St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

This post contains the St John’s homily #’s 29 & 30 and cover 1 Corinthians 12:1-20. His comments on the verses of today’s reading have been highlighted in purple, but the reader is encouraged to peruse both homilies in their entirety.

Homily 29 (on 1 Cor 12:1-11)~Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that when ye were Gentiles, ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led (vv. 1-2).

This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now?Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?

This however let us defer to another time, but for the present let us state what things were occurring then. Well: what did happen then? Whoever was baptized he straightway spake with tongues and not with tongues only, but many also prophesied, and some also performed many other wonderful works. For since on their coming over from idols, without any clear knowledge or training in the ancient Scriptures, they at once on their baptism received the Spirit, yet the Spirit they saw not, for It is invisible; therefore God’s grace bestowed some sensible proof of that energy. And one straightway spake in the Persian, another in the Roman, another in the Indian, another in some other such tongue: and this made manifest to them that were without that it is the Spirit in the very person speaking. Wherefore also he so calls it, saying, “But to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given to profit withal;” (v. 7.) calling the gifts “a manifestation of the Spirit.” For as the Apostles themselves had received this sign first, so also the faithful went on receiving it, I mean, the gift of tongues; yetnot this only but also many others: inasmuch as many used even to raise the dead and to cast outdevils and to perform many other such wonders:and they had gifts too, some less, and some more. But more abundant than all was the gift of tongues among them: and this became to them a cause of division; not from its own nature but from the perverseness of them that had received it: in that on the one hand the possessors of the greater gifts were lifted up against them that had the lesser: and these again were grieved, and envied the owners of the greater. And Paul himself as he proceeds intimates this. Since then here from they were receiving a fatal blow in the dissolution of their charity, he takes great care to correct it. For this happened indeed in Rome also, but not in the same way. And this is why in the Epistle to the Romans he moots it indeed, but obscurely and briefly, saying thus: “For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office; so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth to his teaching.” (Romans 12:4 and Romans 12:8) And that the Romans also were falling into wilfulness hereby, this he intimates in the beginning of that discourse, thus saying: “For I say through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3) With these, however, (for the disease of division and pride had not proceeded to any length,) he thus discoursed: but here with great anxiety; for the distemper had greatly spread.

And this was not the only thing to disturb them, but there were also in the place many soothsayers, inasmuch as the city was more than usually addicted to Grecian customs, and this with the rest was tending to offence and disturbance among them. This is the reason why he begins by first stating the difference between soothsaying and prophecy. For this cause also they received discerning of spirits, so as to discern and know which is he that speaketh by a pure spirit, and which by an impure.

For because it was not possible to supply the evidence of the things uttered from within themselves at the moment; (for prophecy supplies the proof of its own truth not at the time when it is spoken, but at the time of the event;) and it was not easy to distinguish the true prophesier from the pretender; (for the devil himself, accursed as he is, had entered into them that prophesied, [See 1 Kings chapter22, verse 23] bringing in false prophets, as if forsooth they also could foretell things to come;) and further, men were easily deceived, because the things spoken could not for the present be brought to trial, ere yet the events had come to pass concerning which the prophecy was; (for it was the end that proved the false prophet and the true:) – in order that the hearers might not be deceived before the end, he gives them a sign which even before the event served to indicate the one and the other. And hence taking his order and beginning, he thus goes on also to the discourse concerning the gifts and corrects the contentiousness that arose from hence likewise. For the present however he begins the discourse concerning the soothsayers, thus saying,

[2.] “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant;” calling the signs “spiritual,” because they are the works of the Spirit alone, human effort contributing nothing to the working such wonders. And intending to discourse concerning them, first, as I said, he lays down the difference between soothsaying and prophecy, thus saying,

“Ye know that when ye were Gentiles, ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.” Now what he means is this: “In the idol-temples,” saith he, “if any were at any time possessed by an unclean spirit and began to divine, even as one dragged away, so was he drawn by that spirit in chains: knowing nothing of the things which he utters. For this is peculiar to the soothsayer, to be beside himself, to be under compulsion, to be pushed, to be dragged, to be haled as a mad-man. But the prophet not so, but with sober mind and composed temper and knowing what he is saying, he uttereth all things. Therefore even before the event do thou from this distinguish the soothsayer and the prophet. And consider how he frees his discourse of all suspicion; calling themselves to witness who had made trial of the matter. As if he had said, “that I lie not nor rashly traduce the religion of the Gentiles, feigning like an enemy, do ye yourselves bear me witness: knowing as ye do, when ye were Gentiles, how ye were pulled and dragged away then.”

But if any should say that these too are suspected as believers, come, even from them that are without will I make this manifest to you. Hear, for example, Plato saying thus: (Apol. Soc. c. 7.) “Even as they who deliver oracles and the soothsayers say many and excellent things, but know nothing of what they utter.” Hear again another, a poet, giving the same intimation. For whereas by certain mystical rites and witchcrafts a certain person had imprisoned a demon in a man, and the man divined, and in his divination was thrown down and torn, and was unable to endure the violence of the demon, but was on the point of perishing in that convulsion; he saith to the persons who were practicing such mystical arts,Loose me, I pray you:The mighty God no longer mortal fleshCan hold.And again, Unbind my wreaths, and bathe my feet in drops From the pure stream; erase these mystic lines, And let me go. For these and such like things, (for one might mention many more,) point out to us both of these facts which follow; the compulsion which holds down the demons and makes them slaves; and the violence to which they submit who have once given themselves up to them, so as to swerve even from their natural reason. And the Pythoness too: (for I am compelled now to bring forward and expose another disgraceful custom of theirs, which it were well to pass by, because it is unseemly for us to mention such things; but that you may more clearly know their shame it is necessary to mention it, that hence at least ye may come to know the madness and exceeding mockery of those that make use of the soothsayers:) this same Pythoness then is said, being a female, to sit at times upon the tripod of Apollo astride, and thus the evil spirit ascending from beneath and entering the lower part of her body, fills the woman with madness, and she with dishevelled hair begins to play the bacchanal and to foam at the mouth, and thus being in a frenzy to utter the words of her madness. I know that you are ashamed and blush when you hear these things: but they glory both in the disgrace and in themadness which I have described. These then and all such things. Paul was bringing forward when he said, “Ye know that when ye were Gentiles, ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.”

And because he was discoursing with those who knew well, he states not all things with exact care, not wishing to be troublesome to them, but having reminded them only and brought all into their recollection, he soon quits the point, hastening to the subject before him.

But what is, “unto those dumb idols?” These soothsayers used to be led and dragged unto them.

But if they be themselves dumb, how did they give responses to others? And wherefore did the demon lead them to the images? As men taken in war, and in chains, and rendering at the same time his deceit plausible. Thus, to keep men from the notion that it was just a dumb stone, they were earnest to rivet the people to the idols that their own style and title might be inscribed upon them. But our rites are not such. He did not however state ours, I mean the prophesyings. For it was well known to them all, and prophecy was exercised among them, as was meet for their condition, with understanding and with entire freedom. Therefore, you see, they had power either to speak or to refrain from speaking. For they were not bound by necessity, but were honored with a privilege. For this cause Jonah fled;(1 Jonah chapter 1, verse 3) for this cause Ezekiel delayed; (Ezekiel 3:15) for this cause Jeremiah excused himself. (Jeremiah 1:6) And God thrusts them not on by compulsion, but advising, exhorting, threatening; not darkening their mind; for to cause distraction and madness and great darkness, is the proper work of a demon: but it is God’s work to illuminate and with consideration to teach things needful.

[3.] This then is the first difference between a soothsayer and a prophet; but a second and a different one is that which he next states, saying,

Ver. 3. “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed:” and then another: “and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but in the Holy Ghost.”

“When thou seest,” saith he, “any one not uttering His name, or anathematizing Him, he is a soothsayer. Again, when thou seest another speaking all things with His Name, understand thathe is spiritual.” “What then,” say you, “must we say concerning the Catechumens? For if, no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost, `what must we say of them who name indeed His Name, but are destitute of His Spirit? But his discourse at this time was not concerning these for there were not at that time Catechumens, but concerning believers and unbelievers. What then, doth no demon call upon God’s Name? Did not the demoniacs say, “We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God? (Mark chapter 1, verse 24) Did they not say to Paul, “these men are the servants of the Most High God? (Acts 16:17) They did, but upon scourging, upon compulsion; never of their own will and without being scourged.’

But here it is proper to enquire, both why the demon uttered these things and why Paul rebuked him. In imitation of his Teacher; for so Christ did also rebuke: since it was not his will to have testimony from them. And wherefore did the devil also practise this? Intending to confound the order of things, and to seize upon the dignity of the Apostles, and to persuade many to pay attention to them: which had it happened, they would easily have made themselves appear from hence worthy of credit, and have brought in their own designs. That these things then might not be, and the deceit might not have a beginning, he stops their mouths even when speaking the truth, so that in their falsehoods men should not at all give heed unto them, but stop their ears altogether against the things said by them. [4.] Having therefore made manifest the soothsayers and the prophets both by the first sign and also by the second, he next discourses of the wonders; not passing without reason to this topic, but so as to remove the dissension which had thence arisen, and to persuade both those that had the less portion not to grieve andthose who had the greater not to be elated. Wherefore also he thus began.

Ver. 4. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”

And first he attends on him that had the lesser gift, and was grieved on this account. “For wherefore,” saith he, “art thou dejected? because thou hast not received as much as another? Still, consider that it is a free gift and not a debt, and thou wilt be able to soothe thy pain.” For this cause he spake thus in the very beginning: “but there are diversities of gifts.” And he said not “of signs,” nor “of wonders,” but of “gifts,” by the name of free gifts prevailing on them not only not to grieve but even to be thankful. “And withal consider this also,” saith he, “that even if thou art made inferior in the measure of what is given; in that it hath been vouchsafed thee to receive from the same source as the other who hath received more, thou hast equal honor. For certainly thou canst not say that the Spirit bestowed the gift on him, but an angel on thee: since the Spirit bestowed it both on thee and him. Wherefore he added, “but the same Spirit.” So that even if there be a difference in the gift, yet is there no difference in the Giver. For from the same Fountain ye are drawing, both thou and he.

Ver. 5. “And there are diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord.”

Thus, enriching the consolation, he adds mention of the Son also, and of the Father. And again, he calls these gifts by another name, designing by this also an increase of consolation. Wherefore also he thus said: “there are diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord.” For he that hears of”a gift,” and hath received a less share, perhaps might grieve; but when we speak of “a ministration,” the case is different. For the thing implies labor and sweat. “Why grievest thou then,” saith he, “if he hath bidden another labor more, sparing thee?”

Ver. 6. “And there are diversities of workings, but the same God who worketh all things in all.”

Ver. 7. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal.”

“And what,” saith one, “is a working?” and what “a gift?” and what “a ministration?” They are mere differences of names, since the things are the same. For what “a gift” is, that is “a ministration,” that he calls “an operation” also. Thus fulfil thy ministry; (2 Timothy 4:5. ministry.) and, “I magnify my ministration:” (Romans 11:13. office.) and writing to Timothy, he says, “Therefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee. (2 Timothy 1:6) And again, writing to the Galatians, he said, “for he that wrought in Peter to the Apostleship, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles. (Galatians 2:8) Seest thou that he implies that there is no difference in the gifts of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Not confounding the Persons, God forbid! but declaring the equal honor of the Essence. For that which the Spirit bestows, this he saith that God also works; this, that the Son likewise ordains and grants. Yet surely if the one were inferior to the other, or the other to it, he would not have thus set it down nor would this have been his way of consoling the person who was vexed.

[5.] Now after this, he comforts him also in another kind of way; by the consideration that the measure vouchsafed is profitable to him, even though it be not so large. For having said, that it is “the same Spirit,” and “the same Lord,” and “the same God,” and having thereby recovered him, he brings in again another consolation, thus saying, “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal.” For lest one should say, “what if there be the same Lord, the same Spirit, the same God? yet I have received less:” he saith, that thus it was profitable.

But he calls miracles a “manifestation of the Spirit,” with evident reason. For to me who am a believer, he that hath the Spirit is manifest from his having been baptized: but to the unbeliever this will in no wise be manifest, except from the miracles: so that hence also again there is no small consolation. For though there be a difference of gifts, yet the evidence is one: since whether thou hast much or little, thou art equally manifest. So that if thou desirest to show this, that thou hast the Spirit, thou hast a sufficient demonstration.

Wherefore, now that both the Giver is one and the thing given a pure favor, and the manifestation takes place thereby, and this is more profitable for thee; grieve not as if despised. For not to dishonor thee hath God done it, nor to declare thee inferior to another, but to spare thee and with a view to thy welfare. To receive more than one has ability to bear, this rather is unprofitable, and injurious, and a fit cause of dejection.

Ver. 8. “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;”

Ver. 9. “To another, faith in the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing in the one Spirit.”

Seest thou how he every where makes this addition, saying, “through the same Spirit, and according to the same Spirit?” For he knew that the comfort from thence was great.

Ver. 10. “To another working of miracles; to another prophecies; to another discernings of spirits; to another divers kind of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.”

Thus, since they boasted themselves in this, therefore he placed it last, and added,

Ver. 11. “But all these worketh one and the same Spirit.”

The universal medicine in which his consolation consists is that out of the same root, out of the same treasures, out of the same streams, they all receive. And accordingly, from time to time dwelling on this expression, he levels the apparent inequality, and consoles them. And above indeed he points out both the Spirit, and the Son, and the Father, as supplying the gifts, but here he was content to make the Spirit, that even hence again thou mayest understand their dignity to be the same.

But what is “the word of wisdom?” That which Paul had, which John had, the son of thunder.

And what is “the word of knowledge?” That which most of the faithful had, possessing indeed knowledge, but not thereupon able to teach nor easily to convey to another what they knew.

“And to another, faith:” not meaning by this faith the faith of doctrines, but the faith of miracles; concerning which Christ saith, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove, and it shall remove.” (S. Matthew 17:20) And the Apostles too concerning this besought Him, saying, “Increase our faith:” (S. Luke 17:5) for this is the mother of the miracles. But to possess the power of working miracles and gifts of healing, is not the same thing: for he that had a gift of healing used only to do cures: but he that possessed powers for working miracles used to punish also. For a miracle is not the healing only, but the punishing also: even as Paul inflicted blindness: as Peter slew.

“To another prophecies; and to another discernings of spirits.” What is, “discernings of spirits?” the knowing who is spiritual, and who is not: who is a prophet, and who a deceiver: as he said to the Thessalonians, “despise not prophesyings:” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21) but proving all things, hold fast that which is good.” For great was at that time the rush of the false prophets, the devil striving underhand to substitute falsehood for the truth. “To another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” For one person knew what he spake himself, but was unable to interpret to another; while another had acquired both these or the other of the two. New this seemed to be a great gift because both the Apostles received it first, and the most among the Corinthians had obtained it. But the word of teaching not so. Wherefore that he places first, but this last: for this was on account of that, and so indeed were all the rest; both prophecies, and working of miracles, and divers kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. For none is equal to this. Wherefore also he said, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and in teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17) And to Timothy he wrote, saying, “Give attendance to reading, to exhortation. to teaching; neglect not the gift that is in thee.” (1 Timothy 4:13-14) Seest thou how he calls it also a gift?

[6.] Next, the comfort which he before gave, when he said, “the same Spirit,” this also he here sets before us, saying, “But all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.” And he not only gives cunsolation but also stops the mouth of the gainsayer, saying here, “dividing to each one severally even as he will. For it was necessary to bind up also, not to heal only, as he doth also in the Epistle to the Romans, when he saith, “But who art thou that repliest against God? (Romans 9:20) So likewise here, “dividing to each one severally as he will.”

And that which was of the Father, this he signifieth to be of the Spirit also. For as concerning the Father, he saith, “but it is the same God who worketh all things in all;” so also concerning the Spirit, “but all these things worketh one and the same Spirit.” But, it will be said, “He doth it, actuated by God.” Nay, he no where said this, but thou feignest it. For when he saith, “who actuateth all things in all,” he saith this concerning men: thou wilt hardly say that among those men he numbers also the Spirit, though thou shouldst be ever so manifold in thy doting and madness. For because he had said “through the Spirit,” that thou mightest not suppose this word, “through,” to denote inferiority or the being actuated, he adds, that “the Spirit worketh,” not “is worked,” and worketh “as he will,” not as he is bidden. For as concerning the Father, the Son saith that “He raiseth up the dead and quickeneth;” in like manner also, concerning Himself, that “He quickeneth whom He will:” (S. John 5:21) thus also of the Spirit, in another place, that He doeth all things with authority and that there is nothing that hindersHim; (for the expression, “bloweth where it listeth” [S. John 3:8,] though it be spoken of the wind is apt to establish this;) but here, that “He worketh all things as He will.” And from another place to learn that He is not one of the things actuated, but of those that actuate. “For who knoweth,” says he, “the things of a man, but the spirit of the man? even so the things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11) Now that “the spirit of a man,” i.e., the soul, requires not to be actuated that it may know the things of itself, is, I suppose, evident to every one. Therefore neither doth the Holy Ghost, that he may “know the things of God” For his meaning is like this, “the secret things of God” are known to the Holy Spirit as to the I soul of man the secret things of herself.” But if this be not actuated for that end, much less would That which knoweth the depths of God and needs no actuation for that knowledge, require any actuating Power in order to the giving gifts to the Apostles. But besides these things, that also, which I before spake of, I will mention again now. What then is this? That if the Spirit were inferior and of another substance, there would have been no avail in his consolation, nor in our hearing the words, “of the same Spirit.” For he who hath received from the king, I grant, may find it a very soothing circumstance, that he himself gave to him; but if it be from the slave, he is then rather vexed, when one reproaches him with it. So that even hence is it evident, that the Holy Spirit is not of the substance of the servant, but of the King.[7.] Wherefore as he comforted them, when he said, that “there are diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord; and diversities of operations, but the same God;” so also when he said above, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit;” and after this again when he said, “But all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”

“Let us not, I pray you, be at a loss,” saith he; “neither let us grieve, saying, `Why have I received this and not received that?’ neither let us demand an account of the Holy Spirit. For if thou knowest that he vouchsafed it from providential care, consider that from the same care he hath given also the measure of it, and be content and rejoice in what thou hast received: but murmur not at what thou hast not received; yea, rather confess God’s favor that thou hast not received things beyond thy power.

[5.] And if in spiritual things one ought not to be over-curious, much more in temporal things; but to be quiet and not nicely enquire why one is rich and another poor. For, first of all, not every single rich man is rich from God, but many even of unrighteousness, and rapine, and avarice. For he that forbade to be rich, how can he have granted that which he forbade to receive?

But that I may, far above what the case requires, stop the mouths of those who concerning these things gainsay us, come, let us carry our discourse higher up, to the time when riches used to be given by God; and answer me. Wherefore was Abraham rich whereas Jacob wanted even bread? Were not both the one and the other righteous? Doth He not say concerning the three alike, “I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob?” (Exodus 3:6) Wherefore then was the one a rich man, and the other a hired servant? Or rather, why was Esau rich, who was unrighteous and a murderer of his brother, while Jacob was in bondage for so long a time? Wherefore again did Isaac live in ease all his time, but Jacob in toils and miseries? For which cause also he said, “Few and evil are my days.” (Genesis 47:9)

Wherefore did David, who was both a prophet and a king, himself also live all his time in toils? whereas Solomon his son spent forty years in security above all men, in the enjoyment of profound peace, glory, and honor, and going through every kind of deliciousness? What again could be the reason, that among the prophets also one was afflicted more, and another less? Because so it was expedient for each. Wherefore upon each our remark must be, “Thy judgments are a great deep.” (Psalms 36:6) For if those great and wonderful men were not alike exercised by God, but one by poverty, and another by riches; one by ease, and another by trouble; much more ought we now to bear these things in mind.

[8. ] But besides this, it becomes one to consider also that many of the things which happen do not take place according to His mind, but arise from our wickedness. Say not then, “Why is one man rich who is wicked, and another poor who is righteous?” For first of all, one may give an account of these things also, and say that neither doth the righteous receive any harm from his poverty, nay, even a greater addition of honor; and that the bad man in his riches possesseth but a store of punishment on his future road, unless he be changed: and, even before punishment, often-times his riches become to him the cause of many evils, and lead him into ten thousand pitfalls. But God permits it, at the same to signify the free choice of the will, and also to teach all others not to be mad nor rave after money.

“How is it then, when a man being wicked is rich, and suffers nothing dreadful?” say you. “Since if being good he hath wealth, he hath it justly: but if bad, what shall we say?” That even therein he is to be pitied. For wealth added to wickedness aggravates the mischief. But is he a good man, and poor? Yet is he nothing injured. Is he then a bad man, and poor? This is he so justly and by desert, or rather even with advantage to himself. “But such an one,” say you, “received his riches from his ancestors and lavishes it upon harlots and parasites, and suffers no evil.” What sayest thou? Doth he commit whoredom, and sayest thou, “he suffers no evils?” Is he drunken, and thinkest thou that he is in luxury? Doth he spend for no good, and judgest thou that he is to be envied? Nay what can be worse than this wealth which destroys the very soul? But thou, if the body were distorted and maimed, wouldest say that his was a case for great lamentation; and seest thou his whole soul mutilated, yet countest him even happy? “But he doth not perceive it,” say you. Well then, for this very reason again is he to be pitied, as all frantic persons are. For he that knows he is sick will of course both seek the physician and submit to remedies; but he that is ignorant of it will have no chance at all of deliverance. Dost thou call such an one happy, tell me?

But it is no marvel: for the more part are ignorant of the true love of wisdom. Therefore do we suffer the extremest penalty, being chastised and not even withdrawing ourselves from the punishment. For this cause are angers, dejections, and continual tumults; because when God hath shown us a life without sorrow, the life of virtue, we leave this and mark out another way, the way of richesand money, full of infinite evils. And we do the same, as if one, not knowing how to discern the beauty of men’s bodies but attributing the whole to the clothes and the ornaments worn, when he saw a handsome woman and possessed of natural beauty, should pass quickly by her, but when he beheld one ugly, illshaped, and deformed, but clothed in beautiful garments, should take her for his wife. Now also in some such way are the multitude affected about virtue and vice. They admit the one that is deformed by nature on account of her external ornaments, but turn away from her that is fair and lovely, on account of her unadorned beauty, for which cause they ought especially to choose her.

[9. ] Therefore am I ashamed that among the foolish heathen there are those that practise this philosophy, if not in deeds, yet so far at least as judgment goes; and who know the perishable nature of things present: whereas amongst us some do not even understand these things, but have their very judgment corrupted: and this while the Scripture is ever and anon sounding in our ears, and saying, “In his sight the vile person is contemned, but he honoreth them that fear the Lord: (Psalm 15:4) the fear of the Lord excelleth every thing; fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole of man: (Ecclesiastes 12:13😉 be not thou enviousof evil men; (Psalm 49:16😉 all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass;” (Isaiah 40:7) For these and such-like things though we hear every day, we are yet nailed to earth. And as ignorant children, who learn their letters continuously, if they be examined concerning their order when they are disarranged, naming one instead of another, make much laughter: so also ye, when here we recount them in order, follow us in a manner; but when we ask you out of doors and in no set order, what we ought to place first and what next among things, and which after which; not knowing how to answer, ye become ridiculous. Is it not a matter of great laughter, tell me, that they who expect immortality and the good “things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man,” should strive about things which linger here and count them enviable? For if thou hast need yet to learn these things that riches are no great thing, that things present are a shadow and a dream, that like smoke they are dissolved and fly away: stand for the present without the sanctuary: abide in the vestibule: since thou art not yet worthy of the entrance to the palace-courts on high. For if thou knowest not to discern their nature which is unstable and continually passing away, when wilt thou be able to despise them?

But if thou say thou knowest, cease curiously to inquire and busy thyself, what can be the reason why such an one is rich and such an one poor: for thou doest the same when thou askest these questions, as if thou didst go round and enquire, why one is fair and another black, or one hook-nosed and another flat-nosed. For as these things make no difference to us, whether it be thus or thus; so neither poverty nor riches, and much less than they. But the whole depends upon the way in which we use them. Whether thou art poor, thou mayest live cheerfully denying thyself; or rich, thou art most miserable of all men if thou fliest from virtue.For these are what really concern us, the things of virtue. And if these things be not added, the rest are useless. For this cause also are those continual questions, because the most think that indifferent things are of importance to them, but of the important things they make no account: since that which is of importance to us is virtue and love of wisdom.

Because then ye stand I know not where, at some far distance from her, therefore is there confusion of thoughts, therefore the many waves, therefore the tempest. For when men have fallen from heavenly glory and the love of heaven, they desire present glory and become slaves and captives. “And how is it that we desire this,” say you? From the not greatly desiring that. And this very thing, whence happens it? From negligence. And whence the negligence? From contempt. And whence the contempt? From folly and cleaving to things present and unwillingness to investigate accurately the nature of things. And whence again doth this latter arise? From the neither giving heed to the reading of the Scripture nor conversing with holy men, and from following the assemblies of the wicked.

Homily 30 (On 1 Corinthians 12:12-20)~For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ (v. 12).

After soothing them from the considerations that the thing given was of free favor; that they received all from “one and the self-same Spirit;” that it was given “to profit withal,” that even by the lesser gifts a manifestation was made; and withal having also stopped their mouth from the duty of yielding to the authority of the Spirit: (“for all these,” saith he, “worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will;” wherefore it is not right to be over-curious:) he proceeds now to soothe them in like manner from another common example, and betakes himself to nature itself, as was his use to do.

For when he was discoursing about the hair of men and women, after all the rest he drew matter thence also to correct them, saying, “Doth not even nature itself teach you that if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him? but if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her?” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15) And when he spake concerning the idol-sacrifices, forbidding to touch them, he drew an argument from the examples also of them that are without, both making mention of the Olympic games, where he saith, “they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize:” (1 Corinthians 9:24) and confirming these views from shepherds and soldiers and husbandmen. Wherefore he brings forward here also a common example by which he presses on and fights hard to prove that no one was really put in a worse condition: a thing which was marvellous and surprising to be able to show, and calculated to refresh the weaker sort, I mean, the example of the body. For nothing so consoles the person of small spirit and inferior gifts, or so persuades him not to grieve, as the being convinced that he is not left with less than his share. Wherefore also Paul making out this point, thus expresses himself: “for as the body is one and hath many members. “

Seest thou his exact consideration? He is pointing out the same thing to be both one and many. Wherefore also he adds, pressing the point more vigorously, “and all the members of the one body, being many, are one body.” He said not, “being many, are of one body,” but “the one body itself is many:” and those many members are this one thing. If therefore the one is many, and the many are one, where is the difference? where the superiority? where the disadvantage? For all, saith he, are one: and not simply one, but being strictly considered in respect of that even which is principal, i. e., their being a body, they are found all to be one: but when considered as to their particular natures, then the difference comes out, and the difference is in all alike. For none of them by itself can make a body, but each is alike deficient in the making a body, and there is need of a coining together since when the many become one, then and not till then is there one body. Wherefore also covertly intimating this very thing, he said, “And all the members of the one body, being many, are one body.” And he said not, “the superior and the inferior,” but “being many,” which is common to all.

And how is it possible that they should be one? When throwing out the difference of the members, thou considerest the body. For the same thing which the eye is, this also is the foot in regard of its being a member and constituting a body. For there is no difference in this respect. Nor canst thou say that one of the members makes a body of itself, but another does not. For they are all equal in this, for the very reason that they are all one body.

But having said this and having shown it clearly from the common judgment of all, he added, “so also is Christ.” And when he should have said, “so also is the Church,” for this was the natural consequent he doth not say it but instead of it places the name of Christ, carrying the discourse up on high and appealing more and more to the hearer’s reverence. But his meaning is this: “So also is the body of Christ, which is the Church.” For as the body and the head are one man, so he said that the Church and Christ are one. Wherefore also he placed Christ instead of the Church, giving that name to His body. “As then,” saith he, “our body is one thing though it be composed of many: so also in the Church we all are one thing. For though the Church be composed of many members, yet these many form one body.”

[2.] Thus having, you see, recovered and raised up by this common example him who thought himself depreciated, again he leaves the topic of common experience, and comes to another, a spiritual one, bringing greater consolation and indicative of great equality of honor. What then is this?

Ver. 13. “For in one Spirit, saith he, were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free.”

Now his meaning is this: that which established us to become one body and regenerated us, is one Spirit: for not in one Spirit was one baptized, and another another. And not only is that which hath baptized us one, but also that unto which He baptized us, i.e., for which He baptized us, is one. For we were baptized not that so many several bodies might be formed, but that we might all preserve one with another the perfect nature of one body: i.e., that we might all be one body, into the same were we baptized.

So that both He who formed it is one, and that into which He formed it is one. And he said not, “that we might all come to be of the same body; “but, “that we might all be one body.” For he ever strives to use the more expressive phrases. And well said he, “we all,” adding also himself. “For not even I, the Apostle, have any more than thou in this respect,” saith he. “For thou art the body even as I, and I even as thou, and we have all the same Head and have passed through the same birth-pains. Wherefore we are also the same body.” “And why speak I,” saith he, “of the Jews? since even the Gentiles who were so far off from us, He hath brought into the entireness of one body.” Wherefore having said, “we all,” he stopped not here, but added, “whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free.” Now if, having before been so far off, we were united and have become one, much more after that we have become one, we can have no right to grieve and be dejected. Yea, the difference, in fact, hath no place. For if to Greeks and Jews, to bond and free, He hath vouchsafed the same blessings, how can it be that after so vouchsating He divides them, now that He hath bestowed a greater perfection of unity by the supply of His gifts?

“And were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

Ver. 14. “For the body is not one member, but many.” i.e., We are come to the same initiation, we enjoy the same Table. And why said he not, “we are nourished by the same body and drink the same blood?” Because by saying “Spirit,” he declared them both, as well the flesh as the blood. For through both are we “made to drink of the Spirit.”

But to me he appears now to speak of that visitation of the Spirit which takes place in us after Baptism and before the Mysteries. And he said, “We were made to drink,” because this metaphorical speech suited him extremely well for his proposed subject: as if he had said respecting plants and a garden, that by the same fountain all the trees are watered, or by the same water; so also here, “we all drank the same Spirit, we enjoyed the same grace,” saith he.

If now one Spirit both formed us and gathered us all together into one body; for this is the meaning of, “we were baptized into one body: “and vouchsafed us one table, and gave us all the same watering, (for this is the meaning of, “we were made to drink into one Spirit,”) and united persons so widely separated; and if many things then become a body when they are made one: why, I pray, art thou continually tossing to and from their difference? But if thou sayest, “Because there are many members and diverse,” know that this very thing is the wonder and the peculiar excellency of the body, when the things which are many and diverse make one. But if they were not many, it were not so wonderful and incredible that they should be one body; nay, rather they would not be a body at all.

[3.] This however he states last; but for the present he goes to the members themselves, saying thus:

Ver. 15. “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”

Ver. 16. “And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”

For if the one being made inferior and the other superior, doth not allow their being of the body, the whole is done away. Do not say therefore, “I am not the body, because I am inferior.” For the foot also hath the inferior post, yet is it of the body: for the being or not being part of the body, is not from the one lying in this place and the other in that; (which is what constitutes difference of place;) but from the being conjoined or separated. For the being or not being a body, arises from the having been made one or not. But do thou, I pray, mark his considerate way, how he applies their words to our members. For as he said above, “These things have I in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos,” (1 Corinthians 4:6) just so likewise here, to make his argument free from invidiousness and acceptable, he introduces the members speaking: that when they shall hear nature answering them, being thus convicted by experience herself and by the general voice, they may have nothing further to oppose. “For say, if you will,” saith he, “this very thing, murmur as you please, you cannot be out of the body. For as the law of nature, so much moredoth the power of grace guard all things and preserve them entire.” And see how he kept to the rule of having nothing superfluous; not working out his argument on all the members, but on two only and these the extremes; having specified both the most honorable of all, the eye, and the meanest of all, the feet. And he doth not make the foot to discourse with the eye, but with the hand which is mounted a littleabove it; and the ear with the eyes. For because we are wont to envy not those who are very far above us, but those who are a little higher, therefore he also conducts his comparison thus.

Ver. 17. “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?”

Thus, because, having fallen upon the difference of the members, and having mentioned feet, and hands, and eyes, and ears, he led them to the consideration of their own inferiority and superiority: see how again he consoles them, intimating that so it was expedient: and that their being many and diverse, this especially causeth them to be a body. But if they all were some one, they would not ben body. Wherefore, he saith, “If they were all one member, where were the body?” This however, he mentions not till afterwards; but here he points out also something more; that besides the impossibility of any one being a body, it even takes away the being of the rest.

“For if the whole were hearing, where were the smelling,” saith he.

[4.] Then because after all they were yet disturbed: that which he had done above, the same he doth also now. For as there he first alleged the expediency to comfort them and afterwards stopped their mouths, vehemently saying, “But all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one man severally even as He will:” so also here having stated reasons for which he showed that it was profitable that all should so be, he refers the whole again to the counsel of God, saying,

Ver. 18. “But now God hath set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased Him.”

Even as he said of the Spirit, “as He will,” so also here, “as it pleased Him.” Now do not thou seek further into the cause, why it is thus and why not thus. For though we have ten thousand reasons to give, we shall not be so able to show them that it is well done, as when we say, that as the best Artificer pleased, so it came to pass. For as it is expedient, so He wills it. Now if in this body of ours we do not curiously enquire about the members, much more in the Church. And see his thoughtfulness in that he doth not state the difference which arises from their nature nor that from their operation, but that from their local situation. For “now,” saith he, “God hath set the members each one of them in the body even as it pleased Him.” And he said well, “each one,” pointing out that theuse extends to all, For thou canst not say,”This He hath Himself placed but not that: but every one according to His will, so it is situated.” So that to the foot also it is profitable that it should be so stationed, and not to the head only: and if it should invert the order and leaving its own place, should go to another, though it might seem to have bettered its condition, it would be the undoing and ruin of the whole. For it both falls from its own, and reaches not the other station. [5.] Ver. 19. “And if they were all one member, where were the body?” Ver. 20. “But now are they many members, but one body.”Thus having silenced them sufficiently by God’s own arrangement, again he states reasons. And he neither doth this always nor that, but alternates and varies his discourse. Since on the one hand, he who merely silences, confounds the hearer, and he, on the contrary, who accustoms him to demand reasons for all things, injures him in the matter of faith; for this cause then Paul is continually practising both the one and the other, that they may both believe and may not be confounded; and after silencing them, he again gives a reason likewise. And mark his earnestness in the combat and the completeness of his victory. For from what things they supposed themselves unequal in honor because in them there was great diversity, even from these things he shows that for this very reason they are equal in honor. How, I will tell you.”If all were one member,” saith he, “where were the body?”Now what he means is, If there were not among you great diversity, ye could not be a body; and not being a body, ye could not be one; and not being one, ye could not be equal in honor. Whence it follows again that if ye were all equal in honor, ye were not a body; and not being a body, ye were not one; and not being one, how could ye be equal in honor? As it is, however, because ye are not all endowed with some one gift, therefore are yea body; and being a body, ye are all one, and differ nothing from one another in this that ye are a body. So that this very difference is that which chiefly causeth your equality in honor. And accordingly he adds, “But now they are many members, yet one body.”[6.] These things then let us also consider and cast out all envy, and neither grudge against them that have greater gifts nor despise them that possess the lesser. For thus had God willed: let us then not oppose ourselves. But if thou art still disturbed, consider that thy work is oft-times such as thy brother is unable to perform. So that even if thou art inferior, yet in this thou hast the advantage: and though he be greater, he is worse off in this respect; and so equality takes place. For in the body even the little members seem to contribute no little, but the great ones themselves are often injured by them, I mean by their removal. Thus what in the body is more insignificant than the hair? Yet if thou shouldest remove this, insignificant as it is, from the eyebrows and the eyelids, thou hast destroyed all the grace of the countenance, and the eye will no longer appear equally beautiful. And yet the loss is of a trifle; but notwithstanding even thus all the comeliness is destroyed. And not the comeliness only, but much also of the use of the eyes. The reason is that every one of our members hath both a working of its own and one which is common; and likewise there is in us a beauty which is peculiar and another which is common. And these kinds of beauty appear indeed to be divided, but they. are perfectly bound together, and when one is destroyed, the other perishes also along with it. To explain myself: let there be bright eyes, and a smiling cheek, and a red lip, and straight nose, and open brow; nevertheless, if thou mar but the slightest of these, thou hast marred the common beauty of all; all is full of dejection; all will appear foul to look on, which before was so beautiful: thus if thou shouldest crush only the tip of the nose thou hast brought great deformity upon all: and yet it is the maiming of but a single member. And likewise in the hand, if thou shouldest take away the nail from one finger, thou wouldest see the same result. If now thou wouldest see the same taking place in respect of their function also, take away one finger, and thou wilt see the rest less active and no longer performing their part equally.

Since then the less of a member is a common deformity, and its safety beauty to all, let us not be lifted up nor trample on our neighbors. For through that small member even the great one is fair and beautiful, and by the eyelids, slight as they are, is the eye adorned. So that he who wars with his brother wars with himself: for the injury done reaches not only unto that one, but himself also shall undergo no small loss.

[7.] That this then may not be, let us care for our neighbors as for ourselves, and let us transfer this image of the body now also to the Church, and be careful for all as for our own members. For in the Church ere are members many and diverse: and some are more honorable and some more deficient. For example, there are choirs of virgins, there are assemblies of widows, there are fraternities of those who shine in holy wedlock; in short, many are the degrees of virtue. And in almsgiving again in like manner. For some empty themselves of all their goods: others care for a competency alone and seek nothing more than necessaries; others give of their superfluity: nevertheless, all these adorn one another; and if the greater should set at nought the less, he would in the greatest degree injure himself. Thus, suppose a virgin to deal scornfully with a married woman, she hath cut off no small part of her reward; and he again that emptied himself of all should he upbraid him that hath not done so, hath emptied himself of much of the fruit of his labors. And why speak I of virgins, and widows, and men without possessions? What is meaner than those who beg? and yet even these fulfill a most important office in the Church, clinging to the doors of the sanctuary and supplying one of its greatest ornaments: and without these there could be no perfecting the fulness of the Church. Which thing, as it seems, the Apostles also observing made a law from the beginning, as in regard to all other things, so also that there should be widows: and so great care did they use about the matter as also to set over them seven deacons. For as bishops and presbyters and deacons and virgins and continent persons, enter into my enumeration, where I am reckoning up the members of the Church, so also do widows. Yea, and it is no mean office which they fill. For thou indeed comest here when thou wilt: but these both day and night sing psalms and attend: not for alms only doing this; since if that were their object, they might walk in the market place and beg in the alleys: but there is in them piety also in no small degree. At least, behold in what a furnace of poverty they are; yet never shall thou hear a blasphemous word from them nor an impatient one, after the manner of many rich men’s wives. Yet some of them often lie down to their rest in hunger, and others continue constantly frozen by the cold; nevertheless, they pass their time in thanksgiving and giving glory. Though you give but a penny, they give thanks and implore ten thousand blessings on the giver; and if thou give nothing they do not complain, but even so they bless, and think themselves happy to enjoy their daily food.

“Yes,” it is replied, “since whether they will or no, they must bear it.” Why, tell me? Wherefore hast thou uttered this bitter expression? Are there not shameful arts which bring gain to the aged, both men and women? Had they not power to support themselves by those means in great abundance, provided they had chosen to cast off all care of upright living? Seest thou not how many persons of that age, by becoming pimps and panders and by other such ministrations, both live, and live in luxury? Not so these, but they choose rather to perish of hunger than to dishonor their own life and betray their salvation; and they sit throughout the whole day, preparing a medicine of salvation for thee.

For do physician stretching out the hand to apply the knife, works so effectually to cut out the corruption from our wounds, as doth a poor man stretching out his right hand and receiving alms, to take away the scars which the wounds have left. And what is truly wonderful, they perform this excellent chirurgery without pain and anguish: and we who are set over the people and give you so much wholesome advice, do not more truly discourse than he doth, who sits before the doors of the church, by his silence and his countenance. For we too sound these things in your ears every day, saying, “Be not high-minded, O man; human nature is a thing that soon declines and is ready to fall away; our youth hastens on to old age, our beauty to deformity, our strength to weakness, our honor to contempt, our health falls away to sickness, our glory to meanness, our riches to poverty; our concerns are like a violent current that never will stand still, but keeps hastening down the steep.”

The same advice do they also give and more than this, by their appearance and by their experience itself too, which is a yet plainer kind of advice. How many, for instance, of those who now sit without, were in the bloom of youth and did great things? How many of these loathsome looking persons surpassed many, both in vigor of body and in beauty of countenance? Nay, disbelieve it not nor deride. For surely, life is full of ten thousand such examples. For if from mean and humble persons many have oftentimes become kings, what marvel is it if from being greatand glorious, some have been made humble and mean? Since the former is much the more extraordinary: but the latter, of perpetual occurrence. So that one ought not to be incredulous that any of them ever flourished in arts, and arms, and abundance of wealth, but rather to pity them with great compassion and to fear for ourselves, lest we too should sometime suffer the same things. For we too are men and are subject to this speedy change.

[8.] But perchance some one of the thoughtless, and of those who are accustomed to scoff, will object to what hath been said, and will altogether deride us, saying, “How long wilt l thou not cease continually introducing poor men and beggars in thy discourses, and prophesying to us of misfortunes, and denouncing poverty to come, and desiring to make us beggars?” Not from a desire to make beggars of you, O man, do I say these things, but hastening to open unto you the riches of heaven. Since he too, who to the healthy man makes mention of the sick and relates their anguish, saith it not to make him diseased, but to preserve him in health, by the fear of their calamities cutting off his remissness. Poverty seems to you to be a fearful thing and to be dreaded, even to the mere name of it. Yea, and therefore are we poor, because we are afraid of poverty; though we have ten thousand talents. For not he who hath nothing is poor, but he who shudders at poverty. Since in men’s calamities also it is not those who suffer great evils whom we lament and account wretched, but those who know not how to bear them, even though they be small. Whereas he that knows how to bear them is, as all know, worthy of praises and crowns. And to prove that this is so, whom do we applaud in the games? Those who are much beaten and do not vex themselves, but hold their head on high; or those who fly after the first strokes? Are not those even crowned by us as manly and noble; while we laugh at these as unmanly and cowards? So then let us do in the affairs of life. Him that bears all easily let us crown, as we do that noble champion; but weep over him that shrinks and trembles at his dangers, and who before he receives the blow is dead with fear. For so in the games; if any before he raised his hands, at the mere sight of his adversary extending his right hand, should fly, though he receive no wound, he will be laughed to scorn as feeble and effeminate and unversed in such struggles. Now this is like what happens to these who fear poverty, and cannot so much as endure the expectation of it.

Evidently then it is not we that make you wretched, but ye yourselves. For how can it be that the devil should not hence-forth make sport of thee, seeing thee even before the stroke afraid and trembling at the menace? Or rather, when thou dost but esteem this a threat, he will have no need so much as to strike thee any more, but leaving thee to keep thy wealth, by the expectation of its being taken away he will render thee softer than any wax. And because it is our nature (so to speak,) not to consider the objects of our dread so fearful after suffering, as before and while yet untried: therefore to prevent thee from acquiring even this virtue, he detains thee in the very height of fear; by the fear of poverty, before all experience of it, melting thee down as wax in the fire. Yea, and such a man is softer than any wax and lives a life more wretched than Cain himself. For the things which he hath in excess, he is in fear: for those which he hath not, in grief; and again, concerning what he hath he trembles, keeping his wealth within as a wilful runaway slave, and beset by I know not what various and unaccountable passions. For unaccountable desire, and manifold fear and anxiety, and trembling on every side, agitate them. And they are like a vessel driven by contrary winds from every quarter, and enduring many heavy seas. And how much better for such a man to depart than to be enduring a continual storm? Since for Cain also it were more tolerable to have died than to be for ever trembling.

Lest we then for our part suffer these things, let us laugh to scorn the device of the devil, let us burst his cords asunder, let us sever the point of his terrible spear and fortify every approach. For if thou laugh at money, he hath not where to strike, he hath not where he may lay hold. Then hast thou rooted up the root of evils; and when the root is no more, neither will any evil fruit grow.

[9.] Well: these things we are always saying and never leave off saying them: but whether our sayings do any good, the day will declare, even that day which is revealed by fire, which trieth every man’s work, (1 Corinthians 3:13) which showeth what lamps are bright and what are not so. Then shall he who hath oil, and he who hath it not, be manifest. But may none then be found destitute of the comfort; rather may all, bringing in with them abundance of mercy, and having their lamps bright, enter in together with the Bridegroom.

Since nothing is more fearful and full of anguish than that voice which they who departed without abundant almsgiving shall then hear the Bridegroom, “I know you not.” (S. Matthew 25:12) But may we never hear this voice, but rather that most pleasant and desirable one, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (S. Matthew 25:34) For thus shall we live the happy life, and enjoy all the good things which even pass man’s understanding: unto which may we all attain, through the grace and mercy, &c. (source)

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One Response to St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

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