On the Kalends of January: Sermon for a New Year

by St. John Chrysostom

1. Just as a chorus seeks the chorus leader, and a crew of sailors the helmsman, so also the assembly of these priests today seeks the high-priest and common-father. But in the case of the chorus and the ship frequently the absence of those in charge wrenches them away from good-order and stability; but it is not so in this case. For even if he[1] is not present in the flesh, he is present rather in the spirit, and now is with us, though sitting at home, just as we also are with him there, though standing here.

For such is the power of love, it is accustomed to bring together and bind those who are divided by a great distance. At any rate if we love someone who is spending time in a foreign place and separated from us by vast seas, we imagine them each day, so then when we are ill-disposed to someone, neither do we think it good to often see him near at hand. Thus when there is love, there is no harm from the division of place, but when love is absent, there is no gain from the nearness of place. Lately, when we were praising the blessed Paul, you so were prancing about, as if seeing him present; though his body lies in regal Rome, but his soul in the hands of God:

For the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and torment will never touch them.[2]

Nonetheless the power of love placed him before your eyes. And I was planning to enter into the same subject again today, but the message moves us to other things pressing upon us, the sins committed today by the entire city. For they ought first to have been emulators of Paul’s virtue, and worthy of such a lecture, those who are listening to the praises of Paul. Since then the father[3] is not present to us, come – let us cleave to his teaching, relying on his prayers. For even Moses, not being present in the body with the combatants, contributed to that battle, not less than those fighting, but more by far even, urging on the actions of his men by the outstretching of his hands, and making them dreadful to their opponents.[4] For just as the power of love is not separated by a division of place, so neither is the efficacy of prayer, but just as the former binds those removed from one another, so also the latter is able to greatly benefit those far off.

Having confidence therefore let us proceed. For the war is begun for us, not with the coming of the Amelikites, as then, nor with some other overrunning Barbarians, but with demons leading a procession in the forum. For the diabolical night-festivities that occur today, the jests, the abuse, and the nocturnal dances, and this comedy, absurd and worse than every enemy, took our city captive; and it is necessary to be restrained[5] in these matters, to mourn, to be overcome with shame, both those having sinned and those not having sinned, those for whom they sinned, and those for whom they saw [their] brothers doing shameful things[6]; and our city has become exceedingly glad and joyful, and crowned, as a woman fond of adornment and extravagant, so the forum lavishly decked itself out today, putting on gold, and extravagant clothing, and sandals, and other such things, as of those in workplaces, each by the display of  his own works surpassing his fellow worker in rivalry.[7]

But this is ambition, even if childish of thought, and imagining nothing great or lofty in mind, but nevertheless it does not attract such harm, but is a certain thoughtless eagerness, pouring down laughter on those eager for such things. For if one wishes to adorn oneself: [let it be] not the workshop, but his own soul; not the forum, but the intellect; so that the angels marvel, and the archangels approve the thing, and the Master of the Angels repay you with gifts from himself; as the example itself, now the event, brings both laughter and jealousy, laughter from the understanding of the loftier, jealousy and much envy from those suffering the same things.

2. But, as I said, ambition itself is not worthy of such accusations; those who happen today to game in the taverns, these cause especial pain, and are full of much profligacy and impiety; [full] of impiety, because those doing these things observe days[8], consult auguries, and think that if one celebrates the new moon of this month with pleasure and happiness, then the whole length of the year will hold the same; of profligacy, because men and women having filled bowls and cups drink unmixed wine until dawn. These things are unworthy of our philosophy[9], whether you do them, or you permit others to do them, whether servants, or friends, or neighbours. Have you not heard Paul saying,

“You keep days and months and seasons and years; I fear lest I have laboured in vain for you”?[10]

Otherwise it is of the most extreme folly that from one day, if it be fortunate[11], to expect this from the whole year; but it is not of folly alone, rather this is the judgment of diabolical activity, not to entrust the things of our life to our own haste and eagerness, but to cycles of the days. The whole year will be fortunate for you, not if you are drunk on the new-moon, but if both on the new-moon, and each day, you do those things approved by God.

For days come wicked and good, not from their own nature; for a day differs nothing from another day, but from our zeal and sluggishness. If you perform righteousness, then the day becomes good to you; if you perform sin, then it will be evil and full of retribution. If you contemplate these things, and are so disposed, you will consider the whole year favourable, performing prayers and charity every day; but if you are careless of virtue for yourself, and you entrust the contentment of your soul to beginnings of months and numbers of days, you will be desolate of everything good unto yourself.

Which then the Devil perceiving, and hastening to make an end of our labours in virtue, and to extinguish our willingness of mind, taught success and failures to be inscribed on the days. For the one persuading himself that a day is evil and good, will neither have a care for good deeds on the evil day, as if performing all things in vain, and benefiting nothing on account of the necessity of the day; nor again on the good day will he do this, as if from his own idleness causing no harm, again on account of the good fortune of the day; and thus from each he promotes his own wellbeing[12]; and sometimes doing profitless things, sometimes superfluous things, he will pass his life in leisure and wickedness. Knowing which, he must flee from the wiles of the devil, and cast out this influence of thought, and observe not the days, neither to hate one nor to love one. For that wicked demon does contrive these things, not only in order to cast us into idleness, but also to revile the works of God, wishing to draw down our souls both into impiety and idleness at the same time.

But we are obliged to resist, and to know clearly, that nothing is evil but sin alone, and nothing good but virtue alone, and to please God always. Strong drink does not produce delight, but spiritual prayer; not wine, but a learned word; Wine effects a storm, but the Word effects calm; the former transports in an uproar, the latter expels disturbance; the former darkens the understanding, the latter lightens the darkened; the former imports despondencies that are non-existent, the latter drives away those there were[13]. For nothing is so accustomed to produce contentment and delight, as the teachings of [our] philosophy, [which is] to despise  present affairs, to yearn for the things to come, to consider nothing of human affairs to be secure, and if you behold some rich man not to be bitten with envy, and if you fall into poverty not to be downcast by that poverty.

Thus you are always able to celebrate festivals. For the Christian ought to hold feasts not for months, nor new moons, nor Lord’s days, but continually through life to conduct a feast befitting him. What is the feast that befits him? Let us listen to Paul speaking,

“Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not in the old leaven, nor by leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”[14]

If then you have a clean conscience, you hold a feast continually, nourished with good hopes, and revelling in the delight of the good things to come; then just as if you conducted yourself lacking boldness, and you were liable from many sins, and if there be ten thousand feasts and holy-days, you would be in no better state than those grieving. For what is the benefit to me of bright days, if my soul is darkened in its conscience? If then one wishes to gain some benefit from the new moon, do this. When you see the year ending, thank the Lord, because he had led you into this cycle of years. Stab the heart[15], reckon up the time of your life, say to oneself:

“The days run and pass by, the years fill-up, we have progressed much of the way; What good is there for us to do? Will we not depart from here, empty and deserted of all righteousness, the judgment at the doors, the rest of life leads us to our old age.”

3. These things, from the new moon, contemplate, these from the circuit of the years, recollect: let us reckon the future day, no longer something spoken to us that, which was said to the Jews by the prophet,

“Their days slipped away in vanity, and their years with haste”[16]

This is the feast which I mentioned, the continual one, and the one not delayed by the passage of years, not limited by days, both the rich and the poor will be able to celebrate in the same manner: For here there is no want of wealth, nor provision, but only of virtue. Do you not have wealth? But you have the fear of God, a treasure more fruitful than all wealth, not consumed, not changed, not spent-up. Look to heaven, and to the heaven of heavens, the earth, the sea, the air, the kinds of the animals, the manifold plants, the whole nature of human-beings; consider the angels, archangels, the powers above; recall that these are all creations of your Master. It is thus not poverty to be the slave of the providential Master, if you have him as your propitious Lord.

The observation of days is not of Christian philosophy, but of Hellenic error. Into the city above you are enrolled[17], into the polity[18] there you are reckoned, you will mingle with the angels; where light does not give way to darkness, nor day fulfilled to night, but is always day, always light. To these therefore let us look continually.

“For seek”, he says, “the things above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.”[19]

You have nothing in common with the earth, where the courses of the sun are, and circuits, and days; but if you live rightly, the night will be day for you; just as then for those living in licentiousness and drunkenness and intemperance, their day is turned into the darkness of night, not with the sun’s extinction, but the darkening of their mind by inebriation. To be passionately excited towards these days, and to receive greater pleasure in them, and to kindle lights in the forum, and to weave wreaths, is of childish folly. But you have been freed from this weakness, and come into adulthood, and been enrolled in the polity of the heavens.

Do not therefore kindle sensate fire in the forum, but kindle spiritual light in your mind.

“For let”, he said, “your light shine before men, so they may see your good works, and they will glorify our Father in the heavens.”[20]

This light brings you much recompense. Do not crown the door of the house, but display such a way of life[21], so that you will receive the crown of righteousness on your head from the hand of Christ. Let nothing be done rashly, nor simply; thus Paul enjoins that all things be done for the glory of God.

“For whether you eat,” he said, “or drink, or do whatever, do all for the glory of God”[22]

And what is it, he says, to eat and drink for God’s glory? Call the poor man, make Christ a participant of the table, and you eat and drink for God’s glory.

But not this alone does he enjoin us to do for God’s glory, but all the rest as well, as to go into the forum, and to remain at home; let these both be done for God’s sake[23]. And how are these both to be done for God’s sake? Whenever you come into church, whenever you partake of prayer, whenever of spiritual teaching, the advance has occurred for God’s glory. Again, it is to remain at home for God’s sake. And how this?[24] Whenever you hear disturbances, disorderly and diabolical processions, the forum filled with wicked and undisciplined men, remain at home, free from this disorder, and you remain for God’s glory.

Just as spending time at home and going-out is able to be done for God’s sake, thus also of praise and censure. And what is it to praise something for God’s glory, he says, and to accuse? You sit frequently in workplaces, you see evil and wicked men passing by, raising the eyebrows[25], puffed up, trailing many parasites and flatterers, wearing expensive clothes, surrounded with some mystique, seizing all things, avaricious. If you hear someone saying, “Is he not enviable, is he not blessed?” Rebuke, accuse, silence, pity, weep; this is what it means to censure for God’s sake.

Censure is teaching of philosophy to those meeting together and is so strong of virtue[26], so as to no longer long[27] for the things of everyday life. Say to the one saying these things: Why is this man blessed? Because he has a marvellous horse and a golden bridle, and possesses many servants, and wears bright clothing, and bursts[28] each day in drunkenness and luxury? But for this reason he would be wretched and cursed, and worthy of a thousand tears. I see then that you are able to praise nothing of him, but all things external to him, the horse, the bridle, the clothing, of which nothing is his.

What then, tell me, is more pitiable than this, when his horse, and the horse’s bridle, and the beauty of his clothes, and the bodily vigour of his servants are marvelled, but he passes by unpraised? Who then could be poorer than this man, having nothing good of his own, nor anything which he is able to carry away from here, but is adorned entirely by external things? For adornment and riches are properly our own, not servants and clothing and horses, but virtue of soul, and wealth of good deeds, and confidence towards God.

4. Again, you see another man, a pauper, rejected, despised and passing his life in poverty and virtue, considered unhappy by his companions: commend this man, and the praise of this man as he passes by is exhortation and counsel of a useful and good way of life[29]. If they say, “He is wretched and miserable,” say that this one is the most blessed of all, having God as his friend, passing life in virtue, possessing a wealth never failing, having a pure conscience. For what harm is there to him from the lack of possessions, when he is going to inherit heaven and the good things in heaven?

And if you yourself philosophise in this manner, and instruct others, you will receive a great reward from both censure and from praises, doing both for God’s glory. And that I do not allure you vainly saying these things, but that a certain great recompense exists with the God of all things for those whose intellect is thus disposed, and that the thing has been considered a certain virtue, [that is] the resolving to do such things, hear what the prophet says concerning those so living, and how he places things in an order of perfections, the despising of those doing wickedness, and the glorifying of those fearing God.

For after recounting the other virtue of the one who will be honoured by God, also he says, of what sort one must be to dwell in the holy tabernacle, that is blameless, and performing righteousness, and wicked-less, and this he adds: For saying,

“Who did not deceive with his tongue, and did no harm to his neighbour”[30]

he adds,

“The one doing evil is set at nought before him, but those fearing the Lord he glorifies”[31]

showing that this is one of those perfections, that is to despise the wicked, and to praise and bless the good. And again elsewhere this same thing he makes plain, saying,

“Your friends were exceedingly honourable to me, God, their beginnings[32] became very strong.”[33]

Whom God praises, do not censure: he praises the one living in righteousness, even if he be poor; whom God turns away, do not praise: he turns away the one living in wickedness, even if he be surrounded by much wealth. But if you praise, and if you censure, do both as God wishes. For there is even accusing unto the glory of God. How? Frequently we are vexed with our servants. How then is there accusing for God’s sake?

If you see someone drunk, or stealing, whether servant, or friend, or some other of those related to you, whether running into the theatre, or having no concern for their soul, or swearing[34], or perjuring[35], or lying: be angry[36], punish, turn them back, correct; and you did all these things for God’s sake. And if you see someone sinning against you, and omitting something of their service toward you, pardon them, and you are forgiven for God’s sake. But now many do the opposite, both to their friends, and to their servants. For when they sin against them, they become bitter and unforgiving judges; but when they insult God, and ruin their own souls, they produce no rationale. Again, is it necessary to make friends? Make them, for God’s sake. Is it necessary to make enemies?

Make them, for God’s sake. And by what means does one make friends and enemies for God’s sake? If we do not attract those friends, whence money is taken, whence sharing of a table, whence obtaining of human patronage, but pursue and make those friends, those able always to order our soul, counsel necessities, rebuke sinners, expose trespassers, restore those fallen, and aiding by counsel and prayers to lead to God. Again, it is permitted to make enemies for God’s sake. If you see someone undisciplined, abominable, full of wickedness, replete with unclean teachings, tripping you up and harming you, stand apart and turn away, just as also Christ commanded, saying, “If your right eye trips you up, pluck it out and cast it from you”[37] commanding those friends, those being desirable in the rank of eyes[38], and necessary in the things of everyday life, to cut off, and to cast out, if they harm you with regard to the salvation of the soul. If you share in their meetings, and you prolong your speech, do even this for God’s sake, and if you keep silent, keep silent for God’s sake.

And what is it to participate in the meeting for God’s sake? If you are seated with someone, converse nothing concerning daily affairs, nor of simple things even vainly and nothing of those related to you, but concerning our philosophy, concerning Hell, concerning the Kingdom of the Heavens, but not superfluities and unprofitable things, such as, “Who entered authority?[39] Who lost power? For what reason was so-and-so injured[40]? Whence did so-and-so profit and become better off? What did so-and-so dying leave behind to such-and-such? How did so-and-so miss out, expecting to be listed among the foremost of the heirs?”

And many other such things. Let us not then discuss such things, nor bear others discussing [them]; but let us consider what-doing or what-saying is to please God. Again, it is to keep silent for God’s sake, being maltreated, abused, suffering a thousand evils, if you bear them nobly, and emit no blasphemous word against the one doing these things to you. Not to praise and to censure alone, nor to remain indoors and to go out, not to utter and to keep silent, but also to weep and mourn, and to enjoy and delight is to God’s glory.

For when you see either a brother sinning, or yourself falling into a transgression, [if] then you groan and mourn[41], then you gain from the grief a salvation without regret, just as Paul says,

“For grief according to God produces a salvation without regret”[42]

If you see another person being highly esteemed, then do not disparage him, but as for one’s own goods give thanks to God, to the one making your brother illustrious, and you receive a great reward from this joy.

5. What then, tell me, is more pitiable than the envious, when it is permitted both to rejoice and to profit through joy, and they prefer rather to grieve upon the advantages of others, and with the grief to yet also attract a punishment from God, an unendurable retribution. And what need is there to speak of praise, and of blame, and of pain, and of joy, when indeed even from the least of these things and from the meanest[43] events the greatest things are to be profited, if we do them for God’s sake?

For what is more lowly than to be shorn? But even this is to be done for God’s sake. For when you do not arrange your hair, nor adorn you appearance, nor decorate yourself for an enticement and beguilement of onlookers, but simply and as it happens and as much as necessity alone demands, you do this for God’s sake, you will in all ways have your reward, because you have checked evil desire, and beaten into shape inopportune ambition. For if one giving only a cup of water for God’s sake will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, let the one doing all things for God’s sake consider how great the recompense he will enjoy.

There is also to walk for God’s sake, and to look for God’s sake. What is it to look for God’s sake, and to walk? When you do not run towards wickedness, when you do not busy yourself with other’s beauty, when seeing a woman by chance[44], you curb your eye, you fortify the visage with the fear of God, then you have done this for God’s sake; when clothes not extravagant and making you soft, but able to cover you, let us wear these alone. And it is even up to the shoes that this law leads. For many have slipped to this point of slackness and wastefulness, as to adorn even their shoes, and to embellish them from every side, not less than others their faces: which is of an unclean and corrupted soul. For if even this seems to be small, but it is an evidence and proof of great ruination, both in men and women.

Therefore it is lawful even to use shoes for God’s sake, when we seek their use everywhere, and we make this the measure of their employment. And that both through walking and through clothing [we] are to glorify God, hear what a certain wise man says,

“clothing of a man, and laughter of teeth, and step of foot, declare things concerning him.”[45]

For when we appear, clothed and august, and full of reverence, and exhibiting much chastity on all sides: from the bare occurrence, the unbeliever, and the licentious, and the tumultuous, seeing this kind of thing will be amazed, even if he be unaware of everything. And if we marry a woman, let us do this for God’s sake, so that we may be chaste, not so that we might acquire[46] a more resourceful property[47], [but] so that we might seek nobility of soul, not abundance of possessions, nor distinction of ancestors, but excellence and reasonableness of customs. Let us take a companion for life, not a business associate.

And why is it necessary to recount all things in detail? For it is permissible finally for you, from the things spoken, to methodically work through each of the things that occurs or is done, and to do for God’s sake. And just as the merchants sailing the sea, and bringing to safe anchorage in cities, do not first depart the shore, nor go up into the marketplace, until they learn that there is some profit from the things laid up there.

Thus also you nothing, neither do, nor say, unless it hold some profit regarding God. And do not say to me that it is not possible to do all things for God’s sake. For when putting on your shoes, and [hair], and dressing of garments, and travelling, and appearance, and words, and meetings, both enterings and exitings, both gibes and praises, both censures and approvals, both friendships and enmities are able to happen for God’s sake, what is left which is not able to happen for God’s sake, if we desire it?

What is worse than a jailer? Does not [that] life seem altogether to be the worst? But it is permitted to the one wishing to profit even from there, when he spares the enchained, when he cares for those unjustly incarcerated, when he does not make business from others’ misfortunes, when he sets before all prisoners a common threshold. Thus was the jailer, in Paul’s case, saved[48]: Whence it is clear that in all things, if we wish it, we are able to be profitable.

6. What is worse than murder, tell me? But this shameless-deed was one able to birth righteousness for the one who did it: so great is doing something for God’s sake whatever one does. And how was murder able to produce righteousness? The Midianites were once wishing to provoke God to war with the Jews, and by this expecting to be [superior] to them, if they might deprive them of the Lord’s goodwill, beautifying girls and standing them before the camp, they enticed them and lead them into fornication, then from there into impiety. Phinehas, seeing this, having taken in hand a sword, and seizing two [people] fornicating, pierced them both in their sin, and checked the anger of God from his judgment. And the thing that happened was murder, but the outcome of that was the salvation of all who were being destroyed, whence also it brought righteousness to the one who did it.[49]

And not only did it not defile his hands, but that murder made them even more pure, and very rightly so: for not hating those he killed, but sparing the rest, he did this: he killed the two, and saves unlimited myriads. For just as doctors do, cutting off the putrefied parts of the members, they save the body whole and sound; thus also did he do. On this account the Psalmist says, “Phinehas stood and propitiated, and the slaughter abated, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness unto generation and generation, until eternity.”[50] Immortal then remains the memory of deed rightly done.

Again, another prayed, and offended God: so great a thing is it not to do something for God’s sake: I mention the Pharisee[51]. But just as Phinehas committing murder was approved [by God], thus also this man, not from his prayer, but from his disposition with which he prayed, fell into offence. Thus when something is done not for God’s sake, even if the matter be spiritual, it causes great harm; just as then when something is done for God’s sake, even if it be carnal[52], it benefits greatly the one doing it with a God-loving disposition. For what is worse and harsher than murder? But nevertheless it made righteous him who dared it.

What sort of defence will we have, saying that it is not possible to profit in everything, and to do all things for God’s sake, when some profit was found even from murder? If we wish to pay attention, we will traffic in this spiritual profit, through all of life, whether buying something, or needing to sell; such as, when we do not ask for more than the customary price, when we do not observe the times of difficulty, and then give a share to those in need.[53]

“The one raising the price of grain is cursed by the people”, he says.[54]

And what need is there to review each, to gather the whole from one example is needed? For just as builders, whenever they are about to raise a wall, stretching a small cord from corner to corner, thus construct the edifice, so that its appearance be not uneven; thus also we, in place of a small cord, stretching this word that was spoken,

“Whether you eat, whether you drink, whether you do some other thing, do all for the glory of God.”[55]

If we pray, if we fast, if we accuse, if we pardon, if we praise, if we censure, if we enter, if we exit, if we sell, if we buy, if we are silent, if we converse, if we do any thing else whatsoever, let us do all for the glory of God, and if something be not for the glory of God, neither let it be done, nor be spoken by us; but in place of a great staff, in place of arms and safeguard, in place of unspeakable treasures, wherever we might be, let us carry around this word with us, having inscribed it upon our understanding, so that doing and speaking and trafficking all things for the glory of God, we shall obtain the glory that is from him both in this world and after  the journey here[56].

“For those that glorified me”, he says, “I will glorify”[57].

Not therefore with words, but also through deeds let us glorify him continually with Christ our God, because all glory befits him, honour and worship, now and always unto the ages of ages. Amen.




[1] The referent is Bishop Flavianus, and so throughout the opening section

[2] Sirach 3:1

[3] i.e., Flavianus

[4] cf. Exodus 17

[5] probably with a parallel sense, ‘to be saddened’.

[6] ???? ??? ???? ?? ????????????, ???? ?? ???? ?? ???? ???????? ????? ??????????????.

[7] The Greek is difficult. Perhaps some social background will help: cf. Hom ad pop. Ant 16. (P.G. xlix. 173) ??????????? ?? ????????? ??????? ???????? ??? ????????????, ????? ?? ??? ?? ?????? ???????????. As found in Liebeschuetz Antioch, p55; Liebescheutz suggests that a scene of men working in the same worskshop, but as their own individual worker, but contributing to a common till; a kind of un-specialised factory situation.

[8] i.e. they observe certain days as special or sacral, especially according to the pagan calendars.

[9] philosophy, both here and throughout Chrysostom, refers to Christianity as both a distinct set of beliefs, and a set of practices or way of life. It highlights the rivalry between the Christian philosophy, and the philosophical schools of the Hellenism.

[10] Galatians 4.10-11

[11] i.e., auspicious, superstitiously-favourable

[12] alt. ‘salvation’.

[13] i.e. the former brings new depondencies that previously were not there, but the latter drives away those that were present beforehand.

[14] 1 Cor 5:8

[15] ‘Prick the heart’ may be a better English idiom.

[16] Ps 78:33 (Ps 77:33 LXX)

[17] i.e. as a citizen.

[18] politeia, like philosophy, is a key concept-work for Chrysostom. It refers variously to the body of Christians both on earth and in heaven, their way of life as citizens, and their ordered existence in the church. It is also a rival politeia to that of Plato’s Republic and the like.

[19] Col 3:1b

[20] Mt 5:16; Chrysostom has ‘our Father’ for ‘your Father’.

[21] ‘way of life’ here correponds to citizenship above.

[22] 1 Cor 10:31. This verse provides the theme for the rest of the sermon.

[23] ??? ??? ???? and so throughout.

[24] i.e. How will one glorify God in this action of staying at home?

[25] A sign of haughtiness and importance

[26] This first half of the sentence is as confusing in the Greek as in the English.

[27] More literally, ‘gape’.

[28] Migne’s Latin has solvitur which we might render ‘dissolves’, thus picking up the idea of moral dissolution in a wanton life. The Greek ???????????? is difficult to construe.

[29] politeia

[30] Ps 15:3 (Ps 14:3 LXX)

[31] Ps 15:4 (Ps 14:4 LXX)

[32] poss. authorities

[33] Ps 138:17 LXX. Ps 139:17 MT differs radically from this reading.

[34] i.e. swearing oaths

[35] i.e. to swear falsely

[36] ?????????, the same verb used for ‘vexed’ above.

[37] Mt 5:29

[38] Chrysostom’s meaning seems to be ‘those friends whom we hold as dear as our own eyes’, which Migne’s Latin also implies.

[39] N elected officials would enter office on the Kalends, which presumably explains the kind of political conversation Chrysostom has in view.

[40] Possibly with a technical or financial sense: fined, punished

[41] These two verbs continue the protasis of the conditional

[42] 2 Cor 7:10

[43] ‘Mean’ in the sense of cheap, frugal, vulgar.

[44] i.e. that you encounter when walking around

[45] Sirach 19:30 (LXX; KJV), 19:27 (VUL). The sense of the phrase is that they ‘declare concerning him’. The Vulgate gets at it more clearly (though Migne’s Latin does not match the Clementine Vulgate)

[46] Lit. ‘work’

[47] A difficult phrase to translate: ??? ?????? ??????????? ??????????

[48] Acts 16:25-40

[49] Numbers 25

[50] Psalm 106:30-31, (Ps 105:30-1 LXX) both the MT and Migne have ‘from generation to generation’, whereas LXX, Chrys, and Vul have ‘unto generation and generation.’

[51] Migne references Luke 18, by which he must mean Luke 18:9-14, concerning the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

[52] ???????? earthly, of this world, not-spiritual

[53] Chrysostom’s drift seems to be equity in mercantile dealings, especially in light of scarcity. Not driving up prices in times of need or to those in need is, in effect, a gracious sharing with them of what would otherwise be exploitive profit.

[54] Pr 11:26a. There is significant variation in this verse, as the following shows.

LXX: ? ??????? ????? ?????????? ????? ???? ???????;

Vul: Qui abscondit frumenta maledicetur in populis ;

Mig: Maledictus enim, ille, qui frumenti caritatem auget;

Chr: ? ??? ?????????? ????? ?????????????

[55] 1 Cor 10:31. Chrysostom omits ??? from his citation, presumably since the inferential conjunction would be out of place in his own discourse.

[56] i.e. after this life.

[57] 1 Sam 2:30; (1 Reg 2.30 LXX)


On the Virgin Birth and the Creation of Woman

Apse flyer628

by St. John Chrysostom

It was fitting that the Giver of all holiness should enter this world by a pure and holy birth. For He it is that of old formed Adam from the virgin earth, and from Adam without help of woman formed woman. For as without woman Adam produced woman, so did the Virgin without man this day bring forth a man. For it is a man, saith the Lord, and who shall know him [Jer. 17:9]. For since the race of women owed to men a debt, as from Adam without woman woman came, therefore without man the Virgin this day brought forth, and on behalf of Eve repaid the debt to man.

That Adam might not take pride, that he without woman had engendered woman, a Woman without man has begotten man; so that by the similarity of the mystery is proved the similarity in nature. For as before the Almighty took a rib from Adam, and by that Adam was not made less; so in the Virgin He formed a living temple, and the holy virginity remained unchanged. Sound and unharmed Adam remained even after the deprivation of a rib; unstained the Virgin though a Child was born of her.

+ St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”




More on the Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem

On the Star of Bethlehem

Every year around Christmas, reports appear in the papers or on television which claim to give an astronomical explanation of the Star of Bethlehem: It was a comet, we’re told, or a supernova, or a reading in an astrological horoscope. These speculations miss the early Christian understanding of the Star that led the Magi.

St John Chrysostom, in his homily on Matthew chapter 2, explains clearly why the Star could not have been a natural phenomenon, but that it was an angelic appearance, like the Pillar of Cloud in the Old Testament.

You know that a spot of such small dimensions, being only as much as a shed would occupy, or rather as much as the body of a little infant would take up, could not possibly be marked out by a star. For by reason of its immense height, it could not sufficiently distinguish so confined a spot, and reveal it to those who were desiring to see it. And this anyone may see by the moon, which being so far superior to the stars, seems to all that dwell in the world to be near to each and every one of them. How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, “Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”

— The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily VI. 3, 4

To recognize the Star we must look in the Old Testament, in Numbers 24:17, where the seer Balaam utters his great prophecy,

“I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he does not come near. A Star shall dawn from Jacob, a Man shall arise out of Israel.”

This is what we read in the Orthodox text, the Septuagint. The Hebrew says, instead, “a sceptre shall arise out of Israel.” St Justin, in his Dialogue with Trypho 106, cites the verse, though instead of “man” he uses the word “ruler,” which is the word used in Matthew 2:6 in the citation of Micah.

Origen links the Magi with the prophecy of Balaam, implying the Star is a revelation of Christ Himself; Eusebius does the same. St Gregory of Nyssa also links the Magi with the prophecy of Balaam, and the hymnographer St Romanos, in his Kontakion for the Nativity, implies that the Star is Christ:

Ikos 5 (the Magi are speaking):

For Balaam laid before us precisely
The meaning of the words he spoke in prophecy,
When he said that a star would dawn,
A star that quenches all prophecies and auguries;
A star which resolves the parables of the wise,
And their sayings and their riddles,
A star far more brilliant than the star
Which has appeared, for he is the Maker of all the stars,
Of whom it was written of old, From Jacob there dawns
A little Child, God before the ages.



On the Star of Bethlehem

Angelic Star of Bethlehem

by Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (+407 AD)

On the Star of Bethlehem

For if you can learn what the star (of Bethlehem) was, and of what kind, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only, we shall easily know the other things also. Whence then will these points be manifest?

From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not, there is not any star that moves by this way, but whether it be the sun you mention, or the moon, or all the other stars, we see them going from east to west; but this was wafted from north to south; for so is Palestine situated with respect to Persia.

In the second place, one may see this from the time also. For it appears not in the night, but in midday, while the sun is shining; and this is not within the power of a star, nay not of the moon; for the moon that so much surpasses all, when the beams of the sun appear, straightway hides herself, and vanishes away. But this by the excess of its own splendor overcame even the beams of the sun, appearing brighter than they, and in so much light shining out more illustriously.

In the third place, from its appearing, and hiding itself again. For on their way as far as Palestine it appeared leading them, but after they set foot within Jerusalem, it hid itself: then again, when they had left Herod, having told him on what account they came, and were on the point of departing, it shows itself; all which is not like the motion of a star, but of some power highly endued with reason. For it had not even any course at all of its own, but when they were to move, it moved; when to stand, it stood, dispensing all as need required: in the same kind of way as the pillar of the cloud, now halting and now rousing up the camp of the Jews, when it was needful.

In the fourth place, one may perceive this clearly, from its mode of pointing Him out. For it did not, remaining on high, point out the place; it not being possible for them so to ascertain it, but it came down and performed this office. For you know that a spot of such small dimensions, being only as much as a shed would occupy, or rather as much as the body of a little infant would take up, could not possibly be marked out by a star. For by reason of its immense height, it could not sufficiently distinguish so confined a spot, and reveal it to those who were desiring to see it. And this anyone may see by the moon, which being so far superior to the stars, seems to all that dwell in the world to be near to each and every one of them. How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, “Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”

Do you see by what store of proofs this star is shown not to be one of the many, nor to have shown itself according to the order of the outward creation? And for what intent did it appear? To reprove the lawless peoplefor their insensibility, and to cut off from them all occasion of excuse for their willful ignorance. For, since He who came was to put an end to the ancient polity, and to call the world to the worship of Himself, and to be worshipped in all land and sea, straightway, from the beginning, He opens the door to the Gentiles, willing through strangers to admonish His own people.

Thus, because the prophets were continually heard speaking of His advent, and they gave no great heed, He made even barbarians come from a far country, to seek after the king that was among them. And they learn from a Persian tongue first of all, what they would not submit to learn from the prophets; that, if on the one hand they were disposed to be candid, they might have the strongest motive for obedience; if, on the other hand, they were contentious, they might henceforth be deprived of all excuse. For what could they have to say, who did not receive Christ after so many prophets, when they saw that wise men, at the sight of a single star, had received this same, and had worshipped Him who was made manifest.

-The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily VI. 3, 4, pp. 37-38




On Reading the Scriptures

by St. John Chrysostom

Gospel and Cross

It would indeed be proper for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be as though books to our souls; and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course. For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since to Noah, Abraham, and to his offspring, to Job, and to Moses also, He discoursed not by writings, rather He Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tablets, and the admonition which is given by these.

And this one may perceive was the case, not of the saints in the Old Testament only, but also of those in the New. For God did not give anything in writing to the Apostles, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit.

For “He,” our Lord said, “shall bring all things to your remembrance.”

And that you may learn that this was far better, hear what He said through the Prophet:

“I will make a new covenant with them, putting My laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them,”


“they shall be all taught of God.”

And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority, said, that they had received a law

“not in tablets of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

But since in process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word.

Reflect then how great an evil it is for us, who ought to live so purely as not even to need written words, but to yield up our hearts, as books, to the Spirit; now that we have lost that honor, and are come to have need of these, to fail again in duly employing even this second remedy. For if it be blameworthy to stand in need of written words, and not to have brought down on ourselves the grace of the Spirit; consider how heavy the charge of not choosing to profit even after this assistance. On the contrary if we treat what is written with neglect, as though it was cast forth without purpose, and at random, we shall bring down upon ourselves an increased punishment. So that no such effect may occur, let us give strict heed unto the things that are written.

Now we are on the point of entering into a city (if God permit) of gold, and more precious than any gold. Let us then mark her foundations, her gates consisting of sapphires and pearls; for indeed we have in Matthew an excellent guide. For through his gate we shall now enter in, and much diligence is required on our part. For should the Lord see any one not attentive, He casts him out of the city. Yes, for the city is most kingly and glorious; not as the cities with us, divided into a market-place, and the royal courts; for there all is the court of the King. Let us open therefore the gates of our mind, let us open our ears, and with great trembling, when on the point of setting foot on the threshold, let us worship the King that is therein.

For have one leading us with the eyes of the Spirit—Matthew the Publican, who offers to show us all; where the King sits and His host who stand by Him. He will show us where are the angels, where the archangels; and what place is set apart for the new citizens in this city, and what kind of way it is that leads there, and what is the manner of portion they have received, who first were citizens therein, and those next after them, and such as followed these. Let us not therefore with noise or tumult enter in, but with a mystical silence. For if in a city, a great silence is made, when the letter of the king is to be read, much more in this city must all be collected, and stand with soul and ear erect. For it is not the letters of any earthly master, but of the Lord of angels, which are on the point of being read.

So today we set foot within a holy vestibule. Let us consider, the Jews, when they were to approach

“a mountain that burned, and fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest,”

—or rather when they were not so much as to approach, but both to see and to hear these things from afar—were commanded for three days before to abstain from their wives, and to wash their garments, and were in trembling and fear, both themselves and Moses with them. Therefore, much more should we who are not to stand far from a smoking mountain, but to enter into Heaven itself, show forth a greater self-denial; not washing our garments, but wiping clean the robe of our soul, and ridding ourselves of all mixture with worldly things. For it is not blackness that we shall see, nor smoke, nor tempest, but the King Himself sitting on the throne of that unspeakable glory, and angels, and archangels standing by Him, and the tribes of the saints, with those never-ending myriads.

For such is the city of God, having

“the Church of the first-born, the spirits of the just, the general assembly of the angels, the blood of sprinkling,”

whereby we are all knit into one. Heaven has received the things of earth, and earth the things of Heaven, and that peace has come which was of old longed for both by angels and by saints. Herein the trophy of the cross stands glorious, and conspicuous, the spoils won by Christ, the first-fruits of our inheritance, the booty of our King; all this we shall see in the Gospels. If you follow along with befitting quietness, we shall be able to lead you about everywhere, and to show where death is set forth crucified, and where sin is suspended, and where are the many and wondrous offerings from this war, from this battle. You shall likewise see the tyrant here bound, and the multitude of his minions led captive. You will see his hiding places, and the dens of his robbers, broken up now, and laid open.

But do not be weary, beloved, for if anyone was describing a visible war, and trophies, and victories, you would feel no satiety at all; no, you would not prefer either to eat or drink to such an account. But if that kind of narrative is welcome, how much more this. For consider what a thing it is to hear, how on the one side God from Heaven, arising

“out of the royal thrones, descended” (Wis. 18.15)

unto the earth, and even unto hell itself, and stood in the battle array; and how the devil on the other hand set himself in array against Him; or rather not against God unveiled, but God hidden in man’s nature. And what is marvelous, is that you will see death destroyed by death, and curse extinguished by curse, and the dominion of the devil put down by those very things whereby he did prevail. Let us therefore rouse ourselves thoroughly, and let us not sleep, for lo, I see the gates opening to us; but let us enter in with all seemly order, and with trembling, step straightway within the vestibule itself. But what is this vestibule?

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.”




The Place of Children

baby infant

by St. John Chrysostom

Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have more wealth and glory than riches can provide.



Can the Dead Repent?

zombie fear

by Fr. John Whiteford

Question: “If someone dies without repentance, is it possible for such a person to repent after death?”

Scripture, as explained by the Fathers of the Church, states that this is not possible.

Psalm 6:5 says:

“For in death there is none that is mindful of Thee, and in hades who will confess Thee?”

Commenting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom says:

“[The Prophet David is] not implying that our existence lasts only as far as this present life: perish the thought! After all, he is aware of the doctrine of the resurrection. Rather, it is that after our departure from here there would be no time for repentance. For the rich man praised God and repented, but in view of its lateness it did him no good [Luke 16:19-31]. The virgins wanted to get some oil, but no one gave any to them [Matthew 25:1-13]. So this is what this mane requests, too, for his sins to be washed away in this life so as to enjoy confidence at the tribunal of the fearsome judge” (St. John Chrysostom: Commentary on the Psalms, vol. I, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 102).

St. Jerome says:

“While you are still in this world, I beg of you to repent. Confess and give thanks to the Lord, for in this world only is he merciful. Here, he is able to be compassionate to the repentant, but because there he is judge, he is not merciful. Here, he is compassionate kindness; there, he is judge. Here, he reaches out his hand to the falling; there, he presides as judge” (Homily on Psalm 105[106], quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. VII, Craig A. Blaising and Carmen S. Hardin, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2008) p. 51).

St. Gregory the Theologian says:

“… it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing.  For as he who remembers God here is conqueror of death (as David has most excellently sung) so the departed have not in the grave confession and restoration; for God has confined life and action to this world, and to the future the scrutiny of what has been done” (On His Father’s Silence, Oration 16:7).

St. Basil the Great says:

“In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit.  The body is not divided, part being delivered to chastisement, and part let off; for when a whole has sinned it were like the old fables, and unworthy of a righteous judge, for only the half to suffer chastisement.  Nor is the soul cut in two,—that soul the whole of which possesses the sinful affection throughout, and works the wickedness in co-operation with the body. The cutting asunder, as I have observed, is the eternal separation of the soul from the Spirit.  For now, although the Spirit does not suffer admixture with the unworthy, He nevertheless does seem in a manner to be present with them that have once been sealed, awaiting the salvation which follows on their conversion; but then He will be wholly cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace.  For this reason “In Hades there is none that maketh confession; in death none that remembereth God,” because the help of the Spirit is no longer present” (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, 40).

Blessed Theodoret says:

“For this reason I beg the privilege of enjoying the cure in the present life, since I know that no cure will then be granted those departing this life with wounds, as there is no longer any room for repentance. This was exceptionally sound thinking on the part of the divine David: it is not in death but in life that one recalls God. Likewise, confession and reform do not come to the departed in Hades: God confined life and action to this life; there, however, he conducts an evaluation of performance. And in any case this is proper to to theeighth day, giving no longer opportunity for preparation by good or bad deeds to those who have arrived at it; instead, whatever works you have sown for yourself you will have occasion to reap. For this reason he obliges you to practice repentance here, there being no practice of this kind of effort in Hades. He says, in fact, “Since the opportunity coming to me for repentance was lengthy, I am afraid death may precede your mercy, there being no room for confession there — hence my request for your to be quick with your mercy.” Then he instructs the listener that along with God’s loving-kindness our effort is required, too: whether we plead weakness or confusion or God’s goodness without contributing what is ours, it is of no benefit to us” (Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Psalms, 1-72, trans. Robet C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 75).

St. Augustine says:

“”For in death there is no one that is mindful of Thee.” He knows too that now is the time for turning unto God: for when this life shall have passed away, there remaineth but a retribution of our deserts. “But in hell who shall confess to Thee?” That rich man, of whom the Lord speaks, who saw Lazarus in rest, but bewailed himself in torments, confessed in hell, yea so as to wish even to have his brethren warned, that they might keep themselves from sin, because of the punishment which is not believed to be in hell. Although therefore to no purpose, yet he confessed that those torments had deservedly lighted upon him; since he even wished his brethren to be instructed, lest they should fall into the same” (Commentary on the Psalms 6:6).

Cassiodorus says:

“This may elicit the question, why does he say that in death no-one is mindful of God, whereas then we can be made to tremble more by the imminent anger of God? But when we speak of those unmindful of God, this properly refers to the unfaithful. Isaiah said of them: For those in hell will not praise thee, nor will those who are dead bless thee. When Paul says: In the name of of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, the statement should be taken as referring only to the faithless and obstinate, who deserve to have no trust placed in their confession. So the psalmist rightly hastens to gain acquittal here, since once the sun has set nothing remains except deserved retribution. Who shall confess to thee in hell? We must mentally add “to win pardon.” Compare Solomon’s words on impious men: For they will say among themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, and the rest. Then too we know that the rich man who saw Lazarus settled in peace confessed his evil plight, but he was not heard praying for help because it is in this world that confession connotes also obtaining pardon. To help us realize that some distinction is being made in the words of the verse, in death means passing from life, whereas in hellmeans hugging the place where souls are known to endure what they have deserved. There is total denial that a confession can be made in each of these situations” (Cassiodorus:Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 1, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1990), p. 94f).

We find a very similar passage in Isaiah 38:18-19, which Cassiodorus references:

“For they that are in the grave shall not praise thee, neither shall the dead bless thee, neither shall they that are in Hades hope for thy mercy. The living shall bless thee, as I also do: for from this day shall I beget children, who shall declare thy righteousness.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria says:

“What is said in the psalm verse contains sentiments similar to this passage, “What value is there in my death if I descend into corruption? Dust will not praise you or proclaim your marvels [Psalm 29[30]:9].” In other words, once dead, and enclosed in the gates of Hades, they will cease giving praise. Nothing further could be added to what has been achieved; instead, they will remain in the condition in which they were left, and will await the time of the general judgment. So he is saying that it is the living, with the power of doing good on receipt of benefits who will bless you, as I do” (Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. II, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008), p. 300).

So here you have all of the Three Great Hierarchs, along with two great Latin Saints, St. Cyril of Alexandria (the preeminent Father of the Third Ecumenical Council), as well as two notable patristic commentators all saying essentially the same thing: the time for repentance is in this life. If you have not repented before death, it will then be too late.


Homily 2: The Apostle John and The Word

by St. John Chrysostom

“In the beginning was the Word.” – John 1:1

nativity-icon-4Were John about to converse with us, and to say to us words of his own, we needs must describe his family, his country, and his education. But since it is not he, but God by him, that speaks to mankind, it seems to me superfluous and distracting to enquire into these matters. And yet even thus it is not superfluous, but even very necessary. For when you have learned who he was, and from whence, who his parents, and what his character, and then hear his voice and all his heavenly wisdom, then you shall know right well that these (doctrines) belong not to him, but to the Divine power stirring his soul.

From what country then was he? From no country; but from a poor village, and from a land little esteemed, and producing no good thing. For the Scribes speak evil of Galilee, saying,

“Search and look, for out of Galilee arises no prophet.” ( John 7:52.)

And “the Israelite indeed” speaks ill of it, saying,

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

And being of this land, he was not even of any remarkable place in it, but of one not even distinguished by name. Of this he was, and his father a poor fisherman, so poor that he took his sons to the same employment. Now you all know that no workman will choose to bring up his son to succeed him in his trade, unless poverty press him very hard, especially where the trade is a mean one. But nothing can be poorer, meaner, no, nor more ignorant, than fishermen. Yet even among them there are some greater, some less; and even there our Apostle occupied the lower rank, for he did not take his prey from the sea, but passed his time on a certain little lake. And as he was engaged by it with his father and his brother James, and they mending their broken nets, a thing which of itself marked extreme poverty, so Christ called him.

As for worldly instruction, we may learn from these facts that he had none at all of it. Besides, Luke testifies this when he writes not only that he was ignorant, but that he was absolutely
unlettered. (Acts 4:13) As was likely. For one who was so poor, never coming into the public assemblies, nor falling in with men of respectability, but as it were nailed to his fishing, or even if he ever did meet any one, conversing with fishmongers and cooks, how, I say, was he likely to be in a state better than that of the irrational animals? how could he help imitating the very dumbness of his fishes?

This fisherman then, whose business was about lakes, and nets, and fish; this native of Bethsaida of Galilee; this son of a poor fisherman, yes, and poor to the last degree; this man ignorant, and to the last degree of ignorance too, who never learned letters either before or after he accompanied Christ; let us see what he utters, and on what matters he converses with us. Is it of things in the field? Is it of things in rivers? On the trade in fish? For these things, perhaps, one expects to hear from a fisherman. But fear ye not; we shall hear nought of these; but we shall hear of things in heaven, and what no one ever learned before this man. For, as might be expected of one who speaks from the very treasures of the Spirit, he is come bringing to us sublime doctrines, and the best way of life and wisdom, [as though just arrived from the very heavens; yea, rather such as it was not likely that all even there should know, as I said before.] Do these things belong to a fisherman? Tell me. Do they belong to a rhetorician at all? To a sophist or philosopher? To every one trained in the wisdom of the Gentiles?

By no means. The human soul is simply unable thus to philosophize on that pure and blessed nature; on the powers that come next to it; on immortality and endless life; on the nature of mortal bodies which shall hereafter be immortal; on punishment and the judgment to come; on the enquiries that shall be as to deeds and words, as to thoughts and imaginations. It cannot tell what is man, what the world; what is man indeed, and what he who seems to be man, but is not; what is the nature of virtue, what of vice.

Some of these things indeed the disciples of Plato and Pythagoras enquired into. Of the other philosophers we need make no mention at all; they have all on this point been so excessively ridiculous; and those who have been among them in greater esteem than the rest, and who have been considered the leading men in this science, are so more than the others; and they have composed and written somewhat on the subject of polity and doctrines, and in all have been more shamefully ridiculous than children. For they have spent their whole life in making women common to all, in overthrowing the very order of life, in doing away the honor of marriage, and in making other the like ridiculous laws. As for doctrines on the soul, there is nothing excessively shameful that they have left unsaid; asserting that the souls of men become flies, and gnats, and bushes, and that God Himself is a soul; with some other the like indecencies. And not this alone in them is worthy of blame, but so is also their ever-shifting current of words; for since they assert everything on uncertain and fallacious arguments, they are like men carried hither and thither in Euripus, and never remain in the same place.

Not so this fisherman; for all he says is infallible; and standing as it were upon a rock, he never shifts his ground. For since he has been thought worthy to be in the most secret places, and has the Lord of all speaking within him, he is subject to nothing that is human. But they, like persons who are not held worthy even in a dream to set foot in the king’s palace, but who pass their time in the forum with other men, guessing from their own imagination at what they cannot see, have erred a great error, and, like blind or drunken men in their wandering, have dashed against each other; and not only against each other, but against themselves, by continually changing their opinion, and that ever on the same matters.

But this unlettered man, the ignorant, the native of Bethsaida, the son of Zebedee, (though the Greeks mock ten thousand times at the rusticity of the names, I shall not the less speak them with the greater boldness.) For the more barbarous his nation seems to them, and the more he seems removed from Grecian discipline, so much the brighter does what we have with us appear. For when a barbarian and an untaught person utters things which no man on earth ever knew, and does not only utter, (though if this were the only thing it were a great marvel,) but besides this, affords another and a stronger proof that what he says is divinely inspired, namely, the convincing all his hearers through all time; who will not wonder at the power that dwells in him? Since this is, as I said, the strongest proof that he lays down no laws of his own. This barbarian then, with his writing of the Gospel, has occupied all the habitable world. With his body he has taken possession of the center of Asia, where of old philosophized all of the Grecian party, shining forth in the midst of his foes, dispersing their darkness, and breaking down the stronghold of  devils: but in soul he has retired to that place which is fit for one who has done such things.

And as for the writings of the Greeks, they are all put out and vanished, but this man’s shine brighter day by day. For from the time that he (was) and the other fishermen, since then the (doctrines) of Pythagoras and of Plato, which seemed before to prevail, have ceased to be spoken of, and most men do not know them even by name. Yet Plato was, they say, the invited companion of kings, had many friends, and sailed to Sicily. And Pythagoras occupied Magna Græcia, and practiced there ten thousand kinds of sorcery. For to converse with oxen, (which they say he did,) was nothing else but a piece of sorcery. As is most clear from this. He that so conversed with brutes did not in anything benefit the race of men, but even did them the greatest wrong. Yet surely, the nature of men was better adapted for the reasoning of philosophy; still he did, as they say, converse with eagles and oxen, using sorceries. For he did not make their irrational nature rational, (this was impossible to man,) but by his magic tricks he deceived the foolish. And neglecting to teach men anything useful, he taught that they might as well eat the heads of those who begot them, as beans. And he persuaded those who associated with him, that the soul of their teacher had actually been at one time a bush, at another a girl, at another a fish.

Are not these things with good cause extinct, and vanished utterly? With good cause, and reasonably. But not so the words of him who was ignorant and unlettered; for Syrians, and Egyptians, and Indians, and Persians, and Ethiopians, and ten thousand other nations, translating into their own tongues the doctrines introduced by him, barbarians though they be, have learned to philosophize. I did not therefore idly say that all the world has become his theater. For he did not leave those of his own kind, and waste his labor on the irrational creatures, (an act of excessive vainglory and extreme folly,) but being clear of this as well as of other passions, he was earnest on one point only, that all the world might learn somewhat of the things which might profit it, and be able to translate it from earth to heaven.

For this reason too, he did not hide his teaching in mist and darkness, as they did who threw obscurity of speech, like a kind of veil, around the mischiefs laid up within. But this man’s doctrines are clearer than the sunbeams, wherefore they have been unfolded to all men throughout the world. For he did not teach as Pythagoras did, commanding those who came to him to be silent for five years, or to sit like senseless stones; neither did he invent fables defining the universe to consist of numbers; but casting away all this devilish trash and mischief, he diffused such simplicity through his words, that all he said was plain, not only to wise men, but also to women and youths. For he was persuaded that the words were true and profitable to all that should hearken to them. And all time after him is his witness; since he has drawn to him all the world, and has freed our life when we have listened to these words from all monstrous display of wisdom; wherefore we who hear them would prefer rather to give up our lives, than the doctrines by him delivered to us.

From this then, and from every other circumstance, it is plain, that nothing of this man’s is human, but divine and heavenly are the lessons which come to us by this divine soul. For we shall observe not sounding sentences, nor magnificent diction, nor excessive and useless order and arrangement of words and sentences, (these things are far from all true wisdom,) but strength invincible and divine, and irresistible force of right doctrines, and a rich supply of unnumbered good things. For their over-care about expression was so excessive, so worthy of mere sophists, or rather not even of sophists, but of silly striplings, that even their own chief philosopher introduces his own master as greatly ashamed of this art, and as saying to the judges, that what they hear from him shall be spoken plainly and without premeditation, not tricked out rhetorically nor ornamented with (fine) sentences and words; since, says he, it cannot surely be becoming, O men, that one at my age should come before you like a lad inventing speeches. And observe the extreme absurdity of the thing; what he has described his master avoiding as disgraceful, unworthy of philosophy and work for lads, this above all he himself has cultivated. So entirely were they given up to mere love of distinction.

And as, if you uncover those sepulchers which are whitened without you will find them full of corruption, and stench, and rotten bones; so too the doctrines of the philosopher, if you strip them of their flowery diction, you will see to be full of much abomination, especially when he philosophizes on the soul, which he both honors and speaks ill of without measure. And this is the snare of the devil, never to keep due proportion, but by excess on either hand to lead aside those who are entangled by it into evil speaking. At one time he says, that the soul is of the substance of God; at another, after having exalted it thus immoderately and impiously, he exceeds again in a different way, and treats it with insult, making it pass into swine and asses, and other animals of yet less esteem than these.

But enough of this; or rather even this is out of measure. For if it were possible to learn anything profitable from these things, we must have been longer occupied with them; but if it be only to observe their indecency and absurdity, more than requisite has been said by us already. We will therefore leave their fables, and attach ourselves to our own doctrines, which have been brought to us from above by the tongue of this fisherman, and which have nothing human in them.

Let us then bring forward the words, having reminded you now, as I exhorted you at the first, earnestly to attend to what is said. What then does this Evangelist say immediately on his outset?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” ( John 1:1)  

Do you see the great boldness and power of the words, how he speaks nothing doubting nor conjecturing, but declaring all things plainly? For this is the teacher’s part, not to waver in anything he says, since if he who is to be a guide to the rest require another person who shall be able to establish him with certainty, he would be rightly ranked not among teachers, but among disciples.
But if any one say,

“What can be the reason that he has neglected the first cause, and spoken to us at once concerning the second?”

we shall decline to speak of “first” and “second,” for the Divinity is above number, and the succession of times. Wherefore we decline these expressions; but we confess that the Father is from none, and that the Son is begotten of the Father. Yes, it may be said, but why then does he leave the Father, and speak concerning the Son? Why? because the former was manifest to all, if not as Father, at least as God; but the Only-Begotten was not known; and therefore with reason did he immediately from the very beginning hasten to implant the knowledge of Him in those who knew Him not.
Besides, he has not been silent as to the Father in his writings on these points.

And observe, I beg of you, his spiritual wisdom. He knows that men most honor the eldest of beings which was before all, and account this to be God. Wherefore from this point first he makes his beginning, and as he advances, declares that God is, and does not like Plato assert, sometimes that He is intellect, sometimes that He is soul; for these things are far removed from that divine and unmixed Nature which has nothing common with us, but is separated from any fellowship with created things, I mean as to substance, though not as to relation.

And for this reason he calls Him “The Word.” For since he is about to teach that this “Word” is the only-begotten Son of God, in order that no one may imagine that His generation is passible, by giving Him the appellation of “The Word,” he anticipates and removes beforehand the evil suspicion, showing that the Son is from the Father, and that without His changing.

Do you see then that as I said, he has not been silent as to the Father in his words concerning the Son? And if these instances are not sufficient fully to explain the whole matter, marvel not, for our argument is God, whom it is impossible to describe, or to imagine worthily; hence this man nowhere assigns the name of His essence, (for it is not possible to say what God is, as to essence,) but everywhere he declares Him to us by His workings. For this “Word” one may see shortly after called “Light,” and the “Light” in turn named “Life.”

Although not for this reason only did he so name Him; this was the first reason, and the second was because He was about to declare to us the things of the Father. For

“all things,” He says, “that I have heard from my Father, I have made known unto you.” (John 15:15)

He calls Him both “Light” and “Life,” for He has freely given to us the light which proceeds from knowledge, and the life which follows it. In short, one name is not sufficient, nor two, nor three, nor more, to teach us what belongs to God. But we must be content to be able even by means of many to apprehend, though but obscurely, His attributes.

And he has not called Him simply “Word,” but with the addition of the article, distinguishing Him from the rest in this way also. Do you see then that I said not without cause that this Evangelist speaks to us from heaven? Only see from the very beginning where he has drawn up the soul, having given it wings, and has carried up with him the mind of his hearers. For having set it higher than all the things of sense, than earth, than sea, than heaven, he leads it by the hand above the very angels, above cherubim and seraphim, above thrones and principalities and powers; in a word, persuades it to journey beyond all created things.

What then? When he has brought us to such a height as this, is he in sooth able to stop us there? By no means; but just as one by transporting into the midst of the sea a person who was standing on the beach, and looking on cities, and beaches, and havens, removes him indeed from the former objects, yet does not stay his sight anywhere, but brings him to a view without bound; so this Evangelist, having brought us above all creation, and escorted us towards the eternal periods which lie beyond it, leaves the sight suspended, not allowing it to arrive at any limit upwards, as indeed there is none.

For the intellect, having ascended to “the beginning,” enquires what “beginning”; and then finding the “was” always outstripping its imagination, has no point at which to stay its thought; but looking intently onwards, and being unable to cease at any point, it becomes wearied out, and turns back to things below. For this “was in the beginning,” is nothing else than expressive of ever being and being infinitely.

Do you see true philosophy and divine doctrines? Not like those of the Greeks, who assign times, and say that some indeed of the gods are younger, some elder. There is nothing of this with us. For if God Is, as certainly He Is, then nothing was before Him. If He is Creator of all things, He must be first; if Master and Lord of all, then all, both creatures and ages, are after Him.

I had desired to enter the lists yet on other difficulties, but perhaps our minds are wearied out; when therefore I have advised you on those points which are useful to us for the hearing, both of what has been said, and of what is yet to be said, I again will hold my peace. What then are these points? I know that many have become confused by reason of the length of what has been spoken. Now this takes place when the soul is heavy laden with many burdens of this life. For as the eye when it is clear and transparent is keen-sighted also, and will not easily be tired in making out even the minutest bodies; but when from some bad humor from the head having poured into it, or some smoke-like fumes having ascended to it from beneath, a kind of thick cloud is formed before the ball, this does not allow it clearly to perceive even any larger object; so is naturally the case with the soul. For when it is purified, and has no passion to disturb it, it looks steadfastly to the fit objects of its regard; but when, darkened by many passions, it loses its proper excellence, then it is not easily able to be sufficient for any high thing, but soon is wearied, and falls back; and turning aside to sleep and sloth, lets pass things that concern it with a view to excellence and the life thence arising, instead of receiving them with much readiness.

And that you may not suffer this, (I shall not cease continually thus to warn you,) strengthen your minds, that you may not hear what the faithful among the Hebrews heard from Paul. For to them he said that he had

“many things to say, and hard to be uttered” ( Heb. v. 11 );

not as though they were by nature such, but because, says he,

“you are dull of hearing.”

For it is the nature of the weak and infirm man to be confused even by few words as by many, and what is clear and easy he thinks hard to be comprehended. Let not any here be such an one, but having chased from him all worldly care, so let him hear these doctrines.

For when the desire of money possesses the hearer, the desire of hearing cannot possess him as well; since the soul, being one, cannot suffice for many desires; but one of the two is injured by the other, and, from division, becomes weaker as its rival prevails, and expends all upon itself.

And this is wont to happen in the case of children. When a man has only one, he loves that one exceedingly. But when he has become father of many, then also his dispositions of affection being divided become weaker.

If this happens where there is the absolute rule and power of nature, and the objects beloved are akin one with another, what can we say as to that desire and disposition which is according to deliberate choice; especially where these desires lie directly opposed to each other; for the love of wealth is a thing opposed to the love of this kind of hearing. We enter heaven when we enter here; not in place, I mean, but in disposition; for it is possible for one who is on earth to stand in heaven, and to have vision of the things that are there, and to hear the words from thence.

Let none then introduce the things of earth into heaven; let no one standing here be careful about what is at his house. For he ought to bear with him, and to preserve both at home and in his business, what he gains from this place, not to allow it to be loaded with the burdens of house and market. Our reason for entering in to the chair of instruction is, that thence we may cleanse ourselves from the filth of the outer world; but if we are likely even in this little space to be injured by things said or done without, it is better for us not to enter at all.

Let no one then in the assembly be thinking about domestic matters, but let him at home be stirring with what he heard in the assembly. Let these things be more precious to us than any. These concern the soul, but those the body; or rather what is said here concerns both body and soul. Wherefore let these things be our leading business, and all others but occasional employments; for these belong both to the future and the present life, but the rest neither to the one nor the other, unless they be managed according to the law laid down for these. Since from these it is impossible to learn not only what we shall hereafter be, and how we shall then live, but how we shall rightly direct this present life also.

For this house is a spiritual hospital, that whatever wounds we may have received without, here we may heal, not that we may gather fresh ones to take with us hence. Yet if we do not give heed to the Spirit speaking to us, we shall not only fail to clear ourselves of our former hurts, but shall get others in addition.

Let us then with much earnestness attend to the book as it is being unfolded to us; since if we learn exactly its first principles and fundamental doctrines, we shall not afterwards require much close study, but after laboring a little at the beginning, shall be able, as Paul says, to instruct others also. ( Rom. 15:14.) For this Apostle is very sublime, abounding in many doctrines, and on these he dwells more than on other matters.

Let us not then be careless hearers. And this is the reason why we set them forth to you by little and little, so that all may be easily intelligible to you, and may not escape your memory. Let us fear then lest we come under the condemnation of that word which says,

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” ( John 15:22.)

For what shall we be profited more than those who have not heard, if even after hearing we go our way home bearing nothing with us, but only wondering at what has been said.
Allow us then to sow in good ground; allow us, that you may draw us the more to you. If any man hath thorns, let him cast the fire of the Spirit amongst them. If any hath a hard and stubborn heart, let him by employing the same fire make it soft and yielding. If any by the wayside is trodden down by all kind of thoughts, let him enter into more sheltered places, and not lie exposed for those that will to invade for plunder: that so we may see your cornfields waving with corn. Besides, if we exercise such care as this over ourselves, and apply ourselves industriously to this spiritual hearing, if not at once yet by degrees, we shall surely be freed from all the cares of life.

Let us therefore take heed that it be not said of us, that our  ears are those of a deaf adder. (Ps. 53:4) For tell me, in what does a hearer of this kind differ from a beast? and how could he be otherwise than more irrational than any irrational animal, who does not attend when God is speaking? And if to be well-pleasing to God is really to be a man, what else but a beast can he be who will not even hear how he may succeed in this? Consider then what a misfortune it would be for us to fall down of our own accord from (the nature of) men to (that of) beasts, when Christ is willing of men to make us equal to angels. For to serve the belly, to be possessed by the desire of riches, to be given to anger, to bite, to kick, become not men, but beasts. Nay, even the beasts have each, as one may say, one single passion, and that by nature. But man, when he has cast away the dominion of reason, and torn himself from the commonwealth of God’s devising, gives himself up to all the passions, is no longer merely a beast, but a kind of many-formed motley monster; nor has he even the excuse from nature, for all his wickedness proceeds from deliberate choice and determination.

May we never have cause to suspect this of the Church of Christ. Indeed, we are concerning you persuaded of better things, and such as belong to salvation; but the more we are so persuaded, the more careful we will be not to desist from words of caution. In order that having mounted to the summit of excellencies, we may obtain the promised goods. Which may it come to pass that we all attain to, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory unto ages of ages. Amen.