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[1.] Great indeed was the faith of Abraham. For while in the case of Abel, and of Noah, and of Enoch, there was an opposition of reasonings only, and it was necessary to go beyond human reasonings; in this case it was necessary not only to go beyond human reasonings, but to manifest also something more. For what was of God 3264
I mean this: He had said, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and I will give thee this land. ( Gen. xii. 1; 7 .) He gave him none inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on. ( Acts vii. 5 .) Seest thou how what was done was opposed to the promise? Again He said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called ( Gen. xxi. 12 ), and he believed: and again He says, Sacrifice to Me this one, who was to fill all the world from his seed. Thou seest the opposition between the commands and the promise? He enjoined things that were in contradiction to the promises, and yet not even so did the righteous man stagger, nor say he had been deceived.
For you indeed, he means, could not say this, that He promised ease and gave tribulation. For in our case, the things which He promised, these also He performs. How so? In the world (He says), ye shall have tribulation. ( John xvi. 33 .) He that taketh not his cross and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me. ( Matt. x. 38 .) He that hateth not his life shall not find it. ( John xii. 25 .) And, He that forsaketh not all that he hath, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. ( Luke xiv. 27; 33 .) And again, Ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake. ( Matt. x. 18 .) And again, A man's foes shall be they of his own household. ( Matt. x. 36 .) But the things which pertain to rest are yonder.
But with regard to Abraham, it was different. He was enjoined to do what was opposed to the promises; and yet not even so was he troubled, nor did he stagger, nor think he had been deceived. But you endure nothing except what was promised, yet you are troubled.
[2.] He heard the opposite of the promises from Him who had made them; and yet he was not disturbed, but did them as if they had been in harmony [therewith]. For they were in harmony; being opposed indeed according to human calculations, but in harmony [when viewed] by Faith. And how this was, the Apostle himself has taught us, by saying, accounting 3265
And see; the good things came first, and the hard things afterwards, in his old age. But for you, on the contrary, (he says) the sad things are first, and the good things last. This for those who dare to say, ‘He has promised us the good things after death; perhaps He has deceived us.' He shows that God is able to raise up even from the dead, and if God be able to raise from the dead, without all doubt He will pay all [that He has promised].
But if Abraham so many years before, believed that God is able to raise from the dead, much more ought we to believe it. Thou seest (what I at first said) that death had not yet entered in and yet He drew them at once to the hope of the resurrection, and led them to such full assurance, that when bidden, they even slay their own sons, and readily offer up those from whom they expected to people the world.
And he shows another thing too, by saying, that God tempted Abraham. ( Gen. xxii. 1 .) What then? Did not God know that the man was noble and approved? Why then did He tempt him? Not that He might Himself learn, but that He might show to others, and make his fortitude manifest to all. 3267
[3.] After this he pursues the same thought. No one (he says) could allege, that he had another son, and expected the promise to be fulfilled from him, and therefore confidently offered up this one. And (his words are) he offered up his only-begotten, who had received the promises. Why sayest thou only-begotten? What then? Of whom was Ishmael sprung? I mean only-begotten (he would say) so far as relates to the word of the promise. Therefore after saying, Only-begotten, showing that he says it for this reason, he added, of whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called, that is, from him. Seest thou how he admires what was done by the Patriarch? In Isaac shall thy seed be called, and that son he brought to be sacrificed.
And observe, I beseech you, how great is His lovingkindness. For inasmuch as a great favor was to be given to men, He, wishing to do this, not by favor, but as a debtor, arranges that a man should first give up his own son on account of God's command, in order that He Himself might seem to be doing nothing great in giving up His own Son, since a man had done this before Him; that He might be supposed to do it not of grace, but of debt. For we wish to do this kindness also to those whom we love, others, to appear first to have received some little thing from them, and so give them all: and we boast more of the receiving than of the giving; and we do not say, We gave him this, but, We received this from him.
[4.] Thou seest, that what I am constantly saying, is shown in this case also? When we have proved that our mind is made perfect, and have shown that we disregard earthly things, then earthly things also are given to us; but not before; lest being bound to them already, receiving them we should be bound still. Loose thyself from thy slavery first (He says), and then receive, that thou mayest receive no longer as a slave, but as a master. Despise riches, and thou shalt be rich. Despise glory, and thou shalt be glorious. Despise the avenging thyself on thine enemies, and then shalt thou attain it. Despise repose, and then thou shalt receive it that in receiving thou mayest receive not as a prisoner, nor as a slave, but as a freeman.
For as in the case of little children, when the child eagerly desires childish playthings, we hide them from him with much care, as a ball, for instance, and such like things, that he may not be hindered from necessary things; but when he thinks little of them, and no longer longs for them, we give them fearlessly, knowing that henceforth no harm can come to him from them, the desire no longer having strength enough to draw him away from things necessary; so God also, when He sees that we no longer eagerly desire the things of this world, thenceforward permits us to use them. For we possess them as freemen and men, not as children.
For [in proof] that if thou despise the avenging thyself on thine enemies, thou wilt then attain it, hear what he says, If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink, and he added, for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. ( Rom. xii. 20 .) And again, that if thou despise riches, thou shalt then obtain them, hear Christ saying, There is no man which hath left father, or mother, or house, or brethren, who shall not receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. ( Matt. xix. 29 .) And that if thou despise glory, thou shalt then attain it, again hear Christ Himself saying, He that will be first among you, let him be your minister. ( Matt. xx. 26 .) And again, For whosoever shall humble himself, he shall be exalted. ( Matt. xxiii. 12 .)
What sayest thou? If I give drink to mine enemy, do I then punish him? If I give up my goods, do I then possess them? If I humble myself, shall I then be exalted? Yea, He says, for such is My power, to give contraries by means of contraries. I abound in resources and in contrivances: be not afraid. The ‘Nature of things' follows My will: not I attend upon Nature. I do all things: I am not controlled by them: wherefore also I am able to change their form and order.
When thou insultest, then art thou insulted. And most persons partly know this: as when they say one to another, Let us go away, do not disgrace yourself. Why? Because the difference is great between thee and him: for however much thou insultest him, he accounts it a credit. Let us consider this in all cases, and be above insults. I will tell you how.
Should we have a contest with him who wears the purple, let us consider that in insulting him, we insult ourselves, for we become worthy to be disgraced. Tell me, what dost thou mean? When thou art a citizen of Heaven, and hast the Philosophy that is above, dost thou disgrace thyself with him that mindeth earthly things? ( Philip. iii. 19 .) For though he be in possession of countless riches, though he be in power, he does not as yet know the good that is therein. Do not in insulting him, insult thyself. Spare thyself, not him. Honor thyself, not him. Is there not some Proverb such as this, He that honoreth; 3275
[6.] Tell me, I pray thee, if some poor man has taken away clay thrown out of thy yard, wouldst thou for this have summoned a court of justice? Surely not. Why? Lest thou shouldst disgrace thyself; lest all men should condemn thee. The same also happens in this case. For the rich man is poor, and the more rich he is, the poorer is he in that which is indeed poverty. Gold is clay, cast out in the yard, not lying in thy house, for thy house is Heaven. For this, then, wilt thou summon a Court of Justice, and will not the citizens on high condemn thee? Will they not cast thee out from their country, who art so mean, who art so shabby, as to choose to fight for a little clay? For if the world were thine, and then some one had taken it, oughtest thou to pay any attention to it?
Knowest thou not, that if thou wert to take the world ten times or an hundred times, or ten thousand times, and twice that, it is not to be compared with the least of the good things in Heaven? He then who admires the things here slights those yonder, since he judges these worthy of exertion, though so far inferior to the other. Nay, rather indeed he will not be able to admire those other. For how [can he], whilst he is passionately excited towards these earthly things? Let us cut through the cords and entanglements: for this is what earthly things are.
How long shall we be stooping down? How long shall we plot one against another, like wild beasts; like fishes? Nay rather, the wild beasts do not plot against each other, but [against] animals of a different tribe. A bear for instance does not readily kill a bear, nor a serpent kill a serpent, having respect for the sameness of race. But thou, with one of the same race, and having innumerable claims, 3276
[7.] Let us at length keep our hands to ourselves, or rather, let us not keep them, but stretch them out honorably, not for grasping, but for alms-giving. Let us not have our hand unfruitful nor withered; for the hand which doeth not alms is withered; and that which is also grasping, is polluted and unclean.
And dost thou not fear Paul who allows us to go without restraint to the Tables of the heathen if we wish, but not even if we wish to those of the covetous? For, if any man who is called a Brother ( 1 Cor. v. 11 ), he says, meaning here by Brother every one who is a believer simply, not him who leads a solitary life. For what is it which makes brotherhood? The Washing of regeneration; the being enabled to call God our Father. So that he that is a Monk, if he be a Catechumen, is not a Brother, 3280
Therefore all things are upside down, all things are in confusion, and overthrown, and ruined. For tell me, if any such person should invite thee to a banquet, thee who art accounted poor and mean, and then should hear thee say, Inasmuch as the things set before me are [the fruit] of overreaching, I will not endure to defile my own soul, would he not be mortified? Would he not be confounded? Would he not be ashamed? This alone were sufficient to correct him, and to make him call himself wretched for his wealth, and admire thee for thy poverty, if he saw himself with so great earnestness despised by thee.
But we are become (I know not why) servants of men ( 1 Cor. vii. 23 ), though Paul cries aloud throughout, Be not ye the servants of men. Whence then have we become servants of men? Because we first became servants of the belly, and of money, and of glory, and of all the rest; we gave up the liberty which Christ bestowed on us.
What then awaiteth him who is become a servant (tell me)? Hear Christ saying, The servant abideth not in the house for ever. ( John viii. 35 .) Thou hast a declaration complete in itself, that he never entereth into the Kingdom; for this is what the House means. For, He says, in My Father's House are many mansions. ( John xiv. 2 .) The servant then abideth not in the House for ever. By a servant He means him who is the servant of sin. But he that abideth not in the House for ever, abideth in Hell for ever, having no consolation from any quarter.
Nay, to this point of wickedness are matters come, that they even give alms out of these [ill-gotten gains], and many receive [them]. Therefore our boldness has broken down, and we are not able to rebuke any one. But however, henceforward at least, let us flee the mischief arising from this; and ye who have rolled yourselves in this mire, cease from such defilement, and restrain your rage for such banquets, if even now we may by any means be able to have God propitious to us, and to attain to the good things which have been promised: which may we all obtain in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever, and world without end. Amen.