A Sermon of St John Chrysostom on the Epistle
(a portion of Homily XVII and XVIII in Vol XIII,
"Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children; and walk in
love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us an offering
and sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell."
That thou mayest not then think it an act of necessity, hear how He
saith, that "He gave Himself up." As thy Master loved thee, love thou thy
friend. Nay, but neither wilt thou be able so to love; yet still do so
as far as thou art able. Oh, what can be more blessed than a sound like
this! Tell me of royalty or whatever else thou wilt, there is no comparison.
Forgive another, and thou art "imitating God," thou art made like unto
God. It is more our duty to forgive trespasses than debts of money; for
if thou forgive debts, thou hast not "imitated God"; whereas if thou shalt
forgive trespasses, thou art "imitating God." And yet how shalt thou be
able to say, "I am poor, and am not able to forgive it," that is, a debt,
when thou forgivest not that which thou art able to forgive, that is, a
trespass? And surely thou dost not deem that in this case there is any
loss. Yea, is it not rather wealth, is it not abundance, is it not a plentiful
And behold yet another and a nobler incitement: -" as beloved children,"
saith he. Ye have yet another cogent reason to imitate Him, not only in
that ye have received such good at His hands, but also in that ye are called
His children. And since not all children imitate their fathers, but those
which are beloved, therefore he saith, "as beloved children."
Ver. 2. "Walk in love."
Behold, here, the groundwork of all! So then where this is, there is
no "wrath, no anger, no clamor, no railing," but all are done away. Accordingly
he puts the chief point last. Whence wast thou made a child? Because thou
wast forgiven. On the same ground on which thou hast had so vast a privilege
vouch-safed thee, on that selfsame ground forgive thy neighbor. Tell me,
I say, if thou wert in prison, and hadst ten thousand misdeeds to answer
for, and some one were to bring thee into the palace; or rather to pass
over this argument, suppose thou wert in a fever and in the agonies of
death, and some one were to benefit thee by some medicine, wouldest thou
not value him more than all, yea and the very name of the medicine? For
if we thus regard occasions and places by which we are benefited, even
as our own souls, much more shall we the things themselves. Be a lover
then of love; for by this art thou saved, by this hast thou been made a
son. And if thou shalt have it in thy power to save another, wilt thou
not use the same remedy, and give the advice to all, "Forgive, that ye
may be forgiven"? Thus to incite one another, were the part of grateful,
of generous, and noble spirits.
"Even as Christ also," he adds, "loved you."
Thou art only sparing friends, He enemies. So then far greater is that
boon which cometh from our Master. For how in our case is the "even as"
preserved. Surely it is clear that it will be, by our doing good to our
"And gave Himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for an
odor of a sweet smell."
Seest thou that to suffer for one's enemies is "a sweet-smelling savor,"
and an "acceptable sacrifice"? And if thou shalt die, then wilt thou be
indeed a sacrifice. This it is to "imitate God."
Ver. 3. "But fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let
it not even be named among you, as becometh saints."
He has spoken of the bitter passion, of wrath; he now comes to the lesser
evil: for that lust is the lesser evil, hear how Moses also in the law
says, first, "Thou shalt do no murder" (Ex. xx. 13), which is the work
of wrath, and then, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Ex. xx. 14), which
is of lust. For as "bitterness," and "clamor," and "all malice," and "railing,"
and the like, are the works of the passionate man, so likewise are "fornication,
uncleanness, covetousness," those of the lustful; since avarice and sensuality
spring from the same passion. But just as in the former case he took away
"clamor" as being the vehicle of "anger," so now does he "filthy talking"
and "jesting" as being the vehicle of lust; for he proceeds,
Ver. 4. "Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are
not befitting; but rather giving of thanks."
Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou
wilt quench the flame-"let them not even be named," saith he, "among you,"
that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says
also in writing to the Corinthians. "It is actually reported that there
is fornication among you" (1 Cor. v. 1); as much as to say, Be ye all pure.
For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding
kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on
to add the reason, by saying, "which are not befitting," which have nothing
to do with us-"but rather giving of thanks." What good is there in uttering
a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever
busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade?
or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things
we do not need, are nothing to us.
Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also
into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning,
of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler
on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters
witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, "he is going about roaring"
(1 Pet. v. 8) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything
against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is
grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation;
and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and "talking folly," and uttering
things "which are not befitting." Full nobly then wilt thou be able to
overcome him! We are in sport, beloved. Wouldest thou know the life of
the saints? Listen to what Paul saith. "By the space of three years I ceased
not to admonish every one night and day with tears." (Acts xx. 31.) And
if so great was the zeal he exerted in behalf of them of Miletus and Ephesus,
not making pleasant speeches, but introducing his admonition with tears,
what should one say of the rest? But hearken again to what he says to the
Corinthians. "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto
you with many tears." (2 Cor. ii. 4.) And again, "Who is weak, and I am
not weak?" "Who is made to stumble, and I burn not?" (2 Cor. xi. 29.) And
hearken again to what he says elsewhere, desiring every day, as one might
say, to depart out of the world. "For indeed we that are in this tabernacle
do groan" (2 Cor. v. 4); and dost thou laugh and play? It is war-time,
and art thou handling the dancers' instruments? Look at the countenances
of men in battle, their dark and contracted mien, their brow terrible and
full of awe. Mark the stern eye, the heart eager and beating and throbbing,
their spirit collected, and trembling and intensely anxious. All is good
order, all is good discipline, all is silence in the camps of those who
are arrayed against each other. They speak not, I do not say, an impertinent
word, but they utter not a single sound. Now if they who have visible enemies,
and who are in nowise injured by words, yet observe so great silence, dost
thou who hast thy warfare, and the chief of thy warfare in words, dost
thou leave this part naked and exposed? Or art thou ignorant that it is
here that we are most beset with snares? Art thou amusing and enjoying
thyself, and uttering witticisms and raising a laugh, and regarding the
matter as a mere nothing? How many perjuries, how many injuries, how many
filthy speeches have arisen from witticisms! "But no," ye will say, "pleasantries
are not like this." Yet hear how he excludes all kinds of jesting. It is
a time now of war and fighting, of watch and guard, of arming and arraying
ourselves. The time of laughter can have no place here; for that is of
the world. Hear what Christ saith: "The world shall rejoice, but ye shall
be sorrowful." (John xvi. 20.) Christ was crucified for thy ills, and dost
thou laugh? He was buffeted, and endured so great sufferings because of
thy calamity, and the tempest that had overtaken thee; and dost thou play
the reveler? And how wilt thou not then rather provoke Him?
But since the matter appears to some to be one of indifference, which
moreover is difficult to be guarded against, let us discuss this point
a little, to show you how vast an evil it is. For indeed this is a work
of the devil, to make us disregard things indifferent. First of all then,
even if it were indifferent, not even in that case were it right to disregard
it, when one knows that the greatest evils are both produced and increased
by it, and that it oftentimes terminates in fornication. However, that
it is not even indifferent is evident from hence. Let us see then whence
it is produced. Or rather, let us see what sort of a person a saint ought
to be:-gentle, meek, sorrowful, mournful, contrite. The man then who deals
in jests is no saint. Nay, were he even a Greek, such an one would be scorned.
These are things allowed to those only who are on the stage. Where filthiness
is, there also is jesting; where unseasonable laughter is, there also is
jesting. Hearken to what the Prophet saith, "Serve the Lord in fear, and
rejoice with trembling." (Ps. ii. II) Jesting renders the soul soft and
indolent. It excites the soul unduly, and often it teems with acts of violence,
and creates wars. But what more? In fine, hast thou not come to be among
men? then "put away childish things." (I Cor. xiii. II) Why, thou wilt
not allow thine own servant in the market place to speak an impertinent
word: and dost thou then, who sayest thou art a servant of God, go uttering
thy witticisms in the public square? It is well if the soul that is "sober"
be not stolen away; but one that is relaxed and dissolute, who cannot carry
off? It will be its own murderer, and will stand in no need of the crafts
or assaults of the devil.
But, moreover, in order to understand this, look too at the very name.
It means the versatile man, the man of all complexions, the unstable, the
pliable, the man that can be anything and everything. But far is this from
those who are servants to the Rock. Such a character quickly turns and
changes; for he must needs mimic both gesture and speech, and laugh and
gait, and everything, aye, and such an one is obliged to invent jokes:
for he needs this also. But far be this from a Christian, to play the buffoon.
Farther, the man who plays the jester must of necessity incur the signal
hatred of the objects of his random ridicule, whether they be present,
or being absent hear of it.
If the thing is creditable, why is it left to mountebanks? What, dost
thou make thyself a mountebank, and yet art not ashamed? Why is it ye permit
not your gentlewomen to do so? Is it not that ye set it down as a mark
of an immodest, and not of a discreet character? Great are the evils that
dwell in a soul given to jesting; great is the ruin and desolation. Its
consistency is broken, the building is decayed, fear is banished, reverence
is gone. A tongue thou hast, not that thou mayest ridicule another man,
but that thou mayest give thanks unto God. Look at your merriment-makers,
as they are called, those buffoons. These are your jesters. Banish from
your souls, I entreat you, this graceless accomplishment. It is the business
of parasites, of mountebanks, of dancers, of harlots; far be it from a
generous, far be it from a highborn soul, aye, far too even from slaves.
If there be any one who has lost respect, if there be any vile person,
that man is also a jester. To many indeed the thing appears to be even
a virtue, and this truly calls for our sorrow. Just as lust by little and
little drives headlong into fornication, so also does a turn for jesting.
It seems to have a grace about it, yet there is nothing more graceless
than this. For hear the Scripture which says, "Before the thunder goeth
lightning, and before a shamefaced man shall go favor." Now there is nothing
more shameless than the jester; so that his mouth is not full of favor,
but of pain. Let us banish this custom from our tables. Yet are there some
who teach it even to the poor! O monstrous! they make men in affliction
play the jester. Why, where shall not this pest be found next? Already
has it been brought into the Church itself. Already has it laid hold of
the very Scriptures. Need I say anything to prove the enormity of the evil?
I am ashamed indeed, but still nevertheless I will speak; for I am desirous
to show to what a length the mischief has advanced, that I may not appear
to be trifling, or to be discoursing to you on some trifling subject; that
even thus I may be enabled to withdraw you from this delusion. And let
no one think that I am fabricating, but I will tell you what I have really
heard. A certain person happened to be in company with one of those who
pride themselves highly on their knowledge (now I know I shall excite a
smile, but still I will say it notwithstanding); and when the platter was
set before him, he said, "Take and eat, children, lest your belly be angry!"
And again, others say, "Woe unto thee, Mammon, and to him that hath thee
not" and many like enormities has jesting introduced; as when they say,
"Now is there no nativity." And this I say to show the enormity of this
base temper; for these are the expressions of a soul destitute of all reverence.
And are not these things enough to call down thunderbolts? And one might
find many other such things which have been said by these men.
Wherefore, I entreat you, let us banish the custom universally, and
speak those things which become us. Let not holy mouths utter the words
of dishonorable and base men. "For what fellowship have righteousness and
iniquity, or what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Cor. vi. 14.)
Happy will it be for us, if, having kept ourselves aloof from all such
foul things, we be thus able to attain to the promised blessings; far indeed
from dragging such a train after us, and sullying the purity of our minds
by so many. For the man who will play the jester will soon go on to be
a railer, and the railer will go on to heap ten thousand other mischiefs
on himself. When then we shall have disciplined these two faculties of
the soul, anger and desire (vid. Plat. Phaedr. cc. 25, 34), and have put
them like well-broken horses under the yoke of reason, then let us set
over them the mind as charioteer, that we may "gain the prize of our high
calling" (Phil. iii. 14); which God grant that we may all attain, through
Jesus Christ our Lord, with Whom, together with the Holy Ghost, be unto
the Father, glory, might, and honor, now, and ever, and throughout all
Ephesians v. 5, 6.-"For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator,
nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive you with empty words:
for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience."
There were, it is likely, in the time of our forefathers also, some
who "weakened the hands of the people" (Jer. xxxviii. 4), and brought into
practice that which is mentioned by Ezekiel,-or rather who did the works
of the false prophets, who "profaned God among His people for handfuls
of barley" (Ezek. xiii. 19); a thing, by the way, done methinks by some
even at this day. When, for example, we say that he who calleth his brother
a fool shall depart into hell-fire, others say, "What? Is he that calls
his brother a fool to depart into hell-fire? Impossible," say they. And
again, when we say that "the covetous man is an idolater," in this too
again they make abatements, and say the expression is hyperbolical. And
in this manner they underrate and explain away all the commandments. It
was in allusion then to these that the blessed Paul, at this time when
he wrote to the Ephesians, spoke thus, "For this ye know, that no fornicator,
nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and God"; adding, "let no man deceive you with
empty words." Now "empty words" are those which for a while are gratifying,
but are in nowise borne out in facts; because the whole case is a deception.
"Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of
Because of "fornication," he means, because of "covetousness," because
of "uncleanness," or both because of these things, and because of the "deceit,"
inasmuch as there are deceivers. "Sons of disobedience"; he thus calls
those who are utterly disobedient, those who disobey Him.
Ver. 7, 8. "Be not ye, therefore, partakers with them. For ye were
once darkness, but are now light in the Lord."
Observe how wisely he urges them forward; first, from the thought of
Christ, that ye love one another, and do injury to no man; then, on the
other hand, from the thought of punishment and hell-fire. "For ye were
once darkness," says he, "but are now light in the Lord." Which is what
he says also in the Epistle to the Romans; "What fruit then had ye at that
time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed?" (Rom. vi. 21), and reminds
them of their former wickedness. That is to say, thinking what ye once
were, and what ye are now become, do not run back into your former wickedness,
nor do "despite to the grace" (Heb. x. 29) of God.
"Ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord!"
Not, he says, by your own virtue, but through the grace of God has this
accrued to you. That is to say, ye also were sometime worthy of the same
punishments, but now are so no more. "Walk" therefore "as children of light."
What is meant however by "children of light," he adds afterwards.
Ver. 9, 10. "For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness
and truth, proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord."
"In all goodness," he says: this is opposed to the angry, and the bitter:
"and righteousness"; this to the covetous: "and truth"; this to false pleasure:
not those former things, he says, which I was mentioning, but their opposites.
"In all"; that is, the fruit of the Spirit ought to be evinced in everything.
"Proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord"; so that those things are
tokens of a childish and imperfect mind.
Ver. 11, 12, 13. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works
of darkness, but rather even reprove them. For the things which are done
by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of. But all things when they
are reproved, are made manifest by the light."
He had said, "ye are light." Now the light reproves by exposing the
things which take place in the darkness. So that if ye, says he, are virtuous,
and conspicuous, the wicked will be unable to lie hidden. For just as when
a candle is set, all are brought to light, and the thief cannot enter;
so if your light shine, the wicked being discovered shall be caught. So
then it is our duty to expose them. How then does our Lord say, "Judge
not, that ye be not judged"? (Matt. vii. 1, 3.) Paul did not say "judge,"
he said "reprove," that is, correct. And the words, "Judge not, that ye
be not judged," He spoke with reference to very small errors. Indeed, He
added, "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest
not the beam that is in thine own eye?" But what Paul is saying is of this
sort. As a wound, so long as it is imbedded and concealed outwardly, and
runs beneath the surface, receives no attention, so also sin, as long as
it is concealed, being as it were in darkness, is daringly committed in
full security; but as soon as "it is made manifest," becomes "light"; not
indeed the sin itself, (for how could that be?) but the sinner. For when
he has been brought out to light, when he has been admonished, when he
has repented, when he has obtained pardon, hast thou not cleared away all
his darkness? Hast thou not then healed his wound? Hast thou not called
his unfruitfulness into fruit? Either this is his meaning, or else what
I said above, that your life "being manifest, is light." For no one hides
an irreproachable life; whereas things which are hidden, are hidden by
darkness covering them.
Ver. 14. "Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise
from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee."
By the "sleeper" and the "dead," he means the man that is in sin; for
he both exhales noisome odors like the dead, and is inactive like one that
is asleep, and like him he sees nothing, but is dreaming, and forming fancies
and illusions. Some indeed read, "And thou shalt touch Christ"; but others,
"And Christ shall shine Upon thee"; and it is rather this latter. Depart
from sin, and thou shalt be able to behold Christ. "For every one that
doeth ill, hateth the light, and cometh not to the light." (John iii. 20.)
He therefore that doeth it not, cometh to the light.
Now he is not saying this with reference to the unbelievers only, for
many of the faithful, no less than unbelievers, hold fast by wickedness;
nay, some far more. Therefore to these also it is necessary to exclaim,
"Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine
upon thee." To these it is fitting to say this also, "God is not the God
of the dead, but of the living." (Matt. xxii. 32.) If then he is not the
God of the dead, let us live.
Now there are some who say that the words, "the covetous man is an idolater,"
are hyperbolical. However, the statement is not hyperbolical, it is true.
How, and in what way? Because the covetous man apostatizes from God, just
as the idolater does. And lest you should imagine this is a bare assertion,
there is a declaration of Christ which saith, "Ye cannot serve God and
Mammon." (Matt. vi. 24.) If then it is not possible to serve God and Mammon,
they who serve Mammon have thrown themselves out of the service of God;
and they who have denied His sovereignty, and serve lifeless gold, it is
plain enough that they are idolaters. "But I never made an idol," a man
will say, "nor set up an altar, nor sacrificed sheep, nor poured libations
of wine; no, I came into the church, and lifted up my hands to the Only-begotten
Son of God; I partake of the mysteries, I communicate in prayer, and in
everything else which is a Christian's duty. How then," he will say, "am
I a worshiper of idols?" Yes, and this is the very thing which is the most
astonishing of all, that when thou hast had experience, and hast "tasted"
the lovingkindness of God, and "hast seen that the Lord is gracious" (Ps.
xxxiv.: 8), thou shouldest abandon Him who is gracious, and take to thyself
a cruel tyrant, and shouldest pretend to be serving Him, whilst in reality
thou hast submitted thyself to the hard and galling yoke of covetousness.
Thou hast not yet told me of thy own duty done, but only of thy Master's
gifts. For tell me, I beseech thee, whence do we judge of a soldier? Is
it when he is on duty guarding the king, and is fed by him, and called
the king's own, or is it when he is minding his own affairs and interests?
To pretend to be with him, and to be attentive to his interests, whilst
he is advancing the cause of the enemy, we declare to be worse than if
he breaks away from the king's service, and joins the enemy. Now then thou
art doing despite to God, just as an idolater does, not with thine own
mouth singly, but with the ten thousands of those whom thou hast wronged.
Yet you will say, "an idolater he is not." But surely, whenever they say,
"Oh! that Christian, that covetous fellow," then not only is he himself
committing outrage by his own act, but he frequently forces those also
whom he has wronged to use these words; and if they use them not, this
is to be set to the account of their reverence.
Do we not see that such is the fact? What else is an idolater? Or does
not he too worship passions, oftentimes not mastering his passions? I mean,
for example, when we say that the pagan idolater worships idols, he will
say, "No, but it is Venus, or it is Mars." And if we say, Who is this Venus?
the more modest amongst them will say, It is pleasure. Or what is this
Mars? It is wrath. And in the same way dost thou worship Mammon. If we
say, Who is this Mammon? It is covetousness, and this thou art worshiping.
"I worship it not," thou wilt say. Why not? Because thou dost not bow thyself
down? Nay, but as it is, thou art far more a worshiper in thy deeds and
practices; for this is the higher kind of worship. And that you may understand
this, look in the case of God; who more truly worship Him, they who merely
stand up at the prayers, or they who do His will? Clearly enough, these
latter. The same also is it with the worshipers of Mammon; they who do
his will, they truly are his worshipers. However, they who worship the
passions are oftentimes free from the passions. One may see a worshiper
of Mars oftentimes governing his wrath. But this is not true of thee; thou
makest thyself a slave to thy passion.
Yes, but thou slayest no sheep? No, thou slayest men, reasonable souls,
some by famine, others by blasphemies. Nothing can be more frenzied than
a sacrifice like this. Who ever beheld souls sacrificed? How accursed is
the altar of covetousness! When thou passest by this idol's altar here,
thou shalt see it reeking with the blood of bullocks and goats; but when
thou shalt pass by the altar of covetousness, thou shalt see it breathing
the shocking odor of human blood. Stand here before it in this world, and
thou shalt see, not the wings of birds burning, no vapor, no smoke exhaled,
but the bodies of men perishing. For some throw themselves among precipices,
others tie the halter, others thrust the dagger through their throat. Hast
thou seen the cruel and inhuman sacrifices? Wouldest thou see yet more
shocking ones than these? Then I will show thee no longer the bodies of
men, but the souls of men slaughtered in the other world. Yes, for it is
possible for a soul to be slain with the slaughter peculiar to the soul;
for as there is a death of the body, so is there also of the soul. "The
soul that sinneth," saith the Prophet, "it shall die." (Ezek. xviii. 4.)
The death of the soul, however, is not like the death of the body; it is
far more shocking. For this bodily death, separating the soul and the body
the one from the other, releases the one from many anxieties and toils,
and transmits the other into a manifest abode: then when the body has been
in time dissolved and crumbled away, it is again gathered together in incorruption,
and receives back its own proper soul. Such we see is this bodily death.
But that of the soul is awful and terrific. For this death, when dissolution
takes place, does not let it pass, as the body does, but binds it down
again to an imperishable body, and consigns it to the unquenchable fire.
This then is the death of the soul. And as therefore there is a death of
the soul, so is there also a slaughter of the soul. What is the slaughter
of the body? It is the being turned into a corpse, the being stripped of
the energy derived from the soul. What is the slaughter of the soul? It
is its being made a corpse also. And how is the soul made a corpse? Because
as the body then becomes a corpse when the soul leaves it destitute of
its own vital energy, so also does the soul then become a corpse, when
the Holy Spirit leaves it destitute of His spiritual energy.
Such for the most part are the slaughters made at the altar of covetousness.
They are not satisfied, they do not stop at men's blood; no, the altar
of covetousness is not glutted, unless it sacrifice the very soul itself
also, unless it receive the souls of both, the sacrificer and the sacrificed.
For he who sacrifices must first be sacrificed, and then he sacrifices;
and the dead sacrifices him who is yet living. For when he utters blasphemies,
when he reviles, when he is irritated, are not these so many incurable
wounds of the soul?
Thou hast seen that the expression is no hyperbole. Wouldest thou hear
again another argument, to teach you how covetousness is idolatry, and
more shocking than idolatry? Idolaters worship the creatures of God ("for
they worshiped," it is said, "and served the creature rather than the Creator")
(Rom. i. 25); but thou art worshiping a creature of thine own. For God
made not covetousness but thine own insatiable appetite invented it. And
look at the madness and folly. They that worship idols, honor also the
idols they worship; and if any one speak of them with disrespect or ridicule,
they stand up in their defense; whereas thou, as if in a sort of intoxication,
art worshiping an object, which is so far from being free from accusation,
that it is even full of impiety. So that thou, even more than they, excellest
in wickedness. Thou canst never have it to say as an excuse, that it is
no evil. If even they are in the highest degree without excuse, yet art
thou in a far higher, who art forever censuring covetousness, and reviling
those who devote themselves to it, and who yet doth serve and obey it.
We will examine, if you please, whence idolatry took its rise. A certain
wise man (Wisd. xiv. 16) tells us, that a certain rich man afflicted with
untimely mourning for his son, and having no consolation for his sorrow,
consoled his passion in this way: having made a lifeless image of the dead,
and constantly gazing at it, he seemed through the image to have his departed
one still; whilst certain flatterers, "whose God was their belly" (Phil.
iii. 19), treating the image with reverence in order to do him honor, carried
on the custom into idolatry. So then it took its rise from weakness of
soul, from a senseless custom, from extravagance. But not so covetousness:
from weakness of soul indeed it is, only that it is from a worse weakness.
It is not that any one has lost a son, nor that he is seeking for consolation
in sorrow, nor that he is drawn on by flatterers. But how is it? I will
tell you. Cain in covetousness overreached God; what ought to have been
given to Him, he kept to himself; what he should have kept himself, this
he offered to Him; and thus the evil began even from God. For if we are
God's, much more are the first-fruits of our possessions. Again, men's
violent passion for women arose from covetousness. "They saw the daughters
of men" (Gen. vi. 2), and they rushed headlong into lust. And from hence
again it went on to money; for the wish to have more than one's neighbor
of this world's goods, arises from no other source, than from "love waxing
cold." The wish to have more than one's share arises from no other source
than recklessness, misanthropy, and arrogance toward others. Look at the
earth, how wide is its extent? How far greater than we can use the expanse
of the sky and the heaven? It is that He might put an end to thy covetousness,
that God hath thus widely extended the bounds of the creation. And art
thou then still grasping and even thus? And dost thou hear that covetousness
is idolatry, and not shudder even at this? Dost thou wish to inherit the
earth? Then hast thou no inheritance in heaven. Art thou eager to leave
an inheritance to others, that thou mayest rob thyself of it? Tell me,
if any one were to offer thee power to possess all things, wouldest thou
be unwilling? It is in thy power now, if thou wilt. Some, however, say,
that they are grieved when they transmit the inheritance to others, and
would fain have consumed it themselves, rather than see others become its
masters. Nor do I acquit thee of this weakness; for this too is characteristic
of a weak soul. However, at least let as much as this be done. In thy will
leave Christ thine heir. It were thy duty indeed to do so in thy lifetime,
for this would show a right disposition. Still, at all events, be a little
generous, though it be but by necessity. For Christ indeed charged us to
give to the poor with this object, to make us wise in our lifetime, to
induce us to despise money, to teach us to look down upon earthly things.
It is no contempt of money, as you think, to bestow it upon this man and
upon that man when one dies, and is no longer master of it. Thou art then
no longer giving of thine own, but of absolute necessity: thanks to death,
not to thee. This is no act of affection, it is thy loss. However, let
it be done even thus; at least then give up thy passion.
Moral. Consider how many acts of plunder, how many acts of covetousness,
thou hast committed. Restore all fourfold. Thus plead thy cause to God.
Some, however, there are who are arrived at such a pitch of madness and
blindness, as not even then to comprehend their duty; but who go on acting
in all cases, just as if they were taking pains to make the judgment of
God yet heavier to themselves. This is the reason why our blessed Apostle
writes and says, "Walk as children of light." Now the covetous man of all
others lives in darkness, and spreads great darkness over all things around.
"And have no fellowship," he adds, "with the unfruitful works of darkness,
but rather even reprove them; for the things which are done by them in
secret, it is a shame even to speak of; but all things when they are reproved
are made manifest by the light." Hearken, I entreat you, all, as many of
you as like not to be hated for nothing, but to be loved. "What need is
there to be hated?" one says. A man commits a robbery, and dost thou not
reprove him, but art afraid of his hatred? though this, however, is not
being hated for nothing. But dost thou justly convict him, and yet fear
the hatred? Convict thy brother, incur enmity for the love's sake which
thou owest to Christ, for the love's sake which thou owest to thy brother.
Arrest him as he is on his road to the pit of destruction. For to admit
him to our table, to treat him with civil speeches, with salutations, and
with entertainments, these are no signal proofs of friendship. No, those
I have mentioned are the boons which we must bestow upon our friends, that
we may rescue their souls from the wrath of God. When we see them lying
prostrate in the furnace of wickedness, let us raise them up. "But," they
say, "it is of no use, he is incorrigible." However, do thou thy duty,
and then thou hast excused thyself to God. Hide not thy talent. It is for
this that thou hast speech, it is for this thou hast a mouth and a tongue,
that thou mayest correct thy neighbor. It is dumb and reasonless creatures
only that have no care for their neighbor, and take no account of others.
But dost thou while calling God, "Father," and thy neighbor, "brother,"
when thou seest him committing unnumbered wickednesses, dost thou prefer
his good-will to his welfare? No, do not so, I entreat you. There is no
evidence of friendship so true as never to overlook the sins of our brethren.
Didst thou see them at enmity? Reconcile them. Didst thou see them guilty
of covetousness? Check them. Didst thou see them wronged? Stand up in their
defense. It is not on them, it is on thyself thou art conferring the chief
benefit. It is for this we are friends, that we may be of use one to another.
A man will listen in a different spirit to a friend, and to any other chance
person. A chance person he will regard perhaps with suspicion, and so in
like manner will he a teacher, but not so a friend.
"For," he says, "the things which are done by them in secret it is a
shame even to speak of: but all things when they are reproved are made
manifest by the light." What is it he means to say here? He means this.
That some sins in this world are done in secret, and some also openly;
but in the other it shall not be so. Now there is no one who is not conscious
to himself of some sin. This is why he says, "But all the things when they
are reproved are made manifest by the light." What then? Is this again,
it will be said, meant concerning idolatry? It is not; the argument is
about our life and our sins. "For everything that is made manifest," says
he, "is light."
Wherefore, I entreat you, be ye never backward to reprove, nor displeased
at being reproved. For as long indeed as anything is carried on in the
dark, it is carried on with greater security; but when it has many to witness
what is done, it is brought to light. By all means then let us do all we
can to chase away the deadness which is in our brethren, to scatter the
darkness, and to attract to us the "Sun of righteousness." For if there
be many shining lights, the path of virtue will be easy to themselves,
and they which are in darkness will be more easily detected, while the
light is held forth and puts the darkness to flight. Whereas if it be the
reverse, there is fear lest as the thick mist of darkness and of sin overpowers
the light, and dispels its transparency, those shining lights themselves
should be extinguished. Let us be then disposed to benefit one another,
that one and all, we may offer up praise and glory to the God of lovingkindness,
by the grace and lovingkindness of the only begotten Son with whom to the
Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, strength, honor now and
forever and forever. Amen.