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homily_17_from_fathers_of_the_church

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Unformatted text preview: {flow \ flflms 0/ ’l/thr Chili».qu / HOMILY17 “They heard the sound of the Lord God as he strolled in the garden in the evening.“ ' E HAVE SAID ENOUGH, I would think, as far as our abili- \ ties lie, in giving our explanation lately of the tree, to 7 ,7 teach you, dearly beloved, what was the reason why Sacred Scripture called it the knowledge of good and evil. So today I want to proceed to what follows, so that you may learn God’s unspeakable love and the degree of considerateness he employs in his care for our race. Everything, you see, he made and arranged so that this rational being created by him had the good fortune to be of the greatest importance, and far from being in any way inferior to the life of the angels, en— joyed in the body their immunity from suffering. (2) When, however, he saw them both through negligence transgress the commands he had given them, despite the warnings he had conveyed by threatening them (134d) and putting them more on the alert, he did not stop loving them at that point. Instead, faithful to his own goodness, he is like a loving father who sees his own son through negligence com- mitting things unworthy of his upbringing and being reduced from his eminent position to the utmost depravity: he is stirred to the depths of his being as a father, yet, far from ceasing to care for him, he displays further concern for him in his desire to extricate him gradually from his abasement and return him to his previous position of dignity. Well, in just the same way does the good God, too, have pity on man for the plot to which he fell victim with his wife after being deceived and accepting the devil’s advice through the serpent. Like a 1. On 3.8. 222 HOMILY 17 223 doctor treating a sick and suffering patient confined to bed, who needs much healing and the doctor's attention, he goes immediately to his side. (3) In order, however, that you may learn (135a) God’s in- effable considerateness, from the words themselves you must listen to the reading. “They heard the sound of the Lord God,” the text says, “as he strolled in the garden in the eve- ning; both Adam and his wife hid from the Lord’s presence amongst the trees of the garden.” Let us not, dearly beloved, pass heedlessly by the words from Sacred Scripture, nor re- main at the level of their expression, but consider that the or- dinariness of their expression occurs with our limitations in mind and that everything is done in a manner befitting God for the sake of our salvation.2 I mean, tell me this: were we prepared to follow the drift of the words without taking what is said in a sense befitting God, how could many absurdities be avoided? See now, let us consider this from the very beginning of the reading: “They heard the sound (135b) of the Lord God,” the text says, “as he strolled in the garden in the eve- ning, and they hid.” What are you saying—God strolls? Are we assigning feet to him? Have we no exalted conception of him? No, God doesn’t stroll—perish the thought: how could he, present as he is everywhere and filling everything with his presence? Can he, for whom heaven is his throne and earth his footstool, be confined to the garden? What right-minded person could say this? (4) So what is the meaning of this statement, “They heard the sound of the Lord God as he strolled in the garden in the evening”? He wanted to provide them with such an experi- ence as would induce in them a state of anguish, which in fact happened: they had so striking an experience that they tried to hide from the presence of God. Sin, you see, appeared and 2. For an Antiochene like Chrysostom, anthropomorphisms represented a particular challenge to the delicate balance of the two correlatives to his theol- ogy of the Word—divine transcendence and considerateness for human lim- itations. This particularly striking example of anthropomorphism of On 3.8 illustrated the latter eminently, but Chrysostom urges his congregation not to take it so simplistically as to impugn that other factor, the transcendence of the divine author. 224 ST.]OHN CHRYSOS'I‘OM transgression, and they were covered in confusion. After all, that incorruptible judge—conscience, I mean—in taking a stand against the accused (135C) cried out in unmistakable tones, levelled its accusation, brought forward evidence, and as if before their very eyes wrote down details of their sins in all their magnitude. For this reason, you see, the loving Lord from on high, in forming human beings right from the be- ginning, implanted conscience in them as a tireless accuser, proof against dissuasion and deception at any time. (5) Even if someone were able to escape the notice of all hu- man beings in committing sin and perpetrating improper conduct, he could not escape that accuser; he would go his wicked way with this accuser ever present within him to trouble him, tear at him and Hay him, never resting, be it in public, in company, at table, sleeping or rising, demanding justice for felonies committed, bringing into'focus the im- propriety of sin (135d) and the punishment due to it. Like a skilful physician it does not cease from applying its remedies; and should it find itself rebuffed, it does not take no for an answer but continues its ministrations unremittingly. This, after all, is its role, to make memory proof against dissuasion and not permit us to lay our sins to rest but keep them in focus so that even by this means it may make us reluctant to fall into the same ones again. You see, if we find an ally in con- science and get assistance from it as the forthright accuser in- nate within us, our scourge, tearing at our Vitals, bringing more weight to bear on us than a public executioner, and yet in many cases we still fall victims to our indifference, to what extremes would we not be taken if we were deprived of such assistance? (6) This, then, is the reason why (13621) in the present case the first-formed human being immediately hides on receiving this impression and realizing the presence of the Lord. Why so, tell me? Because he saw that stem accuser—conscience, 1 mean—taking his position against him. He had no one else as prosecutor and witness of his felonies with the sole exception of the one that he carried around within him. They were, however, taught through their nakedness the magnitude of HOMILY 17 225 the sins they had committed by the removal of the glory that had previously draped them like a garment, as well as by the accusation of conscience. So since they were covered in confu- sion after that grievous sin, they tried to hide. “They heard the sound of the Lord God,” the text says, “as he strolled in the garden in the evening; both Adam and his wife hid from the Lord’s presence in the middle of the garden.” (7) Nothing is worse than sin, dearly beloved: once it ap- pears (136b) it not merely fills us with shame but also robs of their senses people previously sensible and full of great intelli- gence. I mean, consider, I ask you, the depth of folly now dis- played by this person previously endowed with intelligence, who had demonstrated the intelligence granted him in the ac- tions he performed, and who had given vent to such inspired utterances. “Hearing the sound of the Lord God," the text says, “as he strolled in the garden in the evening, he and his wife hid from the Lord’s presence amongst the trees of the garden.” What depths of folly does this not reveal—for this man to endeavor to hide from the God who is present every- where, the Creator who brings all things from non-being into being, who knows things that lie hidden, who alone fashions people’s hearts and understands all their works,3 who tests hearts and minds,‘ who understands the movements of our heart?)5 (136C) But do not wonder, dearly beloved. For that is the nature of sinners. Even if they are not able to hide, they try earnestly to hide. That you may know that they did this because they had been denuded of their glory, unable to en— dure the shame which enveloped them after their sin, con- sider where they hid themselves: In the midst of paradise. just like heedless slaves and ones due for a whipping, when they are unable to hide from their master, try to run hither and thither into the corners of the house when their minds are shaking with fear, likewise these two ran around in that abode, that is in Paradise, but without finding any escape. (8) It is not without purpose, however, that the time is speci- 3. Ps 33.15. 4. P5 7.9. 5. Cf. Ps 43.22. 226 ST.jOHN CHRYSOSTOM fied: “They heard the sound of the Lord God," the text says, remember, “as he strolled in the garden in the evening.” The purpose was for you to learn the Lord’s loving kindness, that he didn’t postpone action in the slightest; instead, once he saw what had happened and sized up the gravity of the ulcer, he at once set in motion the healing process (136d) lest the ulcer spread and open up an incurable wound. So he moved to catch it at an early stage and at once took action against the spread of the ulcer, not for a moment leaving the victim de- prived of his prompt attention, out of fidelity to his own good— ness. What I mean is that the enemy of our salvation had dis- played such rage in his unfailing envy of our advantages that he concocted his plot from the very beginning and, through his disastrous advice, he robbed those two of their wonder- ful way of life. But God, ever anxious to try something new, watching over our affairs in his wisdom, saw, on the one hand, the malice practiced by the devil and, on the other hand, the man’s negligence, which was the means of covering him in such shame once he had been prevailed on by his wife; so God takes his position as a gentle and lovingjudge presiding over a tribunal that causes fear and trembling, and conducts his ex- amination in detail—teaching us through this approach not (137a) to condemn our fellows before we have conducted a detailed examination. (9) So let us listen, if you don’t mind, to the questions the judge asks, what replies the accused make, the severity of the sentence they receive, and the extent of the condemnation judged appropriate for the one who delivered such dreadful advice to them. Keep your mind alert, I beg you, and with great trepidation heed what is said. After all, we watch an earthlyjudge seated on his lofty tribunal summoning the ac- cused into the court, flailing them and inflicting other punish- ments on them, and in much trembling we insist on standing by to hear what thejudge says and the accused in his turn re- plies. So much the more in this case is it proper that we should do this, watching the Creator of our race doing justice to those created by him. If, however, (137b) you attend with pre- cision, you will see how great is the difference between God’s HOMILY 17 227 loving kindness and human beings‘ severity towards their fellows. (10) “The Lord God called Adam and said to him, ‘Adam, where are you?” From the very enquiry it behooves us to marvel at God’s surpassing love, not so much that he called him, but that he personally called him—something human beings would never stoop to in the case of their fellows who share the same nature with themselves. I mean, you know that when they take their seat on the lofty tribunal and do justice to those guilty of felonies, they don’t consider the accused worthy of having a reply made in their own person; conse- quently, they let them see how much disrepute they have in- curred through committing these crimes. While the judge makes his response somebody else stands up and relays the words of the judge to the accused, and in turn reports his words to the judge. (137C) Such you would see to be the prac- tice of judges the world over. With God, however, this is not the case. Instead? He calls personally: “The Lord God called Adam," the text says, “and said to him, ‘Adam, where are you?” (1 1) See how much force lies concealed in this brief expres- sion. You see, the very act of calling is a mark of great love beyond all telling, as it is a mark of great goodness to give an opportunity of reply to the accused in his shame, who dares not open his mouth or loosen his tongue. Yet, along with this loving kindness, the question, “‘Where are you?” is also very telling. In other words, it is as if he hinted to him in these words, What has happened? I left you in one condition, whereas now I find you in another; I left you clad in glory, whereas now I find you in nakedness. (i2) “ ‘Where are you?" How did this happen to you? Who has brought you to this changed condition? (137d) What kind of robber and brigand has robbed you like this in an instant of all the substance of your wealth and cast you into such indi- gence? Whence has come the nakedness you are experienc- ing? Who is responsible for depriving you of that wonderful 6. (In 3.9. 228 STJOHN CHRYSOSTOM garment you had the good fortune to wear? What is this sud- den transformation? What tempest has all at once in this way sunk all your precious cargo? What has happened to make you try to hide yourself from the one who has been so kind to you and placed you in a position of such importance? Who is it you are now endeavoring to avoid through fear? Surely, after all, no one has cause to accuse you? Surely, after all, no witnesses are testifying against you? Whence comes the fear and dread that overwhelms you? “‘I heard the sound,”’ the text says, “ ‘as you walked in the garden, I was afraid because I am naked, and I hid.”7 Whence comes the knowledge of your nakedness? Tell me: what is new and surprising? Who could ever have told you of this, (138a) unless you have become the guilty cause of your own shame, unless you have eaten from that one tree I told you not to eat from? (13) See the Lord’s loving kindness and the surpassing de- gree of his long-suffering. I mean, though being in a position to begrudge such a great sinner the right of reply and rather than to consign him at once to the punishment he had deter- mined on in anticipation of his transgressing, he shows pa- tience and withholds action: he asks a question, receives a re— ply, and questions him further as if inviting him to excuse himself so that he might seize the opportunity to display his characteristic love in regard to the sinner even despite his fall. He thus teaches us through this instance as well when we judge the guilty not to berate them harshly or display the sav- agery of wild beasts in their regard, but rather employ much long—suffering and mercy inasmuch as we are dispensing jus- tice to our own members, and out of a sense of kinship we should temper justice with love. (138b) After all, it is not with- out purpose that Sacred Scripture employs such great consid- erateness; instead, through the concreteness of the expres- sions it both teaches us God’s loving kindness and promotes our emulation so that we may imitate as far as human capacity allows the goodness of the Lord. “He said to him, ‘Who told you that you are naked—unless you have eaten from that one 7. On 3.10. HOMILY 17 229 tree I told you not to eat from?” Where could you have got the knowledge of this, he says, and be covered in such confu— sion, unless you have been so intemperate as to despise my command? (14) Notice, dearly beloved, the excess of God’s goodness, how, in this manner of one friend communing with another and remonstrating with him over transgression of his instruc- tions, he enters into dialog with Adam. “‘Who told you that you are naked—unless you have eaten from that one tree I told you not to eat from?” (138C) Even the phrase, “that one tree,” bears a slight nuance: Surely I didn’t inhibit your enjoy- ment? it is saying. Did I not relieve you of every need, give you authority over everything in the garden, and only instruct you to keep away from that one thing so that you might be in a position to know that you are subject to direction and re- quired to show some obedience? So what kind of terrible in- difference is this that, despite your having such great enjoy- ment, you could not bear to keep away from that one thing but rather hastened in that manner to violate the command given you by me and envelop yourself in so many excesses? (15) What good was that to you? Hadn’t I warned you of that in advance? Wasn’t it my intention to check you be- forehand with fear of punishment and so make you more cautious? Didn’t I tell you what would be likely to happen? Didn’t I for that reason forbid your eating that fruit so that you wouldn’t fall victim to those faults? Who could consider you deserving of excuse now that you’ve proved to be so un- responsive despite so many directions? (138d) Didn’t I thus instruct you in every detail, like a father to his own dear son, and teach you to keep away from this tree while being free to taste all the others lest it wreak havoc with all your endowments? (16) Perhaps, however, you have thought advice from an- other quarter acceptable and to be preferred to my com- mand, and followed it in the expectation of gaining greater 8. Gn 3.11—with some slight anacoluthon smoothed over in other LXX manuscripts. 230 STJOHN CHRYSOSTOM advantages, and out of scorn for my command you were bold enough to eat from the tree. See what you suffered through that experiment: you discovered the disastrous effect of that advice. Do you see the loving kindness of thejudge? Do you see his mildness and long-suffering? Do you see his consider- ateness stretching beyond all thought and imagination? Do you see how through his question and the words, “‘Who told you that you are naked—unless you have eaten from that one tree I told you not to eat from?” he wanted to open to you the doors to excuse so that even in regard to such a sinful person (139a) he might show his characteristic love? So let us listen to the accused as well, and hear what he has to say in reply to this question. (17) “Adam said,” the text goes on, “ ‘The woman you gave me as my companion gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it.’”" Pitiable words and full of much pity, and capable of mov- ing the Lord to clemency, He who is so gentle, overcoming our sins by his goodness. For when he had shaken his disposi- tion by a great display of tolerance and had shown him the magnitude of his sin, Adam all but preparing his own de- fense, said to Him, “‘the woman you gave me as my compan- ion.” (lggb) In other words, how could I have ever expected that I would have been so covered in confusion through the one you created with the very purpose of bringing me conso- lation from her person? You gave her to me, you led her to meet me. She—I know not under what impulse—in her turn gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it. (18) While this explanation seems to offer some excuse, it is in fact devoid of all defense. I mean, what defense can you lay claim to, he says, for forgetting my commands and judging the bauble given by your wife more important than words spoken by me? After all, even if your wife did give it to you, still my command and the fear of punishment were sufficient to dispose you to avoid tasting. I mean, surely you were not ignorant? Surely you weren’t unaware? With this in mind, out 9. On 3.12. HOMILY 17 231 of care for you, I spoke up with the aim of preventing your falling victim to these faults; and so, even if your wife pre- pared the way for your transgressing my command, neverthe— less you were not without guilt: you should have regarded (139C) my command as more worthy of trust, and, beyond dis- suading yourself alone from eating, you should have demon- strated the gravity of the sin to your wife as well. After all, you are head of your wife,” and she has been created for your sake; but you have inverted the proper order: not only have you failed to keep her on the straight and narrow but you have been dragged down with her, and whereas the rest of the body should follow the head, the contrary has in fact oc- curred, the head following the res...
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