Early Church Fathers
Sermon XCII. [CXLII. Ben.]
On the same words of the gospel, John xiv. 6, "I am the way," etc.
1. The divine lessons raise us up, that we be not broken by despair; and terrify us again, that we be not tossed to and fro by pride. But to hold the middle, the true, the strait way, as it were between the left hand of despair, and the right hand of presumption, would he most difficult for us, had not Christ said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life."1 As if He had said, "By ,what way wouldest thou go? `I am the Way'. Whither wouldest thou go? `I am the Truth.' Where wouldest thou abide? `I am the Life.'" Let us then walk with all assurance in the Way; but let us fear snares by the way side. The enemy does not dare to lay his snares in the way; because Christ is the Way; but most certainly by the way side he ceases not to do so. Whence too it is said in the Psalm, "They have laid stumblingblocks for me by the way side."2 And another Scripture saith, "Remember that thou walkest in the midst of snares."3 These snares among which we walk are not in the way; but yet they are "by the way side." What fearest thou, what art thou alarmed at, so thou walk in the Way? Fear then, if thou forsake the Way. For for this reason is the enemy even permitted to lay snares by the way side, lest through the security of exultation the Way be forsaken, and ye fall into the snares.
2. Christ Humbled is the Way; Christ the Truth and the Life, Christ Highly Exalted and God. If thou walk in the Humbled, thou shalt attain to the Exalted. If infirm as thou art, thou despise not the Humbled, thou shalt abide exceeding strong in the Exalted. For what cause was there of Christ's Humiliation, save thine infirmity? For solely and irremediably did thine infirmity press thee in, and this circumstance it was that made so great a Physician come to thee. For if thy sickness had been even such, that thou couldest have gone to the Physician, this infirmity might have seemed endurable. But because thou couldest not go to Him, He came to thee. He came teaching humility, whereby we might return; for that pride allowed us not to return to life; yea had even made us depart from life. For the heart of man being lifted up against God, and neglecting in its sound state His saving precepts, the soul fell away into infirmity; let her in her infirmity learn to hear Him whom in her strength she despised. Let her hear Him that she may rise, whom she despised, that she might fall. Let her at length, taught by experience, give ear to what she had no mind, when taught by precept, to obtain. For her misery hath taught her, how evil a thing it is to go a whoring from the Lord. For to fall away from that Simple and Singular Good, into this multitude of pleasures, into the love of the world, and earthly corruption, is to go a whoring from the Lord. And He hath addressed her as in a sense a harlot, to warn her to return: very often by the Prophets doth He reproach her as a harlot, but yet not despaired of, for that He who reproacheth tim harlot hath in His Hands the cleansing of the harlot too.
3. For He doth not so reproach as to insult her; but He would bring her to confusion of face to heal her. Vehement are the exclamations of Scripture, nor doth it deal softly byflattery with those whom it would by healing recover. "Ye adulterers, know ye not that the friend of this world is constituted the enemy of God?"4 The love of the world maketh the soul adulterous, the love of the Framer of the world maketh the soul chaste; but unless she blush for her corruption, she hath no desire to return to that chaste embrace. Be she confounded that she may return, who was vaunting herself that she should not return. It was pride then that hindered the soul's return. But whoso reproacheth doth not cause the sin, but showeth the sin. What the soul was loth to see, is placed before her eyes; and what she desired to have behind her back, is brought before her face. See thyself in thyself. "Why seest thou the mote in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam in thine own eye?"5 The soul which went away from herself, is recalled to herself. As she had gone away from herself, so went she away from her Lord. For she had respect to herself, and pleased herself, and became enamoured of her own power. She withdrew from him, and abode not in herself; and from her own self she is repelled, and from herself shut out, and she falleth away unto things without her. She loves the world, loves the things of time, loves earthly things; who if she but loved herself to the neglect of Him by whom she was made, would at once be less, at once fail by loving that which is less. For she is less than God; yea less by far, and by so much less as the thing made is less than the Maker. It was God then That ought to have been loved, yea in such wise ought God to be loved, that if it might be so, we should forget ourselves. What then is this change? The soul hath forgotten herself, but by loving the world; let her now forget herself, but by loving the world's Maker. Driven away even from herself, I say, she hath in a manner lost herself, and hath not skilled to see her own actions, she justifies her iniquities; she is puffed up, and prides herself in insolence, in voluptuousness, in honours, in posts of authority, in riches, in the power of vanity. She is reproved, rebuked, is shown to herself, mislikes herself, confesses her deformity, longs for her first beauty, and she who went away in profusion returns in confusion.6
4. Seemeth he to pray against her, or for her, who says, "Fill their faces with shame "? It seems to be an adversary, it seems an enemy. Hear what follows, and see whether a friend can offer this prayer. "Fill," says he, "their faces with shame, and they shall seek Thy Name, O Lord."7 Did he hate them whose faces he desired to be filled with shame? See how he loves them whom he would have seek the Name of the Lord. Does he love only, or hate only? or does he both hate, and love? Yea, he both hates, and loves. He hates what is thine, he loves thee. What is, "He hates what is thine, he loves thee"? He hates what thou hast made, he loves what God hath made. For what are thine own things but sins? And what art thou but what God made thee, a man after His Own image and likeness? Thou dost neglect what thou wast made, love what thou hast made. Thou dost love thine own works without thee, dost neglect the work of God within thee. Deservedly dost thou go away, deservedly fall off, yea, deservedly even from thine own self depart; deservedly hear the words, "A spirit that goeth and returneth not."8 Hear rather Him That calleth and saith, "Turn ye unto Me, and I will turn unto you."9 For God doth not really turn away, and turn again; Abiding the Same He rebuketh, Unchangeable He rebuketh. He hath turned away, in that thou hast turned thyself away. Thou hast fallen from Him, He hath not fallen away from thee.10 Hear Him then saying to thee, "Turn ye unto Me, and I will turn unto you." For this is, "I turn unto you, in that ye turn unto Me." He followeth on the back of him that flieth, He enlighteneth the face of him that returneth. For whither wilt thou fly in flying from God? Whither wilt thou fly in flying from Him who is contained in no place, and is nowhere absent? He That delivereth him that turneth to him, punisheth him that turneth away. Thou hast a Judge by flying; have a Father by returning.
5. But he had been swollen up by pride, and by this swelling could not return by the strait way. He who became the Way, crieth out, "Enter ye in by the strait gate."11 He tries to enter in, the swelling impedes him; and his trying is so much the more hurtful, in proportion as the swelling is a greater impediment. For the straitness irritates12 his swelling; and being irritated he will swell the more; and swelling more, when will he enter in? So then let him bring down the swelling. And how? Let him take the medicine of humility; let him against the swelling drink the bitter but wholesome cup; drink the cup of humility. Why doth he squeeze himself? The bulk, not for its size, but for its swelling, doth not allow him. For size hath solidity, swelling inflation. Let not him that is swollen fancy himself of great size; that he may be great, and substantial,13 and solid, let him bring down his swelling. Let him not long after these present things, let him not glory in this pomp of things failing and corruptible; let him hearken to Him who said, "Enter in by the strait gate," saying also, "I am the Way."14 For as if some swollen one had asked, "How shall I enter in?" He saith, "`I am the Way.' Enter in by Me; Thou walkest only by Me, to enter in by the door." For as He said, "I am the Way;" so also, "I am the Door."15 Why seekest thou whereby to return, whither to return, whereby to enter in? Lest thou shouldest in any respect go astray, He became all for thee. Therefore in brief He saith, "Be humble, be meek." Let us hear Him saying this most plainly, that thou mayest see whereby is the way, what is the way, whither is the way. Whither wouldest thou come? But peradventure in covetousness thou wouldest possess all things. "All things are delivered unto Me of My Father,"16 saith He. It may be thou wilt say, "They were delivered to Christ: but are they to me?" Hear the Apostle speak; hear, as I said some time ago, lest thou be broken by despair; hear how thou wert loved when thou hadst nothing to be loved for, hear how thou wert loved when unsightly, deformed, before there was ought in thee which was meet to be loved. Thou wast first loved, that thou mightest be made meet to be loved. For Christ, as the Apostle says, "died for the ungodly."17 What! will you say that the ungodly deserved to be loved? I ask, what did the ungodly deserve? To be damned. Here you will answer, Yet, "Christ died for the ungodly." Lo, what was done for thee when ungodly; what is reserved for thee now godly? "Christ died for the ungodly." Thou didst desire to possess all things; desire it not through covetousness, seek it through piety, seek it through humility. For if thou seek thus, thou shalt possess. For thou shalt have Him by whom all things were made, and with Him shalt possess all things.
6. I do not say this as though the result of reasoning. Hear the Apostle himself saying, "He that spared not His Own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how hath He also not with Him given us all things?"18 Lo, covetous one, thou hast all things. All things that thou lovest, despise, that thou be not kept hack from Christ, and hold to Him in whom thou mayest possess all things. The Physician Himself then needing no such medicine, yet that He might encourage the sick, drank what He had no need of; addressing him as it were refusing it, and raising him up in his fear, He drank first. "The Cup," saith He, "which I shall drink of;"19 "I who have nothing in Me to be cured by that Cup, am yet to drink it, that thou who needest to drink it, may not disdain to drink." Now consider, Brethren, ought the human race to be any longer sick after having received such a medicine? God hath been now Humbled, and is man still proud? Let him hear, let him learn. "All things," saith He, have been delivered unto Me of My Father."20 If thou desirest all things, thou shalt have them with Me; if thou desirest the Father, by Me and in Me thou shalt have Him. "No man knoweth the Father but the Son." Do not despair; come to the Son. Hear what follows, "And he to whom the Son will reveal Him." Thou saidst, "I am not able. Thou callest me through a strait way; I am not able to enter in by a strait way." "Come," saith He, "unto Me, alI ye that labour and are heavy laden." Your burden is your swelling. "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me."21
7. The Master of the Angels crieth out, the Word of God, by whom all reasonable souls are without failing fed, the Food That refresheth, and abideth Entire, crieth out and saith, "Learn of Me." Let the people hear Him, saying, "Learn of Me." Let them make answer, "What do we learn of Thee?" For we must be going to hear I know not what from the Great Artificer, when He saith, "Learn of Me." Who is it that saith, "Learn of Me"? He who formed the earth, who divided the sea and the dry land, who created the fowls, who created the animals of the earth, who created all things that swim, who set the stars in the heaven, who distinguished the day and the night, who established the firmament, who separated the light from the darkness, He it is who saith, "Learn of Me." Is He haply about to tell us this, that we should do these things with Him? Who can do this? God Only doeth them. "Fear not," He saith, "I am not laying any burden on thee. `Learn of Me,' this which for thy sake I was made. `Learn of Me,'" saith He, "not to form the creature which by Me was made. Neither do I tell you indeed, to learn those things which I have granted to some, to whom I would, not to all, to raise the dead, to give sight to the blind, to open the ears of the deaf; nor to wish as for some great thing to learn these things of Me." The disciples returned with joy and exultation, saying, "Lo, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy Name."22 And the Lord said to them, "In this rejoice not, that the devils are subject unto you; rejoice rather, because your names are written in heaven."23 To whom He would, He gave the power to cast out devils, to whom He would, He gave the power to raise the dead. Such miracles were done even before the Incarnation of the Lord; the dead were raised, lepers were cleansed;24 we read of these things. And who did them then, but He who in after time was the Man-Christ after David, but God-Christ before Abraham? He gave the power for all these things, He did them Himself by men; yet gave He not that power to all. Ought they to whom He gave it not to despair, and say that they have no part in Him because they have not been thought25 worthy to receive these gifts? In the body are divers members: this member can do one thing, that another. God hath compacted the body together, He hath not given to the ear to see, nor to the eye to hear, nor to the forehead to smell, nor to the hand to taste; He hath not given them these functions; but to all the members hath He given soundness, hath given union, hath given unity, hath by His Spirit quickened and united all alike. And so here He hath not given to some to raise the dead, to others He hath not given the power of disputation; yet to all what hath He given? "Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart." Forasmuch as we have heard Him say, "I am meek and lowly in heart;" here, my Brethren, is our whole remedy, "Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart." What doth it profit a man if he do miracles, and is proud, is not meek and lowly in heart? Will he not be reckoned in the number of those who shall come at the last day, and say, "Have we not prophesied in Thy Name, and in Thy Name have done many mighty works?"26 But what shall they hear? "I know you not, Depart from Me, all ye that work iniquity."27
8. What then doth it profit us to learn? "That I am meek," saith He, "and lowly in heart." He engrafteth charity, and that most genuine charity, without confusion, without inflation, without elation, without deceit; this doth He engraft, who saith, "Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart." How can one proud and puffed up have any genuine28 charity? He must needs be envious. And mayhap one who is envious, loves, and we are mistaken? God forbid that any one should be so mistaken, as to say that an envious man hath charity. And so what saith the Apostle? "Charity envieth not." Why doth it not envy? "It is not puffed up;"29 he immediately annexed the cause for which he took away envying from charity. Because it is not puffed up, it envieth not. It is true, he said first, "Charity envieth not;" but as though I thou didst ask, "Why doth it not envy?" he added,"It is not puffed up. If then it envieth because it is puffed up; if it be not puffed up, it envieth not. If charity is not puffed up, and therefore envieth not; then doth He engraft charity who saith, "Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart."30
9. Let any man have then what he will, let him boast himself of what he will. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, but, have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." What is more sublime than the gift of divers tongues? It is "brass," it is "a tinkling cymbal," if thou take charity away. Hear other gifts; "If I should know all mysteries."31 What more excellent? what more magnificent? Hear yet another; "if I should have all prophecy, and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing."32 He comes to still greater things, Brethren. What else has he said? "If I should distribute all my goods to the poor." What more perfect thing can be done? When indeed the Lord commanded the rich man this for perfection's sake, saying, "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor."33 Was he then at once perfect, because he sold all his goods and gave them to the poor? No; and therefore He added, "And come, follow Me." "Sell all," saith He, "give to the poor, and come, follow Me." "Why should I follow Thee? Now that I have sold all, and distributed to the poor, am I not perfect? What need is there that I should follow Thee?"Follow Me," that thou mayest learn that "I am meek and lowly in heart." For what? can any man sell all he hath, and give to the poor, who is not yet meek, not yet lowly in heart? Assuredly he can. "For if I should distribute all my goods to the poor." And hear still further. For some, who had left all the hid and had already followed the Lord, but not yet followed Him perfectly (for to follow Him perfectly is to imitate Him), could not bear the trial of suffering. Peter, Brethren, was already one of those who had left all and followed the Lord. For as that rich man went away in sadness, when the disciples bring troubled, asked how then any one could be perfect, and the Lord consoled them, they said to the Lord, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?"34 And the Lord told them what He would give them here, what He would reserve for them hereafter. Now Peter was already of the number of those who had so done. But when it came to the crisis35 of suffering, at the voice of a maid-servant he denied Him thrice with whom he had promised that he was ready to die.
10. Take good heed then, Beloved: "Go," saith He, "sell all that thou hast, give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me." Peter is perfect, now that the Lord sitteth in heaven at the right Hand of the Father, then did he attain perfection and maturity. For when he followed the Lord to His Passion, he was not perfect; but when there began to be no one on earth for him to follow, then was he perfected. But thou truly hast always One before thee to follow; the Lord hath set up an example on earth, when He left the Gospel with thee, in the Gospel He is with thee. For He did not speak falsely when He said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."36 Therefore follow the Lord. What is, "Follow the Lord"? Imitate the Lord. What is, "Imitate the Lord"? "Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart." Because if I should distribute all my goods to the poor, and give up my body to be burned, but not have charity, it profiteth me nothing. To this charity then I exhort your Charity; now I should not exhort to charity, but with some charity. I exhort then that what is commenced may be filled up; and pray that what is begun may be perfected. And I beg that ye would offer this prayer for me, that what I advise may be perfected in me also. For we are all now imperfect, and there shall we be perfected, where all things are perfect. The Apostle Paul says, "Brethren, I do not reckon myself to have apprehended."37 He says, "Not that I have already attained, either am already perfect."38 And shall any man dare to vaunt himself on perfection? Yea rather let us acknowledge our imperfection, that we may attain39 perfection.