"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."
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
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." And Moses, "He set the bounds of the nations
according to the number of the angels of God."
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.
"For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost."
Again, He is putting another reason stronger than the former, and connects
with it a parable, by which He brings in the Father also as desiring these
things. "For how think ye?" saith He; "If a man have an hundred sheep,
and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine,
and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And
if so be that he find it, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety
and nine, which went not astray. Even so it is not will before your Father,
that one of these little ones should perish."
Seest thou by how many things He is urging to the care of our mean brethren.
Say not then, "Such a one is a blacksmith, a shoemaker, he is a ploughman,
he is a fool," and so despise him. For in order that thou shouldest not
feel this, see by how many motives He persuades thee to practise moderation,
and presses thee into a care for these. He set a little child, and saith,
"Be ye as little children." And, "Whosoever receiveth such a little child
receiveth me;" and, "Whosoever shall offend," shall suffer the utmost penalties.
And He was not even satisfied with the comparison of the "millstone," but
added also His "woe," and commanded us to cut off such, though they be
in the place of hands and eyes to us. And by the angels again that are
entrusted with these same mean brethren, He makes them objects of veneration,
and from His own will and passion (for when He said, "The Son of Man is
come to save that which was lost," He signifies even the cross, like as
Paul saith, speaking of a brother, "For whom Christ died"); and from the
Father, for that neither to Him doth it seem good that one should perish;
and from common custom, because the shepherd leaves them that are safe,
and seeks what is lost; and when he hath found what was gone astray, he
is greatly delighted at the finding and the saving of this.
5. If then God thus rejoices over the little one that is found, how
dost thou despise them that are the objects of God's earnest care, when
one ought to give up even one's very life for one of these little ones?
But is he weak and mean? Therefore for this very cause most of all, one
ought to do everything in order to preserve him. For even He Himself left
the ninety and nine sheep, and went after this, and the safety of so many
availed not to throw into the shade the loss of one. But Luke saith, that
He even brought it on his shoulders, and that "There was greater joy over
one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons" And
from His forsaking those that were saved for it, and from His taking more
pleasure in this one, He showed His earnestness about it to be great.
Let us not then be careless about such souls as these. For all these
things are said for this object. For by threatening, that he who has not
become a little child should not so much as at all set foot in the Heavens,
and speaking of "the millstone," He hath brought down the haughtiness of
the boastful; for nothing is so hostile to love as pride; and by saying,
"It must needs be that offenses come," He made them to be wakeful; and
by adding, "Woe unto him by whom the offense cometh," He hath caused each
to endeavor that it be not by him. And while by commanding to cut off them
that offend He made salvation easy; by enjoining not to despise them, and
not merely enjoining, but with earnestness (for "take heed," saith He,
"that ye despise not one of these little ones"), and by saying, "Their
angels behold the face of my Father," and, "For this end am I come," and
"my Father willeth this," He hath made those who should take care of them
Seest thou what a wall He hath set around them, and what earnest care
He taketh of them that are contemptible and perishing, at once threatening
incurable ills to them that make them fall, and promising great blessings
to them that wait upon them, and take care of them, and bringing an example
from Himself again and from the Father?
Him let us also imitate, refusing none of the tasks that seem lowly
and troublesome for our brethren's sake; but though we have to do service,
though he be small, though he be mean for whom this is done, though the
work be laborious, though we must pass over mountains and precipices, let
all things be held endurable for the salvation of our brother. For a soul
is an object of such earnest care to God, that "He spared not His own Son."
Wherefore I entreat, when morning hath appeared, straightway as we come
out of our house, let us have this one object in view, this earnest care
above all, to rescue him that is in danger; I do not mean this danger only
that is known by sense, for this is not danger at all, but the danger of
the soul, that which is brought upon men by the devil.
For the merchant too, to increase his wealth, crosses the sea; and the
artisan, to add to his substance, doeth all things. Let us also then not
be satisfied with our own salvation only, since else we destroy even this.
For in a war too, and in an engagement, the soldier who is looking to this
only how he may save himself by flight, destroys the rest also with himself;
much as on the other hand the noble-minded one, and he who stands in arms
in defense of the others, with the others preserves himself also. Since
then our state too is a war, and of all wars the bitterest, and an engagement
and a battle, even as our King commanded us, so let us set ourselves in
array in the engagement, prepared for slaughter, and blood, and murders,
looking to salvation in behalf of all, and cheering them that stand, and
raising up them that are down. For indeed many of our brethren lie fallen
in this conflict, having wounds, wallowing in blood, and there is none
to heal, not any one of the people, not a priest, no one else, no one to
stand by, no friend, no brother, but we look every man to his own things.
By reason of this we maim our own interests also. For the greatest confidence
and means of approval is the not looking to our own things.
Therefore I say, are we weak and easy to be overcome both by men, and
by the devil, because we seek the opposite to this, and lock not our shields
one with another, neither are fortified with godly love, but seek for ourselves
other motives of friendship, some from relationship, some from long acquaintance,
some from community of interest, some from neighborhood; and from every
cause rather are we friends, than from godliness, when one's friendships
ought to be formed upon this only. But now the contrary is done; with Jews
and with Greeks we sometimes become friends, rather than with the children
of the church.
6. Yes, saith he, because the one is worthless, but the other kind and
gentle. What sayest thou? Dost thou call thy brother worthless, who art
commanded not to call him so much as Raca? And art thou not ashamed, neither
dost thou blush, at exposing thy brother, thy fellow member, him that hath
shared in the same birth with thee, that hath partaken of the same table?
But if thou hast any brother after the flesh, if he should perpetrate
ten thousand evil deeds, thou laborest to conceal him, and accountest thyself
also to partake of the shame, when he is disgraced; but as to thy spiritual
brother, when thou oughtest to free him from calumny, thou dost rather
encompass him with ten thousand charges against him?
"Why he is worthless and insufferable," thou mayest say. Nay then for
this reason become his friend, that thou mayest put an end to his being
such a one, that thou mayest convert him, that thou mayest lead him back
to virtue.-" But he obeys not," thou wilt say, "neither cloth he bear advice."-Whence
knowest thou it? What, hast thou admonished him, and attempted to amend
him?-"I have admonished him often," thou wilt say. How many times?-Oftentimes,
both once, and a second time.-Oh! Is this often? Why, if thou hadst done
this throughout all the time, oughtest thou to grow weary, and to give
it up? Seest thou not how God is always admonishing us, by the prophets,
by the apostles, by the evangelists? What then? have we performed all?
and have we been obedient in all things? By no means. Did He then cease
admonishing? Did He hold His peace? Doth He not say each day, "Ye cannot
serve God, and mammon" and with many, the superfluity and the tyranny of
wealth yet increases? Doth He not cry aloud each day, "Forgive, and ye
shall have forgiveness," and we become wild beasts more and more? Doth
He not continually admonish to restrain desire, and to keep the mastery
over wicked lust, and many wallow worse than swine in this sin? But nevertheless,
He ceases not speaking.
Wherefore then do we not consider these things with ourselves, and say
that even with us God reasons, and abstains not from doing this, although
we disobey Him in many things?
Therefore He said that, "Few are the saved." For if virtue in ourselves
suffices not for our salvation, but we must take with us others too when
we depart; when we have saved neither ourselves, nor others, what shall
we suffer? Whence shall we have any more a hope of salvation?
But why do I blame for these things, when not even of them that dwell
with us do we take any account, of wife, and children, and servants, but
we have care of one thing instead of another, like drunken men, that our
servants may be more in number, and may serve us with much diligence, and
that our children may receive from us a large inheritance, and that our
wife may have ornaments of gold, and costly garments, and wealth; and we
care not at all for themselves, but for the things that belong to them.
For neither do we care for our own wife, nor provide for her, but for the
things that belong to the wife; neither for the child, but for the things
of the child.
And we do the same as if any one seeing a house in a bad state, and
the walls giving way, were to neglect to raise up these, and to make up
great fences round it without; or when a body was diseased, were not to
take care of this, but were to weave for it gilded garments; or when the
mistress was ill, were to give heed to the maidservants, and the looms,
and the vessels in the house, and mind other things, leaving her to lie
For this is done even now, and when our soul is in evil and wretched
case, and angry, and reviling, and lusting wrongly, and full of vainglory,
and at strife, and dragged down to the earth, and torn by so many wild
beasts, we neglect to drive away the passions from her, and are careful
about house and servants. And while if a bear has escaped by stealth, we
shut up our houses, and run along by the narrow passages, so as not to
fall in with the wild beast; now while not one wild beast, but many such
thoughts are tearing in pieces the soul, we have not so much as a feeling
of it. And in the city we take so much care, as to shut up the wild beasts
in solitary places and in cages, and neither at the senate house of the
city, nor at the courts of justice, nor at the king's palace, but far off
somewhere at a distance do we keep them chained; but in the case of the
soul, where the senate house is, where the King's palace, where the court
of justice is, the wild beasts are let loose, crying and making a tumult
about the mind itself and the royal throne. Therefore all things are turned
upside down, and all is full of disturbance, the things within, the things
without, and we are in nothing different from a city thrown into confusion
from being overrun by barbarians; and what takes place in us is as though
a serpent were setting on a brood of sparrows, and the sparrows, with their
feeble cries, were flying about every way affrighted, and full of trouble,
without having any place whither to go and end their consternation.
7. Wherefore I entreat, let us kill the serpent, let us shut up the
wild beasts, let us stifle them, let us slay them, and these wicked thoughts
let us give over to the sword of the Spirit, lest the prophet threaten
us also with such things as he threatened Judea, that "The wild asses shall
dance there, and porcupines, and serpents."
For there are, there are even men worse than wild asses, living as it
were in the wilderness, and kicking; yea the more part of the youth amongst
us is like this. For indeed having wild lusts they thus leap, they kick,
going about unbridled, and spend their diligence on no becoming object.
And the fathers are to blame, who while they constrain the horsebreakers
to discipline their horses with much attention, and suffer not the youth
of the colt to go on long untamed, but put upon it both a rein, and all
the rest, from the beginning; but their own young ones they overlook, going
about for a long season unbridled, and without temperance; disgracing themselves,
by fornications, and gamings, and continuings in the wicked theatres, when
they ought before fornication to give him to a wife, to a wife chaste,
and highly endued with wisdom; for she will both bring off her husband
from his most disorderly course of life, and will be instead of a rein
to the colt.
For indeed fornications and adulteries come not from any other cause,
than from young men's being unrestrained. For if he have a prudent wife,
he will take care of house and honor and character. "But he is young,"
you say. I know it too. For if Isaac was forty years old when he took his
bride, passing all that time of his life in virginity, much more ought
young men under grace to practise this self-restraint. But oh what grief!
Ye do not endure to take care of their chastity, but ye overlook their
disgracing, defiling themselves, becoming accursed; as though ye knew not
that the profit of marriage is to preserve the body pure, and if this be
not so, there is no advantage of marriage. But ye do the contrary; when
they are filled with countless stains, then ye bring them to marriage without
purpose and without fruit.
"Why I must wait," thou wilt say, "that he may become approved, that
he may distinguish himself in the affairs of the state." but of the soul
ye have no consideration, but ye overlook it as a cast-away. For this reason
all things are full of confusion, and disorder, and trouble, because this
is made a secondary matter, because necessary things are neglected, but
the unimportant obtain much forethought.
Knowest thou not, that thou canst do no such kindness to the youth,
as to keep him pure from whorish uncleannness? For nothing is equal to
the soul. Because, "What is a man profited," saith He, "if he shall gain
the whole world, but lose his own soul." But because the love of money
hath overturned and cast down all, and hath thrust aside the strict fear
of God, having seized upon the souls of men. like some rebel chief upon
a citadel; therefore we are careless both of our children's salvation,
and of our own, looking to one object only, that having become wealthier,
we may leave riches to others, and these again to others after them, and
they that follow these to their posterity, becoming rather a kind of passers
on of our possessions and of our money, but not masters.
Hence great is our folly; hence the free are less esteemed than the
slaves. For slaves we reprove, if not for their sake, yet for our own;
but the free enjoy not the benefit even of this care, but are more vile
in our estimation than these slaves. And why do I say, than our slaves?
For our children are less esteemed than cattle; and we take care of horses
and asses rather than of children. And should one have a mule, great is
his anxiety to find the best groom, and not one either harsh, or dishonest,
or drunken, or ignorant of his art; out if we have set a tutor over a child's
soul, we take at once, and at random, whoever comes in our way. And yet
than this art there is not another greater. For what is equal to training
the soul, and forming the mind of one that is young? For he that hath this
art, ought to be more exactly observant than any painter and any sculptor.
But we take no account of this, but look to one thing only, that he
may be trained as to his tongue. And to this again we have directed our
endeavors for money's sake. For not that he may be able to speak, but that
he may get money, does he learn speaking; since if it were possible to
grow rich even without this, we should have no care even for this.
Seest thou how great is the tyranny of riches? how it has seized upon
all things, and having bound them like some slaves or cattle, drags them
where it will?
But what are we advantaged by such accusations against it? For we indeed
shoot at it in words, but it prevails over us in deeds. Nevertheless, not
even so shall we cease to shoot at it with words from our tongue. For if
any advance is made, both we are gainers and you; but if you continue in
the same things, all our part at least hath been performed.
But may God both deliver you from this disease, and cause us to glory
in you, for to Him be glory, and dominion, world without end. Amen.