Are you a Christian?
Thus, inasmuch as he had with exactness rehearsed unto them all the excellence of love, he exhorts them in what follows, with alacrity to lay hold of it. Wherefore also he said, “Follow after:” for he that is in chase beholds that only which is chased, and towards that he strains himself, and leaves not off until he lay hold of it. He that is in chase, when by himself he cannot, by those that are before him he doth overtake the fugitive, beseeching those who are near with much eagerness to seize and keep it so seized for him until he shall come up. This then let us also do. When of ourselves we do not reach unto love, let us bid them that are near her to hold her, till we come up with her, and when we have apprehended, no more let her go, that she may not again escape us. For continually she springs away from us, because we use her not as we ought, but prefer all things unto her. Therefore we ought to make every effort, so as perfectly to retain her. For if this be done, we require not henceforth much labor, nay rather scarce any; but taking our ease, and keeping holiday225
At this point he makes a comparison between the gifts, and lowers that of the tongues, showing it to be neither altogether useless, nor very profitable by itself. For in fact they were greatly puffed up on account of this, because the gift was considered to be a great one. And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak divers languages. See accordingly how he both depresses and elevates it. Thus, by saying, “He that speaketh with tongues, speaketh not unto men, but unto God, for no man understandeth,” he depressed it, implying that the profit of it was not great; but by adding, “but in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries” he again elevated it, that it might not seem to be superfluous and useless and given in vain.
“But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
Seest thou by what he signifies the choice nature of this gift? i.e., by the common benefit? and how every where he gives the higher honor to that which tends to the profit of the many? For do not the former speak unto men also? tell me. But not so much “edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” So that the being powered by the Spirit is common to both, as well to him that prophesieth, as to him that speaketh with tongues; but in this, the one (he, I mean, who prophesieth) hath the advantage in that he is also profitable unto the hearers. For they who with tongues were not understood by them that had not the gift.
“But he that prophesieth edifieth the Church.” Now as great as is the difference between a single person and the Church, so great is the interval between these two. Seest thou his wisdom, how he doth not thrust out the gift and make nothing of it, but signifies it to have some advantage, small though it be, and such as to suffice the possessor only?
Ver. 5. “I would have you all speak with tongues, but rather that ye should prophesy: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the Church may receive edifying.”
But “rather” and “greater,” do not mark opposition, but superiority. So that hence also it is evident that he is not disparaging the gift, but leading them to better things, displaying both his carefulness on their behalf, and a spirit free from all envy. For neither did he say, “I would that two or three,” but, “that ye all spake with tongues” and not this only, but also, “that ye prophesied;” and this rather than that; “for greater is he that prophesieth.” For since he hath established and proved it, he next proceeds also to assert it; not however simply, but with a qualification. Accordingly he adds, “except he interpret;” since if he be able to do this, I mean the interpreting, “he hath become equal unto the prophet,” so he speaks, “because then there are many who reap the advantage of it;” a thing to be especially observed, how this throughout, before all else, is his object,
“And why speak I,” saith he, “of the rest? Nay, let the person who speaketh with tongues be Paul: for not even so will any good come to the hearers.” And these things he saith to signify that he is seeking their profit, not bearing any grudge against them that have the gift; since not even in his own person doth he shrink from pointing out its unprofitableness. And indeed it is his constant way to work out the disagreeable topics in his own person: as in the beginning of the Epistle he said, “Who then is Paul? and who is Apollos? and who is Cephas?” This same then he doth also here, saying, “Not even I shall profit you, except I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of prophesying, or of knowledge, or of teaching.” And what he means is, “if I say not somewhat that can be made intelligible to you and that may be clear, but merely make display of my having the gift of tongues;—tongues which ye do not understand, ye will go away with no sort of profit. For how should you profit by a voice which ye understand not?”
“And why do I say,” saith he, “that in our case this is unprofitable, and that only useful which is clear and easy to be apprehended by the hearers? Since even in musical instruments without life one may see this: for whether it be pipe or harp, yet if it be struck or blown confusedly and unskilfully, without proper cadence or harmony, it will captivate none of the hearers. For even in these inarticulate sounds there is need of some distinctness: and if thou strike not or breathe into the pipe according to art, thou hast done nothing. Now if from things without life we require so much distinctness, and harmony, and appropriateness, and into those inarticulate sounds we strive and contend to infuse so much meaning, much more in men indued with life and reason, and in spiritual gifts, ought one to make significancy an object.
Thus from things merely ornamental he carries on his argument to those which are more necessary and useful; and saith that not in the harp alone, but in the trumpet also one may see this effect produced. For in that also there are certain measures; and they give out at one time a warlike note, and at another one that is not so; and again sometimes it leads out to line of battle and at others recalls from it: and unless one know this, there is great danger. Which is just what he means, and the mischief of it what he is manifesting, when he saith, “who shall prepare himself for war?” So then, if it have not this quality, it is the ruin of all. “And what is this to us,” saith one? Truly it concerns you very especially; wherefore also he adds,
Ver. 9. “So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue, speech easy to be understood, ye will be speaking into the air:” i.e., calling to nobody, speaking unto no one. Thus every where he shows its unprofitableness.
[4.] “But if it be unprofitable, why was it given?” saith one. So as to be useful to him that hath received it. But if it is to be so to others also, there must be added interpretation. Now this he saith, bringing them near to one another; that if a person himself have not the gift of interpretation, he may take unto him another that hath it, and make his own gift useful through him. Wherefore he every where points out its imperfection, that so he may bind them together. Any how, he that accounts it to be sufficient for itself, doth not so much commend it as disparage it, not suffering it to shine brightly by the interpretation. For excellent indeed and necessary is the gift, but it is so when it hath one to explain what is spoken. Since the finger too is a necessary thing, but when you separate it from the other members, it will not be equally useful: and the trumpet is necessary, but when it sounds at random, it is rather an annoyance. Yea, neither shall any art come to light, without matter subject to it; nor is matter put into shape, if no form be assigned to it. Suppose then the voice to be as the subject-matter, but the distinctness as that form, which not being present, there will be no use in the material.
Ver. 10. “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification:” i.e., so many tongues, so many voices of Scythians, Thracians, Romans, Persians, Moors, Indians, Egyptians, innumerable other nations.
Ver. 11. “If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian.” “For suppose not,” saith he, “that this happens only in our case; rather in all one may see this taking place: so that I do not say this to disparage the voice, but to signify that to me it is useless, as long as it is not intelligible.” Next, that he may not render the accusation unpalatable, he makes his charge alike for the two, saying, “He shall be unto me a barbarian, and I to him.” Not from the nature of the voice, but from our ignorance. Seest thou how by little and little he draws men to that which is akin to the subject. Which is his use to do, to fetch his examples from afar, and to end with what more properly belongs to the matter. For having spoken of a pipe and harp, wherein is much that is inferior and unprofitable, he comes to the trumpet, a thing more useful; next, from that he proceeds to the very voice itself. So also before, when he was discoursing to show that it was not forbidden the Apostles to receive, beginning first with husbandmen, and shepherds, and soldiers, then he brought the discourse on to that which is nearer to the subject, the priests in the old covenant.
But do thou, I pray, consider, how every where he hath given diligence to free the gift from censure, and to bring round the charge to the receivers of it. For he said not, “I shall be a barbarian,” but, “unto him that speaketh, a barbarian.” And again, he did not say, “he that speaketh shall be a barbarian,” but “he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me226
[5.] “What then must be done?” saith he. Why, so far from disparaging, one ought to recommend and to teach it; as indeed himself also doth. Since after he had accused and rebuked it and shown its unprofitableness, he proceeds to counsel them; saying,
Seest thou his aim every where, how he looks to one thing continually and in all cases, the general utility, the profiting the Church; laying this down as a kind of rule? And he did not say, “that ye may obtain the gifts” but, “that ye may abound,” i.e., that ye may even possess them in great plenitude. Thus, so far am I from wishing you not to possess them, that I even wish you to abound in them, only so that ye handle them with a view to the common advantage. And how is this to be done? This he adds, saying,
Here he shows that it is in their power to obtain the gift. For, “let him pray,” saith he, i.e., “let him contribute his own part,” since if thou ask diligently, thou wilt surely receive. Ask accordingly not to have the gift of tongue only, but also of interpretation, that thou mayest become useful unto all, and not shut up thy gift in thyself alone. “For if I pray in a tongue,” saith he, “my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” Seest thou how by degrees bringing his argument to a point, he signifies that not to others only is such an one useless, but also to himself; if at least “his understanding is unfruitful?” For if a man should speak only in the Persian, or any other foreign tongue, and not understand what he saith, then of course to himself also will he be thenceforth a barbarian, not to another only, from not knowing the meaning of the sound. For there were of old many who had also a gift of prayer, together with a tongue; and they prayed, and the tongue spake, praying either in the Persian or Latin language227
[6.] He signifieth the same thing here also, that both the tongue may speak, and the understanding may not be ignorant of the things spoken. For except this be so, there will also be another confusion.
Ver. 17. “For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
Observe how again here he brings his stone to the plumb-line,229
[7.] Further, because he had run down the possessors of this gift, as though they had no such great thing; that he might not seem to hold them cheap, as being himself destitute of it, see what he saith:
And this he doth also in another place intending, namely, to take away the advantages of Judaism and to show that henceforth they are nothing, he begins by declaring that himself had been endowed with them, yea, and that in very great excess; and then he calls them “loss,” thus saying, “If any man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the Church; as touching the righteousness which is the law, found blameless.” (Philip. iii. 4–7.) And then, having signified himself to have the advantage of all, he saith, “Howbeit what things were gain to me, those have I counted loss for Christ.” So also he doth here, saying, “I speak with tongues more than ye all.” Do not ye therefore glory as though ye only had the gift. For I also possess it, yea more than ye.
What is that, “speak with my understanding, that I might instruct others also?” “Understanding what I say,” and “words which I can both interpret to others, and speak intelligently, and teach the hearers.” “Than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Wherefore? “That I may instruct others,” saith he. For the one hath but display only; the other, great utility: this being what he everywhere seeks, I mean the common profit. And yet the gift of tongues was strange, but that of prophecy familiar and ancient and heretofore given to many; this on the contrary then first given: howbeit it was not much cared for by him. Wherefore neither did he employ it; not because he had it not, but because he always sought the more profitable things: being as he was free from all vain-glory, and considering one thing only, how he might render the hearers better.
[8.] And here is the reason of the faculty he had of looking to the expedient both to himself and to others: viz. because he was free from vain-glory. Since he assuredly that is enslaved by it, so far from discerning what is good to others, will not even know his own.
[10.] By what means then may one find a remedy for this manifold distemper? By bringing forward those that have trodden it under foot, and with an eye to their image so ordering one’s own life. For so the patriarch Abraham.—nay, let none accuse me of tautology if I often make mention of him, and on all occasions: this being that which most of all shows him wonderful, and deprives them that refuse to imitate him of all excuse. For, if we exhibit one doing well in this particular, and another in that, some one might say that virtue is hardly to be attained; for that it is scarcely possible to succeed in all those things together, whereof each one of the saints hath performed only a part. But when one and the same person is found to possess all, what excuse will they have, who after the law and grace are not able to attain unto the same measure with them that were before the law and grace? How then did this Patriarch overcome and subdue this monster, when he had a dispute with his nephew? (Gen. xiii. 8.) For so it was, that coming off worst and losing the first share, he was not vexed. But ye know that in such matters the shame is worse than the loss to the vulgar-minded, and particularly when a person having all in his own power, as he had then, and having been the first to give honor, was not honored in return. Nevertheless, none of these things vexed him, but he was content to receive the second place, and when wronged by the young man, himself old, an uncle by a nephew, he was not indignant nor took it ill, but loved him equally and ministered to him. Again, having been victorious in that great and terrible fight, and having mightily put to flight the Barbarians (Gen. xiv.) he doth not add show to victory, nor erect a trophy. For he wished to save only, not to exhibit himself. Again, he entertained strangers, yet did he not here act vain-gloriously, but himself both ran to them and bowed down to them, not as though he were giving, but receiving a benefit, and he calleth them lords, without knowing who they are who are come to him, and presents his wife in the place of a handmaiden. (Gen. xviii.) And in Egypt too before this, when he had appeared so extraordinary a person, and had received back this very woman, his wife, and had enjoyed so great honor (Gen. xii.) he showeth it to no man. And though the inhabitants of the place called him prince, he himself even laid down the price of the sepulchre. (Gen. xxiii. 6.) And when he sent to betroth a wife for his son, he gave no command to speak in high and dignified terms of him, (Gen. xxiv.) but merely to bring the bride.
[11.] Wilt thou examine also the conduct of those under grace, when from every side great was the glory of the teaching flowing round them, and wilt thou see then also this passion cast out? Consider, I pray, this same Apostle who speaks these things, how he ever ascribes the whole to God, how of his sins he makes mention continually, but of his good deeds never, unless perchance it should be needful to correct the disciples; and even if he be compelled to do this, he calls the matter folly, and yields the first place to Peter, and is not ashamed to labor with Priscilla and Aquila, and every where he is eager to show himself lowly, not swaggering in the market place, nor carrying crowds with him, but setting himself down among the obscure. Wherefore also he said, “but his bodily presence is weak.” (2 Cor. x. 10.) i.e., easy to be despised, and not at all accompanied with display. And again, “I pray that ye do no evil, not that we may appear approved.” And what marvel if he despise this glory? seeing that he despises the glory of heaven, and the kingdom, and hell, for that which was pleasing unto Christ: for he wishes238
[12.] But the men of our time are overwhelmed by all things, not by desire of glory only, but also, on the other hand, by insult and fear of dishonor. Thus, should any one praise, it would puff thee up, and if he blame, it would cast thee down. And as weak bodies are by common accidents injured, so also souls which grovel on earth. For such not poverty alone, but even wealth destroys, not grief only, but likewise joy, and prosperity more than adversity. For poverty compels to be wise, but wealth leads on oftentimes into some great evil. And as men in a fever are hard to be pleased in any thing, so also they that are depraved in mind on every side receive hurt.
Knowing therefore these things, let us not shun poverty, let us not admire riches: but prepare our soul to be sufficient for all estates. For so any one building an house doth not consider how neither rain may descend, nor sunbeam light on it, (for this were impossible,) but how it may be made capable of enduring all. And he again that builds a ship doth not fashion and design any thing to keep waves from breaking against it, or any tempest from rising in the sea: (for this too were impossible:) but that the sides of the ship may be ready to meet all. And again, he that cares for the body doth not look to this that there may be no inequality in the temperature, but that the body may easily endure all these things. So accordingly let us act in respect of the soul, and neither be anxious to fly poverty nor to become rich, but to regulate each of them for our own safety.
Wherefore, letting alone these things, let us render our soul meet both for wealth and poverty. For although no calamity, such as man is subject to, befall, which is for the most part impossible, even thus, better is he that seeks not wealth, but knows how to bear all things easily than he that is always rich. And why? First, such an one hath his safety from within, but the other from without. And as he is a better soldier who trusts to his bodily powers and skill in fighting, than he that hath his strength in his armor only; so he that relies on his wealth, compared with him that is fenced in by his virtue, is inferior. Secondly, because even if he do not fall into poverty, it is impossible that he should be without trouble. For wealth hath many storms and troubles; but not so virtue, but pleasure only and safety. Yea, and it puts a man out of the reach of them that lay snares for him, but wealth quite the contrary, rendering him easy to be attacked and taken. And as among animals, stags and hares are of all most easily taken through their natural timidity, but the wild boar, and the bull, and the lion, would not easily fall in the way of the liers-in-wait; just so one may see in the case of the rich, and of them that live voluntarily in poverty. The one is like the lion and the bull, the other like the stag and the hare. For whom doth not the rich man fear? Are there not robbers, potentates, enviers, informers? And why speak I of robbers and informers, in a case where a man suspects his very domestics?
[13.] And why say I, “when he is alive?” Not even when dead is he freed from the villainy of the robbers, nor hath death power to set him in safety, but the evil doers despoil him even when dead, so dangerous a thing is wealth. For not only do they dig into houses, but they even burst open tombs and coffins. What then can be more wretched than this man, since not even death can furnish him with this security, but that wretched body, even when deprived of life, is not freed from the evils of life, those that commit such wickedness hastening to war even with dust and ashes, and much more grievously than when it was alive? For then, it might be, entering his storehouse, they would remove his chests, but abstain from his person, and would not take so much as to strip the body itself but now the accursed hands of the tombbreakers do not even abstain from these, but move and turn it about, and with much cruelty insult it. For after it hath been committed to the ground, having stripped it both of its covering of earth and of that which its grave-clothes constitute, they leave it thus to be cast out.
What foe then so deadly as wealth, which destroys both the soul of the living, and insults the body of the dead, not suffering it even to lie buried in the ground, which is common even to the condemned and to them that have been taken in the vilest crimes? For of them the legislators having exacted the punishment of death, inquire no further; but of these, wealth even after death exacts a most bitter punishment, exposing them naked and unburied, a dreadful and pitiable spectacle: since even those who suffer this after sentence and by the anger of their judges, do not suffer so grievously as these. For they indeed remain unburied the first and second day, and so are committed to the ground; but these, when they have been committed to the ground, are then stripped naked and insulted. And if the robbers depart without taking the coffin too, there is still no thanks to their wealth, but in this case also to their poverty. For she it is that guards it. Whereas most assuredly, had we intruded wealth with even so much as this, and leaving off to form it of stone, had forged it of gold, we should have lost this also.
So faithless a thing is wealth; which belongs not so much to them that have it, as to them that endeavor to seize it. So that it is but a superfluous argument which aims to show that wealth is irresistible, seeing that not even on the day of their death do its possessors obtain security. And yet who is not reconciled with the departed, whether it be wild beast, or demon, or whatever else? The very sight being enough to bend even one who is altogether iron, and quite past feeling. Wherefore, you know, when one sees a corpse, though it be an enemy public or private whom he sees, yet he weeps for him in common with his dearest friends; and his wrath is extinguished with life, and pity is brought in. And it would be impossible, in time of mourning and carrying out of burial, to distinguish an enemy from him who is not such. So greatly do all men revere their common nature, and the customs which have been introduced respecting it. But wealth not even on obtaining this, remits her anger against her possessors; nay, it renders them that have been no way wronged enemies of the dead; if at least to strip the dead body be an act of persons very bitter and hostile. And nature for her part reconciles even his enemies to him then: but wealth makes foes of them that have nothing to accuse him of, and cruelly intreats the body in its utter desolation. And yet in that case there are many things which might lead one to pity, the fact of its being a corpse, its inability to move, and tending to earth and corruption, the absence of any one to help: but none of these things soften those accursed wretches, because of the tyranny they are under from their base cupidity. For the passion of covetousness, like some ruthless tyrant, is at hand, enjoining those inhuman commands and having made wild beasts of them, so brings them to the tombs. Yea, like wild beasts attacking the dead, they would not even abstain from their flesh, if their limbs were any way useful unto them. Such is our enjoyment of wealth; to be insulted even after death, and deprived of sepulture which even the most desperate criminals obtain.
[14.] Are we still then, tell me, to be fond of so grievous an enemy? Nay, I beseech you, nay, my brethren! but let us fly from it without turning to look: and if it come into our hands, let us not keep it within, but bind it fast by the hands of the poor. For these are the bonds which have more power to hold it, and from those treasuries it will never more escape; and so this faithless one abides for the time to come faithful, tractable, tame, the right hand of Mercy producing this effect on it.
As I have said then, if it ever come to us, let us hand it over to her; but if it come not, let us not seek after it, nor fret ourselves, nor count its possessors happy; for what sort of a notion of happiness is this? Unless thou wouldest also say that those who fight with beasts are to be envied, because those high-priced animals are shut up and reserved by the proposers of such contests for themselves: who however not daring themselves to approach or to touch them, but fearing and trembling because of them, hand over others to them. Something like this, I say, is the case of the wealthy, when they have shut up their wealth in their treasuries as if it were some savage beast, and day by day receive from it innumerable wounds: in this latter unlike to the beasts: since they, when thou leadest them out, then, and not till then, hurt such as meet them: but this, when it is shut up and preserved, then destroys its possessors and hoarders.
But let us make this beast tame. And it will be tame, if we do not shut it up, but give it into the hands of all who are in need. So shall we reap from this quarter the greatest blessings, both living in the present life with safety and a good hope, and in the day that is to come standing with boldness: to which may we all attain, through the grace and mercy, &c. &c.