Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Wrath of God (continued)

This post is in response to a comment made at the end of my last post: Wrath and Justification. My response is too long to fit into comments, so I'm (yet again) moving my long-windedness to a full post.

Okay, let me take a stab at this. In reading part 1 of Fr. Hopko's podcast (I realize you cite part 2) on God's Wrath we find that he says the following:

As it says in the Letter of Peter in the New Testament: “He trusted Him who judges justly.” And even in the Letter to the Romans, you have this genitive of faith where it could be translated that we are made righteous by faith of Christ or faith in Christ. But even the faith of Christ, Jesus’ own trusting to God, trusting that God would vindicate him, but the big point—He doesn’t sin at all. He does no evil. Therefore, the wrath of God cannot be upon Him. There’s no way that the wrath of God can be upon Him. The wrath that is upon all the sinners and all the unrighteous, He takes upon Himself, and when he takes upon Himself the wrath that is due to all the rest of us—all the Jews, all the Gentiles, everyone who has lived, “there is no one righteous, no not one,” as it says in the Letter to the Romans, quoting of course the Old Testament Scripture. Then, the wrath of God is assuaged. There is no wrath against Him. God puts Him in the position of the wrath. He puts Him in the position of the sinner, but God’s wrath is not against Him. And because of that, that’s the paradox.

Here Fr. Hopko is not saying that Christ's satisfies God's wrath, as evidenced by the previous portion of the podcast. He is saying Christ stands in the position of God's wrath against sinners. We sinners are under wrath, and Christ carries our sins - the sins of all people of all times - and thus with the sins also the wrath of God. However, Christ saves from sin not by satisfying wrath but by being perfectly righteous. This is Fr. Hopko's point. Ever see one of those Dawn dish soap commercials? The drop of soap hits the scummy water and the scum disappears. Christ the Righteous, Innocent One has the same effect on our sins and God's wrath. He purifies the sins, which purifies the need for wrath. St. Luke is very clear that Christ is innocent, yet is condemned as if a sinner. The point is not that Christ is satisfying wrath, but that Christ is purifying from wrath.

So when Fr. Hopko says in part 2 of his podcast,
And God is well pleased in His Son, Jesus, because the Son takes upon Himself the sin of the world, and assuages divine wrath and redeems humanity and saves creation...
he is (in typical Fr. Hopko fashion) giving us an interconnected list of things Jesus does: takes on our sins, assuages God's wrath (through purification, not satisfaction), redeems us from our bondage, and thus saves creation.

Fr. Stephen is not in a discussion with Fr. Thomas Hopko, so comparing his statement with Fr. Hopko's isn't going to yield anything precise. Fr. Stephen is writing against the idea that God bullies us into faith: come along and no one gets hurt. Fr. Thomas Hopko, if you follow the length of his argument, shows that God's wrath is corrective, namely: you're going the wrong way - life and goodness is here! If you want wrath, I'll give it to you, but if you want mercy I'll give it to you - and I'm trying to get you to choose mercy by showing you what a choice for wrath gets you! That's not bullying (I'll come along because I'm afraid) but enlightening. Remember, there are people out there that know what wrath is and still choose it, because they love sin and darkness and not God.

Here the difference is between being concerned about portraying God as an abusive husband (Fr. Stephen) versus portraying God as a real, dynamic being who gives man a choice in the whole affair of being united to Him in blessedness or abiding in wrath, which thus makes wrath a chastisement appropriate to our calling in communion with God (Fr. Hopko).

Now, this doesn't mean that Fr. Hopko and Fr. Stephen might not have a lengthy discussion or debate over what is to be emphasized regarding the wrath of God. Fr. Stephen might not like it that Fr. Hopko speaks of assuaging the wrath of God, though not necessarily with how Christ accomplishes that. Fr. Hopko might be wary of Fr. Stephen's statements about God's unchanging-ness, fearing it to be overly Hellenized or Philosophized, but he's not going to disagree with the apophatic theology behind it.

What this demonstrates is that in Holy Orthodoxy we do not always have a clear-cut, systematic definition of things as in the West. You are witnessing Orthodox theologians in the act of trying to be faithful in the face of theological threats from Western Catholicism and Protestantism. It seems Orthodoxy is still hashing out the best way to approach the issue.

I will still attempt to say something helpful in all this. Take Fr. Stephen's comments in light of apophatic theology: we cannot accurately apply categories of wrath, repentance, rejoicing, etc. to God, because God is supra-beyond-what-we-can-know. He doesn't change, and we can't know Him in His being. In that sense, how can we say He has wrath (like we have wrath), when by that we mean something perceivable only on the human level? Thus it is an anthropomorphism. However, take Fr. Thomas Hopko's two podcasts on God's wrath - he covers so much in there! Especially realize that he wants us to take what is written in the Bible seriously and to avoid making God so unknowable in our minds that we nullify His wrath as something very real and something that is a part of who God is. He wants us to avoid nullifying God's real Personhood, that He does act with different energies, in differing way, and does so consciously and purposefully. Maybe Fr. Stephen doesn't appreciate Fr. Hopko's method - you should ask him. They don't have to agree as much as they have to fairly represent Orthodox teaching. Both do. How to balance this out may take some time - it may be the next controversy that needs hammering out!

Between the two, though, what does not need hammering out is whether or not Christ satisfies the Father's wrath. He does not. He purifies our sins, yes. He stands in the place of sinners, who are under God's wrath, yes. But He does not satisfy God's wrath. He may assuage it, which really just means He removes the reason for it, but He does not satiate some desire for justice through wrath that is in the Father. God is not like that.

I have noticed two aspects to God's wrath in reading Fr. Hopko and people like Fr. Stephen. There is the ontological situation of man, where outside of Christ man is under the wrath of God. This comes from lacking blessed communion and having only broken communion. My original comments in the previous post make this conclusion. There is also the wrath, though, that God intentionally afflicts on man for the purpose of calling him to repentance. In this case man, in failing to faithfully adhere to the high calling he has in his relationship with God (and this supposes having a communion relationship with God) is chastised by God for the purpose of repentance. God's wrath is thus a result of both our ontological orientation (broken communion) and our personal, self-determined activity (blessed communion). God is not a robot, dispensing according to whatever button we push, but a unity of real Persons with a dynamism that goes far, far beyond our ability to adequately describe, but yet that is really and truly personal.

The Scriptures teach that God is love. I know that doesn't sound very apophatic, but I've found this colors the way God is perceived in Orthodoxy. Since He is love, people feel His wrath because He is love. Sometimes we can describe this through the lens of our ontological and existential incompatibility with God (broken communion) and sometimes we can describe this through the lens of having God as our Father and being His children (blessed communion).

If one is looking for a concise description of God's wrath in Orthodoxy, then I'm afraid one might be disappointed. In the question there is worry about Western distortions, lack of experience among Orthodox theologians in responding to those distortions, and a general lack of interest in the question in the first place. There isn't much reason to hammer this out in Orthodoxy, unless you're being confronted by an influx of Western Christians (which we are, so perhaps we'll get better at answering the question as time goes on).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wrath and Justification

In a previous post a conversation developed about how the Orthodox Church understands God's wrath. Below I am going to include some of my comments about God's wrath as understood in Orthodox theology, and then I'm going to ask you to consider Justification.
As far as I can articulate, God's wrath is very real, just as is His mercy. God does not change. Man changes, usually through the use of his free will. When man orients himself against God (in sin), he experiences God in wrath. When man orients himself properly regarding God (in faithful love) he experiences God in mercy and blessedness. God is constant, man is not and thus has different experiences of God.

To put it in the context of communion with God, when man is out of communion with God he experiences God as wrathful. When man is in communion with God he experiences God as blessedness and mercy. God, for His part, does not change Himself but rather does all to change man's situation. Hence He sends His Son to reunite humanity in communion with Himself through the Incarnation and to free men from their sins and from bondage to mortality and the Devil through the cross and resurrection. God is constant, man is not.

Having said this about God's wrath, now consider Justification (our context is Orthodoxy compared to Lutheranism).

In Lutheran theology justification is that God declares the sinner to be righteous. This means that man is truly sinful, but God changes His mind about the sinner and regards him as righteous instead. The result of this justification is that man is then able to enter into communion with God and be sanctified and becomes a temple of God and so forth. While justification and sanctification happen in the same moment in time in Lutheran theology, sanctification, communion with God, and the attending blessings are understood to be a direct result of God choosing to see man as righteous (for Christ's sake). In this paradigm God changes in order to save man from wrath.

In Orthodox theology God does not change in order save man from His wrath, but He changes man. What about man does He change? He changes man's orientation to God at the ontological and existential level, that is, He returns man to blessed communion with Him. This in itself is man's justification. If it is man's bondage to mortality, corruption, and passions that orients man to experience God in wrath (for in such bondage man is in broken communion with God), and on top of that it is also man's actual sins that further plummets man into the depths of experiencing God in wrath, then God's solution is to
  1. first restore communion between Him and humanity through the Incarnation of His Son by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary, and then
  2. second burst apart man's bondage through crucifixion and resurrection, and then
  3. third to make this salvation available to all who will believe through union with Christ in the Holy Spirit through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist.
In this way God changes man's situation. Each person's justification happens through communion with Christ, who Himself is our Justification. In this way man's sins are really destroyed by Christ's cross, and man really is made righteous through abiding in communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. In this way Justification is more than just a declaration of favor, but is communion with the One who favors us. This is why Justification in Orthodoxy is much like Sanctification. Both mean a change in man through God's operation (in Orthodoxy, God's Energies). In Lutheranism Justification is different from Sanctification, in that the former is only a status change (declared righteous) and the latter is an actual spiritual change in man (made holy).

For this reason, in Holy Orthodoxy, man is saved from wrath. God does not change, so if we are not in communion with Him but instead in bondage and serve to sin, death, and the Devil then the wrath of God abides on us - for under those conditions that is the only way we can experience God's unchanging-ness. If we are in communion with Him, then our sins are cleansed and God dwells in us in Grace, mercy, and peace. One of the nice things about God not changing is that He loves us - which applies even when we were enemies in sin and had His wrath abiding on us. He pulled out all the stops to change our situation, our orientation to Him, but without forcing anyone to return to that communion that was lost in Paradise by Adam and Eve's first sin. In Christ we can return and abide with God and He with us (and in us and through us!), or we can reject this Grace for the love of sin and remain in wrath. God is with each person, but if we are not with Him through Christ then we experience God as wrath, for we lack blessed communion and experience only broken communion. Praise be to God that He is constant in faithful-love toward us, even when we were children of wrath!

There are some further applications that can be drawn from this paradigm, but I will stop with this for now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vicarious - yes; Satisfaction - huh?

I was looking through some old files and came across the following excerpt a friend sent me, which he believed to be proof of a Patristic belief in "Vicarious Satisfaction":
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII

“If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?…Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?…Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also…These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.”

“Note carefully in the above the words, “I gave to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for the blood shall make atonement for the soul.” He [Moses] says clearly that the blood of the victims slain is a propitiation in the place of human life. And the law about sacrifices suggests that it should be so regarded, if it is carefully considered. For it requires him who is sacrificing always to lay his hands on the head of the victim, and to bear the animal to the priest held by its head, as one offering a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Thus he says in each case: “He shall bring it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hands on the head of the gift.” Such is the ritual in every case, no sacrifice is ever brought up otherwise. And so the argument holds that the victims are brought in place of the lives of them who bring them…While then the better, the great and worthy and divine sacrifice was not yet available for men, it was necessary for them by the offering of animals to pay a ransom for their own life, and this was fitly a life that represented their own nature. Thus did the holy men of old, anticipating by the Holy Spirit that a holy victim, dear to God and great, would one day come for men, as the offering for the sins of the world, believing that as prophets they must perform in symbol his sacrifice, and shew forth in type what was yet to be. But when that which was perfect was come, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, the former sacrifices ceased at once because of the better and true Sacrifice.

“This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race. As Isaiah the prophet says of him: “As a sheep he was led to slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before her shearers.” And he adds: “He bears our sins and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and he was made sick on account of our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripe we are healed. …And the Lord hath given him up for our iniquities …for he did no sin himself, nor was guile found in his mouth.'’ Jeremiah, another Hebrew prophet, speaks similarly in the person of Christ: “I was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” John Baptist sets the seal on their predictions at the appearance of our Saviour. For beholding Him, and pointing Him out to those present as the one foretold by the prophets, he cried: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

“Since then according to the witness of the prophets the great and precious ransom has been found for Jews and Greeks alike, the propitiation for the whole world, the life given for the life of all men, the pure offering for every stain and sin, the Lamb of God, the holy sheep dear to God, the Lamb that was foretold, by Whose inspired and mystic teaching all we Gentiles have procured the forgiveness of our former sins, and such Jews as hope in Him are freed from the curse of Moses, daily celebrating His memorial, the remembrance of His Body and Blood, and are admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law, we do not reckon it right to fall back upon the first beggarly elements, which are symbols and likenesses but do not contain the truth itself. And any Jews, of course, who have taken refuge in Christ, even if they attend no longer to the ordinances of Moses, but live according to the new covenant, are free from the curse ordained by Moses, for the Lamb of God has surely not only taken on Himself the sin of the world, but also the curse involved in the breach of the commandments of Moses as well. The Lamb of God is made thus both sin and curse—sin for the sinners in the world, and curse for those remaining in all the things written in Moses’ law. And so the Apostle says: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”; and “Him that knew no sin, for our sakes he made sin.”For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners, Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb to the sacrifice, and all this for us and on our behalf? And this was why those ancient men of God, as they had not yet the reality, held fast to their symbols.

Do you think this teaches a vicarious "satisfaction" as understood by Western Christians? I don't. I see here standard Orthodox teaching.

shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?

Does Christ, by virtue of His holy self-sacrifice, stave off the wrath of God? Yes. How? By removing the reason for God's wrath - i.e. our sins and the code that condemns sin. When would that wrath have poured out on men? On the Last Day. "Wrath" poured out beforehand is either 1) chastisement that leads to repentance, or 2) in the case of someone dying apart from repentance it is that person being reserved in Hades for future judgment. These words do not mean that Christ suffered God's wrath for our sins, but rather condemned our sins to death in His own Body and thus removed what actually gave reason for wrath. See the difference: suffering wrath so that there is none left for us, versus suffering death so that the cause of wrath comes to an end.

But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.

The sentence from God was that sinners should die. Why? Because sin and death are one, just as righteousness and life are one. Also because our sinning is warfare against God and against His image within us. Does Christ by dying take on God's wrath? Yes. Does He satisfy God's wrath? Wrong question. The death of man is not something that needs to be satisfied on God's end, as if it were an appeal to one of God's divine attributes. God's wrath is not about God but about man, and thus does not need to be satisfied or propitiated (a word often wrongly used to translate hilasterion, when "expiated" is proper).

God's wrath (sentencing sinners to die) is prophetic, in that it reveals the true existential reality of man's own sins and sinfulness, including the end of such a situation. God's wrath, in conjunction with His barring man from the Tree of Life and the eternal life that came from eating it, is preservative for man, allowing him to be reformed and redeemed spiritually in his nature and person (unlike the Devil and the other rebellious angels). And God's wrath is corrective, in that man carrying the weight of that sentence's slow effect upon him while living in a world that proclaims the glory of God is given opportunity to freely return to God (esp. in light of the Word of the Gospel), just as man freely has taken opportunity to sin and die.

So God's wrath is not satisfied, but rather achieves its purpose in Christ - the proclamation of man's true condition, and the fulfillment of his return to God in blessed communion, which itself is the opposite of death, namely righteous-life.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

St. John the Baptist does not say that Christ takes away the wrath of the world, but the sins. Wrath will come, but those in Christ have passed over from death to life, and thus from their sins to a life that is ontologically righteous, for it is communion with the blessed Trinity.

For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners,

Vicarious Death and Communion of Life is what sinners need, not vicarious satisfaction. For sinners need to be sinners no more, that is, they need their sins destroyed and new life imparted. This removes wrath. This is the pass-over from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from the wrath that will come from the Face of God to the blessedness that will come from the appearance of God.

Now it may seem like splitting hairs, Christ dying to satisfy God's decree that man die vs. Christ dying to save man from the need for wrath in the first place. But it is not splitting hairs, for the first depicts God as One who needs our death in order to be placated and pacified toward man. The second knows God not to delight in the death of the sinner, but does all in His power to give man every opportunity for return, even making the way of his return and effecting the necessary escape route and supplying the requisite power and Grace to accomplish all through faith without prior earnings or deservings.

So we see that Christ stands in our place, offering His Life in place of ours, so that we might be spared from the eternal condemnation of death (which itself is the power of estrangement and enslavement, with our sins as its shackles, and the Devil the usurping Prince and harsh Taskmaster), and through His death gains the blessed purgation of our sins and in His immaculate Body and precious Blood the bridge of His Hypostatic Union to Life in God.

Just some thoughts, fwiw.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sign of the Times: Airbending Spiritual Peril

This afternoon our family went to see The Last Airbender. Critical reviews raged against the movie for its acting, story sequencing, avoidance of Asian actors (the story's cultural background is Asian), and the general disappointment it caused among fans of the cartoon. What all these "critical" reviews failed to take into account is that The Last Airbender is aimed at kids ages 10 and under. In this context the movie was a huge success. As soon as the film ended a little kid sitting behind us said, "That was so cool!" Both of our kids loved the film. We were able to enjoy the film, too, because we knew this was aimed at a younger audience (and the acting was commensurate with that aim). It didn't try to appeal to all age groups, but instead focused on what was developmentally appropriate for kids (not tweens, teens, or Airbender-cartoon purists). We enjoyed the film and had a lot of fun. If they make the two sequels that are planned we will probably see those, too.

Now, having said all that, there is something that Christian parents should be aware of when exposing their children to The Last Airbender: Eastern spirituality. The movie drove home a worldview where a spiritual realm was in constant contact with the physical realm. Okay so far. But this spiritual realm is said to be populated by numerous "spirits" that watch over mankind, help out, and direct nature. These spirits are depicted as friends of mankind who share their spiritual powers. In the movie they are depicted as a large dragon, as two fish representing Yin and Yang (and these govern the moon and water). The power of these spirits is depicted as natural and not to be feared. Rather, in this spirituality, we are encouraged to trust and be open to these spirits and their particular wisdom. Herein lies the danger.

What Eastern spirituality has observed is the true existence of the spiritual aspect of the Earth. What is more, they have observed the actual existence of numerous spirits. Up to this point this is consistent with Orthodox conceptions of creation. Yet the many spirits that inhabit the "spiritual plane" of the Earth are in fact not friends of mankind but demons, i.e. fallen angels. It is a well established fact that the angels that rebelled and were defeated were cast out of heaven and now abide on earth. These are the demons that have lured men into worshiping them as gods. These are the demons that possess men and women, who tempt and attack all mankind, especially those struggling on the path of virtue and Grace.

It is interesting that one spirit in the film is depicted as a fierce dragon, a serpent with a terrifying face, given the biblical references to the Devil as that ancient serpent, that dragon, who leads the whole world astray. Also of interest is when one character in the film disguises himself in a demon mask, and is feared to be a "blue spirit." These sorts of demon visages are accepted as a normal part of Eastern spiritual culture. Compare a typical demon mask with the visage of the Hindu idols, and with the accounts of demons given by holy Christian men and women in spiritual combat, and you will find a striking similarity. For a long, long time demons have been openly at work in Eastern societies, pretending to be mankind's friends and lords, but in fact have only managed to lead men and women further into spiritual bondage and slavery that leads to complete and everlasting condemnation.

One critical of the traditional Christian belief about the so-called friendly spirits of Eastern spirituality might forcefully point out that such spirituality preaches a philosophy of peace and harmony. This is but a ruse, to lead modern man into relaxing his guard. Once relaxed, and in ignorance of the mercy, love, and power of God for our salvation, modern man then finds enough "truth" in the philosophy of the East to seek more. Then the demons lead modern man into the appearance of a personal relationship with the benevolent forces of the spiritual realm. Then modern man finds himself imprisoned, taken over, and harmed beyond physical comprehension.

In the context of a movie for children parents ought to be aware of the subtle message of Eastern spirituality: the world is full of spiritual mystery and friendly spirit-beings that can help you find inner peace, help your life's struggles, and give you true power. In reply to this message I recommend a book that sheds much light on the terrible danger of that message: "The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios." This book, dealing with Eastern Indian spirituality rather than Chinese spirituality (Shyamalan is Indian, btw), is the chronicle of a man who chose to give Eastern spirituality and Orthodox Christian spirituality equal opportunity, and nearly lost his soul. Another book that should be read in conjunction with the first (and in consultation with a dependable Orthodox friend or priest) is Fr. Seraphim Rose's "The Soul After Death," which gives careful and detailed explanation about the spiritual dimension of creation.

Do I think The Last Airbender ought to be avoided? No. It was a fun movie. I simply think that parents should be aware of the danger that is creeping more and more into our culture, especially when it appears in forms that are appealing to children. We live in a world that is marching forcefully away from Christ and toward whatever else it can put in His place. Atheism is one threat, Oprah Winfrey's celebration of all faiths is another, but making friends with mysterious Eastern spirits and spiritualities is a yet another threat just as real and maybe far more destructive.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guess Who

We were on the streets of Defiance earlier this evening and came across this picture in the window of a Latino grocery. I recognized who this was immediately. Do you know who it is?

Regarding Slavery and the Master's Love

The following is the moral from St. John Chrysostom's second homily on St. Paul's epistle to Philemon. This continues the subject matter of the previous post, regarding slaves in Roman society and the biblical- and patristic-era manner of dealing with the practice that no one really ever questioned then.
Moral. These things are not written without an object, but that we masters may not despair of our servants, nor press too hard on them, but may learn to pardon the offenses of such servants, that we may not be always severe, that we may not from their servitude be ashamed to make them partakers with us in all things when they are good. For if Paul was not ashamed to call one "his son, his own bowels, his brother, his beloved," surely we ought not to be ashamed. And why do I say Paul? The Master of Paul is not ashamed to call our servants His own brethren; and are we ashamed? See how He honors us; He calls our servants His own brethren, friends, and fellow-heirs. See to what He has descended! What therefore having done, shall we have accomplished our whole duty? We shall never in any wise do it; but to whatever degree of humility we have come, the greater part of it is still left behind. For consider, whatever you doest, you do to a fellow-servant, but your Master has done it to your servants. Hear and shudder! Never be elated at your humility!

Perhaps you laugh at the expression, as if humility could puff up. But be not surprised at it, it puffs up, when it is not genuine. How, and in what manner? When it is practiced to gain the favor of men, and not of God, that we may be praised, and be high-minded. For this also is diabolical. For as many are vainglorious on account of their not being vainglorious, so are they elated on account of their humbling themselves, by reason of their being high-minded. For instance, a brother has come, or even a servant you have received him, you have washed his feet; immediately you think highly of yourself. I have done, you say, what no other has done. I have achieved humility. How then may any one continue in humility? If he remembers the command of Christ, which says, "When you shall have done all things, say, We are unprofitable servants." Luke 17:10 And again the Teacher of the world, saying, "I count not myself to have apprehended." Philippians 3:13 He who has persuaded himself that he has done no great thing, however many things he may have done, he alone can be humble-minded, he who thinks that he has not reached perfection.

Many are elated on account of their humility; but let not us be so affected. Have you done any act of humility? Be not proud of it, otherwise all the merit of it is lost. Such was the Pharisee, he was puffed up because he gave his tythes to the poor, and he lost all the merit of it. Luke 18:12 But not so the publican. Hear Paul again saying, "I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified." 1 Corinthians 4:4 Do you see that he does not exalt himself, but by every means abases and humbles himself, and that too when he had arrived at the very summit. And the Three Children were in the fire, and in the midst of the furnace, and what said they? "We have sinned and committed iniquity with our fathers." Song of Songs 5:6, in the Septuagint; Daniel 3:29-30; 5:16 This it is to have a contrite heart; on this account they could say, "Nevertheless in a contrite heart and a humble spirit let us be accepted." Thus even after they had fallen into the furnace they were exceedingly humbled, even more so than they were before. For when they saw the miracle that was wrought, thinking themselves unworthy of that deliverance, they were brought lower in humility. For when we are persuaded that we have received great benefits beyond our desert, then we are particularly grieved. And yet what benefit had they received beyond their desert? They had given themselves up to the furnace; they had been taken captive for the sins of others; for they were still young; and they murmured not, nor were indignant, nor did they say, What good is it to us that we serve God, or what advantage have we in worshiping Him? This man is impious, and has become our lord. We are punished with the idolatrous by an idolatrous king. We have been led into captivity. We are deprived of our country, our freedom, all our paternal goods, we have become prisoners and slaves, we are enslaved to a barbarous king. None of these things did they say. But what? "We have sinned and committed iniquity." And not for themselves but for others they offer prayers. Because, say they, "You have delivered us to a hateful and a wicked king." Again, Daniel, being a second time cast into the pit, said, "For God has remembered me." Wherefore should He not remember you, O Daniel, when you glorified Him before the king, saying, "Not for any wisdom that I have"? Daniel 2:30 But when you were cast into the den of lions, because thou did not obey that most wicked decree, wherefore should He not remember you? For this very reason surely should He. Were you not cast into it on His account? "Yea truly," he says, "but I am a debtor for many things." And if he said such things after having displayed so great virtue, what should we say after this? But hear what David says, "If He thus say, I have no delight in you, behold here am I, let Him do to me as seems good unto Him." 2 Samuel 15:26 And yet he had an infinite number of good things to speak of. And Eli also says, "It is the Lord: let Him do what seems Him good." 1 Samuel 3:18

This is the part of well-disposed servants, not only in His mercies, but in His corrections, and in punishments wholly to submit to Him. For how is it not absurd, if we bear with masters beating their servants, knowing that they will spare them, because they are their own; and yet suppose that God in punishing will not spare? This also Paul has intimated, saying, "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." Romans 14:8 A man, we say, wishes not his property to be diminished, he knows how he punishes, he is punishing his own servants. But surely no one of us spares more than He Who brought us into being out of nothing, Who makes the sun to rise, Who causes rain; Who breathed our life into us, Who gave His own Son for us.

But as I said before, and on which account I have said all that I have said, let us be humble-minded as we ought, let us be moderate as we ought. Let it not be to us an occasion of being puffed up. Are you humble, and humbler than all men? Be not high-minded on that account, neither reproach others, lest you lose your boast. For this very cause you are humble, that you may be delivered from the madness of pride; if therefore through your humility you fall into that madness, it were better for you not to be humble. For hear Paul saying, "Sin works death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." Romans 7:13 When it enters into your thought to admire yourself because you are humble, consider your Master, to what He descended, and you will no longer admire yourself, nor praise yourself, but wilt deride yourself as having done nothing. Consider yourself altogether to be a debtor. Whatever you have done, remember that parable, "Which of you having a servant...will say unto him, when he has come in, Sit down to meat?...I say unto you, Nay...but stay and serve me." From Luke 17:7-8 Do we return thanks to our servants, for waiting upon us? By no means. Yet God is thankful to us, who serve not Him, but do that which is expedient for ourselves.

But let not us be so affected, as if He owed us thanks, that He may owe us the more, but as if we were discharging a debt. For the matter truly is a debt, and all that we do is of debt. For if when we purchase slaves with our money, we wish them to live altogether for us, and whatever they have to have it for ourselves, how much more must it be so with Him, who brought us out of nothing into being, who after this bought us with His precious Blood, who paid down such a price for us as no one would endure to pay for his own son, who shed His own Blood for us? If therefore we had ten thousand souls, and should lay them all down for Him, should we make Him an equal return? By no means. And why? Because He did this, owing us nothing, but the whole was a matter of grace. But we henceforth are debtors: and being God Himself, He became a servant, and not being subject to death, subjected Himself to death in the flesh. We, if we do not lay down our lives for Him, by the law of nature must certainly lay them down, and a little later shall be separated from it, however unwillingly. So also in the case of riches, if we do not bestow them for His sake, we shall render them up from necessity at our end. So it is also with humility. Although we are not humble for His sake, we shall be made humble by tribulations, by calamities, by over-ruling powers. Do you see therefore how great is the grace! He has not said, "What great things do the Martyrs do? Although they die not for Me, they certainly will die." But He owns Himself much indebted to them, because they voluntarily resign that which in the course of nature they were about to resign shortly against their will. He has not said, "What great thing do they, who give away their riches? Even against their will they will have to surrender them." But He owns Himself much indebted to them too, and is not ashamed to confess before all that He, the Master, is nourished by His slaves.

For this also is the glory of a Master, to have grateful slaves. And this is the glory of a Master, that He should thus love His slaves. And this is the glory of a Master, to claim for His own what is theirs. And this is the glory of a Master, not to be ashamed to confess them before all. Let us therefore be stricken with awe at this so great love of Christ. Let us be inflamed with this love-potion. Though a man be low and mean, yet if we hear that he loves us, we are above all things warmed with love towards him, and honor him exceedingly. And do we then love? And when our Master loves us so much, we are not excited? Let us not, I beseech you, let us not be so indifferent with regard to the salvation of our souls, but let us love Him according to our power, and let us spend all upon His love, our life, our riches, our glory, everything, with delight, with joy, with alacrity, not as rendering anything to Him, but to ourselves. For such is the law of those who love. They think that they are receiving favors, when they are suffering wrong for the sake of their beloved. Therefore let us be so affected towards our Lord, that we also may partake of the good things to come in Christ Jesus our Lord.