And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
All Commentaries on Matthew 1:21 Go To Matthew 1
Or rather, not by things past only, but like wise by things to come, he wins him over. And she shall bring forth, says he, a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. Matthew 1:21 For do not thou, because He is of the Holy Ghost, imagine that you are an alien to the ministry of this dispensation. Since although in the birth you have no part, but the Virgin abode untouched, nevertheless, what pertains to a father, not injuring the honor of virginity, that do I give you, to set a Name on that which is born: for you shall call Him. For though the offspring be not yours, yet shall you exhibit a father's care towards Him. Wherefore I do straightway, even from the giving of the name, connect you with Him that is born.
Then lest on the other hand any one should from this suspect him to be the father, hear what follows, with what exact care he states it. She shall bring forth, he says, a Son: he does not say, bring forth to you, but merely she shall bring forth, putting it indefinitely: since not to him did she bring forth, but to the whole world.
13. For this cause too the angel came bringing His name from Heaven, hereby again intimating that this is a wondrous birth: it being God Himself who sends the name from above by the angel to Joseph. For neither was this without an object, but a treasure of ten thousand blessings. Wherefore the angel also interprets it, and suggests good hopes, in this way again leading him to belief. For to these things we are wont to be more inclined, and therefore are also fonder of believing them.
So having established his faith by all, by the past things, by the future, by the present, by the honor given to himself, he brings in the prophet also in good time, to give his suffrage in support of all these. But before introducing him, he proclaims beforehand the good things which were to befall the world through Him. And what are these? Sins removed and done away. For He shall save His people from their sins.
Here again the thing is signified to be beyond all expectation. For not from visible wars, neither from barbarians, but what was far greater than these, from sins, he declares the glad tidings of deliverance; a work which had never been possible to any one before.
But wherefore, one may ask, did he say, His people, and not add the Gentiles also? That he might not startle the hearer yet a while. For to him that listens with understanding he darkly signified the Gentiles too. For His people are not the Jews only, but also all that draw near and receive the knowledge that is from Him.
And mark how he has by the way discovered to us also His dignity, by calling the Jewish nation His people. For this is the word of one implying nought else, but that He who is born is God's child, and that the King of those on high is the subject of his discourse. As neither does forgiving sins belong to any other power, but only to that single essence.
14. Forasmuch then as we have partaken of so great a gift, let us do everything not to dishonor such a benefit. For if even before this honor, what was done was worthy of punishment, much more now, after this unspeakable benefit. And this I say not now for no cause, but because I see many after their baptism living more carelessly than the uninitiated, and having nothing peculiar to distinguish them in their way of life. It is, you see, for this cause, that neither in the market nor in the Church is it possible to know quickly who is a believer and who an unbeliever; unless one be present at the time of the mysteries, and see the one sort put out, the others remaining within. Whereas they ought to be distinguished not by their place, but by their way of life. For as men's outward dignities are naturally to be discovered by the outward signs with which they are invested, so ours ought to be discernible by the soul. That is, the believer ought to be manifest not by the gift only, but also by the new life. The believer ought to be the light and salt of the world. But when thou dost not give light even to yourself, neither bind up your own gangrene, what remains, whereby we are to know you? Because you have entered the holy waters? Nay, this to you becomes a store of punishment. For greatness of honor is, to them who do not choose to live worthy of the honor, an increase of vengeance. Yea, the believer ought to shine forth not only by what he has received from God, but also by what he himself has contributed; and should be discernible by everything, by his gait, by his look, by his garb, by his voice. And this I have said, not that display, but that the profit of beholders, may be the rule by which we frame ourselves.
15. But now, what things soever I might seek to recognize you by, I find you in all points distinguished by the contraries of the same. For whether by your place I would fain discern you, I see you spending your day in horse races, and theatres, and scenes of lawlessness, in the wicked assemblies in the market places, and in companies of depraved men; or by the fashion of your countenance, I see you continually laughing to excess, and dissolute as a grinning and abandoned harlot; or by your clothes, I see you in no better trim than the people on the stage; or by your followers, you are leading about parasites and flatterers; or by your words, I hear you say nothing wholesome, nothing necessary, nothing of moment to our life; or by your table, yet heavier from thence will the charge against you appear.
By what then, tell me, am I to recognize the believer in you, while all the things I have mentioned give the contrary sentence? And why do I say, the believer? Since I can not clearly make out whether you are a man. For when you are like an ass, kicking, and like a bull, wantoning, and like a horse neighing after women; when thou dost play the glutton like the bear, and pamper your flesh as the mule, and bear malice like the camel; also?
Further, if I were bidding you make another man gentle, not even so ought I to seem as one enjoining impossible things; however, you might then object that you have not the control of another's disposition, and that it does not altogether rest with you. But now it is your own wild beast, and a thing which absolutely depends on you. What plea then have you? Or what fair excuse will you be able to put forth, turning as you are a lion into a man, and regardless that you yourself art of a man becoming a lion; upon the beast bestowing what is above nature, but for yourself not even preserving what is natural? Yea, while the wild beasts are by your earnest endeavors advanced into our noble estate, you are by yourself cast down from the throne of the kingdom, and thrust out into their madness. Thus, imagine, if you will, your wrath to be a kind of wild beast, and as much zeal as others have displayed about lions, so much do thou in regard of yourself, and cause that way of taking things to become gentle and meek. Because this too has grievous teeth and talons, and if you tame it not, it will lay waste all things. For not even lion nor serpent has such power to rend the vitals as wrath, with its iron talons continually doing so. Since it mars, we see, not the body only, but the very health likewise of the soul is corrupted by it, devouring, rending, tearing to pieces all its strength, and making it useless for everything. For if a man nourishing worms in his entrails, shall not be able so much as to breathe, his inward parts all wasting away; how shall we, having so large a serpent eating up all within us (it is wrath I mean), how, I say, shall we be able to produce anything noble?
17. How then are we to be freed from this pest? If we can drink a potion that is able to kill the worms within us and the serpents. And of what nature, it will be asked, may this potion be, that has such power? The precious Blood of Christ, if it be received with full assurance, (for this will have power to extinguish every disease); and together with this the divine Scriptures carefully heard, and almsgiving added to our hearing; for by means of all these things we shall be enabled to mortify the affections that mar our soul. And then only shall we live; for now surely we are in no better state than the dead: forasmuch as it cannot be, that while those passions live, we should live too, but we must necessarily perish. And unless we first kill them here, they will be sure to kill us in the other life; or rather before that death they will exact of us, even here, the utmost penalty. Yes, for every such passion is both cruel and tyrannical and insatiable, and never ceases to devour us every day. For their teeth are the teeth of a lion, Joel 1:6 or rather even far more fierce. For the lion, as soon as ever he is satisfied, is wont to leave the carcass that has fallen in his way; but these passions neither are satisfied, nor do they leave the man whom they have seized, until they have set him near the devil. For so great is their power, that the very service which Paul showed forth to Christ, Romans 8:38 despising both hell and the kingdom for His sake, even this same do they require of them whom they have seized. For whether it be with the love of women, or of riches, or of glory, that any one is entangled, he laughs at hell thenceforth, and despises the kingdom, that he may work the will of these. Let us not then doubt Paul when he says that he so loved Christ. For when some are found so doing service to their passions, how should that other afterwards seem incredible? Yea, and this is the reason why our longing for Christ is feebler, because all our strength is consumed on this love, and we rob, and defraud, and are slaves to vainglory; than which what can be more worthless?
For though you should become infinitely conspicuous, you will be nothing better than the base: rather for this selfsame cause you will even be baser. For when they who are willing to give you glory, and make you illustrious, do for this very cause ridicule you, that you desire the glory which comes of them, how can such instances fail to turn the contrary way in regard of you. For indeed this thing is among those which attract censure. So that even as in the case of one desiring to commit adultery or fornication, should any one praise or flatter him, by this very act he becomes an accuser rather than a commender of the person indulging such desires: so with regard to him who is desirous of glory; when we all praise, it is accusation rather than praise which we bestow on those who wish to be made glorious.
18. Why then bring upon yourself that, from which the very opposite is wont to befall you. Yea, if you will be glorified, despise glory; so shall you be more illustrious than any. Why feel as Nebuchadnezzar felt? For he too set up an image, thinking from wood and from a senseless figure to procure to himself an increase of fame, and the living would fain appear more glorious by the help of that which has no life. Do you see the excess of his madness; how, thinking to do honor, he rather offered insult, to himself? For when it appears that he is relying rather on the lifeless thing, than on himself and the soul that lives in him, and when for this cause he advances the stock unto such high precedence, how can he be other than ridiculous, endeavoring as he does to adorn himself, not by his way of living, but by planks of wood? Just as if a man should think proper to give himself airs, because of the pavement of his house, and his beautiful staircase rather than because he is a man. Him do many too among us imitate now. For as he for his image, so some men claim to be admired for their clothes, others for their house; or for their mules and chariots, and for the columns in their house. For inasmuch as they have lost their being as men, they go about gathering to themselves from other quarters such glory as is full of exceeding ridicule.
But as to the noble and great servants of God, not by these means, but by such as best became them, even by such did they shine forth. For captives as they were, and slaves, and youths, and strangers, and stripped of all resources of their own, they proved at that time far more awful than he who was invested with all these things. And while Nebuchadnezzar found neither so great an image, nor satraps, nor captains of the host, nor endless legions, nor abundance of gold, nor other pomp, enough to meet his desire, and to show him great; to these, on the other hand, stripped of all this, their high self-restraint alone was sufficient, and showed him that wore the diadem and the purple, as much inferior in glory to those who had no such thing, as the sun is more glorious than a pearl. For they were led forth in the midst of the whole world, being at once youths, and captives, and slaves, and straightway on their appearance the king darted fire from his eyes, and captains, and deputies, and governors, and the whole amphitheatre of the devil, stood around; and a voice of pipes from all sides, and of trumpets, and of all music, borne up to Heaven, was sounding in their ears, and the furnace burned up to a boundless height, and the flame reached the very clouds, and all was full of terror and dismay. But none of these things dismayed them, but they laughed it all to scorn, as they would children mocking them, and exhibited their courage and meekness, and uttering a voice clearer than those trumpets, they said, Be it known unto you, O king. Daniel 3:18 For they did not wish to affront the king, no not so much as by a word, but to declare their religion only. For which cause, neither did they extend their speech to any great length, but set forth all briefly; For there is, say they, a God in Heaven, who is able to deliver us, Daniel 3:17 why do you show me the multitude? Why the furnace? Why the sharpened swords? Why the terrible guards? Our Lord is higher and more mighty than all these.
Then when they considered that it was possible that God might be willing even to permit them to be burnt; lest, if this should come to pass, they might seem to be speaking falsehoods; they add this also and say, If this happen not, be it known unto you, O king, that we serve not your gods. Daniel 3:18 For had they said, Sins are the cause of His not delivering us, should He fail to deliver, they would not have been believed. Wherefore in this place they are silent on that subject, though they speak of it in the furnace, again and again alleging their sins. But before the king they say no such thing; only, that though they were to be burnt, they would not give up their religion.
For it was not for rewards and recompenses that they did what they did, but out of love alone; and yet they were in captivity too, and in slavery, and had enjoyed no good thing. Yea, they had lost their country, and their freedom, and all their possessions. For tell me not of their honors in the king's courts, for holy and righteous as they were, they would have chosen ten thousand times rather to have been beggars at home, and to have been partakers of the blessings in the temple. For I had rather, it is said, be an outcast in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of sinners. And one day in your courts is better than thousands. They would have chosen then ten thousand times rather to be outcasts at home, than kings in Babylon. And this is manifest, from what they declare even in the furnace, grieving at their continuance in that country. For although themselves enjoyed great honors, yet seeing the calamities of the rest they were exceedingly vexed; and this kind of thing is most especially characteristic of saints, that no glory, nor honor, nor anything else should be more precious to them than their neighbor's welfare. See, for example, how even when they were in a furnace, they made their supplication for all the people. But we not even when at large bear our brethren in mind. And again, when they were inquiring about the dreams, Daniel 2:17-18 they were looking not to their own but the common good, for that they despised death they showed by many things afterwards. But everywhere they put themselves forward, as wishing to prevail with God by importunity. Next, as not accounting themselves either to be sufficient, they flee to the Fathers; but of themselves they said that they offer nothing more than a contrite spirit.
19. These men then let us also imitate. Because now too there is set up a golden image, even the tyranny of Mammon. But let us not give heed to the timbrels, nor to the flutes, nor to the harps, nor to the rest of the pomp of riches; yea, though we must needs fall into a furnace of poverty, let us choose it, rather than worship that idol, and there will be in the midst a moist whistling wind. Let us not then shudder at hearing of a furnace of poverty. For so too at that time they that fell into the furnace were shown the more glorious, but they that worshipped were destroyed. Only then all took place at once, but in this case some part will be accomplished here, some there, some both here and in the day that is to come. For they that have chosen poverty, in order that they might not worship mammon, will be more glorious both here and then, but they that have been rich unjustly here, shall then pay the utmost penalty.
From this furnace Lazarus too went forth, not less glorious than those children; but the rich man who was in the place of them that worshipped the image, was condemned to hell. For indeed what we have now mentioned was a type of this. Wherefore as in this instance they who fell into the furnace suffered no hurt, but they who sat without were laid hold of with great fierceness, so likewise shall it be then. The saints walking through the river of fire shall suffer no pain, nay they will even appear joyous; but they that have worshipped the image, shall see the fire rest upon them fiercer than any wild beast, and draw them in. So that if any one disbelieves hell, when he sees this furnace, let him from the things present believe things to come, and fear not the furnace of poverty, but the furnace of sin. For this is flame and torment, but that, dew and refreshment; and by this stands the devil, by that, angels wafting aside the flame.
20. These things let them hear that are rich, that are kindling the furnace of poverty. For though they shall not hurt those others, the dew coming to their aid; yet themselves they will render an easy prey to the flame, which they have kindled with their own hands.
Then, an angel went down with those children; now, let us go down with them that are in the furnace of poverty, and by almsdeeds let us make a dewy air, and waft the flame quite aside, that we may be partakers of their crowns also; that the flames of hell may likewise be scattered by the voice of Christ saying, You saw me an hungered, and fed me. Matthew 25:35 For that voice shall then be with us instead of a moist wind whistling through the midst of the flame. Let us then go down with almsgiving, unto the furnace of poverty; let us behold them that in self-restraint walk therein, and trample on the burning coals; let us behold the marvel, strange and beyond thought, a man singing praise in a furnace, a man giving thanks in fire, chained unto extreme poverty, yet offering much praise to Christ. Since they, who bear poverty with thankfulness, really become equal to those children. For no flame is so terrible as poverty, nor so apt to set us on fire. But those children were not set on fire; rather, on their giving thanks to the Lord, their bonds too were at once loosed. So likewise now, if when you have fallen into poverty, you are thankful, both the bonds are loosened, and the flame extinguished; or though it be not extinguished (what is much more marvellous), it becomes a fountain instead of a flame: which then likewise came to pass, and in the midst of a furnace they enjoyed a pure dew. For the fire indeed it quenched not, but the burning of those cast in it altogether hindered. This one may see in their case also who live by the rules of wisdom, for they, even in poverty, feel more secure than the rich.
Let us not therefore sit down without the furnace, feeling no pity towards the poor; lest the same befall us as then befell those executioners. For if you should go down to them, and take your stand with the children, the fire will no longer work you any harm; but if you should sit above and neglect them in the flame of their poverty, the flame will burn you up. Go down therefore into the fire, that you may not be burnt up by the fire; sit not down without the fire, lest the flame catch hold of you. For if it should find you among the poor, it will depart from you; but if alienated from them, it will run upon you quickly, and catch you. Do not therefore stand off from them that are cast in, but when the devil gives command to cast them that have not worshipped gold into the furnace of poverty, be not thou of them that cast others in, but of them that are cast in; that you may be of the number of the saved, and not of the burned. For indeed it is a most effectual dew, to be held in no subjection by desire of wealth, to be associate with poor persons. These are wealthier than all, who have trampled under foot the desire of riches. Forasmuch as those children too, by despising the king at that time, became more glorious than the king. And thou therefore, if you despise the things of the world, shall become more honorable than all the world; like those holy men, of whom the world was not worthy. Hebrews 11:38
In order then to become worthy of the things in Heaven, I bid you laugh to scorn things present. For in this way you shall both be more glorious here, and enjoy the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be glory and might for ever and ever. Amen.