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ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
HOMILIES ON PHILEMON
[Translated by the Rev. James Tweed, M.A., of Corpus Christi College,
Cambridge; re-edited by the Rev. Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D.]
FIRST, it is necessary to state the argument of the Epistle, then also
the matters that are questioned respecting it. What then is the argument?
Philemon was a man of admirable and noble character. That he was an
admirable man is evident from the fact, that his whole household was of
believers,(1) and of such believers as even to be called a Church:
therefore he says in this Epistle, "And to the Church that is in thy
house." (v. 2.) He bears witness also to his great obedience, and that "the
bowels of the Saints are refreshed in him." (v. 7.) And he himself in this
Epistle commanded him to prepare him a lodging. (v. 22.) It seems to me
therefore that his house was altogether" a lodging for the Saints. This
excellent(3) man, then, had a certain slave named Onesimus. This Onesimus,
having stolen something from his master, had run away. For that he had
stolen, hear what he says: "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, I
will repay thee." (v. 18, 19.) Coming therefore to Paul at Rome, and having
found him in prison, and having enjoyed the benefit of his teaching, he
there also received Baptism. For that he obtained there the gift of Baptism
is manifest from his saying, "Whom I have begotten in my bonds." (v. 10.)
Paul therefore writes, recommending him to his master, that on every
account he should forgive him, and receive him as one now regenerate.(4)
But because some say, that it was superfluous that this Epistle should
be annexed, since he is making a request about a small matter in behalf of
one man, let them learn who make these objections, that they are themselves
deserving of very many censures. For it was not only proper that these
small Epistles, in behalf of things so necessary, should have been
inscribed,(5) but I wish that it were possible to meet with one who could
deliver to us the history of the Apostles, not only all they wrote and
spoke of, but of the rest of their conversation, even what they ate, and
when they ate, when they walked, and where they sat,(6) what they did every
day, in what parts they were, into what house they entered, and where they
lodged(7)--to relate everything with minute exactness, so replete with
advantage is all that was done by them. But the greater part, not knowing
the benefit that would result thence, proceed to censure it.
For if only seeing those places where they sat or where they were
imprisoned, mere lifeless spots, we often transport our minds thither, and
imagine their virtue, and are excited by it, and become more zealous, much
more would this be the case, if we heard their words and their other
actions. But concerning a friend a man enquires, where he lives, what he is
doing, whither he is going: and say, should we not make these enquiries(1)
about these the general instructors of the world? For when a man leads a
spiritual life, the habit, the walk, the words and the actions of such an
one, in short, all that relates to him, profits the hearers, and nothing is
a hindrance or impediment.
But it is useful for you to learn that this Epistle was sent upon
necessary matters. Observe therefore how many things are rectified thereby.
We have this one thing first, that in all things it becomes one to be
earnest. For if Paul bestows so much concern upon a runaway, a thief, and a
robber, and does not refuse nor is ashamed to send him back with such
commendations; much more does it become us not to be negligent in such
matters. Secondly, that we ought not to abandon the race of slaves, even if
they have proceeded to extreme wickedness. For if a thief and a runaway
become so virtuous that Paul was willing to make him a companion, and says
in this Epistle, "that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me" (v.
13), much more ought we not to abandon the free. Thirdly, that we ought not
to withdraw slaves from the service of their masters. For if Paul, who had
such confidence in Philemon, was unwilling to detain Onesimus, so useful
and serviceable to minister to himself, without the consent of his master,
much less ought we so to act. For if the servant is so excellent, he ought
by all means to continue in that service, and to acknowledge the authority
of his master, that he may be the occasion of benefit to all in that house.
Why dost thou take the candle from the candlestick to place it in the
I wish it were possible to bring into the cities those (servants) who
are without. "What," say you, "if he also should become corrupt." And why
should he, I beseech you? Because he has come into the city? But consider,
that being without he will be much more corrupt. For he who is corrupt
being within, will he much more so being without. For here he will be
delivered from necessary care, his master taking that care upon himself;
but there the concern about those things will draw him off perhaps even
from things more necessary, and more spiritual. On this account the blessed
Paul, when giving them the best counsel, said, "Art thou called, being a
servant? care not for it: but if even thou mayest be made free, use it
rather" (1 Cor. vii. 21); that is, abide in slavery.(2) But what is more
important than all, that the word of God be not blasphemed, as he himself
says in one of his Epistles. "Let as many servants as are under the yoke
count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and His
doctrine be not blasphemed." (1 Tim. vi. 1.) For the Gentiles also will
say, that even one who is a slave can be well pleasing to God. But now many
are reduced to the necessity of blasphemy, and of saying Christianity has
been introduced into life for the subversion of everything, masters having
their servants taken from them, and it is a matter of violence.
Let me also say one other thing. He teaches us not to be ashamed of our
domestics, if they are virtuous. For if Paul, the most admirable of men,
speaks thus much in favor of this one, much more should we speak favorably
of ours. There being then so many good effects--and yet we have not
mentioned all--does any one think it superfluous that this Epistle was
inserted? And would not this be extreme folly? Let us then, I beseech you,
apply to the Epistle written by the Apostle. For having gained already so
many advantages from it, we shall gain more from the text.(3)
HOMILY I: PHILEMON i. 1-3.
"Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon
our dearly beloved, and fellow-laborer, And to our beloved Apphia, and
Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the Church in thy house: Grace to you,
and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
THESE things are said to a master in behalf of a servant. Immediately
at the outset, he has pulled down his spirit, and not suffered him to be
ashamed, he has quenched his anger; calling himself a prisoner, he strikes
him with compunction, and makes him collect himself, and makes it appear
that present things are nothing. For if a chain for Christ's sake is not a
shame but a boast, much more is slavery not to be considered a reproach.
And this he says, not exalting himself, but for a good purpose doing this,
showing thence that he was worthy of credit; and this he does not for his
own sake, but that he may more readily obtain the favor. As if he had said,
"It is on your account that I am invested with this chain." As he also has
said elsewhere, there indeed showing his concern, but here his
Nothing is greater than this boast, to be called "the stigmatized(1) of
Christ." "For I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (Gal. vi.
"The prisoner of the Lord." For he had been bound on His account. Who
would not be struck with awe, who would not be humbled when he hears of the
chains of Christ? Who would not be ready to give up even his own life, much
less one domestic?
"And Timothy our brother."
He joins another also with himself, that he, being entreated by many,
may the more readily yield and grant the favor.
"Unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-laborer."
If "beloved," then his confidence is not boldness nor forwardness, but
a proof of much affection. If a "fellow-laborer," then not only may he be
instructed in such a matter, but he ought to acknowledge it as a favor. For
he is gratifying himself, he is building up the same work. So that apart
from any request, he says, thou hast another necessity for granting the
favor. For if he is profitable to the Gospel, and thou art anxious to
promote the Gospel, then oughtest thou not to be entreated, but to entreat.
Ver. 2. "And to our beloved Apphia."
It seems to me that she was his partner in life. Observe the humility
of Paul; he both joins Timothy with him in his request, and asks not only
the husband, but the wife also, and some one else, perhaps a friend.
"And Archippus," he says, "our fellow-soldier."
Not wishing to effect such things by command, and not taking it ill, if
he did not immediately comply with his request; but he begs them to do what
a stranger might have done(2) to aid his request. For not only the being
requested by many, but the petition being urged to many, contributes to its
being granted. And on this account he says, "And Archippus our fellow-
soldier." If thou art a fellow-soldier, thou oughtest also to take a
concern in these things. But this is the Archippus, about whom he says in
his Epistle to the Colossians, "Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry
which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it." (Col. iv. 17.)
It seems to me too, that he, whom he joins with him in this request, was
also one of the Clergy. And he calls him his fellow-soldier, that he may by
all means cooperate with him.
"And to the Church in thy house."
Here he has not omitted even the slaves. For he knew that often even
the words of slaves have power to overthrow their master; and more
especially when his request was in behalf of a slave. And perhaps it was
they particularly who exasperated him. He does not suffer them therefore to
fall into envy,(3) having honored them by including them in a salutation
with their masters. And neither does he allow the master to take offense.
For if he had made mention of them by name, perhaps he would have been
angry. And if he had not mentioned them at all, he(4) might have been
displeased. Observe therefore how prudently he has found a way by his
manner of mentioning them, both to honor them by his mention of them, and
not to wound him. For the name of the "Church" does not suffer masters to
be angry, even though they are reckoned together with their servants. For
the Church knows not the distinction of master and servant. By good actions
and by sins she defines the one and the other. If then it is a Church, be
not displeased that thy slave is saluted with thee. "For in Christ Jesus
there is neither bond nor free." (Gal. iii. 28.) "Grace to you, and peace."
By mentioning "grace," he brings his own sins to his remembrance.
Consider, he says, how great things God has pardoned in thee, how by grace
thou art saved. Imitate thy Lord. And he prays for "peace" to him; and
naturally: for it comes then when we imitate Him, then grace abides. Since
even that servant who was unmerciful to his fellow-servants, until he
demanded the hundred pence, had the grace of his master abiding on him. But
when he made that demand, it was taken from him, and he was delivered to
MORAL. Considering these things, then, let us also be merciful and
forgiving towards those who have trespassed against us. The offenses
against us here are a hundred pence, but those from us against God are ten
thousand talents. But you know that offenses are also judged by the quality
of the persons: for instance, he who has insulted a private person has done
wrong, but not so much as he who has insulted a magistrate, and he who has
offended a greater magistrate offends in a higher degree, and he who
offends an inferior one in a lower degree; but he who insults the king
offends much more. The injury indeed is the same, but it becomes greater by
the excellence of the person. And if he who insults a king receives
intolerable punishment, on account of the superiority(1) of the person; for
how many talents will he be answerable who insults God? so that even if we
should commit the same offenses against God, that we do against men, even
so it is not an equal thing: but as great as is the difference between God
and men, so great is that between the offenses against Him and them.
But now I find also that the offenses exceed, not only in that they
become great by the eminence of the person, but by their very nature. And
it is a horrible saying that I am about to utter, and truly awful, but it
is necessary to be said, that it may even so shake our minds and strike
them with tenor, showing that we fear men much more than God, and we honor
men much more than God. For consider, he that commits adultery knows that
God sees him, yet he disregards Him; but if a man see him, he restrains his
lust. Does not such a one not only honor men above God, not only insult
God, but, which is even much more dreadful, whilst he fears them, despise
Him? For if he sees them, he restrains the flame of lust, but rather what
flame? it is not a flame, but a willfulness. For if indeed it was not
lawful to have intercourse with a woman, the matter perhaps would be a
flame, but now(2) it is insult and wantonness. For if he should see men, he
desists from his mad passion, but for the longsuffering of God he has less
regard. Again, another who steals, is conscious that he is committing
robbery, and endeavors to deceive men, and defends himself against those
who accuse him, and clothes his apology with a fair show; but though he
cannot thus prevail with God, he does not regard Him, nor stand in awe of
Him, nor honor Him. And if the king indeed commands us to abstain from
other men's goods, or even to give away our own, all readily contribute,
but when God commands not to rob, not to gather other men's goods, we do
Do you see then that we honor men more than God? It is a sad and
grievous saying, a heavy charge. But show that it is grievous; flee from
the fact! But if you fear not the fact, how can I believe you when you say,
We fear your words, you lay a burden on us! It is you that by the deed lay
a burden on yourselves, and not our words. And if I but name the words of
which you do the deeds, you are offended. And is not this absurd?
May the thing spoken by me prove false! I would rather myself in That
Day bear the imputation of ill language, as having vainly and causelessly
reproached you, than see you accused of such things.
But not only do you honor men more than God, but you compel others to
do so likewise. Many have thus compelled their domestics and slaves. Some
have drawn them into marriage against their will, and others have forced
them to minister to disgraceful services, to infamous love, to acts of
rapine, and fraud, and violence: so that the accusation is twofold, and
neither can they obtain pardon upon the plea of necessity. For if you
yourself do wrong things unwillingly, and on account of the command of the
ruler, not even so is it by any means a sufficient excuse: but the offense
becomes heavier, when you compel them also to fall into the same sins. For
what pardon can there be any more for such an one?
These things I have said, not from a wish to condemn you, but to show
in how many things we are debtors to God. For if by honoring men even
equally with God, we insult God, how much more, when we honor men above
Him? But if those offenses that are committed against men are shown to be
much greater against God; how much more when the actual offense is greater
and more grievous in its own quality.
Let any one examine himself, and he will see that he does everything on
account of men. Exceedingly blessed we should be, if we did as many things
for the sake of God, as we do for the sake of men, and of the opinion of
men, and for the dread or the respect of men. If then we have so many
things to answer for, we ought with all alacrity to forgive those who
injure us, who defraud us, and not to bear malice. For there is a way to
the forgiveness of our sins that needs no labors, nor expense of wealth,
nor any other things, but merely our own choice. We have no need to set out
upon our travels, nor go beyond the boundaries of our country, nor submit
to dangers and toils, but only to will.
What excuse, tell me, shall we have in things that appear difficult,(1)
when we do not do even a light thing, attended too with so much gain and so
much benefit, and no trouble? Canst thou not despise wealth? Canst thou not
spend thy substance on the needy? Canst thou not will anything that is
good? Canst thou not forgive him that has injured thee? For if thou hadst
not so many things to answer for, and God had only commanded thee to
forgive, oughtest thou not to do it? But now having so many things to
answer for, dost thou not forgive? and that too, knowing that thou art
required to do it on account of things which thou hast from Him? If indeed
we go to our debtor, he knowing it, receives us courteously, and shows us
honor, and pays us every attention in a liberal way; and that though he is
not paying off his debt, but because he wishes to render us merciful in our
demand of payment: and thou, who owest so much to God, and art commanded to
forgive that thou mayest receive in return, dost not thou forgive? And
wherefore not, I beseech you? Woe is me! How much of goodness do we
receive, and what wickedness do we show in return! What sleepiness! what
indolence How easy a thing is virtue, attended too with much advantage; and
how laborious a thing is vice! But we, flying from that which is so light,
pursue that which is heavier than lead.
Here there is no need of bodily strength, nor of wealth, nor
possessions, nor of power, nor of friendship, nor of any other thing; but
it is sufficient only to will, and all is accomplished. Hath some one
grieved thee, and insulted thee, and mocked thee? But consider, how often
thou hast done such things to others, and even to the Lord Himself; and
forbear, and forgive him it. Consider that thou sayest, "Forgive us our
debts, as we also forgive our debtors." (Matt. vi. 13.) Consider, that if
thou dost not forgive, thou wilt not be able to say this with confidence:
but if thou forgivest, thou demandest the matter as a debt, not by reason
of the nature of the thing, but on account of the lovingkindness of Him
that hath granted it. And wherein is it equal, that one who forgives his
fellow-servants should receive remission of the sins committed against the
Lord? but nevertheless we do receive such great lovingkindness, because He
is rich in mercy and pity.
And that I may show that even without these things, and without the
remission, thou art a gainer by forgiving, consider how many friends such a
person has, how the praises of such an one are everywhere sounded by men
who go about saying, "This is a good man, he is easily reconciled, he knows
not to bear malice, he is no sooner stricken than he is healed." When such
an one falls into any misfortune, who will not pity him? when he has
offended, who will not pardon him? When he asks a favor of others, who will
not grant it to him? Who will not be willing to be the friend and servant
of so good a soul? Yea, I entreat you, let us do all things for Him,(2) not
to our friends, not to our relations only, but even to our domestics. For
He says, "Forbearing threatening, knowing that your Master also is in
heaven." (Eph. vi. 9.)
If we forgive our neighbors their trespasses, ours will be forgiven to
us, if we bestow alms, if we be humble. For this also taketh away sins. For
if the publican, only for saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke
xviii. 13), went down justified, much more we also, if we be humble and
contrite, shall be able to obtain abundant lovingkindness. If we confess
our own sins and condemn ourselves, we shall be cleansed from the most of
our defilement. For there are many ways that purify. Let us therefore in
every way war against the devil. I have said nothing difficult, nothing
burdensome. Forgive him that has injured thee, have pity on the needy,
humble thy soul, and though thou be a grievous sinner, thou wilt be able to
obtain the kingdom, by these means purging off thy sins themselves, and
wiping off their stain. And God grant that we all, having purified
ourselves here by confession from all the filth of our sins, may there
obtain the blessings promised in Christ Jesus our Lord, &c.
HOMILY II: PHILEMON i. 4-6.
"I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, Hearing of
thy love and faith, which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus, and toward all
saints. That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the
acknowledging [in the knowledge] of every good thing which is in us,(1) in
HE does not immediately at the commencement ask the favor, but having
first admired the man, and having praised him for his good actions, and
having shown no small proof of his love, that he always made mention of him
in his prayers, and having said that many are refreshed by him, and that he
is obedient and complying in all things; then he puts it last of all, by
this particularly putting him to the blush.(2) For if others obtain the
things which they ask, much more Paul. If coming before others, he was
worthy to obtain, much more when he comes after others, and asks a thing
not pertaining to himself, but in behalf of another. Then, that he may not
seem to have written on this account only, and that no one may say, "If it
were not for Onesimus thou wouldest not have written," see how he assigns
other causes also of his Epistle; In the first place manifesting his love,
then also desiring that a lodging may be prepared for him.
"Hearing," he says, "of thy love."
This is wonderful, and much greater than if being present he had seen
it when he(3) was present. For it is plain that from its being excessive it
had become manifest, and had reached even to Paul. And yet the distance
between Rome and Phrygia was not small. For he seems to have been there
from the mention of Archippus. For the Colossians were of Phrygia, writing
to whom he said, "When this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be
read also in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the
Epistle from Laodicea." (Col. iv. 16.) And this is a city of Phrygia.
I pray, he says, "that the communication of thy faith may become
effectual in the knowledge of every good thing which is in Christ Jesus."
Dost thou see him first giving, before he receives, and before he asks a
favor himself bestowing a much greater one of his own? "That the
communication of thy faith," he says, "may become effectual by the
acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus"; that
is, that thou mayest attain all virtue, that nothing may be deficient. For
so faith becomes effectual, when it is accompanied with works. For "without
works faith is dead." (Jas. ii. 26.) And he has not said, "Thy faith," but
"the communication of thy faith," connecting it with himself, and showing
that it is one body, and by this particularly making him ashamed to refuse.
If thou art a partaker, he says, with respect to the faith, thou oughtest
to communicate also with respect to other things.
Ver. 7. "For we have [I had] great joy and consolation in thy love,
because the bowels [hearts] of the Saints are refreshed by thee, brother."
Nothing so shames us into giving, as to bring forward the kindnesses
bestowed on others, and particularly when a man is more entitled to respect
than they. And he has not said, "If you do it to others, much more to me";
but he has insinuated the same thing, though he has contrived to do it in
another and a more gracious manner.
"I had joy," that is, thou hast given me confidence from the things
which thou hast done to others. "And consolation," that is, we are not only
gratified, but we are also comforted. For they are members of us. If then
there ought to be such an agreement, that in the refreshing of any others
who are in affliction, though we obtain nothing, we should be delighted on
their account, as if it were one body that was benefited; much more if you
shall refresh us also. And he has not said, "Because thou yieldest, and
compliest," but even more vehemently and emphatically, "because the bowels
of the Saints," as if it were for a darling child fondly loved by its
parents, so that this love and affection shows that he also is exceedingly
beloved by them.
Ver. 8. "Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin
thee that which is convenient [befitting]."
Observe how cautious he is, lest any of the things which were spoken
even from exceeding love should so strike the hearer, as that he should be
hurt. For this reason before he says, "to enjoin thee," since it was
offensive, although, as spoken out of love, it was more proper to soothe
him, yet nevertheless from an excess of delicacy, he as it were corrects it
by saying, "Having confidence," by which he implies that Philemon was a
great man,(4) that is "Thou hast given confidence to us." And not only
that, but adding the expression "in Christ," by which he shows that it was
not that he was more illustrious in the world, not that he was more
powerful, but it was on account of his faith in Christ,--then he also adds,
"to enjoin thee," and not that only, but "that which is convenient," that
is, a reasonable action. And see out of how many things he brings proof for
this. Thou doest good to others, he says, and to me, and for Christ's sake,
and that the thing is reasonable, and that love giveth, wherefore also he
Ver. 9. "Yet for love's sake, I rather beseech thee."
As if he had said, I know indeed that I can effect it by commanding
with much authority, from things which have already taken place. But
because I am very solicitous about this matter, "I beseech thee." He shows
both these things at once; that he has confidence in him for he commands
him;(1) and that he is exceedingly concerned about the matter, wherefore he
"Being such an one," he says, "as Paul the aged." Strange! how many
things are here to shame him into compliance! Paul, from the quality of his
person, from his age, because he was old, and from what was more just than
all, because he was also "a prisoner of Jesus Christ."
For who would not receive with open arms a combatant who had been
crowned? Who seeing him bound for Christ's sake, would not have granted him
ten thousand favors? By so many considerations having previously soothed
his mind, he has not immediately introduced the name, but defers making so
great a request. For you know what are the minds of masters towards slaves
that have run away; and particularly when they have done this with robbery,
even if they have good masters, how their anger is increased. This anger
then having taken all these pains to soothe, and having first persuaded him
readily to serve him in anything whatever, and having prepared his soul to
all obedience, then he introduces his request, and says, "I beseech thee,"
and with the addition of praises, "for my son whom I have begotten in my
Again the chains are mentioned to shame him into compliance, and then
the name. For he has not only extinguished his anger, but has caused him to
be delighted. For I would not have called him my son, he says, if he were
not especially profitable. What I called Timothy, that I call him also. And
repeatedly showing his affection, he urges him by the very period of his
new birth, "I have begotten him in my bonds," he says, so that on this
account also he was worthy to obtain much honor, because he was begotten in
his very conflicts, in his trials in the cause of Christ.
Ver. 11. "Which in time past was to thee unprofitable."
See how great is his prudence, how he confesses the man's faults, and
thereby extinguishes his anger. I know, he says, that he was unprofitable.
"But now" he will be "profitable to thee and to me."
He has not said he will be useful to thee, lest he should contradict
it, but he has introduced his own person, that his hopes may seem worthy of
credit, "But now," he says, "profitable to thee and to me." For if he was
profitable to Paul, who required so great strictness, much more would he be
so to his master. Ver. 12. "Whom I have sent again to thee." By this also
he has quenched his anger, by delivering him up. For masters are then most
enraged, when they are entreated for the absent, so that by this very act
he mollified him the more.
Ver. 12. "Thou therefore receive him, that is mine own bowels."
And again he has not given the bare name, but uses with it a word that
might move him, which is more affectionate than son. He has said, "son," he
has said, "I have begotten" him(2), so that it was probable a he would love
him much, because he begot him in his trials. For it is manifest that we
are most inflamed with affection for those children, who have been born to
us in dangers which we have escaped, as when the Scripture saith," Woe,
Barochabel! and again when Rachel names Benjamin, "the son of my sorrow."
(Gen. xxxv. 18.)
"Thou therefore," he says, "receive him, that is mine own bowels." He
shows the greatness of his affection. He has not said, Take him back,(5) he
has not said, Be not angry,(6) that "receive him"; that is, he is worthy
not only of pardon, but of honor. Why? Because he is become the son of
Ver. 13. "Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he
might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the Gospel."
Dost thou see after how much previous preparation, he has at length
brought him honorably before his master, and observe with how much wisdom
he has done this. See for how much he makes him answerable, and how much he
honors the other. Thou hast found, he says, a way by which thou mayest
through him repay thy service to me. Here he shows that he has considered
his advantage more than that of his slave, and that he respects him
Ver. 14. "But without thy mind," he says, "would I do nothing; that thy
benefit should not be, as it were, of necessity, but willingly."
This particularly flatters the person asked, when the thing being
profitable in itself, it is brought out with his concurrence. For two good
effects are produced thence, the one person gains, and the other is
rendered more secure. And he has not said, That it should not be of
necessity, but "as it were of necessity." For I knew, he says, that not
having learnt(1) it, but coming to know it at once, thou wouldest not have
been angry, but nevertheless out of an excess of consideration, that it
should "not be as it were of necessity."
Ver. 15, 16. "For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a
season that thou shouldest have him for ever; no longer as a bond-servant."
He has well said, "perhaps," that the master may yield. For since the
flight arose from perverseness, and a corrupt mind, and not from such
intention, he has said, "perhaps." And he has not said, therefore he fled,
but, therefore he was "separated,"(2) by a more fair sounding expression
softening him the more. And he has not said, He separated himself, but, "he
was separated." For it was not his own arrangement that he should depart
either for this purpose or for that. Which also Joseph says, in making
excuse for his brethren, "For God did send me hither" (Gen. xlv. 5), that
is, He made use of their wickedness for a good end. "Therefore," he says,
"he was parted for a season."(3) Thus he contracts the time, acknowledges
the offense, and turns it all to a providence.(4) "That thou shouldest
receive him," he says, "for ever," not for the present season only, but
even for the future, that thou mightest always have him, no longer a slave,
but more honorable than a slave. For thou wilt have a slave abiding with
thee, more well-disposed than a brother, so that thou hast gained both in
time, and in the quality of thy slave. For hereafter he will not run away.
"That thou shouldest receive him," he says, "for ever," that is, have him
"No longer as a bond-servant, but more than a bond-servant, a brother
beloved, especially to me."
Thou hast lost a slave for a short time, but thou wilt find a brother
for ever, not only thy brother, but mine also. Here also there is much
virtue. But if he is my brother, thou also wilt not be ashamed of him. By
calling him his son, he hath shown his natural affection; and by calling
him his brother, his great good will for him, and his equality in honor.
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 thou doest,
thou doest to a fellow-servant, but thy Master hath done it to thy
servants. Hear and shudder! Never be elated at thy 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,(5)
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 thou hast received him, thou hast washed his feet; immediately thou
thinkest highly of thyself. I have done, thou sayest, 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 ye shall have done
all things, say, We are unprofitable servants." (Luke xvii. 10.) And again
the Teacher of the world, saying, "I count not myself to have apprehended."
(Phil. iii. 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. Hast thou 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 xviii. 12.) But not so the publican. Hear Paul again saying, "I know
nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified." (1 Cor. iv. 4.) Seest
thou 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, v.
6, in Sept.; Dan. iii. 29, 30; v. 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 is 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 are 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, "Thou hast
delivered us to a hateful and a wicked king." Again, Daniel, being a second
time cast into the pit, said, "For God hath remembered me." Wherefore
should He not remember(1) thee, O Daniel, when thou didst glorify Him
before the king, saying, "Not for any wisdom that I have"? (Dan. ii. 30.)
But when thou wast cast into the den of lions, because thou didst not obey
that most wicked decree, wherefore should He not remember thee? For this
very reason surely should He.(2) Wast thou 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
thee, behold here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him." (2 Sam.
xv. 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 seemeth Him good." (1 Sam.
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,(3) if we bear with masters beating their servants,
knowing that they will spare them, because they are their own;(4) 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." (Rom. xiv. 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 maketh the sun to rise,
Who causeth rain; Who breathed our life into us, Who gave His own Son for
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. Art thou humble, and
humbler than all men? Be not high-minded on that account, neither reproach
others, lest thou lose thy boast. For this very cause thou art humble, that
thou mayest be delivered from the madness of pride; if therefore through
thy humility thou fallest into that madness, it were better for thee not to
be humble. For hear Paul saying, "Sin work-eth death in me by that which is
good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." (Rom.
vii. 13.) When it enters into thy thought to admire thyself because thou
art humble, consider thy Master, to what He descended, and thou wilt no
longer admire thyself, nor praise thyself, but wilt deride thyself as
having done nothing. Consider thyself altogether to be a debtor. Whatever
thou hast done, remember that parable, "Which of you having a servant ...
will say unto him, when he is come in, Sit down to meat? ... I say unto
you, Nay ... but stay and serve me." (From Luke xvii. 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
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,(1) 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. Seest thou therefore how great is the
grace! He hath not said, "What great things do the Martyrs do? Although
they die not forMe, 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 hath 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 he 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 loveth 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 he
so affected towards our Lord, that we(3) also may partake of the good
things to come in Christ Jesus our Lord.
HOMILY III: PHILEMON i. 17-19.
"If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath
wronged thee at all, or oweth thee aught, put that to mine account; I Paul
write it with mine own hand, I will repay it: that I say not to thee how
thou owest unto me even thine own self besides."
NO procedure is so apt to gain a hearing,(2) as not to ask for
everything at once. For see after how many praises, after how much
preparation he hath introduced this great matter. After having said that he
is "my son," that he is a partaker of the Gospel, that he is "my bowels,"
that thou receivest him back "as a brother," and "hold him as a brother,"
then he has added "as myself." And Paul was not ashamed to do this. For he
who was not ashamed to be called the servant of the faithful, but confesses
that he was such, much more would he not refuse this. But what he says is
to this effect. If thou art of the same mind with me, if thou runnest upon
the same terms,(4) if thou considerest me a friend, receive him as myself.
"If he hath wronged thee at all." See where and when he has introduced
the mention of the injury; last, after having said so many things in his
behalf. For since the loss of money is particularly apt to annoy men, that
he might not accuse him of this, (for it was most likely that it was
spent,) then he brings in this, and says, "If he hath wronged thee." He
does not say, If he has stolen anything; but what? "If he hath wronged
thee." At the same time he both confessed the offense, and not as if it
were the offense of a servant, but of a friend against a friend, making use
of the expression of "wrong" rather than of theft.
"Put that to mine account," he says, that is, reckon the debt to me, "I
will repay it." Then also with that spiritual pleasantry,
"I Paul write(1) it with mine own hand." At once movingly and
pleasantly; if when Paul did not refuse to execute a bond for him, he
should refuse to receive him! This would both shame Philemon into
compliance, and bring Onesimus out of trouble. "I write it," he says, "with
mine own hand." Nothing is more affectionate than these "bowels," nothing
more earnest, nothing more zealous. See what(2) great concern he bestows in
behalf of one man. "Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even
thine own self besides." Then that it might not appear insulting to him,
whom he requests, if he had not the confidence to ask and obtain in behalf
of a theft, he in some measure relieves this, saying, "That I say not unto
thee how thou owest to me even thine own self besides." Not only thine own
things, but thyself also. And this proceeded from love, and was according
to the rule of friendship, and was a proof of his great confidence. See
how he everywhere provides for both, that he may ask with great security,
and that this may not seem a sign of too little(3) confidence in him.
Ver. 20. "Yea, brother."
What is, "Yea, brother"? Receive him, he says. For this we must
understand though unexpressed. For dismissing all pleasantry, he again
pursues his former considerations, that is, serious ones. And yet even
these are serious. For the things that proceed from Saints are of
themselves serious, even when they are pleasantry.
"Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord, refresh my heart in
That is, thou grantest the favor to the Lord, not to me. "My heart,"
that is, toward thyself.
Ver. 21. "Having confidence in thy obedience, I write unto thee."
What stone would not these things have softened? What wild beast would
not these things have rendered mild, and prepared to receive him heartily?
After having borne witness to him by so many great testimonies of his
goodness, he is not ashamed again to excuse himself. He says, Not barely
requesting it, nor as commanding it, nor arbitrarily, but "having
confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee." What he had said at the
beginning, "having confidence," that he also says here in the sealing up of
"Knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say."
At the same time in saying this he excited him. For he would have been
ashamed, though for nothing else, if having such credit with him as this,
that he would do more than he said,--he should not do so much.
Ver. 22. "But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that
through your prayers I shall be given unto you."
This also was the part of one who was exceedingly confident--or rather
this too was in behalf of Onesimus, that not being indifferent, but knowing
that he upon his return would know the things relating to him, they might
lay aside all remembrance of the wrong, and might the rather grant the
favor. For great was the influence and the honor of Paul residing among
them, of Paul in his age, of Paul after imprisonment. Again, it is a proof
of their love that he says that they pray; and to attribute to them so much
as that they pray for "him." For although I be now in danger, yet
nevertheless you will see me if ye pray for it.
Ver. 23. "Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, saluteth thee."
He was sent by the Colossians, so that from this it appears that
Philemon was also at Colossae. And he calls him his "fellow-prisoner,"
showing that he also was in much tribulation, so that if not on his own
account, yet on account of the other, it was right that he should be heard.
For he that is in tribulation, and overlooks himself, and is concerned for
others, deserves to be heard.
And he puts him to shame from another consideration, if his countryman
is a fellow-prisoner with Paul and suffers affliction with him, and he
himself does not grant him a favor in behalf of his own servant. And he has
added, "my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus," instead of on account of
Ver. 24. "Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workers."
Why then does he put Luke last? And yet he elsewhere says, "Only Luke
is with me" (2 Tim. iv. 11), and "Demas," he says, was one of those who
"forsook him, having loved the present world." (2 Tim. iv. 10.) All these
things, although they are mentioned elsewhere, yet nevertheless ought not
to be passed over here without enquiry, nor ought we merely to hear them as
things of course. But how comes he to say that he who forsook him salutes
them? For "Erastus," he says, "abode at Corinth." (2 Tim. iv. 20.) He adds
Epaphras, both as known to them, and being of their country. And Mark, as
being himself also an admirable man. Why then does he number Demas with
these? Perhaps it was after this that he became more remiss, when he saw
the dangers multiplied. But Luke being last became first. And from these
indeed he salutes him, urging him the more to obedience, and calls them his
fellow-laborers, and in this way shames him into granting the request.
Ver. 25. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
MORAL. He hath closed his Epistle with a prayer. And indeed prayer is a
great good, salutary, and preservative of our souls. But it is great when
we do things worthy of it, and do not render ourselves unworthy. And thou
too, therefore, when thou goest to the priest, and he shall say to thee,
"The Lord will have mercy on thee, my son," do not confide in the word
only, but add also works. Do acts worthy of mercy, God will bless thee, my
son, if indeed thou doest things worthy of blessing. He will bless thee, if
thou showest mercy to thy neighbor. For the things which we wish to obtain
from God, of those we ought first to impart to our neighbors. But if we
deprive our neighbors of them, how can we wish to obtain them? "Blessed,"
He says, "are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." (Matt. v. 7.) For
if men show mercy to such, much more will God, but to the unmerciful by no
means. "For he shall have judgment without mercy to him that hath showed no
mercy." (Jas. ii. 13.)
An excellent thing is mercy! Why then hast thou not done it to another?
Dost thou wish to be pardoned, when thou offendest? why then dost thou not
thyself pardon him who has offended thee? But thou comest to God, asking of
Him the kingdom of heaven, and thou thyself dost not give money when it is
begged of thee. For this cause we do not obtain mercy, because we do not
show mercy. But why? you say. Is not this also a part of mercy, to show
mercy to the unmerciful? Nay!(1) For he that treated with the greatest
kindness the hard-hearted cruel man, that had done numberless ills to his
neighbor, how should he be merciful? What then, say you? Hath not the Layer
saved us, who had committed infinite evils? It hath delivered us from them,
not that we should commit them again, but that we may not commit them. For
"how shall we," it is said, "that are dead to sin, live any longer
therein"? (Rom. vi. 2.)
"What then? shall we sin because we are not under the law? God forbid."
(v. 15.) For this cause God hath delivered thee from those sins that thou
mightest no more run back to that dishonor. Since even physicians relieve
their feverish patients from their heat, not that they may abuse their
health to their injury and disorder, (since it would be better to be sick,
if one was about to use his health only that he might confine himself again
to his bed,) but having learnt the evils that arise from sickness, they may
no longer fall into the same, that they may the more securely preserve
their health, that they may do everything that conduces to its
How then? you say: what is the lovingkindness of God, if He is not
about to save the bad? For oftentimes I hear many talking in this way, that
He is the Friend of man, and will by all means save all. That we may not
therefore vainly deceive ourselves, (for I remember that I made a promise
of this kind to you,) come let us to-day move this argument. I lately
discoursed with you about Hell, and I deferred my argument upon the
lovingkindness of God. It is proper therefore to-day to resume it. That
there will, then, be a hell, we have, as I think, sufficiently proved,
bringing forward the deluge, and former evils, and arguing that it is not
possible that He who performed these things should leave the men of the
present age unpunished. For if thus He chastised those who sinned before
the Law, He will not let those go unpunished who after grace have committed
greater wickedness. It has been questioned therefore how is He good? how
merciful to man, if at least He punishes? and we have deferred the
argument, that we might not overwhelm your ears with a multitude of words.
Come, to-day let us discharge the debt, and show how good is God, even
in punishing. For this discourse would be suitable for us in opposition to
the heretics. Let us therefore pay earnest heed to it. God, standing in no
need of anything from us, yet created us. For that He stood in need of us,
is manifest from His having made us after a long time. For He might have
made us long ago, if He had needed us. For if He Himself was, even without
us, and we were made in later times, He made us, not needing us.
He made the Heaven, the earth, the sea, all things that exist, for our
sake. Tell me, are not these marks of goodness? And many things one might
mention. But to cut short the matter, "He maketh the sun to rise on the
evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt.
v. 45.) Is not this a mark of goodness? No, you say. For I said once m
conversing with a Marcionite, Are not these things a mark of goodness? and
he answered, If He did not call men to account for their sins, it were a
mark of goodness. But if He calls them to account, it is not goodness. That
man, however, is not now present. But come, let us repeat what was then
said, and more beside. For I, out of my superfluity, show that if He did
not call men to account, He would not be good; but because He does call
them to account, therefore He is good.
For, say, if He did not call us to account, would human life then have
endured? Should we not then have fallen into the state of beasts? For if
when there is this fear impending over us, and the giving account, and
judgments, we have gone beyond fishes in devouring one another, we have
thrown wolves and lions into the shade in ravaging one another's
possessions; if He did not call us to account, and we were persuaded of
this, with how great tumult and confusion would life be filled? What would
be the fabled labyrinth after this, compared with the perplexities of the
world? Would you not see numberless indecencies and disorders? For who then
would have respected his father any more? Or who would have spared his
mother? Who would have left unattempted any pleasure, any wickedness? And
that the matter is so, I will endeavor to show you from one house only.
How? You who raise these questions and who have servants; if I could make
it manifest to these, that if they should destroy the family of their
masters,(1) if they should insult their persons, if they should plunder
everything, if they should turn things upside down, if they should treat
them as enemies, they would not threaten them, nor correct them, nor punish
them, nor even grieve them with a word, would this be any proof of
goodness? I maintain that this is the extreme of cruelty, not only because
the wife and children are betrayed by this unreasonable kindness, but
because the slaves themselves are destroyed before them. For they will be
drunkards, wanton, dissolute, and more irrational than any beasts. Is this,
tell me, a proof of goodness, to trample upon the noble nature of the soul,
and to destroy both themselves and others beside? Seest thou that to call
men to account is a proof of great goodness? But why do I speak of slaves,
who more readily fall into these sins? But let a man have sons, and let him
permit them to do everything they will, and let him not punish them; will
they not be worse than anything? tell me. In the case of men then, it is a
mark of goodness to punish, and of cruelty not to punish, and is it not so
in the case of God? So that because He is good, therefore He has prepared a
And do you wish that I should speak of another instance of God's
goodness? It is not only this, but that He does not suffer the good to
become bad. For if they were destined to meet with the same things, they
would all be bad. But now this also does not a little console the good. For
hear the Prophet, saying, "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the
vengeance upon the ungodly, he shall wash his hands in the blood of the
sinner." (Ps. lviii. 10.) Not rejoicing on account of it, God forbid! but
fearing lest he should suffer the same things, he will render his own life
more pure. This then is a mark of His great care. Yes, you say, but He
ought only to threaten, and not to punish also. But if He does punish, and
still you say it is a matter of threat, and on that account become more
sloth-fill, if it were really but a threat, would you not become more
supine? If the Ninevites had known it was a matter of threat, they would
not have repented, But because they repented, they cause the threat to stop
at words only. Dost thou wish it to be a threat only? Thou hast the
disposal of that matter. Become a better man, and it stops only at the
threat. But if, which be far from thee! thou despiseth the threat, thou
wilt come to the experience of it. The men before(2) the flood, if they had
feared the threat, would not have experienced the execution of it. And we,
if we fear the threat, shall not expose ourselves to experience the
reality. God forbid we should. And may the merciful God grant that we all
henceforth, having been brought to sound mind, may obtain those unspeakable
blessings. Of which may we all be thought worthy, through the grace and
loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together
with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, and honor, now and for ever and ever.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published
by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in
1867. (LNPF I/XIII, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible
Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.