Chrysostom on Depression


Why then – with regard to other griefs – are you cast down, O man? Since, if for sins which is the only place where grief is beneficial excess works much mischief, much more so does it for all other things. Why do you grieve? Have you lost money? Well, think of those who are not even filled with bread, and you shall indeed speedily obtain consolation. And in each of the things that are grievous to you, do not mourn the things that have happened; instead, for the disasters that have not happened, give thanks. Have you had money and lost it? Do not weep for the loss, but give thanks for the time when you enjoyed it. Say like Job, “Have we received good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) And together with that, use this argument also: even if you did lose your money and yet your body is still sound, give thanks that in spite of your poverty at least your body is not maimed.

But has your body also endured some outrage? Even this is not the bottom of human calamities, but in the middle of the cask you are—so-to-speak—carried along. For many, along with poverty and maiming, both wrestle with a demon and wander in deserts. Again, others endure other things more grievous than these. But may it never be our lot to suffer all that it is possible for one to bear. Considering these things then, let us bear in mind them that suffer worse, and not be vexed at any of these things. However, only when thou sin, then sigh, then weep. In that case I do not forbid you, rather I enjoin you; although even then do so with moderation, remembering that there is returning and reconciliation.

But do you still grieve, why? Do you see others in luxury and yourself in poverty; and another in goodly robes, and in preeminence? Do not look, however, at these things alone, but also on the miseries that arise out of them. And in your poverty too, consider not simply the beggary, but also the pleasure arising therefrom. For wealth has indeed a cheerful mask, but its inward parts are full of gloom; and yet poverty has the reverse. And if you would unfold each man’s conscience, in the soul of the poor you will see great security and freedom; but in that of the rich, confusions, disorders, tempests. And if you grieve, seeing one who is rich, know that he too is vexed even more than you when he beholds one richer than himself. And as you fear him, even so does he another, thus he has no advantage over thee in this. Are you vexed to see him in a governing office, because you are simply a citizen and one of the governed? Recollect then the day of his ceasing to hold office; and even before that day what his office entails: the tumults, the perils, the fatigues, the flatteries, the sleepless nights, and many other miseries.

These things we say to those who have no mind for high morality: since if you understood this, there are other and greater things whereby we may comfort you. But for the present we must use the coarser topics to convince you. Therefore when you see one that is rich, think of one that is richer than he, and you will then see him in the same condition as yourself. And after him, look also on him that is poorer than thyself, and consider how many have gone to bed hungry, and have lost their patrimony, and live in a dungeon, and pray for death every day. For neither doth poverty breed sadness, nor wealth pleasure, but our own thoughts are accustomed to produce both the one and the other in us. And consider, beginning from beneath: the scavenger grieves and is vexed that he cannot be rid of his business which is so wretched and esteemed so disgraceful. But if you rid him of this, and cause him – with security – to have plenty of the necessaries of life, he will grieve again that he hath not more than he wants. And if thou grant him more, he will wish to double them again, and will therefore vex himself no less than before. And if you will give him double or triple, he will be out of heart again because he hath no part in the state. If you provide him with this also, he will count himself wretched because he is not one of the highest officers of state. And when he has obtained this honor, he will mourn that he is not a ruler; and when he shall be ruler, that it is not of a whole nation. And when of a whole nation, that it is not of many nations; and when of many nations, then that he is not king. And if such were made a king, then he will grieve that he is not so alone; and if alone, that he is not also of barbarous nations; and if of barbarous nations, that he is not even of the whole world. And if of the whole world, why not likewise of another world? And so his course of thought going on without end does not allow him ever to be pleased. Do you see how even if from being mean and poor you would make a man a king, you do not remove his dejection, without first correcting his turn of thought, enamored as it is of having more?

Come, let me also show you the contrary, that even if from a higher station you should bring down to a lower one a man who has prudence, you wilt not cast him into dejection and grief. And if you will, let us descend the same ladder, and bring down the governor from his throne and in supposition deprive him of that dignity. I say that he will not on this account vex himself, if he should choose to bear in mind the things of which I have spoken. He will not consider the things of which he hath been deprived, but rather that which he still has, and the glory arising from his office. But if thou take away this also, he will consider those who are in private stations and have never ascended to such a position, and for consolation his riches will suffice him. And if you also cast him out again from this, he will look to them that have a moderate estate. And if you would take away even moderate wealth, and allow him to partake only of necessary food, he may think upon those who do not even have this, but wrestle with incessant hunger and live in prison. And even if thou should bring him into that prison-house, when he reflects on them that lie under incurable diseases and irremediable pains, even there he will see himself to be in much better circumstances.

And just as the scavenger mentioned before will not reap any cheerfulness even on being made a king, so neither will the prudent man ever vex himself even if he becomes a prisoner. It is not then wealth that is the foundation of pleasure, nor poverty of sadness. Rather it is our own judgment, and the fact, that the eyes of our mind are not pure; nor are they fixed on any one place and abide there, but without limit they flutter abroad. And just as healthy bodies, if they are nourished with bread alone, are in good and vigorous condition, while those that are sickly, even if they enjoy a plentiful and varied diet, become so much the weaker; so also it is accustomed to happen in regard to the soul. The mean spirited, not even in a diadem and unspeakable honors can be happy; but the self-denying, even in bonds and fetters and poverty, will enjoy a pure pleasure.

Bearing these things in mind then, let us ever look to them that are beneath us. There is to be found, I grant, another consolation, one of a high strain in morality, and mounting above the grossness of the multitude. What is this? That wealth is nothing, poverty is nothing, disgrace is nothing, honor is nothing; but for a brief time and only in words do they differ from each other. And along with this there is another soothing topic even greater than it: the consideration of the things to come, both evil and good; the things which are really evil and really good, and being comforted by them. But since many, as I said, stand aloof from these doctrines; therefore were we compelled to dwell on others, so that in course we might lead them on to receive that which has been said before.

Taking all these things into account, let us by every means frame ourselves aright, and we shall never grieve at these unexpected things. For just as if we should see men rich in a picture, we would not say they were to be envied, likewise on seeing poor men so depicted we should [not?] call them wretched and pitiable. Yet those paintings are surely will outlast those whom we consider wealthy; since one abides rich in the painting longer than in the nature of the things themselves. For the one often lasts, appearing such, even to a hundred years; but the other sometimes – not having had so much as a fraction of this – has been suddenly stripped of all.

Meditating then on all these things, let us from all quarters build up cheerfulness as a defense against our irrational sorrow, so that in this way we may both pass the present life with pleasure, and obtain the good things to come, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father, with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and honor, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.