Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of...: Extract 2
De Sermone Domini in Monte, lib. i. 22, § 73.
1 John 5.16. Si quis scit peccare fratrem suum peccatum non ad mortem, postulabit, et dabit illi Dominus vitam qui peccat non ad mortem; est autem peccatum ad mortem; non pro illo dico ut roget.
But what presses harder upon the present question [in the Lords command of praying for enemies and persecutors] is that saying of the apostle John, “If any man know that his brother sinneth a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and the Lord will give life to that man who sinneth not unto death: but there is a sin unto death: not for that do I say that he should ask.” For it manifestly shows that there are some “brethren” whom we are not commanded to pray for, whereas the Lord bids us pray even for our persecutors. Nor can this question be solved except we acknowledge, that there are some sins in brethren that are worse than the sin of enemies in persecuting. That “brethren” mean Christians, may be proved by many texts of Holy Writ; the plainest, however, is that of the apostle which he puts thus: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother.” 2550 For he has not added our; but thought it plain enough, when by the term brother he spake of the Christian that should have an unbelieving wife. And accordingly he says just afterwards, “But if the unbelieving depart, let her depart: but a brother or sister is not put under servitude in a matter of this sort.” The “sin,” therefore, of a brother, “unto death,” I suppose to be when, after the acknowledging of God through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, one fights against the brotherhood, and is set on by the fire-brands of hatred 2551 against the very grace through which he was reconciled to God. 2552 But “a sin not unto death” is when a person, not having alienated his love from his brother, yet through some infirmity of mind may have failed to exhibit the due offices of brotherhood. Wherefore, on the one hand, the Lord on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” 2553 since they had not yet, by being made partakers of the grace of the Holy Spirit, entered into the fellowship of holy brotherhood; and blessed Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles prays for them who are stoning him; 2554 because they had not yet believed Christ, and were not fighting against that grace of communion. On the other hand, the apostle Paul does not pray for Alexander, and the reason I suppose, is, that this man was a brother, and had sinned “unto death,” i.e. by opposing the brotherhood in a spirit of hatred. 2555 Whereas for such as had not broken off the bonds of love, but had given way through fear, he prays that they may be forgiven. For so he says: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.” 2556 Then he subjoins for whom he prays, saying, “At my first answer no man p. 528 stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” This difference of sins it is that distinguishes Judas with his treason from Peter with his denial. Not that to him who repenteth there is to be no forgiveness: lest we go against that sentence of the Lord, in which He commands always to forgive the brother who asks his brothers forgiveness: 2557 but that the mischief of that sin is, that the man cannot submit to the humiliation of begging for pardon, even when he is forced by his evil conscience both to acknowledge and to publish his sin. For when Judas had said, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood,” 2558 he went and hanged himself in desperation, rather than pray for forgiveness in humiliation. Wherefore it makes a great difference, what sort of repentance God forgives. For many are much quicker than others to confess that they have sinned, and are angry with themselves in such sort that they vehemently wish they had not sinned, while yet they cannot lay down their pride, and submit to have the heart humbled and broken so as to implore pardon: a state of mind which one may well believe to be, for the greatness of their sin, a part of their already begun damnation.
And this, perhaps, it is “to sin against the Holy Ghost:” 2559 i.e. through malice and envy to fight against brotherly charity after receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit: that sin which the Lord saith hath no forgiveness, either here or in the world to come. . . . For the Lord in saying to the Pharisees, “Whosoever shall speak an evil word against the Son of Man,” 2560 &c., may have meant to warn them to come to the grace of God, and having received it, not to sin as they have now sinned. For now they have spoken an evil word against the Son of Man, and it may be forgiven them, if they be converted and believe and receive the Holy Spirit: which when they have received, if they will then have ill-will against the brotherhood and oppose the grace they have received, there is no forgiveness for them, either in this world or in the world to come.
1 Cor. 7:14, 15.527:2551
In the Retractations, i. 7, he remarks on this passage: “I have not positively affirmed it to be so, for I have said, I suppose: still it should have been added, if in this so wicked perversity of mind he departs this life: since we have certainly no right to despair of any ever so wicked man so long as he is in this life, and it cannot be unwise to pray for that man of whom we do not despair.” Comp. Serm. lxxi. 21.527:2553
Luke xxiii. 34.527:2554
Acts vii. 59.527:2555
So the traditional interpretation of the Greeks in Œcumenius. “This alone is the sin unto death, viz. sin which has no thought of repentance: which sin Judas being diseased withal, was brought to eternal death.” Especially (he adds) the sin of an unforgiving spirit, impenitently persisted in: “For the ways of the resentful are unto death,” saith Solomon (Prov. xii. 28, LXX ). So Theophylact.—The Scholia ap Matthäi, p. 146, 230: “ The sin unto death is, when a person having sinned is callous in impenitence.” Comp. S. Hilar. Tr. in Ps. cxl. sec. 8.527:2556
2 Tim. iv. 14-16.528:2557
Luke xvii. 3.528:2558
Matt. 27:4, 5.528:2559
Comp. Serm. lxxi. Scholl. ap Matthäi, p. 230. “By the sin unto death, he means the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, i.e., against the Godhead,” p. 147. “Some say that it is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the sin of misbelief (κακοπιστίας).”528:2560
Matt. xii. 24-33.
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