Chrysostom on Reading the Gospel

Introduction

This will be the last post in the series of excerpts of homilies of St. John. Here we have sections of the first two homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. Chrysostom first tells us how the earliest Christians had such grace that a written word was not needed. Next he presents the Gospels as something interesting and exciting, surpassing all the things of this world we believe to be so.

Chrysostom on Reading the Scriptures

It would indeed be proper for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be as though books to our souls; and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course. For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since to Noah, Abraham, and to his offspring, to Job, and to Moses also, He discoursed not by writings, rather He Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tablets, and the admonition which is given by these.

And this one may perceive was the case, not of the saints in the Old Testament only, but also of those in the New. For God did not give anything in writing to the Apostles, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit. For “He,” our Lord said, “shall bring all things to your remembrance.” And that you may learn that this was far better, hear what He said through the Prophet: “I will make a new covenant with them, putting My laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them,” and, “they shall be all taught of God.” And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority, said, that they had received a law “not in tablets of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” But since in process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word.

Reflect then how great an evil it is for us, who ought to live so purely as not even to need written words, but to yield up our hearts, as books, to the Spirit; now that we have lost that honor, and are come to have need of these, to fail again in duly employing even this second remedy. For if it be blameworthy to stand in need of written words, and not to have brought down on ourselves the grace of the Spirit; consider how heavy the charge of not choosing to profit even after this assistance. On the contrary if we treat what is written with neglect, as though it was cast forth without purpose, and at random, we shall bring down upon ourselves an increased punishment. So that no such effect may occur, let us give strict heed unto the things that are written.

Now we are on the point of entering into a city (if God permit) of gold, and more precious than any gold. Let us then mark her foundations, her gates consisting of sapphires and pearls; for indeed we have in Matthew an excellent guide. For through his gate we shall now enter in, and much diligence is required on our part. For should the Lord see any one not attentive, He casts him out of the city. Yes, for the city is most kingly and glorious; not as the cities with us, divided into a market-place, and the royal courts; for there all is the court of the King. Let us open therefore the gates of our mind, let us open our ears, and with great trembling, when on the point of setting foot on the threshold, let us worship the King that is therein.

For have one leading us with the eyes of the Spirit—Matthew the Publican, who offers to show us all; where the King sits and His host who stand by Him. He will show us where are the angels, where the archangels; and what place is set apart for the new citizens in this city, and what kind of way it is that leads there, and what is the manner of portion they have received, who first were citizens therein, and those next after them, and such as followed these. Let us not therefore with noise or tumult enter in, but with a mystical silence. For if in a city, a great silence is made, when the letter of the king is to be read, much more in this city must all be collected, and stand with soul and ear erect. For it is not the letters of any earthly master, but of the Lord of angels, which are on the point of being read.

So today we set foot within a holy vestibule. Let us consider, the Jews, when they were to approach “a mountain that burned, and fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest,”—or rather when they were not so much as to approach, but both to see and to hear these things from afar—were commanded for three days before to abstain from their wives, and to wash their garments, and were in trembling and fear, both themselves and Moses with them. Therefore, much more should we who are not to stand far from a smoking mountain, but to enter into Heaven itself, show forth a greater self-denial; not washing our garments, but wiping clean the robe of our soul, and ridding ourselves of all mixture with worldly things. For it is not blackness that we shall see, nor smoke, nor tempest, but the King Himself sitting on the throne of that unspeakable glory, and angels, and archangels standing by Him, and the tribes of the saints, with those never-ending myriads.
For such is the city of God, having “the Church of the first-born, the spirits of the just, the general assembly of the angels, the blood of sprinkling,” whereby we are all knit into one. Heaven has received the things of earth, and earth the things of Heaven, and that peace has come which was of old longed for both by angels and by saints. Herein the trophy of the cross stands glorious, and conspicuous, the spoils won by Christ, the first-fruits of our inheritance, the booty of our King; all this we shall see in the Gospels. If you follow along with befitting quietness, we shall be able to lead you about everywhere, and to show where death is set forth crucified, and where sin is suspended, and where are the many and wondrous offerings from this war, from this battle. You shall likewise see the tyrant here bound, and the multitude of his minions led captive. You will see his hiding places, and the dens of his robbers, broken up now, and laid open.
But do not be weary, beloved, for if anyone was describing a visible war, and trophies, and victories, you would feel no satiety at all; no, you would not prefer either to eat or drink to such an account. But if that kind of narrative is welcome, how much more this. For consider what a thing it is to hear, how on the one side God from Heaven, arising “out of the royal thrones, descended” (Wis. 18.15) unto the earth, and even unto hell itself, and stood in the battle array; and how the devil on the other hand set himself in array against Him; or rather not against God unveiled, but God hidden in man’s nature. And what is marvelous, is that you will see death destroyed by death, and curse extinguished by curse, and the dominion of the devil put down by those very things whereby he did prevail. Let us therefore rouse ourselves thoroughly, and let us not sleep, for lo, I see the gates opening to us; but let us enter in with all seemly order, and with trembling, step straightway within the vestibule itself. But what is this vestibule? “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.”

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