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 XXII on Rom. xii. 14.
Rom. XII. 14
“ Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not.”
After teaching them how they ought to be minded towards one another, and after joining the members closely into one, he next proceeds to lead them forth to the battle without, which he makes easier as from this point. For as he who hath not managed things well with those of his own side, will find more difficulty in arranging affairs with strangers, so he, that has practised himself duly among these, will with the more ease have the advantage of those without also. Hence then Paul also as he goes on in his journey, after the one places the other, and says, “Bless them that persecute you.” He did not say, be not spiteful or revengeful, but required something far better. For that a man that was wise might do, but this is quite an angels part. And after saying “bless,” he proceeds, “and curse not,” lest we should do both the one and the ether, and not the former only. For they that persecute us are purveyors of a reward to us. But if thou art sober-minded, there will be another reward after that one, which thou wilt gain thyself. For he will yield thee that for persecution, but thou wilt yield thyself the one from the blessing of another, in that thou bringest forth a very great sign of love to Christ. For as he that curseth his persecutor, showeth that he is not much pleased at suffering this for Christ, thus he that blesseth showeth the greatness of his love. Do not then abuse him, that thou thyself mayest gain the greater reward, and mayest teach him that the thing is matter of inclination, not of necessity, of holiday and feast, not of calamity or dejection. For this cause Christ Himself said, “Rejoice when men speak all manner of evil against you falsely.” (Matt. v. 11.) Hence too it was that the Apostles returned with joy not from having been evil spoken of only, but also at having been scourged. (Acts 5:40, 41.) For besides what I have mentioned, there will be another gain, and that no small one, that you will make, both the abashing of your adversaries hereby, and instructing of them by your actions that you are travelling to another life; for if he see thee joyous, and elevated, (πτερούμενον) from suffering ill, he will see clearly from the actions that thou hast other hopes greater than those of this life. So that if thou dost not so, but weepest and lamentest, how is he to be able to learn from that that thou art tarrying for any other life? And besides this, thou wilt compass yet another thing. For provided he see thee not vexed at the affronts done thee, but even blessing him, he will leave harassing thee. See then how much that is good comes from this, both a greater reward for thyself and a less temptation, and he will forbear persecuting thee, and God too will be glorified: and to him that is in error thy endurance will be instruction in godliness. For this reason it was not those that insult us only, but even those that persecute us and deal despitefully with us, that he bade us requite with the contrary. And now he orders them to bless, but as he goes on, he exhorts them to do them good in deeds also.
Rom. 12.15. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”
Since it is possible to bless and not to curse, and yet not to do this out of love, he wishes us to be penetrated with the warmth of friendship throughout. And this is why he goes on in these words, that we are not only to bless, but even feel compassion for their pains and sufferings, whenever we happen to see them fallen into trouble. Yes, it will be said, but to join in the sorrows of mourners one can see why he ordered them, but why ever did he command them the other thing, when it is no such great matter? Aye, but that requires more of a high Christian temper, to rejoice with them that do rejoice, than to weep with them that weep. For this nature itself fulfils perfectly: and there is none so hard-hearted as not to weep over him that is in calamity: but the other requires a very noble soul, so as not only to keep from envying, but even to feel pleasure with the person who is in esteem. And this is why he placed it first. For there is nothing that ties love so firmly as sharing both joy and pain one with another. Do not then, because thou art far from difficulties thyself, remain aloof from sympathizing too. For when thy neighbor is ill-treated, thou oughtest to make the calamity thine own. Take share then in his tears, that thou mayest lighten his low spirits. Take share in his joy, that thou mayest make the joy strike deep root, and fix the love firmly, and be of service to thyself rather than to him in so doing, by thy weeping rendering thyself merciful, and by thy feeling his pleasure, purging thyself of envy and grudging. And let me draw your attention to Pauls considerateness. For he does not say, Put an end to the calamity, lest thou shouldest say in many cases (or perchance πολλάκις) that it is impossible: but he has enjoined the easier task, and that which thou hast in thy power. For even if thou art not able to remove the evil, yet contribute tears, and thou wilt take the worst half away. And if thou be not able to increase a mans prosperity, contribute joy, and thou wilt have made a great addition to it. Therefore it is not abstaining from envy only, but what is a much greater thing that he exhorts us to, namely, joining in the pleasure. For this is a much greater thing than not envying.
Rom. 12.16. “Be of the same mind one towards another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.”
Here again he insists much upon lowliness of mind, the subject he had started this exhortation with. For there was a probability of their being full of high-mindedness, both on account of their city (see p. 343), and from sundry other causes; he therefore keeps drawing off (ὑποσύρει, 2 mss. ὐπορύττει) the morbid matter, and lowers the inflammation. For there is nothing that makes such schisms in the Churches as vanity does. And what does he mean by, “Be of the same mind one towards another?” Has a poor man come into thy house? Be like him in thy bearing, do not put on any unusual pompous air on account of thy riches. There is no rich and poor in Christ. Be not then ashamed of him because of his external dress, but receive him because of his inward faith. And if thou seest him in sorrow, do not disdain to comfort him, nor if thou see him in prosperity, feel abashed at sharing his pleasure, and being gladdened with him, but be of the same mind in his case, that thou wouldest be of in thine own. For it says, “Be of the same mind one towards another.” For instance, if thou thinkest thyself a great man, therefore think him so likewise. Dost thou suspect that he is mean and little? Well then, pass this same sentence upon thyself, and cast aside all unevenness. And how is this to be? By thy casting aside that reckless temper. Wherefore he proceeds: “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.” That is, bring thyself down to their humble condition, associate with them, walk with them, do not be humbled in mind only, but help them also, and reach forth thy hand to them, not by means of others, but in thine own person, as a father taking care of a child, as the head taking care of the body. As he says in another place, “being bound with them that are in bonds.” (Heb. xiii. 3.) But here he means by those of low estate not merely the lowly-minded, but those of a low rank, and which one is apt to think scorn of. 1549
“Be not wise in your own conceits.” This is, do not think that you can do for yourselves. Because the Scripture saith in another place besides, “Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.” (Is. v. 22.) And by this again, he secretly draws off recklessness, and reduces conceit and turgidity. For there is nothing that so elates men and makes them feel different from other people, as the notion that they can do by themselves. Whence also God hath placed us in need one of another, and though thou be wise thou wilt be in need of another: but if thou think that thou art not in need of him, thou wilt be the most foolish and feeble of men. For a man of this sort bares himself of all succor, and in whatever error he may run into, will not have the advantage either of correction or of pardon, and will provoke God by his recklessness, and will run into many errors. For it is the case, aye, and often too, that a wise man does not perceive what is needful, and a man of less shrewdness hits upon somewhat that is applicable. And this happened with Moses and his father-in-law, and with Saul and his servant, and with Isaac and Rebecca. Do not then suppose that you are lowered by needing another man. For this exalts you the more, this makes you the stronger, and the brighter too, and the more secure.
Rom. 12.17. “Recompense to no man evil for evil.”
For if thou findest fault with another who plots against thee, why dost thou make thyself liable to this accusation? If he did amiss how comest thou not to shun imitating him? And observe how he puts no difference here but lays down one law for all. For he does not say, “recompense not evil” to the believer, but to “no man,” be he heathen, be he contaminated, or what not. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”
Rom. 12.18. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
This is that: “let your light shine before men” (Matt. v. 16), not that we are to live for vanity, but that we are not to give those who have a mind for it a handle against us. Whence he says also in another place, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God.” (1 Cor. x. 32.) And in what follows he limits his meaning well, by saying, “If it be possible.” For there are cases in which it is not possible, as, for instance, when we have to argue about religion, or to contend for those who are wronged. And why be surprised if this be not universally possible in the case of other persons, when even in the case of man and wife he broke through the rule? “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” (1 Cor. vii. 15.) And his meaning is nearly as follows: Do thine own part, and to none give occasion of war or fighting, neither to Jew nor Gentile. But if you see the cause of religion suffering anywhere, do not prize concord above truth, but make a noble stand even to death. And even then be not at war in soul, be not averse in temper, but fight with the things only. For this is the import of “as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.” But if the other will not be at peace, do not thou fill thy soul with tempest, but in mind be friendly (φίλος, several mss. φιλόσοφος) as I said before, without giving up the truth on any occasion.
Rom. 12.19. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Unto what wrath? To the wrath of God. Now since what the injured man desires most to see is, himself having the pleasure of revenge, this very thing he gives him in full measure, that if thou dost not avenge thyself, he means, God will be thy avenger. Leave it then to Him to follow up thy wrongs. For this is the force of “give place unto wrath.” Then to give further comfort, he brings the quotation forward also, and after winning him more throughly to himself in this way, he demands more Christian heroism (φιλοσόφιάν) of him, and says:
Rom. 12:20, 21. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Why, he means, am I telling you that you must keep peace? For I even insist upon your doing kindness. For he says, “give him to eat, and give him to drink.” Then as the command he gave was a very difficult and a great one, he proceeds: “for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” And this he said both to humble the one by fear, and to make the other more ready-minded through hope of a recompense. 1550 For he that is wronged, when he is feeble, is not so much taken with any goods of his own as with the vengeance upon the person who has pained him. For there nothing so sweet as to see an enemy chastised. What he is longing for, then, that he gives him first, and when he has let the venom go, then he again gives advice of a higher tone, saying, “Be not overcome of evil.” For he knew that if the enemy were a very brute, he would not continue an enemy when he had been fed. 1551 And if the man injured be of ever so little 1552 a soul, still when feeding him and giving him to drink, he will not himself even have any farther craving for his punishment. Hence, out of confidence in the result of the action, he does not simply threaten, but even dwells largely upon the vengeance. For he did not say, “thou shalt take vengeance” but, “thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” 1553 Then he further declares him victor, by saying, “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” And he gives a kind of gentle hint, that one is not to do it with that intention, since cherishing a grudge still would be “being overcome of evil.” But he did not say it at once, as he did not find it advisable yet. 1554 But when he had disburdened the man of his anger, then he proceeded to say, “overcome evil with good.” Since this would be a victory. For the combatant is rather then the conqueror, not when he brings himself under to take the blows, but when he withdraws himself, and makes his antagonist waste his strength upon the air. And in this way he will not be struck himself, and will also exhaust the whole of the others strength. And this takes place in regard to affronts also. For when you do affronts in return, you have the worse, not as overcome (so 1 ms. νικηθεὶς, Sav. κινηθεὶς) by a man, but what is far more disgraceful, by the slavish passion of anger. But if you are silent, then you will conquer, and erect a trophy without a fight, and will have thousands to crown you, and to condemn the slander of falsehood. For he that replies, seems to be speaking in return as if stung. And he that is stung, gives reason to suspect that he is conscious of being guilty of what is said of him. But if you laugh at it, by your laughing you do away with the sentence against you. And if you would have a clear proof of what has been said, ask the enemy himself, when he is most vexed? when you are heated, and insult him in return? or when you laugh at him as he insults you? and you will be told the last rather. For he too is not so much pleased with not being insulted in return, as he is vexed because his abuse was not able to gain any hold upon you. Did you never see men in a passion, how they make no great account of their own wounds, but rush on with much violence, and are worse than very wild boars for seeking the hurt of their neighbor, and look to this alone, and are more given to this than to being on their guard against getting harmed? When therefore thou deprivest him of that he desires most, thou bereavest him of everything, by holding him thus cheap, and showing him to be easy to be despised, and a child rather than a man; and thou indeed hast gained the reputation of a wise man, and him dost thou invest with the character of a noisome beast. This too let us do when we are struck, and when we wish to strike, let us abstain from striking again. But, would you give a mortal blow? “Turn to him the other cheek also” (Matt. v. 39), and thou wilt smite him with countless wounds. For they that applaud, and wonder at thee, are more annoying to him than men to stone him would be; and before them, his conscience will condemn him, and will exact the greatest punishment of him, and so he will go off with a confused look as if he had been treated with the utmost rigor. And if it is the estimation of the multitude that you look for, this too you will have in larger share. And in a general way we have a kind of sympathy with those who are the sufferers; but when we also see that they do not strike (several mss. resist, ἀντιπίπτοντας) in return, but even give themselves up to it, we not only pity them, but even feel admiration for them.
Here then I find reason to lament, that we who might have things present, if we listened to Christs Law as we should, and also attain to things to come, are cast out of both by not paying attention to what has been told us, but giving ourselves to unwarranted philosophising about them. For He has given us laws upon all these points for our good, and has shown us what makes us have a good name, what brings us to disgrace. And if it was likely to have proved His disciples ridiculous, He would not have enjoined this. But since this makes them the most notable of men namely, the not speaking ill, when we have ill spoken of us; the not doing ill when we have ill done us; this was His reason for enjoining it. But if this be so, much more the speaking of good when we have ill spoken of us, and the praising of those that insult us, and the doing good to those that plot against us, will make us so. This then was why He gave these laws. For He is careful for His own disciples, and knowing well what it is that maketh little or great. If then He both careth and knoweth, why dost thou quarrel with Him, and wish to go another road? For conquering by doing ill is one of the devils laws. Hence in the Olympic games which were celebrated to him 1555 it is so that all the competitors conquer. But in Christs race this is not the rule about the prize, for, on the contrary, the law is for the person smitten, and not for the person smiting, to be crowned. For such is the character of His race, it has all its regulations the other way; so that it is not in the victory only, but also in the way of the victory, that the marvel is the greater. Now when things which on the other side are signs of a victory, on this side he showeth to be productive of defeat, this is the power of God, this the race of Heaven, this the theatre of Angels. I know that ye are warmed thoroughly now, and are become as soft as any wax, but when ye have gone hence ye will spew it all out. This is why I sorrow, that what we are speaking of, we do not show in our actions, and this too though we should be greatest gainers thereby. For if we let our moderation be seen, we shall be invincible to any man; and there is nobody either great or small, who will have the power of doing us any hurt. For if any one abuseth thee, he has not hurt thee at all, but himself severely. And if again he wrong thee, the harm will be with the person who does the wrong. Did you never notice that even in the courts of law those who have had wrong done them are honored, and stand and speak out with entire freedom, but those who have done the wrong, are bowed down with shame and fear? And why do I talk of evil-speaking (Sav. conj. and 5 mss. κακηγορίαν) and of wrong? For were he even to whet his sword against thee, and to stain his right hand in thy life-blood (εἰς τὸν λαιμὸν, as p. 505), it is not thee that he hath done any harm to, but himself that he hath butchered. And he will witness what I say who was first taken off thus by a brothers hand. For he went away to the haven without a billow, having gained a glory that dieth not away; but the other lived a life worse than any death, groaning, and trembling, and in his body bearing about the accusation of what he had done. Let us not follow after this then, but that. For he that hath ill done him, has not an evil that taketh up its constant abode with him, since he is not the parent of it; but as he received it from others, he makes it good by his patient endurance. But he that doeth ill, hath the well of the mischief in himself. Was not Joseph in prison, but the harlot that plotted against him in a fine and splendid house? Which then wouldest thou wish to have been? And let me not hear yet of the requital, but examine the things that had taken place by themselves. For in this way thou wilt rate Josephs prison infinitely above the house with the harlot in it. For if you were to see the souls of them both, you would find the one full of enlargement and boldness, but that of the Egyptian woman in straitness, shame, dejection, confusion, and great despondency. And yet she seemed to conquer; but this was no real victor. Knowing all this then, let us fit ourselves for bearing ills, even that we may be freed from bearing ills, and may attain to the blessings to come. Which that we may all attain to, God grant, by the grace and love toward man, etc.
τοῖς ταπεινοῖς is best taken here as neuter (Meyer, De Wette, R.V.) corresponding in this respect to τὰ ὑψηλὰ. Meyer renders and interprets thus: “being drawn onward by the lowly; i.e. instead of following the impulse to high things, rather yielding to that which is humble, to the claims and tasks which are presented to you by the humbler relations of life, entering into this impulse towards the lower strata and spheres of life which lays claim to you, and following it. The ταπεινά ought to have for the Christian a force of attraction in virtue of which he yields himself to fellowship with them and allows himself to be guided by them in the determination of his conduct.” Those who understand ταπεινοῖς as masculine are divided between the meanings: of low rank and of humble disposition. Chrys. interpretation combines both ideas.—G.B.S.i:1550
ἀντιδόσεως. It means a recompense upon the other.i:1551
Most mss. omit “he would not..…fed.”i:1552
μικρόψυχος, Ed. Ben. quotes St. Bas. Ep. 74 and St. Ath. t. i. p. 142 a and 152 f. Hist. tracts pp. 41 and marg., 55, to show that this word may be used in the sense of “malicious.” It sometimes means “niggardly,” both being characteristics of a little mind. v. p. 106 and 373.i:1553
The meaning which is here attached to the expression: thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, viz.: thou shalt bring the divine vengeance upon him, is very improbable. Such a consideration could not be urged as a motive of Christian love. Augustin well says: “How does any one love the man to whom he gives food and drink for the very purpose of heaping coals of fire upon his head, if coals of fire in this place signify some heavy punishment?” The meaning is: thou shalt by returning good for evil, bring the evildoer to shame and remorse. This course will be the dictate of Christian love because it will tend to reveal the mans wrong-doing to himself, induce repentance for it and lead him to forsake it. The repentance of Saul is an example (1 Sam. xxiv. 17). “And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. And he said: thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rendered unto me good, whereas I have rendered unto thee evil.”—G.B.S.i:1554
It may be objected that St. Paul was not speaking to a person in a rage, but generally to all. However, it is plain that the admonition is meant for those who want it. And there are many people who justify themselves in bearing malice, so as to require such management even in a general admonition.i:1555
The Fathers generally believed the devils were connected with idol-worship. See Tertullian de Spectac. p. 202 O.T. St. Augustin de Civ. Dei, i. 32, etc. Clem. Al. Protr. c. 3.
Next: Homily XXIII on Rom. xiii. 1.
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