1 Thessalonians v.
Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Of the times and moments. That is, of the day of judgment, of the end of the world, of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is enough to know the time is uncertain, and that death cometh as a thief in the night. (Witham) — When the judgment shall take place the Angels themselves do not know. Perhaps St. Paul, when wrapt up to the third heaven, may have learnt something on this subject; for he was told many things which he could not announce to man; therefore, he says, I need not write to you: it is unnecessary for us to know it. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Overtake you. It is a subject of astonishment, that some people are so childishly afraid of the last day, that they cannot think of it without consternation, lest it should happen in their time. Weak souls! Do they not recollect that death will certainly overtake them, and that will be to them individually the end of the world, and the last day. The whole world then does perish as far as regards them. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. You are the children of light. That is, there is little danger of thieves in the day time, when it is light. Also watch and have arms to defend you, the coat of mail of faith; the helmet of hope: you are under the protection of Christ, who died for you, and for your salvation. See St. Chrysostom, p. 293, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 8. The Christian’s panoply is not faith alone, but faith, hope and charity, as we see here.
Ver. 10. Whether we wake or sleep. That is, whether we be of the number of those whom Jesus Christ shall find still upon earth, when he shall come to judgment, or among those who have slept and returned to dust, it is his will that we should be his. (Theodoret)
Ver. 14. Rebuke, or correct the unquiet. By the Greek, it signifies the disorderly, or those that keep no order. (Witham)
Ver. 16. Always rejoice. It is usual for St. Paul to recommend joy to the faithful. Cheerfulness is indeed the characteristic of true virtue, which by no means consists in, nor encourages, sourness or moroseness, as some mistaken people imagine. God loves a cheerful giver. Sorrow, which is of this world, killeth. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. Do not oppose either the interior gifts of the holy Spirit, which are his graces, nor his exterior gifts of prophecy, &c. Take the regular precautions of prudence, that you be not deceived by those who pretend to be inspired; but when satisfied that the inspiration comes from heaven, do not despise it. Be like good bankers, take the good coin, and reject the counterfeit. (St. Cyril of Alexandria)
Ver. 21. Prove all things. That is, examine prophecies whether they be true, and the doctrine which you hear from new preachers, and refrain yourselves not only from evil, but from every thing that hath the appearance of evil, and which may disedify and scandalize others. (Witham) — Hold that which is good. This we can best learn from the doctrine of the apostles, and the spirit of the Catholic Church. Men can deceive and be deceived, but the Spirit of God, speaking to us by his Church, can neither deceive us nor be deceived.
Ver. 23. Spirit, and soul. The former marks the understanding, the latter the will: hence these two terms give the two principal faculties of the soul. (Bible de Vence)
 Ver. 14. The unquiet: inquietos, ataktous, inordinatos, sine ordine et regula viventes.
Commentary of St Thomas Aquinas
1 But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 12 But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
In what he had written before, Paul corrected them in matters which needed to be improved upon, and now he begins to instruct them concerning the future. He first gives them a warning and then provides a prayer with the words, may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly. These two things are indeed necessary for us. For the good deeds that we do are the result of free will, and so a man could profit from a warning. And since these deeds are also the result of grace, man needs prayer as well.
Concerning the first point he does two things: Paul first urges the Thessalonians to prepare themselves for the coming judgment; secondly, he shows them how they should prepare themselves (5:11). In addition, he divides the first part into two: he points out a feature of the coming judgment and then he shows in what manner they ought to prepare themselves for the judgment (5:6). There is also a subdivision of the first section into two further parts that include this feature of the coming judgment and then an explanation (5:3). In the first part Paul puts to rest their concern for knowledge about the future coming, and then treats what they did know about it (5:2).
First then, Paul says it was necessary for me to write about the preceding matters because you needed to know about them. But as to the times, that is, of summer, winter, or rather of what the future times will be, it was not necessary to write. Because certain of these things are reserved for only the divine knowledge: “But of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk. 13:32). “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Ac. 1:7). “The more words, the more vanity, and what is man the better? For who knows what is good for man while be lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? (Ec,. 6:11). And so it is not necessary to write about this, for you yourselves know what ought to be known, that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
In fact, all days depend on the Lord: “By thy appointment they stand this day” (Ps. 119:91). But this day especially belongs to the Lord, because His will is fulfilled in everyone: it is accomplished in the good people who are led to salvation as an end foreknown by God: “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4); and in the evil people that are punished: “At the set time which I appoint I will judge with equity” (Ps. 75:2).
It will come like a thief, that is, unannounced: “If the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would have been awake” (Lk. 12:39). “The day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pet. 3: 10). “1 will come like a thief” (Apoc. 3:3). But why is it said that the day shall come during the night? It should be understood that both are involved because He comes during the day for the uncovering of our hearts: “Before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5); but He comes at night because of the surprise element: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” (Matt. 25:6). Actually, it is not certain at what hour it will occur.
Then when he says: When people say ‘There is peace and security,’ he explains the things he had mentioned. First he refers to the evil people; secondly, to the good people (5:4). In regard to the first division he does two things. He first describes the false confidence of the evil people and secondly he refers to the danger of a delay. So Paul says: the Lord will come like a thief, because He shall come unexpectedly: When people say ‘there is peace,’ they shall be deceived in regard to the present time when they are living tranquilly: “But they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace” (Wis. 14:22). Security has reference to the future: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry” (Lk. 12:19).
But in contrast: “Men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” (Lk. 21:26). Thus there is no security to be had. There are two explanations for this. The one offered by Augustine is that at that time some shall be good, but they will be afflicted, they will mourn and they will wait expectantly; and this is referred to in the quotation as “fainting” because of the absence of pleasures and the multiplicity of evils. But there will be peace and security among the evil people. The other explanation is found in the Gloss.
Then when he says, then sudden destruction will come upon them, he presents four aspects of the peril. First, that it will be unexpected, where he says: sudden, “like a break in a high wall,… whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant” (Is. 30:13). Secondly, he describes the peril as bringing death when he says destruction. [Destruction will tread upon him as a King” (Job 18:14)] Thirdly, he refers to the peril as distressing, and he uses the word travail: “Anguish as of a woman in travail” (Ps. 48:6). Fourthly, he presents the peril as inevitable when he comments: and there will be no escape. Now is the time to escape from the wrath of God to the mercy of God, for the end of the world will not be a time of mercy but of justice.
Then Paul says, but you are not in darkness, brethren, and explains what he had mentioned in regard to the good people; and he does this by making two points: first, he excludes the good people from the company of the evil people and secondly, he provides a reason for this (5:5). And so he remarks, you are not in darkness, for you have been enlightened by Christ concerning that day; this is not an unexpected event for you. “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). And the reason for this is given at the words: for you are all sons of light. He also makes the point that they are the sons of the light and of the day. According to the Scriptures, someone is said to be the son of something because he abounds in that thing. “My beloved had a vineyard on a [hill, the son of oil, i.e., a] very fertile hill” (Is. 5:1), that is, it was land which was very rich. Those who participate to a great extent in the day and in the light are called their sons. And this light is the faith of Christ. “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), and again: “Believe in the light, that you may become sons of light!’ (Jn. 12:36).
In addition he says, of the day, for just as out of the early light comes the fullness of the day, so out of the faith of Christ comes the day which is the brilliance of good actions. “The night is far gone, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:12). And because of this, you are not sons of the night, that is, involved in infidelity; or of darkness, that is, of sins. “Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).
Then when he says: so then, let us not sleep, he shows them how they should prepare themselves for that coming. First, they should prepare themselves for it by keeping away from anything evil; secondly, they should prepare themselves by regularly doing something virtuous (5:8).
In making the first point he does two things. First, he provides a warning, and next he sets down the reason for the warning (5:7). Paul says, therefore, that for this reason the day of the Lord is like a thief: “If the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would have been awake” (Lk. 12:39). And so you know you ought to be vigilant. He adds: so then ‘ let us not sleep in the sleep of sin: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead” (Eph. 5:14). “How long will you he there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Prov. 6:9).
But let us keep awake out of solicitude. “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). And to this end it is necessary that we be sober in order that both the body and the mind be sober, that is, free from the pleasures and cares of the world. “But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness” (Lk. 21:34). “Be sober, be watchful” (I Pet. 5:8). And the reason for this is the suitability of a certain time; those who sleep or get drunk do so at night. But the night is not for us: so then, let us not sleep, as others do. And so Paul says: for those who sleep, sleep at night, that is, at night they get some rest and during the day they are active. “When the sun I rises, they get them away and lie down in their dens” (Ps. 104:32). And again “Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening” (Ps. 104:23).
There are also some who do not drink during the day because of the business which must be accomplished; but they are not so careful at night. “The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight- (Job 24:15). So sleep and drunkenness are suitable to nighttime, since drunkards are occupied with sin during the night of unbelief and the darkness of sin without having any regard for the future because of the love they have for present concerns. “They have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness” (Eph. 4:19). But, since we belong to the day, that is, belong to the daytime of honesty and faith, let us be sober. “Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day” (Rom. 13:13).
Then when Paul says: Let us put on the breastplate of faith, he shows how they should prepare themselves through good actions. First, he sets down a general admonition, and then he issues a special admonition (5:11). He divides the first point into two aspects; he first sets down the admonition itself and then he gives a reason for it (5:9). There are in man two important parts of the body which were protected in wars-the heart, which is the source of life, and the head, which governs the body’s movements and is the seat of the senses and the center of the nervous system. The heart is protected by a breastplate and the head by a helmet. The life of the spirit in us is Christ, through whom the soul lives and the Lord dwells in us: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love…” (Eph. 3:17). “He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). Love gives life to faith. So we must have faith and love, and so Paul calls for the breastplate of faith and love, because it protects the vital parts of the body, and for a helmet the hope of salvation, for salvation is a spiritual motive force because it is the goal which we hope to attain.
Then when he says, for God has not destined us for wrath, he shows the manner in which God works in us; this is first shown to be out of divine preordination and then as derived from the grace of Christ. Finally, Paul treats the manner in which salvation is to be achieved. He begins with the words, God has not destined us, that is, God has not appointed us: “(I) appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (Jn. 15:16); for wrath, that is, that we should deserve His wrath: “God did not make death” (Wis. 1:13). “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ez. 18:23). But to obtain salvation, that is, that we might acquire salvation, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matt. 11: 12). “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet. 2:9). And this is achieved through Christ’s grace; hence he says, through our Lord Jesus Christ. “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac. 4:12).
Who died for us, that is, He redeemed us by dying for us. “The righteous (died) for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). And the manner of attaining salvation is also through Him, for Christ taught us this while working for our salvation, which He achieved by dying and rising again. “Who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). And so Paul says: so that whether we wake or sleep, we might live with him. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Rom. 14: 8).
Then when he says, therefore encourage one another, he teaches us how we should behave toward special classes of people. And in this regard he makes three points; first, he shows how they should behave towards their equals; secondly, how they should be subject to their bishop (5:12). And finally, he shows how the bishops should behave toward their flock (5:14).
To our equals we owe consolation in times of difficulty, and so he says, encourage one another. In addition, they should inspire them through example, and so be says, and build one another up. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).
Those who are subject to bishops owe them, first, the acknowledgement of blessings; secondly, charity; and thirdly, peace. Respect those who labor among you, that is, acknowledge their work: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God” (Heb. 13:7). And I say that you shall respect them first on their own behalf, because of the great labours they have borne for you. And so be makes mention of those who labour among you for your good. “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). Secondly, you shall respect them on behalf of God, and because of this reverence is due to them as it is due to God. And so Paul remarks: and are over you in the Lord, that is, in the place of God. “If I have forgiven anything, it has been for your sake in the presence of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:10). Thirdly, you shall respect them on your own behalf, because they are useful to you; hence he says: and they admonish you. Furthermore, you owe them charity; hence, esteem them very highly in love, that is, before others.
Finally, because of their work, be at peace [with them]. Yet some act against this. “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth” (Am. 5: 10). “One who rejoices in wickedness will be condemned” (Sir. 19:5). Nevertheless, you should be at peace with them because of their work of correction, for this work properly belongs to their office. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (Ps. 120:7).
14 And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit, 20 do not despise prophesying, 21 but test everything; bold fast what is good, 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 1 adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Earlier be showed them bow they ought to remain subject to their bishops. Here he makes the same point from another point of view. And concerning this he does two things. He first teaches how bishops should act toward their priests, and secondly he teaches them in general how they ought to behave towards everyone (5:15). It should be understood that the concern of bishops should be directed toward two things, that is, to prevent others from sinning and to safeguard themselves in this respect.
In treating the first point, Paul does three things; because there are three ways in which persons subject to authority may fail: first, in action; secondly, in the will; thirdly, in virtue.
They fail in action when they give themselves over to the act of sinning; and then they ought to be corrected. And, although they ought to be corrected concerning every sin, they should be corrected especially with respect to the sin of idleness, and so Paul remarks: admonish the idle. “We were not idle when we were with you” (2 Thess. 3:7). “Question your neighbor before you threaten him” (Sir. 19:17).
Their will may be at fault if no great tasks are undertaken because they are despondent as a result of their adversities and their earlier sins. Consequently Paul says, encourage the fainthearted. A person is considered fainthearted if he has no courage for great things because he is afraid of failing. “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not!” (Is. 35:4). “Your words have upheld him who was stumbling” (Job 4:4).
They fail in virtue, whenever they sin because of weakness or are halfhearted in a good act; and these people need to be encouraged. So Paul remarks, help, that is, befriend in all charity, the weak, for their power is weak for resisting evil or for doing charitable works. “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak” (Rom. 15:1).
A bishop ought to guard himself against a fault of any kind, and mainly against impatience, for he is bearing the fall burden of the group. “I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me” (Num. 11: 14). Hence he says, be patient with them all. “Good sense makes a man slow to anger” (Prov. 19:11).
Then, when Paul says: see that none of you repays evil for evil, he shows them in general how they ought to behave towards everyone. And concerning this, he does two things: first, he shows how everyone should behave in certain matters; secondly, he shows how they should behave in all things (5:21). In regards to the first, he makes three points: first, he shows how they ought to behave towards their fellow men; secondly, how to behave in matters that pertain to God (5:16); thirdly, how to conduct themselves with respect to His gifts (5:19).
They should not be mean to their fellow men but should try to be kind to them. Paul says that earlier I spoke in particular, but now I say this in general: see that none of you repays evil for evil. “If I have requited my friend with evil let the enemy pursue me…” (Ps. 7:4).
On the other hand, repayment is frequently sought before a judge. I wish to point out that the moral act is specified by the intended end. The intention, however, can be of two kinds, that is, either the mere misfortune of someone may be desired, and this is illicit because of the evil character of revenge: or the act may be aimed at the good of correction or of that of justice and the protection of the public interest. And, in this case, it does not render evil for evil but rather good, which is the corrective for evil.
Concerning the second point, Paul says, always seek to do good. And he says seek and not “do,” for it is you who must seek opportunity for doing good to your neighbor without waiting for him to supply you with an opportunity for doing good to him. “Seek peace, and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). “Do not be overcome by evil” (that is, so that you be attracted by it for doing wrong) “but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men” (Gal. 6:10).
Then when Paul says: rejoice always, he shows how they ought to behave towards God; and he mentions three things. First, to rejoice in Him; and so Paul says, rejoice always, that is, in God; for whatever evil might occur, it is incomparable to the goodness which is God. Hence, no evil ought to interrupt it, and so Paul insists: rejoice always. Secondly, to pray for the blessings they want to receive. Paul urges, pray constantly. “They ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18: 1).
How is this possible? It may happen in three ways. First, that person who does not neglect the appointed hours for prayer, prays always. “You shall eat at my table always” (2 Sam. 9:7). Secondly, “Pray constantly” means to pray continuously. But then prayer is considered under the aspect of the effect of the prayer. For prayer is the unfolding or expression of desire; for when I desire something, then I ask for it by praying. So prayer is the petition of suitable things from God; and so desire has the power of prayer. “O Lord, thou wilt hear the desire of the meek” (Ps. 10: 17). Therefore, whatever we do is the result of a desire; so prayer always remains in force in the good things we do; for the good things we do flow forth from the desire of the good. There is a commentary on this verse pointing out: “He does not cease praying, who does not cease doing good.” A third way by which it is possible to pray without ceasing is through the giving of alms which may be a sort of cause of continual prayer. In the lives of the Fathers we read: “He who gives alms is the one who always prays, for the person who receives alms prays for you even when you are asleep.”
The third thing he mentions is to offer thanks for those blessings already received, hence Paul says: in all circumstances, that is, in good times and in bad times, give thanks. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom. 6:28). “Abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7). “With thanksgiving” (Phil. 4.6). For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
Then when he says, do not quench the Spirit, he shows them how they are to regard the gifts of God. First, Paul shows that they must not curtail them; secondly, that they must not have a disdain for the gifts of God (5:20). The Holy Spirit is a divine, incorruptible and eternal person; and so He cannot be extinguished in His own substance. Nevertheless someone is said to quench the Spirit, in one way, by extinguishing the ardor for the Spirit either in himself or in somebody else. “Be aglow with the Spirit” (Rom. 12:11). For when somebody wishes to do something generous as a result of the impulse of the Holy Spirit, or even when some generous inclination arises, and the person impedes it, he extinguishes the Holy Spirit. “You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Ac. 7:51).
In another way one may extinguish the Holy Spirit by mortal sin. For the Holy Spirit always abides in Himself; but He abides in us when He makes us abide in Him. But when somebody commits a mortal sin, the Holy Spirit does not abide in him. “For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit, and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts, and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness” (Wis. 1:5).
A third way in which one may extinguish the Spirit is by concealing Him; this is meant to imply that if you have the gift of the Spirit, make use of it for the benefit of your neighbors. “Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure, what advantage is there in either of them? (Sir. 20:30). “Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:15).
Do not despise prophesying. For some among these people were gifted with prophecies but were considered insane by them. “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). Or else prophesying may be understood as divine doctrine; for those who explain divine doctrine are called prophets. In this case, do not despise the words of God and preachers. “For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long” (Jer. 20:8).
‘Men when he says, but test everything, he shows how they ought to behave towards everything; and one piece of advice is that they should make use of discretion in all matters. “Your spiritual worship” [“Your reasonable service”] (Rom. 12:1). In this matter there should be a careful examination the election of the good, and the rejection of the evil.
In treating the first point Paul says, do not despise prophesying, nevertheless, test everything, that is, those which are dubious; for matters that are evident do not require examination. “Do not believe every spirit” (1 Jn. 4: 1). “Does not the ear try words?” (Job 12:11). Concerning the second, he says, hold fast what is good. “For a good purpose it is always good to be made much of” (Gal. 4:18). In regard to the third point, Paul says of evil: abstain from every form of evil. “He knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Is. 7:15). And he says, every form because we are obliged to avoid even those actions which only have the appearance of evil, that is, which we cannot perform in the sight of men without causing scandal.
Then, when Paul says: may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, he interjects a prayer; and he does three things. First, he prays on their behalf; secondly, he indicates that his prayer will be heard; and finally he issues special admonitions. Paul says, I have given my advice; but remember that nothing will. come of it unless God gives you grace. Therefore, may the God of peace himself sanctify you. “I am the Lord who sanctify you” (Lev. 22:32). Wholly, that you may be totally holy, and this in order that your spirit and soul and body be kept sound.
On account of these words, certain people maintained that the spirit in man is one element and the soul another, thus positing two souls in man, that is, one which animates the body and another which carries on the function of reasoning. These opinions are rejected in the Church’s teaching. For it should be realized that these two elements [which are really one] do not differ essentially, but only by reason of the powers present in them. There are certain powers in our soul which are linked to bodily organs, such as the powers of the sensitive part of the soul. And there are other powers which are not linked to bodily organs, but function apart from the body, insofar as they are the powers of the intellectual part of the soul. The latter powers are regarded as spiritual powers in that they are immaterial and separated in some manner from the body in that they are not functions of the body but are referred to as the mind. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:23). Yet it is called the soul insofar as it animates the body, for this is proper to it. Paul speaks here in a specific sense.
Now there are three elements involved in sin: reason, the sensitive appetite, and the actual actions of the body. Paul is anxious that all three of these areas be free of sin. Since he wants reason to be free of sin, he says: may your spirit, that is, your mind, be kept sound. For in every sin, reason is corrupted in the sense that every bad person is in some way ignorant. There should be no sin in the sensitive appetite either, and Paul refers to this when he says: and soul. Nor should there be sin in the body, and so Paul adds: and body. This, however, is achieved when the body is preserved immune from sin.
Paul also says: and blameless, instead of “not without sin” which may be attributed only to Christ; but to be “blameless” may also be said of those who, although they may commit venial sins, nevertheless have not committed grave sins by which their fellow men may be scandalized. “Walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Lk. 1:6). And Paul adds, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, persevering until the end of life. Or, perhaps the word spirit may refer to the gift of the Holy Spirit, as if implying: may the gift of the Holy Spirit which you have be unimpaired.
Then when Paul says: He who calls you is faithful, he expresses the hope that his prayer will be heard, as if saying: it will come about as I hope, for He who calls you will do it, that is, He will accomplish it. “The Lord is faithful in all his words” (Ps. 145:13). “And those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30).
Finally, Paul adds certain familiar admonitions as when he urges prayer: pray; and mutual peace: greet all the brethren with a holy kiss, not a treacherous kiss as that of Judas (Matt. 26), nor a passionate kiss like that of the lustful woman in Proverbs (7:13).
1 adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren. Paul feared that those in charge of the assembly might suppress it because of some of the things contained in it. “The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it” (Prov. 11:26).
Finally, he concludes the letter with a salutation.
Commentary of St John Chrysostom
1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that anything be written unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
Nothing, as it seems, is so curious, and so fondly prone to pry into things obscure and concealed, as the nature of men. And this is wont to happen to it, when the mind is unsettled and in an imperfect state. For the simpler sort of children never cease teasing their nurses, and tutors, and parents, with their frequent questions, in which there is nothing else but
when will this be? and
when that? And this comes to pass also from living in indulgence, and having nothing to do. Many things therefore our mind is in haste to learn already and to comprehend, but especially concerning the period of the consummation; and what wonder if we are thus affected, for those holy men, themselves, were most of all affected in the same way? And before the Passion, the Apostles come and say to Christ,
Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world? Matthew 24:23 And after the Passion and the Resurrection from the dead, they said to Him, Tell us,
dost Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? From Acts 1:6 And they asked Him nothing sooner than this.
But it was not so afterwards, when they had been vouchsafed the Holy Ghost. Not only do they not themselves inquire, nor complain of this ignorance, but they repress those who labor under this unseasonable curiosity. Hear for instance what the blessed Paul now says,
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that anything be written unto you. Why has he not said that no one knows? Why has he not said, that it is not revealed, instead of saying,
You have no need that anything be written unto you? Because in that case he would have grieved them more, but by speaking thus he comforted them. For by the expression,
You have no need, as if it were both superfluous, and inexpedient, he suffers them not to enquire.
For tell me, what would be the advantage? Let us suppose that the end would be after twenty or thirty or a hundred years, what is this to us? Is not the end of his own life the consummation to every individual? Why are you curious, and travailest about the general end? But the case is the same with us in this, as in other things. For as in other things, leaving our own private concerns, we are anxious about things in general, saying, Such an one is a fornicator, such an one an adulterer, that man has robbed, another has been injurious; but no one takes account of what is his own, but each thinks of anything rather than his own private concerns; so here also, each omitting to take thought about his own end, we are anxious to hear about the general dissolution. Now what concern is that of yours? For if you make your own a good end, you will suffer no harm from the other; be it far off, or be it near. This is nothing to us.
For this reason Christ did not tell it, because it was not expedient. How, you say, was it not expedient? He who also concealed it knows wherefore it was not expedient. For hear Him saying to His Apostles,
It is not for you to know times, or seasons, which the Father has set within His own authority. Acts 1:7 Why are you curious? Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and his fellows, heard this said, as if they were seeking things too great for them to know. True, you say; but it were possible to stop the mouths of the Greeks in this way. How? Tell me. Because they say, that this world is a god; if we knew the period of its dissolution, we should have stopped their mouths. Why, is this what will stop their mouths, to know when it will be destroyed, or to know that it will be destroyed? Tell them this, that it will have an end. If they do not believe this, neither will they believe the other.
Hear Paul saying,
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. Not the general day only, but that of every individual. For the one resembles the other, is also akin to it. For what the one does collectively, that the other does partially. For the period of consummation took its beginning from Adam, and then is the end of the consummation; since even now one would not err in calling it a consummation. For when ten thousand die every day, and all await That Day, and no one is raised before it, is it not the work of That Day? And if you would know on what account it is concealed, and why it so comes as a thief in the night, I will tell you how I think I can well account for it. No one would have ever cultivated virtue during his whole life; but knowing his last day, and, after having committed numberless sins, then having come to the Laver, he would so have departed. For if now, when the fear arising from its uncertainty shakes the souls of all, still all, having spent their whole former life in wickedness, at their last breath give themselves up to Baptism,— if they had fully persuaded themselves concerning this matter, who would ever have cultivated virtue? If many have departed without Illumination, and not even this fear has taught them, while living, to cultivate the things that are pleasing to God; if this fear also had been removed, who would ever have been sober, or who gentle? There is not one! And another thing again. The fear of death and the love of life restrain many. But if each one knew that tomorrow he would certainly die, there is nothing he would refuse to attempt before that day, but he would murder whomsoever he wished, and would retrieve himself by taking vengeance on his enemies, and would perpetrate ten thousand crimes.
For a wicked man, who despairs of his life here, pays no regard even to him who is invested with the purple. He therefore who was persuaded that he must at all events die would both be revenged upon his enemy, and after having first satisfied his own soul, so would meet his end. Let me mention also a third thing. Those who are fond of life, and vehemently attached to the things of this world, would be ruined by despair and grief. For if any of the young knew that before he reached old age, he should meet his end, as the most sluggish of wild beasts, when they are taken, become still more sluggish from expecting their end, so would he also be affected. Besides, not even the men that are courageous would have had their reward. For if they knew that after three years they must certainly die, and before that time it was not possible, what reward would they have gained for daring in the face of dangers? For any one might say to them, Because you are confident of the three years of life, for this reason you throw yourselves into dangers, knowing that it is not possible for you to pass away. For he, that expects from each danger that he may come by his death, and knows that he shall live indeed, if he does not expose himself to peril, but shall die if he attempts such and such actions, he gives the greatest proof of his zeal, and of his contempt for the present life. And this I will make plain to you by an example. Tell me, if the patriarch Abraham, foreknowing that he should not have to sacrifice his son, had brought him to the place, would he then have had any reward? And what if Paul, foreknowing that he should not die, had despised dangers, in what respect would he have been admirable? For so even the most sluggish would rush into the fire, if he could find any one he could trust to ensure his safety. But not such were the Three Children. For hear them saying,
O king, there is a God in heaven, who will deliver us out of your hands, and out of this furnace; and if not, be it known to you that we do not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up. Daniel 3:17, Septuagint
You see how many advantages there are, and yet there are more than these that arise from not knowing the time of our end. Meanwhile it is sufficient to learn these. On this account He so comes as a thief in the night; that we may not abandon ourselves to wickedness, nor to sloth; that He may not take from us our reward.
For yourselves know perfectly, he says. Why then are you curious, if you are persuaded? But that the future is uncertain, learn from what Christ has said. For that on this account He said it, hear what he says,
Watch therefore: for you know not at what hour the thief
comes. Matthew 24:42 On this account also Paul said,
Here he has glanced at something which he has also said in his second Epistle. For since they indeed were in affliction, but they that warred on them at ease and in luxury, and then while he comforted them in their present sufferings by this mention of the Resurrection, the others insulted them with arguments taken from their forefathers, and said, When will it happen?— which the Prophets also said,
Woe unto them that say, Let him make speed, let God hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel come, that we may know it! Isaiah 5:19; and again
Woe unto them that desire the day of the Lord. Amos 5:18 He means this day; for he does not speak simply of persons who desire it, but of those who desire it because they disbelieve it: and
the day of the Lord, he says,
is darkness, and not light— see then how Paul consoles them, as if he had said, Let them not account their being in a prosperous state, a proof that the Judgment is not coming. For so it is that it will come.
But it may be worth while to ask, If Antichrist comes, and Elias comes, how is it
when they say Peace and safety, that then a sudden destruction comes upon them? For these things do not permit the day to come upon them unawares, being signs of its coming. But he does not mean this to be the time of Antichrist, and the whole day, because that will be a sign of the coming of Christ, but Himself will not have a sign, but will come suddenly and unexpectedly. For travail, indeed, you say, does not come upon the pregnant woman unexpectedly: for she knows that after nine months the birth will take place. And yet it is very uncertain. For some bring forth at the seventh month, and others at the ninth. And at any rate the day and the hour is uncertain. With respect to this therefore, Paul speaks thus. And the image is exact. For there are not many sure signs of travail; many indeed have brought forth in the high roads, or when out of their houses and abroad, not foreseeing it. And he has not only glanced here at the uncertainty, but also at the bitterness of the pain. For as she while sporting, laughing, not looking for anything at all, being suddenly seized with unspeakable pains, is pierced through with the pangs of labor— so will it be with those souls, when the Day comes upon them.
And they shall in nowise escape. As he was saying just now.
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Here he speaks of a life that is dark and impure. For it is just as corrupt and wicked men do all things as in the night, escaping the notice of all, and inclosing themselves in darkness. For tell me, does not the adulterer watch for the evening, and the thief for the night? Does not the violator of the tombs carry on all his trade in the night? What then? Does it not overtake them as a thief? Does it not come upon them also uncertainly, but do they know it beforehand? How then does he say,
You have no need that anything be written unto you? He speaks here not with respect to the uncertainty, but with respect to the calamity, that is, it will not come as an evil to them. For it will come uncertainly indeed even to them, but it will involve them in no trouble.
That that Day, he says,
may not overtake you as a thief. For in the case of those who are watching and who are in the light, if there should be any entry of a robber, it can do them no harm: so also it is with those who live well. But those who are sleeping he will strip of everything, and go off; that is, those who are trusting in the things of this life.
For you are all, he says,
sons of light, and sons of the day.
And how is it possible to be
sons of the day? Just as it is said,
sons of destruction and
sons of hell. Wherefore Christ also said to the Pharisees,
Woe unto you— for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he has become so, you make him a son of hell. Matthew 23:15 And again Paul said,
For which things’ sake comes the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. Colossians 3:6 That is, those who do the works of hell and the works of disobedience. So also sons of God are those who do things pleasing to God; so also sons of day and sons of light, those who do the works of light.
And we are not of the night nor of darkness.
Ver. 6, 7, 8.
So then let us not sleep, as do also the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, since we are of the day, be sober.
Here he shows, that to be in the day depends on ourselves. For here indeed, in the case of the present day and night, it does not depend on ourselves. But night comes even against our will, and sleep overtakes us when we do not wish it. But with respect to that night and that sleep, it is not so, but it is in our power always to have it day, it is in our power always to watch. For to shut the eyes of the soul, and to bring on the sleep of wickedness, is not of nature, but of our own choice.
But let us watch, he says,
and be sober. For it is possible to sleep while awake, by doing nothing good. Wherefore he has added,
and be sober. For even by day, if any one watches, but is not sober, he will fall into numberless dangers, so that sobriety is the intensity of watchfulness.
They that sleep, he says,
sleep in the night, and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. The drunkenness he here speaks of is not that from wine only, but that also which comes of all vices. For riches and the desire of wealth is a drunkenness of the soul, and so carnal lust; and every sin you can name is a drunkenness of the soul. On what account then has he called vice sleep? Because in the first place the vicious man is inactive with respect to virtue: again, because he sees everything as a vision, he views nothing in its true light, but is full of dreams, and oftentimes of unreasonable actions: and if he sees anything good, he has no firmness, no fixedness. Such is the present life. It is full of dreams, and of phantasy. Riches are a dream, and glory, and everything of that sort. He who sleeps sees not things that are and have a real subsistence, but things that are not he fancies as things that are. Such is vice, and the life that is passed in vice. It sees not things that are, that is, spiritual, heavenly, abiding things, but things that are fleeting and fly away, and that soon recede from us.
But it is not sufficient to watch and be sober, we must also be armed. For if a man watch and is sober, but has not arms, the robbers soon dispatch him. When therefore we ought both to watch, and to be sober, and to be armed, and we are unarmed and naked and asleep, who will hinder him from thrusting home his sword? Wherefore showing this also, that we have need of arms, he has added:
faith, he says, but as nothing can soon pierce through a breastplate, but it is a safe wall to the breast—so do thou also, he says, surround your soul with faith and love, and none of the fiery darts of the devil can ever be fixed in it. For where the power of the soul is preoccupied with the armor of love, all the devices of those who plot against it are vain and ineffectual. For neither wickedness, nor hatred, nor envy, nor flattery, nor hypocrisy, nor any other thing will be able to penetrate such a soul. He has not simply said
love, but he has bid them put it on as a strong breastplate.
And for a helmet the hope of salvation. For as the helmet guards the vital part in us, surrounding the head and covering it on every side, so also this hope does not suffer the reason to falter, but sets it upright as the head, not permitting anything from without to fall upon it. And while nothing falls on it, neither does it slip of itself. For it is not possible that one who is fortified with such arms as these, should ever fall. For 1 Corinthians 13:13 Then having said, Put on, and array yourselves, he himself provides the armor, whence faith, hope, and love may be produced, and may become strong.
Thus God has not inclined to this, that He might destroy us, but that He might save us. And whence is it manifest that this is His will? He has given His own Son for us. So does He desire that we should be saved, that He has given His Son, and not merely given, but given Him to death. From these considerations hope is produced. For do not despair of yourself, O man, in going to God, who has not spared even His Son for you. Faint not at present evils. He who gave His Only-Begotten, that He might save you and deliver you from hell, what will He spare henceforth for your salvation? So that you ought to hope for all things kind. For neither should we fear, if we were going to a judge who was about to judge us, and who had shown so much love for us, as to have sacrificed his son. Let us hope therefore for kind and great things, for we have received the principal thing; let us believe, for we have seen an example; let us love, for it is the extreme of madness for one not to love who has been so treated.
Ver. 10, 11.
That, whether we wake or sleep, he says,
we should live together with Him. Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do.
whether we wake or sleep; by sleep there he means one thing, and here another. For here,
whether we sleep signifies the death of the body; that is, fear not dangers; though we should die, we shall live. Do not despair because you are in danger. You have a strong security. He would not have given His Son if He had not been inflamed by vehement love for us. So that, though you should die, you will live; for He Himself also died. Therefore whether we die, or whether we live, we shall live with Him. This is a matter of indifference: it is no concern of mine, whether I live or die; for we shall live with Him. Let us therefore do everything for that life: looking to that, let us do all our works. Vice, O beloved, is darkness, it is death, it is night; we see nothing that we ought, we do nothing that becomes us. As the dead are unsightly and of evil odor, so also the souls of those who are vicious are full of much impurity. Their eyes are closed, their mouth is stopped, they remain without motion in the bed of vice; or rather more wretched than those who are naturally dead. For they truly are dead to both, but these are insensible indeed to virtue, but alive to vice. If one should strike a dead man, he perceives it not, he revenges it not, but is like a dry stick. So also his soul is truly dry, having lost its life; it receives daily numberless wounds, and has no feeling of any, but lies insensible to everything.
One would not err in comparing such men to those who are mad, or drunk, or delirious. All these things belong to vice, and it is worse than all these. He that is mad is much allowed for by those who see him, for his disease is not from choice, but from nature alone; but how shall he be pardoned, who lives in vice? Whence then is vice? Whence are the majority bad? Tell me, whence have diseases their evil nature? Whence is frenzy? Whence is lethargy? Is it not from carelessness? If physical disorders have their origin in choice, much more those which are voluntary. Whence is drunkenness? Is it not from intemperance of soul? Is not frenzy from excess of fever? And is not fever from the elements too abundant in us? And is not this superabundance of elements from our carelessness? For when either from deficiency or excess we carry any of the things within us beyond the bounds of moderation, we kindle that fire. Again, if when the fire is kindled, we continue to neglect it, we make a conflagration for ourselves, which we are not able to extinguish. So is it also with vice. When we do not restrain it at its beginning, nor cut it off, we cannot afterwards reach to the end of it, but it becomes too great for our power. Wherefore, I beseech you, let us do everything that we may never become drowsy. Do you not see that when sentinels have only given way a little to sleep, they derive no advantage from their long watch, for by that little they have ruined the whole, having given perfect security to him who is prepared to steal. For as we do not see thieves in the same way that they see us, so also the devil most of all is ever instant, and lying in wait, and grinding his teeth. Let us not then slumber. Let us not say, on this side there is nothing, on that side nothing; we are often plundered from a quarter whence we did not expect it. So it is with vice; we perish from a quarter whence we did not expect it. Let us look carefully round upon all things, let us not be drunken, and we shall not sleep. Let us not be luxurious, and we shall not slumber. Let us not be mad for external things, and we shall continue in sobriety. Let us discipline ourselves on every side. And as men who walk upon a tight rope cannot be off their guard ever so little, for that little causes great mischief: for the man losing his balance is at once precipitated down and perishes; so neither is it possible for us to be off our guard. We walk upon a narrow road intercepted by precipices on either side, not admitting of two feet at the same time. Do you see not how much carefulness is necessary? Do you see not how those who travel on such roads guard not only their feet, but their eyes also? For if he should choose to gaze on one side, though his foot stand firm, his eye becoming dizzy from the depth, plunges the whole body down. But he must take heed to himself and to his steps; wherefore he says,
neither to the right hand, nor to the left. Proverbs 4:27 Great is the depth of vice, high the precipices, much darkness below. Let us take heed to the narrow way, let us walk with fear and trembling. No one, who is traveling such a road, is dissolved in laughter nor heavy with drunkenness, but travels such a road with sobriety and fasting. No one traveling such a road carries with him any superfluities; for he would be contented even lightly equipped to be able to escape. No one entangles his own feet, but leaves them disengaged, and free to move.
But we, chaining ourselves down with numberless cares, and carrying with us the numberless burdens of this life, staring about, and loosely rambling, how do we expect to travel in that narrow road? He has not merely said that
narrow is the way Matthew 7:14, but with wonder,
how narrow is the way, that is, exceedingly narrow. And this we also do in things that are quite objects of wonder. And
straitened, he says,
is the way which leads unto life. And he has well said it. For when we are bound to give an account of our thoughts, and words, and actions, and all things, truly it is narrow. But we ourselves make it more narrow, spreading out and widening ourselves, and shuffling out our feet. For the narrow way is difficult to every one, but especially to him who is incumbered with fat, as he who makes himself lean will not perceive its narrowness. So that he who has practiced himself in being pinched, will not be discouraged at its pressure.
Let not any one therefore expect that he shall see heaven with ease. For it cannot be. Let no one hope to travel the narrow road with luxury, for it is impossible. Let no one traveling in the broad way hope for life. When therefore you see such and such an one luxuriating in baths, in a sumptuous table, or in other matters having troops of attendants; think not yourself unhappy, as not partaking of these things, but lament for him, that he is traveling the way to destruction. For what is the advantage of this way, when it ends in tribulation? And what is the injury of that straitness, when it leads to rest? Tell me, if any one invited to a palace should walk through narrow ways painful and precipitous, and another led to death should be dragged through the midst of the market-place, which shall we call happy? Which shall we commiserate? Him, shall we not, who walks through the broad road? So also now, let us think happy, not those who are luxurious, but those who are not luxurious. These are hastening to heaven, those to hell.
And perhaps indeed many of them will even laugh at the things that are said by us. But I most of all lament and bewail them on this account, that they do not even know what they ought to laugh at, and for what they ought especially to mourn, but they confound and disturb and disorder everything. On this account I bewail them. What do you say, O man, when you are to rise again, and to give an account of your actions, and to undergo the last sentence, do you pay no regard indeed to these, but give thought to gratifying your belly, and being drunken? And do you laugh at these things? But I bewail you, knowing the evils that await you, the punishment that is about to overtake you. And this I most especially bewail, that you dost laugh! Mourn with me, bewail with me your own evils. Tell me, if one of your friends perishes, do you not turn from those who laugh at his end, and think them enemies, but love those who weep and sympathize with you? Then indeed if the dead body of your wife were laid out, you turn from him that laughs: but when your soul is done to death, do you turn from him that weeps, and laugh yourself? Do you see how the devil has disposed us to be enemies and adversaries to ourselves? For once let us be sober, let us open our eyes, let us watch, let us lay hold on eternal life, let us shake off this long sleep. There is a Judgment, there is a Punishment, there is a Resurrection, there is an Inquisition into what we have done! The Lord comes in the clouds
Before Him, he says,
a fire will be kindled, and round about Him a mighty tempest Psalm 50:3, Septuagint A river of fire rolls before him, the undying worm, unquenchable fire, outer darkness, gnashing of teeth. Although you should be angry with me ten thousand times for mentioning these things, I shall not cease from mentioning them. For if the prophets, though stoned, did not keep silence, much more ought we to bear with enmities, and not to discourse to you with a view to please, that we may not, for having deceived you, be ourselves cut in sunder. There is punishment, deathless, unallayed, and no one to stand up for us.
Who will pity, he says,
the charmer that is bitten by a serpent? Sirach 12:13 When we pity not our own selves, tell me, who will pity us? If you see a man piercing himself with a sword, will you be able to spare his life? By no means. Much more, when having it in our power to do well we do not do well, who will spare us? No one! Let us pity ourselves. When we pray to God, saying,
Lord, have mercy upon me, let us say it to ourselves, and have mercy upon ourselves. We are the arbiters of God’s having mercy upon us. This grace He has bestowed upon us. If we do things worthy of mercy, worthy of His loving-kindness towards us, God will have mercy upon us. But if we have not mercy on ourselves, who will spare us? Have mercy on your neighbor, and you shall find mercy of God Himself. How many every day come to you, saying,
Have pity on me, and thou dost not turn towards them; how many naked, how many maimed, and we do not bend toward them, but dismiss their supplications. How then do you claim to obtain mercy, when you yourself dost nothing worthy of mercy? Let us become compassionate, let us become pitiful, that so we may be well-pleasing to God, and obtain the good things promised to those that love Him, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, etc.
1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13
It must needs happen that a ruler should have many occasions of enmities. As physicians are compelled to give much trouble to the sick, preparing for them both diet and medicines that are not pleasant indeed, but attended with benefit; and as fathers are often annoying to their children: so also are teachers, and much more. For the physician, though he be odious to the sick man, yet has the relations and friends on good terms with him, nay, and often the sick man himself. And a father also, both from the force of nature and from external laws, exercises his dominion over his son with great ease; and if he should chastise and chide his son against his will, there is no one to prevent him, nor will the son himself be able to raise a look against him. But in the case of the Priest there is a great difficulty. For in the first place, he ought to be ruling people willing to obey, and thankful to him for his rule; but it is not possible that this should soon come to pass. For he who is convicted and reproved, be he what he may, is sure to cease from being thankful, and to become an enemy. In like manner he will act who is advised, and he who is admonished and he who is exhorted. If therefore I should say, empty out wealth on the needy, I say what is offensive and burdensome. If I say, chastise your anger, quench your wrath, check your inordinate desire, cut off a small portion of your luxury, all is burdensome and offensive. And if I should punish one who is slothful, or should remove him from the Church, or exclude him from the public prayers, he grieves, not because he is deprived of these things, but because of the public disgrace. For this is an aggravation of the evil, that, being interdicted from spiritual things, we grieve not on account of our deprivation of these great blessings, but because of our disgrace in the sight of others. We do not shudder at, do not dread, the thing itself.
For this reason Paul from one end to the other discourses largely concerning these persons. And Christ indeed has subjected them with so strict a necessity, that He says,
The Scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. All things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works. Matthew 23:2-3 And again, when He healed the leper, He said,
Go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony unto them. Matthew 8:4 And yet You say,
You make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves. Matthew 23:15 For this reason I said, answers He,
Do not the things which they do. Therefore he has shut out all excuse from him that is under rule. In his Epistle to Timothy also this Apostle said,
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor. 1 Timothy 5:17 And in his Epistle to the Hebrews also he said,
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them. Hebrews 13:17 And here again,
But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord. For since he had said,
build each other up, lest they should think that he raised them to the rank of teachers, he has added, See, however, that I gave leave to you also to edify one another, for it is not possible for a teacher to say everything.
Them that labor among you, he says,
and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. And how, he says, is it not absurd? If a man stand up for you before a man, you do anything, you confess yourself much indebted; but he stands up for you before God, and thou dost not own the favor. And how does he stand up for me? You say, Because he prays for you, because he ministers to you the spiritual gift that is by Baptism, he visits, he advises and admonishes you, he comes at midnight if you call for him; he is nothing else than the constant subject of your mouth, and he bears your injurious speeches. What necessity had he? Has he done well or ill? Thou indeed hast a wife, and livest luxuriously, and choosest a life of commerce. But from this the Priest has hindered himself by his occupation; his life is no other than to be employed about the Church.
And to esteem them, he says,
exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake; be at peace with them. Do you see how well he is aware that unpleasant feelings arise? He does not merely say
very highly, as children love their fathers. For through them you were begotten by that eternal generation: through them you have obtained the kingdom: through their hands all things are done, through them the gates of heaven are opened to you. Let no one raise divisions, let no one be contentious. He who loves Christ, whatever the Priest may be, will love him, because through him he has obtained the awful Mysteries. Tell me, if wishing to see a palace resplendent with much gold, and radiant with the brightness of precious stones, you could find him who had the key, and he being called upon immediately opened it, and admitted you within, would you not prefer him above all men? Would you not love him as dearly as your eyes? Would you not kiss him? This man has opened heaven to you, and thou dost not kiss him, nor pay him court. If you have a wife, do you not love him above all, who procured her for you? So if you love Christ, if you love the kingdom of heaven, acknowledge through whom you obtained it. On this account he says,
for their work’s sake, be at peace with them.
And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, be long suffering toward all.
Here he addresses those who have rule. Admonish, he says,
the disorderly, not of imperiousness, he says, nor of self-will rebuke them, but with admonition.
Encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all. For he who is rebuked with harshness, despairing of himself, becomes more bold in contempt. On this account it is necessary by admonition to render the medicine sweet. But who are the disorderly? All those who do what is contrary to the will of God. For this order of the Church is more harmonious than the order of an army; so that the reviler is disorderly, the drunkard is disorderly, and the covetous, and all who sin; for they walk not orderly in their rank, but out of the line, wherefore also they are overthrown. But there is also another kind of evils, not such as this indeed, but itself also a vice, little mindedness. For this is destructive equally with sloth. He who cannot bear an insult is feeble-minded. He who cannot endure trial is feeble-minded. This is he who is sown upon the rock. There is also another sort, that of weakness.
Support the weak, he says; now weakness occurs in regard to faith. But observe how he does not permit them to be despised. And elsewhere also in his Epistles he says,
Them that are weak in the faith receive ye. Romans 14:1 For in our bodies too we do not suffer the weak member to perish.
Be longsuffering toward all, he says. Even toward the disorderly? Yes, certainly. For there is no medicine equal to this, especially for the teacher, none so suitable to those who are under rule. It can quite shame and put out of countenance him that is fiercer and more shameless than all men.
If we ought not to render evil for evil, much less evil for good; much less, when evil has not been previously done, to render evil, Such an one, you say, is a bad man, and has aggrieved me, and done me much injury. Do you wish to revenge yourself upon him? Do not retaliate. Leave him unpunished. Well, is this the stopping-place? By no means;
But always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all.
This is the higher philosophy, not only not to requite evil with evil, but to render good for evil. For this is truly revenge that brings harm to him and advantage to yourself, or rather great advantage even to him, if he will. And that you may not think that this is said with respect to the faithful, therefore he has said,
both one toward another and toward all.
This is said with respect to the temptations that bring in affliction. Hear ye, as many as have fallen into poverty, or into distressing circumstances. For from these joy is engendered. For when we possess such a soul that we take revenge on no one, but do good to all, whence, tell me, will the sting of grief be able to enter into us? For he who so rejoices in suffering evil, as to requite even with benefits him that has done him evil, whence can he afterwards suffer grief? And how, you say, is this possible? It is possible, if we will. Then also he shows the way.
Always to give thanks, this is a mark of a philosophic soul. Have you suffered any evil? But if you will, it is no evil. Give thanks to God, and the evil is changed into good. Say thou also as Job said,
Blessed be the name of the Lord for ever. Job 1:21 For tell me, what such great thing have you suffered? Has disease befallen you? Yet it is nothing strange. For our body is mortal, and liable to suffer. Has a want of possessions overtaken you? But these also are things to be acquired, and again to be lost, and that abide here. But is it plots and false accusations of enemies? But it is not we that are injured by these, but they who are the authors of them.
For the soul, he says,
that sins, itself shall also die. Ezekiel 18:4 And he has not sinned who suffers the evil, but he who has done the evil.
Upon him therefore that is dead you ought not to take revenge, but to pray for him that you may deliver him from death. Do you not see how the bee dies upon the sting? By that animal God instructs us not to grieve our neighbors. For we ourselves receive death first. For by striking them perhaps we have pained them for a little time, but we ourselves shall not live any longer, even as that animal will not. And yet the Scripture commends it, saying that it is a worker, whose work kings and private men make use of for their health. Sirach 11:3 But this does not preserve it from dying, but it must needs perish. And if its other excellence does not deliver it when it does injury, much less will it us.
For indeed it is the part of the fiercest beasts, when no one has injured you, to begin the injury, or rather not even of beasts. For they, if you permit them to feed in the wilderness, and dost not by straitening them reduce them to necessity, will never harm you, nor come near you, nor bite you, but will go their own way.
But you being a rational man, honored with so much rule and honor and glory, do not even imitate the beasts in your conduct to your fellow-creature, but you injure your brother, and devour him. And how will you be able to excuse yourself? Do you not hear Paul saying,
Why not rather take wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? Nay, but you yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. 1 Corinthians 6:7-8 Do you see that suffering wrong consists in doing wrong, but that to suffer wrongfully is to receive a benefit? For tell me, if any one were to revile his rulers, if he were to insult those in power, whom does he injure? Himself, or them? Clearly himself. Then he who insults a ruler insults not him, but himself— and he that insults a Christian does he not through him insult Christ? By no means, you say. What do you say? He that casts a stone at the images of the king (Emperor), at whom does he cast a stone? Is it not at himself? Then does he who casts a stone at the image of an earthly king, cast a stone at himself, and does not he who insults the image of God (for man is the image of God) injure himself?
How long shall we love riches? For I shall not cease exclaiming against them: for they are the cause of everything. How long do we not get our fill of this insatiable desire? What is the good of gold? I am astonished at the thing! There is some enchantment in the business, that gold and silver should be so highly valued among us. For our own souls indeed we have no regard, but those lifeless images engross much attention. Whence is it that this disease has invaded the world? Who shall be able to effect its destruction? What reason can cut off this evil beast, and destroy it with utter destruction? The desire is deep sown in the minds of men, even of those who seem to be religious. Let us be put to shame by the commands of the Gospel. Words only lie there in Scripture, they are nowhere shown by works.
And what is the specious plea of the many? I have children, one says, and I am afraid lest I myself be reduced to the extremity of hunger and want, lest I should stand in need of others. I am ashamed to beg. For that reason therefore do you cause others to beg? I cannot, you say, endure hunger. For that reason do you expose others to hunger? Do you know what a dreadful thing it is to beg, how dreadful to be perishing by hunger? Spare also your brethren! Are you ashamed, tell me, to be hungry, and are you not ashamed to rob? Are you afraid to perish by hunger, and not afraid to destroy others? And yet to be hungry is neither a disgrace nor a crime; but to cast others into such a state brings not only disgrace, but extreme punishment.
All these are pretenses, words, trifles. For that it is not on account of your children that you act thus, they testify who indeed have no children, nor will have, but who yet toil and harass themselves, and are busy in acquiring wealth, as much as if they had innumerable children to leave it to. It is not the care for his children that makes a man covetous, but a disease of the soul. On this account many even who have not children are mad about riches, and others living with a great number of children even despise what they have. They will accuse you in that Day. For if the necessities of children compelled men to accumulate riches, they also must necessarily have the same longing, the same lust. And if they have not, it is not from the number of children that we are thus mad, but from the love of money. And who are they, you say, who having children, yet despise riches? Many, and in many places. And if you will allow me, I will speak also of instances among the ancients.
Had not Jacob twelve children? Did he not lead the life of a hireling? Was he not wronged by his kinsman? And did he not often disappoint him? And did his number of children ever compel him to have recourse to any dishonest counsel? What was the case with Abraham? With Isaac, had he not also many other children? What then? Did he not possess all he had for the benefit of strangers? Do you see, how he not only did not do wrong, but even gave up his possessions, not only doing good, but choosing to be wronged by his nephew? For to endure being robbed for the sake of God is a much greater thing than to do good. Why? Because the one is the fruit of the soul and of free choice, whence also it is easily performed: but the other is injurious treatment and violence. And a man will more easily throw away ten thousand talents voluntarily, and will not think that he has suffered any harm, than he will bear meekly being robbed of three pence against his will. So that this rather is philosophy of soul. And this, we see, happened in the case of Abraham.
For Lot, it is said,
beheld all the plain; and it was well watered as the garden of God, and he chose it. Genesis 13:10-11 And Abraham said nothing against it. Do you see, that he not only did not wrong him, but he was even wronged by him? Why, O man, do you accuse your own children? God did not give us children for this end, that we should seize the possessions of others. Take care, lest in saying this thou provoke God. For if you say that your children are the causes of your grasping and your avarice, I fear lest you be deprived of them, as injuring and ensnaring you. God has given you children that they may support your old age, that they may learn virtue from you.
For God on this account has willed that mankind should thus be held together, providing for two most important objects: on the one hand, appointing fathers to be teachers, and on the other, implanting great love. For if men were merely to come into being, no one would have any relation towards any other. For if now, when there are the relations of fathers, and children, and grandchildren, many do not regard many, much more would it then be the case. On this account God has given you children. Do not therefore accuse the children.
But if they who have children have no excuse, what can they say for themselves, who having no children wear themselves out about the acquisition of riches? But they have a saying for themselves, which is destitute of all excuse. And what is this? That, instead of children we may have, they say, may have our riches as a memorial. This is truly ridiculous. Instead of children, one says, my house becomes the immortal memorial of my glory. Not of your glory, O man, will it be the memorial, but of your covetousness. Do you not see how many now as they pass the magnificent houses say one to another, What frauds, what robberies such an one committed, that he might build this house, and now he has become dust and ashes, and his house has passed into the inheritance of others! It is not of your glory then that you leave a memorial, but of your covetousness. And your body indeed is concealed in the earth, but thou dost not permit the memorial of your covetousness to be concealed, as it might have been by length of time, but causest it to be turned up and disinterred through your house. For as long as this stands, bearing your name, and called such an one’s, certainly the mouths of all too must needs be opened against you. Do you see that it is better to have nothing than to sustain such an accusation?
And these things indeed here. But what shall we do There? Tell me, having so much at our disposal here, if we have imparted to no one of our possessions, or at least very little; how shall we put off our dishonest gains? For he that wishes to put off covetous gain, does not give a little out of a great deal, but many times more than he has robbed, and he ceases from robbing. Hear what Zacchæus says,
And for as many things as I have taken wrongfully, I restore fourfold. Luke 19:8 But you, taking wrongfully ten thousand talents, if you give a few drachmas, thinkest you have restored the whole, and art affected as if you had given more. And even this grudgingly. Why? Because you ought both to have restored these, and to have added other out of your own private possessions. For as the thief is not excused when he gives back only what he has stolen, but often he has added even his life; and often he compounds upon restoring many times as much: so also should the covetous man. For the covetous man also is a thief and a robber, far worse than the other, by how much he is also more tyrannical. He indeed by being concealed, and by making his attack in the night, cuts off much of the audacity of the attempt, as if he were ashamed, and feared to sin. But the other having no sense of shame, with open face in the middle of the market-place steals the property of all, being at once a thief and a tyrant. He does not break through walls, nor extinguish the lamp, nor open a chest, nor tear off seals. But what? He does things more insolent than these, in the sight of those who are injured he carries things out by the door, he with confidence opens everything, he compels them to expose all their possessions themselves. Such is the excess of his violence. This man is more wicked than those, inasmuch as he is more shameless and tyrannical. For he that has suffered by fraud is indeed grieved, but he has no small consolation, that he who injured him was afraid of him. But he who together with the injury he suffers is also despised, will not be able to endure the violence. For the ridicule is greater. Tell me, if one committed adultery with a woman in secret, and another committed it in the sight of her husband, who grieved him the most, and was most apt to wound him. For he indeed, together with the wrong he has done, treated him also with contempt. But the former, if he did nothing else, showed at least that he feared him whom he injured. So also in the case of money. He that takes it secretly, does him honor in this respect, that he does it secretly; but he who robs publicly and openly, together with the loss adds also the shame.
Let us therefore, both poor and rich, cease from taking the property of others. For my present discourse is not only to the rich, but to the poor also. For they too rob those who are poorer than themselves. And artisans who are better off, and more powerful, outsell the poorer and more distressed, tradesmen outsell tradesmen, and so all who are engaged in the market-place. So that I wish from every side to take away injustice. For the injury consists not in the measure of the things plundered and stolen, but in the purpose of him that steals. And that these are more thieves and defrauders, who do not despise little gains, I know and remember that I have before told you, if you also remember it. But let us not be over exact. Let them be equally bad with the rich. Let us instruct our mind not to covet greater things, not to aim at more than we have. And in heavenly things let our desire of more never be satiated, but let each be ever coveting more. But upon earth let every one be for what is needful and sufficient, and seek nothing more, that so he may be able to obtain the real goods, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, strength, honor, now and always, and world without end. Amen.
A thick mist, a darkness and cloud is spread over all the earth. And, showing this, the Apostle said,
For we were once darkness. Ephesians 5:8 And again,
You, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Since therefore there is, so to speak, a moonless night, and we walk in that night, God has given us a bright lamp, having kindled in our souls the grace of the Holy Spirit. But some who have received this light have rendered it more bright and shining, as, for instance, Paul and Peter, and all those Saints; while others have even extinguished it, as the five virgins, as those who have
made shipwreck concerning the faith, as the fornicator of Corinth, as the Galatians who were perverted.
On this account Paul says,
Quench not the Spirit, that is, the gift of grace, for it is his custom so to call the gift of the Spirit. But this an impure life extinguishes. For as any one, who has sprinkled both water and dust upon the light of our lamp, extinguishes it, and if he does not this, but only takes out the oil— so it is also with the gift of grace. For if you have cast over it earthly things, and the cares of fluctuating matters, you have quenched the Spirit. And if you have done none of these things, but a temptation coming from some other quarter has vehemently assailed it, as some wind, and if the light be not strong, and it has not much oil, or you have not closed the opening, or have not shut the door, all is undone. But what is the opening? As in the lamp, so is it also in us: it is the eye and the ear. Suffer not a violent blast of wickedness to fall upon these, since it would extinguish the lamp, but close them up with the fear of God. The mouth is the door. Shut it, and fasten it, that it may both give light, and repel the attack from without. For instance, has any one insulted and reviled you? Do you shut the mouth; for if you open it, you add force to the wind. Do you not see in houses, when two doors stand directly opposite, and there is a strong wind, if you shut one, and there is no opposite draught, the wind has no power, but the greater part of its force is abated? So also now, there are two doors, your mouth, and his who insults and affronts you; if you shut your mouth, and dost not allow a draught on the other side, you have quenched the whole blast; but if you open it, it will not be restrained. Let us not therefore quench it.
And the flame is often liable to be extinguished even when no temptation assails it. When the oil fails, when we do not alms, the Spirit is quenched. For it came to you as an alms from God. Then He sees this fruit not existing in you, and he abides not with an unmerciful soul. But the Spirit being quenched, you know what follows, as many of you as have walked on a road in a moonless night. And if it is difficult to walk by night in a road from land to land, how is it safe in the road that leads from earth to heaven? Do you not know how many demons there are in the intervening space, how many wild beasts, how many spirits of wickedness? If indeed we have that light, they will be able to do us no hurt; but if we extinguish it, they soon take us captive, they soon rob us of everything. Since even robbers first extinguish the lamp, and so plunder us. For they indeed see in this darkness, since they do the works of darkness: but we are unaccustomed to that light. Let us not then extinguish it. All evil doing extinguishes that light, whether reviling, or insolence, or whatever you can mention. For as in the case of fire, everything that is foreign to its nature is destructive of it, but that kindles it which is congenial to it; whatever is dry, whatever is warm, whatever is fiery, kindles the flame of the Spirit. Let us not therefore overlay it with anything cold or damp; for these things are destructive of it.
But there is also another explanation. There were among them many indeed who prophesied truly, but some prophesied falsely. This also he says in the Epistle to the Corinthians, that on this account He gave
the discernings of spirits. 1 Corinthians 12:10 For the devil, of his vile craft, wished through this gift of grace to subvert everything pertaining to the Church. For since both the demon and the Spirit prophesied concerning the future, the one indeed uttering falsehood, and the other truth, and it was not possible from any quarter to receive a proof of one or the other, but each spoke without being called to account, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel had done, but when the time came they were convicted, He gave also the
discernings of spirits. Since therefore then also among the Thessalonians many were prophesying, glancing at whom he says,
Neither by word, nor by epistle, as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present 2 Thessalonians 2:2, he says this here. That is, do not, because there are false prophets among you, on their account prohibit also these, and turn away from them;
not, that is,
despise not prophesyings.
Do you see that this is what he means by,
Prove all things? Because he had said,
Despise not prophesyings, lest they should think that he opened the pulpit to all, he says,
Prove all things, that is, such as are really prophecies; proof distinguish both the true things and the false, and abstain from the latter, and hold fast the former. For thus both the hatred of the one will be vehement and the love of the other arises, when we do all things not carelessly, nor without examination, but with careful investigation.
Observe the affection of the Teacher. After the admonition he adds a prayer; not only that, but even introduces it in his letter. For we need both counsel and prayer. For this reason we also first giving you counsel, then offer prayers for you. And this the Initiated know. But Paul indeed did this with good reason, having great confidence towards God, whereas we are confounded with shame, and have no freedom of speech. But because we were appointed to this we do it, being unworthy even to stand in His presence, and to hold the place of the lowest disciples. But because grace works even through the unworthy, not for our own sakes but for theirs who are about to be benefited, we contribute our parts.
Sanctify you wholly, he says, and may
your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. What does he here call the spirit? The gift of grace. For if we depart hence having our lamps bright, we shall enter into the bridechamber. But if they are quenched, it will not be so. For this reason he says
your spirit. For if that remains pure, the other remains also.
And soul and body, he says. For neither the one nor the other then admits anything evil.
Faithful is He that calls you, who will also do it.
Observe his humility. For, because he had prayed, Think not, he says, that this happens from my prayers, but from the purpose, with which He called you. For if He called you to salvation, and He is true, He will certainly save you, in that He wills it.
Strange! What humility is here! But he indeed said this for the sake of humility, but we, not from humility, but for the sake of great benefit, and wishing to gain some great profit from you, say,
Pray for us also. For although you do not receive any great or wonderful benefit from us, do it nevertheless for the sake of the honor and the title itself. Some one has had children, and even if they had not been benefited by him, nevertheless, because he has been their father, he perhaps sets this before them, saying,
For one day I have not been called father by you. On this account we too say,
Pray for us also. I am not merely saying this, but really desiring your prayers. For if I have become responsible for this presidency over you all, and shall have to render an account, much more ought I to have the benefit of your prayers. On your account my responsibilities are greater, therefore the help also from you should be greater.
Oh! What fervor! Oh! What mad passion is here! Because being absent he could not greet them with the kiss, he greets them through others, as when we say, Kiss him for me. So also do ye yourselves retain the fire of love. For it does not admit of distances, but even through long intervening ways it extends itself, and is everywhere present.
And this command is rather from love, and not so much in the way of teaching; that with them also, he means, I may be conversing.
And he does not merely command, but adjures them, and this from a fervent mind, that even though they should despise him, for the sake of the adjuration they may practice what is commanded. For men had a great dread of that appeal, but now that too is trampled under foot. And often when a slave is scourged, and adjures by God and His Christ, and says,
So may you die a Christian, yet no one gives heed, no one regards it; but if he adjures him by his own son, immediately, though unwilling, and grinding his teeth, he gives up his anger. Again, another being dragged and led away through the middle of the market-place, in the presence both of Jews and Greeks, adjures him that leads him away with the most fearful adjurations, and no one regards it. What will not the Greeks say, when one of the faithful adjures a faithful man and a Christian, and no regard is paid to it, but we even despise him.
Will you allow me to tell you a certain story which I myself have heard? For I do not say it of my own invention, but having heard it from a person worthy of credit. There was a certain maid-servant united to a wicked man, a vile run-away slave; she, when her husband having committed many faults was about to be sold by her mistress; (for the offenses were too great for pardon, and the woman was a widow, and was not able to punish him who was the plague of her house, and therefore resolved to sell him; then considering that it was an unholy thing to separate the husband from the wife, the mistress, although the girl was useful, to avoid separating her from him, made up her mind to sell her also with him;) then the girl seeing herself in these straits, came to a venerable person who was intimate with her mistress, and who also told it to me, and clasping her knees, and with a thousand lamentations, besought her to entreat her mistress in her behalf; and having wasted many words, at last she added this also, as thereby especially to persuade her, laying on her a most awful adjuration, and the adjuration was this,
So may thou see Christ at the Day of Judgment, as you neglect not my petition. And having so said, she departed. And she who had been entreated, upon the intrusion of some worldly care, such as happens in families, forgot the matter. Then suddenly late in the afternoon, the most awful adjuration came into her mind, and she felt great compunction, and she went and with great earnestness asked, and obtained her request. And that very night she suddenly saw the heavens opened, and Christ Himself. But she saw Him, as far as it was possible for a woman to see Him. Because she at all regarded the adjuration, because she was afraid, she was thought worthy of this vision.
And these things I have said, that we may not despise adjurations, especially when any entreat us for things that are good, as for alms, and for works of mercy. But now poor men, who have lost their feet, sit and see you hastening by, and when they cannot follow you with their feet, they expect to detain you, as with a kind of hook, by the fear of an adjuration, and stretching out their hands, they adjure you to give them only one or two pennies. But you hasten by, though adjured by your Lord. And if he adjure you by the eyes either of your husband, who is gone abroad, or of your son, or your daughter, immediately you yield, your mind is transported, you are warmed; but if he adjure you by your Lord, you hasten by. And I have known many women who, hearing indeed the name of Christ, have hastened by; but being commended for their beauty by those who came to them, have been melted and softened, and have stretched out their hand.
Yea thus they have reduced suffering and wretched beggars to this, even to deal in making sport! For when they do not touch their souls by uttering vehement and bitter words, they have recourse to this way by which they delight them exceedingly. And our great wickedness compels him that is in calamity or is straitened by hunger, to utter encomiums upon the beauty of those who pity him. And I wish this were all. But there is even another form worse than this. It compels the poor to be jugglers, and buffoons, and filthy jesters. For when he fastens on his fingers cups and bowls and cans, and plays on them as cymbals, and having a pipe, whistles on it those base and amorous melodies, and sings them at the top of his voice; and then many stand round, and some give him a piece of bread, some a penny, and others something else, and they detain him long, and both men and women are delighted; what is more grievous than this? Are not these things deserving of much groaning? They are indeed trifling, and are considered trifling, but they engender great sins in our character. For when any obscene and sweet melody is uttered, it softens the mind, and corrupts the very soul itself. And the poor man indeed who calls upon God, and invokes a thousand blessings upon us, is not vouchsafed a word from you; but he who instead of these things introduces sportive sallies, is admired.
And what has now come into my mind to say to you, that I will utter. And what is this? When you are involved in poverty and sickness, if from no other quarter, at least from those who beg, who wander through the narrow streets, learn to give thanks to the Lord. For they, spending their whole life in begging, do not blaspheme, are not angry, nor impatient, but make the whole narrative of their beggary in thanksgiving, magnifying God, and calling Him merciful. He indeed that is perishing with hunger, calls Him merciful, but you who are living in plenty, if you cannot get the possessions of all, call Him cruel. How much better is he! How will he condemn us! God has sent the poor through the world, as common teachers in our calamities, and consolation under them. Have you suffered anything contrary to your wishes? Yet nothing like what that poor man suffers. You have lost an eye, but he both his. You have long labored under disease, but he has one that is incurable. You have lost your children, but he even the health of his own body. You have suffered a great loss, but you are not yet reduced to supplicate from others. Give thanks to God. You see them in the furnace of poverty, and begging indeed from all, but receiving from few. When you are weary of praying, and dost not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling upon you, and hast not listened to him, and he has not been angry nor insulted you. And yet thou indeed actest thus from cruelty; but God from mercy even declines to hear. If therefore thou, yourself from cruelty not hearing your fellow-servant, expectest not to be found fault with, do you find fault with the Lord, who out of mercy does not hear His servant? Do you see how great the inequality, how great the injustice?
Let us consider these things constantly, those who are below us, those who are under greater calamities, and so we shall be able to be thankful to God. Life abounds with many such instances. And he who is sober, and willing to attend, gains no small instruction from the houses of prayer. For on this account the poor sit before the vestibule both in the churches and in the chapels of the Martyrs, that we may receive great benefit from the spectacle of these things. For consider, that when we enter into earthly palaces, we can see nothing of this kind; but men that are dignified and famous, and wealthy and intelligent, are everywhere hastening to and fro. But into the real palaces, I mean the Church, and the oratories of the Martyrs, enter the demoniacs, the maimed, the poor, the aged, the blind, and those whose limbs are distorted. And wherefore? That you may be instructed by the spectacle of these things; in the first place that if you have entered drawing after you any pride from without, having looked upon these, and laid aside your arrogance, and become contrite in heart, so you may go in, and hear the things that are said; for it is not possible that he who prays with an arrogant mind should be heard. That when you see an aged man, you may not be elated at your youth, for these old men were once young. That when you boast highly of your warfare, or your kingly power, you may consider that from these are sprung those who have become illustrious in kings’ courts. That, when you presume upon your bodily health, taking heed to these, you may abate your lofty spirit. For the healthy man who continually enters here will not be highminded on account of his bodily health; and the sick man will receive no slight consolation.
But they do not sit here only on this account, but that they may also make you compassionate, and you may be inclined to pity; that you may admire the lovingkindness of God; for if God is not ashamed of them, but has set them in His vestibules, much less be thou ashamed; that you may not be highminded on account of palaces upon earth. Be not ashamed, when called upon by a poor man; and if he should draw near, if he should catch your knees, shake him not off. For these are certain admirable dogs of the Royal Courts. For I do not call them dogs as dishonoring them— far be it— but even highly commending them. They guard the King’s court. Therefore feed them. For the honor passes on to the King. There all is pride—I speak of the palaces on earth— here all is humility. You learn especially from the very vestibules that human beings are nothing. From the very persons who sit before them, you are taught that God delights not in riches. For their sitting and assembling there is all but an admonition, sending forth a clear voice regarding the nature of all men, and saying that human things are nothing, that they are shadow and smoke. If riches were a good, God would not have seated the poor before His own vestibule. And if He admits rich people also, wonder not for He admits them not on this account, that they may continue rich, but that they may be delivered from their encumbrance. For hear what Christ says to them, Matthew 6:24; and again,
It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven; and again,
It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:23-24 On this account He receives the rich, that they may hear these words, that they may long for the eternal riches, that they may covet things in heaven. And why do you wonder that He does not disdain to seat such at His vestibules? For He does not disdain to call them to His spiritual Table, and make them partakers of that Feast. But the maimed and the lame, the old man that is clothed in rags and filth, and has catarrh, comes to partake of that Table with the young and the beautiful, and with him even who is clothed in purple, and whose head is encircled with a diadem— and is thought worthy of the spiritual Feast, and both enjoy the same benefits, and there is no difference.
Does then Christ not disdain to call them to His Table with the king (Emperor)— for both are called together— and you perhaps disdain even to be seen giving to the poor, or even conversing with them? Fie upon your haughtiness and pride! See that we suffer not the same with the rich man formerly. He disdained even to look upon Lazarus, and did not allow him to share his roof or shelter, but he was without, cast away at his gate, nor was he even vouchsafed a word from him. But see how, when fallen into straits, and in want of his help, he failed to obtain it. For if we are ashamed of those of whom Christ is not ashamed, we are ashamed of Christ, being ashamed of His friends. Let your table be filled with the maimed and the lame. Through them Christ comes, not through the rich. Perhaps you laugh at hearing this; therefore, that you may not think it is my word, hear Christ Himself speaking, that you may not laugh, but shudder:
When you make a dinner or a supper, call not your friends nor your brethren, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid you again, and a recompense be made you. But when you make a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind; and you shall be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense you: for you shall be recompensed in the Resurrection of the just. Luke 14:12-14 And greater is your glory even here, if you love that. For from the former class of guests arise envy, and malice, and slanders, and revilings, and much fear lest anything unbecoming should occur. And you stand like a servant before his master, if those who are invited are your superiors, fearing their criticism and their lips. But in the case of these there is nothing of this sort, but whatever you bring them, they receive all with pleasure; and ample is the applause, brighter the glory, higher the admiration. All they that hear do not so much applaud the former, as the latter. But if you disbelieve, you who are rich, make the trial, you who invite generals and governors. Invite the poor, and fill your table from them, and see if you are not applauded by all, if you are not loved by all, if all do not hold you as a father. For of those feasts there is no advantage, but for these heaven is in store, and the good things of heaven— of which may we all be partakers, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.