Early Church Fathers
2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 1For we know, that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.
Again he arouses their zeal because many trials drew on. For it was likely that they, in consequence of his absence, were weaker in respect to this [need]. What then saith he? One ought not to wonder that we suffer affliction; nor to be confounded, for we even reap many gains thereby. And some of these he mentioned before; for instance, that we "bear about the dying of Jesus," and present the greatest proof of His power: for he says, "that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God:" and we exhibit a clear proof of the Resurrection, for, says he, "that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." But since along with these things he said that our inward man is thus made better also; for "though our outward man is decaying," saith he, "yet the inward man is renewed day by day;" showing again that this being scourged and persecuted is proportionately useful, he adds, that when this is done thoroughly, then the countless good things will spring up for those who have endured these things. For lest when thou hearest that thy outward man perishes, thou shouldest grieve; he says, that when this is completely effected, then most of all shalt thou rejoice and shalt come unto a better inheritance. So that not only ought not one to grieve at its perishing now in part, but even earnestly to seek for the completion of that destruction, for this most conducts thee to immortality. Wherefore also he added, "For we know, that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved: we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." For since he is urging again the doctrine of the Resurrection in respect to which they were particularly unsound; he calls; in aid the judgment of his hearers also, and soestablishes it; not however in the same way asbefore, but, as it were, arriving at it out of another subject: (for they had been already corrected:) and says, "We know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Some indeed say that the `earthly house' is this world; But I should maintain that he alludes rather to the body. But observe, I pray, how by the terms [he uses,] he shows the superiority of the future things to the present. For having said "earthly" he hath opposed to it "the heavenly;" having said, "house of tabernacle," thereby declaring both that it is easily taken to pieces and is temporary, he hath opposed to it the "eternal," for the name "tabernacle" often times denotes temporariness. Wherefore He saith, "In My Father's house are many abiding places." (John chapter 14, verse 2) But if He anywhere also calls the resting places of the saints tabernacles; He calls them not tabernacles simply, but adds an epithet; for he said not, that "they may receive you" into their tabernacles, but "into the eternal tabernacles." (Luke chapter 16, verse 9) Moreover also in that he said, "not made with hands," he alluded to that which was made with hands. What then? Is the body made with hands? By no means; but he either alludes to the houses here that are made with hands, or if not this, then he called the body which is not made with hands, 'a house of tabernacle.' For he has not used the term in antithesis and contradistinction to this, but to heighten those eulogies and swell those commendations.
[2.] Ver. 2 "For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven."
What habitation? tell me. The incorruptible body. And why do we groan now? Because that is far better. And "from heaven" he calls it because of its incorruptibleness. For it is not surely that a body will come down to us from above: but by this expression he signifies the grace which is sent from thence. So far then ought we to be from grieving at these trials which are in part that we ought to seek even for their fulness, as if he had said: Groanest thou, that thou art persecuted, that this thy man is decaying? Groan that this is not done unto excess and that it perishes not entirely. Seest thou how he hath turned round what was said unto the contrary; having provedthat they ought to groan that those things werenot done fully; for which because they were done partially; they groaned. Therefore he henceforth calls it not a tabernacle, but a house, and with great reason. For a tabernacle indeed is easily taken to pieces; but a house abideth continually.
Ver. 3. "If so be that being unclothed we shall not be found naked."
That is, even if we have put off the body, we shall not be presented there without a body, but even with the same one made incorruptible. But some read, and it deserves very much to be adopted, "If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked." For lest all should be confident because of the Resurrection, he says, "If so be that being clothed," that is, having obtained incorruption and an incorruptible body, "we shall not be found naked" of glory and safety. As he also said in the former Epistle; "We shall all be raised; but each in his own order." And, "There are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestial." (1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 22 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 23) (ib. 40.) For the Resurrection indeed is common to all, but the glory is not common; but some shall rise in honor and others in dishonor, and some to a kingdom but others to punishment. This surely he signified here also, when he said; "If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked."
[3.] Ver. 4. "For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan, not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon." Here again he hath utterly and manifestly stopped the mouths of the heretics, showing that he is not speaking absolutely of a body differing in identity, but of corruption and incorruption: `For we do not therefore groan,' saith he, `that we may be delivered from the body: for of this we do not wish to be unclothed; but we hasten to be delivered from the corruption that is in it'. Wherefore he saith, `we wish not to be unclothed of the body, but that it should be clothed upon with incorruption.' Then he also interprets it [thus,] "That what is mortal may be swallowed up of life." For since putting off the body appeared to many a grievous thing; and he was contradicting the judgments of all, when he said, "we groan," not wishing to be set free from it; (`for if,' says one, `the soul in being separated from it so suffers and laments, how sayest thou that we groan because we are not separated from it?') lest then this should be urged against him, he says, `Neither do I assert that we therefore groan, that we may put it off; (for no one putteth it off without pain, seeing that Christ says even of Peter, `They shall "carry thee," and lead thee "whither thou wouldest not;"-John chapter 21, verse 18) but that we may have it clothed uponwith incorruption.' For it is in this respect that we are burdened by the body; not because it is a body, but because we are encompassed with a corruptible body and liable to suffering, for it is this that also causes us pain. But the life when it arriveth destroyeth and useth up the corruption; the corruption, I say, not the body. `And how cometh this to pass?' saith one. Inquire not; God doeth it; be not too curious. Wherefore also he added,
Ver. 5. "Now he that hath wrought us for this very thing is God."! Hereby he shows that these things were prefigured from the first. For not now was this decreed: but when at the first He fashioned us from earth and created Adam; for not for this created He him, that he should die, but that He might make him even immortal. Then as showing the credibility of this and furnishing the proof of it, he added,
"Who also gave the earnest of the Spirit." For even then He fashioned us for this; and now He hath wrought unto this by baptism, and hath furnished us with no light security thereof, the Holy Spirit. And he continually calls It an earnest, wishing to prove God to be a debtor of the whole, and thereby also to make what he says more credible unto the grosser sort.
[4.] Ver. 6. "Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing."
The word "of good courage" is used with reference to the persecutions, the plottings, and the continual deaths: as if he had said, `Doth any vex and persecute and slay thee? Be not cast down, for thy good all is done. Be not afraid: but of good courage. For that which thou groanest and grievest for, that thou art in bondage to corruption, he removes from hence-forward out of the way, and frees thee the sooner from this bondage.' Wherefore also he saith, "Being therefore always of good courage," not in the seasons of rest only, but also in those of tribulation; "and knowing,"
Ver. 7, 8. "That whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord."
That which is greater than all he has put last, for to be with Christ is better, than receiving an incorruptible [body.] But what he means is this: `He quencheth not our life that warreth against and killeth us; be not afraid; be of good courage even when hewn in pieces. For not only doth he set thee free from corruption and a burden, but he also sendeth thee quickly to the Lord.' Wherefore neither did he say, "whilst we `are' in the body:" as of those who are in a foreign and strange land. "Knowing therefore that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: we are of good courage, I say, and willing to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord." Seest thou how keeping back what was painful, the names of death and the end, he has employed instead of them such as excite great longing, calling them presence with God; and passing over those things which are accounted to be sweet, the things of life, he hath expressed them by painful names, calling the life here an absence from the Lord? Now this he did, both that no one might fondly linger amongst present things, but rather be aweary of them; and that none when about to die might be disquieted, but might even rejoice as departing unto greater goods. Then that none might say on hearing that we are absent from the Lord, `Why speakest thou thus? Are we then estranged from Him whilst we are here?' he in anticipation corrected such a thought, saying, "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Even here indeed we know Him, but not so clearly. As he says also elsewhere, (1 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 12) "in a mirror," and "darkly."
"We are of good courage, I say, and willing." Wonderful! to what hath he brought round the discourse? To an extreme desire of death, having shown the grievous to be pleasurable, and the pleasurable grievous. For by the term, "we are willing" he means, `we are desirous.' Of what are we desirous? Of being "absent from the body, and at home with the Lord." And thus he does perpetually, (as I showed also before) turning round the objection of his opponents unto the very contrary.
Ver. 9. "Wherefore also we make it our aim whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing unto him."
`For what we seek for is this,' saith he, `whether we be there or here, to live according to His will; for this is the principal thing. So that by this thou hast the kingdom already in possession without a probation.' For lest when they had arrived at so great a desire of being there, they should again be disquieted at its being so long first, in this he gives them already the chief of those good things. And what is this? To be well "pleasing." For as to depart is not absolutely good, but to do so in [God's] favor, which is what makes departing also become a good; so to remain here is not absolutely grievous, but to remain offending Him. Deem not then that departure from the body is enough; for virtue is always necessary. For as when he spoke of a Resurrection, he allowed [them] not by it alone to be of good courage, saying, "If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked;" so also having showed a departure, lest thou shouldest think that this is enough to save thee, he added that it is needful that we be well pleasing.
[5.] Seeing then he has persuaded them by many good things, henceforth he alarms them also by those of gloomier aspect. For our interest consists both in the attainment of the good things and the avoidance of the evil things, in other words, hell and the kingdom. But since this, the avoiding of punishment, is the more forcible motive; for where penalty reaches only to the not receiving good things, the most will bear this contentedly; but if it also extend to the suffering of evil, do so no longer: (for they ought, indeed, to consider the former intolerable, but from the weakness and grovelling nature of the many, the latter appearsto them more hard to bear:) since then (I say) the giving of the good things doth not so arouse the general hearer as the threat of the punishments, he is obliged to conclude with this, saying,
Ver. 10. "For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat."
Then having alarmed and shaken the hearer by the mention of that judgment-seat, he hath not even here set down the woful without the good things, but hath mingled something of pleasure, saying,
"That each one may receive the things done in the body," as many as "he hath done, whether" it be "good or bad."
By saying these words, he both reviveth those who have done virtuously and are persecuted with those hopes, and maketh those who have fallen back more earnest by that fear. And he thus confirmed his words touching the resurrection of the body. `For surely,' sayeth he, `that which hath ministered to the one and to the other shall not stand excluded from the recompenses: but along with the soul shall in the one case be punished, in the other crowned.' But some of the heretics say, that it is another body that is raised. How so? tell me. Did one sin, and is another punished? Did one do virtuously, and is another crowned? And what will ye answer to Paul, saying, "We would not be unclothed, but clothed upon?" And how is that which is mortal "swallowed up of life?" For he said not, that the mortal or corruptible body should be swallowed up of the incorruptible body; but that corruption [should be swallowed up] "of life." For then this happeneth when the same body is raised; but if, giving up that body, He should prepare another, no longer is corruption swallowed up but continueth dominant. Therefore this is not so; but "this corruptible," that is to say the body, "must put on incorruption." For the body is in a middle state, being at present in this and hereafter to be in that; and for this reason in this first, because it is impossible for the incorruption to be dissolved. "For neither cloth corruption inherit incorruption," saith he, (for, how is it [then] incorruption?) but on the contrary, "corruption is swallowed up of life:" for this indeed survives the other, but not the other this. For as wax is melted by fire but itself doth not melt the fire: so also doth corruption melt and vanish away under incorruption, but is never able itself to get the better of incorruption.
[6.] Let us then hear the voice of Paul, saying, that "we must stand at the judgment-seat of Christ;" and let us picture to ourselves that court of justice, and imagine it to be present now and the reckoning to be required. For I will speak of it more at large. For Paul, seeing that he was discoursing on affliction, and he had no mind to afflict them again, did not dwell on the subject; but having in brief expressed its austerity, "Each one shall receive according to what he hath done," he quickly passed on. Let us then imagine it to be present now, and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account the Judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand, but also be manifested. Do ye not blush? Are ye not astonied? But if now, when the reality is not yet present, but is granted in supposition merely and imaged in thought; if now [I say] we perish conscience-struck; what shall we do when [it] shall arrive, when the whole world shall be present, when angels and archangels, when ranks upon ranks, and all hurrying at once, and some caught up on the clouds, and an array full of trembling; when there shall be the trumpets, one upon another, [when] those unceasing voices?
For suppose there were no hell, yet in the midst of so great brightness to be rejected and to go away dishonored;-how great the punishment! For if even now, when the Emperor rideth in and his train with him, we contemplating each one of us our own poverty, derive not so much pleasure from the spectacle, as we endure dejection at having no share in what is going on about the Emperor, nor being near the Sovereign; what will it be then? Or thinkest thou it is a light punishment, not to be ranked in that company, not to be counted worthy of that unutterable glory, from that assemblage and those untold good things, to be cast forth some-wither far and distant? But when there is also darkness, and gnashing of teeth, and chains indissoluble, and an undying worm, and fire unquenchable, and affliction, and straitness, and tongues scorching like the rich man's; and we wail, and none heareth; and we groan and gnash our teeth for anguish, and none regardeth; and we look all round, and no where is there any to comfort us; where shall we rank those that are in this condition? what is there more miserable than are those souls? what more pitiable? For if, when we enter a prison and see its inmates, some squalid, some chained and famishing, some again shut up in darkness, we are moved with compassion, we shudder, we use all diligence that we may never be cast into that place; how will it be with us, when we are led and dragged away into the the torture-dungeons themselves of hell? For not of iron are those chains, but of fire that is never quenched; nor are they that are set over us our fellows whom it is often possible even to mollify; but angels whom one may not so much as look in the face, exceedingly enraged at our insults to their Master. Nor is it given, as here, to see some bringing in money, some food, some words of comfort, and to meet with consolation; but all is irremissible there: and though it should be Noah, or Job, or Daniel, and he should see his own kindred punished, he dares not succor. For even natural sympathy too comes then to be done away. For since it happeneth that there are righteous fathers of wicked children, and [righteous] children of [wicked] fathers; that so their pleasure may be unalloyed, and those who enjoy the good things may not be moved with sorrow through the constraining force of sympathy, even this sympathy, I affirm, is extinguished, and themselves are indignant together with the Master against their own bowels. For if the common run of men, when they see their own children vicious, disown and cut them off from that relationship; much rather will the righteous then. Therefore let no one hope for good things, if he have not wrought any good thing, even though he have ten thousand righteous ancestors. "For each one shall receive the things done in the body according to what he hath done." Here he seems to me to be alluding also to them that commit fornication: and to raise up as a wall unto them the fear of that world, not however to them alone; but also to all that in any wise transgress.
[7.] Let us hear then, us also. And if thou have the fire of lust, set against it that other fire, and this will presently be quenched and gone. And if thou purposest to utter some harsh sounding [speech], think of the gnashing of teeth, and the fear will be a bridle to thee. And if thou purposest to plunder, hear the Judge commanding, and saying, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness," (Matthew chapter 22, verse 13) and thou wilt cast out this lust also. And if thou art drunken, and surfeitest continually, hear the rich man saying, `Send Lazarus, that with the tip of his finger he may cool this scorching tongue;' (Luke chapter 16, verse 24) yet not obtaining this; and thou wilt hold thyself aloof from that distemper. But if thou lovest luxury, think of the affliction and the straitness there, and thou wilt not think at all of this. If again thou art harsh and cruel, bethink thee of those virgins who when their lamps had gone out missed so of the bridal chamber, and thou wilt quickly become humane. Or sluggish art thou, and remiss? Consider him that hid the talent, and thou wilt be more vehement than fire. Or doth desire of thy neighbor's substance devour thee? Think of the worm that dieth not, and thou wilt easily both put away from thee this disease, and in all other things wilt do virtuously. For He hath enjoined nothing irksome or oppressive. Whence then do His injunctions appear irksome to us? From our own slothfulness. For as if we labor diligently, even what appears intolerable will be light and easy; so if we are slothful, even things tolerable will seem to us difficult.
Considering then all these things, let us think not of the luxurious, but what is their end; here indeed filth and obesity, there the worm and fire: not of the rapacious, but what is their end; cares here, and fears, and anxieties; there chains indissoluble: not of the lovers of glory, but what these things bring forth; here slavery and dissemblings, and there both loss intolerable and perpetual burnings. For if we thus discourse with ourselves, and if with these and such like things we charm perpetually our evil lusts, quickly shall we both cast out the love of the present things, and kindle that of the things to come. Let us therefore kindle it and make it blaze. For if the conception of them, although a faint sort of one, affords so great pleasure; think how great the gladness, the manifest experience itself shall bring us. Blessed, and thrice blessed, yea, thrice blessed many times, are they who enjoy those good things; just as, consequently, pitiable and thrice wretched are they Who endure the opposite of these. That then we may be not of these but those, let us choose virtue. For so shall we attain unto the good things to come as well; which may all we attain, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ; by Whom, and with Whom, to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, and honor, now and for ever, and world without end. Amen.