Early Church Fathers
ACTS VII. 54.-"When they heard these things, they were cut to "the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth."
See,1 once more, the wrong-doers in trouble. Just as the Jews are perplexed, saying," What are we to do with these men?" so these also are "cut to the heart." (ch. iv. 16.) And yet it was he that had good right to be incensed, who, having done no wrong, was treated like a criminal, and was spitefully calumniated. But the calumniators had the worst of it in the end. So true is that saying, which I am ever repeating, "Ill to do, is ill to fare." And yet he (in his charges against them) resorted to no calumny, but proved (what he said). So sure are we, when we are shamefully borne down in a matter wherein we have a clear conscience, to be none the worse for it.-"If2 they desired," say you, "to kill him, how was it that they did not take occasion, out of what he said, that they might kill him?" They would fain have a fair-seeming plea to put upon their outrage. "Well then, was not the insulting them a fair plea?" It was not his doing, if they were insulted: it was the Prophet's accusation of them. And besides, they did not wish it to look as if they killed him because of what he had said against them -just as they acted in the case of Christ; no, but for impiety: now3 this word of his was the expression of piety. Wherefore, as they attempted, besides killing him, to hurt his reputation also, "they were cut to the heart." For they were afraid lest he should on the contrary become an object of even greater reverence. Therefore, just what they did in Christ's case, the same they do here also. For as He said, "Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of God" (Matt. xxvi. 64), and they, calling it blasphemy, "ran upon Him;" just so was it here. There, they "rent their garments;" here, they "stopped their ears. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him." (v. 55-58.) And yet, if he lied, they ought to have thought him beside himself, and to have let him go.-But he wished to bring them over, "and said, Behold," etc., for, since he had spoken of Christ's death, and had said nothing of His resurrection, he would fain add this doctrine also. "Standing at the right hand of God." And in this manner He appeared to him:4 that, were it but so, the Jews might receive Him: for since the (idea of His) sitting (at the right hand of God) was offensive to them, for the present he brings forward only what relates to His Resurrection. This is the reason also why his face was glorified. For God, being merciful, desired to make their machinations the means of recalling them unto Himself. And see, how many signs are wrought! "And cast him out of the city, and stoned him." Here again, "without the city," and even in death, Confession and Preaching. (Heb. xiii. 21.) "And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling5 upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (v. 59.) This is meant to show them that he is not perishing, and to teach them. "And he knelt down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." (v. 60.) To clear himself, and show that neither were his former words prompted by passion, he says, "Lord" "lay not this sin to their charge": wishing also even in this way to win them over. For to show that he forgave their wrath and rage in murdering him, and that his own soul was free from all passion, was the way to make his saying to be favorably received.
"And Saul was consenting unto his death." Hereupon arises a persecution, and it becomes a great one. "And at that time there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem. And they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles." (ch. viii. 1.) Mark how once more God permits temptations to arise; mark, and well observe, how the events are ordered by Divine Providence. They were admired because of the signs: being scourged, they were none the worse for it: (some) were ordained in the matter of the widows6 : the word increased: once more, God permits a great hindrance to arise. And a persecution of no ordinary kind ["and they were all scattered," etc.]; for they feared their enemies, now become more daring: and at the same time it is shown that they were but men, these that were afraid, that fled. For, that thou mayest not say after these things that7 by grace alone they effected (what they did), they were also persecuted, and themselves became more timorous, while their adversaries were more daring. "And were all scattered abroad," it says, "except the Apostles." But this was divinely ordered, so that they should no longer all sit there in Jerusalem. "And devout men," it says, "carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him." (v. 2.) If they were "devout," why did they "make great lamentation over him?" They were not yet perfect. The man was gracious and amiable: this also shows that they were men-not their fear alone, but their grief and lamentation. Who would not have wept to see that mild, that lamb-like person stoned, and lying dead?8 Fit eulogy to be spoken over his grave has the Evangelist recorded, in this one speech, "Lay not this sin to their charge."-"And made," he says, "great lamentation over him."-But let us look over again what has been said.
He9 mentions the cause of his (angelic) appearance (Recapitulation, vii 54; viii. 2.); "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." And when he said, "I see the heavens opened, they stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord." (v. 56, 57.) And yet in what respect are these things deserving of accusation? "Upon him," the man who has wrought such miracles, the man who has prevailed over all in speech, the man who can hold such discourse! As if they had got the very thing they wanted, they straightway give full scope to their rage. "And the witnesses," he says, "laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. (v. 58.) Observe how particularly he relates what concerns Paul, to show thee that the Power which wrought in him was of God. But after all these things, not only did he not believe, but also aimed at Him with a thousand hands: for this is why it says, "And Saul was consenting unto his death."-And this blessed man does not simply pray, but does it with earnestness: "having kneeled down." Mark his divine death! So long10 only the Lord permitted the soul to remain in him. "And having said this, he fell asleep." (v. 60.)-"And they were all scattered abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria. (ch. viii. 1.) And now without scruple they had intercourse with Samaria, whereas it had been said to them, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles" "and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not." (Matt. x. 5.) "Except the Apostles," it says: they, in this way also, wishing to win the Jews,-but not to leave the city,-and to be the means of inspiring others with boldness.
"As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison." (v. 3.) Great was his frenzy: that he was alone, that he even entered into houses: for indeed he was ready to give his life for the Law. "Haling," it says, "men and women:" mark both the confidence, and the violence,and the frenzy. All that fell into his hands, he put to all manner of ill-treatment: for in consequence of the recent murder, he was become more daring. "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city. But there was a certain man, called Simon, which before time in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria." (v. 4-9.) Observe11 another trial, this affair of Simon. "Giving out," it says, "that he was himself some great one. To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost." (v. 10-15.) And (yet) great signs had been done: how then had they not received the Spirit? They had received the Spirit, namely, of remission of sins: but the Spirit of miracles they had not received. "For as yet He was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." (v. 16, 17.) For, to show that this was the case, and that it was the Spirit of miracles they had not received, observe how, having seen the result, Simon came and asked for this. "And when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying. Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost." (v. 18, 19.)
"The12 persecution," say you, "gained strength." True, but at that very time to men possessed before (by a hostile power) it brought deliverance. For it planted the miracles like a stronghold, in the heart of the enemy's' country.-Not even the death of Stephen quenched their rage, nay, increased it rather: it scattered wide the teachers, so that the greater became the discipleship.-"And there was joy." And yet there had been "great lamentation:" true; but mark again the good-"Of a long time" was the malady, but this man brought them deliverance.-And how came he to baptize Simon also? Just as Christ chose Judas.-And "beholding the signs" which he did, forasmuch as the others did not receive the (power of working) signs he durst not ask for it.-How was it then that they did not strike him dead, as they did Ananias and Sapphira? Because even in the old times, he that gathered sticks (on the sabbath-day) was put to death as a warning to others (Num. xv. 32) and in no other instance did any suffer the same fate. So too on the present occasion, "Peter said to him, Thy money perish, because thou hast imagined that the gift of God is to be purchased with money."-(v. 20.) Why had not these received the Holy Ghost, when baptized? Either because Philip kept this honor for the Apostles; or, because he had not this gift (to impart); or, he was one of the Seven: which is rather to be said. Whence, I take it, this Philip was one of the Apostles.13 But observe; those went not forth: it was Providentially ordered that these should go forth and those be lacking, because of the Holy Ghost: for they had received power to work miracles, but not also to impart the Spirit to others: this was the prerogative of the Apostles. And observe (how they sent) the chief ones: not any others, but Peter [and John14 ]. "And when Simon," it says, "saw that through laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given." He would not have said, "And having seen,"15 unless there had been some sensible manifestation.16 "Then laid they their hands on them," etc. Just as Paul also did, when they spake with tongues. (ch. xix. 6.) Observe the execrable conduct of Simon. "He offered money," with what object? And yet he did not see Peter doing this for money. And it was not of ignorance that he acted thus; it was because he would tempt them, because he wished to get matter of accusation against them. And therefore also Peter says, "Thou hast no part nor lot in this matter, for thine heart is not right before God "because thou hast thought," etc. (v. 21.) Once more he brings to light what was in the thoughts, because Simon thought to escape detection. "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive the bond of inquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me." (v. 22-24.) Even this17 he did only formally, as words of course, when he ought to have wept and mourned as a penitent. "If perchance it may be forgiven thee." Not as though it would not have been pardoned, had he wept, but this is the manner of the Prophet also, to denounce absolutely, (apagoreuein) and not to say, "Howbeit, if thou do this, thy sin shall be forgiven," but that in any wise the punishment shall take effect.
(a) "Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere, preaching the word." But18 I would have thee admire how even in a season of calamity they neglected not the preaching. "Hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." (Recapitulation, v. 4-6.) Just as in the case of Moses by contrast (with the magicians) the miracles were evident miracles, so here also. There was magic, and so these signs were manifest. (b) "For unclean spirits came out of many that were possessed with them "(v. 7); for this was a manifest miracle:-not as the magicians did: for the other (Simon), it is likely, bound (men with spells);-"and many," it says, "that were palsied and lame were healed." There was no deceit here: for it needed but that they should walk and work. "And to him they all gave heed, saying, This (man) is the Power of God." (v. 10.) And that was fulfilled which was spoken by Christ, "There shall come false Christs and false Prophets in My name."-(Matt. xxiv. 24.) "And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries." (v. 11.) (a) And yet there ought to have been not one demoniac there, seeing that of a long time he had been bewitching them with sorceries: but if there were many demoniacs, many palsied, these pretences were not truth. But Philip here by his word also won them over, discoursing concerning the kingdom of Christ. (v. 12.) "And Simon," it says, "being baptized, continued with Philip (v. 13): not for faith's sake, but in order that he might become such (as he). (b) But why did they not correct him instantly? They were content with his condemning himself. For this too belonged to their work of teaching (thj didaskaliaj) But19 when he had not power to resist, he plays the hypocrite, just as did the magicians, who said, "This is the finger of God." And indeed that he might not be driven away again, therefore he "continued with Philip," and did not part from him. "And when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem," etc. (v. 13, 14.) See how many things are brought about by God's Providence through the death of Stephen! (a) "But they," it says, "having come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost: for as yet He was fallen upon none of them. Then laid they their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost." (v. 15-17.) Seest thou that it was not to be done in any ordinary manner, but it needed great power to give the Holy Ghost? For it is not all one, to obtain remission of sins, and to receive such a power. (b) By degrees it is, that those receive the gift. It was a twofold sign: both the giving to those, and the not giving to this man.20 Whereas then this man ought, on the contrary, to have asked to receive the Holy Ghost, he, because he cared not for this, asks power to give It to others. And yet those received not this power to give: but this man wished to be more illustrious than Philip, he being among the disciples! (a) "He offered them money." (v. 18, 19.) What? had he seen the others doing this? had he seen Philip? Did he imagine they did not know with what mind he came to them? (b) "Thy money with thee to perdition" (v. 20): since thou hast not used it as it ought to be used. These are not words of imprecation, but of chastisement. "To thee," he says, be it (to thee): being such. As if one should say, Let it perish along with thy purpose. Hast thou so mean conceptions of the gift of God, that thou hast imagined it to be altogether a thing of man? It is not this. (a) Wherefore also Peter well calls the affair a gift: "Thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." Dost thou observe how on all occasions they are clean from money? "For thine heart is not right in the sight of God." (v. 21.) Dost thou see how he does all of malice? To be simple, however, was the thing needed. (b) For had it been done with simplicity,21 he would have even welcomed his willing mind. Seest thou that to have mean conceptions of great things is to sin doubly? Accordingly, two things he bids him: "Repent and pray, if haply the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." (v. 22.) Seest thou it was a wicked thought he had entertained? Therefore he says, "If haply it may be forgiven thee:" because he knew him to be incorrigible. (a) "For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." (v. 23.) Words of exceeding wrath! But otherwise he did not punish him: that faith may not thereafter be of compulsion; that the matter may not seem to be carried ruthlessly; that he may introduce the subject of repentance: or also, because it suffices for correction to have convicted him, to have told him what was in his heart, to have brought him to confess himself overcome (oti ealw). For that he says, "Pray ye for me," is a confession thathe has done wrong. Observe him,22 what a miscreant he is; when he was convicted, then he believed: when again he was convicted, then he became humble.23 "Seeing24 his miracles," ["he was amazed," and came over.] He thought to be able to escape detection: he thought the thing was an art: but when he had not power to defeat (elein) the Apostles, * * * (b) Again, he fears the multitude, and is afraid to deny it; and yet he might have said, "I did not know: I did it in simplicity: but he was struck with dismay first by the former circumstance, that he was overcome (oti ealw), by the miracles and secondly by this, that his thoughts are made manifest. Therefore he now takes himself a long wayoff, to Rome, thinking the Apostle would not soon come there.
"And they, when they had testified, and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem. (v. 25.) "Testified," probably because of him (Simon), that they may not be deceived; that thenceforth they may be safe. "Having preached," it says, "the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem." Why do they go thither again where was the tyranny of the bad, where were those most bent upon killing them? Just as generals do in wars, they occupy that part of the scene of war which is most distressed. "And preached the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans." Observe them again, how they do not (prohgoumenwj) of set purpose come to Samaria, but driven by stress of persecution, just as it was in the case of Christ; and how when the Apostles go thither, it is to men now believers, no longer Samaritans. "But when the Apostles," it says, "which were at Jerusalem heard this, they sent unto them Peter and John. Sent" them, again, to rid them of magic. And25 besides, (the Lord) had given them a pattern at the time when the Samaritans believed. "And in many villages," it says, "of the Samaritans, they preached the Gospel." (John iv. 39.) Observe how actively employed even their journeys were, how they do nothing without a purpose.26
Such travels should we also make. And why do I speak of travels? Many possess villages and lands, and give themselves no concern, nor make any account of this. That baths may be provided, their revenues increased, courts and buildings erected, for this they take plenty of pains: but for the husbandry of souls, not so. When you see thorns-answer me-you cut them up, you burn, you utterly destroy them, to rid your land of the hurt thence arising. And seest thou the laborers themselves overrun with thorns, and dost not cut them up, and art thou not afraid of the Owner Who shall call thee to account? For ought not each individual believer to build a Church, to get a Teacher, to cooperate (sunai resqai) (with him), to make this above all his object, that all may be Christians? Say, how is it likely thy laborer should be a Christian, when he sees thee so regardless of his salvation? Thou canst not work miracles, and so convert (peisai) him. By the means which are in thy power, convert him; by kindness, by good offices, by gentleness, by courting (kolakeia) him, by all other means. Market-places, indeed, and baths, the most do provide; but no Churches: nay, sooner everything than this! Wherefore I beseech and implore, as a favor I entreat, yea as a law I lay it down, that there be no estate to be seen destitute of a Church.27 Tell not me, There is one hard by; there is one in the neighboring properties; the expense is great, the income not great. If thou have anything to expend upon the poor, expend it there: better there than here. Maintain a Teacher, maintain a Deacon, and a sacerdotal body complete. As by a bride, whether a wife whom thou takest, or a daughter whom thou givest in marriage,28 so act by the Church: give her a dowry. So shall thy estate be filled with blessing. For what shall not be there of all that is good? Is it a small thing, tell me, that thy wine-press should be blessed;29 a small thing, tell me, that of thy fruits God is the first to taste, and that the first fruits are there (with Him)? And then even for the peace of the laboring people this is profitable. Then as one whom they must respect, there will be the presbyter among them and this will contribute to the security of the estate. There will be constant prayers there through thee30 (infra, note 1, p. 119) hymns and Communions through thee; the Oblation on each Lord's Day. For only consider what a praise it will be, that, whereas others have built splendid tombs, to have it said hereafter: "Such a one butt this," thou hast reared Churches! Bethink thee that even until the coming of Christ thou shalt have thy reward, who hast reared up the altars of God.
Suppose an Emperor had ordered thee to build an house that he might lodge there, wouldest thou not have done everything to please him? And here now it is palace of Christ, the Church, the Church which thou buildest. Look not at the cost, but calculate the profit. Thy people yonder cultivate thy field: cultivate thou their souls: they bring to thee thy fruits, raise thou them to heaven. He that makes the beginning is the cause of all the rest: and thou wilt be the cause that the people are brought under Christian teaching (kathxoumenwn) both there, and in the neighboring estates. Your baths do but make the peasants less hardy, your taverns give them a taste for luxury, and yet you provide these for credit's sake. Your markets and fairs, (panhgureij) on the other hand, promote31 covetousness. But think now what a thing it would be to see a presbyter, the moving picture of Abraham, gray-headed, girded up, digging and working with his own hands? What more pleasant than such a field! Their virtue thrives. No intemperance there, nay, it is driven away: no drunkenness and wantonness, nay, it is cast out: no vanity, nay, it is extinguished. All benevolent tempers shine out the brighter through the simplicity of manners. How pleasant to go forth and enter into the House of God, and to know that one built it himself: to fling himself on his back in his litter, and32 after the bodily benefit of his pleasant airing, be present both at the evening and the morning hymns, have the priest as a guest at his table, in associating with him enjoy his benediction, see others also coming thither! This is a wall for his field, this in security. This is the field of which it is said," The smell of a full field which the Lord hath blessed." (Gen. xxvii. 27.) If, even without this, the country is pleasant, because it is so quiet, so free from distraction of business, what will it not be when this is added to it? The country with a Church is like the Paradise of God. No clamor there, no turmoil, no enemies at variance, no heresies: there you shall see all friends, holding the same doctrines in common. The very quiet shall lead thee to higher views, and receiving thee thus prepared by philosophy, the presbyter shall give thee an excellent cure. For here, whatever we may speak, the noise of the market drives it all out: but there, what thou shalt hear, thou wilt keep fixed in thy mind. Thou wilt be quite another man in the country through him: and moreover to the people there he will be director, he will watch over them both by his presence and by his influence in forming their manners. And what, I ask, would be the cost? Make for a beginning a small house (en tacei naou) to serve as temple. Thy successor will build a porch, his successor will make other additions, and the whole shall be put to thy account. Thou givest little, and receivest the reward for the whole. At any rate, make a beginning: lay a foundation. Exhort one another, vie one with another in this matter. But now, where there is straw and grain and such like to be stored, you make no difficulty of building: but for a place where the fruits of souls may be gathered in, we below not a thought; and the people are forced to go miles and miles, and to make long journeys, that they may get to Church! Think, how good it is, when with all quietness the priest presents himself in the Church, that he may draw near unto God, and say prayers for the village, day by day, and for its owner! Say, is it a small matter, that even in the Holy Oblations evermore thy name is included in the prayers, and that for the village day by day prayers are made unto God?-How greatly this profits thee for all else! It chances33 that certain (great) persons dwell in the neighborhood, and have overseers: now to thee, being poor, one of them will not deign even to pay a visit: but the presbyter, it is likely, he will invite, and make him sit at his table. How much good results from this! The village will in the first place be free from all evil suspicion. None will charge it with murder, with theft: none will suspect anything of the kind.-They have also another comfort, if sickness befall, if death.-Then again the friendships formed there by people as they go side by side (to and from the Church) are not struck up at random and promiscuously: and the meetings there are far more pleasant than those which take place in marts and fairs. The people themselves also will be more respectable, because of their presbyter. How is it you hear that Jerusalem was had in honor in the old times above all other cities? Why was this? Because of the then prevailing religion. Therefore it is that where God is honored, there is nothing evil: as, on the contrary, where He is not honored, there is nothing good. It will be great security both with God and with men. Only, I beseech you, that ye be not remiss: only may you put your hand to this work. For if he who brings out "the precious from the vile," shall be "as the mouth of God" (Jer. xv. 19); he who benefits and recovers so many souls, both that now are and that shall be even until the coming of Christ, what favor shall not that person reap from God! Raise thou a garrison against the devil: for that is what the Church is. Thence as from headquarters let the hands go forth to work: first let the people hold them up for prayers, and then go their way to work. So shall there be vigor of body; so shall the tillage be abundant; so shall all evil be kept aloof. It is not possible to represent in words the pleasure thence arising, until it be realized. Look not to this, that it brings in no revenue: if34 thou do it at all in this spirit, then do it not at all; if thou account not the revenue thou gettest thence greater than from the whole estate beside; if thou be not thus affected, then let it alone; if thou do not account this work to stand thee more in stead than any work beside. What can be greater than this revenue, the gathering in of souls into the threshing-floor which is in heaven! Alas, that ye know not how much it is, to gain souls! Hear what Christ says to Peter, "Feed My sheep." (John xxi. 15-17.) If, seeing the emperors sheep, or herd of horses, by reason of having no fold or stable, exposed to depredation, thou wert to take them in hand, and build a fold or stables, or also provide a shepherd or herdsman to take charge of them, what would not the emperor do for thee in return? Now, thou gatherest the flock of Christ, and puttest a shepherd over them, and thinkest thou it is no great gain thou art earning? But, if for offending even one, a man shall incur so great a punishment, how can he that saves so many, ever be punished? What sin will he have thenceforth? for, though he have it, does not this blot it out? From the punishment threatened to him that offends, learn the reward of him that saves. Were not the salvation of even one soul a matter of great importance, to offend would not move God to so great angel Knowing these things, let us apply ourselves forthwith to this spiritual work. And let each invite me, and we will together help to the best of our ability. If there be three joint-owners, let them do it by each beating his part: if but one, he will induce the others also that are near. Only be earnest to effect this, I beseech you, that in every way being well-pleasing unto God, we may attain unto the eternal blessings, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with Whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost together be glory, dominion, and honor, now and ever world without end. Amen.