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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.: Chapter 41

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 41.—The Law Written in the Heart, and the Reward of the Eternal Contemplation of God, Belong to the New Covenant; Who Among the Saints are the Least and the Greatest.

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament, so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament. Then shall come to pass what the apostle describes: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away,” 898 —even that imperfect knowledge of “the child” 899 in which this present life is passed, and which is but “in part,” “by means of a mirror darkly.” 900 Because of this, indeed, “prophecy” is necessary, for still to the past succeeds the future; and because of this, too, “tongues” are required,—that is, a multiplicity of expressions, since it is by different ones that different things are suggested to him who does not as yet contemplate with a perfectly purified mind the everlasting light of transparent truth. “When that, however, which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away,”  901 then, what appeared to the flesh in assumed flesh shall display Itself as It is in Itself to all who love It; then, there shall be eternal life for us to know the one very God; 902 then shall we be like Him, 903 because “we shall then know, even as we are known;” 904 then “they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least unto the greatest of them.” 905 Now this may be understood in several ways: Either, that in that life the saints shall differ one from another in glory, as star from star. It matters not how the expression runs,—whether (as in the passage before us) it be, “From the least unto the greatest of them,” or the other way, From the greatest unto the least. And, in like manner, it matters not even if we understand “the least” to mean those who simply believe, and “the greatest” those who have been further able to understand—so far as may be in this world—the light which is incorporeal and unchangeable. Or, “the least” may mean those who are later in time; whilst by “the greatest” He may have intended to indicate those who were prior in time. For they are all to receive the promised vision of God hereafter, since it was for us that they foresaw the future which would be better than their present, that they without us should not arrive at complete perfection.  906 And so the earlier are found to be the lesser, because they were less deferred in time; as in the case of the gospel “penny a day,” which is given for an illustration. 907 This penny they are the first to receive who came last into the vineyard. Or, “the least and the greatest” ought perhaps to be taken in some other sense, which at present does not occur to my mind.



1 Cor. xiii. 8.


1 Cor. 13.11.


1 Cor. 13.12.


1 Cor. xiii. 10.


John xvii. 3.


1 John iii. 2.


1 Cor. xiii. 12.


Jer. xxxi. 34.


Heb. xi. 40.


Matt. xx. 8.

Next: Chapter 42