Abstain from Excess

Works of St. John Chrysostom: Homilies on First Corinthians

Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom

(I Cor. VI. 12) “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought into the power of any.”

Here he glances at the gluttons. For since he intends to assail the fornicator again, and fornication arises from luxuriousness and want of moderation, he strongly chastises this passion. It cannot be that he speaks thus with regard to things forbidden, such not being “lawful” but of things which seem to be indifferent. To illustrate my meaning: “It is lawful,” he says, “to eat and to drink; but it is not expedient with excess.” And so that marvellous and unexpected turn of his, which he is often wont to adopt; (Cf. Rom. xii. 21; I Cor. 7. 23.) bringing his argument clear round to its contrary, this he manages to introduce here also; and he signifies that to do what is in one’s power not only is not expedient, but even is not a part of power, but of slavery.

And first, he dissuades them on the ground of the inexpediency of the thing, saying, “they are not expedient:” in the next place, on that of its contrariety to itself, saying, “I will not be brought under the power of any.” This is his meaning: “You are at liberty to eat,” says he; “well then, remain in liberty, and take heed that you do not become a slave to this appetite: for he who uses it properly, he is master of it; but he that exceeds the proper measure is no longer its master but its slave, since gluttony reigns paramount within him.” Do you perceive how, where the man thought he had authority Paul points out that he is under authority? For this is his custom, as I was saying before, to give all objections a turn the contrary way. It is just this which he has done here. For mark; each of them was saying, “I have power to live luxuriously.” He replies, “In doing so, thou art not so much acting as one who had power over a thing, but rather as being thyself subject to some such power. For thou hast not power even over thine own belly, so long as thou art dissolute, but it hath power over thee.” And the same we may say both of riches and of other things.

Ver. 13. “Meats for the belly.” By “the belly” here he means not the stomach, but the stomach’s voraciousness. As when he says, (Phil. iii. 19.) “Whose God is their belly:” not speaking about that part of the body, but about greediness. To prove that so it is, hear what follows: “And the belly for meats; but the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord.” And yet “the belly” also is of “the body.” But he puts down two pairs of things, “meats” and gluttony, (which he terms “the belly;”) “Christ,” and “the body.”

What then is the meaning of, “Meats for the belly?” “Meats,” he says, are on good terms with gluttony, and it with them. It cannot therefore lead us unto Christ, but drags towards these. For it is a strong and brutal passion, and makes us slaves, and puts us upon ministering to the belly. Why then art thou excited and gaping after food, O man? For the end of that service is this, and nothing further shall be seen of it: but as one was waiting on some mistress, it abides keeping up this slavery, and advances no further, and has no other employment but this same fruitless one. And the two are connected together and destroyed together; “the belly” with “the meats,” and “the meats” with “the belly;” winding out a sort of interminable course; just as from a corrupt body worms may be produced, and again by worms the body consumed; or as it were a wave swoln high and breaking, and having no further effect. But these things he says not concerning food and the body, but it is the passion of greediness and excess in eatables which he is censuring: and what follows shews it. For he proceeds:

“But God shall bring to nought both it and them:” speaking not of the stomach, but of immoderate desire: not of food but of high feeding. For with the former he is not angry, but even lays down rules about them, saying (I Tim. vi. 8.) “Having food and covering we shall be therewith content. However, thus he stigmatizes the whole thing; its amendment (after advice given) being left by him to prayer.

But some say that the words are a prophecy, declaring the state which shall be in the life to come, and that there is no eating or drinking there. Now if that which is moderate shall have an end, much more ought we to abstain from excess.

Then lest any one should suppose that the body is the object of his censure, and suspect that from a part he is blaming the whole, and say that the nature of the body was the cause of gluttony or of fornication, hear what follows. “I blame not,” he says, “the nature of the body, but the immoderate license of the mind.” And therefore he subjoins, “Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord;” for it was not formed for this purpose, to live riotously and commit fornication, as neither was the belly to be greedy; but that it might follow Christ as a Head, and that the Lord might be set over the body. Let us be overcome with shame, let us be horror-struck, that after we have been counted worthy of such great honor as to become members of Him that sitteth on high, we defile ourselves with so great evils.

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