Ver. 1. "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2.But because of fornications, let each man have his own wife; and let each woman have her own husband."
HAVING corrected the three heaviest things laid to their charge, one, the distraction of the Church, another, about the fornicator, a third, about the covetous person, he thenceforth uses a milder sort of speech. And he interposes some exhortation and advice about marriage and virginity, giving the hearers some respite from more unpleasant subjects. But in the second Epistle he does the contrary; he begins from the milder topics, and ends with the more distressing. And here also, after he has finished his discourse about virginity, he again launches forth into matter more akin to reproof; not setting all down in regular order, but varying his discourse in either kind, as the occasion required and the exigency of the matters in hand.
Wherefore he says, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me." For they had written to him, "Whether it was right to abstain from one's wife, or not:" and writing back in answer to this and giving rules about marriage, he introduces also the discourse concerning virginity: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." "For if," says he, "thou enquire what is the excellent and greatly superior course, it is better not to have any connection whatever with a woman: but if you ask what is safe and helpful to thine own infirmity, be connected by marriage."
But since it was likely, as also happens now, that the husband might be willing but the wife not, or perhaps the reverse, mark how he discusses each case. Some indeed say that this discourse was addressed by him to priests. But I, judging from what follows, could not affirm that it was so: since he would not have given his advice in general terms. For if he were writing these things only for the priests, he would have said, "It is good for the teacher not to touch a woman." But now he has made it of universal application, saying, "It is good for a man;" not for priest only. And again, "Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife." He said not, "You who are a priest and teacher," but indefinitely. And the whole of his speech goes on entirely in the same tones And in saying, "Because of fornications, let every man have his own wife" by the very cause alleged for the concession he guides men to continence.
Ver. 3. "Let the husband pay the wife the honor due to her: in like manner the wife the husband. 4. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife."
Now what is the meaning of "the due honor? The wife hath not power over her own body;" but is both the slave and the mistress of the husband. And if you decline the service which is due, you have offended God. But if thou wish to withdraw thyself, it must be with the husband's permission, though it be but a for short time. For this is why he calls the matter a debt, to shew that no one is master of himself but that they are servants to each other.
When therefore thou seest an harlot tempting thee, say, "My body is not mine, but my wife's." The same also let the woman say to those who would undermine her chastity, "My body is not mine, but my husband's."
Now if neither husband nor wife hath power even over their own body, much less have they over their property. Hear ye, all that have husbands and all that have wives: that if you must not count your body your own, much less your money.
Elsewhere I grant He gives to the husband abundant precedence, both in the New Testament, and the Old saying "Thy turning shall be towards thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Paul doth so too by making a distinction thus, and writing, (Ephes. v. 25, 33.) "Husbands, love your wives; and let the wife see that she reverence her husband." But in this place we hear no more of greater and less, but it is one and the same right. Now why is this? Because his speech was about chastity. "In all other things," says he, "let the husband have the prerogative; but not so where the question is about chastity." "The husband hath no power over his own body, neither the wife." There is great equality of honor, and no prerogative.
Ver. 5. "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency."
What then can this mean? "Let not the wife," says he, "exercise continence, if the husband be unwilling; nor yet the husband without the wife's consent." Why so? Because great evils spring from this sort of continence. For adulteries and fornications and the ruin of families have often arisen from hence. For if when men have their own wives they commit fornication, much more if yon defraud them of this consolation. And well says he, "Defraud not; fraud" here, and "debt" above, that he might shew the strictness of the right of dominion in question. For that one should practice continence against the will of the other is "defrauding;" but not so, with the other's consent: any more than I count myself defrauded, if after persuading me you take away any thing of mine. Since only he defrauds who takes against another's will and by force. A thing which many women do, working sin rather than righteousness, and thereby becoming accountable for the husband's uncleanness, and rending all asunder. Whereas they should value concord above all things, since this is more important than all beside.
We will, if you please, consider it with a view to actual cases. Thus, suppose a wife and husband, and let the wife be continent, without consent of her husband; well then, if hereupon he commit fornication, or though abstaining from fornication fret and grow restless and be heated and quarrel and give all kind of trouble to his wife; where is all the gain of the fasting and the continence, a breach being made in love? There is none. For what strange reproaches, how much trouble, how great a war must of course arise! since when in an house man and wife are at variance, the house will be no better off than a ship in a storm when the master is upon ill terms with the man at the head. Wherefore he saith, "Defraud not one another, unless it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer." It is prayer with unusual earnestness which he here means. For if he is for-bidding those who have intercourse with one another to pray, how could "pray without ceasing" have any place? It is possible then to live with a wife and yet give heed unto prayer. But by continence prayer is made more perfect. For he did not say merely, "That ye may pray;" but, "That ye may give yourselves unto it ;" as though what he speaks of might cause not uncleanness but much occupation.
"And may be together again, that Satan tempt you not." Thus lest it should seem to be a matter of express enactment, he adds the reason. And what is it? "That Satan tempt you not." And that you may understand that it is not the devil only who causeth this crime, I mean adultery, he adds, "because of your incontinency."
Ver.6. "But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn."
"But this I say by way of permission, not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself; in a state of continence." This he doth in many places when he is advising about difficult matters; he brings forward himself, and says, "Be ye imitators of me."
"Howbeit each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that." Thus since he had heavily charged them saying, "for your incontinence," he again comforteth them by the words, "each one hath his own gift of God;" not declaring that towards that virtue there is no need of zeal on our part, but, as I was saying before, to comfort them. For if it be a "gift," and man contributes nothing thereunto, how sayest thou, "But (v. 8.) I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they abide even as 1: (v. 9.) but if they have not continency let them marry?" Do you see the strong sense of Paul how he both signifies that continence is better, and yet puts no force on the person who cannot attain to it; fearing lest some offence arise?
"For it is better to marry than to burn." He indicates how great is the tyranny of concupiscence. What he means is something like this: "If you have to endure much violence and burning desire, withdraw yourself from your pains and toils, lest haply you be subverted."
Ver. 10. " And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."
Because it is a law expressly appointed by Christ which he is about to read to them about the "not putting away a wife without fornication; "(S. Mat. v. 32; xix. 9; S. Mark x. 11; S. Luke xvi. 18.) therefore he says, "Not I." True it is what was before spoken though it were not expressly stated, yet it also is His decree. But this, you see, He had delivered in express words. So that the words "I and not I" have this difference of meaning. For that you might not imagine even his own words to be human, therefore he added, "For I think that I also have the Spirit of God."
Now what is that which "to the married the Lord commanded? That the wife depart not from her husband: (v. 11.) but if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled unto her husband." Here, seeing that both on the score of continence and other pretexts, and because of infirmities of temper, it fell out that separations took place: it were better, he says, that such things should not be at all; but however if they take place, let the wife remain with her husband, if not to cohabit with him, yet so as not to introduce any other to be her husband.
Ver. 12. "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord. If any brother have a wife that believeth not, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. And if any woman hath an husband that believeth not, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him."
For as when discoursing about separating from fornicators, he made the matter easy by the correction which he applied to his words, saying, "Howbeit, not altogether with the fornicators of this world;" so also in this case he provideth for the abundant easiness of the duty, saying, "If any wife have a husband, or husband a wife, that believeth not, let him not leave her." What sayest thou? "If he be an unbeliever, let him remain with the wife, but not if he be a fornicator? And yet fornication is a less sin than unbelief." I grant, fornication is a less sin: but God spares thine infirmities extremely. And this is What He doth about the sacrifice, saying, (S. Mat. v. 24.) "Leave the sacrifice, and be reconciled to thy brother." This also in the case of the man who owed ten thousand talents. For him too He did not punish for owing him ten thousand talents, but for demanding back a hundred pence from his fellow-servant He took vengeance on him.
Then lest the woman might fear, as though she became unclean because of intercourse with her husband, he says, "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband." And yet, if "he that is joined to an harlot is one body," it is quite clear that the woman also who is joined to an idolater is one body. Well: it is one body; nevertheless she becomes not unclean, but the cleanness of the wife overcomes the uncleanness of the husband; and again, the cleanness of the believing husband. overcomes the uncleanness of the unbelieving wife.
How then in this case is the uncleanness overcome, and therefore the intercourse allowed; while in the woman who prostitutes herself, the husband is not condemned in casting her out? Because here there is hope that the lost member may be saved through the marriage; but in the other case the marriage has already been dissolved; and there again both are corrupted; but here the Fault is in one only of the two. I mean something like this: she that has been guilty of fornication is utterly abominable: if then "he that is joined to an harlot is one body," he also becomes abominable by having connection with an harlot; wherefore all the purity flits away. But in the case before us it is not so. But how? The idolater is unclean but the woman is not unclean. For if indeed she were a partner with him in that wherein he is unclean, I mean his impiety, she herself would also become unclean. But now the idolater is unclean in one way, and the wife holds communion with him in another wherein he is not unclean. For marriage and mixture of bodies is that wherein the communion consists.
Again, there is a hope that this man may be reclaimed by his wife for she is made completely his own: but for the other it is not very easy. For how will she who dishonored him in former times and became another's and destroyed the rights of marriage, have power to reclaim him whom she had wronged; him, moreover, who still remains to her as an alien?
Again in that case, after the fornication the husband is not a husband: but here, although the wife be an idolatress, the husband's rights are not destroyed.
However, he doth not simply recommend cohabitation with the unbeliever, but with the qualification that he wills it. Wherefore he said, "And he himself be content to dwell with her." For, tell me, what harm is there when the duties of piety remain unimpaired and there are good hopes about the unbeliever, that those already joined should so abide and not bring in occasions of unnecessary warfare? For the question now is not about those who have never yet come together, but about those who are already joined. He did not say, If any one wish to take an unbelieving wife, but, "If any one hath an unbelieving wife." Which means, If any after marrying or being married have received the word of godliness, and then the other party which had continued in unbelief still yearn for them to dwell together, let not the marriage be broken off. "For," saith he, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife." So great is the superabundance of thy purity.
What then, is the Greek holy? Certainly not: for he said not, He is holy; but, "He is sanctified in his wife." And this he said, not to signify that he is holy, but to deliver the woman as completely as possible from her fear and lead the man to desire the truth. For the uncleanness is not in the bodies wherein there is communion, but in the mind and the thoughts. And here follows the proof; namely, that if thou continuing unclean have offspring, the child, not being of thee alone, is of course unclean or half clean. But now it is not unclean. To which effect he adds, "else were your children unclean; but now are they holy;" that is, not unclean. But the Apostle calls them, "holy,"' by the intensity of the expression again casting out the dread arising from that sort of suspicion.
HOMILIES OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS, EXCERPT FROM HOMILY XIX.