Are you a Christian?
Are we beginning, again to commend ourselves? or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?
He anticipates and puts himself an objection which others would have urged against him, ‘Thou vauntest thyself;’ and this though he had before employed so strong a corrective in the expressions, “Who is sufficient for these things?” and, “of sincerity…speak we.” (2 Cor. ii. 16, 17.) Howbeit he is not satisfied with these. For such is his character. From appearing to say any thing great of himself he is far removed, and avoids it even to great superfluity and excess. And mark, I pray thee, by this instance also, the abundance of his wisdom. For a thing of woeful aspect, I mean tribulations, he so much exalted and showed to be bright and lustrous, that out of what he said the present objection rose up against him. And he does so also towards the end. For after having enumerated numberless perils, insults, straits, necessities, and as many such like things as be, he added, “We commend not ourselves, but speak as giving you occasion to glory.” (2 Cor. v. 12.) And he expresses this again with vehemence in that place, and with more of encouragement. For here the words are those of love, “Need we, as do some, epistles of commendation?” but there what he says is full of a kind of pride even, necessarily and properly so, of pride, I say, and anger. “For we commend not ourselves again,” saith he, “but speak as giving you occasion to glory;” (2 Cor. v. 12.) and, “Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? For563
What means this, “ye are?” ‘Did we need to be commended to others, we should have produced you before them instead of an epistle.’ And this he said in the former Epistle. “For the seal of mine Apostleship are ye.” (1 Cor. ix. 2.) But he doth not here say it in this manner, but in irony so as to make his question, “Do we need epistles of commendation?” more cutting. And in allusion to the false apostles, he added, “as do some, [epistles of commendation] to you, or letters of commendation from you” to others. Then because what he had said was severe, he softens it by adding, “Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known of all,
Here he testifieth not only to their love, but also to their good works: since they are able to show unto all men by their own virtue the high worth of their teacher, for this is the meaning of, “Ye are our epistle.”
What letters would have done to commend and gain respect for us, that ye do both as seen and heard of; for the virtue of the disciples is wont to adorn and to commend the teacher more than any letter.
That is, which all know; we so bear you about every where and have you in mind. As though he said, Ye are our commendation to others, for we both have you continually in our heart and proclaim to all your good works. Because then that even to others yourselves are our commendation, we need no epistles from you; but further, because we love you exceedingly, we need no commendation to you. For to those who are strangers one hath need of letters, but ye are in our mind. Yet he said not merely, “ye are [in it],” but “written in [it],” that is, ye cannot slide out of it. For just as from letters by reading, so from our heart by perceiving, all are acquainted with the love we bear you. If then the object of a letter be to certify, “such an one is my friend and let him have free intercourse [with you],” your love is sufficient to secure all this. For should we go to you, we have no need of others to commend us, seeing your love anticipateth this; and should we go to others, again we need no letters, the same love again sufficing unto us in their stead, for we carry about the epistle in our hearts.
And having said this, he afterwards hence takes ground and occasion for a discussion on the Law. And there is another566
“Ministered by us.”
Yet in this they were on an equality; for the former were written on by God, and these by the Spirit. Where then is the difference?
Ver. 5. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to account any thing as from ourselves.”
See again, yet another corrective. For he possesses this virtue, humility I mean, in singular perfection. Wherefore whenever he saith any thing great of himself, he maketh all diligence to soften down extremely and by every means, what he has said. And so he does in this place also, saying, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to account any thing as from ourselves:” that is, I said not, “We have confidence,” as though part were ours and part God’s; but I refer and ascribe the whole to Him.
Ver. 5, 6. “For569
“Not of the letter, but of the spirit.” See again another difference. What then? was not that Law spiritual? How then saith he, “We know that the Law is spiritual?” (Rom. vii. 14.) Spiritual indeed, but it bestowed not a spirit. For Moses bare not a spirit, but letters; but we have been entrusted with the giving of a spirit. Whence also in further completion of this [contrast,] he saith,
“For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
[3.] Since then It hath given us life, let us remain living and not return again to the former deadness: for “Christ dieth no more; for the death that He died, He died unto sin once:” (Rom. vi. 9, 10.) and He will not have us always saved by grace: for so we shall be empty of all things. Wherefore He will have us contribute something also from ourselves. Let us then contribute, and preserve to the soul its life. And what is life in a soul, learn from the body. For the body too we then affirm to live, when it moves with a healthy kind of motion; but when it lies prostrate and powerless, or its motions are disorderly, though it retain the semblance of life or motion, such a life is more grievous than any death: and should it utter nothing sane but words of the crazy, and see one object instead of another, such a man again is more pitiable than those who are dead. So also the soul when it hath no healthiness, though it retain a semblance of life, is dead: when it doth not see gold as gold but as something great and precious; when it thinketh not of the future but crawleth upon the ground; when it doth one thing in place of another. For whence is it clear that we have a soul? Is it not from its operations? When then it doth not perform the things proper to it, is it not dead? when, for instance, it hath no care for virtue, but is rapacious and transgresseth the law; whence can I tell that thou hast a soul? Because thou walkest? But this belongs to the irrational creatures as well. Because thou eatest and drinkest? But this too belongeth to wild beasts. Well then, because thou standest upright on two feet? This convinceth me rather that thou art a beast in human form. For when thou resemblest one in all other respects, but not in its manner of erecting itself, thou dost the more disturb and terrify me; and I the more consider that which I see to be a monster. For did I see a beast speaking with the voice of a man, I should not for that reason say it was a man, but even for that very reason a beast more monstrous than a beast. Whence then can I learn that thou hast the soul of a man, when thou kickest like the ass, when thou bearest malice like the camel, when thou bitest like the bear, when thou ravenest like the wolf, when thou stealest like the fox, when thou art wily as the serpent, when thou art shameless as the dog? Whence can I learn that thou hast the soul of a man? Will ye that I show you a dead soul and a living? Let us turn the discourse back to those men of old; and, if you will, let us set before us the rich man [in the story] of Lazarus, and we shall know what is death in a soul; for he had a dead soul, and it is plain from what he did. For, of the works of the soul he did not one, but ate and drank and lived in pleasure only. Such are even now the unmerciful and cruel, for these too have a dead soul as he had. For all its warmth that floweth out of the love of our neighbor hath been spent, and it is deader than a lifeless body. But the poor man was not such, but standing on the very summit of heavenly wisdom shone out; and though wrestling with continual hunger, and not even supplied with the food that was necessary, neither so spake he aught of blasphemy against God, but endured all nobly. Now this is no trifling work of the soul; but a very high proof that it is well-strung and healthful. And when there are not these qualities, it is plainly because the soul is dead that they have perished. Or, tell me, shall we not pronounce that soul dead which the Devil falls upon, striking, biting, spurning it, yet hath it no sense of any of these things, but lieth deadened nor grieveth when being robbed of its wealth; but he even leapeth upon it, yet it remaineth unmoved, like a body when the soul is departed, nor even feeleth it? For when the fear of God is not present with strictness, such must the soul needs be, and then the dead more miserable. For the soul is not dissolved into corruption and ashes and dust, but into things of fouler odor than these, into drunkenness and anger and covetousness, into improper loves and unseasonable desires. But if thou wouldest know more exactly how foul an odor it hath, give me a soul that is pure, and then thou wilt see clearly how foul the odor of this filthy and impure one. For at present thou wilt not be able to perceive it. For so long as we are in contact habitually with a foul odor, we are not sensible of it. But when we are fed with spiritual words, then shall we be cognizant of that evil. And yet to many this seemeth of no importance572
[4.] Wilt thou then learn how great an evil is filthy talking? See how the hearers blush at thy indecency. For what is viler than a filthy talker? what more infamous? For such thrust themselves into the rank of buffoons and of prostituted women, yea rather these have more shame than you. How canst thou teach a wife to be modest when by such language thou art training her to proceed unto lasciviousness? Better vent rottenness from the mouth than a filthy word. Now if thy mouth have an ill-odor, thou partakest not even of the common meats; when then thou hadst so foul a stink in thy soul, tell me, dost thou dare to partake of mysteries? Did any one take a dirty vessel and set it upon the table, thou wouldest have beaten him with clubs and driven him out: yet God at His own table, (for His table our mouth is when filled with thanksgiving,) when thou pourest out words more disgusting than any unclean vessel, tell me, dost thou think that thou provokest not? And how is this possible? For nothing doth so exasperate the holy and pure as do such words; nothing makes men so impudent574