HOMILY VIII. OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON THE EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS
Ver. 5-7 "Mortify your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things' sake, cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience; in the which ye also walked aforetime, when ye lived in these things."
I KNOW that many are offended by the foregoing discourse, but what can I do? ye heard what the Master enjoined. Am I to blame? what shall I do? See ye not the creditors, when debtors are obstinate, how they wear collars? Heard ye what Paul proclaimed today? "Mortify" he saith, "your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." What is worse than such a covetousness? This is worse than any desire. This is still more grievous than what I was speaking of, the madness, and the silly weakness about silver. "And covetousness," he saith, "which is idolatry." See in what the evil ends. Do not, I pray, take what I said amiss, for not by my own good-will, nor without reason, would I have enemies; but I was wishful ye should attain to such virtue, as that I might hear of you the things I ought. So that I said it not for authority's sake, nor of imperiousness, but out of pain and of sorrow. Forgive me, forgive! I have no wish to violate decency by discoursing upon such subjects, but I am compelled to it.
Not for the sake of the sorrows of the poor do I say these things, but for your salvation; for they will perish, will perish, that have not fed Christ. For what, if thou dost feed some poor man? still so long as thou livest so voluptuously and luxuriously, all is to no purpose. For what is required is, not the giving much, but not too little for the property thou hast; for this is but playing at it.
"Mortify therefore your members," he saith, "which are upon the earth." What sayest thou? Was it not thou that saidst, "Ye are buried; ye are buried together with Him; ye are circumcised: we have put off the body of the sins of the flesh"; how then again sayest thou, "Mortify"? Art thou sporting? Dost thou thus discourse, as though those things were in us? There is no contradiction; but like as if one, who has clean Scoured a statue that was filthy, or rather who has recast it, and displayed it bright afresh, should say that the rust was eaten off and destroyed, and yet should again recommend diligence in clearing away the rust, he doth not contradict himself, for it is not that rust which he scoured off that he recommends should be cleared away, but that which grew afterwards; so it is not that former putting to death he speaks of, nor those fornications, but those which do afterwards grow.
He said that this is not our life, but another, that which is in heaven. Tell me now. When he said, Mortify your members that are upon the earth, is then the earth also accused? or does he speak of the things upon the earth as themselves sins? "Fornication, uncleanness," he saith. He has passed over the actions which it is not becoming even to mention, and by "uncleanness" has expressed all together. "Passion," he said, "evil desire."
Lo! he has expressed the whole in the class. For envy, anger, sorrow, all are "evil desire." "And covetousness," he saith, "which is idolatry. For which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience."
By many things he had been withdrawing them; by the benefits which are already given, by the evils to come from which we had been delivered, being who, and wherefore; and all those considerations, as, for instance, who we were, and in what circumstances, and that we were delivered therefrom, how, and in what manner, and on what terms. These were enough to turn one away, but this one is of greater force than all; unpleasant indeed to speak of, not however to disservice, but even serviceable. "For which things' sake cometh," he saith, "the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." He said not, "upon you," but, "upon the sons of disobedience."
"In the which ye also walked aforetime, when ye lived in them." In order to shame them, he saith, "when ye lived in them," and implying praise, as now no more so living: at that time they might.
Ver. 8. "But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth."
He speaks always both universally and particularly; but this is from earnestness.
"Shameful speaking," he saith, "out of your mouth," clearly intimating that it pollutes it.
Ver. 9, 10. "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:"
It is worth enquiring here, what can be the reason why he calls the corrupt life, "members," and "man," and "body," and again the virtuous life, the same. And if "the man" means "sins," how is it that he saith, "with his doings"? For once he said, "the old man," showing that this is not man, but the other. The moral choice doth rather determine one than the substance, and is rather "man" than the other. For his substance casteth him not into hell, nor leadeth him into the kingdom, but men the themselves: and we neither love nor hate any one so far as he is man, but so far as he is such or such a man. If then the substance be the body, and in either sort cannot be accountable, how doth he say that it is evil? But what is that he saith, "with his doings"? He means the choice, with the acts. And he calleth him "old," on purpose to show his deformity, and hideousness, and imbecility; and "new," as if to say, Do not expect that it will be with this one even as with the other, but the reverse: for ever as he farther advances, he hasteneth not on to old age, but to a youthfulness greater than the preceding. For when he hath received a fuller knowledge, he is both counted worthy of greater things, and is in more perfect maturity, in higher vigor; and this, not from youthfulness alone, but from that "likeness" also, "after" which he is. Lo! the best life is styled a creation, after the image of Christ: for this is the meaning of, "after the image of Him that created him," for Christ too came not finally to old age, but was so beautiful as it is not even possible to tell.
Ver. 11. "Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all, and in all."
Lo! here is a third encomium of this "man." With him, there is no difference admitted either of nation, or of rank, or of ancestry, seeing he hath nothing of externals, nor needeth them for all external things are such as these, "circumcision, and uncircumcision, bondman, freeman, Greek," that is, proselyte, "and Jew," from his ancestors. If thou have only this "man," thou wilt obtain the same things with the others that have him.
"But Christ," he saith, "is all, and in all" Christ will be all things to you, both rank, and descent, "and" Himself "in you all." Or he says another thing, to wit, that ye all are become one Christ, being His body.