Saturday, September 24, 2011

Make it your goal to live in poverty

There is nothing dreadful to him that fears God; but all that is dreadful is for others. For when a man is delivered from his passions, and regards all present things as a shadow, say, from whom shall he suffer anything dreadful? whom shall he have to fear? whom shall he need plead to? Let us flee to this Rock which cannot be shaken. If any one were to build for us a city, and throw up a wall around it, and remove us to a land uninhabited, where there were none to disturb us, and there supply us with abundance of everything, and not suffer us to have aught to trouble us with anybody, he would not set us in such perfect safety, as Christ hath done now. Be it a city made of brass, if you will, surrounded on all sides with a wall, lofty and impregnable, let there be no enemy near it; let it have land plentiful and rich, let there be added abundance of other things, let the citizens too be mild and gentle, and no evil-doer there, neither robber, nor thief, no informer, no court of justice, but merely agreements; and let us dwell in this city: not even thus would it be possible to live in security. Wherefore? Because there could not but be differences with servants, with wives, with children, to be a groundwork of much discomfort. But here [with the Church of the Apostolic era] was nothing of the kind; for here was nothing at all to pain them or cause any discomfort. Nay, what is more wonderful to say, the very things which are thought to cause discomfort, became matter of all joy and gladness. For tell me, what was there for them to be annoyed at? what to take amiss? Shall we cite a particular case for comparison with them? Well, let there be one of consular dignity, let him be possessed of much wealth, let him dwell in the imperial city, let him have no troublesome business with anybody, but only live in delight, and have nothing else but this to do, seated at the very summit of wealth and honor and power: and let us set against him a Peter, in bonds if you will, in evils without number: and we shall find that he is the man that lives the most delightfully. For when there is such excess of joy, as to be delighted when in bonds, think what must be the greatness of that joy! For like as those who are high in office, whatsoever evils may happen, are not sensible of them, but continue in enjoyment: so did these the more rejoice on account of these very evils. For it is impossible, impossible in words to express how great pleasure falls to their lot, who suffer for Christ’s sake: for they rejoice in their sufferings, rather than in their good things. Whoso loves Christ, knows what I say.—But what as regards safety? And who, I ask, if he were ever so rich, could have escaped so many perils, going about among so many different nations, for the sole purpose of bringing about a reformation in their manner of life? For it was just as if by royal mandate that they carried all before them, nay, far more easily, for never mandate could have been so effectual, as their words were. For the royal edict compels by necessity, but these drew men willingly and spontaneously, yea, and with hearts above measure thankful. What royal edict, I ask, would ever have persuaded men to part with all their property and their lives; to despise home, country, kindred, yea, even self-preservation? Yet the voices of fishermen and tent-makers availed for this. So that they were both happy, and more powerful and strong than all others. “Yes,” say you, “those of course were, for they wrought miracles.” But I ask what miracles did those who believed work, the three thousand, and the five thousand; and yet these, we read, passed their time in gladness? And well they might: for that which is the groundwork of all discomforts, the possession of riches, was done away with. For that, that, I say, was ever the cause both of wars and fighting, and grief, and discomfort, and all evils: the thing which makes life full of labor and troubles, it is that. And indeed it would be found that many more rich than poor have reason to be sad. If any think this is not true, their notion is derived not from the nature of the things, but from their own fancy. And if the rich do enjoy some sort of pleasure, this is not to be wondered at: for even those who are covered all over with the itch, have a good deal of pleasure. For that the rich are for all the world like these, and their mind affected in the same sort, is plain from this circumstance. Their cares annoy them, and they choose to be engrossed with them for the sake of the momentary pleasure: while those who are free from these affections, are in health and without discomfort. Whether is more pleasant, I ask, whether of the two more safe? To have to take thought only for a single loaf of bread and suit of clothes, or for an immense family, both slaves and freemen, not having care about himself only? For as this man has his fears for himself, so have you for those who depend on your own person. “Why,” you will ask, “is poverty thought a thing to be fled from!” Why, because other good things are, in the judgment of many, things to be fled from, not because they are to be deprecated, but because hard of attainment. I pray you, does poverty seem a thing to be shunned? Just in the same way as other good things are, in the judgment of many, things to be deprecated. “Yes,” say you, “but it is not that those good things are subjects for deprecation, but that they are hard of attainment.” Well, so is poverty, not a thing to be deprecated, but hard of attainment: so that if one could bear it, there would be no reason to deprecate it. For how is it that the Apostles did not deprecate it? how is it that many even choose it, and so far from deprecating, even run to it? For that which is really a thing to be deprecated, cannot be an object of choice save to madmen. But if it be the men of philosophic and elevated minds that betake themselves to this, as to a safe and salubrious retreat, no wonder if to the rest it wears a different appearance. For, in truth, the rich man seems to me to be just like a city, unwalled, situated in a plain, inviting assailants from all sides: but poverty, a secure fortress, strong as brass can make it, and the way up to it difficult. “And yet,” say you, “the fact is just the reverse: for these are they, who are often dragged into courts of law, these are they who are overborne and ill-treated.” No: not the poor, as poor, but those who being poor want to be rich. But I am not speaking of them, but of such as make it their study to live in poverty. For say, how comes it that nobody ever drags the brethren of the hills [that is, monastics] into courts of law? and yet if to be poor is to be a mark for oppression, those ought most of all to be dragged thither, since they are poorer than all others. How comes it that nobody drags the common mendicants into the law-courts? Because they are come to the extreme of poverty. How is it that none does violence to them, none lays vexatious informations against them? Because they abide in a stronghold too safe for that. How many think it a condition hard to struggle against, poverty, I mean, and begging! What then, I ask, is it a good thing to beg? “It is good, if there be comfort,” say you; “if there be one to give: it is a life so free from trouble and reverses, as every one knows.” But I do not mean to commend this; God forbid! what I advise is the not aiming at riches.

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 13 on the Acts of the Apostles

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting and commenting!