St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentaries on Philippians 3:7-17

This post contains St John Chrysostom’s 11th and 12th homilies on St Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

HOMILY 11 ON PHILIPPIANS 3:7-12

Philippians iii. 7-10.-“Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I counted all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God.”

In our contests with heretics, we must make the attack with minds in vigor, that they may be able to give exact attention. I will therefore begin nay present discourse where the last ended. And what was that? Having enumerated every Jewish boast, both those from his birth, and those that were from choice, he added, “Howbeit, what things were gain to me, these have I counted to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ.” Here the heretics spring to their attack: for even this comes of the wisdom of the Spirit, to suggest to them hopes of victory, that they may undertake the fight.

For if it had been spoken plainly, they would have acted here as they have done in other places, they would have blotted out the words, they would have denied the Scripture, when they were unable at all to look it in the face. But as in the case of fishes, that which can take them is concealed so that they may swim up, and does not lie open to view; this in truth hath come to pass here too. The Law, they say, is called “dung” by Paul, it is called “loss.” He says, it was not possible to gain Christ except I “suffered” this “loss.” All these things induced the heretics to accept this passage, thinking it to be favorable to them: but when they had taken it, then did he enclose them on all sides with his nets. For what do they themselves say? Lo! the Law is “loss,” is “dung”; how then do ye say that it is of God?

But these very words are favorable to the Law, and how they are so, shall be hence manifest. Let us attend accurately to his very words. He said not, The Law is loss: but “I counted it loss.” But when he spake of gain, he said not, I counted them, but “they were gain.” But when he spake of loss he said, “I counted”: and this rightly; for the former was naturally so, but the latter became so, from my opinion. “What then? Is it not so?” says he. It is loss for Christ.

And how has the law become gain? And it was not counted gain, but was so. For consider how great a thing it was, to bring men, brutalized in their nature, to the shape of men. If the law had not been, grace would not have been given. Wherefore? Because it became a sort of bridge; for when it was impossible to mount on high from a state of great abasement, a ladder was formed. But he who has ascended has no longer need of the ladder; yet he does not despise it, but is even grateful to it. For it has placed him in such a position, as no longer to require it. And yet for this very reason, that he doth not require it, it is just that he should acknowledge his obligation, for he could not fly up. And thus is it with the Law, it hath led us up on high; wherefore it was gain, but for the future we esteem it loss. How? Not because it is loss, but because grace is far greater. For as a poor man, that was in hunger, as long as he has silver, escapes hunger, but when he finds gold, and it is not allowable to keep both, considers it loss to retain the former, and having thrown it away, takes the gold coin; so also here; not because the silver is loss, for it is not; but because it is impossible to take both at once, but it is necessary to leave one. Not the Law then is loss, but for a man to cleave to the Law, and desert Christ. Wherefore it is then loss when it leads us away from Christ. But if it sends us on to Him, it is no longer so. For this cause he saith “loss for Christ”; if for Christ, it is not so naturally. But why doth not the Law suffer us to come to Christ? For this very cause, he tells us, was it given. And Christ is the fulfilling of the Law, and Christ is the end of the Law. It doth suffer us if we will. “For Christ is the end of the Law.” He who obeyeth the Law, leaves the Law itself. It suffers, if we take heed to it, but if we do not take heed, it suffers not. “Yea verily, and I have counted all things but loss.” Why, he means, do I say this of the Law? Is not the world good? Is not the present life good? but if they draw me away from Christ, I count these things loss. Why? “for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord.” For when the sun hath appeared, it is loss to sit by a candle: so that the loss comes by comparison, by the superiority of the other. You see that Paul makes a comparison from superiority, not from diversity of kind; for that which is superior, is superior to somewhat of like nature to itself. So that he shows the connection of that knowledge by the same means, by which he draws the superiority from the comparison. “For whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them dung, that I may gain Christ.” It is not yet manifest, whether he speaks of the Law, for it is likely that he applies it to the things of this world. For when he says, “the things which were gain to me, those I have counted loss for Christ; yea verily,” he adds, “I count all things loss.” Although he said all things, yet it is things present; and if you wish it to be the Law too, not even so is it insulted. For dung comes from wheat, and the strength of the wheat is the dung, I mean, the chaff. But as the dung was useful in its former state, so that we gather it together with the wheat, and had there been no dung, there would have been no wheat, thus too is it with the Law.

Seest thou, how everywhere he calls it “loss,” not in itself, but for Christ. “Yea verily, and I count all things but loss.” Wherefore again? “For the excellency of the knowledge (of Him), for whom I suffered the loss of all things.” Again, “wherefore too I count all things to be loss, that I may gain Christ.”

See how, from every point, he lays hold of Christ as his foundation, and suffers not the Law to be anywhere exposed, or receive a blow, but guards it on every side. “And that I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the Law.” If he who had righteousness, ran to this other righteousness because his own was nothing, how much rather ought they, who have it not, to run to Him? And he well said, “a righteousness of mine own,” not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence.

But what is “By faith that I may know Him”? So then knowledge is through faith, and without faith it is impossible to know Him. Why how? Through it we must “know the power of His resurrection.” For what reason can demonstrate to us the Resurrection? None, but faith only. For if the resurrection of Christ, who was according to the flesh, is known by faith, how can the generation of the Word of God be comprehended by reasoning? For the resurrection is less than the generation. Why? Because of that there have been many examples, but of this none ever; for many dead arose before Christ, though after their resurrection they died, but no one was ever born of a virgin. If then we must comprehend by faith that which is inferior to the generation according to the flesh, how can that which is far greater, immeasurably and incomparably greater, be comprehended by reason? These things make the righteousness; this must we believe that He was able to do, but how He was able we cannot prove. For from faith is the fellowship of His sufferings. But how? Had we not believed, neither should we have suffered: had we not believed, that “if we endure with Him, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. ii. 12), we should not have endured the sufferings. Both the generation and the resurrection is comprehended by faith. Seest thou, that faith must not be absolutely, but through good works; for he especially believes that Christ hath risen, who in like sort gives himself up to dangers, who hath fellowship with Him in His sufferings. For he hath fellowship with Him who rose again, with Him who liveth; wherefore he saith, “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.” He saith, being made conformable unto His death, i.e. having fellowship; whereas He suffered from men, thus I too; wherefore he said, “becoming conformed” and again in another place, “and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh.” (Col. i. 24.) That is, these persecutions and sufferings work the image of His death, for He sought not His own, but the good of many.

Therefore persecutions, and afflictions, and straits, ought not to disturb you, but ought even to make you glad, because through them we are “conformed to His death.” As if he had said, We are molded to His likeness; as he says in another place, where he writeth, “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” (2 Cor. iv. 10.) And this too comes from great faith. For we not only believe that He arose, but that after His resurrection also He hath great power: wherefore we travel the same road which He travelled, i.e. we become brethren to Him in this respect also. As if he had said, We become Christs in this respect. O how great is the dignity of sufferings! We believe that we become “conformed to His death” through sufferings! For as in baptism, we were “buried with the likeness of His death,” so here, with His death. There did he rightly say, “The likeness of His death” (Rom. vi. 4, Rom. vi. 5), for there we died not entirely, we died not in the flesh, to the body, but to sin. Since then a death is spoken of, and a death; but He indeed died in the body, whilst we died to sin, and there the Man died which He assumed, who was in our flesh, but here the man of sin; for this cause he saith, “the likeness of His death,” but here, no longer the likeness of His death, but His death itself. For Paul, in his persecutions, no longer died to sin, but in his very body. Wherefore, he endured the same death. “If by any means,” saith he, “I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.” What sayest thou? All men will have a share in that. “For we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. xv. 51), and shall all share not only in the Resurrection, but in incorruption. Some indeed to honor, but others as a means of punishment. If therefore all have a share in the Resurrection, and not in the Resurrection only, but also in incorruption, how said he, “If by any means I may attain,” as if about to share in some especial thing? “For this cause,” saith he, “I endure these things, if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.” For if thou hadst not died, thou wouldest not arise. What is it then? Some great thing seems here to be hinted at. So great was it, that he dared not openly assert it, but saith, “If by any means.” I have believed in Him and His resurrection, nay, moreover, I suffer for Him, yet I am unable to be confident concerning the Resurrection. What resurrection doth he here mention? That which leads to Christ Himself. I said, that I believed in “Him, and in the power of His resurrection,” and that I “have fellowship with His sufferings,” and that I “become conformed to His death.” Yet after all these things I am by no means confident; as he said elsewhere, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. x. 12.) And again, “I fear test by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” (1 Cor. ix. 27.)

Ver. 12. “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.”

“Not that I have already obtained.” What means “already obtained”? He speaks of the prize, but if he who had endured such sufferings, he who was persecuted, he “who had in him the dying of the Lord Jesus,” was not yet confident about that resurrection, what can we say? What meaneth, “if I may apprehend”? What he before said, “If I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (2 Cor. iv. 10) If I may apprehend, he saith, His resurrection; i.e. if I may be able to endure so great things, if I may be able to imitate Him, if I may be able to become conformed to Him. For example, Christ suffered many things, He was spit upon, He was stricken, was scourged, at last He suffered what things he suffered. This is the entire course. Through all these things it is needful that men should endure the whole contest, and so come to His resurrection. Or he means this, if I am thought worthy to attain the glorious resurrection, which is a matter of confidence, in order to His resurrection. For if I am able to endure all the contests, I shall be able also to have His resurrection, and to rise with glory. For not as yet, saith he, am I worthy, but “I press on, if so be that I may apprehend.” My life is still one of contest, I am still far from the end, I am still distant from the prize, still I run, still I pursue. And He said not, I run, but “I pursue.” For you know with what eagerness a man pursues. He sees no one, he thrusts aside with great violence all who would interrupt his pursuit. He collects together his mind, and sight, and strength, and soul, and body, looking to nothing else than the prize. But if Paul, who so pursued, who had suffered so many things, yet saith, “if I may attain,” what should we say, who have relaxed our efforts? Then to show that the thing is of debt, he saith, “For which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.” I was, he saith, of the number of the lost, I gasped for breath, I was nigh dead, God apprehended me. For He pursued us, when we fled from Him, with all speed. So that he points out all those things; for the words, “I was apprehended,” show the earnestness of Him who wishes to apprehend us, and our great aversion to Him, our wandering, our flight from Him.

So that we are liable for a vast debt, and no one grieves, no one weeps, no one groans, all having returned to their former state. For as before the appearance of Christ we fled from God, so now also. For we can flee from God, not in place, for He is everywhere; and hear the Prophet, when he says, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence”? (Ps. cxxxix. 7) How then can we flee from God? Even as we can become distant from God, even as we can be removed afar off. “They that are far from Thee,” it says, “shall perish.” (Ps. lxxiii. 27) And again, “Have not your iniquities separated between Me and you?” (Isa. lix. 2) How then comes this removal, how comes this separation? In purpose and soul: for it cannot be in place. For how could one fly from Him who is everywhere present? The sinner then flies. This is what the Scripture saith, “The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth him.” (Prov. xxviii. 1) We eagerly fly from God, although He always pursueth us. The Apostle hasted, that he might be near Him. We haste, that we may be far off.

Are not these things then worthy of lamentation? Are they not worthy of tears? Whither fliest thou, wretched and miserable man? Whither fliest thou from thy Life and thy Salvation? If thou fly from God, with whom wilt thou take refuge? If thou fly from the Light, whither wilt thou cast thine eyes? If thou fly from thy Life, whence wilt thou henceforth live? Let us fly from the enemy of our Salvation! Whensoever we sin we fly from God, we are as runaways, we depart to a foreign land, as he who consumed his paternal goods and departed into a foreign land, who wasted all his father’s substance, and lived in want. We too have substance from our Father; and what is this? He hath freed us from our sins; He hath freely given to us power, strength for works of virtue; He hath freely given to us readiness, patience; He hath freely given to us the Holy Ghost in our baptism; if we waste these things we shall henceforth be in want. For as the sick, as long as they are troubled with fevers, and badness of their juices, are unable to arise or work, or do anything, but if any one sets them free, and brings them to health, if they then work not, this comes from their own sloth; thus too is it with us. For the disease was heavy and the fever excessive. And we lay not upon a bed, but upon wickedness itself, cast away in crime, as on a dunghill, full of sores, and evil odors, squalid, wasting away, more like ghosts than men. Evil spirits encompassed us about, the Prince of this world deriding and assaulting us; the Only-Begotten Son of God came, sent forth the rays of His Presence, and straightway dispelled the darkness. The King, who is on His Father’s throne, came to us, having left His Father’s throne. And when I say having left, think not of any removal, for He filleth the heavens and the earth, but I speak of the economy; He came to an enemy, who hated Him, who turned himself away, who could not endure to behold Him, who blasphemed Him every day. He saw him lying on a dunghill, eaten with worms, afflicted with fever and hunger, having every sort of disease; for both fever vexed him, which is evil desire; and inflammation lay heavy on him, this is pride; and gnawing hunger had hold of him, which is covetousness; and putrefying sores on every side, for this is fornication; and blindness of eyes, which is idolatry; and dumbness, and madness, which is to worship stocks and stones, and address them; and great deformity, for wickedness is this, foul to behold, and a most heavy disease. And he saw us speaking more foolishly than the mad, and calling stocks our God, and stones likewise; He saw us in such great guilt, he did not reject us; was not wroth, turned not away, hated us not, for He was a Master, and could not hate His own creation. But what does he do? As a most excellent physician, He prepareth medicines of great price, and Himself tastes them first. For He Himself first followed after virtue, and thus gave it to us. And He first gave us the washing, like some antidote, and thus we vomited up all our guilt, and all things took their flight at once, and our inflammation ceased, and our fever was quenched, and our sores were dried up. For all the evils which are from covetousness, and anger, and all the rest, were dissipated by the Spirit. Our eyes were opened, our ears were opened, our tongue spake holy words: our soul received strength, our body received such beauty and bloom, as it is like that he who is born a son of God should have from the grace of the Spirit; such glory as it is like that the new-born son of a king should have, nurtured in purple. Alas! How great nobility did He confer on us!

We were born, we were nurtured, why do we again fly from our Benefactor? He then, who hath done all these things, giveth us strength too, for it was not possible, for a soul bowed down by the disease to endure it, did not He Himself give us the strength. He gave us remission of our sins. We devoured all things. He gave us strength, we wasted it. He gave us grace, we quenched it; and how? we consumed it upon nought that was fitting, we used it for no useful end. These things have destroyed us, and what is more dreadful than all, when we are in a foreign country, and feeding on husks, we say not, Let us return to our Father, and say, “We have sinned against Heaven, and against Thee.” (Luke xv. 18) And that too, when we have so loving a Father, who eagerly desires our return. If we will only return to Him, He does not even bear to call in question our former deeds, only let us quit them. It is sufficient apology with Him, that we have returned. Not only He Himself calls not in question, but if another does so, He stops his mouth, though the accuser be one of good repute. Let us return! How long do we stand afar off? Let us perceive our dishonor, let us be sensible of our vileness. Sin makes us swine, sin brings famine to the soul; let us regain ourselves, and be sober again, and return to our former high birth, that we may obtain the good things which are to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honor, now and ever and world without end.

HOMILY 12 ON PHILIPPIANS 3:13-17

Philippians iii. 13, 14.-“Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended:but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prizeof the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Nothing so renders our real excellences vain and puffs them away, as to be remembering the good deeds we have done; for this produces two evils, it both renders us remiss, and raises us to haughtiness. Wherefore see how Paul, since he knew our nature to be easily inclined to remissness, though he had given great praise to the Philippians, now subdues their mind by many other things above, but chiefly by his resent words. And what are they? “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” But if Paul had not as yet apprehended, and is not confident about the Resurrection and things to come, hardly should they be so, who have not attained the smallest proportion of his excellence. That is, I consider that I have not as yet apprehended all virtue, as if one were speaking of a runner. Not as yet, saith he, have I completed all. And if in another place he saith, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim. iv. 7), but here, “I count myself not as yet to have apprehended “; any one who reads carefully will well know the reason both of those, and of the present words; (for it is not necessary to dwell continually on the same point;) and that he spoke these words at a much earlier date, but the others near his death. But I am solely engaged on “one thing,” says he, “in stretching forward to the things which are before.” But “one thing,” says he, “forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” For what made him reach forward unto the things which are before, was his forgetting the things that are behind. He then, who thinks that all is accomplished, and that nothing is wanting to him for the perfecting of virtue, may cease running, as having apprehended all. But he who thinks that he is still distant from the goal, will never cease running. This then we should always consider, even though we have wrought ten thousand good deeds; for if Paul, after ten thousand deaths, after so many dangers, considered this, how much more should we? For I fainted not, saith he, although I availed not, after running so much; nor did I despair, but I still run, I still strive. This thing only I consider, that I may in truth advance. Thus too we should act, we should forget our successes, and throw them behind us. For the runner reckons not up how many circuits he hath finished, but how many are left. We too should reckon up, not how far we are advanced in virtue, but how much remains for us. For what doth that which is finished profit us, when that which is deficient is not added? Moreover he did not say, I do not reckon up, but I do not even remember. For we thus become eager, when we apply all diligence to what is left, when we give to oblivion everything else. “Stretching forward,” saith he; before we arrive, we strive to obtain. For he that stretches forward is one who, though his feet are running, endeavors to outstrip them with the rest of his body, stretching himself towards the front, and reaching out his hands, that he may accomplish somewhat more of the course. And this comes from great eagerness, from much warmth; thus the runner should run with great earnestness, with so great eagerness, without relaxation. As far as one who so runs differs from him who lies supine, so far doth Paul differ from us. He died daily, he was approved daily, there was no season, there was no time in which his course advanced not. He wished not to take, but to snatch the prize; for in this way we may take it. He who giveth the prize standeth on high, the prize is laid up on high.

See how great a distance this is that must be run over! See how great an ascent! Thither we must fly upwith the wings of the Spirit, otherwise it is impossible to surmount this height. Thither must we go with the body, for it is allowed. “For our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. iii. 20), there is the prize; seest thou the runners, how they live by rule, how they touch nothing that relaxes their strength, how they exercise themselves every day in the palaestra, under a master, and by rule? Imitate them, or rather exhibit even greater eagerness, for the prizes are not equal: many are those who would hinder you; live by rule: many are the things which relax your strength; make its feet agile: for it is possible so to do, it comes not naturally, but by our will. Let us bring it to lightness, lest our swiftness of foot be hindered by the weight of other things. Teach thy feet to be sure, for there are many slippery places, and if thou fallest, straightway thou losest much. But yet if thou fall, rise up again. Even thus mayst thou obtain the victory. Never attempt slippery things, and thou wilt not fall; walk upon firm ground, up with thy head, up with thine eyes; these commands the trainers give to those who run. Thus thy strength is supported; but if thou stoopest downward, thou fallest, thou art relaxed. Look upward, where the prize is; the sight of the prize increaseth the determination of our will. The hope of taking it suffereth not to perceive the toils, it maketh the distance appear short. And what is this prize? No palm branch; but what? The kingdom of heaven, everlasting rest, glory together with Christ, the inheritance, brotherhood, ten thousand good things, which it is impossible to name. It is impossible to describe the beauty of that prize; he who hath it alone knoweth it, and he who is about to receive it. It is not of gold, it is not set with jewels, it is far more precious. Gold is mire, in comparison with that prize, precious stones are mere bricks in comparison with its beauty. If thou hast this, and takest thy departure to heaven, thou wilt be able to walk there with great honor; the angels will reverence thee, when thou bearest this prize, with much confidence wilt thou approach them all. “In Christ Jesus.” See the humility of his mind; this I do, saith he, “in Christ Jesus,” for it is impossible without an impulse from Him to pass over so vast an interval: we have need of much aid, of a mighty alliance; He hath willed that thou shouldest struggle below, on high He crowns thee. Not as in this world; the crown is not here, where the contest is; but the crown is in that bright place. See ye not, even here, that the most honored of the wrestlers and charioteers are not crowned in the course below, but the king calls them up, and crowns them there? Thus too is it here, in heaven thou receivest the prize.

Ver. 15. “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded,” saith he. “And if in anything ye are otherwise minded, even this shall God reveal unto you.” What sort of thing? That we should “forget the things which are behind.” Wherefore it belongs to him who is perfect not to consider himself perfect. How therefore sayest thou, “as many as are perfect”? For tell me, are we minded as thou art? For if thou hast not attained nor art perfected, how dost thou command those that are perfect to be so minded as thou art, who art not yet perfect? Yea, for this, saith he, is perfection. And “if ye are in anything otherwise minded, even this shall God reveal unto you.” That is, if any one considers that he has attained all excellence. He puts them on their guard, not by speaking directly, but what saith he? “If in anything ye are otherwise minded, even this shall God reveal unto you.” See how humbly he saith this! God shall teach you, i.e. God shall persuade you, not teach you; for Paul was teaching, but God shall lead them on. And he said not, shall lead you on, but “shall reveal,” that this may rather seem to spring from ignorance. These words were spoken not concerning doctrines, but concerning perfection of life, and our not considering ourselves to be perfect, for he who considers that he hath apprehended all, hath nothing.

Ver. 16. “Only, whereunto we have already attained, by that same rule let us walk, let us mind the same thing.”

“Only, whereunto we have attained.” What means this? Let us hold fast, he saith, that in which we have succeeded; love, concord, and peace: for in this we have succeeded. “Whereto we have attained: to walk by the same rule, to mind the same thing.” “Whereunto we have attained,” i.e. in this we have already succeeded. Seest thou, that he wills that his precepts should be a rule to us? And a rule admits neither addition, nor subtraction, since that destroys its being a rule. “By the same rule,” i.e. by the same faith, within the same limits.

Ver. 17. “Brethren, be ye imitators of me, and mark them which so walk even as ye have us for an ensample.”

He had said above, “beware of dogs,” from such he had led them away; he brings them near to these whom they ought to imitate. If any one, saith he, wishes to imitate me, if any one wishes to walk the same road, let him take heed to them; though I am not present, ye know the manner of my walk, that is, my conduct in life. For not by words only did he teach, but by deeds too; as in the chorus, and the army, the rest must imitate the leader of the chorus or the army, and thus advance in good order. For it is possible that the order may be dissolved by sedition.

The Apostles therefore were a type, and kept throughout a certain archetypal model. Consider how entirely accurate their life was, so that they are proposed as an archetype and example, and as living laws. For what was said in their writings, they manifested to all in their actions. This is the best teaching; thus he will be able to carry on his disciple. But if he indeed speaks as a philosopher, yet in his actions doth the contrary, he is no longer a teacher. For mere verbal philosophy is easy even for the disciple: but there is need of that teaching and leading which comes of deeds. For this both makes the teacher to be reverenced, and prepares the disciple to yield obedience. How so? When one sees him delivering philosophy in words, he will say he commands impossibilities; that they are impossibilities, he himself is the first to show, who does not practice them. But if he sees his virtue fully carried out in action, he will no longer be able to speak thus. Yet although the life of our teacher be careless, let us take heed to ourselves, and let us listen to the words of the prophet; “They shall be all taught of God.” (Isa. liv. 13) “And they shall teach no more every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest of them.” (Jer. xxxi. 34) Hast thou a teacher who is not virtuous? Still thou hast Him who is truly a Teacher, whom alone thou shouldest call a Teacher. Learn from Him: He hath said, “Learn of Me, for I am meek.” (Matt. xi. 29) Take not heed, then, to thy teacher, but to Him and to His lessons. Take thence thy examples, thou hast a most excellent model, to it conform thyself. There are innumerable models laid before thee in the Scriptures of virtuous lives; whichsoever thou wilt, come, and after the Master find it in the disciples. One hath shown forth through poverty, another through riches; for example, Elijah through poverty, Abraham through riches. Go to that example, which thou esteemest most easy, most befitting thyself to practice. Again, one by marriage, the other by virginity; Abraham by marriage, the other by virginity. Follow whichever thou wilt: for both lead to heaven. One shone forth by fasting, as John, another without fasting, as Job. Again, this latter had a care for his wife, his children, his daughters, his family, and possessed great wealth; the other possessed nothing but the garment of hair. And why do I make mention of family, or wealth, or money, when it is possible that even one in a kingdom should lay hold on virtue, for the house of a king would be found more full of trouble than any private family. David then shone forth in his kingdom; the purple and the diadem rendered him not at all remiss. To another it was entrusted to preside over a whole people, I mean Moses, which was a more difficult task, for there the power was greater, whence the difficulty too became greater. Thou hast seen men approved in wealth, thou hast seen them in poverty also, thou hast seen them in marriage, thou hast seen them in virginity too; on the contrary, behold some lost in marriage and in virginity, in wealth and in poverty. For example, many men have perished in marriage, as Samson, yet not from marriage, but from their own deliberate choice. Likewise in virginity, as the five virgins. In wealth, as the rich man, who disregarded Lazarus: in poverty, innumerable poor men even now are lost. In a kingdom, I can point to many who have perished, and in ruling the people. Wouldest thou see men saved in the rank of a soldier? there is Cornelius; and in the government of a household? there is the eunuch of the Ethiopian Queen. Thus is it universally. If we use our wealth as is fit, nothing will destroy us; but if not, all things will destroy us, whether a kingdom, or poverty, or wealth. But nothing will have power to hurt the man, who keeps well awake.

For tell me, was captivity any harm? None at all. For consider, I pray thee, Joseph, who became a slave, and preserved his virtue. Consider Daniel, and the Three Children, who became captives, and how much the more they shone forth, for virtue shineth everywhere, is invincible, and nothing can put hindrances in its way. But why make I mention of poverty, and captivity, and slavery; and hunger, and sores, and grievous disease? For disease is, more hard to endure than slavery. Such was Lazarus, such was Job, such was also Timothy, straitened by “often infirmities.” (1 Tim. v. 23.) Thou seest that nothing can obtain the mastery over virtue; neither wealth, nor poverty, nor dominion, nor subjection, nor the preëminence in affairs, nor disease, nor contempt, nor abandonment. But having left all these things below, and upon the earth, it hastens towards Heaven. Only let the soul be noble, and nought can hinder it from being virtuous. For when he who works is in vigor, nothing external can hinder him; for as in the arts, when the artificer is experienced and persevering, and thoroughly acquainted with his art, if disease overtakes him, he still hath it; if he became poor, he still hath it; whether he hath his tools in his hand or hath them not, whether he works or worketh not, he loseth not at all his art: for the science of it is contained within him. Thus too the virtuous man, who is devoted to God, manifests his art, if you cast him into wealth, or if into poverty, if into disease, if into health, if into dishonor, if into great honor. Did not the Apostles work in every state, “By glory and dishonor, by good report and evil report”? (2 Cor. vi. 8.) This is an athlete, to be prepared for everything; for such is also the nature of virtue.

If thou sayest, I am not able to preside over many, I ought to lead a solitary life; thou offerest an insult to virtue, for it can make use of every state, and shine through all: only let it be in the soul. Is there a famine?/ or is there abundance? It shows forth its own strength, as Paul saith, “I know how to abound, and how to be in want.” (Phil. iv. 12; Acts xxviii. 30.) Was he required to work? He was not ashamed, but wrought two years. Was hunger to be undergone? He sank not under it, nor wavered. Was death to be borne? He became not dejected, through all he exhibited his noble mind and art. Him therefore let us imitate, and we shall have no cause of grief: for tell me, what will have power to grieve such an one? Nothing. As long as no one deprives us of this art, this will be the most blessed of all men, even in this life as well as in that to come. For suppose the good man hath a wife and children, and riches, and great honor, with all these things he remaineth alike virtuous. Take them away, and again in like sort he will be virtuous, neither overwhelmed by his misfortunes, nor puffed up by prosperity, but as a rock standeth equally unmoved in the raging sea and in calm, neither broken by the waves nor influenced at all by the calm, thus too the solid mind stands firm both in calm and in storm. And as little children, when sailing in a ship, are tossed about, whilst the pilot sits by, laughing and undisturbed, and delighted to see their confusion; thus too the soul which is truly wise, when all others are in confusion, or else are inopportunely smiling at any change of circumstance, sits unmoved, as it were, at the tiller and helm of piety. For tell me, what can disturb the pious soul? Can death? This is the beginning of a better life. Can poverty? This helps her on toward virtue. Can disease? She regards not its presence. She regards neither ease, nor affliction; for being beforehand with it, she hath afflicted herself. Can dishonor? The world hath been crucified to her. Can the loss of children? She fears it not, when she is fully persuaded of the Resurrection. What then can surprise her? None of all these things. Doth wealth elevate her? By no means, she knoweth that money is nothing. Doth glory? She hath been taught that “all the glory of man is as the flower of grass.” (Isa. xl. 6.) Doth luxury? She hath heard Paul say, “She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth.” (1 Tim. v. 6.) Since then she is neither inflamed nor cramped, what can equal such health as this?

Other souls, meanwhile, are not such, but change more frequently than the sea, or the cameleon, so that thou hast great cause to smile, when thou seest the same man at one time laughing, at another weeping, at one time full of care, at another beyond measure relaxed and languid. For this cause Paul saith, “Be not fashioned according to this world.” (Rom. xii. 2.) For we are citizens of heaven, where there is no turning. Prizes which change not are held out to us. Let us make manifest this our citizenship, let us thence already receive our good things. But why do we cast ourselves into the Euripus, into tempest, into storm, into foam? Let us be in calm. It all depends not on wealth, nor on poverty, nor honor, nor dishonor, nor on sickness, nor on health, nor on weakness, but on our own soul. If it is solid, and well-instructed in the science of virtue, all things will be easy to it. Even hence it will already behold its rest, and that quiet harbor, and, on its departure, will there attain innumerable good things, the which may we all attain, by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, dominion, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen. source.

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One Response to St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentaries on Philippians 3:7-17

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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