Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume XII/Homilies on First Corinthians/Homily XXV

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Homily XXV.

1 Cor. x. 25

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

Having said that “they could not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of the devils,” and having once for all led them away from those tables, by Jewish examples, by human reasonings, by the tremendous Mysteries, by the rites solemnized among the idols[1]; and having filled them with great fear; that he might not by this fear drive again to another extreme, and they be forced, exercising a greater scrupulosity than was necessary, to feel alarm, lest possibly even without their knowledge there might come in some such thing either from the market or from some other quarter; to release them from this strait, he saith, “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question.”  “For,” saith he, “if thou eat in ignorance and not knowingly, thou art not subject to the punishment: it being thenceforth a matter not of greediness, but of ignorance.”

Nor doth he free the man only from this anxiety, but also from another, establishing them in thorough security and liberty. For he doth not even suffer them to “question;” i.e., to search and enquire, whether it be an idol-sacrifice or no such thing; but simply to eat every thing which comes from the market, not even acquainting one’s self with so much as this, what it is that is set before us. So that even he that eateth, if in ignorance, may be rid of anxiety. For such is the nature of those things which are not in their essence evil, but through the man’s intention make him unclean. Wherefore he saith, “asking no question.”

Ver. 26. “For to the Lord belongeth the earth and the fulness thereof.” Not to the devils. Now if the earth and the fruits and the beasts be all His, nothing is unclean: but it becomes unclean otherwise, from our intention and our disobedience. Wherefore he not only gave permission, but also,

Ver. 27. “If one of them that believe not biddeth you,” saith he, “to a feast, and you are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.”

See again his moderation. For he did not command and make a law that they should withdraw themselves, yet neither did he forbid it. And again, should they depart, he frees them from all suspicion. Now what may be the account of this? That so great curiousness might not seem to arise from any fear and cowardice. For he who makes scrupulous enquiry doth so as being in dread: but he who, on hearing the fact, abstains, abstains as out of contempt and hatred and aversion. Wherefore Paul, purposing to establish both points, saith, “Whatsoever is set before you, eat.”

Ver. 28. “But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice unto idols; eat not, for his sake that showed it.”

Thus it is not at all for any power that they have but as accursed, that he bids abstain from them. Neither then, as though they could injure you, fly from them, (for they have no strength;) nor yet, because they have no strength, indifferently partake: for it is the table of beings hostile and degraded. Wherefore he said, “eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.”[2]

Seest thou how both when he bids them eat and when they must abstain, he brings forward the same testimony? “For I do not forbid,” saith he, “for this cause as though they belonged to others: (“for the earth is the Lord’s:”)  but for the reason I mentioned, for conscience sake; i.e., that it may not be injured.” Ought one therefore to inquire scrupulously?  “Nay” saith he “for I said not thy conscience, but his. For I have already said, ‘for his sake that showed it.’” And again, v. 29, “Conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s.”

[2.] But perhaps some one may say, “The brethren indeed, as is natural, thou sparest, and dost not suffer us to taste for their sakes, lest their conscience being weak might be emboldened to eat the idol sacrifices. But if it be some heathen, what is this man to thee? Was it not thine own word, ‘What have I to do with judging them that are without?’ (1 Cor. v. 12.)   Wherefore then dost thou on the contrary care for them?” “Not for him is my care,” he replies, “but in this case also for thee.”  To which effect also he adds,

“For why is my liberty judged by another conscience?” meaning by “liberty,” that which is left without caution or prohibition. For this is liberty, freed from Jewish bondage. And what he means is this: “God hath made me free and above all reach of injury, but the Gentile knoweth not how to judge of my rule of life, nor to see into the liberality of my Master, but will condemn and say to himself, ‘Christianity is a fable; they abstain from the idols, they shun demons, and yet cleave to the things offered to them: great is their gluttony.’” “And what then?” it may be said. “What harm is it to us, should he judge us unfairly?” But how much better to give him no room to judge at all!  For if thou abstain, he will not even say this. “How,” say you, “will he not say it? For when he seeth me not making these inquiries, either in the shambles or in the banquet; what should hinder him from using this language and condemning me, as one who partakes without discrimination?” It is not so at all. For thou partakest, not as of idol-sacrifices, but as of things clean. And if thou makest no nice enquiry, it is that thou mayest signify that thou fearest not the things set before thee; this being the reason why, whether thou enterest a house of Gentiles or goest into the market, I suffer thee not to ask questions; viz. lest thou become timid[3] and perplexed,[4] and occasion thyself needless trouble.

Ver. 30. “If I by grace partake, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?” “Of what dost thou ‘by grace partake?’ tell me.” Of the gifts of God. For His grace is so great, as to render my soul unstained and above all pollution. For as the sun sending down his beams upon many spots of pollution, withdraws them again pure; so likewise and much more, we, living in the midst of the world remain pure, if we will, by how much the power we have is even greater than his. “Why then abstain?” say you. Not as though I should become unclean, far from it; but for my brother’s sake, and that I may not become a partaker with devils, and that I may not be judged by the unbeliever. For in this case it is no longer now the nature of the thing, but the disobedience and the friendship with devils which maketh me unclean, and the purpose of heart worketh the pollution.

But what is, “why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? “I, for my part,” saith he, “give thanks to God that He hath thus set me on high, and above the low estate of the Jews, so that from no quarter am I injured. But the Gentiles not knowing my high rule of life will suspect the contrary, and will say, ‘Here are Christians indulging a taste for our customs; they are a kind of hypocrites, abusing the demons and loathing them, yet running to their tables; than which what can be more senseless? We conclude that not for truth’s sake, but through ambition and love of power they have betaken themselves to this doctrine.’ What folly then would it be that in respect of those things whereby I have been so benefited as even to give solemn thanks, in respect of these I should become the cause of evil-speaking?” “But these things, even as it is,” say you, “will the Gentile allege, when he seeth me not making enquiry.” In no wise. For all things are not full of idol-sacrifices so that he should suspect this: nor dost thou thyself taste of them as idol-sacrifices. But not then scrupulous overmuch, nor again, on the other hand, when any say that it is an idol-sacrifice, do thou partake. For Christ gave thee grace and set thee on high and above all injury from that quarter, not that thou mightest be evil spoken of, nor that the circumstance which hath been such a gain to thee as to be matter of special thanksgiving, should so injure others as to make them even blaspheme. “Nay, why,” saith he, “do I not say to the Gentile, ‘I eat, I am no wise injured, and I do not this as one in friendship with the demons’?” Because thou canst not persuade him, even though thou shouldst say it ten thousand times: weak as he is and hostile. For if thy brother hath not yet been persuaded by thee, much less the enemy and the Gentile. If he is possessed by his consciousness of the idol-sacrifice, much more the unbeliever. And besides, what occasion have we for so great trouble?

“What then? whereas we have known Christ and give thanks, while they blaspheme, shall we therefore abandon this custom also?” Far from it. For the thing is not the same. For in the one case, great is our gain from bearing the reproach; but in the other, there will be no advantage. Wherefore also he said before, “for neither if we eat, are we the better; nor if we eat not, are we the worse.” (c. viii. 8.) And besides this too he showed that the thing was to be avoided, so that even on another ground ought they to be abstained from, not on this account only but also for the other reasons which he assigned.

[3.] Ver. 31. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

Perceivest thou how from the subject before him, he carried out the exhortation to what was general, giving us one, the most excellent of all aims, that God in all things should be glorified?

Ver. 32. “Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the Church of God:” i.e., give no handle to anyone: since in the case supposed, both thy brother is offended, and the Jew will the more hate and condemn thee, and the Gentile in like manner deride thee even as a gluttonous man and a hypocrite.

Not only, however, should the brethren receive no hurt from us, but to the utmost of our power not even those that are without. For if we are “light,” and “leaven,” and “luminaries,” and “salt,” we ought to enlighten, not to darken; to bind, not to loosen; to draw to ourselves the unbelievers, not to drive them away. Why then puttest thou to flight those whom thou oughtest to draw to thee? Since even Gentiles are hurt, when they see us reverting to such things: for they know not our mind nor that our soul hath come to be above all pollution of sense. And the Jews too, and the weaker brethren, will suffer the same.

Seest thou how many reasons he hath assigned for which we ought to abstain from the idol-sacrifices? Because of their unprofitableness, because of their needlessness, because of the injury to our brother, because of the evil-speaking of the Jew, because of the reviling of the Gentile, because we ought not to be partakers with demons, because the thing is a kind of idolatry.

Further, because he had said, “give no occasion of stumbling,” and he made them responsible for the injury done, both to the Gentiles and to the Jews; and the saying was grievous; see how he renders it acceptable and light, putting himself forward, and saying,

Ver. 33. “Even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.”

Chap. xi. ver. 1. “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

This is a rule of the most perfect Christianity, this is a landmark exactly laid down, this is the point that stands highest of all; viz. the seeking those things which are for the common profit: which also Paul himself declared, by adding, “even as I also am of Christ.” For nothing can so make a man an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors. Nay, though thou shouldest fast, though thou shouldest lie upon the ground, and even strangle thyself, but take no thought for thy neighbor; thou hast wrought nothing great, but still standest far from this Image, while so doing. However, in the case before us, even the very thing itself is naturally useful, viz; the abstaining from idol-sacrifices. But “I,” saith he, “have done many of those things which were unprofitable also: e.g., when I used circumcision, when I offered sacrifice; for these, were any one to examine them in themselves, rather destroy those that follow after them and cause them to fall from salvation: nevertheless, I submitted even to these on account of the advantage therefrom:  but here is no such thing. For in that case, except there accrue a certain benefit and except they be done for others’ sake, then the thing becomes injurious: but in this, though there be none made to stumble, even so ought one to abstain from the things forbidden.

But not only to things hurtful have I submitted, but also to things toilsome. For, “I robbed other Churches,” saith he, “taking wages of them; (2 Cor. xi. 8.) and when it was lawful to eat and not to work, I sought not this, but chose to perish of hunger rather than offend another.” This is why he says, “I please all men in all things.” “Though it be against the law, though it be laborious and hazardous, which is to be done, I endure all for the profit of others. So then, being above all in perfection, he became beneath all in condescension.”

[4.] For no virtuous action can be very exalted, when it doth not distribute its benefit to others also: as is shown by him who brought the one talent safe, and was cut in sunder because he had not made more of it. And thou then, brother, though thou shouldest remain without food, though thou shouldest sleep upon the ground, though thou shouldest eat ashes and be ever wailing, and do good to no other; thou wilt do no great work. For so also those great and noble persons who were in the beginning made this their chiefest care: examine accurately their life, and thou wilt see clearly that none of them ever looked to his own things, but each one to the things of his neighbor, whence also they shone the brighter. For so Moses (to mention him first) wrought many and great wonders and signs; but nothing made him so great as that blessed voice which he uttered unto God, saying, “If Thou wilt forgive their sin,” forgive; “but if not, blot me also out.” (Exod. xxxii. 32.) Such too was David: wherefore also he said, “I the shepherd have sinned, and I have done wickedly, but these, the flock, what have they done? Let Thine hand be upon me and upon my father’s house.” (2 Sam. xxiv. 17.) So likewise Abraham sought not his own profit, but the profit of many. Wherefore he both exposed himself to dangers and besought God for those who in no wise belonged to him.

Well: these indeed so became glorious. But as for those who sought their own, consider what harm too they received. The nephew, for instance, of the last mentioned, because he listened to the saying, “If thou wilt go to the right, I will go to the left;” (Gen. xiii. 9.) and accepting the choice, sought his own profit, did not even find his own: but this region was burned up, while that remained untouched. Jonah again, not seeking the profit of many, but his own, was in danger even of perishing: and while the city stood fast, he himself was tossed about and overwhelmed in the sea. But when he sought the profit of many, then he also found his own. So likewise Jacob among the flocks, not seeking his own gain, had exceeding riches for his portion. And Joseph also, seeking the profit of his brethren, found his own. At least, being sent by his father, (Gen. xxxvii. 14.) he said not, “What is this? Hast thou not heard that for a vision and certain dreams they even attempted to tear me in pieces, and I was held responsible for my dreams, and suffer punishment for being beloved of thee? What then will they not do when they get me in the midst of them?” He said none of these things, he thought not of them, but prefers the care of his brethren above all. Therefore he enjoyed also all the good things which followed, which both made him very brilliant and declared him glorious. Thus also Moses,—for nothing hinders that we should a second time make mention of him, and behold how he overlooked his own things and sought the things of others:—I say this Moses, being conversant in a king’s court, because he “counted the reproach of Christ (Heb. xi. 26.) greater riches than the treasures of Egypt;” and having cast them even all out of his hands, became a partaker of the afflictions of the Hebrews;—so far from being himself enslaved, he liberated them also from bondage.

Well: these surely are great things and worthy of an angelical life. But the conduct of Paul far exceeds this. For all the rest leaving their own blessings chose to be partakers in the afflictions of others: but Paul did a thing much greater. For it was not that he consented to be a partaker in others’ misfortunes, but he chose himself to be at all extremities that other men might enjoy blessings. Now it is not the same for one who lives in luxury to cast away his luxury and suffer adversity, as for one himself alone suffering adversity, to cause others to be in security and honor. For in the former case, though it be a great thing to exchange prosperity for affliction for your neighbor’s sake, nevertheless it brings some consolation to have partakers in the misfortune. But consenting to be himself alone in the distress that others may enjoy their good things,—this belongs to a much more energetic soul, and to Paul’s own spirit.

And not by this only, but by another and greater excellency doth he surpass all those before mentioned. That is, Abraham and all the rest exposed themselves to dangers in the present life, and all these were but asking for this kind of death once for all: but Paul prayed (Rom. ix. 3.) that he might fall from the glory of the world to come for the sake of others’ salvation.[5]

I may mention also a third point of superiority. And what is this? That some of those, though they interceded for the persons who conspired against them, nevertheless it was for those with whose guidance they had been entrusted: and the same thing happened as if one should stand up for a wild and lawless son, but still a son: whereas Paul wished to be accursed in the stead of those with whose guardianship he was not entrusted. For to the Gentiles was he sent. Dost thou perceive the greatness of his soul and the loftiness of his spirit, transcending the very heaven? This man do thou emulate: but if thou canst not, at least follow those who shone in the old covenant. For thus shalt thou find thine own profit, if thou seekest that of thy neighbor. Wherefore when thou feelest backward to care for thy brother, considering that no otherwise canst thou be saved, at least for thine own sake stand thou up for him and his interests.

[5.] And although what hath been said is sufficient to convince thee that no otherwise is it possible to secure our own benefit: yet if thou wouldst also assure thyself of it by the examples of common life, conceive a fire happening any where to be kindled in a house, and then some of the neighbors with a view to their own interest refusing to confront the danger but shutting themselves up and remaining at home, in fear lest some one find his way in and purloin some part of the household goods; how great punishment will they endure? Since the fire will come on and burn down likewise all that is theirs; and because they looked not to the profit of their neighbor, they lose even their own besides. For so God, willing to bind us all to each other, hath imposed upon things such a necessity, that in the profit of one neighbor that of the other is bound up; and the whole world is thus constituted. And therefore in a vessel too, if a storm come on, and the steersman, leaving the profit of the many, should seek his own only, he will quickly sink both himself and them. And of each several art too we may say that should it look to its own profit only, life could never stand, nor even the art itself which so seeketh its own. Therefore the husbandman sows not so much corn only as is sufficient for himself, since he would long ago have famished both himself and others; but seeks the profit of the many: and the soldier takes the field against dangers, not that he may save himself, but that he may also place his cities in security: and the merchant brings not home so much as may be sufficient for himself alone, but for many others also.

Now if any say, “each man doeth this, not looking to my interest, but his own, for he engages in all these things to obtain for himself money and glory and security, so that in seeking my profit he seeks his own:” this also do I say and long since wished to hear from you, and for this have I framed all my discourse; viz. to signify that thy neighbor then seeks his own profit, when he looks to thine. For since men would no otherwise make up their mind to seek the things of their neighbor, except they were reduced to this necessity; therefore God hath thus joined things together, and suffers them not to arrive at their own profit except they first travel through the profit of others.

Well then, this is natural to man, thus to follow after his neighbors’ advantage; but one ought to be persuaded not from this reason, but from what pleases God. For it is not possible to be saved, wanting this; but though thou shouldest exercise the highest perfection of the work and neglect others who are perishing, thou wilt gain no confidence towards God. Whence is this evident? From what the blessed Paul declared. “For if I bestow my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing,” (1 Cor. xiii. 3.) saith he. Seeth thou how much Paul requireth of us? And yet he that bestowed his goods to feed the poor, sought not his own good, but that of his neighbor. But this alone is not enough, he saith. For he would have it done with sincerity and much sympathy. For therefore also God made it a law that he might bring us into the bond of love. When therefore He demands so large a measure, and we do not render even that which is less, of what indulgence shall we be worthy?[6]

“And how,” saith one, “did God say to Lot by the Angels, ‘Escape for thy life?’” (Gen. xix. 17.) Say, when, and why. When the punishment was brought near, not when there was an opportunity of correction but when they were condemned and incurably diseased, and old and young had rushed into the same passions, and henceforth they must needs be burned up, and in that day when the thunderbolts were about to be launched. And besides, this was not spoken of vice and virtue but of the chastisement inflicted by God. For what was he to do, tell me? Sit still and await the punishment, and without at all profiting them, be burned up? Nay, this were the extremest folly.

For I do not affirm this, that one ought to bring chastisement on one’s self without discrimination and at random, apart from the will of God. But when a man tarries long in sin, then I bid thee push thyself forward and correct him: if thou wilt, for thy neighbor’s sake: but if not, at least for thine own profit. It is true, the first is the better course: but if thou reachest not yet unto that height, do it even for this. And let no man seek his own that he may find his own; and bearing in mind that neither voluntary poverty nor martyrdom, nor any other thing, can testify in our favor, unless we have the crowning virtue of love; let us preserve this beyond the rest, that through it we may also obtain all other, both present and promised blessings; at which may we all arrive through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ; Whom be the glory world without end. Amen.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. Savile conj. εἰδωλείοις, “in the idol Temples:” but εἰδώλοις is the actual reading.
  2. [The latest editions omit this clause as unsustained by ms. authority and needless to the argument. C.]
  3. ψοφοδεὴς.
  4. λινοπλὴξ.
  5. [But the Apostle did not say absolutely “I wish,” but “I could wish” or pray. The difference is great. C.]
  6. [This passage and others like it show, as Neander says, that while Chrysostom was enthusiastically alive to the ideal of holy temper and holy living in Monachism, yet he was too deeply penetrated by the essence of the Gospel not to be aware that this indeed should pervade all the relations of life. C.]