A Savage Beast

From Commentary on Luke (ca. 444)

The lesson therefore which Christ teaches us is love for the poor, which is a thing precious in the sight of God. Do you feel pleasure in being praised when you have any friends of relatives feasting with you? I tell you of something far better: angels shall praise your bounty, and the rational powers above, and holy men as well: and God too shall accept it who transcends all, and who loves mercy and is kind.

Lend unto God fearing nothing, and you shall receive with usury whatever you gave: “for he,” it says, “who has pity on the poor lends unto God.” He acknowledged the loan, and promises repayment. “For when the Son of man, he says, shall come in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels, and shall sit upon the throne of his glory, he shall set the sheep upon his right hand, and the goats upon his left.

And he shall say to them on his right hand, Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me meat: I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was naked and you covered me: sick and you visited me: in prison, and you came unto me. And to this he added, Verily I say unto you, that whatsoever you have done to one of these little ones, you have done unto me.”

The outlay therefore is not unfruitful: rather shall compassion upon the poor make your wealth breathe forth a sweet savor. Purchase the grace that comes from God; buy for your friend the Lord of heaven and earth: for verily we oftentimes purchase men’s friendship with large sums of gold, and if those of high rank are reconciled unto us, we feel great joy in offering them presents even beyond what we can afford, because of the honor which accrues to us from them. And yet these things are but transitory, and quickly fade away, and are like the phantasies of dreams.

But to be members of God’s household, must we not count that as a thing worth the gaining; and esteem it as of the highest importance? For certainly after the resurrection from the dead we must stand in Christ’s presence; and there a recompense shall of necessity be made to the compassionate and merciful: but a condemnation commensurate with their deeds shall be the lot of those who were harsh and without mutual love; for it is written, “that there is judgment without mercy for those who have showed no mercy.”

And if so, how is it not the proof and perfection of a sound mind, that before we descend to the pit of torment we should take forethought for our life? For come, and let us discuss this among ourselves. Suppose that for some cause or other which the law condemned they had dragged us before the judges, and so a sentence such as our offences deserved had been passed upon us after our conviction; should we not with pleasure offer up our wealth to escape from all torment and punishment? And how can there be any doubt of this?

For oneself is better than possessions, and life than wealth. Now we are guilty of many sins, and must give an account to the judge of whatsoever we have done; and why then do we not deliver ourselves from judgment and the everlasting fire while time permits? And the way in which to deliver ourselves is to live in virtue – to comfort the brethren who are grieved with poverty, and open our hand wide to all who are in need, and to sympathize with the sick.

For tell me what is harder than poverty, that implacable beast of prey, that bane which no admonition can charm away, that worst of maladies, or rather more cruel than any malady? We therefore must give a helping hand to those who are suffering under it: we must open wide to them our heart, and not pass by their lamentation. For suppose a savage beast of prey had sprung upon some wayfarer, would not anyone who witnessed the occurrence seize up any thing that came to hand, a stone for instance, or stick, and drive away the beast that was mercilessly rending and tearing the man fallen beneath its blow? Who is so hardhearted and full of hatred to mankind as to pass by one thus miserably perishing? And must not you own, that poverty, as I said, is more cruel than any beast of prey? Aid, therefore, those who are fallen under it: incline your ear to the poor, and listen to him, as it is written, “For he, it says, who stops his ears that he may not hear the feeble, he also shall cry, and there shall be none to listen.” Give that you may receive; hear that you may be heard; sow your little that you may reap much. And besides, the pleasure of the body is short and temporary, and ends in rottenness; but almsgiving and charity to the poor crown those who practice them with glory from God, and lead them to that incorruptible happiness which Christ bestows on those who love him.

St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) was Patriarch of Alexandria and an influential theologian, who convened the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, which resolved the Nestorian Controversy by asserting the unity of Christ’s person, and defending the use of the Marian title “Theotokos,” the God-bearer. His commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel is based on a series of expositional sermons. He is commemorated on various days on the liturgical calendar of Eastern and Western churches.


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