Chrysostom on 2Cor 2600
2600 [for] I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. (2Co 12,1-10)
What is this? Doth he who has spoken such great things say, [It is not expedient] “doubtless to glory?” as if he had said nothing? No; not as if he had said nothing: but because he is going to pass to another species of boasting, which is not intended indeed by so great a reward, but which to the many (though not to careful examiners) seems to set him off in brighter colors, he says, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory.” For truly the great grounds of boasting were those which he had re ounted, those of his trials; he has however other things also to tell of, such as concern the revelations, the unspeakable mysteries. And wherefore, says he, “It is not expedient for me?” he means, ‘lest it lift me up to pride.’ What sayest thou? For if thou speak not of them, yet dost thou not know of them? But our knowing of them ourselves doth not lift us up so much as our publishing them to others. For it is not the nature of good deeds that useth to lift a man up, but their being witnessed to, and known of, by the many. For this cause therefore he saith, “It is not expedient for me;” and, ‘that I may not implant too great an idea of me in those who hear.’ For those men indeed, the false apostles, said even what was not true about themselves; but this man hides even what is true, and that too although so great necessity lies upon him, and says, “It is not expedient for me;” teaching one and all even to superfluity to avoid any thing of the sort. For this thing is attended with no advantage, but even with harm, except there be some necessary and useful reason which induceth us thereto. Having then spoken of his perils, trials, snares, dejections, shipwrecks, he passeth to another species of boasting, saying,
2Co 12,2-3. “I knew a man, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth;) such an one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know how that he was caught up into Paradise, (whether in the body, I know not; or out of the body, I know not;) and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. On behalf of such an one will I glory: but on mine own behalf I will not glory.”
Great indeed was this revelation. But this was not the only one: there were many others besides, but he mentions one out of many. For that there were many, hear what he says: “Lest I should be exalted overmuch through the exceeding greatness of the revelations.” ‘And yet,’ a man may say, ‘if he wished to conceal them, he ought not to have given any intimation whatever or said any thing of the sort; but if he wished to speak of them, to speak plainly.’ Wherefore then is it that he neither spoke plainly nor kept silence? To show by this also that he resorts to the thing unwillingly. And therefore also he has stated the time, “fourteen years.” For he does not mention it without an object, but to show that he who had refrained for so long a time would not now have spoken out, except the necessity for doing so had been great. But he would have still kept silence, had he not seen the brethren perishing. Now if Paul from the very beginning was such an one as to be counted worthy of such a revelation, when as yet he had not wrought such good works; consider what he must have grown to in fourteen years. And observe how even in this very matter he shows modesty, by his saying some things, but confessing that of others he is ignorant. For that he was caught up indeed, he declared, but whether “in the body” or “out of the body” he says he does not know. And yet it would have been quite enough, if he had told of his being caught up and had been silent [about the other]; but as it is, in his his modesty he adds this also. What then? Was it themind that was caught up and the soul, whilst the body remained dead? or was the body caught up? It is impossible to tell. For if Paul who was caught up and whom things unspeakable, so many and so great, had befallen was in ignorance, much more we. For, indeed, that he was in Paradise he knew, and that he was in the third heaven he was not ignorant, but the manner he knew not clearly. And see from yet another consideration how free he is from pride. For in his narrative about “the city of the Damascenes” (2Co 11,32) he confirms what he says, but here not; for it was not his aim to establish this fact strongly, but to men-mention and intimate it only. Wherefore also he goes on to say, “Of such an one will I glory;” not meaning that he who was caught up was some other person, but he so frames his language in the best manner he possibly could, so as at once to mention the fact, and to avoid speaking of himself openly. For what sequence would there be in bringing some one else forward, when discoursing about himself? Wherefore then did he so put it? It was not all one to say, ‘I was caught up,’ and, “I knew one that was caught up;” and ‘I will glory of myself,’ and, “I will glory of such an one.” Now if any should say, ‘And how is it possible to be caught up without a body?’ I will ask him, ‘How is it possible to be caught up with a body?’ for this is even more inexplicable than the other, if you examine by reasonings and do not give place to faith.
[2.] But wherefore was he also caught up? As I think, that he might not seem to be inferior to the rest of the Apostles. For since they had companied with Christ, but Paul had not: He therefore caught up unto glory him also. “Into Paradise.” For great was the name of this place, and it was everywhere celebrated. Wherefore also Christ said, “To-day thou shalt he with Me in Paradise.” (Lc 23,43)
“On behalf of such an one will I glory?” wherefore? For if another were caught up, wherefore dost thou glory? Whence it is evident that he said these things of himself. And if he added, “but of myself I will not glory,” he says nothing else than this, that, ‘when there is no necessity, I will say nothing of that kind fruitlessly and at random;’ or else he is again throwing obscurity over what he had said, as best he might. For that the whole discourse was about himself, what follows also clearly shows; for he went on to say,
2Co 12,6. “But if I should even desire to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the truth. “
How then saidst thou before, “Would that ye could bear with me a little in my foolishness;” (2Co 11,1). and, “That which I speak, I speak not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly;” (2Co 11,17) but here, “Though I should even desire to glory, I shall not be foolish?” Not in regard of glorying, but of lying; for if glorying be foolishness, how much more lying?
It is then with regard to this that he says, “I shall not be foolish.” Wherefore also he added,
“For I shall speak the truth; but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which he seeth, or that he heareth from me.” Here you have the acknowledged reason; for they even deemed them to he gods, on account of the greatness of their miracles. As then in the case of the elements, God hath done both things, creating them at once weak and glorious; the one, to proclaim His own power; the other, to prevent the error of mankind: so truly here also were they both wonderful and weak, so that by the facts themselves were the unbelievers instructed. For if whilst continuing to be wonderful only and giving no proof of weakness, they had by words tried to draw away the many from conceiving of them more than the truth; not only would they have nothing succeeded, but they would even have brought about the contrary. For those dissuasions in words would have seemed rather to spring of lowliness of mind, and would have caused them to be the more admired. Therefore in act and by deeds was their weakness disclosed. And one may see this exemplified in the men who lived under the old dispensation. For Elias was wonderful, but on one occasion he stood convicted of faint-heartedness; and Moses was great, but he also fled under the influence of the same passion. Now such things befel them, because God stood aloof and permitted their human nature to stand confessed. For if because he led them out they said, ‘Where is Moses?’ what would they net have said, if he had also led them in? Wherefore also [Paul] himself says, “I forbear, lest any should account of me.” He said not, ‘say of me,’ but, “lest any should even account of me” beyond my desert.’ Whence it is evident from this also that the whole discourse relates to himself. Wherefore even when he began, he said, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory,” which he would not have said, had he been going to speak the things which he said of another man. For wherefore is it “not expedient to glory” about another? But it was himself that was counted worthy of these things; and therefore it is that he goes on to say,
2Co 12,7. “And that I should not be exalted overmuch, through the exceeding greatness of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet me.”
What sayest thou? He that counted not the kingdom to be any thing; no, nor yet hell in respect of his longing after Christ; did he deem honor from the many to be any thing, so as both to be lifted up and to need that curb continually? for he did not say, ’ that he “might” buffet me,’ but “that he” may “buffet me.” Yet who is there would say this? What then is the meaning of what is said? When we have explained what is meant at all by the “thorn,” and who is this “messenger of Satan,” then will we declare this also. There are some then who have said that he means a kind of pain in the head which was inflicted of the devil; but God forbid! For the body of Paul never could have been given over to the hands of the devil, seeing that the devil himself submitted to the same Paul at his mere bidding; and he set him laws and bounds, when he delivered over the fornicator for the destruction of the flesh, and he dared not to transgress them. What then is the meaning of what is said? An adversary is called, in the Hebrew, Satan; and in the third Book of Kings the Scripture has so termed such as were adversaries; and speaking of Solomon, says, ‘In his days there was no Satan,’ that is, no adversary, enemy, or opponent. (1R 5,4) What he says then is this: God would not permit the Preaching to progress, in order to check our high thoughts; but permitted the adversaries to set upon us. For this indeed was enough to pluck down his high thoughts; not so that, pains in the head. And so by the “messenger of Satan,” he means Alexander the coppersmith, the party of Hymenaeus and Philetus, all the adversaries of the word; those who contended with and fought against him, those that cast him into a prison, those that beat him, that led him away to death; for they did Satan’s business. As then he calls those Jews children of the devil, who were imitating his deeds, so also he calls a “messenger of Satan” every one that opposeth. He says therefore, “There was given to me a thorn to buffet me; “not as if God putteth arms into such men’s hands, God forbid! not that He doth chastise or punish, but for the time alloweth and permitteth them.
[3.] 2Co 12,8. “Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice.”
That is, oftentimes. This also is a mark of great lowliness of mind, his not concealing that he could not bear those insidious plottings, that he fainted under them and was reduced to pray for deliverance.
2Co 12,9. “And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
That is to say, ‘It is sufficient for thee that thou raisest the dead, that thou curest the blind, that thou cleansest lepers, that thou workest those other miracles; seek not also exemption from danger and fear and to preach without annoyances. But art thou pained and dejected lest it should seem to be owing to My weakness, that there are many who plot against and beat thee and harass and scourge thee? Why this very thing doth show My power. “For My power,” He saith, “is made perfect in weakness,” when being persecuted ye overcome your persecutors; when being harassed ye get the better of them that harass you; when being put in bonds ye convert them that put you in bonds. Seek not then more than is needed.’ Seest thou how he himself assigns one reason, and God another? For he himself says, “Lest I should be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn;” but he says that God said He permitted it in order to show His power. ‘Thou seekest therefore a thing which is not only not needed, but which also obscureth the glory of My power.’ For by the words, “is sufficient for thee,” He would signify this, that nothing else need be added, but the whole was complete. So that from this also it is plain that he does not intend pains in the head; for in truth they did not preach when they were sick, for they could not preach when ill; but that harassed and persecuted, they overcame all. ‘After having heard this then,’ he says,
“Most gladly therefore will I glory in my weaknesses.” For that they may not sink down, when those false Apostles are glorying over their contrary lot and these are suffering persecution, he shows that he shineth all the brighter for this, and that thus the power of God shines forth the rather, and what happens is just matter for glorying. Wherefore he says, “Most gladly therefore will I glory.” ’ Not as therefore sorrowing did I speak of the things which I enumerated, or of that which I have just now said, “there was given to me a thorn;” but as priding myself upon them and drawing to myself greater power.’ Wherefore also he adds,
“That the strength of Christ may rest upon me.” Here he hints at another thing also, namely, that in proportion as the trials waxed in intensity, in the same proportion the grace was increased and continued.
2Co 12,10. “Wherefore I take pleasure in many weaknesses.” Of what sort? tell me. “In injuries, in persecutions, in necessities, in distresses. “’
Seest thou how he has now revealed it in the clearest manner? For in mentioning the species of the infirmity he spake not of fevers, nor any return of that sort, nor any other bodily ailment, but of “injuries, persecutions, distresses.” Seest thou a single-minded soul? He longs to be delivered from those dangers; but when he heard God’s answer that this befitteth not, he was not only not sorry that he was disappointed of his prayer, but was even glad. Wherefore he said, “I take pleasure,” ’ I rejoice, I long, to be injured, persecuted, distressed for Christ’s sake.’ And he said these things both to check those, and to raise the spirits of these that they might not be ashamed at Paul’s sufferings. For that ground was enough to make them shine brighter than all men. Then he mentions another reason also.
“For when I am weak, then am I strong.” ‘Why marvellest thou that the power of God is then conspicuous? I too am strong “then;”’ for then most of all did grace come upon him. “For as His sufferings abound, so doth our consolation abound also.” (Chap. 1,5).
[4.] Where affliction is, there is also consolation; where consolation, there is grace also. For instance when he was thrown into the prison, then it was he wrought those marvellous things; when he was shipwrecked and cast away upon that barbarous country, then more than ever was he glorified. When he went bound into the judgment-hall, then he overcame even the judge. And so it was too in the Old Testament; by their trials the righteous flourished. So it was with the three children, so with Daniel, with Moses, and Joseph; thence did they all shine and were counted worthy of great crowns. For then the sonl also is purified, when it is afflicted for God’s sake: it then enjoys greater assistance as needing more help and worthy of more grace. And truly, before the reward which is proposed to it by God, it reaps a rich harvest of good things by becoming philosophic. For affliction rends pride away and prunes out all listlessness and exerciseth unto patience: it revealeth the meanness of human things and leads unto much philosophy. For all the passions give way before it, envy, emulation, lust, rule desire of riches, of beauty, boastfulness, pride, anger; and the whole remaining swarm of these distempers. And if thou desirest to see this in actual working, I shall be able to show thee both a single individual and a whole people, as well under affliction as at ease; and so to teach thee how great advantage cometh of the one, and how great listlessness from the other.
For the people of the Hebrews, when they were vexed and persecuted, groaned and besought God, and drew down upon themselves great influences from above: but when they waxed fat, they kicked. The Ninevities again, when they were in the enjoyment of security, so exasperated God that He threatened to pluck up the entire city from its foundations: but after they had been humbled by that preaching, they displayed all virtue. But if thou wouldest see also a single individual, consider Solomon. For he, when deliberating with anxiety and trouble concerning the government of that nation, was vouchsafed that vision: but when he was in the enjoyment of luxury, he slid into the very pit of iniquity. And what did his father? When was he admirable and passing belief? Was it not when he was in trials? And Absalom, was he not sober-minded, whilst still an exile; but after his return, became both tyrannical and a parricide? And what did Job? He indeed shone even in prosperity, but showed yet brighter after his affliction. And why must one speak of the old and ancient things? for if one do but examine our own state at present, he will see how great is the advantage of affliction. For now indeed that we are in the enjoyment of peace, we are become supine, and lax and have filled the Church with countless evils; but when we were persecuted, we were more sober-minded, and kinder, and more earnest, and more ready as to these assemblies and as to hearing. For what fire is to gold, that is affliction unto souls; wiping away filth, rendering men clean, making them bright and shining. It leadeth unto the kingdom, that unto hell. And therefore the one way is broad, the other narrow. Wherefore also, He Himself said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” (Jn 16,33) as though he were leaving some great good behind unto us. If then thou art a disciple, travel thou the straight and narrow way, and be not disgusted nor discouraged. For even if thou be not afflicted in that way; thou must inevitably be afflicted on other grounds, of no advantage to thee. For the envious man also, and the lover of money, and he that burneth for an harlot, and the vainglorious, and each one of the rest that follow whatsoever is evil, endureth many disheartenings and afflictions, and is not less afflicted than they who mourn. And if he doth not weep nor mourn, it is for shame and insensibility: since if thou shouldest look into his soul, thou wilt see it filled with countless waves. Since then whether we follow this way of life or that, we must needs be afflicted: wherefore choose we not this way which along with affliction bringeth crowns innumerable? For thus hath God led all the saints through affliction and distress, at once doing them service, and securing the rest of men against entertaining a higher opinion of them than they deserve. For thus it was that idolatries gained ground at first; men being held in admiration beyond their desert. Thus the Roman senate decreed Alexander to be the thirteenth God, for it possessed the privilege of electing and enrolling Gods. For instance, when all about Christ had been reported, the ruler of the nation sent to inquire, whether they would be pleased to elect Him also a God. They however refused their consent, being angry and indignant that previous to their vote and decree, the Power of the Crucified flashing abroad had won over the whole world to its own worship. But thus it was ordered even against their will that the Divinity of Christ was not proclaimed by man’s decree, nor was He counted one of the many that were by them elected. For they counted even boxers to be Gods, and the favorite of Hadrian; after whom the city Antinous is named. For since death testifies against their moral nature, the devil invented another way, that of the soul’s immortality; and mingling therewith that excessive flattery, he seduced many into impiety. And observe what wicked artifice. When we advance that doctrine for a good purpose, he overthrows our words; but when he himself is desirous of framing an argument for mischief, he is very zealous in setting it up. And if any one ask, ‘How is Alexander a God.? Is he not dead? and miserably too?’ ‘Yes, but the soul is immortal?’ he replies. Now thou arguest and philosophizest for immortality, to detach men from the God Who is over all: but when we declare that this is God’s greatest gift, thou persuadest thy dupes that men are low and grovelling, and in no better case than the brutes. And if we say, ‘the Crucified lives,’ laughter follows immediately: although the whole world proclaims it, both in old time and now; in old time by miracles, now by converts; for truly these successes are not those of a dead man: but if one say, ‘Alexander lives,’ thou believest, although thou hast no miracle to allege.
[5.] ‘Yes,’ one replies; ‘I have; for when he lived he wrought many and great achievements; for he subdued both nations and cities, and in many wars and battles he conquered, and erected trophies.’
If then I shall show [somewhat] which he when alive never dreamed of, neither he, nor any other man that ever lived, what other proof of the resurrection wilt thou require? For that whilst alive one should win battles and victories, being a king and having armies at his disposal, is nothing marvelous, no, nor startling or novel; but that after a Cross and Tomb one should perform such great things throughout every land and sea, this it is which is most especially replete with such amazement, and proclaims His divine and unutterable Power. And Alexander indeed after his decease never restored again his kingdom which had been rent in pieces and quite abolished: indeed how was it likely he, dead, should do so? but Christ then most of all set up His after He was dead. And why speak I of Christ? seeing that He granted to His disciples also, after their deaths, to shine? For, tell me, where is the tomb of Alexander? show it me and tell me the day on which he died. But of the servants of Christ the very tombs are glorious, seeing they have taken possession of the most loyal city; and their days are well known, making festivals for the world. And his tomb even his own people know not, but this man’s the very barbarians know. And the tombs of the servants of the Crucified are more splendid than the palaces of kings; not for the size and beauty of the buildings, (yet even in this they surpass them,) but, what is far more, in the zeal of those who frequent them. For he that wears the purple himself goes to embrace those tombs, and, laying aside his pride, stands begging the saints to be his advocates with God, and he that hath the diadem implores the tent-maker and the fisherman, though dead, to be his patrons. Wilt thou dare then, tell me, to call the Lord of these dead; whose servants even after their decease are the patrons of the kings of the world? And this one may see take place not in Rome only, but in Constantinople also. For there also Constantine the Great, his son considered he should be honoring with great honor, if he buried him in the porch of the fisherman; and what porters are to kings in their palaces, that kings are at the tomb to fisherman. And these indeed as lords of the place occupy the inside, whilst the others as though but sojourners and neighbors were glad to have the gate of the porch assigned them; showing by what is done in this world, even to the unbelievers, that in the Resurrection the fisherman will be yet more their superiors. For if here it is so in the burial [of each], much more will it in the resurrection. And their rank is interchanged; kings assume that of servants and ministers, and subjects the dignity of kings, yea rather a brighter still. And that this is no piece of flattery, the truth itself demonstrates; for by those these have become more illustrious. For far greater reverence is paid to these tombs than to the other royal sepulchres; for there indeed is profound solitude, whilst here there is an immense concourse. But if thou wilt compare these tombs with the royal palaces, here again the palm remains with them. For there indeed there are many who keep off, but here many who invite and draw to them rich, poor, men, women, bond, free; there, is much fear; here, pleasure unutterable. ‘But,’ saith one, ‘it is a sweet sight to look on a king covered with gold and crowned, and standing by his side, generals, commanders, captains of horse and foot, lieutenants. Well, but this of ours is so much grander and more awful that that must be judged, compared with it, to be stage scenery and child’s play. For the instant thou hast stepped across the thresh-hold, at once the place sends up thy thoughts to heaven, to the King above, to the army of the Angels, to the lofty throne, to the unapproachable glory. And here indeed He hath put in the ruler’s power, of his subjects to loose one, and bind another; but the bones of the saints possess no such pitiful and mean authority, but that which is far greater. For they summon demons and put them to the torture, and loose from those bitterest of all bonds, them that are bound. What is more fearful than this tribunal? Though no one is seen, though no one piles the sides of the demon, yet are there cries, and tearings, lashes, tortures, burning tongues, because the demon cannot endure that marvellous power. And they that once wore bodies, are victorious over bodiless powers; [their] dust and bones and ashes rack those invisible natures. And therefore in truth it is that none would ever travel abroad to see the palaces of kings, but many kings and have often traveled to see this spectacle. For the Martyries of the saints exhibit outlines and symbols of the judgment to come; in that demons are scourged, men chastened and delivered. Seest thou the power of saints, even dead? seest thou the weakness of sinners, even living? Flee then wickedness, that thou mayest have power over such; and pursue virtue with all thy might. For if the case be thus here, consider what it will be in the world to come. And as being evermore possessed with this love, lay hold on the life eternal; whereunto may we all attain, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
2700 ye compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you. (2Co 12,11-16)
2701 Having fully completed what he had to say about his own praises, he did not stay at this; but again excuses himself and asks pardon for for what he said, declaring that his doing so was of necessity and not of choice. Still nevertheless, although there was necessity, he calls himself “a fool.” And when he began indeed, he said, “As foolish receive me, “and” as in foolishness;” but now, leaving out the ‘as,’ he calls himself “foolish.” For after he had established the point he wished by saying what he did, he afterwards boldly and unsparingly grapples with all failing of the sort, teaching all persons that none should ever praise himself where there is no necessity, seeing that even where a reason for it existed, Paul termed himself a fool [for so doing]. Then he turns the blame also of his so speaking not upon the false Apostles, but wholly upon the disciples. For “ye,” he saith, “compelled me.” ‘For if they gloried, but were not by doing so leading you astray nor causing your destruction, I should not have been thus led on to descend unto this discussion: but because they were corrupting the whole Church, with a view to your advantage I was compelled to become foolish.’ And he did not say, ‘For I feared lest if they obtained the highest estimation with you, they should sow their doctrines,’ yet this indeed he set down above when he said, “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve, so your minds should be corrupted.” (Chap. 11,3). Here however he does not so express himself, but in a more commanding manner and with more authority, having gained boldness from what he had said, “For I ought to have been commended of you.” Then he also assigns the reason; and again he mentions not his revelations nor his miracles only, but his temptations also.
“For in nothing was I behind the chiefest Apostles.” See how he here too again speaks out with greater authoritativeness. For, before indeed he said, “I reckon I am not a whit behind,” but here, after those proofs, he now boldly speaks out asserting the fact, as I said, thus absolutely. Not that even thus he departs from the mean, nor from his proper character. For as though he had uttered something great and exceeding his deserts, in that he numbered himself with the Apostles, he thus again speaks modestly, and adds,
2Co 12,12. “Although I be nothing, the signs of an Apostle were wrought among you.”
‘Look not thou at this,’ he says, ‘whether I be mean and little, but whether thou hast not enjoyed those things which from an Apostle it was meet thou shouldest enjoy.’ Yet he did not say ‘mean,’ but what was lower, “nothing.” For where is the good of being great, and of use to nobody? even as there is no advantage in a skilful physician if he heals none of those that be sick. ‘Do not then,’ he says, ‘scrutinize this that I am nothing, but consider that, that wherein ye ought to have been benefitted, I have failed in nothing, but have given proof of mine Apostleship. There ought then to have been no need for me to say aught.’ Now he thus spoke, not as wanting to be commended, (for how should he, he who counted heaven itself to be a small thing in comparison with his longing after Christ?) but as desiring their salvation. Then lest they should say, ‘And what is it to us, even though thou wast not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles?’ he therefore added,
“The signs of an Apostle were wrought among you in all patience, and by signs and wonders.” Amazing! what a sea of good works hath he traversed in a few words! And observe what it is he puts first, “patience.” For this is the note of an Apostle, bearing all things nobly. This then he expressed shortly by a single word; but upon the miracles, which were not of his own achieving, he employs more. For consider how many prisons, how many stripes, how many dangers, how many conspiracies, how many sleet-showers of temptations, how many civil, how many foreign wars, how many pains, how many attacks he has implied here in that word, “patience!” And by “signs” again, how many dead raised, how many blind healed, how many lepers cleansed, how many devils cast out! Hearing these things, let us learn if we happen upon a necessity for such recitals to cut our good deeds short, as he too did.
[2.] Then lest any should say, Well! if thou be both great, and have wrought many things, still thou hast not wrought such great things, as the Apostles have in the other Churches, he added,
2Co 12,13. “For what is there wherein ye were made inferior to the rest of the Churches?”
‘Ye were partakers,’ he says, ‘of no less grace than the others.’ But perhaps some one will say, ‘What can be the reason that he turns the discourse upon the Apostles, abandoning the contest against the false Apostles?’ Because he is desirous to erect their spirits yet further, and to show that he is not only superior to them, but not even inferior to the great Apostles. Therefore, surely, when he is speaking of those he says, “I am more;” but when he compares himself with the Apostles, he considers it a great thing not to be “behind,” although he labored more than they. And thence he shows that they insult the Apostles, in holding him who is their equal second to these men.
“Except it be that I myself was not a burden to you?” Again he has pronounced their rebuke with great severity. And what follows is of yet more odious import.
“Forgive me this wrong.” Still, nevertheless, this severity contains both words of love and a commendation of themselves; if, that is, they consider it a wrong done to them, that the Apostle did not consent to receive aught from them, nor relied on them enough to be supported by them. ‘If,’ says he, ‘ye blame me for this:’ he did not say, ‘Ye blame me wrongly,’ but with great sweetness, ‘I ask your pardon, forgive me this fault.’ And observe his prudence. For because the mooring this continually tended to bring disgrace upon them, he continually softens it down; saying above, for instance, “As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting shall not be stopped in me;” (Chap. xi. 10). then again, “Because I love you not? God knoweth. ....But that I may cut off occasion from them that desire occasion, and that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.”; (Chap. 11,xx, 12). And in the former Epistle “What is my reward then?” Verily, “that when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel without charge.” (1Co 9, 15) but here with more sweetness and gentleness. How, and in what manner?
2Co 12,14“Behold this is the third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”
What he says is this; ‘It is not because I do not receive of you that I do not come to you; nay, I have already come twice; and I am prepared to come this third time, “and I will not be a burden to you.’“And the reason is a noble one. For he did not say, ‘because ye are mean,’ ‘because ye are hurt at it,’ ‘because, ye are weak:’ but what? “For I seek not yours, but you.” ‘I seek greater things; souls instead of goods; instead of gold, salvation.’ Then because there still hung about the matter some suspicion, as if he were displeased at them; he therefore even states an argument. For since it was likely they would say, ’ Can you not have both us and ours?’ he adds with much grace this excuse for them, saying, “For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children;” instead of teachers and disciples, employing the term parents and children, and showing that he does as a matter of duty what was not of duty. For Christ did not so command, but he says this to spare them; and therefore he adds also something further. For he did not only say that” the children ought not to lay up,” but also that the parents ought to. Therefore since it is meet to give,
2Co 12,15. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”
‘For the law of nature indeed has commanded the parents to lay up for the children; but I do not do this only, but I give myself also besides.’ And this lavishness of his, the not only not receiving, but giving also besides, is not in common sort but accompanied with great liberality, and out of his own want; for the words, “I will be spent,” are of one who would imply this. ‘For should it be necessary to spend my very flesh, I will not spare it for your salvation.’ And that which follows contains at once accusation and love, “though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” ‘And I do this,’ he says, ‘for the sake of those who are beloved by me, yet love me not equally.’ Observe then, now, how many steps there are in this matter. He had a right to receive, but he did not receive; here is good work the first: and this, though in want; [good work] the second; and though preaching to them, the third; he gives besides, the fourth; and not merely gives, but lavishly too, the fifth; not money only, but himself, the sixth; for those who loved him not greatly, the seventh; and for those whom he greatly loved, the eighth.
[3.] Let us then also emulate this man! For it is a serious charge, the not loving even; but becomes more serious, when although one is loved he loveth not. For if he that loveth one that loveth him be no better than the publicans; (Mt 5,46) he that doth not so much as this ranks with the beasts; yea rather, is even below them. What sayest thou, O man? Lovest thou not him that loveth thee? What then dost thou live for? Wherein wilt thou be of use hereafter? in what sort of matters? in public? in private? By no means; for nothing is more useless than a man that knows not to love. This law even robbers have oftentimes respected, and murderers, and housebreakers; and having only taken salt with one, have been made his friends, letting the board change their disposition, and thou that sharest not salt only, but words and deeds, and comings in and goings out, with him, dost thou not love? Nay: those that live impurely lavish even whole estates on their strumpets; and thou who hast a worthy love, art thou so cold, and weak, and unmanly, as not to be willing to love, even when it costs thee nothing? ‘And who,’ one asks, ‘would be so vile, who such a wild beast, as to turn away from and to hate him that loves him?’ Thou dost well indeed to disbelieve it, because of the unnaturalness of the thing; but if I shall show that there are many such persons, how shall we then bear the shame? For when thou speakest ill of him whom thou lovest, when thou hearest another speak ill of him and thou defendest him not, when thou grudgest that he should be well accounted of, what sort of affection is this? And yet it is not sufficient proof of love, not grudging, nor yet again not being at enmity or war with, but only supporting and advancing him that loves thee: but when a man does and says everything to pull down his neighbor even, what can be more wretched than such a spirit? Yesterday and the day before his friend, thou didst both converse and eat with him: then because all at once thou sawest thine own member highly thought of, casting off the mask of friendship, thou didst put on that of enmity, or rather of madness. For glaring madness it is, to be annoyed at the goodness of neighbors; for this is the act of mad and rabid dogs. For like them, these also fly at all men’s faces, exasperated with envy. Better to have a serpent twining about one’s entrails than envy crawling in us. For that it is often possible to vomit up by means of medicines, or by food to quiet: but envy twineth not in entrails but harboreth in the bosom of the soul, and is a passion hard to be effaced. And indeed if such a serpent were within one, it would not touch men’s bodies so long as it had a supply of food; but envy, even though thou spread for it ever so endless a banquet, devoureth the soul itself, gnawing on every side, tearing, tugging, and it is not possible to find any palliative whereby to make it quit its madness, save one only, the adversity of the prosperous; so is it appeased, nay rather, not so even. For even should this man suffer adversity, yet still he sees some other prosperous, and is possessed by the same pangs, and everywhere are wounds, everywhere blows. For it is not possible to live in the world and not see persons well reputed of. And such is the extravagance of this distemper, that even if one should shut its victim up at home, he envies the men of old who are dead.
Now, that men of the world should feel in this way, is indeed a grievous thing, yet it is not so very dreadful; but that those who are freed from the turmoils of busy life should be possessed by this distemper,—this is most grievous of all. And I could have wished indeed to be silent: and if silence took away too the disgrace of those doings, it were a gain to say nothing: if however, though I should hold my peace the doings will cry out more loudly than my tongue, no harm will accrue from my words, because of their parading these evils before us, but possibly some gain and advantage. For this distemper has infected even the Church, it has turned everything topsy-turvy, and dissevered the connection of the body, and we stand opposed to each other, and envy supplies us arms. Therefore great is the disruption. For if when all build up, it is a great thing if our disciples stand; when all at once are pulling down, what will the end be?
[4.] What doest thou, O man? Thou thinkest to pull down thy neighbor’s; but before his thou pullest down thine own. Seest thou not them that are gardeners, that are husbandmen, how they all concur in one object? One hath dug the soil, another planted, a third carefully covered the roots, another watereth what is planted, another hedges it round and fortifies it, another drives off the cattle; and all look to one end, the safety of the plant. Here, however, it is not so: but I plant indeed myself, and another shakes and disturbs [the plant.] At least, allow it to get nicely fixed, that it may be strong enough to resist the assault. Thou destroyest not my work, but abandonest thine own. I planted, thou oughtest to have watered. If then thou shake it it, thou hast torn it up by the roots, and hast not wherein to display thy watering. But thou seest the planter highly esteemed. Fear not: neither am I anything, nor thou. “For neither is he that planteth nor he that watereth any thing;” (1Co 3,7) one’s is the work, God’s. So it is with Him thou tightest and warrest, in plucking up what is planted.
Let us then at length come to our sober senses again, let us watch. For I fear not so much the battle without, as the fight within; for the root also, when it is well fitted into the ground, will suffer no damage from the winds; but if it be itself shaken, a worm gnawing through it from within, the tree will fall, even though none molest.it. How long gnaw we the root of the Church like worms? For of earth such imaginings are begotten also, or rather not of earth, but of dung, having corruption for their mother; and they cease not from the detestable flattery that is from women. Let us at length be generous men, let us be champions of philosophy, let us drive back the violent career of these evils. For I behold the mass of the Church prostrate now, as though it were a corpse. And as in a body newly dead, one may see eyes and hands and feet and neck and head, and yet no one limb performing its proper office; so, truly, here also, all who are here are of the faithful, but their faith is not active; for we have quenched its warmth and made the body of Christ a corpse. Now if this sounds awful when said, it is much more awful when it appears in actions. For we have indeed the name of brothers, but do the deeds of foes; and whilst all are called members, we are divided against each other like wild beasts. I have said this not from a desire to parade our condition, but to shame you and make you desist. Such and such a man goes into a house; honor is paid to him; thou oughtest to give God thanks because thy member is honored and God is glorified; but thou doest the contrary: thou speakest evil of him to the man that honored him, so that thou trippest up the heels of both, and, besides, disgracest thyself. And wherefore, wretched and miserable one? Hast thou heard thy brother praised, either amongst men or women? Add to his praises, for so thou shalt praise thyself also. But if thou overthrow the praise, first, thou hast spoken evil of thyself, having so acquired an ill character, and thou hast raised him the higher. When thou hearest one praised, become thou a partner in what is said; if not in thy life and virtue, yet still in rejoicing over his excellencies. Hath such an one praised? Do thou too admire: so shall he praise thee ago as good and candid. Fear not, as though thou wast ruining thine own interest by thy praises of another: for this is [rather] the result of accusation of him. For mankind is of a contentious spirit; and when it sees thee speaking ill of any, it heaps on its praises, wishing to mortify by so doing; and reprobates those that are accusers, both in its own mind arid to others. Seest thou what disgrace we are the causes of to ourselves? how we destroy and rend the flock? Let us at length be members (of one another), let us become one body. And let him that is praised repudiate the praises, and transfer the encomium to his brother; and let him that hears another praised, feel pleasure to himself. If we thus come together ourselves, we shall also draw unto ourselves the Head; but if we live parted” from each other, we shall also put from us the aid which comes from thence; and when that is put aside, the body will receive great damage, not being bound together from above. That this then may not happen, let us, banishing ill will and envy, and despising what the many may think of us, embrace love and concord. For thus we shall obtain both the present good things and those to come; where-unto may we all attain, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, might, honor, now and forever, and world without end. Amen.
Chrysostom on 2Cor 2600