Prof. Jaroslav Skira (Regis College)



Note: The full electronic versions of most of the texts can be found at Early Church Fathers (CCEL). These readings are adapted from the translations found at this site.

WEEK #9: East & West in the Fourth Century:
- Ambrose, Augustine, Hilary of Poitiers, Jerome, Vincent of Lérins, John Chrysostom

Textbook reading: Gonzalez. Story of Xianity. Chps. 21, 22, 23, 24.

Some Study Guidelines / Questions:
1. Remember to read the text historically-critically (i.e. in terms of an "exegesis").
2. Describe Jerome's "biblical criticism"? What is the order of the Gospels that he gives?
3. Why/how does Augustine begin to be converted by Ambrose?
4. In Augustine, what is the problem with Pelagius' doctrine of freedom and grace? What is Augustine's understanding of Adam's sin?
5. In Lérins, what are the principles/criteria in determining authentic doctrines?

6. In Chrysostom's homily, how does he describe Christ? the Trinity? What themes does he end his homily with?
7. In his
homily on Mattew, what are the social injustices he decries? Are there contemporary parallels to them?
8. What are some other themes that you find important? (Please don't feel constrained by these questions in your postings).



Jerome of Stridon [c.347-420]

Letter 15 [To Pope Damasus] (cf. CCC 143)

1. Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord, "woven from the top throughout," since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ, and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover "the sealed fountain" and "the garden enclosed," I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for "the pearl of great price." "Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together." Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold; but here the seed corn is choked in the furrows and nothing grows but darnel or oats. In the West the Sun of righteousness is even now rising; in the East, Lucifer, who fell from heaven, has once more set his throne above the stars. "You are the light of the world," "You are the salt of the earth," You are "vessels of gold and of silver." Here are vessels of wood or of earth, which wait for the rod of iron, and eternal fire.

2. Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord. Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors who share your faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.

3. Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses, are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases. And this, too, after the definition of Nicea and the decree of Alexandria, in which the West has joined. Where, I should like to know, are the apostles of these doctrines? Where is their Paul, their new doctor of the Gentiles? I ask them what three hypostaseis are supposed to mean. They reply three persons subsisting. I rejoin that this is my belief. They are not satisfied with the meaning, they demand the term. Surely some secret venom lurks in the words. "If any man refuse," I cry, "to acknowledge three hypostases in the sense of three things hypostatized, that is three persons subsisting, let him be anathema." Yet, because I do not learn their words, I am counted a heretic. "But, if any one, understanding by hypostasis essence, deny that in the three persons there is one hypostasis, he has no part in Christ." Because this is my confession I, like you, am branded with the stigma of Sabellianism.

4. If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all. In the whole range of secular learning hypostasis never means anything but essence. And can any one, I ask, be so profane as to speak of three essences or substances in the Godhead? There is one nature of God and one only; and this, and this alone, truly is. For absolute being is derived from no other source but is all its own. All things besides, that is all things created, although they appear to be, are not. For there was a time when they were not, and that which once was not may again cease to be. God alone who is eternal, that is to say, who has no beginning, really deserves to be called an essence. … Let us be satisfied to speak of one substance and of three subsisting persons--perfect, equal, coeternal. Let us keep to one hypostasis, if such be your pleasure, and say nothing of three. It is a bad sign when those who mean the same thing use different words. Let us be satisfied with the form of creed which we have hitherto used. Or, if you think it right that I should speak of three hypostases, explaining what I mean by them, I am ready to submit. But, believe me, there is poison hidden under their honey; the angel of Satan has transformed himself into an angel of light. …

Jerome, Preface to the Four Gospels [Addressed to Pope Damasus, A.D. 383.] [cf. CCC 144]

a. You urge me to revise the old Latin version, and, as it were, to sit in judgment on the copies of the Scriptures which are now scattered throughout the whole world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the Greek original. The labour is one of love, but at the same time both perilous and presumptuous; for in judging others I must be content to be judged by all; and how can I dare to change the language of the world in its hoary old age, and carry it back to the early days of its infancy? Is there a man, learned or unlearned, who will not, when he takes the volume into his hands, and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, break out immediately into violent language, and call me a forger and a profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections therein? Now there are two consoling reflections which enable me to bear the odium--in the first place, the command is given by you who are the supreme bishop; and secondly, even on the showing of those who revile us, readings at variance with the early copies cannot be right. For if we are to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it is for our opponents to tell us which; for there are almost as many forms of texts as there are copies. If, on the other hand, we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many, why not go back to the original Greek and correct the mistakes introduced by inaccurate translators, and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and, further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake? I am not discussing the Old Testament, which was turned into Greek by the Seventy elders, and has reached us by a descent of three steps. …

b. I am now speaking of the New Testament. This was undoubtedly composed in Greek, with the exception of the work of Matthew the Apostle, who was the first to commit to writing the Gospel of Christ, and who published his work in Judea in Hebrew characters. We must confess that as we have it in our language it is marked by discrepancies, and now that the stream is distributed into different channels we must go back to the fountainhead. … I therefore promise in this short Preface the four Gospels only, which are to be taken in the following order, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, as they have been revised by a comparison of the Greek manuscripts. Only early ones have been used. But to avoid any great divergences from the Latin which we are accustomed to read, I have used my pen with some restraint, and while I have corrected only such passages as seemed to convey a different meaning, I have allowed the rest to remain as they are.


Augustine of Hippo [c.354-430]

Augustine, Confessions 5.13.23-5.14.25

5.13.23 [On Ambrose ] … And to Milan I came, unto Ambrose the bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men, your devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did at that time strenuously dispense unto your people the flour of your wheat, the "gladness" of Your "oil," and the sober intoxication of your "wine." To him was I unknowingly led by you, that by him I might knowingly be led to you. That man of God received me like a father, and looked with a benevolent and episcopal kindliness on my change of abode. And I began to love him, not at first, indeed, as a teacher of the truth,-which I entirely despaired of in your Church,-but as a man friendly to myself. And I studiously hearkened to him preaching to the people, not with the motive I should, but, as it were, trying to discover whether his eloquence came up to the fame thereof, or flowed fuller or lower than was asserted; and I hung on his words intently, but of the matter I was but as a careless and contemptuous spectator; and I was delighted with the pleasantness of his speech, more erudite, yet less cheerful and soothing in manner, than that of Faustus. Of the matter, however, there could be no comparison; for the latter was straying amid Manichaean deceptions, whilst the former was teaching salvation most soundly. But "salvation is far from the wicked,'' such as I then stood before him; and yet I was drawing nearer gradually and unconsciously.

5.14.24. For although I took no trouble to learn what he spoke, but only to hear how he spoke (for that empty care alone remained to me, despairing of a way accessible for man to you), yet, together with the words which I prized, there came into my mind also the things about which I was careless; for I could not separate them. And whilst I opened my heart to admit "how skilfully he spoke," there also entered with it, but gradually, "and how truly he spoke !" For first, these things also had begun to appear to me to be defensible; and the Catholic faith, for which I had fancied nothing could be said against the attacks of the Manicheans, I now conceived might be maintained without presumption; especially after I had heard one or two parts of the Old Testament explained, and often allegorically- which when I accepted literally, I was "killed" spiritually. Many places, then, of those books having been expounded to me, I now blamed my despair in having believed that no reply could be made to those who hated and derided the Law and the Prophets. Yet I did not then see that for that reason the Catholic way was to be held because it had its learned advocates, who could at length, and not irrationally, answer objections; nor that what I held ought therefore to be condemned because both sides were equally defensible. For that way did not appear to me to be vanquished; nor yet did it seem to me to be victorious.

25. Hereupon did I earnestly bend my mind to see if in any way I could possibly prove the Manicheans guilty of falsehood. Could I have realized a spiritual substance, all their strongholds would have been beaten down, and cast utterly out of my mind; but I could not. But yet, concerning the body of this world, and the whole of nature, which the senses of the flesh can attain unto, I, now more and more considering and comparing things, judged that the greater part of the philosophers held much the more probable opinions. So, then, after the manner of the Academics (as they are supposed), doubting of everything and fluctuating between all, I decided that the Manicheans were to be abandoned; judging that, even while in that period of doubt, I could not remain in a sect to which I preferred some of the philosophers; to which philosophers, however, because they were without the saving name of Christ, I utterly refused to commit the cure of my fainting soul. I resolved, therefore, to be a catechumen in the Catholic Church, which my parents had commended to me, until something settled should manifest itself to me whither I might steer my course.

Augustine, Confessions 8.12

8.12.28. [His Conversion] … But when a profound reflection had, from the secret depths of my soul, drawn together and heaped up all my misery before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by as mighty a shower of tears. Which, that I might pour forth fully, with its natural expressions, I stole away from Alypius; for it suggested itself to me that solitude was fitter for the business of weeping. So I retired to such a distance that even his presence could not be oppressive to me. Thus was it with me at that time, and he perceived it; for something, I believe, I had spoken, wherein the sound of my voice appeared choked with weeping, and in that state had I risen up. He then remained where we had been sitting, most completely astonished. I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of mine eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice unto Thee. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spoke I much unto Thee,-"But You, O Lord, how long?" "How long, Lord? Wilt You be angry for ever? Oh, remember not against us former iniquities;" for I felt that I was enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries,-"How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness ?"

8.12.29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, "Take up and read; take up and read." Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in whilst the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, "Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." And by such oracle was he forthwith converted unto you. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell,-"Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended,-by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart,-all the gloom of doubt vanished away. [Then he recounts his mother joy at hearing of his conversion].

Augustine, Epistle 51.2 [cf. CCC 170]

[Donatist sacraments valid, but not efficacious] … When, therefore, any come to us from the party of Donatus, we do not welcome the evil which belongs to them, viz. their error and schism: these, the only obstacles to our concord, are removed from between us, and we embrace our brethren, standing with them, as the apostle says, in "the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace," and acknowledging in them the good things which are divine, as their holy baptism, 'the blessing conferred by ordination, their profession of self-denial, their vow of celibacy, their faith in the Trinity, and such like; all which things were indeed theirs before, but "profited them nothing, because they had not charity." For what truth is there in the profession of Christian charity by him who does not embrace Christian unity? When, therefore, they come to the Catholic Church, they gain thereby not what they already possessed, but something which they had not before,-namely, that those things which they possessed begin then to be profitable to them. For in the Catholic Church they obtain the root of charity in the bond of peace and in the fellowship of unity: so that all the sacraments of truth which they hold serve not to condemn, but to deliver them. The branches ought not to boast that their wood is the wood of the vine, not of the thorn; for if they do not live by union to the root, they shall, notwithstanding their outward appearance, be cast into the fire. But of some branches which were broken off the apostle says that "God is able to graft them in again." Wherefore, beloved brother, if you see any one of the Donatist party in doubt as to the place into which they shall be welcomed by us, show them this writing in my own hand, which is familiar to you, and let them have it to read if they desire it; for "I call God for a record upon my soul," that I will welcome them on such terms as that they shah retain not only the baptism of Christ which they have received, but also the honour due to their vow of holiness and to their self-denying virtue.

Augustine, City of God [cf. CCC 178]

1. [Origin of the two cities] The City Of God we speak of is the same to which testimony is borne by that Scripture, which excels all the writings of all nations by its divine authority, and has brought under its influence all kinds of minds, and this not by a casual intellectual movement, but obviously by an express providential arrangement. For there it is written, "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God." And in another psalm we read, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness, increasing the joy of the whole earth." And, a little after, in the same psalm, "As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God. God has established it for ever." And in another, "There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of our God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved." From these and similar testimonies, all of which it were tedious to cite, we have learned that there is a city of God, and its Founder has inspired us with a love which makes us covet its citizenship. To this Founder of the holy city the citizens of the earthly city prefer their own gods, not knowing that He is the God of gods, not of false, that is, of impious and proud gods, who, being deprived of His unchangeable and freely communicated light, and so reduced to a kind of poverty-stricken power, eagerly grasp at their own private privileges, and seek divine honours from their deluded subjects; but of the pious and holy gods, who are better pleased to submit themselves to one, than to subject many to themselves, and who would rather worship God than be worshipped as God. But to the enemies of this city we have replied in the ten preceding books, according to our ability and the help afforded by our Lord and King. Now, recognizing what is expected of me, and not unmindful of my promise, and relying, too, on the same succour, I will endeavour to treat of the origin, and progress, and deserved destinies of the two cities (the earthly and the heavenly, to wit), which, as we said, are in this present world commingled, and as it were entangled together.

Augustine, Confessions 10.29.40 [cf. CCC 179]

40. [Against Pelagius] And my whole hope is only in Your exceeding great mercy. Give what you command, and command what you will. You impose continence upon us, "nevertheless, I when I perceived," said someone, "that I could not otherwise obtain her, except God gave her me, that was a point of wisdom also to know whose gift she was." For by continence are we bound up and brought into one, whence we were scattered abroad into many. For he loves you too little who loves anything with you, which he loves not because of you. O love, who ever burns, and are never quenched! O charity, my God, kindle me. You command continence; give what You command, and command what You will.

Augustine, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians [cf. CCC 180]

4.7. [What Is the Meaning of "In Whom All Have Sinned"?] … But these speak thus who wish to wrest men from the apostle's words into their own thought. For where the apostle says, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so passed upon all men," they will have it there understood not that "sin" passed over, but "death." What, then, is the meaning of what follows, "In whom all have sinned"? For either the apostle says that in that "one man" all have sinned of whom he had said, "By one man sin entered into the world," or else in that "sin," or certainly in "death." For it need not disturb us that he said not "in which", but "in whom" all have sinned. Let them, then, choose which they will,-for either in that "man" all have sinned, and it is so said because when he sinned all were in him; or in that "sin" all have sinned, because that was the doing of all in general which all those who were born would have to derive; or it remains for them to say that in that "death" all sinned. But in what way this can be understood, I do not clearly see. For all die in the sin; they do not sin in the death; for when sin precedes, death follows-not when death precedes, sin follows. Because sin is the sting of death-that is, the sting by whose stroke death occurs, not the sting with which death strikes? Just as poison, if it is drunk, is called the cup of death, because by that cup death is caused, not because the cup is caused by the death, or is given by death. [But if "sin" cannot be understood by those words of the apostle as being that "in whom all have sinned," because in Greek, from which the Epistle is translated, "sin" is expressed in the feminine gender, it remains that all men are understood to have sinned in that first "man," because all men were in him when he sinned; and from him sin is derived by birth, and is not remitted save by being born again]. … It is manifest that all have sinned in Adam, as it were in the mass; for he himself was corrupted by sin, and all whom he begot were born under sin.

Augustine, On Nature & Grace, 3.3-5.6 [cf. CCC 187]

3.3. Man's nature, indeed, was created at first faultless and without any sin; but that nature of man in which every one is born from Adam, now wants the Physician, because it is not sound. All good qualities, no doubt, which it still possesses in its make, life, senses, intellect, it has of the Most High God, its Creator and Maker. But the flaw, which darkens and weakens all those natural goods, so that it has need of illumination and healing, it has not contracted from its blameless Creator-but from that original sin, which it committed by free will. Accordingly, criminal nature has its part in most righteous punishment. For, if we are now newly created in Christ, we were, for all that, children of wrath, even as others, "but God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, by whose grace we were saved."

5. This grace, however, of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be saved, is not rendered for any merits, but is given gratis, on account of which it is also called grace. "Being justified," says the apostle, "freely through His blood." Whence they, who are not liberated through grace, either because they are not yet able to hear, or because they are unwilling to obey; or again because they did not receive, at the time when they were unable on account of youth to hear, that bath of regeneration, which they might have received and through which they might have been saved, are indeed justly condemned; because they are not without sin, either that which they have derived from their birth, or that which they have added from their own misconduct. "For all have sinned"-whether in Adam or in themselves-"and come short of the glory of God." …

6. … If we are simply wise according to the Scriptures, we are not compelled to dispute against the grace of Christ, and to make statements attempting to show that human nature both requires no Physician,-in infants, because it is whole and sound; and in adults, because it is able to suffice for itself in attaining righteousness, if it will. Men no doubt seem to urge acute opinions on these points, but it is only "wisdom of word, by which the cross of Christ is made of none effect." This, however, "is not the wisdom which descended from above." The words which follow in the apostle's statement I am unwilling to quote; for we would rather not be thought to do an injustice to our friends, whose very strong and active minds we should be sorry to see running in a perverse, instead of an upright, course.


Vincent of Lérins [+ c.451]

Commonitorium 2.4-3.8, 23.54-58 [cf. CCC 229]

2.4. I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

2.5 But here some one perhaps will ask, "Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation?" For this reason,-because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

2.6 Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all [quod "ubique, semper, ab omnibus"]. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

3.7. What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

3.8. But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation. …

23.54 … But some one will say. perhaps, "Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ's Church?" Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself; not alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

23.55 The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant's limbs are small, a young man's large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which more mature age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

23.56 In like manner, it behoves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupted and unadulterated, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.


John Chrysostom [c.354-407]

John Chrysostom, Homily on John 1.1 [Homily 4]

1.2. … "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God." Why, when all the other Evangelists had begun with the Dispensation; (for Matthew says, "The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David"; and Luke too relates to us in the beginning of his Gospel the events relating to Mary; and in like manner Mark dwells on the same narratives, from that point detailing to us the history of the Baptist;) why, when they began with these matters, did John briefly and in a later place hint at them, saying, "the Word was made flesh" (1.14.); and, passing by everything else, His conception, His birth, His bringing up, His growth, at once discourse to us concerning His Eternal Generation?

1.1. I will now tell you what the reason of this is. Because the other Evangelists had dwelt most on the accounts of His coming in the flesh, there was fear lest some, being of grovelling minds, might for this reason rest in these doctrines alone, as indeed was the case with Paul of Samosata. In order, therefore, to lead away from this fondness for earth those who were like to fall into it, and to draw them up towards heaven, with good reason he commences his narrative from above, and from the eternal subsistence. For while Matthew enters upon his relation from Herod the king, Luke from Tiberius Caesar, Mark from the Baptism of John, this Apostle, leaving alone all these things, ascends beyond all time or age. …

1.3 And what we may mention besides as especially deserving our admiration is, that John, though he gave himself up to the higher doctrine, yet did not neglect the Dispensation; nor were the others, though intent upon the relation of this, silent as to the subsistence before the ages. With good cause; for One Spirit it was that moved the souls of all; and therefore they have shown great unanimity in their narrative. But You, beloved, when You hast heard of "The Word," do not endure those who say, that He is a work; nor those even who think, that He is simply a word. For many are the words of God which angels execute, but of those words none is God; they all are prophecies or commands, (for in Scripture it is usual to call the laws of God His commands, and prophecies, words; wherefore in speaking of the angels, he says, "Mighty in strength, fulfilling His word") [Ps. CIII.20], but this Word is a Being with subsistence, proceeding without affection from the Father Himself. For this, as I before said, he has shown by the term "Word." As therefore the expression, "In the beginning was the Word," shows His Eternity, so "was in the beginning with God," has declared to us His Co-eternity. For that you may not, when you hear "In the beginning was the Word," suppose Him to be Eternal, and yet imagine the life of the Father to differ from His by some interval and longer duration, and so assign a beginning to the Only-Begotten, he adds, "was in the beginning with God"; so eternally even as the Father Himself, for the Father was never without the Word, but He was always God with God, yet Each in His proper Person.

1.4. How then, one says, does John assert, that He was in the world, if He was with God? Because He was both with God and in the world also. For neither Father nor Son are limited in any way. Since, if "there is no end of His greatness" (Ps CXLV.3), and if "of His wisdom there is no number" (Ps CXLVII.5), it is clear that there cannot be any beginning in time to His Essence. You hast heard, that "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth" (Gen 1.1); what do you understand from this "beginning"? Clearly, that they were created before all visible things. So, respecting the Only-Begotten, when you hear that He was "in the beginning," conceive of him as before all intelligible things, and before the ages.

1. 5. But if any one say, "How can it be that He is a Son, and yet not younger than the Father? since that which proceeds from something else needs must be later than that from which it proceeds"; we will say that, properly speaking, these are human reasonings; that he who questions on this matter will question on others yet more improper; and that to such we ought not even to give ear. For our speech is now concerning God, not concerning the nature of men, which is subject to the sequence and necessary conclusions of these reasonings. Still, for the assurance of the weaker sort, we will speak even to these points.

2.1 Tell me, then, does the radiance of the sun proceed from the substance itself of the sun, or from some other source? Any one not deprived of his very senses needs must confess, that it proceeds from the substance itself. Yet, although the radiance proceeds from the sun itself, we cannot say that it is later in point of time than the substance of that body, since the sun has never appeared without its rays. Now if in the case of these visible and sensible bodies there has been shown to be something which proceeds from something else, and yet is not after that from whence it proceeds; why are you incredulous in the case of the invisible and ineffable Nature? This same thing there takes place, but in a manner suitable to that Substance. For it is for this reason that Paul too calls Him "Brightness" (Heb 1.3); setting forth thereby His being from Him and His Co-eternity. Again, tell me, were not all the ages, and every interval created by Him? Any man not deprived of his senses must necessarily confess this. There is no interval therefore between the Son and the Father; and if there be none, then He is not after, but Co-eternal with Him. For "before" and "after" are notions implying time, since, without age or time, no man could possibly imagine these words; but God is above times and ages.

2.2. But if in any case you say that you have found a beginning to the Son, see whether by the same reason and argument you are not compelled to reduce the Father also to a beginning, earlier indeed, but still a beginning. For when you have assigned to the Son a limit and beginning of existence, do you not proceed upwards from that point, and say, that the Father was before it? Clearly you do. Tell me then, what is the extent of the Father's prior subsistence? For whether you say that the interval is little, or whether you say it is great, you equally have brought the Father to a beginning. For it is clear, that it is by measuring the space that you say whether it is little or great; yet it would not be possible to measure it, unless there were a beginning on either side; so that as far as you are concerned you have given the Father a beginning, and henceforth, according to your argument, not even the Father will be without beginning. See you that the word spoken by the Saviour is true, and the saying everywhere discovers its force? And what is that word? It is "He that honours not the Son, honours not the Father." (Jn 5.23.)

2.3 And I know indeed that what now has been said cannot by many be comprehended, and therefore it is that in many places we avoid agitating questions of human reasonings, because the rest of the people cannot follow such arguments, and if they could, still they have nothing firm or sure in them. "For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain." (Wis 9.14.) Still I should like to ask our objectors, what means that which is said by the Prophet, "Before Me there was no God formed, nor is there any after Me"? (Is 43.10.) For if the Son is younger than the Father, how, says He, "Nor is there any after me"? Will you take away the being of the Only-Begotten Himself? You either must dare this, or admit one Godhead with distinct Persons of the Father and Son.

2.4 Finally, how could the expression, "All things were made by Him," be true? For if there is an age older than He, how can that which was before Him have been made by Him? See You to what daring the argument has carried them, when once the truth has been unsettled? Why did not the Evangelist say, that He was made from things that were not, as Paul declares of all things, when he says, "Who calls those things which be not as though they were"; but says, "Was in the beginning"? (Rom 4.17.) This is contrary to that; and with good reason. For God neither is made, nor has anything older; these are words of the Greeks. Tell me this too: Would you not say, that the Creator beyond all comparison excels His works? Yet since that which is from things that were not is similar to them, where is the superiority not admitting of comparison? And what mean the expressions, "I am the first and I am the last" (Is 44.6); and, "before Me was no other God formed"? (Is 43.10.) For if the Son be not of the same Essence, there is another God; and if He be not Co-eternal, He is after Him; and if He did not proceed from His Essence, clear it is that He was made. But if they assert, that these things were said to distinguish Him from idols, why do they not allow that it is to distinguish Him from idols that he says, "the Only True God"? (Jn 17.3.) Besides, if this was said to distinguish Him from idols, how would you interpret the whole sentence? "After Me," He says, "is no other God." In saying this, He does not exclude the Son, but that "After Me there is no idol God," not that "there is no Son." Allowed, says he; what then? and the expression, "Before Me was no other God formed," will you so understand, as that no idol God indeed was formed before Him, but yet a Son was formed before Him? What evil spirit would assert this? I do not suppose that even Satan himself would do so.

2.5. Moreover, if He be not Co-eternal with the Father, how can you say that His Life is infinite? For if it have a beginning from before, although it be endless, yet it is not infinite; for the infinite must be infinite in both directions. As Paul also declared, when he said, "Having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" (Heb 7.3); by this expression showing that He is both without beginning and without end. For as the one has no limit, so neither has the other. In one direction there is no end, in the other no beginning.

3.1. And how again, since He is "Life," was there ever when He was not? For all must allow, that Life both is always, and is without beginning and without end, if It be indeed Life, as indeed it is. For if there be when it is not, how can It be the life of others, when it even itself is not?

3.2.a. "How then," says one, "does John lay down a beginning by saying, 'In the beginning was'?" Tell me, have you attended to the "In the beginning," and to the "was," and do you not understand the expression, "the Word was"? What! when the Prophet says, "From everlasting and to everlasting you are" (Ps 90.2), does he say this to assign Him limits? No, but to declare His Eternity. Consider now that the case is the same in this place. He did not use the expression as assigning limits, since he did not say, "had a beginning," but "was in the beginning"; by the word "was" carrying thee forward to the idea that the Son is without beginning. "Yet observe," says he, "the Father is named with the addition of the article, but the Son without it." What then, when the Apostle says, "The Great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2.13); and again, "Who is above all, God"? (Rom 9.5.) It is true that here he has mentioned the Son, without the article; but he does the same with the Father also, at least in his Epistle to the Philippians (2.6), he says, "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God"; and again to the Romans, "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom 1.7.) Besides, it was superfluous for it to be attached in that place, when close above it was continually attached to "the Word." For as in speaking concerning the Father, he says, "God is a Spirit" (Jn 4.24), and we do not, because the article is not joined to "Spirit," yet deny the Spiritual Nature of God; so here, although the article is not annexed to the Son, the Son is not on that account a less God.

3.2.b. Why so? Because in saying "God," and again "God," he does not reveal to us any difference in this Godhead, but the contrary; for having before said, "and the Word was God"; that no one might suppose the Godhead of the Son to be inferior, he immediately adds the characteristics of genuine Godhead, including Eternity, (for "He was," says he, "in the beginning with God,") and attributing to Him the office of Creator. For "by Him were all things made, and without Him was not anything made that was made"; which His Father also everywhere by the Prophets declares to be especially characteristic of His own Essence. And the Prophets are continually busy on this kind of demonstration, not only of itself, but when they contend against the honour shown to idols; "Let the gods perish," says one "who have not made heaven and earth" (Jer 10.11): and again, "I have stretched out the heaven with My hand" (Is 44.24); and it is as declaring it to be indicative of Divinity, that He everywhere puts it. And the Evangelist himself was not satisfied with these words, but calls Him "Life" too and "Light." If now He was ever with the Father, if He Himself created all things, if He brought all things into existence, and keeps together all things, (for, this he meant by "Life,") if He enlightens all things, who so senseless as to say, that the Evangelist desired to teach an inferiority of Divinity by those very expressions, by which, rather than by any others, it is possible to express its equality and not differing? Let us not then confound the creation with the Creator, lest we too hear it said of us, that "they served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1.25); for although it be asserted that this is said of the heavens, still in speaking of the heavens he positively says, that we must not serve the creature, for it is a heathenish thing.

4.1. Let us therefore not lay ourselves under this curse. For this the Son of God came, that He might rid us from this service; for this He took the form of a slave, that He might free us from this slavery; for this He was spit upon, for this He was buffeted, for this He endured the shameful death. Let us not, I entreat you, make all these things of none effect, let us not go back to our former unrighteousness, or rather to unrighteousness much more grievous; for to serve the creature is not the same thing as to bring down the Creator, as far at least as in us lies, to the meanness of the creature. For He continues being such as He is; as says the Psalmist, "You are the same, and Your years shall not fail." (Ps 102.27.) Let us then glorify Him as we have received from our fathers, let us glorify Him both by our faith and by our works; for sound doctrines avail us nothing to salvation, if our life is corrupt. Let us then order it according to what is well-pleasing to God, setting ourselves far from all filthiness, unrighteousness, and covetousness, as strangers and foreigners and aliens to the things here on earth. If any have much wealth and possessions, let him so use them as one who is a sojourner, and who, whether he will or not, shall shortly pass from them. If one be injured by another, let him not be angry forever, nay rather not even for a time. For the Apostle has not allowed us more than a single day for the venting of anger.

4.2. "Let not," says he, "the sun go down upon your wrath" (Eph 4.26); and with reason; for it is matter for contentment that even in so short a time nothing unpleasant take place; but if night also overtake us, what has happened becomes more grievous, because the fire of our wrath is increased ten thousand times by memory, and we at our leisure enquire into it more bitterly. Before therefore we obtain this pernicious leisure and kindle a hotter fire, he bids us arrest beforehand and quench the mischief. For the passion of wrath is fierce, fiercer than any flame; and so we need much haste to prevent the flame, and not allow it to blaze up high, for so this disease becomes a cause of many evils. It has overturned whole Houses, it has dissolved old companionships, and has worked tragedies not to be remedied in a short moment of time. "For," said one, "the sway of his fury shall be his destruction." (Eccl 1.22.) Let us not then leave such a wild beast unbridled, but put upon him a muzzle in all ways strong, the fear of the judgment to come. Whenever a friend grieves thee, or one of your own family exasperates you, think of the sins you have committed against God, and that by kindness towards him you make that judgment more lenient to thyself, ("Forgive," said He," and You shall be forgiven") (Lk 6.37), and your passion shall quickly skulk away.

4.3. And besides, consider this, whether there has been a time when you were being carried away into ferocity, and didst control thyself, and another time when you hast been dragged along by the passion. Compare the two seasons, and you shall gain thence great improvement. For tell me, when didst you praise thyself? Was it when you were worsted, or when you had the mastery? Do we not in the first case vehemently blame ourselves, and feel ashamed. even when none reproves us, and do not many feelings of repentance come over us, both for what we have said and done; but when we gain the mastery, then are we not proud, and exult as conquerors? For victory in the case of anger is, not the requiting evil with the like, (that is utter defeat,) but the bearing meekly to be ill treated and ill spoken of. To get the better is not to inflict but to suffer evil. Therefore when angry do not say, "certainly I will retaliate," "certainly I will be revenged"; do not persist in saying to those who exhort you to gain a victory, "I will not endure that the man mock me, and escape clear." He will never mock thee, except when you avenge yourself; or if he even should mock thee he will do so as a fool. Seek not when you conquer honour from fools, but consider that sufficient which comes from men of understanding. Nay, why do I set before thee a small and mean body of spectators, when I make it up of men? Look up straight to God: He will praise thee, and the man who is approved by Him must not seek honour from mortals, Mortal honour often arises from flattery or hatred of others, and brings no profit; but the decision of God is free from this inequality, and brings great advantage to the man whom He approves. This praise then let us follow after.

4.4. [Concluding section] … For God hath commanded us when buffeted not only to endure it, but even to offer ourselves to suffer something worse; and we withstand Him with such vehemence, that we not only refuse to offer ourselves to suffer evil, but even avenge ourselves, nay often are the first to act on the offensive, and think we are disgraced if we do not the same in return. Yes, and the mischief is, that when utterly worsted we think ourselves conquerors, and when lying undermost and receiving ten thousand blows from the devil, then we imagine that we are mastering him. Let us then, I exhort you, understand what is the nature of this victory, and this kind of nature let us follow after. To suffer evil is to get the crown. If then we wish to be proclaimed victors by God, let us not in these contests observe the laws of heathen games, but those of God, and learn to bear all things with longsuffering; for so we may get the better of our antagonists, and obtain both present and promised goods, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power, and honour, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.


Chrysostom, Homily LXI on Matthew 18.21.

1. Then came Peter to Him, and said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus said unto him, "I say not unto you, not seven times, but, seventy times seven." [The homily the continues to discuss how we should forgive others when we are wronged].

2. ... Come then, let us examine the race of workmen and artisans. For these above all seem to live by honest labors, and the sweat of their own brow. But these too, when they do not take heed to themselves, gather to themselves many evils from hence. For the dishonesty that arises from buying and selling they bring into the work of honest labor, and add oaths, and perjuries, and falsehoods to their covetousness often, and are taken up with worldly things only, and continue riveted to the earth; and while they do all things that they may get money, they do not take much heed that they may impart to the needy, being always desirous to increase their goods. What should one say of the revilings that are uttered touching such matters, the insults, the loans, the usurious gains, the bargains full of much mean trafficking, the shameless buyings and sellings.

3.a. But shall we leave these too, and go to others who seem to be more just? Who then are they? They that are possessed of lands, and reap the wealth that springs from the earth. And what can be more unjust than these? For if any one were to examine how they treat their wretched and toil-worn laborers, he will see them to be more cruel than savages. For upon them that are pining with hunger, and toiling throughout all their life, they both impose constant and intolerable payments, and lay on them laborious burdens, and like asses or mules, or rather like stones, do they treat their bodies, allowing them not so much as to draw breath a little when the earth yields; and when it does not yield, they alike wear them out, and grant them no indulgence. And what can be more pitiable than this, when after having labored throughout the whole winter, and being consumed with frost and rain . . . they go away with their hands empty, yet more in debt, and fearing and dreading more . . . the torments of the overlookers, and their dragging them about, and their demands, and their imprisonments, and the services from which no entreaty can deliver them!

3.b. Why should one speak of the merchandise which they make of them, the sordid gains which they gain by them, by their labours and their sweat filling winepresses, and wine vats, but not suffering them to take home so much as a small measure, but draining off the entire fruits into the casks of their wickedness, and flinging to them for this a little money? And new kinds of usuries also do they devise, and not lawful even according to the laws of the heathens, and they frame contracts for loans full of many a curse. For not the hundredth part of the sum, but the half of the sum they press for and exact; and this when he of whom it is exacted has a wife, is bringing up children, is a human being, and is filling their threshing floor, and their wine-press by his own toils.

4.a. [Conclusion of the above ]... But what is greater than all, and first, that you gain the favour of God. Should you have sinned, you will obtain pardon; should you have done what is right, you will obtain a greater confidence. Let us accomplish therefore the hating no one, that God also may love us, that, though we be in debt for ten thousand talents, God may have compassion and pity us. But have you been injured by him? Pity him then, do not hate him; weep and mourn, do not turn away from him. For you are not the one that has offended against God, but he; but you have even approved yourself, if you endure it. Consider that Christ, when about to be crucified, rejoiced for Himself, but wept for them that were crucifying Him. This ought to be our disposition also; and the more we are injured, so much the more should we lament for them that are injuring us. For to us many are the benefits hence arising, but to them the opposites.

4.b. But did he insult you, and strike you before all? Then has he disgraced and dishonored himself before all, and has opened the mouths of a thousand accusers, and for you has he woven more crowns, and gathered for you many to publish your forbearance. But did he slander you to others? And what is this? God is the one that is to demand the account, not they that have heard this. For to himself has he added occasion of punishment, so that not only for his own sins he should give account, but also of what he said of you. And upon you has he brought evil report with men, but he himself has incurred evil report with God.

4.c. ... But if to follow God is beyond you, although to him that watch not even this is hard; yet nevertheless if this seem to you to be too great, come let us bring you to your fellow-servants, to Joseph, who suffered countless things, and did good unto his brethren; to Moses, who after their countless plots against him, prayed for them; to the blessed Paul, who cannot so much as number what he suffered from them, and is willing to be accursed for them; to Stephen, who is stoned, and entreating this sin may be forgiven them. And having considered all these things, cast away all anger, that God may forgive us also all our trespasses by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honour, now and always, and world without end. Amen.