Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XIV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle to the Hebrews.: Homily XII
Hebrews vii. 1-3
“For this Melchisedec, King of Salem, Priest of the most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the Kings, and blessed him: to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of Righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of Peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a Priest continually.”
[1.] Paul wishing to show the difference between the New and Old [Covenant], scatters it everywhere; and shoots from afar, and noises it abroad, 2925 and prepares beforehand. For at once even from the introduction, he laid down this saying, that “to them indeed He spake by prophets, but to us by the Son” ( Heb. 1:1, 2 ), and to them “at sundry times and in divers manners,” but to us through the Son. Afterwards, having discoursed concerning the Son, who He was and what He had wrought, and given an exhortation to obey Him, lest we should suffer the same things as the Jews; and having said that He is “High Priest after the order of Melchisedec” ( Heb. 6.20 ), and having oftentimes wished to enter into [the subject of] this difference, and having used much preparatory management; and having rebuked them as weak, and again soothed and restored them to confidence; then at last he introduces the discussion on the difference [of the two dispensations] to ears in their full vigor. For he who is depressed in spirits would not be a ready hearer. And that you may understand this, hear the Scripture saying, “They hearkened not to Moses for anguish of spirit.” 2926 ( Ex. vi. 9 .) Therefore having first cleared away their despondency by many considerations, some fearful, some more gentle, he then from this point enters upon the discussion of the difference [of the dispensations].
[2.] And what does he say? “For this Melchisedec, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God.” And, what is especially noteworthy, he shows the difference to be great by the Type itself. For as I said, he continually confirms the truth from the Type, from things past, on account of the weakness of the hearers. “For” (he says) “this Melchisedec, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the Kings, and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all.” Having concisely set down the whole narrative, he looked at 2927 it mystically.
And first from the name. “First” (he says) “being by interpretation King of righteousness”: for Sedec means “righteousness”; and Melchi, “King”: Melchisedec, “King of righteousness.” Seest thou his exactness even in the names? But who is “King of righteousness,” save our Lord Jesus Christ? “King of righteousness. And after that also King of Salem,” from his city, “that is, King of Peace,” which again is [characteristic] of Christ. For He has made us righteous, and has “made peace” for “things in Heaven and things on earth.” ( Col. i. 20 .) What man is “King of Righteousness and of Peace”? None, save only our Lord Jesus Christ.
[3.] He then adds another distinction, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a Priest continually.” Since then there lay in his way [as an objection] the [words] “Thou art a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec,” whereas he [Melchisedec] was dead, and was not “Priest for ever,” see how he explained it mystically.
And who can say this concerning a man? I do not assert this in fact (he says); the meaning is, we do not know when 2928 [or] what father he had, nor what mother, nor when he received his beginning, nor when he died. And what of this (one says)? For does it follow, because we do not know it, that he did not die, [or] had no parents? Thou sayest well: he both died and had parents. How then [was he] “without father, without mother”? How “having neither beginning of days nor end of life”? How? [Why] from its not being expressed. 2929 And what of this? That as this man is so, from his genealogy not being given, so is Christ from the very nature of the reality.
See the “without beginning”; see the “without end.” As in case of this man, we know not either “beginning of days,” or “end of life,” because they have not been written; so we know [them] not in the case of Jesus , not because they have not been written, but because p. 424 they do not exist. For that indeed is a type, 2930 and therefore [we say] because it is not written, but this is the reality, 2931 and therefore [we say] because it does not exist. For as in regard to the names also (for there “King of Righteousness” and “of Peace” are appellations, but here the reality) so these too are appellations in that case, in this the reality. How then hath He a beginning? Thou seest that the Son is “without beginning,” 2932 not in respect of His not having a cause; 2933 (for this is impossible: for He has a Father, otherwise how is He Son?) but in respect of His “not having beginning or end of life.”
“But made like unto the Son of God.” Where is the likeness? That we know not of the one or of the other either the end or the beginning. Of the one because they are not written; of the other, because they do not exist. Here is the likeness. But if the likeness were to exist in all respects, there would no longer be type and reality; but both would be type. [Here] then just as in representations 2934 [by painting or drawing], there is somewhat that is like and somewhat that is unlike. By means of the lines indeed there is a likeness of features, 2935 but when the colors are put on, then the difference is plainly shown, both the likeness and the unlikeness.
[4.] Heb. 7.4 . “Now consider” (saith he) “how great this man is to whom even the Patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.” 2936 Up to this point he has been applying the type: henceforward he boldly shows him [Melchisedec] to be more glorious than the Jewish realities. But if he who bears a type of Christ is so much better not merely than the priests, but even than the forefather himself of the priests, what should one say of the reality? Thou seest how super-abundantly he shows the superiority.
“Now consider” (he says) “how great this man is to whom even the Patriarch Abraham gave a tenth out of the choice portions.” Spoils taken in battle are called “choice portions.” 2937 And it cannot be said that he gave them to him as having a part in the war, because (he said) he met him “returning from the slaughter of the kings,” for he had staid at home (he means), yet [Abraham] gave him the first-fruits of his labors.
Heb. 7.5 . “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi who receive the office of Priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham.” So great (he would say) is the superiority of the priesthood, that they who from their ancestors are of the same dignity, and have the same forefather, are yet far better than the rest. At all events they “receive tithes” from them. When then one is found, who receives tithes from these very persons, are not they indeed in the rank of laymen, and he among the Priests?
And not only this; but neither was he of the same dignity with them, but of another race: so that he would not have given tithes to a stranger unless his dignity had been great. Astonishing! What has he accomplished? He has made quite clear a greater point than those relating to faith which he treated in the Epistle to the Romans. For there indeed he declares Abraham to be the forefather both of our polity and also of the Jewish. But here he is exceeding bold against him, and shows that the uncircumcised person is far superior. How then did he show that Levi paid tithes? Abraham (he says) paid them. And how does this concern us? It especially concerns you: for you will not contend that the Levites are superior to Abraham. ( Heb. 7.6 ) “But he whose descent is not counted from them, received tithes of Abraham.”
And after that he did not simply pass on, but added, “and blessed him that had the promises.” Inasmuch as throughout, this was regarded with reverence, he shows that [Melchisedec] was to be reverenced more than Abraham, from the common judgment of all men. ( Heb. 7.7 ) “And without all contradiction,” he says, “the less is blessed of the better,” i.e. in the opinion of all men it is the inferior that is blessed by the superior. So then the type of Christ is superior even to “him that had the promises.”
( Heb. 7.8 ) “And here men that die receive tithes: but there he of whom it is testified that he liveth.” But lest we should say, Tell us, why goest thou so far back? He says, ( Heb. 7.9 ) “And as I may so say” (and he did well in softening it) “Levi also who receiveth tithes payed tithes in Abraham.” How? ( Heb. 7.10 ) “For he was yet in his loins when Melchisedec met him,” i.e. Levi was in him, although he was not yet born. And he said not the Levites but Levi.
Hast thou seen the superiority? Hast thou seen how great is the interval between Abraham and Melchisedec, who bears the type of our High Priest? And he shows that the superiority had been caused by authority, not necessity. For the one paid the tithe, which indicates the priest: the other gave the blessing, which indicates the superior. This superiority passes on also to the descendants.
In a marvelous and triumphant way he cast out the Jewish [system]. On this account he p. 425 said, “Ye are become dull,” ( Heb. 5.12 ), because he wished to lay these foundations, that they might not start away. Such is the wisdom of Paul, first preparing them well, he so leads 2938 them into what he wishes. For the human race is hard to persuade, and needs much attention, even more than plants. Since in that case there is [only] the nature of material bodies, and earth, which yields to the hands of the husbandmen: but in this there is will, which is liable to many alterations, and now prefers this, now that. For it quickly turns to evil.
[5.] Wherefore we ought always to “guard” ourselves, lest at any time we should fall asleep. For “Lo” (it is said) “he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” ( Ps. cxxi. 4 ), and “Do not suffer 2939 thy foot to be moved.” ( Ps. cxxi. 3 .) He did not say, be not moved but “do not thou suffer,” &c. The suffering depends then on ourselves, and not on any other. For if we will stand “steadfast and unmoveable” ( 1 Cor. xv. 58 ), we shall not be shaken.
What then? Does nothing depend on God? All indeed depends on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. If then it depend on God, (one says), why does He blame us? On this account I said, so that our free-will is not hindered. It depends then on us, and on Him. For we must first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. 2940 He does not anticipate our choice, 2941 lest our free-will should be outraged. But when we have chosen, then great is the assistance he brings to us.
How is it then that Paul says, “not of him that willeth,” if it depend on ourselves also “nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” ( Rom. ix. 16 .)
In the first place, he did not introduce it as his own opinion, but inferred it from what was before him and from what had been put forward 2942 [in the discussion]. For after saying, “It is written, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” ( Rom. ix. 15 ), he says, “It follows then 2943 that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” “Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth He yet find fault?” ( Rom. 9:16, 19 .)
And secondly the other explanation may be given, that he speaks of all as His, whose the greater part is. For it is ours to choose 2944 and to wish; but Gods to complete and to bring to an end. Since therefore the greater part is of Him, he says all is of Him, speaking according to the custom of men. For so we ourselves also do. I mean for instance: we see a house well built, and we say the whole is the Architects [doing], and yet certainly it is not all his, but the workmens also, and the owners, who supplies the materials, and many others, but nevertheless since he contributed the greatest share, we call the whole his. So then [it is] in this case also. Again, with respect to a number of people, where the many are, we say All are: where few, nobody. So also Paul says, “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”
And herein he establishes two great truths: one, that we should not be lifted up: 2945 even shouldst thou run (he would say), even shouldst thou be very earnest, do not consider that the well doing 2946 is thine own. For if thou obtain not the impulse 2947 that is from above, all is to no purpose. Nevertheless that thou wilt attain that which thou earnestly strivest after is very evident; so long as thou runnest, so long as thou willest.
He did not then assert this, that we run in vain, but that, if we think the whole to be our own, if we do not assign the greater part to God, we run in vain. For neither hath God willed that the whole should be His, lest He should appear to be crowning us without cause: nor again ours, lest we should fall away to pride. For if when we have the smaller [share], we think much of ourselves, what should we do if the whole depended on us?
[6.] Indeed God hath done away many things for the purpose of cutting away our boastfulness, and still there is the 2948 high hand. With how many afflictions hath He encompassed us, so as to cut away our proud spirit! With how many wild beasts hath He encircled us! For indeed when some say, why is this? Of what use is this? They utter these things against the will of God. He hath placed thee in the midst of so p. 426 great fear, and yet not even so art thou lowly-minded; but if thou ever attain a little success, thou reachest to Heaven itself in pride.
For this cause [come] rapid changes and reverses; and yet not even so are we instructed. For this cause are there continual and untimely deaths, but are minded as if we were immortal, as if we should never die. We plunder, we over-reach, as though we were never to give account. We build as if we were to abide here always. And not even the word of God daily sounded into our ears, nor the events themselves instruct us. Not a day, not an hour can be mentioned, in which we may not see continual funerals. But all in vain: and nothing reaches our hardness [of heart]: nor are we even able to become better by the calamities of others; or rather, we are not willing. When we ourselves only are afflicted, then we are subdued, and yet if God take off His hand, we again lift up our hand: no one considers what is proper for man, 2949 no one despises the things on earth; no one looks to Heaven. But as swine turn their heads downwards, stooping towards their belly, wallowing in the mire; so too the great body of mankind defile themselves with the most intolerable filth, without being conscious of it.
[7.] For better were it to be defiled with unclean mud than with sins; for he who is defiled with the one, washes it off in a little time, and becomes like one who had never from the first fallen into that slough; but he who has fallen into the deep pit of sin has contracted a defilement that is not cleansed by water, but needs long time, and strict repentance, and tears and lamentations, and more wailing, and that more fervent, than we show over the dearest friends. For this defilement attaches to us from without, wherefore we also speedily put it away; but the other is generated from within, wherefore also we wash it off with difficulty, and cleanse ourselves from it. “For from the heart” (it is said) “proceed evil thoughts, fornications, adulteries, thefts, false witnesses.” ( Matt. xv. 19 .) Wherefore also the Prophet said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” ( Ps. li. 10 .) And another, “Wash thine heart from wickedness, O Jerusalem.” ( Jer. iv. 14 .) (Thou seest that it is both our [work] and Gods.) And again, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” ( Matt. v. 8 .)
Let us become clean to the utmost of our power. Let us wipe away our sins. And how to wipe them away, the prophet teaches, saying, “Wash you, make you clean, put away your wickedness from your souls, before Mine eyes.” ( Isa. i. 16 .) What is “before Mine eyes”? Because some seem to be free from wickedness, but only to men, while to God they are manifest as being “whited sepulchers.” Therefore He says, so put them away as I see. “Learn to do well, seek judgment, do justice for the poor and lowly.” “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: and though your sins be as scarlet, I will make you white as snow, and if they be as crimson, I will make you white as wool.” ( Isa. 1:17, 18 .) Thou seest that we must first cleanse ourselves, and then God cleanses us. For having said first, “Wash you, make you clean,” He then added “I will make you white.”
Let no one then, [even] of those who are come to the extremest wickedness, despair of himself. For (He says) even if thou hast passed into the habit, yea and almost into the nature of wickedness itself, be not afraid. Therefore taking [the instance of] colors that are not superficial but almost of the substance of the materials, He said that He would bring them into the opposite state. For He did not simply say that He would “wash” us, but that He would “make” us “white, as snow and as wool,” in order to hold out good hopes before us. Great then is the power of repentance, at least if it makes us as snow, and whitens us as wool, even if sin have first got possession and dyed our souls.
Let us labor earnestly then to become clean; He has enjoined nothing burdensome. “Judge the fatherless, and do justice for the widow.” ( Isa. i. 17 .) Thou seest everywhere how great account God makes of mercy, and of standing forward in behalf of those that are wronged. These good deeds let us pursue after, and we shall be able also, by the grace of God, to attain to the blessings to come: which may we all be counted worthy of, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.
ὀ λιγοψυχίαν , “ faint-heartedness. ”423:2927
ἐ θεώρησε , “ drew out the mystical senses. ”423:2928
Mr. Field reads πότε , making a double question. The other editions have ποτε , “ at all. ”423:2929
εἰκόσιν . The comparison is not between the living object and the picture, but between representations in drawing and in painting; the word εἴκων , as our “ likeness, ” being applicable to both. The passage is considerably altered in the common editions so as to avoid an apparent difficulty.424:2935
“ choice portions. ”424:2937
In Psalm cxxi. 3 (cxx. 3, LXX.) where we have “ He shall not suffer, ” &c., the LXX. have, μὴ δῴης εἰς σάλον τὸν πόδα σον, μηδὲ νυστάξῃ (Vat.) ὁ φυλάσσων σε , “ Lest thou suffer, ” &c., and “ lest he that keepeth thee slumber. ” St. Chrys. substitutes δῷς for δῴης , making the sense, “ Do not suffer, ” &c., “ and let not him that keepeth thee slumber. ” This he applies to the Christian keeping guard over himself (his words are χρὴ πάντοτε φυλάττειν ἑαυτοὺς, μήποτε ἀπονυστάξωμεν ): and so he seems to have understood Psa. 121.4 , of the Christian: that a watchman of Israel ought not to slumber or sleep. The Alex. ms. has νυστάξει in the third verse.425:2940
εἰσάγει τὰ παῤ ἑαυτοῦ , His part.425:2941
βουλήσεις . Those acts of the soul whereby we desire and aim at what is good.425:2942
προκειμένου … προβληθέντος . The former word is used by St. Chrys. to express the portion of Scripture on which he is treating: the latter is a received term in the dialectical method of the Greeks to express a proposition put forward to be argued from, to see what consequences follow from it, with a view of showing it to be untrue, or determining the sense in which it is true. St. Chrys. means to say that this proposition was only thus argumentatively inferred by St. Paul.425:2943
῎ Αρα οὖν425:2944
or, “ purpose and will, ” προελέσθαι καὶ βουληθῆναι425:2945
In the genuine text here as in some other places, there is no mention of the second point. The longer text has “ one that we should not be lifted up by what we do well: the other that when we do well, we should attribute to God the cause of our well-doing. Therefore, ” &c. Mr. Field thinks that either the thread of the discourse is broken, and the second point not mentioned, or (which seems more probable) that it is contained in the words “ Nevertheless, ” &c.425:2946
ῥ οπὴ : “ The inclining of the balance ” ; or, “ the weight which makes it turn. ”425:2948
Sav. and Ben. add αὐτοῦ , “ His hand is high ” ; but the reference is to our sinning “ with a high hand, ” as appears from what follows in the next paragraph.426:2949
οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπινα φρονεῖ . This is the reading also of Savile and Morell. It is supported by one ms. and the pr. m. of another: which had been corrected to οὐδ. οὐράνια φ ., the reading of the Verona edition. Mutianus has nemo divina sapit ; and the later translator cælestia . The other mss. have ἀ νθρώπινα περιφρονεῖ . ταπεινὰ φρονεῖ, ταπεινοφρονεῖ . Montfaucon conjectured τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖ
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