Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles: Homily XXVII on Acts xii. 18, 19.
Acts 12:18, 19
“Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Cæsarea, and there abode.”
Some persons, it is likely, are at a loss how to explain it, that God should quietly look on while (His) champions 639 are put to death, and now again the soldiers on account of Peter: and yet it was possible for Him after (delivering) Peter to rescue them also. But it was not yet the time of judgment, so as to render to each according to his deserts. And besides, it was not Peter that put them into his hands. For the thing that most annoyed him was the being mocked; just as in the case of his grandfather when he was deceived by the wise men, that was what made him (feel) cut to the heart—the being (eluded and) made ridiculous. 640 “And having put them to the question,” it says, “he ordered them to be led away to execution.” (Matt. ii. 16.) And yet he had heard from them—for he had put them to the question—both that the chains had been left, and that he had taken his sandals, and that until that night he was with them. “Having put them to the question:” but what did they conceal? 641 Why then did they not themselves also flee? “He ordered them to be led away to execution:” and yet he ought to have marvelled, ought to have been astonished at this. The consequence is, by the death of these men (the thing), is made manifest to all: both his wickedness is exposed to view, and (it is made clear that) the wonder (is) of God. “And he went down from Judea to Cæsarea, and there abode: and Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the kings chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the kings country. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man, And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” (Acts 12.20-23.) * * But see how (the writer) here does not hide these things. 642 Why does he mention this history? Say, what has it to do with the Gospel, that Herod is incensed with the Tyrians and Sidonians? It is not a small matter, even this, how immediately justice seized him; although not because of Peter, but because of his arrogant speaking. And yet, it may be said, if those shouted, what is that to him? Because he accepted the acclamation, because he accounted himself to be worthy of the adoration. Through him those most receive a lesson, who so thoughtlessly flattered him (al. οἱ κολακεύοντες). Observe again, while both parties deserve punishment, this man is punished. For this is not the time of judgment, but He punishes him that had most to answer for, leaving the others to profit by this mans fate. 643 “And the word of God,” it says, “grew,” i.e. in consequence of this, “and multiplied.” (Acts 12.24.) Do you mark Gods providential management? “But Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.” (Acts 12.25.) “Now there were in the Church that was at Antioch, certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaën, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” 644 (Acts 13.1.) He still mentions Barnabas first: for Paul was not yet famous, he had not yet wrought any sign. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:2, 3.) What means, “Ministering?” Preaching. “Separate for Me,” it says, “Barnabas and Saul.” What means, “Separate for Me?” For the work, for the Apostleship. See again by what persons he is ordained (γυμνοτέρα. Cat. σεμνοτέρα, “more awful.”) By Lucius the Cyrenean and Manaën, or rather, by the Spirit. The less the persons, the more palpable the grace. He is ordained henceforth to Apostleship, so as to preach with authority. How then does he himself say, “Not from men, nor by man?” 645 (Gal. i. 1.) Because it was not man that called or brought him over: this is why he says, “Not from men. Neither by man,” that is, that he was not sent by this (man), but by the Spirit. Wherefore also (the writer) thus proceeds: “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.” (Acts 13.4.) But let us look over again what has been said.
(Recapitulation.) “And when it was day,” etc. (Acts 12.18.) For 646 if the Angel had brought out the soldiers also, along with Peter, it would have been thought a case of flight. Then why, you may ask, was it not otherwise managed? Why, where is the harm? Now, if we see that they who have suffered unjustly, take no harm, we shall not raise these questions. For why do you not say the same of James? Why did not (God) rescue him? “There was no small stir among the soldiers.” So (clearly) had they perceived nothing (of what had happened). Lo, I take up the plea in their defence. The chains were there, and the keepers within, and the prison shut, nowhere a wall broken through, all told the same tale: the man had been carried off: 647 why dost thou condemn them? Had they wished to let him off, they would have done it before, or would have gone out with him. “But he gave them money?” (Acts 3.6.) And how should he, who had not to give even to a poor man, have the means to give to these? And then neither had the chains been broken, nor were they loosed. He ought to have seen, that the thing was of God, and no work of man. “And he went down from Judea to Cæsarea, and there abode. And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon,” etc. (Acts 12.19.) He is now going to mention (a matter of) history: this is the reason why he adds the names, that it may be shown how he keeps to the truth in all things. “And,” it says, “having made Blastus the kings chamberlain their friend, they desired peace; because their country was nourished by the kings country.” (Acts 12:20, 21.) For probably there was a famine. “And on a set day,” etc. (Joseph. Ant. xix.) Josephus also says this, that he fell into a lingering disease. Now the generality were not aware of this, 648 but the Apostle sets it down: yet at the same time their ignorance was an advantage, in regard that they imputed what befell (Agrippa) to his putting James and the soldiers to death. Observe, when he slew the Apostle, he did nothing of this sort but when (he slew) these; in fact he knew not what to say about it: 649 as being at a loss, then, and feeling ashamed, “he went down from Judea to Cæsarea.” I suppose it was also to bring those (men of Tyre and Sidon) to apologize, that he withdrew (from Jerusalem): for with those he was incensed, while paying such court to these. See how vainglorious the man is: meaning to confer the boon upon them, he makes an harangue. But Josephus says, that he was also arrayed in a splendid robe made of silver. Observe both what flatterers those were, and what a high spirit was shown by the Apostles: the man whom the whole nation so courted, the same they held in contempt. (Acts 12.24.) But observe again a great refreshing granted to them, and the numberless benefits accruing from the vengeance inflicted upon him. But if this man, because it was said to him, “It is the voice of God and not of a man (Acts 12.22) although he said nothing himself, suffered such things: much more should Christ, had He not Himself been God (have suffered) for saying always as He did, “These words of mine are not Mine” (John xiv. 10; xviii. 36) and, “Angels minister to Me,” and such like. But that man ended His life by a shameful and miserable death, and thenceforth no more is seen of him. And observe him also, easily talked over even by Blastus, like a poor creature, soon incensed and again pacified, and on all occasions a slave of the populace, with nothing free and independent about him. But mark also the authority of the Holy Ghost: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 13.2.) What being would have dared, if not of the same authority, to say this? “Separate,” etc. But this is done, that they may not keep together among themselves. The Spirit saw that they had greater power, and were able to be sufficient for many. And how did He speak to them? Probably by prophets: therefore the writer premises, that there were prophets also. And they were fasting and ministering: that thou mayest learn that there was need of great sobriety. In Antioch he is ordained, where he preaches. Why did He not say, Separate for the Lord, but, “For me?” It shows that He is of one authority and power. “And when they had fasted,” etc. Seest thou what a great thing fasting is? “So they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost:” it shows that the Spirit did all.
A great, yes a great good is fasting: it is circumscribed by no limits. When need was to ordain, then they fast: and to them while fasting, the Spirit spake. Thus much only do I enjoin: (I say) not fast, but abstain from luxury. Let us seek meats to nourish, not things to ruin us; seek meats for food, not occasions of diseases, of diseases both of soul and body: seek food which hath comfort, not luxury which is full of discomfort: the one is luxury, the other mischief; the one is pleasure, the other pain; the one is agreeable to nature, the other contrary to nature. For say, if one should give thee hemlock juice to drink, would it not be against nature? if one should give thee logs and stones, wouldest thou not reject them? Of course, for they are against nature. Well, and so is luxury. For just as in a city, under an invasion of enemies when there has been siege and tumult, great is the uproar, so is it in the soul, under invasion of wine and luxury. “Who hath woe? who hath tumults? who hath discomforts and babblings? Are they not they that tarry long at the wine? Whose are bloodshot eyes?” (Prov. 23:29, 30.) But yet, say what we will, we shall not bring off those who give themselves up to luxury, unless 650 we bring into conflict therewith a different affection. And first, let us address ourselves to the women. Nothing uglier than a woman given to luxury, nothing uglier than a woman given to drink. The bloom of her complexion is faded: the calm and mild expression of the eyes is rendered turbid, as when a cloud intercepts the rays of the sunshine. It is a vulgar, (ἀνελεύθερον) slave-like, thoroughly low-lived habit. How disgusting is a woman when from her breath you catch sour whiffs of fetid wine: a woman belching, giving out a fume (χυμὸν) of decomposing meats; herself weighed down, unable to keep upright; her face flushed with an unnatural red; yawning incessantly, and everything swimming in a mist before her eyes! But not such, she that abstains from luxurious living: no (this abstinence makes her look) a more beautiful, well-bred (σωφρονεστέρα) woman. For even to the body, the composure of the soul imparts a beauty of its own. Do not imagine that the impression of beauty results only from the bodily features. Give me a handsome girl, but turbulent (τεταραγμένην), loquacious, railing, given to drink, extravagant, (and tell me) if she is not worse-looking than any ugly woman? But if she were bashful, if she would hold her peace, if she learnt to blush, if to speak modestly (συμμέτρως), if to find time for fastings; her beauty would be twice as great, her freshness would be heightened, her look more engaging, fraught with modesty and good breeding (σωφροσύνης καὶ κοσμιότητος). Now then, shall we speak of men? What can be uglier than a man in drink? He is an object of ridicule to his servants, of ridicule to his enemies, of pity to his friends; deserving condemnation without end: a wild beast rather than a human being; for to devour much food is proper to panther, and lion, and bear. No wonder (that they do so), for those creatures have not a reasonable soul. And yet even they, if they be gorged with food more than they need, and beyond the measure appointed them by nature, get their whole body ruined by it: how much more we? Therefore hath God contracted our stomach into a small compass; therefore hath He marked out a small measure of sustenance, that He may instruct us to attend to the soul.
Let us consider our very make, and we shall see there is in us but one little part that has this operation—for our mouth and tongue are meant for singing hymns, our throat for voice—therefore the very necessity of nature has tied us down, that we may not, even involuntarily, get into much trouble (πραγματείαν) (in this way). Since, if indeed luxurious living had not its pains, nor sickness and infirmities, it might be tolerated: but as the case is, He hath stinted thee by restrictions of nature, that even if thou wish to exceed, thou mayest not be able to do so. Is not pleasure thine object, beloved? This thou shalt find from moderation. Is not health? This too thou shalt so gain. Is not easiness of mind? This too. Is not freedom? is not vigor and good habit of body, is not sobriety and alertness of mind? (All these thou shalt find); so entirely are all good things there, while in the other are the contraries to these, discomfort, distemper, disease, embarrassment—waste of substance (ἀνελευθερία). Then how comes it, you will ask, that we all run eagerly after this? It comes of disease. For say, what is it that makes the sick man hanker after the thing that does him harm? Is not this very hankering a part of his disease? Why is it that the lame man does not walk upright? This very thing, does it come of his being lazy, and not choosing to go to the physician? For there are some things, in which the pleasure they bring with them is temporary, but lasting the punishment: others just the contrary, in which the endurance is for a time, the pleasure perpetual. He, therefore, that has so little solidity and strength of purpose as not to slight present sweets for future, is soon overcome. Say, how came Esau to be overcome? how came he to prefer the present pleasure to the future honor? Through want of solidity and firmness of character. (Gen. xxv. 33.) And this fault itself, say you, whence comes it? Of our ownselves: and it is plain from this consideration. When we have the mind, we do rouse ourselves, and become capable of endurance. Certain it is, if at any time necessity comes upon us, nay, often only from a spirit of emulation, we get to see clearly what is useful for us. When therefore thou art about to indulge in luxury, consider how brief the pleasure, consider the loss—for loss it is indeed to spend so much money to ones own hurt—the diseases, the infirmities: and despise luxury. How many shall I enumerate who have suffered evils from indulgence? Noah was drunken, and was exposed in his nakedness, and see what evils came of this. (Gen. ix. 20.) Esau through greediness abandoned his birthright, and was set upon fratricide. The people of Israel “sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” (Ex. xxxii. 6.) Therefore saith the Scripture, “When thou hast eaten and drunken, remember the Lord thy God.” (Deut. vi. 12.) For they fell over a precipice, in failing into luxury. “The widow,” he saith, “that liveth in pleasure, is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. v. 6): and again, “The beloved waxed sleek, grew thick, and kicked” (Deut. xxxii. 15): and again the Apostle, “Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Rom. xiii. 14.) I am not enacting as a law that there shall be fasting, for indeed there is no one who would listen; but I am doing away with daintiness, I am cutting off luxury for the sake of your own profit: for like a winter torrent, luxury overthrows all: there is nothing to stop its course: it casts out from a kingdom: what is the gain of it (τί τὸ πλέον)? Would you enjoy a (real) luxury? Give to the poor; invite Christ, so that even after the table is removed, you may still have this luxury to enjoy. For now, indeed, you have it not, and no wonder: but then you will have it. Would you taste a (real) luxury? Nourish your soul, give to her of that food to which she is used: do not kill her by starvation.—It is the time for war, the time for contest: and do you sit enjoying yourself? Do you not see even those who wield sceptres, how they live frugally while abroad on their campaigns? “We wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Eph. vi. 12); and are you fattening yourself when about to wrestle? The adversary stands grinding his teeth, and are you giving a loose to jollity, and devoting yourself to the table? I know that I speak these things in vain, yet not (in vain) for all. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke viii. 8.) Christ is pining through hunger, and are you frittering yourself away (διασπᾅς) with gluttony? Two inconsistencies (Δύο ἀμετρίαι). For what evil does not luxury cause? It is contrary to itself: so that I know not how it gets its name: but just as that is called glory, which is (really) infamy, and that riches, which in truth is poverty, so the name of luxury is given to that which in reality is nauseousness. Do we intend ourselves for the shambles, that we so fatten ourselves? Why cater for the worm that it may have a sumptuous larder? Why make more of their humors (ἰχὥρας)? Why store up in yourself sources of sweat and rank smelling? Why make yourself useless for everything? Do you wish your eye to be strong? Get your body well strung? For in musical strings, that which is coarse and not refined, is not fit to produce musical tones, but that which has been well scraped, stretches well, and vibrates with full harmony. Why do you bury the soul alive? why make the wall about it thicker? Why increase the reek and the cloud, with fumes like a mist steaming up from all sides? If none other, let the wrestlers teach you, that the more spare the body, the stronger it is: and (then) also the soul is more vigorous. In fact, it is like charioteer and horse. But there you see, just as in the case of men giving themselves to luxury, and making themselves plump, so the plump horses are unwieldy, and give the driver much ado. One may think ones self (ἀγαπητὸν) well off, even with a horse obedient to the rein and well-limbed, to be able to carry off the prize: but when the driver is forced to drag the horse along, and when the horse falls, though he goad him ever so much, he cannot make him get up, be he ever so skilful himself, he will be deprived of the victory. Then let us not endure to see our soul wronged because of the body, but let us make the soul herself more clear-sighted, let us make her wing light, her bonds looser: let us feed her with discourse, with frugality, (feeding) the body only so much that it may be healthy, that it may be vigorous, that it may rejoice and not be in pain: that having in this sort well ordered our concerns, we may be enabled to lay hold upon the highest virtue, and to attain unto the eternal good things by the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom, to the Father and Holy Ghost together, be glory, dominion, honor, now and ever, world without end. Amen.
περιεῖδεν τοὺς ἀθλητὰς ἀπολλυμένους: i.e. those (as St. Stephen, St. James) engaged in contending for the heavenly prize. The mod. t. substitutes, “Many are quite at a loss, how God could quietly look on while his children (or servants? τοὺς παῖδας, Ben. infantes) were put to death because of Him, and now again,” etc. After this sentence, the same inserts from the recapitulation: “But—if the Angel,” etc. to…..“why did He not rescue him? and besides”—i:640
μᾶλλον αὐτὸν ἐποίει διαπρίεσθαι (as in Acts 7.54, cut to the heart with passion) καὶ καταγέλαστον εἶναι. The last words are either misplaced, or something is wanting; perhaps (after διαπρίεσθαι), τὸ διακρούεσθαι καὶ καταγέλαστον εἶναι.i:641
i.e. what was to be drawn from them by the torture? Had they let him out, they would have contrived appearances, or would themselves have fled. But the reporters notes of what St. Chrys. said, seem to be very defective, and the arrangement much confused.i:642
ἀλλ᾽ ὅρα πῶς οὗτος οὐ κρύπτει ταῦτα. In the recapitulation (see note 3, p. 175) he says, that the death of Herod was regarded as a judgment for his having slain James and the soldiers. Here, it seems, he must have said something to that effect; then, “but observe how St. Luke does not conceal the true state of the case, viz. that he was punished not for this, but for the sin which he proceeds to mention.” We have transposed the text Acts 12.20-23. mss. and Edd. place it before οὐ μικρὸν οὐδὲ τοῦτό ἐστιν, thus separating these words from their connection with the preceding question.i:643
Josephus narrative of the death of Herod (Ant. xix. 8, 2) is of peculiar interest here on account of its substantial agreement with that of Luke. The following points of agreement may be noted: (1) The place was Cæsarea. (2) He was attacked by disease in a public assembly when, arrayed in gorgeous apparel, he received the impious flatteries of the people. (3) His disease and death were a penalty for accepting the flattery of those who accorded to him divine honors. Thus the main outlines are the same. Josephus introduces some historical notices, such as that the occasion was a celebration in honor of the Emperor Claudius, which are wanting in Luke. He also relates that after receiving the peoples flattery, Herod observed an owl perched on a rope above him, which he interpreted at once as an omen of the fate which soon befell him. The supernatural element—“an angel smote him”—is wanting in Josephus. The Jewish historian is less specific in describing the disease which he speaks of as violent pains in the bowels and adds that after the attack, Herod lingered five days and died in the fifty-fourth year of his age and the seventh of his reign.—G.B.S.i:644
At this point (Acts 13.) begins the second part of the Book of Acts which has chiefly to do with the missionary labors of Paul. It is a reasonable supposition that the previous chapters rest upon different documents from those which follow. From Acts 16. onward occur the so-called “we” passages (e.g. Acts 16:10, Acts 20:6, Acts 21:1, Acts 27:1) in which the writer, identifying himself with his narratives, indicates that he writes from personal knowledge and experience. The appointment of Barnabas and Saul at Antioch for missionary service, marked an epoch in the history of the early church and practically settled the questions relating to the admission of the Gentiles to the Christian community.—G.B.S.i:645
mss. and Edd. δἰ ἀνθρώπων, but the singular is implied below in οὐχ ὑπὸ τοῦδε. In the old text, B. C. Cat. “Not from men nor by men? Because not man called nor brought him over: that is, neither by men; therefore he says, that he was not sent (B., I was not sent) by this,” etc. The mod. text “Not from men neither by men. The one, not from men, he uses to show that not man, etc.: and the other, neither by men, that he was not sent by this (man), but by the Spirit. Wherefore,” etc.i:646
Here he further answers the question raised in the opening of the discourse. The mod. text transposes it to that place, beginning the recapitulation with, “And when it was day there was no small stir among the soldiers because of Peter, and having put the keepers to the question, he ordered them to be led away to execution. So senseless was he, οὕτως οὐκ ᾔσθετο, that he even sets about punishing them unjustly.” The latter clause is added by the innovator. For ᾔσθετοCat. has preserved the true reading, ᾔσθοντο.i:647
ἀνάρπαστος ὁ ἄνθρωπος γέγονε. Ben. homo ille raptus non est.i:648
i.e. of the circumstances related Acts 12:22, 23.—Below, πλὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ ἡ ἄγνοια ὠφέλει, i.e. to the believers: and yet, as he says above, the writer does not conceal the facts: see note 3, p. 174.i:649
mss. and Edd. οὐδὲν τοιοῦτον εἰπγάσατο· ὅτε δὲ τούτους, λοιπὸν ἐν ἀφασί& 139· ἦν: what this means, is very obscure, only the last clause seems to be explained by the following, ἅτε οὖν ἡπορηκὼς καὶ αἰσχυνόμενος, i.e. not knowing what to think of it, he withdrew from Jerusalem. Ben. quando illos, nihil dicebat. Erasm., et quando alios, nihil de illis traditur.—Below, ᾽Εμοὶ δοκεῖ καὶ ἐκείνους πρὸς τὴν ἀπολογίαν ἐνάγων ἀπαγαγεῖν ὠργίζετο γὰρ ἐκείνοις, τούτους οὕτω θεραπεύων. By ἐκείνους, ἐκείνοις, he means the Tyrians and Sidonians: ἀπαγαγεῖν, sc. ἑαυτόν, to have withdrawn himself from Jerusalem, to Cæsarea, nearer to Tyre and Sidon. The innovator substitutes, ᾽Εμοὶ δοκεῖ καὶ ἐκείνους ἀπαγαγεῖν βουλόμενος, πρὸς ἀπολογίαν ἦλθε τούτων· ὠργίζετο γὰρ κ. τ. λ. which Ben. renders Mihi videtur, cum illos abducere vellet, ad hos venisse ut sese purgaret.i:650
οὐκ ἀποστήσομεν…ἂν μὴ ἑτερον ἀντιστήσωμεν πάθος (Mod. text πρὸς ἕτ. and τὸ πάθος), i.e. unless, as Solomon does in the last clause of the text cited, we set against this lust a different affection, viz. vanity, especially female vanity, regard to personal appearance. Hence that last clause might be better transposed to the end of this sentence.
Next: Homily XXVIII on Acts xiii. 4, 5.
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