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Philoxenus, Ascetic Discourses (1894) pp.214-246. Discourse 8 -- First Discourse on Poverty


The man who wisheth to travel along the open way of perfection hath need to make the beginning of his journey in the fair order which is becoming to that way, and he should not begin his discipleship in the law which seemeth good unto him, but in that defined law which was delivered by the word of Christ our God unto His disciples, even as He walked in this way of perfection. And He in His own Person became a law unto us, and He gave us a fair example that we might journey after His footsteps; for Jesus was not a teacher unto us in words only, but also in the works of perfection which He fulfilled in Himself, and therefore [p. 223] He is truly the good Teacher Who taught, and practised, for His teaching was practice, and His practice was teaching. And thus also our Lord Himself depicted and shewed us in His own ministration, for after He had performed all the righteousness which justice required, and had kept the law of the commandments which are to be perfected in the world. He then left the world, and went forth therefrom that |215 He might teach perfection. For I do not say also that those who are in the world cannot be justified, but that it is not possible for them to arrive at perfection, for the world itself is an obstacle to perfection, that is to say, of righteousness also, and of the uprightness which is worked therein. And a man is not able to bear two labours and to be perfect in two virtues while he is in the world, and for this reason the commandments were defined and set apart for those who journey in the world in order that they might possess their lives through them, and the other path of perfection, which is above the world, was opened. For the Will of Christ ordained the law, that is, He required that all the children of men should journey along the path of angels, and that no man should turn aside from that mark which He placed in the midst, but because not every man was able to do this----now He wished that every man should live----He gave divers commandments to every man that he might live thereby. And He made measures and steps in His doctrine, not because these things exist in it, but because of those who were to receive it, and because they were in need [of them], and without them they were not able to live. [p. 224] To the path of the world the life of righteousness is united, and to the path which is outside the world is attached perfection, and the end of the path of righteousness and justice is absolute destitution of all possessions. For so long as a man possesseth human wealth, whether it be little, or whether it be much, he is unable to walk in the path of perfection, for in respect of every possession which existed, according to the measure thereof doth it become a fetter to the mind, and a chain to the light wings |216 of the understanding so that they cannot fly along the heavenly path. Whosoever hath riches must perforce meditate thereupon, and whosoever meditateth upon riches cannot meditate upon God, and if on an occasion the remembrance of God rise up in him, it is not lasting; for it is not possible that he should remember God when he is meditating upon [his] possessions, or if he imagine that he doth remember Him, the remembrance is borrowed and is not true, for it is not possible that these two remembrances should dwell together at one time in the soul, and if they dwell therein one of them must necessarily be borrowed, and the other be true. And if a man think truly that he meditateth upon God while he hath in his mind the anxious care of riches, [he doeth it] not with all the might of his soul, which it is seemly to us to give wholly to God; for we are obliged to serve God not with one of our members, and the world with another, and to meditate upon Him at one time, and upon mammon at another, but it is right that we should give all our might [p. 225] to the service of the commandments, and that always the seasons may be helpful to us to remember Him, that we may become temples to Him alone, having poured out from us every meditation of the mind which is outside Him. And that man is not able to serve God worthily while he is in the world, and while he is a possessor of riches, and the owner of wealth, the word of our Redeemer Himself testifieth, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon;" 1 and forthwith the hearer thought that henceforth the door of righteousness was shut in the |217 face of all the children of men, for they cannot be wholly free from the care of riches, and according to the decision of the word of Christ, whosoever careth for it cannot care for God. And it is necessary for us to understand the word as it was spoken, for according to the rule of those who are perfect, the man who careth for riches cannot care for God; but a man, being a possessor of wealth, is able to be justified by that other measure of righteousness which is worked in the world, if it be that he is not a servant who worshippeth his riches, but a master of the things which he possesseth. Some men are slaves of their possessions, and some are masters of their wealth, and one man is worshipped by his possessions, and another man worshippeth them. Now the word of our Lord was spoken concerning the man who is a slave of his possessions, and who is not able to be a servant of God; "For ye cannot serve two masters." 2 Thou seest [p. 226] that He shewed two masters in His discourse, and that in explaining who these were, He said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."

Behold then, whosoever hath made mammon his master cannot serve God, but he serveth that master whom he hath chosen of his own freewill, his service being especially dear unto him, and his dominion over him being beloved by him, because he hath become subject unto, him of his own freewill. For the children of men are wont to love exceedingly that which they have chosen of their own freewill, and they love it much more than Him Who perforce and naturally is Master over them. And behold, if there were a few men who have |218 pleased, or who please God, it is because they were and are masters of their wealth, and they sent it forth to [do] everything like a slave and subject, sometimes to feed the hungry, sometimes to clothe the naked, sometimes to redeem the captive, sometimes [to pay] vows and offerings unto God, and sometimes to free those who were in the bondage of debts; and wheresoever the will desired to rule over it, there it sent it like a servant, even as did Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Job, and Joseph, and David, and Hezekiah. And of these men some were rich, and some were princes, and some were kings, and collectively they all were owners of great possessions and wealth; but they were masters of their riches, and their riches were not [p. 227] masters of them, their riches worked for them in all the good things which they wished [to do], and they did not serve them in all the wickedness which mammon demanded.

Now there are distinctions between the commandments, and it must be understood to whom each was spoken. For this commandment, "Ye cannot serve two masters----God and mammon," must, according to the meaning of the passage, have been spoken to those who wished to be righteous while they were [still] in the world, and He advised and admonished them that because they had ceased from the path of perfection they should not become wholly and entirely servants of mammon, and forsake the dominion of God which was naturally set over their lives. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where the moth and the rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where the moth and the rust do |219 not corrupt, and where thieves break not through nor steal." 3 And it is evident that this commandment is not applicable to solitaries and to those who are perfect, for how could "Lay not up for thyself treasure upon earth" be said to him to whom it was commanded, "Take no thought for the morrow?" 4 And how could the words, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven of your alms," apply to the man to whom it was said, "Thou shalt not possess two coats, nor wallet, nor cloak, nor money in the wallet." 5 And what hath the thief who stealeth, or the moth which destroyeth to do with him to whom it is commanded that, save himself, he should possess nothing? So therefore the words, [p. 228] "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," are a command to those who have possessions, for because the Teacher saw that they could not. rise up to the grade of perfection, He brought Himself down in His speech to their level, and He ordained for them a law which was suitable to the position in which they stood, and said, "Since it is impossible for thee to be destitute, thou shalt not become a slave to thy wealth, and serve it like one subject thereto, but thou shalt be unto it a master in the ministration of all good things. For when it is thy master, whithersoever it wisheth it sendeth thee, at one time to plunder, at another to thieve, and at another to bear false witness, at another to oppress and to despoil, at another to swear false oaths, and sometimes [it sendeth thee] even to commit murder, and also to the participation with devils, and it omitteth no one of these wicked |220 things which it will command thee to do so long, as it is thy lord, and thou art its servant. And as, if thou be its master, it sendeth thee [to do] all good things, so also if it be thy master it sendeth thee [to do] all wickedness." For it is the law that a master should give the command, and that the servant should be commanded, and so long as a man is the master he giveth the command, and so long as he is a servant he is commanded. And where there are those who give commands those who are commanded will be found, and things will be done according to the will of those who give the commands. And Jesus the Teacher did not lay a heavy command upon those who had possessions when He commanded them to be masters of their riches, but only that [p. 229] which they themselves should have desired, and because they did not know how to obtain it, He taught them in this manner. And it is like a man who eagerly desireth to become wise, but who knoweth not how to gather together knowledge, and another man is found who becometh his teacher and [sheweth him] how to collect it and to obtain possession thereof; or another man who loveth wealth, but who knoweth not how it is gathered together; or another man who loveth edifices which are richly furnished, but he knoweth not how they are to be built, or how they are to be furnished. In this manner the children of men desire to be masters of [their] riches, but unconsciously it is found that their wealth hath become their master; and the Teacher, having pity upon those who had possessions, taught them, [saying], "Be ye masters of your riches, according to your desire;" and together with this He shewed them in what way they should be masters. The desire |221 [to obtain] things is one thing, and the knowledge of [how to obtain] them is another. One man desireth, but knoweth not how to obtain that which he desireth; and another knoweth how to find and to obtain [things], but he desireth [them] not. Now to those who desired to become masters of riches, and who had obtained them and they had turned and become their master, Jesus taught the knowledge of that thing which they desired; these then, Jesus commanded to be masters of [their] riches, and not to be servants thereof, while those who were perfect He commanded to be not even masters, [p. 230] and He counselled them not to humble themselves to be masters of dumb possessions. Those, however, who had possessions He freed from the bondage of senseless stuff, lest while they served it they should become servers of idols, concerning which it is written, "They have no breath in their mouth, and although they have eyes, and ears, and hands, they see not, and hear not, and work not." 6 And for this reason the Apostle Paul called the love of mammon "idolatry," 7 for as the heathen worship things which have no feeling, and in which there is neither life nor perception, even so do those who love riches worship the gold which is silent, and the silver which is dumb, together with all [their] possessions which have neither feeling nor knowledge. One man Jesus commanded, [saying], "Be not a servant of riches," and to another He ordained the law, "Be not even a master of wealth;" to one He said, "It is a disgrace to thy freedom that thou shouldst be subject unto gold," and to the other He said, "It is a contemptible |222 thing for thy mastership to rule over natural things, for thou art humbled to the possessions which are the shells of natural things." For to him who had forsaken mastership over everything, and had been caught fast by the desire of little wealth, He said, "Possess, only when thou hast become possessor of thy possession, let it not happen that thy possession possess thee;" but the other whom He saw had been exalted from being a servant to wealth, He raised up to a higher grade than this, and said, "Be not a master unto it." For as [p. 231] it is a disgrace to him that wisheth to be master of his possessions to become a servant thereto, even so is it a disgrace also to him that hath been freed from the bondage of wealth, that there should be found with him the mastership of wealth.

The poor man possesseth the things of poverty, and the rich man the great and glorious things of wealth; now therefore since those which have possessions are poor, they possess poverty, [which is] riches and temporal possessions, but the destitute are rich, and it would be a disgrace to that excellent name if it became the possessor of the things of poverty, gold, and silver, and raiment, and if it exchanged the riches of eternity for the poverty of time, and heavenly possessions for human mammon. And that thou mightest not serve mammon our Lord said unto him that loved mammon, "Be thou its master, and let it be to thee a slave." It appeareth therefore that Jesus gave this commandment to those who were rich, but to all the others who wished to walk in the lofty path of perfection He said, "Possess not gold, nor silver, nor money in your wallets, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor |223 staff, for the labourer is worthy of his food," 8 that is to say, "Such freedom befitteth such labour." So then Jesus sent them from all the world, and then [p. 232] He brought them out of the world, saying, "Go forth, and leave everything in its place in the world, and take not out with you to the country of life things which are mortal. Ye have been called to put on purple, cast off first the filthy rags of the world, and then put on royal purple. For who that wisheth to put on the glory which is for eternity would not first cast off the garments which are worn out, and then put on that glory which never becometh old? And whosoever wisheth to be enrolled in Jerusalem above will not have a dwelling in the earth, but he will dwell in that city. Whosoever wisheth not to be received in that world by Grace shall be received in this world graciously by every man; and whosoever wisheth to be a dweller in the marriage chamber, let him not possess in this world either a wallet or a cloak; and whosoever seeketh to obtain God, let him not possess money in his wallet; for it is an endless disgrace that together with God a man should be possessed of money. For he who possesseth the things of time, together with those of eternity, is not sensible of the greatness of his possession, and therefore he runneth to obtain poverty together with riches. And neither is it possible that these two treasures can be contained in one vessel, for no man ever put scourings together with gold in one vessel, nor did any one ever account straw and wood of equal value with precious stones." This commandment then was given by the Master to |224 His disciples when He sent them to be fishers of men unto life; [p.233] He cut off first from them all the fetters of the world, and He loosed from them all human ties, and then He sent them to loose others, for the man that is fettered cannot loose him that is in bondage. The possession of the things of the world is a fetter to all the members, and a curb of all the senses, and the whole man is bound and fettered in his inward and outward things thereby. And well did our Lord first loose the fetters of the world from His disciples, and then send them to loose the bonds of others, that those who were in bonds might see that those whose bonds were loosed bore the mark of freedom, and the sign of the Kingdom, and that He that loosed them might be believed in by them, especially when they saw that those from whom they had cut off the bonds of the world were free.

This similitude then did our Lord set in the place of these commandments which He delivered to the Apostles when He commanded them to possess nothing; He made them destitute of everything, and then He sent them to be ministers of His will in the conversion of others, so that therefrom we might learn, that everyone who wisheth to be a minister unto God must deny himself all worldly possessions, and must be destitute of everything after the manner of the Apostles, and then he shall go forth and become a minister of the perfect will of God. For as long as the Apostles were with Jesus, and were going about with Him from place to place, they stood not in the position of perfection, [p. 234] and for this reason our Lord was silent about the [other] commandments, so long as they were Apostles with Him; and He allowed them to do the |225 other things which followed closely upon their continuance with Him, and which were useful also to those who drew nigh to Him, either going about among the multitudes who were sitting down in the wilderness, or when they were sent by Him [to do] things which were of use for some visible purpose, even as when He sent Simon to the sea to catch a fish and to pay the poll tax,9 and as when they were also invited with Him in the body to the feast chamber.10 And they wandered from city to city and went round about with Him, and they paid Him honour visibly before the crowds, and they kept back from Him the press of the multitudes that not every man might forcibly make his way to Him, even as it is written, "And certain people sought to bring little children to Him that He might bless them, and His disciples restrained them;" 11 and everywhere, according to the measure of their knowledge at that time they paid Him honour like unto this. And He humbled Himself and accepted these things from them from time to time, because He knew that they were only able to offer unto Him visible ministration. And although their ministration was feeble, still it was according to the measure of their knowledge; for He considered the willingness, and likewise accepted the ministration thereof. And it is the wont of Jesus, whether it be then or now, to demand service according to the power of the will, and He desireth not that the work should be above [p. 235] the will of him that doeth it, for if it be apparent that he doeth for Him a work which is above his intelligence, or above the law, |226 either perfunctorily or slothfully, this Jesus wisheth not, nor to receive service from a rational man as if he were a dumb vessel. For while He was humbling Himself to receive from all the measures of their intelligence, and the services which they offered to Him, He magnified them in His teaching, that they might be exalted to the ministration of those who are perfect from their former state, so that the first service might be a path for that which followed after it, and that the first virtue might become training and exercise for the other virtue which should be perfected therefrom. And together with the work the Teacher set forth doctrine, not only in deed but also by His word, even as He did to Mary and Martha, who both offered service unto Him, but the service of Mary was more perfect than that of Martha, and both ministered unto Him, the one only according to the body, and the other according to the spirit, and our Lord received both services, and pronounced blessed the service which was superior to its fellow, [saying], "Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." 12 As if a man should say, "Do thou also, O Martha, forsake that [service] which is imperfect, and be exalted in thy service to the more excellent grade." And Jesus did not reject the ministration of Martha, for according to the measure of her knowledge and of her love was [p. 236] the measure of her ministration; but He wished that she would offer great instead of little things, and instead of the service of the body the service of the spirit. And the service of Mary and of Martha was like exactly unto the service of |227 the holy Apostles of the old and of the latter times, for that bodily service which they also offered unto Him in one place after another was like unto that of Martha; but that other service which He taught them to offer unto Him in the commandment, "Ye shall possess nothing," was the counterpart of the service of the blessed Mary. For there are many who, like Martha and Zacchaeus, and those women who clave to Him, and who ministered unto Him from their possessions, are justified, and there are some whose service like that of Mary and the Apostles is wholly of the spirit; and Jesus wished and desired this service, so that all the children of men might arrive at perfection. And His coming into the world took place that He might deliver to the children of men the life and rule of spiritual beings, even as also the holy Apostle taught that it was meet that the man of God should be in all perfection, [saying], "The man of God shall be perfect [to do] every good and perfect thing." 13

Now this perfection Jesus delivered unto His disciples by those commandments concerning absolute poverty which He gave to them, when He denied to them the whole world, and everything that is therein, and not them only, but also, in them and with them, every man [p. 237] who followeth after perfection. For when He ordained the law for the persons of the Apostles, He delivered doctrine unto the multitude, and unto the whole race of the children of men, and He urged every one who wished to be obedient unto Him to [follow] this fair thing. And moreover, at the beginning of their election when He called them to go |228 after Him, it is written of them that, "Immediately He called them they forsook everything and went after Him." They were casting nets' into the sea and He saw and called them, "and they left their nets and their ship, and went after Him." 14 And He saw also James and John in a ship with Zebedee their father, and He called them also, and straightway they left the net with Zebedee their father, and went after Him.

Behold the law of the going forth after God! And behold the straight rule which hath been marked for us in the Holy Books! Therefore it is right that every man who desireth to go forth after God should emulate the going forth of the Apostles, and that he should despise and reject everything which is visible, and deny the whole world, for Christ hath said that the man who desireth to be a perfect disciple of Him must also deny himself.15 If a man denieth his life according to the word of our Redeemer, then will he be a disciple, but without this there is no means of a man arriving at perfection. [p. 238] And how can a man who denieth not himself the possessions of the world, and who despiseth not all the riches which are seen, and bodily pleasures, arrive at that perfection which Jesus delivered? And I do not speak these things of myself, but I follow after the desire of the Holy Books, and I take my stand upon the law which hath been ordained by the King.

The disciples are the beginning of the discipleship of Christians, and their calling was such----as it is written concerning them----that immediately they were called |229 they forsook everything, and went forth after Him. And whosoever wisheth to become a disciple let him consider this example, and let him look at this mark with all his mind and understanding, in order that inwardly and outwardly he may make himself destitute of everything, and then let him begin to journey along this heavenly path; for he will never be filled unless he first of all empty himself, and he will never lay his hand upon the riches of heaven unless he first let go the poverty which he holdeth. It is impossible for him to lay hold upon the one, unless he let go the other, especially as they are opposed to each other, and each of them when it draweth nigh destroyeth the other. And behold when we have made ourselves destitute of everything, if we have only emptied ourselves to the extent of keeping His commandments, our ministration is not yet worthy of God, inasmuch as the strength of our soul is divided and split asunder, and some thereof is occupied with the love of the things of the world, and it is not able to offer unto God the service [p. 239] of love. For this command is grievous unto whomsoever is fettered with the love of riches, and although it be freedom from the world, yet to those who are held fast in the subjection of the world----those who are fettered, and whose fetters are pleasant unto them; and those who are fast bound, and their bonds are sweet unto them; those who have thrown the chains of anxious care upon all their members, and have taken upon them to become subject unto the world, and not servants of Christ----it is hard and difficult. For Jesus proclaimeth freedom unto thee, but the world hath prepared slavery for thee, and if the bondage of the world is sweet to thee, it is not |230 because its nature is to be so, but because thy own desire hath been corrupted, and it hath lusted evilly. When a man longeth for something belonging to the world, his desire is not healthy, but he desireth, like a sick man, that which will not benefit him, and [his] desire is altogether to his own injury; for it is the custom with many sick persons to desire [things] for their own injury rather than for their good, and [to choose] that which will prevent their recovery rather than that which will heal their sickness. For the healing which is in them is turned to illness, and the power of the natural appetite which is in them is also changed from its natural condition, for the strength of the appetite is preserved by the uniformity of admixture and by the healthy condition of the body, and when the admixture of the body is disturbed the bodily appetites are also confounded. [p. 240] The man who is being consumed with fever desireth a draught of cold water, and although it would do him harm to drink he asketh to drink, and is furious with those who will not give him [water]; but the wise physician answereth him not, because he knoweth that it is the blind craving that is in him which asketh for that which would prevent his recovery. Similarly the riches of the world are sweet, and the possessions thereof are much desired by those who are diseased in their souls, and who are lacking the healing of divine knowledge, and they ask for everything which will do them harm; but our heavenly Physician by His health-giving provisions warneth us against harm, and He commandeth us to do, not that which is sweet to us and in which we find satisfaction, but that which will be of benefit to us, even though we may not find satisfaction in the doing thereof, for the wise physician |231 followeth not the desire of the sick, and he doth not submit himself to their appetites which will retard and injure their recovery, but he treateth them according to the beneficial law of healing, and teacheth them to fight against their desire that they may be healed.

Let us then receive the yoke of poverty according as our Redeemer commanded, even though it be heavy upon us, for it will not be heavy to the will which agreeth with the commandments of Christ. For there is no man who doth not desire to be a free man, and to be free from the yoke of bondage, and moreover, unto every man the name of "free" is more beloved than that of "slave." And our Lord, in that He commanded us to be aliens to the world, [p. 241] gave us true freedom, in which He Himself lived and moved while He was in the world, for although by nature inasmuch as He was God, He was free, yet in that He took the form of a slave He lived and moved in freedom, and He was above all the care of [this] world. For it is written that Jesus "took the form of a servant, and He became the likeness of the children of men, and He was found to be in form like unto a man," 16 and He was truly as we are. But in one thing, which is outside of us, He did not participate, that is to say, He did not possess on [this] earth riches, and possessions, or mammon, or wealth, or buildings, or estates, or vineyards, for Jesus possessed none of these things in order that He might teach His own [disciples] that they should not possess them; and that Being Who was free took no care for them, that He might free us also from care for them. And He was not bowed |232 beneath the yoke of bondage to the world, that He might also take from off us the heavy yoke of the bondage of the world; and He was not fettered by human affairs that He might loose from off us the fetters thereof; and carking care did not chain Him, that He might raise His disciples above the care and anxiety concerning all the things which are visible. The free Man dwelt in creation in freedom in order that He might teach us in very deed also to live therein in freedom. Whosoever then wisheth to become a disciple to that Master let him regard the sojourn of His Master in the world, and as He was, even so let him himself be in creation. The Lord of the world was a stranger and an alien in the world, and as was the Lord, even so it is meet [p. 242] that the servants should be. And observe how destitute of human things was He in Whom all fulness was gathered together, for in all creation He had neither a nest nor a den which have even the beast and bird! "The foxes have holes, and the bird of heaven hath a covert, but the Son of Man hath not even where to lay His head". 17

Behold, O disciple, thy course of life and action are marked out by the words of thy Master: that which He had not, thou shalt not have, and that which He possessed not, thou shalt not possess. Disciples are not known by [their] outward appearance, but by the similarity and agreement of works, and by their treading in the footsteps of their Master, and by their walking in the way which He trod for them; for if the path had not been trodden, and if the footsteps of our God were not visible therein, there would then have |233 been an excuse for the slothful, those to whom the bonds of the world are dear, but behold the path is open, and the way is known, and the tracks therein can be seen by every man with the light of truth. But if a man seeth them not, although he setteth his footsteps upon them, it is manifest that it must be because he lacketh the light of faith which sheweth [them], and although he thinketh that he is journeying along the way, he is travelling away from it into error. And the words which Jesus spake to thee, [when He said] that He had not a place wherein to lay His head, were to teach thee that thou also shouldst not have a place wherein to lay thy head, for He said, "The foxes have holes, and the bird of heaven hath a covert"; therefore if thou possessest a house thou art like unto these, [p. 243] and if thou hast a dwelling-place in the world, thou art to be compared with the beasts and birds, for this is what the literal interpretation of the words teacheth. But if thou art destitute of everything which is in the world, and thou hast not upon earth a place wherein to rest thy head, thou art like unto God, for that which the Master wished the disciples to be, He depicted and showed to them in His own Person, and He confirmed His doctrine unto us by His deeds, even as it is written concerning Him, "From [the time of] His baptism by John He began to work and to teach",18 even until that day in which He was taken up [into heaven]. These were the fair deeds and the excellent manner of life which He shewed forth in His own Person. And although the raising of the dead, and the cleansing of the lepers, and the opening of the |234 eyes of the blind, and the making the lame to walk, and the straightening of the crooked limbed, and the making upright of those bent double, and the driving away of devils, and the walking upon the waves, and the stilling of the winds, were also works, because they were signs and wonders, yet the writer calleth the spiritual life and conduct which appeared in the Person of Christ, the work which was closely united to teaching. For if He came only for the sake of [doing] good deeds, and not to work wonders, His teaching also was for spiritual life and conduct, and to this He also united work, in order that He might show us in Himself the type of all perfection. And He forsook the world and all the conversation among the children of men immediately after the baptism of John, [p. 244] and went forth to the wilderness, for until [the time of] His baptism He was fulfilling another rule of life, and He kept everything of the old law, that He might pay that debt on account of which all our race had become subject unto the bondage of sin, and of the law, and of death. And Jesus in His own Person kept everything which it was meet for those who lived righteously in the world to do, for it is written concerning Him 19 that He went up into the Temple, and offered up offerings, and that He was subject unto the priests, and that He fulfilled everything which was written in the law. And this [He did] for two reasons: firstly, that He might pay that which was due, and secondly that He might teach everyone in the world that the righteousness of the law should be a care to |235 him, and that he should minister to the service of God by the observance of the law. And He omitted not to keep the smallest jot or tittle of the law, in order that He might teach him that was still in the world to keep everything which he was commanded like one subject thereunto, for everyone who still leadeth the life of the world, and who is still fettered by the taking and giving of the cares of the children of men is still under the law; but whosoever hath made himself poor and goeth forth from the world is above the world, and he is of necessity also above the law, because the law hath not power to bring into subjection those who are above the law. For whosoever standeth in the country of bondage is perforce governed by the law, but whosoever standeth in the country [p. 245] of freedom, his whole life is like that of a free man, and of his own freewill, like a freeman, he doeth good deeds with power, and not like one who is bowed under the yoke of the law. And to speak briefly, wherever wickedness is wrought there also hath the law power to turn it back and to restrain it, according to the testimony of the teacher Paul, who saith, "The law was not laid down for the righteous, but for the wicked and unruly, and for the unclean, and for those who smite their fathers and mothers, and for murderers, and adulterers, and whoremongers";20 over such as these hath the law power. Now therefore, although our discourse was wishing to shew that the perfect who are led by the spirit are alone above the law, it is found that Paul teacheth that the righteous also, who are on a lower level than the perfect, are free from the law, for they do not do the |236 good things of the law as if they were fearers thereof, but as those who are at peace with the law. For the man who killeth not, that he may die not, since murder is ready in his mind, is a murderer; and he who committeth not adultery, although he wisheth to do so, through fear of being condemned by the judge, and delivered over to the law, is an adulterer; and every one who deviseth harm, but who by reason of the fear of the punishments which are commanded by the law is held back, and doeth it not, is nevertheless, according to his own will, the worker of all wickedness. Now as for the righteous who are kept back from doing wickedness, it is not because they are afraid lest wickedness should happen through them, but because they may not provoke God to anger by a deed which is unpleasing to Him. [p. 246] Therefore there are some who are held back from wickedness, because they are afraid of wickedness itself, and there are some who are held back therefrom because they would [rather] do the things which are good, for unless a man bringeth wickedness to nought, he is not able to do good things.

Up to [the time of] baptism our Lord delivered the rule and life of righteousness to the children of men that they might do the good things which are written in the law, and offer up offerings of their possessions to God, and vow vows and pay [them], and be constant in the Temple of God, and receive blessings in faith from the priests, that children might be subject unto parents and minister unto them, that they might also seek the word of life, and ask and learn from the teachers everything which is necessary for instruction in virtues, and that they might hear and be subject unto the prophets; these |237 then, and things like unto them, and all the righteousness which befitteth believing men, did our Lord deliver in the life and conduct of His Gospel, from the beginning up to the time of of [His] baptism, to those who had possessions, that they might gather together their possessions while they were in the world, and He Himself did everything that He might teach us to do likewise. He was purified according to the command of the law, that He might teach the faithful to be purified from iniquity; He was circumcised that they also might circumcise and cast away from them the foreskin of the heart, and that they might cut off from themselves the ministration unto every lust; He went up to the Temple laden with offerings that He might tread for them the path in which they should run to the house of God bearing their vows and offerings, [p. 247] He drew nigh to the priest that he might bless Him and pray over Him, and although He was the Priest of the Spirit, he spake with Him other great things, that He might shew the faithful also to ask for the prayer of the priests, and to bow the heads of themselves and of their children to their blessing. He went up each year to the Temple, as it is written of Him,21 that He might teach the faithful to go to the Temple, of God always. He made feasts according to their proper times and ceremonies that He might stir thee up to keep the festivals of the Church with discretion, and that thou mightest fulfil in them all thy obligations. He sat among the teachers, and listened unto them, and asked them questions,22 and He bowed His ear, and received instruction, |238 that thou also mightest hear and ask questions, and incline thine ear continually to the hearing of the divine commandments, and that thou mightest ask questions and learn those things which are beneficial to thy life, even from those who are inferior to thee in knowledge, even as our Lord Himself asked questions of those who were inferior to Him in knowledge, and He received doctrine from those who had gathered together doctrine from the law which He Himself had given. And moreover, finally, when He saw all the sinners who were running to the baptism of John, the prophet of God, He also went with them, and He bowed His head under the hand of the Herald, and He received baptism from him as one who was in need thereof----from him who needed to be baptized of Him; and He forsook the habitation of man, and went forth to the wilderness to John with all the multitudes.23 [p. 248] And why [did He do] these things unless it were to teach those who were masters of wealth, and those who dwelt in the world, to go forth to the saints, and to run to the solitary dwellers, and to honour the prophets and righteous men, and to be obedient to the admonition of their words by the discretion of their faith?

Now therefore this righteousness did our Redeemer deliver, and this rule and conduct did He shew to the faithful - in the time which preceded [His] baptism, and He admonished those who had possessions to possess these virtues, for He did not give this rule and conduct of life to the solitary dwellers, neither did He deliver it to those who were perfect. What temple |239 hath the spiritual man to go to, seeing that he himself is the temple of God? And what dwelling hath he from which to go to the house of God, seeing that He hath not even a shelter in the world wherein to dwell? And with what shall he offer offerings and pay vows, seeing that in [all] creation he possesseth nothing? And with what shall he clothe the naked and receive strangers, seeing that he himself is both a stranger and naked? And what wickedness can the man who is perfect, and complete in all virtues, cut off and cast from him? And of whom shall the man who hath no conversation with the children of men ask, and from whom shall he learn? if he hath need to learn, the Spirit of God instead of a man will teach him.

Now therefore this doctrine until [the time of His] baptism was delivered unto righteous believers, [p. 249] and it was given unto righteous owners of possessions, and to those who had not entirely gone forth from the world, in order that those who were suitable for the condition in which they lived might not be deprived of good works. And Christ Himself Who is everything, in Whom is everything, in Whose hand is everything, and because of Whom everything is, manifested this rule and conduct of life in His own Person, and although it fell short of perfection, yet He nevertheless fulfilled it, in order that He might give unto every man his measure of instruction, and that according to his grade and position he might draw nigh to a fair life, for without virtues it is not possible for a man to live. Now these virtues are different from one another, and moreover the commandments which are given concerning them, are like the virtues, different each from each. For behold, it is written that before His |240 baptism He was subject unto His parents; "He went back with them to Nazareth, and was subject unto them".24 But observe that, after the baptism, when He was delivering a rule of life which was more perfect than this to the children of men, He was not persuaded to acknowledge parents after the body. "Who is My mother, and who are My brethren?" 25 He said to him that spake of them to Him. And although He was obedient and subject unto His parents before baptism, in the time which followed, when He was delivering the rule and course of life of spiritual beings, He said, "I know them not"; and they called Him to go forth to them, but He would not be persuaded. [p. 250] And His mother spake to Him, and He listened not unto her then because He was perfecting the will of the Father Who sent Him, and was not fulfilling the humble commandments. Now if our Lord had done this before baptism when He was keeping the law, that is, if He had been called by His mother, and He had not obeyed, He would have transgressed the law; but in this case, He did not [transgress] except to shew that He was more obedient to the Father of nature than to the parents of grace, and that He might also teach those who are perfect to be more obedient unto the Father of grace than unto natural parents. "I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And I did not come down from heaven to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me".26 These things were spoken when He was fulfilling within Himself perfection, in order that spiritual beings who are outside the world might understand that not only to natural |241 parents should they not be obedient and keep in subjection unto them, but also that they should not be persuaded by their own will, neither by their own wants and pleasures in any thing, but that they should deny themselves, even as it was said by the Redeemer, "Whosoever denieth not himself cannot be My disciple".27 Now therefore it is written that three days after our Lord had returned from the wilderness, He was bidden to a feast, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and, His disciples.28 [p. 251] And when wine was lacking for the guests, His mother said to Jesus, "They have no wine", and she began on this occasion also to speak to Him with authority, even as a mother doth from early habit; but Jesus restrained that freedom of speech, teaching that the obligation of parental reverence had been paid by Him, and that henceforth He would not be subject unto His parents as He had been of yore. And observe what a severe rebuke He brought against that early authority thereby! "What have I to do with thee, woman?" The words are full of rebuke, and the whole speech is full of indignation, and rightly so, because by this speech He was giving an example to those who are perfect of not being governed by the law of natural parents when they have come out from the world in which [their] parents still live. For Mary stood in one rule of life, and Jesus stood in another, that is to say, she lived the life of the law, and He lived the life of the Spirit; and it was not well that He Who lived the life of the Spirit should be commanded by one who was still governed by the law. |242 Mary gave the command like a woman in authority, and Jesus answered her like a free man; "They have no wine", said Mary, and these are words of authority, and like a mother she spake with a command. "What have I to do with thee, O woman?" He replied like one who was not subject [unto her], and He spake as unto a strange woman who was not His mother. For He did not say, "What hast thou to do with me, My mother?", but, "What hast thou to do with Me, O woman? By grace thou hast become my mother, [p. 252] and through Divine dispensation I have been born of thee; and I have been subject unto thee, and I have been obedient, but not because I am bound [to be so] to thee naturally. My beginning was not from thee, that I should receive grace from thee, for it was for thy sake that I came into being. Thou didst not become with child with suffering, neither didst thou bring me forth with the pangs of birth; thou didst not rear Me as one who was in need of rearing that I should give unto thee the reward of the fulfilling of My wants. Everything which thou didst give to Me I have given to thee. And if thou didst carry Me in thy womb, and didst grow great with Me, and didst bring Me forth, and didst care for Me, and didst bring Me up, these things took place by the power which came from Me. And that I have been obedient and subject unto thee was not a debt which I was bound to pay thee on My own behalf, but I paid the debt and I fulfilled the law on behalf of all the children who rebel against [their] parents. And now that the debt hath been paid, and dispensation of the law hath been fulfilled, what have I to do with thee, O woman?" Now this speech is like unto the words, "Who is My mother?" and unto that |243 which He said to John, "Behold thy mother!" and again He said to Mary, "Behold thy son!" 29 And it is moreover like unto another speech which Jesus spake unto them when they sought to take Him with them to the feast as they were going up to Jerusalem, to that feast, according to [His] former wont before baptism, when He separated Himself from them, [saying], "Go ye up to the feast, but I will not go up to the feast",30 and after [p. 253] He had dismissed them, and had not gone up with them, He turned back, and went up in the midst of the feast. And His going up is not contrary to that which He said, "I will not go up", for He said, "I will not go up as one who is subject [unto the law]", because they were going up as men who were subject to the law, that they might do the works of the law; but Jesus went up as one having authority, to gather together unto Him those who were bidden to the new feast. And in that He said, "I will not go up", He shewed two things; that He was subject neither unto parents, nor unto the law. For he that is subject unto parents doeth whatsoever they command him, and he also who is under the law must, together with the commandments, observe all its works. He was from the beginning of the feast bound to go up, because at this feast all the Jews also were going up to the Temple, and, moreover, they went up thither a few days before [the feast], to purify themselves, that when they came to the first day of the feast they might be pure. But Jesus did none of these things, for He went not up with them in order that He might shew them that He was not subject unto them, and He did not [go up] |244 at the beginning of the feast that He might teach them that He did not go up to keep the feast; but He went up in the middle thereof, going up of His own freewill. And His going up after He had told His parents that He was not going up was like unto that which He did at the feast of Cana, for after He had said to Mary, "What hast thou to do with me, O woman"----a speech which seemed to indicate that He would not be obedient unto what she had said----He turned and did [p. 254] that thing which she had said, not because she had commanded Him, but because of His power, and because the time had come for Him to begin to work miracles, that thereby it might be seen Who He was, and that He might make His glory known and gather together unto Him disciples, and also that He might shew that henceforth He would do everything with authority like One that was free, and not according to the feebleness of human nature, and not according to the subjection of parents, and not according to the law's command.

Now we have shewn the power of these things which we have spoken from the Holy Book, and it is right, moreover, for him that readeth, that while he readeth our discourse, he should examine the Holy Book, and see that these matters are, in their several places, known to be thus; and in order that this meaning should be marked out for us the passages are distinct, each from the other, and one course of life and action is different from the other. This mystery, then, Jesus delivered unto us by the life which He led until [His] baptism, and from [His] baptism to the cross, because all righteousness is defined by these two courses: a man should work either in himself, or he should work with that which |245 belongeth to him; the service which is of himself is the righteousness which is outside him, and the service which is in him is his own perfection. For the righteousness of the law is one thing, and the righteousness which Christ gave was another; the righteousness of the law [lasted] until [His] baptism, but that which was of Him was from baptism unto the Cross, and thenceforward it is the delight and life which is above the world. Therefore at the end of [His] baptism Jesus had attained [p. 255] unto the limit of the righteousness of the law, but from that time until the Cross He stood at the limit of the spiritual perfection in the perfect goodness which He Himself had brought unto creation. Henceforth then it is meet for us to understand that all the children of men who, being still in the world, work good things, are even as the righteous men of old, that is to say, like Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other just men and Prophets of old. And the righteousness of the law may be thus described: a man should labour while he is in the world, whether to clothe the naked, or relieve the afflicted, or receive strangers into his house, or visit the sick, or hasten to the help of the saints, and solitary dwellers, and monks, or whether he set apart for himself seasons of prayer, or whether he be constant in the temple of God, or whether he lend money without diminution of the amount and without exacting interest, or whether he covet not that which is his neighbour's, or whether he be subject unto his parents, or whether he be obedient unto, and honoureth the priests and teachers, or whether he do good deeds unto every man, that is to say, if as he would that men should do unto him, so he doeth unto them. |246 

This is the righteousness which the old law taught, and Jesus fulfilled it until [His] baptism, and all believing men, who have not yet made themselves destitute of their riches, are bound to perform [it]; [p. 256] but the spiritual rule and conduct of life, and perfection, Jesus delivered unto us from [His] baptism unto the cross. May we all, through His grace, be accounted worthy by Him, to Whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Here endeth the Eighth Discourse, which is on Poverty, and which was composed by the blessed Mâr Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh.

[Footnotes renumbered and moved to the end.  Page numbers in brackets refer to the Syriac text in vol. 1 of the printed edition.]

1. 1 St. Matthew vi. 24.

2. 1 St. Matthew vi. 24; St. Luke xvi. 13.

3. 1 St. Matthew vi. 19, 20.

4. 2 St. Matthew vi. 34.

5. 3 St. Matthew x. 9,10; and compare St. Mark vi. 8; St.Luke ix.3.

6. 1 Psalm cxv. 5-7.

7. 2 Colossians iii. 5. Ephesians v. 5.

8. 1 St. Matthew x. 9, 10; St. Luke x. 4, 7.

9. 1 St. Matthew xvii. 27.

10. 2 St. John ii. 2.

11. 3 St. Matthew xix. 13.

12. 1 St. Luke x. 42.

13. 1 2 Timothy iii. 17.

14. 1 Compare St. Matthew iv. 20, 22; St. Mark i. 16-19: St. Luke v. 10.

15. 2 St. Matthew xvi. 24.

16. 1 Philippians ii. 7.

17. 1 St. Matthew viii. 20.

18. 1 St. Matthew iv. 17.

19. 1 Compare St. Matthew xxi. 12; St. Mark xi. 11; St. Luke xix. 45; St. John ii. 15.

20. 1 1 Timothy i. 9.

21. 1 St. John ii. 13, 14; v. 1; vii. 10; x. 22, 23; xii. 12.

22. 2 St. Luke ii. 46.

23. 1 St. Matthew iii. 1, 13.

24. 1 St. Luke ii. 51.

25. 2 St. Matthew xii. 48.

26. 3 St. John v. 30.

27. 1 Compare St. Matthew xvi. 24; St. Mark viii. 34; and St. Luke ix. 23.

28. 2 St. John ii. 1-4.

29. 1 St. John xix. 26, 27.

30. 2 St. John vii. 8.

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Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts