Chrysostom: Nay! I will not proceed to those questions until I have resolved such as concern yourself alone, if you were to ask me ten thousand times to dispose of these charges. You said indeed that ignorance would bring me forgiveness, and that I should have been free from all accusation if I had brought you into your present position not knowing anything about you, but that as I did not betray you in ignorance, but was intimately acquainted with your affairs, I was deprived of all reasonable pretext and excuse. But I say precisely the reverse: for in such matters there is need of careful scrutiny, and he who is going to present any one as qualified for the priesthood ought not to be content with public report only, but should also himself, above all and before all, investigate the man’s character. For when the blessed Paul says, “He must also have a good report of them which are without,”16 he does not dispense with an exact and rigorous inquiry, nor does he assign to such testimony precedence over the scrutiny required in such cases. For after much previous discourse, he mentioned this additional testimony, proving that one must not be contented with it alone for elections of this kind, but take it into consideration along with the rest. For public report often speaks false; but when careful investigation precedes, no further danger need be apprehended from it. On this account, after the other kinds of evidence he places that which comes from those who are without. For he did not simply say, “he must have a good report,” but added the words, “from them which are without,” wishing to show that before the report of those without he must be carefully examined. Inasmuch, then, as I myself knew your affairs better than your parents, as you also yourself acknowledged, I might deserve to be released from all blame.
Basil: Nay this is the very reason why you could not escape, if any one chose to indite you. Do you not remember hearing from me, and often learning from my actual conduct, the feebleness of my character? Were you not perpetually taunting me for my pusillanimity, because I was so easily dejected by ordinary cares?
5. Chrysostom: I do indeed remember often hearing such things said by you; I would not deny it. But if I ever taunted you, I did it in sport and not in serious truth. However, I do not now dispute about these matters, and I claim the same degree of forbearance from you while I wish to make mention of some of the good qualities which you possess. For if you attempt to convict me of saying what is untrue, I shall not spare you, but shall prove that you say these things rather by way of self—depreciation than with a view to truth, and I will employ no evidence but your own words and deeds to demonstrate the truth of my assertion. And now the first question I wish to ask of you is this: do you know how great the power of love is? For omitting all the miracles which were to be wrought by the apostles, Christ said, “Hereby shall men know that ye are my disciples if ye love one another,”17 and Paul said that it was the fulfilling of the law,18 and that in default of it no spiritual gift had any profit. Well, this choice good, the distinguishing mark of Christ’s disciples, the gift which is higher than all other gifts, I perceived to be deeply implanted in your soul, and teeming with much fruit.
Basil: I acknowledge indeed that the matter is one of deep concern to me, and that I endeavor most earnestly to keep this commandment, but that I have not even half succeeded in so doing, even you yourself would bear me witness if you would leave off talking out of partiality, and simply respect the truth.
6. Chrysostom: Well, then, I shall betake myself to my evidences, and shall now do what I threatened, proving that you wish to disparage yourself rather than to speak the truth. But I will mention a fact which has only just occurred, that no one may suspect me of attempting to obscure the truth by the great lapse of time in relating events long past, as oblivion would then prevent any objection being made to the things which I might say with a view to gratification.19 For when one of our intimate friends, having been falsely accused of insult and folly, was in extreme peril, you then flung yourself into the midst of the danger, although you were not summoned by any one, or appealed to by the person who was about to be involved in danger. Such was the fact: but that I may convict you out of your own mouth, I will remind you of the words you uttered: for when some did not approve of this zeal, while others commended and admired it, “How can I help myself?” you said to those who accused you, “for I do not know how otherwise to love than by giving up my life when it is necessary to save any of my friends who is in danger:” thus repeating, in different words, indeed, but with the same meaning, what Christ said to his disciples when he laid down the definition of perfect love. “Greater love,” He said, “hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” If then it is impossible to find greater love than this, you have attained its limit, and both by your deeds and words have crowned the summit. This is why I betrayed you, this is why I contrived that plot. Do I now convince you that it was not from any malicious intent, nor from any desire to thrust you into danger, but from a persuasion of your future usefulness that I dragged you into this course?
Basil: Do you then suppose that love is sufficient for the correction of one’s fellowmen?
Chrysostom: Certainly it would contribute in a great measure to this end. But if you wish me to produce evidence of your practical wisdom also, I will proceed to do so, and will prove that your understanding exceeds your lovingkindness.
At these remarks he blushed scarlet and said, “Let my character be now dismissed: for it was not about this that I originally demanded an explanation; but if you have any just answer to make to those who are without, I would gladly hear what you have to say. Wherefore, abandoning this vain contest, tell me what defence I shall make, both to those who have honored you and to those who are distressed on their account, considering them to be insulted.
7. Chrysostom: This is just the point to which I am finally hastening, for as my explanation to you has been completed I shall easily turn to this part of my defence. What then is the accusation made by these persons, and what are their charges? They say that they have been insulted and grievously wronged by me because I have not accepted the honor which they wished to confer upon me. Now in the first place I say that no account should be taken of the insult shown to men, seeing that by paying honor to them I should be compelled to offend God. And I should say to those who are displeased that it is not safe to take offence at these things, but does them much harm. For I think that those who stay themselves on God and look to Him alone, ought to be so religiously disposed as not to account such a thing an insult, even if they happened to be a thousand times dishonored. But that I have not gone so far as even to think of daring anything of this kind is manifest from what I am about to say. For if indeed I had been induced by arrogance and vainglory, as you have often said some slanderously affirm, to assent to my accusers, I should have been one of the most iniquitous of mankind, having treated great and excellent men, my benefactors moreover, with contempt. For if men ought to be punished for wronging those who have never wronged them, how ought we to honor those who have spontaneously preferred to honor us? For no one could possibly say that they were requiting me for any benefits small or great which they had received at my hands. How great a punishment then would one deserve if one requited them in the contrary manner. But if such a thing never entered my mind, and I declined the heavy burden with quite a different intention, why do they refuse to pardon me (even if they do not consent to approve), but accuse me of having selfishly spared my own soul? For so far from having insulted the men in question I should say that I had even honored them by my refusal.
And do not be surprised at the paradoxical nature of my remark, for I shall supply a speedy solution of it.
8. For had I accepted the office, I do not say all men, but those who take pleasure in speaking evil, might have suspected and said many things concerning myself who had been elected and concerning them, the electors: for instance, that they regarded wealth, and admired splendor of rank, or had been induced by flattery to promote me to this honor: indeed I cannot say whether some one might not have suspected that they were bribed by money. Moreover, they would have said, “Christ called fishermen, tentmakers, and publicans to this dignity, whereas these men reject those who support themselves by daily labor: but if there be any one who devotes himself to secular learning, and is brought up in idleness, him they receive and admire. For why, pray, have they passed by men who have undergone innumerable toils in the service of the Church, and suddenly dragged into this dignity one who has never experienced any labors of this kind, but has spent all his youth in the vain study of secular learning.” These things and more they might have said had I accepted the office: but not so now. For every pretext for maligning is now cut away from them, and they can neither accuse me of flattery, nor the others of receiving bribes, unless some choose to act like mere madmen. For how could one who used flattery and expended money in order to obtain the dignity, have abandoned it to others when he might have obtained it? For this would be just as if a man who had bestowed much labor upon the ground in order that the corn field might be laden with abundant produce, and the presses overflow with wine, after innumerable toils and great expenditure of money were to surrender the fruits to others just when it was time to reap his corn and gather in his vintage. Do you see that although what was said might be far from the truth, nevertheless those who wished to calumniate the electors would then have had a pretext for alleging that the choice was made without fair judgment and consideration. But as it is I have prevented them from being open mouthed, or even uttering a single word on the subject. Such then and more would have been their remarks at the outset. But after undertaking the ministry I should not have been able day by day to defend myself against accusers, even if I had done everything faultlessly, to say nothing of the many mistakes which I must have made owing to my youth and inexperience. But now I have saved the electors from this kind of accusation also, whereas in the other case I should have involved them in innumerable reproaches. For what would not the world have said? “They have committed affairs of such vast interest and importance to thoughtless youths, they have defiled the flock of God, and Christian affairs have become a jest and a laughingstock.” But now “all iniquity shall stop her mouth.” For although they may say these things on your account, you will speedily teach them by your acts that understanding is not to be estimated by age, and the grey head is not to be the test of an elder—that the young man ought not to be absolutely excluded from the ministry, but only the novice: and the difference between the two is great.
1. Chrysostom: As regards the insult to those who have done me honor, what I have already said might be sufficient to prove that in avoiding this office I had no desire to put them to shame; but I will now endeavor to make it evident, to the best of my ability, that I was not puffed up by arrogance of any kind. For if the choice of a generalship or a kingdom had been submitted to me, and I had then formed this resolution, any one might naturally have suspected me of this fault, or rather I should have been found guilty by all men, not of arrogance, but of senseless folly. But when the priesthood is offered to me, which exceeds a kingdom as much as the spirit differs from the flesh, will any one dare to accuse me of disdain? And is it not preposterous to charge with folly those who reject small things, but when any do this in matters of pre-eminent importance, to exempt such persons from accusations of mental derangement, and yet subject them to the charge of pride? It is just as if one were to accuse, not of pride, but of insanity, a man who looked with contempt on a herd of oxen and refused to be a herdsman, and yet were to say that a man who declined the empire of the world, and the command of all the armies of the earth, was not mad, but inflated with pride. But this assuredly is not the case; and they who say such things do not injure me more than they injure themselves. For merely to imagine it possible for human nature to despise this dignity is an evidence against those who bring this charge of the estimate which they have formed of the office. For if they did not consider it to be an ordinary thing of no great account, such a suspicion as this would never have entered their heads. For why is it that no one has ever dared to entertain such a suspicion with reference to the dignity of the angels, and to say that arrogance is the reason why human nature would not aspire to the rank of the angelic nature? It is because we imagine great things concerning those powers, and this does not suffer us to believe that a man can conceive anything greater than that honor. Wherefore one might with more justice indite those persons of arrogance who accuse me of it. For they would never have suspected this of others if they had not previously depreciated the matter as being of no account. But if they say that I have done this with a view to glory, they will be convicted of fighting openly against themselves and falling into their own snare; for I do not know what kind of arguments they could have sought in preference to these if they had wished to release me from the charge of vainglory.
2. For if this desire had ever entered my mind, I ought to have accepted the office rather than avoided it. Why? because it would have brought me much glory. For the fact that one of my age, who had so recently abandoned secular pursuits, should suddenly be deemed by all worthy of such admiration as to be advanced to honor before those who have spent all their life in labors of this kind, and to obtain more votes than all of them, might have persuaded all men to anticipate great and marvellous things of me. But, as it is, the greater part of the Church does not know me even by name: so that even my refusal of the office will not be manifest to all, but only to a few, and I am not sure that all even of these know it for certain; but probably many of them either imagine that I was not elected at all, or that I was rejected after the election, being considered unsuitable, not that I avoided the office of my own accord.
3. Basil: But those who do know the truth will be surprised.
Chrysostom: And lo! these are they who, according to you, falsely accuse me of vainglory and pride. Whence then am I to hope for praise? From the many? They do not know the actual fact. From the few? Here again the matter is perverted to my disadvantage. For the only reason why you have come here now is to learn what answer ought to be given to them. And what shall I now certainly say on account of these things? For wait a little, and you will clearly perceive that even if all know the truth they ought not to condemn me for pride and love of glory. And in addition to this there is another consideration: that not only those who make this venture, if there be any such (which for my part I do not believe), but also those who suspect it of others, will be involved in no small danger.
4. For the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks amongst heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers. Fearful, indeed, and of most awful import, were the things which were used before the dispensation of grace, as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones on the breastplate and on the ephod, the girdle, the mitre, the long robe, the plate of gold, the holy of holies, the deep silence within.1 But if any one should examine the things which belong to the dispensation of grace, he will find that, small as they are, yet are they fearful and full of awe, and that what was spoken concerning the law is true in this case also, that “what has been made glorious hath no glory in this respect by reason of the glory which excelleth.”2 For when thou seest the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar,3 and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood,4 canst thou then think that thou art still amongst men, and standing upon the earth? Art thou not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, dost thou not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh! what a marvel! what love of God to man! He who sitteth on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all,5 and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. And this all do through the eyes of faith!6 Do these things seem to you fit to be despised, or such as to make it possible for any one to be uplifted against them?
Would you also learn from another miracle the exceeding sanctity of this office? Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around him, and the sacrifice laid upon the altar of stones, and all the rest of the people hushed into a deep silence while the prophet alone offers up prayer: then the sudden rush of fire from Heaven upon the sacrifice:—these are marvellous things, charged with terror. Now then pass from this scene to the rites which are celebrated in the present day; they are not only marvellous to behold, but transcendent in terror. There stands the priest, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but the Holy Spirit: and he makes prolonged supplication,7 not that some flame sent down from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace descending on the sacrifice may thereby enlighten the souls of all, and render them more refulgent than silver purified by fire. Who can despise this most awful mystery, unless he is stark mad and senseless? Or do you not know that no human soul could have endured that fire in the sacrifice, but all would have been utterly consumed, had not the assistance of God’s grace been great.
5. For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw nigh to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”8 They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, “Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?”9 What authority could be greater than this? “The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son?”10 But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?
6. These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these begat us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness—not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. For the latter, although they laid claim to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, and this they evinced by the great eagerness with which they pursued it; but these men, when the office has been better regulated, and has received so great a development, have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in aiming at an honor which does not pertain to one, and in despising such great advantages, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? None whatever, I should say, unless it were one subject to some demoniacal impulse. For I return once more to the point from which I started: not in the way of chastising only, but also in the way of benefiting, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The two indeed differ as much as the present and the future life. For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, procuring for some a milder chastisement, and preventing others from falling altogether, not only by instruction and admonition, but also by the assistance wrought through prayers. For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins. “Is any sick among you?” it is said, “let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him.”11 Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.
Well! after this will any one venture to condemn me for arrogance? For my part, after what has been said, I imagine such religious fear will possess the souls of the hearers that they will no longer condemn those who avoid the office for arrogance and temerity, but rather those who voluntarily come forward and are eager to obtain this dignity for themselves. For if they who have been entrusted with the command of cities, should they chance to be wanting in discretion and vigilance, have sometimes destroyed the cities and ruined themselves in addition, how much power think you both in himself and from above must he need, to avoid sinning, whose business it is to beautify the Bride of Christ?