May 9, 2019

Prologue to the Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (St. John Chrysostom)

Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

By St. John Chrysostom


The excellent merit of this prophet is seen very well in his works, but what makes him see no less perfectly is the testimony of the one who, more than any other, was able to appreciate his qualities. I mean St. Paul, whose Holy Spirit dictated the words. Isaiah's frank language, his thought always free, his high sentiments, the clarity of his prophecies on Christ, all his qualities, the Apostle shows them by one word, saying, "Isaiah is not afraid to say: 'I was found by those who did not seek me, I showed myself to those who did not ask me.'"

His compassion for the ills of his brethren is great too. He not only rose up against the madness of the people, he did not only, in a free language and with a high thought, announced to the Jews the punishments that would punish them, but when what he had predicted happened, he suffers, he is tormented no less than those whom misfortune oppresses, and he moans more painfully than those unfortunate ones. This, indeed, is what almost all the prophets and saints have done: their affection for those whom they were charged to lead surpassed the tenderness of the fathers for their children; nature is less strong than their charity. He is not, no, there is no father who is inflamed with love for his children like those for the people they ruled: for they were willing to die, moaning, lamenting, sharing their captivity and their misfortunes, doing and suffering all, to put an end to the anger of heaven and the misfortunes they were experiencing.

There is nothing that makes us more able to command than to have a soul full of wisdom and mercy. So the great Moses was placed by God at the head of the Jewish people only after having manifested by his actions how much he loved this people, and later he said to him: "If you forgive them their fault, forgive them; otherwise, erase me also from the book you wrote." And Isaiah himself, seeing the Jews perish, exclaims: "Let me go, I will shed bitter tears; do not trouble yourself to console me for the ruin of the daughter of my people." Jeremiah uttered long moans when the city was overthrown. Ezekiel went off with the Jews, seeing it as less painful to live in a foreign land than in his own country, and finding that the greatest alleviation of his troubles was to be with the unfortunate and direct their affairs. And Daniel for their return remained without food for twenty days and more and showed all his love for them by begging God to deliver them from this captivity.

This is how by a word that all saints shine. For example, when David sees the anger of the sky melt on the people, it is on himself that he wants to call this plague, saying: "Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father's house." And Abraham, far from danger, having no fear of sharing the punishment of the Sodomites, began, as if he had been in the midst of danger, to invoke and supplicate God, and he would not have ceased to employ by actions and words to avert this terrible conflagration, if God, after having dismissed him, had finally left.

The saints of the New Testament showed even more virtue, because they had received more graces and were called to greater combats. It is for this reason that Peter, hearing Christ say that it is very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, was anxious, and trembled and addressed this question: "Who can be saved?" And yet, as far as he was concerned, he had to be full of confidence. It was because these saints considered their own interest less than they cared for the whole earth. And Saint Paul, in the whole course of his epistles, shows us the same concern, he who in the vision of Christ preferred the salvation of men: "To die and to be with Jesus Christ is best, but to remain in my flesh is more necessary because of you."

It is this same virtue which the Prophet shows when he exposes the revelations of God so frankly, when he addresses his reproaches to sinners; when, in frequent circumstances, and by long speeches, he tries to appease God irritated against the Jews: what we can see especially at the end of the prophecy. But finally let us approach the beginning of the prophecy.