Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Golden Mouth of Natural Law: St. John Chrysostom on the Natural Law, Homily V on Romans

THE LOCUS CLASSICUS, or scriptural “proof text,” frequently pointed to in discussions regarding the Scriptural teaching of the natural law is found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, specifically in 2:14-15. At the core of his introduction of his great Epistle, St. Paul nestled the following few verses:
14 For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves: 15 Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing, or also defending one another.

14 ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν, οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος: 15 οἵτινες ἐνδείκνυνται τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου γραπτὸν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν, συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν τῆς συνειδήσεως καὶ μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων τῶν λογισμῶν κατηγορούντων ἢ καὶ ἀπολογουμένων.
Naturally, St. John Chrysostom touches upon these verses in his great homiletic commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The Commentary is composed of 32 individual homilies, but the homily most pertinent to the issue of the Pauline teaching of the heart's law is found in Homily V, which addresses the teachings of St. Paul's Epistle from 1:28 through 2:16.

St. John Chrysostom, Clementine Chapel Vault (by Pomrancio)

Chrysostom views St. Paul's epistle as an effort in undermining the Jewish pride in their Law as a continuing schema of salvation. St. Paul saw Christ as the end, or fulfillment, of the Mosaic Law. (Rom 10:4) In fact, Christ was the end, or fulfillment, of the Natural Law that guided the Gentiles. St. Paul thus sought to negotiate between the Charybdis of the Jew and his attachment to the Mosaic Law, and the Scylla of the Gentile, at the time attached to his idols and deviant moral practices. How was St. Paul to reconcile these two strands of mankind into the one Law of Christ?

While this is not the time or place to venture forth into St. Paul's complex theology, and St. John Chrysostom's equally subtle treatment of it, one should understand Chrysostom's interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans as one involving a sort of intellectual and rhetorical tightrope on the part of the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, who seeks to broaden the reach of Christ to the Gentile, to metamorphosize the Jewish attachment to the Law into Christ, without giving undue offense to either party. 

As part of his commentary, Chrysostom sees Paul's use of the words "Jew" and "Gentile" to vary between the pre-Christian dispensation and the post-Christian dispensation, even between the pre-Mosaic and post-Mosaic dispensations.  Both Jew and Gentile are in a different historical and theological situations after the circumcision and Law was given by Moses, and after Christ's redemptive death on the Cross. 

For example, with regard to St. Paul's use of "Jew" and "Gentile" in Romans 2:10--"But glory, honor, and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also the Gentile"--the "Jew" and "Gentile" are "those before Christ's coming."  Thus, the "Gentiles" or "Greeks" St. Paul refers to are not the present, contemporary Greeks who worship idols and partake in vicious practices, but the Gentile of old, of time immemorial, the Gentile of the ilk of Job, of Melchizedek, of Cornelius, and the Ninevites, brothers of Abraham, even before the Mosaic covenant set them as a people apart.  "[B]y the Greeks he here means not them that worshipped idols (εἰδωλολατροῦντας), but them that adored God (θεοσεβοῦντας), that obeyed the law of nature (τῷ φυσικῷ πειθομένους νόμῳ), that stricly kept all things, save the Jewish observances, which contribute to piety."  By focusing on Greek and Jew before the Mosaic dispensation, before the Greek had corrupted the intellect by falling into idol worship and the concommitant moral depravity which naturally follows from idolatry, when Jew and Greek or Gentile operated under the natural law, when the Jew did not have the advantage of the Law, St. Paul believe he could locate Christ's redemptive plan that encompassed both Jew and Greek. 

On the other hand, in Romans 2:12 ("For as many as have sinned without the law (ἀνόμως ἥμαρτον) shall also perish without law (ἀνόμως καὶ ἀπολοῦνται): as as many have sinned in the law (ἐν νόμῳ ἥμαρτον) shall be judged by the law (διὰ νόμου κριθήσονται)"), St. Paul clearly refers to the Gentile and the Jew after the Mosaic dispensation, after the Jew has received circumcision and the Law.
Detail of Ikon of St. John Chrysostom
For here, as I said before, he shows not only the equality of the Jew and the Gentile, but that the Jew was even much burdened by the gift of the Law. For the Gentile is judged without law (Ἕλλην ἀνόμως κρίνεται). But this “without law” (Ἀνόμως) here expresses not the worse plight but the easier, that is, he has not the Law to accuse him. For “without law” (Ἀνόμως)(that is, without the condemnation arising from it), is he condemned solely from the reasonings of nature (ἀπὸ τῶν τῆς φύσεως λογισμῶν καταδικάζεται μόνων), but the Jew, “in the Law,” (ἐννόμως) that is, with nature and the Law too to accuse him (μετὰ τῆς φύσεως καὶ τοῦ νόμου κατηγοροῦντος). For the greater the attention he enjoyed, the greater the punishment he will suffer. See how much greater is the necessity which he lays upon the Jews of a speedy recourse to grace! For in that they said, they needed not grace, being justified by the Law, he shows that they need it more than the Gentiles, considering they are liable to be punished more than the Gentiles, considering they are liable to be punished more.
The law (Nόμως) St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom speak of in this context is the Law of Moses, the divine positive law revealed in the Old Testament.  So when St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom refer to the Gentile as "without law" (Ἀνόμως), they do not mean without any law, but without the law of Moses.  Indeed, the Gentiles (as well as the Jew) are under an overriding law, the Law of Nature, a law of reason, a law of conscience.  "For," says St. John Chrysostom in Homily V, "the conscience (συνειδὸς) and reason (λογισμός) does suffice in the Law's stead (ἀντὶ τοῦ νόμου)." This means two things.  First, that "God made man independent (αὐτάρκη τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐποίησεν ὁ Θεὸς), that is, capable of self-rule, "so as to be able to chose virtue (ἀρετῆς ) and to avoid vice (κακίας)."  St. Paul is insisting here, according to St. John Chrysostom, that the Gentiles operated under God's Providential care, and that the natural moral law, the law of reason and of conscience, was the vehicle by which this Providential solicitousness was accomplished.  St. Paul "shows that even in former times, and before the Law was given, the human race (φύσις) fully enjoyed the care of Providence."  Man's very nature, his physis (φύσις), enjoys the Providential care of God.  This Providential care, that is, the eternal law of God, which is God himself, is manifested in the very nature (φύσις) of man, that is, the natural moral law, the law of reason and of conscience.   It thus encompasses both Jew and Greek, "for there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord is rich unto all that call unto him." (Rom. 10:12). 

Though (before Christ) the Gentile operated without the benefit of the Mosaic Law (Ἀνόμως), that is, he was not a "hearer of the law" (ἀκροαταὶ τοῦ νόμου), he could nevertheless be "just before God" (δίκαιοι παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ).  How? By being a "doer of the law," for, Chrysostom avers, "the doers of the Law alone are justified" (ποιηταὶ τοῦ νόμου δικαιοῦνται μόνον).  Without the Law of Moses, a Gentile may indeed by just before God, "when seen to be a doer of what is written [in the Law]" (ποιητὴς φανεὶς τῶν ἐγγεγραμμένων).  The world, then, is divided into four types.  He who has heard the Law (the Jew), but has disobeyed the Law.  He who has not heard the Law (the Gentile), but has obeyed the Law. He who has heard the Law and obeyed the Law.  And he who has not the Law and has disobeyed the Law.  "For not only is it possible without hearing to be a doer, but even with hearing not to be so." 

So when St. Paul, in Romans 2:14, states that "the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves," he is not rejecting the law, but justifying the Gentiles.  St. Paul here is on his tightrope: he seeks to "undermin[e] the conceit of Judaism," without "villifying the Law, but on the contrary by extolling it and showing its greatness."  And yet, in placing the Gentiles within the governance of "nature," that is, as not having received the Law, he appears also to giving the Gentiles a nod of admiration "because they required not a law (νόμου οὐκ ἐδεήθησαν), and yet exhibited all the doings of the law (τὰ τοῦ νόμου πάντα ἐπεδείξαντο), having the works (τὰ ἔργα), not the letters (οὐ τὰ γράμματα), graven upon their minds (ταῖς διανοίαις αὐτῶν ἐγκολάψαντες)."  "By nature," St. Paul means "by the reasonings of nature" (Φύσει δὲ ὅταν εἴποι, τοῖς ἐκ φύσεως λέγει λογισμοῖς). Indeed, if Chrysostom is to be believed, St. Paul is surreptitiously, inferentially, using marvelous discretion necessarily stating here "that the Gentile is greater than the Jew" (μείζων ὁ Ἕλλην τοῦ Ἰουδαίου).  St. Paul "does not state it," in so many words, "in order not to exapserate the Jew."

Byzantine-Style Ikon of St. John Chrysostom

St. Paul tries to equalize the Gentile and the Jew by stressing the historico-theological condition prior to the Mosaic dispensation.  He will also try to equalize their historico-theological situation after the redemptive death of Christ on the Cross.  But St. Paul also equalizes the Gentile and the Jew coram Deo, before God, in the Final Judgment: "In that day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel." (Rom. 2:16) .  Thus, the eschatalogically focused Romans 2:16, no longer distinguishes betwen Jew and Gentile, and no longer looks at the doers of the Law (whether they are hearers or not).  These verses refer to "mankind univerally" (τῆς φύσεως ἁπάσης), that is, to the universal nature of man, the source of primordial and perennial law of man, the natural moral law.  It is the natural moral law, that is, our own reasonings, our own conscience, that will either accuse us or excuse us.
For then our reasonings stand up, some accusing and some excusing. And at that tribunal a man needs no other accuser.

Τότε γὰρ ἑστήκασιν ἡμῶν καὶ οἱ λογισμοὶ, οἱ μὲν κατηγοροῦντες, οἱ δὲ ἀπολογούμενοι, καὶ οὐ δεῖται ἑτέρου κατηγόρου ἄνθρωπος ἐπ' ἐκείνου τοῦ δικαστηρίου.
This tribunal of the natural moral law exercises plenary powers over man; it judges not externals, but even the innermost "secrets of men," τὰ κρυπτὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων. We will be naked before God. Christus nudum hominem judicat.

St. John Chrysostom insists that this tribunal of the natural law is to be feared:
Now let each man enter into his own conscience, and reckoning up his transgressions, let him call himself to a strict account, that we be not then condemned with the world. For fearful is that court, awful the tribunal, full of trembling the accounts, a river of fire rolls along. . . .How then shall we feel, when, before the whole world, all things are brought into the midst, in a theatre so bright and open, with both those known and those unknown to us seeing into everything? But alas! Wherewith am I forced to affright you! With men's estimation! When I ought to use the fear of God, and His condemnation. For what, pray, is to become of us then when bound, and gnashing our teeth, we are led away to the outer darkness? Or, rather, what shall we do (and this is the most fearful thought of all) when we offend God? For if any one have sense and reason, he has already endured a hell when he is out of sight of God. But since this does not pain, fire is therefore threatened. For we ought to smart not when we are punished, but when we sin. . . .
The specter of the tribunal of the Last Judgment, where the law that will judge us is the natural moral law, that law writ in our hearts, that is, in our very nature, our own reason, our own conscience, raises the solicitude of this Christian Bishop. In his peroration, which is a lengthy prayer, he pleads with his flock with the full flourish of his rhetorical skills.  And though lengthy, it warrants quotation in its substantial entirety:
For to have offended God is more distressing than to be punished. But now we are so wretchedly disposed, that, were there no fear of hell, we should not even choose readily to do any good thing. Wherefore were it for nothing else, yet for this at least, we should deserve hell, because we fear hell more than Christ. But not so the blessed Paul, but contrariwise. But since we feel otherwise, for this reason are we condemned to hell: since, did we but love Christ as we should love Him, we should have known that to offend Him we love were more painful than hell. But since we love Him not, we know not the greatness of His punishment.
And this is what I bewail and grieve over the most! And yet what has God not done, to be beloved of us? What has He not devised? What has He omitted? We insulted Him, when He had not wronged us in anything, but had even benefited us with blessings countless and unspeakable. We have turned aside from Him when calling and drawing us to Him by all ways, yet has He not even upon this punished us, but has run Himself unto us, and held us back, when fleeing, and we have shaken Him off and leaped away to the Devil.
And not even on this has He stood aloof, but has sent numberless messengers to call us to Him again, Prophets, Angels, Patriarchs: and we have not only not received the embassy, but have even insulted those that came. But not even for this did He spew us out of His mouth, but like those slighted lovers that be very earnest, He went round beseeching all, the heaven, the earth, Jeremiah, Micah, and that not that He might weigh us down, but that He might speak in behalf of His own ways (Micah 6:1): and along with the prophets He went also Himself to those that turned aside from Him, being ready to submit to examination, and deigning to condescend to a conference, and drawing them that were deaf to every appeal into a disputation with Himself. For He says, O my people, what have I done unto you, and wherein have I wearied you? Answer me. (Micah 6:3) After all this we killed the Prophets, we stoned them, we did them other cruel wrongs without number.
What then? In their place He sent no longer Prophets, no longer Angels, no longer Patriarchs, but the Son Himself. He too was killed when He had come, and yet not even then did He quench His love, but kindled it even more, and keeps on beseeching us, after even His own Son was killed, and entreating us, and doing all things to turn us unto Himself. And Paul cries aloud, saying, Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20) None of these things however reconciled us. Yet not even then did He leave us, but keeps on both threatening hell, and promising a kingdom, that even so He may draw us unto Himself. But we be still in an insensible mood.
What can be worse than this brutishness? For had a man done these things, should we not many times over have let ourselves become slaves to him? But God when doing so we turn us away from! O what listlessness! O what unfeelingness! We that live continually in sins and wickednesses, if we happen to do any little good, like unfeeling domestics, with what a niggardly spirit do we exact it, and how particular are we about the recompense made, if what we have done has any recompense to come of it. And yet the recompense is the greater if you do it without any hope of reward. Why saying all this, and making exact reckoning, is language fitter for an hireling than a domestic of willing mind. For we ought to do everything for Christ's sake, not for the reward, but for Him. For this also was why He threatened hell and promised the kingdom, that He might be loved of us.
Let us then so love Him as we ought to love Him. For this is the great reward, this is royalty and pleasure, this is enjoyment, and glory, and honor, this is light, this is the great happiness, which language (or reasoning) cannot set before us, nor mind conceive. Yet indeed I do not know how I was led so far in this way of speaking, and came to be exhorting men who do not even think slightly of power and glory here for Christ's sake, to think slightly of the kingdom. Yet still those great and noble men even attained to this measure of love. Hear, for instance, how Peter burns with love towards Him, setting Him before soul, and life, and all things. And when he had denied Him, it was not the punishment he was grieved for, but that he had denied Him Whom he longed for, which was more bitter to him than any punishment. And all this did he show before the grace of the Spirit was given. And he perseveringly pressed the question, Where are you going? (John 13:36) and before this; To whom shall we go? (John 6:67); and again; I will follow You wherever You go. (Luke 22:33)
Thus He was all things to them, and neither heaven nor the kingdom of heaven did they count of, in comparison of Him they longed for. For You are all these things unto me, he means. And why doest thou marvel that Peter was so minded? Hear now what the Prophet says: What have I in heaven, and what is there upon earth, that I should desire in comparison of You? (Psalm 73:25) Now what he means is nearly this. Neither of things above nor of things below desire I any, save You only. This is passion; this is love. Can we so love, it will not be things present only, but even things to come, which we shall reckon as nothing compared with that love-charm, and even here shall we enjoy the Kingdom, delighting ourselves in the love of Him. And how is this to be? One may say. Let us reflect how oft we insult Him after numberless goodnesses, yet He stands and calls us to Him, and how often we run by Him, but He still does not overlook us, but runs to us, and draws us to Him, and catches us in unto Himself. For if we consider these things, and such as these, we shall be enabled to kindle this longing. For if it were a common man that so loved, but a king who was thus beloved, would he not feel a respect for the greatness of the love? Most assuredly he would. But when the case is reversed, and His Beauty is unspeakable, and the glory and the riches too of Him that loves us, and our vileness so great, surely we deserve the utmost punishment, vile as we are and outcasts, who are treated with so exceeding great love by One so great and wonderful, and yet wax wanton against His love? He needs not anything of ours, and yet He does not even now cease loving us. We need much what is His, and for all that we cleave not unto His love, but money we value above Him, and man's friendship, and ease of body, and power, and fame, before Him who values nothing more than us. For He had One Son, Very and Only-Begotten, and He spared not even Him for us. But we value many things above Him. Were there not then good reason for a hell and torment, even were it twofold or threefold or manifold what it is? For what can we have to say for ourselves, if even Satan's injunctions we value more than the Laws of Christ, and are reckless of our own salvation that we may choose the works of wickedness, before Him who suffered all things for us? And what pardon do these things deserve? What excuse have they? Not one even. Let us stop then after this in our headlong course, and let us grow again sober; and reckoning up all these things, let us send up glory unto Him by our works (for words alone suffice not thereto), that we may also enjoy the glory that comes of Him, which may we all attain unto by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom, and with Whom, to the Father be glory, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
Relics of Sts. John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian
in the Church of St. George, Istanbul, Tukery

Post Scriptum

We ought not to forget that St. John Chrysostom is more than a Doctor of the Church.  He is, after all, a Saint, and one available to us, to serve as our intercessor.  It may therefore be appropriate to add, post scriptum, a prayer to this great man.  I have selected out of the Orthodox Liturgy, the Versperal Aposticha for November 13, his feast day in the Eastern Orthodox Church. (

R.  You are revealed, O John, to the ends of the earth, as a golden lyre, a shining lampstand, proclaiming the mighty works of God.
V.  The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom and his tongue speaks justice!
R.  Moses received the law from the hands of the Lord, and you, Chrysostom, enlighten the world, by the wisdom of your divine teaching.
V.  Your priests, Lord, shall be clothed with righteousness, and Your saints shall sing for joy!
R.  By your golden tongue, you became the herald of God's true Kingdom, crying out to all: Repent! Forsake the sea of ignorance!

O Virgin and Theotokos, entreat the Word of God who was born of you that He may save our souls.

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