No-one can harm those who do not injure themselves

27 January 2023

Today, January 27, we celebrate the translation of the relics of Saint John Chrysostom. To mark the occasion, we have translated part of a homily of his.

What then is the virtue of us humans? Not riches, which make you fear poverty; nor health of body, which makes you dread sickness; nor the opinion of the public, which makes you view a bad reputation with alarm; nor life simply for its own sake,  which makes death terrible to you; nor liberty which makes you avoid servitude. Rather, it’s conscientiousness in keeping true doctrine; and rectitude in your life. Not even the devil himself will be able to rob us of these things, if we who possess them guard them with the necessary circumspection. And that most malicious and ferocious demon is aware of this. This is why he robbed Job of his property, not to make him poor, but so that he might force him into uttering some blasphemy. He tortured the man’s body, not to make him sick, but to upset the virtue of his soul. He set all his devices in motion, and turned him from a rich man into a poor one (that calamity which  to us seems to be the most terrible of all); he made him childless who was once surrounded by many children; he racked his whole body more cruelly than executioners do in the public trials (because their nails don’t lacerate the sides of those who fall into their hands so severely as the gnawing of the worms lacerated Job’s body); he gave him a bad reputation (his friends who were present with him said he hadn’t received the chastisement which his sins deserved, and directed many another accusation against him); and he didn’t merely expel him from house and home and transfer him to another city, but actually made the dunghill serve as his home and city. Yet even after all this, he not only failed to do Job any damage but rendered him more glorious by the plots that he formed against him. He not only failed to deprive him of any of his possessions, although he had robbed him of so many things, but increased even the wealth of his virtue. Because, after all this, Job enjoyed greater confidence insofar as  he’d already taken part in a more severe struggle. He underwent such sufferings, not at the hands of other people, but at those of the devil who is more wicked than anyone, yet despite that still sustained no injury. So if you say that such and such a person did me injury and harm, how will that be any defence? The devil, who is full of such great malice, set all his instruments in motion, discharged all his weapons, and poured out all the evils common to us, to such a massive extent on the family and the person of that righteous man. Yet he still didn’t do him any damage; but in fact, as I was saying, on the contrary he benefited him. How, then, can people bring an accusation against others and claim to have suffered injury at their hands, not at their own?

  1. What then? Some will say: ‘Didn’t the devil inflict injury on Adam, and undermine him, and have him cast out of paradise?’. No, he didn’t. The cause was the recklessness of him who was injured, and his lack of temperance and vigilance. The devil applied such powerful and manifold devices against Job and yet wasn’t able to subdue him; so how could he, by inferior means, have mastered Adam, had not Adam betrayed himself through his own recklessness? Have people not been injured if they’ve been been exposed to slander, suffered confiscation of their property, been deprived of all their goods, thrown out of their patrimony, and struggled with extreme poverty? No. They haven’t been injured, but have even profited, if they take a sober view of things. Tell me, what harm did this do the apostles? Were they not continually struggling with hunger, thirst and nakedness? And this was the very reason why they became so illustrious and distinguished, and won for themselves so much help from God. Again what harm was done to Lazarus [the beggar] by his disease, sores, poverty and dearth of protectors? These were the reasons why garlands of victory were more abundantly woven for him. Or what harm was done to Joseph by being slandered, both in his own land and in the land of strangers, given that he was supposed to be both an adulterer and fornicator? What harm did servitude or expatriation do him? Isn’t it precisely on account of these things that we regard him with admiration and astonishment? And why stop at removal into a foreign land, poverty, wicked slander and enslavement? What harm did death itself inflict on Abel, even though it was violent and untimely and perpetrated by his brother’s hand? Isn’t this the reason why his praise resounds throughout the whole world?

Do you see how the discourse has demonstrated even more than it promised? Not only has it disclosed the fact that no one is injured by other people, but also that those who pay attention to themselves derive greater gain from any assault. So what’s the purpose,  it will be said, of penalties and punishments? What’s the purpose of hell? What’s the purpose of such great threats, if no one is either injured or injures? This is to confuse the argument. I didn’t say that no one injures, but that no one is injured. Well, it might be asked, how is it possible for no one to be injured when so many are committing injury? In the way which I indicated just now. Joseph’s brethren did, indeed, injure him, but he himself wasn’t injured; Cain laid snares for Abel, but the latter wasn’t ensnared. This is the reason why there are penalties and punishments. God does not abolish penalties on account of the virtue of those who suffer; he ordains punishments on account of the malice of those who act wickedly. Although they who are badly treated become more illustrious in consequence of the plots against them, this isn’t due to the intention of those who make the plots, but to the courage of those who are the victims of them. So, for the victims the rewards of philosophy are made ready and prepared, while the perpetrators will receive their just desserts. Have you been deprived of your money? Read what Job said: ‘Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart’ (Job 1, 21). Add to this the apostolic saying that we brought nothing into this world, so it’s certain that we can carry nothing out (1 Timothy 6, 7).  Have you been slandered, have you had abuse heaped upon you? Remember that passage where it says:  Woe betide you when people speak well of you (Luke 6, 26), and: Rejoice and leap for joy when they cast an evil name upon you. Have you been transported into exile? Remember that you have no fatherland here, but that if you’re wise you are bidden to regard the whole world as a foreign country. Or has a serious ailment befallen you? Bear in mind the apostolic saying that the more our outward person decays, the more our inner self is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4,16).  Has anyone suffered a violent death? Consider the case of John, his head cut off in prison, carried on a platter, and made the reward for a harlot’s dancing. Think about the recompense that comes from these things. All these sufferings, when they’re unjustly inflicted by any one person on another, expiate sins and cultivate righteousness. That’s how great the advantage they bring to those who bear them bravely.