The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St John Chrysostom’s Homily on Romans 13:8-10

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 24, 2012

Excerpted from his 23rd homily on Romans which can be read in full here.

Rom 13:7  Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honour, to whom honour.
Rom 13:8  Owe no man any thing, but to love one another. For he that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law.

He still keeps upon the same line, bidding them pay them not money only, but honor and fear. And how is it when he said above, “Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good” (13:3) that he here says “render fear?” He does it meaning exceeding honor, and not the fear which comes from a bad conscience, which he alluded to before And it is not “give,” that he says, but “render” (or “give back,” Gr. αποδοτε, Lat. apodote), and then adds to it, the “dues.” For it is not a favor that you confer by so doing, since the thing is matter of due. And if you do it not, you will be punished as Obstinate. Do not suppose that you are lowering yourself, and detracting from the dignity of your own philosophy, if you rise up at the presence of a ruler, or if you uncover your head. For if he laid these laws down at that time, when the rulers were Gentiles, much more ought this to be done with them now they are believers. But if you mean to say, that you are entrusted with greater privileges, be informed that this is not thy time. For thou art a stranger and a sojourner. A time will be when thou shalt appear brighter than all. Now thy “life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). Seek not then in this life of accidents thy change, but even if thou hast to be with fear in a ruler’s presence, do not think that this is unworthy thy noble birth. For so God willeth, that the ruler who has his place marked by Him, should have his own power; And when he who is conscious of no evil in himself, stands with fear in the judge’s presence, much more will he who doth evil things be affrighted, and thou in this way wilt be the more respected. For it is not from honoring that the lowering of self comes but from dishonoring him. And the ruler will treat thee with greater respect, and he will glorify thy Master owing to this, even if he be an unbeliever. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom 13:8a).  Again he has recourse to the mother of good deeds, and the instructress of the things spoken of, who is also productive of every virtue, and says that this is a debt also, not however such as the tribute or the custom, but a continuous one. For he does not wish it ever to be paid off, or rather he would have it always rendered, yet never fully so, but to be always owing. For this is the character of the debt, that one keeps giving and owing always. Having said then how he ought to love, he also shows the gain of it, saying,

For he that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law (Rom 13:8b).

And do not, pray, consider even this a favor; for this too is a debt. For thou owest love to thy brother, through thy spiritual relationship. And not for this only, but also because “we are members one of another.” And if love leave us, the whole body is rent in pieces. Love therefore thy brother. For if from his friendship thou gainest so much as to fulfil the whole Law, thou owest him love as being benefited by him.

Rom 13:9  For: Thou shalt not commit adultery: Thou shalt not kill: Thou shalt not steal: Thou shalt not bear false witness: Thou shalt not covet. And if there be any other commandment, it is comprised in this word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

He does not say merely it is fulfilled, but “it is comprised” (ανακεφαλαιουτα) that is, the whole work of the commandments is concisely and in a few words completed. For the beginning and the end of virtue is love. This it has for its root, this for its groundwork, this for its summit. If then it be both beginning and fulfilment, what is there equal to it? But he does not seek love merely, but intense love. For he does not say merely “love thy neighbor” but, “as thyself.” Hence also Christ said that “On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets” (Matt 22:40).  And in making two kinds of love, see how He has raised this! For after saying that the first commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” He added “the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” What can be equal to this love to man, or this gentleness? That when we were at infinite distance from Him, He brings the love to us into comparison with that toward Himself, and says that “is like to this.” Hence then, to put the measures of either as nearly the same, of the one He says, “with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul,” but of this towards one’s neighbor, He says, “as thyself.” But Paul said, that when this did not exist even the other was of no great profit to us. As their we, when we are fond of any one, say, if you love him, then you love me; so He also to show this saith, “is like unto it;” and to Peter, “If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep.” (Jn 21:16).

Rom 13:10  The love of our neighbour worketh no evil. Love therefore is the fulfilling of the law.

Observe how it has both virtues, abstinence from evils (for it “worketh no ill,” he says), and the working of good deeds. For it is, he says, “the fulfilling (or filling up) of the Law;” not bringing before us instruction only on moral duties in a concise form, but making the accomplishment of them easy also. For that we should become acquainted with things profitable to us was not alI that he was careful for (which is the Law’s care), but also with a view to the doing of them it brought us great assistance; accomplishing not some part of the commandments, but the whole sum of virtue in us. Let us then love one another, since in this way we shall also love God,  Who loveth us. For in the case of men, if you love a man’s beloved, he that loveth him is contentious at it. But here He deemeth thee worthy to share His love, and hateth thee when thou sharest not. For man’s love is laden with envy and grudging; 15 but God’s is free from all passion, whence also He seeketh for those to share His love. For He says, love thou with Me, and then thyself also will I love the more. You see the words of a vehement lover! If thou love My beloved, then will I also reckon Myself to be greatly beloved of thee. For He vehemently desireth our salvation, and this He showed from of old. Now hear what He saith when He was forming the man, “Let Us make man in Our Image:” and again, “Let Us  make an help meet for him. It is not good for him to be alone.” (Gn 1:26). And when he had transgressed, He rebuked him, observe how gently;  and He does not say, Wretch! thou very wretch! after receiving so great benefits, hast thou after all trusted to the devil? and left thy Benefactor, to take up with the evil spirit? But what saith He? “Who hath told thee that thou wast naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat?” (Gn 3:11). As if a father were to say to a child, who was ordered not to touch a sword, and then disobeyed and got wounded, “How camest thou wounded? Thou camest so by not listening to me.” You see they are the words of a friend rather than a master, of a friend despised, and not even then forsaking. Let us then imitate Him, and when we rebuke, let us preserve this moderation. For even the woman He also rebuketh again with the same gentleness. Or rather what He said was not so much rebuke as admonition and correction, and security against the future. This is why He saith nothing  to the serpent. For he was the designer of the mischiefs, and had it not in his power to put off the accusation on any one else, wherefore He punished him severely: and even here He did not come to a pause, but made the earth also to share in the curse. But if He cast them out of paradise, and condemned them to labor, even for this we ought to adore and reverence Him the most. For since self-indulgence issues in listlessness, He trenches upon the pleasure by building a fort of pain against listlessness, that we may return to the love of Him. And what of Cain’s case? Doth he not meet with the same gentleness? For being by him also insulted, He doth not reproach (same word as insult) in return, but entreats, (or comforts) him, and says, “Why is thy countenance fallen?” (Gn 4:6). And yet what he had done allowed of no excuse whatever. And this the younger brother shows. But still even then He doth not rebuke him: but what saith He? “Hast thou sinned: keep peace;” “do so no more.” “To thee shall his turning be, and thou shalt rule over him”  (ib. Gn 4,7 LXX)., meaning his brother. “For if thou art afraid, lest for this sacrifice,” He means, “I should deprive thee of the preüminence of the first-born, be of good cheer, for the entire command over him do I put into thy hands. Only be thou better, and love him that hath done thee no wrong; for I have an interest in you both. And what maketh Me most glad is, that ye be not at variance one with another.” For as a devoted mother, so doth God do and plan everything to keep one from being torn from another; but that you may get a clearer view, by an example, of my meaning, call to your mind, pray, Rebecca in her trouble, and running about everywhere, when the elder son was at enmity with the younger. For if she loved Jacob, still she did not feel averse to Esau. And therefore she said, Lest by any means “I be deprived of both my sons in one day?.” (Gn 27:45). Therefore also God upon that occasion said, “Thou hast sinned: be at peace: unto thee shall his turning be” (Gn 4:7), so repressing the murder beforehand, and aiming at the peace of them both. But when he had murdered him, He did not even then bring His care for him to a close, but again answers the fratricide in gentle terms, saying, “Where is thy brother Abel?” that even now, if he would, he might make a full confession. But he struggled in defence of his former misdeeds, with a greater and sadder shamelessness. But even then God doth not leave him, but again speaks the language of an iujured and despised lover, and says, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to Me from the earth.” (Gn 4:10). And again He rebukes the earth with the murderer, turning His wrath off to it, and saying, “Cursed be the earth, which opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood” (combining Gen 3:17 with4:11 ); and doing like those who lament, as David also did when Saul was fallen. For he made an address to the mountains which received him as he died, in the words, “Ye mountains of Gelboe, let neither dew, nor rain come upon you, neither be they fields of firstfruits: for there was cast away the shield of the valiant.” (2 Sam 1:21). And thus God also, as though singing some solitary dirge, saith, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth; now therefore cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and recieved the blood of thy brother at thy hand.” Gen 4:10-11). And this He said to humble his fiery passion, and to persuade him to love him at least now he was gone. Hast thou extinguished his life? He would say; why dost thou not now extinguish the hatred also? But what doth He do? He loveth both the one and the other, since He made them both. What then? doth He let the murderer go unpunished? Nay, he would but have grown worse. Will He punish him then? Nay, He hath more tenderness than a father. See then how He at once punisheth and also displays, even in this, His love. Or rather, He doth not so much as punish, but only corrects. For He doth not kill him, but only fetters him with trembling, that he may divest himself of the crime, that so at least he may come back to a natural tenderness for the other, and that so at last he may make a truce with him now he hath gone; for He were fain he should not go away to the other world in enmity with him that was deceased. This is the way wherein they that love, when in doing acts of kindness they meet with no love in return, are led on to be vehement and to threaten, not with their will indeed, but led by their love to do this: that at least in this way they may win over those that scorn them. Yet affection of this sort is one of compulsion, and still this even solaces them, through the vehemency of their love. And so punishment itself comes from affection, since unless pained at being hated, they would not choose to punish either. Now observe, how this is what Paul says to the Corinthians. For “who is it” (says he) “can make me glad, but the same who is made sorrowful by me?” (2 Cor 2:2). And so when he is going to the full extent of punishment, then he shows his love. Thus the Egyptian woman too, from her vehement love, as vehemently punished Joseph: and she indeed did so for mischief, the love being unchaste; but God for good, since the love was worthy of Him who loved. This is why He does not refuse even to condescend to grosser words, and to speak the names of human passions, and to call Himself jealous. For “I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous” (Ex 20:5), He saith, that you may learn the intenseness of the love. Let us then love Him as He would have us: for He sets great store thereby. And if we turn away, He keepeth inviting us, and if we will not be converted, He chasteneth us through His affection, not through a wish to exact punishment of us. And see what He saith in Ezekiel to the city that was beloved, yet had despised Him. “I will bring thy lovers against thee, and will deliver thee into their hands, and they shall stone thee, and shall slay thee, and My jealousy shall be taken away from thee, and I will rest, and I will not trouble Myself any more.” (From Ezek 16:37–42). What more than this could a vehement lover have said, when despised by his beloved, and after all again ardently loving her? For God doeth everything that He may be loved by us, and owing to this He spared not even His Son. But we are unbending, and savage. Yet let us become gentle at last, and love God as we ought to love Him, that we may with pleasure enjoy virtue. For if any that hath a beloved wife does not perceive any of the vexations that come day by day, He that loveth with this divine and pure love, only consider what great pleasure he will have to enjoy! For this is, indeed it is, the kingdom of Heaven; this is fruition of good things, and pleasure, and cheerfulness, and joy, and blessedness. Or rather, say as many things as I may, I shall still be unable to give you any such representation of it as should be, but the trial of it alone can give a knowledge of this goodly thing. Wherefore also the Prophet saith, “Delight in the Lord” (Ps 37:4), and, “Taste and see that the Lord is sweet.” (Ps 34:8). Let us then be persuaded, and indulge ourselves in His love. For in this way we shall both see His Kingdom even from out of this life, and shall be living the life of Angels, and while we abide on earth, we shall be in as goodly a condition as they that dwell in heaven; and after our departing hence, shall stand the brightest of beings by the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall enjoy that glory unutterable, which may we all attain unto, by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ. For to Him is the glory forever, Amen.

4 Responses to “St John Chrysostom’s Homily on Romans 13:8-10”

  1. […] St John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Romans 13:8-10. […]

  2. […] St John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Romans 13:8-10. […]

  3. […] St John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Romans 13:8-10. […]

  4. […] St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Romans 13:8-10. […]

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