Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on Paul's Epistle to the Romans: Homily XX on Rom. xii. 1.
Rom. XII. 1
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
After discoursing at large upon the love of God toward man, and pointing out His unspeakable concern for us, and unutterable goodness, which cannot even be searched into, he next puts it forward with a view of persuading those who have received the benefit to exhibit a conversation worthy of the gift. And though he is so great and good a person, yet he does not decline beseeching them, and that not for any enjoyment he was likely to get himself, but for that they would have to gain. And why wonder that he does not decline beseeching, where he is even putting Gods mercies before them? For since, he means, it is from this you have those numberless blessings, from the mercies of God, reverence them, be moved to compassion by them. For they themselves take the attitude of suppliants, that you would show no conduct unworthy of them. I entreat you then, he means, by the very things through which ye were saved. As if any one who wished to make a person, who had had great kindnesses done him, show regard, was to bring him the benefactor himself as a suppliant. And what dost thou beseech? let me hear. “That ye would present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” For when he had said sacrifice, to prevent any from thinking he bade them kill themselves, he forthwith added (Greek order) “living.” Then to distinguish it from the Jewish, he calls it “holy, acceptable to God, your reasonable 1521 service.” For theirs was a material one, and not very acceptable either. 1522 Since He saith, “Who hath required this at your hands?” (Isa. i. 12.) And in sundry other passages He clearly throws them aside. For it was not this, but this with the other, that He looked to have presented. Wherefore he saith, “The sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me.” And again, “I will praise the name of my God with a song, and this shall please him better than a bullock that putteth forth horns and hoofs.” (Ps. l. 23; lxix. 30, 31.) And so in another place He rejects it, and says, “Shall I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink goats blood?” (Ps. 50.13) and proceeds with, “Offer unto God a sacrifice of praise, and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” (Ps. 50.14.) So Paul also here bids us “present our bodies a living sacrifice.” And how is the body, it may be said, to become a sacrifice? Let the eye look upon no evil thing, and it hath become a sacrifice; let thy tongue speak nothing filthy, and it hath become an offering; let thine hand do no lawless deed, and it hath become a whole burnt offering. Or rather this is not enough, but we must have good works also: let the hand do alms, the mouth bless them that cross one, and the hearing find leisure evermore for lections of Scripture. 1523 For sacrifice allows of no unclean thing: sacrifice is a first-fruit of the other actions. Let us then from our hands, and feet, and mouth, and all other members, yield a first-fruit unto God. Such a sacrifice is well pleasing, as that of the Jews was even unclean, for, “their sacrifices,” it says, “are unto them as the bread of mourning.” (Hos. ix. 4.) Not so ours. That presented the thing sacrificed dead: this maketh the thing sacrificed to be living. For when we have mortified our members, then we shall be able to live. For the law of this sacrifice is new, and so the sort of fire is a marvellous one. For it needeth no wood or matter under it; but our fire liveth 1524 of itself, and doth not burn up the victim, but rather quickeneth it. This was the sacrifice that God sought of old. Wherefore the Prophet saith, “The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit.” (Ps. li. 17.) And the three Children offer this when they say, “At this time there is neither prince, or prophet, or leader, or burnt offering, or place to sacrifice before Thee, and to find mercy. Nevertheless, in a contrite heart and an humble spirit let us be accepted.” (Song of 3 Ch. 15, 16.) And observe how great the exactness wherewith he useth each word. For he does not say, offer (ποιήσατε Ex. xxix. 39. LXX.) your bodies as a sacrifice, but “present” (παραστήσατε see below) them, as if he had said, never more have any interest in them. Ye have given them up to another. For even they that furnish (same word) the war-horses have no further interest in them. And thou too hast presented thy members for the war against the devil and for that dread battle-array. Do not let them down to selfish appliances. And he shows another thing also from this, that one must make them approved, if one means to present them. For it is not to any mortal being that we present them, but to God, the King of the universe; not to war only, but to have seated thereon the King Himself. For He doth not refuse even to be seated upon our members, but even greatly desireth it. And what no king who is but our fellow-servant would choose to do, that the Lord of Angels chooseth. Since then it is both to be presented (i.e. as for a Kings use) and is a sacrifice, rid it of every spot, since if it have a spot, it will no longer be a sacrifice. For neither can the eye that looks lecherously be sacrificed, nor the hand be presented that is grasping and rapacious, nor the feet that go lame and go to play-houses, nor the belly that is the slave of self-indulgence, and kindleth lusts after pleasures, nor the heart that hath rage in it, and harlots love, nor the tongue that uttereth filthy things. Hence we must spy out the spots on our body upon every side. For if they that offered the sacrifices of old were bid to look on every side, and were not permitted to offer an animal “that hath anything superfluous or lacking, or is scurvy, or scabbed” (Lev. 22:22, 23), much more must we, who offer not senseless animals, but ourselves, exhibit more strictness, and be pure in all respects, that we also may be able to say as did Paul, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Tim. iv. 6.) For he was purer than any sacrifice, and so he speaks of himself as “ready to be offered.” But this will be brought about if we kill the old man, if we mortify our members that are upon the earth, if we crucify the world unto ourselves. In this way we shall not need the knife any more, nor altar, nor fire, or rather we shall want all these, but not made with the hands, but all of them will come to us from above, fire from above, and knife also, and our altar will the breadth of Heaven be. For if when Elijah offered the visible sacrifice, a flame, that came down from above consumed the whole water, wood, and stones, much more will this be done upon thee. And if thou hast aught in thee relaxed and secular, and yet offerest the sacrifice with a good intention, the fire of the Spirit will come down, and both wear away that worldliness, and perfect (so Field: mss. “carry up”) the whole sacrifice. But what is “reasonable (λογικὴ) service?” It means spiritual ministry, conversation according to Christ. As then he that ministereth in the house of God, and officiateth, of whatever sort he may be, then collects himself (συστέλλεται Ezek. 44.19), and becomes more dignified; 1525 so we ought to be minded all our whole life as serving and ministering. And this will be so, if every day you bring Him sacrifices (3 mss. “thyself as a sacrifice”), and become the priest of thine own body, and of the virtue of thy soul; as, for example, when you offer soberness, when alms-giving, when goodness and forbearance. For in doing this thou offerest “a reasonable service” (or worship, λατρείαν), that is, one without aught that is bodily, gross, visible. Having then raised the hearer by the names bestowed, and having shown that each man is a priest of his own flesh by his conversation, he mentions also the way whereby we may compass all this. What then is the way?
Rom. 12.2. “And be not fashioned 1526 after this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
For the fashion of this world is grovelling and worthless, and but for a time, neither hath ought of loftiness, or lastingness, or straightforwardness, but is wholly perverted. If then thou wouldest walk upright (or aright ὀρθὰ), figure not thyself after the fashion of this life present. For in it there is nought abiding or stable. And this is why he calls it a fashion (σχἥμα); and so in another passage, “the fashion of this world passeth away.” (1 Cor. vii. 31.) For it hath no durability or fixedness, but all in it is but for a season; and so he calls it this age (or world, Gr. αἰ& 241·ν), hereby to indicate its liableness to misfortune, and by the word fashion its unsubstantialness. For speak of riches, or of glory, or beauty of person, or of luxury, or of whatever other of its seemingly great things you will, it is a fashion only, not reality, a show and a mask, not any abiding substance (ὑπόστασις). But “be not thou fashioned after this, but be transformed,” he says, “by the renewing of your mind.” He says not change the fashion, but “be transformed” (μεταμορφοὕ), to show that the worlds ways are a fashion, but virtues not a fashion, but a kind of real form, 1527 with a natural beauty of its own, lacking not the trickeries and fashions of outward things, which no sooner appear than they go to nought. For all these things, even before they come to light, are dissolving. If then thou throwest the fashion aside, thou wilt speedily come to the form. 1528 For nothing is more strengthless than vice, nothing so easily wears old. Then since it is likely that being men they would sin every day, he consoles his hearer by saying, “renew thyself” from day to day. This is what we do with houses, we keep constantly repairing them as they wear old, and so do thou unto thyself. Hast thou sinned to-day? hast thou made thy soul old? despair not, despond not, but renew it by repentance, and tears (Hilary on Ps. cxix.), and confession, and by doing of good things. And never fail of doing this. And how are we to do this?
“That ye may prove (things more expedient (διαφέροντα), and know 1529 ) what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
Either he means by this, be renewed, that ye may learn what is more expedient for you, and what the will of God. Or rather, that ye can get so renewed if ye learn the things expedient, and what God may will. For if thou see this, and know how to distinguish the nature of things, thou art in possession of the whole way of virtue. And who, it may be said, is ignorant of what is expedient, and what is the will of God? They that are flurried with the things of this world, they that deem riches an enviable thing, they that make light of poverty, they that follow after power, they that are gaping after outward glory, they that think themselves great men when they raise fine houses, and buy costly sepulchres, and keep herds of slaves, and carry a great swarm of eunuchs about with them; these know not what is expedient for them, or what the will of God is. For both of these are but one thing. For God willeth what things are expedient for us, and what God willeth, that is also expedient for us. What then are the things which God willeth? to live in poverty, in lowliness of mind, in contempt of glory; in continency, not in self-indulgence; in tribulation, not in ease; in sorrow, not in dissipation and laughter; in all the other points whereon He hath given us laws. But the generality do even think these things of ill omen; 1530 so far are they from thinking them expedient, and the will of God. This then is why they never can come near even to the labors for virtues sake. For they that do not know so much even as what virtue may be, but reverence vice in its place, and take unto their bed the harlot instead of the modest wife, how are they to be able to stand aloof from the present world? Wherefore we ought above all to have a correct estimate of things, and even if we do not follow after virtue, to praise virtue, and even if we do not avoid vice, to stigmatize vice, that so far we may have our judgments uncorrupted. For so as we advance on our road, we shall be able to lay hold on the realities. This then is why he also bids you be renewed, “that ye may prove what is the will of God.” But here he seems to me to be attacking the Jews too, who cling to the Law. For the old dispensation was a will of God, yet not the ultimate purpose, but allowed owing to their feebleness. But that which is a perfect one, and well-pleasing, is the new conversation. So too when he called it “a reasonable service,” it was to set it in contrast with that other (v. note p. 496) that he gave it such a name.
Rom. 12.3. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
After saying above, “I beseech you by the mercies,” here he says again, “by the grace.” Observe the teachers lowliness of mind, observe a spirit quite subdued! He means to say that he is in no respect worthy to be trusted in such an exhortation and counsel. But at one time he takes the mercies of God along with him, at another His grace. It is not my word, he would say, that I am speaking, but one from God. And he does not say, For I say unto you by the wisdom of God, or, for I say unto you by the Law given of God, but, “by the grace,” so reminding them continually of the benefits done them, so as to make them more submissive, and to show that even on this account, they were under an obligation to obey what is here said. “To every man that is among you.” Not to this person and to that merely, but to the governor and to the governed, to the slave and to the free, to the unlearned and to the wise, to the woman and to the man, to the young and to the old. For the Law is common to all as being the Lords. And by this he likewise makes his language inoffensive, setting the lessons he gives to all, even to such as do not come under them, that those who do come under them may with more willingness accept such a reproof and correction. And what dost thou say? Let me hear. “Not to think more highly than he ought to think.” Here he is bringing before us the mother of good deeds, which is lowliness of mind, in imitation of his own Master. For as He, when He went up into the mountain, and was going to give a tissue of moral precepts, took this for his first beginning, and made this the foundation, in the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. v. 3); so Paul too, as he has now passed from the doctrinal parts to those of a more practical kind, has taught us virtue in general terms, by requiring of us the admirable sacrifice; and being on the point of giving a more particular portrait of it, he begins from lowliness of mind as from the head, and tells us, “not to think more highly of ones self than one ought to think,” (for this is His will), (many mss. om. for etc.), “but to think soberly.” But what he means is about this. We have received wisdom not that we should use it to make us haughty, but to make us sober-minded. And he does not say in order to be lowly in mind, but in order to sobriety, meaning by sobriety (σωφροσύνη) here not that virtue which contrasts with lewdness, nor the being free from intemperance, but being sober and healthful in mind. And the Greek name of it means keeping the mind safe. 1531 To show then that he who is not thus modest (μετριάζοντα), cannot be sober either, that is, cannot be staid and healthful minded (because such an one is bewildered, and out, of his wits, and is more crazed than any madman), he calls lowliness of mind, soberness of mind.
“According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” For since having gifts given them had made many unreasonably elated, both with these and with the Corinthians, see how he lays open the cause of the disease, and gradually removes it. For after saying that we should think soberly, he proceeds, “according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith,” meaning here the gift by faith: and by using the word “dealt,” he solaces him who had the less, and humbles him who had the greater share. For if God dealt it, and it is no achievement of thine, why think highly of thyself? But if any one says that faith here does not mean the gift, this would only the more show that he was humbling the vain boasters. For if that which is the cause of the gift (so Field with most mss.: Vulg. “If the faith by which miracles are wrought is the cause of the gift”), that faith by which miracles are wrought, be itself from God, on what ground dost thou think highly of thyself? If He had not come, or been incarnate, then the things of faith would not have fared well either. And it is from hence that all the good things take their rise. But if it is He that giveth it, He knoweth how He dealeth it. For He made all, and taketh like care of all. And as His giving came of His love towards man, so doth the quantity which He giveth. For was He Who had shown His goodness in regard to the main point, which is the giving of the gift, likely to neglect thee in regard to the measure? For had He wished to do thee dishonor, then He had not given them at all. But if to save thee and to honor thee was what He had in view (and for this He came and distributed such great blessings), why art thou confounded and disturbed, and abusest thy wisdom to foolishness, making thyself more disgraceful than one who is by nature so? For being foolish by nature is no ground of complaint. But being foolish through wisdom, is at once bereaving ones self of excuse, and running into greater punishment.
Such then are those, who pride themselves upon their wisdom, and fall into the excess of recklessness. 1532 For recklessness of all things makes a person a fool. Wherefore the Prophet calls the barbarian by this name. But “the fool,” he says, “shall speak folly.” (Is. xxxii. 6.) But that you may see the folly of him from his own words, hear what he says. “Above the stars of heaven will I place my throne, and I will be like the Most High.” (Isa. 14.14.) “I will take hold of the world as a nest, and as eggs that are left will I take them away.” (Isa. 10.14.) Now what can be more foolish than these words? And every instance of haughty language immediately draws on itself this reproach. And if I were to set before you every expression of them that are reckless, you would not be able to distinguish whether the words are those of a reckless man or a fool. So entirely the same is this failing and that. And another of a strange nation says again, “I am God and not man” (Ezek. 28.2); and another again, Can God save you, or deliver you out of my hand?” (Dan. iii. 15.) And the Egyptian too, “I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.”( Ex. v. 2.) And the foolish body in the Psalmist is of this character, who hath “said in his heart, There is no God.” (Ps. xiv. 1.) And Cain, “Am I my brothers keeper?” (Gen. iv. 9.) Can you now distinguish whether the words are those of the reckless or those of the fool? For recklessness going out of due bounds, and being a departure from reason (whence its name recklessness, ἀπόνοια), maketh men both fools and vainglorious. For likewise, “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” (Prov. ix. 10), so then the beginning of folly is surely not knowing the Lord. If then knowing be wisdom, and not knowing Him folly, and this ignorance come of haughtiness (ὑπερηφανία), (for the beginning of haughtiness is the not knowing of the Lord), then is haughtiness the extreme of folly. Such was Nabal, if not to Godward, at least toward man, having become senseless from his recklessness. But he afterwards died of fear. For when any falleth from the measure of wisdom, he becomes at once a coward and bold (θρασυδειλοὶ Ar. Eth. iii.), his soul having been made feeble. For as the body when it loseth its proper tone having become out of condition, is a prey to any disease, thus too the soul when it hath lost its greatness of nature and lowly-mindedness, having gotten any feeble habit (ἕξιν), becomes fearful, as well as bold and unreasonable, and loses its powers of self-consciousness. And he that has lost these, how is he to know things above himself? For as he that is seized with a frenzy, when he has so lost them, knoweth not even what is right before him; and the eye, when it is dimmed, darkeneth all the other members; so doth it happen with this recklessness. Wherefore these are more miserable than the mad, or than those silly by nature. For like them they stir laughter, and like them they are ill-tempered. And they are out of their wits as the others are, but they are not pitied as they are. And they are beside themselves, as are these, but they are not excused, as are these, but are hated only. And while they have the failings of either, they are bereaved of the excuse of either, being ridiculous not owing to their words only, but to their whole appearance also. For why, pray, dost thou stiffen up thy neck? or why walk on tiptoe? why knit up thy brows? why stick thy breast out? Thou canst not make one hair white or black, (Matt. v. 36) and thou goest with as lofty gait as if thou couldest command everything. No doubt thou wouldest like to have wings, and not go upon the earth at all! No doubt thou wouldest wish to be a prodigy! For hast thou not made thyself prodigious now, when thou art a man and triest to fly? or rather flying from within, and bloated in every limb? What shall I call thee to quit thee of thy recklessness? Shall I call thee ashes, and dust, and smoke, and pother? I have described thy worthlessness to be sure, but still I have not laid hold of the exact image I wanted. For I want to put their bloatedness before me, and all its emptiness. What image am I to find then which will suit with all this? To me it seems to be like tow in a blaze. For it seems to swell when lighted, and to lift itself up; but when it is submitted to a slight touch of the hand, it all tumbles down, and turns out to be more worthless than the veriest ashes. Of this sort are the souls of these men; that empty inflatedness of theirs even the commonest attack may humble and bring down. For he that behaves recklessly must of necessity be a thoroughly feeble person, since the height he has is not a sound one, but even as bubbles are easily burst, so are these men easily undone. But if thou dost not believe, give me a bold reckless fellow, and you will find him more cowardly than a hare even at the most trivial circumstance. For as the flame that rises from dry sticks is no sooner lighted than it becomes dust, but stiff logs do not by their nature easily kindle up, and then keep up their flame a long time burning; so souls that be stern and firm are not easily kindled or extinguished; but these men undergo both of these in a single moment. Since then we know this, let us practise humble-mindedness. For there is nothing so powerful as it, since it is stronger even than a rock and harder than adamant, and places us in a safety greater than that of towers and cities and walls, being too high for any of the artillery of the devil. As then recklessness makes men an easy prey even to ordinary occurrences, being, as I was saying, easier broken than a bubble, and rent more speedily than a spiders web, and more quickly dissolved than a smoke; that we then may be walking upon the strong rock, let us leave that and take to this. For thus in this life present we shall find rest, and shall in the world to come have every blessing, by the grace and love toward man, etc.
Reasonable is here used for what has been termed super-sensuous, as in the Syriac, and later Latin, see p. 498.i:1522
Evidently Chrys. understands by λογικήν here rational as opposed to material service such as the Jews offered in animal sacrifices. Others have understood of it of spiritual service as opposed to the superstitious service of the heathen (Calvin). Others find in it a contrast with the irrational animals (ζῶα ἄλογα) offered in sacrifice (Theodoret, Grotius). The first view is preferable. Christianus omnia recte reputat, et ex beneficio Dei miserentis colligit offcium suum, says Bengel.—G.B.S.i:1523
θείαις ἀκροάσεσιν. See Suicer in ἀκροάομαι. lit. “divine hearings.” The place where those stood who were not yet admitted to Communion, but heard the Scriptures read, was called the ἀκρόασις or hearing; here the act of hearing is meant.i:1524
2 or 3 mss. “boileth” which Heyse prefers.i:1525
σεμνότερος, which implies reverence as well as dignity. The word before probably refers also to dress. See Ex. xxviii. 43, but in this case the outward act so truly represents the inward, that it is difficult to separate them.i:1526
A.V. conformed to. The translation is altered to express the distinction noticed in the comment.i:1527
μορφὴ. See Phil. 2:6, 7, 8, and St. Chrysostom on the passage, Hom. vi. pp. 363, sqq. O.T.i:1528
The two words here rendered: “be fashioned” and “be transformed” differ as the terms (σχῆμα and μορφή) which underlie them differ. “The term μορφή, form, strictly denotes, not an external pose suitable for imitation, like σχῆμα, attitude, but an organic form, the natural product of a principle of life which manifests itself thus.” Godet. “Be not conformed, but be transformed” (A.V.) marks well the distinction.—G.B.S.i:1529
See the note of Matthiæ on the place. Nearly all mss. have and know; it seems a slip of memory; see Rom. ii. 18.i:1530
οἰωνίζονται v. Jung. ad J. Poll. v. 163. Dem. adv. Aristog. 1. (794, 5), it means to make a sign of detestation on meeting anything counted unlucky.i:1531
σώζουσαν τὴν φρόνησιν, Aristot. Eth. vi.i:1532
This word has been sometimes translated haughtiness, but means something more; usually the recklessness of despair, but sometimes that of pride.
Next: Homily XXI on Rom. xii. 4, 5.
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