Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Cont.)
Book XIII. (Cont.)
17. The Little Ones and Their Stumbling-Blocks.
But it is a hard task to expound what follows in logical harmony with what has already been said; for one might say, how is it that he who is converted and has become as the little children, is a little one among such as believe in Jesus, and is capable 485 of being caused to stumble? And likewise let us attempt to explain this coherently. Every one that gives his adherence to Jesus as the Son of God according to the true history concerning Him, and by deeds done according to the Gospel, is on the way to living the life which is according to virtue, is converted and is on the way towards becoming as the little children; and it is impossible for him not to enter into the kingdom of heaven. There are, indeed, many such; but not all, who are converted with a view to becoming like the little children, have reached the point of being made like unto little children; but each wants so much of the likeness to the little children, as he falls short of the disposition of little children towards the passions, of which we have spoken. In the whole multitude, then, of believers, are also those who, having been, as it were, just converted in regard to their becoming as the little children, at the very point of their conversion that they may become as the little children, are called little; and those of them, who are converted that they may become as the little children, but fall far short of having truly become as the little children, are capable of being caused to stumble; each of whom falls so far short of the likeness to them, as he falls short of the disposition of children towards the passions, of which we have spoken, to whom we ought not to give occasions of stumbling-block; but, if it be otherwise, he who has caused him to stumble will require, as contributing towards his cure, to have “an ass’s millstone hanged about his neck, and be sunk into the depths of the sea.” (Mat_18:6) For, in this way, when he has paid the due penalty in the sea, where is “the dragon which God formed to play in it,” (Psa_104:26) and, so far as is expedient for the end in view, has been punished and undergone suffering, he shall then55 have his part in those troubles which belong to the depths of the sea, which he endured when he was dragged down by the ass’s millstone. For there are also differences of millstones, so that one of them may be, so to call it, the millstone of a man, and another that of an ass; and that is human, about which it is written, “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left;” (Mat_24:41) but the millstone of the ass is that which shall be put round him who has given occasion of stumbling-block. But some one might say - I know not whether he would speak soundly or erroneously - that the ass’s millstone is the heavy body of the wicked man, which is sunken downwards, and which he will receive at the resurrection that he may be sunk in the abyss which is called the depth of the sea, where “is the dragon which God formed to play therein.” (Psa_104:26) But another will refer the creating of a stumbling-block to one of the little ones to the powers that are unseen by men; for from these arise many stumbling-blocks to the little ones pointed out by Jesus. But when they cause to stumble one of the little ones pointed out by Jesus, who are believers in Him, he shall assume an ass’s millstone, the corruptible body which presses heavily on the soul, which is itself hung from the neck, which is dragged down to the affairs in this life, that by means of these their conceit may be taken away, and having paid the penalty, they shall come, through means of the ass’s millstone, to the condition expedient for them.
18. Who Was the Little Child Called by Jesus.
Now another interpretation different from what is called the simpler may be uttered; whether as dogma, or for the sake of exercise, so to speak, let us also inquire what was the little child who was called by Jesus and set in the midst of the disciples. Now consider if you can say that the little child, whom Jesus called, was the Holy Spirit who humbled Himself, when He was called by the Saviour, and set in the midst of the reason of the disciples of Jesus; if, indeed, He wishes us, being turned away from everything else, to be turned towards the examples suggested by the Holy Spirit, so that we may so become as the little children, who are themselves also turned and likened to the Holy Spirit; which little children God gave to the Saviour, according to what is said in Isaiah, “Behold, I and the little children which God has given to me.” (Psa_8:1-9:18) And it is not possible for any one to enter into the kingdom of heaven, who has not been turned away from the affairs of this world, and made like unto the little children who possess the Holy Spirit; which Holy Spirit was called by Jesus, and, descending from His own perfection to men as a little child, was set by Jesus in the midst of the disciples. It is necessary, then, for him who has turned away from the desires of this world to humble himself not simply as the little child, but, according to what is written, 486 “as this little child.” (Mat_18:4) But to humble oneself as that little child is to imitate the Holy Spirit, who humbled Himself for the salvation of men. Now, that the Saviour and the Holy Spirit were sent by the Father for the salvation of men has been declared in Isaiah, in the person of the Saviour, saying, “And now the Lord hath sent me and His Spirit.” (Isa_48:16) You must know, however, that this expression is ambiguous; for either God sent, but also the Holy Spirit sent, the Saviour; or, as we have taken it, the Father sent both - the Saviour and the Holy Spirit. He, therefore, who has humbled himself more than all those who have humbled themselves in imitation of that little child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. For there are many who are willing to humble themselves as that little child; but the man, who in every respect has become like to the little child who humbled himself, in the name of Jesus - especially in Jesus Himself, - in reality, would be found to be he who is named greater than all in the kingdom of heaven. But as he receives Jesus, whosoever receives one such of the little children in His name, so he rejects Jesus and casts Him out, who does not wish to receive one such little child in the name of Jesus. But if, also, there is a difference in those who are deemed worthy of the Holy Spirit, as believers receive more or less of the Holy Spirit, there would be some little ones among those who believe in God who can be made to stumble: to avenge whose being made to stumble the Word says, with reference to those who had caused them to stumble, “It is profitable for him that an ass’s millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” (Mat_18:6) Let these things be said in regard to the passage of Matthew before us.
19. The Parallel Passages in Mark and Luke.
But let us consider also the like account in the other Evangelists. Mark, (Mar_9:33, Mar_9:34) then, says, that the Twelve reasoned in the way as to which of them was the greatest. Wherefore He sat down, and called them, and teaches who is the greatest, saying, that he who became last of all by means of his moderation and gentleness, would as the greatest obtain the first place, so that he did not receive the place of one who was being ministered unto, but the place of one who ministered, and that not to some but not to others, but to all absolutely; for attend to the words, “If any man would be first he shall be last of all, and minister of all.” (Mar_9:35) And next to that He says, that “He,” - Jesus to-wit - “took a little child, and set him in the midst of His own disciples, and taking him in His arms, He said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of the little children in My name receiveth Me.” (Mar_9:36, Mar_9:37) But what was the little child which Jesus took and placed in His arms, according to the deeper meaning in the passage? it the Holy Spirit? And to this little child, indeed, some were likened, of whom He said, “Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in My name receiveth Me.” According to Luke, however, the reasoning did not arise spontaneously in the disciples, but was suggested to them by the question, “which of them should be greatest.” (Luk_9:46) And Jesus, seeing the reasoning of their heart, as He had eyes that see the reasonings of hearts, - seeing the reasoning of their heart, - without being questioned, according to Luke, “took the little child and set him,” not in the midst alone, as Matthew and Mark have said, but now, also, “by His side,” and said to the disciples, not only, “Whosoever shall receive one such little child,” or, “Whosoever shall receive one of such little ones in My name receiveth Me,” but, now going even a step higher, “Whosoever shall receive this little child in My name receiveth Me.” (Luk_9:47, Luk_9:48) It is necessary, therefore, according to Luke, to receive in the name of Jesus that very little child which Jesus took and placed by His side. And I know not if there be any one who can interpret figuratively the word, “Whosoever shall receive this little child in My name.” For it is necessary that each of us should receive in the name of Jesus that little child which Jesus then took and set by His side; for he lives as immortal, and we must receive him from Jesus Himself in the name of Jesus; and without being separated from him, Jesus is with him who receives the little child, so that according to this it is said, “Whosoever shall receive this little child in My name receiveth Me.” Then, since the Father is inseparable from the Son, He is with him who receives the Son. Wherefore it is said, “And whosoever shall receive Me receives Him that sent Me.” (Luk_9:48) But he who has received the little child, and the Saviour, and Him that sent Him, is least of all the disciples of Jesus, making himself little. But, so far as 487 he belittles himself, to that extent does he become great; as that very thing, which caused him the more to make himself little, contributes to his advance in greatness; for attend to what is said, “He that is least among you all the same is great;” but in other manuscripts we read, “The same shall be great.” Now, according to Luke, “If any one shall not receive the kingdom of God as the little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.” (Luk_18:17) And this expression is ambiguous; for either it means that he who receives the kingdom of God may become as a little child, or, that he may receive the kingdom of God, which has become to him as a little child. And perhaps here those who receive the kingdom of God receive it, when it is as a little child, but in the world to come no longer as a little child; and they receive the greatness of the perfection in the spiritual manhood, so to speak, which perfection is manifested to all who in the present time receive it, when it is here as a little child.
20.The World and Offences. Various Meanings of World.
“Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling.” (Mat_18:7) The expression “cosmos,” is used in itself and absolutely in the passage, “He was in the cosmos and the cosmos knew Him not,” (Joh_1:10) but it is used relatively and in respect of its connection with that of which it is the cosmos, in the words, “Lest you look up to the heaven, and seeing the sun, and the moon, and all the cosmos of the heavens, you should stray and bow down to them and worship them.” (Deu_4:19) And the like you will find in the Book of Esther, spoken about her, when it is written, stripping off all her “cosmos.”56 For the word “cosmos,” simply, is not the same as the “cosmos” of heaven, or the “cosmos” of Esther; and this which we are now investigating is another. I think, then, that the world is not this compacted whole of heaven and earth according to the Divine Scriptures, but only the place which is round about the earth, and this is not to be conceived in respect of the whole earth, but only in respect of ours which is inhabited; for the true light “was in the world,” that is, in the place which is around, conceived in relation to our part of the earth; “and the world knew Him not,” (Joh_1:10) that is, the men in the region round about, and perhaps also the powers that have an affinity to this place. For it is monstrous to understand by the world here the compacted whole formed of heaven and earth, and those in it; so that it could be said, that the sun and moon and the choir of the stars and the angels in all this world, did not know the true light, and, though ignorant of it, preserved the order which God had appointed for them. But when it is said by the Saviour in the prayer to the Father, “And, now, glorify me, O Father, with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was,” (Joh_17:5) you must understand by the “world,” that which is inhabited by us on the earth; for it was from this world that the Father gave men to the Son, in regard to whom alone the Saviour beseeches His Father, and not for the whole world of men. Moreover, also, when the Saviour says, “And I come to thee and am no longer in the world,” (Joh_17:11) He speaks of the terrestrial world; for it is not to be supposed that He spoke things contradictory when He said, “And I come to thee, and I am no longer in the world,” and “I am in the world.” But also in this, “And these things I speak in the world,” (Joh_17:13) we must think of the place round about the earth. And this is clearly indicated also by the words, “And the world hated them, because they are not of the world.” (Joh_17:14) For it hated us from the time when we no longer “look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” (2Co_4:18) because of the teaching of Jesus; not the world of heaven and earth and them that are therein, all compacted together but the men on the earth along with us. And the saying, “They are not of the world,” (Joh_17:21) is equivalent to, They are not of the place round about the earth. And so also the disciples of Jesus are not of this world, as He was not of the world. And further also the saying, “That the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me,” (Joh_17:21, Joh_17:23) twice spoken in the Gospel according to John, does not refer to the things that are superior to men, but to men who need to believe that the Father sent the Son into the world here. Yea, and also in the Apostle, “Your faith is proclaimed in the whole world.” (Rom_1:8)
21. The “Woe” Does Not Apply to the Disciples of Jesus.
But if there is woe unto men everywhere on the earth, because of occasions of stumbling 488 to those who are laid hold of by them; but the disciples are not of the world, as they do not look at things seen, like as the Master is not of this world; to no one of the disciples of Jesus does the “woe because of occasions of stumbling” apply, since “great peace have they who love the law of God, and there is to them no occasion of stumbling.” (Psa_119:165) But if any one seems to be called a disciple, but yet is of the world, because of his loving the world, and the things therein, - I mean, the life in the place round about the earth, and the property in it, or the possessions, or any form of wealth whatsoever, - so that the saying, “they are not of the world,” (Joh_17:16) does not fit him; to him, as being really of the world, shall come that which happens to the world, the “woe, because of occasions of stumbling.” But let him who wishes to avoid this woe not be a lover of life, but let him say with Paul,” “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Gal_6:14) For the saints while “in the tabernacle, do groan being burdened” (2Co_5:4) with “the body of humiliation,” and do all things that they may become worthy to be found in the mystery of the resurrection, when God shall fashion anew the body of humiliation not of all, but of those who have been truly made disciples to Christ, so that it may be conformed to the body of the glory of Christ. (Phi_3:21) For as none of the “woes” happen to any of the disciples of Christ, so does not this “woe, because of occasions of stumbling;” for, supposing that thousands of occasions should arise, they shall not touch those who are no longer of the world. But if any one, because of his faith wanting ballast, and the instability of his submission in regard to the Word of God, is capable of being caused to stumble, let him know that he is not called by Jesus His disciple. Now we must suppose that so many stumbling-blocks come, that, as a result, the woes extend not to some parts of the earth, but to the whole “world” which is in it.
22.What the “Occasions of Stumbling” Are.
“And it must needs be that occasions of stumbling come,” (Mat_17:7) which I take to be different from the men by whom they come. The occasions then which come are an army of the devil, his angels, and a wicked band of impure spirits, which, seeking out instruments through whom they will work, often find men altogether strangers to piety, and sometimes even some of those who are thought to believe the Word of God, for whom exists a worse woe than that which comes to him who is caused to stumble, just as also it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, (Mat_11:22) than for the places where Jesus did signs and wonders, and yet was not believed. But as one might undertake to make a collection from the Scriptures of those who are pronounced blessed, and of the things in respect of which they are so called, so also he might undertake to do with the woes which are written, and those in whose case the woes are spoken. But that the woe is worse in the case of him who causes to stumble, than in him who is made to stumble, you may prove by the passage, “Whoso shall cause to stumble one of these little ones which believe in Me, it is profitable for him,” (Mat_17:6) etc.; for, while the little one who is made to stumble receives retribution from him who caused him to stumble, it is expedient that the severe and intolerable punishment which is written should befall the man who has caused the stumbling. But if we were to give more careful consideration to these things, we should be on our guard against sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, lest we sin against Christ; (1Co_8:11, 1Co_8:12) as often our brethren about us, “for whom Christ died,” perish, not only through our knowledge, but also through some other causes connected with us; in the case of whom, we, sinning against Christ, shall pay the penalty, the soul of them who perish through us being required of us.
23. In What Sense “Necessary.”
Next we must test accurately the meaning of the word “necessity” in the passage, “For there is a necessity that the occasions come,” (Mat_18:7) and to the like effect in Luke, “It is ‘inadmissible’ but that occasions of stumbling should come,” (Luk_18:1) instead of “impossible.” And as it is necessary that that which is mortal should die, and it is impossible but that it should die, and as it must needs be that he who is in the body should be fed, for it is impossible for one who is not fed to live, so it is necessary and impossible but that occasions of stumbling should arise, since there is a necessity also that wickedness should exist before virtue in men, from which wickedness stumbling-blocks arise; for it is impossible that a man should be found altogether sinless, and who, 489 without sin, has attained to virtue. For the wickedness in the evil powers, which is the primal source of the wickedness among men, is altogether eager to work through certain instruments against the men in the world. And perhaps also the wicked powers are more exasperated when they are cast out by the word of Jesus, and their worship is lessened, their customary sacrifices not being offered unto them; and there is a necessity that these offences come; but there is no necessity that they should come through any particular one; wherefore the “woe” falls on the man through whom the stumbling-block comes, as he has given a place to the wicked power whose purpose it is to create a stumbling-block. But do not suppose that by nature, and from constitution, there are certain stumbling-blocks which seek out men through whom they come; for as God did not make death, so neither did He create stumbling-blocks; but free-will begot the stumbling-blocks in some who did not wish to endure toils for virtue.
24. The Offending Hand, or Foot, or Eye.
And it is well, then, if the eye and the hand are deserving of praise, that the eye cannot with reason say to the hand, “I have no need of thee.” (1Co_12:21) But if any one in the whole body of the congregations of the church, who because of his practical girls has the name of hand, should change and become a hand causing to stumble, let the eye say to such a hand, “I have no need of thee,” and, saying it, let him cut it off and cast it from him. (Mat_18:8) And so it is well, if any head be blessed, and the feet worthy of the blessed head, so that the head observing the things which are becoming to itself, may not be able to say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” If, however, any foot be found to become a stumbling-block to the whole body, let the head say to such a foot, “I have no need of thee,” and having cat it off, let him cast it from himself; for even it is much better that the rest of the body should enter into life, wanting the foot or the hand which caused the stumbling-block, rather than, when the stumbling-block has spread over the whole body, it should be cast into the hell of fire with the two feet or the two hands. And so it is well, that he who can become the eye of the whole body should be worthy of Christ and of the whole body; but if such an eye should ever change, and become a stumbling-block to the whole body, it is well to take it out and cast it outside the whole body, and that the rest of the body without that eye should be saved, rather than that along with it, when the whole body has been corrupted, the whole body should be cast into the hell of fire. (Mat_18:9) For the practical faculty of the soul, if prone to sin, and the walking faculty of the soul, so to speak, if prone to sin, and the faculty of clear vision, if prone to sin, may be the hand that causes to stumble, and the foot that causes to stumble, and the eye that causes to stumble, which things it is better to cast away, and having put them aside to enter into life without them, like as one halt, or maimed, or one-eyed, rather than along with them to lose the whole soul. And likewise in the case of the soul it is a good and blessed thing to use its power for the noblest ends; but if we are going to lose one for any cause, it is better to lose the use of it, that along with the other powers we may be saved.
25. The Eye or Hand Allegorized.
And it is possible to apply these words also to our nearest kinsfolk, who are our members, as it were; being considered to be our members, because of the close relationship; whether by birth, or from any habitual friendship, so to speak; whom we must not spare if they are injuring our soul. For let us cut off from ourselves as a hand or a foot or an eye, a father or mother who wishes us to do that which is contrary to piety, and a son or daughter who, as far as in them lies, would have us revolt from the church of Christ and the love of Him. But even if the wife of our bosom, or a friend who is kindred in soul, become stumbling-blocks to us, let us not spare them, but let us cut them out from ourselves, and cast them outside of our soul, as not being truly our kindred but enemies of our salvation; for “whosoever hates not his father, and mother,” (Luk_14:26) and the others subjoined, when it is the fitting season to hate them as enemies and assailants, that he may be able to win Christ, this man is not worthy of the Son of God. And in respect of these we may say, that from a critical position any lame one, so to speak, is saved, when he has lost a foot - say a brother - and alone obtains the inheritance of the kingdom of God; and a maimed one is saved, when his father is not saved, but they perish, while he is separated from them, that he alone may obtain the benedictions. And so also any one is saved with one eye, who 490 has cut out the eye of his own house, his wife, if she commit fornication, lest having two eyes he may go away into the hell of fire.
26. The Little Ones and Their Angels.
“See that ye despise not one of these little ones.” (Mat_18:10) It seems to me that as among the bodies of men there are differences in point of size, - so that some are little, and others great, and others of middle height, and, again, there are differences among the little, as they are more or less little, and the same holds of the great, and of those of middle height, - so also among the souls of men, there are some things which give them the stamp of littleness, and other things the stamp of greatness, so to speak, and generally, after the analogy of things bodily, other things the stamp of mediocrity. But in the case of bodies, it is not due to the action of men but to the spermatic principles, that one is short and little, another great, and another of middle height; but in the case of souls, it is our free-will, and actions of such a kind, and habits of such a kind, that furnish the reason why one is great, or little, or of middle height; and it is of our free-will either by advancing in stature to increase our size, or not advancing to be short. And so indeed I understand the words about Jesus having assumed a human soul, “Jesus advanced;” (Luk_2:52) for as from the free-will there was an advance of His soul in wisdom and grace, so also in stature. And the Apostle says, “Until we all attain unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;” (Eph_4:13) for we must think that he attains unto a man, and that full-grown, according to the inner man, who has gone through the things of the child, and has reached the stage of the man, and has put away the things of the child, and generally, has perfected the things of the man. (1Co_13:11) And so we must suppose that there is a certain measure of spiritual stature unto which the most perfect soul can attain by magnifying the Lord, and become great. Thus, then, these became great, of whom this is written, Isaac, and Moses, and John, and the Saviour Himself above all; for also about Him Gabriel said, “He shall be great;” (Luk_1:32) but the little ones are “the newborn babes which long for the reasonable milk which is without guile,” (1Pe_2:1) such as stand in need of nursing-fathers and nursing-mothers, spoken of in Isaiah when he says, about the calling from the Gentiles, “And they shall bring the sons in the bosom, and take their daughters on the shoulders, and kings shall be thy nursing-fathers and their princesses thy nursing-mothers.” (Isa_49:22, Isa_49:23) For these reasons you will, then, attend to the word, “Do not despise one of these little ones,” (Mat_18:10) and consider whether it is their angels who bring them in their bosom, since they have become sons, and also take on their shoulders what are called daughters, and whether from them are the nursing-fathers who are called kings, and the nursing-mothers who are called princesses. And since the little ones, pointed out by our Saviour, are under the stewardship as of nursing-fathers and nursing-mothers, on this account I think that Moses, who believed that he had been already assigned a place among the ranks of the great, said, with regard to the promise, “My angel shall go before you,” (Exo_32:34) “If thou thyself do not go along with me, carry me not up hence.” (Exo_33:15) For though the little one even be an heir, yet as being a child he differs nothing from a servant when he is a child, (Gal_4:1) and to the extent to which he is little “has the spirit of bondage to fear;” (Rom_8:15) but he who is not at all any longer such has no longer the spirit of bondage, but already the spirit of adoption, when “perfect love casteth out fear;” (1Jo_4:18) it will be plain to thee, how that according to these things “the angel of the Lord” is said “to encamp round about them that fear Him, and to save them.” (Psa_34:7) But you will consider, according to these things also, whether these are indeed angels of the little ones “who are led by the spirit of bondage to fear,”“when the angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him and delivereth them;” but of the great, whether it is the Lord who is greater than the angels, who might say about each of them, “I am with him in affliction;” (Psa_91:15) and, so long as we are imperfect, and need one to assist us that we may be delivered from evils, we stand in need of an angel of whom Jacob said, “The angel who delivered me from all the evils;” (Gen_48:16) but, when we have become perfected, and have passed through the stage of being subject to nursing-fathers and nursing-mothers and guardians and stewards, (Gal_4:4) we are meet to be governed by the Lord Himself. 491
27. When the Little Ones Are Assigned to Angels.
Then again one might inquire at what time those who are called their angels assume guardianship of the little ones pointed out by Christ; whether they received this commission to discharge concerning them, from what time “by the laver of regeneration,” (Tit_3:5) through which they were born “as new-born babes, they long for the reasonable milk which is without guile,” (1Pe_2:1) and no longer are in subjection to any wicked power; or, whether from birth they had been appointed, according to the foreknowledge and predestination of God, over those whom God also foreknew, and foreordained to be conformed to the glory of the Christ. (Rom_8:29) And with reference to the view that they have angels from birth, one might quote, “He who separated me from my mother’s womb,” (Gal_1:15) and, “From the womb of my mother thou hast been my protector,” (Psa_71:6) and, “He has assisted me from my mother’s womb,” (Psa_139:13) and, “Upon thee I was cast from my mother,” (Psa_22:10) and in the Epistle of Jude, “To them that are beloved in God the Father and are kept for Jesus Christ, being called,” (Jud_1:1) - kept completely by the angels who keep them.
28. Close Relationship of Angels to Their “Little Ones.”
With reference to the words, “When through the layer I became a child in Christ,” (Tit_3:5; 1Pe_2:2) it may be said, that there is no holy angel present with those who are still in wickedness, but that during the period of unbelief they are under the angels of Satan;57 but, after the regeneration, He who has redeemed us with His own blood consigns us to a holy angel, who also, because of his purity, beholds the face of God. And a third exposition of this passage might be something like the following, which would say, that as it is possible for a man to change from unbelief to faith, and from intemperance to temperance, and generally from wickedness to virtue, so also it is possible that the angel, to whom any soul has been entrusted at birth, may be wicked at the first, but afterwards may at some time believe in proportion as the man believes, and may make such advance that he may become one of the angels who always behold the face of the Father in heaven, (Mat_18:10) beginning from the time that he is yoked along with the man who was foreknown and foreordained to believe at that time, the judgments of God, which are unspeakable and unsearchable and like to the depths, fitly bringing together all this harmonious relationship - angels with men. And it may be that as when a man and his wife are both unbelievers, sometimes it is the man who first believes and in time saves his wife, and sometimes the wife who begins and afterwards in time persuades her husband, so it happens with angels and with men. If, however, anything of this kind takes place in the case of other angels or not, you may seek out for yourself. But consider whether it may not be appropriate to say something of this kind in regard to each angel who is so honoured according to the word of the Saviour, that he is said to behold always the face of the Father who is in heaven. But since in what we said above, that the little ones have angels, but that the great have passed beyond such a position, some one will quote in opposition to us from the Acts of the Apostles, where it is written, that a certain maid Rhoda, when Peter knocked at the door, came to answer, and recognizing the voice of Peter, ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate; but when they who were gathered together in the house wondered, and thought that it was quite impossible that Peter verily stood before the gate, they said, It is his angel. (Act_12:13-15) For the objector will say that, as they had learned once for all that each of the believers had some definite angel, they knew that Peter also had one. But he, who adheres to what we have previously said, will say that the word of Rhoda was not necessarily a dogma, and perhaps also the word of those who did not accurately know, when one as being little and God-fearing is governed by angels, and when now by the Lord Himself. After this, in order to establish our conception of the little one which we have brought forward, it will be said that we need no command about “not despising” in the case of the great, but we do need it in the case of the little; wherefore it is not merely said, “Do not despise one of these,” pointing to all the disciples, but “one of these little ones,” (Mat_18:10) pointed out by Him, who sees the littleness and the greatness of the soul. 492
29. The Little Ones and the Perfect.
But another might say that the perfect man is here called little, applying the word, “For he that is least among you all, the same is great,” (Luk_9:48) and will affirm that he who humbles himself and becomes a child in the midst of all that believe, though he be an apostle or a bishop, and becomes such “as when a nurse cherisheth her own children,” (1Th_2:7) is the little one pointed out by Jesus, and that the angel of such an one is worthy to behold the face of God. For to say that the little are here called perfect, according to the passage, “He that is least among you all, the same is great.” (Luk_9:48) and as Paul said, “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints was this grace given,” (Eph_3:8) will seem to be in harmony with the saying, “Whoso shall cause one of these little ones to stumble,” (Mat_18:6) and “So it is not the will of My Father in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Mat_18:14) For he, as has been stated, who is now little, could not be made to stumble nor perish, for “great peace have they who love the law of God, and there is no stumbling-block to them;” (Psa_119:165) and he could not perish, who is least of all among all the disciples of Christ, and on this account becomes great; and, since he could not perish, he could say, “Who shall separate us from the love,” (Rom_8:35 etc.) But he who wishes to maintain this last exposition will say that the soul even of the just man is changeable, as Ezekiel also testifies, saying, that the righteous man may abandon the commandments of God, so that his former righteousness is not reckoned unto him; (Eze_33:12) wherefore it is said, “Whoso shall cause to stumble one of these little ones,” and, “It is not the will of My Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Mat_18:14)
[As for the exposition of the matters relating to “the hundred sheep,” you may consult the homilies on Luke. (Mat_18:12-14)]
30. The Sinning Brother.
“If thy brother sin against thee, go, shew him his fault between thee and him alone.” (Mat_18:15) He, then, who attends closely to the expression, in proof of the surpassing philanthropy of Jesus, will say, that as the words do not suggest a difference of they will act in a singular manner and contrary to the goodness of Jesus, who supply the thought, that these words are to be understood as being limited in their application to lesser sins. But another, also attending closely to the expression, and not wishing to introduce these extraneous thoughts, nor admitting that it is spoken about every sin, will say, that he who commits those great sins is not a brother, even if he be called a brother, as the Apostle says, “If any one that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, etc., with such an one not to eat;” (1Co_5:11) for no one who is all idolater, or a fornicator, or covetous, is a brother; for if he, who seems to bear the name of Christ, though he is named a brother, has something of the features of these, he would not rightly be called a brother. As then he, who says that such words are spoken about every sin, whether the sin be murder, or poisoning, or paederasty, or anything of that sort, would give occasion of injury to the exceeding goodness of Christ, so, on the contrary, he who distinguishes between the brother and him who is called the brother, might teach that, in the case of the least of the sins of men, he who has not repented after the telling of the fault is to be reckoned as a Gentile and a publican, for sins which are “not unto death,” 1 (Joh_5:16) or, as the law has described them in the Book of Numbers, not “death-bringing.” (Num_18:22) This would seem to be very harsh; for I do not think that any one will readily be found who has not been censured thrice for the same form of sin, say, reviling, with which revilers abuse their neighbours, or those who are carried away by passion, or for over-drinking, or lying and idle words, or any of those things which exist in the masses. You will inquire, therefore, whether any observation of the passage has escaped the notice of those, who are influenced by their conception of the goodness of the Word, and grant pardon to those who have committed the greatest sins, as well as of those who teach that, in the case of the very least sins, he is to be reckoned as a Gentile and a publican, making him a stranger to the church, after he has committed three very trivial transgressions. But the following seems to me to have been overlooked by both of them, namely, the words, “Thou hast gained thy brother.” (Mat_18:15) It is assigned by the Word to him only who heard, and He no longer applies it in the case of him who has stumbled twice or thrice and been censured; but that which was to be said about him who was censured twice or thrice, corresponding to 493 the saying, “Thou hast gained thy brother,” He has left in the air, so to speak. He is not, therefore, altogether gained, nor will he altogether perish, or he will receive stripes. And attend carefully to the first passage, “If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother,” and to the second passage, which is literally, “If he hear thee not, take with thyself one or two more, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Mat_18:15, Mat_18:16) What, then, will happen to him who has been censured for the second time, after every word has been established by two or three witnesses, He has left us to conceive. And, again, “If he refuse to hear them” - manifestly, the witnesses who have been taken - “tell it,” he says, “to the church;” (Mat_18:17) and He does not say what he will suffer if he does not hear the church, but He taught that if he refused to hear the church, then he who had thrice admonished, and had not been heard, was to regard him for the future as the Gentile and the publican. (Mat_18:17) Therefore he is not altogether gained, nor will he altogether perish. But what at all he will suffer, who at first did not hear, but required witnesses, or even refused to hear these, but was brought to the church, God knows; for we do not declare it, according to the precept, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” (Mat_7:1) “until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” (1Co_4:5) But, with reference to the seeming harshness in the case of those who have committed less sins, one might say that it is not possible for him who has not heard twice in succession to hear the third time, so as, on this account, no longer to be as a Gentile or a publican, or no longer to stand in need of the censure in presence of all the church. For we must bear in mind this, “So it is not the will of My Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Mat_18:14) For if “we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad,” (2Co_5:10) let each one with all his power do what he can so that he may not receive punishment for more evil things done in the body, even if he is going to receive back for all the wrongs which he has done; but it should be our ambition to procure the reward for a greater number of good deeds, since “with what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us,” (Mat_7:2) and, “according to the works of our own hands shall it happen unto us,” (Isa_3:11) and not in infinite wise, but either double or sevenfold shall sinners receive for their sins from the hand of the Lord; since He does not render unto any one according to the works of his hands, but more than that which he has done, for “Jerusalem,” as Isaiah taught, “received from the hand of the Lord double for her sins;” (Isa_40:2) but the neighbours of Israel, whoever they may be, will receive sevenfold, according to the following expression in the Psalms, “Render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom the reproach with which they have reproached Thee, O Lord.” (Psa_79:12) And other forms of payment in return could be found, which, if we apprehend, we shall know that to repent after any sin, whatever its greatness, is advantageous, in order that, in addition to our not being punished for more offences, there may be some hope left to us concerning good deeds done afterwards at some time, even though, before them, thousands of errors have been committed by anyone of us. For it would be strange that evil deeds should be reckoned to any one, but the better which are done after the bad should profit nothing; which may also be learned from Ezekiel, (Eze_33:1-33) by those who pay careful consideration to the things said about such cases.
31. The Power to Bind on Earth and in Heaven.
But to me it seems that, to the case of him who after being thrice admonished was adjudged to be as the Gentile and the publican, it is fitly subjoined, “Verily, I say unto you,” - namely, to those who have judged any one to be as the Gentile and the publican, - “and what things soever ye shall bind on the earth,” (Mat_18:18 etc.); for with justice has he, who has thrice admonished and not been heard, bound him who is judged to be as a Gentile and a publican; wherefore, when such an one is bound and condemned by one of this character, he remains bound, as no one of those in heaven overturns the judgment of the man who bound him. And, in like manner, he who was admonished once for all, and did things worthy of being gained, having been set free by the admonition of the man who gained him, and no longer bound by the cords of his own sins, (Pro_5:22) for which he was admonished, shall be adjudged to have been set free by those in heaven. Only, it seems to be indicated that the things, which above 494 were granted to Peter alone, are here given to all who give the three admonitions to all that have sinned; so that, if they be not heard, they will bind on earth him who is judged to be as a Gentile and a publican, as such an one has been bound in heaven. But since it was necessary, even if something in common had been said in the case of Peter and those who had thrice admonished the brethren, that Peter should have some element superior to those who thrice admonished, in the case of Peter, this saying “I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens,” (Mat_16:19) has been specially set before the words, “And what things soever ye shall bind on earth,” etc. And, indeed, if we were to attend carefully to the evangelical writings, we would also find here, and in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter and those who have thrice admonished the brethren, a great difference and a pre-eminence in the things said to Peter, compared with the second class. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more, and in order that whatsoever things he binds on the earth may be bound not in one heaven but in them all, as compared with the many who bind on earth and loose on earth, so that these things are bound and loosed not in the heavens, as in the case of Peter, but in one only; for they do not reach so high a stage, with power as Peter to bind and loose in all the heavens. (Mat_16:19) The better, therefore, is the binder, so much more blessed is he who has been loosed, so that in every part of the heavens his loosing has been accomplished.
55 Or, free from. The Vetus Inter. has “extra dolores.” It has had ὲξο instead of ὲξῆς.
56 Lomm., following Heut. Refers to The Additions to Esther 14:2. But the word κόσμος does not occur in this passage. See Judith 10:4; 1 Maccabees 2:11.