- The Christmas of the Precursor
In the Gospel of Sunday, December 23rd we learn about the question that Elizabeth asked to Mary: “And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk 1,43).” While the mother of Jesus the Savior was answering to the greeting of the mother of John the Precursor, John exultant in his mother’s womb greeted Jesus. Neither of them had yet been born, but they were both already fountains of joy. Jesus was in the womb of Mary, who was happy to carry this presence. John was in the womb of Elizabeth, who was happy not to be infertile anymore. The words of the prophet Jeremiah apply very well to John: “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)”
From the beginning of Jesus’ life, John plays the role of the precursor. We must consider that John, the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah both born into families of priests, is not just the last of the prophets. He also represents the priesthood of the Old Covenant and, as a result, prepares mankind to the spiritual cult of the New Covenant (Benedict XVI The infancy of Jesus pages 27-28). The Christmas of the Precursor invites us to be a sign of grace and salvation to each other, indicating Christ as the Eternal in time and the innocent Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
It is important to underline that Elisabeth and Mary are happy women because they have become mothers of saints. The sterile one in her old age has given birth to John the Baptist; the Virgin has given birth to Jesus whose name means “God saves”. Mary is blessed among all women and all women are blessed in her. With this blessing, all women can be mothers of saints. This applies to the women who are consecrated in marriage as well as to those who take the vow of chastity.
“Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning.
Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way, “so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,” bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value. It is for this reason that the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God.
In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God’s plan.
Christian couples, therefore, have the right to expect from celibate persons a good example and a witness of fidelity to their vocation until death. Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their fidelity, even in the trials that may occur, should strengthen the fidelity of married couples”. (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio #16)
- The Christmas of the Savior
In the night between the 24th and the 25th of December, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We are very happy about it not only because it is the feast of the Son of Mary, but also because it is the feast of us, children of Mary who can meet the Son of God, our Brother. If a true encounter has the possibility to change a life, the one with God indeed changes a life in making it anew.
Let’ look at the example of the shepherds.
In the night when Jesus was born, the angel appeared to the shepherds of Bethlehem and told to them: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people. For, this day, is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.” (Lk2:10-12). When the shepherds arrived at the manger, they knelt down and adored the mystery of God’s Love made flesh. These poor men stayed silent in front of God and put their hopes in Him. They had faith in God, looked for joy in God their savior, and the desires of their hearts were satisfied. (Ps 36 (37): 2-3.
With the songs and the words of the angel and with the bright light in the sky, God not only invites the shepherds but also draws them to the manger where His Son Jesus was born. That poor people came and saw something wonderful: a baby who irradiated Eternal Truth and Beauty. “When truth expresses itself then it becomes love. When loves blooms then it becomes beauty”. (Pavel Florenskij)
We should live in front of God like the shepherds. In the holy night the sky was rejoicing but when the shepherds saw Jesus, the Son of God, they saw a baby laid down in a manger in a cave. “All the sky was rejoicing, but it was exulting for the humility without limits of a God who has renounced to all to give all to those He loved. I think that we should remain in front of the baby to learn how to live and how to love. May God give us true humility, may He give us love for humility, may the Lord let us understand that there is not any other way to go to Him then renouncing to all so that to us only He remains (Divo Barsotti).” He is the Word of Life, the Word that becomes flesh, the Word that becomes a beauty to contemplate and to live.
The Christmas of Christ, born in poverty, is not a story for which to get emotional. It is the announcement of an unsettling but joyful presence. This “poverty” of God is unsettling and it is also unsettling the fact that some poor shepherds and some rich Magi went to the cave and knelt in front of a poor baby in a manger. What has pushed them to abandon the calm of the fold or of the palace to go to Bethlehem? Was it their human nature? I don’t think so. It was a grace that gave them the bravery to start the journey which was indicated to the shepherds by the light of the angels and to the Magi by the comet.
- Why did Jesus choose Bethlehem, not Nazareth or Jerusalem or Rome?
Why, as a place to be born and to manifest the goodness of God and His love for mankind (Tt 3,4), did Jesus not only chose a small town but also a manger? The answer to the second question is simple. The gospel says; “because there was no place for them (Mary and Joseph) in a hotel” I don’t think that I would be considered theologically wrong if I write that Jesus is still looking for a place in our hearts and in those of all the humans. Let’s not forget that God proposes and not imposes Himself. Therefore, He discloses Himself in humility, in poverty, in the simplicity of life. He came at night because He is the light which brightens the darkness of our heart.
To answer the question “why Bethlehem?” I need the help from the Prophet Micah and from Saint Thomas of Aquinas.
In the first reading of the IV Sunday of Advent, the prophet Micah announces that the “liberator” of Israel will come from Bethlehem, but that “his origin is from of old,
from ancient times”. After God “will hand them in the power of another”, not having abandoned His people, He will come to set them free. This will happen when “she who is to give birth, has borne.” Bethlehem, a small and unknown town in Judea, is the fertile ground where the divine action sprouts and grows. The same sign of littleness, so dear to the Son of God, is transferred to his mother whose humility he admired. Thanks to her humility, Mary is happy to be at God’s service.
In the Summa Teologica Saint Thomas of Aquinas answers:
“Christ willed to be born in Bethlehem for two reasons. First because “He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” as it is written (Romans 1:3);to whom also was a special promise made concerning Christ; according to 2 Samuel 23:1:” The man to whom it was appointed concerning the Christ of the God of Jacob” “Therefore He willed to be born at Bethlehem, where David was born, in order that by the very birthplace the promise made to David might be shown to be fulfilled. The Evangelist points out by saying:” Because He was one of the house and of the family of David” Secondly because as Gregory says:” Bethlehem is interpreted ‘the house of bread’. It is Christ Himself who said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.’” (Saint Thomas of Aquinas “Summa Teologica” III. q35 a.7
The great Dominican saint continues:
“As David was born in Bethlehem, so also did he choose Jerusalem to set up his throne there and to build there the Temple of God, so that Jerusalem was at eth same time a royal and a priestly city. Now, Christ’ priesthood and kingdom were” consummated” principally in His Passion. Therefore, it was becoming that He should choose Bethlehem for His Birthplace and Jerusalem for the scene of His Passion. At the same time, too, He put to silence the vain boasting of man who takes pride in been born in great cities, where also they desire a specially to receive honor. Christ, on the contrary, willed to be born in a mean city and to suffer reproach in a great city.
Christ wished to flower by His holy life, not in His carnal birth. Therefore, He wished to be fostered and brought up at Nazareth. But He wished to be born at Bethlehem away from home; because, as Gregory says, “through the human nature which He had taken, He was born, as it were, in a foreign place” foreign not to His power but to His Nature. And, again, as Bede says on Luke 2:7:” In order that He who found no room at the inn might prepare many mansions for us in His Father’s house.
According to a sermon in the council of Ephesus, “if He had chosen the great city of Rome, the change in the world would be ascribed to the influence of her citizens. If He had been the son of the Emperor, His benefits would have been attributed to the latter’s power. But we might acknowledge the work of God in the transformation of the whole earth He chose a poor mother and a birthplace poorer still.”
But the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong” (I Corinthians, 1:27). And therefore, in order the more to show His power, He set up the head of His Church in Rome itself, which was the head of the world, in sign of His complete victory, in order that from that city the faith might spread throughout the world” according to Isaiah 26:5-6: “The high city He shall lay low…the feet of the poor” (i.e. the poor of Christ, i.e. the poor of the apostles Peter and Paul).”
He comes. With the One who comes also joy comes. If you want him, He is near. Even if you do not want Him, He is near. He speaks to you even if you don’t speak to Him. If you don’t love Him, He loves you more. If you are lost, He searches for you. If you don’t know how to walk, He carries and saves you. For this He was born, to live with us and for us a human adventure and to give us a full life.
My advice to you for these days is a prayer from a Hymn (VII and VIII verses) by Saint Ephraim the Syrian, one of the greatest Christian authors of the IV century (306-373). He was a good friend of Saint Ambrose of Milan. It is a prayer that we should read and meditate. Let the considerations of a great Christian of many centuries ago rise in your hearts the wonder, the joy and the astonishment of a God who, in order to come to comfort us and to open our hearts to hope, did what He did in and through Mary.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Your mother is a source of wonder:
the Lord entered in her and became a servant
the One who is the Word entered in Her and became silence
the thunder that shakes the forest entered in Her and was born in the silence of the night
the Shepherd of everyone entered in Her and became the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Your Mother has disrupted the order of things:
the Creator of all has entered in her property but came out poor
the Most High has entered in Her but came out humble.
the Splendor entered in Her but came out as a weak light.
the Almighty has entered in Her but took upon himself uncertainty and fear
the One who feeds every thing has entered in Her but has experienced hunger
He, who quenches the thirsty, has entered in Her and has suffered thirst
Here, from Her, naked is born the One who clothes every thing.
John Chrysostom (344/354 –407)
On Jn 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”
[1.] When children are just brought to their learning, their teachers do not give them many tasks in succession, nor do they set them once for all, but they often repeat to them the same short ones, so that what is said may be easily implanted in their minds, and they may not be vexed at the first onset with the quantity, and with finding it hard to remember, and become less active in picking up what is given them, a kind of sluggishness arising from the difficulty. And I, who wish to effect the same with you, and to render your labor easy, take by little and little the food which lies on this Divine table, and instill it into your souls. On this account I shall handle again the same words, not so as to say again the same things, but to set before you only what yet remains. Come, then, let us again apply our discourse to the introduction.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” Why, when all the other Evangelists had begun with the Dispensation1 ; (for Matthew says, “The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David”; and Lc too relates to us in the beginning of his Gospel the events relating to Mary; and in like manner Mc dwells on the same narratives, from that point detailing to us the history of the Baptist;) why, when they began with these matters, did Jn briefly and in a later place hint at them, saying, “the Word was made flesh” (Jn 1,14).; and, passing by everything else, His conception, His birth, His bringing up, His growth, at once discourse to us concerning His Eternal Generation?
I will now tell you what the reason for this is. Because the other Evangelists had dwelt most on the accounts of His coming in the flesh, there was fear lest some, being of groveling minds, might for this reason rest in these doctrines alone, as indeed was the case with Paul of Samosata. In order, therefore, to lead away from this fondness for earth those who were like to fall into it, and to draw them up towards heaven, with good reason he commences his narrative from above, and from the eternal subsistence. For while Matthew enters upon his relation from Herod the king, Lc from Tiberius Caesar, Mark from the Baptism of John, this Apostle, leaving alone all these things, ascends beyond all time or age.2 Thither darting forward the imagination of his hearers to the “Was in the Beginning,” not allowing it to stay at any point, nor setting any limit, as they did in Herod, and Tiberius, and John.
And what we may mention besides as especially deserving our admiration is, that John, though he gave himself up to the higher doctrine,3 yet did not neglect the Dispensation; nor were the others, though intent upon the relation of this, silent as to the subsistence before the ages. With good cause; for One Spirit It was that moved the souls of all, and therefore they have shown great unanimity in their narrative. But thou, beloved, when thou hast heard of “The Word,” do not endure those who say, that He is a work; nor those even who think, that He is simply a word. For many are the words of God which angels execute, but of those words none is God; they all are prophecies or commands, (for in Scripture it is usual to call the laws of God His commands, and prophecies, words; wherefore in speaking of the angels, he says, “Mighty in strength, fulfilling His word”) (Ps 103,20), but this Word is a Being with subsistence,4 proceeding5 without affection6 from the Father Himself. For this, as I before said, he has shown by the term “Word.” As therefore the expression, “In the beginning was the Word,” shows His Eternity, so “was in the beginning with God,” has declared to us His Co-eternity. For that you may not, when you hear “In the beginning was the Word,” suppose Him to be Eternal, and yet imagine the life of the Father to differ from His by some interval and longer duration, and so assign a beginning to the Only-Begotten, he adds, “was in the beginning with God”; so eternally even as the Father Himself, for the Father was never without the Word, but He was always God with God, yet Each in His proper Person.7
How then, one says, does Jn assert, that He was in the world if He was with God? Because He was both8 with God and in the world also. For neither Father nor Son are limited in any way. Since, if “there is no end of His greatness” (Ps 145,3), and if “of His wisdom, there is no number” (Ps 147,5), it is clear that there cannot be any beginning in time9 to His Essence. Thou hast heard, that “In the beginning, God made the heaven and the earth” (Gn 1,1); what dost thou understand from this “beginning”? clearly, that they were created before all visible things. So, respecting the Only-Begotten, when you hear that He was “in the beginning,” conceive of him as before all intelligible things, 10 and before the ages.
But if anyone says, “How can it be that He is a Son, and yet not younger than the Father? since that which proceeds from something else needs must be later than that from which it proceeds”; we will say that, properly speaking, these are human reasonings; that he who questions on this matter will question on others yet more improper; 11 and that to such we ought not even to give ear. For our speech is now concerning God, not concerning the nature of men, which is subject to the sequence and necessary conclusions of these reasonings. Still, for the assurance of the weaker sort, we will speak even to these points.
[2.] Tell me, then, does the radiance of the sun proceed from the substance 12 itself of the sun, or from some other source? Anyone not deprived of his very senses needs must confess, that it proceeds from the substance itself. Yet, although the radiance proceeds from the sun itself, we cannot say that it is later in point of time than the substance of that body since the sun has never appeared without its rays. Now if in the case of these visible and sensible bodies there has been shown to be something which proceeds from something else, and yet is not after that from whence it proceeds; why are you incredulous in the case of the invisible and ineffable Nature? This same thing there takes place, but in a manner suitable to That Substance 13 For it is for this reason that Paul too calls Him “Brightness” (He 1,3); setting forth thereby His being from Him and His Co-eternity. Again, tell me, were not all the ages, and every interval 14 created by Him? Any man not deprived of his senses must necessarily confess this. There is no interval 15 therefore between the Son and the Father; and if there be none, then He is not after, but Co-eternal with Him. For “before” and “after” are notions implying time, since, without age or time, no man could possibly imagine these words; but God is above times and ages.
But if in any case, you say that you have found a beginning to the Son, see whether by the same reason and argument you are not compelled to reduce the Father also to a beginning, earlier indeed, but still a beginning. For when you have assigned to the Son a limit and beginning of existence, do you not proceed upwards from that point, and say, that the Father was before it? Clearly, you do. Tell me then, what is the extent of the Father’s prior subsistence? For whether you say that the interval is little, or whether you say it is great, you equally have brought the Father to a beginning. For it is clear, that it is by measuring the space that you say whether it is little or great; yet it would not be possible to measure it, unless there were a beginning on either side; so that as far as you are concerned you have given the Father a beginning, and henceforth, according to your argument, not even the Father will be without beginning. See you that the word spoken by the Saviour is true, and the saying everywhere discovers its force? And what is that word? It is “He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father.” (Jn 5,23).
And I know indeed that what now has been said cannot by many be comprehended, and therefore it is that in many places we avoid 16 agitating questions of human reasonings, because the rest of the people cannot follow such arguments, and if they could, still they have nothing firm or sure in them. “For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain.” (Sg 9,14). Still, I should like to ask our objectors, what means that which is said by the Prophet, “Before Me, there was no God formed, nor is there any after Me”? (Is 43,10). For if the Son is younger than the Father, how, says He, “Nor is there 17 any after me”? Will you take away the being of the Only-Begotten Himself? You either must dare this, or admit one Godhead with distinct Persons of the Father and Son.
Finally, how could the expression, “All things were made by Him,” be true? For if there is an age older than He, how can that 18 which was before Him have been made by Him? See ye to what daring the argument has carried them, when once the truth has been unsettled? Why did not the Evangelist say, that He was made from things that were not, as Paul declares of all things, when he says, “Who calleth those things which be not as though they were”; but says, “Was in the beginning”? (Rm 4,17). This is contrary to that; and with good reason. For God neither is made, 19 nor has anything older; these are words of the Greeks. 20 Tell me this too: Would you not say, that the Creator beyond all comparison excels His works? Yet since that which is from things that were not is similar to them, where is the superiority not admitting of comparison? And what mean the expressions, “I am the first and I am the last” (Is 44,6); and, “before Me was no other God formed”? (Is 43,10). For if the Son be not of the same Essence, there is another God; and if He be not Co-eternal, He is after Him; and if He did not proceed from His Essence, clear it is that He was made. But if they assert, that these things were said to distinguish Him from idols, why do they not allow that it is to distinguish Him from idols that he says, “the Only True God”? (Jn 17,3). Besides, if this was said to distinguish Him from idols, how would you interpret the whole sentence? “After Me,” He says, “is no other God.” In saying this, He does not exclude the Son, but that “After Me there is no idol God,” not that “there is no Son.” Allowed, says he; what then? and the expression, “Before Me was no other God formed,” will you so understand, as that no idol God indeed was formed before Him, but yet a Son was formed before Him? What evil spirit would assert this? I do not suppose that even Satan himself would do so.
Moreover, if He be not Co-eternal with the Father, how can you say that His Life is infinite? For if it have a beginning from before, 21 although it be endless, yet it is not infinite; for the infinite must be infinite in both directions. As Paul also declared, when he said, “Having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (He 7,3); by this expression showing that He is both without beginning and without end. For as the one has no limit, so neither has the other. In one direction there is no end, in the other no beginning.
[3.] And how again, since He is “Life,” was there ever when He was not? For all must allow, that Life both is always, and is without beginning and without end, if It be indeed Life,as indeed It is. For if there be when It is not,how can It be the life of others, when It even Itself is not?
“How then,” says one, “does Jn lay down a beginning by saying, ‘In the beginning was’?” Tell me, have you attended to the “In the beginning,” and to the “was,” and do you not understand the expression, “the Word was”? What! when the Prophet says, “From everlasting 22 and to everlasting Thou art” (Ps 90,2), does he say this to assign Him limits? No, but to declare His Eternity. Consider now that the case is the same in this place. He did not use the expression as assigning limits, since he did not say, “had a beginning,” but “was in the beginning”; by the word “was” carrying thee forward to the idea that the Son is without beginning. “Yet observe,” says he, “the Father is named with the addition of the article, but the Son without it.” What then, when the Apostle says, “The Great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tt 2,13); and again, “Who is above all, God”? (Rm 9,5). It is true that here he has mentioned the Son, without the article; but he does the same with the Father also, at least in his Epistle to the Philippians (Ph 2,6), he says, “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God”; and again to the Romans, “Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rm 1,7). Besides, it was superfluous for it to be attached in that place, when close 23 above it was continually attached to “the Word.” For as in speaking concerning the Father, he says, “God is a Spirit” (Jn 4,24), and we do not, because the article is not joined to “Spirit,” yet deny the Spiritual Nature of God; so here, although the article is not annexed to the Son, the Son is not on that account a less God. Why so? Because in saying “God,” and again “God,” he does not reveal to us any difference in this Godhead, but the contrary; for having before said, “and the Word was God”; that no one might suppose the Godhead of the Son to be inferior, he immediately adds the characteristics of genuine Godhead, including Eternity, (for “He was,” says he, “in the beginning with God,”) and attributing to Him the office of Creator. For “by Him were all things made, and without Him was not anything made that was made”; which His Father also everywhere by the Prophets declares to be especially characteristic of His own Essence. And the Prophets are continually busy on this kind of demonstration, not only of itself, but when they contend against the honor shown to idols; “Let the gods perish,” says one “who have not made heaven and earth” (Jr 10,11): and again, “I have stretched out the heaven with My hand” (Is 44,24); and it is as declaring it to be indicative of Divinity, that He everywhere puts it. And the Evangelist himself was not satisfied with these words, but calls Him “Life” too and “Light.” If now He was ever with the Father, if He Himself created all things, if He brought all things into existence, and keeps together 24 all things, (for, this he meant by “Life,”) if He enlightens all things, who so senseless as to say, that the Evangelist desired to teach an inferiority of Divinity by those very expressions, by which, rather than by any others, it is possible to express its equality and not differing? Let us not then confound the creation with the Creator, lest we too hear it said of us, that “they served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rm 1,25); for although it be asserted that this is said of the heavens, still in speaking of the heavens he positively says, that we must not serve 25 the creature, for it is a heathenish 26 thing.
[4.] Let us therefore not lay ourselves under this curse. For this the Son of God came, that He might rid us from this service; for this He took the form of a slave, that He might free us from this slavery; for this He was spit upon, for this He was buffeted, for this He endured the shameful death. Let us not, I entreat you, make all these things of none effect, let us not go back to our former unrighteousness, or rather to unrighteousness much more grievous; for to serve the creature is not the same thing as to bring down the Creator, as far at least as in us lies, to the meanness of the creature. For He continues being such as He is; as says the Psalmist, “Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.” (Ps 102,27). Let us then glorify Him as we have received from our fathers, let us glorify Him both by our faith and by our works; for sound doctrines avail us nothing to salvation, if our life is corrupt. Let us then order it according to what is well-pleasing to God, setting ourselves far from all filthiness, unrighteousness, and covetousness, as strangers and foreigners and aliens to the things here on earth. If any have much wealth and possessions, let him so use them as one who is a sojourner, and who, whether he will or not, shall shortly pass from them. If one be injured by another, let him not be angry forever, nay rather not even for a time. For the Apostle has not allowed us more than a single day for the venting of anger.
“Let not,” says he, “the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ep 4,26); and with reason; for it is matter for contentment that even in so short a time nothing unpleasant take place; but if night also overtake us, what has happened becomes more grievous, because the fire of our wrath is increased ten thousand times by memory, and we at our leisure enquire into it more bitterly. Before therefore we obtain this pernicious leisure and kindle a hotter fire, he bids us arrest beforehand and quench the mischief. For the passion of wrath is fierce, fiercer than any flame; and so we need much haste to prevent the flame, and not allow it to blaze up high, for so this disease becomes a cause of many evils. It has overturned whole Houses, it has dissolved old companionships, and has worked tragedies not to be remedied in a short moment of time. “For,” saith one, “the sway of his fury shall be his destruction.” (Si 1,22). Let us not then leave such a wild beast unbridled, but put upon him a muzzle in all ways strong, the fear of the judgment to come. Whenever a friend grieves thee, or one of thine own family exasperates thee, think of the sins thou hast committed against God, and that by kindness towards him thou makest that judgment more lenient to thyself, (“Forgive,” saith He, “and ye shall be forgiven”) (Lc 6,37), and thy passion shall quickly skulk away. 27
And besides, consider this, whether there has been a time when thou wert being carried away into ferocity, and didst control thyself, and another time when thou hast been dragged along by the passion. Compare the two seasons, and thou shalt gain thence great improvement. For tell me, when didst thou praise thyself? Was it when thou wast worsted, or when thou hadst the mastery? Do we not in the first case vehemently blame ourselves, and feel ashamed. even when none reproves us, and do not many feelings of repentance come over us, both for what we have said and done; but when we gain the mastery, then are we not proud, and exult as conquerors? For victory in the case of anger is, not the requiting evil with the like, (that is utter defeat,) but the bearing meekly to be ill-treated and ill spoken of. To get the better is not to inflict but to suffer evil. Therefore when angry do not say, “certainly I will retaliate,” “certainly I will be revenged”; do not persist in saying to those who exhort you to gain a victory, “I will not endure that the man mock me, and escape clear.” He will never mock thee, except when thou avengest thyself; or if he even should mock thee he will do so as a fool. Seek not when thou conquerest honor from fools, but consider that sufficient which comes from men of understanding. Nay, why do I set before thee a small and mean body of spectators, when I make it up of men? Look up straight to God: He will praise thee, and the man who is approved by Him must not seek honor from mortals, Mortal honor often arises from flattery or hatred of others, and brings no profit; but the decision of God is free from this inequality, and brings great advantage to the man whom He approves. This praise then let us follow after.
Will you learn what an evil is anger? Stand by while others are quarreling in the forum. In yourself you cannot easily see the disgrace of the thing, because your reason is darkened and drunken; but when you are clear from the passion, and while your judgment is sound, view your own case in others. Observe, I pray you, the crowds collecting round, and the angry men like maniacs acting shamefully in the midst. For when the passion boils up within the breast, and becomes excited and savage, the mouth breathes fire, the eyes emit fire, all the face becomes swollen, the hands are extended disorderly, the feet dance ridiculously, and they spring at those who restrain them, and differ nothing from madmen in their insensibility to all these things; nay, differ not from wild asses, kicking and biting. Truly a passionate man is not a graceful one.
And then, when after this exceedingly ridiculous conduct, they return home and come to themselves, they have the greater pain, and much fear, thinking who were present when they were angry. For like raving men, they did not then know the standers by, but when they have returned to their right mind, then they consider, were they friends? were they foes and enemies that looked on? And they fear alike about both; the first because they will condemn them and give them more shame; the others because they will rejoice at it. And if they have even exchanged blows, then their fear is the more pressing; for instance, lest anything very grievous happen to the sufferer; a fever follow and bring on death, or a troublesome swelling rise and place him in danger of the worst. And, “what need” (say they) “had I of fighting, and violence, and quarreling? Perish such things.” And then they curse the ill-fated business which caused them to begin, and the more foolish lay on “wicked spirits,” and “an evil hour,” the blame of what has been done; but these things are not from an evil hour, (for there is no such thing as an evil hour,) nor from a wicked spirit, but from the wickedness of those captured by the passion; they draw the spirits to them, and bring upon themselves all things terrible. “But the heart swells,” says one, “and is stung by insults.” I know it; and that is the reason why I admire those who master this dreadful wild beast; yet it is possible if we will, to beat off the passion. For why when our rulers insult us do we not feel it? It is because fear counterbalances the passion, and frightens us from it, and does not allow it to spring up at all. And why too do our servants, though insulted by us in ten thousand ways, bear all in silence? Because they too have the same restraint laid upon them. And think thou not merely of the fear of God, but that it is even God Himself who then insults thee, who bids thee be silent, and then thou wilt bear all things meekly, and say to the aggressor, How can I be angry with thee? there is another that restrains both my hand and my tongue; and the saying will be a suggestion of sound wisdom, both to thyself and to him. Even now we bear unbearable things on account of men, and often say to those who have insulted us, “Such an one insulted me, not you.” Shall we not use the same caution in the case of God? How else can we hope for pardon? Let us say to our soul, “It is God who holds our hands, who now insults us; let us not be restive, let not God be less honored by us than men.” Did ye shudder at the word? I wish you would shudder not at the word only, but at the deed. For God hath commanded us when buffeted not only to endure it, but even to offer ourselves to suffer something worse; and we withstand Him with such vehemence, that we not only refuse to offer ourselves to suffer evil, but even avenge ourselves, nay often are the first to act on the offensive, 28 and think we are disgraced if we do not the same in return. Yes, and the mischief is, that when utterly worsted we think ourselves conquerors, and when lying undermost and receiving ten thousand blows from the devil, then we imagine that we are mastering him. Let us then, I exhort you, understand what is the nature 29 of this victory, and this kind of nature 30 let us follow after. To suffer evil is to get the crown. If then we wish to be proclaimed victors by God, let us not in these contests observe the laws of heathen games, but those of God, and learn to bear all things with longsuffering; for so we may get the better of our antagonists, and obtain both present and promised goods, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power, and honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen).
4 oujsiva ejnupovstato”.
8 al. “God with God.”
13 to; aujto; dh; tou`to e]stin ou]tw” wJ” ejkeivnh/ oujsia/ prevpon h]n.
16 ajnaballovmeqa, “put off.”
17 LXX). e]stin.
18 to;, al). oJ).
21 a]nwqen, “a parte ante”.
22 ajpo; tou` aijw`no”.
24 sugkrotei`, al). sugkratei`.
28 a[rcein ceirw`n ajdivkwn.
30 trovpou to; ei\do”).