Colossians i. 1, 2.-"Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father."
Holy indeed are all the Epistles of Paul: but some advantage have those which he sent after he was in bonds: those, for instance, to the Ephesians and Philemon: that to Timothy, that to the Philippians, and the one before us: for this also was sent when he was a prisoner, since he writes in it thus: "for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak." (Col. iv. 3, iv. 4.) But this Epistle appears to have been written after that to the Romans. For the one to the Romans he wrote before he had seen them, but this Epistle, after; and near upon the close of his preaching. And it is evident from hence; that in the Epistle to Philemon he says, "Being such an one as Paul the aged" (ver. 9), and makes request for Onesimus; but in this he sends Onesimus himself, as he says, "With Onesimus the faithful and beloved brother" (Col. iv. 9): calling him faithful, and beloved, and brother. Wherefore also he boldly says in this Epistle, "from the hope of the Gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven." (Col. i. 23.) For it had now been preached for a long time. I think then that the Epistle to Timothy was written after this; and when he was now come to the very end of his life, for there he says, "for I am already being offered" (2 Tim. iv. 6); this is later however than that to the Philippians, for in that Epistle he was just entering upon his imprisonment at Rome.
But why do I say that these Epistles have some advantage over the rest in this respect, because he writes while in bonds? As if a champion were to write in the midst of carnage and victory; so also in truth did he. For himself too was aware that this was a great thing, for writing to Philemon he saith, "Whom I have begotten in my bonds." (Ver. 10) And this he said, that we should not be dispirited when in adversity, but even rejoice. At this place was Philemon with these (Colossians). For in the Epistle to him he saith, "And to Archippus our fellow-soldier" (Ver. 2); and in this, "Say to Archippus." (Col. iv. 17) This man seems to me to have been charged with some office in the Church.
But he had not seen either these people, or the Romans, or the Hebrews, when he wrote to them. That this is true of the others, he shows in many places; with regard to the Colossians, hear him saying, "And as many as have not seen my face in the flesh" (Col. ii. 1. ii. 5): and again, "Though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit." So great a thing did he know his presence everywhere to be. And always, even though he be absent, he makes himself present. So, when he punishes the fornicator, look how he places himself on the tribunal; "for," he saith, "I verily being absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already as though I were present" (1 Cor. v. 3): and again, "I will come to you, and will know not the word of them which are puffed up, but the power" (1 Cor. iv. 19): and again, "Not only when I am present with you, but much more when I am absent." (Phil. ii. 12; Gal. iv. 18)
"Paul an Apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God."
It were well also to say, what from considering this Epistle we have found to be its occasion and subject. What then is it? They used to approach God through angels; they held many Jewish and Grecian observances. These things then he is correcting. Wherefore in the very outset he says, "Through the will of God." So here again he hath used the expression "through." "And Timothy the brother," he saith; of course then he too was an Apostle, and probably also known to them. "To the saints which are at Colossae." This was a city of Phrygia, as is plain from Laodicea's being near to it. "And faithful brethren in Christ." (Col. iv. 16) Whence, saith he art thou made a saint? Tell me. Whence art thou called faithful? Is it not because thou wert sanctified through death? Is it not because thou hast faith in Christ? Whence art thou made a brother? for neither in deed, nor in word, nor in achievement didst thou show thyself faithful. Tell me, whence is it that thou hast been entrusted with so great mysteries? Is it not because of Christ?
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father." Whence cometh grace to you? Whence peace? "From God," saith he, "our Father." Although he useth not in this place the name of Christ.
I will ask those who speak disparagingly of the Spirit, Whence is God the Father of servants? Who wrought these mighty achievements? Who made thee a saint? Who faithful? Who a son of God? He who made thee worthy to be trusted, the same is also the cause of thy being entrusted with all.
For we are called faithful, not only because we have faith, but also because we are entrusted of God with mysteries which not even angels knew before us. However, to Paul it was indifferent whether or not to put it thus.
Ver. 3. "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
He seems to me to refer everything to the Father, that what he has to say may not at once offend them.
"Praying always for you."
He shows his love, not by giving thanks only, but also by continual prayer, in that those whom he did not see, he had continually within himself.
Ver. 4. ["Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus."
A little above he said, "our Lord." "He," saith he, "is Lord, not the servants." "Of Jesus Christ." These names also are symbols of His benefit to us, for "He," it means, "shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. i. 21.)]
Ver. 4. "Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints."
Already he conciliates them. It was Epaphroditus who brought him this account. But he sends the Epistle by Tychicus, retaining Epaphroditus with himself. "And of the love," he saith, "which ye have toward all the saints," not toward this one and that: of course then toward us also.
Ver. 5. "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens."
He speaks of the good things to come. This is with a view to their temptations, that they should not seek their rest here. For lest any should say, "And where is the good of their love toward the saints, if they themselves are in affliction?" he says, "We rejoice that ye are securing for yourselves a noble reception in heaven." "Because of the hope," he saith, "which is laid up." He shows its secureness. "Whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth." Here the expression is as if he would chide them, as having changed from it when they had long held it.
"Whereof," saith he, "ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel." And he bears witness to its truth. With good reason, for in it there is nothing false.
"Of the Gospel." He doth not say, "of the preaching," but he calleth it the "Gospel," continually reminding them of God's benefits. And having first praised them, he next reminds them of these.
Ver. 6. "Which is come unto you, even as it is also in all the world."
He now gives them credit. "Is come," he said metaphorically. He means, it did not come and go away, but that it remained, and was there. Then because to the many the strongest confirmation of doctrines is that they hold them in common with many, he therefore added, "As also it is in all the world."
It is present everywhere, everywhere victorious, everywhere established.
"And is bearing fruit, and increasing, as it doth in you also."
"Bearing fruit." In works. "Increasing." By the accession of many, by becoming firmer; for plants then begin to thicken when they have become firm.
"As also among you," says he.
He first gains the hearer by his praises, so that even though disinclined, he may not refuse to hear him.
"Since the day ye heard it."
Marvelous! that ye quickly came unto it and believed; and straightway, from the very first, showed forth its fruits.
"Since the day ye heard, and knew the grace of God in truth."
Not in word, saith he, nor in deceit, but in very deeds. Either then this is what he means by "bearing fruit," or else, the signs and wonders. Because as soon as ye received it, so soon ye knew the grace of God. What then forthwith gave proofs of its inherent virtue, is it not a hard thing that that should now be disbelieved?
Ver. 7. "Even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant."
He, it is probable, had preached there. "Ye learned" the Gospel. Then to show the trust-worthiness of the man, he says, "our fellow servant."
"Who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit."
Doubt not, he saith, of the hope which is to come: ye see that the world is being converted. And what need to allege the cases of others? what happened in your own is even independently a sufficient ground for belief, for, "ye knew the grace of God in truth:" that is, in works. So that these two things, viz. the belief of all, and your own too, confirm the things that are to come. Nor was the fact one thing, and what Epaphras said, another. "Who is," saith he, "faithful," that is, true. How, "a minister on your behalf"? In that he had gone to him. "Who also declared to us," saith he, "your love in the Spirit," that is, the spiritual love ye bear us. If this man be the minister of Christ; how say ye, that you approach God by angels? "Who also declared unto us," saith he, "your love in the Spirit." For this love is wonderful and steadfast; all other has but the name. And there are some persons who are not of this kind, but such is not friendship, wherefore also it is easily dissolved.
There are many causes which produce friendship; and we will pass over those which are infamous, (for none will take an objection against us in their favor, seeing they are evil.) But let us, if you will, review those which are natural, and those which arise out of the relations of life. Now of the social sort are these, for instance; one receives a kindness, or inherits a friend from forefathers, or has been a companion at table or in travel: or is neighbor to another (and these are virtuous); or is of the same trade, which last however is not sincere; for it is attended by a certain emulation and envy. But the natural are such as that of father to son, son to father, brother to brother, grandfather to descendant, mother to children, and if you like let us add also that of wife to husband; for all matrimonial attachments are also of this life, and earthly. Now these latter appear stronger than the former: appear, I said, because often they are surpassed by them. For friends have at times shown a more genuinely kind disposition than brothers, or than sons toward fathers; and when he whom a man hath begotten would not succor him, one who knew him not has stood by him, and succored him. But the spiritual love is higher than all, as it were some queen ruling her subjects; and in her form is bright: for not as the other, hath she aught of earth for her parent; neither habitual intercourse, nor benefits, nor nature, nor time; but she descendeth from above, out of heaven. And why wonderest thou that she needeth no benefits in order that she should subsist, seeing that neither by injuries is she overthrown?
Now that this love is greater than the other, hear Paul saying; "For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren." (Rom. ix. 3) What father would have thus wished himself in misery? And again, "To depart, and to be with Christ" is "very far better; yet to abide in the flesh" is "more needful for your sake." (Phil. i. 23, 24) What mother would have chosen so to speak, regardless of herself? And again hear him saying, "For being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence, not in heart." (1 Thess. ii. 17.) And here indeed [in the world], when a father hath been insulted, he withdraws his love; not so however there, but he went to those who stoned him, seeking to do them good. For nothing, nothing is so strong as the bond of the Spirit. For he who became a friend from receiving benefits, will, should these be discontinued, become an enemy; he whom habitual intercourse made inseparable, will, when the habit is broken through, let his friendship become extinct. A wife again, should a broil have taken place, will leave her husband, and withdraw affection; the son, when he sees his father living to a great age, is dissatisfied. But in case of spiritual love there is nothing of this. For by none of these things can it be dissolved; seeing it is not composed out of them. Neither time, nor length of journey, nor ill usage, nor being evil spoken of, nor anger, nor insult, nor any other thing, make inroads upon it, nor have the power of dissolving it. And that thou mayest know this Moses was stoned, and yet he made entreaty for them. (Ex. xvii. 4.) What father would have done this for one that stoned him, and would not rather have stoned him too to death?
Let us then follow after these friendships which are of the Spirit, for they are strong, and hard to be dissolved, and not those which arise from the table, for these we are forbidden to carry in Thither. For hear Christ saying in the Gospel, Call not thy friends nor thy neighbors, if thou makest a feast, but the lame, the maimed. (Luke xiv. 12.) With reason: for great is the recompense for these. But thou canst not, nor endurest to feast with lame and blind, but thinkest it grievous and offensive, and refusest. Now it were indeed best that thou shouldest not refuse, however it is not necessary to do it. If thou seatest them not with thee, send to them of the dishes on thy own table. And he that inviteth his friends, hath done no great thing: for he hath received his recompense here. But he that called the maimed, and poor, hath God for his Debtor. Let us then not repine when we receive not a reward here, but when we do receive; for we shall have nothing more to receive There. In like manner, if man recompense, God recompenseth not; if man recompense not, then God will recompense. Let us then not seek those out for our benefits, who have it in their power to requite us again, nor bestow our favors on them with such an expectation: this were a cold thought. If thou invite a friend, the gratitude lasts till evening; and therefore the friendship for the nonce is spent more quickly than the expenses are paid. But if thou call the poor and the maimed, never shall the gratitude perish, for God, who remembereth ever, and never forgetteth, thou hast even Him for thy Debtor. What squeamishness is this, pray, that thou canst not sit down in company with the poor? What sayest thou? He is unclean and filthy? Then wash him, and lead him up to thy table. But he hath filthy garments? Then change them, and give him clean apparel. Seest thou not how great the gain is? Christ cometh unto thee through him, and dost thou make petty calculations of such things? When thou art inviting the King to thy table, dost thou fear because of such things as these?
Let us suppose two tables, and let one be filled with those, and have the blind, the halt, the maimed in hand or leg, the barefoot, those clad with but one scanty garment, and that worn out: but let the other have grandees, generals, governors, great officers, arrayed in costly robes, and fine lawn, belted with golden girdles. Again, here at the table of the poor let there be neither silver, nor store of wine, but just enough to refresh and gladden, and let the drinking cups and the rest of the vessels be made from glass only; but there, at the table of the rich, let all the vessels be of silver and gold, and the semicircular table, not such as one person can lift, but as two young men can with difficulty move, and the wine-jars lie in order, glittering far beyond the silver with gold, and let the semicircle be smoothly laid all over with soft drapery. Here, again, let there be many servants, in garments not less ornamented than those of the guests, and bravely appareled, and wearing loose trowsers, men beauteous to look upon, in the very flower of life, plump, and well conditioned; but there let there be only two servants disdaining all that proud vanity. And let those have costly meats, but these only enough to appease hunger and inspire cheerfulness. Have I said enough? and are both tables laid out with sufficient minuteness? Is anything wanting? I think not. For I have gone over the guests, and the costliness both of the vessels, and of the linen, and the meats. However, if we should have omitted aught, we shall discover it as we proceed with the discourse.
Come then, now that we have correctly drawn each table in its proper outline, let us see at which ye will seat yourselves. For I for my part am going to that of the blind, and the lame, but probably the more part of you will choose the other, that of the generals, that is so gay and splendid. Let us then see which of them doth more abound in pleasure; for as yet let us not examine into the things of hereafter, seeing that in those at least this of mine hath the superiority. Wherefore? Because this one hath sitting down at it, the other men, this hath the Master, that the servants. But say we nothing of these things as yet; but let us see which hath the more of present pleasure. And even in this respect, then, this pleasure is greater, for it is more pleasure to sit down with a King than with his servants. But let us withdraw this consideration also; let us examine the matter simply by itself. I, then, and those who choose the table I do, shall with much freedom and ease of mind both say and hear everything: but you trembling and fearing, and ashamed before those you sit down with, will not even have the heart to reach out your hands, just as though you had got to a school, and not a dinner, just as though you were trembling before dreadful masters. But not so they. But, saith one, the honor is great. Nay, I further am in more honor; for your mean estate appears grander, when even whilst sharing the same table, the words ye utter are those of slaves.
For the servant then most of all shows as such, when he sits down with his master; for he is in a place where he ought not to be; nor hath he from such familiarity so much dignity as he hath abasement, for he is then abased exceedingly. And one may see a servant by himself make a brave appearance, and the poor man seem splendid by himself, rather than when he is walking with a rich one; for the low when near the lofty, then appears low, and the juxtaposition makes the low seem lower, not loftier. So too your sitting down with them makes you seem as of yet meaner condition. But not so, us. In these two things, then, we have the advantage, in freedom, and in honor; which have nothing equal to them in regard of pleasure. For I at least would prefer a crust with freedom, to thousands of dainties with slavery. For, saith one, "Better is an entertainment of herbs with love and kindness, than an ox from the stall with hatred." (Prov. xv. 17.) For whatsoever those may say, they who are present must needs praise it, or give offense; assuming thus the rank of parasites, or rather, being worse than they. For parasites indeed, even though it be with shame and insult, have yet liberty of speech: but ye have not even this. But your meanness is indeed as great, (for ye fear and crouch,) but not so your honor. Surely then that table is deprived of every pleasure, but this is replete with all delight of soul.
But let us examine the nature even of the meats themselves. For there indeed it is necessary to burst one's self with the large quantity of wine, even against one's will, but here none who is disinclined need eat or drink. So that there indeed the pleasure arising from the quality of the food is cancelled by the dishonor which precedes, and the discomfort which follows the surfeit. For not less than hunger doth surfeiting destroy and rack our bodies; but even far more grievously; and whomsoever you like to give me, I shall more easily destroy by bursting him with surfeit than by hunger. For thus the latter is easier to be borne than the other, for one might indeed endure hunger for twenty days, but surfeiting not for as many as two only. And the country people who are perpetually struggling with the one, are healthy, and need no physicians; but the other, surfeiting I mean, none can endure without perpetually calling in physicians; yea, rather, its tyranny hath often baffled even their attempt to rescue.
So far then as pleasure is concerned, this [table of mine] hath the advantage. For if honor hath more pleasure than dishonor, if authority than subjection, and if manly confidence than trembling and fear, and if enjoyment of what is enough, than to be plunged out of depth in the tide of luxury; on the score of pleasure this table is better than the other. It is besides better in regard of expense; for the other is expensive, but this, not so.
But what? is it then to the guests alone that this table is the more pleasurable, or bringeth it more pleasure than the other to him who inviteth them, as well? for this is what we are enquiring after rather. Now he who invites those makes preparation many days before, and is forced to have trouble and anxious thoughts and cares, neither sleeping by night, nor resting by day; but forming with himself many plans, conversing with cooks, confectioners, deckers of tables. Then when the very day is come, one may see him in greater fear than those who are going to fight a boxing match, lest aught should turn out other than was expected, lest he be shot with the glance of envy, test he thereby procure himself a multitude of accusers. But the other escapeth all this anxious thought and trouble by extemporizing his table, and not being careful about it for many days before. And then, truly, after this, the former indeed hath straightway lost the grateful return; but the other hath God for his Debtor; and is nourished with good hopes, being every day feasted from off that table. For the meats indeed are spent, but the grateful thought is never spent, but every day he rejoices and exults more than they that are gorged with their excess of wine. For nothing doth so nourish the soul as a virtuous hope, and the expectation of good things.
But now let us consider what follows. There indeed are flutes, and harps, and pipes; but here is no music of sounds unsuitable; but what? hymns, singing of psalms. There indeed the Demons are hymned; but here, the Lord of all, God. Seest thou with what gratitude this one aboundeth, with what ingratitude and insensibility that? For, tell me, when God hath nourished thee with His good things, and when thou oughtest to give Him thanks after being fed, dost thou even introduce the Demons? For these songs to the lyre, are none other than songs to Demons. When thou oughtest to say, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, that Thou hast nourished me with Thy good things," dost thou like a worthless dog not even so much as remember Him, but, over and above, introducest the Demons? Nay rather, dogs, whether they receive anything or not, fawn upon those they know, but thou dost not even this. The dog, although he receives nothing, fawns upon his master; but thou, even when thou hast received, barkest at Him. Again, the dog, even though he be well treated by a stranger, not even so will be reconciled of his hatred of him, nor be enticed on to be friends with him: but thou, even though suffering mischief incalculable from the Demons, introducest them at thy feasts. So that, in two ways, thou art worse than the dog. And the mention I have now made of dogs is happy, in regard of those who give thanks then only when they receive a benefit. Take shame, I pray you, at the dogs, which when furnishing still fawn upon their masters. But thou, if thou hast haply heard that the Demon has cured anyone, straightway forsakest thy Master; O more unreasoning than the dogs!
But, saith one, the harlots are a pleasure to look upon. What sort of pleasure are they? yea rather what infamy are they not? Thy house has become a brothel, madness, and fury; and art thou not ashamed to call this pleasure? If then it be allowed to use them, greater than all pleasure is the shame, and the discomfort which arises from the shame, to make one's house a brothel, like hogs in wallowing in the mire? But if so far only be allowed as to see them, lo! again the pain is greater. For to see is no pleasure, where to use is not allowed, but the lust becomes only the greater, and the flame the fiercer.
But wouldest thou learn the end? Those, indeed, when they rise up from the table, are like the madmen and those that have lost their wits; foolhardy, quarrelsome, laughing-stocks for the very slaves; and the servants indeed retire sober, but these, drunk. O the shame! But with the other is nothing of this sort; but closing the table with thanksgiving, they so retire to their homes, with pleasure sleeping, with pleasure waking, free from all shame and accusation.
If thou wilt consider also the guests themselves, thou wilt see that the one are within just what the others are without; blind, maimed, lame; and as are the bodies of these, such are the souls of those, laboring under dropsy and inflammation. For of such sort is pride; for after the luxurious gratification a maiming takes place; of such sort is surfeiting and drunkenness, making men lame and maimed. And thou wilt see too that these have souls like the bodies of the others, brilliant, ornamented. For they who live in giving of thanks, who seek nothing beyond a sufficiency, they whose philosophy is of this sort are in all brightness.
But let us see the end both here and there. There, indeed, is unchaste pleasure, loose laughter, drunkenness, buffoonery, filthy language; (for since they in their own persons are ashamed to talk filthily, this is brought about by means of the harlots;) but here is love of mankind, gentleness. Near to him who invites those stands vainglory arming him, but near the other, love of man, and gentleness. For the one table, love of man prepareth, but the other, vainglory, and cruelty, out of injustice and grasping. And that one ends in what I have said, in loss of wits, in delirium, in madness; (for such are the offshoots of vainglory;) but this one in thanksgiving and the glory of God. And the praise too, which cometh of men, attendeth more abundantly upon this; for that man is even regarded with an envious eye, but this all men regard as their common father, even they who have received no benefit at his hands. And as with the injured even they who have not been injured sympathize, and all become in common enemies (to the injurer): so too, when some receive kindness, they also who have not received any, not less than they who have, praise and admire him that conferred it. And there indeed is much envy, but here much tender solicitude, many prayers from all.
And so much indeed here; but There, when Christ is come, this one indeed shall stand with much boldness, and shall hear before the whole world, "Thou sawest Me an hungered, and didst feed Me; naked, and didst clothe Me; a stranger, and didst take Me in" (Matt. xxv. 35); and all the like words: but the other shall hear the contrary; "Wicked and slothful servant" (Matt. xxv. 26); and again, "Woe unto them that luxuriate upon their couches, and sleep upon beds of ivory, and drink the refined wine, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; they counted upon these things as staying, and not as fleeting." (Amos vi. 4, 5, 6, Sept.)
I have not said this without purpose, but with the view of changing your minds; and that you should do nothing that is fruitless. What then, saith one, of the fact that I do both the one and the other? This argument is much resorted to by all. And what need, tell me, when everything might be done usefully, to make a division, and to expend part on what is not wanted, but even without any purpose at all, and part usefully? Tell me, hadst thou, when sowing, cast some upon a rock, and some upon very good ground; is it likely that thou wouldest have been contented so, and have said, Where is the harm, if we cast some to no purpose, and some upon very good ground? For why not all into the very good ground? Why lessen the gain? And if thou have occasion to be getting money together, thou wilt not talk in that way, but wilt get it together from every quarter; but in the other case thou dost not so. And if to lend on usury; thou wilt not say, "Wherefore shall we give some to the poor, and some to the rich," but all is given to the former: yet in the case before us, where the gain is so great, thou dost not thus calculate, and will not at length desist from expending without purpose, and laying out without return?
"But," saith one, "this also hath a gain." Of what kind, tell me? "It increaseth friendships." Nothing is colder than men who are made friends by these things, by the table, and surfeiting. The friendships of parasites are born only from that source.
Insult not a thing so marvelous as love, nor say that this is its root. As if one were to say, that a tree which bore gold and precious stones had not its root of the same, but that it was gendered of rottenness; so doest even thou: for even though friendship should be born from that source, nothing could possibly be colder. But those other tables produce friendship, not with man, but with God; and that an intense one, so thou be intent on preparing them. For he that expendeth part in this way and part in that, even should he have bestowed much, hath done no great thing: but he that expendeth all in this way, even though he should have given little, hath done the whole. For what is required is that we give, not much or little, but not less than is in our power. Think we on him with the five talents, and on him with the two. (Matt. xxv. 15.) Think we on her who cast in those two mites. (Mark xii. 41.) Think we on the widow in Elijah's days. She who threw in those two mites said not, What harm if I keep the one mite for myself, and give the other? but gave her whole living. (1 Kings xvii.) But thou, in the midst of so great plenty, art more penurious than she. Let us then not be careless of our own salvation, but apply ourselves to almsgiving. For nothing is better than this, as the time to come shall show; meanwhile the present shows it also. Live we then to the glory of God, and do those things that please Him, that we may be counted worthy of the good things of promise; which may all we obtain, through the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power and honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.