under our feet, for he is shameless and full of hardihood, and this
though he fights from beneath. But yet even so he gets the victory:
and the reason is, that we are not earnestly set upon being above his
blows. For he has not even the power to lift himself very high, but he
trails along upon the ground. And of this the serpent is a type. But if
God set him in that rank from the beginning, much more will He now.
But if thou dost not know what fighting from beneath may be, I also
will try to explain to thee the manner of this war. What then may this
fighting "from beneath" (John viii. 23) be? It is standing upon the
lower things of the world to buffet us, such as pleasure and riches
and all the goods of this life. And for this reason, whoever he seeth
flying toward heaven, first, he will not even be able to leap so far.
Secondly, even if he should attempt he will speedily fall. For he hath
no feet; be not afraid: he hath no wings; fear not. He trails upon the
earth, and the things of the earth. Do thou then have naught in
common with the earth, and thou wilt not need labor even. For he
hath not any knowledge of open fight: but as a serpent he hideth him
in the thorns, nestling evermore in the "deceitfulness of
riches." (Matt. xiii. 22.) And if thou wert to cut away the thorns, he
will easily be put to flight, being detected: and if thou knowest how
to charm him with the inspired charms he will straightway be struck.
For we have, we surely have, spiritual charms, even the Name of our
Lord Jesus Christ and the might of the Cross. This charm will not
only bring the serpent out of his lurking places, and cast him into the
fire (Acts xxviii. 5), but even wounds it healeth. But if some that have
said this Name have not been healed, it came of their own little faith,
and was not owing to any weakness in what they said. For some did
throng Jesus and press. Him (Luke viii. 44, 45), and got no good
therefrom. But the woman with an issue, without even touching His
Body, but merely the hem of His garment, stanched a flux of blood of
so long standing. (So St. Aug. Serm. LXII. iii. 4, P. 124 O. T.) This
Name is fearful alike to devils, and to passions, and to diseases. In
this then let us find a pleasure, herewith let us fortify ourselves. It
was thus Paul waxed great, and yet he was of the like nature with
ourselves, so the whole choir of the Disciples. But faith had made
him a perfectly different person, and so much did it abound in them,
that even their garments had great force. (Acts xix. 12.) What excuse
then shall we deserve, if even the shadows and the garments of
those men drave off death (Acts v. 15), but our very prayers do not
so much as bring the passions down? What is the reason a of it?
Our temper is widely different. For what nature gives, is as much
ours as theirs. For he was born and brought up just as we are, and
dwelt upon the earth and breathed the air, as we do. But in other
points he was far greater and better than we are, in zeal, in faith, and
love. Let us then imitate him. Let us allow Christ to speak through
us. He desireth it more than we do: and by reason of this, He
prepared this instrument, and would not have it remain useless and
idle, but wisheth to keep it ever in hand. Why then dost thou not
make it serviceable for the Maker's hand, but lettest it become
unstrung, and makest it relaxed through luxury, and unfittest the
whole harp for His use, when thou oughtest to keep the members of
it in full stretch, and well strung, and braced with spiritual salt. For if
Christ see our soul thus attuned, He will send forth His sounds even
by it. And when this taketh place, then shalt thou see Angels leaping
for joy, (skirtpntas) and Archangels too, and the Cherubim. Let us
then become worthy of His spotless hands. Let us invite Him to
strike even upon our heart. For He rather needeth not any inviting.
Only make it worthy of that touch, and He will be foremost in running
unto thee. For if in consideration of their attainments not yet
reached, He runneth to them (for when Paul was not yet so advanced
He yet framed that praise for him) when He seeth one fully furnished,
what is there that He will not do? But if Christ shall sound forth and
the Spirit shall indeed light upon us, and we shall be better than the
heaven, having not the sun and the moon fixed in our body, but the
Lord of both sun and moon and angels dwelling in us and walking in
us. And this I say, not that we may raise the dead, or cleanse the
lepers, but that we may show forth what is a greater miracle than all
these--charity. For wheresoever this glorious thing shall be there the
Son taketh up His abode along with the Father, and the grace of the
Spirit frequenteth. For "where two or three are gathered together in
My Name," it says, "there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. xviii. 20.)
Now this is for great affection, and for those that are very intimate
friends, to have those whom they love on either side of them. Who
then, he means, is so wretched as not to wish to have Christ in the
midst? We that are at variance with one another! And haply some
one may ridicule me and ask, What is it that you mean? Do you not
see that we are all within the same walls, and under the same
enclosure of the Church, standing under the same fold with
unanimity; that no one fighteth, that we be under the same shepherd,
crying aloud in common, listening in common to what is being said,
sending up our prayers in common,--and yet mention fighting and
variance? Fighting I do mention, and I am not mad nor out of my
sober mind. For I see what I sees and know that we are under the
same fold, and the same shepherd. Yet for this cause I make the
greater lamentation, because, though there are so many
circumstances to draw us together, we are at variance. And what
sedition, it will be said, see you here? Here truly I see none. But
when we have broken up, such an one accuses such another,
another is openly insulting, another grudges, another is fraudulent,
and rapacious, and violent, another indulges in unlawful love,
another frames countless schemes of deceit. And if it were possible
to open. your souls, then ye would see all things distinctly, and know
that I am not mad. Do you not see in a camp, that when it is peace,
men lay down their arms and cross over unarmed and undefended
into the camp of the enemy, but when they are protected with arms,
and with guards and outposts, the I nights are spent in watching,
and the fires are kept continually burning, this state of things is no
longer peace but war? Now this is what may be seen among us. For
we are on our guard against one another, and fear one another and
talk each of us into his neighbor's ear. And if we see any one else
present, we hold our peace, and draw in all we were going to say.
And this is not like men that feel confidence, but like those that are
strictly on their guard. "But these things we do (some one may say,)
not to do wrong, but to escape having it done us." Yea, for this I
grieve, that living as we do among brethren, we need be on our
guard against having wrong done us; and we light up so many fires,
and set guards and out-posts! The reason is the prevalence of
falsehood, the prevalence of craft, the prevailing secession of
charity, and war without truce. By this means one may find men that
feel more confidence in Gentiles (Greeks) than in Christians. And
yet, how ashamed we ought to be of this; how we ought to weep and
bewail at it! "What then, some may say, is to become of me? such
and such an one is of ungainly temper, and vexatious." Where then
is your religion (Gr. philosophy)? where are the laws of the Apostles,
which bid us bear one another's burdens? (Gal. vi. 2.) For if you have
no notion of dealing well by your brother, when are you to be able to
do so by a stranger? If you have not learnt how to treat a member of
your own self, when are you likely to draw to you any from without,
and to knit him to yourself? But how am I to feel? I am vexed
exceedingly almost to tears, for I could have sent forth large
fountains from mine eyes (Jer. ix. 1), as that Prophet says, seeing as
I do countless enemies upon the plain more galling than those he
saw. For he said, upon seeing the aliens coming against them, "My
bowels! I am pained at my bowels." (ib. iv. 19.) But when I see men
arrayed under one leader, yet standing against one another, and
biting and tearing their own members, some for money's sake, and
some for glory's, and others quite at random ridiculing and mocking
and wounding one another in countless ways, and corpses too
worse treated than those in war, and that it is but the bare name of
the brethren that is now left, myself feel my inability to devise any
lament fitting such a catastrophe as this! Reverence now, oh
reverence, this Table whereof we all are partakers! (1 Cor. x. 16-18.)
Christ, Who was slain for us, the Victim that is placed thereon! (Heb.
xiii. 10.) Robbers when they once partake of salt, cease to be robbers
in regard to those with whom they have partaken thereof; that table
changes their dispositions, and men fiercer than wild beasts it
makes gentler than lambs. But we though partakers of such a Table,
and sharers of such food as that, arm ourselves against one another,
when we ought to arm against him who is carrying on a war against
all of us, the devil. Yet this is why we grow weaker and he stronger
every day. For we do not join to form in defence against him, but
along with him we stand against each other, and use him as a
commander for such hostile arrays, when it is he alone that we ought
to be fighting with. But now letting him pass, we bend the bow
against our brethren only. What bows, you will say? Those of the
tongue and the mouth. For it is not javelins and darts only, but words
too, keener far than darts, that inflict wounds. And how shall we be
able to bring this war to an issue? one will ask. If thou perceivest
that when thou speakest ill of thy brother, thou art casting up mire
out of thy mouth, if thou preceivest that it is a member of Christ that
thou art slandering, that thou art eating up thine own flesh (Ps. xxvii.
2), that thou art making the judgment set for thee more bitter (fearful
and uncorrupt as it is), that the shaft is killing not him that is smitten,
but thyself that shot it forth. But he did you some wrong, may be,
and injured you? Groan at it, and do not rail. Weep, not for the wrong
done thee, but for his perdition, as thy Master also wept at Judas,
not because Himself was to be crucified, but because he was a
traitor. Has he insulted thee and abused thee? Beseech God for him,
that He may speedily become appeased toward him. He is thy
brother, he is a member of thee, the the fruit of the same pangs as
thyself, he has been invited to the same Table. But he only makes
fresh assaults upon me, it may be said. Then is thy reward all the
greater for this. On this ground then there is the best reason for
abating one's anger, since it is a mortal wound that he has received,
since the devil hath wounded him. Do not thou then give a further
blow, nor cast thyself down together with him. For so long as thou
standest thou hast the means of saving him also. But if thou dash
thyself down by insulting deeds in return, who is then to lift you both
up? Will he that is wounded? Nay, for he cannot, now that he is
down. But wilt thou that art fallen along with him? And how shall
thou, that couldest not support thine own self, be able to lend a hand
to another? Stand therefore now nobly, and setting thy shield before
thee, and draw him, now he is dead, away from the battle by thy longsuffering.
Rage hath wounded him, do not thou also wound him, but
cast out even that first shaft. For if we associate with each other on
such terms, we shall soon all of us become healthful. But if we arm
ourselves against one another, there will be no farther need even of
the devil to our ruin. For all war is an evil, and civil war especially.
But this is a sorer evil than even a civil one, as our mutual rights are
greater than those of citizenship, yea, than of kindred itself. Of old,
Abel's brother slew him and shed the blood of his kinsman. But this
murder is more lawless than that, in that the rights of kinsmanship
are greater, and the death a sorer evil. For he wounded the body, but
thou hast whetted thy sword against the soul. "But thou didst first
suffer ill." Yes, but it is not suffering ill, but doing it, that is really
suffering ill. Now consider; Cain was the slayer, Abel was the slain.
Who then was the dead? He that after death crieth, (for He saith,
"The voice of thy brother's blood crieth to Me,") (Gen. iv. 10), or he
who while he lived was yet trembling and in fear? He was, assuredly
he was, more an object of pity than any dead man. Seest thou how to
be wronged is better, though a man come even to be murdered?
learn that to wrong is worse, though a man should be strong enough
even to kill. He smote and cast down his brother, yet the latter was
crowned, the former was punished. Abel was made away with and
slain wrongfully, but he even when dead accused (comp. John v. 45),
and convicted and overcame: the other, though alive, was
speechless, and was ashamed, and was con victed, and effected the
opposite of what he intended. For he made away with him because
he saw him beloved, expecting to cast him out of the love also. Yet
he did but make the love more intense, and God sought him more
when dead, saying, "Where is thy brother Abel?" (Gen. iv. 9.) For
thou hast not extinguished the desire towards him by thine envy, but
hast kindled it up the more. Thou hast not lessened his honor by
slaying him, but hast made it the more ample. Yet before this God
had even made him subject to thee, whereas since thou hast slain
him, even when dead, he will take vengeance upon thee. So great
was my love towards him. Who then was the condemned person, the
punisher or the punished? He that enjoyed so great honor from God,
or he that was given up to a certain novel and unexpected
punishment? Thou didst not fear him (he would say) while alive, thou
shall fear him therefore when dead. Thou didst not tremble when on
the point of thrusting with the sword. Thou shall be seized, now the
blood is shed, with a continual trembling. While alive he was thy
servant, and thou showedst no forbearance to him. For this reason,
now he is dead, he hath become a master thou shalt be afraid of.
Thinking then upon these things, beloved, let us flee from envy, let
us extinguish malice, let us recompense one another with charity,
that we may reap the blessings rising from it, both in the present life
and the life which is to come, by the grace and love toward man, etc.

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