The three following Homilies are closely connected in subject, and the opening sentence of the third clearly proves that it was delivered two days after the second; but it is impossible to say whether that which is placed first was really delivered before the other two. It must however have been spoken at Antioch, since Chrysostom refers at the beginning of it to his sermons “on the obscurity of prophecies” in which passages occur which clearly imply that he was not then a Bishop. The second of the three homilies here translated was delivered in the presence of a Bishop, as is clearly indicated by the commencement, and as the third was as already mentioned delivered two days after the second we may safely affirm that they were all spoken at Antioch when Chrysostom was a presbyter there under the Episcopate of Flavian.
They deal with errors against which Chrysostom throughout his life most strenuously contended. In an age of great depravity there seem to have been many who tried to excuse the weak resistance which they made to evil, both in themselves, and in others, by maintaining that the world was abandoned to the dominion of devils, or to the irresistible course of fate. To counteract the disastrous effects of such philosophy, which surrendered man to the current of his passions, it was necessary to insist very boldly and resolutely on the essential freedom of the will, on moral responsibility, and the duty of vigorous exertion in resisting temptation. And Chrysostom did this to an extent which some thought carried him perilously near the errors of the Pelagian heresy. No one however has described in more forcible language the powerful hold of sin upon human nature, and the insufficiency of man to shake it off without the assistance of divine grace. What he does most earnestly combat, both in the following homilies and very many others, is the doctrine that evil was an original integral part of our nature: he maintains that it is not a substantial inherent force (δύναμις ἐνυπόστατος). If evil was a part of our nature in this sense it would be no more reprehensible than natural appetites and affections. We do not try to alter that which is by nature (φύσει): sin therefore is not by nature, because by means of education, laws, and punishments we do seek to alter that. Sin comes through defect in the moral purpose (προαίρεσις). Our first parents fell through indolence of moral purpose (ῥ‹θυμία) and this is the principal cause of sin now. They marked out a path which has been trodden ever since: the force of will has been weakened in all their posterity: so that though evil is not an inherent part of mans nature yet he is readily inclined to it (ὀξυρῥεπὴς πρὸς κακι€ν); and this tendency must be perpetually counteracted by vigorous exertion, and a bracing up of the moral purpose, with the aid of divine grace. Profoundly convinced therefore on the one hand of a strong and universal tendency to sin, but on the other of an essential freedom of the will, Chrysostom sounds alternately the note of warning and encouragement,—warning against p. 178 that weakness, indolence, languor of moral purpose which occasions a fall,—encouragement to use to the full all the powers with which man is gifted, in reliance on Gods forbearance and love, and on His willingness to help those who do not despair of themselves. Despair is the devils most potent instrument for effecting the ruin of man; for it is that which prevents him from rising again after he has fallen. St. Paul repented, and, not despairing, became equal to angels: Judas repenting, but despairing, rushed into perdition.
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