A Sermon of St John Chrysostom on the Epistle
(portions of Homily XXIII in Vol XI, NPNF (1st))
ROM. XIII. 1.-"Let every soul be subject unto the higher
Of this subject he makes much account in other epistles also, setting
subjects under their rulers as household servants are under their masters.
And this he does to show that it was not for the subversion of the commonwealth
that Christ introduced His laws, but for the better ordering of it, and
to teach men not to be taking up unnecessary and unprofitable wars. For
the plots that are formed against us for the truth's sake are sufficient
and we have no need to be adding temptations superfluous and unprofitable.
And observe too how well-timed his entering upon this subject is. For when
he had demanded that great spirit of heroism, and made men fit to deal
either with friends or foes, and rendered them serviceable alike to the
prosperous and those in adversity and need, and in fact to all, and had
planted a conversation worthy of angels, and had discharged anger, and
taken down recklessness, and had in every way made their mind even, he
then introduces his exhortation upon these matters also. For if it be right
to requite those that injure us with the opposite, much more is it our
duty to obey those that are benefactors to us. But this he states toward
the end of his exhortation, and hitherto does not enter on these reasonings
which I mention, but those only that enjoin one to do this as a matter
of debt. And to show that these regulations are for all, even for priests,
and monks, and not for men of secular occupations only, he hath made this
plan at the outset, by saying as follows: "let every soul be subject unto
the higher powers," if thou be an Apostle even, or an Evangelist, or a
Prophet, or anything whatsoever, inasmuch as this subjection is not subversive
of religion. And he does not say merely "obey," but "be subject." And the
first claim such an enactment has upon us, and the reasoning that suiteth
the faithful, is, that all this is of God's appointment.
"For there is no power," he says, "but of God." What say you? it may
be said; is every ruler then elected by God? This I do not say, he answers.
Nor am I now speaking about individual rulers, but about the thing in itself.
For that there should be rulers, and some rule and others be ruled, and
that all things should not just be carried on in one confusion, the people
swaying like waves in this direction and that; this, I say, is the work
of God's wisdom. Hence he does not say, "for there is no ruler but of God;"
but it is the thing he speaks of, and says, "there is no power but of God.
And the powers that be, are ordained of God." Thus when a certain wise
man saith, "It is by the Lord that a man is matched with a woman" (Prov.
xix. 14, LXX.), he means this, God made marriage, and not that it is He
that joineth together every man that cometh to be with a woman. For we
see many that come to be with one another for evil, even by the law of
marriage, and this we should not ascribe to God. But as He said Himself,
"He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, and said,
For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall leave to
his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh." (Matt. xix. 4, Matt. xix.
5; Gen. ii. 24.) And this is what that wise man meant to explain. For since
equality of honor does many times lead to fightings, He hath made many
governments and forms of subjection; as that, for instance, of man and
wife, that of son and father, that of old men and young, that of bond and
free, that of ruler and ruled, that of master and disciple. And why are
you surprised in the case of mankind, when even in the body He hath done
the same thing? For even here He hath not made all parts of equal honor,
but He hath made one less and another greater, and some of the limbs hath
He made to rule and some to be ruled. And among the unreasoning creatures
one may notice this same principle, as amongst bees, amongst cranes, amongst
herds of wild cattle. And even the sea itself is not without this goodly
subordination; for there too many of the clans are ranged under one among
the fishes, and are led thus as an army, and make long expeditions from
home. For anarchy, be where it may, is an evil, and a cause of confusion.
After having said then whence governments come, he proceeds, "Whosoever
therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." See what
he has led the subject on to, and how fearful he makes it, and how he shows
this to be a matter of debt. For lest the believers should say, You are
making us very cheap and despicable, when you put us, who are to enjoy
the Kingdom of Heaven, under subjection to rulers, he shows that it is
not to rulers, but to God again that he makes them subject in doing this.
For it is to Him, that he who subjects himself to authorities is obedient.
Yet he does not say this-for instance that it is God to Whom a man who
listens to authorities is obedient-but he uses the opposite case to awe
them, and gives it a more precise form by saying, that he who listeneth
not thereto is fighting with God, Who framed these laws. And this he is
in all cases at pains to show, that it is not by way of favor that we obey
them, but by way of debt. For in this way he was more likely to draw the
governors who were unbelievers to religion, and the believers to obedience.
For there was quite a common report in those days (Tert. Ap. 1, 31, 32),
which maligned the Apostles, as guilty of a sedition and revolutionary
scheme, and as aiming in all they did and said at the subversion of the
received institutions. When then you show our common Master giving this
in charge to all His, you will at once stop the mouths of those that malign
us as revolutionists, and with great boldness will speak for the doctrines
of truth. Be not then ashamed, he says, at such subjection. For God hath
laid down this law, and is a strong Avenger of them if they be despised.
For it is no common punishment that He will exact of thee, if thou disobey,
but the very greatest; and nothing will exempt thee, that thou canst say
to the contrary, but both of men thou shalt undergo the most severe vengeance,
and there shall be no one to defend thee, and thou wilt also provoke God
the more. And all this he intimates when he says,
"And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." Then
to show the gain of the thing after the fear, he uses reasons too to persuade
them as follows:
Ver.3. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil."
For when he has given a deep wound, and stricken them down, he again
uses gentler treatment, like a wise physician, who applies soothing medicines,
and he comforts them, and says, why be afraid? why shudder? For does he
punish a person that is doing well? Or is he terrible to a person who lives
in the practice of virtue? Wherefore also he proceeds, "Wilt thou then
not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shall have
praise of the same." You see how he has made him friends (wkeiwsen) with
the ruler, by showing that he even praises him from his throne. You see
how he has made wrath unmeaning.
Ver.4. "For he is the minister of God to thee for good."
So far is he from terrifying thee, he says, that he even praises thee:
so far from being a hindrance to thee, that he even works with thee. When
then thou hast his praise and his succor, how is it that thou art not in
subjection to him? For he maketh virtue easier for thee in other ways also,
by chastising the wicked, by benefiting and honoring the good, and by working
together with the will of God. Whence too he has even given him the name
of "Minister." And consider: I give you counsel to be sober-minded, and
he, by the laws, speaks the same language. I exhort you not to be rapacious
and grasping. And he sits in judgment in such cases, and so is a worker
together with us, and an assistant to us, and has been commissioned by
God for this end. Hence there are both reasons for reverencing him, both
because he was commissioned by God, and because it was for such an object.
"But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid." It is not then the ruler
that maketh the fear, but our own wickedness.
"For he beareth not the sword in vain." You see how he hath furnished
him with arms, and set him on guard like a soldier, for a terror to those
that commit sin. "For he is the minister of God to execute wrath, a revenger
upon him that doeth evil." Now lest you should start off at hearing again
of punishment, and vengeance, and a sword, he says again that it is God's
law he is carrying out. For what if he does not know it himself? yet it
is God that hath so shaped things (outwj etupwsen). If then, whether in
punishing, or in honoring, he be a Minister, in avenging virtue's cause,
in driving vice away, as God willeth, why be captious against him, when
he is the cause of so many good doings, and paves the way for thine too?
since there are many who first practised virtue through the fear of God.
For there are a duller sort, whom things to come have not such a hold upon
as things present. He then who by fear and rewards gives the soul of the
majority a preparatory turn towards its becoming more suited for the word
of doctrine, is with good reason called "the Minister of God."
Ver.5. "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath but
also for conscience sake."
What is the meaning of, "not only for wrath?" It means not only because
thou dost resist God by not being subject, nor only because thou art procuring
great evils for thyself, both from God and the rulers, but also because
he is a benefactor to thee in things of the greatest importance, as he
procures peace to thee, and the blessings of civil institutions. For there
are countless blessings to states through these authorities; and if you
were to remove them, all things would go to ruin, and neither city nor
country, nor private nor public buildings, nor anything else would stand,
but all the world will be turned upside down, while the more powerful devour
the weaker. And so even if some wrath were not to follow man's disobedience,
even on this ground thou oughtest to be subject, that thou mayest not seem
devoid of conscience and feeling towards the benefactor.
Ver.6. "For, for this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God's
ministers, attending continually on this very thing."
Without going one by one into the benefits done to states by the rulers,
as that of good order and peace, the other services, as regarding the soldiery,
and those over the public business, he shows the whole of this by a single
case. For that thou art benefited by him, he means, thou bearest witness
thyself, by paying him a salary. Observe the wisdom and judgment of the
blessed Paul. For that which seemed to be burdensome and annoying -the
system of imposts-this he turns into a proof of their care for men. What
is the reason, he means, that we pay tribute to a king? It is not as providing
for us? And yet we should not have paid it unless we had known in the first
instance that we were gainers from this superintendence. Yet it was for
this that from of old all men came to an agreement that governors should
be maintained by us, because to the neglect of their own affairs, they
take charge of the public, and on this they spend their whole leisure,
whereby our goods also are kept safe. After saying then what the external
goods are, he again averts to the former line of argument (for in this
way he was more likely to attract the believer to him), and he shows again
that this is God's decree, and on it he makes his advice rest finally,
in these words, "they are God's ministers." Then to show the pains they
take, and their hard life, he proceeds,
"Waiting continually upon this very thing."
For this is their life, this their business, that thou mayest enjoy
peace. Wherefore in another Epistle, he bids them not only be subject,
but also "pray" in their behalf. And as showing there too that the advantage
was common to all, he adds, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life
in all things." (1 Tim. ii. 1, Tim. 2:2.) For it is in no small degree
that they contribute to the settled state of the present life, by keeping
guard, beating off enemies, hindering those who are for sedition in the
cities, putting an end to differences among any. For do not tell me of
some one who makes an ill use of the thing, but look to the good order
that is in the institution itself, and you will see the great wisdom of
Him who enacted this law from the first.
Ver.7, 8. "Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute,
custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe (or
ye owe) no man anything, but to love one another."
He still keeps upon the same line, bidding them pay them not money only,
but honor and fear. And how is it when he said above, "Wilt thou not be
afraid of the power? do that which is good;" that he here says "render
fear?" He does it meaning exceeding honor, and not the fear which comes
from a bad conscience, which he alluded to before And it is not "give,"
that he says, but "render" (or "give back," apodote), and then adds to
it, the "dues." For it is not a favor that you confer by so doing, since
the thing is matter of due. And if you do it not, you will be punished
as Obstinate. Do not suppose that you are lowering yourself, and detracting
from the dignity of your own philosophy, if you rise up at the presence
of a ruler, or if you uncover your head. For if he laid these laws down
at that time, when the rulers were Gentiles, much more ought this to be
done with them now they are believers. But if you mean to say, that you
are entrusted with greater privileges, be informed that this is not thy
time. For thou art a stranger and a sojourner. A time will be when thou
shalt appear brighter than all. Now thy "life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory"
(Col. iii. 3, Co 3:4.) Seek not then in this life of accidents thy change,
but even if thou hast to be with fear in a ruler's presence, do not think
that this is unworthy thy noble birth. For so God willeth, that the ruler
who has his place marked by Him, should have his own power; And when he
who is conscious of no evil in himself, stands with fear in the judge's
presence, much more will he who doth evil things be affrighted, and thou
in this way wilt be the more respected. For it is not from honoring that
the lowering of self comes but from dishonoring him. And the ruler will
treat thee with greater respect, and he will glorify thy Master owing to
this, even if he be an unbeliever.