Against the Jews
by St. John Chrysostom
The wicked and unclean fast of the Jews is now at our doors. Thought it is a fast, do not wonder that I have called it unclean. What is done contrary to God's purpose, be it sacrifice or fast, is the most abominable of all things. Their wicked fast will begin after five days. Ten days ago, or more than ten, I anticipated this and gave an exhortation with the hope it would make your brothers safe. Let no one find fault and say my discourse was untimely because I gave it so many days beforehand. When a fever threatens, or any other disease, physicians anticipate this and with many remedies make safe and secure the body of the man who will be seized by the fever; they hurry to snatch his body from the dangers which threaten it before the patient experiences their onset.
(2) Since I, too, see that a very serious disease is going to come upon you, long beforehand I gave you solemn warning so that you might apply corrective measures before the evil attacked. This was my reason for not waiting until just before the days of fasting to exhort you. I did not want the lack of time to stop you from hunting out your brothers; I hoped that with the span of many days you might be able to track down with all fearlessness those who are suffering from this disease and restore them to health.
(3) Men who are going to celebrate a wedding or prepare a sumptuous feast do this same thing. They do not wait for the day itself. Long beforehand they speak with the fishermen and bird hunters so that the brevity of time may present no obstacle to preparing for the banquet. Since I, too, am going to set a banquet before you against the obstinacy of the Jews, I have gotten a head start in talking to you, the fishermen, that you may sweep up your weaker brothers in your nets and bring them to hear what I have to say.
(4) Those of you who did fish and have your catch securely in your nets, remain steadfast and bind them tight with your words of exhortation. Those of you who have not yet taken this goodly catch have time enough in these five days to trap and overcome your prey. So let us spread out the nets of instruction; like a pack of hunting dogs let us circle about and surround our quarry; let us drive them together from every side and bring them into subjection to the laws of the Church. If you think it is a good idea, let us send to pursue them the best of huntsmen, the blessed Paul, who once shouted aloud and said: "Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you be circumcised, Christ will be of no advantage to you."
(5) When wild beasts and savage animals are hiding under a thicket and hear the shout of the hunter, they leap up in fear. The loud clamor drives them from their hiding and, even against their will, the hunter's cry forces them out, and many a time they fall right into the nets. So, too, your brothers are hiding in what I might call the thicket of Judaism. If they hear the shout of Paul, I am sure that they will easily fall into the nets of salvation and will put aside all the error of the Jews. For it is not Paul who spoke, but Christ, who moved Paul's soul. So when you hear him shout and say: "Behold, I, Paul, tell you," consider that only the shout is Paul's; the thought and the teaching are Christ's, who is speaking to Paul from within his heart.
(6) But someone might say: "Is there so much harm in circumcision that it makes Christ's whole plan of redemption useless? Yes, the harm of circumcision is as great as that, not because of its own but because of your obstinacy. There was a time when the law was useful and necessary, but now it has ceased and is fruitless. If you take it on yourself to be circumcised now, when the time is no longer right, it makes the gift of God useless. It is because you are not willing to come to him that Christ will be of no advantage to you. Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor's favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift.
(7) This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. "All have sinned," says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the claims of their sin.
All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King's loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because from the works of the Law no flesh will find justification. So it is that Paul says: "If you be circumcised, Christ will be of no advantage to you." For the man who strives to gain salvation from the works of the Laws has nothing in common with grace. This is what Paul hinted at when he said: "If out of grace, then not in virtue of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if out of works, no longer is it grace: otherwise work is no longer work." And again: "If justice be by the Law, then Christ died in vain." And again: "You who are justified in the Law are fallen from grace." You have died to the Law, you have become a corpse; hereafter you are no longer under its yoke, you are no longer subject to its necessity. Why, then, do you strive to make trouble for yourself when it is all to no purpose and in vain?
(2) When Paul said: "Behold, I, Paul, tell you," why did he add his name? Why did he not simply say: "Behold, I tell you"? He wanted to remind them of the zeal which he had shown with regard to Judaism. What he is saying is this: "If I were a gentile and knew nothing of Jewish matters, perhaps someone would say that, because I had no share in the Jewish plan and dispensation, because I did not know the power of circumcision, I reject it from the dogmas of the Church." This is why he added his name. He wished to remaind them of what he had done in behalf of the Law. It is almost as if he were to say: "I do this not through hatred of circumcision but in full knowledge of the truth. I, Paul, say this, that Paul who was circumcised on the eighth day, who am an Israelite by birth, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee according to the Law, who zealously persecuted the Church, who entered houses, dragged out men and women, and handed them over into custody. All this could persuade even those who are very stupid that I set down this law not through any hatred nor in ignorance of things Jewish but in full knowledge of the surpassing truth of Christ. "And I testify again to every man who has himself circumcised, that he is bound to observe the Law".
(3) Why did he not say: "I exhort", or "I command", or "I say"? Why did he say: "I testify? So that he might, by this word, remind us of the future judgment. Where there are witnesses who testify, there also are judgments and sentences. He is frightening his hearer, then, by reminding him of the royal throne and by showing him that those very words will be his witness on that day when each man will give an account of what he has done, what he has said, and what he has heard. The Galatians heard those words in days gone by. Let those who are sick with the Galatians' disease hear them again today. If they are not present, let them hear through you the words that Paul exclaimed and said: "I testify again to every man who has himself circumcised, that he is bound to observe the whole Law.
(4) Do not tell me that circumcision is just a single command; it is that very command which imposes on you the entire yoke of the Law. When you subject yourself to the rule of the Law in one part, you must also obey its commands in all other things. If you do not fulfill it, you must be punished and draw its curse upon yourself. When a sparrow has fallen into the hunter's net, even if only its foot is caught, all the rest of its body is caught as well. So, too, the man who fulfills a single commandment of the Law, be it circumcision or fasting, through that one commandment, has given the Law full power over himself; as long as he is willing, and if he is willing to obey a part of the Law, he cannot avoid obeying the whole Law.
(5) We do not say this in accusation of the Law. Heaven forbid! We say it because we wish to show forth the surpassing riches of the grace of Christ. For the Law is not contrary to Christ. How could it be, when he is the one who gave the Law, when the Law leads us to him? But we are forced to say all these things because of the untimely contentiousness of those who do not use the Law as they should. The ones who outrage the Law are those who bid us stand apart from it once and for all and come to Christ, and then tell us to hold fast to it again. The Law has profited our nature very much. I agree to that and would never deny it. But you Judaizers cling to it beyond the proper time and will not let us see how very useful it has been.
(6) It would be the greatest source of praise for a tutor if his young pupil no longer needed him to keep watch over his conduct because the lad had advanced so greater in virtue. So, too, it would be the greatest praise for the Law that we no longer had need of its help. For the Law has brought that very thing to pass for us: it has prepared our soul to receive a greater philosophy.
(7) So it is that he who still sits at the feet of the Law and can see nothing greater than what is written therein derives no great profit from it. But I put the Law aside and ran to the loftier teachings of Christ; yet I could grant to the Law the greatest dignity because it made me such that I could go beyond the trivialities written therein and rise to the loftiness of the teaching which comes to us from Christ.
(8) The Law did profit our nature greatly, but only if it led us sincerely to Christ. If this be not the case, it did us harm by depriving us of the greater things because of our close attention to those which are less; it also hurt us by still keeping us in the countless wounds of our transgressions. Suppose there were two physicians, one weaker, the other stronger. If the weaker one applied medicines to the ulcers but could not free the sick man once and for all from the pain coming from his sores, then...
"If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has anything against you, leave there your offering before the altar and go first to be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift". Christ did not say: "Submit your offering and then go away", but "Let it stay there unoffered and go first to be reconciled to your brother".
(2) Nor did he do this only here but again in another place. If a man has an infidel wife, that is, a gentile, he is not forced to put her away. For St. Paul said: "If any man has an unbelieving wife and she consents to live with him, let him not put her away. But if he has a wife who is a harlot and an adulteress, there is nothing to stop him from putting her away. For Christ said: "Everyone who puts away his wife save on account of immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And so he is allowed to put her away because of immorality.
(3) Do you see God's loving-kindness and concern? He says: "If your wife be a gentile, do not put her away. But if she be a harlot, I do not stop you from doing so". What he means is this: If she acts outrageously toward Me, do not put her away; if she outrages you, there is no one to stop you from putting her away." If God, then, showed us such honor, will we not deem him deserving of equal honor? Will we let him be outraged by our wives? Will we permit this even though we realize that the greatest punishment and vengeance will be stored up for us when we neglect the salvation of our wives?
(4) This is why he made you to be head of the wife. This is why Paul gave the order: "If wives wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home", so that you, like a teacher, a guardian, a patron, might urge her to godliness. Yet when the hour set for the services summons you to the church, you fail to rouse your wife from their sluggish indifference. But now that the devil summons your wives to the feast of the Trumpets and they turn a ready ear to this call, you do not restrain them. You let them entangle themselves in accusations of ungodliness, you let them be dragged off into licentious ways. For, as a rule, it is the harlots, the effeminates, and the whole chorus from the theater who rush to that festival.
(5) And why do I speak of the immorality that goes on there? Are you not afraid that your wife may not come back from there after a demon has possessed her soul? Did you not hear in my previous discourse the argument which clearly proved to us that demons dwell in the very souls of the Jews and in places in which they gather? Tell me, then. How do you Judaizers have the boldness, after dancing with demons, to come back to the assembly of the apostles? After you have gone off and shared with those who shed the blood of Christ, how is it that you do not shudder to come back and share in his sacred banquet, to partake of his precious blood? Do you not shiver, are you not afraid when you commit such outrages? Have you so little respect for that very banquet?
(6) I have spoken these words to you. You will speak them to those Judaizers, and they to their wives. "Fortify one another". If a catechumen is sick with this disease, let him be kept outside the church doors. If the sick one be a believer and already initiated, let him be driven from the holy table. For not all sins need exhortation and counsel; some sins, of their very nature, demand cure by a quick and sharp excision. The wounds we can tolerate respond to more gentle cures; those which have festered and cannot be cured, those which are feeding on the rest of the body, need cauterization with a point of steel. So is it with sins. Some need long exhortation; others need sharp rebuke.
(7) This is why Paul did not enjoin us to exhort in every case but also to rebuke sharply: "Wherefore rebuke them sharply". Therefore, I will now rebuke them sharply, so that they may accuse themselves and feel shame for what they have done. Then they will never again be hurt by that sinful fast.
(8) So I shall put aside exhortation henceforth as I testify and exclaim: "If any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let a curse be upon him". What greater evidence could there be that a man does not love our Lord than when he participates in the festival with those who slew Christ? It was not I who hurled the curse at them, but Paul. Rather, it was not Paul but Christ, who spoke through him and said earlier: "Those who are justified in the law have fallen away from grace".(9) So speak these words to them, read aloud to them these texts. Show all your zeal in saving them. When you have snatched them from the devil's jaws, bring them to me on the day of the Jewish fast. Then, after I have kept the rest of my promise to you, let us, with one accord and with one voice, join our brothers in giving glory to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for to Him is glory forever. Amen.
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