Early Church Fathers
Sermon LXXXI. [CXXXI. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, John vi. 53, "Except ye eat the flesh," etc., And on the words of the apostles. And the psalms. Against the pelagians.
Delivered at the Table of the Martyr St. Cyprian, the 9th of the Calends of October, -23 Sept., on the Lord's day.
1. We have heard the True Master, the Divine Redeemer, the human Saviour, commending to us our Ransom, His Blood. For He spake to us of His Body and Blood; He called His Body Meat, His Blood Drink. The faithful recognise the Sacrament of the faithful. But the hearers what else do they but hear? When therefore commending such Meat and such Drink He said, "Except ye shall eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, ye shall have no life in you; "1 (and this that He said concerning life, who else said it but the Life Itself? But that man shall have death, not life, who shall think that the Life is false), His disciples were offended, not all of them indeed, but very many, saying within themselves, "This is an hard saying, who can hear it? "2 But when the Lord knew this in Himself, and heard the murmurings of their thought, He answered them, thinking though uttering nothing, that they might understand that they were heard, and might cease to entertain such thoughts. What then did He answer? "Doth this offend you?""What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?"3 What meaneth this? "Doth this offend you?" "Do ye imaginethat I am about to make divisions of this My Body which ye see; and to cut up My Members, and give them to you? `What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?'" Assuredly, He who could ascend Whole could not be consumed. So then He both gave us of His Body and Blood a healthful refreshment, and briefly solved so great a question as to His Own Entireness. Let them then who eat, eat on, and them that drink, drink; let them hunger and thirst; eat Life, drink Life. That eating, is to be refreshed; but thou art in such wise refreshed, as that that whereby thou art refreshed, faileth not. That drinking, what is it but to live? Eat Life, drink Life; thou shalt have life, and the Life is Entire. But then this shall be, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ shall be each man's Life; if what is taken in the Sacrament visibly is in the truth itself eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually. For we have heard the Lord Himself saying, "It is the Spirit That quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken unto you, are Spirit and Life. But there are some of you," saith He, "that believe not."4 Such were they who said, "This is a hard saying, who can hear it?" It is hard, but only to the hard; that is, it is incredible, but only to the incredulous.
2. But in order to teach us that this very believing is matter of gift, not of desert, He saith, "As I have said unto you, no man cometh unto Me, except it were given him of My Father."5 Now as to where the Lord said this, if we call to mind the foregoing words of the Gospel, we shall find that He had said, "No man cometh unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him."6 He did not lead, but draw. This violence is done to the heart, not the body. Why then dost thou marvel? Believe, and thou comest; love, and thou art drawn. Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence; it is gentle, it is sweet; it is the very sweetness that draweth thee. Is not a sheep drawn, when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger? Yet I imagine that it is not bodily driven on, but fast bound by desire. In such wise do thou come too to Christ; do not conceive of long journeyings; where thou believest, there thou comest. For unto Him, who is everywhere we come by love, not by sailing. But forasmuch as even in this kind of voyage, waves and tempests of divers temptations abound; believe on the Crucified; that thy faith may be able to ascend the Wood. Thou shalt not sink, but shalt be borne upon the Wood. Thus, even thus, amid the waves of this world did he sail, who said, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."7
3. But wonderful it is, that when Christ Crucified is preached, two hear, one despiseth, the other ascendeth. Let him that despiseth, impute it to himself; let not him that ascendeth, arrogate it to himself. For he hath beard from the True Master ; "No man cometh unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father." let him joy, that it hath been given; let him render thanks to Him who giveth it, with a humble, not an arrogant heartlest what he hath attained8 through humility, he lose through pride. For even they who are already walking in this way of righteousness, if they attribute it to themselves, and to their own strength, perish out of it. And therefore Holy Scripture teaching us humility saith by the Apostle, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."9 And lest hereupon they should attribute ought to themselves, because he said, "Work," he subjoined immediately, "For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."10 "It is God who worketh in you;" therefore "with fear and trembling," make a valley, receive the rain. Low grounds are filled, high grounds are dried up. Grace is rain. Why dost thou marvel then, if "God resist the proud, and giveth grace unto the lowly "?11 Therefore, "with fear and trembling;" that is, with humility. "Be not high-minded, but fear."12 Fear that thou mayest be filled; be not high-minded, test thou be dried up.
4. But you will say, "I am walking in this way already; once there was need for me to learn, there was need for me to know by the teaching of the law what I had to do: now I have the free choice of the will; who shall withdraw me from this way?" If thou read carefully, thou wilt find that a certain man began to uplift himself, on a certain abundance of his, which he had nevertheless received; but that the Lord in mercy, to teach him humility, took away what He had given; and he was on a sudden reduced to poverty, and confessing the mercy of God in his recollection, he said, "In my abundance I said, I shall never be moved."13 "In my abundance I said." But I said it, I who am a man said it; "All men are liars, I said."14 Therefore, "in my abundance I said;" so great was the abundance, that I dared to say. "I shall never be moved." What next? "O Lord, in Thy favour Thou gavest strength to my beauty." But "Thou turnedst away Thy Face from me, and I was troubled."15 "Thou hast shown me," saith he, "that that wherein I did abound, was of Thee. Thou hast shown me Whence I should seek, to Whom attribute what I had received, to Whom I ought to render thanks, to Whom I should run in my thirst, Whereby be filled, and with Whom keep that whereby I should be filled. `For my strength will I keep to Thee;'16 whereby I am by Thy bounty filled, through Thy safe keeping I will not lose. `My strength will I keep to Thee.' That Thou mightest show me this, `Thou turnedst away Thy Face from me, and I was troubled.' `Troubled,' because dried up; dried up, because exalted. Say then thou dry and parched one, that thou mayest be filled again; `My soul is as earth without water unto Thee.'17 Say, `My soul is as earth without water unto Thee.' For Thou hast said, not the Lord, `I shall never be moved.' Thou hast said it, presuming on thine own strength; but it was not of thyself, and thou didst think as if it were."
5. What then doth the Lord say? "Serve ye the Lord in fear, and rejoice unto Him with trembling."18 So the Apostle too, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who worketh in you." Therefore rejoice with trembling: "Lest at any time the Lord be angry." I see that you anticipate me by your crying out. For you know what I am about to say, you anticipate it by crying out. And whence have ye this, but that He taught you to whom ye have by believing come? This then He saith; hear what ye know already; I am not teaching, but in preaching am calling to your remembrance; nay, I am neither teaching, seeing that ye know already, nor calling to remembrance, seeing that ye remember, but let us say all together what together with us ye retain. "Embrace discipline, and rejoice," but, "with trembling,"19 that, humble ye may ever hold fast that which ye have received. "Lest at any time the Lord be angry;" with the proud of course, attributing to themselves what they have, not rendering thanks to Him, from whom they have. "Lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the righteous way." Did he say, Lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye come not into the righteous way "? Did he say, "Lest the Lord be angry, and He bring you not to the righteous way "? or "admit you not into the righteous way? Ye are walking in it already, be not proud, lest ye even perish from it. `And ye perish,' saith he, `from the righteous way.'" "When His wrath shall be kindled in a short time"20 against you. At no distant time. As soon as thou art proud, thou losest at once what thou hadst received. As though man terrified by all this were to say, "What shall I do then?" It follows, "Blessed are all they that trust in Him:" not in themselves, but in Him. "By grace are we saved, not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God."21
6. Peradventure ye are saying, "What does he mean, that he is so often saying this? A second and a third time he says it; and scarcely ever speaks, but when he says it." Would that I may not say it in vain! For men there are unthankful to grace, attributing much to poor and disabled nature. True it is, when man was created he received great power of free-will; but he lost it by sin. He fell into death, became infirm, was left in the way by the robbers half dead; the Samaritan, which is by interpretation keeper, passing by lifted him up on his own beast;22 he is still being brought to the inn. Why is he lifted up? He is still in process of curing. "But," he will say, "it is enough for me that in baptism I received remission of all sins." Because iniquity was blotted out, was therefore infirmity brought to an end? "I received," says he, "remission of all sins." It is quite true. All sins were blotted out in the Sacrament of Baptism, all entirely, of words, deeds, thoughts, all were blotted out. But this is the "oil and wine" which was poured in by the way. Ye remember, beloved Brethren, that man who was wounded by the robbers, and half dead by the way, how he was strengthened, by receiving oil and wine for his wounds. His error indeed was already pardoned, and yet his weakness is in process of healing in the inn. The inn, if ye recognise it, is the Church. In the time present, an inn, because in life we are passing by: it will be a home, whence we shall never remove, when we shall have got in perfect health unto the kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile receive we gladly our treatment in the inn, and weak as we still are, glory we not of sound health: lest through our pride we gain nothing else, but never for all our treatment to be cured.
7. "Bless the Lord, O my soul."23 Say, yea say to thy soul, "Thou art still in this life, still bearest about a frail flesh, still "doth the corruptible body press down the soul;"24 still after the entireness of remission hast thou received the remedy of prayer; for still, whilst thy weaknesses are being healed, dost thou say, "Forgive us our debts."25 Say then to thy soul, thou lowly valley, not an exalted hill; say to thy soul, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits."26 What benefits? Tell them, enumerate them, render thanks. What benefits? "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities."27 This took place in baptism. What takes place now? "Who healeth all thy weaknesses." This takesplace now; I acknowledge. But as long as I am here, "the corruptible body presseth down the soul." Say then also that which comes next, "Who redeemeth thy life from corruption."28 After redemption from corruption, what remaineth? "When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is thy contention?" There rightly, "O death, where is thy sting?"29 Thou seekest its place, and findest it not. What is "the sting of death"? What is, "O death, where is thy sting?" Where is sin? Thou seekest, and it is nowhere. For "the sting of death is sin." They are the Apostle's words, not mine. Then shall it be said, "O death, where is thy sting?" Sin shall nowhere be, neither to surprise thee, nor to assault thee, nor to inflame30 thy conscience. Then it shall not be said, "Forgive us our debts." But what shall be said? "O Lord our God, give us peace: for Thou hast rendered all things unto us."31
8. Finally, after the redemption from all corruption, what remaineth but the crown of righteousness? This at least remaineth, but even in it, or under it, let not the head be swollen that it may receive the crown. Hear, mark well the Psalm, how that crown will not have a swollen head. After he had said, "Who redeemeth thy life from corruption;" he saith, "Who crowneth thee." Here thou wert ready at once to say, "`Crowneth thee,' is an acknowledgment of my merits, my own excellence hath done it; it is the payment of a debt, not a gift." Give ear rather to the Psalm. For it is thou again that sayest this; and "all men are liars."32 Hear what God saith; "Who crowneth thee with mercy and pity." Of His mercy He crowneth thee, of His pity He crowneth thee. For thou hadst no worthiness that He should call thee, and being called should justify thee, being justified glorify thee. "The remnant is saved by the election of grace. But if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. For to him that worketh, the reward shall not be reckoned according to grace, but according to debt."33 The Apostle saith, "Not according to grace, but according to debt." But "thee He crowneth with pity and mercy;" and if thy own merits have gone before, God saith to thee, "Examine well thy merits, and thou shalt see that they are My gifts."
9. This then is the righteousness of God. As it is called, "The Lord's salvation,"34 not whereby the Lord is saved, but which He giveth to them whom He saveth; so too the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord is called the righteousness of God, not as that whereby the Lord is righteous, but whereby He justifieth those whom of ungodly He maketh righteous. But some, as the Jews in former times, both wish to be called Christians, and still ignorant of God's righteousness, desire to establish their own, even in our own times, in the times of open grace, the times of the full revelation of grace which before was hidden; in the times of grace now manifested in the floor, which once lay hid in the fleece. I see that a few have understood me, that more have not understood, whom I will by no means defraud by keeping silence. Gideon, one of the righteous men of old, asked for a sign from the Lord, and said, "I pray, Lord, that this fleece which I put in the floor be bedewed,35 and that the floor be dry."36 And it was so; the fleece was bedewed, the whole floor was dry. In the morning he wrung out tim fleece in a basin; forasmuch as to the humble is grace given; and in a basin, ye know what the Lord did to His disciples. Again, he asked for another sign; "O Lord, I would," saith he, "that the fleece be dry, the floor bedewed." And it was so. Call to mind the time of the Old Testament, grace was hidden in a cloud, as the rain in the fleece. Mark now the time of the New Testament, consider well the nation of the Jews, thou wilt find it as a dry fleece; whereas the whole world, like that floor, is full of grace, not hidden, but manifested. Wherefore we are forced exceedingly to bewail our brethren, who strive not against hidden, but against open and manifested grace. There is allowance for the Jews. What shall we say of Christians? Wherefore are ye enemies to the grace of Christ? Why rely ye on yourselves? Why unthankful? For why did Christ come? Was not nature here before? Was not nature here, which ye only deceive by your excessive praise? Was not the Law here? But the Apostle says, "If righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain."37 What the Apostle says of the Law, that say we of nature to these men. "If righteousness come by nature, then Christ is dead in vain."
10. What then was said of the Jews, the same altogether do we see in these men now. "They have a zeal of God: I hear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge."38 What is, "not according to knowledge"? "For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."39 My Brethren, share with me in my sorrow. When ye find such as these, do not hide them; be there no such misdirected40 mercy in you; by all means, when ye find such, hide them not. Convince the gainsayers, and those who resist, bring to us. For already have two41 councils on this question been sent to theApostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.