Papist Orthodoxy

October 4, 2009

Epistle & Homily: Corinthians & Chrysostom

Filed under: Ascetical & Mystical Theology, Doctrine, Liturgy, Morality, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Antiochian-Thomist @ 4:04 pm

(Divine Liturgy) For the 18th Sunday After Pentecost (2 Corinthians 9:6-12)

Brothers and sisters, the point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. (NRSV)

Homily XIX of St. John Chrysostom on 2 Corinthians, Chapter 9.

For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to
write to you.

THOUGH he had said so much about it, he says here, “It is superfluous
for me to write to you.” And his wisdom is shown not only in this, that
though he had said so much about it, he saith, “it is superfluous for me to
write to you,” but in that be yet again speaketh of it. For what he said
indeed a little above, he said concerning those who received the money, to
ensure them the enjoyment of great honor: but what he said before that,
(his account of the Macedonians, that “their deep poverty abounded unto the
riches of their liberality,” and all the rest,) was concerning loving-
kindness and alms-giving. But nevertheless even though he had said so much
before and was going to speak again, he says, “it is superfluous for me to
write to you.” And this he does the rather to win them to himself. For a
man who has so high a reputation as not to stand in need even of advice, is
ashamed to appear inferior to, and come short of, that opinion of him. And
he does this often in accusation also, using the rhetorical figure,
omission, for this is very effective. For the judge seeing the magnanimity
of the accuser entertains no suspicions even. For he argues, ‘he who when
he might say much, yet saith it not, how should he invent what is not
true?’ And he gives occassion to suspect even more than he says, and
invests himself with the presumption of a good disposition. This also in
his advice and in his praises he does. For having said, “It is superfluous
for me to write to you,” observe how he advises them.

“For I know your readiness of which I glory on your behalf to them of
Macedonia.” Now it was a great thing that he even knew it himself, but much
greater, that he also published it to others: for the force it has is
greater: for they would not like to be so widely disgraced. Seest thou his
wisdom of purpose? He exhorted them by others’ example, the Macedonians,
for, he says, “I make known to you the grace of God which hath been given
in the Churches of Macedonia.” He exhorted them by their own, for he saith,
“who were the first to make a beginning a year ago not only to do, but also
to will.” He exhorted them by the Lord’s, for “ye know” he saith, “the
grace of our Lord, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became
poor.” (ibid. 9.) Again he retreats upon that strong main point, the
conduct of others. For mankind is emulous. And truly the example of the
Lord ought to have had most power to draw them over: and next to it, the
[consideration] of the recompense: but because they were somewhat weak,
this draws them most. For nothing does so much as emulation. But observe
how he introduces it in a somewhat novel way. For He did not say, ‘Imitate
them;’ but what?

“And your zeal has stirred up very many.” What sayest thou? A little
before thou saidst, [they did it] “of their own accord, beseeching us with
much entreaty,” how then now,” your zeal?” ‘Yes,’ he saith, ‘we did not
advise we did not exhort, but we only praised you, we only boasted of you,
and this was enough to incite them.” Seest thou how he rouses them each by
the other, these by those, and those by these, and, along with the
emulation, has intermingled also a very high encomium. Then, that he may
not elate them, he follows it up in a tempered tone, saying, “Your zeal
hath stirred up very many.” Now consider what a thing it is that those who
have been the occasion to others of this munificence, should be themselves
behind hand in this contribution. Therefore he did not say, ‘Imitate them,’
for it would not have kindled so great an emulation, but how? ‘They have
imitated you; see then that ye the teachers appear not inferior to your
desciples.’

And see how, whilst stirring up and inflaming them still more, he
feigns to be standing by them, as if espousing their party in some rivalry
and contention. For, as he said above, “Of their own accord, with much
entreaty they came to us, insomuch that we exhorted Titus, that as he had
made a beginning before, so he would complete this grace;” so also he says
here,

Ver. 3. “For this cause have I sent the brethren that our glorying on
your behalf may not be made void.”

Seest thou that he is in anxiety and terror, lest he should seem to
have said what he said only for exhortation’s sake? ‘But because so it is,’
saith he, “I have sent the brethren;” ‘so earnest am I on your behalf,’
“that our glorying may not be made void.” And he appears to make himself of
the Corinthians’ party throughout, although caring for all alike. What he
says is this; ‘I am very proud of you, I glory before all, I boasted even
unto them(1) , so that if ye be found wanting, I am partner in the shame.’
And this indeed he says under limitation, for he added,

“In this respect,” not, in all points;

“That even as I said, ye may be prepared.” ‘For I did not say, ‘they
are purposing,’ but ‘all is ready; and nothing is now wanting on their
part. This then,’ he says, ‘I wish to be shown by your deeds.’ Then he even
heightens the anxiety, saying,

Ver. 4. “Lest by any means if there come with me any from Macedonia,
we, (that we say not ye,) should be put to shame in this confidence.” The
shame is greater when the spectators he has arrayed against them are many,
even those same persons who had heard [his boasting.] And he did not say,
‘for I am bringing with me Macedonians;’ ‘for there are Macedonians coming
with me;’ lest he should seem to do it on purpose; but how [said he?] “Lest
by any means, if there come with me any from Macedonia?” ‘For this may
happen,’ he says, ‘it is matter of possibility.’ For thus he also made what
he said unsuspected, but had he expressed himself in that other way, he
would have even made them the more contentious. See how he leads them on,
not from spiritual motives only, but from human ones as well. ‘For,’ says
he, ‘though you make no great account of me, and reckon confidently on my
excusing you, yet think of them of Macedonia,’ “lest by any means, if they
come and find you;” and he did not say ‘unwillingly,’ but “unprepared,” not
having got all completed. But if this be a disgrace, not to contribute
quickly; consider how great it were to contribute either not at all, or
less than behoved. Then he lays down what would thereupon follow, in terms
at once gentle and pungent, thus saying, “We, (that we say not ye,)
should be put to shame.” And he tempers it again, saying, “in this
confidence” not as making them more listless, but as showing that they who
were approved in all other respects, ought in this one also to have great
fearlessness.

[2.] Ver. 5. “I thought it necessary therefore to entreat the brethren,
that they would make up beforehand this your bounty, that the same might be
ready, as a matter of bounty and not of extortion.(2)”

Again, he resumed the subject in a different manner: and that he may
not seem to be saying these things without object, he asserts that the sole
reason for this journey was, that they might not be put to shame. Seest
thou how his words, “It is superfluous for me to write,” were the beginning
of advising? You see, at least, how many things he discourses concerning
this ministering. And along with this, one may further remark that, (lest
he should seem to contradict himself as having said, “It is superfluous,”
yet discoursing at length about it,) he passed on unto discourse of
quickness and largeness and forwardness [in contributing,] by this means
securing that point also. For these three things he requires. And indeed he
moved these three main points even at the first, for when he says, “In much
proof of affliction the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty,
abounded unto the riches of their I liberality,” he says nothing else than
that they contributed both much and gladly and quickly; and that not only
did not giving much pain them, but not even being in trials, which is more
grievous than giving. And the words, “they gave themselves to us;” these
also show both their forwardness and the greatness of their faith. And here
too again he treats of those heads. For since these are opposed to [each
other,] munificence and forwardness, and one that has given much is often
sorrowful, whilst another, that he may not be sorry, gives less; observe
how he takes care for each, and with the wisdom which belongs to him. For
he did not say, ‘it is better to give a little and of free choice, than
much of necessity;’ because he wished them to contribute both much and of
free choice; but how saith he? “that they might make up beforehand this
your bounty, that the same might be ready as a matter of bounty(3), and not
extortion. He begins first with that which is pleasantest and lighter;
namely, the ‘not of necessity,’ for, it is “bounty” he says. Observe how in
the form of his exhortation he represents at once the fruit as springing
up, and the givers as filled with blessing. And by the term employed he won
them over, for no one gives a blessing with pain. Yet neither was he
content with this; but added, “not as of extortion.” ‘Think not,’ he says,
‘that we take it as extortioners, but that we may be the cause of a
blessing unto you.’ For extortion belongs to the unwilling, so that whoso
giveth alms unwillingly giveth of extortion. (1) Then from this he passed
on again unto that, the giving munificently.

Ver. 6. “But this I say:” that is, along with this I say also that.
What?

“He that soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he that
soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And he did not say
niggardly, but a milder expression, employing the the name of the sparing.
And he called the thing sowing; that thou mightest at once look unto the
recompense, and having in mind the harvest, mightest feel that thou
receivest more than thou givest. Wherefore he did not say, ‘He that
giveth,’ but “He that soweth:” and he said not ‘ye, if ye sow,’ but made
what he said general. Neither did he say, ‘largely,’ but “bountifully,”
which is far greater than this. And again, he betakes himself to that
former point of gladness; saying,

Ver. 7. “Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart.”
For a man when left to himself, does a thing more readily than when
compelled. Wherefore also he dwells upon this: for having said, “according
as he is disposed,” he added,

“Not grudgingly, nor of necessity.” And neither was he content with
this, but he adds a testimony from Scripture also, saying,

“For God loveth a cheerful giver.” Seest thou how frequently he lays
this down? “I speak not by commandment:” and, “Herein I give my advice:”
and, “as a matter of bounty, and not as of extortion,” and again, “not
grudgingly, nor of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” In this
passage I am of opinion that a large [giver] is intended; the Apostle
however has taken it as giving with readiness. For because the example of
the Macedonians and all those other things were enough to produce
sumptuousness, he does not say many things on that head, but upon giving
without reluctance. For if it is a work of virtue, and yet all that is done
of necessity is shorn of its reward(2), with reason also he labors at this
point. And he does not advise merely, but also adds a prayer, as his wont
is to do, saying,

Ver. 8. “And may God(3), that is able, fulfill all grace towards you.”

By this prayer he takes out the way a thought which lay in wait
against(4) this liberality and which is now also an hinderance to many. For
many persons are afraid to give alms, saying, ‘Lest perchance I become
poor,’ ‘lest perchance I need aid from others.’ To do away with this fear
then, he adds this prayer, saying, May “He make all grace abound towards
you.” Not merely fulfil, but “make it abound.” And what is “make grace
abound?” ‘Fill you,’ he means, ‘with so great things, that ye may be able
to abound in this liberality.’

“That ye, having always all sufficiency in every thing, may abound to
every good work.”

Observe, even in this his prayer, his great philosophy. He prays not
for riches nor for abundance, but for all sufficiency. Nor is this all that
is admirable in him; but that as he prayed not for superfluity, so he doth
not press sore on them nor compel them to give of their want, condescending
to their weakness; but asks for a “sufficiency,” and shows at the same
time that they ought not to abuse the gifts received from God. “That ye may
abound,” he saith, “to every good work.” ‘It is therefore,’ saith he, ‘I
ask for this, that ye may bestow on others also.’ Yet he did not say,
‘bestow,’ but ‘abound.’ For in carnal things he asks for a sufficiency for
them, but in spiritual things for abundance even; not in almsgiving only,
but in all other things also, “unto every good work.” Then he brings
forward unto them the prophet for a counsellor, having sought out a
testimony inviting them to bountifulness, and says,

Ver. 9. “As it is written,

He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness
abideth for ever.”

This is the import of “abound;” for the words, “he hath dispersed
abroad,” signify nothing else but the giving plentifully. For if the things
themselves abide not, yet their results abide. For this is the thing to be
admired, that when they are kept they are lost; but when dispersed abroad
they abide, yea, abide for ever. Now by “righteousness,” here, he means
love towards men. For this maketh righteous, consuming sins like a fire
when it is plentifully poured out.

[3.] Let us not therefore nicely calculate, but sow with a profuse
hand. Seest thou not how much others give to players and harlots? Give at
any rate the half to Christ, of what they give to dancers. As much as they
give of ostentation to those upon the stage, so much at any rate give thou
unto the hungry. For they indeed even clothe the persons of wantons(1) with
untold gold; but thou not even with a threadbare garment the flesh of
Christ, and that though beholding it naked. What forgiveness doth this
deserve, yea, how great a punishment doth it not deserve, when he indeed
bestoweth so much upon her that ruineth and shameth him, but thou not the
least thing on Him that saveth thee and maketh thee brighter? But as long
as thou spendest it upon thy belly and on drunkenness and dissipation(2),
thou never thinkest of poverty: but when need is to relieve poverty, thou
art become poorer than any body. And when feeding parasites and flatterers,
thou art as joyous as though thou hadst fountains to spend from(3); but if
thou chance to see a poor man, then the fear of poverty besets thee.
Therefore surely we shall in that day be condemned, both by ourselves and
by others, both by those that have done well and those that have done
amiss. For He will say to thee, ‘Wherefore wast thou not thus magnanimous
in things where it became thee? But here is a man who, when giving to an
harlot, thought not of any of these things; whilst thou, bestowing upon thy
Master Who hath bid thee “not be anxious” (Matt. vi. 25. ), art full of
fear and trembling.’ And what forgiveness then shalt thou deserve? For if a
man who hath received will not overlook, but will requite the favor, much
more will Christ. For He that giveth even without receiving, how will He
not give after receiving? ‘What then,’ saith one, when some who have spent
much come to need other men’s help?’ Thou speakest of those that have spent
their all; when thou thyself bestowest not a farthing. Promise to strip
thyself of every thing and then ask questions about such men; but as long
as thou art a niggard and bestowest little of thy substance, why throw me
out excuses and pretenses? For neither am I leading thee to the lofty peak
of entire poverty(4) but for the present I require thee to cut off
superfluities and to desire a sufficiency alone. Now the boundary of
sufficiency is the using those things which it is impossible to live
without. No one debars thee from these; nor forbids thee thy daily food. I
say food, not feasting; raiment, not ornament(5). Yea rather, if one should
enquire accurately, this is in the best sense feasting. For, consider.
Which should we say more truly feasted, he whose diet was herbs, and who
was in sound health and suffered no uneasiness: or he who had the table of
a Sybarite, and was full of ten thousand disorders? Very plainly the
former. Therefore let us seek nothing more than this, if we would at once
live luxuriously and healthfully: and let us set these boundaries to
sufficiency. And let him that can be satisfied with pulse and can keep in
good health, seek for nothing more; but let him who is weaker and requires
to be dieted with garden herbs, not be hindered of this. But if any be even
weaker than this and require the support of flesh in moderation, we will
not debar him from this either. For we do not advise these things, to kill
and injure men but to cut off what is superfluous; and that is superfluous
which is more than we need. For when we are able even without a thing to
live healthfully and respectably, certainly the addition of that thing is a
superfluity.

[4.] Thus let us think also in regard of clothing and of the table and
of a dwelling house and of all our other wants; and in every thing inquire
what is necessary. For what is superfluous is also useless. When thou shall
have practised living on what is sufficient; then if thou hast a mind to
emulate that widow, we will lead thee on to greater things than these. For
thou hast not yet attained to the philosophy of that woman, whilst thou art
anxious about what is sufficient. For she soared higher even than this; for
what was to have been her support; that she cast in, all of it. Wilt thou
then still distress thyself about such things as be necessary; and dost
thou not blush to be vanquished by a woman; and not only not to emulate
her, but to be left even of her far behind? For she did not say the things
we say, ‘But what, if when I have spent all I be compelled to beg of
another?’ but in her munificence stripped herself of all she had. What
shall we say of the widow in the Old Testament in the time of the prophet
Elias? For the risk she ran was not of poverty, but even of death and
extinction, and not her own only, but her children’s too. For neither had,
she any expectation of receiving from others, but of presently dying.
‘But,’ saith one, ‘she saw the prophet, and that made her munificent.’ But
do not ye see saints without number? And why do I speak of saints? Ye see
the Lord of the prophets asking an alms, and yet not even so do ye become
humane; but though ye have coffers spewing(6) one into another, do not even
impart of your superfluity. What sayest thou? Was he a prophet that came to
her, and did this persuade her to so great a magnanimity? This of itself
deserves much admiration, that she was persuaded of his being a great and
wonderful person. For how was it she did not say, as it would have been
likely that a barbarian woman and a foreigner would Have reasoned, ‘ If he
were a prophet, he would not have begged of me. If he were a friend of God,
He would not have neglected him. Be it that because of sins the Jews suffer
this punishment: but whence, and wherefore, doth this man suffer?’ But she
entertained none of these thoughts; but opened to him her house, and before
her house, her heart; and set before him all she had; and putting nature on
one side and disregarding her children, preferred the stranger unto all.
Consider then how great punishment will be laid up for us, if we shall come
behind(1) and be weaker than a woman, a widow, poor, a foreigner, a
barbarian, a mother of children, knowing nothing of these things which we
know! For because we have strength of body, we are not therefore manly
persons. For he alone hath this virtue, yea though he be laid upon his bed,
whose strength is from within; since without this, though a man should tear
up a mountain by his strength of body, I would call him nothing stronger
than a girl or wretched crone. For the one struggles with incorporeal ills,
but the other dares not even look them in the face. And that thou mayest
learn that this is the measure of manliness, collect it from this very
example. For what could be more manly than that woman who both against the
tyranny of nature, and against the force of hunger, and against the threat
of death, stood nobly fast, and proved stronger than all? Hear at least how
Christ proclaimeth her. For, saith He, “there were many widows in the days
of Elias, and to none of them was the prophet sent but to her.” (Luke iv.
25, 26.) Shall I say something great and startling? This woman gave more to
hospitality, than our father Abraham. For she “ran” not “unto the herd,” as
he, (Gen. xviii. 7.) but by that “handful” (1 Kings xvii. 12.) outstripped
all that have been renowned for hospitality. For in this was his excellence
that he set himself to do that office; but hers, in that for the sake of
the stranger she spared not her children even, and that too, though she
looked. not for the things to come. But we, though a heaven exists, though
a hell is threatened, though (which is greater than all ) God hath wrought
such great things for us and is made glad and rejoiceth over such things,
sink back supinely.(2) Not so, I beseech you: but let us “scatter abroad,”
let us “give to the poor” as we ought to give. For what is much and what
little, God defines, not by the measure of what is given, but by the extent
of the substance of him that gives. Often surely hast thou who didst east
in an hundred staters of gold offered less than he that offered but one
obol, for thou didst cast in of thy superfluity. Howbeit do if but this,
and thou wilt come quickly even to greater munificence. Scatter wealth that
thou mayest gather righteousness. For along with wealth this refuseth to
come to us; yet through it, though not with it, it is made present to us.
For it is not possible that lust of wealth and righteousness should dwell
together; they have their tents apart. Do not then obstinately strive to
bring things together which are incompatible, but banish the usurper
covetousness, if thou wouldest obtain the kingdom. For this(3) is the
[rightful] queen, and of slaves makes freemen, the contrary of which the
other doth. Wherefore with all earnestness let us shun the one and welcome
the other, that we may both gain freedom in this life and obtain the
kingdom of heaven, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus
Christ, with Whom, to the Father together with the Holy Spirit, be glory,
might, honor, new and for ever, and world without end. Amen.

Taken from “The Early Church Fathers and Other Works” originally published
by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in
1867. (LNPF I/XII, Schaff).

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