7. Woe unto the world because of offenses: [R.V., “occasions of stumbling,” σκανδλων; see the comment below.] for it must needs be that offenses come: but woe to that man by [R.V., “through.”] whom the offense cometh.”
“And if ‘it must needs be that offenses come,’” (some one of our adversaries may perchance say), “why doth He lament over the world, when He ought rather to afford succor, and to stretch forth His hand in its behalf? For this were the part of a physician, and a protector, whereas the other might be looked for even from any ordinary person.”
What then could we possibly say, in answer to so shameless a tongue? nay what dost thou seek for equal to this healing care of His? For indeed being God He became man for thee, and took the form of a slave, and underwent all extremities, and left undone none of those things which it concerned Him to do. But inasmuch as unthankful men were nothing the better for this, He laments over them, for that after so much fostering care they continued in their unsoundness.
It was like as if over the sick man, that had had the advantage of much attendance, and who had not been willing to obey the rules of the physician, any one were to lament and say, “Woe to such a man from his infirmity, which he has increased by his own remissness.” But in that case indeed there is no advantage from the bewailing, but here this too is a kind of healing treatment to foretell what would be, and to lament it. For many oftentimes, though, when advised, they were nothing profited, yet, when mourned for, they amended.
For which reason most of all He used the word “Woe,” thoroughly to rouse them, and to make them in earnest, and to work upon them to be wakeful. And at the same time He shows forth the good will He had towards those very men and His own mildness, that He mourns for them even when gainsaying, not taking mere disgust at it, but correcting them, both with the mourning, and with the prediction, so as to win them over.
But how is this possible? he may say. For if “it must needs be that offenses come,” how is it possible to escape these? Because that the offenses come indeed must needs be, but that men should perish is not altogether of necessity. Like as though a physician should say (for nothing hinders our using the same illustration again), it must needs be that this disease should come on, but it is not a necessary consequence that he who gives heed should be of course destroyed by the disease. And this He said, as I mentioned, to awaken together with the others His disciples. For that they may not slumber, as sent unto peace and unto untroubled life, He shows many wars close upon them, from without, from within. Declaring this, Paul said, “Without were fightings, within were fears;”[2 Cor. vii. 5.] and, “In perils among false brethren;” [2 Cor. xi. 26.] and in his discourse to the Milesians too He said, “Also of you shall some arise speaking perverse things;” [Acts xx. 30.] and He Himself too said, “The man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” [Matt. x. 36.]. But when He said, “It must needs be,” it is not as taking away the power of choosing for themselves, nor the freedom of the moral principle, nor as placing man’s life under any absolute constraint of circumstances, that He saith these things, but He foretells what would surely be; and this Luke hath set forth in another form of expression, “It is impossible but that offenses should come.” [Luke xvii. 1.]
But what are the offenses? [σκνδαλα.] The hindrances on the right way. Thus also do those on the stage call them that are skilled in those matters, them that distort their bodies.
It is not then His prediction that brings the offenses; far from it; neither because He foretold it, therefore doth it take place; but because it surely was to be, therefore He foretold it; since if those who bring in the offenses had not been minded to do wickedly, neither would the offenses have come; and if they had not been to come, neither would they have been foretold. But because those men did evil, and were incurably diseased, the offenses came, and He foretells that which is to be.
But if these men had been kept right, it may be said, and there had been no one to bring in an offense, would not this saying have been convicted of falsehood? By no means, for neither would it have been spoken. For if all were to have been kept right, He would not have said, “it must needs be that they come,” but because He foreknew they would be of themselves incorrigible, therefore He said, the offenses will surely come.
And wherefore did He not take them out of the way? it may be said. Why, wherefore should they have been taken out of the way? For the sake of them that are hurt? But not thence is the ruin of them that are hurt, but from their own remissness. And the virtuous prove it, who, so far from being injured thereby, are even in the greatest degree profited, such as was Job, such as was Joseph, such as were all the righteous, and the apostles. But if many perish, it is from their own slumbering. But if it were not so, but the ruin was the effect of the offenses, all must have perished. And if there are those who escape, let him who doth not escape impute it to himself. For the offenses, as I have said, awaken, and render more quick-sighted, and sharper, not only him that is preserved; but even him that hath fallen into them, if he rise up again quickly, for they render him more safe, and make him more difficult to overcome; so that if we be watchful, no small profit do we reap from hence, even to be continually awake. For if when we have enemies, and when so many dangers are pressing upon us, we sleep, what should we be if living in security. Nay, if thou wilt, look at the first man. For if having lived in paradise a short time, perchance not so much as a whole day, and having enjoyed delights, he drove on to such a pitch of wickedness, as even to imagine an equality with God, and to account the deceiver a benefactor, and not to keep to one commandment; if he had lived the rest of his life also without affliction, what would he not have done?
2. But when we say these things, they make other objections again, asking, And why did God make him such? God did not make him such, far from it, since then neither would He have punished him. For if we in those matters in which we are the cause, do not find fault with our servant, much more will not the God of all. “But whence did this come to pass?” one may say. Of himself and his own remissness. “What means, of himself?” Ask thyself. For if it be not of themselves the bad are bad, do not punish thy servant nor reprove thy wife for what errors she may commit, neither beat thy son, nor blame thy friend, nor hate thine enemy that doth despite to thee: for all these deserve to be pitied, not to be punished, unless they offend of themselves. “But I am not able to practise self-restraint,” one may say. And yet, when thou perceivest the cause not to be with them, but of another necessity, thou canst practise self-restraint. When at least a servant being taken with sickness doth not the things enjoined him, so far from blaming thou dost rather excuse him. Thus thou art a witness, that the one thing is of one’s self, the other not of one’s self. So that here too, if thou knewest that he was wicked from being born such, so far from blaming, thou wouldest rather have shown him indulgence. For surely, when thou makest him allowance for his illness, it could not be that thou wouldest have refused to make allowance for God’s act of creation, if indeed he had been made such from the very first.
And in another way too it is easy to stop the mouths of such men, for great is the abounding power of the truth. For wherefore dost thou never find fault with thy servant, because he is not of a beautiful countenance, that he is not of fine stature in his body, that he is not able to fly? Because these things are natural. So then from blame against his nature he is acquitted, and no man gainsays it. When therefore thou blamest, thou showest that the fault is not of nature but of his choice. For if in those things, which we do not blame, we bear witness that the whole is of nature, it is evident that where we reprove, we declare that the offense is of the choice.
Do not then bring forward, I beseech thee, perverse reasonings, neither sophistries and webs slighter than the spider’s, but answer me this again: Did God make all men? It is surely plain to every man. How then are not all equal in respect of virtue and vice? whence are the good, and gentle, and meek? whence are the worthless and evil? For if these things do not require any purpose, but are of nature, how are the one this, the others that? For if by nature all were bad, it were not possible for any one to be good, but if good by nature, then no one bad. For if there were one nature of all men, they must needs in this respect be all one, whether they were to be this, or whether they were to be that.
But if we should say that by nature the one are good, the other bad, which would not be reasonable (as we have shown), these things must be unchangeable, for the things of nature are unchangeable. Nay, mark. All mortals are also liable to suffering; and no one is free from suffering, though he strive without end. But now we see of good many becoming worthless, and of worthless good, the one through remissness, the other by earnestness; which thing most of all indicates that these things do not come of nature.
For the things of nature are neither changed, nor do they need diligence for their acquisition. For like as for seeing and hearing we do not need labor, so neither should we need toils in virtue, if it had been apportioned by nature.
“But wherefore did He at all make worthless men, when He might have made all men good? Whence then are the evil things?” saith he. Ask thyself; for it is my part to show they are not of nature, nor from God.
“Come they then of themselves?” he saith. By no means. “But are they unoriginated?” Speak reverently, O man, and start back from this madness, honoring with one honor God and the evil things, and that honor the highest. For if they be unoriginate they are mighty, and cannot so much as be plucked up, nor pass into annihilation. For that what is unoriginate is imperishable, is surely manifest to all.
3. And whence also are there so many good, when evil hath such great power? how are they that have an origin stronger than that which is unoriginate?
“But God destroys these things,” he saith. When? And how will He destroy what are of equal honor, and of equal strength, and of the same age, as one might say, with Himself?
Oh malice of the devil! how great an evil hath he invented! With what blasphemy hath he persuaded men to surround God! with what cloak of godliness hath he devised another profane account? For desiring to show, that not of Him was the evil, they brought in another evil doctrine, saying, that these things are unoriginate.
“Whence then are evils?” one may say. From willing and not willing. “But the very thing of our willing and not willing, whence is it?” From ourselves. But thou dost the same in asking, as if when thou hadst asked, whence is seeing and not seeing? then when I said, from closing the eyes or not closing the eyes, thou wert to ask again; the very closing the eyes or not, whence is it? then having heard that it was of ourselves, and our will, thou wert to seek again another cause.
For evil is nothing else than disobedience to God. “Whence then,” one may say, “did man find this?” “Why, was it a task to find this? I pray thee.” “Nay, neither do I say this, that this thing is difficult; but whence became he desirous to disobey.” “From remissness. For having power for either, he inclined rather to this.”
But if thou art perplexed yet and dizzy at hearing this, I will ask thee nothing difficult nor involved, but a simple and plain question. Hast thou become some time bad? and hast thou become some time also good? What I mean, is like this. Didst thou prevail some time over passion, and wast thou taken again by passion? Hast thou been overtaken by drunkenness, and hast thou prevailed over drunkenness? Wast thou once moved to wrath, and again not moved to wrath? Didst thou overlook a poor man, and not overlook him? Didst thou commit whoredom once? and didst thou become chaste again? Whence then are all these things? tell me, whence? Nay if thou thyself do not tell, I will say. Because at one time thou didst restrain thyself and strive, but after that thou becamest remiss and careless. For to those that are desperate, and are continually in wickedness, and are in a state of senselessness, and are mad, and who are not willing so much as to hear what will amend them, I will not even discourse of self restraint; but to them that have been sometimes in the one, and sometimes in the other, I will gladly speak. Didst thou once take by violence the things that belonged not to thee; and after this, subdued by pity, didst impart even of thine unto him that was in need? Whence then this change? Is it not quite plain it is from the mind, and the choice of will?
It is quite plain, and there is no one who would not say this. Wherefore I entreat you to be in earnest, and to cleave to virtue, and ye will have no need of these questions. For our evils are mere names, if we be willing. Inquire not then whence are evils, neither perplex thyself; but having found that they are from remissness only, flee the evil deeds.
And if any one should say, that these things come not from us; whenever thou seest him angry with his servants, and provoked with his wife, and blaming a child, and condemning them who injure him, say to him, how then saidst thou, that evils come not from us? For if they be not from us, wherefore dost thou find fault? Say again; is it of thyself thou revilest, and insultest? For if it be not of thyself, let no man be angry with thee; but if it be of thyself, of thyself and of thy remissness are thy evil deeds.
But what? thinkest thou there are some good men? For if indeed no man is good, whence hast thou this word? whence are praises? But if there are good men, it is quite plain that they will also reprove the bad. Yet if no one is voluntarily wicked, nor of himself, the good will be found to be unjustly reproving the bad, and they themselves too will be in this way bad again. For what can be worse than to subject the guiltless to accusations? But if they continue in our estimation good men, though reproving, and this especially is a proof of their goodness, even to the very fools it is hereby plain, that no one is ever by necessity bad.
But if after all this thou wouldest still inquire, whence are evils? I would say, from remissness, from idleness, from keeping company with the bad, from contempt of virtue; hence are both the evils themselves, and the fact that some inquire, whence are the evils. Since of them surely who do right no one inquires about these things, of them that are purposed to live equitably and temperately; but they, who dare to commit wicked acts, and wish to devise some foolish comfort [παραμυθαν, Field.] to themselves by these discussions, do weave spiders’ webs.
But let us tear these in pieces not by our words only, but by our deeds too. For neither are these things of necessity. For if they were of necessity, He would not have said, “Woe to the man, by whom the offense cometh.” [Matt. xviii. 7.] For those only doth he bewail, who are wicked by their choice.
And if He saith “by whom,” [δ ο.] marvel not. For not as though another were bringing in it by him, doth He say this, but viewing him as himself causing the whole. For the Scripture is wont to say, “by whom,” for “of whom;” [δι ο and ὑφ ο, i.e.,“through whom” for “by whom,” the latter phrase referring to the personal agent.—R.] as when it saith, “I have gotten a man by God,” [ Gen. iv. 1, LXX. [δι το θεο.]] putting not the second cause, but the first; and again, “Is not the interpretation of them by God,”23012301 [Gen. xl. 8.] and, “God is faithful, by whom ye are called unto the fellowship of His Son.” [1 Cor. i. 9.]
4. And that thou mayest learn that it is not of necessity, hear also what follows. For after bewailing them, He saith, “If thy hand, or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: for it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or feet to be cast into the fire. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into the furnace of fire;” [Matt. xviii. 8, 9.] [The variations from the received text appear in the English rendering as given above.—R.] not saying these things of limbs; far from it; but of friends, of relations, whom we regard in the rank of necessary members. This He had both said further back, and now He saith it. For nothing is so hurtful as bad company. For what things compulsion cannot, friendship can often effect, both for hurt, and for profit. Wherefore with much earnestness He commands us to cut off them that hurt us, intimating these that bring the offenses.
Seest thou how He hath put away the mischief that would result from the offenses? By foretelling that there surely will be offenses, so that they might find no one in a state of carelessness, but that looking for them men might be watchful. By showing the evils to be great (for He would not have said without purpose, “Woe to the world because of the offenses,” but to show that great is the mischief therefrom), by lamenting again in stronger terms over him that brings them in. For the saying, “But woe to that man,” was that of one showing that great was the punishment, but not this only, but also by the comparison which He added He increased the fear.
Then He is not satisfied with these things, but He showeth also the way, by which one may avoid the offenses.
But what is this? The wicked, saith He, though they be exceeding dear friends to thee, cut off from thy friendship.
And He giveth a reason that cannot be gainsaid. For if they continue friends, thou wilt not gain them, but thou wilt lose thyself besides; but if thou shouldest cut them off, thine own salvation at least thou wilt gain. So that if any one’s friendship harms thee, cut it off from thee. For if of our own members we often cut off many, when they are both in an incurable state, and are ruining the rest, much more ought one to do this in the case of friends.
But if evils were by nature, superfluous were all this admonition and advice, superfluous the precaution by the means that have been mentioned. But if it be not superfluous, as surely it is not superfluous, it is quite clear that wickedness is of the will [γνμη].
“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven.” [Matt. xviii. 10.] [R.V., “See,” etc.]
He calleth little ones not them that are really little, but them that are so esteemed by the multitude, the poor, the objects of contempt, the unknown (for how should he be little who is equal in value to the whole world; how should he be little, who is dear to God?); but them who in the imagination of the multitude are so esteemed.
And He speaks not of many only, but even of one, even by this again warding off the hurt of the many offenses. For even as to flee the wicked, so also to honor the good, hath very great gain, and would be a twofold security to him who gives heed, the one by rooting out the friendships with them that offend, the other from regarding these saints with respect and honor.
Then in another way also He makes them objects of reverence, saying, “That their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven.”
Hence it is evident, that the saints have angels, or even all men. For the apostle too saith of the woman, “That she ought to have power on her head because of the angels.” [1 Cor. x. 10.] And Moses, “He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels [A.V., “Children of Israel,” al. “Sons of God,” and hence “Angels.”] of God.” [Deut. xxxii. 8.]
But here He is discoursing not of angels only, but rather of angels that are greater than others. But when He saith, “The face of my Father,” He means nothing else than their fuller confidence, and their great honor.