Early Church Fathers
Colossians i. 9, 10.-"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding; to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God."
"For this cause." What cause? Because we heard of your faith and love, because we have good hopes, we are hopeful to ask for future blessings also. For as in the games we cheer on those most who are near upon gaining the victory, just so doth Paul also most exhort those who have achieved the greater part.
"Since the day we heard it," saith he, "we do not cease to pray for you." Not for one day do we pray for you, nor yet for two, nor three. Herein he both shows his love, and gives them a gentle hint that they had not yet arrived at the end. For the words, "that ye may be filled," are of this significancy. And observe, I pray, the prudence of this blessed one. He nowhere says that they are destitute of everything, but that they are deficient; everywhere the words, "that ye may be filled," show this. And again, "unto all pleasing, in every good work" (ver. 11), and again, "strengthened with all power," and again, "unto all patience and long-suffering"; for the constant addition of "all" bears witness to their doing well in part, though, it might be, not in all. And, "that ye may be filled," he saith; not, "that ye may receive," for they had received; but "that ye may be filled" with what as yet was lacking. Thus both the rebuke was given without offense, and the praise did not suffer them to sink down, and become supine, as if it had been complete. But what is, "that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will"? That through the Son we should be brought unto Him, and no more through Angels. Now that ye must be brought unto Him, ye have learnt, but it remains for you to learn this, and why He sent the Son. For had it been that we were to have been saved by Angels, He would not have sent Him, would not have given Him up. "In all spiritual wisdom," he saith, "and understanding." For since the philosophers deceived them; I wish you, he saith, to be in spiritual wisdom, not after the wisdom of men. But if in order to know the will of God, there needs spiritual wisdom; to know His Essence what it is, there is need of continual prayers.
And Paul shows here, that since that time he has been praying, and has not yet prevailed, and yet has not desisted; for the words, "from the day we heard it," show this. But it implies condemnation to them, if, from that time, even assisted by prayers, they had not amended themselves. "And making request," he says, with much earnestness, for this the expression "ye knew" shows. But it is necessary still to know somewhat besides. "To walk worthily," he says, "of the Lord." Here he speaks of life and its works, for so he doth also everywhere: with faith he always couples conduct. "Unto all pleasing." And how, "all pleasing"? "Bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Seeing, saith he, He hath fully revealed Himself unto you, and seeing ye have received knowledge so great; do ye then show forth a conduct worthy of the faith; for this needeth elevated conduct, greater far than the old dispensation. For, he that hath known God, and been counted worthy to be God's servant, yea, rather, even His Son, see how great virtue he needeth. "Strengthened with all power." He is here speaking of trials and persecutions. We pray that ye might be filled with strength, that ye faint not for sorrow, nor despair. "According to the might of His glory." But that ye may take up again such forwardness as it becometh the power of His glory to give. "Unto all patience and long-suffering." What he saith is of this sort. Summarily, he saith, we pray that ye may lead a life of virtue, and worthy of your citizenship, and may stand firmly, being strengthened as it is reasonable to be strengthened by God. For this cause he doth not as yet touch upon doctrines, but dwells upon life, wherein he had nothing to charge them with, and having praised them where praise was due, he then comes down to accusation. And this he does everywhere: when he is about writing to any with somewhat to blame them for, and somewhat to praise, he first praises them, and then comes down to his Charges. For he first conciliates the hearer, and frees his accusation from all suspicion, and shows that for his own part he could have been glad to praise them throughout; but by the necessity of the case is forced into saying what he does. And so he doth in the first Epistle to the Corinthians. For after having exceedingly praised them as loving him, even from the case of the fornicator, he comes down to accuse them. But in that to the Galatians not so, but the reverse. Yea, rather, if one should look close into it, even there the accusation follows upon praise. For seeing he had no good deeds of theirs then to speak of, and the charge was an exceeding grave one, and they were every one of them corrupted; and were able to bear it because they were strong, he begins with accusation, saying, "I marvel." (Gal. i. 6) So that this also is praise. But afterwards he praises them, not for what they were, but what they had been, saying, "If possible, ye would have plucked out your eyes, and given them to me." (Gal. v. 15).
"Bearing fruit," he saith: this hath reference to works. "Strengthened": this to trials. "Unto all patience and longsuffering": long-suffering towards one another, patience towards those without. For longsuffering is toward those whom we can requite, but patience toward those whom we cannot. For this reason the term patient is never applied to God, but longsuffering frequently; as this same blessed one saith other where in his writings, "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering?" "Unto all pleasing." Not, one while, and afterwards not so. "In all spiritual wisdom," he saith, "and understanding." For otherwise it is not possible to know His will. Although indeed they thought they had His will; but that wisdom was not spiritual. "To walk," saith he, "worthily of the Lord." For this is the way of the best life. For he that hath understood God's love to man, (and he doth understand it if he have seen the Son delivered up,) will have greater forwardness. And besides, we pray not for this alone that ye may know, but that ye may show forth your knowledge in works; for he that knows without doing, is even in the way to punishment. "To walk," he saith, that is, always, not once, but continually. As to walk is necessary for us, so also is to live rightly. And when on this subject he constantly uses the term "walk," and with reason, showing that such is the life set before us. But not of this sort is that of the world. And great too is the praise. "To walk," he saith, "worthily of the Lord," and "in every good work," so as to be always advancing, and nowhere standing still, and, with a metaphor, "bearing fruit and increasing in the knowledge of God," that ye might be in such measure "strengthened," according to the might of God, as is possible for man to be. "Through His power," great is the consolation.-He said not strength, but "power," which is greater: "through the power," he saith, "of His glory," because that everywhere His glory hath the power. He thus comforts him that is under reproach: and again, "To walk worthily of the Lord." He saith of the Son, that He hath the power everywhere both in heaven and in earth, because His glory reigneth everywhere. He saith not "strengthened" simply, but so, as they might be expected to be who are in the service of so strong a Master. "In the knowledge of God." And at the same time he touches in passing upon the methods of knowledge; for this is to be in error, not to know God as one ought; or he means, so as to increase in the knowledge of God. For if he that hath not known the Son, knoweth not the Father either; justly is there need of increased knowledge: for there is no use in life without this. "Unto all patience and longsuffering," he saith, "with joy, giving thanks" (ver. 12) unto God. Then being about to exhort them, he makes no mention of what by and by shall be laid up for them; he did hint at this however in the beginning of the Epistle, saying, "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens" (ver. 5): but in this place he mentions the things which were already theirs, for these are the causes of the other. And he doth the same in many places. For that which hath already come to pass gains belief, and more carries the hearer along with it. "With joy," he saith, "giving thanks" to God. The connection is this. We cease not praying for you, and giving thanks for the benefits already received.
Seest thou how he bears himself along into speaking of the Son? For if "we give thanks with much joy," it is a great thing that is spoken of. For it is possible to give thanks only from fear, it is possible to give thanks even when in sorrow. For instance; Job gave thanks indeed, but in anguish; and he said, "The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away." (Job i. 21.) For, let not any say that what had come to pass pained him not, nor clothed him with dejection of soul; nor let his great praise be taken away from that righteous one. But when it is thus, it is not for fear, nor because of His being Lord alone, but for the very nature of the things themselves, that we give thanks. "To Him who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." He hath said a great thing. What has been given, he saith, is of this nature; He hath not only given, but also made us strong to receive. Now by saying, "Who made us meet," he showed that the thing was one of great weight. For example, were some low person to have become a king, he hath it in his power to give a governorship to whom he will; and this is the extent of his power, to give the dignity: he cannot also make the person fit for the office, and oftentimes the honor makes one so preferred even ridiculous. If however he have both conferred on one the dignity, and also made him fit for the honor, and equal to the administration, then indeed the thing is an honor. This then is what he also saith here; that He hath not only given us the honor, but hath also made us strong enough to receive it.
For the honor here is twofold, the giving, and the making fit for the gift. He said not, gave, simply; but, "made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light," that is, who hath appointed us a place with the saints. But he did not say simply placed us, but hath given us to enjoy even the very same things, for "the portion" is that which each one receives. For it is possible to be in the same city, and yet not enjoy the same things; but to have the same "portion," and yet not enjoy the same, is impossible. It is possible to be in the same inheritance, and yet not to have the same portion; for instance, all we (clergy) are in the inheritance, but we have not all the same portion. But here he doth not say this, but with the inheritance adds the portion also. But why doth he call it inheritance (or lot)? To show that by his own achievements no one obtains the kingdom, but as a lot is rather the result of good luck, so in truth is it here also. For a life so good as to be counted worthy of the kingdom doth no one show forth, but the whole is of His free gift. Therefore He saith, "When ye have done all, say, We are unprofitable servants, for we have done that which was our duty to do." (Luke xvii. 10.) "To be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,"-he means, both the future and the present light, -that is, in knowledge. He seems to me to be speaking at once of both the present and the future. Then he shows of what things we have been counted worthy. For this is not the only marvel, that we are counted worthy of the kingdom; but it should also be added who we are that are so counted; for it is not unimportant. And he doth this in the Epistle to the Romans, saying, "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, but peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die." (Rom. v. 7.)
Ver. 13. "Who delivered us," he saith, "from the power of darkness."
The whole is of Him, the giving both of these things and those; for nowhere is any achievement of ours. "From the power of darkness," he saith, that is, of error, the dominion of the devil. He said not "darkness," but "power"; for it had great power over us, and held us fast. For it is grievous indeed even to be under the devil at all, but to be so "with power," this is far more grievous. "And translated us," he saith, "into the kingdom of the Son of His love." Not then so as to deliver man from darkness only, did He show His love toward him. A great thing indeed is it to have delivered from darkness even; but to have brought into a kingdom too, is a far greater. See then how manifold the gift, that he hath delivered us who lay in the pit; in the second place, that He hath not only delivered us, but also hath translated us into a kingdom. "Who delivered us." He said not, hath sent us forth, but "delivered": showing our great misery, and their capture of us. Then to show also the ease with which the power of God works, he saith, "And translated us," just as if one were to lead over a soldier from one position to another. And he said not, "hath led over"; nor yet "hath transposed," for so the whole would be of him who transposed, nothing of him who went over; but he said, "translated" ; so that it is both of us and of Him. "Into the kingdom of the Son of His love." He said not simply, "the kingdom of heaven," but gave a grandeur to his discourse by saying, "The kingdom of the Son," for no praise can be greater than this, as he saith elsewhere also: "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him." (2 Tim. ii. 12.) He hath counted us worthy of the same things with the Son; and not only so, but what gives it greater force, with His Beloved Son. Those that were enemies, those that were in darkness, as it were on a sudden he had translated to where the Son is, to the same honor with Him. Nor was he content with only this, in order to show the greatness of the gift; he was not content with saying, "kingdom," but he also added, "of the Son"; nor yet with this, but he added also "beloved"; nor yet with this, but he added yet, the dignity of His nature. For what saith he? "Who is the Image of the invisible God." But he proceeded not to say this immediately, but meanwhile inserted the benefit which He bestowed upon us. For lest, when thou hearest that the whole is of the Father, thou shouldest suppose the Son excluded, he ascribes the whole to the Son, and the whole to the Father. For He indeed translated us, but the Son furnished the cause. For what saith he? "Who delivered us out of the power of darkness." But the same is, "In whom we have the full redemption, even the forgiveness of sins." For had we not been forgiven our sins, we should not have been "translated." So here again the words, "In whom." And he said not "redemption," but "full redemption," so that we shall not fall any more, nor become liable to death.
Ver. 15. "Who is the image of the invisible God, the First-born of all creation."
We light here upon a question of heresy. So it were well we should put it off to-day and proceed with it to-morrow, addressing it to your ears when they are fresh.
But if one ought to say anything more: the work of the Son is the greater. How? Because it were a thing impossible to give the kingdom to men whilst continuing in their sins; but thus it is an easier thing, so that He prepared the way for the gift. What sayest thou? He Himself loosed thee from thy sins: surely then He Himself also hath brought thee nigh; already he has laid by anticipation the foundation of his doctrine.
But we must put a close to this discourse, when first we have made one remark. And what is this? Seeing we have come to enjoy so great a benefit, we ought to be ever mindful of it, and continually to turn in our minds the free gift of God, and to reflect upon what we have been delivered from, what we have obtained; and so we shall be thankful; so we shall heighten our love toward Him. What sayest thou, O man? Thou art called to a kingdom, to the kingdom of the Son of God-and art thou full of yawning, and scratching, and dozing? If need were that thou shouldest leap into ten thousand deaths every day, oughtest thou not to endure all? For the sake of office thou doest all manner of things; when then thou art going to share the kingdom of the Only-Begotten, wilt thou not spring down upon ten thousand swords? wouldest thou not leap into fire? And this is not all that is strange, but that when about to depart even, thou bewailest, and wouldest gladly dwell amongst the things which are here, being a lover of the body. What fancy is this? Dost thou regard even death as a thing of terror? The cause of this is luxury, ease: for he at least that should live an embittered life would wish even for wings, and to be loosed from hence. But now it is the same with us as with the spoiled nestlings, which would willingly remain for ever in the nest. But the longer they remain, the feebler they become. For the present life is a nest cemented together with sticks and mire. Yea, shouldest thou show me even the great mansions, yea the royal palace itself glittering with all its gold and precious stones; I shall think them no better than the nests of swallows, for when the winter is come they will all fall of themselves. By winter I mean That Day, not that it will be a winter to all. For God also calleth it both night and day; the first in regard of sinners, the latter of the just. So do I also now call it winter. If in the summer we have not been well brought up, so as to be able to fly when winter is come, our mothers will not take us, but will leave us to die of hunger, or to perish when the nest falls; for easily as it were a nest, or rather more easily, will God in that day remove all things, undoing and new molding all. But they which are unfledged, and not able to meet Him in the air, but have been so grossly brought up that they have no lightness of wing, will suffer those things which reason is such characters should suffer. Now the brood of swallows, when they are fallen, perish quickly; but we shall not perish, but be punished for ever. That season will be winter; or rather, more severe than winter. For, not winter torrents of water roll down, but rivers of fire; not darkness that riseth from clouds is there, but darkness that cannot be dispelled, and without a ray of light, so that they cannot see either the heaven, or the air, but are more straitened than those who have been buried in the earth.
Oftentimes do we say these things, but there are whom we cannot bring to believe. But it is nothing wonderful if we, men of small account, are thus treated, when we discourse of such things, since the same happened to the Prophets also; when they spoke not of such matters only, but also of war and captivity. (Jer. xxi. 11; xxvii. 12, &c) And Zedekiah was rebuked by Jeremiah, and was not ashamed. Therefore the Prophets said, "Woe unto them that say, Let God hasten with speed His work, that we may see it, and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel come, that we may know it." (Isa. v. 18, 19.) Let us not wonder at this. For neither did those believe who were in the days of the ark; they believed, however, when their belief was of no gain to them; neither did they of Sodom expect [their fate], howbeit they too believed, when they gained nothing by believing. And why do I speak of the future? Who would have expected these things which are now happening in divers places; these earthquakes, these overthrows of cities? And yet were these things easier to believe than those; those, I mean, which happened in the days of the ark.
Whence is this evident? Because that the men of those times had no other example to look at, neither had they heard the Scriptures, but with us, on the other hand, are countless instances that have happened both in our own, and in former years. But whence arose the unbelief of these persons? From a softened soul; they drank and ate, and therefore they believed not. For, what a man wishes, he thinks, and expects; and they that gainsay him are a jest.
But let it not be so with us; for hereafter it will not be a flood; nor the punishment till death only; but death will be the beginning of punishment for persons who believe not that there is a Judgment. And doth any ask, who has come from thence, and said so? If now thou speakest thus in jest, not even so is it well; for one ought not to jest in such matters; and we jest, not where jesting is in place, but with peril; but if what thou really feelest, and thou art of opinion that there is nothing hereafter, how is it that thou callest thyself a Christian? For I take not into account those who are without. Why receivest thou the Layer? Why dost thou set foot within the Church? Is it that we promise thee magistracies? All our hope is in the things to come. Why then comest thou, if thou believest not the Scriptures? If thou dost not believe Christ, I cannot call such an one a Christian; God forbid but worse than even Greeks. In what respect? In this; that when thou thinkest Christ is God, thou believest Him not as God. For in that other impiety there is at least consistency; for he who thinks not that Christ is God, necessarily will also not believe Him; but this impiety has not even consistency; to confess Him to be God, and yet not to think Him worthy of belief in what He has said; these are the words of drunkenness, of luxury, of riot. "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." (1 Cor. xv. 32.) Not to-morrow; but now ye are dead, when ye thus speak. Shall we then be in nothing different from swine and asses? tell me. For if there be neither a judgment, nor a retribution, nor a tribunal, wherefore have we been honored with such a gift as reason, and have all things put under us? Why do we rule, and are they ruled? See how the devil is on every side urgent to persuade us to be ignorant of the Gift of God. He mixes together the slaves with their masters, like some man-stealer and ungrateful servant; he strives to degrade the free to the level of the criminal. And he seems indeed to be overthrowing the Judgment, but he is overthrowing the being of God.
For such is ever the devil's way; he puts forward everything in a wily, and not in a straightforward manner, to put us on our guard. If there is no Judgment, God is not just (I speak as a man): if God is not just, then there is no God at all: if there is no God, all things go on at haphazard, virtue is nought, vice nought. But he says nothing of this openly. Seest thou the drift of this satanical argument? how, instead of men, he wishes to make us brutes, or rather, wild beasts, or rather, demons? Let us then not be persuaded by him. For there is a Judgment, O wretched and miserable man! I know whence thou comest to use such words. Thou hast committed many sins, thou hast offended, thou hast no confidence, thou thinkest that the nature of things will even follow thy arguments. Meanwhile, saith he, I will not torment my soul with the expectation of hell, and, if there be a hell, I will persuade it that there is none; meanwhile I will live here in luxury! Why dost thou add sin to sin? If when thou hast sinned thou believest that there is a hell, thou wilt depart with the penalty of thy sins only to pay; but if thou add this further impiety, thou wilt also for thine impiety, and for this thy thought, suffer the uttermost punishment; and what was a cold and shortlived comfort to thee, will be a ground for thy being punished for ever. Thou hast sinned: be it so: why dost thou encourage others also to sin, by saying that there is no hell? Why didst thou mislead the simpler sort? Why unnerve the hands of the people? So far as thou art concerned, everything is turned upside down; neither will the good become better, but listless; nor the wicked desist from their wickedness. For, if we corrupt others, do we get allowance for our sins? Seest thou not the devil, how he attempted to bring down Adam? And has there then been allowance for him? Nay, surely it will be the occasion of a greater punishment, that he may be punished not for his own sins only, but also for those of others. Let us not then suppose that to bring down others into the same destruction with ourselves will make the Judgment-seat more lenient to us. Surely this will make it more severe. Why thrust we ourselves on destruction? The whole of this cometh of Satan.
O man, hast thou sinned? Thou hast for thy Master One that loveth man. Entreat, implore, weep, groan; and terrify others, and pray them that they fall not into the same. If in a house some servant, of those that had offended their master, says to his son, "My child, I have offended the master, do thou be careful to please him, that thou be not as I": tell me, will he not have some forgiveness? will he not bend and soften his master? But if, leaving so to speak, he shall say such words as these, that he will not requite every one according to his deserts; that all things are jumbled together indiscriminately, both good and bad; that there is no thanks in this house; what thinkest thou will be the master's mind concerning him? will he not suffer a severer punishment for his own misdoings? Justly so; for in the former case his feeling will plead for him, though it be but weakly; but in this, nobody. If no other then, yet imitate at least that rich man in hell, who said, "Father Abraham, send to my kinsmen, lest they come into this place," since he could not go himself, so that they might not fall into the same condemnation. Let us have done with such Satanical words.
What then, saith he, when the Greeks put questions to us; wouldest thou not that we should try to cure them? But by casting the Christian into perplexity, under pretense of curing the Greek, thou aimest at establishing thy Satanical doctrine. For since, when communing with thy soul alone of these things, thou persuadest her not; thou desirest to bring forward others as witnesses. But if one must reason with a Greek, the discussion should not begin with this; but whether Christ be God, and the Son of God; whether those gods of theirs be demons. If these points be established, all the others follow; but, before making good the beginning, it is vain to dispute about the end; before learning the first elements, it is superfluous and unprofitable to come to the conclusion. The Greek disbelieves the Judgment, and he is in the same case with thyself, seeing that he too hath many who have treated these things in their philosophy; and albeit when they so spoke they held the soul as separated from the body, still they set up a seat of judgment. And the thing is so very clear, that no one scarcely is ignorant of it, but both poets and all are agreed among themselves that there is both a Tribunal and a Judgment. So that the Greek also disbelieves his own authorities; and the Jew doth not doubt about these things nor in a word doth any man.
Why then deceive we ourselves? See, thou sayest these things to me. What wilt thou say to God, "that fashioned our hearts one by one" (Ps. xxxiii. 15); that knoweth everything that is in the mind; "that is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword"? (Heb. iv. 12) For tell me with truth; Dost thou not condemn thyself? And how should wisdom so great, as that one who sins should condemn himself, come by chance, for this is a work of mighty wisdom. Thou condemnest thyself. And will he who giveth thee such thoughts leave everything to go on at hazard? The following rule then will hold universally and strictly. Not one of those who live in virtue wholly disbelieves the doctrine of the Judgment, even though he be Greek or heretic. None, save a few, of those who live in great wickedness, receives the doctrine of the Resurrection. And this is what the Psalmist says, "Thy judgments are taken away from before his face." (Ps. x. 5.) Wherefore? Because "his ways are always profane"; for he saith, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
Seest thou that thus to speak is the mark of the grovelling? Of eating and drinking come these sayings which are subversive of the Resurrection. For the soul endures not, I say, it endures not the tribunal which the conscience supplieth, and so it is with it, as with a murderer, who firsts suggests to himself that he shall not be detected, and so goes on to slay; for had his conscience been his judge, he would not hastily have come to that daring wickedness. And still he knows, and pretends not to know, lest he should be tortured by conscience and fear, for, certainly, in that case, he would have been less resolute for the daring deed. So too, assuredly, they who sin, and day by day wallow in the same wickedness, are unwilling to know it, although their consciences pluck at them.
But let us give no heed to such persons, for there will be, there will assuredly be, a Judgment and a Resurrection, and God will not leave so great works without direction. Wherefore, I beseech you, let us leave off wickedness, and lay fast hold on virtue, that we may receive the true doctrine in Christ Jesus our Lord. And yet, which is easier to receive? the doctrine of the Resurrection, or that of Fate? The latter is full of injustice, of absurdity, of cruelty, of inhumanity; the other of righteousness, awarding according to desert; and still men do not receive it. But the fault is, indolence, for no one that hath understanding receives the other. For amongst the Greeks even, they who did receive that doctrine, were those who in their definition of pleasure affirmed it to be the "end," but they who loved virtue, would not receive it, but they cast it out as absurd. But if among the Greeks this were so, much more will it hold good with the doctrine of the Resurrection. And observe, I pray you, how the devil hath established two contrary things: for in order that we may neglect virtue; and pay honor to demons, he brought in this Necessity, and by means of each he procured the belief of both. What reason then will he be able to give, who obstinately disbelieves a thing so admirable, and is persuaded by those who talk so idly? Do not then support thyself with the consolation, that thou wilt meet with forgiveness; but let us, collecting all our strength, stir ourselves up to virtue, and let us live truly to God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, &c.