Early Church Fathers
Hebrews xi. 17-19.-" By faith [Abraham],1 when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure,"
[1.] Great indeed was the faith of Abraham. For while in the case of Abel, and of Noah, and of Enoch, there was an opposition of reasonings only, and it was necessary to go beyond human reasonings; in this case it was necessary not only to go beyond human reasonings, but to manifest also something more. For what was of God2 seemed to be opposed to what was of God; and faith opposed faith, and command promise.
I mean this: He had said, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and I will give thee this land." (Gen. xii. 1, Gen. xii. 7.) "He gave him none inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on." (Acts vii. 5.) Seest thou how what was done was opposed to the promise? Again He said, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Gen. xxi. 12), and he believed: and again He says, Sacrifice to Me this one, who was to fill all the world from his seed. Thou seest the opposition between the commands and the promise? He enjoined things that were in contradiction to the promises, and yet not even so did the righteous man stagger, nor say he had been deceived.
For you indeed, he means, could not say this, that He promised ease and gave tribulation. For in our case, the things which He promised, these also He performs. How so? "In the world" (He says), "ye shall have tribulation." (John xvi. 33.) "He that taketh not his cross and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me." (Matt. x. 38.) "He that hateth not his life shall not find it." (John xii. 25.) And, "He that forsaketh not all that he hath, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me." (Luke xiv. 27, Luke xiv. 33.) And again, "Ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake." (Matt. x. 18.) And again, "A man's foes shall be they of his own household." (Matt. x. 36.) But the things which pertain to rest are yonder.
But with regard to Abraham, it was different. He was enjoined to do what was opposed to the promises; and yet not even so was he troubled, nor did he stagger, nor think he had been deceived. But yon endure nothing except what was promised, yet you are troubled.
[2.] He heard the opposite of the promises from Him who had made them; and yet he was not disturbed, but did them as if they had been in harmony [therewith]. For they were in harmony; being opposed indeed according to human calculations, but in harmony [when viewed] by Faith. And how this was, the Apostle himself has taught us, by saying, "accounting3 that God was able to raise Him up, even from the dead." By the same faith (he means) by which he believed that God gave what was not,4 and raised up the dead, by the same was he persuaded that He would also raise him up after he had been slain in sacrifice. For it was alike impossible (to human calculation, I mean) from a womb which was dead and grown old and already become useless for child-bearing to give a child, and to raise again one who had been slain. But his previous faith prepared the way for things to come.
And see; the good things came first, and the hard things afterwards, in his old age. But for you, on the contrary, (he says) the sad things are first, and the good things last. This for those who dare to say,`He has promised us the good things after death; perhaps He has deceived us.' He shows that "God is able to raise up even from the dead," and if God be able to raise from the dead, without all doubt He will pay all [that He has promised].
But if Abraham so many years before, believed "that God is able to raise from the dead," much more ought we to believe it. Thou seest (what I at first said) that death had not yet entered in and yet He drew them at once to the hope of the resurrection, and led them to such full assurance, that when bidden, they even slay their own sons, and readily offer up those from whom they expected to people the world.
And he shows another thing too, by saying, that "God tempted Abraham." (Gen. xxii. 1.) What then? Did not God know that the man was noble and approved? Why then did He tempt him? Not that He might Himself learn, but that He might show to others, and make his fortitude manifest to all.5 And here also he shows the cause of trials, that they may not suppose they suffer these things as being forsaken [of God]. For in their case indeed, it was necessary that they should he tried, because there were many who persecuted or plotted against them: but in Abraham's case, what need was there to devise trials for him which did notexist? Now this trial, it is evident, was by His command. The others indeed happened by His allowance, but this even by His command. If then temptations make men approved in such wise that, even where there is no occasion, God exercises His own athletes; much more ought we to bear all things nobly.
And here he said emphatically, "By faith, when he was tried, he offered up Isaac," for there was no other cause for his bringing the offering but that.
[3.] After this he pursues the same thought. No one (he says) could allege, that he had another son, and expected the promise to be fulfilled from him, and therefore confidently offered up this one. "And" (his words are) "he offered up his only-begotten, who had received the promises." Why sayest thou "only-begotten"? What then? Of whom was Ishmael sprung? I mean "only-begotten" (he would say) so far as relates to the word of the promise. Therefore after saying, "Only-begotten," showing that he says it for this reason, he added, "of whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called," that is, "from" him. Seest thou how he admires what was done by the Patriarch? "In Isaac shall thy seed be called," and that son he brought to be sacrificed.
Afterwards, that no one may suppose he does this in despair, and in consequence of this command had cast away that Faith,6 but may understand that this also was truly of faith, he says that he retained that faith also, although it seem to be at variance with this. But it was not at variance. For he did not measure the power of God by human reasonings, but committed all to faith. And hence he was not afraid to say, that God was "able to raise him up, even from the dead."
"From whence also he received him in a figure,"7 that is in idea,8 by the ram, he means. How? The ram having been slain, he was saved: so that by means of the ram he received him again, having slain it in his stead. But these things were types: for here it is the Son of God who is slain.
And observe, I beseech you, how great is His lovingkindness. For inasmuch as a great favor was to be given to men, He, wishing to do this, not by favor, but as a debtor, arranges that a man should first give up his own son on account of God's command, in order that He Himself might seem to be doing nothing great in giving up His own Son, since a man had done this before Him; that He might be supposed to do it not of grace, but of debt. For we wish to do this kindness also to those whom we love, others, to appear first to have received some little thing from them, and so give them all: and we boast more of the receiving than of the giving; and we do not say, We gave him this, but, We received this from him.
"From whence also" (are his words) "he received him in a figure," i.e. as in a riddle9 (for the ram was as it were a figure of Isaac) or, as in a type. For since the sacrifice had been completed, and Isaac slain in purpose,10 therefore He gave him to the Patriarch.
[4.] Thou seest, that what I am constantly saying, is shown in this case also? When we have proved that our mind is made perfect, and have shown that we disregard earthly things, then earthly things also are given to us; but not before; lest being bound to them already, receiving them we should be bound still. Loose thyself from thy slavery first (He says), and then receive, that thou mayest receive no longer as a slave, but as a master. Despise riches, and thou shalt be rich. Despise glory, and thou shalt be glorious. Despise the avenging thyself on thine enemies, and then shalt thou attain it. Despise repose, and then thou shalt receive it that in receiving thou mayest receive not as a prisoner, nor as a slave, but as a freeman.
For as in the case of little children, when the child eagerly desires childish playthings, we hide them from him with much care, as a ball, for instance, and such like things, that he may not be hindered from necessary things; but when he thinks little of them, and no longer longs for them, we give them fearlessly, knowing that henceforth no harm can come to him from them, the desire no longer having strength enough to draw him away from things necessary; so God also, when He sees that we no longer eagerly desire the things of this world, thenceforward permits us to use them. For we possess them as fleemen and men, not as children.
For [in proof] that if thou despise the avenging thyself on thine enemies, thou wilt then attain it, hear what he says, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink," and he added, "for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." (Rom. xii. 20.) Andagain, that if thou despise riches, thou shalt then obtain them, hear Christ saying, "There is no man which hath left father, or mother, or house, or brethren, who shall not receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." (Matt. xix. 29.)And that if thou despise glory, thou shall then attain it, again hear Christ Himself saying, "He that will be first among you, let him be your minister." (Matt. xx. 26.) And again, "For whosoever shall humble himself, he shall be exalted." (Matt. xxiii. 12.) What sayest thou? If I give drink to mine enemy, do I then punish him? If I give up my goods, do I then possess them? If I humble myself, shall I then be exalted? Yea, He says, for such is My power, to give contraries by means of contraries. I abound in resources and in contrivances: be not afraid. The `Nature of things' follows My will: not I attend upon Nature. I do all things: I am not controlled by them: wherefore also I am able to change their form and order.
[5.] And why dost thou wonder if [it is so] in these instances? For thou wilt find the same also in all others. If thou injure, thou art injured;11 if thou art injured, then thou art uninjured; if thou punish, then thou hast not punished another, but hast punished thyself. For "he that loveth iniquity," it is said, "hateth his own soul." (Ps. xi. 5 LXX.) Seest thou that thou dost not injure, but art injured?12 Therefore also Paul says, "Why do ye not rather take wrong?" (1 Cor. vi. 7.)Dost thou see that this is not to be wronged?
When thou insultest, then art thou insulted. And most persons partly know this: as when they say one to another, "Let us go away, do not disgrace yourself." Why? Because the difference is great between thee and him: for however much thou insultest him, he accounts it a credit. Let us consider this in all cases, and be above insults. I will tell you how.
Should we have a contest with him who wears the purple, let us consider that in insulting him, we insult ourselves, for we become worthy to be disgraced. Tell me, what dost thou mean? When thou art a citizen of Heaven, and hast the Philosophy that is above, dost thou disgrace thyself with him "that mindeth earthly things"? (Phil. iii. 19.) For though he be in possession of countless riches, though he be in power, he does not as yet know the good that is therein. Do not in insulting him, insult thyself. Spare thyself, not him. Honor thyself, not him. Is there not some Proverb such as this, He that honoreth;13 honoreth himself? With good reason: for he honors not the other, but himself. Hear what a certain wise man says, "Do honor to thy soul according to the dignity thereof." (Ecclus. x. 28.) "According to the dignity thereof," what is this? if he have defrauded (it means), do not thou defraud; if he has insulted, do not thou insult.
[6.] Tell me, I pray thee, if some poor man has taken away clay thrown out of thy yard, wouldst thou for this have summoned a court of justice? Surely not. Why? Lest thou shouldst disgrace thyself; lest all men should condemnthee. The same also happens in this case. Forthe rich man is poor, and the more rich he is, the poorer is he in that which is indeed poverty. Gold is clay, cast out in the yard, not lying in thy house, for thy house is Heaven. For this, then, wilt thou summon a Court of Justice, and will not the citizens on high condemn thee? Will they not cast thee out from their country, who art so mean, who art so shabby, as to choose to fight for a little clay? For if the world were thine, and then some one had taken it, oughtest thou to pay any attention to it?
Knowest thou not, that if thou wert to take the world ten times or an hundred times, or ten thousand times, and twice that, it is not to be compared with the least of the good things in Heaven? He then who admires the things here slights those yonder, since he judges these worthy of exertion, though so far inferior to the other. Nay, rather indeed he will not be able to admire those other. For how [can he], whilst he is passionately excited towards these earthly things? Let us cut through the cords and entanglements: for this is what earthly things are.
How long shall we be stooping down? How long shall we plot one against another, like wild beasts; like fishes? Nay rather, the wild beasts do not plot against each other, but [against] animals of a different tribe. A bear for instance does not readily kill a bear, nor a serpent kill a serpent, having respect for the sameness of race. But thou, with one of the same race, and having innumerable claims,14 as common origin, rational faculties, the knowledge of God, ten thousand other things, the force of nature, him who is thy kinsman, and partaker of the samenature-him thou killest, and involvest in evilsinnumerable. For what, if thou dost not thrust thy sword, nor plunge thy right hand into hisneck, other things more grievous than this thoudoest, when thou involvest him in innumerable evils. For if thou hadst done the other, thou wouldst have freed him from anxiety, but nowthou encompassest him with hunger, with slavery, with feelings of discouragement, with many sins. These things I say, and shall not cease to say, not [as] preparing you to commit murder: nor as urging you to some crime short of that; but that you may not be confident, as if you were not to give account. "For" (it says) "he that taketh away a livelihood" (Ecclus. xxxiv. 22) and asketh bread, it says.15
[7.] Let us at length keep our hands to ourselves, or rather, let us not keep them, but stretch them out honorably, not for grasping, but for alms-giving. Let us not have our hand unfruitful nor withered; for the hand which doeth not alms is withered; and that which is also grasping, is polluted and unclean.
Let no one eat with such hands; for this is an insult to those invited. For, tell me, if a man when he had made us lie down on tapestry16 and a soft couch and linen interwoven with gold, in a great and splendid house, and had set by us a great multitude of attendants, andhad prepared a tray17 of silver and gold, and filled it with many dainties of great cost and of all sorts, then urged us to eat, provided we would only endure his besmearing his hands with mire or with human ordure, and so sitting down to meat with us-would any man endurethis infliction? Would he not rather have considered it an insult? Indeed I think he would, and would have gone straightway off. But now in fact, thou seest not hands filled with what is indeed filth, but even the very food, and yet thou dost not go off, nor flee, nor find fault. Nay, if he be a person in authority, thou even accountest it a grand affair, and destroyest thine own soul, in eating such things. For covetousness is worse than any mire; for it pollutes, not the body but the soul, and makes it hard to be washed. Thou therefore, though thou seest him that sitteth at meat defiled with this filth both on his hands and his face, and his house filled with it, nay and his table also full of it (for dung, or if there be anything more unclean than that, it is not so unclean and polluted as those viands), dost thou feel as if forsooth thou wert highly honored, and as if thou wert going to enjoy thyself?
And dost thou not fear Paul who allows us to go without restraint to the Tables of the heathen if we wish, but not even if we wish to those of the covetous? For, "if any man who is called a Brother" (1 Cor. v. 11), he says, meaning here by Brother every one who is a believer simply, not him who leads a solitary life. For what is it which makes brotherhood? The Washing of regeneration; the being enabled to call God our Father. So that he that is a Monk, if he be a Catechumen, is not a Brother,18 but the believer though he be in the world, is a Brother. "If any man," saith he, "that is called a Brother." (1 Cor. v. 11.) For at that time there was not even a trace of any one leading a Monastic life, but this blessed [Apostle] addressed all his discourse to persons in the world. "If any man," he says, "that is called a Brother, be a fornicator, or covetous or a drunkard, with such an one, no not to eat." But not so with respect to the heathen: but "If any of them that believe not," meaning the heathen, "bid you and ye be disposed to go, whatsoever is set before you eat." (1 Cor. x. 27.)
[8.] "If any man that is called Brother be" (he says) "a drunkard." Oh! what strictness Yet we not only do not avoid drunkards, but even go to their houses, partaking of what they set before us.
Therefore all things are upside down, all things are in confusion, and overthrown, and ruined. For tell me, if any such person should invite thee to a banquet, thee who art accounted poor and mean, and then should hear thee say, "Inasmuch as the things set before me are [the fruit] of overreaching, I will not endure to defile my own soul," would he not be mortified? Would he not be confounded? Would he not be ashamed? This alone were sufficient to correct him, and to make him call himself wretched for his wealth, and admire thee for thy poverty, if he saw himself with so greatearnestness despised by thee.
But we "are become" (I know not why) "servants of men" (1 Cor. vii. 23), though Paul cries aloud throughout, "Be not ye the servants of men." Whence then have we become "servants of men"? Because we first became servants of the belly, and of money, and of glory, and of all the rest; we gave up the liberty which Christ bestowed on us.
What then awaiteth him who is become a servant (tell me)? Hear Christ saying, "The servant abideth not in the house for ever." (John viii. 35.) Thou hast a declaration complete in itself, that he never entereth into the Kingdom; for this is what "the House" means. For, He says, "in My Father's House are many mansions." (John xiv. 2.) "The servant" then "abideth not in the House for ever." By a servant He means him who is "the servant of sin." But he that "abideth not in the House for ever," abideth in Hell for ever, having no consolation from any quarter.
Nay, to this point of wickedness are matters come, that they even give alms out of these [ill-gotten gains], and many receive [them]. Therefore our boldness has broken down, and we are not able to rebuke any one. But however, henceforward at least, let us flee the mischief arising from this; and ye who have rolled yourselves in this mire, cease from such defilement, and restrain your rage for such banquets, if even now we may by any means be able to have God propitious to us, and to attain to the good things which have been promised: which may we all obtain in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever, and world without end. Amen.