Chrysostom on Envy
Here are presented excerpts from two of St. John’s homilies which focus upon the Apostle Paul’s words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15), and concentrate on the subject of the passion of envy. This will be split into two posts.
Paul instructs us saying, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; and weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) He puts these two together since if those who weep with those who weep seem to share in the grief of those in sorrow, and do greatly gratify them, and remove the excess of their woe, much more do they also that rejoice with those who rejoice, make their pleasure greater. So if you see your brother in good esteem, do not say, “the esteem is his, why should I rejoice.” These are not the words of a brother, but of an enemy, repel such devilish thoughts. If you are right minded, the joy will not be his only but yours also. You even have the power of increasing it, if you are not downcast, but pleased, if you are cheerful, joyous. And that it is so, is evident from this: the envious envy not only those who are in good esteem, but also those who rejoice at their good esteem, so conscious are they that these are sharers of that good esteem. And also that they even try to rob them of their cause of rejoicing by belittling the achievements of the man held in honor. And these are those who rejoice the most in it. For the trophy bearer himself even blushes when praised exceedingly; but these with great pleasure pride themselves upon it. Do you not see how in the case of the athlete, that the one is crowned and the other not; but the grief and joy is among their fans, these are they that rejoice exceedingly, leaping in the aisles, all but tearing down the stadium.
See how beneficial a thing is not envying. The toil is another’s, the pleasure is yours. Another wears the crown and you leap. You are joyous. For tell me, in the case of the athlete, seeing it is another that has been victorious, why does the spectator leap? Because he knows well that what has been done is common. If there is a unity of spirit of spectators in the stadium where the athletes contest; if this simple unity in worldly games destroys all their existing difference – then what excuse shall we have at that last day, who have been united in the victory over death by Christ and have truly become members of one another, if we envy a brother or sister when we see them gain a victory over the devil or edify the Church, and the unbelievers are revealed to be more virtuous than us? For their common love of an athlete dissolves envy and is proved stronger than our love for Christ. But if in things without to make another’s good one’s own, is so great a good, then much more is it in the case of a victory over the devil; over us he breathes more furiously, evidently because we are more pleased. Wicked as he is and bitter, he still knows well that this pleasure is great. Would you like to tread him underfoot? Be glad and rejoice. Would you like to gladden him? Be downcast. The pain he has from your brother’s victory, you soothe by your sadness; you stand with him severed from your brother, you work greater mischief than he does. For it is not the same for one that is an enemy to do the deeds of an enemy, as for a friend to stand with an enemy; such a man is more detestable than an enemy. If your brother has gained a good reputation either by speaking or by brilliant or successful achievements then become a sharer in his reputation, show that you are members of one another.
“And how?” one may say, “for the reputation is not mine.” Never speak so. Compress your lips. Do not say or think so; but the very opposite, say, “He is one of my members, the glory passes on to the body.” “How is it,” one may say, “that those without are not so disposed concerning us?” It is your fault; when they see you do not consider his pleasure yours also, then neither do they. But if they saw you appropriating it, they would not dare to do so, but do you wish to become equally illustrious with him? You have not gained reputation by speaking; but by sharing in his joy you have gained greater renown than he. For love is a great thing, and the sum of all, you have received the crown this gives; he, that for oratory, you, that for exceeding love; he displayed force of words, but you by deeds have cast down envy, and have trodden underfoot the evil eye. So actually you should rather be the one crowned, your contest is more brilliant; you have not only trodden underfoot envy, but have done something greater yet. He has one crown only, but you two, and those both brighter than his one. What are these? One, that you have won against envy, another that you are encircled by love. For the sharing in his joy is the proof not only of our being free from envy, but also of being rooted in love.
He is often grievously troubled by some human passion, vainglory for instance; but you are free from every passion, for it is not through vainglory that you rejoice at another’s good. Tell me, has he edified the Church? Has he attracted more into the congregation? Praise him, again you have a twofold crown; you have struck down envy and have en-wreathed yourself with love. Yes, I implore and beseech you. Do you care to hear of a third crown also? Men here below applaud him, but you the angels above. For it is not the same thing to make a display of eloquence and to rule the passions. His praise is for a season, yours forever, his from men, yours from God; this man is crowned openly; but you are crowned in secret where your Father sees. If it was possible to peel off the body and to gaze upon the soul of each, I would have shown you that this is more dignified than the other, more resplendent.
Let us tread underfoot every impulse of envy, we shall benefit ourselves, beloved we shall en-wreathe ourselves with a crown. He that envies another fights against God, not with the one he envies. For when on seeing his brother given grace, his is grieved, and wishes the Church pulled down, he fights not against his brother but God. For tell me, if a fashion designer was to adorn a beauty queen and by this adorning and gracing her, gain for himself renown; and another person should wish her to be ill attired, and him to be unable to adorn her; against whom would he be plotting mischief? Against the designer or against the beauty queen? Likewise you who envy fight against the Church, you war with God. For, since with the good repute of your brother is interwoven also the Church’s profit, it follows that if the one is undone, the other shall be undone also. Moreover you judge God for having considered your brother worthy of His grace and to receive
honor. So therefore, you are doing a deed of Satan since you plot mischief against the body of Christ. Are you grieved with this man…wrongly when he has in no way wronged you; yes, but rather you are grieved with Christ. How has He wronged you that you will not allow His body to be decked with beauty? That you cannot stand to see His bride adorned?
Consider, I beseech you, the punishment, how grievously. You gladden your enemies and also the man in good esteem, who through your envy you desire to grieve, you rather gladden; by your envy you show that he is in good esteem, for otherwise you would not have envied him. And you show that you are in torment. I am ashamed indeed to exhort you from such motives, but since our weakness is so great, let us be instructed even from these, and free ourselves from this destructive passion. Do you lament because he is in good esteem? Then why increase that esteem by envying? Do you desire to punish him? Why then do you show that you are grieved? Why punish yourself before him, whom you wish not to have well-esteemed? And in this again we punish ourselves, if we have discovered that he knows it. Although perhaps he is not pleased, but we thinking him to be so are grieved on that account. And any others also who see your grief will mock and laugh at you and only augment your dejection. Cease then your envying. Why inflict such wounds upon yourself?….to be continued