Chrysostom 2Tm 500
500 . — “It is a faithful saying: for if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord, that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”
Many of the weaker sort of men give up the effort of faith, and do not endure the deferring of their hope. They seek things present, and form from these their judgment of the future. When therefore their lot here was death, torments, and chains, and yet he says, they shall come to eternal life, they would not have believed, but would have said, “What sayest thou? When I live, I die; and when I die, I live? Thou promisest nothing on earth, and dost thou give it in heaven? Little things thou dost not bestow; and dost thou offer great things?” That none therefore may argue thus, he places beyond doubt the proof of these things, laying it down beforehand already, and giving certain signs. For, “remember,” he says, “that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead”; that is, rose again after death. And now showing the same thing he says, “It is a faithful saying,” that he who has attained a heavenly life, will attain eternal life also. Whence is it “faithful”? Because, he says, “If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.” For say, shall we partake with Him in things laborious and painful; and shall we not in things beneficial? But not even a man would act thus, nor, if one had chosen to suffer affliction and death with him, would he refuse to him a share in his rest, if he had attained it. But how are we “dead with Him”? This death he means both of that in the Layer, and that in sufferings. For he says, “Bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2Co 4,10); and, “We are buried with Him by baptism into death” (Rm 6,4); and, “Our old man is crucified with Him”; and, “We have been planted together in the likeness of His death.” (Rm 6,5-6). But he also speaks here of death by trials: and that more especially, for he was also suffering trials when he wrote it. And this is what he says, “If we have suffered death on His account, shall we not live on His account? This is not to be doubted. ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him,’” not absolutely, we shall reign, but “if we suffer,” showing that it is not enough to die once, (the blessed man himself died daily,) but there was need of much patient endurance; and especially Timothy had need of it. For tell me not, he says, of your first sufferings, but that you continue to suffer.
Then on the other side he exhorts him, not from the good, but from the evil. For if wicked men were to partake of the same things, this would be no consolation. And if having endured they were to reign with Him, but not having endured were not indeed to reign with Him, but were to suffer no worse evil, though this were terrible, yet it would not be enough to affect most men with concern. Wherefore he speaks of something more dreadful still. If we deny Him, He will also deny us. So then there is a retribution not of good things only, but of the contrary. And consider What it is probable that he will suffer, who is denied in that kingdom. “Whosoever shall deny Me, him will I also deny.” (Mt 10,33). And the retribution is not equal, though it seems so expressed. For we who deny Him are men, but He who denies us is God; and how great is the distance between God and man, it is needless to say.
Besides, we injure ourselves; Him we cannot injure. And to show this, he has added, “If we believe not, He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself”: that is, if we believe not that He rose again, He is not injured by it. He is faithful and unshaken, whether we say so or not. If then He is not at all injured by our denying Him, it is for nothing else than for our benefit that He desires our confession. For He abideth the same, whether we deny Him or not. He cannot deny Himself, that is, His own Being. We may say that He is not; though such is not the fact. It is not in His nature, it is not possible for Him not to be, that is, to go into nonentity. His subsistence always abides, always is. Let us not therefore be so affected, as if we could gratify or could injure Him. But lest any one should think that Timothy needed this advice, he has added,
“Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord, that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” It is an overawing thing to call God to witness what we say, for if no one would dare to set at nought the testimony of man when appealed to, much less when the appeal is to God. If any one, for instance, entering into a contract, or making his will, chooses to call witnesses worthy of credit, would any transfer the things to those who are not included? Surely not. And even if he wishes it, yet fearing the credibility of the witnesses, he avoids it. What is “charging them before the Lord”? he calls God to witness both what was said, and what was done.
“That they strive not about words to no profit;” and not merely so, but “to the subverting of the hearers.” Not only is there no gain from it, but much harm. “Of these things then put them in remembrance,” and if they despise thee, God will judge them. But why does he admonish them not to strive about words? He knows that it is a dainty thing, and that the human soul is ever prone to contend and to dispute about words. To guard against this, he has not only charged them “not to strive about words,” but to render his discourse more alarming, he adds, “to the subverting of the hearers.”
2Tm 2,15. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Everywhere this “not being ashamed”! And why is he ever so careful to guard him against shame? Because it was natural for many to be ashamed both of Paul himself, as being a tent-maker, and of the preaching, since its teachers perished. For Christ had been crucified, himself was about to be beheaded, Peter was crucified with his head downwards, and these things they suffered from audacious and despicable men. Because such men were in power, he says, “Be not ashamed”; that is, fear not to do anything tending to godliness, though it be necessary to submit to slavery or any other suffering. For how does any one become approved? By being “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” As the workman is not ashamed of any work, so neither should he be ashamed who labors in the Gospel. He should submit to anything.
“Rightly dividing the word of truth.”
This he hath well said. For many distort it, and pervert it in every way, and many additions are made to it. He has not said directing it, but “rightly dividing,” that is, cut away what is spurious, with much vehemence assail it, and extirpate it. With the sword of the Spirit cut off from your preaching, as from a thong, whatever is superfluous and foreign to it.
2Tm 2,16. “And shun profane novelties of speech.”
For they will not stop there. For when anything new has been introduced, it is ever producing innovations, and the error of him who has once left the safe harbor is infinite, and never stops.
“For they will increase unto more ungodliness,” he says,
2Tm 2,17. “And their word will eat as doth a canker.”
It is an evil not to be restrained, not curable by any medicine, it destroys the whole frame. He shows that novelty of doctrine is a disease, and worse than a disease. And here he implies that they are incorrigible, and that they erred not weakly but willfully.
“Of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus,”
2Tm 2,18. “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some.”
(He has well said, “They will increase unto more ungodliness.” For it appears indeed to be a solitary evil, but see what evils spring out of it. For if the Resurrection is already past, not only do we suffer loss in being deprived of that great glory, but because judgment is taken away, and retribution also. For if the Resurrection is past, retribution also is past. The good therefore have reaped persecutions and afflictions, and the wicked have not been punished, nay verily, they live in great pleasure. It were better to say that there is no resurrection, than that it is already past.
“And overthrow,” he says, “the faith of some.”
“Of some,” not of all. For if there is no resurrection, faith is subverted. Our preaching is vain, nor is Christ risen; and if He is not risen, neither was He born, nor has He ascended into heaven. Observe how this error, while it seems to oppose the doctrine of the Resurrection, draws after it many other evils. What then, says one, ought we to do nothing for those who are subverted?
2Tm 2,19. “Nevertheless,” he says, “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
(He shows that even before they were subverted, they were not firm. For otherwise, they would not have been overthrown at the first attack, as Adam was firm before the commandment. For those who are fixed not only are not harmed through deceivers, but are even admired.
And he calls it “sure,” and a “foundation”; so ought we to adhere to the faith; “having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.” What is this? He has taken it from Deuteronomy; that is, Firm souls stand fixed and immovable. But whence are they manifest? From having these characters inscribed upon their actions, from their being known by God, and not perishing with the world, and from their departing from iniquity.
“Let every one,” he says, “that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
These are the distinguishing marks of the foundation. As a foundation is shown to be firm, and as letters are inscribed upon a stone that the letters may be significant. But these letters are shown by works, “Having,” he says, “this seal” fixed thereon, “Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Thus if any one is unrighteous, he is not of the foundation. So that this too is of the seal, not to do iniquity.
Moral. Let us not therefore put off from us the royal seal and token, that we may not be of those who are not sealed, that we may not be unsound, that we may be firmly grounded, that we may be of the foundation, and not carried to and fro. This marks them that are of God, that they depart from iniquity. For how can any one be of God Who is just, if he does iniquity, if by his works he opposes Him, if he insults Him by his misdeeds? Again we are speaking against injustice, and again we have many that are hostile to us. For this affection, like a tyrant, has seized upon the souls of all, and, what is worse, not by necessity nor violence, but by persuasion and gentle insinuation, and they are grateful for their slavery. And this is indeed the misery; for if they were held by constraint and not by love, they would soon depart. And whence is it, that a thing which is most bitter, appears to be sweet? whence is it that righteousness, which is a most sweet thing, becomes bitter? It is the fault of our senses. Thus some have thought honey bitter, and have taken with pleasure other things that were noxious. And the cause is not in the nature of things, but in the perverseness of the sufferers. The judging faculty of the soul is disordered. Just as a balance, if its beam be unsteady, moves round, and does not show accurately the weight of things placed in it; so the soul, if it has not the beam of its own thoughts fixed, and firmly riveted to the law of God, being carried round and drawn down, will not be able to judge a right of actions.
For if any one will examine carefully, he will perceive the great bitterness of injustice, not to those who suffer it, but to those who practice it, and to these more than to the others. And let us riot speak of things future, but for the present of things here. Hath it not battles, judgments, condemnation, ill will, abuse? what is more bitter than these? Hath it not enmities, and wars, and accusations? what is more bitter than these? Hath it not conscience continually scourging and gnawing us? If it were possible, I could wish to draw out from the body the soul of the unrighteous man, and you would see it pale and trembling, ashamed, hiding its head, anxiously fearful, and self-condemned. For should we sink down into the very depths of wickedness, the judging faculty of the mind is not destroyed, but remains unbribed. And no one pursues injustice thinking it to be good, but he invents excuses, and has recourse to every artifice of words to shift off the accusation. But he cannot get it off his conscience. Here indeed the speciousness of words, the corruption of rulers, and multitudes of flatterers, is often able to throw justice into the shade, but within, the conscience has nothing of this sort, there are no flatterers there, no wealth to corrupt the judge. For the faculty of judging is naturally implanted in us by God, and what comes from God cannot be so corrupted. But uneasy slumbers, thick-coming fancies, and the frequent recollections of guilt, destroy our repose. Has any one, for instance, unjustly deprived another of his house? not only is he that is robbed rendered unhappy, but the man who robbed him. If he is persuaded of a future judgment, (if indeed any one is so persuaded,) he groans exceedingly, and is in misery. But if he believes not in futurity, yet he blushes for shame; or rather there is no man, whether Greek, Jew, or heretic, who is not afraid of a judgment to come).
And although he is not a philosopher with respect to futurity; yet he fears and trembles at what may befall him here, lest he may have some retribution in his property, his children, his family, or his life. For many such visitations God inflicts. For since the doctrine of the Resurrection is not sufficient to bring all men to reason, He affords even here many proofs of His righteous judgment, and exhibits them to the world. One who has gained wrongfully is without children, another falls in war, another is maimed in his body, another loses his son. He considers these things, on these his imagination dwells, and he lives in continual fear.
Know you not what the unrighteous suffer? Is there no bitterness in these things? And were there nothing of this sort, do not all condemn him, and hate and abhor him, and think him less rational than a beast, even those who are themselves unrighteous? For if they condemn themselves, much more do they condemn another, calling him rapacious, fraudulent, a pestilent fellow. What pleasure then can he enjoy? He has only the heavier care and anxiety to preserve his gains, and the being more anxious and troubled. For the more wealth any one gets about him, the more painful watchfulness does he store up for himself. Then what are the curses of those whom he has wronged, their pleadings against him? And what, if sickness should befall him? For it is impossible for one, who has fallen into sickness, however atheistically. he may be inclined, not to be anxious about these things, not to be thoughtful, when he is unable to do anything. For as long as we are here, the soul enjoying itself, does not tolerate painful thoughts: but when it is about to take its flight from the body, then a greater fear constrains it, as entering into the very portals of judgment. Even robbers, whilst they are in prison, live without fear, but when they are brought to the very curtain of the court, they sink with terror. For when the fear of death is urgent, like a fire consuming all things besides, it obliges the soul to philosophize, and to take thought for futurity. The desire of wealth, the love of gain, and of bodily pleasures, no longer possesses it. These things passing away like clouds, leave the judging faculty clear, and grief entering in softens the hard heart. For nothing is so opposite to philosophy, as a life of pleasure; nor, on the other hand, is anything so favorable to philosophy as affliction. Consider what the covetous man will then be. For, “an hour of affliction,” it is said, “maketh a man forget much pleasure.” (Si 2,27) What will then be his state, when he considers those whom he has robbed, and injured, and defrauded, when he sees others reaping the fruits of his grasping, and himself going to pay the penalty? For it cannot, indeed it cannot be, that when fallen into sickness he should not reflect upon these things. For often the soul of itself is distracted with agony and terror. What a bitterness is this, tell me! And with every sickness these things must be endured. And what will he not suffer when he sees others punished or put to death?
These things await him here. And as to what he must undergo hereafter, it is not possible to say what punishment, what vengeance, what torments, what racks are reserved for him There. These things we declare. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Lc 8,8). We are for ever discoursing of these things, not willingly, but of necessity. For we could wish there were no obligation to mention such things at all. But since it must be, we would at least, by a little medicine, deliver you from your disease, and restore you to health. But whilst you remain in this sickness, it would show a mean and weak spirit, not to say cruelty and inhumanity, to desist from the healing treatment. For if when physicians despair of our bodies, we beseech them not to neglect us, not to cease to our last breath applying whatever is in their power, shall we not much more exhort ourselves? For perhaps when we have come to the very gates of Hell, the vestibule of wickedness itself, it may be possible to recover, to renew our strength, to lay hold on eternal life! How many, who have heard ten times and remained insensible, have afterwards at one hearing been converted! Or rather, not at one hearing; for though they seemed insensible at the ten discourses, yet they gained something, and afterwards showed all at once abundant fruit. For as a tree may receive ten strokes, and not fall; then afterwards be brought down all at once by a single blow: yet it is not done by that one blow, but by the ten which made that last successful. And this is known to him who sees the root, though he who takes his view of the trunk above knows it not. So it is in this case. And thus often, when physicians have applied many remedies, no benefit is perceived; but afterwards some one comes in and effects an entire cure. Yet it is not the work of him alone, but of these who have already reduced the disorder. So that, if now we do not bring forth the fruits of hearing the word, yet hereafter we shall. For that we shall bring them forth, I am fully persuaded. For it is not, indeed it is not possible that such eager desire, such a love of hearing, should fail of its effect. God forbid! But may we all. having become worthy of the admonitions of Christ, obtain the everlasting blessings, &c).
600 2Tm 2,20-21. — “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
Many men are still even now perplexed to account for the fact, that the wicked are suffered to remain, and are not yet destroyed. Now doubtless various reasons may be assigned for this, as, that they may be converted, or that by their punishment they may be made an example to the multitude. But Paul here mentions a similar case. For he says,
“In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earth.” Showing by this, that as in a great house it is likely there should be a great difference of vessels, so here also, in the whole world, for he speaks not of the Church only, but of the world at large. For think not, I pray, that he means it of the Church; for there he would not have any vessels of wood or of earth, but all of gold or silver where is the body of Christ, where is that “pure virgin, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” (Ep 5,27) And this is what he means to say: Let it not disturb thee that there are corrupt and wicked men. For in a great house there are such vessels. But what then? they do not receive the same honor. But some are to honor and some to dishonor. “Nay,” says one, “in a house they may be of some use, but not at all in the world.” Though God employs them not for such honorable service, he makes use of them for other purposes. For instance, the vainglorious man builds much, so does the covetous man, the merchant, the tradesman, the magistrate; there are certain works in the world suited to these. But the golden vessel is not of such a nature. It is employed about the royal table. He does not say however that wickedness is a necessary thing, (for how should it be?) but that the wicked also have their work. For if all were of gold or of silver, there would be no need of the viler sort. For instance, if all were hardy, there would be no need of houses; if all were free from luxury, there would be no need of dainties. If all were careful only for necessaries, there would be no need of splendid building.
“If therefore a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified.” Seest thou that it is not of nature, nor of the necessity of matter, to be a vessel of gold or of earth, but of our own choice? For otherwise the earthen could not become gold, nor could the golden descend to the vileness of the other. But in this case there is much change, and alteration of state. Paul was an earthen vessel, and became a golden one. Judas was a golden vessel, and became an earthen one. The earthen vessels, therefore, are such from uncleanness. The fornicator and the covetous man become earthen vessels. “But how then does he say elsewhere, ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels,’ so that he does not despise but honor the earthen vessel, speaking of it as the recipient of the treasure?” There he shows the nature itself, and not the form of the material. For he means to say that our body is an earthen vessel. For as earthenware is nothing else but baked clay, so is our body nothing but clay consolidated by the heat of the soul; for that it is earthen, is evident. For as such a vessel is often by falling broken and dashed to pieces, so our body falls and is dissolved by death. For how do our bones differs from a potsherd, hard and dry as they are? or our flesh from clay, being, like it, composed of water? But, as I said, how is it that he does not speak contemptuously of it? Because there he is discoursing of its nature, here of our choice. “If a man,” he says, “purge himself from these,” not merely “cleanse,” but “cleanse out,” that is, cleanse himself perfectly, “he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use.” The others therefore are useless for any good purpose, though some use is made of them. “And prepared unto every good work.” Even though he do it not, he is fit for it, and has a capacity for it. We ought therefore to be prepared for everything, even for death, for martyrdom, for a life of virginity, or for all these.
2Tm 2,22. “Flee also youthful lusts.”
Not only the lust of fornication, but every inordinate desire is a youthful lust. Let the aged learn that they ought not to do the deeds of the youthful. If one be given to insolence, or a lover of power, of riches, of bodily pleasures, it is a youthful lust, and foolish. These things must proceed from a heart not yet established, from a mind not deeply grounded, but in a wavering state. What then does he advise in order that none may be captivated by these things? “Flee youthful” imaginations, "but
“Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
(He calls virtue in general, “righteousness”: godliness of life, “faith, meekness, charity.”
What is meant by “those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”? It is as if he said, Rejoice not in those who only call upon the Lord; but those who call upon Him sincerely and unfeignedly, who have nothing of deceit about them, who approach Him in peace, who are not contentious. With these associate thyself. But with others be not easy, but only as far as lies in you, be peaceable.
2Tm 2,23. “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.”
Do you see how he everywhere draws him off from questions; not that he was not able to overthrow them; for he was well able. For had he not been able he would have said, Be diligent, that thou mayest be able to refute them; as when he says, “Give attendance to reading, for by so doing thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” (1Tm 4,13 1Tm 4,16) But he knew that it was useless to enter at all into these disputes, that there will be no end of it, save contentions, enmities, insults, and reproaches. These “questions” therefore “avoid”; so that there are other questions, some relating to the Scriptures, some to other things.
2Tm 2,24. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive.”
Not even in questions ought he to strive, for the servant of the Lord must keep far from strife, since God is the God of peace, and what should the servant of the God of peace have to do with strife?
“But be gentle unto all men.”
How is it then he says, “Rebuke with all authority” (Tt 2,15); and again, “Let no man despise thy youth” (1Tm 4,12): and again, “Rebuke them Sharply”? (Tt 1,13). Because this is consistent with meekness. For a strong rebuke, if it be given with gentleness, is most likely to wound deeply: for it is possible, indeed it is, to touch more effectually by gentleness, than one overawes by boldness.
“Apt to teach”; that is, those who are willing to be taught. For “a man that is an heretic,” he says, “after the first and second admonition reject.” (Tt 3,10). “Patient.” He has well added this, for it is a quality which a teacher above all things ought to possess. All things are vain without it. And if fishermen do not despair, though often they cast their nets for a whole day without catching anything, much more should not we. For see what is the result. From constant teaching, it often happens that the plow of the word, descending to the depth of the soul, roots out the evil passion that troubled it. For he that hears often will at length be affected. A man cannot go on hearing continually without some effect being produced. Sometimes therefore, when he was on the point of being persuaded, he is lost by our becoming weary. For the same thing occurs, as if an unskillful husbandman should in the first year dig about the vine he had planted, and seeking to reap some fruit in the second year, and again in the third, and gathering nothing, should after three years despair, and in the fourth year, when he was about to receive the recompense of his labors, abandon his vine. And having said, “Patient,” he is not satisfied, but goes on to say,
2Tm 2,25. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.”
For he that teaches must be especially careful to do it with meekness. For a soul that wishes to learn cannot gain any useful instruction from harshness and contention. For when it would apply, being thus thrown into perplexity, it will learn nothing. He who would gain any useful knowledge ought above all things to be well disposed towards his teacher, and if this be not previously attained, nothing that is requisite or useful can be accomplished. And no one can be well disposed towards him who is violent and overbearing. How is it then that he says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject”? He speaks there of one incorrigible, of one whom he knows to be diseased beyond the possibility of cure.
“If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”
2Tm 2,26. “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil.”
What he says amounts to this. Perhaps there will be a reformation. Perhaps! for it is uncertain. So that we ought to withdraw only from those, of whom we can show plainly, and concerning whom we are fully persuaded, that whatever be done, they will not be reformed. “In meekness,” he says. In this temper, you see, we ought to address ourselves to those who are willing to learn, and never cease from conversing with them till we have come to the demonstration).
“Who are taken captive by him at his will.” It is truly said, “Who are taken captive,” for meanwhile they float in error. Observe here how he teaches to be humble-minded. He has not said, if peradventure you should be able, but, “if peradventure God should grant them a recovery”; if anything be done, therefore, all is of the Lord. Thou plantest, thou waterest but He soweth and maketh it produce fruit. Let us not therefore be so affected, as if we ourselves wrought the persuasion, even if we should persuade any one. “Taken captive by him,” he says, “to His will.” This no one will say relates to doctrine, but to life. For “His will” is that we live rightly. But some are in the snare of the devil by reason of their life, we ought not therefore to be weary even with respect to these.
“If peradventure,” he says, “they may recover, that are taken captive, unto His will.”Now “If peradventure,” implies much longsuffering. For not to do the will of God is a snare I of the devil.
For as a sparrow, though it be not wholly enclosed, but only caught by the foot, is still under the power of him who set the snare; so though we be not wholly subverted, both in faith and life, but in life only, we are under the power of the devil. For “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven”; and again, “I know you not; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” () You see there is no advantage from our faith, when our Lord knows us not: and to the virgins he says the same, “I know you not.” (Mt 25,12). What then is the benefit of virginity, or of many labors, when the Lord knows us not? And in many places we find men not blamed for their faith, but punished for their evil life only; as elsewhere, not reproved for evil lives, but perishing for their pravity of doctrine. For these things hold together. You see that when we do not the will of God, we are under the snare of the devil. And often not only from a bad life, but from one defect, we enter into Hell, where there are not good qualities to counterbalance it, since the virgins were not accused of fornication or adultery, nor of envy or ill-will, nor of drunkenness, nor of unsound faith, but of a failure of oil, that is, they failed in almsgiving, for that is the oil meant. And those who were pronounced accursed in the words, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,” were not accused of any such crimes, but because they had not fed Christ.
Moral. Seest thou that a failure in alms-giving is enough to cast a man into hell fire? For where will he avail who does not give alms? Dost thou fast every day? So also did those virgins, but it availed them nothing. Dost thou pray? What of that? prayer without alms-giving is unfruitful, without that all things are unclean and unprofitable. The better part of virtue is destroyed. “He that loveth not his brother,” it is said, “knoweth not God.” (1Jn 4,8). And how dost thou love him, when thou dost not even impart to him of these poor worthless things? Tell me, therefore, dost thou observe chastity? On what account? From fear of punishment? By no means. It is of a natural endowment that thou observest it, since if thou wast chaste from fear of punishment, and didst violence to nature in submitting to so severe a rule, much more oughtest thou to do alms. For to govern the desire of wealth, and of bodily pleasures, is not the same thing. The latter is much more difficult to restrain. And wherefore? Because the pleasure is natural, and the desire of it is innate and of natural growth in the body. It is not so with riches. Herein we are able to resemble God, in showing mercy and pity. When therefore we have not this quality, we are devoid of all good. He has not said, “ye shall be like unto your Father, if ye fast,” nor “if ye be virgins,” nor “if ye pray,” hath He said, “ye shall be like unto your Father,” for none of these things can be applied to God, nor are they His acts. But what? “Be ye merciful, as your Father in Heaven is merciful.” (Lc 6,36). This is the work of God. If therefore thou hast not this, what hast thou? He says: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” (Os 6,6). God made Heaven, and earth, and sea. Great works these, and worthy of His wisdom! But by none of these has He so powerfully attracted human nature to Himself, as by mercy and the love of mankind. For that indeed is the work of power and wisdom and goodness. But it is far more so that He became a servant. Do we not for this more especially admire Him? are we not for this still more amazed at Him? Nothing attracts God to us so much as mercy. And the prophets from beginning to end discourse upon this subject. But I speak not of mercy that is accompanied with covetousness. That is not mercy. For it is not the root of the thorn but of the olive that produces the oil ; so it is not the root of covetousness, of iniquity, or of rapine, that produces mercy. Do not put a slander on almsgiving. Do not cause it to be evil spoken of by all. If thou committest robbery for this, that thou mayest give alms, nothing is more wicked than thy almsgiving. For when it is produced by rapine, it is not almsgiving, it is inhumanity, it is cruelty, it is an insult to God. If Cain so offended, by offering inferior gifts of his own, shall he not offend, who offers the goods of another? An offering is nothing else but a sacrifice, a purification, not a pollution. And thou who darest not to pray with unclean hands, dost thou offer the dirt and filth of robbery, and think thou doest nothing wrong? Thou sufferest not thy hands to be full of dirt and filth, but having first cleansed these, thou offerest. Yet that filth is no charge against thee, while the other deserves reproach and blame. Let it not therefore be our consideration, how we may offer prayers and oblations with clean hands, but how the things offered may be pure. If one, after having washed a vessel clean, should fill it with unclean gifts, would it not be ridiculous mockery? Let the hands be clean; and they will be so, if we wash them not with water only, but first with righteousness. This is the purifier of the hands. But if they be full of unrighteousness, though they be washed a thousand times, it avails nothing. “Wash you, make you clean” (Is 1,16), He says, but does He add, “Go to the baths, the lakes, the rivers”? No; but what? “Put away the evil of your doings from your souls.” This is to be clean. This it is to be cleansed from defilement. This is real purity. The other is of little use; but this bestows upon us confidence towards God. The one may be obtained by adulterers, thieves, murderers, by worthless, and dissolute, and effeminate persons, and especially the latter. For they are ever careful of the cleanliness of their bodies, and scented with perfumes, cleansing their sepulcher. For their body is but a sepulcher, since the soul is dead within it. This cleanness therefore may be theirs, but not that which is inward.
To wash the body is no great matter. That is a Jewish purification, senseless and unprofitable, where purity within is wanting. Suppose one to labor under a putrefying sore, or consuming ulcer; let him wash his body ever so much, it is of no advantage. And if the putrefaction of the body receives no benefit from cleansing and disguising the outward appearance; when the soul is infected with rottenness, what is gained by the purity of the body? Nothing! Our prayers ought to be pure, and pure they cannot be, if they are sent forth from a corrupt soul, and nothing so corrupts the soul as avarice and rapine. But there are some who after committing numberless sins during the day, wash themselves in the evening and enter the churches, holding up their hands with much confidence, as if by the washing of the bath they had put off all their guilt. And if this were the case, it would be a vast advantage to use the bath daily! I would not myself cease to frequent the baths, if it made us pure, and cleansed us from our sins! But these things are trifling and ridiculous, the toys of children. It is not the filth of the body, but the impurity of the soul, to which God is averse. For He says, “Blessed are the pure”—does He say in body? No—“in heart: for they shall see God.” (Mt 5,8). And what says the Prophet: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Ps 51,10) And again, “Wash my heart from wickedness.” (Jr 4,14).
It is of great use to be in the habit of doing good actions. See how trifling and unprofitable these washings are. But when the soul is prepossessed by a habit, it does not depart from it, nor does it venture to draw nigh in prayer, till it has fulfilled these ceremonies. For instance, we have brought ourselves to a habit of washing and praying, and without washing we do not think it right to pray. And we do not willingly pray with unwashed hands, as if we should offend God, and violate our conscience. Now if this trifling custom has so great power over us, and is observed every day; if we had brought ourselves to a habit of almsgiving, and had determined so constantly to observe it, as never to enter a house of prayer with empty hands, the point would be gained. For great is the power of habit both in good things and in evil, and when this carries us on, there will be little trouble. Many are in the habit of crossing themselves continually, and they need no one to remind them of it, but often when the mind is wandering after other things, the hand is involuntarily drawn by custom, as by some living teacher, to make the sign. Some have brought themselves into a habit of not swearing at all, and therefore neither willingly nor unwillingly do they ever do it. Let us then bring ourselves into such a habit of almsgiving.
What labors were it worth to us to discover such a remedy. For say, were there not the relief of almsgiving, while we still by our numberless sins rendered ourselves liable to Divine vengeance, should we not have lamented sadly? Should we not have said, O that it were possible by our wealth to wash away our sins, and we would have parted with it all! O that by our riches we could put away the wrath of God, then we would not spare our substance? For if we do this in sickness, and at the point of death we say, “If it were possible to buy off death, such an one would give all his possessions”; much more in this matter. For see how great is the love of God for man. He has granted us power to buy off not temporal but eternal death. Do not purchase, He says, this short life, but that life that is everlasting. It is that I sell thee, not the other: I do not mock thee. Didst thou gain the present life, thou hadst gained nothing. I know the worth of that which I offer thee. The bargainers and traffickers in worldly goods do not act thus. They, when they can impose on whom they will, give a little to receive a great deal. It is not so with God. He gives the greater by far for the less.
Tell me, if you were to go to a merchant, and he were to set before you two stones, one of little worth, and the other very precious, and sure to fetch a large amount of wealth; if he allowed you for the price of the cheap one to carry off the more costly, should you complain of him? No! You would rather admire his liberality. So now, two lives are set before us, the one temporal, the other eternal. These God offers us for sale, but He would sell us the latter rather than the former. Why do we complain, like silly children, that we receive the more precious? Is it possible then to purchase life for money? Yes, when what we bestow is our own, and not the property of another; when we do not practice an imposture. But, you say, henceforth the goods are mine. They are not thine after rapine. They are still thy neighbor’s, though thou wert a thousand times the master of them. For if thou shouldest receive a deposit, it would not be thine own even for the short season that the depositor was traveling, though it might be laid up with thee. If therefore that is not ours, which we received with the consent and thanks of those who deposited it, even for the short period that we retain it, much less is that ours, which we plundered against the will of its owner. He is the master of it, however long thou mayest withhold it. But Virtue is really our own; as for money, even our own is not strictly ours, much less that of others. Today it is ours, to-morrow it belongs to another. What is of virtue is our own possession. This does not suffer loss, like other things, but is entirely possessed by all who have it. This therefore let us acquire, and let us despise riches, that we may be able to attain those real goods, of which God grant that we may be thought worthy to partake, through the grace and lovingkindness, &c.
Chrysostom 2Tm 500