Chrysostom on 2Cor 500
500 for the gospel of Christ, and when a door was opened unto me in the Lord, I had no relief for my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother. (2Co 2,12-17)
These words seem on the one hand to be unworthy of Paul, if because of a brother’s absence he threw away so great an opportunity of saving; and on the other, to hang apart from the context. What then? Will ye that we should first prove that they hang upon the context, or, that he hath said nothing unworthy of himself? As I think, the second, for so the other point also will be easier and clearer.
How then do these (words) hang upon those before them? Let us recall to mind what those were, and so we shall perceive this. What then were those before? What he said at the beginning. “I would not have you,” saith he, “ignorant concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power.” (2Co 1,8) Now having shown the manner of his deliverance, and inserted the intermediate matter, he is of necessity led to teach them again that in yet another way he had been afflicted. How, and in what way? In not finding Titus. (vii. 6; viii. 6, 16, 22, 23, 12,18). Fearful indeed, and enough to prostrate the soul, is it even to endure trials; but when there is none to comfort and that can help to bear the burden, the tempest becometh greater. Now Titus is he, whom further on he speaks of as having come to him from them, and of whom he runs through many and great praises, and whom he said he had sent. With the view then of showing that in this point also he had been afflicted for their sakes, he said these things.
That the words then in question hang on what went before is from all this plain. And I will attempt to prove also that they are not unworthy of Paul. For He doth not say that the absence of Titus impeded the salvation of those who were about to come over, nor yet that he neglected those that believed on this account, but that he had no relief, that is, ‘I was afflicted, I was distressed for the absence of my brother;’ showing how great a matter a brother’s absence is; and therefore he departed thence. But what means, “when I came to Troas, for the Gospel?” he saith not simply ‘I arrived,” but ‘so as to preach.’ But still, though I had both come for that and found very much to do, (for “a door was opened unto me in the Lord,”) I had, saith he, “no relief,” not that for this he impeded the work. How then saith he,
2Co 2,13. “Taking my leave of them, I went from thence?”
That is, ‘I spent no longer time, being straitened and distressed.’ And perhaps the work was even impeded by his absence. And this was no light consolation to them too. For if when a door was opened there, and for this purpose he had come; yet because he found not the brother, he quickly started away; much more, he saith, ought ye to make allowance for the compulsion of those affairs which lead us and lead us about everywhere, and suffer us not according as we desire either to journey, or to tarry longer amongst those with whom we may wish to remain. Whence also he proceeds in this place again to refer his journeyings to God, as he did above to the Spirit, saying,
2Co 2,14. “But thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of His knowledge in every place.”
For that he may not seem as though in sorrow to be lamenting these things, he sendeth up thanks to God. Now what he saith is this: ‘Every where is trouble, every where straitness. I came into Asia, I was burdened beyond strength. I came to Troas, I found not the brother. I came not to you; this too bred in me no slight, yea rather, exceeding great dejection, both because many among you had sinned, and because on this account I see you not. For, “To spare you,” he saith, “I came not as yet unto Corinth.” That then he may not seem to be complaining in so speaking, he adds, ‘We not only do not grieve in these afflictions, but we even rejoice; and, what is still greater, not for the sake of the rewards to come only, but those too even which are present. For even here we are by these things made glorious and conspicuous. So far then are we from lamenting, that we even call the thing a triumph; and glory in what happeneth.’ For which cause also he said, “Now thanks be unto God, Which always causeth us to triumph,” that is, ‘Who maketh us renowned unto all. For what seemeth to be matter of disgrace, being persecuted from every quarter, this appeareth to us to be matter of very great honor.’ Wherefore he said not, “Which maketh us seen of all,” but, “Which causeth us to triumph:” showing that these persecutions set up a series of trophies against the devil in every part of the world. Then having mentioned along with the author, the subject also of the triumph, he thereby also raiseth up the hearer. ‘For not only are we made to triumph by God, but also “in Christ;’“that is, on account of Christ and the Gospel. ‘For seeing it behooveth to triumph, all need is that we also who carry the trophy are seen of all, because we bear Him. For this reason we become observed and conspicuous.’
[2.] 2Co 2,14. “And which maketh manifest through us the savor of His knowledge in every place.”
(He said above, “Which always causeth us to triumph.” Here he saith “in every place,” showing that every place and every time is full of the Apostles’ labors. And he uses yet another metaphor, that of the sweet savor. For ‘like as those who bear ointment, so are we,’ saith he, ‘manifest to all’; calling the knowledge a very precious ointment. Moreover, he said not, ‘the knowledge;’ but “the savor of the knowledge;” for such is the nature of the present knowledge, not very clear nor uncovered. Whence also he said in the former Epistle, “For now we see in a mirror darkly.” (1Co 13,12) And here he calls that which is such a “savor.” Now he that perceiveth the savor knoweth that there is ointment lying somewhere; but of what nature it is he knows not yet, unless he happens before to have seen it. ‘So also we. That God is, we know, but what in substance we know not yet. We are then, as it were, a Royal censer, breathing whithersoever we go of the heavenly ointment and the spiritual sweet savor.’ Now he said this, at once both to set forth the power of the Preaching, in that by the very designs formed against them, they shine more than those who prosecute them and who cause the whole world to know both their trophies and their sweet savor: and to exhort them in regard to their afflictions and trials to bear all nobly, seeing that even before the Recompense they reap this glory inexpressible.
2Co 2,15. “For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved and in them that perish.”
Whether, saith he, one be saved or be lost, the Gospel continues to have its proper virtue: and as the light, although it blindeth the weakly, is still light, though causing blindness; and as honey, though it be bitter to those who are diseased, is in its nature sweet; so also is the Gospel of sweet savor, even though some should be lost who believe it not. For not It, but their own perverseness, worketh the perdition. And by this most of all is its sweet savor manifested, by which the corrupt and vicious perish; so that not only by the salvation of the good, but also by the perdition of the wicked is its excellence declared. Since both the sun, for this reason most especially that he is exceeding bright, doth wound the eyes of the weak: and the Saviour is “for the fall and rising again of many,” (Lc 2,34) but still He continueth to be a Saviour, though ten thousand fall; and His coming brought a sorer punishment upon them that believe not, but still it continueth to be full: of healing Whence also he saith, “We are unto God a sweet savor;” that is, ‘even though some be lost we continue to be that which we are.’ Moreover he said not simply “a sweet savor,” but “unto God.” And when we are a sweet savor unto God, and He decreeth these things, who shall henceforth gainsay?
The expression also, “sweet savor of Christ,” appears to me to admit of a double interpretation: for he means either that in dying they offered themselves a sacrifice: or that they were a sweet savor of the death of Christ, as if one should say, this incense is a sweet savor of this victim. The expression then, sweet savor, either signifieth this, or, as I first said, that they are daily sacrificed for Christ’s sake.
[3.] Seest thou to what a height he hath advanced the trials, terming them a triumph and a sweet savor and a sacrifice offered unto God. Then, whereas he said, “we are a sweet savor, even in them that perish,” lest thou shouldest think that these too are acceptable, he added,
2Co 2,16. “To the one a savor from death unto death, to the other a savor from life unto life.”
For this sweet savor some so receive that they are saved, others so that they perish. So that should any one be lost, the fault is from hismelf: for both ointment is said to suffoctae swine, and light (as I before observed,)to blind the weak. And such is the nature of good things; they not only correct what is akin to them, but also destroy the opposite: and in this way is their power most displayed. For so both fire, not only when it giveth light and when it purifieth gold, but even when it consumeth thorns, doth very greatly display its proper power, and so show itself to be fire: and Christ too herein also doth discover His own majesty when He “shall consume” Antichrist “with the breath of His mouth, and bring him to nought with the manifestation of His coming.” (2Th 2,8)
“And who is sufficient for these things?”
Seeing he had uttered great things, that ‘we are a sacrifice of Christ and a sweet savor, and are every where made to triumph,’ he again useth moderation, referring all to God. Whence also he saith, “and who is sufficient for these things?” ‘for all,’ saith he, ‘is Christ’s, nothing our own.’ Seest thou how opposite his language to the false Apostles’? For they indeed glory, as contributing somewhat from themselves unto the message: he, on the contrary, saith, he therefore glorieth, because he saith that nothing is his own. “For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that not in fleshly wisdom, but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world.” And that which they considered it a glory to acquire, I mean the wisdom from without, he makes it his to take away. Whence also he here saith, “And who is sufficient for these things?” But if none are sufficient, that which is done is of grace.
2Co 2,17. “For we are not as the rest, which corrupt the word of God.”
‘For even if we use great sounding words, yet we declared nothing to be our own that we achieved, but all Christ’s. For we will not imitate the false apostles; the men who say that most is of themselves.’ For this is “to corrupt,” when one adulterates the wine; when one sells for money what he ought to give freely. For he seems to me to be here both taunting them in respect to money, and again hinting at the very thing I have said, as that they mingle their own things with God’s; which is the charge Isaiah brings when he said, “Thy vintners mingle wine with water:” (Is 1,22, LXX). for even if this was said of wine, yet one would not err in expounding it of doctrine too. ‘But we,’ saith he, ‘do not so: but such as we have been entrusted with, such do we offer you, pouring out the word undiluted.’ Whence he added, “But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
‘We do not,’ saith he ‘beguile you and so preach, as conferring a gift on you, or as bringing in and mingling somewhat from ourselves, “but as of God;” that is, we do not say that we confer any thing of our own, but that God hath given all.’ For “of God” means this; To glory in nothing as if we had it of our own, but to refer every thing to Him. “Speak we in Christ.”
Not by our own wisdom, but instructed by the power that cometh from Him. Those who glory speak not in this way, but as bringing in something from themselves. Whence he elsewhere also turns them into ridicule, saying, “For what hast thou that thou didst not receive? but if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it.” (1Co 4,7) This is the highest virtue, to refer every thing to God, to consider nothing to be our own, to do nothing out of regard to men’s opinion, but to what God willeth. For He it is that requireth the account. Now however this order is reversed: and of Him that shall sit upon the tribunal and require the account, we have no exceeding fear, yet tremble at those who stand and are judged with us.
[4.] Whence then is this disease? Whence hath it broken out in our souls? From not meditating continually on the things of that world, but being rivetted to present things. Hence we both easily fall into wicked doings, and even if we do any good thing we do it for display, so that thence also loss cometh to us. For instance, one has looked on a person often with unbridled eyes, unseen of her or of those who walk with her, yet of the Eye that never sleeps was not unseen. For even before the commission of the sin, It saw the unbridled soul, and that madness within, and the thoughts that were whirled about in storm and surge; for no need hath He of witnesses and proofs Who knoweth all things. Look not then to thy fellow-servants: for though man praise, it availeth not if God accept not; and though man condemn, it harmeth not if God do not condemn. Oh! provoke not so thy Judge; of thy fellow-servants making great account, yet when Himself is angry, not in fear and trembling at Him. Let us then despise the praise that cometh of men. How long shall we be low-minded and grovelling? How long, when God lifteth us to heaven, take we pains to be trailed along the ground? The brethren of Joseph, had they had the fear of God before their eyes, as men ought to have, would not have taken their brother in a lonely place and killed him. (Gn 37). Cain again, had he feared that sentence as he should have feared, would not have said, “Come, and let us go into the field:” (Gn 4,8, LXX). for to what end, O miserable and wretched! dost thou take him apart from him that begat him, and leadest him out into a lonely place? For doth not God see the daring deed even in the field? Hath thou not been taught by what befel thy father that He knoweth all things, and is present at all things that are done? And why, when he denied, said not God this unto him: ‘Hidest thou from Me Who am present every where, and know the things that are secret?’ Because as yet he knew not aright to comprehend these high truths. But what saith he? “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me.” Not as though blood had a voice; but like as we say when things are plain and clear, “the matter speaketh for itself.”
Wherefore surely it behoveth to have before our eyes the sentence of God, and all terrors are extinguished. So too in prayers we can keep awake, if we bear in mind with whom we are conversing, if we reflect that we are offering sacrifice and have in our hands a knife and fire and wood; if in thought we throw wide the gates of heaven, if we transport ourselves thither and taking the sword of the Spirit infix it in the throat of the victim: make watchfulness the sacrifice and tears the libation to Him. For such is the blood of this victim. Such the slaughter that crimsons that altar. Suffer not then aught of worldly thoughts to occupy thy soul then. Bethink thee that Abraham also, when offering sacrifice, suffered nor wife nor servant nor any other to be present. Neither then do thou suffer any of the slavish and ignoble passions to be present unto thee, but go up alone into the mountain where he went up, where no second person is permitted to go up. And should any such thoughts attempt to go up with thee, command them with authority, and say, “Sit ye there, and land the lad will worship and return to you;” (Gn 22,5. LXX). and leaving the ass and the servants below, and whatever is void of reason and sense, go up, taking with thee whatever is reasonable, as he took Isaac. And build thine altar so as he, as having nothing human, but having outstepped nature. For he too, had he not outstepped nature, would not have slain his child. And let nothing disturb thee then, but be lift up above the very heavens. Groan bitterly, sacrifice confession, (for, saith he, “Declare thou first thy transgressions that thou mayest be justified,” Is 43,26. LXX)., sacrifice contrition of heart. These victims turn not to ashes nor dissolve into smoke nor melt into air; neither need they wood and fire, but only a deep-pricked heart. This is wood, this is fire to burn, yet not consume them. For he that prayeth with warmth is burnt, yet not consumed; but like gold that is tried by fire becometh brighter.
[5.] And withal observe heedfully one thing more, in praying to say none of those things that provoke thy Master; neither draw near [to pray] against enemies. For if to have enemies be a reproach, consider how great the evil to pray against them. For need is that thou defend thyself and show why thou hast enemies: but thou even accusest them. And what forgiveness shalt thou obtain, when thou both revilest, and at such a time when thyself needest much mercy, For thou drewest near to supplicate for thine own sins: make not mention then of those of others, lest thou recall the memory of thine own. For if thou say, ‘Smite mine enemy,’ thou hast stopped thy mouth, thou hast cut off boldness from thy tongue; first, indeed, because thou hast angered the Judge at once in beginning; next, because thou asketh things at variance with the character of thy prayer. For if thou comest near for forgiveness of sins, how discoursest thou of punishment? The contrary surely was there need to do, and to pray for them in order that we may with boldness beseech this for ourselves also. But now thou hast forestalled the Judge’s sentence by thine own, demanding that He punish them that sin: for this depriveth of all pardon. But if thou pray for them, even if thou say nothing in thine own sins’ behalf, thou hast achieved all. Consider how many sacrifices there are in the law; a sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice of acknowledgment, a sacrifice ofpeace, a sacrifice of purifications, and numberless others, and not one of them against enemies, but all in behalf of either one’s own sins or one’s own successes. For comest thou to another God? To him thou comest that said, “Pray for your enemies.” (Lc 6,27 and Lc 6,35. Rm 12,14) How then dost thou cry against them? How dost thou beseech God to break his own law? This is not the guise of a suppliant. None supplicates the destruction of another, but the safety of himself. Why then wearest thou the guise of a suppliant, but hast the words of an accuser? Yet when we pray for ourselves, we scratch ourselves and yawn, and fall into ten thousand thoughts; but when against our enemies, we do so wakefully. For since the devil knows that we are thrusting the sword against ourselves, he doth not distract nor call us off then, that he may work us the greater harm. But, saith one, ’I have been wronged and am afflicted.’ Why not then pray against the devil, who injureth us most of all. This thou hast also been commanded to say, “Deliver us from the evil one.” He is thy irreconcileable foe, but man, do whatsoever he will, is a friend and brother. With him then let us all be angry; against him let us beseech God, saying, “Bruise Satan under our feet;” (Rm 16,20). for he it is that breedeth also the enemies [we have]. But if thou pray against enemies, thou prayest so as he would have thee pray, just as if for thine enemies, then against him. Why then letting him go who is thine enemy indeed, dost thou tear thine own members, more cruel in this than wild beasts. ‘But,’ saith one, ‘he insulted me and robbed me of money;’ and which hath need to grieve, he that suffered injury, or he that inflicted injury? Plainly he that inflicted injury, since whilst he gained money he cast himself out of the favor of God, and lost more than he gained: so that he is the injured party. Surely then need is not that one pray against, but for him, that God would be merciful to him. See how many things the three children suffered, though they had done no harm. They lost country, liberty, were taken captive and made slaves; and when carried away into a foreign and barbarous land, were even on the point of being slain on account of the dream, without cause or object. (Da 2,13) What then? When they had entered in with Daniel, what prayed they? What said they? Dash down Nabuchodonosor, pull down his diadem, hurl him from the throne? Nothing of this sort; but they desired “mercies of God.” (Da 2,18. LXX). And when they were in the furnace, likewise. But not so ye: but when ye suffer far less than they, and oftentimes justly, ye cease not to vent ten thousand imprecations. And one saith, ‘Strike down my enemy as Thou overwhelmedst the chariot of Pharaoh;’ another, ‘Blast his flesh;’ another again, ‘Requite it on his children.’ Recognize ye not these words? Whence then is this your laughter? Seest thou how laughable this is, when it is uttered without passion. And so all sin then discovereth how vile it is, when thou strippest it of the state of mind of the perpetrator. Shouldest thou remind one who has been angered of the words which he said in his passion, he will sink for shame and scorn himself and wish he had suffered a thousand punishments rather than those words to be his. And shouldest thou, when the embrace is over, bring the unchaste to the woman he sinned with, he too will turn away from her as disgusting. And so do ye, because ye are not under the influence of the passion, laugh now. For worthy to be laughed at are they, and the words of drunken old gossips; and springing from a womanish littleness of soul. And yet Joseph, though he had been sold and made a slave, and had tenanted a prison, uttered not even then a bitter word against the authors of his sorrows. But what saith he? “Indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews;” (Gn 40,15) and addeth not by whom. For he feels more ashamed for the wickedness of his brethren, than they who wrought them. Such too ought to be our disposition, to grieve for them who wrong us more than they themselves do. For the hurt passeth on to them. As then they who kick against nails, yet are proud of it, are fit objects of pity and lamentation on account of this madness; so they who wrong those that do them no evil, inasmuch as they wound their own souls, are fit objects for many moans and lamentations, not for curses. For nothing is more polluted than a soul that curseth, or more impure than a tongue that offereth such sacrifices. Thou art a man; vomit not forth the poison of asps. Thou art a man; become not a wild beast. For this was thy mouth made, not that thou shouldest bite but that thou shouldest heal the wounds of others. ‘Remember the charge I have given thee,’ saith God, ‘to pardon and forgive. But thou beseechest Me also to be a party to the overthrow of my own commandments, and devourest thy brother, and reddenest thy tongue, as madmen do their teeth on their own members.’ How, thinkest thou, the devil is pleased and laughs, when he hears such a prayer? and how, God is provoked, and turneth from and abhorreth thee, when thou beseechest things like these? Than which, what can be more dangerous? For if none should approach the mysteries that hath enemies: how must not he, that not only hath, but also prayeth against them, be excluded even from the outer courts themselves? Thinking then on these things, and considering the Subject of the Sacrifice, that He was sacrificed for enemies; let us not have an enemy: and if we have, let us pray for him; that we too having obtained forgiveness of the sins we have committed, may stand with boldness at the tribunal of Christ; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
600 or need we, as do some epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? (2Co 3,1-6)
HE anticipates and puts himself an objection which others would have urged against him, ‘Thou vauntest thyself;’ and this though he had before employed so strong a corrective in the expressions, “Who is sufficient for these things?” and, “of sincerity... speak we.” (2Co 2,16-17) Howbeit he is not satisfied with these. For such is his character. From appearing to say any thing great of himself he is far removed, and avoids it even to great superfluity and excess. And mark, I pray thee, by this instance also, the abundance of his wisdom. For a thing of woeful aspect, I mean tribulations, he so much exalted and showed to be bright and lustrous, that out of what he said the present objection rose up against him. And he does so also towards the end. For after having enumerated numberless perils, insults, straits, necessities, and as many such like things as be, he added, “We commend not ourselves, but speak as giving you occasion to glory.,, (2Co 5,12) And he expresses this again with vehemence in that place, and with more of encouragement. For here the words are those of love, “Need we, as do some, epistles of commendation?” but there what he says is full of a kind of pride even, necessarily and properlyso, of pride, I say, and anger. “For we commend not ourselves again,” saith he, “but speak as giving you occasion to glory;” (2Co 5,12) and, “Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? For in the sight of God speak we in Christ. For I fear lest by any means when I come I should not find you such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye wouldnot.” (ib. 12,19, 20). For to prevent all appearance of a wish to flatter, as though he desired honor from them, he speaketh thus, “I fear lest by any means when I come I should not find you such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye would not.” This however comes after many accusations; But in the beginning he speaketh not so, but more gently. And what is it he saith? He spoke of his trials and his perils, and that every where he is conducted as in procession by God in Christ, and that the whole world knoweth of these triumphs. Since then he has uttered great things of himself, he urges this objection against himself, “Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?” Now what he Saith is this: Perchance some one will object, ‘What is this, O Paul? Sayest thou these things of thyself, and exaltest thyself?’ To do away then with this suspicion, he saith, We desire not this, that is, to boast and exalt ourselves; yea, so far are we from needing epistles of commendation to you that ye are to us instead of an epistle.”For,” saith he,
2Co 3,2. “Ye are our epistle.”
What means this, “ye are?” ‘Did we need to be commended to others, we should have produced you before them instead of an epistle.’ And this he said in the former Epistle. “For the seal of mine Apostleship are ye.” (1Co 9,2) But he doth not here say it in this manner, but in irony so as to make his question, “Do we need epistles of commendation?” more cutting. And in allusion to the false apostles, he added, “as do some, [epistles of commendation] to you, or letters of commendation from you” to others. Then because what he had said was severe, he softens it by adding, “Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known of all,
2Co 3,3. “Being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ.”
Here he testifieth not only to their love, but also to their good works: since they are able to show unto all men by their own virtue the high worth of their teacher, for this is the meaning of, “Ye are our epistle.”
What letters would have done to commend and gain respect for us, that ye do both as seen and heard of; for the virtue of the disciples is wont to adorn and to commend the teacher more than any letter.Ver. 3. “Written in our hearts.”
That is, which all know; we so bear you about every where and have you in mind. As though he said, Ye are our commendation to others, for we both have you continually in our heart and proclaim to all your good works. Because then that even to others yourselves are our commendation, we need no epistles from you; but further, because we love you exceedingly, we need no commendation to you. For to those who are strangers one hath need of letters, but ye are in our mind. Yet he said not merely, “ye are [in it],” but “written in [it],” that is, ye cannot slide out of it. For just as from letters by reading, so from our heart by perceiving, all are acquainted with the love we bear you. If then the object of a letter be to certify, “such an one is my friend and let him have free intercourse [with you], your love is sufficient to secure all this. For should we go to you, we have no need of others to commend us, seeing your love anticipateth this; and should we go to others, again we need no letters, the same love again sufficing unto us in their stead, for we carry about the epistle in our hearts.
[2.] Then exalting them still higher, he even calleth them the epistle of Christ, saying,
2Co 3,3. “Being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ.”
And having said this, he afterwards hence takes ground and occasion for a discussion on the Law. And there is another aim in his here styling them His epistle. For above as commending him, he called them an epistle; but here an epistle of Christ, as having the Law of God written in them. For what things God wished to declare to all and to you, these are written in your hearts. But it was we who prepared you to receive the writing. For just as Moses hewed the stones and tables, so we, your souls. Whence he saith,
“Ministered by us.”
Yet in this they were on an equality; for the former were written on by God, and these by the Spirit. Where then is the difference?
“Written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh.”
Wide as the difference between the Spirit and ink, and a stony table and a fleshy, so wide is that between these and those; consequently between themselves who ministered, and him who ministered to them. Yet because it was a great thing he had uttered, he therefore quickly checks himself, saying,
2Co 3,4. “And such confidence have we through Christ to Godward,”
And again refers all to God: for it is Christ, saith he, Who is the Author of these things to us.
2Co 3,5. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to account any thing as from ourselves.”
See again, yet another corrective. For he possesses this virtue, humility I mean, in singular perfection. Wherefore whenever he saith any thing great of himself, he maketh all diligence to soften down extremely and by every means, what he has said. And so he does in this place also, saying, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to account any thing as from ourselves:” that is, I said not, “We have confidence,” as though part were ours and part God’s; but I refer and ascribe the whole to Him.
2Co 3,5-6. “For our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant.”
What means, “made us sufficient?” Made us able and fitting. And it is not a little thing to be the bearer to the world of such tables and letters, greater far than the former. Whence also he added,
“Not of the letter, but of the spirit.” See again another difference. What then? was not that Law spiritual? How then saith he, “We know that the Law is spiritual?” (Rm 7,14) Spiritual indeed, but it bestowed not a spirit. For Moses bare not a spirit, but letters; but we have been entrusted with the giving of a spirit. Whence also in further completion of this [contrast,] he saith,
“For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
Yet these things he saith not absolutely; but in allusion to those who prided themselves upon the things of Judaism. And by “letter” here he meaneth the Law which punisheth them that transgress; but by “spirit” the grace which through Baptism giveth life to them who by sins were made dead. For having mentioned the difference arising from the nature of the tables, he doth not dwell upon it, but rapidly passing it by, bestows more labor upon this, which most enabled him to lay hold on his hearer from considerations of what was advantageous and easy; for, saith he, it is not laborious, and the gift it offers is greater. For if when discoursing of Christ, he puts especially forward those things which are of His lovingkindness, more than of our merit, and which are mutually connected, much greater necessity is there for his doing so when treating of the covenant. What then is the meaning of “the letter killeth?” He had said tables of stone and hearts of flesh: so far he seemed to mention no great difference. He added that the former [covenant] was written with letters or ink, but this with the Spirit. Neither did this rouse them thoroughly, He says at last what is indeed enough to give them wings; the one “killeth,” the other “giveth life.” And what doth this mean? In the Law, he that hath sin is punished; here, he that hath sins cometh and is baptized and is made righteous, and being made righteous, he liveth, being delivered from the death of sin. The Law, if it lay hold on a murderer, putteth him to death; the Gospel, if it lay hold on a murderer, enlighteneth, and giveth him life. And why do I instance a murderer? The Law laid hold on one that gathered sticks on a sabbath day, and stoned him. (Nb 15,32 and Nb 15,36) This is the meaning of, “the letter killeth.” The Gospel takes hold on thousands of homicides and robbers, and baptizing delivereth them from their former vices. This is the meaning of, “the Spirit giveth life.” The former maketh its captive dead from being alive, the latter rendereth the man it hath convicted alive from being dead. For, “come unto me, ye that labor and are heavy laden,” (Mt 11,28) and, He said not, ’ I will punish you,’ but, “I will give you rest.” For in Baptism the sins are buried, the former things are blotted out, the man is made alive, the entire grace written upon his heart as it were a table. Consider then how high is the dignity of the Spirit, seeing that His tables are better than those former ones; seeing that even a greater thing is shown forth than the resurrection itself. For indeed, that state of death from which He delivers, is more irremediable than the former one: as much more so, as soul is of more value than the body: and this life is conferred by that, by that which the Spirit giveth. But if It be able to bestow this, much more then that which is less. For, that prophets wrought, but this they could not: for none can remit sins but God only; nor did the prophets bestow that life without the Spirit. But this is not the marvel only, that it giveth life, but that it enabled others also to do this. For He saith, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (Jn 20,22) Wherefore? Because without the Spirit it might not be? [Yes,] but God, as showing that It is of supreme authority, and of that Kingly Essence, and hath the same power [with Himself,] saith this too. Whence also He adds, “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (Jn 23).
[3.] Since then It hath given us life, let us remain living and not return again to the former deadness: for “Christ dieth no more; for the death that He died, He died unto sin once:” (Rm 6,9-10) and He will not have us always saved by grace: for so we shall be empty of all things. Wherefore He will have us contribute something also from ourselves. Let us then contribute, and preserve to the soul its life. And what is life in a soul, learn from the body. For the body too we then affirm to live, when it moves with a healthy kind of motion; but when it lies prostrate and powerless, or its motions are disorderly, though it retain the semblance of life or motion, such a life is more grievous than any death: and should it utter nothing sane but words of the crazy, and see one object instead of another, such a man again is more pitiable than those who are dead. So also the soul when it hath no healthiness, though it retain a semblance of life, is dead: when it doth not see gold as gold but as something great and precious; when it thinketh not of the future but crawleth upon the ground; when it doth one thing in place of another. For whence is it clear that we have a soul? Is it not from its operations? When then it doth not perform the things proper to it, is it not dead? when, for instance, it hath no care for virtue, but is rapacious and transgresseth the law; whence can I tell that thou hast a soul? Because thou walkest? But this belongs to the irrational creatures as well. Because thou eatest and drinkest? But this too belongeth to wild beasts. Well then, because thou standest upright on two feet? This convinceth me rather that thou art a beast in human form. For when thou resemblest one in all other respects, but not in its manner of erecting itself, thou dost the more disturb and terrify me; and I the more consider that which I see to be a monster. For did I see a beast speaking with the voice of a man, I should not for that reason say it was a man, but even for that very reason a beast more monstrous than a beast. Whence then can I learn that thou hast the soul of a man, when thou kickest like the ass, when thou bearest malice like the camel, when thou bitest like the bear, when thou ravenest like the wolf, when thou stealest like the fox, when thou art wily as the serpent, when thou art shameless as the dog? Whence can I learn that thou hast the soul of a man? Will ye that I show you a dead soul and a living? Let us turn the discourse back to those men of old; and, if you will, let us set before us the rich man [in the story] of Lazarus, and we shall know what is death in a soul; for he had a dead soul, and it is plain from what he did. For, of the works of the soul he did not one, but ate and drank and lived in pleasure only. Such are even now the unmerciful and cruel, for these too have a dead soul as he had. For all its warmth that floweth out of the love of our neighbor hath been spent, and it is deader than a lifeless body. But the poor man was not such, but standing on the very summit of heavenly wisdom shone out; and though wrestling with continual hunger, and not even supplied with the food that was necessary, neither so spake he aught of blasphemy against God, but endured all nobly. Now this is no trifling work of the soul; but a very high proof that it is well-strung and healthful. And when there are not these qualities, it is plainly because the soul is dead that they have perished. Or, tell me, shall we not pronounce that soul dead which the Devil falls upon, striking, biting, spurning it, yet hath it no sense of any of these things, but lieth deadened nor grieveth when being robbed of its wealth; but he even leapeth upon it, yet it remaineth unmoved, like a body when the soul is departed, nor even feeleth it? For when the fear of God is not present with strictness, such must the soul needs be, and then the dead more miserable. For the soul is not dissolved into corruption and ashes and dust, but into things of fouler odor than these, into drunkenness and anger and covetousness, into improper loves and unseasonable desires. But if thou wouldest know more exactly how foul an odor it hath, give me a soul that is pure, and then thou wilt see clearly how foul the odor of this filthy and impure one. For at present thou wilt not be able to perceive it. For so long as we are in contact habitually with a foul odor, we arenot sensible of it. But when we are fed with spiritual words, then shall we be cognizant of that evil. And yet to many this seemeth of no importance. And I say nothing as yet of hell; but let us, if you will, examine what is present, and how worthy of derision is he, not that practiseth, but that uttereth filthiness; how first he loadeth himself with contumely; just as one that sputtereth any filth from the mouth, so he defiles himself. For if the stream is so impure, think what must be the fountain of this filth! “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Mt 12,34) Yet not for this alone do I grieve, but because that to some this doth not even seem to be reckoned amongst improper things. Hence the evils are all made worse, when we both sin, and do not think we even do amiss.
[4.] Wilt thou then learn how great an evil is filthy talking? See how the hearers blush at thy indecency. For what is viler than a filthy talker? what more infamous? For such thrust themselves into the rank of buffoons and of prostituted women, yea rather these have more shame than you. How canst thou teach a wife to be modest when by such language thou art training her to proceed unto lasciviousness? Better vent rottenness from the mouth than a filthy word. Now if thy mouth have an ill-odor, thou partakest not even of the common meats; when then thou hadst so foul a stink in thy soul, tell me, dost thou dare to partake of mysteries? Did any one take a dirty vessel andset it upon the table, thou wouldest have beatenhim with clubs and driven him out: yet God at His own table, (for His table our mouth is when filled with thanksgiving,) when thou pourest out words more disgusting than any unclean vessel, tell me, dost thou think that thou provokest not? And how is this possible? For nothing doth so exasperate the holy and pure as do such words; nothing makes men so impudent and shameless as to say and listen to such; nothing doth so unstring the sinews of modesty as the flame which these kindle. God hath set perfumes in thy mouth, but thou storest up words of fouler odor than a corpse, and destroyest the soul itself and makest it incapable of motion. For when thou insultest, this is not the voice of the soul, but of anger; when thou talkest filthily, it is lewdness, and not she that spake; when thou detractest, it is envy; when thou schemest, covetousness. These are not her works, but those of the affections and the diseases belonging to her. As then corruption cometh not simply of the body, but of the death and the passion which is thus in the body; so also, in truth, these things come of the passions which grow upon the soul. For if thou wilt hear a voice from a living soul, hear Paul saying, “Having food and covering, we shall be therewith content:” (1Tm 6,8) and “Godliness is great gain:” (1Tm 6,6). and, “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Ga 6,14) Hear Peter saying, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee.” (Ac 3,6) Hear Jb giving thanks and saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” (Jb 1,21) These things are the words of a living soul, of a soul discharging the functions proper to it. Thus also Jacob said, “If the Lord will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on.” (Gn 28,20) Thus also Joseph, “How shall I do this wickedness, and sin before God?” (Gn 39,9). But not so that barbarian woman; but as one drunken and insane, so spake she, saying, “Lie with me.” (Gn 39,7). These things then knowing, let us earnestly covet the living soul, let us flee the dead one, that we may also obtain the life to come; of which may all we be made partakers, through the grace and love toward men of our Lord Jesus Christ, though Whom and with Whom, to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, might, honor, now and for ever, and world without end. Amen.
Chrysostom on 2Cor 500