Early Church Fathers
Matthew Chapter 17, Verse 10
Matthew Chapter 17, Verse 10
"And His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then say the Scribes that Elias must first come ?"
Not then from the Scriptures did they know this, but the Scribes used to explain themselves, and this saying was reported abroad amongst the ignorant people; as about Christ also.
Wherefore the Samaritan woman also said, "Messiah cometh; when He is come, He will tell us all things:" ú and they themselves asked John, "Art thou Elias, or the Prophet ?"1 For the saying, as I said, prevailed, both that concerning the Christ and that concerning Elias, not however rightly interpreted by them.
For the Scriptures speak of two advents of! Christ, both this that is past, and that which is to come; and declaring these Paul said, "The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared, teaching us, that, denying! ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live l soberly, and righteously, and godly."2 Behold the one, hear how he declares the other also; for having said these things, he added, "Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ."3 And the prophets too mention both; of the one, however, that is, of the second, they say Elias will be the forerunner. For of the first, John was forerunner; whom Christ called also Elias, not because he was Elias, but because he was fulfilling the ministry of that prophet. For as the one shall be forerunner of the second advent, so was the other too of the first. But the Scribes, confusing these things and perverting the people, made mention of that other only to the people, the second advent, and said, "If this man is the Christ, Elias ought to have come beforehand." Therefore the disciples too speak as follows, "How then say the Scribes, Elias must first come ?"
Therefore also the Pharisees sent unto John, and asked him, "Art thou Elias?"4 making no mention anywhere of the former advent.
What then is the solution, which Christ alleged? "Elias indeed cometh then, before my second advent; and now too is Elias come;" so calling John.
In this sense Elias is come: but if thou wouldest seek the Tishbite, he is coming. Wherefore also He said, "Elias truly cometh, and shall restore all things."5 All what things? Such as the Prophet Malachi spake of; for "I will send you," saith He, "Elias the Tishbite, who shall restore the heart of father to son, lest I come and utterly smite the earth."6
Seest thou the accuracy of prophetical language? how, because Christ called John, Elias, by reasoning of their community of office, lest thou shouldest suppose this to be the meaning of the prophet too in this place, He added His country also, saying, "the Tishbite;"7 whereas John was not a Tishbite. And herewith He sets down another sign also, saying, "Lest I come and utterly smite the earth," signifying His second and dreadful advent. For in the first He came not to smite the earth. For, "I came not," saith He, "to judge the world, but to save the world."8
To show therefore that the Tishbite comes before that other advent, which hath the judgment, He said this. And the reason too of his coming He teaches withal. And what is this reason? That when He is come, he may persuade the Jews to believe in Christ, and that they may not all utterly perish at His coming. Wherefore He too, guiding them on to that remembrance, saith, "And he shall restore all things;" that is, shall correct the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being.
Hence the extreme accuracy of his expression; in that he said not, "He will restore the heart of the son to the father," but "of the father to the son."9 For the Jews being fathers of the apostles, his meaning is, that he will restore to the doctrines of their sons, that is, of the apostles, the hearts of the fathers, that is, the Jewish people's mind.10
"But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then they understood that He spake to them of John."11
And yet neither the Scribes said this, nor the Scriptures; but because now they were sharper and more attentive to His sayings, they quickly caught His meaning.
And whence did the disciples know this? He had already told them, "He is Elias, which was for to come;"12 but here, that he hath come; and again, that "Elias cometh and will restore all things." But be not thou troubled, nor imagine that His statement wavers, though at one time He said, "he will come," at another, "he hath come." For all these things are true. Since when He saith, "Elias indeed cometh, and will restore all things," He means Elias himself, and the conversion of the Jews which is then to take place; but when He saith, "Which was for to come," He calls John, Elias, with regard to the manner of his administration. Yea, and so the prophets used to call every one of their approved kings, David;13 and the Jews, "rulers of Sodom,"14 and "sons of Ethiopians;"15 because of their ways. For as the other shall be forerunner of the second advent, so was this of the first.
2. And not for this only doth He call him Elias everywhere, but to signify His perfect agreement with the Old Testament, and that this advent too is according to prophecy.
Wherefore also He adds again, "He came, and they knew him not, but have done unto him all things whatsoever they listed."16 What means, "call things whatsoever they listed?" They cast him into prison, they used him despitefully, they slew him, they brought his head in a charger.
"Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them." Seest thou how again He in due season reminds them of His passion, laying up for them great store of comfort from the passion of John. And not in this way only, but also by presently working great miracles. Yea, and whensoever He speaks of His passion, presently He works miracles, both after those sayings and before them; and in many places one may find Him to have kept this rule.
"Then," for instance, it saith, "He began to signify how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and be killed, and suffer many things."17 "Then:" when? when He was confessed to be Christ, and the Son of God.
Again on the mountain, when He had shown them the marvellous vision, and the prophets had been discoursing of His glory, He reminded them of His passion. For having spoken of the history concerning John, He added, "Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them."
And after a little while again, when He had cast out the devil, which His disciples were not able to cast out; for then too, "As they abode in Galilee," so it saith, "Jesus said unto them, The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinful18 men, and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall rise again."19
Now in doing this, He by the greatness of the miracles was abating the excess of their sorrow, and in every way consoling them; even as here also, by the mention of John's death, He afforded them much consolation.
But should any one say, "Wherefore did He not even now raise up Elias and send him, witnessing as He doth so great good of his coming?" we should reply, that even as it was, while thinking Christ to be Elias, they did not believe Him. For "some say," such are the words, "that Thou art Elias, and others, Jeremias."20 And indeed between John and Elias, there was no difference but the time only. "Then how will they believe at that time?" it may be said. Why, "he will restore all things," not simply by being recognized, but also because the glory of Christ will have been growing more intense up to that day, and will be among all clearer than the sun. When therefore, preceded by such an opinion and expectation, he comes making the same proclamation as John, and himself also announcing Jesus, they will more easily receive his sayings. But in saying, "They knew him not," He is excusing also what was done in His own case.21
And not in this way only doth He console them, but also by pointing out that John's sufferings at their hands, whatever they are, are undeserved; and by His throwing into the shade what would annoy them, by means of two signs, the one on the mountain, the other just about to take place.
But when they heard these things, they do [not ask Him when Elias cometh; being straitened either by grief at His passion, or by fear. For on many occasions, upon seeing Him unwilling to speak a thing clearly, they are silent, and so an end. For instance, when during their abode in Galilee He said, "The Son of Man shall be betrayed, and they shall kill Him;"22 it is added by Mark, "That they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask Him;"23 by Luke, "That it was hid from them, that they might not perceive it, and they feared to ask Him of that saying."24
3. "And when they were come to the multitude, there came to Him a man, kneeling down to Him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic, and sore vexed;25 for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him unto Thy disciples, and they could not cure him."26
This man the Scripture signifies to be exceedingly weak in faith; and this is many ways evident; from Christ's saying, "All things are possible to him that believeth;"27 from the saying of the man himself that approached, "Help Thou mine unbelief:"28 from Christ's commanding the devil to "enter no more into him;"29 and from the man's saying again to Christ, "If Thou canst."30 "Yet if his unbelief was the cause," it may be said, "that the devil went not out, why doth He blame the disciples?" Signifying, that even without persons to bring the sick in faith, they might in many instances work a cure. For as the faith of the person presenting oftentimes availed for receiving the cure, even from inferior ministers; so the power of the doers oftentimes sufficed, even without belief in those who came to work the miracle.
And both these things are signified in the Scripture. For both they of the company of Cornelius by their faith drew unto themselves the grace of the Spirit; and in the case of Eliseus31 again, when none had believed, a dead man rose again. For as to those that cast him down, not for faith but for cowardice did they cast him, unintentionally and by chance, for fear of the band of robbers, and so they fled: while the person himself that was cast in was dead, yet by the mere virtue of the holy body the dead man arose.
Whence it is clear in this case, that even the disciples were weak; but not all; for the pillars32 were not present there. And see this man's want of consideration, from another circumstance again, how before the multitude he pleads to Jesus against His disciples, saying, "I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him."
But He, acquitting them of the charges before the people, imputes the greater part to him. For, "O faithless and perverse generation," these are His words, "how long shall I be with you?"33 not aiming at his person only, lest He should confound the man, but also at all the Jews. For indeed many of those present might probably be offended, and have undue thoughts of them.
But when He said, "How long shall I be with you," He indicates again death to be welcome to Him, and the thing an object of desire, and His departure longed for, and that not crucifixion, but being with them, is grievous.
He stopped not however at the accusations; but what saith He? "Bring him hither to me."34 And Himself moreover asks him, "how long time he is thus;" both making a plea for His disciples, and leading the other to a good hope, and that he might believe in his attaining deliverance from the evil.
And He suffers him to be torn, not for display (accordingly, when a crowd began to gather, He proceeded to rebuke him), but for the father's own sake, that when he should see the evil spirit disturbed at Christ's mere call, so at least, if in no other way, he might be led to believe the coming miracle.
And because he had said, "Of a child," and, "If thou canst help me," Christ saith, "To him that believeth, all things are possible,"35 again giving the complaint a turn against him. And whereas when the leper said, "If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,"36 bearing witness to His authority Christ commending him, and confirming His words, said, "I will, be thou clean;" in this man's case, upon his uttering a speech in no way worthy of His power,-" If Thou canst, help me,"-see how He corrects it, as not rightly spoken. For what saith He? "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."37 What He saith is like this: "Such abundance of power is with me, that I can even make others work these miracles. So that if thou believe as one ought, even thou thyself art able," saith He, "to heal both this one, and many others." And having thus said, He set free the possessed of the devil.
But do thou not only from this observe His providence and His beneficence, but also from that other time, during which He allowed the devil to be in him. Since surely, unless the man had been favored with much providential care even then, he would have perished long ago; for "it cast him both into the fire," so it is said, "and into the water." And he that dared this would assuredly have destroyed the man too, unless even in so great madness God had out on him His strong curb: as indeed was the case with those naked men that were running in the deserts and cutting themselves with stones.
And if he call him "'a lunatic," trouble not thyself at all, for it is the father of the possessed who speaks the word. How then saith the evangelist also, "He healed many that were lunatic?"38 Denominating them according to the impression of the multitude. For the evil spirit, to bring a reproach upon nature,39 both attacks them that are seized, and lets them go, according to the courses of the moon; not as though that were the worker of it;-away with the thought;-but himself craftily doing this to bring a reproach on nature. And an erroneous opinion hath gotten ground among the simple, and by this name do they call such evil spirits, being deceived; for this is by no means true.
4. "Then came His disciples unto Him apart, and asked Him, why they could not themselves cast out the devil."40 To me they seem to be in anxiety and fear, lest haply they had lost the grace, with which they had been entrusted. For they received power against unclean spirits.41 Wherefore also they ask, coming to Him apart; not out of shame (for if the fact had gone abroad, and they were convicted, it were superfluous after that to be ashamed of confessing it in words); but it was a secret and great matter they were about to ask Him of. What then saith Christ? "Because of your unbelief," saith He; "for if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."42 Now if you say, "Where did they remove a mountain?" I would make this answer, that they did far greater things, having raised up innumerable dead. For it is not at all the same thing, to remove a mountain, and to remove death from a body. And certain saints after them, far inferior to them, are said actually to have removed mountains, when necessity called for it."43 Whereby we see that these also would have done the same, need calling on them. But if there was then no need for it, do not thou find fault. And besides, He Himself said not, "ye shall surely remove it," but "ye shall be able to do even this." And if they did it not, it was not because they were unable (how could this be, when they had power to do the greater things?), but because they would not, there being no need.
And it is likely that this too may have been done, and not have been written; for we know that not all the miracles they wrought were written. Then however they were in a state by comparison very imperfect. What then? Had they not at that time so much as this faith? They had not, for neither were they always the same men, since even Peter is now pronounced blessed, now reproved; and the rest also are mocked by Him for folly, when they understood not His saying concerning the leaven.44 And so it was, that then also the disciples were weak, for they were but imperfectly minded before the cross.
But by faith here He means that which related to the miracles, and mentions a mustard seed, to declare its unspeakable power. For though in bulk the mustard seed seem to be small, yet in power it is the strongest of all things. To indicate therefore that even the least degree of genuine faith can do great things, He mentioned the mustard seed; neither by any means did He stop at this only, but added even mountains, and went on beyond that. "For nothing," saith He, "shall be impossible to you."
But do thou herein also marvel at their self-denial, and the might of the Spirit; their self-denial in not hiding their fault, and the might of the Spirit in so leading on by degrees them who had not so much as a gram of mustard seed, that rivers and fountains of faith sprang up within them.
"Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting;"45 meaning the whole kind of evil spirits, not that of lunatics only.
Seest thou how He now proceeds to lay beforehand in them the foundation of His doctrine about fasting? Nay, argue not with me from rare cases, that some even without fasting have cast them out. For although one might say this, in one or two instances, of them that rebuke the evil spirits, yet for the patient it is a thing impossible, living luxuriously, to be delivered from such madness: this thing being especially necessary for him that is diseased in that way. "And yet, if faith be requisite," one may say, "what need of fasting?" Because, together with our faith, that also brings no small power. For it both implants much strictness, and of a man makes one an angel, and fights against the incorporeal powers: yet not by itself, but prayer too is needed, and prayer must come first.
5. See, at any rate, how many blessings spring from them both. For he that is praying as he ought, and fasting, hath not many wants, and he that hath not many wants, cannot be covetous; he that is not covetous, will be also more disposed for almsgiving. He that fasts is light, and winged, and prays with wakefulness, and quenches his wicked lusts, and propitiates God, and humbles his soul when lifted up. Therefore even the apostles were almost always fasting. He that prays with fasting hath his wings double, and lighter than the very winds. For neither doth he gape, nor stretch himself, nor grow torpid in prayer, as is the case with most men, but is more vehement than fire, and rises above the earth. Wherefore also such a one is most especially a hater and an enemy to the evil spirits. For nothing is mightier than a man who prays sincerely. For if a woman46 had power to prevail with a savage ruler, one neither fearing God, nor regarding man; much more will he prevail with God, who is continually waiting upon Him, and controlling the belly, and casting out luxury. But if thy body be too weak to fast continually, still it is not too weak for prayer, nor without vigor for contempt of the belly. For although thou canst not fast, yet canst thou avoid luxurious living; and even this is no little thing, nor far removed from fasting, but even this is enough to pluck down the devil's madness. For indeed nothing is so welcome to that evil spirit, as luxury and drunkenness; since it is both fountain and parent of all our evils. Hereby, for example, of old he drove the Israelites to idolatry;47 hereby he made the Sodomites to burn in unlawful lust. For, "this," it is said, "was the iniquity of Sodom; in pride, and in fullness of bread, and in banquetings they waxed wanton."48 Hereby he hath destroyed ten thousand others, and delivered them to hell.
For what evil doth not luxury work? It makes swine of men, and worse than swine. For whereas the sow wallows in the mire and feeds on filth, this man lives on food more abominable than that, devising forbidden intercourse, and unlawful lusts.
Such an one is in no respect different from a demoniac, for like him he is lost to shame, and raves. And the demoniac at any rate we pity, but this man is the object of our aversion and hatred. Why so? Because he brings upon himself a self-chosen madness, and makes his mouth, and his eyes, and nostrils, and all, in short, mere sewers.
But if thou wert to see what is within him also, thou wilt behold his very soul as in a kind of wintry frost, stiff and torpid, and in nothing able to help its vessel through the excess of the storm.
I am ashamed to say how many ills men and women suffer from luxury, but I leave it to their own conscience, which knows it all more perfectly. For what is viler than a woman drunken, or at all led away49 by wine? For the weaker the vessel, the more entire the shipwreck, whether she be free or a slave. For the free woman behaves herself unseemly in the midst of her slaves as spectators, and the slave again in like manner in the midst of the slaves, and they cause the gifts of God to be blasphemously spoken of by foolish men.
For instance, I hear many say, when these excesses happen, "Would there were no wine." O folly! O madness! When other men sin, dost thou find fault with God's gifts? And what great madness is this? What? did the wine, O man, produce this evil? Not the wine, but the intemperance of such as take an evil delight in it. Say then, "Would there were no drunkenness, no luxury;" but if thou say, "Would there were no wine," thou wilt say, going on by degrees, "Would there were no steel, because of the murderers; no night, because of the thieves; no light, because of the informers; no women, because of adulteries;" and, in a word, thou wilt destroy all.
But do not so; for this is of a satanical mind; do not find fault with the wine, but with the drunkenness; and when thou hast found this self-same man sober, sketch out all his unseemliness, and say unto him, Wine was given, that we might be cheerful, not that we might behave ourselves unseemly; that we might laugh, not that we might be a laughingstock; that we might be healthful, not that we might be diseased; that we might correct the weakness of our body, not cast down the might of our soul.
God honored thee with the gift, why disgrace thyself with the excess thereof? Hear what Paul saith, "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thine often infirmities"50 But if that saint, even when oppressed with disease, and enduring successive sicknesses, partook not of wine, until his Teacher suffered him; what excuse shall we have, who are drunken in health? To him indeed He said, "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake;" but to each of you who are drunken, He will say, "Use little wine, for thy fornications, thy frequent filthy talking, for the other wicked desires to which drunkenness is wont to give birth." But if ye are not willing, for these reasons, to abstain; at least on account of the despondencies which come of it, and the vexations, do ye abstain. For wine was given for gladness, "Yea, wine," so it is said, "maketh glad the heart of man:"51 but ye mar even this excellence in it. For what kind of gladness is it to be beside one's self, and to have innumerable vexations, and to see all things whirling round, and to be oppressed with giddiness, and like those that have a fever, to require some who may drench their heads with oil?52
6. These things are not said by me to all: or rather they are said to all, not because all are drunken, God forbid; but because they who do not drink take no thought of the drunken. Therefore even against you do I rather inveigh, that are in health; since the physician too leaves the sick, and addresses his discourse to them that are sitting by them. To you therefore do I direct my speech, entreating you neither to be at any time over-taken by this passion, and to draw up53 as by cords those who have been so overtaken, that they be not found worse than the brutes. For they indeed seek nothing more than what is needful, but these have become even more brutish than they, overpassing the boundaries of moderation. For how much better is the ass than these men? how much better the dog! For indeed each of these animals, and of all others, whether it need to eat, or to drink, acknowledges sufficiency for a limit, and goes not on beyond what it needs; and though there are innumerable persons to constrain, it will not endure to go on to excess.
In this respect then we are worse even than the brutes, by the judgment not of them that are in health only, but even by our own. For that ye have judged yourselves to be baser than both dogs and asses,54 is evident from thence: that these brutes thou dost not compel to partake of food, beyond their measure; and should any one say, "Wherefore?" "Lest I should hurt them," thou wilt reply. But upon thyself thou bestowest not so much as this forethought. Thus thou accountest thyself viler even than they are, and permittest thyself to be continually tossed as with a tempest.
For neither in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain; so also when drunkenness is past, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both the soul and body; and while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm, and kindles the desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets. And like as in a storm when the raging of the waters hath ceased, the loss by reason of the storm remains; so likewise here too. For as there of our freight, so here too is there a casting away of nearly all our good things. Whether it be temperance, or modesty, or understanding, or meekness, or humility, which the drunkenness finds there, it casts all away into the sea of iniquity.
But in what follows there is no more any likeness. Since there indeed upon the casting out the vessel is lightened, but here it is weighed down the more. For in its former place of wealt hit takes on board sand, and salt water, and all the accumulated filth of drunkenness; enough to sink the vessel at once, with the mariners and the pilot.
That we may not then suffer these things, let us deliver ourselves from that tempest. It is not possible with drunkenness to see the kingdom of Heaven. "Be not deceived," it is said, "no drunkards, no revilers, shall inherit the kingdom of God."55 And why do I speak of a kingdom? Why, with drunkenness one cannot see so much as the things present. For in truth drunkenness makes the days nights to us, and the light darkness. And though their eyes be opened, the drunken see not even what is close at hand.
And this is not the only frightful things but with these things they suffer also another most grievous punishment, continually undergoing unreasonable despondencies, madness, infirmity, ridicule, reproach.
What manner of excuse is there for them that pierce themselves through with so many evils? There is none.
Let us fly then from that pest, that we may attain both unto the good things here, and unto those to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.