The Sixth Commandment: You Shall Not Murder
Seventh Commandment: You Shall Not Commit Adultery
Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp 5.2
If any one is able to abide in chastity to the honor of the flesh of the Lord, let him so abide
without boasting. If he boast, he is lost; and if it be known beyond the bishop, he is polluted. It behooves men and women too, when they marry, to unite themselves with the consent of the bishop, that the marriage may be after the Lord and not after concupiscence. Let all
things be done to the honor of God.
Tertullian, To His Wife 1–2
I enjoin you, therefore, to exercise all the continence in your power and to renounce marriage after my death. You will confer no benefit on me by this action, other than the good you do for yourself. In any case, there is no promise of a restoration of marriage on the day of resurrection for Christians who have departed this life, for at that time they will be transformed into a state of angelic holiness. Therefore, there is no cause for that anxiety which comes from carnal jealousy. Even that woman, who is portrayed as having successively married seven brothers, will offend none of her many spouses on the day of resurrection; nor will any of them be waiting to accuse her. Our Lord’s response silenced this objection of the Sadducees. Do not think that I have counseled you to remain a widow in order to reserve to myself the integrity of your body because I am afraid that someday I might suffer hardship. On that day we will not resume any disgraceful pleasures. God does not promise such frivolous, filthy things to those who are his own. But now we must consider whether my advice is valuable to you or to any other women who belong to God.
2. Of course, we do not reject the union of man and woman. It has been blessed by God to be the seedbed of the human race; it was devised to fill up the earth and to set the world in order. Thus it was permitted, but only once. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife; one woman, one rib. . . .
3. In sum, nowhere do we read that marriage is forbidden, since it is something good. But we have learned from the apostle what is better than this good, when he allowed marriage but preferred abstinence; the former because of the danger of temptation, the latter because of the end of time. If we examine the reasons given for each position, it is easy to see that the power to marry was granted to us out of necessity. But what necessity allows, it also depreciates. Scripture says: It is better to marry than to burn (1 Cor. 4:7). What sort of good is it, I ask, that is commended only by comparison with an evil, so that the reason why marriage is better is because burning is worse? How much better it is neither to marry nor to burn! . . . .
Nothing should be sought merely because it is not forbidden; in fact, in a certain way such things are forbidden, since others are preferable to them. To prefer higher things is, in effect, to reject the lower. A thing is not really good simply because it is not bad; nor is something not bad simply because it does no harm. Something that is good in the true sense of the word achieves its excellence not only because it does no harm but also because it does some good. Therefore, you ought to prefer that which does some good over that which merely does no harm.
8. [After arguing against Christian women marrying pagan husbands, he then extols marriage between two Christians.] What words can describe the happiness of that marriage that the church unites, the offering strengthens, the blessing seals, the angels proclaim, and the Father declares valid? For even on earth children do not rightly and lawfully wed without their fathers’ consent. What a bond is this: two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, the same service! The two are brother and sister, fellow servants. There is no distinction of spirit or flesh, but truly they are two in one flesh [Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:80]. Where there is one flesh, there is also one spirit. Together they pray, together they prostrate themselves, together they fast, teaching each other, exhorting each other, supporting each other. (Trans. David Hunter, Marriage and Sexuality in the Early Church, 44–50).
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 2
10.83. Our next task is to discuss the proper time for sexual intercourse, which is solely for married persons. The intention of those who marry is to produce children, and the ultimate aim is to produce good children. In a similar manner the farmer sows seed with the aim of producing food, intending ultimately to harvest the fruit. But far superior is the farmer who sows in living soil. The one farms with the aim of producing temporary sustenance; the other does so to provide for the continuance of the entire universe. The one plants solely for himself; the other does so for God, since God himself said, Multiply (Gen. 1:28), and we must obey. In this way the human being becomes the image of God, by cooperating in the creation of another human being.
10.90. We must think of young men as our sons and regard other men’s wives as our daughters. It is of the utmost importance to exercise restraint when it comes to the pleasures of the stomach and maintain complete mastery over the region below the stomach. If, as the Stoics say, the wise man is forbidden even to lift his finger in an irrational manner, how much more must those who pursue wisdom exercise control over the sexual organs. For it seems to me that the genitals are called the “private parts” because they must be treated with greater privacy or modesty than other members of the body. Nature treats legitimate marriages as it does eating and drinking: it allows us to desire to produce children to the extent that it is appropriate, useful, and dignified. But those who indulge in excess violate the laws of nature and harm themselves in illegitimate unions. Above all, it is never right to have intercourse with young boys as if they were girls. That is why the philosopher, following Moses’s lead, said: “Do not sow seed on rocks and stones because it will never take root and achieve the fruitfulness that is its nature” (Plato, Laws 8.838E).
Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies
Integrity of soul and body
2.145. We must, then, keep marriage pure and free of all defilement, as if it were a sacred offering, as we rise from our sleep with the Lord and go to sleep with thanksgiving and prayer, “both when we lay down to sleep and when the holy light comes” [Hesiod, Works and Days 339]. Let us bear witness to the Lord with the whole of our lives, preserving piety in our soul and exercising control over the body. It truly pleases God when we extend good conduct from our lips to our actions, for shameful speech leads to shamefulness, and both end up in shameful behavior. Scripture recommends marriage and does not allow release from the union, which is evident from the precept, You shall not put away your wife, except because of fornication. It is regarded as adultery if either of the separated partners marries, while the other is alive.
Against those who deny that marriage is good
3.6.45. To those who blaspheme both the creation and the holy Creator, the almighty and only God, through their supposedly sacred continence, and who teach that marriage and childbearing should be rejected and that one should not bring other unfortunate people into the world or provide further fodder for death, this is what I have to say. . . .
3.6.46. The purpose of the law is to lead us away from luxury and all disorderly behavior; its ultimate end is to conduct us from unrighteousness to righteousness, so that we choose to be self-controlled in marriage, childbearing, and way of life. The Lord came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). To fulfill does not mean that it was defective, but rather that the prophecies in the law have now been fulfilled by Christ’s coming. For before the law the elements of good conduct were proclaimed by the Logos to those who lived righteously. Most people know nothing of continence and live for the body, not for the spirit. But the body without the spirit is earth and ashes (Gen. 18:27). Now the Lord condemns adultery even in thought (Matt. 5:28). What does this mean? Is it not possible to live chastely even in marriage and not to try to dissolve what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6)? This is the teaching of those who divide the union, because of whom the name is blasphemed. Since they say that intercourse is impure, although they themselves derive their existence from intercourse, does it not follow that they are impure? But I think that even the seed of those who have been made holy is holy.
3.6.49. Some openly declare that marriage is fornication and teach that it was introduced by the devil. They boast that they are imitating the Lord himself who neither married nor possessed anything in the world, and they claim to understand the gospel better than anyone else. To them Scripture says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Moreover, they do not know the reason why the Lord did not marry. First, he had his own bride, the church; second, he was no ordinary man who had need of a helpmate after the flesh. Nor did he need to beget children, since he lives eternally and was born the only Son of God.
7.57. The human ideal of self-control (enkrateia), I mean the one found among the Greek philosophers, consists in struggling against lust (epithumia), and in not yielding to it so as to manifest its deeds. But among us self-control means not to experience lust at all. Our aim is not merely to be self-controlled while still experiencing lust in the heart, but rather to be self-controlled even over lust itself. But this kind of self-control is attained only by the grace of God. That is why he said: Ask and it will be given to you (Matt 7:7). Moses received this grace, even though he was clothed in the needy body, so that for forty days he felt neither thirst nor hunger. Just as it is better to be healthy than to be sick and to talk about health, so to be light is better than merely to talk about light, and the true self-control is better than that which is taught by the philosophers. For where there is no light, there is darkness. Where lust is still rooted, residing alone as it were, even if it is quiet in respect to bodily activity, it still unites itself in the memory with the object it desires, although the object is not present.
7.58. In general, then, let this be our position regarding marriage, food, and other matters: to do nothing out of lust, but to wish only for those things that are necessary. For we are children not of lust, but of the will (cf. John 1:13). The married man must exercise self-control in procreation, so that he does not feel lust for his wife, whom he must love, while he produces children by a holy and chaste will. For we have learned not to have concern for the flesh to fulfill its lusts (Rom. 13:14), but to behave decently as in the day, that is, in Christ and in the path that the Lord has illumined, walking not in orgies and drunkenness, not in immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy (Rom. 13:13).
7.59. Furthermore, one should not look at self-control merely in regard to one form of it, that is, sexual relations, but also in regard to the other things that our souls lustfully crave when they are not content with the necessities and yearn for luxury. It is self-control to despise money, delicacy, property, to have little regard for outward appearance, to control the tongue, and to master wicked thoughts. Once certain angels lost their self-control and were seized by desire so that they fell from heaven down to earth . . . . But we embrace the self-control that comes from the love of the Lord and from a desire for the good in itself, as we sanctify the temple of the Spirit. For it is good to make oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:14) in respect to all lust, and to purify the conscience from dead works for the worship of the living God (Heb. 9:14).
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 20
The intensity (and natural goodness) of eros, which can be used for good or ill
A certain wise man who was compiling a list of blessings numbered this one among them: A wife who agrees with her husband (Sir. 25:1). In another place he listed as a blessing that a wife should live in harmony with her husband (Sir. 40:23). Indeed, from the very beginning God seems to have shown a special concern for this union. Speaking of the two as if they were one, he said: Male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27). And, in another place: There is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). For no relationship between two men is as close as that between a man and a woman, if they are joined together as they should be. When another blessed man wished to describe the highest form of love, as he was grieving over someone who was dear to him and, so to speak, one soul with him, he did not mention father, or mother, or child, or brother, or friend. No, he said: Your love to me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women (2 Sam. 1:26).
This love is truly more tyrannical than any tyrant. Other passions may be strong; this passion is not only strong but also imperishable. For deeply implanted in our nature there is a certain desire (eros) that, without our noticing it, knits together these bodies of ours. That is why from the beginning woman came from man, and later man and woman came from man and woman. Do you see the bond and the connection, and how God did not allow any other substance from the outside to come between them? . . .
Great evils are produced from this, as well as great benefits, both for households and cities. For nothing so welds our lives together as the love of man and woman. For the sake of love, many will lay aside even their weapons; for the sake of love, many will even give their lives. It was not without good reason that Paul showed so much concern about this matter when he said: Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). Why is this? Because if they are in harmony, the children will be brought up well, the household will be properly ordered, and neighbors, friends, and relatives will enjoy the sweet fragrance. But if the opposite happens, everything will be turned upside down and thrown into confusion. When the leaders of an army are at peace with each other, everything goes according to plan; but if they are at odds, all will be chaos.
Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church
2. Just as the church is subject to Christ (that is, husbands and wives), so too wives must be subject to their husbands as to God. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ has loved the church (Eph. 5:24–25). You have heard the highest form of subjection. You have praised and marveled at Paul, such an amazing and spiritual man, because he has welded all our lives together. That is fine. But now hear what he demands of you, for he repeats the same example. Husbands, he says, love your wives, as Christ has loved the church. You have seen the measure of obedience; now hear the measure of love. Would you like your wife to obey you, as the church obeys Christ? Then you must care for her, as Christ does for the church. Even if it is necessary to give your life for her, even if you must be cut into a thousand pieces, even if you must endure any suffering whatever, do not refuse it. Even if you do suffer like this, you will never suffer as much as Christ did. For you are doing it for one with whom you are already joined, but he did it for one who rejected him and hated him. Just as he took the one who had rejected him and hated him and spat on him and despised him, and laid her at his feet, not with threats or violence or fear or anything like that, but with great kindness, so you must behave in a similar way toward your wife. Even if you see her looking down on you and despising you and holding you in disdain, you will be able to lay her at your feet by showing great care and love and affection for her. For nothing has greater power than these bonds, especially between husband and wife. (Trans. David Hunter, Marriage and Sexuality in the Early Church, 110–114).
Jerome, Against Jovinian 1
* Jovinian taught that marriage and celibacy were equally meritorious before God and that married Christians would receive an equal reward in heaven as their celibate brothers and sisters. In the same year that Jerome composed his treatise (393), Jovinian’s views were condemned as heresy by Siricius, bishop of Rome, and by Ambrose, bishop of Milan (Hunter, Marriage and Sexuality, 153).
What the apostle wished is one thing; what he forgives is another. . . . Do you want to know what the apostle wishes? But I wish that everyone were as I am (1 Cor. 7:7). Blessed is the person who will be like Paul! Happy is the one who hears the apostle’s command, and not his forgiveness! “This is what I wish,” he says, “this is what I desire: that you be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He was a virgin born of a virgin, incorrupt from the incorrupt. Since we are human beings and cannot imitate the savior’s birth, let us at least imitate his behavior. That state of his was one of divinity and blessedness, our state belongs to the human condition and requires labor. I wish all people to be as I am, so that by being like me they may become like Christ, whom I am like. For whoever believes in Christ ought to walk in the way that Christ did (1 John 2:6). But each one has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another (1 Cor. 7:7). “What I wish is clear,” he says. “But since in the church there are diverse gifts, I also make a concession for marriage, lest I seem to condemn nature.” At the same time, you must consider that the gift of virginity is one thing, that of marriage another. If marriage and virginity merited the same reward, he never would have said, after enjoining continence: But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Where several things each have their distinctive property, there is also room for diversity. I grant that marriage is a gift of God, but there is a great difference between one gift and another. . . .
When you speak about virginity and continence, you say: It is good for a man not to touch a woman; and It is good for them to remain as they are; and I think this is good on account the pressing distress; and It is good for a man to remain as he is. But when you come to marriage, you do not say, “It is good to marry,” because you cannot add the words “than to burn.” But you say: It is better to marry than to burn. If marriage is, in itself, good, do not compare it with burning, but simply say, “It is good to marry.” I am suspicious of the good of that thing which the greatness of another evil forces to be a lesser evil. But I do not want a lesser evil, but something that is simply good in itself.
Augustine, On the Good of Marriage
The three goods of marriage:
1.1 Every human being is part of the human race, and human nature is a social reality and possesses a great and natural good, the power of friendship. For this reason God wished to create all human beings from one, so that they would be held together in human society, not only by the similarity of race, but also by the bond of blood relationship. Therefore, the first natural union of human society is the husband and wife. God did not create even these as separate individuals and join them together as if they were alien to each other, but he created the one from the other. The power of the union was also signified in the side from which she was taken and formed, for they are joined to each other’s side, when they walk together and together look where they are walking. The result is the bonding of society in children, who are the one honorable fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of sexual intercourse. For there could have been some kind of real and amiable union between the sexes even without sexual intercourse, a union in which the one rules and the other obeys.
3.3. This is what we now say: according to that state of birth and death, which we experience and in which we were created, the union of male and female is something good. The divine Scripture commends this alliance to such an extent that a woman who is divorced by her husband is not allowed to marry another, while her husband is still alive; and a man who is divorced by his wife may not take another, unless the wife who has left him has died. It is right, therefore, to inquire why the good of marriage is a good, which even the Lord confirmed in the gospel, not only because he prohibited divorce, except in cases of fornication (Matt. 19:9), but also because when he was invited to the wedding, he attended (John 2:1–11).
I do not believe that marriage is a good solely because of the procreation of children; there is also the natural association (societas) between the sexes. Otherwise, we would no longer speak of a marriage between elderly people, especially if they had lost or had never produced children. But now in a good marriage, even if it has lasted for many years and even if the youthful ardor between the male and female has faded, the order of charity between husband and wife still thrives. The earlier they begin to refrain from sexual intercourse, by mutual consent, the better they will be. This is not because they will eventually be unable to do what they wish, but because it is praiseworthy not to wish to do what they are able to do.
If, therefore, they remain faithful to the honor and the conjugal duties that each sex owes the other, even if both of their bodies grow weak and almost corpselike, yet the chastity of spirits joined in a proper marriage will endure; the more it is tested, the more genuine it will be; the more it is calmed, the more secure it will be. There is an additional good in marriage, namely the fact that carnal or youthful incontinence, even if it is wicked, is directed toward the honorable task of procreating children. As a result, conjugal intercourse makes something good out of the evil of lust (libido), since the concupiscence of the flesh, which parental affection moderates, is then suppressed and in a certain way burns more modestly. For a sort of dignity prevails over the fire of pleasure, when in the act of uniting as husband and wife the couple regard themselves as father and mother.
4.4. To this we would add that in the very act of paying the conjugal debt, even if they demand it somewhat intemperately and incontinently, the spouses still owe to each other mutual fidelity (fides). The apostle attributed to this fidelity so much authority that he called it a “power,” saying: A wife does not have power over her body, but her husband does; likewise, a husband has no power over his body, but his wife does. The violation of this fidelity is called adultery, when one has intercourse with another man or woman contrary to the marriage agreement, either at the instigation of one’s own lust or out of consent to another’s lust. In this way fidelity, which is a great good of the spirit even in the insignificant affairs of the body, is broken. Therefore, it is certain that fidelity ought to be preferred even to the health of the body, by which life itself is sustained.
6.6 Therefore, not only do married people owe each other the fidelity of sexual intercourse for the sake of procreation, which is the first association of the human race in this mortal life, but they also owe each other a sort of mutual service for the sustaining of each other’s weakness, so that they may avoid illicit intercourse. As a result, even if one of them would prefer to adopt perpetual continence, it is not permitted without the consent of the partner. For in this matter a wife does not have power over her body, but her husband does; likewise, a husband has no power over his body, but his wife does (1 Cor. 7:4).
7.6. But while continence has greater merit, it is no sin to pay the conjugal debt; and although to demand it beyond the need for procreation is a forgivable fault, certainly fornication and adultery are crimes that must be punished. Therefore, the charity of marriage must be careful that, in seeking greater honor for itself, it does not create a situation in which a spouse incurs damnation. For whoever divorces his wife, except in the case of fornication, makes her commit adultery (Matt. 5:32). Once the nuptial agreement has been made, it is a kind of sacrament to such an extent that it is not made void even by separation, since as long as the husband who left her still lives, she commits adultery if she marries someone else, and the husband who left her is the cause of this evil.
8.8. Let marriage be held in honor by all and the marriage bed be undefiled (Heb. 13:4). We do not say that marriage is a good merely in comparison with fornication; in that case there would be two evils, one of which is worse. In that sense even fornicationtion would be a good because adultery is worse—since to violate another person’s marriage is worse than to have sex with a prostitute; and adultery would be a good because incest is worse—since it is worse to have intercourse with your mother than with another man’s wife; and on it would go until you reach things which, as the apostle said, it is disgraceful even to mention. 20 On this rendering all things would be good in comparison with something worse. But who has any doubts that this is false? Marriage and fornication, therefore, are not two evils, one of which is worse, but marriage and continence are two goods, one of which is better. Similarly, bodily health and sickness are not two evils, one of which is worse, but health and immortality are two goods, one of which is better. Likewise, knowledge and vanity are not two evils, of which vanity is the worse, but knowledge and love are two goods, of which love is the better. For knowledge will be destroyed, the apostle says, and yet it is a necessity in the present life; but love will never fail. 21 In the same way, the procreation of mortal bodies, which is the purpose of marriage, will be destroyed; but freedom from all sexual relations is an angelic practice here and now, and it will remain so forever.
Just as the feasting of the just is better than the fasting of the sacrilegious, so the marriages of the faithful are to be ranked higher than the virginity of the impious. But this does not mean that feasting is preferable to fasting, only that justice is preferable to sacrilege; similarly, marriage is not preferable to virginity, but faith is preferable to impiety. For the just will feast when it is necessary in order to give to their bodies what is right and proper, as good masters do to their servants, but the sacrilegious fast in order to serve demons. The faithful marry in order to have chaste intercourse with their spouses, but the impious adopt virginity in order to commit fornication against the true God.
9.9. Surely, it must be acknowledged that God gave us some goods to be sought for their own sake, such as wisdom, good health, and friendship, and other goods that are necessary for the sake of something else, such as learning, food, drink, sleep, marriage, and sexual intercourse. Some of these goods are necessary for wisdom, such as learning; some are necessary for good health, such as food and drink and sleep; and some are necessary for friendship, such as marriage and sexual intercourse, for these lead to the propagation of the human race, in which a friendly association is a great good.
Thus the person who does not use these goods, which are necessary because of something else, for the purpose for which they were intended, sometimes sins in a forgivable way, sometimes in a damnable way. But the person who uses them for the purpose for which they were given does well. Therefore, the person who abstains from using things that are unnecessary does better. In the same way, when we have need of these things, we do well to want them; but we do better not to want them than to want them, since I am doing well when I do not consider them necessary.
For this reason, it is good to marry, it is good to produce children, to be the mother of a family. But it is better not to marry, since it is better, even in regard to human society itself, not to have any need of marriage. For the state of the human race is such that not only do some make use of marriage because they are unable to be continent, but also many others indulge in illicit intercourse. Since the good Creator sees to it that good comes of their evils, numerous offspring are born and an abundant succession is produced, out of which holy friendships may be sought.
Eighth Commandment: Do not steal
Clement of Alexandria, the Rich Man’s Salvation
1. The one who exalts and exaggerates oneself is in danger of losing everything, as the divine Word declares. It seems to me that we do better if we try to help the wealthy to work out their salvation in every possible way rather than to praise and encourage them in what is harmful to them. First, we should pray that God will grant salvation to the rich, for we know that he will gladly answer our prayer. Then, with the Savior’s grace to heal their souls, we should teach them and lead them to the truth. For only those who reach the truth and are distinguished by good works will gain the prize of eternal life. Prayer requires a life that is well disciplined and persevering until the last day of life, and our life of discipline demands a good and committed attitude that seeks always to follow the Lord’s commands.
2. The reason why salvation seems more difficult for the rich than for the poor is complicated. Some people, by only casually hearing the words of the Lord about its being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of heaven, suddenly take a look at themselves and see that they are not destined for salvation. They give up in despair and become completely a part of this world, with no concern for the world to come and no interest in the teachings of our Teacher and Master and his description of who the rich really are or how God makes possible what seems impossible to humans. On the other hand, others understand this saying rightly and properly, but they fail to see the importance of works that lead to salvation, and therefore they do not amend their lives as is necessary for those who have this hope. In both cases I am referring to the wealthy who have already learned about the Savior’s power and his glorious salvation. I am not concerned with those who have not yet come to understand this truth
3. It is the duty of all who love truth and who are a part of the Christian community not to treat wealthy members of the church with rude contempt or, on the other hand, to bow to them in order to benefit from their friendship and generosity. Use the words of Scripture to help them overcome their despair, and show them with interpretation of the Lord’s teachings that the kingdom of heaven is not an impossible goal for them if they will obey the commandments. After that, you should help them to understand that their fears are groundless, for the Savior will gladly receive them if they so desire. Teach them what kind of works and attitudes they need in order to reach their hoped goal. It is a goal within their grasp, but it will require effort! . . .
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Love of the Poor 1
There is an abstinence which is not bodily, a spiritual self-discipline which affects the soul. This is abstinence from evil, and it was as a means to this that our abstinence from food was prescribed. Therefore I say to you: Fast from evil-doing; discipline yourselves from covetousness; abstain from unjust profits; starve your greed for mammon, keep in your houses no snatched and stolen treasure. What use is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you wound your brother or sister by evil doing? What advantage is it to forgo what is your own if you seize unjustly what belongs to the poor? What piety is it to drink water and thirst for blood, weaving treachery in the wickedness of your heart? . . . .
You, therefore, who have been created rational beings, endowed with mind to expound and interpret divine things, do not be enticed by what is only transitory. Strive to win those things which never forsake their holder. Live with restraint; do not think everything your own, but reserve a part for God’s dear poor. All things belong to God, our common Father. We are all of the same stock, all brothers and sisters. And when people are siblings, the best and most equitable thing is that they should inherit in equal portions. The second best is that even if one or two take the greater part, the others should have at least their own share. But if one man should seek to be absolute possessor of all, refusing even a third or a fifth to his siblings, then he is a cruel tyrant, a savage with whom there can be no dealing, an insatiate beast gloatingly shutting its jaws over the meal it will not share. Or rather he is more ruthless than any beast; wolf does not drive wolf from the prey, and a pack of dogs will tear the same carcass; this man in his insatiable greed will not admit one fellow creature to a share in his riches.
Let us then, as rational beings, consider how fleeting our life is; like the waters of a river, time flows ceaselessly and irresistibly on, sweeping everything in its path to the end, which is death. It is short-lived and brings us no security; would that it brought no reckoning either. But the grave thing is that for every hour we live, every word we say, we must make our defense at an incorruptible tribunal. Therefore the blessed psalmist meditates such things and desires to know his own moment of death. He implores God that he may learn the number of his remaining days as to prepare for his final moment —not confounded like some unready traveler who must seek for the necessities of his journey after he is already on his way. He says therefore, O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days, that I may learn what is lacking to me. Behold, you have made my days as it were a handbreadth, and my time is as nothing before you (Ps. 39:4–5. See the wise care of a prudent soul, even in the royal rank. He views the King of kings and the Judge of judges as clearly in a glass, and he desires to order his living to the perfect pattern of the commandments here, then to depart from here as a true citizen of the life there. May we all attain it also, by the grace and compassion of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Trans. from Helen Rhee, Wealth and Poverty , 71–75)
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Rich Man and Lazarus 12.4
Not giving to others is a kind of robbery
Strictly speaking, the rich man [Luke 16:19–31] has not committed an act of injustice against Lazarus, since he did not rob him of his possessions. His sin consisted rather in not giving part of his own possessions. Now if the one who does not give part of his possessions is prosecuted by the one whom he did not pity, what forgiveness can he obtain who steals possessions of others, since those whom he has oppressed will encircle him on all sides? He will need no witnesses, no prosecutors, no proofs, no evidence—but the facts themselves, as they appear before our eyes. “People and their works will appear before me,” says the Lord. Thus, not giving part of one’s possessions to others is already a kind of robbery. If what I am telling you sounds perhaps rather odd, do not be surprised. I will present a text from the divine Scriptures which says that it is rapine, avarice, and theft, not only taking possession of things belonging to others but also refusing to give part of one’s possessions to others. What text is this? Reproaching the Jews through the mouth of the prophet, God says: “The earth has produced its fruits but you have not brought in tithes, and robbery of the poor dwells in your house” [Mal 3:10]. “Because you have made the customary offerings,” says the Lord, “you have taken away what belongs to the poor.” He says this in order to make it clear to the rich that what they possess belongs to the poor, even when they receive the inheritance from their parents or come in for some money, whatever the source. Elsewhere God also says: “Do not rob the poor man of his livelihood” [Sir 4:1]. A robbery is taking and keeping what is not one’s own. These texts therefore teach that if we refuse to give alms, we will be punished in the same way as robbers. (Trans. Helen Rhee, Wealth and Poverty 87–88
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the First Letter to Timothy
11.2. Wealth is not a possession; it is not property but a loan for use. For how can you claim that it is a possession if, when you die, willingly or unwillingly, all that you have goes to others, and they again give it up to others, and these again to others. We are all sojourners; and the tenant of the house is perhaps more truly the owner of it, for when the owner dies, the tenant lives on and still enjoys the house; and if the tenant has to pay for enjoying the house, the owner too has to pay for it to have it built and has to endure thousands of pains to have it fitted up. Property, in fact, is but a word; we are all owners but of other people’s possessions. Only those things are our own which we have sent before us to the other world. Our goods here are not our own; we have only a life interest in them; or rather they fail us even here on earth. Only the virtues of the soul are properly our own, as almsgiving and charity. Worldly goods were called external things, even by those who are outside the church, because they are external to us. But let us make them internal. We cannot take our wealth with us when we depart from here, but we can take our charities. Let us rather send them before us so that they may prepare for us an abode in the eternal mansions (Luke 16:9).
12.4. Is not this an evil, that you alone should have the Lord’s property, that you alone should enjoy what is common? Is not “the earth God’s, and the fullness thereof” (cf. Ps 24:1)? Thus if our possessions belong to one common Lord, they belong also to our fellow servants. The possessions of the Lord are common. Do we not see this the established rule in great houses? To all is given an equal share of provisions, because they proceed from the treasures of the Lord. And the house of the master is open to all. The King’s possessions are all common: cities, market places, and public walks. We all share them equally. . . .
But as I said, how can the rich be good? When they distribute their riches, they are good, so that they are good when they have ceased to have it, when they give it to others; but while they keep it themselves, they are not good. How then is that a good which being retained renders people evil, being parted with what makes them good? Not therefore to have wealth, but to have it not, makes one appear to be good. Wealth therefore is not a good. But if, when you can receive it, you do not receive it, again you are good. . . . According to this rule, the more charitable you are, the more good you will be considered. But if you are rich, you are no longer good. Let us therefore become good in this way that we may be really good and may obtain the good things to come in Jesus Christ
Augustine, Letter 130: To Proba
3. Through love of this true life you must, then, consider yourself desolate in this world, no matter what happiness you enjoy. Just as true life, in comparison with the other life (which is so much loved), is not worthy to be called life, however pleasant and prolonged it may be, so the true comfort is that which God promised by the prophet [Isaiah]: I will give them true comfort, peace upon peace (Is. 57:18–19). Without this comfort there is more grief than consolation to be found in earthly comforts, whatever they may be. Certainly, as far as riches and high-ranking positions and other things of that sort are concerned—things that people think themselves happy to possess because they have never partaken of that true happiness—what comfort can they bestow? It is far better not to need them than to excel in them; and when we are tortured by the craving to possess them, but still more by the fear of losing, once we do possess them? People become good not by having such goods, but having become good otherwise, they make these things good by their good use of them. Therefore, there is no true comfort in these things; rather, it is found where true life is. One’s happiness must necessarily come from the same source as one’s goodness. . . .
12. Is it agreed, then, that over and above that temporal welfare people might wish for positions of rank and authority for themselves and their families? Certainly, it is proper for them to wish for these things, not for the sake of the things themselves, but for another reason, namely, that they might do good by providing for the welfare of those who live under them. But it is not proper to covet them out of the empty pride of self-esteem, useless ostentation, or hurtful vanity. Therefore, if they wish for themselves and their families only what is sufficient of the necessities of life, as the Apostle says: But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can carry nothing out; but having food and clothing to be covered, with these we are content. Those who will become rich fall into temptation, and the snares of the devil and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown people into destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils, which some coveting have erred from the faith and have entangled themselves in many sorrows (1 Tim. 6:6–10)—this sufficiency is not an improper desire in whoever wishes this and nothing more. But whoever does wish for more does not wish this, and therefore does not wish properly. He wished this and prayed for it who said: Give me not riches [or] poverty; give me only enough of the necessaries of life, lest being filled I should become a liar and say, “Who sees me?” or become poor, and say, “I should steal and denounce the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8–9). Surely you see that this sufficiency is not to be coveted for its own sake, but to provide for health of body and for clothing which accords with one’s personal dignity, and which makes it possible for him or her to live with others honorably and respectably.
Augustine, Letter 153.26: To Macedonius
Now, if we look carefully at what is written, The whole world is the wealth of the faithful one, but the unfaithful one does not have a penny (Prov. 17:6 LXX), do we not prove that those who seem to rejoice in lawfully acquired gains but do not know how to use them, are really in possession of other people’s property? Certainly, what is lawfully possessed is not another’s property, but “lawfully” means justly, and justly means rightly. Those who use their wealth badly possess it wrongfully, and wrongful possession means that it is another’s property. You see then how many there are who should make restitution of another’s goods, although those to whom restitution is due may be few; wherever they are, their claim to just possession is the proportion to their indifference to wealth. Obviously, no one possesses justice unlawfully: whoever does not love it does not have it; but money is wrongly possessed by bad people while good people who love it least have the most right to it. (Trans. Rhee, Wealth and Poverty, 99–102).
Ninth Commandment: Do not bear false witness
Augustine, On Lying 5.6
In the Decalogue itself it is written, You shall not bear false witness, in which classification every lie is embraced, for whoever pronounces any statement gives testimony to his own mind. If anyone should argue that not every lie should be called false witness, what will he answer to this statement which is also in the sacred Scriptures: The mouth that belies, kills the soul (Wis. 1:11)? If anyone should think that this passage can be interpreted to except certain lies, he may read in another passage: You will destroy all that speak a lie (Ps. 5:6). In this connection, our divine Lord said with his own lips, Let your speech be ‘yes, yes’; ‘no, no’; and whatever is more comes from the evil one (Matt. 5:37). Hence the apostle too, when he directs that the old man should be put off, under which term all sins are understood, goes on to explain his remark and specifically says, Therefore put away lying and speak the truth (Eph. 4:25).
Tenth Commandment: Do not covet
Cyprian, Treatise 10: On Envy
The origins, extent, and treatment of envy
4. The origin of envy can be found at the very beginnings of the world. It was the sin by which the devil himself both perished (himself) and destroyed (others). Formerly, he had been sustained in angelic majesty, accepted and beloved of God. But when he beheld man made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy with malevolent envy. . . . At the instigation of jealousy, he robs man of the grace of immortality conferred, while he himself loses what he previously was. How great an evil is that, beloved brethren, by which an angel to fall, by which that lofty and illustrious grandeur could be defrauded and overthrown, by which the one who deceived was himself deceived!
6. The mischief of jealousy, manifold and fruitful, extends widely. It is the root of all evils, the fountain of disasters, the nursery of crimes, the material of transgressions. From jealousy arises hatred and animosity. Jealousy inflames avarice—one cannot be content with what is his own when he sees another who is wealthier. Jealousy stirs up ambition when one sees another more exalted in honors. Jealousy darkens our perceptions and reduces the secret agencies of the mind under its command. Whenever this happens, the fear of God is despised, the teaching of Christ is neglected, the day of judgment is not anticipated. Pride inflates, cruelty embitters, faithlessness prevaricates, impatience agitates, discord rages, anger grows hot. . . . By this, the bond of the Lord’s peace is broken; by this, brotherly charity is violated; by this, truth is adulterated, unity is divided. . . .
7. Other ills have their limit. Whatever wrong is done, it ends when the deed has been done. In the adulterer, the offense is over when the violation is perpetrated. A murderer’s crime is put to rest when the homicide is committed. The possession of stolen goods puts an end to the rapacity of the thief. And the completed deception places a limit to the wrong of the cheat. But jealousy has no limit. It is an evil that continually endures—a sin without end. In proportion as he who is envied has the advantage of a greater success, in that proportion the envious man burns with the fires of jealousy to an increased heat. . . .
The remedy for Envy
17. If you take both meat and drink from the sacrament of the cross, let the wood that at Mara availed in a figure for sweetening the taste avail to you in reality for soothing your softened breast. . . . Be cured by that which wounded you. Love those whom you previously hated. Favor those whom you envied with unjust disparagements. Imitate good people, if you are able to follow them. But if you cannot follow them, at least rejoice with them, and congratulate those who are better than you. Make yourself a sharer with them in united love; make yourself their associate in the alliance of charity and the bond of brotherhood. Your debts shall be remitted to you when you yourself shall have forgiven.
Basil of Caesarea, Homily On Envy
The dangers and characteristics of envy
1. God is good and he is the giver of blessings to those who are worthy. The Devil is evil and the author of every kind of vice. And as freedom from envy is consistent with the good, so envy relates to the devil. Therefore, brethren, let us guard against the vice of envy. Let us not be sharers in the works of our Adversary and so be found condemned together with him by the same judgment. If the proud person is subject to the judgment pronounced upon the Devil, how will the envious person escape the punishment that was prepared for the Devil? For no passion more destructive than envy is implanted in the souls of human beings . . . .
Envy is distress caused by your neighbor’s prosperity. Hence the jealous person is never free from anguish, never free from despair. Is your neighbor’s field fertile? Is his household thriving with everything that makes for a good life? Is he always happy? All these things feed the illness and increase the pain of the jealous person. . . .
The worst feature of this sickness, however, is that its victim cannot reveal it to anyone. Instead, he hangs his head in shame—silenced, troubled, lamenting, and utterly undone by this vice. When asked why, he is ashamed to make known his miserable state and says, “I am envious and bitter and the good fortune of my friend distresses me. I am grieving over my brother’s joy and I cannot endure the sight of others’ blessings. The happiness of my neighbors I make my own misfortune.” This is what he would say if he were telling the truth. But as it is, not choosing to reveal these sentiments, he confines in the depths of his soul this disease that is gnawing at his vitals and consuming them. . .
5. What, then, is to be done? How can we avoid becoming affected by this disease? And how can we be cured after having contracted it? The first thing to do is to consider no human circumstance as great or marvelous in itself: neither human prosperity, nor renown that fades like a flower, nor bodily health. For we do not define our highest good in terms of these transitory things, but we are called to share in possessions that are real and eternal.
Thus, a rich person is not enviable merely because of his wealth, nor the ruler because of the grandeur of his exalted position, nor the strong man because of his physical vigor, nor the learned man because of his great power of eloquence. For those who use them well, they are instruments for practicing virtue. They do not contain any intrinsic good. But the man who makes bad use of them is to be pitied—like someone who voluntarily wounds himself with the sword that was given to defend against enemies. But the person who administers his possessions well and according to right reason, who acts as a steward of the gifts received from God and does not amass wealth for his own private enjoyment, he is justly accorded praise and affection because of his charity to his brethren and the benevolence of his character.
So, then, what is good for the soul must be regarded as good by nature. Nevertheless, if someone has a superabundance of wealth and takes pride in his position of power or in his vigor of body, and makes uses what he possesses in the right way, we should love and honor him as one supplied with resources that are generally serviceable for carrying on life in this world. When it comes to donating his resources, he will be generous to the needy and will offer physical assistance to the infirm. He will regard that part of his wealth that is superfluous as belonging to any destitute person as much as to himself. Conversely, anyone who does not adopt this view toward these goods ought to be considered wretched rather than enviable, inasmuch as he meets with stronger opportunities for evil. This is way of losing one’s soul at the cost of great exertion and labor. If, then, wealth is an instrument for perpetrating injustice, pitiable is the rich man. If it serves as an aid to virtue, envy is out of place, since all may derive benefit from the wealth, unless, perhaps, by an excess of malice, one would begrudge good to himself.
To sum up, when you elevate your mind above human realities through your powers of reasoning and fix your attention on what is truly good and praiseworthy, you will by no means regard perishable earthly goods as objects for covetousness or envy. It is impossible, indeed, that envy should ever be present in a person so disposed, for he is not obsessed with the craving for worldly goods in the mistaken belief that they have great value. At all events, if you are desirous of glory and wish to outshine the crowd and if, for this reason, you cannot bear to hold second place (this, too, is likely to furnish occasion for envy), turn your aspirations, as one would change the course of a stream, toward the acquisition of virtue. Free yourself entirely from the desire for any kind of earthly riches or for the esteem to be gained from possessing worldly goods. Ownership of these things is not under your control. Instead, be just and temperate, wise and brave and patient in the sufferings you endure in the name of piety. In this way, you will win salvation for yourself and, the greater your good deeds, the greater will be the glory manifested in you. Virtue is within our power and can be acquired by one who labors earnestly for it. A large fortune, physical vigor or beauty, or a high rank of dignity are not at our command. But, if virtue is a greater and more lasting good and is universally acknowledged as preferable, virtue is what we should strive to acquire. It cannot be present in the soul, however, unless the soul is free from all vice, especially envy.