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“Mortify your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake, cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience; in the which ye also walked aforetime, when ye lived in these things.”
I know that many are offended by the foregoing discourse, but what can I do? ye heard what the Master enjoined. Am I to blame? what shall I do? See ye not the creditors, when debtors are obstinate, how they wear832
Not for the sake of the sorrows of the poor do I say these things, but for your salvation; for they will perish, will perish, that have not fed Christ. For what, if thou dost feed some poor man? still so long as thou livest so voluptuously and luxuriously, all is to no purpose. For what is required is, not the giving much, but not too little for the property thou hast; for this is but playing at it.
“Mortify therefore your members,” he saith, “which are upon the earth.” What sayest thou? Was it not thou that saidst, “Ye are buried; ye are buried together with Him; ye are circumcised: we have put off the body of the sins of the flesh” (c. ii. 11, 12; Rom. vi. 4.); how then again sayest thou, “Mortify”?835
He said that this is not our life, but another, that which is in heaven. Tell me now. When he said, Mortify your members that are upon the earth, is then the earth also accused? or does he speak of the things upon the earth as themselves sins?837
“Fornication, uncleanness,” he saith. He has passed over the actions which it is not becoming even to mention, and by “uncleanness” has expressed all together.
“Passion,” he said, “evil desire.”
By many things he had been withdrawing them; by the benefits which are already given, by the evils to come from which we had been delivered, being who, and wherefore; and all those considerations, as, for instance, who we were, and in what circumstances, and that we were delivered therefrom, how, and in what manner, and on what terms. These were enough to turn one away, but this one is of greater force than all; unpleasant indeed to speak of, not however to disservice, but even serviceable. “For which things’ sake cometh,” he saith, “the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.” He said not, “upon you,” but, “upon the sons of disobedience.”
Ver. 8. “But now put ye also away all these.”
It is worth enquiring here, what can be the reason why he calls the corrupt life, “members,” and “man,” and “body,” and again the virtuous life, the same. And if “the man” means “sins,” how is it that he saith, “with his doings”? For once he said, “the old man,” showing that this is not man, but the other. The moral choice doth rather determine one than the substance, and is rather “man” than the other. For his substance casteth him not into hell, nor leadeth him into the kingdom, but men themselves: and we neither love nor hate any one so far as he is man, but so far as he is such or such a man. If then the substance be the body, and in either sort cannot be accountable, how doth he say that it is evil?838
Lo! here is a third encomium of this “man.” With him, there is no difference admitted either of nation, or of rank, or of ancestry, seeing he hath nothing of externals, nor needeth them; for all external things are such as these, “circumcision, and uncircumcision, bondman, freeman, Greek,” that is, proselyte, “and Jew,” from his ancestors. If thou have only this “man,” thou wilt obtain the same things with the others that have him.
“But Christ,” he saith, “is all, and in all”: Christ will be all things to you, both rank, and descent, “and” Himself “in you all.” Or he says another thing, to wit, that ye all are become one Christ, being His body.
He shows the easiness of virtue, so that they might both possess it continually, and use it as the greatest ornament. The exhortation is accompanied also with praise, for then its force is greatest. For they had been before840
“A heart of compassion.” He said not “mercy,” but with greater emphasis used the two words. And he said not, that it should be as towards brethren, but, as fathers towards children. For tell me not that he sinned, therefore he said “a heart.” And he said not “compassion,” lest he should place them841
Dost thou see that he saith this? For since it is possible for one who forgives, not to love; yea, he saith, thou must love him too, and he points out a way whereby it becomes possible to forgive. For it is possible for one to be kind, and meek, and humbleminded, and longsuffering, and yet not affectionate. And therefore, he said at the first, “A heart of compassion,” both love and pity. “And above all these things, love, which is the bond of perfectness.” Now what he wishes to say is this; that there is no profit in those things, for all those things fall asunder, except they be done with love; this it is which clenches them all together; whatsoever good thing it be thou mentionest, if love be away, it is nothing, it melts away. And it is as in a ship, even though her rigging be large, yet if there be no girding ropes, it is of no service; and in an house, if there be no tie beams, it is the same; and in a body, though the bones be large, if there be no ligaments, they are of no service. For whatsoever good deeds any may have, all do vanish away, if love be not there. He said not that it is the summit, but what is greater, “the bond”; this is more necessary than the other. For “summit” indeed is an intensity of perfectness, but “bond” is the holding fast together of those things which produce the perfectness; it is, as it were, the root.
“The peace of God.” This is that which is fixed and steadfast. If on man’s account indeed thou hast peace, it quickly comes to dissolution, but if on God’s account, never. Although he had spoken of love universally, yet again he comes to the particular. For there is a love too which is immoderate; for instance, when out of much love one makes accusations without reason, and is engaged in contentions, and contracts aversions. Not this, saith he, not this do I desire; not overdoing things,844
He hath represented an arena within, in the thoughts, and a contest, and a wrestling, and an umpire. Then again, exhortation, “to the which ye were called,” he saith, that is, for the which ye were called. He has reminded them of how many good things peace is the cause; on account of this He called thee, for this He called thee, so as to receive a worthy846
For in truth he that confesses thanks due to God for what he suffers, will not revenge himself on him that has done him wrong, since he at least that takes revenge, acknowledges no gratitude. But let not us follow him (that exacted)849
But why did he begin his list with fornication? For having said, “Mortify your members which are upon the earth” (c. iii. 5.), he immediately says, “fornication”; and so he does almost everywhere. Because this passion hath the greatest sway. For even when writing his Epistle to the Thessalonians he did the same. (1 Thess. iv. 3.) And what wonder? since to Timothy even he saith, “Keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. v. 22.); and again elsewhere, “Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification,” without which “no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.) “Put to death,” he says, “your members.” Ye know of what sort that is which is dead, namely, hated, loathed, dropping to decay. If thou put anything to death, it doth not when dead continue dead, but presently is corrupted, like the body. Extinguish then the heat; and nothing that is dead will continue. He shows one having the same thing in hand, which Christ wrought in the Laver; therefore also he calleth them “members,” as though introducing some champion, thus advancing his discourse to greater emphasis. And he well said, “Which are upon the earth,” for here they continue, and here they are corrupted, far rather than these our members. So that not so truly is the body of the earth, as sin is earthly, for the former indeed appears even beautiful at times, but those members never. And those members lust after all things that are upon the earth. If the eye be such, it seeth not the things in the heavens; if the ear, if the hand, if thou mention any other member whatsoever. The eye seeth bodies, and beauties, and riches; these are the things of earth, with these it is delighted: the ear with soft strains, and harp, and pipe, and filthy talking; these are things which are concerned with earth.
When therefore he has placed his hearers above, near the throne, he then says, “Mortify your members which are upon the earth.” For it is not possible to stand above with these members; for there is nothing there for them to work upon. And this clay is worse than that, for that clay indeed becometh gold, “for this corruptible,” he saith, “must put on incorruption” (1 Cor. xv. 53.), but this clay can never be retempered more. So that these members are rather “upon the earth” than those. Therefore he said not, “of the earth,” but, “which are upon the earth,” for it is possible that these should not be upon the earth. For it is necessary that these850
So Christ also saith, “If thy right eye causeth thee to stumble,” that is, if thou lookest unchastely, “cut it out” (Matt. v. 29.), that is, thine evil thought. And he (Paul) seems to me to speak of “fornication, uncleanness, passion, desire” as the same, namely fornication: by means of all these expressions drawing us away from that thing. For in truth this is “a passion”; and like as the body is subject to any affection, either to fever or to wounds, so also is it with this. And he said not Restrain, but “Mortify” (put to death), so that they never rise up more, and “put them away.” That which is dead, we put away; for instance, if there be callosities in the body, their body is dead, and we put it away. Now, if thou cut into that which is quick, it produces pain, but if into that which is dead, we are not even sensible of it. So, in truth, is it with the passions; they make the soul unclean; they make the soul, which is immortal, passible.
How covetousness is said to be idolatry, we have oftentimes explained. For the things which do most of all lord it over the human race, are these, covetousness, and unchasteness, and evil desire. “For which things’ sake cometh,” he saith, “the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.” Sons of disobedience, he calls them, to deprive them of excuse, and to show that it was because they would not be obedient, that they were in that condition. “In the which ye also,” he saith, “walked aforetime,” and (afterward) became obedient. He points them out as still in them, and praises them, saying, “But now do ye also put away all these, anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking.” But against others he advanceth his discourse. Under the head of “passion and railing” he means revilings, just as under “wrath” he means wickedness.852
Give we thanks then in all things; whatever may have happened; for this is thankfulness. For to do so in prosperity indeed, is no great thing, for the nature of the circumstances of itself impels one thereto; but when being in extremities we give thanks, then it is admirable. For when, in circumstances under which others blaspheme, and exclaim discontentedly, we give thanks, see how great philosophy is here. First, thou hast rejoiced God; next, thou hast shamed the devil; thirdly, thou hast even made that which hath happened to be nothing; for all at once, thou both givest thanks, and God cuts short the pain, and the devil departs. For if thou have exclaimed discontentedly, he, as having succeeded to his wish, standeth close by thee, and God, as being blasphemed, leaveth thee, and thy calamity is heightened; but if thou have given thanks, he, as gaining nought, departs; and God, as being honored, requites thee with greater honor. And it is not possible, that a man, who giveth thanks for his evils should be sensible of them. For his soul rejoiceth, as doing what is right; forthwith his conscience is bright, it exults in its own commendation; and that soul which is bright, cannot possibly be sad of countenance. But in the other case, along with the misfortune, conscience also assails him with her lash; whilst in this she crowns, and proclaims him.
Nothing is holier than that tongue, which in evils giveth thanks to God; truly in no respect doth it fall short of that of martyrs; both are alike crowned, both this, and they. For over this one also stands the executioner to force it to deny God, by blasphemy; the devil stands over it, torturing it with executioner thoughts, darkening it with despondencies. If then one bear his griefs, and give thanks, he hath gained a crown of martyrdom. For instance, is her little child sick, and doth she give God thanks? this is a crown to her. What torture so bad that despondency is not worse? still it doth not force her to vent forth a bitter word. It dies: again she hath given thanks. She hath become the daughter of Abraham. For if she sacrificed not with her own hand, yet was she pleased with the sacrifice, which is the same; she felt no indignation when the gift was taken away.
Other women again tie about them854
Wherefore then, saith one, doth not God reprove the aid from such sources? He hath many times reproved, and yet hath not persuaded thee; He now leaveth thee to thine error, for It saith, “God gave them up unto a reprobate mind.” (Rom. i. 28.) These things, moreover, not even a Greek who hath understanding could endure. A certain demagogue in Athens is reported once to have hung these things about him: when a philosopher who was his instructor, on beholding them, rebuked him, expostulated, satirized, made sport of him. For in so wretched a plight are we, as even to believe in these things!
Why, saith one, are there not now those who raise the dead, and perform cures? Yes, then, why, I say: why are there not now those who have a contempt for this present life? Do we serve God for hire? When man’s nature was weaker, when the Faith had to be planted, there were even many such; but now he would not have us to hang upon these signs, but to be ready for death. Why then clingest thou to the present life? why lookest thou not on the future? and for the sake of this indeed canst bear even to commit idolatry, but for the other not so much as to restrain sadness? For this cause it is that there are none such now; because that (future) life hath seemed to us honorless, seeing that for its sake we do nothing, whilst for this there is nothing we refuse to undergo. And why too that other farce, ashes, and soot, and salt? and the old woman again brought in? A farce truly, and a shame! And then, “an eye,” say they, “hath caught the child.”
Where will these satanical doings end? How will not the Greeks laugh? how will they not gibe when we say unto them, “Great is the virtue of the Cross”; how will they be won, when they see us having recourse to those things, which themselves laugh to scorn? Was it for this that God gave physicians and medicines? What then? Suppose they do not cure him, but the child depart? Whither will he depart? tell me, miserable and wretched one! Will he depart to the demons? Will he depart to some tyrant? Will he not depart to heaven? Will he not depart to his own Lord? Why then grievest thou? why weepest thou? why mournest thou? why lovest thou thine infant more than thy Lord? Is it not through Him that thou hast this also? Why art thou ungrateful? Dost thou love the gift more than the Giver? “But I am weak,” she replies, “and cannot bear the fear of God.” Well, if in bodily evils the greater covers the less, much rather in the soul, fear destroyed fear, and sorrow, sorrow. Was the child beautiful? But be it what it may, not more beauteous is he than Isaac: and he too was an only one. Was it born in thine old age? So too was he. But is it fair? Well: however fair it may be, it is not lovelier than Moses (Acts vii. 20.), who drew even barbarian eyes unto a tender love of him, and this too at a time of life when beauty is not yet disclosed; and yet this beloved thing did the parents cast into the river. Thou indeed both seest it laid out, and deliverest it to the burying, and goest to its monument; but they did not so much as know whether it would be food for fishes, or for dogs, or for other beasts that prey in the sea; and this they did, knowing as yet nothing of the Kingdom, nor of the Resurrection.
But suppose it is not an only child; but that after thou hast lost many, this also hath departed. But not so sudden is thy calamity as was Job’s, and (his was) of sadder aspect?856
But was it beloved by thee? But not more so than Joseph, the devoured of wild beasts; but still the father bore the calamity, and that which followed it, and the next to that. He wept; but acted not with impiety; he mourned, but he uttered not discontent, but stayed at those words, saying, “Joseph is not, Simeon is not, and will ye take Benjamin away? all these things are against me.”857
Weep: I do not forbid thee: but aught blasphemous neither say nor do. Be thy child what he may, he is not like Abel; and yet nought of this kind did Adam say; although that calamity was a sore one, that his brother should have killed him. But I am reminded of others also that have killed their brothers; when, for instance, Absalom killed Amnon the eldest born (2 Sam. 13.), and King David loved his child,858