Chrysostom Ep 1100
1100 even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Ep 4,4-16)
1101 The love Paul requires of us is no common love, but that which cements us together, and makes us cleave inseparably to one another, and effects as great and as perfect a union as though it were between limb and limb. For this is that love which produces great and glorious fruits. Hence he saith, there is “one body”; one, both by sympathy, and by not opposing the good of others, and by sharing their joy, having expressed all at once by this figure. He then beautifully adds, “and one Spirit,” showing that from the one body there will be one Spirit: or, that it is possible that there may be indeed one body, and yet not one Spirit; as, for instance, if any member of it should be a friend of heretics: or else he is, by this expression, shaming them into unanimity, saying, as it were, “Ye who have received one Spirit, and have been made to drink at one fountain, ought not to be divided in mind”; or else by spirit here he means their zeal. Then he adds, “Even as ye were called in one hope of your calling,” that is, God hath called you all on the same terms. He hath bestowed nothing upon one more than upon another. To all He hath freely given immortality, to all eternal life, to all immortal glory, to all brotherhood, to all inheritance. He is the common Head of all; “He hath raised all” up, “and made them sit with Him.” (Ep 2,6). Ye then who in the spiritual world have so great equality of privileges, whence is it that ye are high-minded? Is it that one is wealthy and another strong? How ridiculous must this be? For tell me, if the emperor some day were to take ten persons, and to array them all in purple, and seat them on the royal throne, and to bestow upon all the same honor, would any one of these, think ye, venture to reproach another, as being more wealthy or more illustrious than he? Surely never. And I have not yet said all; for the difference is not so great in heaven as here below we differ. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Behold “the hope of your calling. One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” For can it be, that thou art called by the name of a greater God, another, of a lesser God? That thou art saved by faith, and another by works? That thou hast received remission in baptism, whilst another has not? “There is one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” “Who is over all,” that is, the Lord and above all; and “through all,” that is, providing for, ordering all; and “in you all,” that is, who dwelleth in you all. Now this they own to be an attribute of the Son; so that were it an argument of inferiority, it never would have been said of the Father.
“But unto each one of us was the grace given.”
What then? he saith, whence are those diverse spiritual gifts? For this subject was continually carrying away both the Ephesians themselves, and the Corinthians, and many others, some into vain arrogance, and others into despondency or envy. Hence he everywhere takes along with him this illustration of the body. Hence it is that now also he has proposed it, inasmuch as he was about to make mention of diverse gifts. He enters indeed into the subject more fully in the Epistle to the Corinthians, because it was among them that this malady most especially reigned: here however he has only alluded to it. And mark what he says: he does not say, “according to the faith of each,” lest he should throw those who have no large attainments into despondency. But what saith he? “According to the measure of the gift of Christ.” The chief and principal points of all, he saith,—Baptism, the being saved by faith, the having God for our Father, our all partaking of the same Spirit,—these are common to all. If then this or that man possesses any superiority in any spiritual gift, grieve not at it; since his labor also is greater. He that had received the five talents, had five required of him; whilst he that had received the two, brought only two, and yet received no less a reward than the other. And therefore the Apostle here also encourages the hearer on the same ground, showing that gifts are bestowed not for the honor of one above another, but for the work of the church, even as he says further on:
“For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering unto the building up of the body of Christ.”
Hence it is that even he himself saith, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel.” (1Co 9,16). For example: he received the grace of Apostleship, but for this very reason, “woe unto him,” because he received it: whereas thou art free from the danger.
“According to the measure.”
What is meant by, “according to the measure”? It means, “not according to our merit,” for then would no one have received what he has received: but of the free gift we have all received.
1102 And why then one more, and another less? There is nothing to cause this, he would say, but the matter itself is indifferent; for every one contributes towards “the building.” And by this too he shows, that it is not of his own intrinsic merit that one has received more and another less, but that it is for the sake of others, as God Himself hath measured it; since he saith also elsewhere, “But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased Him.” (1Co 12,18). And he mentions not the reason, lest he should deject or dispirit the hearers.
Ep 4,8. “Wherefore he saith, When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
As though he had said, Why art thou high-minded? The whole is of God. The Prophet saith in the Psalm, “Thou hast received gifts among men” (Ps 68,18), whereas the Apostle saith, “He gave gifts unto men.” The one is the same as the other).
Ep 4,9-10. “Now this, He ascended, what is it, but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended, is the same also that ascended far above all the Heavens, that He might fill all things.”
When thou hearest these words, think not of a mere removal from one place to another; for what Paul establishes in the Epistle to the Philippians (), that very argument is he also insisting upon here. In the same way as there, when exhorting them concerning lowliness, he brings forward Christ as an example, so does he here also, saying, “He descended into the lower parts of the earth.” For were not this so, this expression which he uses, “He became obedient even unto death” (Ph 2,8-9), were superfluous; whereas from His ascending, he implies His descent, and by “the lower parts of the earth,” he means “death,” according to the notions of men; as Jacob also said, “Then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” (Gn 32,48). And again as it is in the Psalm, “Lest I become like them that go down into the pit” (Ps 143,7), that is like the dead. Why does he descant upon this region here? And of what captivity does he speak? Of that of the devil; for He took the tyrant captive, the devil, I mean, and death, and the curse, and sin. Behold His spoils and His trophies.
“Now this, He ascended, what is it but that He also descended?”
This strikes at Paul of Samosata and his school).
“He that descended, is the same also that ascended far above all the Heavens, that He might fill all things.”
(He descended, saith he, into the lower parts of the earth, beyond which there are none other: and He ascended up far above all things, to that place, beyond which there is none other. This is to show His divine energy, and supreme dominion. For indeed even of old had all things been filled.
Ep 4,11-12. “And He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.”
What he said elsewhere, “Wherefore also God hath highly exalted Him” (Ph 2,9), that saith he also here. “He that descended, is the same also that ascended.” It did Him no injury that He came down into the lower parts of the earth, nor was it any hindrance to His becoming far higher than the Heavens. So that the more a man is humbled, so much the more is he exalted. For as in the case of water, the more a man presses it downwards, the more he forces it up; and the further a man retires to hurl a javelin, the surer his aim; so is it also with humility. However, when we speak of ascents with reference to God, we must needs conceive a descent first; but when with reference to man, not at all so. Then he goes on to show further His providential care, and His wisdom, for He who hath wrought such things as these, who had such might, and who refused not to go down even to those lower parts for our sakes, never would He have made these distributions of spiritual gifts without a purpose. Now elsewhere he tells us that this was the work of the Spirit, in the words, “In the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops to feed the Church of God.” And here he saith that it is the Son; and elsewhere that it is God. “And He gave to the Church some apostles, and some prophets.” But in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he saith, “I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” And again, “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (). So is it also here; for what if thou bring in but little? Thou hast received so much. First, he says, “apostles”; for these had all gifts; secondarily, “prophets,” for there were some who were not indeed apostles, but prophets, as Agabus; thirdly, “evangelists,” who did not go about everywhere, but only preached the Gospel, as Priscilla and Aquila; “pastors and teachers,” those who were entrusted with the charge of a whole nation. What then? are the pastors and the teachers inferior? Yes, surely; those who were settled and employed about one spot, as Timothy and Titus, were inferior to those who went about the world and preached the Gospel. However, it is not possible from this passage to frame the subordination and precedence, but from another Epistle. “He gave,” saith he; thou must not say a word to gainsay it. Or perhaps by “evangelists” he means those who wrote the Gospel.
“For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.”
1103 Perceive ye the dignity of the office? Each one edifies, each one perfects, each one ministers.
Ep 4,13. “Till we all attain,” he proceeds, “unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
By “stature” here he means perfect “knowledge”; for as a man will stand firmly, whereas children are carried about and waver in mind, so is it also with believers.“To the unity,” saith he, “of the faith.”That is, until we shall be shown to have all one faith: for this is unity of faith, when we all are one, when we shall all alike acknowledge the common bond. Till then thou must labor to this end. If for this thou hast received a gift, that thou mightest edify others, look well that thou overturn not thyself, by envying another. God hath honored thee, and ordained thee, that thou shouldest build up another. Yea, for about this was the Apostle also engaged; and for this was the prophet prophesying and persuading, and the Evangelist preaching the Gospel, and for this was the pastor and teacher; all had undertaken one common work. For tell me not of the difference of the spiritual gifts; but that all had one work. Now when we shall all believe alike then shall there be unity; for that this is what he calls “a perfect man,” is plain. And yet he elsewhere calls us “babes” (1Co 13,11), even when we are of mature age; but he is there looking to another comparison, for there it is in comparison with our future knowledge that he there calls us babes. For having said, “We know in part” (1Co 13,9 1Co 13,12), he adds also the word “darkly,” and the like: whereas here he speaks with reference to another thing, with reference to changeableness, as he saith also elsewhere, “But solid food is for full-grown men.” (He 5,14). Do you see then also in what sense he there calls them full-grown? Observe also in what sense he calls men “perfect” here, by the words next added, where he says, “that we may be no longer children.” That we keep, he means to say, that little measure, which we may have received, with all diligence, with firmness and steadfastness.
Ep 4,14. “That we may be no longer.”—The word, “no longer,” shows that they had of old been in this case, and he reckons himself moreover as a subject for correction, and corrects himself. For this cause, he would say, are there so many workmen, that the building may not be shaken, may not be “carried about,” that the stones may be firmly fixed. For this is the character of children, to be tossed to and fro, to be carried about and shaken. “That we may be no longer,” saith he, “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error.” “And carried about,” saith he, “with every wind.” He comes to this figure of speech, to point out in how great peril doubting souls are. “With every wind,” saith he, “by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error.” The word “sleight” means the art of gamesters. Such are the “crafty,” whenever they lay hold on the simpler sort. For they also change and shift about everything. He here glances also at human life.
15, 16. “But speaking truth,” saith he, “in love, may grow up in all things into Him, which is the Head, even Christ, from whom,” (that is, from Christ,) “all the body fitly framed and knit together, through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.”
(He expresses himself with great obscurity, from his desire to utter everything at once. What he means, however, is this. In the same way as the spirit, or vital principle, which descends from the brain, communicates the sensitive faculty which is conveyed through the nerves, not simply to all the members, but according to the proportion of each member, to that which is capable of receiving more, more, to that which is capable of less, less, (for the spirit is the root or source;) so also is Christ. For the souls of men being dependent upon Him as members, His provident care, and supply of the spiritual gifts according to a due proportion in the measure of every single member, effects their increase. But what is the meaning of this, “by the touch of the supply”? that is to say, by the sensitive faculty. For that spirit which is supplied to the members from the head, “touches,” each single member, and thus actuates it. As though one should say, “the body receiving the supply according to the proportion of its several members, thus maketh the increase”; or, in other words, “the members receiving the supply according to the proportion of their proper measure, thus make increase”; or otherwise again thus, "the spirit flowing plenteously from above, and touching all the members, and supplying them as each is capable of “receiving it, thus maketh increase.” But wherefore doth he add, “in love”? Because in no other way is it possible for that Spirit to descend. For as, in case a hand should happen to be torn from the body, the spirit which proceeds from the brain seeks the limb, and if it finds it not, does not leap forth from the body, and fly about and go to the hand, but if it finds it not in its place, does not touch it; so also will it be here, if we be not bound together in love.
1104 All these expressions he uses as tending to humility. For what, he seems to say, if this or that man receives more than another? He has received the same Spirit, sent forth from the same Head, effectually working in all alike, communicating itself to all alike.
“Fitly framed and knit together.”
That is, having great care bestowed upon it; for the body must not be put together anyhow, but with exceeding art and nicety, since if it gets out of place, it is no longer. So that each must not only be united to the body, but also occupy his proper place, since if thou shalt go beyond this, thou art not united to it, neither dost thou receive the Spirit. Dost thou not see, that in those dislocations of the bones which take place in any accident, when a bone gets out of its proper place and occupies that of another, how it injures the whole body, and oftentimes will produce death? So that sometimes it will be found to be no longer worth preserving. For many in many cases will cut it off, and leave a void in its place; because everywhere what is in excess is an evil. And so again with the elements, if they lose their proper proportion and be in excess, they impair the whole system. This is the meaning of the being “fitly framed and knit together.” Consider then of how vast importance it is, that each should remain in his own proper place, and not encroach on another which in nowise appertains to him. Thou puttest the members together, He supplieth them from above. For as there are in the body such recipient organs, as we have seen, so is it also with the Spirit, the whole root or source being from above. For example, the heart is the recipient of the breath, the liver of the blood, the spleen of the bile, and the other organs, some of one thing, others of another, but all these have their source from the brain. So also hath God done, highly honoring man, and being unwilling to be far from him, He hath made Himself indeed the source of his dependence, and hath constituted them fellow-workers with Himself; and some He hath appointed to one office, and others to another. For example, the Apostle is the most vital vessel of the whole body, receiving everything from Him; so that He maketh eternal life to run through them to all, as through veins and arteries, I mean through their discourse. The Prophet foretells things to come, whilst He alone ordereth the same; Thou puttest the members together, but He supplies them with life, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry.” Love builds up, and makes men cleave one to another, and be fastened and fitted together.
Moral. If therefore we desire to have the benefit of that Spirit which is from the Head, let us cleave one to another. For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we wax cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the “fullness of Christ.” But if we are appointed to build up others also, what shall not be done to them who are first to make division? Nothing will so avail to divide the Church as love of power. Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. Yea, though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who mangled His body. For that indeed was brought to pass for the benefit of the world, even though it was done with no such intention; whereas this produces no advantage in any case, but the injury is excessive. These remarks I am addressing not to the governors only, but also to the governed. Now a certain holy man said what might seem to be a bold thing; yet, nevertheless, he spoke it out. What then is this? He said, that not even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin. For tell me for what dost thou suffer as a martyr? Is it not for the glory of Christ? Thou then that yieldest up thy life for Christ’s sake, how dost thou lay waste the Church, for whose sake Christ yielded up His life? Hear what Paul saith, “I am not meet to be called an Apostle (1Co 15,9), because I persecuted the Church of God and made havoc of it.” (Ga 1,13). This injury is not less than that received at the hands of enemies, nay, it is far greater. For that indeed renders her even more glorious, whereas this, when she is warred upon by her own children, disgraces her even before her enemies. Because it seems to them a great mark of hypocrisy, that those who have been born in her, and nurtured in her bosom, and have learned perfectly her secrets, that these should of a sudden change, and do her enemies’ work.
1105 I mean these remarks for those who give themselves up indiscriminately to the men who are dividing the Church. For if on the one hand those men have doctrines also contrary to ours, then on that account further it is not right to mix with them: if, on the other hand, they hold the same opinions, the reason for not mixing with them is greater still. And why so? Because then the disease is from lust of authority. Know ye not what was the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? (). Of them only did I say? Was it not also of them that were with them? What wilt thou say? Shall it be said, “Their faith is the same, they are orthodox as well as we”? If so, why then are they not with us? There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” If their cause is right, then is ours wrong; if ours is right, then is theirs wrong. “Children,” saith he, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind.” Tell me, dost thou think this is enough, to say that they are orthodox? Is then the ordination of clergy past and done away? And what is the advantage of other things, if this be not strictly observed? For as we must needs contend for the faith; so must we for this also. For if it is lawful for any one, according to the phrase of them of old, “to fill his hands,” and to become a priest, let all approach to minister. In vain has this altar been raised, in vain the fullness of the Church, in vain the number of the priests. Let us take them away and destroy them. “God forbid!” ye will say. You are doing these things, and do ye say, “God forbid”? How say ye, “God forbid,” when the very things are taking place? I speak and testify, not looking to my own interest, but to your salvation. But if any one be indifferent, he must see to it himself: if these things are a care to no one else, yet are they a care to me. “I planted,” saith he, “Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (1Co 3,6). How shall we bear the ridicule of the Greeks? For if they reproach us on account of our heresies, what will they not say of these things? “If they have the same doctrines, if the same mysteries, wherefore does a ruler in one Church invade another? See ye,” say they, “how all things amongst the Christians are full of vainglory? And there is an ambition among them, and hypocrisy. Strip them,” say they, “of their numbers, and they are nothing. Cut out the disease, the corrupt multitude.” Would ye have me tell what they say of our city, how they accuse us on the score of our easy compliances? Any one, say they,that chooses may find followers, and would never be at a loss for them. Oh, what a sneer is that, what a disgrace are these things! And yet the sneer is one thing, the disgrace is another. If any amongst us are convicted of deeds the most disgraceful, and are about to meet with some penalty, great is the alarm, great is the fear on all sides, lest he should start away, people say, and join the other side. Yea, let such an one start away ten thousand times, and let him join them. And I speak not only of those who have sinned, but if there be any one free from offense, and he has a mind to depart, let him depart. I am grieved indeed at it, and bewail and lament it, and am cut to the very heart, as though I were being deprived of one of my own limbs; and yet I am not so grieved, as to be compelled to do anything wrong through such fear as this. We have “not lordship over your faith” (2Co 1,24), beloved, nor command we these things as your lords and masters. We are appointed for the teaching of the word, not for power, nor for absolute authority. We hold the place of counselors to advise you. The counselor speaks his own sentiments, not forcing the hearer, but leaving him full master of his choice upon what is said; in this case alone is he blameable, if he fail to utter the things which present themselves. For this cause do we also say these things, these things do we assert, that it may not be in your power in that day to say, “No one told us, no one gave us commandment, we were ignorant, we thought it was no sin at all.” Therefore I assert and protest, that to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy. Tell me, suppose a subject of some king, though he did not join himself to another king, nor give himself to any other, yet should take and keep hold of his king’s royal purple, and should tear it all from its clasp, and rend it into many shreds; would he suffer less punishment than those who join themselves to the service of another? And what, if withal he were to seize the king himself by the throat and slay him, and tear his body limb from limb, what punishment could he undergo, that should be equal to his deserts? Now if in doing this toward a king, his fellow-servant, he would be committing an act too great for any punishment to reach; of what hell shall not he be worthy who slays Christ, and plucks Him limb from limb? of that one which is threatened? No, I think not, but of another far more dreadful.
Speak, ye women, that are present,—for this generally is a failing of women, —relate to them that are absent this similitude which I have made; startle them. If any think to grieve me and thus to have their revenge, let them be well aware that they do these things in vain. For if thou wishest to revenge thyself on me, I will give thee a method by which thou mayest take vengeance without injury to thyself; or rather without injury it is not possible to revenge thyself, but at all events with less injury. Buffet me, woman, spit upon me, when thou meetest me in the public way, and aim blows at me.
1106 Dost thou shudder at hearing this? When I bid thee buffet me, dost thou shudder, and dost thou tear thy Lord and Master and not shudder? Dost thou pluck asunder the limbs of thy Lord and Master, and not tremble? The Church is our Father’s house. “There is one body, and one Spirit.” But dost thou wish to revenge thyself on me? Yet stop at me. Why dost thou revenge thyself on Christ in my stead? nay, rather, why kick against the nails? In no case indeed is revenge good and right, but to assault one when another has done the wrong is far worse. Is it I that wronged you? Why then inflict pain on Him who hath not wronged you? This is the very extreme of madness. I speak not in irony what I am about to say, nor without purpose, but as I really think and as I feel. I would that every one of those who with you are exasperated against me, and who by this exasperation are injuring themselves, and departing elsewhere, would direct his blows at me in my very face, would strip me and scourge me, be his charge against me just or unjust, and let loose his wrath upon me, rather than that they should dare to commit what they now dare. If this were done, it were nothing; nothing, that a man who is a mere nothing and of no account whatever, should be so treated. And besides, I, the wronged and injured person, might call upon God, and He might forgive you your sins. Not because I have so great confidence; but because when he who has been wronged, entreats for him who has done the wrong, he gains great confidence. “If one man sin against another,” it is said, “then shall they pray for him” (1S 2,25); and if I were unable, I might seek for other holy men, and entreat them, and they might do it. But now whom shall we even entreat, when God is outraged by us?
(Mark the consistency; for of those who belong to this Church, some never approach to communicate at all, or but once in the year, and then without purpose, and just as it may happen; others more regularly indeed, yet they too carelessly and without purpose, and while engaged in conversation, and trifling about nothing: whilst those who, forsooth, seem to be in earnest, these are the very persons who work this mischief. Yet surely, if it is for these things ye are in earnest, it were better that ye also were in the ranks of the indifferent; or rather it were better still, that neither they should be indifferent, nor you such as ye are. I speak not of you that are present, but of those who are deserting from us. The act is adultery. And if ye bear not to hear these things of them, neither should ye of us. There must be breach of the law either on the one side or the other. If then thou hast these suspicions concerning me, I am ready to retire from my office, and resign it to whomsoever ye may choose. Only let the Church be one. But if I have been lawfully made and consecrated, entreat those who have contrary to the law mounted the episcopal throne to resign it.
These things I have said, not as dictating to you, but only to secure and protect you. Since every one of you is come to age, and will have to give account of the things which he has done, I entreat you not to cast the whole matter on us, and consider yourselves to be irresponsible, that ye may not go on fruitlessly deceiving yourselves, and at last bewail it. An account indeed we shall have to give of your souls; but it will be when we have been wanting on our part, when we fail to exhort, when we fail to admonish, when we fail to protest. But after these words, allow even me to say that “I am pure from the blood of all men” (Ac 20,26); and that “God will deliver my soul.” (Ez 3,19 Ez 3,21). Say what ye will, give a just cause why ye depart, and I will answer you. But no, ye will not state it. Wherefore I entreat you, endeavor henceforward both to resist nobly and to bring back those who have seceded, that we may with one accord lift up thanksgiving to God; for to Him belongs the glory for ever and ever. Amen).
1200 that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, bring darkened in their understanding.” (Ep 4,17)
1201 It is the duty of the teacher to build up and restore the souls of his disciples, not only by counseling and instructing them, but also by alarming them, and delivering them up to God. For when the words spoken by men as coming from fellow-servants are not sufficient to kindle the soul, it then becomes necessary to make over the case to God. This accordingly Paul does also; for having discoursed concerning lowliness, and concerning unity, and concerning our duty not to rise up one against another, hear what he says. “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk.” He does not say, “That ye henceforth walk not as ye are now walking,” for that expression would have struck too hard. But he plainly indicates the same thing, only he brings his example from others. And so in writing to the Thessalonians, he does this very same thing, where he says, “Not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” (1Th 4,5). Ye differ from them, he means to say, in doctrine, but that is wholly God’s work: what I require on your path is the life and the course of behavior that is after God. This is your own. And I call the Lord to witness what I have said, that I have not shrunk, but have told you how ye ought to walk.
“In the vanity,” saith he, “of their mind.”
What is vanity of mind? It is the being busied about vain things. And what are those vain things, but all things in the present life? Of which the Preacher saith, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” (Qo 1,2). But a man will say, If they be vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? And great is the dispute concerning these things. But hearken, beloved: it is not the works of God which he calls vain; God forbid! The Heaven is not vain, the earth is not vain,—God forbid!—nor the sun, nor the moon and stars, nor our own body. No, all these are “very good.” (Gn 1,31). But what is vain? Let us hear the Preacher himself, what he saith; “I planted me vineyards, I gat me men singers and women singers, I made me pools of water, I had great possession of herds and flocks, I gathered me also silver and gold, and I saw that these are vanity.” (). And again, “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” (Qo 12,8). Hear also what the Prophet saith, “He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.” (Ps 39,6). Such is “vanity of vanities,” your splendid buildings, your vast and overflowing riches, the herds of slaves that bustle along the public square, your pomp and vainglory, your high thoughts, and your ostentation. For all these are vain; they came not from the hand of God, but are of our own creating. But why then are they vain? Because they have no useful end. Riches are vain when they are spent upon luxury; but they cease to be vain when they are “dispersed and given to the needy.” (Ps 112,9). But when thou hast spent them upon luxury, let us look at the end of them, what it is;—grossness of body, flatulence, pantings, fullness of belly, heaviness of head, softness of flesh, feverishness, enervation; for as a man who shall draw into a leaking vessel labors in vain, so also does the one who lives in luxury and self-indulgence draw into a leaking vessel. But again, that is called “vain,” which is expected indeed to contain something, but contains it not;—that which men call empty, as when they speak of “empty hopes.” And generally that is called “vain,” which is bare and purposeless, which is of no use. Let us see then whether all human things are not of this sort. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die?” (1Co 15,32). What then, tell me, is the end? Corruption. Let us put on clothing and raiment. And what is the result? Nothing. Such are the lives of the Greeks. They philosophized, but in vain. They made a show of a life of hardship, but of mere hardship, not looking to any beneficial end, but to vainglory, and to honor from the many. But what is the honor of the many? It is nothing, for if they themselves which render the honor perish, much more does the honor. He that renders honor to another, ought first to render it to himself; for if he gain not honor for himself, how can he ever render it to another? Whereas now we seek even honors from vile and despicable characters, themselves dishonorable, and objects of reproach. What kind of honor then is this?
1202 Perceive ye, how that all things are “vanity of vanities”? Therefore, saith he, “in the vanity of their mind.”
But further, is not their religion of this sort, wood and stone? He hath made the sun to shine for a lamp to light us. Who will worship his own lamp? The sun supplies us with light, but where he cannot, a lamp can do it. Then why not worship thy lamp? “Nay,” one will say, “I worship the fire.” Oh, how ridiculous! So great is the absurdity, and yet look again at another absurdity. Why extinguish the object of thy worship? Why destroy, why annihilate thy god? Wherefore dost thou not suffer thy house to be filled with him? For if the fire be god, let him feed upon thy body. Put not thy god under the bottom of thy kettle, or thy cauldron. Bring him into thy inner chambers, bring him within thy silken draperies. Whereas not only dost thou not bring him in, but if by any accident he has found entrance, thou drivest him out from every place, thou callest everybody together, and, as though some wild beast had entered, thou weepest and wailest, and callest the presence of thy god an overwhelming calamity. I have a God, and I do all I can to enshrine Him in my bosom, and I deem it my true bliss, not when He visits my dwelling, but when I can draw Him even to my heart. Do thou too draw the fire to thine heart. This is folly and vanity. Fire is good for use, not for adoration; good for ministration and for service, to be my slave, not to be my master. It was made for me, not I for it. If thou art a worshiper of fire, why recline upon thy couch thyself, and order thy cook to stand before thy god? Take up the art of cookery thyself, become a baker if thou wilt, or a coppersmith, for nothing can be more honorable than these arts, since these are they that thy god visits. Why deem that art a disgrace, where thy god is all in all? Why commit it to thy slaves, and not be ambitious of it thyself? Fire is good, inasmuch as it is the work of a good Creator, but it is not God. It is the work of God, it was not called God. Seest thou not how ungovernable is its nature;—how when it lays hold on a building it stops nowhere? But if it seizes anything continuous, it destroys all; and, except the hands of workmen or others quench its fury, it knows not friends nor foes, but deals with all alike. Is this then your god, and are ye not ashamed? Well indeed does he say, “in the vanity of their mind.”
But the sun, they say, is God. Tell me, how and wherefore. Is it that he sheds abundance of light? Yet dost thou not see him overcome by clouds, and in bondage to the necessity of nature, and eclipsed, and hidden by the moon? And yet the cloud is weaker than the sun; but still it often gains the mastery of him. And this indeed is the work of God’s wisdom. God must needs be all sufficient: but the sun needs many things; and this is not like a god. For he requires air to shine in, and that, too, thin air; since the air, when it is greatly condensed, suffers not the rays to pass through it. He requires also water, and other restraining power, to prevent him from consuming. For were it not that fountains, and lakes, and rivers, and seas, formed some moisture by the emission of their vapors, there would be nothing to prevent an universal conflagration. Dost thou see then, say ye, that he is a god? What folly, what madness! A god, say ye, because he has power to do harm. Nay, rather, for this very reason is he no god, because where he does harm he needs nothing; whereas, where he does good, he requires many things besides. Now to do harm, is foreign to God’s nature; to do good, is His property. Where then the reverse is the case, how can he be God? Seest thou not that poisonous drugs injure, and need nothing; but when they are to do good, need many things? For thy sake then is he such as he is, both good, and powerless; good, that thou mayest acknowledge his Lord; and powerless, that thou mayest not say that he is lord. “But,” say they, “he nourishes the plants and the seeds.” What then, at that rate is not the very dung a god? for even that also nourishes. And why not at that rate the scythe as well, and the hands of the husbandman? Prove to me that the sun alone does the work of nourishing without needing the help of either earth, or water, or tillage; but let the seeds be sown, and let him shed forth his rays, and produce the ears of corn. But now if this work be not his alone, but that of the rains also, wherefore is not the water a god also? But of this I speak not yet. Why is not the earth too a god, and why not the dung, and the hoe? Shall we then, tell me, worship all? Alas, what triffling! And indeed rather might the ear of corn be produced without sun, than without earth and water; and so with plants and all other things. Were there no earth, none of these things could ever appear. And if any one, as children and women do, were to put some earth into a pot, and to fill up the pot with a quantity of dung, and to place it under the roof, plants, though they may be weak ones, will be produced from it. So that the contribution of the earth and of the dung is greater, and these therefore we ought to worship rather than the sun. He requires the sky, he requires the air, he requires these waters, to prevent his doing harm, to be as bridles to curb the fierceness of his power, and to restrain him from letting loose his rays over the world, like some furious horse. And now tell me, where is he at night? Whither has your god taken his departure? For this is not like a god, to be circumscribed and limited. This is in fact the property of bodies only. But, say they, there is some sort of power residing in him, and he has motion. Is this power then, I pray you, itself God? Why then is it insufficient in itself, and why does it not restrain the fire? For again, I come to the same argument. But what is that power? Is it productive of light, or does it by the sun give light, though of itself possessing none of these qualities? If so, then is the sun superior to it. How far shall we unwind this maze?
1203 Again, what is water? is not that too, they say, a god? This again is a matter of truly absurd disputation. Is that not a god, they say, which we make use of for so many purposes? And so again, in like manner, of the earth. Truly “they walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding.”
But these words he is now using concerning life and conduct. The Greeks are fornicators and adulterers. Of course. They who paint to themselves such gods as these, will naturally do all these things; and if they can but escape the eyes of men, there is no one to restrain them. For what will avail the argument of a resurrection, if it appear to them a mere fable? Yea, and what that of the torments of hell?—they too are but a fable. And mark the Satanic notion. When they are told of gods who are fornicators, they deny that these are fables, but believe them. Yet whenever any shall discourse to them of punishment, “these,” they say, “are poets, men who turn everything into fable, that man’s happy condition may be on all sides overturned.”
But the philosophers, it is said, discovered something truly grand, and far better than these. How? They who introduced fate, and who tell us that nothing is providential, and that there is no one to care for anything, but that all things consist of atoms? Or, others again who say that God is a body? Or who, tell me, are they? Are they those who would turn the souls of men into the souls of dogs, and would pervade mankind that one was once a dog, and a lion, and a fish? How long will ye go on and never cease trifling, “being darkened in the understanding”? for they say and do all things as though they were indeed in the dark, both in those things which concern doctrine, and those which concern life and conduct; for the man who is in darkness sees none of the things which lie before him, but oftentimes when he sees a rope, he will take it for a live serpent; or again, if he is caught by a hedge, he will think that a man or an evil spirit has hold of him, and great is the alarm, and great the perturbation. Such as these are the things they fear. “There were they in great fear,” it saith, “where no fear was” (Ps 53,5); but the things which they ought to fear, these they fear not. But just as children in their nurses’ arms thrust their hands incautiously into the fire, and boldly into the candle also, and yet are scared at a man clothed in sackcloth; just so these Greeks, as if they were really always children, (as some one also amongst themselves has said, the Greeks are always children,) fear those things that are no sins, such as filthiness of the body, the pollution of a funeral, a bed, or the keeping of days, and the like: whereas those which are really sins, unnatural lust, adultery, fornication, of these they make no account at all. No, you may see a man washing himself from the pollution of a dead body, but from dead works, never; and, again, spending much zeal in the pursuit of riches, and yet supposing the whole is undone by the crowing of a single cock. “So darkened are they in their understanding.” Their soul is filled with all sorts of terrors. For instance: “Such a person,” one will say, “was the firstwho met me, as I was going out of the house”; of course ten thousand evils must certainly ensue. At another time, “the wretch of a servant in giving me my shoes, held out the left shoe first,”—terrible mishaps and mischiefs! “I myself in coming out set forth with the left foot foremost”; and this too is a token of misfortune. And these are the evils that occur about the house. Then, as I go out, my right eye shoots up from beneath. This is a sure sign of tears. Again the women, when the reeds strike against the standards, and ring, or when they themselves are scratched by the shuttle, turn this also into a sign. And again, when they strike the web with the shuttle, and do it with some vehemence, and then the reeds on the top from the intensity of the blow strike against the standards and ring, this again they make a sign, and ten thousand things besides, deserving of ridicule. And so if an ass should bray, or a cock should crow, or a man should sneeze, or whatever else may happen, like men bound with ten thousand chains, or, as I was saying, like men confined in the dark, they suspect everything, and are more slavish than all the slaves in the world).
But let it not be so with us. But scorning all these things, as men living in the light, and having our citizenship in Heaven, and having nothing in common with earth, let us regard but one thing as terrible, that is, sin, and offending against God. And if there be not this, let us scorn all the rest, and him that brought them in, the Devil. For these things let us give thanks to God. Let us be diligent, not only that we ourselves be never caught by this slavery, but if any of those who are dear to us have been caught, let us break his bonds asunder, let us release him from this most bitter and contemptible captivity, let us make him free and unshackled for his course toward Heaven, let us raise up his flagging wings, and teach him to be wise for life and doctrine’s sake. Let us give thanks to God for all things. Let us beseech Him that He will not declare us unworthy of the gifts offered to us, and let us ourselves withal endeavor to contribute our own part, that we may teach not only by speaking, but by acting also. For thus shall we be able to attain His unnumbered blessings, of which God grant we may all be counted worthy, in Christ Jesus our Lord with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost together, be glory, might, and honor, now, henceforth, and for ever and ever. Amen.
Chrysostom Ep 1100