Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Fathers on Reading Scripture, IX

From St John Chrysostom's Homily XIX on Acts (8:26-27):
Say, what are the Scriptures for? For as much as in you lies, it is all undone. What is the Church for? Tie up the Bibles: perhaps the judgment would not be such, not such the punishment: if one were to bury them in dung, that he might not hear them, he would not so insult them as you do now. For say, what is the insult there? That the man has buried them. And what here? That we do not hear them. Say, when is a person most insulted—when he is silent, and one makes no answer, or, when he does speak (and is unheeded)? So that the insult is greater in the present case, when He does speak and thou wilt not hear: greater the contempt. “Speak not to us” (Is. xxx. 10), we read, they said of old to the Prophets: but ye do worse, saying, Speak:we will not do. For there they turned them away that they should not even speak, as feeling that from the voice itself they got some sort of awe and obligation; whereas you, in the excess of your contempt, do not even this.

Believe me, if you stopped our mouths by putting your hands over them, the insult would not be so great as it is now. For say, whether shows greater contempt, he that hears, even when hindering by this action, or, he that will not even hear? Say—if we shall look at it as a case of an insult offered—suppose one person to check the party insulting him, and to stop his mouth, as being hurt by the insults, and another person to show no concern, but pretend not even to hear them: whether will show most contempt? Would you not say the latter? For the former shows that he feels himself hit: the latter all but stops the mouth of God.

Did ye shudder at what was said? Why, the mouth by which God speaks, is the mouth of God. Just as our mouth is the mouth of our soul, though the soul has no mouth, so the mouth of the Prophets is the mouth of God. Hear, and shudder. There, common (to the whole congregation) stands the deacon crying aloud, and saying, “Let us attend to the reading.” It is the common voice of the whole Church, the voice which he utters, and yet none does attend. After him begins the Reader, “The Prophecy of Esaias,” and still none attends, although Prophecy has nothing of man in it. Then after this, he says, “Thus saith the Lord,” and still none attends. Then after this punishments and vengeances, and still even then none attends. But what is the common excuse? “It is always the same things over again.” This it is most of all, that ruins you.

Suppose you knew the things, even so you certainly ought not to turn away: since in the theatres also, is it not always the same things acted over again, and still you take no disgust? How dare you talk about “the same things,” you who know not so much as the names of the Prophets? Are you not ashamed to say, that this is why you do not listen, because it is “the same things over again,” while you do not know the names of those who are read, and this, though always hearing the same things? You have yourself confessed that the same things are said. Were I to say this as a reason for finding fault with you, you would need to have recourse to quite a different excuse, instead of this which is the very thing you find fault with.

—Do not you exhort your son? Now if he should say, “Always the same things!” would not you count it an insult? It would be time enough to talk of “the same things,” when we both knew the things, and exhibited them in our practice. Or rather, even then, the reading of them would not be superfluous. What equal to Timothy? tell me that: and yet to him says Paul, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation. (1 Tim. iv. 13.) For it is not possible, I say not possible, ever to exhaust the mind of the Scriptures. It is a well which has no bottom. “I said,” saith the Preacher, “I am become wise; and then it departed from me.”—(Eccles. vii. 24.)

Shall I show you that the things are not “the same?” How many persons, do you suppose, have spoken upon the Gospels? And yet all have spoken in a way which was new and fresh. For the more one dwells on them, the more insight does he get, the more does he behold the pure light. Look, what a number of things I am going to speak of:—say, what is narrative? what is prophecy? what is parable? what is type? what is allegory? what is symbol? what are Gospels? Answer me only to this one point, which is plain: why are they called Gospels, “good tidings?” And yet ye have often heard that good news ought to have nothing sad in it: yet this “good news” has abundance of sadness in it. “Their fire,” it saith, “shall never be quenched: their worm shall not die:” (Mark ix. 44.) “Shall appoint his portion,” it saith, “with the hypocrites,” with them that are “cut asunder: then shall He say, I know you not: Depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. xxiv. 51; vii. 23.)

Surely,we do not deceive ourselves, when we imagine that we tell you in your own mother-tongue (῾Ελληνιστί) these good tidings? You look downcast; you are stunned; you are struck all of a heap, unable to hold up your heads. “Good news” should have nothing in it of a duty to be done, but rather should counsel what is good: whereas these “Gospels” have endless duties to be done. And again, to mention other things, as for instance, Except a man hate father and mother, he is not worthy of Me” (Luke xiv. 26): and “I am not come to bring peace upon earth, but a sword” (Matt. x. 34; Luke xii. 51): and “In the world ye shall have tribulation—(John xvi. 33.) excellent good tidings these, are they not! For good news is such as this—“You shall have this and that good thing:” as in common life men say one to another, “What shall I have for my good news? Your father is coming, or, your mother:” he does not say, “You must do this or that.”

—Again, tell me, how do the Gospels differ from the Prophets? Why are not the Prophecies also called Gospels, good tidings? For they tell the same things: for instance, “The lame shall leap as an hart.” (Is. xxxv. 6.) “The Lord shall give the word to them that preach the Gospel” (Ps. lxviii. 11): and, “A new heaven and a new earth.” (Is. lxv. 17.) Why are not those also called Gospels? But if, while you do not so much as know what “Gospels” mean, you so despise the reading of the Scriptures, what shall I say to you?—Let me speak of something else. Why four Gospels? why not, ten? why not twenty? If “many have taken in hand to set forth a narrative” (Luke i. 1), why not one person? Why they that were disciples (i.e. Apostles)? why they that were not disciples? But why any Scriptures at all? And yet, on the contrary, the Old Testament says, “I will give you a New Testament.” (Jer. xxxi. 31.)

Where are they that say, “Always the same things?” If ye knew these, that, though a man should live thousands of years, they are not “the same things,” ye would not say this. Believe me, I will not tell you the answers to any of these questions; not in private, not in public: only, if any find them out, I will nod assent. For this is the way we have made you good-for-nothing, by always telling you the things ready to your hands, and not refusing when we ought. Look, you have questions enough: consider them, tell me the reasons. Why Gospels? Why not Prophecies? Why duties, to be done, in the Gospels? If one is at a loss, let another seek the answer, and contribute each to the others from what he has: but now we will hold our peace. For if what has been spoken has done you no good, much less would it, should we add more. We only pour water into a vessel full of holes. And the punishment too is all the greater for you. Therefore, we will hold our peace. Which that we may not have to do, it rests with yourselves. For if we shall see your diligence, perhaps we will again speak, that both ye may be more approved, and we may rejoice over you, in all things giving glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: to Him be glory and dominion now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
Read the full homily here.

2 comments:

nhfalia.methh said...

Thank you very much for
the articles and photos you
post!

Felix Culpa said...

Thanks for your kind and encouraging comment!