Parallel passages: Matthew 12:9-13, 23:12; Mark 2:27-3:5
1One sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him.
2And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.
3And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?”
4But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go.
5And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?”
6And they could not reply to this.
7Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them,
8“When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him;
9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.
10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.
11For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Interpretation by the Church Fathers
Cyril of Alexandria
Commentary on Luke
A modest mind therefore is a great and surpassing good: for it delivers those who possess it from blame and contempt, and from the charge of vaingloriousness. ‘But yes! says the lover of vainglory, I wish to be illustrious and renowned, and not despised and neglected, and numbered among the unknown.’ If however thou desirest this transitory and human glory, thou art wandering away from the right path, by which thou mightest become truly illustrious, and attain to such praise as is worthy of emulation. For it is written, “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.”1 And the prophet David also blames those who love temporal honours; for he also thus spake of them, “Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth before it is plucked up.”2 For just as the grass that springs up upon the housetops has no deep fixed root, and for this reason is easily parched up; so he who values worldly honour, after he has been for a short time conspicuous, and, so to speak, in flower, sinks at last into nothingness.
If then any one wish to be set above others, let him win it by the decree of heaven, and be crowned by those honours which God bestows. Let him surpass the many by having the testimony of glorious virtues; but the rule of virtue is a lowly mind that loveth not boasting: yea! it is humility. And this the blessed Paul also counted worthy of all esteem: for he writes to such as are eagerly desirous of saintly pursuits, “Love humility.”3 And the disciple of Christ praises it, thus writing; “Let the poor brother glory in his exaltation: and the rich in his humiliation, because as the flower of the grass he passeth away.”4 For the moderate and bridled mind is exalted with God: for “God, it says, will not despise the contrite and abased heart.”5
But whosoever thinks great things of himself, and is supercilious, and elate in mind, and prides himself on an empty loftiness, is rejected and accursed. He follows a course the contrary of Christ’s, Who said; “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”6 “For the Lord, it says, resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”7 The wise Solomon also shews in many places the safety of the humble mind; at one time saying, “Exalt not thyself, that thou fall not:”8 and at another time, he figurately declares the same thing; “He that maketh his house high, seeketh an overthrow.”9 Such a one is hated of God, and very justly, as having mistaken himself, and senselessly aimed above the limits of his nature. For upon what ground, I pray, does man upon earth think great things of himself? For certainly his mind is weak, and easily led into base pleasures: his body is tyrannized over by corruption and death: and the duration of his life is short and limited. Nor is this all, for naked were we born, and therefore riches, and wealth, and worldly honour come to us from without, and are not really ours: for they belong not to the properties of our nature. For what reason therefore is the mind of man puffed up? What is there to exalt it to superciliousness and boasting? Were any one but to regard his state with understanding eyes, he would then become like Abraham, who mistook not his nature, and called himself “dust and ashes.”10 And like another also who says; “Quit man who is rottenness, and the son of man who is a worm.”11 But he who is a worm and rottenness; this dust and ashes: this very nothingness becomes great and admirable and honourable before God, by knowing himself; for so he is crowned by God with honour and praise: for the Saviour of all and Lord giveth grace to the humble: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.d
1 1 Pet. 1:24.
2 Ps. 129:6.
3 Col. 3:12.
4 James 1:9.
5 Ps. 51:17.
6 Mat. 11:29.
7 1 Pet. 5:5.
8 Ecclus. 1:30.
9 Prov. 17:19.
10 Gen. 18:27.
11 Job. 25:6.
d As has frequently been the case before, the latter part of the summary of this homily in Mai is not found in the Syriac, either because the Catenists generally appended at the end of their extracts such short passages as they found bearing upon the subject in other works of S. Cyril, or possibly because remarks of their own, or pieces given anonymously came in time to be referred to the father, whose real words they follow. At all events in the present case Cramer edits this passage with a break between, and gives the latter portion anonymously.
Cyril of Alexandria. (1859). A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke. (R. P. Smith, Trans.) (pp. 477–479). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cyprian of Carthage
And although I know that very many of those have been maintained by the vow1 and by the love of the brethren, yet if there be any who are in want either of clothing or maintenance, let them be supplied, with whatever things are necessary, as I formerly wrote to you, while they were still kept in prison,—only let them know from you and be instructed, and learn what, according to the authority of Scripture, the discipline of the Church requires of them, that they ought to be humble and modest and peaceable, that they should maintain the honour of their name, so that those who have achieved glory by what they have testified, may achieve glory also by their characters, and in all things seeking the Lord’s approval, may show themselves worthy, in consummation of their praise, to attain a heavenly crown. For there remains more than what is yet seen to be accomplished, since it is written, “Praise not any man before his death;”2 and again, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”3 And the Lord also says, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”4 Let them imitate the Lord, who at the very time of His passion was not more proud, but more humble. For then He washed His disciples’ feet, saying, “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”5 Let them also follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who, after often-repeated imprisonment, after scourging, after exposures to wild beasts, in everything continued meek and humble; and even after his rapture to the third heaven and paradise, he did not proudly arrogate anything to himself when he said, “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought, but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.”6
These several matters, I pray you, suggest to our brethren. And as “he who humbleth himself shall be exalted,”7 now is the time when they should rather fear the ensnaring adversary, who more eagerly attacks the man that is strongest, and becoming more virulent, for the very reason that he is conquered, strives to overcome his conqueror.
1 It is thought that Cyprian here speaks of an order of men called “Parabolani,” who systematically devoted themselves to the service of the sick and poor and imprisoned. [Acts 4:6, ὁι νεώτεροι.]
2 Ecclus. 11:28. [Conf. Solon, Herod., i. 86.]
3 Apoc. 2:10.
4 Matt. 10:22.
5 John 13:14, 15. [The parabolani were so called circa a.d. 415.]
6 2 Thess. 3:8.
7 Luke 14:11.
Cyprian of Carthage. (1886). The Epistles of Cyprian. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), R. E. Wallis (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (Vol. 5, p. 283). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Testimonies Against the Jews (III.5)
In Isaiah: “Thus saith the Lord God, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is the stool of my feet. What seat will ye build for me, or what is the place for my rest? For all those things hath my hand made, and all those things are mine. And upon whom else will I look, except upon the lowly and quiet man, and him that trembleth at my words?”1 On this same thing in the Gospel according to Matthew: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”2 Of this same thing, too, according to Luke: “He that shall be least among you all, the same shall be great.”3 Also in the same place: “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be made low, and whosoever abaseth himself shall be exalted.”4 Of this same thing to the Romans: “Be not high-minded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, (take heed) lest He also spare not thee.”5 Of this same thing in the thirty-third Psalm: And He shall save the lowly in spirit.”6 Also to the Romans: “Render to all what is due: tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour; owe no man anything, except to love another.”7 Also in the Gospel according to Matthew: “They love the first place of reclining at feasts, and the chief seat in the synagogues, and salutations in the market, and to be called of men Rabbi. But call not ye Rabbi, for One is your Master.”8 Also in the Gospel according to John: “The servant is not greater than his lord, nor the apostle greater than He that sent himself. If ye know these things, blessed shall ye be if ye shall do them.”9 Also in the eighty-first Psalm: “Do justice to the poor and lowly.”10
1 Isa. 66:1, 2.
2 Matt. 5:5.
3 Luke 9:48.
4 Luke 14:11.
5 Rom. 11:20, 21.
6 Ps. 34:18.
7 Rom. 13:7, 8.
8 Matt. 23:6–8.
9 John 13:16, 17.
10 Ps. 82:3.
Cyprian of Carthage. (1886). Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), R. E. Wallis (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (Vol. 5, p. 534). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Sermon III on Selected Lessons of the New Testament
By the return of the commemoration of a holy virgin, who gave her testimony to Christ, and was found worthy1 of a testimony from Christ, who was put to death openly, and crowned invisibly, I am reminded to speak to you, beloved, on that exhortation which the Lord hath just now uttered out of the Gospel,2 assuring us that there are many sources of a blessed life, which there is not a man that does not wish for. There is not a man surely can be found, who does not wish to be blessed. But oh! if as men desire the reward, so they would not decline the work that leads to it! Who would not run with all alacrity, were it told him, “Thou shalt be blessed”? Let him then also give a glad and ready ear when it is said, “Blessed, if thou shalt do thus.” Let not the contest be declined, if the reward be loved; and let the mind be enkindled to an eager execution of the work, by the setting forth of the reward. What we desire, and wish for, and seek, will be hereafter; but what we are ordered to do for the sake of that which will be hereafter, must be now. Begin now, then, to recall to mind the divine sayings, and the precepts and rewards of the Gospel. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”3 The kingdom of heaven shall be thine hereafter; be poor in spirit now. Wouldest thou that the kingdom of heaven should be thine hereafter? Look well to thyself whose thou art now. Be poor in spirit. You ask me, perhaps, “What is to be poor in spirit?” No one who is puffed up is poor in spirit; therefore he that is lowly is poor in spirit. The kingdom of heaven is exalted; but “he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”4
2 This portion of St. Matthew is the gospel during the whole octave of All Saints, as in our own Church on All Saints’ Day; the corresponding portion of St. Luke is read in the Comm. Plur. Mart.
3 Matt. 5:3.
4 Luke 14:11 and 18:14.
Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament. In P. Schaff (Ed.), R. G. MacMullen (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (Vol. 6, p. 266). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Sermon XXXII on Selected Lessons of the New Testament
But men are easy and ready enough to inflict injuries, and hard to seek for reconciliation. Ask pardon, says one, of him whom thou hast offended, of him whom thou hast injured. He answers, “I will not so humble myself.” But now if thou despise thy brother, at least give ear to thy God. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”1 Wilt thou refuse to humble thyself, who hast already fallen? Great is the difference between one who humbleth himself, and one who lieth on the ground. Already dost thou lie on the ground, and wilt thou then not humble thyself? Thou mightest well say, I will not descend; if thou hadst first been unwilling to fall.
1 Luke 14:11.
Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament. In P. Schaff (Ed.), R. G. MacMullen (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (Vol. 6, p. 359). New York: Christian Literature Company.
On Psalm 70
“And being turned Thou hast made me alive, and from the bottomless places of the earth again Thou hast brought me back.” [Psalm 70:20 LXX] But when before? What is this “again”? Thou hast fallen from a high place, O man, disobedient slave, O thou proud against thy Lord, thou hast fallen. There hast come to pass in thee, “every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled:” may there come to pass in thee, “every one that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”3
3 Luke 14:11.
Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Expositions on the Book of Psalms. In P. Schaff (Ed.), A. C. Coxe (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 8, p. 325). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Homily I on First Corinthians
But how shall a man find grace with God? How else, except by lowliness of mind?
“For God,” saith one, (St. Jas. 4:6) “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble; and, (Ps. 51:17. τεταπεινωμένην.) the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit, and a heart that is brought low God will not despise.” For if with men humility is so lovely, much more with God. Thus both they of the Gentiles found grace and the Jews no other way fell from grace; (Rom. 10:13) “for they were not subject unto the righteousness of God.” The lowly man of whom I am speaking, is pleasing and delightful to all men, and dwells in continual peace, and hath in him no ground for contentions. For though you insult him, though you abuse him, whatsoever you say, he will be silent and will bear it meekly, and will have so great peace towards all men as one cannot even describe. Yea, and with God also. For the commandments of God are to be at peace with men: and thus our whole life is made prosperous, through peace one with another. For no man can injure God: His nature is imperishable, and above all suffering. Nothing makes the Christian so admirable as lowliness of mind. Hear, for instance, Abraham saying, (Gen. 18:27) “But I am but dust and ashes;” and again, God [saying] of Moses, that (Numb. 12:3) “he was the meekest of all men.” For nothing was ever more humble than he; who, being leader of so great a people, and having overwhelmed in the sea the king and the host of all the Egytians, as if they had been flies; and having wrought so many wonders both in Egypt and by the Red Sea and in the wilderness, and received such high testimony, yet felt exactly as if he had been an ordinary person, and as a son-in-law was humbler than his father-in-law, (Exodus 18:24) and took advice from him, and was not indignant, nor did he say, “What is this? After such and so great achievements, art thou come to us with thy counsel?” This is what most people feel; though a man bring the best advice, despising it, because of the lowliness of the person. But not so did he: rather through lowliness of mind he wrought all things well. Hence also he despised the courts of kings, (Heb. 11:24–26) since he was lowly indeed: for the sound mind and the high spirit are the fruit of humility. For of how great nobleness and magnanimity, thinkest thou, was it a token, to despise the kingly palace and table? since kings among the Egyptians are honored as gods, and enjoy wealth and treasures inexhaustible. But nevertheless, letting go all these and throwing away the very sceptres of Egypt, he hastened to join himself unto captives, and men worn down with toil, whose strength was spent in the clay and the making of bricks, men whom his own slaves abhorred, (for, saith he (ἐβδελύσσοντο, Sept. Ex. 1:2) “The Egyptians abhorred them;”) unto these he ran and preferred them before their masters. From whence it is plain, that whoso is lowly, the same is high and great of soul. For pride cometh from an ordinary mind and an ignoble spirit, but moderation, from greatness of mind and a lofty soul.
And if you please, let us try each by examples. For tell me, what was there ever more exalted than Abraham? And yet it was he that said, “I am but dust and ashes;” it was he who said, (Gen. 13:8) “Let there be no strife between me and thee.” But this man, so humble, (Gen. 14:21–24) despised (“Persian,” i.e. perhaps, “of Elam.”) Persian spoils, and regarded not Barbaric trophies; and this he did of much highmindedness, and of a spirit nobly nurtured. For he is indeed exalted who is truly humble; (not the flatterer nor the dissembler;) for true greatness is one thing, and arrogance another. And this is plain from hence; if one man esteem clay to be clay, and despise it, and another admire the clay as gold, and account it a great thing; which, I ask, is the man of exalted mind? Is it not he who refuses to admire the clay? And which, abject and mean? Is it not he who admires it, and set much store by it? Just so do thou esteem of this case also; that he who calls himself but dust and ashes is exalted, although he say it out of humility; but that he who does not consider himself dust and ashes, but treats himself lovingly and has high thoughts, this man for his part must be counted mean, esteeming little things to be great. Whence it is clear that out of great loftiness of thought the patriarch spoke that saying, “I am but dust and ashes;” from loftiness of thought, not from arrogance.
For as in bodies it is one thing to be healthy and plump, (σφριγῶντα, firm and elastic.) and another thing to be swoln, although both indicate a full habit of flesh, (but in this case of unsound, in that of healthful flesh;) so also here: it is one thing to be arrogant, which is, as it were, to be swoln, and another thing to be high-souled, which is to be in a healthy state. And again, one man is tall from the stature of his person; another, being short, by adding buskins1 becomes taller; now tell me, which of the two should we call tall and large? Is it not quite plain, him whose height is from himself? For the other has it as something not his own; and stepping upon things low in themselves, turns out a tall person. Such is the case with many men who mount themselves up on wealth and glory; which is not exaltation, for he is exalted who wants none of these things, but despises them, and has his greatness from himself. Let us therefore become humble that we may become exalted; (St. Luke 14:11) “For he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Now the self-willed man is not such as this; rather he is of all characters the most ordinary. For the bubble, too, is inflated, but the inflation is not sound; wherefore we call these persons “puffed up.” Whereas the sober-minded man has no high thoughts, not even in high fortunes, knowing his own low estate; but the vulgar even in his trifling concerns indulges a proud fancy.
Let us then acquire that height which comes by humility. Let us look into the nature of human things, that we may kindle with the longing desire of the things to come; for in no other way is it possible to become humble, except by the love of what is divine and the contempt of what is present. For just as a man on the point of obtaining a kingdom, if instead of that purple robe one offer him some trivial compliment, will count it to be nothing; so shall we also laugh to scorn all things present, if we desire that other sort of honor. Do ye not see the children, when in their play they make a band of soldiers, and heralds precede them and lictors, and a boy marches in the midst in the general’s place, how childish it all is? Just such are all human affairs; yea and more worthless than these: to-day they are, and to-morrow they are not. Let us therefore be above these things; and let us not only not desire them, but even be ashamed if any one hold them forth to us. For thus, casting out the love of these things, we shall possess that other love which is divine, and shall enjoy immortal glory. Which may God grant us all to obtain, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ; with whom be to the Father, together with the holy and good Spirit, the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 ἐμβάδας, a leathern shoe coming half way up the leg, with high heels of cork; used especially by tragic actors to elevate their size. Æschylus, says Horace, improving tragedy, “docuit magnumque loqui, nitique cothurno.” A.P. 280.
John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. In P. Schaff (Ed.), H. K. Cornish, J. Medley, & T. B. Chambers (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians (Vol. 12, pp. 4–5). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Gregory the Great (Dialogist)
Epistles, Book V, No. XVIII
Of a truth it was proclaimed of old through the Apostle John, Little children, it is the last hour (1 John 2:18), according as the Truth foretold. And now pestilence and sword rage through the world, nations rise against nations, the globe of the earth is shaken, the gaping earth with its inhabitants is dissolved. For all that was foretold is come to pass. The king of pride is near, and (awful to be said!) there is an army of priests in course of preparation for him, inasmuch as they who bad been appointed to be leaders in humility enlist themselves under the neck of pride. But in this matter, even though our tongue protested not at all, the power of Him who in His own person peculiarly opposes the vice of pride is lifted up for vengeance against elation. For hence it is written, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (Jam. 4:6). Hence, again, it is said, Whoso exalteth his heart is unclean before God (Prov. 16:5). Hence, against the man that is proud it is written, Why is earth and ashes proud (Ecclus. 10:9)? Hence the Truth in person says, Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased (Luke 14:11). And, that he might bring us back to the way of life through humility, He deigned to exhibit in Himself what He teaches us, saying, Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart (Matth. 11:29). For to this end the only begotten Son of God took upon Himself the form of our weakness; to this end the Invisible appeared not only as visible but even as despised; to this end He endured the mocks of contumely, the reproaches of derision, the torments of suffering; that God in His humility might teach man not to be proud. How great, then, is the virtue of humility for the sake of teaching which alone He who is great beyond compare became little even unto the suffering of death! For, since the pride of the devil was the origin of our perdition, the humility of God has been found the means of our redemption. That is to say, our enemy, having been created among all things, desired to appear exalted above all things; but our Redeemer remaining great above all things, deigned to become little among all things.
Gregory the Great. (1895). Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), J. Barmby (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12b, pp. 167–168). New York: Christian Literature Company.