Architect of His Own Punishment

From Commentary on Luke (ca. 377-389)

We know from the book according to Matthew that in the land of the Gerasenes, two men possessed by the demons present themselves to Christ, while here St Luke portrays one, and naked… I consider that this apparent disagreement of the evangelists as to the number must not be neglected, but that the reason must be sought. In fact, even if the number does not match, there is agreement as to the mystery.

This man possessed of the demon is the figure of the people of the Gentiles, covered with vices, naked for error, uncovered for the crime. The other two are also of the Gentile people: for, Noah having begotten three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the only family of Shem was taken by God as his possession; from the other two came the peoples of the various nations: one was cursed for not having covered the nakedness of his father, the other blessed, because in hindsight, so as not to see the shame of his father, this piety led him to cover this father, and to spare himself the curse of his brother’s race.

“For a long time, it is said, he was agitated.” Obviously, since flood, at the coming of the Lord, he was tormented, breaking in his furious dementia the bonds of nature. And it is not without reason that, as St. Matthew tells us, they lived in tombs; for such souls seem to dwell as tombs and sepulchers: what are the bodies of the unbelievers, if not kinds of sepulchers for the dead, where the words of God do not dwell? He was therefore driven to deserted places, that is to say sterile in virtue of the soul, fugitive from the law, separated from the prophets, excluded from grace. For he did not suffer from a single demon, but from the onslaught of a whole legion: this, in the sight of the Lord, knowing and foreseeing that at the time of the Lord’s coming it would be repressed in the abysses, began to implore permission to break into swine.

And first we must notice the clemency of the Lord: He does not condemn anyone first, but everyone is the architect of his own punishment. Demons are not hunted in pigs, but of themselves ask for them, because they could not sustain the brilliancy of the heavenly light. Likewise those with hurt eyes cannot bear the radiance of the sun, but choose darkness and flee clarity. Let the demons flee from the brightness of the eternal light, and fear before the time the torments they deserve: not that they may guess in advance what will come, but they remember what was prophesied; for Zechariah said, “And on that day the Lord will blot out the names of idols from the earth, and there shall be no more remembrance of them, and I will consume the unclean spirit on earth” (Zech. 13:2) . We are thus taught that they will not remain forever, so that their wickedness may not be endless.

Now, fearing this punishment, they say, “You have come to destroy us. But as they desire to exist still, moving away from men for whom they know they have to suffer punishment, they ask to be sent in swine. Who are these pigs? Would it not be by chance those who are said, “Do not deliver the holy things to dogs, and do not cast pearls on the swine, lest they tread them under foot” (Matt. 6), those, I mean, who, in the manner of filthy animals, deprived of speech and reason, defile by the muddy deeds of their lives the adornment of natural virtues. Their passion leads them to the precipices, for they are not held back by the consideration of any reward, but, pushed up and down on the slope of the evil, they are stifled in the waters amid the fluctuations of this world, and perish. as strangled, obstructed breathing channels; for those whom the ardor and the current of pleasure take here and there to chance, there can be no vivifying relationship with the Spirit.

So we see that man is the artisan of his own torment. For if it had not lived in the manner of a hog, the devil would not have received power over him; or if he had received it, it would have been not to destroy him, but to test him. Perhaps, too, that being unable to pervert the good, after the coming of the Lord, he is now seeking the loss not of all men, but inconstant ones: likewise, the robber does not trouble armed men, but disarmed, and overwhelmed the weak with ill-treatment, knowing well that he would be crushed by the strong, or condemned by the powerful….

“Seeing this,” it is written, “the herdsmen fled. It is not, in fact, the professors of philosophy or the leaders of the synagogue who can offer any remedy to the people in perdition. Only Christ removes the sins of the people, provided they do not refuse to endure the cure. Moreover, he does not deign to cure by force, and hastens to abandon the sick to whom he sees that his presence is dependent: such as the population of Gerasa, who, coming out of the city… asked him to withdraw “because they were terrified”. It is because the infirm soul cannot bear the Word of God, cannot bear the weight of wisdom: it bends and collapses. So he does not bother them any longer.

St. Ambrose (ca. 334-397) became Archbishop of Milan at a time of bitter strife about Christological doctrine, and upheld orthodox teaching in a his widely circulated sermons and treatises. He is credited with introducing hymns to the Western Church, some composed by himself, and his greatest disciple was the even more influential St. Augustine. His Commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel is based on expository sermons he wrote during his ministry as bishop. His feast day is December 7.


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