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Home > Fathers of the Church > Homilies on Colossians (Chrysostom) > Homily 8

Homily 8 on Colossians

Colossians 3:5-7

Mortify your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things' sake, comes the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience; in the which you also walked aforetime, when you lived in these things.

I know that many are offended by the foregoing discourse, but what can I do? You heard what the Master enjoined. Am I to blame? What shall I do? Have you not seen the creditors, when debtors are obstinate, how they wear collars? Did you hear what Paul proclaimed today? Mortify, he says, your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. What is worse than such a covetousness? This is worse than any desire. This is still more grievous than what I was speaking of, the madness, and the silly weakness about silver. And covetousness, he says, which is idolatry. See in what the evil ends. Do not, I pray, take what I said amiss, for not by my own good-will, nor without reason, would I have enemies; but I was wishful that you should attain to such virtue, as that I might hear of you the things I ought. So that I said it not for authority's sake, nor of imperiousness, but out of pain and of sorrow. Forgive me, forgive! I have no wish to violate decency by discoursing upon such subjects, but I am compelled to it.

Not for the sake of the sorrows of the poor do I say these things, but for your salvation; for they will perish, will perish, that have not fed Christ. For what, if you dost feed some poor man? Still so long as you live so voluptuously and luxuriously, all is to no purpose. For what is required is, not the giving much, but not too little for the property you have; for this is but playing at it.

Mortify therefore your members, he says, which are upon the earth. What do you say? Was it not you that said, You are buried; you are buried together with Him; you are circumcised: we have put off the body of the sins of the flesh c. 2:11, 12; Romans 6:4; how then again do you say, Mortify? Are you sporting? Do you thus discourse, as though those things were in us? There is no contradiction; but like as if one, who has clean scoured a statue that was filthy, or rather who has recast it, and displayed it bright afresh, should say that the rust was eaten off and destroyed, and yet should again recommend diligence in clearing away the rust, he does not contradict himself, for it is not that rust which he scoured off that he recommends should be cleared away, but that which grew afterwards; so it is not that former putting to death he speaks of, nor those fornications, but those which do afterwards grow.

He said that this is not our life, but another, that which is in heaven. Tell me now. When he said, Mortify your members that are upon the earth, is then the earth also accused? Or does he speak of the things upon the earth as themselves sins?

Fornication, uncleanness, he says. He has passed over the actions which it is not becoming even to mention, and by uncleanness has expressed all together.

Passion, he said, evil desire.

Lo! He has expressed the whole in the class. For envy, anger, sorrow, all are evil desire.

And covetousness, he says, which is idolatry. For which things' sake comes the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.

By many things he had been withdrawing them; by the benefits which are already given, by the evils to come from which we had been delivered, being who, and wherefore; and all those considerations, as, for instance, who we were, and in what circumstances, and that we were delivered therefrom, how, and in what manner, and on what terms. These were enough to turn one away, but this one is of greater force than all; unpleasant indeed to speak of, not however to disservice, but even serviceable. For which things' sake comes, he says, the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. He said not, upon you, but, upon the sons of disobedience.

In the which you also walked aforetime, when you lived in them. In order to shame them, he says, when you lived in them, and implying praise, as now no more so living: at that time they might.

Ver. 8. But now put away all these also.

He speaks always both universally and particularly; but this is from earnestness.

Ver. 8, 9. Anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth. Lie not one to another.

Shameful speaking, he says, out of your mouth, clearly intimating that it pollutes it.

Ver. 9, 10. Seeing that you have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of Him that created him.

It is worth enquiring here, what can be the reason why he calls the corrupt life, members, and man, and body, and again the virtuous life, the same. And if the man means sins, how is it that he says, with his doings? For once he said, the old man, showing that this is not man, but the other. The moral choice does rather determine one than the substance, and is rather man than the other. For his substance casts him not into hell, nor leads him into the kingdom, but men themselves: and we neither love nor hate any one so far as he is man, but so far as he is such or such a man. If then the substance be the body, and in either sort cannot be accountable, how does he say that it is evil? But what is that he says, with his doings? He means the choice, with the acts. And he calls him old, on purpose to show his deformity, and hideousness, and imbecility; and new, as if to say, Do not expect that it will be with this one even as with the other, but the reverse: for ever as he farther advances, he hastens not on to old age, but to a youthfulness greater than the preceding. For when he has received a fuller knowledge, he is both counted worthy of greater things, and is in more perfect maturity, in higher vigor; and this, not from youthfulness alone, but from that likeness also, after which he is. Lo! The best life is styled a creation, after the image of Christ: for this is the meaning of, after the image of Him that created him, for Christ too came not finally to old age, but was so beautiful as it is not even possible to tell.

Ver. 11. Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all, and in all.

Lo! Here is a third encomium of this man. With him, there is no difference admitted either of nation, or of rank, or of ancestry, seeing he has nothing of externals, nor needs them; for all external things are such as these, circumcision, and uncircumcision, bondman, freeman, Greek, that is, proselyte, and Jew, from his ancestors. If you have only this man, you will obtain the same things with the others that have him.

But Christ, he says, is all, and in all: Christ will be all things to you, both rank, and descent, and Himself in you all. Or he says another thing, to wit, that you all have become one Christ, being His body.

Ver. 12. Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved.

He shows the easiness of virtue, so that they might both possess it continually, and use it as the greatest ornament. The exhortation is accompanied also with praise, for then its force is greatest. For they had been before holy, but not elect; but now both elect, and holy, and beloved.

A heart of compassion. He said not mercy, but with greater emphasis used the two words. And he said not, that it should be as towards brethren, but, as fathers towards children. For tell me not that he sinned, therefore he said a heart. And he said not compassion, lest he should place them in light estimation, but a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Again, he speaks after the class, and he always does it; for from kindness comes humbleness of mind, and from this, longsuffering. Forbearing, he says, one another, that is, passing things over. And see, how he has shown it to be nothing, by calling it a complaint, and saying, even as Christ forgave you. Great is the example! And thus he always does; he exhorts them after Christ. Complaint, he calls it. In these words indeed he showed it to be a petty matter; but when he has set before us the example, he has persuaded us that even if we had serious charges to bring, we ought to forgive. For the expression, Even as Christ, signifies this, and not this only, but also with all the heart; and not this alone, but that they ought even to love. For Christ being brought into the midst, brings in all these things, both that even if the matters be great, and even if we have not been the first to injure, even if we be of great, they of small account, even if they are sure to insult us afterwards, we ought to lay down our lives for them, (for the words, even as, demand this;) and that not even at death only ought one to stop, but if possible, to go on even after death.

Ver. 14. And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.

Do you see that he says this? For since it is possible for one who forgives, not to love; yea, he says, you must love him too, and he points out a way whereby it becomes possible to forgive. For it is possible for one to be kind, and meek, and humbleminded, and longsuffering, and yet not affectionate. And therefore, he said at the first, A heart of compassion, both love and pity. And above all these things, love, which is the bond of perfectness. Now what he wishes to say is this; that there is no profit in those things, for all those things fall asunder, except they be done with love; this it is which clenches them all together; whatsoever good thing it be you mention, if love be away, it is nothing, it melts away. And it is as in a ship, even though her rigging be large, yet if there be no girding ropes, it is of no service; and in an house, if there be no tie beams, it is the same; and in a body, though the bones be large, if there be no ligaments, they are of no service. For whatsoever good deeds any may have, all do vanish away, if love be not there. He said not that it is the summit, but what is greater, the bond; this is more necessary than the other. For summit indeed is an intensity of perfectness, but bond is the holding fast together of those things which produce the perfectness; it is, as it were, the root.

Ver. 15. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

The peace of God. This is that which is fixed and steadfast. If on man's account indeed you have peace, it quickly comes to dissolution, but if on God's account, never. Although he had spoken of love universally, yet again he comes to the particular. For there is a love too which is immoderate; for instance, when out of much love one makes accusations without reason, and is engaged in contentions, and contracts aversions. Not this, says he, not this do I desire; not overdoing things, but as God made peace with you, so do ye also make it. How made He peace? Of His own will, not having received anything of you. What is this? Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. If two thoughts are fighting together, set not anger, set not spitefulness to hold the prize, but peace; for instance, suppose one to have been insulted unjustly; of the insult are born two thoughts, the one bidding him to revenge, the other to endure; and these wrestle with one another: if the Peace of God stand forward as umpire, it bestows the prize on that which bids endure, and puts the other to shame. How? By persuading him that God is Peace, that He has made peace with us. Not without reason he shows the great struggle there is in the matter. Let not anger, he says, act as umpire, let not contentiousness, let not human peace, for human peace comes of avenging, of suffering no dreadful ill. But not this do I intend, he says, but that which He Himself left.

He has represented an arena within, in the thoughts, and a contest, and a wrestling, and an umpire. Then again, exhortation, to the which you were called, he says, that is, for the which you were called. He has reminded them of how many good things peace is the cause; on account of this He called you, for this He called you, so as to receive a worthy prize. For wherefore made He us one body? Was it not that she might rule? Was it not that we might have occasion of being at peace? Wherefore are we all one body? And now are we one body? Because of peace we are one body, and because we are one body, we are at peace. But why said he not, Let the peace of God be victorious, but be umpire? He made her the more honorable. He would not have the evil thought to come to wrestle with her, but to stand below. And the very name prize cheered the hearer. For if she have given the prize to the good thought, however impudently the other behave, it is thereafter of no use. And besides, the other being aware that, perform what feats he might, he should not receive the prize; however he might puff, and attempt still more vehement onsets, would desist as laboring without profit. And he well added, And be thankful. For this is to be thankful, and very effectively, to deal with his fellow-servants as God does with himself, to submit himself to the Master, to obey; to express his gratitude for all things, even though one insult him, or beat him.

For in truth he that confesses thanks due to God for what he suffers, will not revenge himself on him that has done him wrong, since he at least that takes revenge, acknowledges no gratitude. But let not us follow him (that exacted) the hundred pence, lest we hear, Thou wicked servant, for nothing is worse than this ingratitude. So that they who revenge are ungrateful.

But why did he begin his list with fornication? For having said, Mortify your members which are upon the earth Colossians 3:5, he immediately says, fornication; and so he does almost everywhere. Because this passion has the greatest sway. For even when writing his Epistle to the Thessalonians he did the same. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 And what wonder? Since to Timothy even he says, Keep yourself pure 1 Timothy 5:22; and again elsewhere, Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 Put to death, he says, your members. You know of what sort that is which is dead, namely, hated, loathed, dropping to decay. If you put anything to death, it does not when dead continue dead, but presently is corrupted, like the body. Extinguish then the heat; and nothing that is dead will continue. He shows one having the same thing in hand, which Christ wrought in the Laver; therefore also he calls them members, as though introducing some champion, thus advancing his discourse to greater emphasis. And he well said, Which are upon the earth, for here they continue, and here they are corrupted, far rather than these our members. So that not so truly is the body of the earth, as sin is earthly, for the former indeed appears even beautiful at times, but those members never. And those members lust after all things that are upon the earth. If the eye be such, it sees not the things in the heavens; if the ear, if the hand, if you mention any other member whatsoever. The eye sees bodies, and beauties, and riches; these are the things of earth, with these it is delighted: the ear with soft strains, and harp, and pipe, and filthy talking; these are things which are concerned with earth.

When therefore he has placed his hearers above, near the throne, he then says, Mortify your members which are upon the earth. For it is not possible to stand above with these members; for there is nothing there for them to work upon. And this clay is worse than that, for that clay indeed becomes gold, for this corruptible, he says, must put on incorruption 1 Corinthians 15:53, but this clay can never be retempered more. So that these members are rather upon the earth than those. Therefore he said not, of the earth, but, which are upon the earth, for it is possible that these should not be upon the earth. For it is necessary that these should be upon the earth, but that those should, is not necessary. For when the ear hears nothing of what is here uttered, but only in the heavens, when the eye sees nothing of what is here, but only what is above, it is not upon the earth; when the mouth speaks nothing of the things here, it is not upon the earth; when the hand does no evil thing— these are not of things upon the earth, but of those in the heavens.

So Christ also says, If your right eye causes you to stumble, that is, if you look unchastely, cut it out Matthew 5:29, that is, your evil thought. And he (Paul) seems to me to speak of fornication, uncleanness, passion, desire as the same, namely fornication: by means of all these expressions drawing us away from that thing. For in truth this is a passion; and like as the body is subject to any affection, either to fever or to wounds, so also is it with this. And he said not Restrain, but Mortify (put to death), so that they never rise up more, and put them away. That which is dead, we put away; for instance, if there be callosities in the body, their body is dead, and we put it away. Now, if you cut into that which is quick, it produces pain, but if into that which is dead, we are not even sensible of it. So, in truth, is it with the passions; they make the soul unclean; they make the soul, which is immortal, passible.

How covetousness is said to be idolatry, we have oftentimes explained. For the things which do most of all lord it over the human race, are these, covetousness, and unchasteness, and evil desire. For which things' sake comes, he says, the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. Sons of disobedience, he calls them, to deprive them of excuse, and to show that it was because they would not be obedient, that they were in that condition. In the which you also, he says, walked aforetime, and (afterward) became obedient. He points them out as still in them, and praises them, saying, But now do ye also put away all these, anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking. But against others he advances his discourse. Under the head of passion and railing he means revilings, just as under wrath he means wickedness. And in another place, to shame them, he says, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25 He makes them out to be as it were manufacturers of men; casting away this one, and receiving that. He spoke of a man's members Colossians 3:5; here he says, all. He spoke of his heart, wrath, mouth, blasphemy, eyes, fornication, covetousness, hands and feet, lying, the understanding itself, and the old mind. One royal form it has, that, namely, of Christ. They whom he has in view, appear to me rather to be of the Gentiles. For like as earth, being but sand, even though one part be greater, another less, losing its own previous form, does afterwards become gold; and like as wool, of whatever kind it be, receives another aspect, and hides its former one: so truly is it also with the faithful. Forbearing, he says, one another; he shows what is just. Thou forbearest him, and he you; and so he says in the Epistle to the Galatians, Bear one another's burdens. Galatians 6:2 And be thankful, he says. For this is what he everywhere especially seeks; the chiefest of good things.

Give we thanks then in all things; whatever may have happened; for this is thankfulness. For to do so in prosperity indeed, is no great thing, for the nature of the circumstances of itself impels one thereto; but when being in extremities we give thanks, then it is admirable. For when, in circumstances under which others blaspheme, and exclaim discontentedly, we give thanks, see how great philosophy is here. First, you have rejoiced God; next, you have shamed the devil; thirdly, you have even made that which has happened to be nothing; for all at once, thou both givest thanks, and God cuts short the pain, and the devil departs. For if you have exclaimed discontentedly, he, as having succeeded to his wish, stands close by you, and God, as being blasphemed, leaves you, and your calamity is heightened; but if you have given thanks, he, as gaining nought, departs; and God, as being honored, requites you with greater honor. And it is not possible, that a man, who gives thanks for his evils should be sensible of them. For his soul rejoices, as doing what is right; immediately his conscience is bright, it exults in its own commendation; and that soul which is bright, cannot possibly be sad of countenance. But in the other case, along with the misfortune, conscience also assails him with her lash; while in this she crowns, and proclaims him.

Nothing is holier than that tongue, which in evils gives thanks to God; truly in no respect does it fall short of that of martyrs; both are alike crowned, both this, and they. For over this one also stands the executioner to force it to deny God, by blasphemy; the devil stands over it, torturing it with executioner thoughts, darkening it with despondencies. If then one bear his griefs, and give thanks, he has gained a crown of martyrdom. For instance, is her little child sick, and does she give God thanks? This is a crown to her. What torture so bad that despondency is not worse? Still it does not force her to vent forth a bitter word. It dies: again she has given thanks. She has become the daughter of Abraham. For if she sacrificed not with her own hand, yet was she pleased with the sacrifice, which is the same; she felt no indignation when the gift was taken away.

Again, is her child sick? She has made no amulets. It is counted to her as martyrdom, for she sacrificed her son in her resolve. For what, even though those things are unavailing, and a mere cheat and mockery, still there were nevertheless those who persuaded her that they do avail: and she chose rather to see her child dead, than to put up with idolatry. As then she is a martyr, whether it be in her own case, or in her son's, that she has thus acted; or in her husband's, or in any other's of her dearest; so is that other one an idolatress. For it is evident that she would have done sacrifice, had it been allowed her to do sacrifice; yea, rather, she has even now performed the act of sacrifice. For these amulets, though they who make money by them are forever rationalizing about them, and saying, we call upon God, and do nothing extraordinary, and the like; and the old woman is a Christian, says he, and one of the faithful; the thing is idolatry. Are you one of the faithful? Sign the Cross; say, this I have for my only weapon; this for my remedy; and other I know none. Tell me, if a physician should come to one, and, neglecting the remedies belonging to his art, should use incantation, should we call that man a physician? By no means: for we see not the medicines of the healing art; so neither, in this case, do we see those of Christianity.

Other women again tie about them the names of rivers, and venture numberless things of like nature. Lo, I say, and forewarn you all, that if any be detected, I will not spare them again, whether they have made amulet, or incantation, or any other thing of such an art as this. What then, says one, is the child to die? If he have lived through this means, he did then die, but if he have died without this, he then lived. But now, if you see him attaching himself to harlots, you wish him buried, and sayest, why, what good is it for him to live? but when you see him in peril of his salvation, do you wish to see him live? Heardest thou not Christ saying, He that loses his life, shall find it; and he that finds it, shall lose it? Matthew 16:25 Believest thou these sayings, or do they seem to you fables? Tell me now, should one say, Take him away to an idol temple, and he will live; would you endure it? No! she replies. Why? Because, she says, he urges me to commit idolatry; but here, there is no idolatry, but simple incantation: this is the device of Satan, this is that wiliness of the devil to cloak over the deceit, and to give the deleterious drug in honey. After he found that he could not prevail with you in the other way, he has gone this way about, to stitched charms, and old wives' fables; and the Cross indeed is dishonored, and these charms preferred before it. Christ is cast out, and a drunken and silly old woman is brought in. That mystery of ours is trodden under foot, and the imposture of the devil dances.

Wherefore then, says one, does not God reprove the aid from such sources? He has many times reproved, and yet has not persuaded you; He now leaves you to your error, for It says, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind. Romans 1:28 These things, moreover, not even a Greek who has understanding could endure. A certain demagogue in Athens is reported once to have hung these things about him: when a philosopher who was his instructor, on beholding them, rebuked him, expostulated, satirized, made sport of him. For in so wretched a plight are we, as even to believe in these things!

Why, says one, are there not now those who raise the dead, and perform cures? Yes, then, why, I say: why are there not now those who have a contempt for this present life? Do we serve God for hire? When man's nature was weaker, when the Faith had to be planted, there were even many such; but now he would not have us to hang upon these signs, but to be ready for death. Why then do you cling to the present life? Why do you not look on the future? And for the sake of this indeed canst bear even to commit idolatry, but for the other not so much as to restrain sadness? For this cause it is that there are none such now; because that (future) life has seemed to us honorless, seeing that for its sake we do nothing, while for this there is nothing we refuse to undergo. And why too that other farce, ashes, and soot, and salt? And the old woman again brought in? A farce truly, and a shame! And then, an eye, say they, has caught the child.

Where will these satanical doings end? How will not the Greeks laugh? How will they not gibe when we say unto them, Great is the virtue of the Cross; how will they be won, when they see us having recourse to those things, which themselves laugh to scorn? Was it for this that God gave physicians and medicines? What then? Suppose they do not cure him, but the child depart? Whither will he depart? Tell me, miserable and wretched one! Will he depart to the demons? Will he depart to some tyrant? Will he not depart to heaven? Will he not depart to his own Lord? Why then do you grieve? Why do you weep? Why do you mourn? Why do you love your infant more than your Lord? Is it not through Him that you have this also? Why are you ungrateful? Do you love the gift more than the Giver? But I am weak, she replies, and cannot bear the fear of God. Well, if in bodily evils the greater covers the less, much rather in the soul, fear destroyed fear, and sorrow, sorrow. Was the child beautiful? But be it what it may, not more beauteous is he than Isaac: and he too was an only one. Was it born in your old age? So too was he. But is it fair? Well: however fair it may be, it is not lovelier than Moses Acts 7:20, who drew even barbarian eyes unto a tender love of him, and this too at a time of life when beauty is not yet disclosed; and yet this beloved thing did the parents cast into the river. You indeed both see it laid out, and deliver it to the burying, and go to its monument; but they did not so much as know whether it would be food for fishes, or for dogs, or for other beasts that prey in the sea; and this they did, knowing as yet nothing of the Kingdom, nor of the Resurrection.

But suppose it is not an only child; but that after you have lost many, this also has departed. But not so sudden is your calamity as was Job's, and (his was) of sadder aspect? It is not when a roof has fallen in, it is not as they are feasting the while, it is not following on the tidings of other calamities.

But was it beloved by you? But not more so than Joseph, the devoured of wild beasts; but still the father bore the calamity, and that which followed it, and the next to that. He wept; but acted not with impiety; he mourned, but he uttered not discontent, but stayed at those words, saying, Joseph is not, Simeon is not, and will you take Benjamin away? All these things are against me. Genesis 42:36 Do you see how the constraint of famine prevailed with him to be regardless of his children? And does not the fear of God prevail with you as much as famine?

Weep: I do not forbid you: but anything blasphemous neither say nor do. Be your child what he may, he is not like Abel; and yet nought of this kind did Adam say; although that calamity was a sore one, that his brother should have killed him. But I am reminded of others also that have killed their brothers; when, for instance, Absalom killed Amnon the eldest born 2 Samuel 13, and King David loved his child, and sat indeed in sackcloth and ashes, but he neither brought soothsayers, nor enchanters, (although there were such then, as Saul shows,) but he made supplication to God. So do thou likewise: as that just man did, so do thou also; the same words say thou, when your child is dead, I shall go to him, but he will not come to me. 2 Samuel 12:23 This is true wisdom, this is affection. However much you may love your child, you will not love so much as he did then. For even though his child were born of adultery, yet that blessed man's love of the mother was at its height, and you know that the offspring shares the love of the parents. And so great was his love toward it, that he even wished it to live, though it would be his own accuser, but still he gave thanks to God. What, do you think, did Rebecca suffer, when his brother threatened Jacob, and she grieved not her husband, but bade him send her son away? Genesis 27:46; 28:1 When you have suffered any calamity, think on what is worse than it; and you will have a sufficient consolation; and consider with yourself, what if he had died in battle? What if in fire? And whatsoever our sufferings may be, let us think upon things yet more fearful, and we shall have comfort sufficient, and let us ever look around us on those who have undergone more terrible things, and if we ourselves have ever suffered heavier calamities. So does Paul also exhort us; as when he says, You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin Hebrews 12:4: and again, There has no temptation taken you but such as man can bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13 Be then our sufferings what they may, let us look round on what is worse; (for we shall find such,) and thus shall we be thankful. And above all, let us give thanks for all things continually; for so, both these things will be eased, and we shall live to the glory of God, and obtain the promised good things, whereunto may all we attain, through the grace and love toward man, etc.

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Source. Translated by John A. Broadus. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 13. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230308.htm>.

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